Updated About content Print Article Share Article
views updated


FISHEL (Fischel ), wealthy family prominent in Jewish societyin *Cracow-Kazimierz, Poland, at the close of the 15th and first half of the 16th century; named after ephraim fishel with whom the family arrived in Cracow from Bohemia. He and his four sons had commercial dealings with the Polish nobility. After initial friction with earlier-established Cracow Jews, the Fishel family took a leading place in the community, and two of its members were among the signatories of an agreement between the community leaders and the municipal council in Cracow in 1485. By 1475 Ephraim Fishel senior had died and his extensive business had been taken over by his sons. Of them moses (d. c. 1504), a banker and one of the community leaders, mentioned first in 1477, was principally engaged in the lease of customs duties and other royal revenues. In 1499 he was accused of extortion in collecting the poll tax from the Jews of the region of *Gniezno. In 1503, with his brother Jacob, Moses leased the royal customs revenues in the provinces of Great Poland and Masovia for an annual payment of 2,500 Hungarian florins, 24 kg. of saffron and 120 kg. of black pepper. His wife RACHEL (Raszka Moyżeszowa) engaged independently in moneylending from 1483. She was in contact with the courts of kings Casimir iv, John Albert, and Alexander. As creditor of Polish kings, she received compensation in an interesting way from King Alexander. In 1504 he annulled the crown debts due to her and her late husband and ordered the mint to mint coins from her silver bars; the coins were worth 1600 florins more than the bars, being 1000 as repayment of principal and 600 for interest. Of their daughters, Esther married Jacob *Pollak, Hendel married the kabbalist Asher Lemel, rabbi of Kazimierz, and Sarah married David Zehner of Buda, at the age of 12. Another son of Ephraim, stephan (d. after 1532), a banker, converted to Christianity with his sons Jan and Stanislaw (their adopted Christian names), probably after the expulsion of the Jews from Cracow in 1494. His Jewish wife and their other children did not become baptized. Stephan continued to engage in finance and in 1503 leased the rights of collection of the Jewish poll taxes of Great Poland for a period of four years. In 1507 he and his two sons were adopted by the vice chancellor Jan Laski, into whose family he married, and he was ennobled, taking the name Powidzki. His descendants, still known as Powidzki, owned large landed estates in the 18th century. The relations between Stephan Powidzki and his Jewish kinsmen were strained, and on several occasions resulted in lawsuits. In about 1510, he befriended the notorious apostate Johannes *Pfefferkorn.

Moses' son, ephraim fishel (late 15th and early 16th century), known as Franczek, a banker, tax and customs farmer, and communal leader, also engaged in many financial transactions with the Polish aristocracy. He was the first agent of Elizabeth (wife of Frederiek, prince of Silesia), the sister of King Sigismund i (1506–1548). In about 1512, he was appointed by the king, with *Abraham Judaeus Bohemus, as chief collector (exactor) of Jewish taxes throughout the kingdom, and was directly active in Little Poland and the province of "Russia," an appointment that gave him a central role in Jewish communal life there. His exceptional status was strongly opposed by the leaders of the communities and he had serious difficulties in collecting the taxes. In 1515 his failure to perform these offices became evident and he left Poland for a while. After a number of years, he returned to Cracow, and in 1524, with his wife Chwałka (Falka), he was appointed servus regis to Sigismund i and Queen Bona.

The son of Ephraim (Franczek) and Chwałka, moses died as a martyr in 1542. He was a pupil of Jacob *Pollak and studied medicine at Padua. After his return to Cracow, he practiced medicine as his sole occupation, achieving fame and becoming physician to state dignitaries. In consideration of his competence and achievements, the king exempted him from the payment of Jewish taxes in 1520. That year he signed the ḥerem ("ban") issued by Jacob Pollak against Abraham *Mintz. In 1532, on the death of Asher Lemel, Moses was appointed rabbi of the Polish community of Cracow (to be distinguished from that of the Bohemian Jews). At the end of 1541, in accordance with the Jewish policy of King Sigismund i, Moses was appointed, with *Shalom Shakhna b. Joseph of Lublin, as leader of the Jews (senior generalis) for Little Poland with authority extending over one quarter of the territory. The Jews, however, regarded this as an infringement of their autonomy and opposed the appointment. In 1541 Moses became involved in a false charge and appeared in a harsh trial concerning proselytes to Judaism. He was imprisoned and died soon afterward.


Russko-yevreyskiy arkhiv, 3 (Rus. and Lat., 1903), nos. 26, 27, 44, 63, 64, 72, 81, 82, 83, 104, 108, 135, 147; I. Schipper, Studya nad stosunkami gospodarczymi Żydów w Polsce podczas średniowiecza (1911), index s.v.Fiszel, Mojżesz et al.; M. Bałaban, Historja Żydow Krakowie i na Kazimierzu, 1 (1931), 112–8.

[Arthur Cygielman]