Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry

Volume 10: Jews in Early Modern Poland
Edited by Gershon David Hundert

In early modern Poland, Jews numbered 750,000 and comprised half the urban population. Jewish society consequently flourished without being insular, and the core essays in this volume reflect this. They show that this affected Jews' knowledge of languages, marriage patterns, and synagogue architecture, but also increased Christian ritual murder accusations. Jewish polygamy was banned, and kabbalistic influences affected both synagogue structure and women's prayers. Legends about the founder of hasidism are also discussed. A New Views section, book reviews, and a bibliography of Polish-Jewish studies for 1994 complete the volume.

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Jewish society in Poland–Lithuania in the second half of the eighteenth century was by no means insular: Jews numbered about 750,000, and comprised about half the urban population of the country.

The contact between Jews and the wider Polish society found expression in the languages Jews knew, in their marriage patterns, even in their synagogue architecture and decoration, but also in Polish accusations of Jewish ritual murder. All these aspects are here systematically reviewed. Internal factors influencing developments within Jewish society are discussed: treatments of the medieval rabbinic ban on polygamy, as well as various influences of the growing interest in kabbalah—its impact on synagogue structure, on prayer, and on the spiritual world of women. The growth of hasidism is considered through critical analysis of the legends about its founder, Israel Ba’al Shem Tov. This wealth of topics helps to fill the gaps in our understanding of Jewish life in this important period.

The New Views section of the volume incorporates valuable studies on other topics. Articles include a revisionist view of the beginnings of Polish Jewry, based on analysis of medieval manuscripts; a thought-provoking review of the depiction of Polish–Jewish relations in recent Polish cinema; a study of the NKVD’s treatment of Henryk Erlich and Wiktor Alter; and an erudite study of mayufes as a window on Polish–Jewish relations. The Book Reviews section includes a debate between Tomasz Gasowski and Artur Eisenbach on the latter’s book on Jewish emancipation in Poland; review essays of books on Auschwitz and on I. B. Singer; and twenty-seven individual book reviews, followed by a bibliography of Polish–Jewish studies for 1994. The contemporary state of Polish–Jewish relations is covered, along with additional aspects of Jewish life in today’s Poland, in an article by Poland’s Ambassador to the Jewish Diaspora, Krzysztof Sliwinski.



About the editor

Gershon David Hundert is Professor of History and holds the Montreal Jewish Community Chair of Jewish Studies at McGill University.


Paul Coates, Artur Eisenbach, Tomasz Gasowski, Jacob Goldberg, Zenon Guldon, Thomas C. Hubka, Gertrud Pickhan, Moshe Rosman, Chone Shmeruk, Krzysztof Sliwinski, Daniel Stone, Israel M. Ta-Shma, Nechama Tec, Chava Weissler, Elimelech Westreich, Jacek Wijacka

Contributor information

Paul Coates, Reader in Film Studies, University of Aberdeen
Artur Eisenbach, historian of the Jewish experience in Poland
Tomasz Gasowski, Lecturer, Institute of History, Jagiellonian University, Kraków
Jacob Goldberg, Professor Emeritus, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Zenon Guldon, Professor Emeritus, University of Warsaw at Kielce
Thomas C. Hubka, Professor of Architecture, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Gertrud Pickhan, researcher, German Historical Institute in Warsaw
Moshe Rosman, Professor of Jewish History, Bar Ilan University
Chone Shmeruk, Professor Emeritus of Yiddish Literature, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Krzysztof Sliwinski, Polish Ambassador to the Jewish Diaspora
Daniel Stone, Professor of History, University of Winnipeg
Israel M. Ta-Shma, Professor of Talmud, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Nechama Tec, Professor of Sociology, University of Connecticut
Chava Weissler, Professor of Yiddish Civilization, Lehigh University
Elimelech Westreich, Lecturer in Jewish Law and Family Law, Bar Ilan University
Jacek Wijacka, Lecturer in History, School of Higher Education, Kielce

Publication details

Format 23.5 x 15.5 cm / 6" x 9"
Pages 492 pages, 1 map, 21 text figures
ISBN 978-1-874774-31-0
Price £21.95 / $34.95
Date of publication 1997


Towards a Polish-Jewish Dialogue KRZYSZTF SLIWINSKI

Note on Transliteration, Names, and Place-Names


Part I Jews in Early Modern Poland
Jewish Marriage in Eighteenth-Century Poland JACOB GOLDBERG
'For the Human Soul is the Lamp of the Lord': The Tkhine for 'Laying Wicks' by Sarah bas Tovim CHAVA WEISSLER
The Ban on Polygamy in Polish Rabbinic Thought ELIMELECH WESTREICH
The Ashkenazi Elite at the Beginning of the Modern Era: Manuscript versus Printed Book ELCHANAN REINER
The Accusation of Ritual Murder in Poland, 1500-1800 ZENON GULDON and JACEK WIJACZKA
Jewish Art and Architecture in the East European Context: The Gwozdziec- Chodorów Group of Wooden Synagogues THOMAS HUBKA
In Praise of the Ba'al Shem Tov: A User's Guide to the Editions of Shivhei haBesht MOSHE ROSMAN
Knowledge of Foreign Languages among Eighteenth-Century Polish Jews DANIEL STONE
Part II New Views
Walls and Frontiers: Polish Cinema's Portrayal of Polish-Jewish Relations PAUL COATES
'That Incredible History of the Polish Bund Written in a Soviet Prison': The NKVD Files on Henryk Erlich and Wiktor Alter GERTRUD PICKHAN
Mayufes: A Window on Polish-Jewish Relations CHONE SHMERUK
On the History of the Jews in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Poland ISRAEL M. TA-SHMA
Part III Reviews
On Eisenbach on Emancipation TOMASZ GASOWSKI
A Reply to Tomasz Gasowski ARTUR EISENBACH
Two Books on Isaac Bashevis Singer CHONE SHMERUK
On Auschwitz NECHAMA TEC



Notes on Contributors