The Jewish Community. Authority and Social Control in Poznań and Swarzędz, 1650–1793 - Anna Michałowska-Mycielska - ebook

The Jewish Community. Authority and Social Control in Poznań and Swarzędz, 1650–1793 ebook

Anna Michałowska-Mycielska



Książka - napisana przede wszystkim na podstawie źródeł żydowskich, przeważnie w języku hebrajskim - stanowi cenny wkład w badania nad dziejami Żydów w Polsce. Na przykładzie gmin w Poznaniu i Swarzędzu pokazuje mechanizmy funkcjonowania i politykę władz gminy żydowskiej w epoce nowożytnej w okresie między zakończeniem wojen szwedzkich a schyłkiem Rzeczypospolitej. Szczegółowy opis oraz analiza struktury władz gminnych, sposobu ich wyłaniania i funkcjonowania pozwala nie tylko zrozumieć, jak gminy funkcjonowały, ale także jakie przyczyny prowadziły do zmian.


This book fe­atu­res the me­cha­ni­sms un­der­ly­ing the ope­ra­tion of Je­wish com­mu­ni­ties and the po­li­cies pur­su­ed by com­mu­ni­ty au­tho­ri­ties in ear­ly mo­dem ti­mes. The com­mu­ni­ties fe­atu­red are Po­znań and Swa­rzędz. Al­tho­ugh au­tho­ri­ty was ma­in­ly exer­ci­sed in a com­mu­ni­ty by the ka­hal and its of­fi­cials, the rab­bi, bro­ther­ho­ods, and cra­ft­smen’s gu­ilds were also in­vo­lved in the com­mu­ni­ty’s ma­na­ge­ment. The pur­po­se of this work is also to hi­gh­li­ght the mu­tu­al in­ter­de­pen­den­cies be­twe­en all of the­se gro­ups.
It is by no me­ans ac­ci­den­tal that Wiel­ko­pol­ska (Gre­at Po­land) has been cho­sen as an exam­ple. This re­gion, im­por­tant in de­mo­gra­phic and cul­tu­ral terms, was the area of the ear­liest Je­wish set­tle­ment in Po­lish lands. Je­rzy To­pol­ski de­scri­bed Wiel­ko­pol­ska’s uni­que so­cio­eco­no­mic struc­tu­re. Agri­cul­tu­re and in­du­stry sha­ped the area’s eco­no­my (with the gran­ge ca­te­ring to the do­me­stic mar­ket ra­ther than to exports across the Bal­tic Sea, with no­bi­li­ty more in­c­li­ned to in­vest, with hi­gh­ly de­ve­lo­ped she­ep bre­eding and te­xti­le in­du­stry, wo­olen cloth pro­duc­tion in par­ti­cu­lar, and with a high sha­re of urban po­pu­la­tion, a po­si­ti­ve tra­de ba­lan­ce, and a high sha­re of pe­cu­nia­ry rent in pe­asants’ per­for­man­ces to the­ir lords). Wiel­ko­pol­ska was ma­in­ly in­ha­bi­ted by me­dium no­bi­li­ty and the­re were no lar­ge ma­gna­te es­ta­tes, ty­pi­cal of the eastern re­gions of the Po­lish-Li­thu­anian Com­mon­we­alth. Owing to Wiel­ko­pol­ska’s spe­ci­fi­ci­ty, the na­tu­re of Je­wish set­tle­ment in this re­gion was di­stinc­tly dif­fe­rent from that in other re­gions: Jews ma­in­ly set­tled in towns,ta­king up such ty­pi­cal urban oc­cu­pa­tions as tra­de and cra­fts. The book pre­do­mi­nan­tly re­lies on the ar­chi­val so­ur­ces pro­du­ced by two Je­wish com­mu­ni­ties in Wiel­ko­pol­ska – in Po­znań and Swa­rzędz – which are am­ple and very well pre­se­rved com­pa­red to tho­se of other Com­mon­we­alth’s com­mu­ni­ties. It also fe­atu­res bro­ader phe­no­me­na cha­rac­te­ri­stic of the way the Je­wish self-go­vern­ment func­tio­ned at the lo­cal le­vel. It is also worth un­der­sco­ring that the sta­te of es­ta­tes, whe­re in­di­vi­du­al es­ta­tes exer­ci­sed se­pa­ra­te ri­ghts and were dif­fe­ren­tly or­ga­ni­zed, was a very good gro­und for the growth of such self-go­vern­ment.
This se­cond En­glish edi­tion of the book is lar­ge­ly due to the unflag­ging in­te­rest in the hi­sto­ry and cul­tu­re of the Po­lish Jews. That in­te­rest is not a mere fad, but a phe­no­me­non that has be­co­me a per­ma­nent fe­atu­re of hi­sto­ri­cal wri­ting. The­re is also a no­ti­ce­able trend for scho­lars, who are in­cre­asin­gly bet­ter pre­pa­red in terms of re­se­arch to­ols and lan­gu­age, to fo­cus on that area of stu­dy. Which trans­la­tes into a new per­cep­tion of the pla­ce and role of the Jews wi­tho­ut whom the so­cio-eco­no­mic land­sca­pe of the an­cient Com­mon­we­alth wo­uld have been hi­gh­ly in­com­ple­te and spar­se. It is be­co­ming more wi­de­spre­ad in Po­land, too, as evi­den­ced by the emer­gen­ce of va­rio­us mu­seums which fe­atu­re/un­der­sco­re the pre­sen­ce of Jews in lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. As the Mu­seum of the Hi­sto­ry of Po­lish Jews, re­cen­tly ope­ned in War­saw, best de­mon­stra­tes. The Po­znań com­mu­ni­ty is one of the ol­dest Je­wish com­mu­ni­ties in the Po­lish lands. The ol­dest re­fe­ren­ce to Jews li­ving in Po­znań (Po­zna) co­mes from 1379.[1] Le­gend has it that a sy­na­go­gue was bu­ilt in that town in 1367, first re­fer­red to in so­ur­ce ma­te­rials in 1449. The first men­tion of the ce­me­te­ry co­mes from 1438.Ano­ther Po­znań le­gend, which most pro­ba­bly da­tes from the se­cond half of the 15th cen­tu­ry, tells abo­ut the host pro­fa­ned by the Po­znań Jews in 1399.

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Anna Michałowska-Mycielska
The Jewish Community
Authority and Social Controlin Poznań and Swarzędz, 1650–1793
Translated byAlicja Adamowicz
Wydawnictwo AkademickieDIALOG
Language consultation: SEAN MARTIN
Cover design: ANNA PIWOWAR
© Copyright for the English edition by Anna Michatowska-Mycielska & Wydawnictwo Akademickie DIALOG, 2015
First published by Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, Wrocław 2008
ISBN e-pub 978-83-8002-253-9
ISBN mobi 978-83-8002-254-6
Wydawnictwo Akademickie DIALOG 00-112 Warszawa, ul. Bagno 3/218 tel./faks (+48 22) 620 87 03 e-mail: [email protected] WWW:
Konwersja: eLitera s.c.
Table of Contents
Book Info
CHAPTER 1. Outline of the History of Jews in Poznań and Swarzędz
CHAPTER 2. Source Materials Used in the Study of the Wielkopolska Jewish Communities in Early Modern Times
CHAPTER 3. Community Authorities
1. Community Officials and Their Responsibilities
2. Functionaries
3. Governing Assemblies
4. Demonstration of Social Position
CHAPTER 4. Election of Community Authorities
1. Electors and Elections
2. Elected Officials
3. Promotions of Officials (cursus honorum)
CHAPTER 5. A Community Rabbi
CHAPTER 6. Judiciary
CHAPTER 7. Guilds and Brotherhoods and Their Relations with Community Authorities
1. Craftsmen’s Guilds
2. Charity Brotherhood (ḥevrah kadishah)
3. Other Brotherhoods
CHAPTER 8. Community Authorities and the Control of Residents
1. Citizenship and the Right of Residence in a Community
2. Control over Business Activities
3. Sumptuary Laws
4. Methods of Exerting Influence: an Oath and a Curse
5. Conflicts between the Authorities and Community Residents
CHAPTER 9. Community’s Financial Policy
1. Taxes and Their Collection
2. Community Earnings and Expenses
3. Community’s Debts
CHAPTER 10. Relations between Poznań and Swarzędz
CHAPTER 11. Relations with Non-Jewish Authorities
1. Control Exercised by a Voievode and Town Owner
2. Non-Jewish Courts
ANNEX 1. Officials of the Swarzędz Community and Their Tax Payments
ANNEX 2. People Holding the Position of a Parnas in the Swarzędz Community from 1723 to 1793
ANNEX 3. Career Paths of Officials whose Names Appear on Election Lists of the Swarzędz Community for the Longest Period of Time (More than 35 Years)
Manuscript Sources
Printed Sources


This book was written in several stages. Its first version was my doctor thesis written under the guidance of Professor Antoni Mączek, which I defended in 1999 at the Historical Institute of Warsaw University. It became a starting point of the book titled Między demokracją a oligarchią. Władze gmin żydowskich w Poznaniu i Swarzędzu (od połowy XVII do końca XVIII wieku) which was published in 2000. Its English translation titled The Jewish Community. Authority and Social Control in Poznań and Swarzędz, 1650-1793 was published in 2008. It was a modified version of the Polish text, taking into consideration the comments that had been made by its reviewers and a few new archival discoveries. It also tried to take into account the needs of a non-Polish reader, less familiar with the realities of the ancient Commonwealth.

The book predominantly relies on the archival sources produced by two Jewish communities in Wielkopolska – in Poznań and Swarzędz – which are ample and very well preserved compared to those of other Commonwealth’s communities. It also features broader phenomena characteristic of the way the Jewish self-government functioned at the local level. It is also worth underscoring that the state of estates, where individual estates exercised separate rights and were differently organized, was a very good ground for the growth of such self-government.

This second English edition of the book is largely due to the unflagging interest in the history and culture of the Polish Jews. That interest is not a mere fad, but a phenomenon that has become a permanent feature of historical writing. There is also a noticeable trend for scholars, who are increasingly better prepared in terms of research tools and language, to focus on that area of study. Which translates into a new perception of the place and role of the Jews without whom the socio-economic landscape of the ancient Commonwealth would have been highly incomplete and sparse. It is becoming more widespread in Poland, too, as evidenced by the emergence of various museums which feature/underscore the presence of Jews in local communities. As the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, recently opened in Warsaw, best demonstrates.

Anna Michałowska-Mycielska


In this book the simplified transcription of Hebrew and Yiddish words has been adopted. In Yiddish texts – the rules of YIVO have been followed, and in the Hebrew texts – the modified transcription of 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 or pronouns which are written jointly, the only exception was made for the words which already function in the English language and are transcribed otherwise (tefilah). 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 are separated by a hyphen (mi-she-oved).

The only derogations from the adopted rules have been allowed in the terms which operate in the English language and are transcribed otherwise (e.g., bar-mitzva or challah).

Due to the specificity of this work’s subject matter there is a large number of Hebrew and Yiddish terms. This is why they have been printed in antique (if not in italics for editorial reasons), including those that have not been assimilated by English. In the Index at the end of the book (with the names of things, people and geographical places) marked in bold are the pages where explanations are offered of the most important terms related to the discussed subject matter.


This book features the mechanisms underlying the operation of Jewish communities and the policies pursued by community authorities in early modem times. The communities featured are Poznań and Swarzędz. Although authority was mainly exercised in a community by the kahal and its officials, the rabbi, brotherhoods, and craftsmen’s guilds were also involved in the community’s management. The purpose of this work is also to highlight the mutual interdependencies between all of these groups.

It is by no means accidental that Wielkopolska (Great Poland) has been chosen as an example. This region, important in demographic and cultural terms, was the area of the earliest Jewish settlement in Polish lands. Jerzy Topolski described Wielkopolska’s unique socioeconomic structure.[1] Agriculture and industry shaped the area’s economy (with the grange catering to the domestic market rather than to exports across the Baltic Sea, with nobility more inclined to invest, with highly developed sheep breeding and textile industry, woolen cloth production in particular, and with a high share of urban population, a positive trade balance, and a high share of pecuniary rent in peasants’ performances to their lords). Wielkopolska was mainly inhabited by medium nobility and there were no large magnate estates, typical of the eastern regions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Owing to Wielkopolska’s specificity, the nature of Jewish settlement in this region was distinctly different from that in other regions: Jews mainly settled in towns,[2] taking up such typical urban occupations as trade and crafts. Hence jobs which had been stereotypically associated with the commonplace understanding of a Jew’s role, such as an innkeeper or arrendator, accounted for a small percentage of professions taken up by the Wielkopolska Jews.[3]

Last but not least, quite a large number of surviving source materials regarding Jewish communities come from the Poznań and Swarzędz communities. They are mainly handwritten community books, which are called pinkasim, of which only a few have survived until today and which are therefore unique and priceless.

Their relative profusion allows us to observe many aspects of a Jewish community’s internal life. Moreover, the Poznań and Swarzędz communities maintained relations and, using these communities as an example, one may keep track of how the principal community and its branch operated. When Jewish sources are compared with those produced by the municipal, starosta’s, or voievode’s institutions, one may get a broader picture of the environment in which the authorities of a Jewish community operated.

This study covers a period of 150 years, beginning in the mid 17th century until the Partitions of Poland. I am aware that the dividing line set in the middle of the 17th century is controversial. The reason why I opted for it was the chronological scope of the source materials. In my opinion, the mid 17th century does not constitute a qualitative turning point in the operation of Jewish institutions. Some phenomena, such as indebtedness or centralization, had been evolving gradually over the entire period, even though their starting point may be traced back to earlier times. On the other hand, the turn of the 18th century was certainly a turning point, not only due to the fact that Polish Jews began to live in three separate states with different political systems, but also due to new trends that became manifest in Jewish society, namely the Haskalah and Hasidism, both of which had their impact on the following century.

Moreover, I am not inclined to perceive the examined period as an era of crisis, mainly for this reason, e.g., that it is difficult to conceive of a crisis that would persist for 150 years. This is why the approach taken by many studies, one that emphasizes crisis phenomena, oligarchy, and abuses of power by officials, seems to be only partially right. Moreover, most of those phenomena affected the Commonwealth’s entire society, even though they manifested themselves in different ways and their scope differed as well. Many of the practices which seem repellent by today’s standards, such as the buying of positions and titles or the existence of informal patron-client relations, were typical of early modem political life in which a borderline demarcating the private from the “public” was perceived quite differently than it is today. A Jewish community operated within the framework of a more general model of the exercise of power, as evidenced by the fact that it had many similarities with the system that prevailed at the time in towns and among Polish nobility.

I am aware that some issues are discussed briefly, only in so far as the community management is concerned. Hence such important aspects of the community life as charity, schools, or religious life are treated as if they were of secondary importance. Still other problems, such as relations with town authorities and townsmen, or cooperation between the communities and central Jewish self-government (between the provincial council of the Wielkopolska Jews and the Council of Four Lands), were not raised at all. I am aware that many aspects of a Jewish community’s life call for further studies, also based on the source materials coming from other regions of the Commonwealth.

This book is a modified doctoral dissertation and was also published in Polish.[4]I would like to express my gratitude to all those who contributed to its improvement, but first of all to Professors Jakub Goldberg, Adam Teller, and Jerzy Tomaszewski. I particularly value the longstanding tutelage and help offered by Professor Antoni Mączak. It is to his memory that I dedicate this book.



The Poznań community is one of the oldest Jewish communities in the Polish lands. The oldest reference to Jews living in Poznań (Pozna) comes from 1379.[1] Legend has it that a synagogue was built in that town in 1367, first referred to in source materials in 1449. The first mention of the cemetery comes from 1438.[2] Another Poznań legend, which most probably dates from the second half of the 15th century, tells about the host profaned by the Poznań Jews in 1399. It seems that in the middle of the 15th century Poznań was the only place in Poland where a group of Jewish scholars were active. The community flourished in the second half of the 16th century when it consisted of more than 1500 inhabitants. It follows from an inspection carried in 1565 that Jews lived in 50 houses of their own, 43 tenement houses and 4 houses that were owned by the community and connected with two synagogues. In 1578, the Poznań Jews paid 1058 złoty (zł.) in poll taxes and ranked as the second largest group of Jewish taxpayers after the residents of Kazimierz (near Kraków).[3] During this period, Poznań was a Jewish center of Wielkopolska and its rabbis were held in high esteem.

The Jewish quarter was situated in the northern part of Poznań and bordered on the back alley of Żydowska street. On its other sides it was delimited by Wroniecka Street as well as the buildings along Szewska and Przed Dominikanami Streets. Information about the number of houses located inside this area is offered by a text of a contract that the town authorities concluded with the community authorities in 1558. Jews were allowed to own 83 houses (30 more than under the previous contracts), but at the same time they were prohibited to live in galleries and town walls.[4] The Jewish quarter was not a ghetto in the strict sense of the word as it was not surrounded by a wall. Nor was a prohibition observed that Christian houses situated close to the Jewish quarter were not to be rented to Jews. Synagogues were built in the very center of the quarter, and the most important ones were the Old Synagogue (built at the turn of the 15th century and then refurbished several times) and the New Synagogue (built at the end of the 16th century; construction was completed before 1618).[5] The Poznań pinkasim also mention the High Synagogue as one of the three main community synagogues. Apart from these synagogues, the Poznań pinkasim also refer to the Synagogue of Young Men (beit knesetbahurim), the Synagogue of MendelAbmsh, and the Synagogue ofNehemiah. Just behind the Wroniecka Gate there was a Jewish slaughterhouse (the so-called Jewish kutlof) for which the community paid the town authorities an annual rent.

Due to a very dense and wooden development, the Jewish quarter was frequently ravaged by fires (e.g., in 1590 and 1613) which would usually spread all over the town. They resulted in protracted and costly litigation which was initiated by the town authorities that usually demanded on such occasions that Jews should be completely expelled from Poznań.[6]

Due to the overpopulation of the Jewish quarter, the community authorities were looking for ways to address this problem and they asked the town authorities to find a new area for Jewish settlement. They invoked the example of Lwów (Lviv) where two Jewish communities existed, one inside the town limits and the other one on its outskirts. Although the request was unproductive, the case eventually reached the King, and a special royal commission examined the problem. The commission’s report of 1619 lists all the houses in the Jewish quarter and their inhabitants. This source is highly valuable and more reliable than censuses conducted for tax purposes. The report mentions 3130 Jews living in Poznań (including 335 people outside the Jewish quarter) and that one house was inhabited by an average of 21 people.[7] Overcrowding was great and sometimes several dozen people lived in only a few rooms.[8]

In 1621, Zygmunt Grudziński, the owner of the nearby Swarzędz (Grzymałów, Schwersenz, Shverzents), concluded an agreement with the authorities of the Jewish community in Poznan, whereby Jews were allowed to move into his estate.[9] Initially, Swarzędz was a village, and in 1638 it was promoted to a town. Owing to a tolerant attitude of its owner, the town became a refuge for people who, for a variety of reasons, including the religious ones, were not able to enjoy a full range of freedoms in Poznan. When the agreement was concluded with the Poznań community, the number of potential settlers was very high due to its overcrowding. Soon, many Jews moved to Swarzędz which is only 10 km away from Poznań. A dense network of small plots was delineated in the northern area of the town. Grudziński built 32 houses for Jewish settlers at his own cost and allowed Jews to build as many houses as they wanted, promising to provide them with land and timber. He also gave them land and timber to build a synagogue and other community buildings (a poorhouse, houses to accommodate the rabbi, cantor, shames, a school and mikvah).[10] A privilege vested the Swarzędz Jews with full freedom to pursue various occupations in trade and crafts, on a par with Christians, and they were also allowed to elect their own authorities.

A significant amount (8000 guilders) was contributed by the Poznań community for the construction of houses and a synagogue in Swarzędz, on condition, however, that the Swarzędz Jews would repay 2100 guilders a year. As a branch community, Swarzędz depended on the Poznań community from the beginning, which provoked frequent disputes that were then lodged with the Council of Four Lands for settlement.

The middle of the 17th century is a dividing line in the history of the Commonwealth and the Jews living in its territories. Its eastern regions were destroyed by a Cossack uprising and passage of the Russian troops, and central and western regions were affected by the Swedish invasion and operations of the Swedish, Brandenburg, and Polish troops. The developments of 1648 in Ukraine made the Jewish population of the Commonwealth even more sensitive to any threats. In August 1655, about one thousand Jews from Poznań and its vicinity applied to Emperor Ferdinand III for permission to emigrate to Silesia. In the absence of any reply, the Jews crossed the border. Once they found themselves in Silesia, they repeated their plea by describing their tragic plight after the Swedish troops had invaded Wielkopolska. Ferdinand III allowed them to stay in Silesia, demanding at the same time that they settle in several locations.[11] Some of them sought refuge in Western Europe, mainly in the German and Dutch Jewish communities, which were very friendly towards the émigrés from the East.[12]

In the mid 17th century, at the time of the Swedish wars, the Poznań community was decimated by hunger and epidemics, and then, after Jews and protestants had been accused of collaboration with the Swedish, the city fell victim to pogroms staged by townsmen and military units. It was then that the number of Jewish families living in Poznań fell from 2000 to 300.[13] How much the Wielkopolska and Kujawy voievodships were ravaged in those days is best reflected by the results of the inspection carried out in 1659-65.[14] They include data about the number of Jews and rents they paid. The inspectors frequently offered pre-war or previous census data which clearly show the degree of destruction and depopulation.

After the Poznań community had been devastated in the middle of the 17th century, its debts continued to grow. In 1653, the town council closed the community slaughterhouse in order to make the community authorities pay its overdue taxes. In 1655, all the Torah scrolls were deprived of their embellishments, as they were either pawned or hidden to prevent their attachment by creditors. In 1656, King Jan Kazimierz warned Jews that they would be deprived of their synagogue for “manifest friendliness towards the Swedish” and that it would be handed over to the Franciscans whose monastery had been burnt to the ground by the Swedish. But it was no more than a threat.[15] The plague of 1661-62 dealt the final blow, which was particularly severe in Wielkopolska.

The wars waged in the middle of the 17th century raised the hostility felt by the Polish population to Jews, and after the war operations were over, townsmen frequently took steps to have Jews expelled from their towns or moved to other parts of town. They also leveled various accusations against Jews, e.g., charges of ritual murder. Jews sought protection of the authorities, both secular and ecclesiastical. This is why the Council of Four Lands dispatched Yakov, son of Naftali of Gniezno, to Rome. It is unlikely that he was received by the Pope, but he was handed a letter by the head of the Dominican Friars addressed to the Polish provincial asking him to protect Jews from unfair accusations.[16] In 1659, a crowd led by the Jesuit college students raided the Jewish quarter in Poznań, plundering and destroying it. In the aftermath of those events, Jan Kazimierz ordered the offices of starosta (holder of a royal land grant) in Poznań and Kalisz to protect Jews against anti-Jewish attacks and to make every effort in order to provide them with greater protection (1660).[17] Despite that, similar events soon followed suit: in 1662, at the time of the great fire in the Jewish neighborhood, the crowd broke inside the synagogue and plundered it. In 1663, too, in the absence of the militia that had left the town, the Jewish houses and stores in Poznań were robbed and many Jews were wounded. In 1687, anti-Jewish riots broke out instigated by the students of the Jesuit college.[18]

In 1667, the Jewish community negotiated with the voievode the amount that it was to pay for protection guarantees and asked him to intercede with many of its creditors. In the years to come Jews asked the voievode to issue a ban that would prohibit begging by the poor who were not the community residents in the Jewish quarter as it was so impoverished that it had to turn to other communities for assistance. In 1675, the Poznań community asked the German and Czech communities for help, but that plea did not help it raise any major funds that would be sufficient either for charity or to bail out the Torah scrolls pledged as a security for the repayment of debts. The community’s grave economic situation and growing debts were accompanied by a decline in intellectual and cultural life.

The number of the Jewish population and its distribution in Wielkopolska of the second half of the 17th century is provided by the poll tax register of the years 1674-76.[19] Of 52 cities, where the poll tax was paid by Jews, their largest concentration was in Poznań, where in 1676 it was paid by 917 Jews (accounting for 32.3% of all residents). A larger number of Jews lived only in Kazimierz near Kraków (1210 in 1676) and Lwów (918 in 1662).[20] Swarzędz, with its 119 taxpayers who accounted for 19.9% of all residents, was the seventh largest Jewish center in the Poznań voievodship. Such towns as Kalisz, Leszno, Grodzisk, Wronki, Krotoszyn, Piła, Międzyrzecz, Łobżenica, and Skwierzyna also had large Jewish communities.

The main occupation of the Poznań Jews was trade (in wool, linen, silk, furs, and spices), both local and with other lands. Many regulations issued by town authorities tried to limit the activity of Jewish traders, e.g., they were prohibited from door-to-door selling and retail trade was limited only to the days when a market was to be held. Other restrictions were also imposed.[21] In crafts, the most common among the Poznań Jews were tailoring, animal slaughter, shoemaking, and goldsmithery.

The Wielkopolska Jews played a very important role in the trade of the Commonwealth with the West. The main trade centers of the time were Leipzig and Wroclaw, but also Frankfurt an der Oder. Out of 632 Jews who in 1681-99 attended the fairs in Leipzig, 249 came from Poznań, 149 from Leszno, 105 from Kalisz and 50 from other towns of Wielkopolska (such as, e.g., Grodzisk, Jarocin, Kępno, Krotoszyn, Międzyrzecz, Rawicz, Wronki or Wschowa). Generally speaking, the Wielkopolska Jews accounted for 87% of all Jews who went to the Leipzig fair in those days.[22] The Jews of Kalisz, Leszno, Krotoszyn, Poznań and Działoszyn maintained particularly animated trade contacts with Wroclaw. After 1684 the Wielkopolska Jews even had their own synagogue in that town, and after 1694 they had their own fair shames who helped them do their business.[23] The Jewish merchants from Poznań frequented the fair held in Frankfurt an der Oder,[24] but they also went to the fairs held in Gdańsk, Toruń, Gniezno and Lublin.

At the beginning of the 18th century, at the time of the Northern War, the Wielkopolska Jews suffered serious losses. They were due to epidemics, fires, and the contributions of subsequent passing or stationed troops rather than direct war operations. The occupation of Poznań by the Swedish in 1703-9 and a large scale plague which broke out in 1709 resulted in high mortality (estimated at nearly 9000 people[25]). The damage brought by the troops of the Tarnogród confederates, who seized the town in 1716 when the Saxon troops were stationed there, but also the fire which consumed the High Synagogue and beit midrash (1717), added to their plight. Rabbi Yakov, son of Icchak, composed his own penitential prayer (selihah) to commemorate the misfortunes of 1716-17, which was recited in synagogues on the 5th day of Av (on that day Jews were persecuted in 1656 and Poznań was occupied by the confederates in 1716, which event opened a whole string of disasters).[26]

Taking advantage of the destruction of the Jewish quarter, the authorities of Poznań prohibited the rebuilding of more than 86 Jewish houses[27] in 1717; it was also then that an order was issued to fence in the Jewish quarter. Despite those measures, the number of Jewish houses was growing, as evidenced by the inspection carried out in 1728 which recorded 102 buildings that were owned by the Poznań Jews.[28]

In 1736, the Poznań Jews were accused of the ritual murder of a two-year boy, a son of the Poznań townsman Wojciech Jabłonowicz. At the time of the trial, in the aftermath of injuries sustained during tortures, darshan Arye Leib Kalahora[29] and shtadlan Yakov, son of Pinkas, died martyrs’ deaths. The community leaders managed to flee, but in their place a few community members were arrested. Eventually, the case was examined by a tribunal in Warsaw. After the arrested Jews had solemnly vowed their innocence, they were let free in the middle of 1740. At the time of the trial the Poznań community sought the assistance of many communities, even abroad,[30] and it took steps asking the King to intervene. All that contributed to the community’s high expenses and debts.[31]

It was in the same ill-fated year of 1736 that Poznań was grievously afflicted by the flood which destroyed, among other buildings, the synagogue and many houses in the Jewish quarter.[32] The events of the first half of the 18th century, especially war damages, plunder and damage from troops, as well as the consecutive floods and fires, brought about a general decline of the town. Increasingly more Jews began to leave Poznań, heading for Swarzędz and other destinations. From then on Leszno gradually began to play a dominant role among the Wielkopolska communities, as its prosperity and population continued to grow. Eventually Leszno became the site of the “main synagogue of Wielkopolska.” In 1764, fire destroyed 3 synagogues and 76 houses in Poznań, taking many lives.

Under the reforms that were to improve administration and finance of the Treasury of the Commonwealth, in 1764 the convocation parliament repealed the lump-sum poll tax levied on Jews and dissolved the Council of Four Lands, the central Jewish institution responsible for tax apportionment among individual communities and its collection. The poll tax was replaced by a tax which was to be paid based on the census of the Jewish population. The first such census was carried out in 1764 and 1765, at a different time in individual regions. As it turned out later, it was the only census covering the territory of the entire Commonwealth.[33] In each community the census was conducted by a commission consisting of four auditors: three representing the local community (the rabbi, pamas and shames) and one nobleman. The register was to be sworn in in the presence of a commissionaire who was to set a tariff for the entire voievodship, land or district (Polish powiat).

The census covered all people aged more than one, both men and women. It recorded 430,009 Jews living in the Crown (including 32,642 in Wielkopolska) and 157,649 Jews in Lithuania. A total of 1951 Jews were registered in Poznań and 1024 in Swarzędz.[34] As the census was conducted for fiscal purposes, its data were subject to manipulations and this is why they need to be corrected (increased by the number of children aged less than one and unreported individuals). Rafał Mahler claims that infants accounted for 6.35% and unreported people made up 20% of the entire Jewish population.[35] When corrected by those estimates, the Jewish population in Poznań would be equal to 2649 and in Swarzędz to 1390 people, while the population of Jews in the entire Commonwealth should be estimated at 750,000 (of which 550,000 lived in the Crown and 200,000 in Lithuania).[36]

More censuses were conducted after 1765. According to these censuses, the Jewish population in Poznań was as follows: in 1775,1560 people; in 1778,1611; in 1781, 1827; in 1784,1836; in 1787, 1896. Mieczysław Kędelskiis of the opinion that compared to 1764, the censuses of 1775-87 are much less credible. By comparing the number of children recorded in 1778 (based on the name list of Poznań Jews) with the figures from 1764, he concluded that in 1778 the census failed to list 400 children and 80 infants.[37] Granted that the rate of omissions is constant for all censuses (i.e., the same as in 1778), the Jewish population in Poznań would be as follows: in 1775,2140 people; in 1778, 2200; in 1781,2500; in 1784, 2520; and in 1787, 2600.[38]

In the second half of the 18th century the debts of the Poznań community grew enormously. In 1774, after the Poznań kahal had declared its insolvency, the state authorities decided to intervene and address the problem of Jewish debts. A special royal commission was set up to calculate and cut those debts, but it failed to come up with any solutions as to their repayment.[39]

The Good Order Commission (Komisja Dobrego Porządku), which operated in Poznań in 1779-84, tried to normalize the situation of the local Jewish population by verifying earlier legislation and by issuing a number of new regulations. Jews were prohibited from building houses outside the Jewish quarter. Their trade was confined to specific hours of the day and week; the market square and major streets were reserved for Christian merchants; and Jews were prohibited from trading in some goods and they were strictly banned from pursuing door-to-door selling. The influx of Jews to Poznań was put under control: they were required to have the appropriate “decency certificates” issued in their previous place of residence; they were prohibited from engaging in trade in Poznań; beggars were not admitted at all into the town and, instead, they were given alms before the town gates. It was also then that the amount of annual tax payable by Jews and the rent for the Jewish cemetery were set. The foregoing measures were accompanied by nullification of all claims on account of earlier taxes and debts.[40]

It was also then that two censuses were conducted. The one commissioned by the Permanent Council (Rada Nieustająca) and carried out by the Poznań council in 1777 recorded 1572 Jews, but the figure was offered by the authorities of the Jewish community.[41] The other census taken in September 1789 along with the census of the Christian population registered 1771 Jewish residents in Poznań, accounting for 25.97 % of its total population (6820 people) living both in the town and in its suburbs.[42]

At the time of the Four-Year Diet, when the drafts of reforms regarding the Jewish population were developed, the Poznań Jews became involved in the political revival and sent their plenipotentiaries to Warsaw.[43]

At the turn of the 18th century, after the Partitions, Wielkopolska came under Prussian rule.[44] After the First Partition, the Prussian authorities issued a regulation on March 1, 1773, whereby all Jews whose assets were worth less than 1000 thalers were ordered to leave the territory of Prussia by May 1 of the same year. The regulation concerned land owners, because expulsion of so many people would result in the depopulation of towns and a decline in trade. Restrictions were also imposed on Jewish marriages, which now required a permit from the Prussian authorities.

In May 1793, Prussian authorities launched a survey on the status of towns, and 251 towns situated within the territories annexed as a result of the Second Partition were sent questionnaires asking about a town’s location and development, town authorities’ organizational structure, finances, the religious and occupational structure of its population, crafts and trade, educational and health systems. The survey produced a population census[45] according to which Jews lived in 92 towns of the former Poznań and Kalisz voievodships. In Swarzędz 1373 Jews were recorded, accounting for 54.7% of all residents. Poznań was then probably a major Jewish center in Wielkopolska as evidenced by a high number of Jewish craftsmen and vendors, even though the census does not quote the total number of its Jewish residents. Zofia Kulejewska-Topolska offers the following data in her work about the population of Poznań: living within the town walls were 4560 Christians and 2355 Jews, and outside the walls, 5020 people, for a total of 11,935 people.[46] Accordingly, in 1793 Jews accounted for 19.73% of Poznań’s total population.

After the Third Partition (1795), the General Judenreglement (General Jewish Regulation) was adopted (1797), whereby only rich Jews and merchants were allowed to live in towns and poor Jews (the so-called Betteljuden) were forced to leave the country. Those Jews who had not lived in the lands annexed at the time of the First and Second Partitions before the army marched in were ordered to leave Prussia in six months. Jews were prohibited from engaging in crafts controlled by guilds, and they were also prohibited from door-to-door selling and practicing usury. Without a permit issued by the authorities, Jews could not change their domicile or job. The jurisdiction of rabbis was revoked and Hebrew was banned from community and merchant books. Jewish self-government was confined mainly to its religious functions.



This study is based on two types of source materials: “internal” sources that were produced by Jewish institutions and “external” sources that were generated by the Commonwealth’s administration and revenue services, as well as owners of towns.

Handwritten books with entries which were kept by the institutions of Jewish self-government are known as pinkasim (pinkas). Smaller communities kept one type of pinkasim where all important community matters were recorded. Such books included, e.g., election minutes of community authorities (including lists of elected officials), regulations issued by the authorities, entries regarding taxes (squaring the accounts with officials in charge of finances and their inspections, tax apportionment and collection), economic transactions, judicial records (appointment of dayanim, testimonies of witnesses and court verdicts), and many other documents related to a community’s social and religious life.

Larger and richer communities with more complex administrative systems kept several or more than a dozen books, each to record a different type of issues. Thus, separate books were kept to file records of community elections and decisions of community authorities; there were separate accounting books (listing collected taxes and records of the community revenues and expenditures), books registering the community’s debts, books kept by synagogue administrators. Similarly, every major institution, e.g., a brotherhood or a guild, kept its own pinkas.

In his introduction to the Tykocin pinkas, Mordekhai Nadav, its editor, refers to other pinkasim which were kept in Tykocin, whose existence is also mentioned in the kahal’s pinkas. They were the following: a special pinkas (pinkas ha-meyuhad) to record regulations; a small pinkas (pinkas katan) used by the monthly pamas to record all major issues before they were finally entered in the kahal’s pinkas; a pinkas of nominations (pinkas hitmanuyot) to register and comment on the process and results of elections to community authorities, as well as decisions regarding elections; a pinkas of trustees (pinkas ha-ne’emanim) used by the trustees to record taxes, debts, etc., they had collected; the rabbi’s pinkas (pinkas ha-rav) to record cases in which the rabbi acted as the guarantor and the guarantees to which he had agreed; a pinkas of dayanim (pinkas ha-dayanim) to record court proceedings and sentences; a townsmen’s pinkas (pinkas ha-ironim) to enter civil cases between Jews and townsmen. A kahal would use these pinkasim whenever necessary. Sometimes their extracts were copied to the kahal’s pinkas.[1]

Pinkasim were a fair copy of minutes and notes made at the time of the meetings of the community’s authorities, courts, guilds and brotherhoods. Sometimes a space was left for the signatures of witnesses, which, however, were not always affixed.

The books of all Jewish institutions were kept in Hebrew.[2] Some entries included individual Polish words, whenever it was particularly hard for the writer to find a Hebrew equivalent. Those were mainly the Polish names of taxes and state officials, and they were most probably used in everyday language. The simplest solution adopted in such an event was to write the Polish word with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (e.g., voievodi, komisar, vozni, gród, seymik, arenda, akcize, czopovi, targovi, poglovne, podimne or dimovi, poziv, kvit, aprobati, asignacye), but, frequently, these names were transcribed phonetically or in a Yiddish-like form. Attempts were also made to translate them into Hebrew. This approach was taken with regard to monetary units (zahav – złoty, gadol – grosz, zakuk – grzywna, tefil – szeląg) or in the case of such words as: pogłówne (poll tax) – gulgolet; pan (Mr./Lord) – adon; Sejm Rzeczypospolitej (the Commonwealth’s Diet) – vaad; kamień (stone – a weight unit) – even. One may also come across interesting examples of linguistic caiques such as czerwony złoty (dukat, floren) – zahav adorn; podymne (a hearth tax or a poll tax levied on houses) – gułgołet batim; hiberna (or winter bread) – lehem horef

There were also entries made in Yiddish. These individual Yiddish words usually refer to everyday life, goods, occupations, clothes, meals, etc. There are also translations of Polish words into Yiddish, e.g., zeksir – szóstak (a six-grosz coin) or kop gelt-pogłówne (poll tax). Sometimes, entire documents included would be written in the original Yiddish, such as texts of announcements read to the public in synagogues or texts of vows and pledges and witness testimonies before courts.

Entries were usually made in cursive in a neat handwriting. Numerous and sometimes quite discretionary abbreviations, depending on the writer’s preferences, are the source of problems today. They are particularly hard to decipher especially when titles and names are abbreviated. Entries were dated according to the Jewish calendar.

All the community books coming from the territory of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, of which only remnants have survived, are unique and priceless.

Against this background, the source materials coming from the Wielkopolska region are relatively numerous. They were produced by the communities of Poznań, Swarzędz, Kórnik,[3] Wolsztyn,[4] Rawicz,[5] Krotoszyn,[6] Grodzisk,[7] Wieleń nad Notecią (Wieleń on the Noteć River)[8] and Leszno.[9] Their manuscripts are stored in the archives of Jerusalem, New York, and Poznań. Only a fraction of them have been published.

This study focuses on two Jewish communities, Poznań and Swarzędz. The source materials regarding these communities are relatively profuse and diversified. They include documents produced by electors, kahal authorities, synagogue administrators, charity brotherhoods (ḥevrah kadishah) as well as accounting books. They allow us to follow many different aspects of these communities’ lives.

The following source materials of the Poznań and Swarzędz communities have survived until today:


• the kahal’s pinkas (1592-1689) (sefer ha-zikhronot), most of which was published (arranged according to subject matter) by Bernard D. Weinryb,[10]

• electors’ pinkas (1621-1835), published by Dov Avron, fragments from 1621-37 with Polish translation published by Franciszek Kupfer,[11]

• the Old Synagogue’s pinkas (1672-1857), a fragment published by Shmuel K. Mirski,[12]

• synagogue gabaim’s pinkas (1605-1789),

• register of the community’s debts over 1772-93,

• accounts of 1775-93,

• court documents.


• the kahal’s pinkas (1698-1758),[13]

• the kahal’s pinkas (1758-1828),

• the kahal’s pinkas (1734-1830),[14]

• pinkas of charity brotherhood (ḥevrah kadishah) covering 1732-1818,

• pinkas of charity brotherhood (ḥevrah kadishah) covering 1772-1809,

• pinkas of gabaim’s accounts (1749-92),

• pinkasim of bardon from 1775, 1777/78, 1779/80,

• accounts from 1730-1861,

• register of debts to the Church from the period 1793-1804.

The surviving source materials are naturally only a fraction of documents produced by the communities of Poznań and Swarzędz; it was especially the former community that kept numerous and highly specialist books. It follows from those which have survived that there were also other pinkasim: books recording nominees, books kept by dayanim, tax estimators, account supervisors, overseers of regulations and slaughterhouses, pinkasim of guilds or recording collections of individual types of taxes, accounting books, and books with fair expenditures.

Pinkasim were also kept by higher level institutions of Jewish self-government, such as district or provincial (ziemstwo) councils or the councils of the Crown and Lithuanian Jews. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Jewish communities living in the vicinity of Poznań and Kalisz established the Wielkopolska district with its capital in Poznań. Due to their rivalry, the capital community and the other communities split in 1519, and from then on the Poznań rabbi was the only link between Poznań and the district. He continued to act as the district rabbi until the end of the 18th century exercising spiritual and judicial authority. This is why the Poznań rabbi was elected by the delegates of the major Wielkopolska communities.[15] Source materials regarding the operation of the Wielkopolska district’s local council were published by Louis Lewin.[16]

Another “internal” source material available today is the pinkas of the Council of Four Lands or the Crown Vaad (vaad arba aratsot), a central institution of Jewish self-government in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Council of Four Lands was established in the second half of the 16th century after a lump-sum tax had been levied on the Jewish population. In time, its authority, which initially boiled down to tax apportionment and collection, was enlarged to cover all areas of Jewish life. The Council was convened twice a year and recognized by the Commonwealth’s authorities. In 1623, the Lithuanian Vaad separated from the Council. It operated for nearly two hundred years until it was dissolved in 1764 under the administrative and revenue reform program that had been launched by the convocation Parliament.

Both Jewish Councils, the Crown and the Lithuanian one, kept their pinkasim. The pinkas of the Council of Four Lands is lost and only some fragments have survived. The only original fragment of the pinkas includes entries from 1671-72. Luckily, other source materials allowed us to reconstruct the entries made in the original. This monumental job was done by Israel Halperin based on numerous source materials, manuscripts and prints, both Jewish and non-Jewish, regarding the Council’s revenue, judicial and administrative activities. He put the materials he had compiled in chronological order (the first regulation comes from 1581). Halperin’s work, published in Jerusalem in 1945,[17] is of exceptional value, and it is the basic source in studies of the history of Jews living in Eastern Europe in the 16^-18th centuries. The pinkas includes entries regarding the Wielkopolska communities, especially relations between them, e.g., a dispute between the Swarzędz and Poznań communities.

The pinkas ofthe Lithuanian Vaad, comprising its decisions of 1623-1761, is available in its original form and in a few copies. Entries were simultaneously made in three books and each of them was stored by each of the three major Lithuanian communities. Its text was published by Simon Dubnow in 1925.[18]

Apart from the Jewish sources, there are also several types of “external” documents produced by non-Jewish institutions.

The life of Jewish communities established in royal estates was regulated by royal privileges, while in private estates, the life of Jewish communities was governed by the owners’ privileges. The privileges the communities had been granted were stored by them with great care. Some privileges vested in Jewish communities, including those of Poznań and Swarzędz, were published by Jacob Goldberg.[19] But it also happened, usually due to internal community disputes and complaints lodged as a result, that non-Jewish authorities had to intervene and issue regulations regarding the operation of the community institutions. Such edicts were issued for the royal towns by voievodes and for private towns by their owners.

Traces of measures taken by Polish authorities may also, though to a small extent, be found in the Jewish sources. In the second half of the 18th century it became a widespread practice that community authorities were controlled by the area’s owner, usually via a commissionaire he would appoint to that end. This is why in the community pinkasim there are short Polish or German notes under the election protocols confirming that the election was valid and approving newly elected officials. Corroborations of this kind may be sometimes found under more vital resolutions adopted by the community authorities, as well as under financial settlements, records of repaid debts or fees, etc.

Such institutions of the democracy of nobles as the diet (sejm) and dietines (sejmiki) were also interested in Jews. In the period that is the focus of this study, the dietines of the Poznań and Kalisz voievodships were convened in the town of Środa. They did not have a permanent chancellery and whatever was to be published by them was formulated by each consecutive speaker and put down by the scribe. The most important acts published by the dietines were deputies’ instructions and resolutions (the so-called lauda). The acts regarded many walks of life, but taxes, which were to be collected to finance military needs, predominated. From time to time, and to meet the army’s needs, the acts mentioned Jews who, as they claimed, should accept the same regulations as the Christian population rather than be the subject of exemptions they may be entitled to under the resolutions adopted by previous diets or granted by individuals.[20]

Various starosta office chancelleries, and later on, also civil and military commissions, served the chancellery of the lesser diet and continued its work when the dietine was no longer in session. This is why these documents may be found in the books kept by those bodies.[21] Filed also in starosta office books were various indisputably Jewish documents, as many important documents were filed with starosta office chancelleries.[22]

The judiciary produced other source materials. In major royal towns Jews fell under the jurisdiction of the voievode’s courts. In smaller royal towns they were under the jurisdiction of starosta, and in private towns, of their owners. In disputes between Jews, all the foregoing institutions acted as appeals courts, because, as in the first instance, Jews were under the jurisdiction of Jewish courts. Voievode courts were usually presided over by undervoievodes (Polish podwojewodzi) assisted by a judge and a scribe appointed by the voievode. Because the person who administered justice over Jews was the undervoievode, the courts are most frequently referred to in the files, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, as under-voievode’s courts (podwojewodzi courts). Apart from their powers to adjudicate, the voievode and the undervoievode had also an authority to issue regulations regarding Jewish communities (more important ones were issued by the former and less important ones by the latter). The voievode’s chancellery, like the starosta’s, also kept its own records of undisputable Jewish deeds in-between the court’s sessions. Today, we have access to the Poznań voievode’s books dating from the middle of the 17th century,[23] as the earlier ones were most probably destroyed during the Swedish war. The ones that have survived, and which cover 1659-1790, fall into three types: inscriptiones, relationes, and décréta. All of them include entries regarding Jewish population, i.a., appeals from rulings of Jewish courts, and some of them regard disputes between Jews and their authorities.[24]



Individual Jewish communities of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth adopted various systems of power. The most important, and at the same time unique, statute that defined a community’s system was that of the Kraków community adopted in 1595.[1] In 93 points, the statute regulated all aspects of the community’s life, outlining the responsibilities of its officials and their hierarchy, as well as elections. It is this statute that became a model for many communities in Poland and Lithuania. Other community statutes of the 17th century (of the Lwów, Żółkiew, Dubno, and Ostróg communities) were not as comprehensive and specific as the Kraków one.[2]

The Poznań and Swarzędz statutes have not survived, but the existing pinka-sim are a valuable source of information about the way the community authorities were appointed and how they operated. There were many similarities between the systems of power that existed in both communities. This was due to one very simple reason: the Swarzędz community was established by settlers coming from the crammed Jewish quarter of Poznań. Apart from that, the Swarzędz community was a branch of the Poznań community. This is why the organization of the latter became a model and a bench mark for the Swarzędz Jews, the more so that in those days its shape was final.


In this study people working for the community have been divided into two groups. The first one consists of officials elected in annual elections who held their posts gratuitously, for no compensation in return for their work. The second group comprised functionaries whose salaries were paid by the kahal.

Each community was headed by parnasim, less frequently referred to as roshim, and known in Polish as senior, starszy or zawiadowca. Sometimes, the sources refer to them, by analogy to town authorities, as kahal mayors (Polish burmistrz, Latin consul). Jewish communities of the Commonwealth would have from three to five pamasim. The community of Poznań elected five of them, Swarzędz, three, sometimes four. Their names were always put at the head of elected officials’ lists, sometimes their hierarchy was offered in a form of a note attached to their names indicating who was number one, two or three. From time to time one pamas was designated as most important (parnas rishon). In 1772, the Swarzędz pamasim did not want to assume their functions due to the war, but they eventually agreed on the condition that Efraim Lesia would be the first pamas. They argued that he was well known by the nobility and knew how to talk to army commanders.[3]

Pamasim took turns every month, and the one who exercised power at the time was labeled as a monthly pamas (parnas (ha-)hodesh, Latin senior mensis). When he was running the community, the other pamasim were obliged to assist him. A practice was adopted by some Lithuanian communities that each pamas would exercise power for three months.[4]

Pamasim vowed in the presence of the entire kahal that they would mn the community honestly, with its well-being in mind.[5] The Poznań electors imposed an obligation on their pamasim to carry into life all regulations, both new and old, that were recorded in all pinkasim.[6] They also instructed them that a monthly parnas should get acquainted with elector regulations at the time he assumed his monthly duties.[7]

Pamasim represented a community in its external relations and were the only ones responsible for it before the state authorities or the owner. A monthly pamas was obliged to act for the benefit of the community (sometimes side by side with the shtadlan) both within and outside the town’s limits. In 1659, the Poznań electors recorded that such missions should be carried out after the consent had been granted by the entire kahal.[8] But should the pamas suffer any misfortunes on his mission for the benefit of the community, then the entire kahal and the community had to help him and save him from the hands of his persecutor.[9] The monthly parnas was also allowed to appoint another official, to set out with a mission on his own or to accompany a shtadlan, and then such an official would have to obey his every order at any time. The pamas was also allowed to charge this duty to a community resident who was not a member of the authorities that would have to obey him.[10] The monthly pamas was also obliged to help a community resident should he have any problems, such as a pending court case or a need for the intervention of non-Jewish authorities. In such cases, the pamas would accompany the resident or send a shtadlan in his place.[11]

Pamasim made decisions about the most vital community matters. The monthly pamas convened the kahal and other meetings, depending on the need and the subject matter to be discussed.

Many projects required the monthly pamas’s approval which he granted by affixing his signature. He signed a list of guests invited to a feast; without his signature, the shames would not be allowed to invite them.[12] He also issued the final engagement permit prior to which a permission had to be granted by all pamasim or the kahal, and only then the synagogue shames was allowed to announce it to the public or write down the terms of engagement. It follows from an entry in the Swarzędz pinkas that the monthly pamas would also attend the conclusion of an engagement contract, but he would do that only after a bridegroom had paid a tax levied on the dowry.[13]

A permission of the monthly pamas was required in order for the shames to announce anything to the public in the synagogue. It had to be sought when, e.g., any transaction of sale or purchase[14] was to be announced, or when a ḥerem was cast on someone. The monthly pamas also signed (along with the monthly gabai) a letter that was required if one wanted to collect money door-to-door.[15]

The monthly pamas collected and spent the community’s funds. He was to record them all in a special pinkas (but not on loose sheets of paper!) at the very moment when any sums were paid in or out. He signed receipts confirming the community’s expenses. Without them, a trustee would not be allowed to spend any money, even the smallest amount. The tax collector, too, was not allowed to make any payments, e.g., to the kahal’s creditors, without a slip issued by the monthly pamas, which he was supposed to store until Passover, i.e., when the accounts were closed.[16] Sometimes a trustee, another pamas or tovi, or even two pamasim or tovim would be required to affix their signatures on such a slip.[17] On some election lists of Swarzędz it is sometimes noted which pamas had to sign the receipts during his monthly term in office.[18] When the monthly pamas needed money, he had to deliver a bill for a specific amount either to the trustee or the tax collector, and on such occasions he was sometimes reminded that he was prohibited to take any money from individual community residents.

There was a limit to the expenses that the monthly pamas was allowed to incur. In the community of Poznań, electors set a limit on how much money the pamas would be allowed to spend. In 1659, the limit was half a zloty (15 gr.); in 1663, 45 gr. When the pamas wanted to spend a higher amount, he had to seek permission of two or three pamasim.[19] The Poznań electors nominated three men to control taxes and expenses, and no monthly pamas was allowed to spend more than 3 or 4 zloty (zł.) during his monthly term without their permission.[20] In Swarzędz, a pamas was prohibited in 1717 to sign off a receipt for the amounts in excess of 3 zł. without notifying the tmstee, and in 1734, the authorities had to invoke an earlier regulation that the pamas was not allowed to sign a slip of more than 3 zł., unless he did it with two other pamasim.[21]

The monthly pamas was either prohibited from incurring various expenses or a collective decision had first to be made. He was not allowed to present a gift to anyone, unless he informed another pamas or tovi about his intention.[22] There was also a maximum limit of alms which the pamas was allowed to give a beggar of another community. He could support a learned beggar who wanted to preach a sermon to the public, provided all pamasim were informed about it.[23] A decision to invite a cantor from another community to lead the prayers in the synagogue on the Sabbath was not taken by the monthly pamas alone, but by the whole kahal.[24] The monthly pamas was also not allowed to grant any extra sums to a bride if they were to exceed what she had already been paid out of a special dowry fund.[25] He was also prohibited from giving any financial support for circumcision or a wedding to anyone but a kahal functionary.[26]

It follows from the Swarzędz pinkas that sometimes the monthly pamas covered a necessary expense out of his own pocket, and then he would be refunded by the kahal after his term in office was over from the income tax which had been collected in that month. But refunding more than 100 zł. a month was prohibited.[27]

Pamasim were personally liable for the debts contracted by the community and they were authorized to sign bills of exchange. This was probably the main reason why some citizens did not want to accept the position of pamas. The records also identify the kahal, i.e., the pamasim and tovim, as the debtor. In Poznań, the monthly pamas was obligated to report on the community’s debts to the kahal before he would step down from his office. There are also entries reading that a specific pamas paid money to the community’s creditors, either to repay the principal or interest.[28] The Poznań electors instructed that on St. John’s Feast, which was the day on which the interest accmed on debts would usually be paid, all five pamasim should be present in the kahal house to assist the monthly parnas.[29] There is a record dating from 1653 that on that day both pamasim and tovim were to get together in one group and contact nobility for the common benefit. Those who refused would have to pay a very high fine.[30]

Before leaving for a fair, the monthly pamas would have to call all pamasim and tovim who were to check and count how much money they would need at the fair to cover the necessary expenses and to pay interest or, as appropriate, set fair taxes. Their collection was the duty of officials who went to the fair.[31] After the fair was over, pamasim and tovim were to approve the fair revenues and expenses, the accounts were recorded in the pinkas and undersigned by the monthly pamas and one tovi.[32]

The pamas was also responsible for controlling the accounts. Pamasim were obliged, especially the monthly pamas, to check every week and month all the accounts kept by the trustee and to approve them with their own signatures. They also signed the trustee’s pinkas. All receipts delivered by him were to be kept by pamasim until Passover when the annual accounts were squared.