Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

Hasidism and Politics

The Kingdom of Poland, 1815–1864
Marcin Wodzinski
Translated from the Polish

This analysis of the political relations between the Kingdom of Poland and the hasidic movement shows that by creating advantageous socio-political conditions the government actually accelerated the growth of the movement, to the extent that unique features of Polish hasidism can be attributed to the impact of government policy. The study also demonstrates the unusually modern character of hasidic political activity, and charts its distinctive path of development in the Kingdom of Poland into ‘anti-modernist modernity’.

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Analysing the political relations between the Kingdom of Poland and the hasidic movement, this book examines plans formulated by the government and by groups close to government circles regarding hasidim, and describes how a hasidic body politic developed in response. Marcin Wodziński demonstrates that the rise of hasidism was an important factor in shaping the Jewish policy of both central and provincial authorities and shows how the creation of socio-political conditions that were advantageous to the hasidic movement accelerated its growth. While concentrating on the dynamic that developed in the Kingdom of Poland, the discussion is informed by a consideration of the relationship between the state and the hasidic movement from its inception in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The novelty of this study lies in the fact that, whereas most analyses of political culture concentrate on states and societies with well-established electoral systems of representation, Wodziński focuses on the under-researched area of political relations between a non-democratic state and a low-status community lacking authorized representation. Applying concepts more often associated with cultural history, his analysis draws a distinction between the terms of reference of high-level political debate and the actual implementation of policy middle- and low-level officials. Similarly, in analysing hasidic responses he differentiates between high-level hasidic representations in the state and the grassroots politics of the community. This combination enables a broad contextualization of the whole subject, integrating the social and cultural history of Polish Jewry with that of Polish society in general.


About the author

Marcin Wodzinski is Professor of Jewish Studies and Director of the Department of Jewish Studies at the University of Wrocław. His special fields of interest are the social history of the Jews in the nineteenth century, the regional history of the Jews in Silesia, and Jewish sepulchral art. He is the author of several books, including Haskalah and Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland: A History of Conflict (2005), also published by the Littman Library, and Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland, 1815–1867: Historical Sources in the Polish State Archives (2011). He is the co-editor of Jews in Silesia (2001); a special triple issue of Jewish History entitled Towards A New History of Hasidism (2013); Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry,volume 27: Jews in Kingdom of Poland, 1815--1914 (forthcoming); and of the Bibliotheca Judaica and Makor/Źródła series. He is vice president of the Polish Association of Jewish Studies and editor in chief of its periodical, Studia Judaica. In 2011 he was awarded the Jan Karski and Pola Nirenska Prize by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.


List of illustrations
Note on Transliteration, Place Names, and Sources
List of Abbreviations


1  To ‘Civilize’ the Jews: Polish Debates on the Reform of the Jewish People, 1789– 1830
The Framework of the Debate • Diagnosis • The Goal • Measures: What are ‘Civil Christians?’ • What does ‘to Civilize’ Mean? • Conclusions
2 Origins: Controversies over Hasidic Shtiblekh
Before the Congress Kingdom • Nameless: The First Ruling on Hasidic Shtiblekh • Investigating the Kitajowcy in Płock • Michels: Shtiblekh, Mikveh, and Burial Societies • Conclusions
3 The Investigation of 1823–4
Hussites: Beginnings of the Investigation • Hasidism is Banned
  • Counteroffensive • Stanisław Staszic against the Tsadikim • Hasidism Delivered: Conclusions
4  Between Words and Actions
State Politics and Local Politicians • Silent Turning Point : Hasidism in the Politics of the Kingdom after 1831 • The Last Investigation • Ignorance, Inertia, Frustration • Who Profited? On the Ostensible Equality of Hasidism • Epilogue: The 1860s • Conclusions
5 The Hasidim Strike Back: Development of Hasidic Political Involvements
Beginnings: Berek Sonnenberg and his Circle • Offensive: Meir Rotenberg of        Opatów • Triumph: Isaac Kalisz of Warka • The Third Phase • Digression:       Corruption • The Local Context: Conclusions
 Communal Dimensions of Hasidic Politics
Who? Agents of Hasidic Communal Politics • Whom? Protagonists • Why? Goals • How? Means • Local or Universal? • Conclusions
7   Haskalah and Government Policy towards Hasidism
The Role of Hasidism in the Political Activity of the Polish Maskilim • Myth and   Reality in the Role of the Maskilim • How did Maskilic and Hasidic Shtadlanim Differ? • Conclusions





'Marcin Wodziński, in another masterful book on Hasidism, turns his expert attention to analyzing the political history of the Kingdom of Poland and its relationship to the Hasidic movement . . . best suited to the scholar or serious student.'
David Tesler, AJL Reviews

‘The study of Hasidism . . . has been transformed recently by a new generation of researchers who have mined Polish archives for documentation on the movement. Professor Wodziński is one of the most notable of this group and this monograph is a path-breaking contribution to the understanding of how Hasidism operated in Poland in the first half of the nineteenth century and how it spread . . . crucial to any collection that deals with Hasidism and east European Jewish life but it is no less important for the study of religion and politics in general.'
Shaul Stampfer, Religious Studies Review

‘A worthy successor to the author's path-breaking Haskalah and Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland . . . one of the leading scholars in the field, and he brings to his subject a wide familiarity with Polish and Jewish sources in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, and other languages and, most notably, the fruits of his thorough combing of national, regional, and local Polish archives . . . He has thus been able to free the historical narrative from the long-regnant approaches of Simon Dubnow and Raphael Mahler, looking afresh at the complex and developing relationships between Polish authorities and Polish Jewry in general, and the rapidly expanding Hasidic movement in particular . . . a notable addition to the growing number of studies focusing on the long-neglected topic of Hasidism in the nineteenth century . . . a carefully nuanced and contextualized portrait of a complex topic that in earlier historiography suffered from stereotyping and oversimplification . . . an excellent book that should interest students of Polish and Jewish history alike.’
Gershon Bacon, Slavic Review