By: Herman Rosenthal
King of Poland (1674-96). During his reign Poland had already lost its prominent position among European peoples, and, except during a few years, her lost prestige was never regained. With the loss of Poland's power came also the waning prosperity and influence of her Jewish communities. The poverty of the Polish Jews at that time increased to such an extent that many sought work in Prussia, where they hired themselves out as common laborers in the fields of Catholic landlords (König, "Annalen der Juden in den Preussischen Staaten," p. 85).Commission to Polish Karaites.
During the reign of Sobieski, King Charles XI. of Sweden, who was actuated by the desire to convert the Jews to Christianity, commissioned Prof. Gustavus Perringer of Lillienblad (c. 1690) to go to Poland in order to study the manners of the Karaite Jews and to purchase copies of their writings at any cost. Perringer first went to Lithuania, where there were a number of Karaite communities. He probably failed to get much information or to secure many books, for the Lithuanian Karaites had become ignorant, and were of less intelligence than their brethren in Constantinople, in the Crimea, and in Egypt; and they knew little of their own origin and history. About this time the Polish Karaites were ordered by King Sobieski to leave their most populous communities, such as Troki, Lutsk, and Halicz, and to disperse in the smaller towns. The Karaite judge Abraham ben Samuel of Troki, who was a favorite of Sobieski, transmitted this order, and the Karaites thus became distributed (Easter, 1688) as far as the northern province of Samogitia. In this manner the Polish Karaites were made to mingle more intimately with their neighbors, and gradually assumed the manners and customs of the Polish peasants.His Stanch Friendship for the Jews.
Sobieski always showed himself to be a stanch friend of the Jews. He granted them many privileges in Lithuania and Poland, endeavored to counteract the agitation of the priests against them, and sought to discredit the false accusations brought forward by their enemies. At the same time he often found himself unable to intervene effectually in their behalf, since the royal power had become to a great extent nominal. The Jesuits had already succeeded in imbuing the lords and the minor nobility ("schlyakhta") with a spirit of intolerance and suspicion, as is shown by the charge of host-desecration made in 1670 against the Jews of Mlava. The increase of the influence of the clergy was favored also by the frequent absences of Sobieski in times of war. Still, the Jews found in him a powerful protector. During his reign the Jewish communities partly regained their former prosperity, and their organization, including that of the Council of the Four Lands, was strengthened.
Besides the special privileges granted to the Jewish community of Zolkiev situated on his personal estate, Sobieski also issued about twenty decrees in favor of the Jews of Lemberg, which edicts included warnings to the magistrates and priests not to oppress the Jews ("Acta Grodzkie i Ziemskie Miasta Lwowa," vol. x.). When the four districts of the Lithuanian council—Wilna, Grodno, Brest, and Pinsk—could not agree as to spheres of influence, Sobieski ordered (Feb. 8, 1682) that the question be settled within twelve weeks (Bershadski, "Litovskiye Yevrei," p. 19). In 1682 he ordered, in response to a petition of the Jews of Wilna, that they be relieved from the supervision of the magistrates (Bershadski, l.c. pp. 18-19). He also renewed the old edicts by a decree dated May 6, 1672.
- Kluczucki, Acta Johannis Sobieski, Cracow, 1880-82;
- Grätz, Gesch. Hebrew transl., viii., passim;
- Neubauer, Aus der Petersburger Bibliothek, p. 139;
- Mordecai, Dod Mordechai, ch. vii.