The settlement of Jews in Opatów was connected to a bigger wave of migration of the Jewish population to Poland in the 16th century. Its characteristic feature was the transfer of Jews from large centres to smaller ones and from royal cities to noble cities. It is worth noting that Opatów was the first noble city in the province of Sandomierz where Jews settled down. The oldest register of Jewish housings from 1507 does not mention Opatów[1.1]. In 1518, however, the town already had some Jewish inhabitants[1.2]. In 1538, four Jewish families were registered in Opatów[1.3]. It is important to note that Jews were very unlikely to have lived in Opatów before 1514, seeing that the town had been a property of the bishops of the Lubusz Province and Jewish people hardly ever settled in church-owned localities. It is most likely, therefore, that Jews began to arrive to the town when Great Chancellor of the Crown Krzysztof Szydłowiecki became the town's owner (1514–1532). Szydłowiecki's rule was a period of glory for Opatów, which encouraged people to settle in the town.
Władysław Fudalewski, a priest and the author of the monograph of Opatów, indicates that the first mention of Jews in the church register book dates back to 1612[1.4]. In 1634, the town was divided into two parts – one for Jews and one for Christians. Later on, the Jewish part came to be known as the “Jewish Street.”[1.5]
The Jews of Opatów were granted their first privilege in 1545 by Jan Tarnowski, the then owner of the town[1.6]. At the turn of the 16th century, a Jewish Community Co-operative was formed in Opatów. It was also most likely the time when a brick synagogue was built. In the 18th century, the community also had a wooden synagogue and a kloyz. The first Rabbi of Opatów was Izaak ben Eljakim Heilprin, who started to perform the function sometime before 1590. Still, it needs to be noted that over the 18th century, there were times when Opatów had three rabbis who worked simultaneously. Aside from the rabbi serving in the brick synagogue and the rabbi in kloyz, a separate rabbi was also selected by the Fraternal Society of Eternal Light (Hebr. Chevra Ner Tamid)[1.7].
[1.1] M. Horn, Najstarszy rejestr osiedli żydowskich w Polsce z 1507 roku, “Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego”, no. 93, 1974, pp. 11-15.
[1.2] H. Horowitz, Die jüdische Gemeinde Opatow und ihre Rabbiner, “Monatschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschlieft des Judentunns”, r. 74, 1930, sheet 1/2, p. 10; R. Kubicki, Żydzi opatowscy od XVI do początku XIX wieku, [in] Z przeszłości Żydów polskich. Polityka – gospodarka – kultura – społeczeństwo, ed. J. Wijaczka and G. Miernik, Kraków 2005, pp. 66-68.
[1.3] Z. Guldon, K. Krzystanek, Ludność żydowska w miastach lewobrzeżnej części województwa sandomierskiego w XVI-XVIII wieku. Studium osadniczo-demograficzne, Kielce 1990, p. 41, 164.
[1.4] W. Fudalewski, Miasto Opatów, Warsaw 1895.
[1.5] Cf. D. Dombrowska; the date is also indicated by W. Fudalewski.
[1.6] Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych w Warszawie, Zbiór Dokumentów Pergaminowych, signature 5749; G. D. Hundert, The Jews in a Polish Private Town. The Case of Opatów in the Eighteenth Century, Baltimore-London 1992, pp. 159-160.
[1.7] See: Archive of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, MA Theses, signature 117/8, p. 13.
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