1.02.2022 Events, History

Jewish Self-Government in Eastern Europe

A one-day conference to launch Volume 34 of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry

February 1st 2022

10am-5pm GMT

Online event


Organised by the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies and the Institute of Jewish Studies. Co-organised and supported by The Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London and the Polish Cultural Institute in London.

Few features have shaped east European Jewish history as much as the extent and continuity of Jewish self-rule. This volume explores the traditions, scope, limitations, and evolution of Jewish self-government in the Polish lands and beyond. Extensive autonomy and complex structures of civil and religious leadership were central features of the Jewish experience in this region.

The volume probes the emergence of such structures from the late medieval period onwards, looking at the legal position of the individual community and its role as a political actor. Chapters discuss the implementation of Jewish law and the role of the regional and national Jewish councils which were a remarkable feature of supra-communal representation in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. It reflects on the interaction between Jewish legal traditions and state policies, and offers an in-depth analysis of the transformation of Jewish self-government under the impact of the partitions of Poland–Lithuania and the administrative principles of the Enlightenment. Co-operation between representatives of the Jewish and non-Jewish communities at the local level is discussed down to the interwar years, when Jewish self-government was considered both a cherished legacy of pre-partition autonomy and a threat to the modern nation state.

The conference will have four panels: an introduction to the overall volume, a reflection on the emergence of the Jewish community in Poland-Lithuania with a strong legal framework of self-governance, a panel reflecting on the different trajectories negotiating Jewish self-governance in Poland and eastern Europe in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, and a personal reflection on Jewish communal institution in the transition from the 1980s to the 1990s.


10.00am Welcome

The Embassy of the Republic of Poland

Mr Vivian Wineman, President of the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies (IPJS)

10.15am Panel 1: Introduction to the Volume

• François Guesnet (UCL, Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies)

• Antony Polonsky (Chief Historian Global Educational Outreach Program, POLIN

Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw and Emeritus Professor of Holocaust

Studies at Brandeis University).

10.45am Panel 2: The Emergence of a Jewish Polity

Autonomy and entanglement – on the Agency of Jewish communities in

Early Modern Poland

Jürgen Heyde (GWZO Leipzig)

Jews and the Noble Sejm and Sejmiki in the Polish-Lithuanian


Anna Michałowska-Mycielska (University of Warsaw)

12.00 Lunch break


1.00pm Panel 3: Negotiating Self-Governance (part 1)

Looking across the border: Jewish trans-communal networks in the

Lands of the Bohemian Crown after the Thirty Years’ War

Martin Borysek (University of Potsdam)

Burying the Dead, Saving the Community: The Jewish Burial Society in

Praga as Informal Centre of Jewish Self-Government

Cornelia Aust (Bielefeld University)

2.15pm Panel 3: Negotiating Self-Governance (part 2)

Learning the Past, Planning the Future: Jewish Autonomism at the

beginning of the 20th Century

Marcos Silber (Haifa)

2.45pm Break

3.15pm Panel 4: The Jewish community in Poland from Communism to

the Present

Community building in Warsaw in the 1980s and 1990s:

Personal Recollections

Helena Datner (University of Warsaw)

4.00pm Conclusion

4.15pm End of conference

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