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
1623 – founding of the Jewish parliament in Lithuania
- 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.
Vaad Arba Aratzot
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.
The Council’s sessions in Lublin
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