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Kazimierz

[Yiddish, Kuzmir] - A city founded in the fourteenth century by Kazimierz III the Great; by the early nineteenth century, it had became one of Krakow's constituent neighborhoods. According to the historical records, Jews had been living in Kazimierz since 1389. The Community's population began to grow in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, when Jews who had been forced to leave Krak�w settled there, as did those who had originally come from Bohemia and Moravia. In 1485, there were Jewish baths in Kazimierz; three years later, Kazimierz had its own Jewish market square. It was during that period that its first synagogue was probably built--the one that is known today as the "Old Synagogue".

The local Jews did not look favorably on the influx of newcomers from other countries. In the early sixteenth century, Kazimierz had two Communities--Polish and Czech, which merged over time. As its population grew, the Kazimierz Community expanded territorially as well. The Jews bought many buildings and parcels of land from Christians. The Jewish quarter was delineated by the following present-day streets: sw. Jozefa, Bozego Ciala, Miodowa and Dajwor. It was surrounded by a wall, with three gates that were locked at night. In 1564, it was granted the privilege de non tolerandis christianis. In 1578, over 2,000 people were living here, and by the first half of the seventeenth century, it already had approximately 4,500 residents. Overcrowding meant the Jewish quarter expanded yet again in 1608. An incomplete list from the year 1635 includes 67 buildings erected in new areas.

The Kazimierz Community had a well-developed system of local government, whose activities were based on the oldest of the Community statutes, dating back to 1595, which still survive today. It ran a broad range of charitable activities, and had a hospital, Community and court buildings, as well as a shelter for the homeless and others in need of care. The Community, as one of the largest and wealthiest in the Polish lands, played an important role in the Jewish Sejm (Diet).

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, more synagogues were built: the High (approx. 1556), Remuh (approx. 1572), that of Wolf Popper (Stork) (1620), Kupa (1643), and the Synagogue of Isaac (approx. 1644). During this period, the city became a center of Talmudic studies of international significance. Jakub Polak was its first leading scholar and rabbi. He founded the yeshiva, which very quickly began attracting students from faraway cities. His pupils and successors were: Shalom Shachna, Moshe Fishel, and Moshe Isserles. Natan Spira, Meir Gedalia, Joel Sirkes, and Yom Tov Lippman were also active here.

The expansion of the Kazimierz Community was made possible by its residents' prosperity, as one of the wealthiest Jewish centers from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. This wealth was based on trade and credit-related activities. Jews engaged in various kinds of trade. In the customs registers of the late sixteenth century, hides, wax, honey and "eastern goods" (textiles and carpets) were mentioned most frequently. In the mid-seventeenth century, larger quantities of lead, salted fish, wool, and eastern spices (cinnamon, ginger and sugar) were being traded, as well as Ruthenian spirits. The trade in Hebrew books was growing. In addition, traditional trade in oxen, Silesian broadcloth, and wine also continued. In addition, the great merchants ran credit operations; these included this group's wealthiest members, such as Level Markovich, Levek Landau, Wolf Bocian, Shlomo Melles, Shlomo Jakubovich.

Crafts occupied an important place in the economic life of Kazimierz's Jewish community. From 1613, there was a Jewish furriers' guild, and soon there appeared others-butchers', torbiarzy (notions peddlers), barbers', goldsmiths', tanners', and brewers'. Several dozen other trades did not form guilds: these included tailors, cobblers, bakers, weavers, bookbinders and many others. The economic activities of the Jews in Kazimierz prompted protests from Christian merchants and artisans. This led to the issuing of numerous restrictions, and was reflected in anti-Jewish literature (particularly [in the writings] of S. Miczynski).
In the seventeenth century, Kazimierz was damaged several times by fires, but the most extensive destruction came as the result of the Swedish invasions from 1655 to 1660. Shortly thereafter, the residents were decimated by the plague. These events did not affect the status of the Kazimierz Community, whose position grew stronger thanks to several of its wealthiest, influential families; gradually, however, the group of medium- and small-scale merchants and artisans grew poorer. This process was caused by an economic collapse in the Polish cities, shrinking markets, and competition with the Christian producers who strove to limit Jews' rights. In 1761, the Polish Sejm (Parliament) passed legislation forbidding Jews from trading within Krakow's city limits. Like other Communities in Poland, Kazimierz was in debt (Jewish debts). The creditors were the monasteries, the wealthy szlachta and Christian merchants.

Because the city was becoming poorer, its population shrank. In 1775, 3,500 Jews lived there, occupying 220 buildings. During this period, many of Kazimierz's Jews moved to Warsaw. In the late eighteenth century, Chasidic influences were growing stronger, particularly among Kazimierz's poor. In 1785, a curse (cherem) was laid on the supporters of Chasidism. From 1795, the city was under Austrian ruler; in 1802, it was annexed to Krakow. In most of the sources from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, the Jews living in Kazimierz were called "Krakow Jews" or were described as living "near Krakow", which harked back to the long history of ties between the Jews of Kazimierz and Krak�w.
(H.W./CM)

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