Privileges for Jews

Privileges were documents that until the late eighteenth century defined Jews' legal status and established norms in all spheres of life and activities for Jews living in the Polish lands.
The oldest privilege for Jews is the Kalisz privilege, issued in 1264 by Boleslaw the Pious, prince of Wielkopolska. Later, general (Poland-wide) privileges were modeled on it, and for Jews living in specific lands. In the second half of the thirteenth century, Silesian princes issued several privileges for Jews, such as Bolko of Swidnik (1295) and Henryk of Glogow (1299). In 1287, the Jews of Kalisz were granted permission to establish a cemetery. The privileges granted by Kazimierz III the Great in 1334, 1364, and 1367 were particularly significant. (Some historians consider the last of these to be a forgery.) Later Polish kings confirmed these general privileges for Jews.
From the mid-sixteenth century, however, the privileges gradually lost their importance. In 1539, Sigismund I (the Old) granted property owners jurisdiction over the Jews living on their holdings, except in some matters-such as ritual murder accusations. From that time, Communities lying within private holdings strove to secure their own privileges. Very often, these documents were copies of general royal privileges, though in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries those granted to specific Communities varied.

The increasing number of Community privileges meant that Jewish groups in royal cities also wanted confirmations of their own rights. These documents were issued by the king, or by proxy via the starosta [local administrator]. In the seventeenth century, each new Jewish Community would receive a separate privilege, which was then inscribed into the official records [ksiegi grodzkie]. The privileges granted to Jews, can be divided into two groups, depending on who granted them: 1) ksiazece ["princely"] and krolewskie ["royal"] - those issued by rulers, princes and later by kings, or by royal officials on their behalf; 2) private - for entire Communities or individuals. These were granted by the nobles beginning in 1539, and occasionally also by the clergy who owned estates where Jews were living.
Some of the documents issued to Polish Jews were papal bulls that were intended to prevent unfounded ritual murder accusations. The oldest of these was issued in 1540 by Pope Paul III.
Privileges for Jews could also be categorized into three groups. General privileges were those affecting all Jews living in the Kingdom of Poland or in some of its lands, such as Wielkopolska or Malopolska (privileges issued by kings or princes). Community privileges were granted to specific Communities. These regulated the basic principles of a specific Community's existence, or regarded a specific matter, such as the foundation of a cemetery or exemption from fees (granted by king or a town's owner - the nobility or clergy). There were also individual privileges - for specific merchants and brokers (royal, noble). Even the greatest magnates did not issue general privileges for all Jews living on their lands-only for specific Communities.

Privileges for Jews issued by Polish rulers were later annulled by the partitioning powers.

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