The town is particular for its rich mixture of nationalities and
religions typical of the Polish borderlands before the Second World War.
Visit the Baroque church of the Holy Spirit (17th century); the
Greek-Catholic church of the Transfiguration (first half of the 18th
century); the Orthodox Christian church of the Protection of the Most
Holy Virgin Mary (16th century); the cloisters of: the Jesuits,
remodelled, with a wall containing sculptures (1582-1594); the
Dominicans and the church of God's Mother (1629-1635); the Benedictine
nuns and the church of St Michael and St Stanislaus (1622-1624); the
Reformed Franciscan Order and the church of St Francis (1710-1716), all
designed by Italian architects (J. Bricci, J. Solari, T. Belotti). The
market square with late Renaissance arcaded houses (such as the Orsetti)
and the Town Hall.
It is highly probable that Jews first came to Jaroslaw during the
reign of King Casimir the Great, as it is from this period that the
oldest tombs in the cemetery date. The first verifiable report is from
1464. Jewish settlers in Jaroslaw, unlike their counterparts in
neighbouring Przemysl, came up against obstacles set by the rulers of
the town. It is enough to quote from atypical document from 1571, the
privilege given by Zofia Odrowaz-Kostkowa to the town of Jaroslaw:
"Considering therefore that the numerous Jews living in this town never
bring any good on the Christian people, causing rather harm and loss,
for it is in their minds to seek Christian misfortune, we resolve and
wish to preserve that in our riverside town of Jaroslaw there should
never again be any Jews, only one house or at most two, belonging to
those who would never involve themselves in any kind of commerce apart
from their own work". Similar acts were also issued in 1614, 1625, and
1676, the last one by King John III Sobieski. However, it was Jaroslaw
which became the centre of Jewish self-government in the time of
Commonwealth of Poland, and from 1630 until about 1750 it was the seat
of Vaad Arba Aratzot (the Diet of the Four Lands).
Jaroslaw moved into the 19th century as an impoverished town with,
as in the entire Malopolska and Podkarpacie regions, athriving Chasidic
movement. The Nazis swept in on 28 September 1939, driving the local
Orthodox Jews out beyond the River San to Soviet-occupied territory.
Many of those expelled perished there when the Germans invaded in June
The Great Synagogue
Built in 1811, it remains in extremely good condition. It is an
imposing building 25m by 25m. In 1963 it was allocated to the Wyspianski
Fine Arts secondary school. The main hall with avaulting supported on
four pillars (it was here that the bimah once stood) is used by the
school for exhibitions. It no longer has any features of historical
importance. The decor was completely destroyed and with it the
wall-paintings. The synagogue's favourable appearance is due to repair
work carried out in 1990 when anew roof was put on and the prayer room
for women was restored.
The dense complex of buildings around the synagogue constitute what used to be the Jewish quarter.
At ul. Opolskiej 12 (actually in pl. Boznic), phone +16 6211428 (school). The caretakers are not always very helpful.
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The Little Synagogue
The Little Synagogue dates from 1900. "Little" by Jaroslaw standards
once meant enough seats for athousand worshippers. Its present deformed
appearance is aresult of extension works carried out between 1969 and
1973. Themain prayer hall used to be in the northern part of the
building. Thevestibule with aprayer room for women situated above it
occupied its southern part. All of this was altered during the
above-mentioned enlargement. Only a protrusion in the east wall
indicates where the aron ha-kodesh once was. From the 1970suntil
recently the building housed the Ateliers for the Preservation of Works
of Art. It is now waiting to be let.
The Little Synagogue
At the back of the Great Synagogue, but you will have to go round
it. The quickest way is through the entrance hall of the house at ul.
Other Monuments of Jewish Culture
There are traces of one more synagogue in Jaroslaw. Until 1939
religious services took place in an adapted guild-hall situated upstairs
in the building at Rynek 17. We can still see the characteristic high
windows deep in the courtyard.
At ul. Tarnowskiego 1 there is asingle-storied edifice in the shape
of the letter "T". It is the Neo-Classical building of the Jewish
Society Yad Charuzim, designed by S. Korman.
The Diet of the Four Lands
Jewish autonomy, in a sense reflecting the traditional Polish
communal system of government, was decreed on high. The royal court was
in need of a centralised organ to supervise the levying of taxes from
Jews. The first initiative was the appointment of a general rabbi for a
particular land. Those Jewish communities, under the authority of each
rabbi, were made land authorities, of which there were four:
Wielkopolska, Malopolska, Ruthenia and Lithuania. The organ charged with
assembling these four representations, Vaad Arba Aratzot (The Diet of
the Four Lands) was set up in 1581, when the Jews took it upon
themselves to pay a special duty called the Jewish poll-tax. The
official seat of the Diet was Lublin, an important trading centre, but
proceedings also took place in other towns, particularly in Jaroslaw.
The Jewish "parliament" had separate legal powers and was the only
intermediary between the King of the Two Nations and his Jewish
subjects. It was dissolved in 1764 when the Polish parliament came to
the conclusion that the Vaad was not fulfilling its primary function,
that is to say it was not pursuing a fiscal policy. There was also a
representation of Jews of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, known as Vaad
Medinat Lita (The Diet of the Lands of Lithuania).