Let us first briefly describe the history of European Jewry. Since the time of the Roman Empire, Jews have lived compactly in Germany and Spain, but they were forced to flee from the former at the very beginning of the Crusades. They settled in neighboring countries, whose rulers valued their commercial skills, but in the end they were driven out of greed for their property and at the request of their Christian subjects. By the middle of the 14th century, the children of Zion were banned from living in most European states.
But Poland decided to let them in, whose kings wanted to restore the country after several Mongol invasions. After the unification of Poland and Lithuania (including its Belarusian and Ukrainian possessions), Jews appeared in Eastern Europe. Since it was an educated and disciplined, and most importantly, a non-drinker people, the gentry of the Rzecz Pospolita loved to appoint Jews as managers of their property.
Now let’s get closer to the topic.
At that time, the most powerful tycoon family in Lithuania was the Radziwills, the descendants of the pagan Lithuanian nobility. One of the representatives of this family, Prince Nicholas, came to Italy in 1582 for the purpose of pilgrimage and was deprived of what was honestly acquired by local noble robbers. Or, according to another version, the Pope himself sentenced the prince to vagrancy and a life of alms for a whole year for some misdeeds unknown to us.
One way or another, the noble Litvin pushed around the city of Padua, wanting to find help from the local residents, but was received only by the local rabbi, who fed him and gave him money for the return trip. This rabbi had a son, Shaul, who studied for several years in Lithuania at a Jewish religious school. And when Prince Radziwill returned home, in gratitude he made him his confidant and granted all kinds of economic privileges.
Shaul quickly became a thriving entrepreneur and amassed immense wealth. He was involved in the salt trade, which was a strategically important resource in those days, and also lent to tycoons and nobles of lower origins. In any case, the young Jew was well acquainted with the high-ranking gentry and the commoner landowners.
When in 1586 the former king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the renowned commander Stefan Batory, passed away, a Diet was convened, to which gentry meetings from all over the Polish-Lithuanian state sent their delegates. His task was to elect a new king, but since there was no agreement, while the magnates were judging and judging, it was decided to appoint an interrex – in Polish acting. king.
The most likely candidate was the very same Nikolai Radziwill, but he refused to take up this high post, and the gentry, hot with strong drinks, for fun appointed Shaul, whom they knew well, as temporary king, who from that time received the honorary surname Val – from German it translates as “ election”.
Of course, he was not allowed to rule, but according to legend, the Jewish banker managed to issue several edicts overnight that significantly improved the situation of his people in the Commonwealth, which after that became from just a country tolerant of Jews, recognized as the Jewish center of all of Europe.
And even despite the fact that the next day Sigismund of the Swedish Vasa dynasty was proclaimed king, he did not cancel Shaul’s decrees, and he became one of his entourage and lived a very long and happy life. Later he built a synagogue in the Belarusian city of Brest, on which he wrote: “Shaul, who has power.”