Congregation Zolynia

Kehilla Map

The villages with names in black were part of the Zolynia Kehilla at the turn of the 20th century. The numbers in purple are the Jewish population in 1900; the numbers in red are estimates of the Jewish population in 1939, just before the German invasion (some smaller villages appear to have had no Jews left in 1939). The four towns in green (Grodzisko, Lancut, Lezajsk and Przeworsk) were substantial nearby shtetls and are included for comparison. Distances from the Zolynia market square to market square or "downtown" area of: Chodaczow, 9.4 miles (15.1 km); Grodzisko (Dolne), 6.9 miles (11.1 km); Lancut, 7.2 miles (11.6 km); Lezajsk, 8.4 miles (13.5 km); Przeworsk, 10.9 miles (17.5 km).


The Zolynia Kehilla

Since the fifteenth century, the nobiity of Poland allowed Jewish subjects to govern their own communities in religious, social and some economic affairs. Each Jewish community was part of a Kehilla, a Hebrew word that means "community" or "congregation" (the plural of Kehilla is Kehillot). In Polish, the word became "Kahal," and that was the official name of the governing board of elders that made many important decisions for the congregation. In 1789, the Austrian government divided Galicia into 140 official Jewish communities, and Zolynia became the seat of one of these official Jewish districts.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Kahal of Zolynia Miasteckzo ("country town") included Jewish residents of fourteen other nearby villages: Bialobrzegi; Biedaczow; Brzoza Stadnicka; Chodaczow; Czarna; Dabrowki; Gwizdow; Kopanie; Korniaktow; Laszczyny; Rakszawa; Smolarzyny; Zalesie and Zmyslowka.

In the Austrian Empire, the Kahal was was an official agency, authorized to collect taxes from the Jewish community, representing its interests to the civil authorities, supporting its poor and homeless, settling legal disputes and generally supervising all religious activities. The council of at least three elders selected the Chief Rabbi for the congregation, who was responsible for recording births, deaths and marriages with the civil authorities. The Kahal elders also licensed some economic activities, such as the right to bid on arendas (leases) to manage businesses or resources for the Lancut nobility.

The Kahal had its own employees, which at different times might include assistant Rabbis, scribes, synagogue workers, a tax collector, a registrar of Jewish vital records and neighborhood street cleaners and watchmen, as needed. Even after the Polish government officially disbanded the Kahal system in 1927, the Zolynia Jewish Community remained a recognized legal corporation and continued to supervise religious activities (in the 1930s, the Zolynia congregation had nine employees, including the Rabbi and a kosher slaughterer).

Synagogues and Prayer Houses

Generally, any outlying village that had ten or more adult Jewish men would have a daily minyan, prayer services, often held in a room inside someone's home (a shtibel). The entire Jewish district would attend services for the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur at the main synagogue in Zolynia Centre, just off the market square. Most of those coming from the outlying village areas would arrange to stay overnight with relatives or friends near the synagogue.

Today, most Jewish people in the United States and other Western countries use the terms "synagogue" and "shul" interchangeably. In prewar Central Europe, there was a clearer difference. A shul (bet tefila) was a "house of prayer," only used for worship. A synagogue (bet knesset) was a "house of assembly" and would usually have a sanctuary for services and additional rooms for study or meetings. In the Zolynia Kehilla, there were several shuls (Rakszawa had a permanent shul), but only one synagogue and only one Jewish cemetery. Prior to the Second World War, Zolynia also had a separate Beit Midrash or study house (sometimes referred to as a yeshiva), where young men read and learned prayers and religious commentary from a hired rabbi on afternoons after public school.


The building in the rear, shown just before or during the Second World War, shows the new synagogue of Zolynia. Built adjacent to the old wooden synagogue, it was never completed. One room was in use at the time of the German invasion.


More Information

In the mid-1930s, Zolynia's Jewish congregation began building a large, mostly-brick synagogue just off the market square, to replace a smaller, wooden synagogue nearby. Financing and construction proceeded slowly and it was hoped that it would be opened by the end of 1939. It was never completed at the time of the German invasion, although one room was in use. It was converted into a stable and then dismantled during the occupation.

The makeup of the Kahal would change through the years, as newer settlements developed and small groups of Jewish families moved to nearby villages. The satellite communities (called prikahalki in Polish and sebiboth or yeshubim in Hebrew), were occassionally the subject of disputes between Kahals laying competing claims to jurisdiction. There was a sophisticated system of higher bodies which would hear appeals and arbitrate disputes.

A researcher suggests that by the Second World War, the village of Budy Lancuckie (5 miles or 8 km southeast of Zolynia, just north of the Wislok River, south of Zmyslowka) was part of the Zolynia Kehilla. This has not been confirmed. Budy Lancuckie had an estimated 74 Jewish residents prior to the war. it was part of the Lancut congregation in 1900.


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