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[Page 45]

Chapter 2: The Community

Translated by Myra Yael Ecker

Edited by Yocheved Klausner


The Jewish Quarter. The structure of the community and its organization. The types of Jurisdiction. Taxation of Jews. Spiritual life.

By the middle of the 16th century the community within the town had established itself and numbered no fewer citizens than the community outside the town. It extended between Blacharska Street (from the corner of Ruska Street) to the money-changers' Square, and the upper section of Boimow Street. The Jewish Quarter (Platea Judeaorum) was segregated from the town by a gate which was shut during the night hours, during Christian processions as well as in times of anti-Semitic rampages. The Jews within the town had a synagogue.

The Jews lived under difficult hygienic conditions which endangered their health while they were enclosed within narrow streets and houses in which the congestion is hard to imagine. Due to the expansion of trade, there was an increased number of Jews who came to settle in the town, and consequently the price of flats and shops rose. An average house which in 1474 was worth 159 Gulden, was sold in that very year for 190 Gulden, while in 1580 its value rose to 1500 Gulden. This illustrates the difficulties faced by a Jew who wished to settle in the town, or to acquire his own dwelling.

At that period the Jews had two independent communities: a community within the town, and a community outside town. Each community was headed by four community leaders (seniores [elders]), three town's dignitaries (bonis viri [good men]) and a council (quadra ginta verat). Vis-a-vis the authorities and in matters concerning external affairs, the community was represented by the monthly elected community-elder (titled in Polish: Burmistrz Kahalni [mayor of the Jewish community]). In important matters he was accompanied by two community-leaders and the beadle.

From the 17th century onwards his official title was lobbyist invested with full power (syndic; syndicus plenipotent). The first lobbyist we know of within the town, was Simon ben Schaul, a native of Lwów. We know the composition of the first community management of 1497, and the names of the community-leaders were: Schlome (Magno), Schlome (Minore), Salomone (Claudo) and Izaak[1]. They assembled for their meetings in the old synagogue (termed by the authorities szkolka murowana [the brick school])

Maintaining two communities resulted in duplication in the management of Jewish affairs, as well as in matters of law and justice[2]. In criminal and financial matters they were under the jurisdiction of the Voivode (district governor), while in matters of plots of land, houses and building permissions, they were under the jurisdiction of the Starosta or his deputy. That division of the jurisdictions did not always follow the administrative outlines of the communities. For instance, Jews who resided on municipal land in the suburb (on the left bank of the Peltew), were subject to the jurisdiction of the municipality and not to that of the Starosta.

All trials between Jews were under the jurisdiction of the Jewish law-court [Beth-Din]. Trials between a Christian plaintiff and a Jewish accused, were under the jurisdiction of the Jewish judge (Iudex Judaeorum [judge of the Jews]). In 1440 we know of two Jewish judges: Iben Dzordz [George] (of Stopnica) who was “Iudex Judaeorum specjalista”, and Stefan Bydłowski known as “Iudex id deputatus” [deputy judge].

In 1445, we know that the judge of the Jews was the Italian, Krzysztof de Sancto Romulo [St. Romulus] of Genoa, who was also one of the greatest merchants in Poland. He resided in Lwów since 1443, and died in 1466. He leased the mines of Drohobych and the customs in Grodek, he was ennobled, and kept in close contact with other Jewish merchants[3]. Bystram of Lopiennik followed him in the post. In 1446, the Voivode's scribe Mikolaj Stradowski filled the role of judge, and from 1491 onwards the Starosta filled that role.

The Jewish jurisdiction was initially determined together with the regulation granted to the Jews of Lwów, in the 1364 directive of Cazimir the Great, and in the article that set the Jews under the jurisdiction of the Voivode or his judge[4]. The issue was clarified in the directive (decree) of Sigismund August of the 9th April 1551[5], in which he pointed out the misrepresentation of the Jews in the jurisdiction. This suggests that the Jews were subject to the Voivode's jurisdiction. The same directive also incorporated the interdiction to lock up Jews in the castle, and it settled the issue of appeals.

On the 10th April 1553, Sigismund August granted the Jews of Lwów a special privilege regarding the pledge and responsibility for objects derived from theft. In the regulation of February 1569, the issues of jurisdiction over the Jews were arranged in 12 Clauses, according to which the Voivode had to appoint the Jewish judge solely from among members of the nobility. Certificates and books of the Jewish law-court had to remain inside the synagogue; the Jewish judge was forbidden from inserting any inscription into the certificates without the knowledge of the Jewish community-elders. It was also forbidden to accept a scribe without the knowledge of the community-elders. The Jewish community-elders were selected solely by members of the Jewish community. Once selected, they would be presented to the Voivode for approval. It was further determined, that it was forbidden to sequester or expropriate the synagogue; that the community-elders were entitled to punish Jewish criminals and to impose on them bans in accordance with their religion; and that the Voivode was not allowed to appoint a Rabbi, unless he had been elected by the Jews.

The Jewish judge could only issue instructions in cooperation with the community leaders. That regulation, fundamental to the jurisdiction affecting the Jews, incorporated also a clause of an economic nature: that Shechita [ritual livestock slaughter] was free to Jews and that they were permitted to sell the meat to non-Jews too, in the custom of the Jews at Krakow, Poznan and Lublin[6]. In the 1571 regulation[7], the jurisdiction was again entered in the first Clause.

Based on these regulations, the authorities subsequently issued their statutes (Porządki Wojewódzki [provincial orders]).

On the 27th January 1604, the Voivode of Reissen, Stanislaw Golski, issued a statute regarding the Jews of Lwów, made up of 25 clauses which determined the composition, powers and payments of the Jewish law-court. Based on that regulation, the Voivode of Reissen, Stefan Czamiecki, issued on the 17th March 1660 the second statute, with no alteration[8].

The last franchise (ordinance) granted to the Jews of Lwów, was accorded by the Voivode Marek Matczynski in 1692 (21st March), wherein were determined the salaries due at the Jewish law-court. According to it, the two communities and the Rabbis were to provide the Voivode's Privy Purse with 4000 Polish Zlotys annually, submitted in four payments. After clearing the sum, the Voivode, his deputy and his officers had no further claim to receive foodstuffs such as fish, perfumes etc. from the communities. The deputy-voivode (podwojewoda) and the judge were forbidden from holding any other office.

It was reconfirmed that the law-court be situated next to the synagogue, and that without delay the community-elders be elected by the Jews, in accordance with their laws and customs. That was followed by details about the law-courts such as summons to trials, determination of dates, safekeeping of protocols.

A special clause (§9) emphasized that trials in which both parties were Jews, were not subject to the jurisdiction of the podwojewoda.

That regulation remained in force till 1732.

On the 31st January of the same year, Prince August Czartoryski ratified the regulation in its entirety. He made a single change however, that the seat of the law-courts and the affairs of the two communities of Lwów be conducted in an appropriate place and not in a small room adjacent to the synagogue[9].

The Great Synagogue outside the town

In the suburb the Jews were under the jurisdiction of the castle in all matters which were subject to the jurisdiction of the Voivode, including plots of land and houses. And that, even though the regulation which King Sigismund August granted to the Jews of the Lwów suburb, on the 1st of October 1586, stated that the purchase and sale of real-estate did not require to be registered with the Starosta. Nevertheless, in practice the purchases and sales were registered with the Starosta, and in many cases the Starosta even assumed the right to sit in judgement over Jews in civil and criminal cases. In time the Jews of the suburb were placed under the authority and jurisdiction of the Starosta. Trials between a Jewish plaintiff and a Christian defendant were under the judicial authority of the defendant. That is to say, if he were a nobleman – at a special law-court ([sad] grodzki [castle court]); a townsman – at a municipal court (Lawa, Rada [Bench, Council]); a farmer – under the jurisdiction of the landowner, and a priest – under the jurisdiction of the Church. Civil cases with an Armenian defendant were heard before the principal law-court of the Armenians. Appeals against judgements of these law-courts were considered at the assessors' courts. Special cases were judged by a mixed court (Judicium compositum) composed of members of the municipality and of community leaders. These law-courts had in fact the attributes of courts of arbitration.

Until 1520, the Jews were levied state taxes – payments to the King: cięcie królewski [Royal cut] from Jewish houses at the rate of 2-4 Zloty per house; payments to the King's officials, to the Church, municipal taxes and payment for the right to dwell on private estates. In 1466-1506 the Jews of Lwów paid 200 Florins state tax (stacyjne), and in the years 1506-1510, 100 Florins; in 1510, 200 Florins[10]. Each community had its own incomes and expenses, as well as joint expenses of both. The incomes of the communities were made up of congregation-tax which each Jew paid in accordance with the actuaries' assessment; income from meat-tax (korobka); tenure fees for the right to dwell; the construction of houses; licenses to trade, work and lease; payments for chuppah [Jewish marriage ceremony]; payments for status “Member” and “Our Teacher”; burial fees; payments for the law-court, and levies on commodities: wine and similar. The revenues were needed by the community which kept at its expense a Rabbi, a cantor, beadles, lobbyists, as well as paying the costs of the synagogues, hospitals, the Jewish law-courts; provisions for Jewish prisoners; travel expenses for rabbis, community-elders and lobbyists to regional and national conferences; hosting of soldiers and payments

Keter-Torah Ornament

of bribes to officials and the authorities. The joint expenses of the two communities were: payments in cash, materials and supplies to the Voivode (the governor) and his officials; payments in cash and in supplies to the deputy priests, and leasing fees for the cemetery. The community within the town was also obliged to make payments: 1. to the Catholic clergy for the Catholic school, 2. to the municipality. Until 1506 the Jews of Lwów paid no municipal tax, but that changed with the King's order that instead of the 200 Florins the Jews had to pay him, they would now pay him just 100 Florins, but for the following four years they would have to participate in the municipal taxes: a. for trading rights; b. to the craftsmen's guilds (cechy); c. tax on each barrel of Kosher wine; d. an appropriate share of the expenses of a municipal police with 50 policemen (in 1573 these expenses amounted to 1585 Zloty, 14 Groszy, towards which the community contributed 297 Zloty 15 Groszy).

In 1475, the Jews in the Krakowite Quarter paid the Voivode or the Starosta 5 grzywny [forfeits]. Apart from that it was incumbent upon them to guard thieves and to bring them to the palace, as well as to arrange certain works: on the King's visit they had to provide a number of coaches, horses and supplies for the King's kitchen, and to pay the expenses for protecting the palace. The Jews exempted the Karaites who resided in the Krakowite Quarter, from contributing towards those expenses[11]. In time, the services were replaced by cash payments – for a limited trading right the Jews in the suburb paid the municipality a fixed fee.

Besides the taxes and payments made by each community individually, they also had joint expenses, such as: legal expenses for trading rights, repairs to synagogues, hospitals, bathhouses, building licenses after fires, etc.

Besides the payments by the community or through it, every Jew had to pay – as member of the community within the town – a leasing tax to the municipality (emphyteusis) for each house, a tax known as “strazy wielka” of 6 Zloty, 6 Groszy per house, as well as payments for crossing bridges and roads, liquor tax (czopowe) and balances.

Every Jew of the community outside the town paid property tax to the Starosta in addition to indirect taxes, just like the Jews within the town.

The community leaders were responsible for collecting the taxes, and for payments. In 1499, the community leaders were incarcerated by the Starosta because of a late tax payment of 24 Florins for houses and real-estate property (czas krolewski [royal time]) from the Jewess Jacobowa, and they were released only after Isaac ben Mordechai, (Markowicz) the lobbyist for the Jews, had pawned the objects in the synagogue[12]. From the end of the 15th century special tax collectors were appointed. In 1498, one of the first tax collectors in Greater Poland was Fischel from Krakow. It is likely that the Lwów community leaders (dectores Judaeorum) also helped to fulfil the role. In one document of 1496, the wife of the community leader Joseph is mentioned, and in a document of the 19th July 1497, his name was entered: “Iudaea Joseph dectores iudaeici”[13]. Those who mediated between the government and the Jews on taxes, were not in fact the communities but rather the community-elders, to whom the King had handed the lists of taxes due from the Jews in their community.

In the days of Sigismund [Zygmunt] I, an institution was founded of the king's principal Jewish treasurers who were in direct contact with the exchequer's treasurer. In 1512, two wealthy Jews were appointed to the post: Avrahm from Bohemia, and Franczek (Ephraim, son of Moses Fischel) from Krakow), whose influence stretched from Krakow to Greater-Poland and Mazovia [Mazowsze], to Lesser-Poland and Reissen. The communities of Krakow and Lwów objected to the treasurers' institution, with the rest of the communities following suit. They too refused to recognize it and its officers or to clear their taxes, despite the King's orders and threats. The situation had reached the point that Ephraim was unable to fulfil his obligations towards the King's exchequer, and only the Queen [dowager] Elizabeth saved him from bankruptcy. His role together with additional powers were transferred by the King to Avrahm from Bohemia who was banker to the Emperor Maximilian and to King Wladyslaw Jagiellonczyk [Vladislau II]. After being expelled from the Czech lands, he was among the Jewish refugees who arrived in Poland where he established trade agencies. On the 13th October 1517, after negotiations with Avrahm, the Lwów community-elders came to an agreement how to clear the “czasowa” [“temporary”] tax levied on it according to the treaty. From each walled-house a payment of 4 Zloty, and from each small house 2 Zloty a year, that is to say, 200 Florins in 1517, and a collective annual tax of 150 Florins from the community. Representing the community in the document were Israel ben Jona (Jonashowicz), Isaac, Baruch, Jehuda, Ezriel, Samuel and Bocher[14].

In 1550, the Jews had 71 houses which housed close to 2000 persons, and in 1578 there were 2400 persons in Lwów.

The Harvester Square (Plac Zbozowy)

From earlier periods the names of Rabbis and scholars who taught the Torah in Lwów, are not known. The state of knowledge and education there was as poor as it was throughout Poland. “And due to their wretched livelihoods they were unable to study the Torah, but they hired a knowledgeable man to be their cantor, advisor on Jewish law, as well as Torah teacher for their sons. As not everyone in the community was able to contribute personally towards their wages, the community established the regulation that they would be the recipients of all the charity collections of Purim and of Simchat Torah, and also of the donations gathered from grooms and from those feasting at their weddings, without their knowledge, so as not to offend them, and so the pleasure of joy and food and drink would lead from one Mitzvah to another. And were that practice to be cancelled, their wages would not suffice for their living and they would abandon their services and leave the community with no Torah and with no prayer and with no advisor[15].” That was the 13th-century depiction by Rabbi Eliezer from Bohemia, of the spiritual state of Poland which was equally applicable to Lwów. Only with the arrival of exiles from Ashkenaz [Germany] to Lwów, did the situation improve. The exiles brought with them Talmudic scholars, rabbis and teachers. One of the first experienced scholars to train many others in Lwów, was Rabbi Levi ben Jacob Kikenes, who held in Lwów the posts of head of the rabbinic court, and head of the Yeshiva. He died on the first day of Pessach 1503.

The first rabbi known from accredited certificates was Rabbi Kalman of Worms [Vermeisa]. He reached Lwów from southern Germany around 1518, and was among those who moulded the spiritual life of his community. He served in the rabbinate of both communities. His renown as a Talmudic scholar spread outside Poland too, and he exchanged letters with the great scholars of his generation. He died in 1559. He was followed as head of the Rabbinate by Asher ben Isaac Cohen, who also headed the Jewish burial society [Chevra Kadisha] and was one of the community treasurers. He died in 1579. After him no rabbi served again both communities of Lwów. Instead, there were two rabbis, one within the town the other outside it. That situation lasted till 1680.

It is interesting to note that during the period when the archbishopric was moved from Halicz to Lwów, the archbishop was the renowned scholar Gregory of Sanok [Grzegorz z Sanok] (1406-1477), who was among the early poets and writers who founded Polish Humanism. He kept in contact with Jewish scholars in Lwów, but their names are not known. His friend, the renowned humanist Filip Kallimach Buonaccorsi [Filippo Buonaccorsi, known as Callimachus], who came to Poland from Italy, read the Bible in its original Hebrew and was a friend to the Jews, also lived for a period at Lwów and defended the town's Jews.

Notes – CHAPTER 2

  1. In one of King Sigismund August's documents of the 9th April 1548, the lobbyist was also known as: synagogae praefectio(nem) skolnik dictum. Return
  2. Akta grodzkie i ziemskie t. XV Nr. 2538. Return
  3. “Judaei duplicia sua judicia habet in certis causes”. Return
  4. Kutrzeba: Handel polski ze wschodem. Przeglad polski 1903, t. 48; pp. 483-485. Return
  5. “Sed nos tantumodo aut noster Palatinus, sed eius iudex iudicium in eis (Judaeis exerceit). Return
  6. Dr. Z. Pazdro: Organizacja i praktyka zydowskich sadow podwojewodzinskich w okresie 1740-1772 r. Lwów, 1903, Nr. 2. Return
  7. Published in: Pazdro Nr. 11. Return
  8. “To tylko wyjawszy, aby sady i sprawy kahalow lwowskich miejskich i przedmiejskich n przystojnem miejscu, a nie w izdebce przy szkole zydowskiej odprawowaly sie i sadzily. ex respectu powagi i jurysdykcyi mojej wojewodzkiej i oficyalistow moich”. Pazdro Nr. 12 p. 180. Return
  9. Pazdro 1.c. Nr. 4, pp. 163-165. Return
  10. Pazdro 1.c. Nr. 10. Return
  11. Pazdro Nr. 11, pp. 176-179.
    Also in Dr. Moshe Schorr's book: Zydzi w Przemyslu Nr. 9. Return
  12. The title doctor Judaeorum [learned Jews] was also given to Rabbis, court judges and principals of yeshivot. See: Wetzstein, “Kadmoniyot Krakow” [Early history of Krakow] in Hamagid, 1897, sheet 5. Return
  13. Dr. M. Schorr: Organizacja Zydow w Polsce p. 11. 2.(14). Return
  14. Published in the book of Dr. Ignacy Schipper: Studja p. 349 Nr. VII. Return
  15. The responsum of Rabbeinu Eliezer [Eliezer ben Joel HaLevi (c.1160 - c.1225)] of Bohemia, pupil of Rabbeinu Tam [Jacob ben Meir; (c.1100 - c.1171)], published in the Responsa of MaHaRaM [Meir] bar Baruch, Part 3, Clause 112. Return


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