Discussing the problem of the Jewish identity in the area of the Croatian lands in the long 19th Century (from the late 18th century until 1914), is only possible in the context of the history of the Jewish communities within the Habsburg monarchy and Austria-Hungary. With the Edict of Tolerance of Joseph II (1781 and 1783) the Jews on the whole territory of the Habsburg monarchy were allowed to practice their religion, which brought about tolerance but not equality.
The Edict of Tolerance allowed the Jews to settle permanently in Croatia and Slavonia for the first time after the expulsion in 1526. Most of them came from Hungary. In 1787, the Jews had to adopt German surnames. Every Jewish community was required to keep their records in German. A few years after the Edict of Tolerance, the first Jewish community in Croatia and Slavonia was founded in Varaždin. After that, the communities in Čakovec (1780), Zagreb (1806), and Požega (1820) were founded. Until 1848, Jewish communities were founded in Karlovac, Osijek and Rijeka.
Until 1848 the activities of the Jewish communities were not legally regulated (except for the obligatory registration with the local authority) and they arose spontaneously, in order to enable the organization of worship, to help the poor, widows and orphans, to support religious schools and to secure a kosher butcher (shochet). During the Emperor Franz Joseph I, the Law of associations/organizations was introduced (1852), therefore these communities also had to have their rules approved. In 1840 the Jews were allowed to practice a craft.
Due to the great resistance of Christian craftsmen, the Jews were allowed to teach only Jewish apprentices, which helped further Jewish settlement. Since the mid-19th century the dynasties of the rich Jewish merchants emerged, as was the case with the Serbs and Croats as well. The Jews with capital took part in profitable businesses; some owned factories, the others went into construction as the construction of modern roads began. At the end of 1850 the exploitation of the forests was also a profit-making activity of the Jewish merchants and entrepreneurs. Even before 1848 Jewish doctors enjoyed a great reputation. Besides the richer stratum of the Jews, there were also numerous smaller retailers, craftsmen and innkeepers, as well as money-lenders who were lending money mostly to peasants.
The Imperial patent of 1860 allowed the Jews to own property, and by the decision of the Croatian Parliament, the Jews became citizens with equal rights to others. The emancipation in terms of confession was introduced in Austria in 1890 and in Hungary by 1895. The Jewish population immigrated to the Croatian lands mostly from Hungary, with the exception of Dalmatia.
In fact, Venetian Dalmatia, after the fall of the Venetian Republic and following the short period of French government, entered the Austrian part of the Empire. Unlike Croatia and Slavonia, there were very small Sephardic communities in Dalmatia and in the territory of the Republic of Dubrovnik throughout the early modern period. They were made up of refugees from the Iberian Peninsula after the 1492 expulsion. After the fall of the Venetian Republic and the Republic of Dubrovnik at the end of the 18th century, as well as the beginning of the 19th Century, the wealthier families started leaving, mainly for Trieste, while mostly poorer Sephardic families from the territory of the Ottoman Empire and later from the occupied and annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina started arriving to the coastal cities.
JEWISH ENLIGHTEMENT AND THE DISPUTE BETWEEN REFORM AND ORTHODOX JEWS
The emancipation of Jews in Central Europe, together with the debate regarding the Jewish question was a lengthy process, which lasted throughout the century. The modernization in Croatian lands began in the mid-19th century and the process of industrialization spread to the entire territory of the Monarchy only after the emancipation. This is an important detail which facilitated the considerable progress of Jewish communities in the whole monarchy, including the northern Croatian lands.
Haskalah or the Jewish Enlightenment arrived to the Habsburg monarchy from the German confederation. In 1810 it had reached Galicia and during the 1830s it spread to Hungary. After Haskalah came the Reform Judaism. With reforms the tension between the reformists and the traditionalists within the Monarchy became inevitable (both the haredim and the Neo-orthodox).
The conflicts in the Monarchy worsened after the 1848. At the general congress of the Hungarian Jews (1868/9) the central issue was the conflict between the Reformed and the Orthodox. Since no agreement was possible, the Orthodox petitioned the Hungarian Parliament and were allowed to form special Orthodox communities. There were also communities which chose not to pick either of the two sides. They kept the status they had before the Congress. The eventual split in the Hungarian Jewish communities influenced the Zagreb community and other Croatian and Slavonian communities.
Since the immigration of Jews in Croatia and Slavonia, the Reformed or neologist group grew ever more numerous and stronger. The number of Orthodox Jews in the Jewish community was reduced to only a few percent.1 The exception was a number of immigrant Jews in Zagreb that came from the Eastern Europe (Galicia, Russia, Romania); in time they would function in the context of a separate Orthodox Jewish community.2
The first conflict within the Jewish community occurred in the context of the proliferation of the reform movement in Croatia and Slavonia. In 1840, a new rabbi was appointed in Zagreb and the reform of the liturgy started. The Orthodox Jews, settled on the territory of Kaptol revolted and in the end the independent Orthodox community was founded.
The position of the Hungarian governor and the Croatian Government was that both the Jews in the area of Kaptol and those in the free royal municipality3, are one indivisible body and that the headquarters should be controlled by the Zagreb neologist rabbi, while the two groups had the right to exercise their own form of worship.
The government and parts of the Christian elite interfered in these conflicts. In an effort to maintain the economic unity of the Jewish community, the Supreme prefect of the Zagreb County, imposed on the Orthodox a unique šĥita, thus interfering in purely religious matters. At the same time, both the Hungarian government and certain capitalist circles took the side of the Neologists as they were perceived as useful elements of modernization. The Catholic hierarchy took the side of the Orthodox group.
In 1906 the Croatian Parliament passed the Law on the Organization of the Israelite religious municipalities in the Kingdom of Croatia and Slavonia. This law required from each Jew to be a member of one community and stated that there can only be one community in each city. Since there were differences in the ritual and in the liturgy among the members of the Zagreb Jewish community, the Society of Old Believers – members of the Israelite religious community was founded in Zagreb that same year.