The History of the Jews of Stryj
br Dr. M. Gelber
Translated by Susan Rosin
The Development of the Town
It is a wellknown fact that a catholic house of worship existed in Stryj as early as 1396 therefore it is assumed that a settlement of some sort existed prior to that time. The town had an important function in the trading with Hungary. A customs station and a castlefortress provided security and control over the surroundings.
At the beginning of the fifteenth century Stryj was the major town in the district and its capital. King Władysław Jagiełło (1386 1434) granted the entire district and the neighboring districts of Żydaczów and Gródek (present day Horodok, Ukraine) to his brother Bolesław Švitrigaila. Shortly after that, the districts of Żydaczów and Gródek were given to prince Fedor Lubartowicz and Stryj was returned to the king. Due to the frequent wars, the town was destroyed and only in 1431, the king allowed the nobleman Zaklika (Tarło) to rebuild.
In the middle of the fifteenth century the city was the seat of a land judge (sędzia ziemski) who had jurisdiction over the entire area. He was the subordinate of the elders/seniors (starosta) with jurisdiction authority on all of Rus?' (the lands of Russia and Belarus). Many organizational changes took place during the reign of Władysław Warneńczyk.
From the fifteenth century the town was given the Magdeburg Rights. As we can glean from the October 21st, 1431 privilege bestowed by king Jagiełło thus changing from the Polish and Ruthenian laws to the German laws.
In the first part of the fifteenth century, the town belonged administratively to the Przemyśl region. King Jagiełło established here the Starostwo and the first starosta was Likka Tarło.
In 1509 the town was occupied by the armies of the Wojewoda Bohdan from Moldavia and in 1523 it was destroyed by the Tatars. The destruction was so complete that the Sejm decided to exempt the town from paying any type of taxes for eight years.
The town started to improve only during the days of starosta the grand crown hetman Jan Tarnowski. Because of his efforts, many concessions were made for the town's people such as tax exemption in 1549 for fairs held up to 12 miles outside of town.
The town had many craftsmen and merchants who were trading with Hungary. Mainly they brought wine from Hungary that was stored in special warehouses in the center of town and sold salt to the neighboring towns.
During the reign of his son Jan Krzysztof Tarnowski, his administrators oppressed the town's people. But in spite of this situation, the Ruthenian population grew and they had five churches that were under the authority of the Przemyśl Sambor clergy. In 1650 due to the efforts of Krzysztof Koniecpolski and the influence of the municipality, King Jan Kazimierz (John II Casimir) granted privileges and increased religious rights such as the ability to ring the church bells, exemption from military service for the priests and freedom of worship.
The town's people were merchants, craftsmen and producers of beer. Six unions of craftsmen existed in 1635: shoemakers, potters, tailors, furriers, weavers, blacksmiths and metalworkers. In addition there were others that did not have unions of their own such as bakers, barbers and nonprofessional doctors.
The king Stefan Batory (Stephen Báthory) granted some major privileges to the town in 1578 and on July 8th, 1585. These privileges forced the salt merchants from Dolina to stay in town for three days and give their merchandise to the town's merchants. The privileges also lifted the previous mandatory decree to provide horses for the king and his entourage on their way to Hungary. In the 1585 privilege the king allowed building stores in the town center.
Two very big fires occurred in town in 1592 and in 1605 causing major destruction to such an extent that king Zygmunt III exempted the town and its inhabitants from paying taxes, rents and other obligations for four years.
In 1597, the village Aaplaton was purchased by the town, effectively increasing the town's area.
On March 30th, 1618 the major privileges obtained from the Sejm and king's commissars were ratified by king Zygmunt III. There was a long and hard struggle to obtains these privileges, and they were later ratified by the
kings Władysław IV in 1633, Jan II Kazimierz in 1650, Jan Władysław Sobieski in 1861 and Stanisław August Poniatowski on May 22nd, 1766, allowing the town to develop and prosper.
In the year 1630 the town and its suburbs had six large buildings and 362 homes. In the years 1646 1652 during the Cossacks and Tatars wars, 200 of these homes were destroyed. The people suffered greatly from plagues and fires and most of them fled town, leaving more than 100 homes completely vacant and no craftsmen. In 1648 the Belz Wojewoda Andrzej Krakowski defended the town and forced the Cossacks' retreat. In 1657, the leader of the Hungarian revolt, Rákóczi and his staff camped in town. Another fire in 1672 destroyed parts of town and it only recovered during the rule of the starosta Jan Sobieski. During his reign, Serbs who fled from Turkey settled in town, as well as some from Wallachia (a region of historical Romania).
In 1662 the number of inhabitants in the town was 1,477 357 Poles, 1040 Ruthenians and 70 Jews. King Jan III Sobieski was very supportive of the town, visited there several times, and authorized the building of many structures as well as enforcing the town's and castles fortifications.
Unfortunately, the calm did not last long. In 1662, the Turks invaded the town, but were defeated by the Polish armies under the command of the wojewoda Stanisław Jan Jabłonowski. In 1677, the town was again invaded by the Turks. These invasions in addition to flooding of the Stryj river and the fires collapsed the economy.
The municipality was governed by a proconsul and four mayors (Burmistrz) with their assistants who were mostly Ruthenians, because the majority of the inhabitants were of that ethnic origin. Most of the suburbs people were also Ruthenians. The jurisdiction authority was in the hands of the villages' chiefs (wójt) and the municipal court.
Those who lived in suburbs belonging to noblemen were under his jurisdiction and not of the municipality.
Due to the events that took place in town, it owed large amounts of money to the noblemen and therefore had to transfer to them land and buildings. From time to time, the town appealed for relief from taxation.
Until the middle of the seventeenth century, the urban Christians dominated all commerce including money lending. The merchants Maritz Puhacz and his son were known as money lenders to the nobles. In the second half of the seventeenth century, the Jews dominated most of the commerce and manufacturing of liquor.
The main occupations in the suburbs were agriculture and crafts. The census at the end of the eighteenth century showed 225 homes in town and 470 in the suburbs (those were mainly homes covered in thatch roofs). There were 641 Christian families, and the entire area was more rural than urban.
In 1772 the city became a part of the AustroHungary. After the Austrian occupation in 1791, the Starostwo was eliminated and two villages (Dolina and Grabowiec) and many of the surrounding forests were annexed. Later, Stryj became a district town, and in 1786, the town belonged to Michał Wielhorski, who was an educated nobleman and had a very good library in his palace. In 1785, the Austrian authorities confiscated the Franciscan monastery. A long dispute between the town and the authorities regarding jurisdiction rights and the demand for free elections for the mayor took place during the years 1786 1794. In 1788 the town was given the authority for free governance (magistrate) and in 1796 they were allowed free elections for mayor, city council and the establishment of urban governance. The municipal budget was increased from 12,439 to 19,000 florins income and 14,350 expenses. The town owned 12 brandy distilleries and 2 breweries.
In 1783 the first elementary school was established by the Austrian authorities.
The statistics for the population and homes was as follows:
In 1853, the first middle school was established that later was expanded to a high school in 1878 and in 1887 was converted to a classical high school.
The town started to develop commercially after the opening of the railway lines of ChyrówStryj in 1872, LvovStryj in 1873 and Stryj Stanisławów in 1875.
A big fire in 1886 destroyed 970 homes valued at 2,400,000 florins and merchandise valued at 2,000,000 florins.
The town thrived and flourished after the fire. In addition to residences, nice buildings were built for the authorities, public institutions and schools.
A. The Jews in Stryj and their struggle to live within the city boundaries
The first Jews settled in town in the middle of the sixteenth century without official permit. The starosta Jan Tarnowski and in 1559 his son Krzysztof Tarnowski allowed the Jews to settle in town asopposed to the privilege. This gesture was done due to their dislike of the urban inhabitants.
In 1567 the Sejm in Piotrkow and the king decided to return the city privileges and the Jews were banned from settling in town. This decision was based in part due to the proximity of the city to the border and the intent to increase fortifications. In 1569, the Sejm in Lublin sent a delegation to investigate the disputes between the starosta and urbanites. On October 10th, 1570, the starosta received explicit orders not to lease to Jews the rights to sell spirits.
On May 6th, 1576 king Zygmunt II August approved the privilege that prohibited Jews from settling in town, purchase homes and land. In 1576 King Stephen Báthory (1576 1586) with the support from some senators approved for a number of Jews to settle in town. The municipal courts (Sąd grodzki) in Przemyśl and Żydaczów refused to record this this decree and it was finally recorded in the grad books in Lvov. This permit was given based on the fact that the Jews settled in town illegally earlier and lived there without a license for a long time.
The 1576 privilege mandated that the Jews have to obey all rules and obligations like the rest of the population.
The starosta Mikołaj Sieniawski leased the business of brewing (beer) and selling brandy to the Jews in his efforts to increase the income needed to protect the borders, although it was in contrast to the town privileges. The municipality disputed this decision and the king sent commissars to investigate the situation.
At the end of the investigation, the king ordered on June 23rd, 1578 that the privilege had to be upheld, and prohibited the smuggling of Jews into town. Anyone selling land or home to Jews would be punishable by fines up to 100 grzibani.
To compensate for the loss of income from the Jews, the town was ordered to pay the starosta 17 golden per year. His successor, Andrzej from Tańczyn did not pay too much attention to the prohibitions, causing more complaints from the municipality.
In spite of the prohibitions by the various committees, the 1576 privilege was ratified by king Zygmunt III (1586 1632) on April 21st, 1589 with the explicit warning not to harass the Jews.
The urban population in Stryj tried to remove the Jews following the 1576 privilege, stating that in the previous privilege of June 6th, 1567 by king Zygmunt II August (1548 1572) the Jews were not allowed to live in town, but that the privilege was circumvented by the starosta and forced the town to lease to the Jews the business of producing and selling brandy, which added a considerable income to the city. In 1569, the town was forced by the starosta's decree to lease the sales of brandy to the Jew Jacob for three years for one hundred tallers. As a response to this and other complaints, the Sejm sent the Kasztelan (Castellan) Nikodem Łekieński, Mikołaj Małachowski and Stanisław Kroczewski to investigate and settle the dispute.
On October 6th, 1570[4a] the commissars cancelled the contract at the insistence of the urban population, and determined that the starosta cannot force the town to lease its income to Jews.
The urban population started to harass the Jews, but they appealed to the king based on the previous privilege to live in town. On October 26th, 1570, the king decreed a prohibition to
the urban population to act against the privilege allowing the Jews to live in town, due to their long standing dwelling there. The urban population refused to comply and they appealed to the court dealing with towns and privileges. In 1580 the court ruled in their favor and the starosta was prohibited from allowing the Jews to live in town. To compensate, the town had to pay 16 golden for his loss of income.
The Jews did not give up either, and tried to obtain from king Zygmunt III (1587 1632) the 1576 privilege from King Stephen Báthory. For all practical matters, their efforts rendered the ruling invalid.
In 1628 a ruling in favor of the Jews was published by representatives of the Sejm, but the urbanites again claimed that they did not base their decision on the previous privileges of Jagiełło in 1431 and the ruling of 1578 by which the Jews were prohibited from living and conduct businesses in town.
It is interesting to note the strange situation in town whereby some of the urbanites had not only business dealings with the Jews, but even friendly and neighborly relationships whereas some others continued to fight and incite against them.
In 1632 with the agreement of the city council and the craftsmen union (cechy) the town leased to the Jews Michal Moskowitz and Wiarszanowitcz in partnership with Isaac the production and selling of brandy for the sum of 1000 zloty. The selling had to take place in one location only, and they had to serve the council members honestly and at decent prices. Sales were not allowed on Sundays and Christian holidays until after church services.
The conditions for the Jews improved considerably under king Władysław IV (1632 1648). On October 27th, 1634 the king granted a privilege by which the Jews were allowed to buy land inside and outside of town for a synagogue and a cemetery. A strict warning was given to provide the Jews with all the privileges and freedoms as long as they obeyed the commitments to the starosta and follow the rules regarding the land.
During that time the starosta was Krzysztof Koniecpolski who favored the Jews and provided protection against the urbanites, who were able to obtain a privilege from Jan II Kazimierz (John II Casimir) prohibiting Jews from settling in town. Koniecpolski ignored the privilege and continued in his support of the Jews, whom he felt made important contributions to the economy. He approved the moving the synagogue from a leased land to a land of their own. To stop the incitement against the Jews, he warned that any threats against them would be punishable by fines. He furthered his support by allowing, with agreement from the king, additional Jews to join the community, thus increasing significantly the Jewish population in town. The Jews were afraid that this special treatment would cause agitation and pogroms and therefore the starosta published a special order on April 20th, 1638 stating that because of the Jews good behavior, they should be left alone. The Jews on their part tried to keep a low profile and used their privileges carefully and meticulously.
The urbanites still protested against the preferential treatment for the Jews by Koniecpolski. After his death in 1660 the Żydaczów district submitted a claim protesting the fact that the Jews were acting contrary to the king's privilege which prohibits them from living in town, building new homes, and taking over all the commerce and the production of liquor. However, the Jews tried to influence some of the city council, and in 1660 Andrzej Walkowski granted land for a new cemetery that was opened and consecrated on June 4th, 1660.
After they were able to gain support from some in the town council and the starosta, the Jews started brewing beer and grape skin wine and produce and sell liquor although they did not have a license to do so. Some of the urbanites opposed the town council's and starosta policies towards the Jews and
they appealed in 1660 claiming that the competition and the sales of alcohol was affecting their livelihood.
The Jews whose numbers reached 70 in 1662 somehow were able to overcome this obstacle and it had not impact on them.
The starosta Jan Sobieski (and future king Jan III Sobieski) who appreciated the economic value of the Jews showed positive attitudes towards them. In 1663, he approved the privileges that were granted to them by Stefan Batory, that were reaffirmed by Zygmunt III, Władysław IV and Jan II Kazimierz (1648 1672) allowing them to engage in all branches of commerce. In addition he tasked the municipality to include two Jewish representatives in all matters concerning municipal taxation. In response to the Jews' concerns about harassment, he decreed that any threats or actions against them will be punished severely (sub poena arcensi irremissibili Google Translate from Latin: under unforgivable penalty).
In 1664, the urbanites complained again about the Jews' trade in alcohol. This time, they raised a new complaint about the establishing of a new synagogue (Da nova radice [Google Translate from Latin: Give fresh roots]), which they were forbidden from doing. The Jews appeared before the court and showed the privileges, and although they won, the urbanites never stopped the complaints against them.
In spite of Sobieski's good intentions and his wishes to keep the peace, conflicts arose during those years regarding taxation that was imposed by the Sejm. The Jews claimed that because they already paid a poll tax they should be exempt from the taxation imposed by the national Sejm. When the complaint was submitted, Sobieski organized a committee comprised of Stanisław Jastaszewski (secretary of Halicz region), Paweł Giardziński, Samuel Gorski, Alexander Bidlowski and Jan Krogulecki. This committee came with a verdict on March 8th, 1670 stating that based on the 1667 constitution the Jews should be exempted from these taxes. However, they had to pay national taxes on 11 homes that were built in the previous 18 years as well as a chimney tax (podymne) since they were accepted as the town citizens with equal rights and freedoms. They were allowed to sell alcohol, for which they needed to pay taxes (czopwe) to the royals and other taxes as calculated by the municipality. In this judgment it was emphasized that the town accepted the Jews liberalitate et munificnetia [Google Translate from Latin generosity and bounty] and they were given land for a synagogue and cemetery. It was further emphasized on March 8th 1678 that the Jews will pay chimney taxes on homes that were built in the previous 18 years and they should no longer be bothered about taxes.
After Sobieski became king of Poland (1674 1696), the Jews received an important economic privilege on November 24th, 1676. They were allowed to have a market day on Tuesday, and that was in addition to the market day on Saturday in which the Jews were not able to participate.
In 1677 king Sobieski confirmed all the privileges in Stryj and allowed them to benefit from all the privileges that Jews had in royal cities. In addition he allowed them to build a synagogue and establish a cemetery.
In 1662 there was a Jewish street with 10 houses each one of them selling alcohol. There were 115 houses in town in total. Because of economic reasons, the Jews wanted to move the market day from Saturday to Friday in addition to the Tuesday market day. The rationale was that the urbanites and their authorities considered the Jews to have equal rights, burdened with the same taxes. Therefore it was unfair to exclude them from the main market day on Saturday, to enable them to buy grain and wood needed for the breweries.
In a letter written on February 19th, 1696, the municipality supported this request with the rationale of collecting taxes from the Jews.
On April 18th, 1696, the king published a note indicating that the two market days from that point on would be on Tuesdays and Fridays.
A minority of three council members objected the decision and claimed that the mayor Jan Baranowski and the other council members supported the Jews against the law.
In 1695, the Jews again complained to the king that they were forced to frequently appear in the municipal courts
and they were required to pay unnecessary legal expenses that they felt were unjust and obtained by intrigue.
On June 24th, 1995, the king decreed from his summer palace in Wilanów that the Jews were subject to the legal system of the starostwo. If the sides were unhappy with the verdict, they could appeal to the manager of the starostwo.
Sobieski's wife Maria Kazimiera, who managed her own estates and farms, also treated the Jews fairly and acted to protect them. When the village chief, Roman Popial did not let the Jew Haim Zildowicz (who was also a customs accountant) to complete the brewery he was building, the queen published an order in Lvov on March 13th, 1698 stating she wanted to see the town being developed, with many buildings, breweries and vineyards to increase the economic base. Therefore, based on the privileges (by her husband the king) granting equal rights to Jews and Christians, she allowed the Jews to improve buildings, establish wineries, breweries for grape skin wines, without interruption and harassment. Her request was from the starwosto authorities to not oppress the Jews.
During that period, the Jews were treated in a friendly and fair manner not only by the starostwo authorities but also by the Catholic Church.
When the Jews were planning to start the building of the synagogue (a wood structure) they applied, as dictated by law to the Przemyśl cardinal Jan Dambeski for a permit. They received a positive response on December 20th, 1689 with conditions that the building would not be taller or more beautiful than the church and that it will not obstruct Christian homes.[11a]
In 1764 the starostwo determined that new taxes (Szarwarki) should be imposed on both the Jews and the Christians for the purpose of public works to repair mills, fences, sidewalks, roads and to divert the Stryj river.[11b]
In 1766, the last king of Poland Stanisław August Poniatowski approved once again all privileges.
The Economic Life
Since the beginning of their settlement in Stryj the Jews made their living by selling spirits, wholesale and retail merchandising, providing tax and customs services for the starosta and banking. In the early years, the Jews were mainly selling spirits.
Stryj received a privilege to produce brandy, beer and grape skin wine. However, the urbanites were unable to produce quality products. The starosta kept pressuring them to improve the quality without much success. The starosta who recognized the Jewish economic talents, pressured the urbanites to lease the spirits production to the Jews. As a result, many conflicts erupted between the urbanites and the starosta as described in the previous chapter leading to law suits and inquiries by various committees and commissars of the Sejms.
In spite of the severe judgments, the Jews continued in the economic activities. The production and sales of spirits was handled mostly by medium sized retail merchants. Since the beginning of the 17th century, some merchants in Stryj consolidated most of the branches of products of the land salt, wood, oxen, cattle and spirits investing most of their money for safe returns. In addition to trading internally and externally, they also leased salt mines in stara-sol for thousands of zloty and consolidated almost all of the export of salt. Among those who leased the salt mines were the brothers Fishel and Josef members of the holy congregation of Stryj who held salt mines in Lashkavitz. When the lease expired, they were cheated by rabbi Nachman one of the leaders of the Bolechów congregation who made much money.[11c] Another renowned salt merchant was Shmuel Chaimowicz who was able to mine up to 18,000 barrels of salt each year between 1701 and 1704. Prior to leasing the salt mine, he was the go-between in horse trading where he made a lot of money that he invested in the salt mines.
An important branch of commerce for the Jews was customs leasing. In the middle of the 17th century
the Jews were awarded by the authorities the managing of customs revenue. This business as lessees, sub-lessees, managers and collectors brought about nolens volens (Google translate from Latin will hear) - many conflicts between the customs lessees and the merchants. Stryj merchants, non-Jews and even the nobles complained that the Jewish customs lessees demanded payments and gifts in addition to the legal rates. The customs agents prohibited the sales of premium wines and caused a collapse of the merchants' businesses.
In 1677 the urbanites and the nobles complained that the customs lessee Isaac and five others were demanding arbitrary customs rates. Influenced by the complaints, Alexander Koczinski submitted a law suit against Isaac Sakolaski, Josef Moskowitz and Isaac Mojseszowitz stating that they were stealing from the state. The suit stated that in addition to leasing the customs dues collection, they were also leasing public houses, nobles' estates and factories on those estates, and collecting double taxes from other countries. Conflicts erupted where nobles, urbanites and clergy accused the Jews of cheating, incorrect assessments, unjust customs collection and stealing. There were other accusations as well. The customs lessee Yehuda Nathan and his son were beaten to death when they were accused of insulting the Christian faith and the clergy.
In addition to leasing the customs collections, the Jews were also leasing tax collection. Moshek Subkulaktor was known in 1676 as the city tax collector.
In the 17th and 18th centuries Jews were major players in the trade of oxen and cattle. The merchants Josef Moskowitcz, Gershom Szlomowitcz, Theodor Isakowitcz (was killed in 1617 by the Dobrovlany noble Jan Wiszniaweski on the Lvov-Stryj road) bought herds of oxen and fattened them in the pastures in the mountains. The oxen were bought from the nobles for 80 zloty each or sometimes were traded for German cloths and wine. This trading required much capital that individuals were not able to raise. Partnerships were formed normally with nobles who provided the oxen. The oxen were transported to Silesia where the herds were sold for a profit of 837 ducats. Jewish merchants from Stryj were also the wholesalers of cattle and horses from Hungary.
Trade from Stryj to Hungary started in the 18th century. The military supplier Eliezer Ashkenazy from Karaly in Hungary bought horses for the Austrian army in Stryj from Zvi Hersch, Shimon Maztner and others. The beginning of the horse trading from Stryj to Hungary was documented in Ber Bolichower's memoirs: The famous officer Eliezer Ashkenazy from Karaly came to Stryj and stayed at the house of wealthy man rabbi Zvi Hersch the son of the late rabbi Mordechai. His brother in law, the officer Mazatner who saw the beautiful horse that he bought in Dolina, ordered me to buy more good horses. I bought three more horses and made a profit of more than three hundred guldens which was considered a large amount in my youth.
The Jews also controlled the trading in grains mostly for export. One of the largest exporters in Stryj was Abraham Shmuelik. This branch of trading also included the maintenance of mills which were mostly in Jewish hands in the Stryj starostvo.
Many Jews were retailers of clothes and haberdashery. Most of the trading was done with Danzig mainly with the merchant David Karwas. However, most of the Jews in retail were trading wines from Hungary.
The authorities ordered that the import of wine from Hungary had to be brought by the route of Jaszlenska-Dukla, Rymanów, Sącz-Biecz, Żmigród, Nowy Targ-Jordanów, Krosno, Sambor-Lisko-Stryj. Whoever brought the wine using a different route lost half of his merchandise to the treasury and half to the informer.
Because of the relatively good transportation routes from Stryj to Hungary, the trade with this country was very important to the Jewish merchants of Stryj.
During the wars of the years 1648 1680, the tendency for drinking spirits grew in Poland. The nobles and the urbanites saw great opportunity in this tendency to compensate them for the damages caused by the wars. The Jews, too, saw the economical-opportunities in the production and trading in spirits brandy, grape skin wine, beer and wine. They dedicated themselves to this branch of trade and obtained licenses to produce spirits.
Most of the peasants preferred drinking brandy, whereas the nobles and urbanites preferred grape skin wine and beer. However, the priests, especially those in higher level preferred wines from Hungary.
Due to the fact that the main transportation lines passed through Stryj, the Jews of this community understood the importance of this trade. The main merchants and importers of wine from Hungary in Stryj at the beginning of the 18th century were rabbi Zvi Hersch, rabbi Mordechis and Shmuel Chaimowicz who was also the accountant for the starostvo. Because of their connections to the Polish nobles, they had no problems in trading. They bought wine in Miskolcz (Hungary) from the Hungarian wealthy merchants Patay and Karolo Sapasi. Then, they sold the barrels of wine to their partners from Bolechów Ber Bolechówer and his brother, who in turn sold them to the nobles and the clergy in Lvov.
Traders from out of town had large cellars in Stryj, where they stored the barrels and distributed them to Lvov and other cities. One of the largest importers was Shmuel Chaimowitcz who also leased the salt mines.
At the end of the 17th century there was already a small group of wealthy Jews who were able to invest in industry, mills and production of beer, grape skin wine and brandy, credit business, leasing of forests, estates and even iron mines.
In the years 1680 1711, the renowned estate lessees were Shmuel, the son of Chaim Tiwalweitcz, Berko Karkowski who leased all the estates of the starostvo, Chaim Shmuel and Shaul Markowitcz. Their businesses were not without conflicts and complaints. The complaints stated that although they properly managed the farms, they did not take care of the buildings, and the entire management practices were for their own benefit. Because of the frequent complaints and law suits, they were despised by the locals who saw them as taking advantage of those under their supervision. However, the starostvo, continued to support them as these lessees continued to provide a steady income. As opposed to the locals' opinion, the starostvo saw the Jews (the lessees) as important economic contributors who provided them with a source of potential income increase.
In the 18th century during the years of the starosta Stanisław Ciołek Poniatowski and his son Kazimierz, one of the main lessees from Stryj was rabbi Shaul Wahl who actually worked the fields with the Polish peasants. He was an expert in farming as well as raising cattle and horses. He had nice income from all these businesses to provide well for his family of ten sons and one daughter. Poniatowski asked him to recommend an expert to purchase fine wines from Hungary. Shaul Wahl recommended the father of Ber Bolechówer who travelled to Hungary and brought back two hundred barrels of Tokaj wine.
Rabbi Shaul realized that the wine trade was profitable. When Poniatowski decided to manage his own estates and refused to lease them, rabbi Shaul lost his source of income, and was unable to pay his debts.
Ber Bolechówer wrote in his memoirs that his father suggested rabbi Shaul join him in his wine importing business. So he followed Bolechówer to Hungary, bought there fine wine, sold it at a great profit and was able to pay all his debts.
Some of the wealthy Jews engaged in financial businesses as well. In the 17th century, the renowned bankers and lenders were Michal Janelewicz, Moshe Stinawski, and Josef Moszkowicz, who were lending money to merchants, nobles and the clergy.
The most prominent was the doctor Alimelech. He was lending money against securities such as cloth, milk, wine, linens, weapons, instruments, grain, leather etc. It is not known how much if at all he practiced medicine, but he was the wealthiest of all the Stryj Jews.
Another lender against securities was Haim Herszowitz, an owner of a brewery and soap manufacturer.
In the 18th century, there were many renowned Jewish bankers. Among them: Joachim Mendelowitcz, David Kinjochowski, Herscz Wonjarazow, Moshe Wospowitcz, and the merchant Baruch Eljaszwitz. They were lending money to churches, magnets, and nobles. In turn, they, the urbanites and some orders deposited their capital in cash and valuables. Not surprisingly, the town was able to obtain loans only when Jews were guarantors. In 1708, the town received a loan to cover urgent needs for 3,000 zloty from the noble Helena Maleska, guaranteed by Jews. In spite of the guarantee, the loan and the interest were never paid off, and the trial for this case lasted for years.
At the end of the 18th century, just prior to Poland's partition, several bankers were active in town: Herszko Jankilewicz, Feiwel Isaac, Herszko Wolfowicz, Isaac Fiszel, Herszel Leibowicz, and Jacob Moskowicz. They loaned money at interest rates that sometimes reached up to 100%. These bankers were home owners in Stryj and Lvov, and some of them invested money in purchasing and leasing estates. At the beginning of the 18th century, Mark Lejzerowicz bought a dwelling (dworek) from the noble woman Wojhowska and in the middle of the 18th century the lessee David Konjochowski bought and sold estates and large farms. In 1754, he sold his farms that were on the town edges and behind the Stryj river.
In the business of lending and banking, there were many complaints, and law suits that lasted for years. The customers accused the lenders of fraud and deceit. On the backdrop of false accusations, law suits, monetary demands, and requisitioning, conflicts and attacks arose between Jews and their Christian clients nobles and Ruthenian clergy. The Jews showed courage, did not back down even when they were threatened by weapons.
The trade in town was mostly in Jewish hands. A list of the damages from a fire in 1743 shows the extent of the Jewish businesses: Hersch Woroclawski 18,000 zloty, Leib, a silk merchant - 20,000 zloty, Haim 10,000 zloty, and the grocer Heszil 9,000 zloty.
A small number of Jews were craftsmen, mostly dealing with Jewish clients, except for goldsmiths/silversmiths who had also Christian customers. There is no information about unions of Jewish craftsmen in town, or about conflicts between such unions and Christian unions. However, there was always tension between the urbanites and the Jews. The urbanites'complaints centered round the fact that the starosta supported the Jews, thus causing economic hardship to them. As in other towns, the locals saw the Jews as formidable competitors to be attacked at any opportunity.
In addition, with the support of the local clergy, methodical incitement against the Jews continued. In 1722, a priest representing the Przemyśl cardinal who was in charge of the Catholic church in Stryj wrote in his report: civitas Stryj olim per catholicos fere tota per infedeles Iudacos possessa[29a]
(the city of Stryj once occupied by Catholics is now nearly entirely occupied by Jewish Infidels). In 1746, the cardinal Siarkowski visited Stryj for the first time and reported the number of Jews exceeds the number of Catholics and Ruthenians. He also reported that the Jews do not honor the chrisitan holidays, sell spirits during Sunday services and keep Christian servants against the law.
These tensions caused sometimes conflicts or even attacks. One such case was during the Sunday funeral of Hershel Aleksandrowicz, which passed by the Ruthenian church during services. Members of the Christian union who were armed, did not allow the funeral procession to pass thru the gate, threw the deceased body on the ground, and did not let it be picked until the end of the services.
The Kehila (Commuity)
The Stryj Jewish community evolved similarly to the other communities in the Reissin territories. The kehila had mainly administrative, educational and judicial authorities. The kehila was headed by three to five parnasim (wardens) or heads responsible for all matters concerning the community and representing it towards the authorities. After their election, the members of the board had to swear their loyalty to king and country. In Stryj, they had to be approved by the starosta or his deputy.
The parnasim rotated in their function every month and the head was called the parnas of the month. In addition there were good men, a function similar to boni viri in the municipalities, and a congregation committee. The number of members in the congregation committee changed based on needs. The committees were responsible for charity, accounts, the markets, cleaning of the Jewish quarter, security, kashrut supervision, supervision of weights and measurements, education institutions, synagogues and houses of study.
The administrative structure included a rabbi and head of the religious court (beit din) who was the head and the spiritual leader of the community, religious judges and the administrative clerk of the kehila who in most cases was also the lobbyist (syndicus). The kehila was responsible for all the economic, social, religious, and educational matters. It determined the budget and collected all the taxes required for running the kehila, paying the government, the municipality, the schools, the clergy and all other taxes that the Jews were obligated to pay. For the budget, they used direct and indirect income such as maintenance, payments for weddings and funerals, dowries, and from titles bestowed on those deserving.
Stryj was part of the Przemyśl district. The district committee was responsible for electing representatives to the Council of Four Lands (Va'ad Arba' Aratzot), dividing the taxes and resolve conflicts among the different communities.
From the beginning of the 18th century, Stryj was one of the most important communities in the district with the following affiliated communities: Dynów, Lisiatycze, Uhersko, Bratkowska, Rozhorcze, Ruda, Sokołów, and Holobotów.
The influence of Stryj grew due to the economic standing of the community. In time there were conflicts with the various affiliates who felt that the taxation imposed by Stryj was unjust.
The conflict with the Dynów community reached the council of the four lands, protesting the Stryj authority. Other conflicts erupted between Stryj and the communities of Ruda and Sokołów. Physically, they belonged to the treasury of Przemyśl and did not want to participate in the Stryj expenses. The head of the Stryj kehila, Abraham Ben Michael protested to the Reisin district and emphasized that the members of the kehila paid all the taxes, even more than their fair share. However, the branches were supported by their squires.
The Jews of Ruda were protected by the squire Wartzel.
In 1697 there was a libel against the Jews of Stryj. Valuable silver religious items inlaid with diamonds and pearls estimated at 12,000 zloty were stolen from the Three Kings church. The Christians suspected the Jews, the head of the kehila was accused, but refused to confess. The trial lasted several years, and in 1708, the priest Michael Torobitski accused the court of leading the trial in the wrong direction. He claimed that the Jewish silversmith who was suspected of the theft was released and the trial for the rest of the suspects was held in a public place. When the Jews were brought out to be tortured, beer was poured onto the fire that was prepared for this purpose, the hangman was bribed and the Jews were freed.
Among the leaders who shaped the kehila life in the 18th century were Aaron ben Mordechai who had many important roles in the Jewish autonomy institutions, rabbi Zvi Hirsch Mordechis, rabbi Shaul Wahl, and Shmuel Chaimowitcz.
Among the famous rabbis in Stryj during that period of time were:
Aaron Ben Mordechai was one of the community leaders who represented Stryj during that time in the district committee. In 1753 a representative of the Stryj community participated in the committee meeting in Bóbrka. From that time on, Stryj was represented regularly in all district committee meetings.
In 1724, Aaron Ben Mordechai from Stryj participated as an arbitrator from the Lvov district for the Council of Four Lands (Va'ad Arba' Aratzot).
In 1713 1714, the Jews of Stryj paid 2,000 zloty in poll taxes. In 1717, the Jews of Stryj paid 1,010 zloty out of 33,587 zloty in poll taxes that were imposed on Reissin Jews.[34a] In 1727, a tax of 1,950 was imposed by the district committee, but only 1,200 zloty were paid after the owner of the town Sianewska intervened. The treasury agreed to this discount.
During this period of time, the community life was pretty stable. Most of the Jews made their living in retail, peddling, sales of spirits, crafts and only some had businesses such as wholesale, wine trade, grains, and trade in horses and cattle.
A census was held in 1765 and it listed 1727 Jews in Stryj and its kehila branches.
In the final years of the Polish rule, the economic situation deteriorated especially because the decline in wholesale agricultural products trading, which of course impacted the Jewish population.
The kehila needed loans, as they were unable to cover all the expenses. They obtained loans from the nobles, the various orders and churches.
The amounts of the loans are unknown except one for 3,000 zloty that the kehila received as a mortgage from the noblewoman Theophilia Sapiaha.[36a]
Chapter 1: 1772 1867
Galicia was annexed to Austria[36b] and the first partition of Poland occurred in 1772 and had a major impact on the life of the Jews. The empress Maria Theresa published a Jewish Constitution in 1776. Galitzian Jews were organized in a special body with a hierarchical central board (Generaldirektion) comprised of communities with 6 to 12 leaders each. Galicia had six districts with head of district (Besirkshauptmann) in each. All communities in a district were organized under the
leader of the district (Kreislandesältester) supervised by the leaders appointed by the state (Landesälteste). There was also one leader appointed by the state name Fishel.
The six district leaders with the Chief state rabbi assembled the board of Galicia Jews (Galizische GeneralJudenDirektion).
The administrative six districts were disbanded on March 22nd, 1782 and were replaced by eighteen districts. Stryj, which originally belonged to the district of Sambor, became an independent district with a few smaller towns and villages.
In 1875, the organization of the Jewish communities based on the Jewish Constitution from 1776 was cancelled, and there was no new state supervised body. The new constitution left only the community leaders in charge. Except for Lvov and Brody that had 7 community leaders each, the rest of the communities had only 3 leaders. Their functions included the representation of the community before the authorities, taking care of the poor, supervise the registration of births, marriages and deaths, collection of community taxes, collection of Jewish taxes and handling all the community matters. The local leaders were under the supervision of the district.
One of the initial objectives of the Austrian rulers was to eliminate the sales of spirits, a branch of commerce that was seen by the authorities as hampering the development of the peasants. This impacted greatly the Jews, many of whom made their living in spirits sales. In 1772 and 1774 there were fires in town that burnt Christian and Jewish homes. After the 1774 fire, the kehila appealed for help from the communities of Lvov, Brody and Kraków and indeed they received monetary assistance.
The Stryj municipality requested to waive the debt in the amount of 1,094 florins, and the government agreed to this request. The kehila also requested waiving of its debts.
The gubernia who requested the waiver reported the assistance the kehila received from other communities, emphasizing that the money came from donations and not from these communities' funds. The gubernia's opinion was that there is no basis to waive the debt for the Jews impacted by the fire since they received funds from Lvov, Brody and Kraków.
On November 17th, 1776, and inquiry from Vienna came asking if the money from other communities was for homes and taxes payments. After it was clarified that the money did not come from the other communities' funds, the emperor announced that he decided to waive the debt.
The Austrian authorities continued to collect the poll tax based on the Polish lists. The kehila appealed this practice in March 1776 stating that many Jews were expelled during the Polish confederacy and the Russian invasions, and many left town after the fires. In addition they requested to be put on a payment plan for three years.
A struggle between the city and its owner Pontiakowski ensued due to the municipal privilege. The municipality leased the privilege to the city owner and used the proceeds for fortifications, repairs to the city walls and roads and to purchase arms and equipment. Due to the difficult situation caused by the Russian invasions and the fires, the town was heavily in debt. On September 18th, 1782, the city decided to take back the privilege with the hopes to increase income. This decision was opposed by the two city counsellors who claimed that based on the agreement with the Jews of March 12th, 1783 stating that once the privilege was received they would sell spirits together with the Christians. For the trial against the city owner, the Jews agreed to pay 1,000 zloty and also agreed to pay half of the trail expenses in case it will last for a long time. The agreement was signed by the mayors and ten commissioned members and by the heads of the Jewish community. The mayor Andrzej Saszoniawicz and Konstantin Hladisz originally supported the agreement, but later backed out claiming that knowing the Jews' cunning and their intent to cheat the Christians they demanded from Pontiakowski a larger amount for the lease and then joined the appeal against the agreement which was against the city privilege.
The other side claimed that in the presence of 57 council members on March 7th, 1783 it was decided not to lease the spirit sales, so it can be used by the town itself.
It was agreed with the Jews that after the return of the privilege, each spirits' seller whether Jewish or Christian will pay the municipality. The trial with Pontiakowski was held in Lvov and the verdict was not known.
In the meanwhile, the starostvo was returned to the municipality and the leasing of spirits' sales were given to the city.
In 1785 the city announced an open contract. It was decided that only four Jews will participate. In a secret meeting it was further decided that no other Jews will try to win the contract and whoever tried will be excommunicated. Still one Jew, Batisz (?) tried to win against the other four, and he was excommunicated. When the authorities found out, they ordered to punish those that excommunicated.
In the meanwhile, the authorities systematically started to eliminate all Jewish spirits sellers, an action that impacted greatly the economic situation including in Stryj.
In addition to the heavy taxation already in place, new taxes were imposed. Among them was a tax on marriages. Those with income had to pay between 3 and 30 ducats for the marriages of their sons. Those marrying their children without a permit were punished and their property was subject to confiscation, and even those participating in illegal marriages were subject to heavy fines.
In 1785, the communities' autonomies were eliminated and the judgmental and national privileges were cancelled. The rabbinical courts were eliminated and the Jews were under the municipal jurisdiction. The kehila taxes were cancelled and individual taxes were imposed instead.
The emperor Joseph II wanted to solve the Jewish problem in Galicia by turning them into farmers. In 1782, it was decided that Jewish farmers would pay only half of the marriage tax and after a while they will be completely relieved of this tax. However, the emperor ordered to create a Jewish farming village on July 6th, 1785. In the spring of 1786 the first farming village was established in the village Dombrowka near Nowy Sacz. Later, another farm called New Babylon was established near Bolechów. More, smaller farms were established, but they did not last long. The government programs determined that out of the 1410 Jewish families in Galicia, nine families from Stryj had to be assigned to the farms. Until the end of 1794, nine families from Stryj became farmers. They received 4 houses, 4 barns and cow-sheds, 48 parcels of land, 4 agricultural tools, 6 horses, 8 oxen and 4 cows.
At the beginning of the 19th century, one of the families passed away, 5 families left their lands, which were transferred to the landlord.
The plan was to settle 42 families from the Stryj region, but in reality only 40 families did on 334 parcels of land. They received 23 houses, 23 barns and cowsheds, 23 agricultural tools, 30 horses, 46 oxen and 25 cows.
The families that came outside of Stryj were from the following localities:
The authorities in Vienna were very pleased with the results of the program and ordered the gubernia to praise the regional office for the successful completion.[44a]
However, the status in 1804 was as follows:
The budget had to be met by the Jewish communities and the expense was calculated to be 250 florins per a settler family.
In 1822, only 25 settler families remained on the farms. 23 of them were selfsufficient financially and the other 2 were supported by the community.
Like in all of Galicia, the Stryj community was heavily burdened by various taxes. In addition to the tolerance tax, the Jews were forced to pay others. Between the years 1517 1790, Jewish families paid 1,790 florins for the tolerance tax and 424 administration fees. From time to time, the community had to request a postponement of payments
due to inability to pay all the taxes. In 1789, the Jews in the Stryj district still owed 2,002 florins for the tolerance tax and 477 florins for administration fees and that was after they already paid 1,946 florins. In 1790, they paid 1,947 tolerance tax and 486 administration fees and they still owed 6,068 florins for tolerance tax and 1,517 florins administration fees.
The 1795 census showed 225 houses in Stryj and 470 houses in the surrounding areas. There were 641 Christian families and 444 Jewish families in town and 9 in the surrounding areas.
Based on the edict of Emperor Joseph II from March 20th, 1785, the Jews had many obligations. Among them was to establish elementary Jewish schools (Juedische Normalschule). In 1788 such schools were established in Stryj and Dolina.
In 1792, schools were established in Skole, Bolechów, Žurawno, Žydaczów and Kałusz. In Halicz, Wojniłów and Bukaczowce such schools did not exist.
The following were the headmasters of the schools and their salaries:
In 1760, the expenses for the schools in the Stryj district were 1,266 florins. In 1783, a general elementary school was opened by the Austrian authorities in Stryj with 4 classes. The Jewish children were allowed to attend the general elementary school, but none of them did.
On February 17th, 1788 a new and harsh edict was ordered for army draft. The Jews tried to avoid this new decree by all means. After two years the law was cancelled, however a draft tax of 30 zloty was imposed on anyone who was supposed to be drafted, a situation that continued until 1804. That year, the Jews had the same obligation to be drafted as the Christian population and the draft tax was eliminated.
With that, the limitation of drafting the Jewish recruits for transport units was lifted, and thus the mandatory draft in all districts was enacted. There were some exemptions from service: those eligible for citizenship, craftsmen, merchants and concession owners. Upon learning that the emperor and his advisors decided to teach the Jews the army work, the Hebrew poet Zeev Wolf Buchner (he was the secretary of the Brody community) appealed to the head of the Stryj community to go to Vienna and try to convince the emperor and his council to cancel.
The candles tax that was imposed on November 11th, 1797 started a period of oppression of the masses, robbery, seizure, and inhumane cruelty that lasted until the revolution of 1848.
During the period discussed above two legal issues for Stryj Jews arose. In most Galician towns, the Jews had active and passive voting rights for city council, but not in Stryj. Based on the Josephinism laws, Jews were eligible to be elected as heads of their place of residence, thus having a civil rights. The urbanites were of course opposed to this.
In 1790, the Jew Lonberg wanted to build a house in the town center. The municipality objected and they were supported by the authorities. The municipality took advantage of the situation to bringup again the question if Jews should be allowed to lease the municipal privilege. The authorities in Vienna decreed that if the lease is not for spirits sales, then the Jews were allowed to participate.
The authorities really crackeddown on those who leased pubs to Jews.
In November 1793, the Polish landowner Ignatz Von Kowalski was fined 650 florins because he leased to the Jew Moshe Hertzing from Stryj the pub and pasture in the village of Stankow.
The tax burden increased from year to year to the point where in 1810 1812 large debts were accumulated from the meat tax and the candles tax and also from municipal bonds that were imposed on the Jews.
In 1814 there were complaints against the heads of the kehila that they were dishonest in managing the funds. There was a demand to remove them and to conduct new elections.
Instead, the authorities disbanded the council and appointed new heads of the kehila among them Kalman Robinson who was elected chairman. The complaints against him stated that he did not pay the candles tax and therefore was ineligible.
Based on the constitution, the kehila was headed by three parnasim (wardens). Each head of a family who paid tax for 7 candles in the year prior to the elections was eligible to vote. Passive voting rights in Stryj were given to those who could read and write in German and who paid the tax for 10 candles in the year prior to the elections. Those complaining about Robinsons' election stated that he did not pay for the required number of candles, but the authorities overruled and determined that he could pay a global sum after his election.[50a]
The protestant priest from Lvov Samuel Bardecki wrote in his book Travels in Galicia and Hungary of his impression of Stryj in 1809.[50b] He wrote that the approach to town was by a long road with nice homes and gardens. About the Jewish section he wrote that the small wooden houses were built around a square with dirt and filth around the homes.
In 1820 the Jews made their living mainly by trading in grains and other agricultural products, foods, cattle, horses, wines, and production of spirits. Among the craftsmen, the Jews were in tailoring, furs and other clothing, bakers, carpenters, tinsmiths, and fabric printers.
In 1820 in the entire Stryj district there were: 43 cattle traders, 12 lumber traders, 32 brandy traders (out of 63 traders in the entire Galicia), 15 pots traders, 16 shoes and boots traders (out of 23 traders in the entire Galicia).
The Jews who leased the sales of spirits and beer suffered during this period since the authorities cancelled the licenses and were strict about it, although it was admitted that it is difficult to implement as spirits sales is the preferred occupation by Galician Jews.[53a]
In 1826 there were 44 registered companies, 43 out of them Jewish. That indicated that all the wholesale business was in Jewish hands. The community was established. There were houses of study (beit midrash), hospital, large synagogue, bathhouse, and a rest home.
Stryj was the district capital and its rabbi was responsible for the other communities in the district. His salary was 300 florins. In other towns in the district: Skole, Bolechów, Kałusz. Dolina, Bukaczowce, Žurawno, Žydaczów, Wojniłów and Rozdół the rabbis had a title of teacher. Their salaries were not uniform. The Skola rabbi earned 400 florins and received an apartment. The Bolechów rabbi earned 400 florins.
In Wojniłów, the salary was 160 florins and in Bukaczowce 60 florins. In Žydaczów the rabbi was paid 30 kreuzers for each slaughtered animal and in Žurawno 3 florins for each slaughtered bull. In Rożniatów and Kałusz they were supported by the wealthy and engaged in retail. In Dolina, the community paid the rabbi's taxes of 40 florins and in Rozdół the rabbi was a rich man.[54a]
The Stryj rabbi, being a district rabbi received his salary not only from his community, but the other towns in the district had to contribute to his pay. In addition to his salary he was paid for certificates for cantors, for registering births, marriages and deaths 7 and ½, 15 and 30 kreuzers respectively. The rabbi was exempt from paying taxes, but in case his wife or other family members were conducting businesses, the normal taxes had to be paid. By law, the rabbi was not permitted to receive gifts or payments for marriages or divorces.
Rabbi Aryeh Leib HaCohen Heller was the chief rabbi of Stryj In the years 1788 1813. He was born in 1745 in Kałusz and was a student of rabbi Meshullam Igra of Tyśmienica. He was recognized as a prodigy and held in high esteem by his contemporaries. He was the head of the rabbinic court in Rożniatów and then a famous teacher in Lvov.
In 1810 his daughter married Solomon (Shi'r) Rapoport, who was a researcher and an intellectual. Although rabbi Heller knew that his son in law was fluent in foreign languages and knowledgeable in secular studies he held him in high esteem due to his expertise and proficiency in the Torah and Talmudic literature. He saw his involvement in the secular studies as a youth action. In his famous book Ketzot HaChoshen (Ends of the Breastplate) he referred to notes by his son in law. The chief rabbi of Stryj position was offered to him when he was still in Lvov and he was well liked by the members of the community. In 1796 he had a conflict with the authorities due to an unlawful divorce and was imprisoned for 24 hours by an order from Vienna.
In Stryj he published:
His second son, Joseph David Ber was a rabbi in Wodzisław and his third son, Hirsch was a rabbi in Ungvir.
In 1830, rabbi Yaakov from Lissa passed in Stryj on his way to Opiná (in Hungary) to take a position as chief rabbi there. He was delayed in Stryj awaiting travel papers. When it was became known he was in town, the community leaders including rabbi Enzil Cuzmer decided to offer him to become the chief rabbi of Stryj. He accepted the offer and settled in Stryj for a few years where he also served as the district rabbi.
The Gaon Yaakov ben Yaakov Moshe Lorberbaum was born in Zbaraż where his father Yaakov Moshe (the son of rabbi Nathan Ashkenazi and the grandson of Chacham Tzvi) was a rabbi. After his parents passed away, he was taken into the house of his relative rabbi Yosef Teomim (who was the soninlaw of his uncle rabbi Zvi Hirsch Ashkenazi), the rabbi of Bursztyn, and broughtup there. He studied under Rabbi Meshulam Igra from Tyśmienica.
From 1801 to 1809 he was the head of the rabbinical court in Kalisz. In 1809, he agreed to become the rabbi of Lissa where he enlarged his Yeshiva's enrollment. He was well known and respected as an authority in halachic matters and wellliked by the members of his community. Hundreds of scholars came to study there in the years of his leadership. He left the post in Lissa and returned to Kalisz for unknown reasons and in 1830 he settled in Stryj where he passed away on May 25th, 1832.
Rabbi Yaakov was one of the most influential and knowledgeable teachers of his generation. His works include:
In 1821, the authorities decided to tackle the issue of Jewish clothing.
During the reign of Joseph II, the order was issued for Galicia Jews to drop their traditional clothing to be completed by the year 1794. The traditional clothing were allowed only for rabbis.
However, because of stern objections, the order was cancelled on May 28th, 1790.
In the years 1816 1820, the government was working on a new Jewish constitution, and the question arose if the traditional dress should be forbidden by law.
The Galician gubernium which was headed by baron Hauer recommended adding explicit prohibition of the traditional dress, which was also supported by some in the Jewish intellectuals' circles. When the rumor about this intention became known, a strong opposition arose.
The Stryj community was one of the first to appear before the authorities with well stated arguments against the potential new laws:
Other communities as well as furriers, merchants and others also sent letters regarding the impact that changing the dress would have on both the Jewish and nonJewish population. It is interesting to note that merchants from the intellectual circles opposed this change (of clothing) stating that no benefit for the government and the treasury would be gained by these measures, but there would be economical hardships. Only a group of intellectuals from Brody sent a letter stating that a change in clothing would be desirable as it would enhance the Europeisation of Galician Jews.
However, all these fears were not necessary, as the central government in Vienna rejected the gubernium's request regarding the Jewish clothing due to more pressing Galician Jewish issues.
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