Isidore Singer.

The Jewish encyclopedia : a descriptive record of the history, religion, literature, and customs of the Jewish people from the earliest times to the present day (Volume 8) online

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own law to use human blood, or any blood whatever, it Is for-
bidden to accuse Jews of using human blood. But in the case
of a Jew accused of the murder of a Christian child, such ac-
cusation 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 In-
flicted 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 promi-
nent citizens. (36) A Christian neighbor who shall fail to re-
spond 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 doc-
uments granted by Casimir the Great, earlier by Bo-
leslaw of Kalisz, to tlie Jews of Poland. These in
their turn were based on the charters of Henry of
Glogau (1251), King Ottokar of Bohemia (12.54-67),
and Frederick II. (1244), and the last-mentioned
upon the charter of the Bishop of Speyer (1084).
The successive remodelings of the different docu-
ments 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 Germau models by certain peculiarities.
The chief digressions are in §§ 8, 21, 28, 33, and 35.

Tiie distinctive feattn-es wei-e made more manifest in
tiie later issues of tiiese privileges by the attempt
to conform them to the needs of Lithuanian-lJussiau
life. While tiie 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

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" ("juilex Juda'orum "), and
his deputy. The Jewish judge decided all cases be-
tween 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 par-
ties. Either party who failed to obey tlie judge's
summons had to pay him a tine. To him also be-
longed all fines collected from Jews for
The "Sta- minor offenses. His duties included
rosta." the guardianship of the persons, prop-
erty, and freedom of worship of the
Jews. He had no right to stmimon 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 reg-
ulation 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 docu-
ments 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 re-
linquish 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 shohet
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 a




number of the wealthier Jews, who, besides enga-
ging in commerce, also leased certain sources of the
ducal revenues or became owners of estates. The
first known Jewish farmer of customs duties in Lith-
uania was " Shanya " (probably Shakna), who was
presented by Witoid with the villages Vinnike and
Kalusov in the district of Vladimir. The good-will
and tolerance of Witoid 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 countr}' and Poland were united for
a time in 1413. His cousin, the Polish king Ladis-
laus II., Jagellon, did not interfere with his admin-
istration during Witoid 's lifetime.

After Witold's death Ladislaus assumed active
sovereignty over a part of Lithuania. He granted
(1432) the Magdeburg Rights to the Poles, Ger-
mans, and Russians of the city of Lutsk, Avhile
in the case of the Jews and Armenians the Polish
laws were made effective (see Poland). Tliis policj^
toward his Jewish subjects in Poland
Under the was influenced by the clerical party,
Jagellons. and he attempted to curtail the privi-
leges granted to them by his prede-
cessors. However, his rule in Lithuania was too
short to have a lasting eflfect on the life of the
Lithuanian Jews.

Swidrigailo, who became Grand Duke of Lithu-
ania at the death of Witoid (1430), strove to prevent
the annexation of Volliynia and Podolia to the
Polish crown. He availed himself of the service of
Jewish ta.\'- farmers, leasing the customs duties of
Vladimir to tlie Jew Shanya and those of Busk to
the Jew Yatzka. Tiiere is, however, reason for
the belief that he was not always friendly toward
the Jews, as is shown by his grant of the Magde-
burg 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 assassin-
ated in the year 1440, and was succeeded by Casimir

As Grand Duke of Lithuania (1440-92) Casimir
Jagellon pursued toward his Jewish subjects the
liberal policy of Witoid. In 1441 he granted the
Magdeburg Riglits to the Karaite Jews of Troki on
conditions similar to those under which they were
granted to the Christians of Troki, Wiina, and
Kovno; giving the Troki Karaites, however, a
wider autonomy in judicial matters and in com-
munal affairs, allowing tliem one-half of the city
revenues, and presenting them with a parcel of
land. The Troki and Lutsk Karaites were descend-
ants of 380 ffiniilics broiiglit, according to tradition,
by Witoid from the Crimea at the end of tiie four-
teenth centtiry, wlien Rabbinite Jews were already
established in Troki (see Graetz, "History," Heb.
transl. by Rabinowitz, vi. 225). Settlingoriginally in
New Troki, the Karaites subsequently spread to
other Lithuanian and Galiciun towns. Tin- 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
Ifabbinites and Karaites, designating both in their
decrees merely as " Jews " (" Zidy "). See Kauaitks.

In 1453, for services rendered to him, Casimir

granted to the Jew Michael of Hrubieszow, his wife,

and tlieir son Judah, exemption from all taxes and

customs duties throughout the country. Between

1463 and 1478 he presented to Levin

Jews as Schalomich certain lands in the way-
Tax- wodeship of Brest, together with the
Farmers, 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, AvraamDanilovich,
and Jeska Sehelemovich. 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 Dauilovich,
Samaditza, and Ryzhka, who were Jews of Kiev
and Troki. In the same year the customs duties
of Bryansk were leased to Mordecai Gadajevvichand
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, Pere-
myshl, and Litovishk to the Jews of Brest and Hru-
bieszow ; and the customs duties of Kiev and Putivl to
Rabei and other Jews of Kiev. In 1490 certain rev-
enues of Putivl were leased to Merovach and Israel
of Kiev and Abraham of Plotzk. These leases
prove that throughout Ca.simir's reign the impor-
tant commercial and financial affairs of the grand
duchy were largely managed by Jewish lease-
holders, to whom he was heavily indebted. At
times liis 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. According to the Polish
Com- historian Jaroszewicz in his "Obraz

mercial Litwy," the Jews of Lithuania after
Relations, the reign of Casimir Jagellon were
intimately connected with the devel-
opment 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 con-
tradictory promises to Poland and Lithuania, and his
frequent favors to the Jews do not necessarily show
that he was their friend. At he considered
them as useful agents in his financial undertakings.




The iufluential Jewish tax-farmers often encoun-
tered ditliculties with foreign merchants. Tlie Rus-
sian Grand Duke Ivan Vassilivich III. repeatedly
made representations to Casiniir in regard to tlie
liigh-handed treatment of Muscovite merchants and
ambassadors by the tax-collectors Shan (the son-in-
law of Agron), Simha, Ryabcliik, and otliers. The
king uplicld liis Jewisli tax-farmers on the ground
that tlie Russian merchants attempted to evade pay-
ment 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 Casi-
mir's death (1492) many of his Jewish creditors
were left unpaid.

Casimir was succeeded as king of Poland by his
son John Albert, and on the Lithuanian throne by
his younger son, Alexander Jagellon. The lat-
ter contirmed the charter of privileges granted to
the Jews by his predecessors, and even gave them
additional rights. His father's Jewish creditors re-
ceived part of the sums due to them, the rest be-
ing withheld under various pretexts. Jewish tax-
farmers 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. Tlie favorable attitude
toward the Jews which had character-
Expelled ized the Lithuanian rulers for genera-
by tions was unexpectedly and radically

Alexander, changed by a decree promulgated by
Alexander in April, 1495. By this de-
cree all Jews living in Lithuania proper and the ad-
jacent territories were summarily ordered to leave
the country.

The expulsion was evidently not accompanied by
the usual cruelties; for there was no popular ani-
mosity 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 enjoy-
ment of all the liberties that had been granted to
their Polish brethren (Cracow, June 39, 1498). The
expelled Karaites settled in the Polish town of

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 edu-
cated by the Polish historian Dlugosc (Longinus),
an avowed enemy of the Jews. Others have held
that it was instigated by the grand duchess He-

lena, 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. Theimprobabilitj' 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. Ber-
shadski and Harkavy suggest as a probable motive
the pressure put upon Alexander by the Catholic
clergy. He may have been influenced by the expul-
sion 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 cus-
toms 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 mo-
tive suggested by Bershadski was the financial
embarrassment of the grand duke, then heavily in-
debted to the wealthy Jewish tax -farmers and lease-
holders. 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 an-
other of a part of his debts (" Russko-Yevreiski
Arkliiv, " 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 confisca-
ting 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 cer-
tain foundation for the popular tradition concerning
the influence of Grand Duchess Helena in the mat-
ter. As the daughter of Ivan III. she must have
been aware of the grave apprehensions created in
Moscow by the successful propaganda of the Juda-
izing 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 (daugh-
ter-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 its




encouragement by Ivan III. and his court avouUI
create a grave political danger for Lithuania.

Soon after the promulgation of the decree the
Jewisii tax-farmer.s Iiastened to adjust their afTairs
and to render their accounts to Alexander, but evi-
dently they could collect only a small portion of the
sums due to them. The more valuable of the real
property left by tliem was soon disposed of by the
grand duke. In June, 1495, he presented his fur-
rier Sova with an estate near Troki, together witii
the cattle, grain, and all else pertaining to it, which
had belonged to the Jew Shlioma. On June 26 of
the same year lie presented the nobleman Soroka and
his brother with estates belonging to the JewsEnko
Momotlivy and Itzchak Levanovich and situated

in the district of Lutsk. On July 15

Escheat of the Bishop of Wilna was granted the

Jewish liouses and estates of the Jews Bogdan

Property. Chatzkovichand Ilia Kuuchich, 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 broth-
ers in the district of Grodno was given by Alexan-
der to his secretary Lyzovy, and on Aug. 30 he pre-
sented a house in Lutsk, once the property of the
Jew Enka, to his stableman Martin Chrebtovicli.
On March 12, 1496, the nobleman Semashkowicli re-
ceived 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 Ja-
nushkovich ; on Jan. 27, 1497, the estate of Kornitza,
formerly belonging to the Jew Levon Slialomich,
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.

Soon after Alexander's accession to the throne of
Poland he permitted the Jewish exiles to return to
Lithuania. Beginning ^larch, 1503, as is shown by
documents still extant, their houses, lands, s^'na-
gogues, 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
Return to Grodno, Prince Alexander Juryevich,
Lithuania, 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 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 improve-
ments and for the erection of new buildings, and were
obliged to pay all mortgages. Moreover, they were
recpiired to equip annually a cavalry detachment of
1,000 horsemen besides paying large annual sums to
the local authorities.

The return of the Jews antl their attempt to re-
gain their old possessions led tomany ditficultiesand
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 Alexan-
der. He could not, however, obliterate the remem-
brance that lie had robbed the Jews. The permission
given the exiles to return is ascribed to the depleted
condition of liis treasury and to the impending war
with Russia, combined with the efforts of the influ-
ential Jews of Poland and the baptized Jews of
Lithuania to secure their return.

The improvement in the condition of the Jews was
especially marked in the reign of Alexander's j'oung-
est brother, Sigismund I. (1506-48). Among his first
decrees was one (Dec. 22, 1506) which re-
Sig-ismund iieved the two synagogues of Lutsk —
I. tiie Rabbiuiteand 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 orig-
inal charter of Brest and was included in the first
Lithuanian statute of 1529. Numerous other exam-
ples of his good-will toward the Jews show that
wliile being a good Catholic he was free from fanat-
icism 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 tax-
farmers. 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 Jesofo-
vich. When, in 1508, Prince Glinski rebelled against
Sigismund, and by an agreement with the rulers of
Moscow attempted to effect the annexation of por-
tions of Poland and Lithuania to the Muscovite em-
pire, two Jews of Brest, Itzko and Berek, aided the
prince in his undertaking, and furnished him Avith
secret information. Michael Jesofovich excommu-
nicated them with the blowing of the shofar and with
groat public solemnity. In recognition of Michael's
services, and prompted also by the desire to estab-
lish a more perfect sy.stem of tax-collection, Sigis-
mund appointed liim prefect over all the Lithuanian
Jews (1514). This was a similar appointment to that
of Ai3UA}iA.\i OF BoHKMi.Y as prefect of the Polish
Jews (1512). Like Abraham, Michael was invested
witli wide powers. He had the right to communi-
cate directly with the king on important Jewish
matters, and with the aid of a learned rabbi to ad-
niinister justice among his coreligionists in accord-
ance with their special laws. Michael's actual au-
thority cfincerned the collection of taxes rather than
the internal communal administration; and what-
ever his religious powers may have been, he cer-
tainly was not chief rabbi of the Lithuanian .Jews,
as some Jewish historians have stated.

This and similar acts, accompanied by the strength-

Online LibraryIsidore SingerThe Jewish encyclopedia : a descriptive record of the history, religion, literature, and customs of the Jewish people from the earliest times to the present day (Volume 8) → online text (page 32 of 169)