Jewish self-government in Poland : Lodz, 1914-1939 / Robert Moses Shapiro
Includes bibliographical references (p. 500-531)
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The more than three million Jews of interbellum Poland were organized in nearly 900 religious communities which were recognized by the state as public-legal corporations with the power to levy taxes on their membership. All Jews were automatically members of the local Jewish religious community or kehile, the latest incarnation of the centuries old heritage of communal autonomy which was a hallmark of Jewish life in the Diaspora. It was unthinkable for Polish Jews not to have local self-governing communal organizations, although their role in modern society was debated on the eve of Poland's rebirth in 1918. The entire spectrum of Jewish political groups developed and presented their own programs for Jewish communal organization. German policies in formerly Russian Poland during 1915-18 strongly influenced the future framework of Jewish communal organization in independent Poland. In spite of commitments and promises made at Versailles and in the Polish Constitution, the new Polish state pursued a policy which minimized the competence and autonomy of the Jewish religious communities. Lodz was second only to Warsaw in both general and Jewish population, as its quarter-million Jews comprised a third of the city's entire population. By concentrating on Lodz, one can obtain an understanding of the politics, organization and role of a major kehile within urban Jewish life. The kehiles were governed by democratically elected bodies, whose election involved the entire array of Jewish political parties. Yet the Polish state used various means to affect the outcome of Jewish communal elections, in much the same way as it interfered in municipal politics and government. Levying taxes and various fees, the Jewish communities raised scores of millions annually, dwarfing the spending of all other Jewish institutions. The allocation of such resources was the subject of bitter struggles. Although the interbellum kehile was nominally exclusively a religious institution, it touched nearly every aspect of life within the largest Jewry in Europe before the Second World War.
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