Few features have shaped east European Jewish history as much as the extent and continuity of Jewish self-rule. Offering a broad perspective, 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, and this 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.
Overall, the volume offers an in-depth analysis of the interaction of Jewish legal and political traditions with state policies, and of the transformation of Jewish self-government when states introduced the administrative principles of the Enlightenment and as a result of the partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. 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.