138 Leaves (13 3/4 x 8 3/4 in.; 350 x 225 mm). Original foliation in Hebrew letters in brown ink; 3-93, + 37 blanks=138 leaves; Later pagination in numerals in red ink: 3-171,+ 75 blank pages=243 pp. Manuscript on paper written in brown ink in numerous Ashkenazic semi-cursive scripts. Stained and soiled. Corners rounded, with loss of small amounts of marginal text to a few leaves. Bookplate on front pastedown endpaper. Early twentieth century vellum, yapp edges, leather ties; manuscript title (misdated) on spine in red and brown calligraphic lettering.
Separate bifolium (13 x 8 in.; 330 x 200 mm). Manuscript contract on paper, written in a fine Yiddish script. Creased; strengthened at fold. Sealed in red wax by both parties. Housed within a black moire silk envelope which bears a gold stamped black leather plaque, affixed to binding between rear free and pastedown endpapers of aforementioned volume.
Originally created to fulfill a ritual need, Jewish burial societies (Hevra Kadisha) evolved over time into increasingly complex and stratified organizations. From very early on, rules and regulations were promulgated to ensure the proper performance of the societies' duties and to provide penalties for violation of those rules. Each Hevra created a pinkas in which these rules were recorded alongside the names of each of the members of the society.
From the late eighteenth century and onward, the hevrot became increasingly involved with issues of general welfare and less focused on the single issue of death. With this increased involvement and their strict hierarchical structure, these hevrot wielded enormous power over individuals as well as a wide range of social and communal activities.
This Pinkas of the Hevra Kaddisha of Praga (Warsaw) 1785-1870, contains a broad range of important documentation of Jewish communal life in Warsaw during 85 years of extreme political changes – the partition of Poland, the Napoleonic wars and the aftermath of the Congress of Vienna.
Since the early sixteenth century, the city of Warsaw had enjoyed the privilege of de non tolerandis Judaeis, granted by King Sigismund I (1467-1548) under which it had the right to exclude Jews. For the few Jews who managed, through some grant of tolerance, to in fact live in Warsaw, their communal affiliations were funneled through the permitted Jewish settlement in the outlying district of Praga, where Jews were officially permitted to reside. This was especially true of the Hevra Kaddisha and the cemetery of Praga, which served the needs of the Warsaw Jews as well. Although the pinkas begins in the years prior to the official annexation of Praga to Warsaw (in 1791), it nevertheless, includes members of both communities on the the membership rolls and roster of officers of the Hevra Kaddisha. The pinkas contains the society's takkanot or regulations, resolutions of the Hevra Kaddisha regular meetings, results of society elections, admissions of new members, etc.
Attached to the pinkas is a separate contract between Gitl Jacobowitz [Zbitkower], widow of financier, tradesman, and industrialist, [Joseph] Samuel ben Avigdor Jacobowitz [Zbitkower] and the Hevra Kaddisha. Dated Wednesday, the 6th of Elul 5570 [5 September 1810] and written in "Germanized" Yiddish, Gitl, referred to here as Lady Jacobowitz, as "hereditary tenant" of the property on which the cemetery was located, agrees to transfer the cemetery to the communal administration, but she retains certain rights, including an annual rental in perpetuity.
This pinkas includes numerous examples of the hevra kadisha's role as an integral part of the fabric of Jewish communal life in the midst of a changing world. It stands as an important and as yet untapped resource for the history of the Jews of Poland and particularly those of Warsaw.
Provenance: Michael Zagayski-sold, Parke Bernet, 27 January 1970; Collection of Chimen Abramsky.
We are greatful to Dr. Shlomo Zucker for providing information which assisted in the cataloging of the present lot.
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