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ARENDA , Polish term designating the lease of fixed assets or of prerogatives, such as land, mills, inns, breweries, distilleries, or of special rights, such as the collection of customs duties and taxes. The term was adopted with the same meaning in Hebrew and Yiddish from the 16th century (with the lessee, in particular the small-scale lessee, being called the arenda). The arenda system was widespread in the economy of *Poland-Lithuania from the late Middle Ages.

i. Great Arenda

This term refers to the lease of public revenues and monopolies. The first leases to be held by Jews were of royal revenues and functions: the mint, salt mines, customs, and tax farming. Large-scale operations of this type were conducted by the Jews *Lewko (14th century) and Volchko (15th century). The number of Jewish lessees of central and regional customs duties and of salt mines increased in the 15th century, especially in the eastern districts. Often the same persons leased both the customs and the mines. In western Poland the nobility, possessing more capital, prevented Jews from leasing royal revenues, this being a highly lucrative activity. As the power of the nobility increased during the 16th and 17th centuries, they tried to obtain a monopoly on leasing the royal prerogatives. In 1538 the Polish Sejm (Diet) prohibited the lease of royal revenues to Jews. From fear of retaliation by the nobility, the Jewish autonomous body, the *Council of Four Lands, in 1580 forbade Jews to lease the great arenda. However, none of these enactments succeeded in eliminating Jewish enterprise completely from this sphere. Even where the nobility monopolized the lease of the royal prerogatives, there remained a broad field for Jewish enterprise and capital in the lease of revenues and functions from towns and private townships. These revenues were taxes on products and services, especially flour milling, potash and pitch, fish ponds, and alcoholic beverages (both production and sale); but sometimes the lease of whole estates was involved. All these types of lease were linked with the agricultural arenda (see below). Until the middle of the 16th century, Jews were among the chief lessees of the customs in the stations in Lithuania and White Russia. Some moved there from Poland for this purpose. In 1569 the Lithuanian Sejm accorded the nobility the monopoly on leases in Lithuania, which also included Belorussia and the Ukraine. The economic consequences of this prohibition would have been disastrous for Lithuanian Jewry, which felt strong enough to defy it openly. The Va'ad Medinat Lita (Lithuanian Council) therefore twice passed a resolution supporting the lease of customs and taxes by Jews, stating: "We have openly seen the great danger deriving from the operation of customs in Gentile hands; for the customs to be in Jewish hands is a pivot on which everything (in commerce) turns, since thereby Jews may exert control" (S. Dubnow, Pinkas… Lita (1925), 29, no. 123). In Lithuania, Jews openly held concessions for the great arenda, with the exception of the mint, until late in the 17th century.

In the 16th and 17th centuries the Jews in Red Russia also occupied a not insignificant place in the lease of customs, salt mines, taxes from drinks, etc. The lessees of these large economic undertakings often contracted them out to sublessees, mainly to Jews, as well. That Jews actually operated customs stations is attested by customs registers of 1580, written in mixed Hebrew and Yiddish, even where and when the prohibition on Jewish customs leasing formally remained in force. Jewish expertise and financial ability in this field were in demand. Jews are later found as silent partners of the nominal Christian lessees, often Armenians.

ii. Agricultural Arenda

This term refers to the lease of landed estates or of specific branches (in agriculture, forestry, and processing), in which Jews gradually became predominant in eastern Poland during the 16th and 17th centuries. There were several reasons for this development. The increasing exports of agricultural products to Western Europe and the development of processing industries (especially of alcoholic beverages) led to the progressive commercialization of the landed estates, but the majority of the nobility had little interest in the actual administration of their vast (and remote) latifundia, as well as insufficient capital and commercial skills. Thus they turned to the capital, enterprise, and expertise of Jewish lessees. These, on the other hand, showed growing interest in this activity as a result of increasing competition and discrimination against Jews in the towns. Many a lease originated in a loan to the estate owner, who mortgaged the general or certain specific revenues from his land as security (Zastaw).

In Lithuania and Red Russia in this period Jews leased from the magnates not only single estates but also whole demesnes (klucze) and towns. In 1598 Israel of Zloczów leased the land owned by the Zloczów gentry, together with all the taxes, the monopoly on the taverns, and the corvée, for 4,500 zloty yearly. Jewish lessees played a central role in the colonization of the *Ukraine. The Jewish lessee frequently became the economic adviser and factotum of the Polish magnate. The Jewish sublessee could also exert considerable economic leverage and social influence from his position in the tavern, but his financial situation was not necessarily good.

Because of the importance of agricultural arenda in Jewish economic life, problems concerning this institution were often the subject of resolutions of the Councils of the Lands. One of the most far-reaching takkanot ("regulations") introduced by the Council was that of ḥazakah to prevent under-cutting among Jews in this field. The regulation interdicted a Jew from attempting by any means to acquire a lease already held by another Jew for three years. Other takkanot dealt with problems of Sabbath observance or halakhic points arising in the course of management of estates with Christian owners. In southeastern Poland, Jewish lessees found themselves between the hammer and the anvil, under pressure from the extortionate nobility for whom they were agents, and hated by the peasantry. The attitude of the Jews themselves toward the peasants was often much more humane than that of the Polish landlords. A council of rabbis and communal leaders of Volhynia, a central district of the agricultural arenda, urged Jewish lessees in 1602 to forgo the work due from peasants on the Sabbath: "If the villagers are obliged to do the work on weekdays [i.e., Monday through Saturday]… let them forgo the Sabbath and [Jewish] holidays altogether. Living in exile and under the Egyptian yoke, our forefathers chose the Sabbath day for resting… Therefore also where Gentiles are under their hand [the Jews] are obliged to keep the Law… Let them not be ungrateful to the Giver of bounty, the very bounty given; let the name of the Lord be glorified through them" (Ben-Sasson, in: Zion, 21 (1956), 205). However, the Jews were frequently maligned. They were accused falsely of interfering in the affairs of Greek Orthodox (Pravoslav) churches in villages leased by them. All the Jews living in the southeastern parts of Poland were attacked and thousands massacred in the Cossack and peasant uprisings in the 17th century (see *Chmielnicki).

The last years of the Polish "republic of the nobility" (1648–c. 1772) were a period of economic and cultural decline accompanied by growing Catholic reaction to the Reformation. The central administrative authority progressively weakened and the nobility felt itself free to act unfettered by law. The conditions, character, and role of Jewish leaseholding changed for the worse in this situation. At that time in certain districts village Jews formed a third of the total Jewish population. The 1764 census shows that around 2% of the Jews in Poland were lessees (generally tavern keepers) in towns; in rural areas, while only a few were large-scale lessees on the magnates' estates, the number of Jewish lessees of taverns and inns had increased. In the district of Lublin at this date, 89% of the village Jews engaged in leaseholding operations were inn or tavern keepers. An insignificant number of larger-scale lessees held more than one inn or tavern. The rest, nearly 11%, leased mills and dairy processes. Petty lessees often combined trade with a craft, such as hatters, tailors, and pitch burners. Solomon *Maimon, in the late 18th century, depicts in his autobiography the poverty of the Jewish innkeeper who plied his trade in a smoky hut with peasants sitting on the floor and drinking vodka, while the Jewish teacher taught the half-naked children of the proprietor. The Polish poet Ignacy Krasicki describes an inn as a barn where the Jewish innkeeper had not even a bundle of straw to serve as a bed for his guests. Arbitrary arrests and humiliation were part of the lot of the Jews in these occupations. In the 18th century the petty squires and the general public demanded the expulsion of the Jews from the villages, especially the lessees of the taverns. During the period of the Partitions of Poland, the limitation which had been imposed on the lease of revenues and real property by Jews remained in force until the formal political emancipation of the Jews in each partition district.

The weight and importance of leaseholding in the occupational structure of Eastern European Jewry decreased in the 19th century with urbanization and industrialization and the process of Jewish migration to the cities and industrial and commercial centers. Formerly, the system of agricultural arenda had brought Jews to the villages and incorporated them in village life. It provided a broad area of settlement and sources of livelihood enabling the growth of the Jewish population in Poland-Lithuania. Even during its decline, and despite the tarnishing of its image from the 18th century, the arenda system for a considerable time played an important role in both Jewish and Polish economic and social life.


Dubnow, Hist Russ, 3 (1920), index, s.v.arendar; idem, Pinkas Va'ad ha-Kehillot be-Medinat Lita (1925); R. Mahler, Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Polin (1946), index; S.B. Weinryb, Neueste Wirtschaftsgeschichte der Juden in Russland und Polen (1934), index; Halpern, Pinkas, s.v. Jurenda; H.H. Ben-Sasson, Hagut ve-Hanhagah (1959); idem, in: Zion, 21 (1956), 183–206; Ettinger, ibid., 20 (1955), 128–52; 21 (1956), 107–42. add. bibliography: H.H. Ben-Sasson (ed.), A History of the Jewish People (1976); 641–44, index; J. Goldberg, "Wladza dominalna Zydow-arendarzy dobr ziemskich nad chlopami w xvii–xviii w," in: Przeglad Historyczny, 1–2 (1990), 189–98.

[Abraham Wein]