From the middle of the 13th century Austria boasted famous scholars. The pogroms of 1348-49, in which Jews were accused of having caused the plague, affected many communities in Germany. In the middle of the 14th century, yeshivot, centers for higher learning, were founded in Vienna, Wiener Neustadt and Krems, which attracted students from neighboring countries. The Austrian rabbis had studied in the yeshivot of the important Talmudic scholars in France and the Rhineland. They were known as the "Chachme Austria" ("the wise men of Austria").
Austrian Jews kept the religious laws as did Jews in other regions, but over time differences in local customs developed and the so-called Austrian Rite, "Minhag Austria", which differed from the customs of the Rhineland, was developed. When the Jews moved eastwards in later centuries, the Austrian Rite became the basis for the "Polish Rite".
The function of the rabbi was usually held by members of well-to-do families, because rabbis were not yet paid officials of the community. Many of the Austrian rabbis were related to each other. Most of them earned their living through court fees, charges for weddings and divorces and money-lending. The pupils would pay tuition fees to the head of the yeshiva. Wealthy members of the community made donations to help finance the studies of poor students.
It was common for students to move around the country. In the yeshiva of Rabbi Isserlein in Wiener Neustadt was attended by studends from the German Lands, Bohemia, Italy and Hungary. Once Rabbi Isserlein received a question concerning a pupil who had moved to another country for studies at the yeshiva of some scholar, but whose father was strictly opposed. Rabbi Isserlein ruled that in this case the son did not have to obey his father's will, but should be free to go. In another case he recommended against going to Eretz Israel, since there was no remarkable place of scholarship there.
Several students, or "bachurim", would live together in the rabbi's house, sometimes for years in very cramped conditions, which could lead to tension between the students and the teacher's family. Some students indulged in gambling or tried their teacher's patience in other ways. Around 1450, Rabbi Abraham Katzenellenbogen from Ofen complained bitterly to a colleague: "A 'bachur' living in my home drank my wine in secret, slipped into the cellar at night and stole my meat and bread". Other complaints were talking during grace, eating while studying or throwing books out of boisterousness. Such offenses were punished by Rabbi Isserlein but did not lead to expulsion from the yeshiva.
Quite a few of the Austrian scholars left books and halakhic decisions which are studied to this very day. The most notable are Rabbi Izchak bar Mosche Or Sarua, Rabbi Israel von Krems, Rabbi Abraham Klausner, Rabbi Schalom von Neustadt, Rabbi Jekel von Eger, Rabbi Aharon Bluemlein, and, in a later generation, his grandson rabbi Israel bar Petachja, called Isserlein.