By: Herman Rosenthal
Grand duke of Lithuania and king of Poland; born 1460; died at Wilna, 1506. He was the son of King Casimir IV. He ascended the throne of Lithuania in 1492, and that of Poland upon the death of his brother, John Albert, in 1501. More prodigal even than the other Jagellons—noted for their extravagance—and weak in character, he was much swayed by his successive favorites, so that his attitude toward the Jews exhibits a wavering instability. Immediately upon ascending the throne, December 1, 1492, he not only confirmed the privileges granted to the Jews by his predecessors, but even added new ones, giving to the Jews of Troki the full rights of burghers; and the collection of taxes was farmed out to them as heretofore. He also repaid to the Jews the large indebtedness incurred by his father; and there was nothing that seemed to indicate the coming storm —the first persecution of the Jews in Lithuania. In 1495 Alexander, as grand duke of Lithuania, issued without warning an edict in the following terms: "The Jews must leave the country."
The Lithuanian Jews at that time apparently were far more refined than their Polish coreligionists. They spoke and wrote the Russian language, did business in partnership with their Christian fellow citizens, and had social intercourse with them. At the end of the fifteenth century many among them bore Russian names, as, for instance, Zubetz, Ryabchik, Olsheika, Glukhoi, Mamotlivy, Kravchik (see article Names). They occupied themselves not only in commercial enterprises, but were also engaged in agriculture and the handicrafts. The majority of the Lithuanian Jews were not wealthy, but those leaseholders and tax-collectors among them who had become rich purchased estates from the nobility and developed into gentlemen farmers. Some of these Jews or their heirs finally embraced Christianity.
Works on Expulsion.
Neubauer ("Aus der Petersburger Bibliothek," p. 121) gives an account of two Ḳinot (elegies) contained in Caleb Afendopolo's work "Mar 'Ober" (extant in manuscript in the St. Petersburg Public Library), dealing with the expulsion of "God's people" from Spain, Russia, and Lithuania, and giving the date of their expulsion from Lithuania as 1493, instead of the actual year, 1495. Etza Nisanowicz, the court physician of Prince Radziwill (who lived between 1595 and 1666), gives in the notes to his medical work the correct date, 1495, but names King Albert instead of Alexander as the one who brought the Jews back from Ratno, Poland, to Lithuania in 1503.
Banished Jews Return.
Among the Jewish writers who treat of the subject of the expulsion of the Jews from Lithuania, Prof. A. Harkavy refers to the following (Bershadski's article in "Voskhod," pp. 5 et seq., January, 1892): In the work "Shushan-Sodot," written by Moses ben Jacob of Russia in April, 1495, and published in Venice, 1650 (2d ed., Koritz, 1784), it is said: "Our time is the time of calamities for the lost sheep [of the house of Israel]." Abravanel, in 1497, speaks of the hard times in store for the Jews of Germany, Lombardy, and Russia. Solomon ibn Verga, enumerating in "Shebeṭ Yehudah" the epochs calamitous to the Jews puts the ninth epoch of their misfortunes in the year 1490, when the Jews were driven from Savoy, Piedmont, Sicily, and Russia. In the preface to the prayer-book of the Crimean Jews, living in Kaffa and Karassu-Bazar, published in 1735, it is said that this prayer-book was arranged by Moses ha-Goleh (the Exile), who came with a great number of banished Jews from Russia to Constantinople.
According to Bershadski, the Jews were banished from the cities and districts of Brest, Troki, Wilna, Lutzk, Vladimir, and Kiev. They were admitted into Poland by Alexander's brother King John Albert, and remained in Ratno and vicinity until 1503, when they again returned to Lithuania by the order of Alexander.As King of Poland.
In 1501 Alexander, after the death of his brother John Albert, was elected king of Poland. In his new dominions dwelt the Jews who had previously been expelled by him from Lithuania. As it was difficult for him to banish them from Poland owing to their wealth, their great numbers, and the protection of the influential Polish nobility, he found it politic to "permit" them to return to Lithuania. The colonists from Germany and Sweden, who were to have taken the place of the banished Jews, had failed to come; the new tax-collectors did not meet his expectations; and the war with Moscow required great sums of money. Accordingly the Jews were "permitted" to return to Lithuania in March and April, 1503, on the following conditions: They were to settle in the same places where they had lived before; and all their houses, stores, gardens, fields, meadows, etc., were to be sold back to them at the prices paid by the present owners. In their turn the Jews had the right to collect all outstanding debts not paid to them at the time of their banishment; they were obliged to furnish 1,000 horsemen for the army, and to pay a considerable annual amount to the authorities. Probably not long before the end of Alexander's reign the Jews contrived to have the obligation touching the 1,000 horsemen abolished, and had to pay taxes and additional imposts like all other burghers instead.
- Bershadski, Litovskie Yevrei, St. Petersburg, 1883;
- Regesty i Nadpisi, vol. i., St. Petersburg, 1899;
- Sobranie Gosudarstvennykh i Chastnykh Aktov Kasayushchikhsysa Istorii Litvy, Wilna, 1858;
- T. Czacki, Rozprawa o Ẓydach i Karaitach, Wilna, 1807.