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Calmanson, Jacques

(1722–1811), medical doctor and early proponent of the Enlightenment among Polish Jews. Jacques Calmanson was born in Hrubieszów, Poland, where his father was probably a rabbi. Calmanson studied medicine in France and was fluent in French, German, and Polish as well as Yiddish and Hebrew. In addition to Germany and France, his travels took him to the Ottoman Empire and Russia. Calmanson eventually settled in Warsaw, serving as physician to the last Polish king, Stanisław August Poniatowski.

Beyond his medical duties, Calmanson was the king’s translator of Hebrew and Yiddish texts and, during the debates in the Four-Year Sejm (1788–1792), he acted as mediator between the authorized representatives of the Jewish communities and regions and the king’s secretary, Scipione Piattoli. In addition, Calmanson wrote a French treatise titled Essai sur l’état actuel des Juifs de Pologne et leur perfectabilité (Essay concerning the Present State of the Jews of Poland and Their Perfectibility; 1796). Probably composed during consultations on the Jewish question in the course of the Four-Year Sejm, Calmanson published this text after the Prussian occupation of Warsaw in 1796, and sent a copy to the Prussian provincial minister, Count Karl Georg Heinrich von Hoym. In this work, which one year later appeared in an extended, Polish-language version titled Uwagi nad niniejszym stanem Żydów polskich y ich wydoskonaleniem (translated by Julian Czechowicz), Calmanson painted a comprehensive picture of Jewish life in Poland while echoing calls for a broad-ranging reform of Jewish life parallel to those made by David Friedländer in Berlin.

Calmanson sharply criticized Jewish communal autonomy, the rabbinical administration of justice (especially its use of ḥerem, or excommunication), and the rising tide of Hasidism. Central to his aggressive critique of the Hasidic movement was his accusation that its leaders were exploiting Jews. The goal of Calmanson’s proposals—which were closely aligned with the ideas of the Prussian Jewish Enlightenment and particularly the notion of “bourgeois improvement” (as proposed by Christian Wilhelm von Dohm)—was the complete disempowerment of the established elites in the Jewish community.

Alongside state control of Jewish marriages and the adoption of “European” patterns of dress, the introduction of Polish-language schools was supposed to help narrow the gap between Jews and the surrounding society. Calmanson’s proposals succeeded to a certain extent in influencing Prussian legislation for the newly created provinces of South Prussia and New East Prussia (1797). During the conflict over the state authorization of Hasidic communities in Congress Poland (1818–1824), the opponents of Hasidism drew upon his text to formulate their arguments, as would Reform-oriented Polish Jewish journalists later on in the nineteenth century.

Suggested Reading

Artur Eisenbach, The Emancipation of the Jews in Poland, 1780–1870, ed. Antony Polonsky, trans. Janina Dorosz (Oxford, 1991); Jacob Shatzky, Geshikhte fun yidn in Varshe, vol. 1 (New York, 1947); Marcin Wodziński, Haskalah and Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland: A History of Conflict, trans. Sarah Cozens and Agnieszka Mirowska (Oxford and Portland, Ore., 2005).



Translated from German by Deborah Cohen