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owards the end of the 16th century the flood of immigration abated and new communities were founded generally as a result of the movement of the population from the crowded districts to new quarters. In around 1648 Jews lived in over half of all cities in the Commonwealth, but the center of Jewish life moved from the western and central parts of Poland to eastern voivodships where two out of three townships had Jewish communities. Beginning in the middle of the16th century Jews started to settle in the countryside in larger numbers. In the middle of the 17th century there were 500,000 Jews living in Poland, which meant some five per cent of the total population of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The legal position of the Jews was still regulated by royal and princely privileges and Sejm statutes, with the difference that in 1539 Polish Jews from private towns and villages became subordinated to the judiciary and administration of the owners. From that time on, an important role was played by privileges granted by individual lords. On top of that, the legal status of Jews was still influenced by synodal resolutions and the common law.

ll this amounted to a considerable differentiation in the legal position of the Jewish population. In some cities Jews were granted municipal citizenship, without, however, the right to apply for municipal positions. In many towns, especially the gentry towns, Jews were given complete freedom in carrying out trade and crafts, while in others these freedoms as well as the right to settle were restricted. Finally there were also towns where Jews were not allowed to settle. In the 16th century more than twenty towns obtained the privilegia de non tolerandis Judaeis. These included Miedzyrzec in 1520, Warsaw in 1525, Sambor in 1542, Grodek in 1550, Vilna in 1551, Bydgoszcz in 1556, Stryj in 1567, Biez, Krosno and Tarnogrod 1569, Pilzno in 1577, Drohobycz in 1578, Mikolajow in 1596, Checiny in 1597. In practice, however, this ban was inconsistently observed. In other locations, separate suburbs, "Jewish towns", were formed (for example in Lublin, Piotrkow, Bydgoszcz, Drohobycz and Sambor) or the Jews fought for and won the revocation of those discriminatory regulations, for example in Stryj and Tarnogrod. The restrictions imposed on the territorial expansion of Jewish quarters forced the Jews to seek the privlegia de non tolerandis christianis, or bans on Christian settlement in Jewish quarters. Such privileges were won by the Jewish town of Kazimierz in 1568, the Poznan community in 1633 and all Lithuanian communities in 1645.

etween 1501 and 1648 Jews further intensified their economic activity. This was accompanied by a basic change in the occupational structure of the Jewish population in comparison with the previous period. The primary sources of income for Jewish families were crafts and local trade. The magnates for whom Jewish traders and craftsmen were an important element in their rivalry with the royal towns, generally favored the development of Jewish crafts. On the other hand, in larger royal towns as well as in the ecclesiastical towns Jewish craftsmen and also Christian craftsmen who were not members of a guild (known as partacze or patchers) were exposed to permanent harassment from the municipal authorities and the Christian guilds. They could carry out their occupations only clandestinely. In a small number of towns, for example in Grodno, Lvov, Luck and Przemysl, some Jewish craftsmen managed to wrest for themselves the right to perform their trade from the local guilds, but that only after having to pay heavy charges.

espite these difficulties Jewish crafts, which were encouraged by royal starosts and owners of gentry jurisdictions, not only maintained their state of ownership but expanded it considerably. In the middle of the 17th century Polish and Lithuanian Jews practiced over 50 trades (43 in Red Ruthenia) and were represented in all branches of craftsmanship. The most numerous of them were those who made food, leather and textile products, clothing, objects of gold and pewter and glass manufacturers. In the first half of the 17th century Jewish craftsmen founded their own guilds in Krakow, Lvov and Przemysl. In Biala Cerkiew several Jewish craftsmen (tailors and slaughterers) belonged to Christian guilds in 1641. In the 16th and the first half of the 17th century Jews played an outstanding role in Poland's foreign trade. They contributed to the expansion of contacts with both the east and the west and were instrumental in importing foreign commercial experience to Poland. Particularly animated trade contacts were maintained by Jewish merchants with England and the Netherlands through Gdansk, and Hungary and Turkey through Lvov and Krakow.

ews exported not only Polish agricultural produce and cattle but also ready-made products, particularly furs and clothing. In return they brought in goods from east and west which were much sought after in Poland. Jewish wholesalers appeared at large fairs in Venice, Florence, Leipzig, Hamburg, Frankfurt on Main, Wroclaw and Gdansk. In order to expand their trade contacts they entered into partnerships. For example in the mid-16th century Jewish merchants from Brest Litovsk, Tykocin, Grodno and Sledzew founded a company for trade with Gdansk, while in 1616 a similar company was established by merchants from Lvov, Lublin, Krakow and Poznan. At the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, in many towns Jewish and Christian merchants set up joint ad hoc companies in order to conclude profitable financial operations. In European and overseas trade only a relatively small number of Jews were engaged. The most numerous group among Jewish merchants were owners of shops as well as stall keepers and vendors whose whole property was what they put on show on the stall in front of their houses or on a cart, or what they carried in a sack on their backs. The expansion of Jewish trade troubled the burghers for whom Jewish competition was all the more painful since they now had yet another rival in the developing gentry trade. The struggle of part of the burghers against Jewish merchants manifested itself among other things in attempts at curtailing Jewish trade. The monarchs, though generally favorably disposed towards the Jews, under the pressure from the burghers and the clergy passed a number of decrees which restricted Jewish wholesale trade to some commodities or else to certain quotas of purchases they were allowed to make. More severe restrictions were contained in agreements concluded between municipal authorities and Jewish communities, though these were seldom observed in practice. In private towns, Jewish trade, which yielded considerable profit to the owners, could develop without any obstacles.

he Jews' trading activity also encompassed credit operations. The richest Jewish merchants were often at the same time financiers. The most famous Jewish bankers were the Fiszels in Krakow and the Nachmanowiczs in Lvov as well as Mendel Izakowicz and Izak Brodawka in Lithuania. Those and a number of other Jews pioneered centralized credit operations in Poland. Though banking institutions created by them mainly financed large Jewish tenancies and wholesale trade, as a sideline they also lent money to the gentry on pledge of incoming crops and to Jewish entrepreneurs. A positive role was also played by much smaller loans granted by Jews to many small craft and trade shops. In many cases these loans were instrumental in opening a business. However, the other side of the matter must not be overlooked. The lending of money at high interest led to the impoverishment of both Jewish and Christian debtors. Some of them were put in prison as a result and their families were left with no means of subsistence. This money lending activity aggravated prejudice against Jews among the burghers, something which had always been there anyway due to their religious and traditional separateness.

n important field of the Jews' economic activity were tenancies. In the period under discussion, next to rich merchants and bankers who held in lease large economic enterprises and the collecting of incomes from customs and taxes, there appeared a numerous group of small lease holders of mills, breweries and inns. There also increased the number of Jewish subtenants, scribes and tax collectors employed by rich holders. Some of the latter sometimes attained important positions. For example, in 1525, during the ceremonies connected with the Prussian Homage, without relinquishing his Jewish faith the main collector of Jewish taxes in Lithuania, Michal Ezofowicz was knighted and given the crest of Leliwa. His brother Abraham Ezofowicz, who had been baptized, was also knighted and granted the starosty of Minsk and the office of Lithuanian deputy treasurer. In the first quarter of the 16th century, Jewish lease holders performed their functions as full-fledged heads of enterprises subordinated to them, for example salt mines and customs offices. "In this period," wrote in 1521 Justus Ludwik Decius, the chronicler of Sigismund the Old, "Jews are gaining in importance; there is hardly any toll or tax for which they would not be responsible or at least to which they would not aspire. Christians are generally subordinate to the Jews. Among the rich and noble families of the Commonwealth you will not find one who would not favor the Jews on their estates and give them power over Christians."

he gentry, who in the 16th century conducted an unrelentless struggle against the magnates, came out against the leasing of salt mines, customs and tolls to the Jews by the lords and the king. Under the influence of the gentry, the diet of Piotrkow in 1538 forbade Jews to take in lease public incomes. This ban was reiterated several times by subsequent diets but it proved only partly effective. In 1581 the autonomous representation of the Jews (the Diet of the Four Lands), which gathered in Lublin, took a decision which, under penalty of anathema, forbade fellow Jews taking the lease of salt mines, mints, taxes on the sale of liquor and customs and tolls in Great Poland, Little Poland and Mazovia. This ban was justified in the following way: "People fired by the greed of great income and wealth owing to those large tenancies, may bring unto the whole [Jewish population] - God forbid - a great danger."

 
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