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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ening of the communal organizations, added to the
prosperity of the Lithuanian ctminnmities. The
most flourishing among thera at the time were those




of Brest, Grodno, Troki, Pinsk, Ostrog, Lutsk,
and Tykotzin. The members of the communities
found themselves iu a better position
Prosperity legally than the burghers, although
of the Con- in practise the Jews were often de-
greg-ations. prived 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 compen-
sation 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 koj) groschen, that
of a burgher was valued at only 12 kop groschen.
Proportionate compensation was provided for per-
sonal injuries. The prominent Jewish ta.\-farmers
frequently exceeded their legal powers, as is shown
by complaints to the authorities. Thus in 1538
Ooshko Kozhchich, a Jew of Brest, was fined 20 kop
groschen for the illegal imprisonment of the noble-
man Lyshinski. Similarly in 1542 the Jew Zacha-
rlah 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 neigh-
bors in athletic feats. But with the exception of a
few wealthy Jewish tax-collectors, the Jews of Lith-
uania were not a great economic or political force.
In their mode of life they were not markedly differ-
ent 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 offi-
cial business.

About 1539, rumors were spread by a baptized Jew
that many Christians had adopted the jMosaic faith
and had found refuge and protection
Rumors of among the Jews of Lithuania. Anin-
Converts to vestigation was ordered by Sigismund.
Judaism, but it failed to disclose anything in-
criminating the Jews. None the less,
in the course of the inquiry the king's nobles sub-
jected the Jews to great annoyance. They unjustly
arrested them on tiie^ 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 Tui-key and to take the new converts
witii them. New inquiries accompanied by similar
excesses and abuses weie made. Tiie Jews sent nu-
merous deputations to the king, protesting their inno-
cence. Theirassertionsweresubstantiated by thefind-
ings of aspecial 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
Sfokza shared in their government, sometimes as-
suming absolute authority. Tlu; 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 com-
mimities. These deal with the quarrel in the com-
munitv of Grodno between the powerful Jtu)Aii

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 Bogdano-
vich, 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 re-
lated to tlie 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 tlie entire community. Accordingly,
Closes 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.

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 treat-
ment of his Jewish subjects, he accorded them the
same tolerance as he did the Lutherans
Under Sig- and Calvinists, who were then begin-
ismund II. ning to grow in numbers both in Po-
land 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, Men-
del 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 war-
ranted. 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 sub-
jects of the king enjoyed his protection. Thus the
king ordered the reigning prince, Juri Semionovich
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 merchan-
dise confiscated in Russia from Lithuanian Jewish
merchants. The relations l)etween the Jews and the
local authorities were governed partly by their char-
ters of privileges and partly by custom. The Jews,
for instance, made presents to the magistrate or
elder, but Avere quite independent in their dealings
with them. The local officials were answerable to
the king for illegal acts.
The middle of the sixteenth century witnessed a




growing 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 com-
petition, Avas fostered by the clerg}\
Rise of who were then engaged in a crusade
Opposition, against heretics, notably the Luther-
ans, Calviuists, and Jews. The Refor-
mation, which iiad spread from Germany, tended to
weaken the allegiance to the Catholic Church. Fre-
quent 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 fre(iuency of such mixed marriages and of
the education of the offspring in their fathers' faiths.
The Shlyakhtaalso saw in the Jews dangerous com-
petitors in commeicial 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 Shlyaklita.
The exemption of the Jews from military service
and the power and wealth of the Jewish tax-farmers
intensified the resentment of tlie Shlyakhta. Mem-
bers 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 tlie other hand, they were often annoyed by
the erection on their estates of the tollhouses of the
Jewish ta.x -collectors.

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 poll-
tax of one ducat per head, and the Volhynian nobles
demanded that the Jewish tax-collectors be forbid-
den to erect tollhouses or place guards
Action of atthe taverns on their estates. In 1555
the Nobles, the illegal treatment of the Jews by
Zhoslenski, the magistrate of Wilna,
led Sigismund August to announce that a fine of
300 kop gro.schen 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 cus-
toms duties be entrusted to them on the same terms
as to the J(!ws. In 1560 the king found it necessary
to prohibit the magistrates of Volhynia from assu-
ming jurisdiction over the clerks of the tax-collector
Mendel Isakovich. In 156.3 the Lithuanian nobility
demanded that the Jews furnisli 2,000 foot-.soldiers
and an even greater number of sharpshooters. In
1.5n4 Bornat Abramovich, clerk of the prominent
tax-collector Isaac Boiu)Davk.\, was arrested and
tried on the accusation of having murdered a Chris
tian child. The royal chamberlain testified that he
had heard the confession of Bernat shortly before
Ilia 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 serv-
ants of Borodavka in 156G led Sigismund August to
declare the innocence of the accused, and to reatfirm
the decree of Aug. 9, 1564, by which all Jews ac-
cu.sed of the murder of Christian children or of dese-
crating the host were to be tried by the king himself
before the assembled Diet. Until the time of Irial
the accvised were to be surrendered for safe-keeping
to two of their coreligionists. The guilt of the ac-
cused could Ijc declared only on the testimony of four
Christian and three Jewish witnesses. The failure
to prove tlie accusation rendered the accuser lial)le
to loss of life and property. In this decree the king
also reminded the Ciiristiansof the grand duchy that
previous charters and papal bulls had amply jivoved
that Jews were not in need of Christian blood for
the purposes of their ritual.

The opposition to the Jews was finally crystallized
and found definite expression in the repressive Lith-
uanian statute of 1566, when the Lithuanian nobles
were first allowed to take part in the national legis-
lation. Paragraph 13 of this statute
The Act contains the following articles: "The
of 1566. 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 clotiies;
they shall wear j-ellow caps, and their wives ker-
chiefs of yellow linen, in order that all may be en-
abled 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 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 objec-

Through the union with Lithuania, Poland gained
in power and exerted a greater infiuence on the
former country. The introduction of the reformed
faith (the teachings of Calvin) met with ready accept-
ance by the nobility and middle classes. The new re-
ligious ideas brought in their wake a taste for science
and literature, and Jewish and ("hris-
After the tian children sought learning in the
Union of same schools. A number of young
Lublin. men went to Germany and Italy for
the study of medicine and astronomy.
The inmates of theyeshibot (of Lithuania especially)
were acquainted with the writings of Aristotle, as is
evidenced by the complaint of Solomon Luria that
Babbi Moses Isserles was responsible for much free
thought. He had noticed in the prayer-books of the
scholars (bahurim) the prayer of Aristotle. Cardi-
nal 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 almost





successful in causiug Sigismund August to renounce
allegiance to the papal authority. The extreme
Calvinists, like the Socinians and the followers of
Siinon 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 Jew-
ish thought is evidenced by the discussions which
took place between the Jews and the dissenters (see
CzKCiiowic). The learned Karaite Isaac ben Abra-
ham of Troki took a prominent part in such discus-
sions. His polemical experience is described in his
work "Hizzuk Enumah " (translated into Latin by
Wagenseil and pubhshed 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 Catholi-
cism. 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 Asiiken.\zi.
He planned strict measures against his Jewish sub-
jects, 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 Transylva-
nian Duke Stephen Bathoui. During the latter's
equitable rule of eleven years the condition of the
Polish and Lithuanian Jews was greatly improved.
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 in-
vestigations having convinced him that such accusa-
tions were instigated merely to incite riots. He found
not only that the Jews were innocent and be}'ond
suspicion, but also that the Shiyakhta
Under who had made the accusations had
Stephen themselves been misled by fanatical
Bathori. agitators. He declared that " whoso-
ever shall disobey this decree shall be
severely punished irrespective of his position in so-
ciety ; 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 lie con-
firmed 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 show-
ing that the building was completed in 1578.
Mordecai Jaffe by his great rabbinical erudition and
secular knowledge played an important role in the
Council of Four Lands and in the development
of the methodical study of rabbinical literature
in Lithuania and Poland. See also Bathoui,

The long reign of Sigismund III. (1587-1632) wit-
nessed gradual but decisive changes in the relations
of the Lithuanian Jews to the rest of the popula-

tion. Born in the Protestant family of the Vasas,
Sigismund was educated by his father, John III.,
in the Catholic faith with a view to
Sigismund his future occui)ati()n of the Polish
III. and tlirone. The Jesuit training of Sigis-
Ladislaus mund was retiected in his attitude
IV. toward his nonC'atholicsubje{J:s. The

severe measures which he took against
the dissenters affected tiie 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 Lith-
uanian Jews. They secured complete control of the
education of the Polish-Lithuanian youth and in-
stilled 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 pre-
vented only by the unsettled political and social con-
dition of the country and the independence of the
Shiyakhta. This independence, however, gradually
vanished, and in the political degeneration which
followetl, 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 privi-
leges (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 tlie JeAvs and the burghers, and
the disregard by the latter of the ancient rights of
the Jews, led Sigismund to issue several special de-
crees declaring the inviolability of Jewish autonomy
in religious and judicial matters. The first of these
decrees was due to the efforts of Saul Judich, repre-
senting 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 re-
served to the jurisdiction of the kahals 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 " serv-
ant of the king " was in a position to rentier impor-
tant services to his coreligionists. He is first men-
tioned 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, ac-
cording to legend, was made King of Poland for one

In the same year (1580) Sigismund granted the
Jews of Ay ilna, as a protection against the oppressive
measures of the city magistrates, a charter permit-
ting 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 juris-
diction of the king's wayA\X)des only. A few days
later the king accorded tliem the additional right to
establish in the lower portion of the city a syna-




gogue, cemetery, and bath-house, as well as stores
for the sale of kasher meat. The burghers natu-
rally resented the grant of these privileges and used
every effort to secure their curtailment. Their en-
deavors 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
riglit of the Jews to reside jiermanently 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 prac-
tically 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 ele-
vation to nobility of Jewish converts to Christianity.
The rapidly growing nmnber of the so-called "Jeru-
salem nobles " later caused alarm among the Polish
nobility, and in 1768 the law was repealed.

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 influ-
ence in tiie affairs of the country. Having come to

Lithuania in the reign of Sigismund

Influence II., August, the Jesuits at first kept

of Jesuits, free from politics, and occupied tiiem-

selves 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 condi-
tion of the country, they soon succeeded in arraying
the religious factions against one another. Bribery
was rampant at the court and among the city ofli-
cials. The masses were unruly and licentious, the
Shlyakhta wilful, the clergy fanatical, and the mag-
istrates lawless. The Jews were frequently made
to suffer in these factional struggles. The restric-
tions put upon them grew constantly ; they were
forbidden to engage in rctiiil trade, handicrafts, and
other remunerative callings, and they were prac-
tically outlawed. The oidy occupation in which they
were to any extent safe from the rajiacity of city
officials was the keeping of taverns in the townlets
and villages. There, their only masters were the
nobles, wiiom it was easier to please than the numer-
ous functionaries and Sidyakhta. Thus the Jews
lui fortunately became in some parts of Lithuania
useful tools in the iiands of tlu; nobility for the ex-
ploitation of the peasantry. The lords then found
it expedient to take the Jews under their protection.
Prominent among them were the Radziwils in Lith-
uania, and the ^Vishnevetzkis in the Ukraine.

Ladislaus IV. (1632-48) was not a zealous Catho-
lic, and lie had no love for the Jesuits. lie attempted
to make peace between the warring religious fac-
tions, and sought to revive tlie ancient rights of the
Jews. On Mareh 11 un<l 16, 1683, he confirmed the
charters of privileges of the Jews of Litlmania, and
decreed that all suits between Jews and Christians
should be tried hv the wavwodes and elders and not

by the city magistrates, who were the avowed ene-
mies of tlie 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 op-
ponents. 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 burgh-
ers caused new acts to be introduced, known as " De
Judseis." It was decreed, for instance, that Jews
should not appear on the main streetsor in the market-
places on Christian holidays; that Jewish physi-
cians should not attend Christian patients ; and that
Jewish barbers should neither shave nor cup Chris-
tians. Fortunately for the Jews, on account of the
powerful protection of the nobility, enactments
could not always be carried out. Moreover these de-

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 33 of 169)