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Coat of Arms of the Polish Commonwealth

The Polish Commonwealth 1340-1772

Coat of Arms of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

© Valerie Schatzker 2016

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Galicia is conquered by King Casimir the Great of Poland (reigned 1330- 1370). Some cities in Poland, Lwów among them, receive the privilege of self-rule according to the Magdeburg laws. These laws grant privileges only  to Roman Catholic and polonized German citizens. Orthodox Ukrainians and Jews are restricted in the right of residence. Jews are confined to ghettos and also limited to certain activities such as money lending. These laws apply only to those few cities that adopted the Magdeburg Law.


Chroniclers relate that in reaction to the Black Death, all Jews in Poland were massacred.


First written reference to the Jewish Community in Lwów


King Casimir extends the Statute of Kalisz to Jews throughout Poland. The Statute defined the right of Jews to work in specific professions and trades, defined legal relations between Christians and Jews, and even protected Jewish children from forced baptism.  


The city council of Kracow complains to Kazimierz that high interest rates charged by Jews were impoverishing their citizens.


With the marriage of the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Władysław II Jagiełło to Queen Jadwiga of Poland, the Jagiellonian dynasty begins


Having given the Jew Wolczko the customs lease for the City of Lwów, King Władisław Jagiełło gives him a large tract of land to colonize.


King Casimir IV Jagiełło gives the salt mines of Drohobycz to the Jew Natko


King Casimir IV Jagiełło codifies and ratifies the Statute of Kalisz. Based on the terms of the statutes of Bolesław and Casimir, Jews are treated as servants to the royal court who are mainly in the business of money lending. The laws are attacked throughout the 14th and 15th centuries.  Some towns insist on Jews' wearing distinctive badges.


The growing power of Jews in trade and crafts incites accusations of unfair competition. In Kraków, the Jewish community is forced to renounce its rights to trades and crafts


Peasant uprising in Galicia


The Jews of Kracow are forced out of the town and moved to Kazimierz. There is another peasant uprising in Galicia.       

End of 14th


Approximately 20,000 to 30,000 Jews live in Poland

Late 15th-early

16th century

The Jews of Lwów are active in the large scale land trade between the Ottoman Empire and Europe


Serfdom is prevalent throughout Galicia


Invasion by the Turks from the East


Under the reign of Sigismund I, a liberal monarch, Jews hold high positions at court. The administration attempts to bring greater autonomy to Polish Jews by appointing a Chief Rabbi and chief tax collector, but this is resisted by the local Jewish communities (kehillot).


3,500 Jews live in Rus Czerwona, mainly in the cities


Under King Sigismund August (1548-1632), the general privileges of the Jews are renewed and a system of autonomous government created – in effect, a Jewish state within a state under the auspices of the Crown, not the Polish parliament (Seym). Each independent Jewish kahal sends a deputy to a national assembly, or Council of Lands, which meets twice a year during the fairs in Lublin and Jarosław. Hebrew is one of the six  languages recognized for legal purposes. Rus Czerwona is one of the four lands of the Council. This period is one of economic advancement for the Jews especially in large towns like Lwów.


With the commencement of the reign of the Vasa Kings of Poland, who are strongly influenced by the clergy, anti-Semitism increases, particularly in relation to the role the Jews play as leaseholders for the Polish nobility.


The Union of Lublin unites the Kingdom of Poland and the Duchy of Lithuania into a single state, the Polish- Lithuanian Commonwealth.


The Jews of Krakow number 2,000, making it the largest Jewish community in Poland. There are approximately

100,000 Jews in Poland.


Bohdan Khmielnitsky (ca 1595-1659) leads a Cossack revolt. With his Tatar allies, Khmielnitsky ravages Ukraine,  massacring thousands. Jews are particular targets. His army besieges Lwów and destroys its suburbs.


Khmielnitsky again lays siege to Lwów. Further east in Ukraine, only 10% of Jews survive his savage pogroms


Lwów is attacked by the Hungarians


The Union of Lublin unites Poland and Lithuania. Their combined might impels the expansion of territory to the  east and the colonization of  Ukraine by the Polish nobility, in which enterprise they employ the Jews as partners. Despite the Khmielnitsky massacres, Jews begin to move into the villages of Ukraine  and become involved in the arenda system, by which they manage much of the agricultural economy. The economic and personal lives of Jews improve considerably during this period and the population east of Lwów expands.


Several hundred Jews are murdered in pogroms in Lwów.


Khmielnitsky lays siege to Lwów


The courts of Jan II Casimir and Jan III Sobieski attempt to strengthen Jewish autonomy but make little progress. Anti-Semitic laws and acts increase.  Approximately 300,000 Jews live in Poland.


Tartars invade Lwów.


The Swedes capture Lwów.


The reign of Augustus II of Poland begins the period of decline of the Polish Commonwealth. Political deadlock and costly wars have caused stagnation in the economy and the government. The lot of the peasants has become much more miserable. Jewish merchants also suffer as commerce declines. Many kehillot go bankrupt.

mid 18th


The ravages of the thirty years of war, the stagnation of the economy, and the decline of the Polish Commonwealth's relative tolerance toward the Jewish minority result in a period of religious disruption and change. Under the influence of Israel ben Eliezer (1700-1760), Hassidism is born in opposition to orthodoxy. The heresy of Jacob Frank and his followers also makes a deep impression on the population and the first influence of Haskalah (Enlightenment) is apparent at this time.


The Council of Lands is abolished