The Jews owning houses in the Christian quarter shall be compelled to sell them within the shortest term possible.
Further injunctions prescribe that the Jews shall lock themselves up in their houses while church processions are marching through the streets; that in each city they shall possess no more than one synagogue; that, "in order to be marked off from the Christians," they shall wear a peculiarly shaped hat, with a horn-like shield (cornutum pileum), and that any Jew showing himself on the street without this headgear shall be subject to punishment, in accordance with the custom of the country.
The Christians are forbidden, under penalty of excommunication, to invite Jews to a meal, or to eat and drink with them, or dance and make merry with them at weddings and other celebrations. The Christians are barred from buying meat and other eatables from Jews, since the sellers might treacherously put poison in them.
These prohibitions are followed by the ancient canonical enactments forbidding the Jews to keep Christian servants, nursery-maids, and wet-nurses, and barring them from collecting customs duties and exercising any other public function. A Jew living unlawfully with a Christian woman is liable to imprisonment and fine, while the woman is subject to a public whipping and to banishment from the town for all time.
The Church Council which held its sessions in Buda (Ofen), in Hungary, in 1279, was attended by the highest ecclesiastic dignitaries of Poland. This Council ratified the clause concerning the "Jewish sign," supplementing it by the following details: The Jews of both sexes shall be obliged to wear a ring of red cloth sewed on to their upper garment, on the left side of the chest. The Jew appearing on the street without this sign shall be accounted a vagrant, and no Christian shall have the right to do business with him. A similar sign, only of saffron color, is prescribed for "Saracens and Ishmaelites," i. e. for Mohammedans. The law barring Jews from the collection of customs and the discharge of other public functions is extended by the Synod of Buda to the "sectarians," to the Christians of the Greek Orthodox persuasion.
In this manner the condition of the Jews of Poland in the thirteenth century was determined by two factors operating in different directions: the temporal powers, actuated by economic considerations, accorded the Jews the elementary rights of citizenship, while the ecclesiastic powers, prompted by religious intolerance, endeavored to exclude the Jews from civil life. As long as patriarchal conditions of life prevailed, and Catholicism in Poland had not yet assumed complete control over the country, the policy of the Church was powerless to inflict serious damage upon the Jews. They lived in safety, under the protection of the Polish princes, and, except for the German immigrants, managed to get along peaceably with the Christian population. But the clerical party was looking out for the future, taking assiduous care that "the new plantation on the soil of Christianity" should develop along the lines of the older plantations, and was scattering the seeds of religious hatred in the patient expectation of a plentiful harvest.
3. Rise of Polish Jewry under Casimir the Great
The Jewish emigration from Western Europe assumed especially large proportions in the first part of the fourteenth century. The butcheries perpetrated by the hordes of Rindfleisch and Armleder, and the massacres accompanying the Black Death, forced a large number of German Jews to seek shelter in Poland, which was then undergoing the process of unification and rejuvenation. In 1319, King Vladislav28 Lokietek29 laid the foundation for the political unity of Poland by abolishing the former feudal divisions, and his famous son Casimir the Great (1333-1370) was indefatigable in his endeavors to raise the level of civil and economic life in his united realm. Casimir the Great founded new cities and fortified old ones, promoted commerce and industry, and protected, with equal solicitude, the interests of all classes, not excluding those of the peasants. He was styled the "peasant king," and the popular commendation of his efforts in the upbuilding of the cities was crystallized in the saying that Casimir the Great "found a Poland of wood and left behind him a Poland of stone."
A ruler of this type could not but welcome the useful industrial activity of the Jews with the liveliest satisfaction. He was anxious to bring them in close contact with the Christian population on the common ground of peaceful labor and mutual helpfulness. He was equally quick to appreciate the advantages which the none too flourishing royal exchequer might derive from the experience of Jewish capitalists. Such must have been the motives which actuated Casimir when, in the second year of his reign (1344), he ratified, in Cracow, the charter which Boleslav of Kalish had granted to the Jews of Great Poland, and which he now extended in its operation to all the provinces of the kingdom.
On later occasions (1346-1370) Casimir amplified the charter of Boleslav by adding new enactments. In view of the hostility of the municipalities and the clergy towards the Jews, the King found it necessary to insist in particular on placing Jewish legal cases under his own jurisdiction, and taking them out of the hands of the municipal and ecclesiastic authorities. The Jews were granted the following privileges: the right of free transit through the whole country, of residing in the cities, towns, and villages, of renting and mortgaging the estates of the nobility, and lending money at a fixed rate of interest, the last pursuit being closed to Christians by virtue of canonical restrictions, and therefore left entirely in the hands of the Jews. The Polish lawgiver was equally solicitous about enforcing respect for the Jew as a human being and drawing him nearer to the Christian in private life, in violent contradiction with the tendency of the Church to isolate the infidels from the "flock of the faithful." "If the Jew," runs one of the clauses of Casimir's charter, "enters the house of a Christian, no one has a right to cause him any injury or unpleasantness. Every Jew is allowed to visit the municipal baths in safety, in the same way as the Christians,30 and pay the same fee as the Christians."
Casimir was equally interested in ordering the inner life of the Jews. The "Jewish judge," a Christian official appointed by the king to try Jewish cases, was enjoined to dispense justice in the synagogue or some other place, in accordance with the wishes of the representatives of the Jewish community. The rôle of process-server was assigned to the "schoolman," i. e. the synagogue beadle. This was the germ of the future system of Kahal autonomy.
It seems that in the fateful year of the Black Death (1348-1349) the Polish Jews too were in great danger. On the wings of the plague, which penetrated from Germany to Poland, came the hideous rumor charging the Jews with having poisoned the wells. If we are to trust the testimony of an Italian chronicler, Matteo Villani, some ten thousand Jews in the Polish cities bordering on Germany met their fate in 1348 at the hands of Christian mobs, even the King being powerless to shield the unfortunates against the fury of the people. A vague account in an old Polish chronicle relates that in the year 1349 the Jews were exterminated "in nearly the whole of Poland." It is possible that attacks on the Jews took place in the border towns, but, judging by the fact that the Jewish chroniclers, in describing the ravages of the Black Death, make no mention of Poland, these attacks cannot have been extensive. Be this as it may, there can be no doubt that, threatened with massacres in Germany, large numbers of Jews fled to the neighboring towns of Poland, and subsequently settled there.
It may be mentioned in this connection that from about the same time dates the origin of the Jewish community of Lvov (Lemberg),31 the capital of Red Russia, or Galicia, which had been added to his dominions by Casimir the Great.32 In 1356 Casimir, in granting the Magdeburg Law to the city of Lemberg, bestowed upon the local Jews the right "of being judged according to their own laws," i. e. autonomy in their communal affairs, a privilege accorded at the same time to the Ruthenians, Armenians, and Tatars.
Casimir the Great's attitude towards the Jews was thus a part of his general policy with reference to foreign settlers, whom he believed to be useful for the development of the country. This, however, did not prevent certain evil-minded persons, both then and in later ages, from seeing in these acts of rational statesmanship the manifestation of the King's personal predilections and attachments. Rumor had it that Casimir was favorably disposed towards the Jews because of his infatuation with the beautiful Jewess Estherka. This Jewish belle, the daughter of a tailor, is supposed to have captured the heart of the King so completely that in 1356 he abandoned a former favorite for her sake. Estherka lived in the royal palace of Lobzovo, near Cracow. She bore the King two daughters, who were brought up by their mother in the Jewish religion, and two sons, who were educated as Christians, and who subsequently became the progenitors of several noble families. Estherka was killed during the persecution to which the Jews were subjected by Casimir's successor, Louis of Hungary. The whole romantic episode presents a mixture of fact and fiction in which it is difficult to make out the truth.
Similarly blurred reports have come down to us concerning the persecutions by the new ruler, Louis of Hungary (1370-1382). During the reign of this King, when, as the Polish historians put it, justice had vanished, the law kept silent, and the people complained bitterly about the despotism of the judges and officials, an attempt was made to rob the Jews of the protection of the law. Nursed as he was in the Catholic traditions of Western Europe, Louis persecuted the Jews from religious motives, threatening with expulsion those among them who had refused to embrace the Christian faith. Fortunately for the Jews his reign in Poland was too ephemeral and unpopular to undo the work of his famous predecessor, the last king of the Piast dynasty. Only at a later date, during the protracted reign of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Yaghello, who acquired the Polish crown by marrying, in 1386, Louis' daughter Yadviga, did the Church obtain power over the affairs of the state, gradually undermining the civil status of the Jews of Poland.
4. Polish Jewry During the Reign of Yaghello
With the outgoing fourteenth century, Poland was drawn more and more into the whirlpool of European politics. Catholicism served as the connecting link between this Slav country and Western Europe. Hence the influence of the West manifested itself primarily in the enhancement of ecclesiastic authority, which, being cosmopolitan in character, endeavored to obliterate all national and cultural distinctions. The Polish king Vladislav Yaghello (1386-1434), having been converted from paganism to Catholicism, and having forced his Lithuanian subjects to follow his example, adhered to the new faith with the ardor of a convert, and frequently yielded to the influence of the clergy. It was during his reign that the Jews of Poland suffered their first religious persecution in that country.
The Jews of Posen were charged with having bribed a poor Christian woman into stealing from the local Dominican church three hosts, which supposedly were stabbed and thrown into a pit. From the pierced hosts, so the superstitious rumor had it, blood spurted forth, in confirmation of the Eucharist dogma. Nor was this the only miracle which popular imagination ascribed to the three bits of holy bread. The Archbishop of Posen, having learned of the alleged blasphemy, instituted proceedings against the Jews. The Rabbi of Posen, thirteen elders of the Jewish community, and the woman charged with the theft of the holy wafers, became the victims of popular superstition; after prolonged tortures they were all tied to pillars, and roasted alive on a slow fire (1399). Moreover, the Jews of Posen were punished by the imposition of an "eternal" fine, which they had to pay annually in favor of the Dominican church. This fine was rigorously exacted down to the eighteenth century, as long as the legend of the three hosts lingered in the memory of pious Catholics.
As in the West, religious motives in such cases merely served as a disguise to cover up motives of an economic nature – envy on the part of the Christian city-dwellers of the prosperity of the Jews, who had managed to obtain a foothold in certain branches of commerce, and eagerness to dispose in one way or another of inconvenient rivals. Similar motives, coupled with religious intolerance, were responsible for the anti-Jewish riots in Cracow in 1407. In that ancient capital of Poland the Jews had increased in numbers in the beginning of the fourteenth century, and, by their commercial enterprise, had attained to prosperity. The Cracow burghers were jealous of them, and the clergy found it improper that the doomed sons of the Synagogue should live so tranquilly under the shelter of the benevolent Church.