Jewish Communal Organisation in Sixteenth-Century Polish Towns
Jewish Studies at the Central European University, Vol. 2 (2002)
Throughout the Middle Ages, European Jewish communities were granted the right to organise themselves autonomously. From the beginning of the twelfth century we have evidence that Central European Jewry developed patterns of self-government reaching beyond the sole requirements of religious community life. This development coincided with the emergence of town communities as a new type of politico-legal
corporation within medieval society. Subsequently in East Central Europe, and especially in the royal Polish towns, Jewish communities gained legal and political autonomy to a degree unknown elsewhere. This study aims to describe those Polish communities at the height of their power and importance, which they reached in the second half of the sixteenth century. In so doing it has to take into consideration – like any investigation made in the field of Jewish history – an internal Jewish aspect and an external non-Jewish one. Moreover, the aim of such an approach should always be to come to a kind of synthesis in terms of this twofold perspective, in which the interdependence of internal and external factors is described.