LITHUANIA (Russian or Polish, Litwa; in Jewish writings ):
By: Herman Rosenthal
- Origin of Lithuanian Jews.
- The Charter of 1388.
- The "Starosta."
- Under the Jagellons.
- Jews as Tax-Farmers.
- Commercial Relations.
- Expelled by Alexander.
- Escheat of Jewish Property.
- Return to Lithuania.
- Sigismund I.
- Prosperity of the Congregations.
- Rumors of Converts to Judaism.
- Under Sigismund II.
- Rise of Opposition.
- Action of the Nobles.
- The Act of 1566.
- After the Union of Lublin.
- Under Stephen Bathori.
- Sigismund III. and Ladislaus IV.
- Influence of Jesuits.
- Effect of Cossacks' Uprising.
- Judicial Function of the Rabbis.
- Items from the Responsa.
Formerly a grand duchy, politically connected more or less intimately with Poland, and with the latter annexed to Russia.
Lithuania originally embraced only the waywodeships of Wilna and Troki; but in the thirteenth century it augmented its territory at the expense of the neighboring principalities and included the duchy of Samogitia (Zhmud; ).
In the first half of the fourteenth century, when Russia was already under the Tatar yoke, the Lithuanian grand duke Gedimin (1316-41) still further increased his possessions by family alliances and by conquest until they came to embrace the territories of Vitebsk, Kiev (1321), Minsk, etc. Under Olgerd and Keistat, sons of Gedimin, the Russian principalities of Chernigov-Syeversk, Podolia (1362), and Volhynia (1377) were also added to Lithuania; and the territory thus extended from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
As early as the eighth century Jews lived in parts of the Lithuanian territory. Beginning with that period they conducted the trade between South Russia, i.e., Lithuania, and the Baltic, especially with Danzig, Julin (Vineta or Wollin, in Pomerania), and other cities on the Vistula, Oder, and Elbe (see Georg Jacob, "Welche Handelsartikel Bezogen die Araber des Mittelalters aus Baltischen Ländern?" p. 1).
When Duke Boleslaw I. of Poland sent Bishop Adalbert of Prague in 997 to preach the Gospel to the heathen Prussians (Lithuanians), the bishop complained that Christian prisoners of war were sold for base money to Jews, and that he was not able to redeem them. Records, of that time, of Jewish residents in Kiev are still extant. About the middle of the twelfth century Rabbi Eliezer of Mayence referred to some ritual customs of the Russian, i.e., Lithuanian, Jews ("Eben ha-'Ezer," p. 74a, Prague, 1710), and in the same century mention was made also of Moses of Kiev. In the thirteenth century Jews lived in Chernigov, Volhynia, and Smolensk.Among them there were men of learning, as is evidenced by a manuscript in the Vatican Library (Codex 300) dated 1094, and consisting of a commentary on the Bible written in "Russia." Another commentary, dated 1124, also written in Russia, is preserved in Codex Oppenheim Additamenta, Quar. No. 13, at present in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. About the same time there lived in Chernigov Itze (Isaac), who is probably identical with Isaac of Russia. In the first half of the fourteenth century there lived in Toledo, Spain, a Talmudic scholar, Asher ben Sinai, who came from Russia (Asheri, Responsa, part 51, No. 2; Zunz, "'Ir ha-Ẓedeḳ," p. 45). These isolated cases do not prove, however, that Talmudic learning had, at the period in question, become widely diffused in the Lithuanian-Russian territory. As Harkavy has pointed out, the individual efforts of the Russian Talmudists to spread Jewish knowledge did not meet with success until the sixteenth century. In a letter written by Eliezer of Bohemia (1190) to Judah Ḥasid it is stated that in most places in Poland, Russia, and Hungary there were no Talmudic scholars, chiefly because of the poverty of the Jews there, which compelled the communities to secure the services of men able to discharge the three functions of cantor, rabbi, and teacher ("Or Zarua'," p. 40, § 113, Jitomir, 1862). These references to Russia do not necessarily always apply to Lithuania, since Galicia also was designated by that name in Hebrew writings of the Middle Ages, while the Muscovite territory of that time was referred to as "Moskwa." The mention of the name "Lita" first occurs in a responsum of the fifteenth century by Israel Isserlein. He refers to a certain Tobiah who had returned from Gordita (Grodno ?) in Lithuania, and states that "it is rare for our people from Germany to go to Lithuania" (Israel Bruna, Responsa, §§ 25, 73).Origin of Lithuanian Jews.
The origin of the Lithuanian Jews has been the subject of much speculation. It is now almost certain that they were made up of two distinct streams of Jewish immigration. The older of the two entered Lithuania by way of South Russia, where Jews had lived in considerable numbers since the beginning of the common era (see Armenia; Bosporus; Crimea; Kertch). The fact that these had adopted the Russian language (the official language of the Lithuanians) and the customs, occupations, and even the names of the native population, serves to prove that they came from the East rather than from western Europe. The later stream of immigration originated in the twelfth century and received an impetus from the persecution of the German Jews by the Crusaders. The blending of these two elements was not complete even in the eighteenth century, differences appearing at that time in proper names, in the pronunciation of the Judæo-German dialect, and even in physiognomy.
The peculiar conditions that prevailed in Lithuania compelled the first Jewish settlers to adopt a different mode of life from that followed by their western coreligionists. In the Lithuania of that day there were no cities in the western sense of the word, no Magdeburg Rights or close gilds.
Some of the cities which later became the important centers of Jewish life in Lithuania were at first mere villages. Grodno, one of the oldest, was founded by a Russian prince, and is first mentioned in the chronicles of 1128. Novogrudok was founded somewhat later by Yaroslav; Kerlov in 1250; Voruta and Twiremet in 1252; Eiragola in 1262; Golschany and Kovno in 1280; Telshi, Wilna, Lida, and Troki in 1320.
With the campaign of Gedimin and his subjection of Kiev and Volhynia (1320-21) the Jewish inhabitants of these territories were induced to spread throughout the northern provinces of the grand duchy. The probable importance of the southern Jews in the development of Lithuania is indicated by their numerical prominence in Volhynia in the thirteenth century. According to an annalist who describes the funeral of the grand duke Vladimir Vasilkovich in the city of Vladimir (Volhynia), "the Jews wept at his funeral as at the fall of Jerusalem, or when being led into the Babylonian captivity." This sympathy and the record thereof would seem to indicate that long before the event in question the Jews had enjoyed considerable prosperity and influence, and this gave them a certain standing under the new régime. They took an active part in the development of the new cities under the tolerant rule of Gedimin.The Charter of 1388.
Little is known of the fortunes of the Lithuanian Jews during the troublous times that followed the death of Gedimin and the accession of his grandson Witold (1341). To the latter the Jews owed a charter of privileges which was momentous in the subsequent history of the Jews of Lithuania. The documents granting privileges first to the Jews of Brest (July 1, 1388) and later to those of Troki, Grodno (1389), Lutsk, Vladimir, and other large towns are the earliest documents to recognize the Lithuanian Jews as possessing a distinct organization. The gathering together of the scattered Jewish settlers in sufficient numbers and with enough power to form such an organization and to obtain privileges from their Lithuanian rulers implies the lapse of considerable time. The Jews who dwelt in smaller towns and villages were not in need of such privileges at this time, as Harkavy suggests, and the mode of life, the comparative poverty, and the ignorance of Jewish learning among the Lithuanian Jews retarded their intercommunal organization. But powerful forces hastened this organization toward the close of the fourteenth century. The chief of these was probably the cooperation of the Jews of Poland with their Lithuanian brethren. After the death of Casimir the Great (1370), the condition of the Polish Jews changed for the worse. The influence of the Catholic clergy at the Polish court grew; Louis of Anjou was indifferent to the welfare of his subjects, and his eagerness to convert the Jews to Christianity, together with the increased Jewish immigration from Germany, caused the Polish Jews to become apprehensive for their future. On this account it seems more than likely that influential Polish Jews cooperated with the leading Lithuanian communities in securing a special charter from Witold.
The preamble of the charter reads as follows:
"In the name of God, Amen. All deeds of men, when they are not made known by the testimony of witnesses or in writing, pass away and vanish and are forgotten. Therefore, we, Alexander, also called Witold, by the grace of God Grand Duke of Lithuania and ruler of Brest, Dorogicz, Lutsk, Vladimir, and other places, make known by this charter to the present and future generations, or to whomever it may concern to know or hear of it, that, after due deliberation with our nobles we have decided to grant to all the Jews living in our domains the rights and liberties mentioned in the following charter."
The charter contains thirty-seven sections, which may be summarized as follows:
- (1) In criminal or other cases involving the person or property of a Jew, the latter can not be convicted on the testimony of one Christian witness; there must be two witnesses—a Christian and a Jew.
- (2) Where a Christian asserts that he has placed an article in pawn with a Jew, and the Jew denies it, the latter may clear himself by taking the prescribed oath.
- (3) Where a Christian claims that he has pawned an article with a Jew for a sum less than that claimed by the latter, the Jew's claim shall be allowed if he take the usual oath.
- (4) Where a Jew claims he has loaned money to a Christian, but has no witnesses to prove it, the latter may clear himself by taking an oath.
- (5) Jews may make loans on any personal property except blood-stained articles or articles employed in religious service.
- (6) Where a Christian asserts that an article pawned to a Jew has been stolen from a Christian, the Jew, after swearing that he was ignorant of the robbery, is relieved of responsibility to the owner of the article, and need not return it until the sum advanced by him, with the Interest, has been repaid.
- (7) Where a Jew loses pawned property by fire or robbery he is relieved from responsibility for articles so lost if he takes an oath that such articles were lost together with his own.
- (8) A suit between Jews may not be decided by a city judge, but must be submitted in the first instance to the jurisdiction of the subwaywode, in the second instance to the waywode, and finally to the king. Important criminal cases are subject to the jurisdiction of the king alone.
- (9) A Christian found guilty of inflicting wounds upon a Jewess must pay a fine to the king and damages and expenses to the victim, in accordance with the local regulations.
- (10) A Christian murdering a Jew shall be punished by the proper court and his possessions confiscated to the king.
- (11) A Christian inflicting injuries upon a Jew, but without shedding blood, shall be punished in accordance with local law.
- (12) A Jew may travel without hindrance within the limits ofthe country, and when he carries merchandise he shall pay the same duties as the local burghers.
- (13) Jews may transport the bodies of their dead free of taxation.
- (14) A Christian injuring a Jewish cemetery shall be punished in accordance with the local law and his property confiscated.
- (15) Any person throwing stones into the synagogue shall pay to the waywode a fine of two pounds.
- (16) A Jew failing to pay to the judge the fine called "wandil" shall pay the anciently established fine.
- (17) Any Jew not appearing in court after being twice summoned shall pay the customary fine.
- (18) A Jew inflicting wounds on another Jew shall be fined in accordance with local custom.
- (19) A Jew may take an oath on the Old Testament in important cases only, as where the claim exceeds in value fifty "griven" of pure silver, or where the case is brought before the king.
- (20) Where a Christian is suspected of killing a Jew, though there were no witnesses, and the relatives of the victim declare their suspicion, the king is to give the Jews an executioner for the accused.
- (21) Where a Christian assaults a Jewess he shall be punished according to local usage.
- (22) A subwaywode may not summon Jews to his court except on a regular complaint.
- (23) In cases concerning Jews the court is to sit either in the synagogue or in a place selected by the Jews.
- (24) Where a Christian pays the sum advanced to him on any article when due, but omits to pay the interest, he shall be given a written extension of time, after which the sum unpaid shall be subject to interest until paid.
- (25) The houses of Jews are free from military quartering.
- (26) When a Jew advances to a noble a sum of money on an estate, the Jew is entitled, if the loan be not repaid on maturity, to the possession of the property, and shall be protected in its possession.
- (27) A person guilty of stealing a Jewish child shall be punished as a thief.
- (28) If the value of an article pawned with a Jew by a Christian for a period less than a year does not exceed the amount advanced upon it, the pawnbroker, after taking the article to his waywode, may sell it; but if the article is of greater value than the sum advanced the Jew shall be obliged to keep it for a further period of one year and one day, at the expiration of which time he shall become its possessor.
- (29) No person may demand the return of pawned property on Jewish holy days.
- (30) Any Christian forcibly taking an article pawned with a Jew, or entering a Jewish house against the wish of its owner, shall be subject to the same punishment as a person stealing from the common treasury.
- (31) To summon a Jew to appear in court is allowed only to the king or the waywode.
- (32) Since the papal bulls show that Jews are forbidden by their own law to use human blood, or any blood whatever, it is forbidden to accuse Jews of using human blood. But in the case of a Jew accused of the murder of a Christian child, such accusation must be proved by three Christians and three Jews. If the Christian accuser is unable to prove his accusation he shall be subjected to the same punishment that would have been inflicted on the accused had his guilt been proved.
- (33) Loans made by Jews to Christians must be repaid with interest.
- (34) The pledging of horses as security on loans made by Jews must be done in the daytime; in case a Christian should recognize a horse stolen from him among horses pawned with a Jew, the latter must take an oath that the horse was received by him in the daytime.
- (35) Mint directors are forbidden to arrest Jews, when the latter are found with counterfeit coin, without the knowledge of the king's waywode, or in the absence of prominent citizens.
- (36) A Christian neighbor who shall fall to respond at night when a Jew calls for help shall pay a fine of thirty "zloty."
- (37) Jews are permitted to buy and sell on the same footing as Christians, and any one interfering with them shall be fined by the waywode.
The charter itself was modeled upon similar documents granted by Casimir the Great, earlier by Boleslaw of Kalisz, to the Jews of Poland. These in their turn were based on the charters of Henry of Glogau (1251), King Ottokar of Bohemia (1254-67), and Frederick II. (1244), and the last-mentioned upon the charter of the Bishop of Speyer (1084). The successive remodelings of the different documents were made necessary by the characteristic customs and conditions of the various countries; and for this reason the charter granted by Witold to the Jews of Brest and Troki is distinguished from its Polish and German models by certain peculiarities. The chief digressions are in §§ 8, 21, 28, 33, and 35. The distinctive features were made more manifest in the later issues of these privileges by the attempt to conform them to the needs of Lithuanian-Russian life. While the earlier charters of Brest and Troki were evidently framed upon western models for a class of Jews largely engaged in money-lending, the charters of Grodno (June 18, 1389 and 1408) show the members of that community engaged in various occupations, including agriculture. The charter of 1389 indicates that the Jews of Grodno, the residence of Witold, had lived there for many years, owning land and possessing a synagogue and cemetery near the Jewish quarter. They also followed handicrafts and engaged in commerce on equal terms with the Christians.The "Starosta."
As the Jews of Germany were servants of the rulers ("Kammerknechte"), so the Lithuanian Jews formed a class of freemen subject in all criminal cases directly to the jurisdiction of the grand duke and his official representatives, and in petty suits to the jurisdiction of local officials on an equal footing with the lesser nobles ("Shlyakhta"), boyars, and other free citizens. The official representatives of the grand duke were the elder ("starosta"), known as the "Jewish judge" ("judex Judæorum"), and his deputy. The Jewish judge decided all cases between Christians and Jews and all criminal suits in which Jews were concerned; in civil suits, however, he acted only on the application of the interested parties. Either party who failed to obey the judge's summons had to pay him a fine. To him also belonged all fines collected from Jews for minor offenses. His duties included the guardianship of the persons, property, and freedom of worship of the Jews. He had no right to summon any one to his court except upon the complaint of an interested party. In matters of religion the Jews were given extensive autonomy.
Under these equitable laws the Jews of Lithuania reached a degree of prosperity unknown to their Polish and German coreligionists at that time. The communities of Brest, Grodno, Troki, Lutsk, and Minsk rapidly grew in wealth and influence. Every community had at its head a Jewish elder. These elders represented the communities in all external relations, in securing new privileges, and in the regulation of taxes. Such officials are not, however, referred to by the title "elder" before the end of the sixteenth century. Up to that time the documents merely state, for instance, that the "Jews of Brest humbly apply," etc. On assuming office the elders declared under oath that they would discharge the duties of the position faithfully, and would relinquish the office at the expiration of the appointed term. The elder acted in conjunction with the rabbi, whose jurisdiction included all Jewish affairs with the exception of judicial cases assigned to the court of the deputy, and by the latter to the king. In religious affairs, however, an appeal from the decision of the rabbi and the elder was permitted only to a council consisting of the chief rabbis of the king's cities. The cantor, sexton, and shoḥeṭ were subject to the orders of the rabbi and elder.
The favorable position of the Jews in Lithuania during the reign of Witold brought to the front anumber of the wealthier Jews, who, besides engaging in commerce, also leased certain sources of the ducal revenues or became owners of estates. The first known Jewish farmer of customs duties in Lithuania was "Shanya" (probably Shakna), who was presented by Witold with the villages Vinnike and Kalusov in the district of Vladimir. The good-will and tolerance of Witold endeared him to his Jewish subjects, and for a long time traditions concerning his generosity and nobility of character were current among them. He ruled Lithuania independently even when that country and Poland were united for a time in 1413. His cousin, the Polish king Ladislaus II., Jagellon, did not interfere with his administration during Witold's lifetime.Under the Jagellons.
After Witold's death Ladislaus assumed active sovereignty over a part of Lithuania. He granted (1432) the Magdeburg Rights to the Poles, Germans, and Russians of the city of Lutsk, while in the case of the Jews and Armenians the Polish laws were made effective (see Poland). This policy toward his Jewish subjects in Poland was influenced by the clerical party, and he attempted to curtail the privileges granted to them by his predecessors. However, his rule in Lithuania was too short to have a lasting effect on the life of the Lithuanian Jews.
Swidrigailo, who became Grand Duke of Lithuania at the death of Witold (1430), strove to prevent the annexation of Volhynia and Podolia to the Polish crown. He availed himself of the service of Jewish tax-farmers, leasing the customs duties of Vladimir to the Jew Shanya and those of Busk to the Jew Yatzka. There is, however, reason for the belief that he was not always friendly toward the Jews, as is shown by his grant of the Magdeburg Rights to the city of Kremenetz and the placing of all the inhabitants, including the Jews, under the jurisdiction of the German waywode Yurka (May 9, 1438). The latter act may have been prompted by his desire to retain the allegiance of the German inhabitants of Volhynia. Swidrigailo was assassinated in the year 1440, and was succeeded by Casimir Jagellon.
As Grand Duke of Lithuania (1440-92) Casimir Jagellon pursued toward his Jewish subjects the liberal policy of Witold. In 1441 he granted the Magdeburg Rights to the Karaite Jews of Troki on conditions similar to those under which they were granted to the Christians of Troki, Wilna, and Kovno; giving the Troki Karaites, however, a wider autonomy in judicial matters and in communal affairs, allowing them one-half of the city revenues, and presenting them with a parcel of land. The Troki and Lutsk Karaites were descendants of 380 families brought, according to tradition, by Witold from the Crimea at the end of the fourteenth century, when Rabbinite Jews were already established in Troki (see Graetz, "History," Heb. transl. by Rabinowitz, vi. 225). Settling originally in New Troki, the Karaites subsequently spread to other Lithuanian and Galician towns. The poorer among them were, like most of the Rabbinite Jews, engaged in agriculture and handicrafts, while the richer members were, like the wealthier Rabbinites, leaseholders and tax-farmers. The Lithuanian rulers of that time did not make any distinction between Rabbinites and Karaites, designating both in their decrees merely as "Jews" ("Zidy"). See Karaites.Jews as Tax-Farmers.
In 1453, for services rendered to him, Casimir granted to the Jew Michael of Hrubieszów, his wife, and their son Judah, exemption from all taxes and customs duties throughout the country. Between 1463 and 1478 he presented to Levin Schalomich certain lands in the waywodeship of Brest, together with the peasants living on them. In 1484 he awarded the lease of the customs duties of Novgorod for three years to the Troki Jews Ilia Moiseyevich, Ruwen Sakovich, Avraam Danilovich, and Jeska Schelemovich. In 1485 he ordered the waywode of Troki to see that the Jewish part of the town paid its taxes separately, this arrangement being made in response to a petition from the Jews themselves. In 1486 he leased the customs of Kiev, Wischegorod, and Jitomir for a term of three years to Simha Karvchik, Sadke and Samak Danilovich, Samaditza, and Ryzhka, who were Jews of Kiev and Troki. In the same year the customs duties of Bryansk were leased to Mordecai Gadajewich and Perka Judinovich of Kiev; certain taxes of Grodno and Meretz to Enka Jatzkovich and his sons of Grodno; and the customs duties of Putivl to Jews of Kiev and Troki. In 1487 the customs duties of Brest, Drohycin, Byelsk, and Grodno were leased to Astaschka Ilyich, Onatani Ilyich, and Olkan, Jews of Lutsk, and the customs duties of Lutsk to Shachna Peisachovich and Senka Mamotlivy. In 1488 certain taxes of Grodno and Meretz were again leased to Jatzkovich and his sons, and the customs duties of Zvyagol to the Lutsk Jews Israel, Yeska, and Judah. In the following year the customs duties of Minsk were leased to the Jew of Troki, Michael Danilovich; the customs duties of Vladimir, Peremyshl, and Litovishk to the Jews of Brest and Hrubieszów; and the customs duties of Kiev and Putivl to Rabei and other Jews of Kiev. In 1490 certain revenues of Putivl were leased to Merovach and Israel of Kiev and Abraham of Plotzk. These leases prove that throughout Casimir's reign the important commercial and financial affairs of the grand duchy were largely managed by Jewish leaseholders, to whom he was heavily indebted. At times his treasury was depleted to such an extent as to compel him to pawn the queen's robes and his silverware, but the Jews came to his aid in time of need.Commercial Relations.
According to the Polish historian Jaroszewicz in his "Obraz Litwy," the Jews of Lithuania after the reign of Casimir Jagellon were intimately connected with the development of the country's commerce. Their business ventures reached far beyond Lithuania, most of the export trade to Prussia and the Baltic Sea being in their hands.
Historians are agreed that Casimir was not a strong and just ruler. He did not scruple to give contradictory promises to Poland and Lithuania, and his frequent favors to the Jews do not necessarily show that he was their friend. At most he considered them as useful agents in his financial undertakings.
The influential Jewish tax-farmers often encountered difficulties with foreign merchants. The Russian Grand Duke Ivan Vassilivich III. repeatedly made representations to Casimir in regard to the high-handed treatment of Muscovite merchants and ambassadors by the tax-collectors Shan (the son-in-law of Agron), Simha, Ryabchik, and others. The king upheld his Jewish tax-farmers on the ground that the Russian merchants attempted to evade payment of customs duties by choosing rarely traveled roads. From these documents it is also clear that the Jewish customs officials had under them armed men to arrest violators of the regulations. At Casimir's death (1492) many of his Jewish creditors were left unpaid.Expelled by Alexander.
Casimir was succeeded as king of Poland by his son John Albert, and on the Lithuanian throne by his younger son, Alexander Jagellon. The latter confirmed the charter of privileges granted to the Jews by his predecessors, and even gave them additional rights. His father's Jewish creditors received part of the sums due to them, the rest being withheld under various pretexts. Jewish taxfarmers continued to lease the customs duties in the important cities, as is exemplified by a lease of those of Brest, Drohoczyn, Grodno, and Byelsk (Oct. 14, 1494) to four Jews of Brest. The favorable attitude toward the Jews which had characterized the Lithuanian rulers for generations was unexpectedly and radically changed by a decree promulgated by Alexander in April, 1495. By this decree all Jews living in Lithuania proper and the adjacent territories were summarily ordered to leave the country.
The expulsion was evidently not accompanied by the usual cruelties; for there was no popular animosity toward the Lithuanian Jews, and the decree was regarded as an act of mere wilfulness on the part of an absolute ruler. Some of the nobility, however, approved Alexander's decree, expecting to profit by the departure of their Jewish creditors, as is indicated by numerous lawsuits on the return of the exiles to Lithuania in 1503. It is known from the Hebrew sources that some of the exiles migrated to the Crimea, and that by far the greater number settled in Poland, where, by permission of King John Albert, they established themselves in the towns situated near the Lithuanian boundary. This permission, given at first for a period of two years, was extended "because of the extreme poverty of the Jews on account of the great losses sustained by them." The extension, which applied to all the towns of the kingdom, accorded the enjoyment of all the liberties that had been granted to their Polish brethren (Cracow, June 29, 1498). The expelled Karaites settled in the Polish town of Ratno.
The causes of the unexpected expulsion have been widely discussed. It has been suggested by Narbut and other Lithuanian historians that the decree was the outcome of Alexander's personal animosity toward the Jews, he having been educated by the Polish historian Dlugosc (Longinus), an avowed enemy of the Jews. Others have held that it was instigated by the grand duchess Helena, daughter of Ivan III. of Russia. Legend has it that she was at first very friendly toward the Jews, but having been rendered barren by a Jewish midwife through the aid of witchcraft, her father demanded the punishment of the witches, and the decree of expulsion followed. The improbability of this story has been demonstrated by Bershadski ("Litovskie Yevrei," p. 251), who shows that the marriage took place in Feb., 1495, and that the expulsion occurred in April of the same year. Bershadski and Harkavy suggest as a probable motive the pressure put upon Alexander by the Catholic clergy. He may have been influenced by the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492). This view is strengthened by his continued favors to the baptized Jews, as exemplified by his lease to Simsha of Troki (who had adopted the Christian faith); of the customs at Putivl in the same year to Feodor, "the newly baptized," and his son-in-law Peter; and the grant to the former tax-farmer of Putivl, "the newly baptized" Ivan, of one-third of the income from these customs duties; and above all by the very marked favors shown by him to Abraham Jesofovich after his baptism, Alexander going so far as to create him a member of the hereditary nobility. These favors indicate that if the expulsion was due to animosity on Alexander's part, such animosity was a religious rather than a racial one. Another motive suggested by Bershadski was the financial embarrassment of the grand duke, then heavily indebted to the wealthy Jewish tax-farmers and leaseholders. During the settlement with his Jewish creditors (Dec., 1494), i.e., four months before the expulsion, it was noticed that Alexander was much troubled over the condition of his finances, as was evidenced by his repudiation for one reason or another of a part of his debts ("Russko-Yevreiski Arkhiv," i., No. 26). Alexander's extravagance was commonly known; and it was said of him that "he pawned everything that he did not give away." The depleted condition of his treasury may have driven him to adopt drastic measures. By confiscating the estates of the Jews the grand duke became the owner of their property. He presented a part of these estates to monasteries, charitable institutions, and baptized Jews "for certain considerations," and turned the proceeds into the grand-ducal treasury. A third motive assumed by Bershadski was the desire to replace the Jews by German settlers. As to the second and third of these possible motives, documents show that, while they may have helped Alexander to reach his decision, yet there was a certain foundation for the popular tradition concerning the influence of Grand Duchess Helena in the matter. As the daughter of Ivan III. she must have been aware of the grave apprehensions created in Moscow by the successful propaganda of the Judaizing sect, and the probable fear of the Lithuanian clergy that the Judaizing Heresy would spread to Lithuania. The success of the new teaching was impressed upon it by the conversion of Helena's sister-in-law the Princess Helena of Moscow (daughter-in-law of Ivan III.), the Russian secretary of state Kuritzyn, and the Metropolitan of Moscow Zosima. The clergy, alarmed at the success of the new heresy, probably convinced Alexander that itsencouragement by Ivan III. and his court would create a grave political danger for Lithuania.Escheat of Jewish Property.
Soon after the promulgation of the decree the Jewish tax-farmers hastened to adjust their affairs and to render their accounts to Alexander, but evidently they could collect only a small portion of the sums due to them. The more valuable of the real property left by them was soon disposed of by the grand duke. In June, 1495, he presented his furrier Sova with an estate near Troki, together with the cattle, grain, and all else pertaining to it, which had belonged to the Jew Shlioma. On June 26 of the same year he presented the nobleman Soroka and his brother with estates belonging to the Jews Enko Momotlivy and Itzchak Levanovich and situated in the district of Lutsk. On July 15 the Bishop of Wilna was granted the houses and estates of the Jews Bogdan Chatzkovich and Ilia Kunchich, while the city of Wilna received as a gift the house formerly belonging to the Jew Janushovski. On Aug. 10 the farm of the Konyukovich brothers in the district of Grodno was given by Alexander to his secretary Lyzovy, and on Aug. 30 he presented a house in Lutsk, once the property of the Jew Enka, to his stableman Martin Chrebtovich. On March 12, 1496, the nobleman Semashkowich received the farm in Volhynia belonging to the Jews Nikon and Shlioma Simshich, and on March 21 all the properties left vacant by the Jews in Grodno. On Oct. 4 the estates of the brothers Enkovich of Brest were presented to Alexander's secretary Fedka Janushkovich; on Jan. 27, 1497, the estate of Kornitza, formerly belonging to the Jew Levon Shalomich, was given to Pavel, magistrate of Brest-Litovsk. In July of the same year all the unoccupied properties left by the Jews of Lutsk were presented to the elders of the city, in order to encourage new settlers. This distribution of Jewish property by Alexander was continued until the middle of 1501.Return to Lithuania.
Soon after Alexander's accession to the throne of Poland he permitted the Jewish exiles to return to Lithuania. Beginning March, 1503, as is shown by documents still extant, their houses, lands, synagogues, and cemeteries were returned to them, and permission was granted them to collect their old debts. The new charter of privileges permitted them to live throughout Lithuania as heretofore. It also directed the vice-regent of Wilna and Grodno, Prince Alexander Juryevich, to see that the Jews were restored to the enjoyment of their former property and assisted in the collection of debts due to them. The privilege was accorded them of repurchasing also the property originally owned by them at the price paid by their successors to the grand duke. They were likewise to pay all expenses for improvements and for the erection of new buildings, and were obliged to pay all mortgages. Moreover, they were required to equip annually a cavalry detachment of 1,000 horsemen besides paying large annual sums to the local authorities.
The return of the Jews and their attempt to regain their old possessions led to many difficulties and lawsuits. Alexander found it necessary to issue an additional decree (April, 1503), directing his vice-regent to enforce the law. In spite of this some of the property was not recovered by the Jews for years.
The tax-farmers returned to their old occupations, and were shown many marks of favor by Alexander. He could not, however, obliterate the remembrance that he had robbed the Jews. The permission given the exiles to return is ascribed to the depleted condition of his treasury and to the impending war with Russia, combined with the efforts of the influential Jews of Poland and the baptized Jews of Lithuania to secure their return.Sigismund I.
The improvement in the condition of the Jews was especially marked in the reign of Alexander's youngest brother, Sigismund I. (1506-48). Among his first decrees was one (Dec. 22, 1506) which relieved the two synagogues of Lutsk—the Rabbinite and the Karaite—from the annual tax of 12 kop groschen imposed upon them by the city authorities. In January of the following year he confirmed, at the request of the Lithuanian Jews, the grant of privileges made by Witold in 1388. This was modeled after the original charter of Brest and was included in the first Lithuanian statute of 1529. Numerous other examples of his good-will toward the Jews show that while being a good Catholic he was free from fanaticism and religious intolerance. He looked upon his Jewish subjects as a class of men contributing by their usefulness to the welfare of the country, and as being entitled to the protection of equitable laws.
Like his predecessors, Sigismund availed himself extensively of the services of the wealthy taxfarmers. He borrowed large sums from them and in return accorded them special privileges. The most influential among the tax-farmers at his court, at the beginning of his reign, was Michael Jesofovich. When, in 1508, Prince Glinski rebelled against Sigismund, and by an agreement with the rulers of Moscow attempted to effect the annexation of portions of Poland and Lithuania to the Muscovite empire, two Jews of Brest, Itzko and Berek, aided the prince in his undertaking, and furnished him with secret information. Michael Jesofovich excommunicated them with the blowing of the shofar and with great public solemnity. In recognition of Michael's services, and prompted also by the desire to establish a more perfect system of tax-collection, Sigismund appointed him prefect over all the Lithuanian Jews (1514). This was a similar appointment to that of Abraham of Bohemia as prefect of the Polish Jews (1512). Like Abraham, Michael was invested with wide powers. He had the right to communicate directly with the king on important Jewish matters, and with the aid of a learned rabbi to administer justice among his coreligionists in accordance with their special laws. Michael's actual authority concerned the collection of taxes rather than the internal communal administration; and whatever his religious powers may have been, he certainly was not chief rabbi of the Lithuanian Jews, as some Jewish historians have stated.Prosperity of the Congregations.
This and similar acts, accompanied by the strengthening of the communal organizations, added to the prosperity of the Lithuanian communities. The most flourishing among them at the time were thoseof Brest, Grodno, Troki, Pinsk, Ostrog, Lutsk, and Tykotzin. The members of the communities found themselves in a better position legally than the burghers, although in practise the Jews were often deprived of the full enjoyment of their rights. According to the Lithuanian statutes of 1529 the murder of a Jew, a nobleman, or a burgher was punishable by death, and compensation was to be paid by the family of the murderer to that of the victim. But while the life of a Jew or a nobleman was valued at 100 kop groschen, that of a burgher was valued at only 12 kop groschen. Proportionate compensation was provided for personal injuries. The prominent Jewish tax-farmers frequently exceeded their legal powers, as is shown by complaints to the authorities. Thus in 1538 Goshko Kozhchich, a Jew of Brest, was fined 20 kop groschen for the illegal imprisonment of the nobleman Lyshinski. Similarly in 1542 the Jew Zachariah Markovich was ordered to pay 12 kop groschen as compensation for assaulting the king's boyar Grishka Kochevich. On the other hand, numerous instances are recorded of the friendly intercourse between Jews and Christians. They drank and ate in common, and the Jews took part in the Christian festivals and even vied with their Christian neighbors in athletic feats. But with the exception of a few wealthy Jewish tax-collectors, the Jews of Lithuania were not a great economic or political force. In their mode of life they were not markedly different from the rest of the population, and the names of the Jewish middle class are rarely met with in official documents. The rich Jews, however, are frequently mentioned in connection with their official business.Rumors of Converts to Judaism.
About 1539, rumors were spread by a baptized Jew that many Christians had adopted the Mosaic faith and had found refuge and protection among the Jews of Lithuania. An investigation was ordered by Sigismund, but it failed to disclose anything incriminating the Jews. None the less, in the course of the inquiry the king's nobles subjected the Jews to great annoyance. They unjustly arrested them on the highways, broke into their houses, and otherwise maltreated them. Before the conclusion of the investigation another rumor was spread ascribing to the Lithuanian Jews the intention to emigrate to Turkey and to take the new converts with them. New inquiries accompanied by similar excesses and abuses were made. The Jews sent numerous deputations to the king, protesting their innocence. Their assertions were substantiated by the findings of a special commission; and Sigismund hastened to declare the Jews free from any suspicion (1540).
In the last years of Sigismund's reign, and even during part of that of Sigismund August, Bona Sforza shared in their government, sometimes assuming absolute authority. The energetic queen was herself eager to make and to save money. Among the many decrees issued by her in her own name are two of special interest, as evidencing the occurrence of internal conflicts in Jewish communities. These deal with the quarrel in the community of Grodno between the powerful Judah family (Yudichi) and the rest of the community, due to the appointment of a rabbi in opposition to the wishes of a majority of the congregation. This rabbi was Mordecai, son-in-law of Judah Bogdanovich, and he is probably identical with Mordecai ben Moses Jaffe, rabbi of Cracow, who died about 1568. He should not be confounded with Mordecai ben Abraham Jaffe, author of "Lebushim" (1530-1612), who also was rabbi of Grodno (1572). Queen Bona decreed that the opposing faction be permitted to appoint a rabbi of its own, who was not to be related to the Judah family, and that the members of the latter should not call themselves "elders" of the Jews, a title that should be assumed only with the consent of the entire community. Accordingly, Moses ben Aaron was elected rabbi by opponents of the Judah family. This case tends to show that Mordecai Jaffe represented the Bohemian party, and Moses ben Aaron the Lithuanian-Polish faction.Under Sigismund II.
Sigismund II., August, only son of Sigismund I., succeeded as Grand Duke of Lithuania (1544) before the death of his father. He succeeded to the Polish throne in 1548. Liberal in his rule and in his treatment of his Jewish subjects, he accorded them the same tolerance as he did the Lutherans and Calvinists, who were then beginning to grow in numbers both in Poland and in Lithuania. Like all the Jagellons, he was a great spendthrift and of loose morals, but was none the less mindful of the welfare of his people. At the beginning of his reign the power of the lesser nobles ("Shlyakhta") was still limited. They did not participate in the legislative, judicial, or administrative affairs of Lithuania. Until then the rights of the nobility, and of the Jews had differed but slightly. Thus the rabbi of Brest, Mendel Frank, was styled "the king's officer," and the Jew Shmoilo Israilevich was appointed deputy to the governor of Wilna. The more prominent Jews were always called in official documents "Pany" ("Sirs"). Like the nobility, the Jews carried swords, and were ready to fight whenever the occasion warranted. They wore also golden chains, and rings on which were engraved coats of arms. Until the union of Lublin (1569) the Jews of Lithuania, with few exceptions, lived on grand-ducal lands, and as subjects of the king enjoyed his protection. Thus the king ordered the reigning prince, Juri Sermionovich of Slutsk, to pay damages for illegal acts against certain Jews, instructing the local authorities in case of opposition on the part of the prince to place the Jews in possession of his estates. The Jews could also collect debts not only from the Lithuanian lords, but even from such prominent persons as the Grand Duke of Ryazan. King Sigismund even entered into a diplomatic correspondence with the Grand Duke of Moscow urging the restoration of merchandise confiscated in Russia from Lithuanian Jewish merchants. The relations between the Jews and the local authorities were governed partly by their charters of privileges and partly by custom. The Jews, for instance, made presents to the magistrate or elder, but were quite independent in their dealings with them. The local officials were answerable to the king for illegal acts.Rise of Opposition.
The middle of the sixteenth century witnessed agrowing antagonism between the lesser nobility and the Jews. Their relations became strained, and the enmity of the Christians began to disturb the life of the Lithuanian Israelites. The anti-Jewish feeling, due at first to economic causes engendered by competition, was fostered by the clergy, who were then engaged in a crusade against heretics, notably the Lutherans, Calvinists, and Jews. The Reformation, which had spread from Germany, tended to weaken the allegiance to the Catholic Church. Frequent instances occurred of the marriage of Catholic women to Jews, Turks, or Tatars. The Bishop of Wilna complained to Sigismund August (Dec., 1548) of the frequency of such mixed marriages and of the education of the offspring in their fathers' faiths. The Shlyakhta also saw in the Jews dangerous competitors in commercial and financial undertakings. In their dealings with the agricultural classes the lords preferred the Jews as middlemen, thus creating a feeling of injury on the part of the Shlyakhta. The exemption of the Jews from military service and the power and wealth of the Jewish tax-farmers intensified the resentment of the Shlyakhta. Members of the nobility, like Borzobogaty, Zagorovski, and others, attempted to compete with the Jews as leaseholders of customs revenues, but were never successful. Since the Jews lived in the towns and on the lands of the king, the nobility could not wield any authority over them nor derive profit from them. They had not even the right to settle Jews on their estates without the permission of the king; but, on the other hand, they were often annoyed by the erection on their estates of the tollhouses of the Jewish tax-collectors.Action of the Nobles.
Hence when the favorable moment arrived the Lithuanian nobility endeavored to secure greater power over the Jews. At the Diet of Wilna in 1551 the nobility urged the imposition of a special polltax of one ducat per head, and the Volhynian nobles demanded that the Jewish tax-collectors be forbidden to erect tollhouses or place guards at the taverns on their estates. In 1555 the illegal treatment of the Jews by Zhoslenski, the magistrate of Wilna, led Sigismund August to announce that a fine of 300 kop groschen would follow any repetition of such an excess of power. In 1559 the nobility of Samogitia complained of abuses by Jewish tax-collectors and demanded that the collection of customs duties be entrusted to them on the same terms as to the Jews. In 1560 the king found it necessary to prohibit the magistrates of Volhynia from assuming jurisdiction over the clerks of the tax-collector Mendel Isakovich. In 1563 the Lithuanian nobility demanded that the Jews furnish 2,000 foot-soldiers and an even greater number of sharpshooters. In 1564 Bernat Abramovich, clerk of the prominent tax-collector Isaac Borodavka, was arrested and tried on the accusation of having murdered a Christian child. The royal chamberlain testified that he had heard the confession of Bernat shortly before his execution, and that he had solemnly declared his innocence. Investigation proved the falseness of the charge, which had been prompted by enmity toward Borodavka.
A similar unfounded accusation of two other servants of Borodavka in 1566 led Sigismund August to declare the innocence of the accused, and to reaffirm the decree of Aug. 9, 1564, by which all Jews accused of the murder of Christian children or of desecrating the host were to be tried by the king himself before the assembled Diet. Until the time of trial the accused were to be surrendered for safe-keeping to two of their coreligionists. The guilt of the accused could be declared only on the testimony of four Christian and three Jewish witnesses. The failure to prove the accusation rendered the accuser liable to loss of life and property. In this decree the king also reminded the Christians of the grand duchy that previous charters and papal bulls had amply proved that Jews were not in need of Christian blood for the purposes of their ritual.The Act of 1566.
The opposition to the Jews was finally crystallized and found definite expression in the repressive Lithuanian statute of 1566, when the Lithuanian nobles were first allowed to take part in the national legislation. Paragraph 12 of this statute contains the following articles: "The Jews shall not wear costly clothing, nor gold chains, nor shall their wives wear gold or silver ornaments. The Jews shall not have silver mountings on their sabers and daggers; they shall be distinguished by characteristic clothes; they shall wear yellow caps, and their wives kerchiefs of yellow linen, in order that all may be enabled to distinguish Jews from Christians." Other restrictions of a similar nature are contained in the same paragraph. However, the king checked the desire of the nobility to modify essentially the old charters of the Jews.
Twenty years later the royal veto was ineffective against the increasing power of the nobility; but by that time the attitude of the latter toward the Jews had undergone such a complete change that instead of adding new restrictions the nobility abolished most of the regulations which had been so objectionable.After the Union of Lublin.
Through the union with Lithuania, Poland gained in power and exerted a greater influence on the former country. The introduction of the reformed faith (the teachings of Calvin) met with ready acceptance by the nobility and middle classes. The new religious ideas brought in their wake a taste for science and literature, and Jewish and Christian children sought learning in the same schools. A number of young men went to Germany and Italy for the study of medicine and astronomy. The inmates of the yeshibot (of Lithuania especially) were acquainted with the writings of Aristotle, as is evidenced by the complaint of Solomon Luria that Rabbi Moses Isserles was responsible for much free thought. He had noticed in the prayer-books of the scholars (baḥurim) the prayer of Aristotle. Cardinal Commendoni testifies that many Russian and Lithuanian Jews had distinguished themselves in medicine and astronomy. The Jews of Lithuania were, like their Catholic neighbors, affected by the broader spiritual atmosphere of the day. The Polish Calvinists, among them Prince Radziwil, enjoyed extensive influence at court, and Radziwil was almostsuccessful in causing Sigismund August to renounce allegiance to the papal authority. The extreme Calvinists, like the Socinians and the followers of Simon Budny, attacked the doctrine of the Trinity as a form of polytheism. Therefore they were styled Unitarians or anti-Trinitarians, and were frequently referred to by their opponents as "half-Jews." The influence of the religious unrest of the times on Jewish thought is evidenced by the discussions which took place between the Jews and the dissenters (see Czechowic). The learned Karaite Isaac ben Abraham of Troki took a prominent part in such discussions. His polemical experience is described in his work "Ḥizzuḳ Emunah" (translated into Latin by Wagenseil and published with the Hebrew text in 1681, and later translated into Spanish, German, and French). This work is frequently cited by the French encyclopedists in their attacks on Catholicism. The French Duke Henry of Anjou, one of the leaders in the massacre of St. Bartholomew, was elected to succeed Sigismund August on the thrones of Poland and Lithuania. He was an enemy of the Jews notwithstanding the fact that he largely owed his election to the efforts of Solomon Ashkenazi. He planned strict measures against his Jewish subjects, and blood accusations occurred during his short reign. Fortunately he escaped to France in 1574 to assume the crown left vacant by the death of his brother. After the short interregnum which followed, the Polish people elected the Transylvanian Duke Stephen Bathori. During the latter's equitable rule of eleven years the condition of the Polish and Lithuanian Jews was greatly improved.Under Stephen Bathori.
In July, 1576, he ordered by decree that all persons making false blood accusations or baseless charges of desecration of the host, then being spread in Lithuania, should be severely punished, his own investigations having convinced him that such accusations were instigated merely to incite riots. He found not only that the Jews were innocent and beyond suspicion, but also that the Shlyakhta who had made the accusations had themselves been misled by fanatical agitators. He declared that "whosoever shall disobey this decree shall be severely punished irrespective of his position in society; and whoever shall spread such rumors shall be considered a calumniator; and he who shall make such false charges before the authorities shall be punished by death." In the same month he confirmed by decree all of the ancient privileges of the Lithuanian Jews. At the beginning of his reign Mordecai Jaffe (author of the "Lebushim") went to Lithuania. He at first officiated in Grodno, and built the large synagogue which is still standing there and which has on its ark an inscription showing that the building was completed in 1578. Mordecai Jaffe by his great rabbinical erudition and secular knowledge played an important rôle in the Council of Four Lands and in the development of the methodical study of rabbinical literature in Lithuania and Poland. See also Bathori, Stephen.Sigismund III. and Ladislaus IV.
The long reign of Sigismund III. (1587-1632) witnessed gradual but decisive changes in the relations of the Lithuanian Jews to the rest of the population. Born in the Protestant family of the Vasas, Sigismund was educated by his father, John III., in the Catholic faith with a view to his future occupation of the Polish throne. The Jesuit training of Sigismund was reflected in his attitude toward his non-Catholic subjects. The severe measures which he took against the dissenters affected the Jews also. In the attack of the Jesuits on Protestants and Greek Catholics the Jesuits caused the promulgation of numerous decrees restricting the ancient privileges of the Lithuanian Jews. They secured complete control of the education of the Polish-Lithuanian youth and instilled into the future citizens a religious intolerance hitherto unknown in Lithuania and which later made the existence of the Jewish subjects almost unbearable. A return to medieval methods was prevented only by the unsettled political and social condition of the country and the independence of the Shlyakhta. This independence, however, gradually vanished, and in the political degeneration which followed, the lesser nobility became a tool in the hands of a few reactionary leaders.
The king himself, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, attempted to pose as the protector of the Jews. He confirmed their charters of privileges (1588), and frequently took their part in their struggle with the Christian merchant gilds; but more often he sacrificed them to the self-assumed power of the city magistrates. The commercial rivalry between the Jews and the burghers, and the disregard by the latter of the ancient rights of the Jews, led Sigismund to issue several special decrees declaring the inviolability of Jewish autonomy in religious and judicial matters. The first of these decrees was due to the efforts of Saul Judich, representing the Jews of Brest (1593), and was called forth by the illegal assumption of authority over the Jews by the magistrates of Brest in matters reserved to the jurisdiction of the ḳahals or the king. The object of the magistrates was the collection of excessive fees and other extortions. This Saul Judich was one of the most prominent farmers of taxes and customs duties in Lithuania, and as "servant of the king" was in a position to render important services to his coreligionists. He is first mentioned in a decree of 1580 as having, in company with other communal leaders, strongly defended the rights of the Jews of Brest against the Christian merchants. As Bershadski shows, he is the Saul Wahl, the favorite of Prince Radziwil, who, according to legend, was made King of Poland for one night.
In the same year (1580) Sigismund granted the Jews of Wilna, as a protection against the oppressive measures of the city magistrates, a charter permitting them to purchase real estate, to engage in trade on the same footing as the Christian merchants, to occupy houses belonging to the nobles, and to build synagogues. As tenants of the nobility they were to be exempt from city taxes, and in their lawsuits with Christians they were to be subject to the jurisdiction of the king's waywodes only. A few days later the king accorded them the additional right to establish in the lower portion of the city a synagogue,cemetery, and bath-house, as well as stores for the sale of kasher meat. The burghers naturally resented the grant of these privileges and used every effort to secure their curtailment. Their endeavors evidently met with success, for in 1606 the Jews of Wilna found it necessary to petition the king for protection.
Later decrees of Sigismund show that ultimately anti-Jewish influences prevailed at his court. In 1597 he granted the Magdeburg Rights to the city of Vitebsk, but denied by a legal technicality the right of the Jews to reside permanently in the city. Another decree provided that no synagogue should be built without the king's permission. In the carrying out of this enactment the Jews were practically compelled to secure the permission of the Catholic clergy also whenever they desired to build a synagogue. Still another decree, which was later incorporated into the statutes, provided for the elevation to nobility of Jewish converts to Christianity. The rapidly growing number of the so-called "Jerusalem nobles" later caused alarm among the Polish nobility, and in 1768 the law was repealed.Influence of Jesuits.
With the permanent establishment of the Jesuits in Poland and in Lithuania, the ramification of their intrigues and their active participation in politics and in legislation gave them a predominating influence in the affairs of the country. Having come to Lithuania in the reign of Sigismund II., August, the Jesuits at first kept free from politics, and occupied themselves with educational work, science, and literature. Stephen Bathori had no fear of their intrigues, and even entrusted them with the management of the newly established academy in Wilna. However, aided by the demoralized condition of the country, they soon succeeded in arraying the religious factions against one another. Bribery was rampant at the court and among the city officials. The masses were unruly and licentious, the Shlyakhta wilful, the clergy fanatical, and the magistrates lawless. The Jews were frequently made to suffer in these factional struggles. The restrictions put upon them grew constantly; they were forbidden to engage in retail trade, handicrafts, and other remunerative callings, and they were practically outlawed. The only occupation in which they were to any extent safe from the rapacity of city officials was the keeping of taverns in the townlets and villages. There, their only masters were the nobles, whom it was easier to please than the numerous functionaries and Shlyakhta. Thus the Jews unfortunately became in some parts of Lithuania useful tools in the hands of the nobility for the exploitation of the peasantry. The lords then found it expedient to take the Jews under their protection. Prominent among them were the Radziwils in Lithuania, and the Wishnevetzkis in the Ukraine.
Ladislaus IV. (1632-48) was not a zealous Catholic, and he had no love for the Jesuits. He attempted to make peace between the warring religious factions, and sought to revive the ancient rights of the Jews. On March 11 and 16, 1633, he confirmed the charters of privileges of the Jews of Lithuania, and decreed that all suits between Jews and Christians should be tried by the waywodes and elders and not by the city magistrates, who were the avowed enemies of the Jews, and often discriminated against them. He also checked the anti-Jewish student demonstrations, instigated by Jesuit teachers. All appeals in suits between Jews were to be brought before the king or his vice-regent.
Notwithstanding his religious tolerance, however, Ladislaus lacked the energy to resist the power of the clergy and the merchants, and was vacillating in his policy. At times he supported the Jews; at other times he yielded to the influence of their opponents. In 1633 and again in 1646 he confirmed the decree of his father (July, 1626) expelling Jews from the central portion of Moghilef and assigning them new quarters in the lower portion of the city. At the instigation of the Christian merchants of Wilna he also limited the rights of the Jews of that city. Aided by the propaganda of the clergy, the burghers caused new acts to be introduced, known as "De Judæis." It was decreed, for instance, that Jews should not appear on the main streets or in the market-places on Christian holidays; that Jewish physicians should not attend Christian patients; and that Jewish barbers should neither shave nor cup Christians. Fortunately for the Jews, on account of the powerful protection of the nobility, enactments could not always be carried out. Moreover these decrees, advocated by the lesser clergy and the Jesuits, were opposed by other powerful Church magnates, the bishops and the archbishops, who, as landed proprietors, availed themselves of the services of the Jews. Thus in the Catholic Church itself there were two parties, one favorable and the other antagonistic to the Jews; and it is often found that the archbishops and bishops were in opposition to the Church councils.
On the whole, the animosity toward the Jews produced by various economic evils had taken such deep root that Ladislaus, well-meaning as he was, found himself unable to stem the tide of class dissensions. The Jews themselves felt grateful for whatever efforts he made in their behalf, as was thus voiced by one of the leading rabbis of his time, Shabbethai ben Meïr ha-Kohen of Wilna (SHaḲ): "He was a righteous king, worthy to be counted among the just; for he always showed favor to the Jews, and was true to his promise." The Jewish masses, who had found safety on the estates of the landed nobility, ultimately became scapegoats in the bitter struggle of the Greek Catholic peasantry with the Polish nobles and Roman Catholic clergy, a struggle which culminated in the Cossacks' Uprising.Effect of Cossacks' Uprising.
The fury of this uprising destroyed the organization of the Lithuanian Jewish communities. The survivors who returned to their old homes in the latter half of the seventeenth century were practically destitute. The wars which raged constantly in the Lithuanian territory brought ruin to the entire country and deprived the Jews of the opportunity to earn more than a bare livelihood. The intensity of their struggle for existence left them no time to reestablish the conditions which had existed up to 1648. John Casimir (1648-68) sought to ameliorate their condition by granting various concessions to the Jewish communities of Lithuania.Attempts to return to the old order in the communal organization were not wanting, as is evident from contemporary documents. Thus in 1672 Jewish elders from various towns and villages in the grand duchy of Lithuania secured a charter from King Michael Wishnevetzki (1669-73), decreeing "that on account of the increasing number of Jews guilty of offenses against the Shlyakhta and other Christians, which result in the enmity of the Christians toward the Jews, and because of the inability of the Jewish elders to punish such offenders, who are protected by the lords, the king permits the ḳahals to summon the criminals before the Jewish courts for punishment and exclusion from the community when necessary." The efforts to resurrect the old power of the ḳahals were not successful. The impoverished Jewish merchants, having no capital of their own, were compelled to borrow money from the nobility, from churches, congregations, monasteries, and various religious orders. Loans from the latter were usually for an unlimited period and were secured by mortgages on the real estate of the ḳahal. The ḳahals thus became hopelessly indebted to the clergy and the nobility.
Numerous complaints to King John Sobieski (1674-96) by the Jews of Brest against their communal leaders, led him (May, 1676) to grant the rabbi of Brest, Mark Benjaschewitsch, jurisdiction in criminal cases over the Jews of his community, and to invest him with the power to impose corporal punishment and even the sentence of death. Under this ruler the Lithuanian communities saw a partial restoration of their old prosperity, and the authority of the Lithuanian Council served to bring some order out of the chaotic condition of the Lithuanian Jewry. Still the real stability of the old communities was destroyed, and frequent conflicts arose in regard to the territorial limits of the jurisdiction of the ḳahals. In the middle of the eighteenth century all the Lithuanian ḳahals were insolvent (see
In 1792 the Jewish population of Lithuania was estimated at 250,000 (as compared with 120,000 in 1569). The whole of the commerce and industries of Lithuania, now rapidly declining, was in the hands of the Jews. The nobility lived for the most part on their estates and farms, some of which were managed by Jewish leaseholders. The city properties were concentrated in the possession of monasteries, churches, and the lesser nobility. The Christian merchants were poor. Such was the condition of affairs in Lithuania at the time of the second partition of Poland (1793), when the Jews became subjects of Russia.Judicial Function of the Rabbis.
The founding of the yeshibot in Lithuania was due to the Lithuanian-Polish Jews who studied in the west, and to the German Jews who migrated about that time to Lithuania and Poland. Very little is known of these early yeshibot. No mention is made of them or of prominent Lithuanian rabbis in Jewish writings until the sixteenth century. The first known rabbinical authority and head of a yeshibah was Isaac Bezaleel of Vladimir, Volhynia, who was already an old man when Luria went to Ostrog in the fourth decade of the sixteenth century. Another rabbinical authority, Kalman Haberkaster, rabbi of Ostrog and predecessor of Solomon Luria, died in 1559. Occasional references to the yeshibah of Brest are found in the writings of the contemporary rabbis Solomon Luria (d. 1585), Moses Isserles (d. 1572), and David Gans (d. 1589), who speak of its activity. Of the yeshibot of Ostrog and Vladimir in Volhynia it is known that they were in a flourishing condition at the middle of the sixteenth century, and that their heads vied with one another in Talmudic scholarship. Mention is also made by Gans of the head of the Kremenetz yeshibah, Isaac Cohen (d. 1573), of whom but little is known otherwise. For other prominent scholars in Lithuania at that time see Brest-Litovsk; Grodno; Kremenetz; Ostrog; Wilna.
At the time of the Lublin Union, Solomon Luria was rabbi of Ostrog, and was regarded as one of the greatest Talmudic authorities in Poland and Lithuania. In 1568 King Sigismund ordered that the suits between Isaac Borodavka and Mendel Isakovich, who were partners in the farming of certain customs taxes in Lithuania, be carried for decision to Rabbi Solomon Luria and two auxiliary rabbis from Pinsk and Tykotzin.
The far-reaching authority of the leading rabbis of Poland and Lithuania, and their wide knowledge of practical life, are apparent from numerous decisions cited in the responsa. They were always the champions of justice and morality. In the "Etan ha-Ezraḥi" (Ostrog, 1796) of Abraham Rapoport (known also as Abraham Schrenzel; d. 1650), Rabbi Meïr Sack is cited as follows: "I emphatically protest against the custom of our communal leaders of purchasing the freedom of Jewish criminals. Such a policy encourages crime among our people. I am especially troubled by the fact that, thanks to the clergy, such criminals may escape punishment by adopting Christianity. Mistaken piety impels our leaders to bribe the officials, in order to prevent such conversions. We should endeavor to deprive criminals of opportunities to escape justice." The same sentiment was expressed in the sixteenth century by R. Meïr Lublin (Responsa, § 138). Another instance, cited by Katz from the same responsa, likewise shows that Jewish criminals invoked the aid of priests against the authority of Jewish courts by promising to become converts to Christianity.
The decisions of the Polish-Lithuanian rabbis are frequently marked by breadth of view also, as is instanced by a decision of Joel Sirkes ("Bet Hadash," § 127) to the effect that Jews may employ in their religious services the melodies used in Christian churches, "since music is neither Jewish nor Christian, and is governed by universal laws."
Decisions by Solomon Luria, Meïr Katz, and Mordecai Jaffe show that the rabbis were acquainted with the Russian language and its philology. Jaffe, for instance, in a divorce case where the spelling of the woman's name as "Lupka" or "Lubka" was in question, decided that the word is correctly spelled with a "b," and not with a "p," since the origin of the name was the Russian verb "lubit" = "to love," and not "lupit" = "to beat" ("Lebush ha-Buz we-Argaman," § 129). Meïr Katz ("Geburat Anashim," § 1) explains that the name of Brest-Litovsk is written in divorce cases "Brest" and not "Brisk," "because the majority of the Lithuanian Jews use the Russian language." It is not so with Brisk, in the district of Kujawa, the name of that town being always spelled "Brisk." Katz (a German) at the conclusion of his responsum expresses the hope that when Lithuania shall have become more enlightened, the people will speak one language only—German—and that also Brest-Litovsk will be written "Brisk."Items from the Responsa.
The responsa throw an interesting light also on the life of the Lithuanian Jews and on their relations to their Christian neighbors. Benjamin Aaron Solnik states in his "Mas'at Binyamin" (end of sixteenth and beginning of seventeenth century) that "the Christians borrow clothes and jewelry from the Jews when they go to church." Joel Sirkes (l.c. § 79) relates that a Christian woman came to the rabbi and expressed her regret at having been unable to save the Jew Shlioma from drowning. A number of Christians had looked on indifferently while the drowning Jew was struggling in the water. They were upbraided and beaten severely by the priest, who appeared a few minutes later, for having failed to rescue the Jew.
Rabbi Solomon Luria gives an account (Responsa, § 20) of a quarrel that occurred in a Lithuanian community concerning a cantor whom some of the members wished to dismiss. The synagogue was closed in order to prevent him from exercising his functions, and religious services were thus discontinued for several days. The matter was thereupon carried to the local lord, who ordered the reopening of the building, saying that the house of God might not be closed, and that the cantor's claims should be decided by the learned rabbis of Lithuania. Joseph Katz mentions ("She'erit Yosef," § 70) a Jewish community which was forbidden by the local authorities to kill cattle and to sell meat—an occupation which provided a livelihood for a large portion of the Lithuanian Jews. For the period of a year following this prohibition the Jewish community was on several occasions assessed at the rate of three gulden per head of cattle in order to furnish funds wherewith to induce the officials to grant a hearing of the case. The Jews finally reached an agreement with the town magistrates under which they were to pay 40 gulden annually for the right to slaughter cattle. According to Hillel ben Herz ("Bet Hillel," Yoreh De'ah, § 157), Naphtali says the Jews of Wilna had been compelled to uncover when taking an oath in court, but later purchased from the tribunal the privilege to swear with covered head, a practise subsequently made unnecessary by a decision of one of their rabbis to the effect that an oath might be taken with uncovered head.
The responsa of Meïr Lublin show (§ 40) that the Lithuanian communities frequently aided the German and the Austrian Jews. On the expulsion of the Jews from Silesia, when the Jewish inhabitants of Silz had the privilege of remaining on condition that they would pay the sum of 2,000 gulden, the Lithuanian communities contributed one-fifth of the amount.
The influence in communal life of prominent rabbinical scholars, such as Mordecai Jaffe, Moses Isserles, Solomon Luria, and Meïr Lublin, proved but a slight check to the growing misrule of the ḳahals. The individuality of the Lithuanian Jew was lost in the ḳahal, whose advantages were thus largely counterbalanced by the suppression of personal liberty. The tyranny of the ḳahal administration and the external oppression drove the great mass of the Lithuanian Jewry to seek consolation in the dry formalism of Talmudic precepts. The Talmud and its endless commentaries became the sole source of information and instruction. Every Jew was compelled by the communal elders to train his children in Talmudic lore. The Halakah offered a solution for every question in Jewish life, while the poetry of the Haggadah supplied alleviation for sorrow and hope for the future. Reformers arising among the Lithuanian Jews were forced by the ḳahal elders either to leave the community or to bend to the will of the administration. All was sacrificed to the inviolability of customs sanctioned by tradition or by the letter of the Law. The ties of friendship and family relationship were subordinated to the interests of the community. Hence it is little to be wondered at that the Cabala found fertile soil in Lithuania. The marked indications of approaching political anarchy were the chief causes of the organization of the Lithuanian Council.
- Antonovich, Monografii po Istorii Zapadnoi i Yugo-Zapadnoi Rossii, Vol. i., Kiev, 1885;
- Bershadski, Litovskie Yevrei, St. Petersburg, 1883;
- idem, Russko-Yevreiski Arkiv, 2 vols., ib. 1882;
- Czacki, Rozprava o Zydach i Karaitach, Wilna, 1807;
- idem, O Litewskich i Polskich Prawach, Warsaw, 1800;
- Dubnov, Yevreiskaya Istoriya, vol. ii., s.v., Odessa, 1897;
- Graetz, History of the Jews, Hebrew ed., vols. vii. and viii., s.v.;
- Harkavy, in Russische Revue, vols. xxii., xxiii., St. Petersburg, 1883-84;
- Jaroszewicz, Obraz Litwy . . . od Czasow Najdawniejszych do Konca Wieku, xviii., Wilna, 1844;
- Kraushaar, Historya Zydów w Polsce, 2 vols., Warsaw, 1865-66;
- Leontovich, Istoricheskoe Izslyedovanie o Pravakh Litovsko-Russkikh Yevreyev, Kiev, 1864;
- Maciejowski, Zydzi w Polsce na Rusi i Litwie, Warsaw, 1878;
- Narbutt, Dzieje Narodu Litewskiego, part viii., p. 490;
- Neubauer, Aus der Petersburger Bibliothek, Leipsic, 1866;
- Regesty i Nadpisi, vol. i., St. Petersburg, 1899;
- Sternberg, Geschichte der Juden in Polen, Leipsic, 1878;
- Sistematicheski Ukazatel, s.v., St. Petersburg, 1893;
- Sbornik Budushchnosti, i. 244.