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[Page 25]

History of Staszów

 

History of Staszów, Poland
and its Jewish Community

by Dr. N. M. Gelber

Translated by Hanna Tuchman

Edited by Jean-Pierre Stroweis

The Formation of the Town

Staszów is one of the oldest towns in Poland and, like most Polish towns, it developed from a rural into an urban settlement.

The village was owned by Stasz Komyotko, who, according to documentation of the year 1245 donated a plot and fields to serve as a site for the building of a church.

The name of the village “Staszówna” is probably connected with the private name of the donator: Stasz, who was its founder. Afterwards, the village passed to the ownership of Piotr Bogorja Trotnicky. [The list of the successive owners of Staszów is given in Appendix I].

In the 15th century Staszów was acquired together with a few neighboring villages (Rytwiany and Jastrzębiec) by Marcyn Melównica. His wife, Dorothea nee Tarnowsky, contributed much towards the development of Staszów. During the years 1436-1537 the village was owned by Jan Rytwianski, then by his daughter, Eva, who was married to Mikolay of Kurozwęki, and then by their sons.

Hyronimus Łaski, who was married to a great-granddaughter of Jan Rytwianski, Anna of Kurozwęki, turned Staszów from a village into a town, after having granted it the privilege of holding “markets” there , as of the year 1526. This was a symbol of being a town. This privilege he received from King Zygmund I, in a special decree in the Latin language, saying that the village of Staszów was accorded the rights of a town. Łaski invited artisans from abroad, especially weavers, with the intention to develop the weaving trade on the spot. Moreover, he brought other trades as well. After a short time trade unions were established: in 1553 the weavers, in 1621 the tailors, hatters and furriers, in 1635 metal and woodworkers, in 1655 shoemakers and in 1670 clay workers.

The town also passed through difficult times, especially during the Tatar invasion, when it was completely destroyed. In the 16th century, during the Reformation which reached Poland, the Italian, Austin Suchin, spread the Arian religion. The owner of Staszów, Jan Semiansky, joined the Arians with great enthusiasm, and in 1569 established another town in the area, called Raków, where he settled the said Suchin. Suchin founded one of the first communities of the new religion in Raków and made it the stronghold in his war against the Catholics. In the year 1580, Ulbricht Jaski built in Staszów a church and a school for the Arian faith. In 1596, after the defeat of the Arians, Andrzej Ciołek turned the church over to the Catholic faith, and it existed such until 1914.

The town suffered greatly during the wars with the Cossacks, who invaded the town several times, looted it and murdered many people. The town's population was not spared by the great cholera epidemic of 1705, when the greater part of its population perished. During the 16th and 17th centuries there were fierce struggles within the Polish nobility concerning the foreign policy of the country. This added little peace to the town.

During the Revolution of 1794, Tadeusz Kośzciuzko and his army passed through Staszów heading for Połaniec, after his victory over the Russians at Raclawice, with the intention of barring their passage on the river Wisła (Vistula). Three heavy battles took place against the Russian armies under the generals Denisów and Khruchtchew, in which Kośzciuzko brilliantly defeated the Russians.

The owner of Staszów at that time, Prince Adam Czartorisky, contributed money to Kośzciuzko's army and ammunition to the value of 54,083 zlotys.

In the beginning of the 19th century, Russian and Austrian armies likewise passed through Staszów. Thus, in 1809, when the Austrian army under General Geringer was defeated near Sandomierz he withdrew via Staszów to Kielce. Needless to say, all these military movements passing through the town, caused great suffering and economic damage.

Moreover, great suffering, distress and loss of lives were caused to Staszów's population during the cholera epidemics (1821, 1893), and the fires (specially in 1854, 1874), which destroyed many houses and any economic life or development was paralyzed for a considerable time.

Due to its geographical location - being situated on the main commercial road between Kraków and Lublin - and its proximity to Warsaw and the Wisła (Vistula) river, Staszów played an important role in the economy of Poland, since early days. The town was part of the Sandomierz district, within the Sandomierz voivodeship (province) until 1795.

A turning point in the town's economic development occurred during the ownership of the Sieniawski family. who acquired the town in the beginning of the 18th century, through the marriage of Elizabeth Helena Lubomirska (daughter of Marshal Stanislaw Herakliusz Lubomirsky, known also as a writer and philosopher) to Adam Mikolai Sienawski, who was a follower of the Polish King August II. This family contributed greatly towards the development of Staszów, in particular during the time of his heir, his daughter, Maria Zofia, who was widowed in 1709 and remarried in 1731, to Prince August Alexander Czartoryski, uncle of the last Polish king, Stanislaw Poniatowski.

In the year 1795, Staszów and the Sandomierz voivodeship became part of Austria and the authorities attached it to the Radom Kreiss (district). This district was then put under the command of the Commissioner of Galicia, whose headquarters was in Lwów.

In 1809, a part of Western Galicia was occupied by Prince Joseph Poniatowski, and the Radom district, including the town of Staszów, was returned to the Warsaw principality. In the new administrative partition, Staszów was declared as seat of the Staszów district. During the Kingdom of Poland (1815), Staszów had two representatives in the Departmental Council of Radom, in the District Council 10, and in the Sejm (Parliament) in Warsaw, where it had one seat (Josef Chomantowski).

During the Principality of Warsaw, and later under the Kingdom of Poland (1815), Staszów was part of the Sandomierz voivodeship (province), and from 1837, part of the Sandomierz guberniya (government). In 1844, the guberniya of Sandomierz was replaced by the guberniya of Radom, and Sandomierz joined again the district of Sandomierz.

The town owners of the Czartoryski family were interested in developing Staszów into an important industrial point and to this end had established in 1780 a weaving mill with an annual output of 600 bales.

Their daughter, Izabella, who was married to Prince Stanislaw Lubomirsky, continued to encourage industry. Her daughter, Julia, was married to Leon Potocki, and during this time, Staszów passed to the ownership of the Potocki family, remaining so until the year 1887. This family made an important contribution towards the industrial development of Staszów: Leon Potocki established the Agricultural Bank to promote agriculture. His son, Arthur, established a dyeing and finishing plant for woven fabrics in 1820. In 1823 he established a modern weaving mill and in 1827 a textile finishing plant for wool fabrics. He also established a wool bank (bank welniany) in order to give financial security, based on an investment of 18,000 zlotys, among them 14,000 zlotys was available for the purchase of wool and 4,000 for granting credit to weavers. The bank was headed by a representative of Potocki and by three weavers. The factory was very successful and considered one of the three best in Poland. Stress was put on the quality of the manufactured goods and on the coloring. Weavers not up to standard were severely punished.

During the Potocki era, the town enjoyed a prosperous period of economic and social gains, such as the erection of a hospital in 1837. In the year 1887, the ownership of the town passed into the hands of the Radziwill family through the marriage of Rosa Potocki to Prince Maciej Radziwill, who continued developing the town. He established schools, economic and social institutions, such as, an urban credit bank, financed by 95 members, 41 of whom were Jewish, with a capital of 4,540 rubles, in 1899. The bank reached a capital of 139,508 rubles in 1913. 52,508 rubles of this capital belonged to 339 members who were Jewish out of a total membership of 1,157 at that time.

In the year 1886 the urban bank was established on the riverbank of the Czarna River. At that time there were two Catholic churches, two primary schools, a court of justice, and the urban hospital with 28 beds. There was also a Home for Aged People, established in 1817.

Towards the end of the 19th century, four doctors, five medical orderlies, one pharmacy and one veterinarian were active in Staszów. The town was headed by two mayors and voting rights were accorded to guild members and merchants, subject to endorsement of the town owners. Elections were held until 1863 and the last elected mayor was Jan Malewsky. As of 1804, the mayor was appointed by the ruling governor.

The following industrial enterprises were established towards the end of the 19th century: a brewery, two soda factories, two water mills and one paper mill. At the same time there were 192 artisans, of these, 51 were cobblers, 24 tailors, 20 barrel-makers, 16 bakers, 14 carpenters, 12 masons, 10 milliners, 10 potters, 17 tanners and 18 butchers. Most of the 120 shops were in Jewish hands. The population in 1886 amounted to 7,971 permanent inhabitants and 820 temporary soldiers (infantry regiment) as compared to 3,107 in 1827 and 5,104 in 1857. It consisted of 2,668 Poles, 15 Pravoslavs, 8 Protestants and 5,280 Jews.

The number of houses in Staszów throughout the years 1788-1913 is very interesting: in 1788, 348 houses; in 1827, 354 houses; in 1841, 362 houses; in 1857, 367 houses (of which 107 houses were of concrete), in 1913 there were 424 houses, 282 of concrete and 142 of wooden construction.

 

The Jewish Population

The first Jewish settlement in Staszów took place when the village turned into a township, in 1526. Right from the start there was an organized community belonging within the framework of Jewish autonomy in the District of Kraków-Sandomierz.. This unit also included the districts of Opatów, Szydlów, Chęciny, Pinczów and Wodzisław.

The community of Staszów was included in the district of Szydlów, together with the following communities: Szydlów, Tarnów, Rimanów, Zmigrod, Dukla, Nowo Miesto, Chmielnik, Pacanów, Oleśnica, Żabno, Dabrowa, Stopnica, Połaniec, Bogoria, Raków, Wiślica, Kurozwęki.

Many years after having settled down, the community encountered a heavy crisis. In the year 1610 the Jewish community fell victim to a blood libel. As a result of the trial all the Jews were expelled from the town.

In the trial, the Jew Samuel of Staszów was accused of kidnapping a Christian boy, son of Jan Kówal, while he was playing in the sands, and passing him over to the Jews of Szydlów, where he was supposedly tortured for the purpose of getting blood for matzot. The Jews of Staszów and Szydlów, arrested under Tenzinski's orders, were slaughtered, and their bodies thrown to the winds. Samuel's daughter was ordered by Tenzinski to convert to Christianity and Jewish property was confiscated to be used for the construction of the church gable. The Christian boy's body was buried in the church of Jacek. On his grave the following epitaph was engraved:

“Joannis Kowal i Suzannae Nierychłowska civium Staszoviensium filius; cujus vox sanguinis vindictam clamat, ut judaei nominis christiani hostes pellantur Staszovia”.

(The blood of the son of Staszów's citizens, Joannis Kówal and Susanna Nierychłowska, calls for revenge, that Staszów's Jewry, foes of the Christian name, should be expelled from Staszów.)

However, in spite of the expulsion, it seems that Jews remained in Staszów, which we deduce from trials that took place in 1668 in the region, known as “Little Poland”. Jew were accused of theft of ritual objects from churches, and of infanticide. This type of trial took place not only against Jews, in Raków, Iwaniska and Apt (Opatów), as well as in Staszów. Formally, however, the Jews were repatriated to Staszów only 80 years later in 1690, following an appeal of the Staroste (Prefect) of Nowo Miesto, Oplinski, to the Jews to return to Staszów. The legend says that he was punished for this deed of infidelity and all his children died. Oplinski himself died in 1704.

After the return of the Jews to Staszów, the Jewish community grew so in numbers that they were again able to establish an organized community. In the 17th century, the family Landau occupied the rabbinical chair of Staszów. Rabbi Yehuda Lev Landau, from Szydlów, was chosen as Rabbi of Kraków, and Samuel, one of his five sons, was chosen head of the Staszów community, serving also as its rabbi.

In the year 1714, when the Gaon Zvi Hirsch Ashkenazi - the Chachem Zvi - (1660-1718) was obliged to leave his rabbinical chair in Amsterdam, because of the dispute with the rabbi of the Sephardic community, Rabbi Shlomo Ilan, and to return to Poland, he came to Apt (Opatów) to live in the home of his father-in-law. Shortly afterward there was a great fire and he had to leave the house.

On this occasion he became acquainted with the court agent of the nobleman Sienawski, with the landowners of Staszów, and with Rabbi Israel of Rytwiany, who invited him to make his home either in Staszów or in Rytwiany. Thus the Chachem Zvi settled in Rytwiany, near Staszów ,and stayed there until he was offered the Rabbinate of Lwów.

In 1718 the Jews received permission from Staszów owner, Elizabeta Sienawski, to settle in Staszów. They were granted the right to build a synagogue and establish a cemetery, the two basics of every community. After the scroll of privileges was burnt by a fire in the city, the community requested from Prince Alexander Czartoryski, husband of Elizabeta, that he issues a renewed confirmation of rights. And so, in 1772, a new paper, called the “Letter of Existence”, was issued by the Prince. [See complete transcription in Appendix II ]. This document stated the following rights of Jews:

  1. To keep, in the past as well as in the future, a synagogue and a cemetery, without any hindrances on the part of the Church.
  2. To deal in artisanship and commerce of any kind, without any hindrances on the part of the Guilds (cechy) and without any commitment to pay them licensing fees, pending payment of taxes due to the town authorities.
  3. To brew beer and distill malt subject to taxes, and to produce alcoholic drinks, without any financial commitment to the guilds.
  4. The bakers and butchers are entitled to slaughter beef and to sell their merchandise against payment of the usual fees for commerce.
  5. To hold trials at the Rabbinical court. Trials between Jews and Gentiles will be held according to the old custom, at combined courts of law; the same goes for courts of appeal before the authorities of the town owners.
  6. The taxes and payments for the needs of the town are to be imposed in a just way, according to the number of Jews and Gentiles residing in the town.
This “Letter of Existence” was endorsed by the town owners after 1772 and in 1797 was registered in the archives of Sandomierz.

In the first half of the 18th century the Jews of Staszów had commercial contacts with the Breslau Fair. It is known that the merchant, Leibl Gerstel, visited there in the year 1725.

During the 18th century the Jewish population flourished and expanded. Jews settled in the buildings and shops in the town center. This fact was stated by the Director of Mining in Poland, Johann Philipp von Carossi, in his book on travels in Poland.

A census done in 1764, counted 607 Jews aged over one year. Supposing that each family counts 4 to 5 members, there were about 104 family heads.

Twenty thereof were listed as artisans and other professionals, as follows:

2 tailors, 3 hat makers, 3 jewelers, 1 butcher, 1 hairdresser, 1 glazier, 1 shopkeeper, 1 rabbi, 1 trustee of the community, 2 teachers, 2 musicians and one street beggar.
In the middle of the 18th century, there was a great improvement in Jewish life. The main centers of the weaving industry were in Staszów, Węgrów and Grodno, in Lithuania. In Staszów there were strong guilds of the Polish and German weavers, who were excellent professionals, brought into town by its owners in 1755. According to the law, the guilds were entitled to employ hired labor (women) in their workshops as well as in home industries.

Czartoryski encouraged the training of additional artisans and increasing the number of workshops, as he realized that the expansion of the weaving industry would contribute to the development of Staszów and its economic stability.

Even before the industry was established, about 200 persons made a living out of preparing work for the weavers. While the number of weavers was 15, some 450- 600 persons made a living on wool combing for the weavers. Each artisan employed 30 to 40 workers for combing and spinning. Although these were seasonal occupations, they provided a basis for the existence of many families. When, however, towards the second half of the 18th century, the establishment of factories was considered one of the most effective means to restore the Polish economy, Czartoryski decided to establish a factory. After initial difficulties were overcome, the industry became more efficient, especially upon arrival in Staszów of an administrative manager of the manufacturer named Seydewitz. When the factory was put into operation, disputes with local weavers erupted, as they considered the factory a competitive undermining of their livelihood. The factory's workers were considered “Lumpengesindel.”

However, in the course of time, the weavers realized that the factory did not affect their livelihood and they got used to the situation. In the year 1773, there were 89 employees in the factory, of whom 12 were laborers (8 from Staszów, 3 from Sandomierz, and 1 from Miroslaw).The rest of the employees were Germans from Bielsko. The factory expanded and needed more manpower. At the time people were kidnapped from the streets or poorhouses in the cities and brought to work in factories. Prisoners, unemployed persons and beggars were made to work in factories. In the villages the landowners made their vassal farmers (pañszczyzna) work in factories. The latter, however, were not dependable workers, as they often absented themselves to work in their fields. Seydewitz, who needed a strong labor force for the factory, turned to the Jewish community of Staszów, considering the poverty in which they lived, he hoped that he might find enough good men among them.

He suggested that the Jews, in particular the women whom he considered good workers, would be trained first. He feared that Jewish women would not work for him of their own free will, thus he issued a decree (“einen scharfen Befehl”) compelling them to work at home for his factory. The same compulsory system was imposed on the village women -giving them the choice to work at home or in the factory.

Jewish women worked in weaving mills in other towns as well -- Niemerów and Horodinca. In a kitchen utensil manufacturing factory in Grodno, 400 Jewish women were employed.

Employment in such plants provided the means not only for a decent living, but also made the Jews more productive and furthered their advance into new professions.

In the second half of the 18th century, the Jewish population increased considerably, reaching the figure of 776 persons in Staszów and surrounding towns, by 1764. The community was forced to contribute to the payment of debts of the State Committee of Kraków - Sandomierz a sum of 322,834 zlotys. The debts imposed on the communities of this state were a heavy burden.

Only after the whole area was annexed to Austria, did changes in the organization of the Jewish community and its living conditions took place. The community was under Austrian laws, whereby restrictions were placed on Jewish commerce, as well as on Jewish marriages. Following what they did with the Galician Jews, the Austrian authorities issued a series of edicts, in a process of secularization, that would make the Jews eligible to receive the civil rights. Thus, they were compelled to add Polish surnames to their Jewish family names, but were allowed to choose their own names, unlike Galicia where the bureaucracy decided the names. From the period on, these names remained, up until today, such as: Tchaikowski, Lubelski, Rabinowicz, Dawidowicz, etc.

The burden of taxes during Austrian rule was heavy. Duties on meat imposed on Jewish commerce were: each litra of meat was 3 kreuzer, 2 kreuzer for pigeon, 14 kreuzer for geese, 6 kreuzer for chicken or duckling and 20 kreuzer for swan. Duties were placed on candles per piece. And each Jewish family lit two candles every Saturday and holiday.

These taxes remained in force even after the area was annexed to the Principality of Warsaw, in spite of the efforts made by the communities to annul them. These rules helped to impoverish the Jewish population.

On top of these taxes, a considerable tax was put on the Jews for the Polish Army, decided upon by the military authorities. In the Department of Radom, to which Staszów belonged, the communities accumulated a debt of 247,217 zlotys. They were unable to pay this tax which was for the maintenance of the military authority of the Warsaw principality.

The annexation of the area to the Warsaw principality and the subsequent regime imposed caused great hardship to Staszów's Jews. Several plans were submitted to the State Council referring to the evolution of the Jewish question in Poland. The trend of these proposals was the following: to “fix” the situation of the Jews in the spirit of secularization, and to create conditions for the assimilation of the Jews to the Polish people, according to the requests of the speaker of the State Council, Kaitan Kozmian. The “fix” resulted in a number of legal restrictions, starting with the prohibition for Jews to sell liquors and other alcoholic beverages. After Novosilchow was given bribes by the Jews, this decree was cancelled, but other civil decrees were issued, such as the re-establishment of the authority, de non tolerandis Judaeis, which could expel Jews from certain towns. In Staszów, the authorities determined only that Jews could not settle in the main streets of the town. In 1809, the Prefect Kusinsky imposed a number of additional decrees which were hard to bear. They were forbidden to live in Christian quarters and a special area was designated for them; only in special cases was a Jew permitted to live in the town, for examples, if he had at least 10,000 zlotys in cash, or if he was an artisan or manufacturer. Jewish males were ordered to shave and dress as the rest of the population, to learn to read and write Polish and to teach their children the Polish language. Rabbis were not permitted to enact a boycott (cherem) without a permit of the Polish authorities. In accordance with these orders, the landowner of Staszów, Izabella Lubomirski, assigned the living area to the Jewish population to be between the River Czarna and Dluga Street.

Living conditions worsened daily. Censuses were held from time to time to determine the number of Jews living in the villages, who by now, were supposed to gradually decrease. Also, Jews were not allowed to employ Gentile servants and assistants. Between the years 1814-1825, a Registry of Jews was kept, which included births, marriages and deaths. In compliance with the Codex Napoleonis , the registry was kept by the Catholic Church and not the Jewish constituency or rabbis. In the year 1819, the Jewish community was ordered to transfer its cemetery out of the town's boundaries. In the same year a plot was acquired for 517 zlotys and a new cemetery was opened in 1825.

Within the framework of arranging Jewish affairs in the Kingdom of Poland, between 1818-1825, the community was liquidated in 1822 and all the documents and accounting records were taken away.

As a result of these limitations, the economic life of the Jewish population of Staszów was devastated. The prohibition to deal in certain branches, including the alcohol industry; their expulsion from the town, and the seclusion in which they found themselves, unable to trade within the town's boundaries, all these and more economic restrictions impoverished the community, whose situation became very grave.

Because of the evictions of Jewish populations from the surrounding villages, more Jews came to settle in Staszów, crowding the Staszów area accorded to them. As in other communities, here too a decree was issued determining the number of people permitted in one apartment or house. Conditions were set as to which types of work or business was allowed for the Jews. The Jews became poorer and poorer and more degraded. They had little chances or hopes for improving their situation. It is interesting to note that compared to the Jews' situation, the same period was one of prosperity for the rest of the Polish population. In the years 1811-1825, Polish agricultural output reached a peak, commerce waxed great, and new marketing outlets were found in Russia, after customs duties between the two countries were cancelled. In Staszów too, the new prosperity was felt, there was wealth and economic improvement among the artisans. The Jews, however, managed to enjoy the economic growth to a limited degree, only, and paid very dearly for it.

Further taxes were imposed: viz. bartending tax, Kosher meat tax, a tax on a permit to enter Warsaw. These taxes were severely enforced. In view of the grave economic situation, the Jewish population tried to settle in agricultural areas.

On February 4, 1823, the commissioner issued a decree whereby Jews who wanted to do agricultural work could settle on governmental or landowners territories. Promises were given for tax exemption of between 3 to 12 years. Wood was allocated for their buildings without payment and other facilities were granted.

On the basis of this decree, a group of Jews from voivoideship Kalisz submitted an application on April 8, 1923 for agricultural settlement, but encountered difficulties on the part of the authorities. The wealthy Jew, Shlomo Zalman Pozner, who was very enthusiastic about the idea of Jews returning to work the earth, tried, together with other Jewish activists, to intervene with the authorities in this matter. Several noblemen were willing to put villages at the disposal of the Jews, but there were few candidates. In the years 1840-1843, the question of encouraging Jews to work the land arose again. The government exhorted the Jews to work in agriculture and promised to grant the same privileges to the settlers as were offered in 1823.

Esteemed rabbis of Warsaw, among them such tzaddikim as Reb Isaac from Warki and Reb Isaac Meir Alter, published an appeal to all the Jews of Poland, calling on them to become engaged in agriculture. All over Poland important Jews and rabbis urged that the Jewish population settle on agricultural land. Rabbi Zalman Pozner was the most active in this appeal.

A meeting of rabbis and heads of Jewish communities was held in Warsaw where the subject was discussed. In implementing this idea, these representatives of Polish Jewry saw the only prospect of improving their situation.

The aim of this movement was to acquire estates with all the rights attached, without any limitations, and to settle Jews on the land, establishing entirely Jewish villages.

At this meeting, eight persons, representing all the various groups of the Jewish population, were elected. These elected ones appealed to Commissioner Paskiewicz with the request to appoint a committee from the Jewish representatives to deal in the acquisition of land and its settlement. However, the commissioner did not respond to this request in spite of the fact that the heads of the community submitted in the same year (1842), several applications on the matter.

On the 2nd of February, 1843, the Commissioner issued a decree on the appointment of a committee for Jewish settlement, but consisting of no Jewish members as the Jews had suggested. The committee was ordered to compile all the laws published in Poland concerning the settlement of Jews and to adapt them to the laws in force in Russia. Thus, a permit for settlement would be given only to Jews in possession of 1,500 rubles. Settlements were to be made only in special locations set aside for this purpose, and no less than five families were to settle on one site. Wealthy Jews would be permitted to acquire land from individuals. The committee would decide under what conditions the Jews could hire Gentiles to instruct them in agriculture. An ordinance would be published whereby the Jews would be permitted to establish a foundation for the collection of contributions.

Meanwhile, Jews endeavored individually, to obtain permits for the acquisition of land for settlement purposes. In the Department of Radom, the Jew Joseph Worm, submitted in 1842 an application to the commissioner to receive land under a lease for him and his heirs in perpetuity. This land belonged to the city of Radom.

The authorities of Sandomierz informed him on May 29, 1843 that they had available land, but as it was situated in an area where Jews were forbidden to settle, they had to apply to the heads of districts involved and were unable to make any commitments until they received a reply.

However, on June 30th of the same year, the Sandomierz authorities replied that under no circumstances were available lands belonging to towns to be given to Jews, as this would only bring harm to the towns and their populations, on the one hand, and would not help the Jews to get used to agricultural work. This, because “they love idleness and hate work.”

Meanwhile, Jews in many places acted on their own and applied to the noblemen in the estate towns to receive land on lifetime leases, or other type of leases. Others purchased land with a view of settling Jews on it. The landowners were not sure that the government would permit the Jews to settle on the land and applied to the authorities for instructions.

Influenced by this movement, which also reached Staszów, a group organized an appeal to the landowner of Staszów, Count Potocki, to obtain land for settlement from him.

Adam Potocki was a man who had for a long time tried to arouse Jewish interest in agriculture and a love for the land. Thus, Potocki agreed to settle ten Jewish families on his estate, “Adamówka”. When the Jews established the settlement, they called it, “Palestinka.” Potocki gave the settlers land to work, living quarters for each family, and tools. Thus they came to the place ready to start. For the living quarters and tools they had to pay 817 zlotys, in installments for 6 years. Lease payments were determined by the kind of land and the number of animals on pasture land.

The following families settled there: (1) Izrael Dizenhaus, (2) Pinchas Weinrib, (3) Zatma (?) Strauss, (4) Leizar Sternberg, (5) Bezalel Wizentier, (6) Izrael Goldstein, (7) Yechezkiel Orkan, (8) Szmuel Goldberg, (9) Leizar Ehrlich, and (10) Josef Frankel.

The lease was signed for the period of 25 years.

On May 15, 1846 the contract was endorsed by the Commissioner of Poland. The settlement, however, existed only six years, and in 1852 it was closed down because the land was not cultivated. The equipment was sold. This was one of the first Jewish settlements in Poland.

This initiative of Potocki and the Jews was supported by the governor. In 1848 there were 14 Jewish settlements in the Radom guberniya. They contained 562 families. In 1849, there were 15 settlements with 1180 Jews (596 males and 584 females). Another 200 families were engaged in agricultural work. Seven of these settlements out of the fifteen were exempted from military service.

In the second half of the 19th century the economic situation of the Jewish population improved. Retail commerce was almost entirely in Jewish hands, and wholesale commerce almost entirely as well. The same applies to businesses such as grain, timber (from the big forests in the area), beer (and other beverages), as well as the gypsum industry of the area. The number of Jews engaged in artisanship increased. In 1840, 12 Jews leased the lighting service of the town for payment of 12 zlotys each to the town owners. However, in 1863, during the Polish uprising, the quiet life attained after so many efforts, received a serious setback.

Upon the eruption of the uprising, the Russians gathered infantry and artillery in the area, on the basis of rumors that the headquarters of Commander Langiewicz was there. The headquarters of the Russian armies was stationed in Staszów proper.

Already in the years 1861-1863, during demonstrations, Polish relations towards the Jews were hostile. In 1861, the demonstrations in Opatów bore a clerical-nationalistic character. The local Jewish population abstained from taking part. The demonstrators attacked Jewish homes and broke windows. The incident had a strong effect on the Jews. Yet, Jewish students participated in the demonstrations of 1862. Jews were also accused of spying on the Poles in favor of the Russians and suffered from these accusations.

The relationship between Jews and Poles became worse in Staszów, particularly in 1863, when some Jews allegedly passed information to the Russians. On February 12, 1863, Langiewitz departed with his unit of 600 men from Sw. Krzyz in the direction of Raków, as he was unable to stand against the Russians. On his way he was able to escape the Russians, and on February 14th he entered Staszów. Three days later, on February 17th, the revolutionaries were attacked by the Russian armies, under the command of Colonel Zagriashko. On the 18th, the revolutionaries had to withdraw and the Russians entered Staszów.

After the town was occupied by the Russians, they plundered the houses of the Poles in revenge for the revolt, but did not touch Jewish homes, as the latter did not participate in the revolt, nor did they help the revolutionaries. After the incident, the Jews bought the looted goods from the Russians for 500 rubles. When the Russians left the town, the Jews returned the robbed goods to their Polish owners, without demanding any payment.

In October 1863, General Czachówski, with 1000 soldiers, entered the District of Sandomierz from Galicia. A Jewish captain named August Rosner commanded one of the companies. Rosner was an Austrian officer and he joined the uprising under the name Róza. He was a brilliant fighter but in an encounter with a Russian company that came from Staszów, he and his 80 men were killed. The years of the uprising paralyzed economic life, and only in 1864 conditions returned to normal.

In 1820, there were 1,399 Jews in Staszów and 1,562 Gentiles. Within seven years the Jewish population grew to 2,062 compared to 1,871 Gentiles in 1827 (52.4% Jews). In 1841 there were 2,903 Jews compared to 2,080 Gentiles. In 1856, there were 3,206 Jews and 1,803 Gentiles. In 1857, 3,246 Jews and 1,823 Gentiles (64% Jews). In 1897 the Jewish population reached 4,885 and Gentiles 3,000 (61.9% Jews).

In the year 1913, the Jewish population counted 7,634 persons, including 4,054 males and 3,580 females. In 1921, in the new restaured Poland, there were 4,704 Jews and 3,653 Gentiles. The Jewish population now represented 57.5%.

During the first World War, Staszów's Jewish community suffered considerably, especially during the summer of 1914 after the Austrians occupied the town. (withdrawing on September 6th of that year). The Russians returned to Staszów on September 15th and thereafter the Cossacks raided Jewish shops and homes, robbing and mugging brutally. On Yom Kippur, one Jew was hanged on a lamp pole and eight were shot by order of General Nówików. In October of the same year, the Austrians returned to Staszów, remaining for a few days only. The frontline moved from day to day until the town was liberated finally from the Russian Army in May, 1915 by the Austrians, who remained there until the establishment of the New Poland.


Appendix I

The Owners of the Town of Staszów, from the 15th Century

  1. Mikolai Makorów, Deputy Chancellor of King Jagiellow. Died in 1411.
  2. Woyjiec Jastrzębiec. Arch-governor of Beganizno acquired Staszów from the heirs of No.1. Died in 1436. Passed the town on to his nephew, Marcian Dreslów. After having annulled the latter's inheritance, Jastrzębiec transferred it to his brother, Jan, who adopted the name Rytwianski.
  3. Jan Rytwianski, of Sandomierz castle.
  4. Mikolai from Kurozwęki, the latter's son-in-law, Staroste (Prefect) of Szydlów.
  5. Adam, his son. Died in 1510.
  6. Anna, his daughter, married to Hieronym Łaski, District Governor of Shirdasz. He accorded Staszów the right to hold markets and thereby promoted Staszów from village to town.
  7. His son, Ulbrecht Łaski, Arian sympathizer.
  8. Gabriel Tenzinski, District Governor of Lublin. (Received by Maria, wife of Stanislaw Czulek, who acquired Staszów, Rytwiany and several other estates in 1596.)
  9. Andrzej, his brother, castle owner of Belz, who died in 1613.
  10. Jan, his brother. 1614-1637.
  11. Izabella, his daughter, wife of Lucas Oplinski, Crown Marshall. Died 1662;
  12. Their son, Jan.
  13. Zofia-Anna-Elizabeta, his sister, married to Stanislaw Herakliusz Lubomirski, called “The Polish Solomon.” Marshall. Died 1702.
  14. Elizabeta-Helena, their daughter, wife of Mikolai Lubomirski. Died in Lwów in 1726.
  15. Marie-Zofia, their daughter, wife of Stanislaw Denhosz. District Governor of Poloczek. After the latter's death, she remarried in 1731 to the Prince Czartoryski, who died in 1782.
  16. Their daughter Izabella, wife of Prince Stanislaw Lubomirski, who died in Lañcut in 1783. From her parents, she inherited 11 towns, and 252 villages to the value of 20,772,310 zlotys. Her brother Kasimierz inherited 10 towns and 237 villages to the value of 25,394,215 zlotys.
  17. Julia, daughter of Izabella, wife of Count Jan Potocki.
  18. Artur Stanislaw Potocki, their son, who died in 1832.
  19. Adam, his son, who died 1872.
  20. Artur, his son, who died in 1890.
  21. Rosza, his daughter, wife of Prince Maciej Radziwill.
  22. Artur Konstantin Mikolai Maciej, their son.


Appendix II

Letter of Existence, accorded to the Jewish Community of Staszów in the Year 1772

August Alexander, Prince Czartoryski, in Klewan and Żuków, District Governor and General of Russian lands, Lieutenant-General of the Royal Armies, Commander of the Infantry Regiments of His Majesty and the Polish Republic, bearer of decorations “White Eagle” and “Holy Stanislaw”, informs herewith those who are concerned, namely: The Administration of the Castle of Staszów, my town of heritage being organized now, that:

The community of the town, Staszów, requesting the rights accorded to them by the town owners preceding me, which, so far, were implemented only by custom, I therefore recommend by this confirmation, to keep these rights and command my administration to implement them.

  1. Also in the future, the Jewish community will be entitled to maintain a synagogue and a cemetery, without any interference on the part of the Church.
  2. They will be entitled to engage in artisanry, without interference on the part of the guilds and will be exempt from payments. Moreover, every citizen is entitled to engage in commerce, buying as well as selling, pending his payment of taxes due to the castle.
  3. The brewing of beer and distilling of malt are pending payment of taxes to the Leasing Office and others as usual, however, exempt from payment to the guilds.
  4. The butchers are permitted to deal in commerce, slaughtering beef and selling it, after paying their due to the castle.
  5. The Rabbinical Courts may be operated as usual. Appeals, however, are in the hands of the castle.
  6. At trials between the Jews and Gentiles, leaders of the community will be present, as well as the mayor of the town. Appeals of this Court will also be brought before the castle.
  7. The taxes and payments to the town are to be imposed on Jews and Gentiles on the basis of equal proportions.
These provisions were confirmed by the Law to the Community of my town, Staszów, and I order the Administration of the Castle to carry them out now and in the future and to guard their implementation.

Issued in Warszawa, on June 20, 1772. Signed by A. Czartoryski.

This document was endorsed by: Izabella Czartoryski Lubomirska, Alfred Potocki, Adam Potocki, in the year 1797, and registered in the Land registration, in the Book: Liber transactionum, No. 95, Page 82, which is in the archives of Sichów, in the documents of 1858, No. 196.


[Page 36]

Staszów, Interim Residence of the “Chacham Zvi”

by Meir Shimon Geshuri

Translated by Molly Karp

For two years, Staszów was home to the well-know gaon[1] Rabbi Zvi Ashkenazi, author of the book Chacham Zvi,[2] which found an important place in rabbinic literature among the people of Israel. It is proper to include his story here because of this alone, even though he was not a native of Staszów. The departure of a tzaddik [righteous one] from a place, said the Sages, makes an impression; in any case, the dwelling of a righteous and brilliant man in a place has many good influences. His biographers ignored the important detail that, before receiving the letter of appointment as a rabbi in Lwów, he dwelt for a while in Staszów and rested a little from his labor—from the controversies in Amsterdam from which he had sought refuge. The gaon Rabbi Jacob Emden (also known as the Ya'betz, Yakov Ben Zvi), one of the important sages of Germany in the eighteenth century and the son of Rabbi Ashkenazi, reveals this detail to us in his book Megillat Sefer [The Scroll of the Book]. We are able to get a grasp of the situation of the Jews in various lands from the details of his story: on their economic and political tribulations and on their strong faith in the Creator of the World even in the extremely difficult conditions that they suffered due to various wars and conquests. Since at that time the situation of the Jews was better in Staszów and in Poland in general than in the western countries, the history of Rabbi Zvi Ashkenazi makes it possible to make comparisons about the circumstances of the Jews in different lands.

 

A

Rabbi Zvi Ashkenazi was one of the leading rabbis in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. His father, R. Jacob Zack, was a great authority in Torah and founded a glorious rabbinic family. In 1655, when the Cossacks invaded Vilna and destroyed the city, Rabbi Jacob fled from the midst of the destruction after he was already considered among the dead. Initially he settled with his wife's family in Moravia, and it was there that his first-born son, Zvi, was born in about the year 1660. When his father-in-law, R. Ephraim HaCohen, was appointed rabbi to the community of Ofen,[3] Rabbi Jacob and his family accompanied him. There the young Zvi was educated and learned Torah from his father; he also studied in the yeshiva of R. Ephraim HaCohen, his mother's father. When the boy became a man, he was sent to study Torah with the Sephardic sages in the Balkans, and for two years he studied in the beit midrash of R. Eliahu Kovo in Salonika.[4] There he adapted himself to the practices and ways of the Sephardim. He became proficient in their customs and their language, and from that time he acquired the honorific “Chacham” [Sage], which was customary among the Sephardim. After a number of years of learning and wandering, he returned to his father's house, to the city of Ofen. There he married a daughter of one of the important men of the city.

The days of his tranquility, however, did not last. The Austrian army invaded Ofen in the year 1686; his house was destroyed by artillery shots, and his young wife and infant daughter were killed. He alone managed to flee the city before its capture. He reached Sarajevo in Bosnia, and there he was appointed rabbi by the community. In that same year, Ofen was captured by the Austrian army, and Rabbi Zvi's parents were taken prisoner by the Germans, transported to Berlin, and ransomed by generous Jews. Rabbi Zvi went out to search for his parents and during his travels passed through Venice and Prague before reaching Berlin. There he married his second wife, the daughter of R. Meshullam Zalman Neumark, head of the bet din of the triple community of Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbek.[5] He settled in Altona and lived there for eighteen years “on the Torah and on the service” in his dissemination of Torah in the great house of study that he founded.[6] In the year 1692 in Hamburg, he published the book Turei Zahav,[7] a commentary on Choshen Mishpat[8] (a section of the Shulchan Aruch)[9] by R. David ben R. Shmuel HaLevi, with the addition of his own glosses. His name became well known in all the corners of the world as one of the great authorities of that generation, and from lands near and far people turned to him with questions about every matter of faith and law. When his father-in-law, the rabbi, died in 1706, Rabbi Zvi was appointed in his place as rabbi of Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbek. Nevertheless, some of the leaders of the community of Altona followed another rabbi, Moshe of Rothenburg. The two sides consented to a compromise and agreed that the two rabbis would share the position of rabbi of Altona, alternating every six months. But Rabbi Zvi resigned his position and returned to study in his beit midrash because of the dispute between him and his colleague. The matter became known, and the Ashkenazi congregation in Amsterdam invited Rabbi Zvi to become head of the rabbinate in their community and set uniquely strict conditions for him. Respect for R. Zvi Ashkenazi was great in Amsterdam, and he earned the recognition of the Sephardic community there as well. There he published his book of responsa, Questions, Answers, Novellae, and Interpretations, in the year 1712. This book earned him great fame in the rabbinic world. Nevertheless, his days of tranquility were also not to last long here because of the arrival of the Sabbatean Nehemiah Hayyon to Amsterdam to disseminate his books of Sabbatean sectarianism.[10] Rabbi Zvi came out against him sharply and, together with R. Moses Hagiz, excommunicated Hayyon. This matter enraged the members of the congregation in the city, who saw the position of Rabbi Zvi, the Ashkenazic rabbi, as interference in the affairs of the Sephardim. This was the beginning of a period of threatened persecutions, which saw the various parties informing on each other to the government and challenging each other's legitimacy. As a result of all this, Rabbi Zvi decided to leave Amsterdam. After traveling to England and passing through many communities in Germany and Poland, he arrived in Staszów.

 

B

Rabbi Zvi's son R. Jacob Emden, a learned and well-known bibliographer, writes in his book Megillat Sefer that his father, during the period of his traveling throughout Europe, stayed for two years in Staszów. He lived in the city as a guest of the Polish noblewoman Czartoryska, who owned Staszów and the nearby village of Rytwiany (or Ritvin among the Jews) and who treated him with great kindness. The noblewoman transferred to his possession a small house on Bó¿niczna [Synagogue] Street, where the gaon lived until he was appointed as rabbi to the city and province of Lwów. However, the days of his service there were not long; he died at the age of 58 on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 2 May 1718.

In his autobiographical book, Megillat Sefer (Warsaw, 1896), his son R. Jacob Emden depicts the story of Rabbi Zvi's life and his battle with the sages of his generation, which left its impression on it. In this book, he also dedicates space to the Staszów in which he lived with his father. A passage from his work could have been cited here as it was, in his language and his style. However, because of the difficulty of his flowery language, it is better to render his words in the Hebrew of our own time. It is told in the book (pp. 44–47) that, in the years of his father's travels and in the years after he arrived in Poland, one of the notables of the land, a Jew who held an important position with the great noble Szynowski, approached him. His name, famous and praiseworthy, was R. Israel Rytwin, who was in charge of the holdings of the nobleman, including a spacious tract of land with many towns and villages. Rabbi Israel was also in charge of all the income and expenditures of the noble. He was the man who made everything happen and was possessed of great ability. Together with this, the man was God fearing and of sturdy spirit, seeking merit in the mitzvah of welcoming guests, particularly a prominent personage such as Rabbi Zvi. Consequently, he approached the rabbi with a proposal that he live under his protection in one of the villages that were under his control, in Staszów or Rytwiany. It seemed proper to give him a large house to live in for free, with guards and servants who would help him with all his household needs. He gave him cows, milk, butter, cheese, and bread. He also sent him as much firewood as he needed, not to mention fowl and live fish from the ponds in his holdings. He supplied practically all of Rabbi Zvi's material needs, except for a few personal items such as clothing, which Rabbi Zvi would buy with his own money. In this way he presented him with many gifts in the form of various luxuries: spices, sugar, and sweets, all in order to bring tranquility to the guest and to find favor in his eyes. During the whole time of his stay there, all his needs were provided for by Rabbi Israel faithfully and willingly. After Rabbi Zvi was accepted as district rabbi over the city and province of Lwów in 1718, Rabbi Israel was greatly saddened over the loss of the mitzvah to his household, which served as a center for Torah over a number of years. Rabbi Zvi did not have long to live in Lwów, for he passed away after a quarter of a year; there was weeping and mourning in all Poland at the terrible news that a great light of Israel had been extinguished. It is well known that R. Jacob Emden was the genius of the time and a man of strife and contention. R. Israel Rytwin was one of the few people to merit words of praise and acclaim from his lips on account of his generosity and his good-heartedness. As a result of this abundant generosity, R. Jacob Emden took every opportunity to multiply the praise of Polish Jewry and even considered moving to Poland. Until the period of the recent Holocaust, the small white house on Bó¿niczna Street where the “Chacham Zvi” used to live was pointed out.

 

C

Rabbi Zvi was a man with a strong and independent nature. He was a “lover of truth and a hater of covetousness” [cf. Exodus 18:21], a pursuer of justice and a protector of the persecuted and oppressed. He was a man of strife and contention all his days. He fought with strong and oppressive rulers who forced their way on a holy people, and he stood at the right hand of the impoverished and deprived. He fought zealously against the Sabbateans, risking his life and fearing nothing. He was a man of truth sustained by his knowledge who could have had as his motto “Let the law cut through the mountain.”[11] Indeed, one might say “like father like son” about his son Jacob Emden. As Rabbi Jacob relates in his memoir, Megillat Sefer, his father worked wonders in the brief days of his rabbinate in the community of Lwów:

He enacted many great rulings there and established a community fund of great fame. He laid down the law for violent men, and evildoers were humbled before him. He also removed from his post a certain communal leader, a man of violence, when it became clear that he embezzled congregational funds and profited from oppressing the poor [cf. Psalm 12:6]. This man informed on the rabbi to the authorities and to the governor there, and the rabbi was summoned to appear before them. There was great terror in the congregation, and great horror fell upon them…. But the rabbi went and stood before them and spoke with them in Italian.[12] The authorities treated him with great respect, such as had never been given to a rabbi before him, and they gave him authority and power to decide even criminal laws in his community. Then a great dread fell upon all the informers and worthless scoundrels…. Likewise in matters of Torah learning, he took it upon himself to “straighten that which is crooked” [Eccl. 1:15] since the order of learning had become deformed, for people had forsaken the study of scripture entirely, in the way that rabbis like these did, that they did not even know scripture.[13]… Therefore he ruled according to the law of the Mishnah: “at five years old—Scripture.” He assembled all the teachers in the community of Lwów and set a curriculum for them for their teaching: in Scripture first, according to grammar, and so on.

Here are some passages from his long epitaph: “In the month of Ziv (Iyyar), the splendor of the Torah was removed, and all its beauty departed from it. This generation is left orphaned and desolate, for no one like him was left, thoroughly versed in Torah, and in wisdom, and in the love of God, and as pure in his fear of God. Clear instruction in the law came from him for the entire world. Careful and diligent, selfless and dedicated to his God, exceedingly wondrous…. He was a father to the destitute, and help was found in him for every embittered soul. He fought God's battles, aroused jealousy in his enemies, and wiped out his foes down to the last remnant.[14] He pursued them with a strong wind, with tempest and fury, armed and ready to lay down his life in order to reestablish the torn-up roots of faith.”[15]

His son Rabbi Jacob[16] was known especially for the dispute that he aroused against R. Jonathan Eibeschutz. Born in Altona in 1698, Rabbi Jacob lived in Galicia and Moravia in the days of his youth and learned Torah from his father and father-in-law. Only once in his life did he take a rabbinical position, in the community of Emden, Germany. Because of his difficult personality and his desire to be independent of the opinions of others, however, he was compelled to resign the rabbinate after only a few years, and from then on he did not assent to any entreaties to take on another rabbinical post. He thanked God “that He did not make [him] the head of a Rabbinical Court.”[17] From the year 1733, he lived in Altona, the city of his birth, where he opened a Hebrew publishing house of his own and also conducted some business. He excelled in the abundance of his knowledge of Torah and his developed sense of critical inquiry. His aspiration for truth knew no bounds, and he feared no man. More than one of his many books came out to do battle against important personages whose words did not please him or against ideas that seemed to him to be in opposition to the very foundations of Judaism. He never was afraid to express his opinions, even against the accepted views of his time. His books, which were written in a clear and forceful style, made his name famous and brought him renown as one of the chief sages of his generation. Nevertheless, the essence of the fame that Rabbi Emden acquired for himself was in his sharp disputation with R. Jonathan Eibeschutz. He was a zealot born of a zealot. He died on Rosh Chodesh Iyar 5536 (20 April 1776).


Footnotes

  1. Gaon: “genius”; honorific title for a rabbinic leader of outstanding intellectual eminence.. Return
  2. Chacham Zvi: In addition to being the book title, this was also the popular title by which Rabbi Zvi Ashkenazi was known. In the original, it has a suggestion of a double entendre—“the illustrious sage [Zvi]”—as his name Zvi means “illustrious.” Return
  3. Ofen: the early-modern German name for Buda (later consolidated with Pest to comprise Budapest). Return
  4. Beit midrash: academy of rabbinical studies. Return
  5. Bet din: Rabbinic court. Return
  6. “On the Torah and on the service”: echoing the famous quote from the section of the Mishnah known as The Sayings of the Fathers: “The world stands on three things: On the Torah, on the service (or worship), and on acts of loving-kindness”; also a play on the opening to the final blessing recited after the Haftarah in the Sabbath and festival prayer service. Return
  7. Turei Zahav [Columns of Gold]: Written by Rabbi David ben R. Shmuel HaLevi, this is one of the standard commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch. Return
  8. Choshen Mishpat [Breastplate of Judgment]: the fourth division of the Shulchan Arukh, devoted to codifying Jewish civil law. Return
  9. Shulchan Aruch [Set Table]: the standard code of Jewish law composed by R. Joseph Caro in 1563. Return
  10. http://jewish_bio.enacademic.com/1281/Hayyon,_Nehemia. Return
  11. This Hebrew expression (see Talmud Yevamot 92a, Sanhedrin 50b) parallels the Latin: “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.” Return
  12. As Rabbi Zvi Ashkenazi had lived in German-speaking lands for most of his career, he did not know Polish or Ukrainian; however, he had picked up Italian, which was lingua franca of the Church, and so was able to speak to the Catholic prelates of Lwów in that language. Return
  13. A thorough knowledge of the Bible and Hebrew grammar was more characteristic of a Sephardic than an Ashkenazic education. As the Chacham Zvi had been educated and ordained among the Sephardic communities of the Balkans, he may have picked up these areas of literacy and brought them to Poland, where the Ashkenazic emphasis on Talmud prevailed. Return
  14. Cf. Numbers 24:19 Return
  15. Cf. Numbers 32:17 Return
  16. Rabbi Jacob Emden (Altona, 1697–1776). Return
  17. A play on the blessing “Who has not made me a slave,” with double entendre: אבד (slave) is replaced with אבײד (head of a rabbinical court). Return


[Page 38]

The Maggid of Kozhnitz,
Author of “Responsum on the Agunah”

by Meir Shimon Geshuri

Translated by Molly Karp

The Hasidim would say of Rabbi Yisrael [Hopstein],[1] the Maggid [Preacher] of Kozhnitz [Kozienice], that he was expert in 800 books of mysticism even before he traveled to the rabbi who was the Maggid of Mezeritch [Great Mezhyrichi, Ukraine]. He studied Torah day and night and spread Torah to both young and old alike. He wrote about innovations of Torah and matters of Hasidism and was in contact with the great Jewish scholars of his time. The Maggid gave the opponents of Hasidism a headache because he was considered one of the geniuses of the generation and was diligent in the study of Torah, and so they made special efforts to try to weaken his great influence in the dissemination of Hasidism. The Maggid's name became more and more famous in all the communities of Israel as a leader of the Hasidim, an expert in Jewish law, versed in the profundities of kabbalah and the Jewish Torah, and actively engaged for the good of the Jewish community. The Maggid's house was always buzzing with rabbis and students who came to hear his words about Jewish law and his new insights into Torah. The great scholars of that time bore witness to his profound learning. His unique method, which was far from dialectics, was based on logic and a deep penetration into the perplexities of the Talmuds. The Maggid wrote many volumes filled with his fresh insights into Torah and Jewish law; among them, the great book House of Israel,[2] the small House of Israel, and The Preacher of Righteousness were published. However, here I refer to his book

titled The Chained Woman of Israel, which includes explanations of Jewish law on the release of a bound woman with a collection of responsa from all the great scholars of his time (published in Warsaw in 1880, the book was copied and annotated by a student who was the secretary of the Maggid Rabbi Gabriel of Kozhnitz). The latter book aroused great interest among the great Jewish scholars of the time and ensured that the name Staszów would always be associated with matters of divorce writs and chained women. In the question and in the responsum, there is an echo of that period and instructive evidence as to the character of the Maggid and his method in the law. The name of Staszów is mentioned, incidentally, here and there in the rabbinic responsa literature. This shows that this city, which was settled by the Jews for centuries, was deeply rooted in the ways of the life of Judaism, and, due to their fidelity to the Shulchan Aruch, questions were raised from time to time that required answers. For the sake of clarity, it is proper to supply a brief relation of the story here. A person by the name of Shraga, from the city of Chmielnik, married a woman from Staszów and disappeared from his home about a year after his marriage. The woman's relatives searched for him in all the Jewish communities of Poland but did not find him. The woman was left “chained” and alone.[3] However, after eight years, in the days of the Napoleonic wars between the Russians and the Prussians, soldiers from Staszów were garrisoned in the house of the woman's parents. They told the woman that her husband Shraga Feivel from Chmielnik had converted and was drafted into the Russian army. In the year 1799, confirmation was received in Staszów that her husband had transferred to the Prussian army. After many search efforts, the woman succeeded in bringing her apostate husband to Staszów, and he even promised to give her a divorce so that she would not remain chained all the days of her life. However, before the arrangement of the divorce, he disappeared again. After some time, letters from Köln and Regensburg, Germany, were received from him, with power of attorney to the Staszów rabbinate to give his wife a divorce. Afterward, a letter was received from the commander of his unit in Germany, saying that the apostate Feivel had been killed in battle. The question was very complicated from the perspective of Jewish law. Two questions that were one were concealed in it. The first problem was the legality of the power of attorney from the husband for the divorce. The second problem was whether the testimony of the German officer about the death of her husband was reliable enough to free the woman from the chains of bondage. The rabbis of Staszów turned to the Maggid of Kozhnitz with the question of releasing the unfortunate woman. In his long responsum, the Maggid tried to find supports for releasing the woman. However, he sent his question to the great scholars of his day so that they might also participate in releasing her.

The content of his answer was essentially this: The Shulchan Aruch ruled that, according to the law, “Even if the husband wrote in his own handwriting, instructing a scribe to write the bill of divorce and witnesses to sign it, the scribe should not write it nor should the witnesses sign it until they had heard it from the husband's lips.”[4]. According to this law, the apostate's power of attorney was not enough to give his wife a divorce. However, the Maggid relied on another law: “There are those who authorize people who are mute (i.e., who cannot speak) to write and sign, giving written instructions to the scribe: 'Write!' and to the witnesses 'Sign!' And that applies in the case where he is of sound mind.”[5] There is another law in Maimonides: “One who is silenced but his mind is sound, they say to him: we will write a divorce for your wife, and he bows his head; we check him three times. If his mind is sound, they write a divorce for his wife.”[6] The Maggid considered the power of attorney of the apostate as analogous to the bowing of the head of the one who is silent. For the good of the wife, in order for her to be freed from the bondage, the Maggid relied on the husband's document [which gave power of attorney] and equated the law of the apostate to the law of the one who is silent, permitting a divorce to be given to the wife.[7]

Regarding the second question—the reliability of the German officer concerning the death of the apostate—the law is that, if a woman's husband went to a distant country and witnesses testify that he died, even if the witnesses were slaves or maidservants or women or relatives, it is permitted to accept their testimony, even if one witness heard the testimony from another witness and even if the testimony is invalid in the eyes of the Torah; if they are speaking in the context of ordinary conversation and not with the intention of testifying, they are acceptable as witnesses.[8] Even an idolater who was speaking in the course of ordinary conversation is taken at his word. Nevertheless, in the instance that is before us, where the testimony of the commander was not given in the course of ordinary conversation but with the intention of testifying, there is great doubt as to whether it is possible to rely on his testimony, especially since Maimonides rules, “If they found it written in a document: such and such a man died, or he was killed … If it can be determined that this was written by a Jew, the wife may be permitted to marry.”[9]

Nevertheless, the Maggid proved with innovative legal arguments that it is possible to rely on the testimony of the commander and to release her in order for “the daughter of Israel not to remain bound.” The rabbis never argued for stringency but always for leniency when it was a matter of releasing a woman from the bonds of a defunct marriage.[10] In order to resolve all doubts, he required her to receive a writ of divorce, in case the husband's act of divorce was valid, and also release from levirate marriage in case the divorce was invalid.[11] The Maggid turned first with his question to Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz, the rabbi of Frankfurt-am-Main, “for we knew this man and his heart, for the logical reasonings of all decisions are clear to him.”[12] Rabbi Pinchas participated in the release on condition that other great scholars of the day would join in. The Maggid turned then to the rest of the great scholars of his time, and all of their responses were published in the book The Chained Woman of Israel. The other participants were Rabbi Aryeh Leib, head of the Bet Din of Volochisk (one of the students of the Maggid of Mezeritch who, at the end of his life, traveled to the land of Israel); Rabbi Joseph Hochgelernter, head of the Bet Din in Zamoœæ (author of the book Mishnat Chachamim [Lwów, 1792]); Rabbi Meir son of Rabbi Tzvi, head of the Bet Din of Brody (who was formerly the rabbi of Krystynopol [Chervonograd, Ukraine] and one of the students of Rabbi Samuel Horowitz), author of the book Yad Meir (Warsaw, 1874), on the six orders of the Mishnah; Rabbi Ephraim Walzman Margoliot from Brody; Rabbi Yitzchak Abraham Katz, head of the Bet Din in Piñczów (author of the book The Crown of Priesthood and the grandson of the Shach, Rabbi Shabtai Cohen, author of the Siftei Cohen); Rabbi Shimon, head of the Bet Din of Brisk [Brest-Litovsk] in Lithuania; and Rabbi Simcha, head of the Bet Din of Babiak (a student of Joseph Te'omim, head of the Bet Din in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, the author of Pri Megadim).

From the time that the release became known in the world, Rabbi Azriel Horowitz, the rabbi of Lublin (who was called by the name “Head of Steel” because of his great stridency), became angry with him. He was a vociferous opponent of Hasidism, a habitual opponent of the Seer of Lublin, and a man of truth who stuck vigorously to his opinion. Rabbi Azriel published a pamphlet titled “Words of Contention” (published in The Chained Woman of Israel), in which he refutes the arguments of the Maggid of Kozhnitz in favor of permission and expresses his misgivings as to whether or not Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz of Frankfurt truly agreed to the release. He suspected the Maggid of forging the responsum. The Maggid answered this [accusation] with a strong response, in which he refuted all the assertions of Rabbi Azriel and proved anew all of the reasoning for the release. Regarding the suspicion that the responsum of Rabbi Pinchas was fraudulent, the Maggid answered with contempt: “It is permissible for him to ask the aforementioned authority… if I added or omitted even one letter.” And, in truth, the responsum is found also in the book The Height of Pinchas by the Rabbi of Frankfurt-am-Main (section 31 and at the end of the book). The Maggid summarized his polemic: “There is no need to continue for I relied on all who read his words, and the one who judges according to righteousness and truth will understand them; for a perverse spirit moved him to provoke me by the work of his hands. 'Hatred stirs up strife' on a matter 'that is not according to the law,' and 'the righteous in their hearts' . . . 'shall not entangle their paths' but 'will magnify and glorify Torah'[13] and will bring light like the stars of the sky to illuminate the darkness of the chained woman; may they merit a day of joy of Zion, and saviors will go up in joy.”[14]

The matter of the chained woman of Staszów is mentioned in one of the books of responsa of the Rabbi Gaon Yehuda Leib Graubart of Staszów titled Chavalim Ne'imim (Pangs of Delight). Rabbi Y.Y. Rabinowitz also wrote on this polemic in his book Solomon's Tent (Piotrków, 1924, p. 61).


Footnotes

  1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yisroel_Hopsztajn. From the Hebrew title of this essay, it appears that (as was often the case) he was also called by the name of his book, “Responsum on the Agunah.” NOTE: “Agunah” (literally “chained”) refers to a woman who was legally still married to a husband who abandoned her or disappeared without issuing her a get (writ of divorce), and who therefore could not remarry and go on with her life. Though the book was popularly referred to as “The Responsum on the Agunah,” the actual published title was Agunat Yisrael (“the Chained Woman of Israel”). Return
  2. We are in the dark as to what this means, although it might mean “large edition” and “small edition.” It is possible that “Beit Yisrael” has the meaning “Israel's commentary on the Beit Yosef / Shulchan Aruch” (as his other works also have “Yisrael” in their titles. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yisroel_Hopsztajn). Return
  3. “Chained” (agunah): a technical status in Jewish law, referring to a woman bound to a marriage to a missing man, with no legal recourse available to her for the marriage to be terminated. Return
  4. Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-Ezer, chap. 120, sec. 5–6. Cf. Maimonides, “Laws of Divorce,” chap. 2, law 16, in Kesef Mishneh and Hagahot Maimoniot. Return
  5. Shulchan Arukh and Maimonides, loc. cit. Return
  6. Maimonides, loc. cit. Return
  7. Cf. The Chained Woman of Israel, at the start of the book, the Maggid's Responsum. Return
  8. Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-Ezer, sec. 17:103; Maimonides, “Laws of Divorce,” chap. 13, law 11. Return
  9. Ibid. law 28. Return
  10. Ibid., law 29. Return
  11. The logic of this double requirement is as follows: (1) The Maggid held that the husband's written instructions empowering the Staszów rabbinate to act as agent to divorce his wife were valid, but he conceded that there might be some who regarded them as invalid. (2) The Maggid also held that the reports of the husband's death were credible and conclusive under the circumstances. (3) The Staszów rabbinate should issue the divorce on the assumption that the instructions were valid. This would dissolve the marriage according to that view. (4) According to the view that the husband was indeed dead but that the instructions for divorce were invalid, the wife was now released from marriage by the husband's death but still bound to a “levirate marriage” to the dead husband's living brother, by the law of Deuteronomy 25:5–10. This bond could and should be released by the ceremony of chalitzah described in that passage, and then the woman would be entirely free to marry whomever she chose. Return
  12. The Chained Woman of Israel, the Maggid's responsum. Return
  13. In the flowery style typical of rabbinic perorations, the author has chained together allusions to Proverbs 10:12, Esther 4:16, Psalms 125:4, Joel 2:7, and Isaiah 42:21. Return
  14. Chained Woman of Israel, 36b. Return


[Page 41]

The Kehilla

by Tzvi Goldberg

Translated by Molly Karp

As in all of the Jewish communities in Poland, so it was in Staszów: the local kehilla [Jewish town council] was reorganized in 1918, after World War I, when Poland achieved independence.[1]

Prior to that year, the communal life of the Jews was not organized and was surely not democratic. The needs of the community, which were, incidentally, exceedingly few in those days, were confined essentially to the religious sphere alone and were managed in any case by workers who were selected directly by the public. Not only was the manner of selection beyond absurd, it lacked even the most basic scrutiny, a condition of every democratic government.

Here is the order of the election mentioned above:

On a designated day, an announcement would appear on the streets of the city by the authority of the Staszów town council regarding the holding of elections for the Jewish kehilla. On the appointed day, the secretary of the town council, accompanied by two of his assistants, would appear at the large beit midrash.[2] All the members of the community were gathered there for the purpose of holding the election. Every member of the community who was present and who was to participate in the election approached the secretary, who had the community tax ledger in hand, and gave him the names of three candidates for election to the kehilla, according to that member's discretion. After the completion of the time allotted for the entire procedure, the secretary unaided began to count and list the results of the voting. According to these results, he determined the triumvirate[3] that received the most votes and that would locally represent the Jewish community.[4]

With the transference of authority to the Jews to organize their internal affairs as they wished, there was hope that the time had arrived to develop autonomous Jewish self-determination in Poland on a broad national basis, building on the existing regulation of social and religious activities.[5] This hope was quickly proven false, however, in that the intention of the Polish authorities was not to broaden the liberty of the Jews in the national dimension. Rather, it served to confine the Jews' efforts solely to the religious and social arenas.

Nevertheless, despite the disappointment that they experienced, the Jews rejoiced over the possibility that was given to them: to establish their lives according to their own will, with hopes for a time when they would be able to broaden the framework of their efforts to other vital areas as well.

The kehilla executive, which was established according to the power relationships among the political currents within the local Jewish population, consisted of nine members, who were chosen, in accordance with the law, by free, proportional, secret ballots.[6] The right to vote was given to every male resident 25 and older who had lived in the town for one full year. The right to be elected was reserved for those who were 30 and older.

In addition to the members of the executive, three substitutes were determined from the list of the first candidates in the event that positions in the executive became vacant for one reason or another. Similarly, a control board was elected. One of its responsibilities was to audit the work of the kehillah executive at the end of each fiscal year. Each resident was promised the right to file an appeal before the district authorities in the event that he believed that he had been deprived of his rights either at the time of the elections or in the collection of community taxes and the like.

The kehillah executive drew on financial resources from the income generated by ritual slaughter and from the “atat,”[7] a special tax that was assessed by the kehilla executive on members of the community with the authorization of the federal government. This income was used for the maintenance of the kehilla personnel: the rabbi, schoolteachers, ritual slaughterers, porgers,[8] custodians of the synagogue, and office workers: the secretary of the kehilla, the financial administrator, and so forth.

The second branch of kehilla disbursements was financial support for religious institutions and everything that was connected with the conduct of traditional religious life, such as the Talmud Torah, the yeshiva, the cheders, the synagogue, the two houses of study, the ritual baths, and more.[9]

The third and most important branch of kehilla activities was feeding the needy: those who lacked work or financial support, the ill, widows, orphans, the elderly, or any passing guest or refugee who happened to be in the town.

Wolf Ze'ev Tuchman served as the first head of the kehilla in Staszów. He also functioned as a member of the town council and was active in its administration (“³awnik”—assessor—in the [Polish] vernacular). Tuchman had even stood at the head of the kehilla during the days of the Russians, that is, during World War I.[10]

In 1930, the writer of these lines was chosen for the position of head of the kehilla and served in this position until 1936. From that year on, the leadership of the kehilla passed to Efraim Zinger (may God avenge his blood). Zinger, an enterprising man with limitless daring, filled his role until his last day—the day of the liquidation of the sacred community by the Nazis.

The Gaon and Torah scholar Rabbi Judah Leib Graubart, author of the book Pangs of Delight—Words of Yehuda,[11] the books Right and Left, The Memorial,[12] and more, sat on the throne of the rabbinate in Staszów.

In 1915, in the conflagration of World War I, Rabbi Graubart and one of the landlords in the city, Rabbi David Goldfeder, were taken and deported to Russia as hostages for “good behavior” on the part of the members of the kehilla during the course of the war. Only in 1918, when the war ended, did the two return to the city. Rabbi Graubart, one of the most outstanding religious personages of Polish Jewry, arrived in London, where the World Zionist Congress was meeting, in 1919, on the occasion of his appointment as one of the leaders of the “Mizrachi” movement.[13] Due to a denunciation, he did not return again to his Poland or to his rabbinate in Staszów. Rather, he went to Toronto, accompanying a delegation that came to him in London. There he was received as a pastor and a spiritual leader of the Orthodox community.

With the departure of Rabbi Graubart, Staszów remained without a rabbi for many years. The functions of the rabbi were fulfilled by the teachers. The outstanding one among them was Rabbi Shealtiel Gerszt, who in his knowledge of Torah, his great wisdom, and his pleasant manner guided, represented, and led our community until his last day. After his death, his son, Rabbi Israel Gerszt, was crowned to fill the place of his great father. It was as if the local rabbi, Rabbi Alter Eliezer Horowitz—previously the rabbi of Riglitz [Ryglice] in Galicia and a descendant of the righteous Rabbi Naftali of Rofshitz [Ropczyce] (may the memory of the righteous be a blessing)—had risen to fill the empty void that had been created in the chair of the rabbinate in Staszów since 1919.

The elections for the rabbinate may have been accompanied by serious controversy that continued for a long time—in any event from the time that the decision was made and the Rabbi from Riglitz received the majority of votes—but spirits were calmed, and the opposition, as they were obligated to do, accepted the decision. To complete the picture, I must add that, despite the limited authority of the kehilla, its administration deviated (under the influence of the National Zionists who were represented in it) from the limited, well-defined framework of the law in its dependence on the national funds, in the encouragement of every communal, national, and Zionist initiative, and with its attention to all the problems of the time in general.


Footnotes

  1. The kehilla (or kahal) as a social-political institution of limited Jewish self-government had existed in eastern Europe (and especially in Poland) since medieval and early modern times, but prior to the twentieth century it was aristocratic and self-selected, dominated by the wealthiest and most learned Jews of the town. The traditional kehilla in the Russian Pale was abolished by Tsar Nicholas I in 1844, while within the Polish Kingdom it was grudgingly tolerated. In the early twentieth century in New York, Judah Leon Magnes experimented with instituting a quasi-kehilla organization (see Arthur A. Goren, New York Jews and the Quest for Community: the Kehillah Experiment, 1908–1922 [New York: Columbia University Press, 1970]). To complicate the terminology, the term “kehilla” refers more loosely to the executive plus its paid personnel (see below), or to the entire Jewish community of the town. Thus, the term “kehilla” in the strict sense applied to the nine individuals named as hanhalat hakehilla (the executive of the community), or in a slightly broader sense to these nine plus the paid personnel (rabbi, cantor, kosher butchers, teachers, etc.). Return
  2. Staszów had, in addition to the synagogue used mainly for prayer, two “houses of study” (beit midrash / batei midrash), multipurpose halls used primarily for study but also for prayer and public assembly—in this case, for conducting elections for the kehilla executive. Return
  3. As the kehillah executive had nine members, it is not clear whether the author is using the term “triumvirate” in a loose sense, or whether three of the nine comprised an executive steering committee of the body. Return
  4. Although the kehilla executive represented the entire Jewish community for purpose of administering the functions mentioned below and for representing the whole Jewish community to the outside world, it is not clear that it had a formal role on other general governmental bodies, such as the Staszów town council. Return
  5. The scope of Jewish self-governmental activities varied among different sectors of Poland. In the previously Prussian sector, for instance, including Lithuania, it had been traditional for the local kehillot to meet together as a national body to establish national policies. In addition to conducting social welfare activity and regulating religious life, other functions in contention included taxing power, educational and cultural activities, and regulation of other internal Jewish communal organizations. In most of these additional areas, the kehilla ultimately lost the struggle for additional authority. See Antony Polonsky, The Jews in Russia and Poland, Volume III (1914–2008) (Oxford/Littman, 2012), pp. 122–131. Return
  6. “Voting was direct, secret, and proportional.” (Polonsky, p. 124) Return
  7. A search in dictionaries has not turned up any use of this word meaning communal tax or levy. Return
  8. Porgers (or deveiners): those whose responsibility it was to remove veins and other nonkosher internal parts of the slaughtered animals. See http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12288-porging. Return
  9. The educational institutions mentioned here had distinct but somewhat overlapping functions. The Talmud Torah was a public elementary religious school for children whose parents could not afford the more usual paid-tuition cheder education. The yeshiva was primarily for adolescent boys between Bar Mitzvah and marriage. The beit midrash (house of study) was open to all, especially adult males, and also served as a place of public prayer and public assembly. The “synagogue” was the principal public prayer gathering but allowed for dozens of other independent prayer gatherings (shtibls) in the town. Return
  10. In other words, Tuchman had been one of the heads of the kehilla prior to the reorganization of the kehillot after Polish independence; after the reorganization, he was the first head of the reorganized kehilla in Staszów. Return
  11. Questions and answers on all the sections of the Shulchan Aruch, 5 vols. Return
  12. Sefer Zikaron (Memoirs [literally: Book of Memorial]—memoirs, letters, and sermons from the period of World War I and the Russian Revolution: Toronto, 1926); Yamin u-Smol (Right and Left—articles on public matters: Toronto, 1936). Return
  13. Mizrachi—See http://www.zionism-israel.com/dic/Mizrachi.htm. and “The Mizrachi [Religious Zionist] Organization in Staszów” (p. 198) in the current work. Return


[Page 43]

Dates and Events (H)

Cross reference to P. 63 “Dates and Events” (Y). Same text.

 

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