05 October 2010

Harsh Repercussions for Debtors (In 17th Century Poland)

This morning, while ellipticalling, I read the following regarding Jewish debtors in 17th century Poland:
When the circumstances of the debtor made it impossible for him to obtain a moratorium from the king or a lesser official, he renegotiated the loan or declared bankruptcy. Therefore, the kahals and the Council of Four Lands evolved elaborate and harsh provisions for bankruptcies. Among these was the requirement that the bankrupt person swear a solemn oath before the open Ark of the Torah stating that he was, in fact, without resources. Similarly, his wife had to make such a declaration before the beadles of the community. All his property was seized by the elders to be sold within six months for the benefit of his creditors. A ban was pronounced against him in the synagogue and he, his wife, and his children were required to be present. If he failed to surrender his property or was otherwise recalcitrant despite the ban, he might have been jailed by the community for periods ranging between eight and thirty days. The bankrupt person might be placed in the stocks (kuna) at the entrance to the synagogue for three days prior to his imprisonment. If he held a position in the kahal he was immediately removed from office, and, even more severely, he lost the "right of settlement" in his community. These provisions applied to persons who were without funds because of business losses. If someone could not pay his debts because he had expended large amounts to provide dowries for his children, he was treated as a thief and subject to imprisonment for a year.1

Wow - that would be considered practically barbaric nowadays! Hundert further explains that
the procedures outlined were clearly intended to deter fraudulent claims of bankruptcy which might have had serious consequences for the community as a whole. Even legitimate bankruptcies might have reduced the credit available to the community. Further, despite royal edicts warning against the practice, the kahals were often held responsible for the debts of defaulting Jewish individuals.2

Thought it was interesting....

1 - Gershon David Hundert, "Jews, Money and Society in the Seventeenth-Century Polish Commonwealth: The Case of Krakow," Jewish Social Studies 43, numbers 3/4 (Summer-Autumn 1981), 267.
2 - Ibid., 268.

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