The Doll makes it clear that Warsaw was a multi-ethnic city, inhabited by Poles as well as Jews, Russians and Germans, among others. It does not say, however, that Warsaw was also the capital of many different faiths and religions. Apart from Roman Catholics, who constituted the most numerous, dominant religious group, there were also – as we guess rather than learn from the novel – very large Judaic and Eastern Orthodox communities (not just among Russian officials and military officers, but also tradesmen, engineers, teachers or the poor). The much smaller Protestant groups included the Lutheran majority (the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland) and the Calvinist minority (the Evangelical Reformed Church of Poland). These Evangelical denominations, though organised in separate hierarchies, together formed a tight-knit and influential community of Polonized Germans and converted Jews (e.g., the Kronenberg family of great financiers and industrialists). They belonged to the middle-class, capitalist elite. The faith-oriented portrait of Warsaw of Prus’s lifetime should be made complete with smaller religious groups whose presence is attested by nineteenth-century cemeteries: Muslims (Tsarist Caucasus soldiers, Lithuanian Tatars), Priestless Old Believers who rejected the official, post-Nikonian Eastern Orthodox Church (mostly merchants), Crimean Karaites, and the Mariavite Church that emerged from and was condemned by Roman Catholicism towards the end of the author’s life. Even Warsaw’s Roman Catholics were varied in terms of rituals. Although most followed the Latin Church rites, there were also Eastern Catholic Churches that once entered into union with the Holy See of Rome: the Armenian and the Greek Byzantine Catholic Churches with believers of many different nationalities. After Roman Catholics and Jews, Eastern Orthodox worshippers constituted the third largest religious community in Warsaw.
In 1864, the city’s Jewish population amounted to 72,800 (which constituted 32.7 percent of the total number of inhabitants). This proportion was growing steadily for many different reasons. Firstly, in 1862, Jews who lived in Congress Poland were granted civil rights and housing restrictions were lifted, as was the so-called “ticket tax” that impeded their journeys to Warsaw; secondly, the city saw the influx of Russian-language Jews (so-called Litvaks) migrating from the Russian Empire, where they were persecuted.
Only two Warsaw synagogues were located in separate buildings: the round Prague synagogue, built in 1836 at the crossing of Szeroka and Petersburska Streets (today’s Kłopotowskiego and Jagiellońska Streets), and the Great Synagogue of Warsaw in Tłomackie Street, erected for the Progressive Jewry in the years 1876-1878. More believers attended small private houses of prayer and yeshivas, usually housed inside tenement buildings rather than more imposing edifices (such as one of the most expensive synagogues of Warsaw, a magnificent “house of prayer” established in the Vienna Room of the Lubomirski Palace in 1872, which could seat several hundred people).
Wealthy, well-educated Jewish communities of Warsaw (financiers, merchants, and members of the intelligentsia) were quick to adopt Reform Judaism, also known as Progressive Judaism. Changes were introduced rather slowly, so at first women were still separated from men. The first Progressive temples appeared in the first half of the nineteenth century: the Old and the New German Synagogue in Daniłowiczowska Street and the Polish Synagogue in Nalewki Street were followed by the grandest of Jewish temples in Warsaw – the Great Synagogue in Tłomackie Street (a neo-Classicist edifice designed by Leandro Marconi, planned and erected for 20 years before its inauguration in 1878). Far fewer Warsaw Jews followed the school of Conservative Judaism, originated by rabbi Zacharias Frenkel in 1845 as a transition form between Orthodox and Progressive Judaism; it kept Hebrew as the language of public worship, upheld the Shabbat tradition, and adhered to kosher requirements.