The “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre is a local government cultural institution based in Lublin. It works towards the preservation of cultural heritage and education. Its function is tied to the symbolic and historical meaning of the Centre’s location in the Grodzka Gate, which used to divide Lublin into its respective Christian and Jewish quarters, as well as to Lublin as a meeting place of cultures, traditions and religions.

Part of the Centre are the House of Words and the Lublin Underground Trail.

The “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre is a local government cultural institution based in Lublin. It works towards the preservation of cultural heritage and education. Its function is tied to the symbolic and historical meaning of the Centre’s location in the Grodzka Gate, which used to divide Lublin into its respective Christian and Jewish quarters, as well as to Lublin as a meeting place of cultures, traditions and religions.

Part of the Centre are the House of Words and the Lublin Underground Trail.

The Council of Four Lands 1580 – 1764

In the 16th c. Lublin became one of the major centres of Jewish population in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Since the beginning of the 16th c., Lublin had one of the best rabbinic universities in Europe, while science and culture flourished. It was also here where the Jewish parliament – the Council of Four Lands – existed for years.

Important dates and topics

1580 – establishment of the Jewish parliament: Vaad Arba Aratzot
1623 – founding of the Jewish parliament in Lithuania

Topics:
 
  • Jewish parliament in Poland – a phenomenon on the European scale

Jewish self-government in Poland

Jews constituted a separate legal group in Poland. They were partly subordinated to the royal jurisdiction, but they had their own self-government and the judiciary. They were allowed to operate freely in all areas of the social and economic life. The self-government structure of Jewish communities resembled a pyramid. Its base was formed by numerous Jewish communities – kahals (Hebrew: Kehilot), founded by Jewish population settling in Poland, on the basis of charters issued by royal or dominion authorities. A charter provided for establishment of a synagogue, a cemetery, and necessary institutions of a community, such as the board, commissions and fraternities.

Another level was formed of provinces – lands (Hebrew: aracot), consisting of nearby kahals. There were four lands: Wielkopolska (Greater Poland), Małopolska (Little Poland), Wołyń (Volhynia) and Ruś (Ruthenia). Representatives of kahals of particular lands and districts met at Jewish regional councils, which were summoned by heads of local communities. Members of these councils were prosperous representatives of the community, eminent Talmudists and probably moderately rich commoners. Sessions of local Jewish councils were accompanied by sittings of land courts and district courts.

Since 1580, kahals, communities and lands became subordinated to the major body of the Jewish self-government – the Council of Four Lands – a phenomenon on the European scale. No similar institution of the Jewish central self-government existed in any other state of Europe.

Vaad Arba Aratzot

The parliament of the Polish Jews was founded in Lublin, most probably with the aim of solving some complicated tax issues. In order to improve the system of distributing taxes among particular Jewish lands and communities, it was necessary to establish Jewish representation at the national level. This principal organ of self-government was set up most probably by rabbis, delegates from the largest Polish cities – Krakow, Poznan, Lviv and Lublin.

The Jewish parliament had extensive jurisdiction: it debated the amount of taxes, fiscal charges and court fees for judges of the Crown Tribunal in Lublin, changes in the local organization of kahals, issues of communities and the judiciary, religious and educational matters, economic problems of the Jewish population, intervention in safety issues of Jews, maintaining contact with foreign countries.

The Council comprised approximately 50 representatives of particular lands and districts. This number was growing in the course of time. In 1623 Lithuanian Jews separated from the national Council and established their own Vaad.

Along with the Council of Four Lands, the higher jurisdiction instance of the Jewish self-government was established – the Tribunal of Vaad, modelled on the Crown Tribunal. Its members were rabbis and selected laymen. The Tribunal elected its own Speaker, usually a abbi, and sat during the Council’s sessions.

 

The Council’s sessions in Lublin

Delegates to the Council usually gathered twice a year in Lublin and Jarosław. The sessions in Lublin used to start on Sundays, along with the so-called “Candlemas” fair (February, 2nd) and lasted for a few days. Occasionally, sessions took place near Lublin: in Łęczna, Opole Lubelskie or Tyszowce. In the second half of the 17th c. sessions took place alternately in Lublin and Jarosław, and since 1680 mostly in Jarosław.

Vaad Arba Aratzot was greatly respected among Jews throughout Europe. Delegates were sent to the Council to ask questions concerning vital matters of Jewish communities. However, the national reforms of the second half of the 18th c .brought an end to the Jewish parliament. Due to some problems with proper operation of the fiscal system, the Council of Four Lands was dissolved in 1764, as its operation was deemed unnecessary for the royal fiscal authority. After almost 200 years, Jews in Poland lost their representation.



Compiled by Marzena Baum