My research on early modern Jewish history is best characterized as integrative and comparative. It is my understanding that, even in the early modern period, Jewish society did not exist separately from the society which surrounded it, but rather formed an integral part of it. Thus, in order to understand the history of Polish-Lithuanian Jewry, it is crucial first to grasp the complex, multi-cultural nature of the Polish-Lithuanian state. Consequently each phenomenon of this aspect of Jewish history must be researched within the context of the broader social and cultural system of which it formed a part, and compared with parallel phenomena in non-Jewish history.
I developed this approach first in my monograph on living conditions in the Jewish quarter of Poznan in the seventeenth century. In this study I analyzed the history of the Jews in one of the largest Jewish quarters in Europe by showing, among other things, the ways in which the experience of Jews and non-Jews who lived together, sharing the same urban infrastructure (such as streets, water supply, sewage and trash-removal), were parallel yet different. In my second book a study of the economic role and social status of the Jews on the estates belonging the powerful Radziwill family in Lithuania in the eighteenth century I further developed this approach. By examining the Radziwill estates as a specific form of economic enterprise, the crucial role that the Jews played in the economy came into sharp focus, allowing me to explain the causes for its development as well as its implications for both Polish Jewish society and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as a whole.
My next study focused on the rabbinate, long viewed as a wholly "internal" Jewish institution. However, by examining it not only with the sources of Jewish provenance, but also through the prism of documentation produced by the various authorities of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, I revealed that the rabbinate not only played an important role in the general administrative system as one of the means of controlling Jewish society, but also modeled itself on the institutions of Polish society from which it derived its power. In turn, this revealed changes in the way Polish-Lithuanian Jews related to the religious heritage which their rabbis transmitted to them.
As I have been working on this project, a different aspect of the stormy history of mid-seventeenth century Polish-Lithuanan Jewry has begun to interest me further. Having concentrated my research on the Polish context of Polish-Lithuanian Jewish history, it has become clear to me that we now need to reassess the Jewish context of that history. I am therefore now working on a study which will deal with the seventeenth century Polish-Lithuanian Jewish refugee crisis which followed the Chmielnicki uprising of 1648 and subsequent wars. In it, I examine both the experiences of the refugees themselves and the ways in which various communities and institutions in different countries co-operated in order to help them. Through this work, I hope to be able to reconstruct the social, economic, and personal connections which created the seventeenth century Jewish world, stretching from England to Iran and from Riga to Cairo. I should thus be able to assess both Polish-Lithuanian Jewry's changing place within a wider Jewish world, and the ways in which the wider Jewish world influenced the development of Polish-Lithuanian Jewry in the early modern period.