Marcin Wodzinski

Director of the Centre for the Culture and Language of the Jews/University of Wroclaw

Forschungsaufenthalt: 1. bis 28. Februar 2005

Forschungsprojekt:

Polish Authorities and the Hasidic Movement 1815–1864

 

This project aims to analyse the attitude of the Polish government towards Hasidim and the Hasidic movement in the nineteenth century Kingdom of Poland. The study examines the plans regarding Hasidim undertaken by both the Polish government and groups within Polish society close to governmental circles. It focuses on how the government envisioned the place and functions of Hasidim within their social milieu and how these views influenced both the »Jewish politics« of the Polish government and the development of the Hasidic movement, both directly and indirectly. This project concentrates on the years 1815–1864, the period of Congress Poland, during which autonomous Polish governmental institutions still existed in the country. It also adduces the period of the Duchy of Warsaw (1807–1815) and the years 1864–1880 to gain a comparative perspective. However these other periods lie outside the main focus of the work. The first due to its very different political context, the latter due to the lack of Polish central and local authorities.

The project is intended as a monograph study in the form of a book, supplemented by a large collection of archival materials.

 

State of research and goals

Although the history of Hasidism is one of the most popular research fields in Jewish studies, the state of research on the subject is surprisingly uneven. One of the most neglected areas is the history of the Hasidic movement in the nineteenth century. Despite a number of valuable studies on the topic published in the last decade, our knowledge about nineteenth century Hasidism remains, for the most part, far from satisfactory. One important factor still missing in the academic canon on Hasidism is Polish sources. Linguistic difficulties amongst non-Polish researchers and a lack of interest in this topic among Polish historians only further exacerbates this lacuna. As a result, knowledge about the history of Hasidism is still far from complete, as research often neglects wider social and political contexts regarding the growth of the movement. A thorough search of Polish sources can not only bring rich historical material, but also nuanced reshaping of the image of nineteenth century Polish Hasidism itself. Thus the main goal of this research is to place Polish Hasidism in the context of nineteenth century Polish society.

Until now, no study has been dedicated to this topic. Some aspects of the attitude of Polish central authorities towards Hasidism were analysed by R. Mahler, I. Schiper, Z. Rabinowicz, and G. Dynner in their works on the growth of Hasidism in Poland.* However these historians used only limited or no archival materials and limited their studies to the period before 1830. Some valuable information was brought by J. Shatzky, but despite extensive use of both Polish and Jewish sources, he did not research relations between Hasidim and non-Jewish society.** The paper by D. Assaf and I. Bartal on Hasidic shtadlanut focuses on some responses of Hasidim to the actions of Polish authorities, but not the Polish policy itself.*** My article on »The Case of the Hasidim« – though aimed directly at the subject – addressed only one episode of government policy towards Hasidism in the years 1818–1824.**** Much needed research on the evolution of later policy of both central and provincial offices is still missing.

 

Thesis

Two major social processes took place in the Kingdom of Poland in the first half of the nineteenth century. On the Polish side it was accommodation to the new and changing political, social and economical environment of the Congress Kingdom. On the Jewish side it was the growth of the Hasidic movement. It is only natural that the great national debates in Polish society took into account the existence of the new and powerful Jewish movement and that the government of the Kingdom soon reacted to its growth. All the political camps and governmental institutions took the existence of Hasidism into account as a significant factor in formulating their policy towards the Jewish population in Poland.

The thesis of the project is that the rise of the Hasidism was one of the most important factors shaping the »Jewish policy« of the Congress Kingdom's central and provincial authorities and at the same time this policy was the major external force and one of the major forces (internal or external) accelerating the rise of Hasidism in this country. The project aims to demonstrate that the governmental policy had a direct impact on the growth of Hasidism by creating socio-political conditions advantageous to the rise of Hasidism. A codicil to the thesis is that the policy of the Polish government not only accelerated the growth of the movement, but also contributed to the unique form of the Polish Hasidism resulting from Hasidic responses and behaviours elicited in part by Polish social policy.

 

Sources

The project is based on two types of sources:

a. Archival sources: 1) Archiwum G?ówne Akt Dawnych, collections: Centralne W?adze Wyznaniowe, Komisja Rz?dowa Spraw Wewn?trznych, Sekretariat Stanu, Kancelaria Nowosilcowa, I-III Rada Stanu, Rada Administracyjna, Centralne W?adze O?wiatowe, Komisja Województwa Mazowieckiego, Komisja Województwa Kaliskiego, W?adze Centralne Powstania Listopadowego; 2) State Archives in Bia?ystok, Kielce, Lublin, ?ód?, P?ock, Radom, and Warsaw (collections: Komisja Wojewódzka/Rz?d Gubernialny); 3) YIVO Archives (RG27, RG87, RG127, RG256, RG325); 4) American Jewish Archives in Cincinatti (Jastrow Collection).

b. Printed and nearprinted sources: Polish belles-lettres, Jewish memorial books, Jewish and Polish memoirs (both published and unpublished), sermons, numerous leaflets on the »Jewish question,« and Polish press.

 

* R. Mahler: Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment. Their Confrontation in Galicia and Poland in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century (Philadelphia, 1985); I. Schiper: Przyczynki do dziejów chasydyzmu w Polsce (Warsaw, 1992); Z. M. Rabinowicz: Ben Pshisha le-Lublin. Ishim veshitot behasidut Polin (Jerusalem, 1997); G. Dynner: »Men of Silk.« The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewry, 1754-1830. Ph.D., Brandeis University 2002.

** J. Shatzky: Geshikhte fun Yidn in Varshe (3 vols.; New York, 1947-1953).

*** D. Assaf, I. Bartal: 'Shtadlanut ve'ortodoksiya. Zadike Polin bemifgash im hazemanim hahadashim', in Zadikim va'anshe ma'ase. Mehkarim bahasidut Polin. Ed. R. Elior, I. Bartal, Ch. Shmeruk (Jerusalem, 1994) 65-90.

**** M. Wodzi?ski: »'Sprawa chasydymów.« Z materia?ów do dziejów chasydyzmu w Królestwie Polskim', in Z historii ludno?ci ?ydowskiej w Polsce i na ?l?sku. Ed. K. Matwijowski (Wroc?aw, 1994) 227-242.