Prohovnik, Abraham

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PROHOVNIK, ABRAHAM (in Polish prochownik is a dealer either in powder or gunpowder), legendary Jewish figure in the pre-political period of the Polish tribes. After the death of the legendary prince Popiel (attributed to the middle of the ninth century) in the town of Kruszwica, a public meeting (wiec) was called to elect a new ruler. Conflicting opinions, however, prevented the nomination of a candidate acceptable to all the assembled. It was therefore decided to choose the first man to enter the town on the next day. This happened to be a Jew named Abraham Prohovnik. When brought to the assembly to be crowned Abraham refused. After some discussion, he was given three days in which to reflect, being warned that he would forfeit his life if still unwilling. After the delay, a crowd, led by a Pole named Piast, approached Abraham's lodgings to crown him. The latter remained adamant, and pointed to Piast as suitable to wear the princely crown. His suggestion was accepted, thus inaugurating the reign of the equally legendary founder of the Polish Piast dynasty. The origin of the legend and the period of its appearance are unknown. A number of Jewish historians consider it to be a transmutation of the Saul *Wahl legend, which arose during the golden era of Polish Jewry at the end of the 16th and early 17th centuries. Other scholars regard it as an echo of the Jewish presence and influence in Poland at the beginning of its political existence and connect the person of Abraham Prohovnik with the arrival of Jews in Poland from the southeast. The Polish Piast legend (first formulated in 1112) contains no mention of Jewish elements. The story undoubtedly is merely an expression in legendary form of the Jewish sense of deep-rootedness in Poland.


W. Zamoyski, Wspomnienia domowe (1837); J. Lelewel, Polska wiekó średnich, 2 (1846), 417: A. Kraushar, Historya Żydów Polsce, 1 (1865), 41–44; M. Gumplowicz, Poczatki religií żydowskiej w Polsce (1903), 22–23; I. Schiper, in: Almanach żydowski (1918), 236–65; B. Mark, Di Geshikhte fun Yidn in Poyln (1957), 168–74. add. bibliography: S. Netzer, "Wanderungen der Juden und Neusiedlung in Osteuropa," in: Beter und Rebellen (1983), 34–36.

[Arthur Cygielman]