Jewish Diaspora in Poland-Lithuania
Assignment # 1
Submitted by: Jessica Suri
Submitted to: Professor Louis Greenspan
Friday, September 28th,
The Jewish Diaspora in Poland-Lithuania
The early modern period was a definite time of transition for the Jewish community. As they were being expelled from major countries in the west such as Spain and Portugal, the Jewish diaspora travelled east. Poland-Lithuania soon became a new center for the Jews that were infinitely better than other areas of settlement such as the Ottoman Empire. There are three distinct reasons that separated Polish-Lithuania from other areas in Europe. First, the Jews experienced some sense of religious freedom and tolerance. Moreover, the Jews quickly became an integral part of the economy creating a niche in which they were valued and indispensable. Lastly, because of their education and economic skills, they were able to form their own community equipped with a quasi government system. Because of these factors, Poland-Lithuania was viewed “as good as it gets” in the early modern period.
Although the Jewish diaspora did not experience complete religious freedom, their situation was favorable over others. In Poland-Lithuania there was “at least a degree of religious toleration…and though the Jews hardly enjoyed ‘equal rights’ (a foreign concept in those days), they did enjoy far-reaching religious freedom and autonomy” (Efron et al. 205). In this sense, any amount of religious independence was preferable to religious persecution. Another advantage for the Jews in this country was that they were never observed as ‘servi camerae’ meaning royal property. Because of this they were seen as an interest to the monarchy not a threat (Efron et al. 205). Another source of luck that contributed to life in Poland-Lithuania was the weakening of the monarchy. “The ineffectiveness of the sejm [Polish parliament] often blocked in deadlock meant that the central...