Enduring prestige, Eroded authority: the Warsaw rabbinate in the interwar period

Gershon Bacon

Bar-Ilan University

After Rabbi Jacob Gesundheit was forced to relinquish his office in the 1870s, Warsaw would remain without a chief rabbi for the next seven decades, with religious services provided by a rabbinic council.  This situation was far from anomalous, as by the mid-1930s one major community in Poland after another would dispense with the office of chief rabbi. While the circumstances might vary from place to place, this is part of a general trend of decline in the authority of the rabbinate in the face of secularisation of Jewish society, competing ideologies and leadership elites, and endemic tensions within the orthodox community. Within this general picture, the situation in the capital was still special.  The prestige attached to the Warsaw community and its rabbinate, even if the authority of the office had declined, expressed itself in disputes over inclusion in its ranks of the rabbis of the progressive Tłomackie Street Synagogue, Dr. Samuel Poznański and Dr. Moshe Schorr.  The paper will discuss the situation of the Warsaw rabbinate in the interwar period, examining key personalities of the rabbinate and the functioning of the institution as compared to other communal figures (kehilla leaders, Sejm deputies, nationally prestigious orthodox figures) in key events of the period involving religious issues.

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