Great Poland

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GREAT POLAND (Pol. Wielkopolska; Heb. פּוֹלִין גָּדוֹל), historic administrative unit of Poland-Lithuania, and a Jewish historical geographical entity within the framework of the *Councils of the Lands. The region, which lay on both sides of the Warta River, consisted of the provinces of *Poznan, *Gniezno, *Kalisz, *Plock, Rawa, Sieradz, Leczyca, and Pomerania; in the Jewish organizational framework, it included 36 communities and mother communities, and over 60 small communities and subsidiary communities. Of the mother communities, the important communities of Poznan, Kalisz, *Leszno (Lissa), and *Krotoszyn attained a special status. The region was under Polish rule until the partitions of 1772 and 1793; largely under Prussian (later German) rule until 1918, with the interruption of the government of the grand duchy of Warsaw between 1807 and 1815; since World War i in independent Poland, with the interruption of Nazi German rule from 1939 to 1945.

The communities of Poznan, Gniezno, Kalisz, Plock, and others were founded in the 12th to 14th centuries, the legal basis for their development being laid down by the charter issued by Prince *Boleslav the Pious (1264). As throughout Poland-Lithuania, Jewish settlement in Great Poland developed considerably in the 16th to 17th centuries, while in the 18th century it underwent a decline. The Great Poland province (גָּלִיל, "circuit") in the Jewish autonomous framework was under the hegemony of the community of Poznan until the middle of the 17th century, passing to Kalisz until the beginning of the 18th century, and then to Leszno until the close of that century.

During the period under the hegemony of Poznan, rights of residence were obtained and preserved by means of a prolonged and stubborn struggle. The Jewish organizational framework was developed in the form of a Council for the Province of Great Poland, or the Council of the Province of Poznan, which acted on behalf of the Jews as regional spokesman in contact with external powers, such as the ecclesiastical authorities and the municipality, and with internal bodies, such as the local community leadership and the Council of Four Lands. Among the Jewry of Great Poland there thus developed an independent regional consciousness, having a specific social significance, collective responsibility, and spiritual authority and tradition (of the "Great Poland rite"). The foundations were therefore laid for the conservative pattern which successfully withstood the storms accompanying the religious-social movements which swept this Jewry during the 17th and 18th centuries. During the period of leadership of the communities of Kalisz and Leszno, a period of chaos in Poland when there was a third wave of Jewish settlement, both the local and central organs of the Jewry of Great Poland were weakened and the communities plunged into an increasing state of insolvency and "debts to the state." After the area passed to Prussia (by stages, in the late 18th century), severe restrictions were imposed on the Jews of Great Poland. In consequence of the limitations placed on their numbers, thousands of Jews were expelled from the communities. The ideas of Haskalah began to spread there owing to the proximity to Berlin and the influence of Solomon *Maimon. Under the government of the grand duchy of Warsaw from 1807 to 1815, the chances of emancipation for the Jews in Great Poland vanished, and new taxes were imposed on them (the recruiting tax and the kosher meat tax (see *Korobka). As a result, an increasing number of Jews immigrated to the German states. Following the renewal of Prussian rule in 1815, the struggle for emancipation was again taken up (1848–50), because the general regulations and the "temporary measures" (1833) had not granted emancipation to all the Jews of the province (with a distinction between citizens and "tolerated" persons). In accordance with the "temporary measures," changes were made in the structure of the communities (1833–47); attempts were made to reorganize the Jewish educational institutions, and germanization and Haskalah became of increasingly important influence in the lives of the Jews of the region. The Prussian authorities supported the Jewish communities, which made up about 15% of the total population, since they were useful in suppressing the Polish element, which formed about one-half of the total population of the region; as a result of the Jews' pro-German orientation, their relations with the Polish inhabitants became strained. On the other hand, tension arose between the German inhabitants and the Jews because of their economic success; these stresses resulted in increased waves of Jewish emigration to the West and overseas, so that a number of communities in Great Poland died out or were greatly reduced in size. When the region was incorporated into independent Poland after the end of World War i, the hostility of the Poles and Polish authorities toward the Jews was intensified in this area because of their pro-German tendencies. The social and economic ties of the communities there with Germany having been disrupted by the political changes, emigration appeared to many to be the best solution. After the Nazi occupation the community of Great Poland came to an end.

The Council of the Land (Province) of Great Poland

Great Poland is important in the history of Jewish *autonomy through this institution. The beginnings of the Council are obscure; its formation, however, preceded that of the councils of the communities of the other parts of Poland (see *Councils of the Lands). At the earliest, its creation is connected with the charter issued to the Jews by Boleslav the Pious in 1264. The history of the Council falls into two periods: the period of consolidation, which continued up to 1519, and its subsequent history until 1764. Its achievements during the first period include the extension of rights of residence and their renewed ratification (1364, 1453); defense against the slander of having introduced the *Black Death (1348), as well as many other negotiations accomplished successfully by shtadlanut (see *shtadlan); the appointment of a chief rabbi of the province or "provincial rabbi," the Episcopus Judaeorum Poznaniae; the extension of the area under his jurisdiction and the definition of the scope of his authority (1389–93, 1458, 1519). The Jewish leadership was also successful in its opposition to the officially appointed tax lessee, and was empowered to choose 11 assessors and five collectors (with the exception of Poznan and Kalisz) for estimating the amount of taxation (the sekhum, "sum"), its distribution and collection, and its transfer to the state treasury, the ministers, and the Council itself for its own internal requirements (1512–19). The history of the Council extends over a period of about 250 years (1519–1764). It met from once in three years to twice a year in various communities of the province of Rydzyna. During this period the Council extended its activities. A considerable part of these, of a general and standard nature, were drafted in the form of regulations, some of which have been preserved in the communal registers. The subjects it dealt with include livelihood, established claims, municipal affairs, disputes, loans, peddling, fairs, commerce in general and with non-Jews in particular, and Torah study. Responsibility for execution of the decisions was entrusted to the rabbi of the province and its communal leaders. The rabbi of the province was elected by 32 electors of the community of Poznan, in conjunction with (9–19) delegates from the province, by a majority vote for a period of three years. He acted as the rabbi of the community of Poznan and served as its rosh yeshivah (uninterruptedly from 1651). Until the middle of the 17th century he was assisted in his functions by one of the dayyanim of the province, chosen from the dayyanim of Poznan. Occasionally the influence of the rabbi of Great Poland extended beyond the borders of the province to the communities of Silesia (1540, 1583, 1626, 1637). The parnasim (leaders) of the communities usually acted as the parnasim of the province. The number of provincial parnasim varied between nine, six, and eleven (1668, 1677, 1685, 1754). Of these, two to three were delegates from Poznan. The parnas of the Council was assisted by the ne'eman (treasurer) of the province, the sofer (secretary) of the province (generally the same person), the shammai (assessor) of the province, the shammash (clerk) of the province, and the shali'aḥ (emissary) of the province. They were chosen by the parnasim of the Council during its sessions. The parnas of the Council was empowered to impose a series of punishments, such as imprisonment, expulsion, fines, and the ḥerem (ban) to ensure that these functions were fulfilled (1669). He was occasionally assisted by the influence and connections of the shtadlan of the Poznan community.


A. Heppner-Herzberg, Aus Vergangenheit und Gegenwart der Juden und der juedischen Gemeinden in den Posener Landen (1902); B. Breslauer, Die Auswanderung der Juden aus der Provinz Posen (1909); R. Wassermann, in: Zeitschrift fuer Demographie und Statistik der Juden, 6 (1910), 65 76; L. Lewin, Die Landessynode der grosspolnischen Judenschaft (1926); U.U. Zarchin, Jews in the Province of Posen (1939).

[Dov Avron]