The Old Privileges and the New Spirit of Law: Jewish Residential Areas in the Duchy of Warsaw 

Oniszczuk Aleksandra


Among the most important aspects of government policy aimed at Jews in the nineteenth-century Polish lands was the issue of where Jews could reside. Medieval in its roots, the conviction that some form of separation was needed was vested in contemporary arguments. Pertinent in this context was the stance taken by the authorities of the Duchy of Warsaw. The article discusses the question whether old city privileges imposing restrictions on Jews were in force at that time. The author claims—contrary to previous historiography—that this question cannot be reduced to a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Referring to the concepts of sociology of law, the double dimension of law (law in books and law in action) can be identified. The issue may serve as an interesting example of legal pluralism and the power of law-convictions.

Based on ministerial and local correspondence, the analysis leads to two major conclusions. First, while in theory old city privileges were no longer in force—and this was clearly stated by ministers—the latter decided to refrain from announcing this to the public. Moreover, they agreed to develop an unofficial policy of resolving some cases “as if the old privileges were still binding.” Second, the officially introduced concept of district (rewir) was designed to replace the old privileges, as it offered a variety of new justifications. These were linked to the modernization policy, with claims regarding the integration of acculturated individuals, order, sanitation, and safety.

Słowa kluczowe: Duchy of Warsaw, privileges, Old-Polish privileges, privilegia de non tolerandis Judaeis, residential restrictions, history of Polish Jews, sociology of law, legal pluralism, Księstwo Warszawskie, przywileje, przywileje staropolskie, ograniczenia osiedleńcze, historia Żydów polskich, socjologia prawa, pluralizm prawny