Jewish religious life in Lublin
Lublin was one of the most eminent Jewish centres of spiritual and religious life in Middle-Eastern Europe. An axis of this life was situated on a city map around Szeroka and Jateczna Street, where the biggest sacral building of Lublin - the Maharshal synagogue – was located. In 16th century a Talmudic Academy was built in that place. Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin continued its tradition. Synagogues and private houses of prayer were spread across the town. Jewish community of Lublin in 16th century was a third one regarding the number of its members (after Warsaw and Lviv), and in the middle of 19th century even the second one in Poland, after Warsaw.
Particularity and significance of religious life of Lublin Jewish community can de defined by various events related to its development.
Jews come to Lublin
Confirmed historical sources from 15th century show a silhouette of rabbi Yaakov of Trento, who was accused of ritual murder, in consequence had to flee from Germany and came to Lublin (1475). Based on that fact one may suppose that at that time there was an organized Jewish community, known abroad.
Jews who came to Lublin, settled mainly around the Castle Hill, where soon a Jewish quarter came into being. They settled as well in Kalinowszczyzna (from 17th century on), in the suburbs called Piaski - currently area surrounding the train station, and villages of Wieniawa (since the end of 16th century) - today a part of the city, and Głusk. On each of these areas there were synagogues, houses of prayer, cheders, Jewish cemeteries. Social and religious life took shape there.
Development of Jewish community
The beginning and development of Jewish community (kahal) was one of the most significant factors of Jewish social life in this region. Functioning of the community depended on the Jewish law, privileges given to Jewish community by kings and Talmudic regulations resulting from Jewish religion. Communities spread a vast activity range: administrative, fiscal, judicial and educational. They granted as well financial assistance, hired payed office workers: rabbis, rectors of yeshivas, preachers, syndics, surveyors, melameds, writers, trustees, shohets.
Most likely Jewish community in Lublin was formed in the middle of 14th century and was active until World War II. Very vivifying event in its history was Hasidic movement, developing in Middle-East of Europe in 19th century. In the twenty year period of Interwar community’s activity extended to new suburbs (villages incorporated to the city at that time): Wieniawa, Piaski and Kalinowszczyzna (called by Jews Wola). Also nowadays there is a Jewish religious community in Lublin, which is a subsidiary of the Warsaw Jewish community, it owns an active synagogue at 85 Lubartowska Street, in the building of Yeshiva, and a synagogue Chevra Nosim at 10 Lubartowska Street.
Jewish cemeteries in Lublin remained under administration of Jewish community. In the city there were three cemeteries. First one is nonexistent Jewish cemetery in Wieniawa that was situated near the today’s Lublinianka stadium. Only photographies of that cemetery were preserved. In the place of cemetery currently there is a plaque commemorating its existence. Another cemetery, so called “Old Jewish Cemetery” in Kalinowszczyzna, is situated in Kalinowszczyzna Street. Approximately sixty matzevot can still be found there, including the oldest matzeva in Poland from 1541, which is still standing on its original place, and an ohel of famous tzadik, one of Hasidic movement founders – the Seer of Lublin. Third cemetery is so-called “New Jewish cemetery”, situated on Walecznych Street, where burials take place until today. To this cemetery were transferred the ashes of children from the Jewish Orphanage at 11 Grodzka Street, shot dead in 1942. By the cemetery there is Chamber Memory of the Jews of Lublin.
Matzevot at Jewish cemeteries have inscriptions in Hebrew, they are amply decorated with different kinds of ornamentations that have a certain symbolic meaning. Symbolism of funeral art brings a lot of new information about buried people and their life circumstances as well as about social life in given period.
Opening if the Talmudic Academy
Very important event for Jewish religious life in Lublin was opening of a Talmudic Academy in 16th century together with Maharshal synagogue. Thank to this rabbinical school, famous across the whole Europe, Lublin earned a name of Jewish Oxford. Academy was situated near Castle Hill on one of the parcels owned by a proprietor, who devoted his land for a construction of a school. Academy opening was related also to economic development of the city, that took place by dint of trade routes and fairs. City’s economic development was followed by religious and academic growth. Jewish Lublin was recognized as a center of Talmud studies, and rabbis from Lublin were widely respected and esteemed. With reference to the Academy’s tradition in 20th century the Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin was created.
Hasidism in Lublin
One of manifestations of flourishing religious life of local Jewish community was development of mystic orthodox movement in Judaism - Polish Hasidism, known in Poland simply as Hasidism. The best known person in Lublin and at the same time the founder of this movement was the Seer of Lublin, Yakov Yitzhak Horowitz-Szternfeld, disciple of rabbi Elimelech of Leżajsk. At the beginning he settled in Wieniawa, at that time a separate village, then he moved to the heart of Jewish quarter – 28 Szeroka Street, where he established probably the first Hasidic synagogue in central Poland. For Jewish religious life Hasidism was a brand new point of view on Divine reality; it was a movement open for the poorest and uneducated ones, because it didn’t assume the necessity of knowledge based on Holy Scriptures. It introduced dance and singing to the liturgy and assigned the most important role to a tzadik, who often became founder of Hasidic court. The Seer was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Kalinowszczyzna. He had many disciples, in 19th century his great- grandson, Zysie Szternfeld, was a rabbi on Lublin suburb called Piaski, and in the Interwar in Zamość rabbi Horowitz-Szternfeld was active. Hasidism until the Interwar period grew in many fractions called dynasties. During the World War II all the Hasidic Jews were displaced to the Lublin (Podzamcze) ghetto and met there the same destiny as all Lublin Jews.
Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin was an academic rabbinical school opened in 1930 thanks to the efforts of Meir Shapiro, who intended it to become a place of education for rabbinical elites. For the opening ceremony came over 10 000 Jews. The idea of establishing a Yeshiva in Lublin was born in reference to a need of universal access to education. In Yeshiva 130 students followed an innovative syllabus, combining the best teaching methods within the Talmud studies. Yeshiva had an impressive book collection including 13 thousand of volumes, most of which were burned during the war. Yeshiva's building survived until today, it's situated on 85 Lubartowska Street, and it houses an active synagogue, an exhibition dedicated to the rabbis of Lublin and a hotel.
Due to Talmudic Academy and Yeshiva a need of education of future school disciples that would start to learn at a very young age increased. Education took place in cheders (elementary schools teaching the basics of Judaism) conducted by melameds – better or worse qualified teachers. The teaching level and methods depended often on the class teachers. In the beginning of 20th century in Lublin operated over 100 cheders, the biggest number of them on Nadstawna Street. Until the beginning of 20th century only boys studied in cheders, and girls were taught at home or in secular schools. Under the influence of the Haskalah, Jewish Enlightenment movement, cheders started to be reformed and some secular subjects were introduced to the syllabus. In the 20-year-period of the Interwar there were 15 secular Jewish schools in Lublin, including 3 gymnasiums, two high-leveled Talmud-Toras and traditional religious cheders. Apart of that there were also various educational organizations.
Everyday life of Lublin Jews was arranged according to the Jewish festivals. Jewish town, which in major part was orthodox, lived the rhythm of the religious calendar. Jewish new year started with 10 Days of Awe, the last of which is the Day of Atonement - Yom Kippur being the most sacred Jewish holiday. New Year - Rosh HaShana is in September and it starts a year-long cycle. First holiday in New Year is Tzom Gedalyah, then comes The Feast of Tabernacles - Sukkot and Joy in the Torah - Simchat Torah (October). During the Christian Christmas time Hanukkah was celebrated, and in the late December/first days of January – fast-day Asarah B'Tevet commemorating the siege of Jerusalem.
In the end of January or the beginning of February was celebrated New Year of the Trees - Tu Bishvat, and after that a feast, called a Jewish carnival - Purim. At the time of Christian Easter Jews celebrated a pilgrimage festival of Pesach, then after 7 weeks - a festival reminding giving the Torah (and 10 commandments) to Moses on Mount Sinai - Shavuot. Joyful time between Pesach and Shavuot was a celebration of Lag ba Omer. In the June, July and August was celebrated a festival commemorating destruction of both temples - Shiv'ah Asar b'Tammuz, ending with a holiday dedicated to a memory of Jewish people tragedies - Tisha be Av. Also Shabbat was regularly celebrated.
All Jewish holidays are celebrated by Jews until today. In Lublin as well, in the Yeshiva’s synagogue it is possible to participate in community celebrations. Many memoirs of Jewish Lublin describing rituals and customs related to each festival has been preserved.
Compiled by Izabela Czumak
Translated by Magdalena Dziaczkowska