This introductory chapter discusses how the historical figure of Joseph Süss Oppenheimer—also known as Jew Süss—is incredibly elusive, and any understanding of him must begin with the political and legal regimes under which he lived and died. Oppenheimer spent almost his entire life in the southwest corner of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. In the eighteenth century, the Holy Roman Empire was the general political organization that connected the hundreds of more or less sovereign polities in German-speaking central Europe. Especially important for understanding Oppenheimer's case is the fact that the Empire's members shared a common legal system scholars term “inquisitorial.”
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