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Jewish emancipation was the external (and internal) process in various nations in Europe of eliminating Jewish disabilities, e.g. Jewish quotas, to which European Jews were then subject, and the recognition of Jews as entitled to equality and citizenship rights.[1] It included efforts within the community to integrate into their societies as citizens. It occurred gradually between the late 18th century and the early 20th century. Jewish emancipation followed the Age of Enlightenment and the concurrent Jewish Enlightenment.[2] Various nations repealed or superseded previous discriminatory laws applied specifically against Jews where they resided. Before the emancipation, most Jews were isolated in residential areas from the rest of the society; emancipation was a major goal of European Jews of that time, who worked within their communities to achieve integration in the majority societies and broader education. Many became active politically and culturally within wider European civil society as Jews gained full citizenship. They emigrated to countries offering better social and economic opportunities, such as the Russian Empire and France. Some European Jews turned to Socialism,[3] and others to Jewish Zionism.[4]

Background

The 1791 law proclaiming the Emancipation of the Jews – Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme

Jews were subject to a wide range of restrictions throughout most of European history. Since the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215, Christian Europeans required Jews and Muslims to wear special clothing, such as the Judenhut and the yellow badge for Jews, to distinguish them from Christians. The practice of their religions was often restricted, and they had to swear special oaths. Jews were not allowed to vote, where vote existed, and some countries formally prohibited their entry, such as Norway, Sweden and Spain after the expulsion in the late 15th century.

In contrast, in 1264, the Polish Prince Boleslaw the Pious issued the "Statute of Kalisz" – The General Charter of Jewish Liberties in Poland, an unprecedented document in medieval history of Europe that allows Jews personal freedom, legal autonomy and separate tribunal for criminal matters as well as safeguards against forced baptism and blood libel. The Charter was ratified again by subsequent Polish Kings: Casimir the Great of Poland in 1334, Casimir IV of Poland in 1453, and Sigismund I the Old of Poland in 1539. After massive expulsions of Jews from Western Europe (England, France, Germany, and Spain), they found a refuge in the lands of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. During the Jagiellon Era Poland became the home to Europe's largest Jewish population, as royal edicts warranting Jewish safety and religious freedom from the 13th century contrasted with bouts of persecution in Western Europe, especially following the Black Death of 1348–1349, blamed by some in the West on Jews themselves. Large parts of Poland suffered relatively little from the outbreak, while the Jewish immigration brought valuable manpower and skills to the rising state. The greatest increase in Jewish numbers occurred in the 18th century, when Jews came to make up 7% of the Polish population.