Jewish entrepreneurs made a great contribution to the development of the Prussian silk industry in the 18th century, and their contribution led to the possibility of building a secular “state community” in Prussia. The silk industry, which originated in Asia, was not seen in Prussia until the late 17th century. After the Thirty Years’ War, the government of Brandenburg-Prussia tried to promote various industries. The government, at first, used Huguenot immigrants from France to promote the silk industry, as they had been producing silk in France. Most of them, however, soon gave up silk manufacturing, because they lacked both money and knowledge of the Prussian market. On the other hand, David Hirsch, a Schutzjude (protected Jew), is the first merchant to have success in silk manufacturing in Prussia. Because Hirsch did not have any Christian business rivals in Prussia, he could begin producing silk there in 1730, using international markets and foreign artisans for his business.
The number of Christian and Jewish merchants working in silk manufacturing increased during the reign of Frederick the Great. Jews were not excluded from the Prussian silk industry because they worked for both Jewish and Christian profits. In 1752 Jewish merchants were forced by the Prussian government to sell a fixed amount of silk produced in Christian factories. Furthermore, according to data found in the journal of Jewish silk manufacturer and eminent philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, he bought raw silk from abroad and sold it to both Christian and Jewish manufacturers.
Because Jews generally could not join Zünften (associations of artisans) in medieval cities in Europe, it was very hard for Jews to work as artisans or manufacturers in late medieval times. By the 18th century, however, both Jews and Christians worked for the development of manufacturing, which led to the beginnings of a secular community in Prussia.