Up to 1812
Further Developments in the Mid-1990s
MOLDOVA (formerly Moldavia), independent democratic republic belonging to the CIS, which proclaimed its independence in May 1990. In 1979 it had 80,100 Jews and in 1989–65,800 (of whom 35,700 lived in Kishinev). The estimated Jewish population at the end of 1991 was 28,500. In 1988 the Jewish birth rate was 9.3 per 1,000 and mortality rate—17.1 per 1,000.
BessarabiaThe region between the rivers Prut and Dniester; before 1812 part of Moldavia, with several districts under direct Ottoman rule; within Russia 1812-1918; part of Rumania 1918-40; returned to Russia 1940
BESSARABIA, region between the rivers Prut and Dniester; before 1812 part of Moldavia, with several districts under direct Ottoman rule; within Russia 1812–1918; part of Rumania 1918–40; returned to Russia 1940. The larger (central) part is in Moldova; the extreme northern and southern sections in the Ukraine.
Up to 1812From the 15th century onward, Jewish Sephardi merchants from Constantinople frequented Bessarabia while using the trade route which crossed the length of the territory, connecting the countries of the East and the Black Sea shores with Poland. Later, Jewish merchants from Poland also began coming to Bessarabia. Some of them settled there, thus laying the foundation of the first Jewish communities in northern and central Bessarabia; in southern Bessarabia Jewish communities were found already in the 16th century. By the early 18th century, permanent Jewish settlements had been established in several commercial centers. Toward the end of the century relatively large numbers of Jews were living in most of the urban settlements and in many villages. Their number was estimated at 20,000 in 1812. The legal status of the Jews in the part of Bessarabia under Moldavian rule was similar to that of the rest of Moldavian Jewry. They were organized in autonomous communities subject to the authority of the hakham bashi in Jassy. In the parts under Ottoman rule they were subject to the same laws as the other communities under this regime. In the 18th and 19th centuries the Jews in Bessarabia mainly engaged in local commerce and liquor distilling; some traded on a considerable scale with neighboring countries. In the villages main occupations were leasing activities and innkeeping. In the cultural sphere, Bessarabian Jewry in this period was not advanced. The most prominent rabbis of the early 19th century were Hayyim b. Solomon of Czernowitz, rabbi of Kishinev, and David Solomon Eibenschutz, rabbi of Soroki. Jacob Frank exerted an influence from Podolia, and Khotin became a center for Frank and his adherents. Toward the end of the 18th century Hasidism penetrated Bessarabia.
1812–1918After the Russian annexation in 1812, Bessarabia was included in the Pale of Settlement, and many Jews settled there from other parts of the Pale. The Jewish population, mainly concentrated in Kishinev and district and in the northern part of the region, grew from 43,062 in 1836 to 94,045 in 1867 (excluding New Bessarabia, see below), and to 228,620 (11.8% of the total) in 1897. Of these 109,703 (48%) lived in the towns (of them 50,237, or 22%, in Kishinev), 60,701 (26.5%) in small towns, and 58,216 (25.5%) in the villages. They formed 37.4% of the town population, 55.7% of the population of the small towns, and 3.8% of the village population. Regulations governing the legal status of the Jews of Bessarabia after the annexation were issued in 1818. In conformance with the Russian pattern Jews were required to join one of the three classes: merchants, townsmen, or peasants. All their former rights were confirmed, while the existent Russian legislation concerning the Jews did not apply, since Bessarabia had autonomous status. The regulations even expressly authorized Bessarabian Jews to reside in the villages and engage in leasing activities and innkeeping, in contradiction to the "Jewish Statute" of 1804 (see Russia). Because of this regional autonomy, the Jews of Bessarabia were spared several of the most severe anti-Jewish decrees issued in the first half of the 19th century. By 1835, when liquidation of Bessarabian autonomy began, the "Jewish legislation" then promulgated in Russia was equally applied to Bessarabian Jewry, although the prohibition on Jewish residence in border regions was not enforced in Bessarabia until 1839, and compulsory military service until 1852. In the second half of the 19th century the restriction on Jewish residence in the border area assumed special importance for the Jews of Bessarabia. By the Treaty of Paris (1856) a territory in the southern part of the region was allocated to Rumania, and many localities, including Kishinev, now fell in the border area. The restrictions were not strictly enforced and thousands of Jews settled in this region, although decrees of expulsion were issued in 1869, 1879, 1886, and 1891. Of these the most severe and extensive was that of 1869. Expulsions of individual Jews also became frequent. The Jews in New Bessarabia—the area incorporated within Rumania by the Treaty of Paris—shared the fate of the other Jews in the country. The anti-Jewish riots which broke out in the towns of this region—Izmail, Kagul, and Vilkovo—in 1872 aroused both Jewish and non-Jewish public opinion in Europe, and diplomatic intervention was enlisted to alleviate their position. When New Bessarabia reverted to Russia in 1878, the Jews who were then recorded on the Rumanian tax registers were permitted to remain there. The "May Laws" of 1882 severely affected Jews in Bessarabia as a considerable proportion lived in the villages, and frequent expulsions ensued. In 1903 a frightful pogrom broke out in Kishinev. The wave of pogroms of 1905 swept Bessarabia. Three towns and 68 other localities were struck and 108 Jews were murdered. The damage was estimated at 3,500,000 rubles. The 1917 Revolution in Russia brought civic equality for the Jews of Bessarabia.
During the 19th century the economic structure of Bessarabian Jewry remained basically unchanged. In their old occupations Jews played an important role within the agrarian economy of the region. An increasing number of Jews entered agriculture, and between 1836 and 1853, 17 Jewish agricultural settlements were established in Bessarabia, mostly in the northern districts, on lands purchased or leased from Christian or Jewish landowners. There were 10,859 persons living on these settlements in 1858; 12.5% of Bessarabian Jewry were farmers, and the region became among the largest and most important centers of Jewish agriculture in Russia. There were 106,031 dessiatines (276,283 acres) in Jewish ownership in 1880 (2.5% of the arable land of Bessarabia) and an additional 206,538 dessiatines (557,652 acres) held by Jews on lease. In time, especially after the application of the "May Laws," most of the settlements were liquidated. According to a survey carried out by the Jewish Colonization Association (ICA) in 1899, there were 1,492 families (7,782 persons), of whom 53% were landowners, on the six settlements still in existence. Of these families only 31.5% were engaged in agricultural work. The land in Jewish ownership also diminished. In 1897, 7.12% of the Jews in Bessarabia were engaged in agriculture; 26.81% in crafts and industry; 3.65% in transport; 2.34% in commercial brokerage; 39.53% in commerce (of these 58% engaged in the trade of agricultural produce); 8.9% as clerks or employees in private enterprises, domestics, daily workers, or unskilled laborers; 4.9% in public or government services or the liberal professions; and 6.75% in miscellaneous occupations. The 22,130 Jews engaged in commerce constituted 81.2% of the total number of merchants in the region, and 95.8% of the grain dealers. The proportion of Jewish artisans, mainly tailors, was lower (39%). From the early 1880s the economic situation of Bessarabian Jewry deteriorated as a result of the frequent expulsions from the villages and border areas, and the agrarian crisis in Russia during this period. Many impoverished Jews emigrated overseas. The principal factor in Jewish spiritual life was Hasidism. Many of the village Jews of no marked learning adopted much of the way of life and customs of the Moldavian peasantry. A major influence was wielded by the zaddikim of the Friedman (see Ruzhin) and Twersky families. During the 1830s and 1840s Haskalah began to penetrate into Bessarabia. From the end of the 1840s Jewish government schools were opened in Bessarabia. In 1855 there were six such schools, in Beltsy, Khotin, Brichany, and Izmail, and two in Kishinev, with 188 pupils. Private secular Jewish schools also began to appear, and from the 1860s Jews in Bessarabia, especially wealthier ones, began to send their children to the general schools. During the 1870s, 30% to 40% of the pupils in some of the secondary schools of the region were Jewish. In 1894, however, 60.9% of Jewish children of school age still attended heder. The population census of 1897 revealed that only 27.8% of Bessarabian Jews above the age of ten could read Russian. After the pogroms of the 1880s, Hovevei Zion societies were founded in Bessarabia as elsewhere, the most important in Kishinev, led by Abraham Grunberg and Meir Dizengoff. Toward the end of the 1880s and early 1890s there was some movement toward pioneer settlement in Erez Israel (aliyah). Seven delegates from Bessarabia, of whom six were from Kishinev, took part at the founding meeting of the Hovevei Zion Odessa Committee (April 1890). The Zionists of Bessarabia were represented at the First Zionist Congress in 1897 by Jacob Bernstein-Kogan of Kishinev. Toward the close of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, a line of poets and authors emerged on the cultural scene in Bessarabia, many of whom were to play an important role in Yiddish and Hebrew literature, including Eliezer Steinbarg, Judah Steinberg, S. Ben-Zion, Jacob Fichman, Samuel Leib Blank, and Hayyim Greenberg. The chief rabbi of Bessarabia, Judah Loeb Zirelson, wrote halakhic works.
1918–1941After the incorporation of Bessarabia into Rumania in 1918, the Jews there automatically received Rumanian citizenship, in accordance with the commitments of Rumania under the Treaty of Paris. However, as a result of the Nationality Law of 1924, many Bessarabian Jews who could not fulfill its requirements were deprived of Rumanian nationality, and defined as aliens. According to a count taken in 1920 there were 267,000 Jews in Bessarabia. As in the other parts of Rumania, they encountered popular hostility, anti-Jewish measures and suspicion on the part of the government, and petty administrative harrassment. In 1938, 21,844 Jewish heads of families in Bessarabia were deprived of Rumanian nationality (according to official statistics). The economic situation of Bessarabian Jewry also deteriorated. The separation of the region from its former Russian markets, the drought which struck Bessarabia three times during this period, the world economic crisis, and the government's policy of exploitation, resulted in a severe crisis in the agricultural economy. Assistance from abroad was provided principally by the American Joint Distribution Committee and ICA. The savings and credit cooperatives set up before the war supported by ICA also played an important role in this period. In 1930 there were 41 savings and loan banks operating in 39 localities with a membership of 30,202, i.e., two-thirds of Jewish breadwinners in Bessarabia. Of these 12% were farmers, reflecting the development of Jewish agriculture in this period. At the time of the agrarian reform in Bessarabia (1920–23) between 4,000 and 5,000 Jews received seven to ten acres of land each—altogether approximately 120,000 acres were cultivated. In Bessarabia agriculture as a Jewish occupation ranked second after Erez Israel. In 1935, about 3,000 families cultivating a total of approximately 20,000 hectares were supported by ICA. Two new agricultural settlements were established with assistance from ICA. Under Rumanian rule, Jewish communal life flourished and leadership revived. A number of political parties, prominent among them the Zionist movements, were active, as well as other organizations. The first conference of Bessarabian Zionists was convened in 1920 in Kishinev, and a central office for the Zionist Organization of Bessarabia was set up in Kishinev. On the basis of the minority treaties signed by Rumania, a ramified network of Jewish elementary and secondary schools with instruction in Yiddish or Hebrew was established in Bessarabia at the beginning of Rumanian rule. In 1922 there were 140 Jewish schools with 19,746 pupils (105 giving instruction in Hebrew with 16,456 pupils). A teachers' seminary was established in Kishinev. However, by the end of 1922 government policy changed. Many of the schools were deprived of their Jewish character and converted into Rumanian schools. By 1929–30, there remained 64 Jewish educational institutions in 30 localities (15 kindergartens, 37 elementary schools, 11 secondary schools, and one vocational school) with 6,381 pupils and 312 teachers. Social welfare institutions in Bessarabia during this period included 13 hospitals, a sanatorium for tubercular patients, societies for assistance to the sick in 25 localities, 13 old-age homes, and four relief institutions for children. From 1923, the OSE society was also active in Bessarabia where it maintained stations in eight localities. After the entry of the Red Army into Bessarabia on June 28, 1940, life for Jews in Bessarabia was gradually brought in line with the general pattern of Jewish existence under the Soviet regime. On June 13, 1941, a comprehensive "purge" was carried out throughout the region. Thousands of Jews—communal leaders, active members of the Zionist movement, businessmen, and persons suspected of disloyalty to the regime—were arrested and deported to internment camps or exiled to Siberia.
From 1941The first Soviet occupation of the area lasted from 1940 until the beginning of hostilities between Germany and Russia in June of the following year. Rumania was an ally of Germany. Bessarabia was reconquered by German and Rumanian troops by July 23, 1941, and remained under Rumanian authority until August 1944, when it was reoccupied by the Russians. Central and northern Bessarabia, as well as a narrow strip on the west side of the Dniester, became the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic with the capital in Kishinev. When Bessarabia was reoccupied by the Soviets, only a few Jews were still alive. The great majority had been massacred by the Einsatzkommandos and by the German and Rumanian soldiers, while others were deported to Transnistria, where more than half of them died. Many of the deported Jews preferred to slip back into Rumania, and from there to leave for Israel.
For further information on the Holocaust in Bessarabia see articles on Russia and the various towns.
[Theodor Lavi]Emigration in 1989 was 4,304 (3,702 from Kishinev). Immigration to Israel in 1990 amounted to 12,080 (7,578 from Kishinev); the corresponding figures the following year were 17,305 and 9,487.
The Jewish organizations in Moldova include the Moldova-Israel Friendship Association (established in November 1991), the Moldova-Israel Foreign Trade Association, and the Jewish Museum. The monthly Jewish newspaper Nash golos began appearing in March 1990. In June of that year the paper printed an interview with Prime Minister Mircea Druk, who stated that he had never concealed his revulsion for anti-Semitism and stressed the need to normalize relations between Moldovans and Jews. The prime minister also came out in favor of education in Hebrew for Jews in the republic.
Moldovan Jews appear to be worried about their future. Not a single Jew was elected to the Supreme Soviet in 1990. A law was passed making knowledge of the Moldovian language mandatory: this created difficulties for the basically Russian-speaking Moldovan Jews. lntensive Jewish emigration was renewed in mid-1992 in the wake of fighting in Trans-Dnistria.
Both the Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency have begun operating in Kishinev. Direct flights from Moldova to lsrael started in January 1992.
Further Developments in the Mid-1990sThere were an estimated 15,000 Jews in the Republic of Moldova at the end of 1993. The percentage of Moldovan Jews among the Jewry of the former U.S.S.R. declined from the census year 1989 to the end of 1993 from 2.7 percent to 1.8 percent. This decline may be attributed to a higher pace of Jewish emigration from this country; in particular, in 1992, 4,305 immigrants to Israel from the Republic of Moldova constituted 7.1 percent of all the immigrants to Israel from the former U.S.S.R. in this year; and 2,173 immigrants of 1993 constituted 3.6 percent in the “Soviet” immigrants’ wave to Israel.
There were two Jewish periodical publications in Moldova in 1993, both published in Kishinev (Chisinau), the more widely circulated being Nash golos — Unzer kol [Our Voice], in Russian and Yiddish.
In March 1994 the old Jewish cemetery was desecrated in Kishinev. There were several instances of anti-Jewish violence. [Dan.Rom.]
Tiraspol, city in S.E. Moldova. In 1847 the number of Jews amounted to 1,406 and by 1897 it had risen to 8,668 (27% of the total population). In 1910 Tiraspol had two Jewish private schools, one for boys and one for girls. In 1926 there were 6,398 Jews (29.1%) in the town. During the Nazi occupation Tiraspol was under Rumanian administration; almost all its Jewish population perished. In the late 1960s the Jewish population of Tiraspol was estimated at about 1,500. The only synagogue was closed by the authorities in 1959, but kasher poultry was still available.
[Editorial Staff Encyclopaedia Judaica]
Soroki(Rum. Soroca), city in N. Moldova, in the region of Bessarabia. The first mention of Jewish settlement in Soroki is in 1657. However, information concerning an organized community there only dates from the beginning of the 18th century. In 1817 there were 157 Jewish families. In the early 19th century, R. David Solomon Eibenschutz served as rabbi and encouraged the study of Torah in the city. The community grew in the 19th century with the Jewish immigration to Bessarabia, and at the end of the century also the frequent expulsions of Jews from the neighboring border area and from the villages. In 1864, 4,135 Jews were registered in Soroki and in 1897 there were 8,783 Jews (57.2% of the total population). In 1863 a government Jewish school was opened. At the end of the century among the teachers in Soroki ware the writers Noah Rosenblum, and Kadish-Isaac Abramowich-Ginzburg, who laid the foundations of a new system of Jewish education and culture among the Jews of the town on a secular and national basis. Many of the Jews of Soroki engaged in agriculture, primarily in the growing of tobacco, grapes, and other fruit. In 1900 the Jewish Colonization Association established a training farm near Soroki. From the 1880s the economic situation of the Jews deteriorated and a wave of immigration to the United States began. In 1930 there were 5,462 Jews (36.3% of the entire population). Before World War II several educational and social institutions existed in Soroki, including Hebrew elementary and secondary schools, a hospital (founded in 1885), and an old-age home. The community was destroyed with the entry of the Germans and Rumanians into Bessarabia in July 1941. The Jewish life of Soroki is described by Shelomo Hillels in the novel, Har ha-Keramim (1930). In the late 1960s the Jewish population was estimated at about 1,000. The only synagogue was closed down by the authorities in 1961. In April 1966 the mazzah bakery was closed down by authorities, the bakers were arrested, and the baking of mazzah was discontinued. Use of the cemetery and ritual poultry slaughtering was still permitted in 1970.
RascaniRYSHKANY (formerly Ryshkanovca, also Rascani), town in N. Moldova. Ryshkany developed into an urban community during the 19th century as a result of the large Jewish settlement in Bessarabia at that time. In 1897 there were 2,247 Jews (69% of the total population) in the town, and in 1930 there were 2,055 (66% of the total). In the 1930s the communal institutions included a kindergarten and an elementary school, both maintained by the Tarbut organization. The community was destroyed when the Germans and Rumanians entered Bessarabia in July 1941. In 1970 the Jewish population was estimated at about 150 families.
Teleneshty, town in Central Moldova in the region of Bessarabia. Teleneshty was founded at the end of the 18th century by Jews invited by the estate's owner. In 1794, a hevra kaddisha was founded, the register of which was preserved until World War II. In 1796 the owner of the estate concluded an agreement with the Jews laying down their privileges and obligations and fixing the amount of taxes to be paid for wine and spirits brought into the place and sold there. The community grew during the 19th century as a result of the large Jewish immigration to Bessarabia. In 1897 there were 3,876 Jews (89% of the total population), many of them engaging in viniculture, wine processing, and tobacco production. The 636 members registered in 1925 in the local fund included 205 tradesmen, 188 artisans, and 156 farmers. In 1930 there were 2,811 Jews in Teleneshty (73.9% of the total population). The communal institutions included a hospital founded in 1870. The community was destroyed when the Germans and Rumanians invaded Bessarabia in July 1941. In the late 1960s the Jewish population was estimated at about 800. There was no synagogue. The writer S. Ben-Zion was born and began his literary activities in Teleneshty which is described in his story "Nefesh Rezuzah" ("A Crushed Soul," 1952). [El.F.]