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he earliest verifiable records of Jewish settlement in Poland date from the late 11th century. However, it is generally believed that Jews arrived in Poland much earlier. Many scholars discard the theory that a large number of followers of the Judaic faith came to Poland from the east in about 965 after the fall of the Khazar state. While it is true that the rulers of Khazar converted to Judaism, there is substantial disagreement amongst researchers as to whether or not their subjects converted in significant numbers. The first Jews to arrive on Polish territory were merchants who were referred to as Radhanites. The Radhanites were merchants whose trade extended over vast distances between east ans west. They were fluent in Arabic, Persian, Greek, Spanish, "Franklish" and "Slav" languages. Their entrance occurred simultaneously with the formation of the Polish state. One of them was Ibrahim ibn Jacob, the author of the first extensive account about Poland. In the summer of 965 or 966 Jacob made a trade and diplomatic journey from his native Toledo in Moslem Spain to the Holy Roman Empire and Slavonic countries.

eudal disintegration, the birth of towns and the development of commodity money relations favored the settlement by Jews in Poland. Nevertheless, the influx of Jews was brought about mostly by their persecution in Western Europe, which gained in force during the crusades. Among the first Jews to arrive in Poland (in 1097 or 1098) were those banished from Prague. Jews from Bohemia and Germany settled primarily in Silesia. They usually engaged in trade and agriculture and some owned landed estates. By the middle of the14th century they had occupied thirty-five Silesian towns. Jewish settlement in other parts of Poland proceeded at a much slower pace and the first mention of Jewish settlers in Plock dates from 1237, in Kalisz from 1287 and a Zydowska (Jewish) street in Krakow in 1304. Earlier, Mieszko III, the prince of Great Poland between 1138 and 1202 and the ruler of all Poland in 1173-77 and 1198-1202, employed Jews in his mint as engravers of dies and technical supervisors of all workers. Until 1206, Jews worked on commission for other contemporary Polish princes, including Casimir the Just, Boleslaus the Tall and Ladislaus Spindleshanks. From pure silver they struck coins called bracteates, which they emblazoned with inscriptions in Hebrew.

n 1264, a successor to Mieszko III in Great Poland, Boleslaus the Pious, granted Jews a privilege known as the Kalisz statute. According to this statute, (which was modeled on similar decrees issued in Austria, Bohemia and Hungary) Jews were exempted from municipal and castellan jurisdiction and were subject only to princely courts. The same statute granted Jews free trade and the right to conduct moneylending operations which were, however, limited only to loans made on security of " immovable property". The Kalisz statute, which described the Jews as "slaves of the treasury", ensured protection of persons, protection of property and freedom in conducting religious rites. They were also given the opportunity to organize their internal life on the principle of self-government of their individual communities. Similar privileges were granted to the Silesian Jews by the local princes, Prince Henry Probus of Wroclaw in 1273-90, Henry of Glogow in 1274 and 1299, Henry of Legnica in 1290 - 95 and Bolko of Legnica and Wroclaw in 1295.

hese privileges resulted in hostile reactions against the Jews by the Catholic clergy. In 1267, the Council of Wroclaw created segregated Jewish quarters in citiesand towns and ordered Jews to wear a special emblem. Jews were banned from holding offices where Christians would be subordinated to them and were forbidden to build more than one prayer house in each town. These resolutions, however, though they were reiterated during the subsequent councils in Buda in 1279 and Leczyca in 1285, were generally not enforced due to the profits which the Jews' economic activity yielded to the princes. The turn of the 13th and 14th centuries saw the end of feudal disintegration in Poland. In the reunited kingdom the role of towns and the burghers grew. The rulers, interested in the development of a commodity money economy, encouraged Jewish immigration. The most outstanding of those rulers was Casimir the Great who in 1334, a year after ascending the throne, acknowledged the privilege granted the Jews in Great Poland by Boleslaus the Pious in 1264. As a result Jews were exempted from German law and came under the jurisdiction of the voivodes.

n the 14th and 15th centuries the main occupation of Jews in Poland was local and long distance trade. Jews performed the role of middlemen in trade between Poland and Hungary, Turkey and the Italian colonies on the Black Sea. They also took part in the Baltic trade and commercial operations in Silesia. Owing to their links with Jewish communities in other countries as well as experience in trade and moneylending operations, Jewish merchants gained the advantage over local merchants, both in European and overseas trade. Following protests by the rich Polish burghers and the clergy, the scope of credit operations conducted by the Jews was seriously curtailed in the early 15th century. In 1423 the statute of Warka forbade Jews the granting of loans against letters of credit or mortgage and limited their operations exclusively to loans made on security of moveable property.

he amassed capital was invested by the Jews in leaseholds. In the 14th and 15th centuries rich Jewish merchants and moneylenders leased the royal mint, salt mines and the collecting of customs and tolls. The most famous of them were Jordan and his son Lewko of Krakow in the 14th century and Jakub Slomkowicz of Luck, Wolczko of Drohobycz, Natko of Lvov, Samson of Zydaczow, Josko of Hrubieszow and Szania of Belz in the 15th century. For example, Wolczko of Drohobycz, King Ladislaus Jagiello's broker, was the owner of several villages in the Ruthenian voivodship and the soitys (administrator) of the village of Werbiz. Also Jews from Grodno were in this period owners of villages, manors, meadows, fish ponds and mills. However until the end of the 15th century agriculture as a source of income played only a minor role among Jewish families. More important were crafts for the needs of both their fellow Jews and the Christian population (fur making, tanning, tailoring).

he expansion of the scope of economic activity carried out by the Jews sharpened competition between them and their Christian counterparts. In the 14th century anti-Jewish riots broke out in Silesia which was ruled by the Bohemian-German dynasty of Luxembourg. These reached their climax during the epidemics of the Black Death when, as earlier in Western Europe, Jews were accused of systematically poisoning the wells. In 1349 pogroms took place in many towns in Silesia and some of the refugees from those towns, as well as Jews banished from West European countries, sought shelter from persecution in Poland. Streams of Jewish immigrants headed east to Poland during the reign of Casimir the Great who encouraged Jewish settlement by extending royal protection to them. First mentions about Jewish settlements in Lvov (1356), Sandomierz (1367), Kazimierz near Krakow (1386) and several other cities date from the second half of the 14th century. In the 15th century Jews appeared in many cities in Great Poland, Little Poland, Kuyavia, Pomerania and Red Ruthenia. In the 1450s Polish towns gave shelter to Jewish refugees from Silesia which was then ruled by the Habsburgs.

n 1454 anti-Jewish riots flared up in Wroclaw and other Silesian cities. They were inspired by the papal envoy, the Franciscan friar John of Capistrano. Though his main aim was to instigate a popular rebellion against the Hussites, he also carried out a ruthless campaign against the Jews whom he accused of profaning the Christian religion. As a result of Capistrano's endeavors, Jews were banished from Lower Silesia. Shortly after, John of Capistrano, invited to Poland by Zbigniew Olesnicki, conducted a similar campaign in Krakow and several other cities where, however, anti-Jewish unrest took on a much less acute form. Forty years later, in 1495, Jews were ordered out of the center of Krakow and allowed to settle in the "Jewish town" of Kazimierz. In the same year, Alexander Jagiellon, following the example of Spanish rulers, banished the Jews from Lithuania. For several years they took shelter in Poland until they were allowed back to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1503.

owards the end of the Middle Ages Jews lived in 85 towns in Poland and their total number amounted to 18,000 in Poland and 6,000 in Lithuania, which represented merely 0.6 per cent of the total population of the two states. The 16th and the first half of the 17th century saw increased settlement and a relatively fast rate of natural population growth among both Polish and Lithuanian Jews. The number of immigrants also grew, especially in the 16th century. Among the new arrivals there were not only the Ashkenazim, banished from the countries belonging to the Habsburg monarchy, that is Germany, Bohemia, Hungary and Lower Silesia (in the 1580's the whole of Silesia had only two Jewish communities, in Glogow and Biala), but also the Sephardim who were driven away from Spain and Portugal. Moreover many Sephardic Jews from Italy and Turkey came to Poland of their own free will.