Family visiting Jewish cemetery in Będzin.

Judaism is best understood as a diverse tradition of several interpretations, practices, and philosophies. A unifying source in Judaism is the acceptance of strict monotheism, the sacred Scripture of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), the observance of God’s covenant with the Jewish people on Mount Sinai, and a shared history of some 3,500 years.


Judaism is the religious, moral, social, and legal traditions of the Jewish people, a community called Israel. From its roots in antiquity to modern times, Judaism has also endured a painful history of persecutions (see also antisemitism and anti-Judaism).


In the early nineteenth century, Jews in Western Europe enjoyed an era of social, political, and cultural blossoming, known as the Jewish Enlightenment or Haskalah. Influenced by ideas of intellectualism and individualism emphasized by the European Enlightenment, the Jewish response was to reaffirm and reinterpret their own religious and cultural identity. Reform Judaism emerged during this time in Germany and the United States, embracing a liberalization of religious practices and modernization of Jewish ethics.


Będzin’s Great Synagogue was the center of Jewish religious and cultural life.
Będzin’s Great Synagogue was the center of Jewish religious and cultural life.

Against those new developments in Judaism, caused by modern secularization and assimilation, those Jews who held on to older traditions defended the purity of their traditions dictated by Torah and Talmud. They are generally known as Orthodox Jews.


Such diversity within Judaism was also reflected within the Jewish community of Będzin. It included those who wanted to preserve Orthodox Judaism, those who advocated for a more mystical and joyful religious practice (Hasidism), and those who conformed Jewish traditions to the realities of modern Polish society. Others embraced Zionism, the idea that Jews, like all other European nation states, deserved their own homeland. According to Zionism, Jews belonged to the land of Israel promised to them by God. This land, a the time of the Holocaust, was the territory of Palestine under the British mandate.