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In studies of the history of Polish Jews research on reform of Judaism is often overlooked, and the opinion is frequently expressed that Polish Jews were tied to traditional Judaism - Orthodoxy and Hasidism - and did not accept the ideas of religious reform coming from the West. This opinion is perhaps correct in terms of the number of "progressive" Jews, as they called themselves, in comparison to the total number of Polish Jews. However, the influence of "progressives" went much further and deeper in Jewish and Polish society than their numbers might suggest. Progressive Jews played a particularly important role in the development of mutual relations with Poles and Christian neighbors. These ties became especially strong in the 1850s and ‘60s, when religious leaders - preachers - started to teach that the obligation of Jews in Poland is to turn into "Poles of Mosaic faith." Ideas of reform of Judaism came to the Polish lands at the beginning of the 19th century by means of German-Jewish culture and through the German language. After a short time we could start to observe the process of polonization of German synagogues, although we must be conscious that this process did not start and end at the same time in all places. This process can be also observed in the names adherents of reform of Judaism gave to their worship places in Poland. Their synagogues or prayer houses were called "reformed," "German" or "progressive, ""Polish," or "Tempel."
Tempel in Kraków


The first progressive synagogue was established in 1802 by Isaac Flatau, who founded a private synagogue at Daniłowiczowska street in Warsaw, which from the outset was called a German synagogue. This institution began a new chapter in 1858 when Markus (Mordechai) Jastrow became its preacher. In the following years, which preceded the January uprising of 1863 against the Russian occupation of Poland, Jewish-Polish, or more properly, Jewish-Christian relations evolved with an intensity that had been unknown earlier. This came about under the great influence of Rabbi Jastrow, but also with the involvement of Rabbis Dov Ber Meisels, the chief Rabbi who came to Warsaw from Krakow in 1856, and Izaak Kramsztyk, a preacher of the Polish-progressive synagogue associated with the Rabbinical School in Warsaw.

These three Rabbis tried to instill in their communities a love for the land and "the brothers, with whom they share a common homeland" and also "love for native language and culture" which they saw as their preacher’s duty. Because of their efforts, in just a few years they succeeded in developing a Polish-Jewish fraternity, although the beginnings were difficult.

There were several small demonstrations in Warsaw in February 1861, but the turning point was the protest march of February 27th, in which five participants were killed. The funeral of the five victims became one of the most important patriotic events because of its religious dimension and because of its ecumenical character. Jastrow described it as follows:

"[...] Immediately before the coffin walked the elite of the Catholic clergy, Archbishop Fijalkowski, Bishops Dekert and Plater and the high priests and preachers of the reformed churches, both Leopold Otto and Julius Ludwig; the Jewish Rabbis went, according to their custom, behind the coffins with covered heads, led by members of the hevra kadisha/burial society. (...)

Imagine how important was for an orthodox rabbi in Poland and for ten dajanim to go in the Christian funeral procession behind the Cross, and that on the Sabbath day, when he had to cancel prayers in hundreds of synagogues in Warsaw. (...)

A week later, again on the Sabbath, it was feared that unarmed vigilantes would disrupt order in places of prayer. In some churches, the Jews maintained order, and in some synagogues, Christians. Modern preachers who could explain the importance of mourning in the Polish language served only two synagogues. During this service was the first time I spoke in Polish. That same day in our small synagogue more educated Christians than Jews gathered, and many of them said: "Here is knowledge, here's love for man." Some of them cried out with tears in their eyes: "And this is the people (the Jews) that we could pursue for hundreds of years? (...) Yes, this day was a day of great victory for Jewry, the day of the sanctification of the Name".

Jastrow felt that this event became the inspiration for the emergence of a sense of brotherhood of all social strata and religions, first in Warsaw and later throughout the Polish Kingdom and Polish territories in all partition zones.


In Krakow in 1844 the "Association of Religion and Civilization" was formed, and in 1861 a new synagogue for proponents of progress called "Tempel" was founded (which exists to this day). In 1868 Rabbi Szymon Dankowicz was hired as a preacher. His nomination aroused many hopes, since he spoke and preached in Polish.

Rabbi Dankowicz came to Krakow from Warsaw, where he had been involved in the activities of the circle of young Jewish intelligentsia that gathered under the leadership of Rabbi Marcus Jastrow. Dankowicz himself also took part in patriotic demonstrations in Warsaw in the beginning of the sixties and then in the January Uprising. Dankowicz arrived in Krakow in 1867, and the next year he became a preacher in the progressive Tempel, the first preacher who preached there in Polish. This gained him the favor of Poles and progressive circles, but he was condemned by traditionalists.

Dankowicz continued to promote Markus Jastrow's ideals. His activities were noticed and appreciated by Christian citizens of Krakow. A symbol of his activities in this field was his participation in the celebrations on the occasion of finding King Casimir the Great's grave in the Wawel Cathedral and his re-burial in 1869. Dankowicz organized a religious ceremony in honor of the king in the Tempel synagogue and gave a passionate sermon in which he stressed that Jews are “sons of Polish land and a part of the Polish nation,” and he called Krakow “the true Polish Jerusalem.” The sermon was met with great enthusiasm, both by Christians and Jews, and received ovations. The event at the Temple in Krakow is recounted in the memoirs of Stanisława Serafińska as the first religious-patriotic meeting of Poles and Jews in the synagogue.

These patriotic teachings were cultivated by the succeeding leaders of the Temple, including Maurycy Weber and particularly Rabbi Ozjasz Thon. Ozjasz Thon was one of the most influential and original thinkers and Jewish activists in Poland of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.1 Thon's work and activities are full of contradictions, however, and are difficult to understand in a one-dimensional way. He opposed assimilation and divisions in Judaism, but as leader of the Zionist organization, spoke positively about Polish culture and participation in it by the Jews. Thon's program as a religious progressive preacher and Zionist leader created a new type of religious leader in Poland that united progressive Judaism with Zionism 2.

His Zionist beliefs brought him to reconsider the views of the reformers and return to the concept of Jews as a nation and not just a religious community, to which he gave expression in sermons and religious and political activities. However, the Polish language and Polish culture still remained an important medium for expressing his opinions and ideas. Polish history, literature and culture were for him a reference point for the realization of his vision of Zionism. Thus, in his sermons the ideas of Polish romanticism, messianism, and patriotism appear as motivating examples for a Jewish national revival. Thon argued that the Jewish national idea should follow the example of the Polish national idea, and especially its literature. He wrote,

"All my life I was sorrowful because the Zionist idea in its wider and deepest meaning, namely, the national idea, did not show its progenitive power, did not give birth to any outstanding poet who would become impassioned by the mighty flame of this idea! Polish literature, for example, was never so fertile, so rich, before the awful catastrophe that happened to the nation. In these days nationalistic sentiment aroused entirely the nation's somnolent powers, and created poets like Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki, and Zygmunt Krasiński. The soul in their poetry is the nation's disaster, and perhaps even more - the nation's hope. And among us, ancient people [...] where is our new "song of songs" when, once again, a great idea and forceful feeling excite us?" 3


The beginnings of a progressive synagogue in Lviv are dated to the forties of the nineteenth century, when a synagogue was built, with the name "Deutsch-Israelitischen Bethause.” At the end of the nineteenth century, the name was changed to "Progressive Communal Synagogue," or simply "Great" or "Temple."

The process of polonization of Lviv Temple society started relatively late. Lviv was at the time the capitol of Galicia, with many government offices that had direct connections to Vienna. Although the board of the Temple for a long time was oriented towards Vienna, there were groups of progressives who openly shifted towards Polish culture by the 1880ties.

In 1882 Lviv saw the establishment of the Agudat Achim, or Association of Brothers (in Polish, Przymierze Braci), a cultural and social organization aimed at severing the traditional connection of Galician Jewry to the German language and culture and at striving for integration within the Galician Polish sphere. Behind Agudat Achim was a group of youths in their final years of high school as well as university students; its most prominent early leaders were Alfred Nossig, Adolf Lilien, Wilhelm Feldman, and Herman Diamand. Upon its establishment, Agudat Achim turned the newspaper Ojczyzna (Fatherland) into its official organ. This paper, issued twice monthly from 1881, contained a Hebrew supplement called Ha-Mazkir ahavah le-erets moladeto (The Recorder of Love for the Homeland). The newspaper’s logo was the Polish eagle with a Star of David on its breast. An editorial in Ojczyzna set forth the main goals of the organization, which were described in the following way:

"We will strive to expand the intense love of the Polish language and knowledge of the history of Israel in Poland."

Initiatives by the editorial board of "Ojczyzna" and later Agudas Achim had a particularly strong influence on the development of patriotism among the Jews in Lviv and Galicia. The first patriotic ceremony organized in the Lviv Temple took place on January 21, 1882, on the eve of the anniversary of the 1863 January uprising. The ceremony was widely attended, both by Jews and Christians.

After the official prayers, Jews and Christians for the first time sang together the Polish song, "God, thou Judah/Boże coś Judę", the text of which was distributed before the service. This song was inspired by "God thou Poland" (Boże coś Polskę), and the author of the words was the editor of "Ojczyzna" and member of Agudat Achim, Alfred Nossig. The song, which has the alternate title "Pojednanie” (Reconciliation), compared the common fate of Poles and Jews. Agudat Achim popularized the song, and the text was regularly distributed on the occasion of patriotic events and sung in Temples in Galicia and the Polish lands. Agudat Achim was the first Jewish organization open to Christians, and it repeatedly emphasized that the emancipation of Jews and improving Christian-Jewish relations must be the common work of the representatives of both faiths.

We can sum up with the observation that the song "Boże coś Judę" became the symbol of Polish-Jewish relations and of the common fate of these two nations. These patriotic teachings, events, and prayers that were housed in Temples - progressive synagogues - in Polish lands in the 19th century became a permanent element of their programs. Crowds of Jewish citizens always gathered in the synagogues of independent Poland for celebrations of anniversaries of great events in Polish history (eg. uprisings, the constitution), national holidays as well as commemorations of great Polish personalities such as Tadeusz Kościuszko, poets Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki, or politicians such as Józef Pilsudski. When we look at the religious program of the progressives we can observe a shift towards tradition, or conservative Judaism, while patriotic teaching figured as a very important part of the progressives' activities before the Holocaust.

Based on:

Michał Galas, Rabbi Marcus Jastrow and his vision for the Reform of Judaism. A Study in the History of Judaism in the Nineteenth Century,(transl. by Anna Tilles) Academic Studies Press: Boston 2013.

Synagoga Tempel i środowisko krakowskich Żydów postępowych (Synagogue Temple and the Society of progressive Jews in Krakow), ed. by Michał Galas, Wydawnictwo Austeria, Kraków - Budapest 2012.

1About Thon see: N. Hollander, Jehoshua Thon. Preacher, Thinker, Politician, Montevideo 1966, E. Melzer, Between Politics and Spirituality: The Case of Dr Oziasz Thon (1870–1936), Reform Rabbi of Kraków , in: Polin. Studies in Polish Jewry, Vol. 23, Jews in Kraków, edited by M. Galas & A. Polonsky, Oxford 2011, pp. 261-269; M. Galas, Ozjasz (Jehoszua) Thon (1870-1936) - kaznodzieja i rabin, w: O. Thon, Kazania 1895-1906, Kraków 2010, pp. 5-16.
2E. Melzer, Between Politics ..., pp. 264-267.
3S. Ronen, Jehoshua Ozjasz Thon: Jewish Nationality - Polish Paradigm, in: Polish and Hebrew Literature and National Identity, edited by A. Molisak & S. Ronen, Warszawa 2010, p. 74.

Dr. Michał Galas was visiting professor in the Skalny Center in Fall 2013. He is associate professor at the Institute of Jewish Studies, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland.