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Dress Regulations and Religious Plurality

The creation of identity and the assignment of social, religious, political or gender statuses through dress and outward bodily appearance remain central features of human interaction right up to the present. The regulation of religious and social difference became an issue for Christian authorities in central Europe, as Jews increasingly settled in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation during the seventeenth century, mostly for economic reasons. Christian and Jewish authorities in eastern Europe faced similar issues as the Jewish population continued to grow from the Middle Ages onward. This project traces the significance and meaning of external and internal Jewish dress regulations in the context of the creation of social and religious order. It was of central importance to Christian and Jewish authorities to avoid conflict, while at the same time they needed visual ways to mark the difference between Jews and Christian and to preserve it in daily life. In addition to differences between Jews and Christians, I am interested in the social and gender differences within the Jewish communities, which were expressed through dress regulations and were visually discernible. Beyond the normative aspect of dress regulations, I wish to investigate how dress regulations were dealt with in concrete terms. I understand the creation of a specific appearance as a conscious action, through which individuals or groups express belonging or distance. I understand dress and features of outward appearance as cultural artifacts and their wearers as actors, who express social, religious or political ideas through their appearance. I examine the role of positive identification with the non-Jewish environment, with one’s own Jewish society or with a specific social or religious group. By focusing on dress and outward appearance as part of the early modern expression of identity, of belonging or non-belonging, as well as its perception by both Jews and Christians, we can increase our understanding of early modern identities. It also helps to describe this development as an inclusive cultural phenomenon reaching beyond the sphere of Jewish and Christian elites.