The Lublin Jewish community was one of the largest and most significant communities in pre-Partition Poland. Its significance stemmed partly from the city’s location as the capital of a voivodeship (beginning in 1474), the seat of the Crown Tribunal (beginning in 1578), and a site of Sejm sessions. Lublin also played an important economic role: the city, situated on trade routes from Kraków to both Vilna and Lwów, was an important mercantile center, with the Lublin fairs attracting large numbers of merchants from Poland and abroad from the end of the fifteenth century.
The first reference to Jews in Lublin dates from 1316, and the community seems to have been formed sometime in the mid-fourteenth century. In 1336, Kazimierz the Great allowed Jews to settle in the vicinity of the city in a location that was later known as Jewish Piaski. Jews were also allowed to settle just outside the walls of the city in Podzamcze, at the foot of the castle. The Christian burghers demanded and received a privilege de non tolerandis Judaeis (1535), forbidding Jews to live and trade within the municipal limits. They were restricted to a separate “Jewish town” at the foot of the castle. Over time the Jewish quarter grew, surrounding the castle hill on all sides. In 1555, Jews were permitted to acquire a plot to use as a cemetery (some of whose gravestones have been preserved to this day), as well as to have butchers’ stalls and a hospital; in 1567, Jews received permission to build a brick synagogue and a yeshiva. In 1568, the Jewish town apparently obtained a privilege de non tolerandis Christianis. After the devastations of the mid-seventeenth century, following the destruction of the Jewish quarter by the Muscovite army (1655), Jews began to settle in the Old City, from which they were expelled several times (1761, 1795). Nobility-owned houses and property were jurisdictional enclaves (jurydiki) that provided a safe haven for settlement in the town.
In 1602, approximately 2,000 Jews lived in Lublin (some 20% of the total population), and in 1674, a total of 1,020 Jews were reported to have paid the poll tax. The census of 1764–1765 noted 2,466 Jews in Lublin and the Lublin jurydiki, which, after correction for those evading the census and for children under one year of age, confirms a Jewish population of about 3,100.
The main economic occupations of Lublin Jews in this period were trade and artisanry. Economic competition with Christian burghers often led to conflicts, the confiscation of merchandise, and lawsuits. At times, tensions boiled over into violence and attacks on the Jewish quarter (1635, 1646), as well as accusations of ritual murder (1636). Also influencing anti-Jewish sentiments in the city were trials before the Crown Tribunal involving Jews from outside Lublin. The pronouncement of verdicts often acted as an incitement to attack the Jewish quarter at the foot of the castle.
The sixteenth century was the heyday of the Lublin community, a period when education and culture flourished. Many eminent scholars of the day served terms as rabbis of Lublin, among them Shalom Shakhnah ben Yosef (ca. 1510–1558), Shelomoh ben Yeḥi’el Luria (Maharshal; 1510?–1573), Mordekhai ben Avraham Yafeh (Jaffe; ca. 1530–1612), Me’ir ben Gedalyah (Maharam; 1558–1616), and Shemu’el Eli‘ezer Edels (Maharsha; 1555– 1631), as well as Yo’el Sirkes (1561–1640). A famous yeshiva was established around 1530 by Shalom Shakhnah. The yeshiva head was given a status similar to that of the local rabbi in a decree of Zygmunt August from 1567. A Hebrew press was founded in 1547, with the printer Ḥayim Shaḥor, his son, and son-in-law receiving a royal privilege to print there in 1550. Many eminent Jewish doctors practiced in the city. The Council of Four Lands also met in Lublin during the spring fair, as did the great rabbinic tribunal of Polish Jewry.
At the end of the eighteenth century, Lublin became an important center of Hasidism: the tsadik Ya‘akov Yitsḥak Horowitz (1745–1815), known as the Seer of Lublin, was active there. After the Third Partition of Poland (1795), Lublin came under Austrian rule.
Majer Bałaban, Die Judenstadt von Lublin (Berlin, 1919), translated into Polish by Jan Doktór as Żydowskie miasto w Lublinie (Lublin, 1991); Anna Kuwałek and Robert Kuwałek, “Żydzi i chrześcijanie w Lublinie w XVI i XVII wieku: Przyczynek do dziejów Żydów w Lublinie w okresie staropolskim,” in Żydzi w Lublinie: Materiały do dziejów społeczności żydowskiej Lublina, vol. 2, ed. Tadeusz Radzik, pp. 9–31 (Lublin, 1998); Bela Mandelsberg, “Z dziejów gospodarczych Żydów lubelskich w pierwszej połowie XVII wieku,” Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego 26 (1958): 3–27; Bela Mandelsberg-Szyldkraut, Meḥkarim le-toldot yehude Lublin (Tel Aviv, 1964/65); Adam Winiarz, “Lubelski ośrodek studiów talmudycznych w XVI wieku,” in Żydzi w Lublinie: Materiały do dziejów społeczności żydowskiej Lublina, vol. 2, ed. Tadeusz Radzik, pp. 33–39 (Lublin, 1998); Stefan Wojciechowski, “Gmina żydowska w Lublinie w XVI wieku,” Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego 2.4 (1952): 204–230.
Translated from Polish by Karen Auerbach