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The Council of Lithuanian Jews 1623-1764 - ebook

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2016
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The Council of Lithuanian Jews 1623-1764 - ebook

The Council of Lithuanian Jews (Lithuanian Vaad) was the central representative organ of the Jews in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It operated for nearly one and a half centuries (1623-1764), touching all spheres of the Jewish community's life. It undertook important initiatives for the benefit of its constituency at diets and dietines (legislative assemblies of the nobility), at the courts of the King and important magnates, and in non-Jewish courts of law. This book discusses the Council's activities in the context of processes and phenomena present in Jewish society of the time, illustrating the life of Lithuanian Jewry as a separate estate guided by a common sense of identity transcending local affiliation.

Kategoria: Scholarly
Język: Angielski
Zabezpieczenie: Watermark
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ISBN: 978-83-8002-536-3
Rozmiar pliku: 2,8 MB

FRAGMENT KSIĄŻKI

Foreword to English Edition

This book is about the council of Lithuanian Jews which operated in the political and fiscal system of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and maintained relations with non-Jewish institutions and environment. The description of historical realities of the Commonwealth presents difficulty, mainly because of the lack of corresponding English terminology or its different meaning. That is why original counterparts have been offered next to the translated names of many bodies and offices or terms referring to the political, legal and fiscal system. When there are no generally adopted and understood terms in English, the original terminology is offered in italics (the same applies to Hebrew and Yiddish terms).

Some notions regarding the history and political system of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which may be hard for an English language reader to comprehend, are explained in short footnotes (whenever they are offered for the first time in the text).

The bibliographic items in the footnotes are provided only in the original language and the titles of the books in Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish are offered in English in the bibliography at the end of the book. The original names of archives and archival units are also offered as originally spelled (with their English translation provided in the bibliography) to allow the reader to find the appropriate source materials.

In this book the simplified transcription of Hebrew and Yiddish words has been adopted. In the Yiddish texts – the rules of YIVO are followed, and in the Hebrew texts – the modified transcription of the Encyclopaedia Judaica. The Hebrew letters alef and ayin have not been marked at all except where they may stand for a long vowel – then two transcribed vowels are separated by an apostrophe. No distinction is made between teth and taf, kaf and kof, samekh and sin. The letter he is represented as h, and ḥet as ḥ, khaf as kh. The letter tsade is represented as ts. When it discharges the function of mater lectionis at the end of the word, the letter he is represented as h. Sheva is featured as short e only if it is preceded by a conjunction of pronouns which are written jointly. The capital letter is used only in the first word of the title of a published work. In order to make them adequately legible, the article, preposition, conjunction and the relative pronoun are written jointly with the word they are followed by and separated by a hyphen. The only derogations from the adopted rules have been allowed in the terms which operate in the English language and are transcribed otherwise.

The Russian and Belarusian words have been transcribed in keeping with the rules adopted by the Encyclopaedia Judaica.

The transcription of Jewish names has not been standardized – the names of people referred to in Jewish texts are offered in accordance with the rules of Hebrew or Yiddish transcription, and the names referred to in old Polish texts have been left as originally spelled (e.g., Abram Mojżeszowicz).

In the text of the book non-Jewish proper names (e.g., of the rulers) or geographical names are spelled as in Polish. They were used in that form in the epoch under study and the use of the same names in their Polish, Lithuanian, Belarusian and Jewish spelling could be confusing. The only exception has been made for the names of locations (e.g., Vilnius, Warsaw, Cracow), regions (e.g., Samogitia, Belarus, Podolia) or rivers (e.g., the Dnieper) commonly used in English.

The map of the Jewish self-governments in Lithuania features their borders after the publication by Dov Levin.^()Chapter 1

Sources and state of research on the Lithuanian Vaad

In spite of the high importance of the Vaads they have not as yet become the subject of detailed study.

In the case of the Council of Four Lands, or the Crown Vaad, that may be due to a poor source base. A pinkas, a hand-written book of minutes, of the Crown Vaad was most probably destroyed as early as the 18^(th) century.^() Between the world wars an enormous effort to collect the dispersed sources was made by a young scholar, Israel Halperin, who compiled various copies and fragments which could be found in both Jewish and non-Jewish sources. Halperin’s book was published in 1945.^() Those materials were later supplemented by Israel Bartal, in a new, extended publication published in 1990.^()

In this context the non-Jewish materials become more significant. Halperin included the documents in Polish in his book, and their summaries were also published by Ignacy Schiper.^() In recent times a collection of non-Jewish sources regarding the Crown Vaad was also published by Jakub Goldberg and Adam Kaźmierczyk.^() The collection comprises both the documents that had already been published (in full or in the form of summaries) and new materials. That publication demonstrates the sources available today to study the Vaads. The publishers divided the collected materials into three parts. The first part consists of the documents produced by the Commonwealth’s authorities, mainly kings and Crown treasurers^(), such as acts of law, privileges or decrees of the Fiscal Tribunal in Radom^(). The second part comprises documents produced by the Council of Four Lands and its representatives, which frequently survived as rough copies of their Polish translations. In the third part are documents which regard the Council of Four Lands indirectly, e.g., the minute books of the Fiscal Tribunal in Radom or correspondence of magnates and dominion functionaries^().

As the publishers observed, a wide scope of the Jewish Vaad’s activities and the interference of non-Jewish authorities in its operation, which became more pronounced after the beginning of the 18^(th) century, resulted in the production of many sources. In order to accommodate the treasurer and his officials, various letters and documents were translated into Polish. Some documents were certified by entering them in court registers, mainly of starosta’s courts. As a result, a portion of the output of the Four Lands Council survived in Polish, sometimes significantly departing from the original text in Hebrew. The contents of the translated texts vary, and contrary to our expectations they do not concern solely fiscal matters but also customs and religious issues.^()

The materials regarding the Crown Vaad, both Jewish and non-Jewish, include those pertaining to the Lithuanian Vaad, but first and foremost, to its relations or conflicts with the Crown Vaad.

All in all, the literature about the Crown Vaad is much more abundant^() than that about the Lithuanian Vaad, although no serious monograph has as yet been written about it.^()

Quite different is the situation in the case of the sources regarding the Lithuanian Vaad. Every principal community maintained a handwritten book with the Vaad’s decisions due to, i.a., an obligation placed on land seniors to execute the decisions. Izaak Lewin refers to three duplicates of the Vaad’s pinkas which had been stored in Grodno, Brześć, and Vilnius since the First World War. He also wrote that there was the fourth manuscript, coming from Słuck, which was in private hands “some place in Belarus” which he was not able to use in his research.^() Majer Bałaban and Mark Vishnitser also offer the same information about the three duplicates of the pinkas.^()

The text of the pinkas was copied several times by publishers and researchers in the second half of the 19^(th) and at the beginning of the 20^(th) century. The copies are frequently accompanied by various lists and indices. The archive of Simon Dubnow, held at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, includes several copies he had made.^() Another copy of 1877 is held in the collection of the New York Jewish Theological Seminary.^() Stored in Kiev are two copies of the Grodno duplicate of the pinkas made in 1874 in Mińsk by Eleazar Halevi Horovits.^() The National Library in Jerusalem holds two copies – the first one was reproduced based on the Vilnius duplicate of the pinkas,^() and the second one was made in 1874 in Mińsk by Eliezer Lipman Rabinovits, based on the Grodno duplicate.^() Shaul Stampfer pointed to a copy of the pinkas held in Moscow,^() but I did not come across any information about it in the guide to the Jewish collections in the Moscow archive.^() Some copies include only short fragments of the pinkas.^()

First to appear in print were only short fragments of the Lithuanian Vaad’s pinkas.

In his monograph on Brześć Litewski Arie Leib Feinstein included 56 excerpts and summaries of the Vaad’s decisions concerning the Brześć community.^() The same author published a sort of index in 1893, a list of the Vaad’s decisions on taxes, charity, study and sumptuary regulations.^()

Avraham Eliyahu (Albert) Harkavi^() published two articles including excerpts from the pinkas. The first one comprises five verdicts issued in a dispute between the Lithuanian and Crown Vaads.^() The second one includes two verdicts passed in the trials between the Lithuanian principal communities and a ruling recognizing the independent status of the Słuck community.^()

It is interesting that according to Izak Lewin in 1886 Harkawi intended to publish the text of the Lithuanian Vaad’s pinkas in the Vilnius newspaper “Ha-Melits”, but this project did not materialize for “quite original” reasons. Lewin writes, “The Jewish notables from Petersburg opposed that idea out of fear that the publication of authentic records of Lithuanian conventions would be perceived by non-Jewish public opinion, and especially the so-called Pahlen Commission^(), as a corroboration of the accusations levelled at that time by renegade Brafman in his Księga kahału^() where he had claimed that the kahal was a revolutionary institution instigating people against the authorities and the rule of Christians. Highly integrated Jewish self-government, as evidenced by the ‘Lithuanian Pinkas’, could make, as they had feared, those claims more plausible.”^()

In 1900 fragments of the Lithuanian Vaad’s pinkas were published in an article by Shaul Pinḥas Rabinovits who, significantly, made use of the Słuck duplicate of the pinkas which he had been provided by Harkavi.^()

Over 1909–1912, Simon Dubnow^() published the entire text of the Lithuanian Vaad’s pinkas based on the Grodno manuscript, marking the differences from the Brześć and Vilnius duplicates. It was published as a supplement to the Yevreyskaya Starina quarterly edited by Dubnow and comprised the Hebrew text with its translation into Russian by I. Tuwim.^() However, the translation is far from perfect: it is inaccurate at times, and many terms that are hard to understand are offered in their original spelling without any explanations. Considerable parts of the text were omitted.

In 1924, Dubnow published a Russian translation of the supplements to the pinkas text.^() They comprise four verdicts issued during the trials between the Lithuanian and the Crown Vaads and five verdicts issued in cases between the Lithuanian principal communities.

In 1925, Dubnow published the Hebrew text of the Lithuanian Vaad’s pinkas in Berlin.^() It consists of 1030 entries made over 1623–1761, divided according to consecutive 34 Vaads. The entries are marked with the original continuous numbers, making it easier for the Vaad’s officials to refer to earlier adopted decisions. The publication is supplemented by two appendices. The first one includes six verdicts passed in disputes between the Crown and Lithuanian Vaads from 1633 to 1681.^() The second one comprises thirteen verdicts passed between 1652 and 1761 in litigation involving the principal Lithuanian communities.^()

Ten years after Dubnow’s publication Israel Halperin published extensive additions and supplements to the Lithuanian Vaad’s pinkas.^() The materials on the Karaites and their relations with the Lithuanian Vaad were published by Itsḥak Luria^(), Jacob Mann^(), and Israel Klausner.^()

Dubnow’s publication, fundamental to the research on the Lithuanian Vaad, was very well received. Izaak Lewin wrote: “The publication is, in general, more than correct, with exquisite print, neat external layout, one can hardly wish more, apart from chaotic use of the brackets, owing to which it is not always clear if, when and why they include the publisher’s comments, or versions of frequently corrected text.”^() Today, given contemporary publishing standards, the deficiencies of that publication are even more apparent. In the published text the publisher did not identify later additions, supplements, or fragments written in a different handwriting, which one can only guess from the entry’s contents. This is why it is so difficult to reproduce the chronology of the Vaad’s meetings. Sometimes there are errors in the text, but it is hard to establish if they were made by the scribe or the publisher.^()

It is important to highlight the linguistic specificity of the Lithuanian Vaad’s pinkas. The original books of the pinkas were its fair copies to which the Hebrew translations of decisions had been added. It is therefore likely that the Vaad deliberated in Yiddish, a language used by the Lithuanian Jews in everyday life and that notes were taken by the scribes in that language. They were the basis of the translations into Hebrew. Hebrew was viewed as an appropriate language in which books and documents should be written at all levels of Jewish autonomy, from communities to central authorities. This must have been due to the perception of the institutions of self-government that Hebrew was an appropriate language for institutions to use to carry out religious laws in daily life.

The Hebrew used in the sources produced by the Jewish self-government of the Commonwealth is referred to as the chancellery Ashkenazi variety. It includes Aramaic expressions borrowed from the Talmud, especially in reference to legal concepts. But Yiddish was used to name many objects of everyday life. Dovid Katz pointed to Yiddish-Hebrew neologisms, e.g., noldes (noyldoys), literally “new-born ones”, used to refer to unexpected expenses.^()

The scribes faced many practical problems when using Hebrew to describe the reality of the ancient Commonwealth. They found it difficult to translate some Polish terms, particularly names of institutions, offices, courts, taxes, and monetary units. They either inserted them as originally pronounced, transliterating into Hebrew such words as podymni (hearth tax), arenda, czopowi (tax levied on alcohol sale and production), grod (the starosta’s office or court), tribunal (the supreme court), sejmik (dietine), asygnacja (payment order), konstytucja (resolution passed by the diet), obligacja (commitment to pay), kwit (receipt), prikomorik (przykomorek, lower tier customs house). Or they translated them into Hebrew, e.g,. gilgolet (poll tax), zahuv (złoty, monetary unit), ḥeder (customs house), adon (master), degel tribunal (tribunal banner, a military unit serving as the tribunal’s guards), sar tsava gadol (grand hetman). Some Yiddish terms which were hard to translate were also inserted as originally pronounced. They usually referred to everyday life, i.a., names of meals, clothing, or fabrics. Sometimes the terms used every day were translated into Yiddish, e.g., zeksir, dziesiątak (a ten grosz coin). Proper nouns or names of persons or places were transliterated into Hebrew or Yiddish, which makes identification difficult.^()

Problems with the understanding of the pinkas text are also due to other reasons. The scribes used various spelling rules or introduced their own abbreviations, recording some issues in a very concise, even enigmatic way, stating at times, that an issue, e.g., a crime, is not fit for recording.

The Lithuanian Vaad’s pinkas is a fundamental source to study the history of the Jews in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It is a motherlode of diverse information, about the functioning of the institution, tax collection, judiciary, contacts with non-Jewish environment, or everyday life and customs. As Lewin wrote in praise of Dubnow and his publication, “It is no overstatement to say that the material compiled in the minutes of the Jewish Vaads in Lithuania is so valuable that no historian would be able to disregard it in the future.”^() Other researchers had a similar opinion about the pinkas, i.a., MarkVishnitzer.^()

The sources of the Jewish communities are of lesser significance to the study of the Lithuanian Vaad. Among the pinkasim of the kahals (community authorities) worth noting are those from Tykocin^() and Zabłudów,^() with the latter being significant mainly due to the fact that the Vaad convened in that community.

Although the Jewish sources are the basis of studies of the Lithuanian Vaad, its activity, due to a variety of contacts with the outside world, was also reflected in many non-Jewish sources, such as the royal decrees (recorded, i.a., in the Lithuanian Metrica^()), regulations issued by state officials, above all treasurers, voievodes^() and hetmans^(), and the regulations of land owners and dominion functionaries. Provisions important to the functioning of the Lithuanian Vaad may also be found in the diet’s constitutions and dietine’s resolutions.

The Lithuanian Vaad is also referred to in the records of the Main Lithuanian Tribunal^(), the Lithuanian Fiscal Tribunal and military-fiscal commissions^(). The Vaad was sued for unpaid taxes and charges, mainly the poll tax, unpaid debts, and also the hiring of Christian servants. Sometimes internal Jewish issues transpire from those records, such as the delineation of areas under the jurisdiction of individual communities or conflicts between them. It is interesting that recorded in those books were also internal Jewish documents, e.g., allocated tax rates, to have them at hand during tax enforcement. Many documents, including those regarding the internal Jewish life, were recorded in the books of starosta’s court.

A sizable number of non-Jewish materials regarding the Lithuanian Jews and the Lithuanian Vaad were published by the Archeographic Commission in Vilnius^() or as part of other document collections.

Certain aspects of the Vaad’s functioning are much more visible in non-Jewish sources. They highlight in greater detail the relations between the Jews as well as their institutions and the royal court, magnates and the Commonwealth’s diet, as well as the reality of the Vaad’s fiscal activity. The same applies to many issues dissembled in the Vaad’s pinkas or recorded very briefly. Examples include various conflicts and accusations the details of which had been omitted so that the pinkas entries would not serve as a reference during any later accusations against the Jews. The same regards steps taken to find patrons, “gifts”, or efforts either to get around or change the regulations of the state or dominion authorities. Only by comparing the Jewish and non-Jewish sources is it possible to obtain a full picture shedding light on the motives behind the regulations and measures adopted by the Vaad.

The main problem faced by a scholar is that the scope of research may go beyond the framework of one work and also the capabilities of one research worker. Therefore some materials had to be studied, of necessity, at random or merely surveyed, in order to examine why they referred to the Lithuanian Vaad. This especially holds true for the books of the fiscal courts. No doubt a wide-ranging search of non-Jewish archives may significantly enrich our perception of the Lithuanian Vaad.

Few works have been written about the Lithuanian Vaad. Short mentions about it may be found in synthetic studies or textbooks authored, i.a., by Majer Bałaban, Salo W. Baron and Bernard D. Weinryb, as well as in general books about the Jews in Lithuania, referred to in the Introduction.

The Lithuanian Vaad is the subject matter of a very general article by Ḥaim Hilel Ben-Sasson,^() as well as the articles by Mark Vishnitzer,^() Abba Gomer,^() and Shmuel Spektor.^()

A few articles discuss selected aspects of the activities of the Lithuanian Vaad or both Vaads. In his article Israel Sosis^() focused on the legislation of the Lithuanian Vaad. Its charity regulations (support of learning, dowries of poor girls, assistance to exiles, ransom of captives, collection of donations for the poor in the Land of Israel) were discussed by Abraham Cronbach.^() The regulations of both Vaads regarding bankruptcies are discussed by Feitl Diksztein.^() Israel Halperin wrote a few articles about both Vaads: the origins of the Lithuanian Vaad and its relations with the Crown Vaad,^() the structures of the Lithuanian, Polish and Moravian Vaads,^() connections between both Vaads and the Land of Israel,^() and the censorship of book publications.^()

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