Jews in the Land of Kiev Russia and the Moscow State
Until the end of the Eighteenth Century, when numerous Jewish ethnic groups, as a result of certain historic events, became "subjects of the Russian Judaic faith", Russia did not have its so-called Jewish problem since there were no Jews. Before the Eighteenth Century Russian chroniclers scarcely referred to the Jews, or if they mentioned them, it was only casually in connection with other events, e. g., the pogrom in Kiev in the second half of the Eleventh Century that resulted in the murder of the duke, Andrey Bogolubsky in 1074, and was referred to as the “Judaizers” (Zhidovstvuyushchive).
In order to present a fuller account of these events, in this sketch, we pause for a short description.
Jews in Kiev
During the epoch in which Kiev Russia flourished and its might grew, a lively trade with the Byzantine Empire and the West was going on. Jews appeared as merchants and traders of Byzantine extraction from the Byzantine and Greek colonies of the Crimean Peninsula. They settled in Kiev, quickly got rich and resided in houses equal in richness an décor to the mansions of the wealthiest men, the boyars, who were in attendance on the Great Duke.
As the Great Dukes were frequently replaced, they did not show any hostility towards the Jews, and some even openly patronized them. An example of this was the Great Duke Yaropolk. This, at times, provoked displeasure among the rest of the population. The trading and enterprising activities of the Jews were profitable for the treasury of the Great Duke. The Jews did not interfere in any other sphere of life of either the people or the state, preferring to lead their own secluded religious communal life.
So they continued to live until the second half of the Eleventh Century, when the Jewish pogrom occurred in Kiev, in the year 1062. During this pogrom all the Jewish houses and the rich Jewish colony in Kiev were destroyed. Whether or not there were losses of Jewish lives is not mentioned in the chronicle.
According to the chronicler of these events, it was not only the Jewish but also non-Jewish homes of rich people which were destroyed and pillaged. This gives reason to believe that the grounds for the pogrom were not religiously but economically oriented, a fact that historians seem to ignore. They prefer to imply that the causes were basically religious in source, an explanation usual of all other conflicts between the Jewish Diaspora and the native population throughout history. These conflicts often led to various limitations, persecutions, pogroms and expulsions of the Jews from many countries.
This conflict between the Jews and the native population that ended in the pogrom of Kiev was not limited to Kiev alone, but was typical phenomenon in other cities of other principalities that were members of the single unit called Kiev Russia at that time. The indirect proof of this may be found in one of the decisions of the princes at the conference in Luebeck, at the very beginning of the Twelfth Century. The conference decided not to allow Jews to reside on any land that was part of Kiev Russia.
Jews in the North-East
Much of the information concerning the Jewish sojourn in the North East, in Vladimirsk-Suzdalsk Russia, is quite scanty and fragmented even now in comparison to that of Kiev. In the chronicles there is an indication that the closest persons in attendance on the great Duke Bogolubsky were Jews who were also the organizers of the conspiracy on his life that ended in his murder in the village of Bogolubovo In 1074. It is believed that these Jews were from the Kingdom of Khozar in the lower Volga region. The ruling classes of this Kingdom had converted to the Jewish religion. The chronicler, of course, did not deal with an examination of the question as to whether these were real Jews or the Khozars who had converted to Judaism. As far as the populace was concerned, they were Jews, as the chronicler had labeled them.
The invasion of the Tarters in the first half of Thirteenth Century emptied and destroyed the whole Kiev Russia, resulting in the disappearance of any possibility of trading activity. And for more than three centuries no mention is found in the chronicles about the Jews on Russian land. It was only at the end of the Fifteenth Century that the word "Hebrew" appeared again in the chronicles. This time it was not in connection with any conflicts between the Jews and the native population, but with the phenomenon which is known in history as the "Judaizers", otherwise called "Judaizing heresy", appearing in the North-West, in the city of Novgorod.
The Judaizing Heresy
The well-known historian Soloviev writes of this heresy:
"In the middle of the Fifteenth Century, and perhaps earlier, a heresy appeared in Kiev, which was under the power of the Polish-Lithuanian state, which seemed to be a combination of Judaic and Christian rationalism. Its leader and one of the members of the society of these heretics was a Jew named Zakharias. He arrived in Novgorod and, as the chronicle says, "with the help of five accomplices who were also Jews planted the seeds of the Novgorod heresy”.
As a result of clever propaganda, this heresy received great publicity, at first in Novgorod, and later in Moscow. Here it found quite a few adherents, mainly among the high clergy and the upper class of contemporary Moscow society, including the daughter-in-law of the Grant Duke. The daughter-in-law was the mother of the heiress to the throne, Princess Helen.
This expanding heresy became a menace to the Orthodox religion and its hierarchy, headed by the Father Superior Joseph Voloklamsky. The hierarchy started a violent fight with the "Judaizing heresy", which defended itself energetically, advocating its teaching rights in the ensuing disputes.
After a long struggle, the opponents of the "Judaizing heresy" won, and at the specially convened council to deal with this question in Moscow in 1504, the heretics were condemned. Some of them were executed, some escaped to Lithuania (Poland), and the Princess Helen was locked in a monastery.
The heresy died out and decayed, but memories of it lingered for a long time in the minds of the faithful Orthodox people. They considered it as an unsuccessful attempt by the Jews, by means of heresy, to ruin the unity of the Orthodox Church.
And about half a century later, in 1550, the following dialogue occurred between the Great Duke of Lithuania and the Great Duke of Moscow.
The Great Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, through his ambassador Stanislav Edrovsky, said the following to the Great Duke of Moscow. "It bothers us and our subjects, especially the Jewish merchants of our state, that in the time of our ancestors, all merchants, both Jews and Christians, were free to trade in Moscow and throughout your state. Now, however, you do not allow the Jewish merchants to trade in any part of the state which you control."
John, the Great Duke of Moscow, replied. "We wrote to you more than once about the evil deeds committed by the Jews, how they led our people away from Christianity, brought to us poisonous potions and did many unfair things to our people. It does not befit you, our brother, even to write in their defense, since you have heard of their evil deeds."
Before this dialogue occurred all the Jews from Brest, that had lived and traded in Moscow previously, were expelled and their merchandise was burned.
Later, in 1563, during the Livonian war, when Polotsk was 'occupied by the Russians, all the Jews of that city were drowned in the river by order of Ivan the Terrible. This occurred when the local inhabitants, the Russian Polotskites, complained about the Jewish oppression and their evil deeds to him. The complaints were also made against leaseholders of the Polish authorities and magnates.
For more than two centuries after these events occurred, until the end of Eighteenth Century, the Jews in general were not allowed, even temporarily in any territory held by Russia, as it was in the Kingdom of Moscow, or the Russian Empire.
* * *
It was a different matter altogether concerning the Jewish sojourn on the Russian lands, occupied by the Power of the Polish-Lithuanian State after the breakup of Kiev Russia.
Rich and fertile lands on both sides of the Middle Dnieper, as well as the lands further west, were depopulated for almost three centuries. But as soon as the danger from Tartars began to recede, these lands were quickly occupied by settlers. New life sprang up, law and order was established, and the prospects of economic activities became promising, without the constant fear of Tartar raids, its ravages, and it’s capturing of people for slavery.
These lands, once settled, became the property of the state and the Polish-Lithuanian magnates, who were holders of vast (latifundiums), cities, towns, villages and farming settlements. The population was turned into lawless slave-serfs, called "Pospolites". Exploitation of these lands and the use of the forced labor of these slave-serfs "Pospolites" yielded enormous profits to the holders.
Industrious and energetic petty landowners, in the hope of free life which was promised to them in newly settled lands, rushed to the East, escaping from the oppression of serfdom which had become extremely heavy in Poland. But the serfdom followed close behind, and as soon as the newcomers settled and established themselves, again it reared its head. New settlers were forced to do all kinds of duties and to pay oppressive taxes, the intention of which was to turn them into slaves, whose possessions, labor and even lives became the property of the "owners", the Polish lords and magnates.
The conditions were made still worse by the presence of a whole army of intermediaries, between the owners and their "subjects". Usually the intermediaries were Jews who were used to farming out different articles of the owners' income such as, the running of taverns, tax collection in the cities ("Mito"), mills, fishing rights, rights of using bridges and collecting of tolls on them, and dykes, built by the serf's own labor, and even Orthodox churches, located within the confines of granted lands.
Often owners leased their whole estates with all the "articles of the income".
The intermediaries, (the middlemen) wanting to carve out from these "income articles" as much as possible, refined themselves in their duties, counting of course upon their own intermediary "earnings". In case of the slightest disobedience to their service, the whole police-administrative apparatus of the Polish Government would be set in motion.
Not having any direct relationship with their Polish "lords", the "Pospolites"-serfs dealt usually with the intermediary-Jews' and therefore their wrath, indignation, and dissatisfaction against all kinds of unbearably heavy extortions fell upon the Jews and provoked sharp anti-Semitic feeling.
The Ukrainian people created a whole cycle of "ballads", legends about the Jewish oppression, which the Ukrainian historian Grushevsky writes about in detail. As a socialist (Ukrainian ESER) and as a Bolshevik collaborator, repenting in his chauvinistic-separatist errors and returning from emigration to serve them, he could not be suspected of anti-Semitism.
In the chapter "Anti-Semitic Motives in the Explanations of Chmielnichiny" (p. 123 "The Beginnings of the Chmielnichiny") Grushevsky writes as follows.
The Jews, the leaseholders, rented all the Cossack roads, and blocked them with their taverns. Within every mile they had about three taverns, obliging the Cossacks to buy vodka and honey from them, and at the same time forbidding them to make these drinks for their own consumption. Here is how the "ballad" speaks about.
"When a Ukrainian Cossack bypassed a tavern,
The Jew-inn keeper would run out,
grab the Cossack by his forelock,
Pound with both fists on the back of his head,
pushing him in the tavern:
Why do you walk by and bypass my inn... " .
The Jews leased all the Cossack market places and collected "to the last farthing" from pedestrians and horse travelers, for all kinds of cargo or loads. They even collected from beggars who were handed something. They took from one what was best, and as the "ballad" say:
"The Jewish leaseholders would not stop at that.
They have leased all the churches in the famous Ukraine.
So when God gave a child to a Cossack or a peasant, the
latter had to go to the Jewish leaseholder and pay him
first in order to get permission to open the church, to
baptize the child. "
Of the extortions from different trades the famous "ballad about the Jewish oppression of Cossacks" said the following.
"If any Cossack or peasant wanted to catch some fish to feed his family, he did not have to go to a priest for blessing but to the Jew-leaseholder for the permission. Before the Cossack was allowed to fish, he had to promise to give part of his catch to the Jew, and then he could feed his wife and children with the rest. "
From the same "ballad" Grushevsky gives a long description of how a Cossack took a musket and walking on a road, bypassed the tavern. The Jewish innkeeper saw the Cossack and ran after him. "The Jew ran out from the tavern grabbed the Cossack by his bushy hair", cursing about how he dared to "kill a duck". Then the Cossack was forced to beg and address the Jew as "gracious lord".
How accurate these ballads are in depicting historical truth is difficult to establish, but it is known that they represent reflections of national feelings of that time without doubt.
Specifically, the question about the leasing of Orthodox churches by the Jews is disputed by many on the basis that there are no preserved lease agreements concerning this.
Advocates of this opinion that the Jews indeed were leaseholders of such churches bring forward a preserved contract for the year 1596. According to this contract the village of Slucha was mortgaged to two leaseholders together, one of Polish gentry, called Miklazchevsky, the other a Jew called Pesakhu. In the numerous income articles are mentioned the "churches and its collected alms". Thus, collected alms are income from the churches: The well-known historian Kostomorov completely shares his opinion, that it is a fact the churches were leased by the Jews. Grushevsky tends to consider it as an unproven fact, but some authors, for example Galant in the journal "Jewish Antiquity" for the year 1909, disputes this opinion.
Since this question is transformed from a historical platitude into a political platitude, justifying anti-Semitism among the Ukrainians the question is by no means fully and properly clarified and requires further objective investigation.
On the other hand, this question of the roles and activity of the Jewish intermediaries in general, excluding the question of leasing the churches, and appraisal of this activity by contemporary writers had been illustrated quite fully in the documents of that time.
From the preserved letter, written by Colonel Krivonos to the Duke of Zaslavsky, it can be seen that Krivonos considers the Jewish activity as the main cause for the uprising. Colonel Krivonos was one of the principle associates of Chmielnitsky. He writes to Zaslavsky: "The Jews, if I may, Your Grace, have to be turned back to the Vistula, because they are the cause of this war. It is they who are the cause of your grief".
The Muscovite merchant, Kunakov, driving through the Ukraine in the winter 1648-49, that is, immediately after the beginning of the uprising, stated the following examining its causes: "The Jews robbed and humiliated the Cherkass, that's the Ukrainians. As soon as some Cherkass distills vodka or makes beer without telling a Jew about it, or does not take his cap off before a Jew, the Jews seize upon this chance to rob, to destroy the product, to confiscate his possessions, and forcefully to take away his wife and children for hard labor.
Usefovich, the priest from city of Lvov, writes: “Polish domination has reached such an unbearable squeeze, that they even use to hand the power over the churches to the Jews. A Cossack priest, simply called “Pop”, could not conduct confessions, wedding ceremonies or other services in his own church if he did not pay the Jew for the keys in advance. Moreover, the priest was obliged to return the keys after each service. You, Poland, deserve the misfortune you are enduring now”. So writes the Pole, who was a Catholic priest and a contemporary of the events.
In the preserved letters of Chmielnitsky it is stated, as proof of the extreme oppression of the people that he himself had to endure all kinds of falsehoods from the Jews.
We find the same in the memoirs of the events, written by the contemporary Poles, Kokhovsky and Grondsky. The latter, writing in detail about all kinds of heavy duties, says that these duties "grew from day to day, mainly because they were farmed out by the Jews, who not only invented various incomes that were highly dishonest to peasants, but also dominated and appropriated the law-courts dealing with peasants".
A Jew from the province of Yolyn, Natan Hannover, writes in his memoirs about the serfs, stating that they "worked their corvée for magnates and gentry, who burdened them with heavy work in the house and in the field. The gentry demanded from the peasants and serfs heavy duties, and some of the gentry, using horrible methods, forced the serfs to accept the religion of the ruling class. The Russian-Ukrainian people were humiliated to such a degree, that even the most humiliated people of all the peoples — the Jews dominated them as well".
From all these excerpts, from the authentic historical documents it is obvious under what unbearably hard conditions the broad national masses of the Ukraine and Russia existed at that time.
It is also obvious what the causes were that gave birth to the hatred of the Jews, causes that were characteristic for the mood of the masses of that time. Whether this is the fault of the Jews or the Polish Government, behind who’s back stood the Jesuits, does not change the matter. The fact remains that on the Ukrainian-Russian territory, occupied by Poland at that time, such conditions were created where Jews, in order to exist, had to exploit the people.
* * *
Clearance of the Left Bank
The biggest magnate of the left bank of the Dnieper River, Vishnevetsky, learning about the uprising led by Chmielnitsky, collected a large army in order to help Pototsky to suppress the uprising. But, upon arriving at the river Dnieper, Vishnevetsky found all the river ferries destroyed and, as he was unwilling to detain his army by a slow crossing, moved towards the north to the province of Chernigov. Just a little north of Luebeck, Vishnevetsky was lucky enough to cross the river and move his army towards the province of Volyn, where he arrived already after the defeat of Pototsky near the Zholtye Vody and Korsoon. Vishnevetsky's residence, Lubny, was captured by the insurgents, who had massacred all Catholics and Jews that were unable to retreat in time with Vishnevetsky.
During the retreat from the Left Bank, where he was cut off by the river Dnieper from Poland, Vishnevetsky felt "as in a cage", according to the memoirs of his contemporary. From the many preserved documents it is obvious that this was not only an army retreat, but an evacuation of the whole Left Bank. All the people that were connected one way or the other with Poland and its social system were running away from the insurgents and retreated with Vishnevetsky. This included the gentry, the Jewish leaseholders, the Catholics and the Uniats. These people knew that if they fell into the hands of the insurgents, they would not be spared.
The contemporary Rabbi Hannover writes in highly accurate and colorful biblical style about this "exodus" of the Jews from the Left Bank along with the Poles, who treated the Jews well, gave them protection and defended them with special care, so that they would not fall into Cossack hands.
Hannover writes concerning the fate of those who had no time to join the retreating Vishnevetsky: "many communities which were located behind the Dnieper, near the places of war, such as Perreiaslav, Baryshevka, Piriatin, Lubny and Lokhovitza, had no time to run away and thus were destroyed. The people of these communities perished in the upheaval, amidst bitter and horrible torments.
Of some captured Jews the insurgents stripped their skin off threw the bodies to the dogs. From others they chopped hands and legs off and threw the bodies on the road where carts and horses crushed them... The same treatment was given the captured Polish gentry and the priests. Behind the Dnieper thousands of Jewish souls were killed..."
Information given by Hannover fully coincides with the descriptions of the events by other contemporaries, who even give the number that perished. Grushevsky in his book "Chmielnichina in its Bloom" speaks about two thousand Jews killed in the Chernigov, eight hundred in Gomel, several hundred in Sosnitsa, Baturin, and Nosovka and in other towns and settlements. The description given by Grushevsky about how these pogroms were carried out was also preserved. "Some were chopped up, others were ordered to dig ditches where wives and children were thrown and buried alive under the earth, and still other Jews were given muskets and ordered to shoot at one another ...”
As a result of this spontaneous pogrom on the Left Bank during a few weeks of the summer of 1648, all the Poles, Jews, Jesuits and Catholics disappeared, as well as the few orthodox gentry, which sympathetically collaborated with them.
During this time people composed the song which is still known:
"There is nowhere as nice as our Ukraine
There is no Polish gentry, no Polish nobles, no Jews
And no cursed Unia...”
These events refer only to the Left Bank of the Ukraine-Malorussia. (Before the revolution the Poltava and the Chernigov provinces belonged to the territory which was called Malorussia and now Ukraine). According to the "Everlasting Peace" of 1686 with Poland, a large part of Malorussia still remained under the Power of Poland. The river Dnieper was the borderline. The whole Right Bank, except the city of Kiev, again became the composed part of the Rechy Pospolite of Poland, with the same social and political system which provoked the uprising led by Chmielnitsky. The bloody struggle with the Poles, ending with their expulsion, has cleared only the Left Bank of the Ukraine-Russia.
In the years to come, right up to the fall of Poland and the reunion with Russia of the former territories of Kiev Russia that had been under Polish occupation for several centuries, the permanent sojourn of the Jews on Russian territory was not permitted.
But temporary stays for business reasons were not prohibited. When the Hetman Daniel Apostol requested during the years 1727-1734 that Jews be prohibited from entering the country, even for temporary stays in Malorussia, St. Petersburg answered him: "Jews are allowed to trade in
Malorussia on trade fairs, but only wholesale and are not permitted to take away gold, silver and copper, but are allowed for this money to purchase goods. Permanent residence for them in Malorussia is prohibited".
Jewish trading activity was profitable for the treasury of the Russian Empire, which is exactly what was said in the representations to the Empress Elisabeth about the admittance of the Jews into Russia. Elisabeth answered briefly and categorically: "From the enemies of my Lord Jesus Christ I desire no gain".
After this, the question of the Jewish admittance in Russia was not raised until the time when the large Jewish ethnic group automatically found itself in the territory of Russia and became subject of the Russian Empire. This occurred at the very end of the Eighteenth Century, after the so-called "Tripartite Division of Poland". After this "division" the former Russian territories were reunited with the main body of Russia. However, on these territories now were found numerous communities with dense Jewish populations which had not been there before the territorial seizure by the Lithuania-Polish state.
Jews of the Rechy Pospolite of Poland up to the time that they became subjects of Russia lived their own isolated life in Poland, not mixing with the native population, and represented themselves as a state within a state. They lived according to their Jewish laws, recognized by Poland. Poland did not interfere with their laws and their particular mode of life. It even sanctioned these laws by a whole range of acts, giving them a royal assented status.
A brief sketch of the lawful standing of Jews in Poland was provided with a highly favorable preface by the head rabbi of the British Empire. Doctor Hertz issued in London in 1942 in a separate pamphlet during the Second World War. The publisher of this pamphlet was the "Polish Ministry of Information", as Poland at that time was occupied by the Germans and its government had escaped and was residing in London. The headline of the pamphlet was the "Legal Status of Jews in Poland".
In the first part of this pamphlet he systematically stated all the forms of privileges, defining the rights and responsibilities' of the individual Jews and of their communities, called "Kahals", during the time of their life on the territories subjected to Poland, and after its "division" and entry into Russian Empire.
Therefore, to clarify the complexity of the problem arising before the Russian State, when if unexpectedly received, along with the reunited territories of the former Kiev Russia, a most one million Jews, it is necessary to familiarize the reader, even in the most brief outlines, with the particular mode of life of the Jews, up to the time when they became "Russian subjects of the Judaic faith".
Sections of the pamphlet, describing the life and rights of the Jews in those territories of Poland that went to Germany (Prussia) and Austria do not belong to the content of this book, and therefore they are not discussed here. The section entitled "Equality in Independent Poland" (1918-1939) is also not dealt with here. The pamphlet, painting everything pink, depicts the Polish-Jewish interrelations, omitting and hushing up very many facts that took place in "Democratic Poland", facts that contradict the depiction.
In order not to go without proof of one sort or another, it suffices to recall the unwillingness of the students in the high institutions of Poland to sit on the same benches with Jews, or of the prohibition of Jewish students dissecting non-Jewish dead bodies. It was for the "national dead bodies" that violent fights occurred. In its own time, the Polish press wrote quite a bit about these events, but in the pamphlet these characteristic facts are not mentioned at all.
The Soviet press also wrote about these fights. For example, a pamphlet written by D. Zaslavsky "Jews in USSR", published in Moscow by "Der Emes" in 1932, says that in Poland "in medical institutes and policlinics the fight goes on for national bodies" (p. 44).
But, because, this "war for the national dead bodies" took place outside of USSR limits, we will not deal with it, but will make only casual mention of it, to draw the attention of the reader to the fact that nothing like this ever occurred, either in pre-revolutionary Russia or in the USSR, in spite of the fact that the whole world accuses them of "anti-Semitism".
* * *
The biggest mass of Jews came to Poland from the West. The cause of the Jewish emigration was the persecution practiced in other countries. In Poland, owing to its tolerance, they found refuge. Because of this refuge Poland was given the Latin name "asilum haereticorum", in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, and was also called "asylum Iudeorum".
Besides the persecutions, according to the Jewish historians, there were other motives to immigrate to Poland. The main motive was prosperity in more favorable economic conditions that were in Poland in the Eleventh and in the following centuries. But the initial cause was the brutal persecution of the Jews in German territories during the period of the Crusades and later, in the time of the "Black Death".
The process of Jewish penetration from the west was very slow. But at times when the cruelty of the western persecutions mounted, the flow would become more spontaneous and a huge number of refugees would come to Poland. In all, there were four such waves of mass emigration to Poland. One was in 1096, resulting from the Crusader's persecution of the Jews. The second was when disorders sprung up in Germany, in connection with the Crusaders' campaign in the Thirteenth Century. The third, and the biggest wave of them all, was during the years 1348-49, at the time of the "Black Death" in Western Europe, during the reign of King Casimir the Great. The last wave of Jewish immigration from the west was at the end of the Fifteenth Century, in the days of the Inquisition in Germany, France and Spain.
Jewish newcomers pursued mainly financial operations. They farmed out tax collections from the population and minted coins, and also engaged in trade. Polish coins are preserved from the time of Mieszko the First, some of which have Jewish writings on them, others with Polish writings in the Jewish alphabet.
* * *
At the beginning there was no need to introduce special laws for the Jews in Poland, because there were not many of them, and they enjoyed the full freedom of the Polish State. But with time, when, on the one side, the number of Jews in Poland increased, and on the other, tendencies of intolerance had penetrated into Poland from Western Europe, it became necessary to establish special norms regulating the life of the Jews in Poland.
In the year 1264, Boleslaw Nabozhny granted the Jews in communities of Poznan and Kalisz privileges known under the title of "Kalisz Statute". With the annexation of other regions the "Kalisz Statute" became compulsory for the whole country. In 1334, according to the "Statute Visilitsy", King Casimir the Great confirmed the use of the "Kalisz Statute" in the whole country, and later, in 1364, also in the "Chervona Hossia", (Russia), which by that time was annexed to Poland. After this the "Kalisz Statute" received confirmation from almost all successors of Casimir, and was widely known as "General Privileges" or as "Jewish Statute — Statuta Judeoru", in distinction from special privileges, granted by the various kings or by the rulers to the separate Jewish communities. The last king who confirmed the Jewish Statute was the King of Poland, Stanislaw Poniatowski, in the year 1765. With time the "Kalisz Statute" became part of the Volumina Legum, the official collection of the Polish Common Law.
By the Kalisz Statute, a Jew was considered as a "servus” or a civil servant of the crown, that is actually in the service of the king himself. The Jews were obliged to pay into the treasury tax, and the king was obliged to defend them and to judge them, directly or through a person especially appointed for the task. Trial of Jews had to be done in a synagogue. Differences among the Jews were within the jurisdiction of the Jewish community itself.
For the murder of a Jew, according to these rights, the murderer could be executed and his possessions confiscated. The Kalisz Statute also contained a prohibition against accusing Jews in ritual murders, and these accusations were severely punished.
In the realm of economic activity the Jews were guaranteed complete freedom of trade, and were also allowed to lend money by promissory notes as well as by the use of personal possessions as collateral.
As we have said, the "Kalisz Statute" becomes the basis of legal existence for the Jews during the whole period of Polish independence up to 1792, with the exception of the short periods, when anti-Jewish elements had an upper hand. But the established limits, by these anti-Jewish elements, did not remain in force, and the "General Privileges" were confirmed again. So, for example, during the reign of Casimir Yagellon, in 1453, the Jews obtained the king's signature under the rights of their privileges. In that very same year the famous "lash of God", Yan Kapistrano, arrived in Krakow, and in its trading square pronounced inflammatory sermons against the Jews. But the efforts of Kapistrano and his Polish sponsor, the Cardinal Zbignev Olesnitsky, remained without results, because the king categorically refused to withdraw his signature.
However, Olesnitsky got the support from the Polish nobles and under the influence of this movement, the king was forced to grant the nobles the "Nieshavsky Statute" in 1454, which widened and multiplied the privileges of the nobles. At the same time, under the demand of Olesnitsky and upheld by the gentry, the king repealed the privileges granted to the Jews. But the king did not allow any persecution of Jews; when the pogroms of the Jews occurred in Krakow and Poznan, in 1463-64, the king took the Jewish side and imposed heavy fines on these cities, ordering compensation for all Jewish losses. In the year 1507, the successor to Casimir Yagellon, Cigizmund the First, again confirmed the "Kalisz Statute", from that point on it remained inviolable. In the year 1539 by way of the "Piotrovsky Statute" the king declined the right of jurisdiction over the Jews living in private villages and cities, and handed it over to the tutelage of those owners to whom these cities and villages belonged. From that time, the Jews in Poland were divided into new groups: the "crown Jews", that is, the ones living in the cities and ruled by the Magdeburg's law, and the "private Jews", living in towns and villages and belonging to the aristocracy or gentry.
The "General Privileges" granted considerable autonomy to the Jewish communities, called Jewish "Kahals". Within the sphere of activities of these communities were mainly the questions of religion, jurisdictions, charities, organizations, taxation of its own community, and, finally the budget of the community.
The wide autonomy that was received by the Jewish communities, led to the creation of ruling bodies that dealt with fiscal and religious questions. These bodies were called "zemstvo" or "provincial councils". At the moment of their appearance, in the Sixteenth Century, there were four such "zemstvos". But later their number increased and at the beginning of the Eighteenth Century there were more than twelve of them. More important "zemstvos" of the country were the "East-Polish" with big communities in Poznan and Kalisz, "Krakow-Sandomiersk", "Rutenskoe" which was the Russian territory of Galicia, and the "Lublin". Matters concerning the "zemstvos" were dealt with by the “Zemstvo Congress" which appointed its own administration and elected the "rabbi of the zemstvo", who at the same time was the judge of all the "zemstvos".
Besides the internal questions of each "zemstvo", there were also the questions common to all of them. One of these common questions was the necessity to levy taxes. It therefore became necessary to create a central apparatus, which, acting in the name of all the Jewish communities, would take upon itself the responsibility of collecting all the Jewish taxes throughout the republic. In addition came the necessity to 'institute a tribunal, which could act as the court of appeal for all the "zemstvos" courts, and as the superior court for the initial examination of especially important cases. With completion of this organization in the year 1591, the body of representatives of the Polish Jews, known under the name of "Council of the Four Lands", or the "Jewish Seim under Crown" came into existence. This representative body, which existed right up to 1764, had two central institutions: the Seim and the Tribunal.
The Seim convened, either annually or semi-annually in Lublin or in Yaroslaw, and consisted of the delegates of the "zemstvos" and the free cities. The Seim used to elect from amongst its delegates, a chairman, who bore the title, "Marshal of the Jews under the Crown"; one or more treasurers; and one or more secretaries. The "Marshal of the Jews under the Crown" was usually a member of the community with a layman's title; the secretary, however, had to be a rabbi. The "Marshal of the Jews under the Crown" was usually the most distinguished man amidst the Polish Jews, and was the Jewish spokesman before the King and the Seim of the Polish State.
Within the jurisdiction of the Jewish Seim came fiscal, administrative and educational matters, as well as the general upbringing of the Jews.
The Jewish Seim's task was to distribute assessments. It acted as an agent of the state on Jewish taxes, was wholly responsible for such, and distributed shares of taxation among the corresponding "zemstvos" and big communities. Under the Seim a special commission was created for the distribution of taxes whose members were called "Simplera". This commission held its meetings even when the Seim was not in session.
The Seim regulated a whole range of questions affecting industries and trade, issued regulations in granting credit among the Jews, decided the forms of bills of exchange and their usage, and in 1624 issued laws about bankruptcy, on the basis of which all the possessions of the debtor became the property of the creditor. Even the succession and the dowry must be included in the property of the debtor, if they were willed during the three months prior to the day bankruptcy was declared.
The Seim carried out instructions dealing with elections in the "Kahals", defined the term of office of the heads of the "Kahals", issued prohibitions against youth marriages below the age of twenty without parental consent, and forbade giving out bills of exchange to minors.
Matters of upbringing and education
Upbringing was one of the main tasks of the Seim. It directed the openings and the maintenance of the ecclesiastical schools, the printing of the books, and issuance of the same.
The second task of the Jewish representatives was to establish the "Tribunal". The roots of the Seim's tribunals can be found in the commercial law courts. Beginning from the Fifteenth Century, there was a custom that big Jewish communities had to send their best judges to the big marketplace of Lublin to preside at the most important trials and to take part in the discussions about special legal problems. When the Seim was created these marketplace law courts became permanently sanctioned establishments' and became known as the ''Seim's Tribunals". The Tribunal use to elect a marshal who usually was one of the known rabbis of the country.
The Tribunal was authorized to discuss questions handed over to it by Seim such as disputes between communities and their individual members, between communities and "zemstvos", or between two communities about their supremacy over one or the other. The Tribunal also dealt with questions of a theoretical nature, interpreting and explaining legal problems of contemporary life.
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As can be seen from all that is stated above, the organization of Jews in Poland was a realization of the age-old aim of the Jews to be a "nation without a territory" and to live under their own rule, by their own laws, as a strictly centralized whole with a solid hierarchy inside and sharp isolation from the surrounding, non-Jewish masses of population. In addition, Jews did not have to perform military duties, substituting monetary payments for services rendered. From the beginning of the Eighteenth Century, owing to internecine wars in Poland and the decline of the authority of its government, the authority of the Jewish Seim also began to decline. In the year 1764, by the decision of the Polish Seim, the Jewish Seim was abolished. However, the whole organizational structure of Jewish communities or "Kahals" remained preserved and unchanged, and their authority and power over the individual Jews remained absolute.
In the same year the Polish Seim passed a resolution to tax all the Jews two zloty per person every year.
In connection with this tax, they appointed special officials who took a census of all the Jews living in the territory of the Rechy Pospolite of Poland. It was established that all together there were 577,889 Jews, living at that time in Poland.
Soon after the census, the "division" of Poland began, and subsequently the "Dukedom of Warsaw" was created; and after the Congress of Vienna in 1815 the "Tsarstvo Polskoe" was included as part of the Russian Empire.
After 1815 the borders of the divided parts of Poland did not change for more than a hundred years, until the end of the First World War and the subsequent restoration of the Polish State.
The majority of the Polish Jews remained in the territories that were included in the component part of Russia, such as the ethnographical Poland, Byelorussia and Malorussia, all of which went to Russia according to the first "division" of Poland.
Let us recall very briefly the distinctions of these "divisions" of Poland.
Actually, according to all three "divisions", Russia did not receive an inch of the ethnographical Poland, but only was restored the territories of the Kiev Russia, that had remained under the power of Poland for a long time. Even in this division not all its former territories were restored to Russia. Galicia, Northern Bukovina and Transcarpathia, which are the former territories of Kiev Russia, were captured by Austria-Hungary. Ethnographical Poland was divided between Prussia and Austria. Russia received Byelorussia (Polesie, Volyn) and the Right Bank Ukraine-Malorussia.
Prussia captured the lion's share of ethnographic Poland. In Warsaw there was a Prussian Governor. The city of Belostok was also part of the Kingdom of Prussia.
Such was the situation up to Napoleonic War, when Napoleon created the "Dukedom of Warsaw" from the ethnographic Polish territories that existed until the fall of Napoleon, in the year 1814.
The Vienna Congress of 1815 re-carved the map of Europe, and the "Dukedom of Warsaw" with small territorial changes, turned in to the "Tsarstvo Polskoe". The Emperor Alexander I was proclaimed as the "Tsar of Poland".
In essence, this was a personal union of the Russian Empire and the Kingdom of Poland.
So, under the power of Russia, to be precise, after Congress of Vienna, the territories of the former land of the Rechy Pospolite of Poland inhabited by the Poles with a large percentage of Jews that had enjoyed the widest self-rule in Poland, now found themselves under the power of the Emperor of Russia, the Czar of Poland.
The "Tsarstvo Polskoe" had its own constitution, its own parliament, its own army, its own monetary system, and had customs border with Russia. From what has been said here of the Polish-Russian struggle, the reader himself can judge the differences between the Polish occupation of Ukrainian Russian territories, and the Russian occupation of Polish territories.
Only later, after the two Polish uprisings of 1830 and 1863, was all the territory of the "Tsarstvo Polskoe" called the "Privislensky Cry", also known as the Vistula Territory.