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July 1: The Union of Lublin

Lawrence Bush
July 1, 2010

220px-PolishJews3The Union of Lublin, effected on this day in 1569, brought together the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania under a constitutional monarchy. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth became the largest country in Europe, covering much of what is today Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and Poland. The Jewish population in these lands grew from about 24,000 in 1500 to half a million Jews, or about a third of the world Jewish population, by 1648, as the “Golden Age of Polish Jewry,” a time of ripe religious scholarship, self-rule, and relative well-being, crested. Economically, however, Jews served as merchants, traders, tax collectors, administrators of mills and taverns, financiers, and in other roles that helped the newly empowered Polish nobility force the peasant population into feudal subservience. When Ukrainian Cossacks and peasants rose against the Polish nobility in 1648, more than 100,000 Jews were massacred and the “Golden Age” turned to lead.
“They [Jews] appear to have been well aware of their dangerous situation. Many sources speak of their weapons or of their fortified synagogues. And then came the great catastrophe.” —Heiko Hauman, A History of East European Jews

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.