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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Poland 01: colonization of Poland-Lithuania by Jews

Jewish settlers - moneylending and trade with connections between Germany, Poland, and the Ottoman Empire - cultural life and disputes - Christian resistance and Jewish towns

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol. 13, col.
                727. The fortress-type synagogue of Lyuboml, built in
                the 17th century.
amplifyEncyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol. 13, col. 727. The fortress-type
synagogue of Lyuboml, built in the 17th century.

from: Poland; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 13

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)



<POLAND [[...]]


[Moneylending and agriculture - cemetery is paid with spices in 1287 - trade in grand duchy of Lithuania and Poland with Genoese colonies in Crimea and with Constantinople]

From the very first the Jews of Poland developed their economic activities through moneylending toward a greater variety of occupations and economic structures. Thus, by the very dynamics of its economic and social development, Polish Jewry constitutes a flat existential denial and factual contradiction of the anti-Semitic myth of "the Jewish spirit of usury". On the extreme west of their settlement in Poland, in Silesia, although they were mainly engaged in moneylending, Jews were also employed in agriculture.

When the Kalisz community in 1287 bought a cemetery it undertook to pay for it in pepper and other oriental wares, indicating an old connection with the trade in spices. As noted above, the Jewish mintmasters of the 12th century must undoubtedly have been large-scale traders. In 1327 Jews were an important element among the participants at the *Nowy Sacz fair. Throughout the 14th and 15th centuries Jews were occupied to a growing degree in almost every branch of trade pursued at that time. Jews from both the grand duchy of Lithuania and Poland traded in cloth, dyes, horses, and cattle (and on a fairly large scale).

At the end of the 15th century they engaged in trade with Venice, Italy, with Kaffa (Feodosiya), and with other (col. 717)

Genoese colonies in the Crimea, and with Constantinople.

[Jewish large-scale land-transit trade between Europe and Ottoman Empire - trade up to Moscow - rich Jews lend money to the government]

Lvov Jews played a central role in this trade, which in the late 15th and early 16th centuries developed into a large-scale land-transit trade between the Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe. Through their participation in this trade and their contacts with their brethren in the Ottoman Empire, many Jewish communities became vital links in a trade chain that was important to both the various Christian kingdoms and the Ottoman Empire. Lithuanian Jews participated to the full and on a considerable scale in all these activities, basing themselves both on their above-mentioned recognized role in Lithuanian civic society and on their particular opportunities for trade with the grand principality of *Moscow and their evident specialization in dyes [[colors]] and dyeing [[coloring]]. Obviously, in all these activities, all links with Jewish communities in central and western Europe were beneficial.

During all this period Jews were engaged in moneylending, some of them (e.g., *Lewko Jordanis, his son Canaan, and Volchko) on a large scale. They made loans not only to private citizens but also to magnates, kings, and cities, on several occasions beyond the borders of Poland. The scope of their monetary operations at their peak may be judged by the fact that in 1428 King Ladislaus II Jagello accused one of the Cracow city counselors of appropriating [[using]] the fabulous sum of 500,000 zlotys which the Jews had supplied to the royal treasury.

[Financial assistance to the court - Jews are chosen for colonization projects - customs rights and salt rights - Jews become a "third estate" in the cities - complaints because of unfair trade - deprivation of rights - expulsion from Cracow to Kazimierz in 1495]

To an increasing extent many of the Jewish moneylenders became involved in trade. They were considered by their lords as specialists in economic administration. In 1425 King Ladislaus II Jagello charged Volchko - who by this time already held the Lvov customs lease - with the colonization of a large tract of land:

"As we have great confidence in the wisdom, carefulness, and foresight of our Lvov customs-holder, the Jews Volchko ... after the above-mentioned Jew Volchko has turned the above-mentioned wilderness into a human settlement in the village, it shall remain in his hands till his death."

King Casimir Jagello entrusted to the Jews Natko both the salt mines of Drohbycz (*Drogobych) and the customs station of Grejdek, stating in 1452 that he granted it to him on account of his "industry and wisdom so that thanks to his ability and industry we shall bring in more income to our treasury."

The same phenomenon is found in Lithuania. By the end of the 15th century, at both ends of the economic scale Jews in Poland were becoming increasingly what they had been from the beginning in Lithuania: a "third estate" in the cities.

The German-Polish citizenry quickly became aware of this. By the end of the 15th century, accusations against the Jews centered around unfair competition in trade and crafts more than around harsh usury. Not only merchants but also Jewish craftsmen are mentioned in Polish cities from 1460 onward. In 1485 tensions in Cracow was so high that the Jewish community was compelled to renounce [[give up]] formally its rights to most trades and crafts. Though this was done "voluntarily", Jews continued to pursue their living in every decent [[living properly]] way possible. This was one of the reasons for their expulsion from Cracow to Kazimierz in 1495. However, the end of Jewish settlement in Cracow was far from the end of Jewish trade there; it continued to flourish and aggravate [[be harder]] the Christian townspeople, as was the case with many cities (like *Lublin and *Warsaw) which had exercised their right de non tolerandis Judaeis and yet had to see Jewish economic activity flourishing at their fairs and in their streets.


In Poland and Lithuania from the 13th century onward Jewish culture and society was much richer and more (col. 718)

variegated than has been commonly accepted. Even before that, the inscriptions on the bracteate coins [[important coins]] of the 12th century indicate talmudic culture and leadership traditions by the expressions used (rabbi, nagid).

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol. 13, col.
                727. Examples of Polish coins minted by Jews in the 13th
                century. These coins, many of which have Hebrew
                inscriptions, were engraved on one side only. Jerusalem,
amplifyEncyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol. 13, col. 727. Examples of Polish coins minted by Jews
in the 13th century. These coins, many of which have Hebrew inscriptions,
were engraved on one side only. Jerusalem, C.A.H.J.P.

About 1234, as mentioned, Jacob Savra of Cracow was able to contradict the greatest talmudic authorities of his day in Germany and Bohemia. In defense of his case he "sent responsa to the far ends of the west and the south" (E.E. Urbach (ed.), in Sefer Arugat ha-Bosem, 4 (1963), 120-1). The author of Sefer Arugat ha-Bosem also quotes an interpretation and emendation [[amelioration]] that "I have heard in the name of Rabbi Jacob from Poland" (ibid., 3 (1962), 126).

Moses Saltman, the son of *Judah b. Samuel he-Hasid (Ḥasid), states:

"Thus I have been told by R. Isaac from Poland in the name of my father ... thus I have been told by R. Isaac from Russia ... R. Mordecai from Poland told me that my father said" (Ms. Cambridge 669, 2, fol. 69 and 74). This manuscript evidence proves conclusively that men from Poland and from southern Russia (which in the 13th century was part of the grand duchy of Lithuania) were (col. 719)

close disciples of the leader of the *Hasidei (Ḥasidei) Ashkenaz.

[Names from German, French and Czech culture - Jewish calendar]

The names of Polish Jews in the 14th century show curious traces of cultural influence; besides ordinary Hebrew names and names taken from the German and French - brought by the immigrants from the countries of their origin - there are clearly Slavonic names like Lewko, Jeleń, and Pychacz and women's names like Czarnula, Krasa, and even Witoslawa. Even more remarkable are the names of Lewko's father, Jordan, and Lewko's son, Canaan or Chanaan, which indicate a special devotion to Erez Israel (Ereẓ Israel) [[Land of Israel]].

By the 15th century, relatively numerous traces of social and cultural life in the Polish communities can be found. In a document from April 4, 1435, that perhaps preserves the early *Yiddish of the Polish Jews, the writer, a Jews of Breslau, addresses "the Lord King of Poland my Lord". The closing phrases of the letter indicate his Jewish culture:

"To certify this, have I, the above mentioned Jekuthiel, appended my Jewish seal to this letter with full knowledge. Given in Breslau, on the first Monday of the month Nisan, in Jewish reckoning five thousand years and a hundred (col. 720)

years and to that hundred the ninety-fifth year after the beginning and creation of all creatures except God Himself" (M. Brann: Geschichte der Juden in Schlesien [[History of the Jews in Silesia]], 3 (1901), Anhang [[appendix]] 4, p. Iviii).

Though Israel b. Hayyim (Ḥayyim) *Bruna said of the Jews of Cracow, "they are not well versed in Torah" (Responsa, no. 55, fol. 23b), giving this as his reason for not adducing lengthy talmudic arguments in his correspondence with them, he was writing to one of his pupils who claimed sole rabbinical authority and income in the community of Poznan (ibid., no. 254, fol. 103b). Israel b. Pethahiah *Isserlein of Austria writes, "my beloved, the holy community of Poznan". Two parties in this community - the leadership, whom Isserlein calls "you, the holy community", and an individual were quarreling about taxation and Isserlein records that both sides submitted legal arguments in support of their cases (Terumat ha-Deshen, Pesakim u-Khetavim, no. 144).

[Scholars and Jewish cultural life in Poland]

Great scholars like Yom Tov Lipmann *Muelhausen, who came to Cracow at the end of the 14th century, and Moses  b. Isaac Segal *Mintz, who lived at Poznan in 1475, must certainly have left traces of their cultural influence there. Some of the responsa literature contains graphic descriptions of social life.

"A rich man from Russia" - either the environs of Lvov in Poland or of Kiev in Lithuania - asked Israel Bruna,

"If it is permissible to have a prayer shawl of silk in red or green color for Sabbath and the holidays" (Responsa, no. 73, fol. 32b), a desire fitting a personality of the type of Volchko.

Something of the way of life of "the holy company of Lvov" can be seen from the fact that their problem was the murder of one Jew by another in the Ukrainian city of *Pereyaslav-Khmelnitski. As the victim lay wounded on the ground, a third Jew, Nahman (Naḥman), called out to the murderer, Simhah (Simḥah):  "Hit Nisan till death" and so he was killed by being beaten on his head as he lay there wounded. The victim was a totally ignorant man, "he couldn't recognize a single [Hebrew] letter and has never in his life put on tefillin." The murderer was drunk at the time and the victim had started the quarrel; they were all in a large company of Jews (ibid., no. 265, fol. 110a-b).

The large rough social and cultural climate of Jewish traders in the Ukraine in the middle of the 15th century is here in evidence. Moses Mintz describes from his own experience divorce customs in the region of Poznan (Responsa (Salonika, 1802), no. 113, fol. 129b). He also describes interesting wedding customs in Poland which differed in many details from those of Germany:

"when they accompany the bride and bridegroom to the huppah (ḥuppah) they sing on the way ... they give the bridegroom the cup and he throws it down, puts his foot on it and breaks it, but they pour out the wine from the cup before they give it to the bridegroom. They have also the custom of throwing a cock and also a hen over the head of the bride and bridegroom above the canopy after the pronouncing of the wedding blessings" (ibid., no. 109, fol. 127a).

Thus, in the western and central parts of Poland there is evidence of an established and well developed culture and some learning, contrasting sharply with the rough and haphazard [[arbitrary]] existence of Jews living southwards from Lvov to Pereyaslav-Khmelnitski.

[Jewish culture in Lithuania]

Jewish culture in Poland and in Lithuania seems to have had a certain rationalist, "Sephardi" tinge [[color]], as evidenced both by outside reports and by certain tensions appearing in the second half of the 16th century. At the beginning of the (col. 721)

16th century the Polish chronicler Maciej Miechowicz relates that in Lithuania,

"the Jews use Hebrew books and study sciences and arts, astronomy and medicine" (Tractatus de duabus Sarmatiis (1517), II:1,3). The cardinal legate Lemendone also notes that Lithuanian Jews of the 16th century devote time to the study of "literature and science, in particular astronomy and medicine". At the end of the 15th century, Lithuanian Jews took part in the movement of the "Judaizers in Muscovite Russia, whose literature shows a marked influence of rationalistic Jewish works and anti-Christian arguments.

The Jewish community of Kiev - in the 15th and early 16th centuries within the grand duchy of Lithuania - was praised by a Crimean Karaite in 1481 for its culture and learning. In about 1484 another Karaite, Joseph b. Mordecai of Troki, wrote a letter to Elijah b. Moses *Bashyazi (Mann, Texts, 2 (1935), 1149-59) telling about a disputation on calendar problems between him and "the Rabbanites who live here in Troki, Jacob Suchy of Kaffa (Feodosiya) and Ozer the physician of Cracow" (ibid., 1150). He closes his letter with ideas showing a decided rationalist tendency,

"The quality of the sermon will be through the quality of the subject, therefore as we have none such more important than the Torah, for in it there is this teaching that brings man straight to his scientific and social success and the chief of its considerations is that man should achieve his utmost perfection, which is spiritual success; and this will happen when he attains such rational concepts as the soul, the active reason, can attain, for the relation between a phenomenon and its causes is a necessary relation, i.e., the relation of the separate reason to the material reason is like the relation of light to sight" (ibid., 1159).

[Jewish philosophic dispute in 16th century in Poland: Solomon Luria and Moses Isserles - pupil Abraham b. Shabbetai Horowitz]

In Poland a dispute between two great scholars of the 16th century - Solomon *Luria and Moses *Isserles - brings to the surface elements of an earlier rationalist culture. Luria accuses yeshivah students [[students of a religious Torah school]] of using "the prayer of Aristotle" and accuses Isserles of "mixing him with words of the living God... [considering] that the words of this unclean one are precious and perfume to Jewish sages" (Isserles, Responsa, no. 6).

Isserles replies:

"All this is still a poisonous root in existence, the legacy from their parents from those that tended to follow the philosophers and tread in their steps. But I myself have never seen nor heard up till now such a thing, and, but for your evidence, I could not have believed that there was still a trace of these conceptions among us" (ibid., no. 7).

Writing around the middle of the 16th century, Isserles tells unwittingly of a philosophizing rend prevalent in Poland many years before. A remarkable case of how extreme rationalist conceptions gave way to more mystic ones can be seen in Isserles' pupil, Abraham b. Shabbetai *Horowitz.

Around 1539 he sharply rebuked the rabbi of Poznan, who believed in demons and opposed *Maimonides:

"As to what this ass said, that it is permissible to study Torah only, this is truly against what the Torah says, 'Ye shall keep and do for it is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the gentiles.' For even if we shall be well versed in all the arcana of the Talmud, the gentiles will still not consider us scholars; on the contrary, all the ideas of the Talmud, its methods and sermons, are funny and derisible in the eyes of the gentiles. If we know no more than the Talmud we shall not be able to explain the ideas and exegetical methods of the Talmud in a way that the gentiles will like - this stands to reason" (See MGWJ, 47 (1903), 263).

Yet this same man rewrote his rationalistic commentary on a work by Maimonides to make it more amenable to traditionalistic and mystic thought, declaring in the second version, "The first uproots, the last roots". Later trends and struggles in Jewish culture in Poland and Lithuania are partly traceable (col. 722)

to this early and obliterated rationalistic layer (see below).

[Polish expansion in Ukraine and Belorussia since 1550 - Poland-Lithuania since 1569]

Polish victories over the Teutonic Order in the west and against Muscovite and Ottoman armies in the east and southeast led to a great expansion of Poland-Lithuania from the second half of the 16th century. IN this way Poland-Lithuania gained a vast steppeland in the southeast, in the Ukraine fertile but unpacified and unreclaimed, and great stretches of arable [[fertile]] land and virgin forest in the east, in Belorussia. The agricultural resources in the east were linked to the center through the river and canal systems and to the sea outlet in the west through land routes. These successes forged a stronger link between the various strata of the nobility (Pol. szlachta) as well as between the Polish and Lithuanian nobility.

In 1569 the Union of Lublin cemented and formalized the unity of Poland-Lithuania, although the crown of Poland and the grand duchy of Lithuania kept a certain distinctness of character and law, which was also apparent in the *Councils of the Lands and in the culture of the Jews (see below). With the union, Volhynia and the Ukraine passed from the grand duchy to the crown. The combined might of Poland-Lithuania brought about a growing pacification of these southeastern districts, offering a possibility of their colonization which was eagerly seized upon by both nobility and peasants.


[Life under Polish nobility - experienced Jews as "partners" - and Christian resistance - aggressive Jews - Jewish connections Germany-Poland-Ottoman Empire]

The Polish nobility, which became the dominant element in the state, was at that time a civilized and civilizing factor. Fermenting with religious thought and unrest which embraced even the most extreme anti-trinitarians; warlike and at the same time giving rise to small groups of extreme anarchists and pacifists; more and more attracted by luxury, yet for most of the period developing rational - even if often harsh - methods of land and peasant exploitation; despising merchandise yet very knowledgeable about money and gain - this was the nobility that, taking over the helm of state and society, developed its own estates in the old lands of Poland-Lithuania and the vast new lands in the east and southeast.

Jews soon became the active and valued partners of this nobility in many enterprises. In the old "royal cities" - even in central places like Cracow, which expelled the Jews in 1495, and *Warsaw, which had possessed a privilegium de non tolerandis Judaeis since 1527 - Jews were among the great merchants of clothing, dyes [[colors]], and luxury products, in short, everything the nobility desired.

Complaints from Christian merchants as early as the beginning of the 16th century, attacks by urban anti-Semites like Sebastian *Miczyński and Przecław *Mojecki in the 17th century, and above all internal Jewish evidence all point to the success of the Jewish merchant.

The Jews prospered in trade even in places where he could not settle, thanks to his initiative, unfettered [[liberated]] by guilds, conventions, and preconceived notions [[with big plans]]. The kesherim, the council of former office holders in the Poznan community, complain about the excessive activity of Jewish intermediaries, "who cannot stay quiet; they wait at every corner, in every place, at every shop where silk and cloth is sold, and they cause competition through influencing the buyers by their speech and leading them to other shops and other merchants." The same council complains about "those unemployed" people who sit all day long from morning till evening before the shops of gentiles - of spice merchants, clothes merchants, and various other shops - "and the Christian merchants complain and threaten". There was even a technical term for such men, tsuvayzer [[Yidd.: pointer]], those who point the way to a prospective seller (Pinkas Hekhsherim shel Kehillat Pozna, ed. D. Avron (1966), 187-8, no. 1105, 250 no. 1473, 51 no. 1476).

Miczyński gives a bitter description of the same phenomenon in Cracow in 1618. (col. 723)

Large-scale Jewish trade benefited greatly from the trader's connections with their brethren both in the Ottoman Empire and in Germany and Western Europe. It was also linked to a considerable extent with the *arenda system and its resulting great trade in the export of agricultural products.

[New Jewish agricultural settlements in Ukraine by Arenda program - professions - Tatar resistance]

Through the arenda system Jewish settlements spread over the country, especially in the southeast. Between 1503 and 1648 there were 114 Jewish communities in the Ukraine, some on the eastern side of the River Dnieper (see map and list by S. Ettinger, in: Zion, 21 (1956), 114-8); many of these were tiny. Table 1 shows the main outlines of the dynamics of Jewish settlement in these regions of colonization (ibid., p. 124):

Table 1. Growth of Jewish Settlement by Places and Numbers in the Colonization Period
Wojewódstwo (district)
Before 1569

c. 1648


3,000xxxxx 46xxxxx 15,000xxxxxx
9xxxxxx 750xxxxx 18xxxxx 4,000xxxxxx
-xxxxxx -xxxxx 33xxxxx 13,500xxxxxx 32,325
2xxxxxx ?xxxxx 18xxxxx 18,825xxxxxx

24xxxxxx c. 4,000xxxxx 115xxxxx 51,325xxxxxx
from: from: Poland; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 13, col. 724

The further the move east and southward, the greater the relative growth in numbers and population. The Jewish arenda holders, traders, and peddlers traveled and settled wherever space and opportunity offered.

Life in these districts was strenuous and often harsh. The manner of Jewish life in the Ukraine, which as we have already seen was uncouth [[rough]], was both influenced and channeled through Jewish participation in the defense of newly pacified land. Meir b. Gedaliah of Lublin relates

"what happened to a luckless man, ill, and tortured by pain and suffering from epilepsy ... When there was an alarm in Volhynia because of the Tatars - as is usual in the towns of that district - when each one is obliged to be prepared, with weapon in hand, to go to war and battle against them at the command of the duke and the lords; and it came to pass that when the present man shot with his weapon, called in German Buechse [[tin]], from his house through the window to a point marked for him on a rope in his courtyard to try the weapon as sharpshooters are wont to do, then a man came from the market to the above mentioned courtyard ... and he was killed [by mistake]."

The rabbi goes on to tell that a Christian, the instructor and commander of this Jew, was standing in front of the courtyard to warn people not to enter. The Jew was "living among the gentiles in a village" with many children (Meir b. Gedaliah of Lublin, Responsa, no. 43).

[Alcohol trade - Jews in the Cossack army - daily violence]

There is reference to an enterprising group of Jews who went to Moscow with the armies of the Polish king during war, selling liquor (one of them had two cartloads) and other merchandise to the soldiers (ibid., no. 128).

Among the Cossack units there was a Jews about whom his Cossack colleagues "complained to God ... suddenly there jumped out from amongst our ranks a Jews who was called Berakhah, the son of the martyr Aaron of Cieszewiec."

This Jews was not the only one in the ranks of the Cossacks, for - to allow his wife to marry - one of the witnesses says that "he knew well that in this unit there was not another Jewish fighter who was called Berakhah" (ibid., no. 137).

Life in general was apt [[tended]] to be much more violent than is usually supposed: even at Brest-Litovsk, when the rebbe [[private teacher]] of the community saw a litigant [[head of the court]] nearing his door, he seized a heavy box and barricaded himself in for fear of harm (ibid., no. 44). (col. 724)

[Mill rights, alcohol rights, and milk rights - sabbath resolution in Volhynia in 1602]

Arenda did more than give a new basis to the existence of many Jewish families; it brought the Jews into contact with village life and often combined with aspects of their internal organizational structure. Thus, the Jews Nahum b. Moses, as well as renting the mills, the tavern, and the right of preparing beer and brandy, also rented for one year all milk produce of the livestock on the manors [[knight's territories]] and villages. Elaborate and complicated arrangement were made for payment and collection of these milk products (S. Inglot, in: Studja z historji spolecnej i gospodarczej poświȩcone prof. Franciszkowi Bujakowi (1931), 179-82; cf. 205, 208-9). In contact with village life, the Jews sometimes formed a sentimental attachment to his neighbors and his surroundings.

In 1602 a council of leaders of Jewish communities in Volhynia tried to convince Jewish arendars to let the peasants rest on Saturday though the Polish nobleman would certainly have given them the right to compel them to work:

"If the villagers are obliged to work all the week through, he should let them rest on Sabbath and the Holy Days throughout. See, while living in exile and under the Egyptian yoke, our parents chose this Saturday for a day of rest while they were not yet commanded about it, and heaven helped them to make it a day of rest for ever. Therefore, where gentiles are under their authority they are obliged to fulfill the commandment of the Torah and the order of the sages not to come, God forbid, to be ungrateful [livot] to the One  who has given them plenty of good by means of the very plenty he has given them. Let God's name be sanctified by them and not defiled" (H.H. Ben-Sasson, in: Zion, 21 (1956), 205).

[The nobles found a network of "private towns" - and Jews are assisting - Christian resistance provokes new Jewish towns - first network of Jewish towns]

The interests of the Jews and Polish magnates coincided and complemented each other in one most important aspect of the economic and social activity of the Polish-Lithuanian nobility. On their huge estates the nobles began to establish and encourage the development of new townships, creating a network of "private towns". Because of the nature of their relationship with their own peasant population they were keen to attract settlers from afar [[from far away]], and Jews well suited their plans. The tempo and scale of expansion were great; in the grand duchy of Lithuania alone in the first half of the 17th century between 770 and 900 such townships (miasteczki) existed (S. Aleksandrowicz, in: Roczniki dziejów spolecznych i gospadarczych, 27 (1965), 35-65). For their part, the Jews, who were hard pressed by the enmity of the populace [[mob]] in the old royal cities, gladly moved to places where they sometimes became the majority, in some cases even the whole, of the population.

Since these were situated near the hinterland of agricultural produce and potential customers, Jewish initiative and innovation found a new outlet [[sector of activity]]. Through charters granted by kings and magnates to communities and settlers in these new towns, the real legal status of the Jews gradually changed very much for the better. By the second half of thee 17th century everywhere in Poland Jews had become part of "the third estate" and in some places and in some respects the only one.

Jews continued to hold customs stations openly in Lithuania, in defiance of [[without considering]] the wishes of their leaders in Poland (see Councils of the Lands). Many custom station ledgers [[stoned monuments]] were written in Hebrew script and contained Hebrew terms (see R. Mahler, in YIVO Historishe Shriftn [[Yidd.: YIVO Historical Reports]], 2 (1937), 180-205). Sometimes a Jew is found with a "sleeping partner", a Pole or Armenian in whose name the customs lease has been taken out. That some customs stations were in Jewish hands was also of assistance to Jewish trade.

This complex structure of large-scale export and import trade, the active and sometimes adventurous participation in the colonization of the Ukraine and in the shaping of the "private cities", in the fulfilling of what today we would call state economic functions, created for the first time in the (col. 725)

history of Ashkenazi Jewry a broad base of population, settlement distribution, and means of livelihood, which provided changed conditions for the cultural and religious life of Jews. Even after the destruction wrought by the *Chmielnicki massacres enough remained to form the nucleus of later Ashkenazi Jewry. The later style of life in the Jewish *shtetl [[Yidd.: little town]] was based on achievements and progress made at this time.


[Jewish councils - fairs - creativity]

The Councils of the Lands, the great superstructure [[head of the structure]] of Jewish *autonomy, were an outgrowth [[separate branch]] of such dynamics of economy and settlement. Beginning with attempts at centralized leaderships imposed from above, appointed by the king, they ended with a central elected Jewish leadership. The aims, methods, and institutions of this leadership were intertwined with the new economic structure.

Great fairs - notably those of Lublin and Jaroslaw - since they attracted the richest and most active element of the Jewish population, also served as the meeting place of the councils. Throughout its existence the Council of the Province of Lithuania cooperated with its three (later five) leading communities through a continuous correspondence with them and between each of them and the smaller communities under its authority.

Here the council was adapting the organizational methods of large-scale trade to the leadership structure. The concern of the councils with the new economic phenomena, like arenda, is well known. They also concerned themselves with matters of security and morals which arose from the thin spread of Jewish families in Christian townships and villages.

On the whole, up to 1648 a sense of achievement and creativity pervades their enterprises and thought. A preacher of that time, Jedidiah b. Israel *Gottlieb, inveighed against a man's gathering up riches for his children, using the argument of the self-made man:

"The land is wide open, let them be mighty in it, settle and trade in it, then they will not be sluggards, lazy workers, children relying on their father's inheritance, but they themselves will try ... to bring income to their homes, in particular because every kind of riches coming through inheritance does not stay in their hands ... easy come, easy go ... through their laziness ... they have to be admonished ... to be mighty in the land through their trading: their strength and might shall bring them riches" (Shir Yedidut (Cracow, 1644), Zeidah la-Derekh, fol. 24a).

[Growing Jewish population - influx of Jewish refugees]

This buoyancy [[holding force]] was based on a continuous growth of population throughout the 16th and the first half of the 17th centuries, due both to a steady natural increase thanks to improving conditions of life and to immigration from abroad resulting from persecution and expulsions (e.g., that from Bohemia-Moravia for a short period in 1542). As noted, the growth was most intensive in the eastern and southeastern areas of Poland-Lithuania, and it was distributed through the growing dispersion [[expansion]] of Jews in the "private cities" and in the villages.

At the end of the 16th century, Great Poland and Masovia (Mazowsze) contained 52 communities, Lesser Poland 41, and the Ukraine, Volhynia, and Podolia about 80; around 1648, the latter region had 115 communities. From about 100,000 persons in 1578 the Jewish population had grown to approximately 300,000 around 1648. It is estimated that the Jews formed about 2.5-3% of the entire population of Poland, but they constituted between 10% an 15% of the urban population in Poland and 20% of the same in Lithuania.

[Jewish economy and difficulties: trials, depths and methods for a "good name for credit"]

The dynamics of Jewish economic life are evident not only in the variety and success of their activities, but also in certain specific institutions and problems that reveal the tension behind their strain for economic goals which tended to entail [[to cause]] risks. By the end of the 16th century, Jews were (col. 726)

borrowers rather than lenders. Seventeenth-century anti-Semites - Miczyński and Mojecki - accused Jews of borrowing beyond their means and deceiving Christian lenders. From their accusations it is clear that much of this credit was not in ready cash but in goods given to Jewish merchants on credit. Borrowing was a real problem with which the Jewish leadership was much concerned. Many ordinances of the Councils of the Lands, of the provincial councils, and of single communities are preoccupied with preventing and punishing bankruptcy. Great efforts were devoted to prevent non-payment of debts to Christians in particular. Young men who were building up a family were especially suspected of reaching beyond their means. These ordinances tell in their own way the story of a burgeoning economy which is strained to dangerous limits, inciting in particular the young and the daring. A good name for credit was then a matter of life and death for the Jewish merchant.

The great halakhist Solomon Luria was prepared to waive [[renounce]] an ancient talmudic law in favor of the lender because "now most of the living of the Jews is based on credit; whereas most of those called merchants have little of their own and what they have in their hands is really taken from gentiles on credit for a fixed period - for they take merchandise [on credit] till a certain date - it is not seemly for a judge to sequester [[fix by law]] the property of a merchant, for news of this may spread and he will lose the source of his living and all his gentile creditors will come on him together and he will be lost, God forbid, and merchants will never trust him again.I myself have seen and heard about many merchants - circumcised and uncircumcised - to whom, because people said about them that they are a risk, much harm was caused and they never again could stand at their posts" (Yam shel Shelomo, Bava Kamma, ch. 1, para 20).

[Jews take credit with Jews - and credit letters]

Because of the importance of credit the practice of a Jews lending on interest to another Jew became widespread in Poland-Lithuania despite the fact that it was contrary to Jewish law (see  *usury). This necessitated the creation there of the legal fiction of hetter iskah, formulated by a synod of rabbis and leaders under the chairmanship of Joshua b. Alexander ha-Kohen *Falk in 1607. Widespread credit also led to the use of letters of credit specific to the Jews of Poland, the so-called *mamran (Pol. membrana, membran): the Jew would sign on one side of the paper and write on the other side "this letter of credit obliges to signed overleaf for amount x to be paid on date y."

[Cultural life and reforms in Poland-Lithuania in 16th and 17th century - spirits and synagogues]

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol. 13, col.
                727. Drawing of the Jewish quarter and mid-17th-century
                synagogue ofChodorow, Poland, by George Lukomski
amplifyEncyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol. 13, col. 727. Drawing of the Jewish quarter
and mid-17th-century synagogue of Chodorow, Poland, by George Lukomski

Jewish cultural and social life flourished hand in hand with the economic and demographic growth. In the 16th and early 17th centuries Poland-Lithuania became the main center of Ashkenazi culture. Its *yeshivot [[religious Torah schools]] were already famous at the beginning of the 16th century; scholars like *Hayyim (Ḥayyim)b. Bezalel of Germany and David b. Solomon *Gans of Prague were the pupils of *Shalom Shakhna of Lublin and Moses Isserles of Cracow, respectively. Mordecai b. Abraham *Jaffe; Abraham, Isaiah, and Jacob b. Abraham *Horowitz; Eliezer b. Elijah *Ashkenazi; *Ephraim Solomon b. Aaron Luntshits; and Solomon Luria were only a few of the great luminaries of talmudic scholarship and moralistic preaching in Poland-Lithuania of that time. Councils of the Lands and community ordinances show in great detail of not the reality at least the ideal of widespread Torah study supported by the people in general.

This culture was fraught with great social and moral tensions. Old Ashkenazi ascetic ideas did not sit too well on the affluent and economically activist Polish-Lithuanian Jewish society. Meetings with representatives of the Polish *Reformation movement, in particular with groups and representatives of the anti-trinitarian wing like Marcin Czechowic or Szymon *Budny, led to disputations (col. 729)

and reciprocal influence. Outstanding in these contacts on the Jewish side was the Karaite Isaac b. Abraham *Troki, whose Hizzuk Emunah (Ḥizzuk Emunah) sums up the tensions in Jewish thought in the divided Christian religious world of Poland-Lithuania. It was Moses Isserles who formulated the Ashkenazi modifications and additions to the code of the Sephardi Joseph Caro. Isaiah b. Abraham ha-Levi *Horowitz summed up in his Shenei Luhot (Luḥot) ha-Berit the moral and mystic teaching of the upper circles of Ashkenazi Jewry. Yet his writings, and even more so the writings of Isserles, give expression to the tensions and compromises between rationalism and mysticism, between rich and poor, between leadership and individual rights. To all these tensions, Ephraim Solomon Luntshits gave sharp voice in his eloquent sermons, standing always on the side of the poor against the rich and warning consistently against the danger of hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Fortifies and wooden synagogues expressed the needs and the aesthetic sense of Jewish society of that time.

In the old "royal cities" magnificent synagogue buildings were erected as early as the 16th century (e.g. the Rema synagogue at Cracow and the Great Synagogue of Lvov). Hebrew manuscripts were brought from abroad and some of them illuminated [[explained]] in Poland. Jewish printing developed early and many beautiful works were published. Various sources describe carnivallike Purim celebrations, and the fun, irony, and joy of life expressed in now lost folk songs and popular games and dramas.> (col. 730)

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol.
                        13, col. 717-718
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol. 13, col. 717-718
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol.
                        13, col. 719-720
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol. 13, col. 719-720
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol.
                        13, col. 721-722
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol. 13, col. 721-722
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol.
                        13, col. 723-724
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol. 13, col. 723-724
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol.
                        13, col. 725-726
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol. 13, col. 725-726
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol.
                        13, col. 727-728
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol. 13, col. 727-728
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol.
                        13, col. 729-730
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Poland, vol. 13, col. 729-730

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