The way the administration partitioned the region, Bessarabia was divided into eight regions. At the head of every region was the capital city and its daughters, its villages and its farms: Akkerman, Bendery, Izmail, Orheyev, Soroki, Beltsy, and Khotin. Four more cities that were not in this jurisdiction: Bolgrad, Kiliya, Kagul, & Reni.
In 1812, this region was annexed to Russia, and that same year Kishinev was declared the capital city in the district of Bessarabia.
The Russian government found Jewish inhabitants who had lived here for a very long time, and it subjected them to the same taxes as the other inhabitants. But subsequently an order was issued which prohibited Jews and gypsies from holding government positions in this region.
In 1839 another edict was issued to evacuate the Jews who lived close to the border and to relocate them a distance of 50 kilometers from these borders. In 1842 the Jews were forbidden to purchase, from the estate owners, land that was cultivated by the local inhabitants. However, the Jews from Russia received permission to come to Bessarabia and settle with no restrictions.
The inhabitants of Bessarabia by religion and nationality:
Moldavians 47.6%, Malorussians 19.6% (ed. note: Little Russians), Jews 11.8%, Velikorussians 8% (ed. note: Great Russians), Bulgarians 5%, remainder of the peoples and the tribes 8%.The percentage of the inhabitants of the cities and towns:
Jews 37.4 %, Velikorussians 24.4%, Malorussians 15.7%, Moldavians 14.2%. The rest vary.The Jewish population in Bessarabia (according to the census of 1897) reached 228,528: 112,662 men, 115,866 women. The Jews made up 37.4% of the population in the cities; in the districts outside the cities and the towns Jews were 7.2% of the population.
In 1838 some settlements in Bessarabia grew from villages to towns, and the number of Jews increased.
Occupations of the Jews of Bessarabia:
Of the 112,000 men, half supported themselves and their families. Of 115,000 women, 10% were financially independent and the rest were dependent upon their families. Typically every provider supported an average of 2.5 dependents.The men were mainly tradesmen such as tailors, shoemakers, smiths and milliners, and the rest worked in the small manufacturing industries required in every city and rural municipality. Also 9% were engaged in the grain trade, 8% in the wood and lumber businesses, and 11% in other trades. The women were mainly engaged in sewing, housework, and as helpers in retail stores.
In this region there were also a few factories. Of 377 factories, 106 (28%) were owned by the Jews, and compared to other factories, those owned by the Jews were inferior. While every factory of a non-Jew in South Russia was mechanized and had 314 workers on average, a similar Jewish factory had only 21 workers.
|Town||# of families||# of people||land size (in desaytins*)|
|Provuslav *||66% male||66.7% women|
|Catholics||51% male||47% women|
|Jews||49% men||24% women|
|Others||16% men||4% women|
[Pages 12 - 17]
Translated by Rachel Weitz and Marsha Kayser
Unfortunately, the city of Orheyev was not discussed extensively in history books, and this leaves knowledge of her antiquity vague and the history of the Jews in this place unclear, with no way to investigate further.
Reb Israel, son of Shloyme (Shlomo), testified: 'I was here in Orheyev and I asked about the dead so several non-Jews here said that they had been drowned, and several said they were killed in the wood, and after that a few non-Jews also said that they died violently One of the gentiles wore the head scarf of the Jew Nisen and I immediately recognized it '
Menachem, son of Reb Avrum, testified: 'I was in Orheyev and I also saw the head scarf.'
Reb Shimon testified again: 'A gentile came to me in Soroki and told me: I was also in the place where they assaulted the Jews I saw how they tied them and led them with their money and and they answered me, the Burok from Orheyev ordered me to bring the Jews with their money to him'
Even though the date of the incident is missing here, it is known that it happened in the year 1613, and this kind of testimony passed from Bessarabia of those days through the Bet Din (ed. note: Court of Jewish law) in the city of Bar Padolin to the Bet Din of Lublin. Taking into account the rough roads and hardship of transportation in those days, we can imagine the special value of this document which survived all through the generations, from which we also learn about the relationship between the local gentile residents and the Jews, because the gentile in Soroki does not hesitate to tell Shimen the Jew (called the Reb) what he witnessed in Orheyev
And in addition to this incident, something that happened every day, every political upheaval or economic crisis naturally resulted in the Jews being its first victims - those Jews living here thanks to the privileges accorded them to fulfill the political or economic needs of the time or because of privileges for which the Jews paid a lot of money.
On top of that, the Jews experienced quite a few incidents of blood libel here. The Moldovian historians tell of nine incidents of blood libel in Moldova, and one of them occurred in the time of the Moldovian prince Michei Rokovitz, in order to extort money from the Jewish population that was under his dominion. He staged a blood libel in the district of Orgieev in the village of Onitskan, according to which a Christian child was found who was murdered by the Jews for religious purposes. News of this blood libel created outrage in the rest of the world, and thanks to the sage (chucham) Bashi in Kushta, the Ottoman empire interfered and sent a special messenger to Iasi. After many attempts the Jews were released from prison, and the sword of death was lifted from their heads.
The lack of assurances for people's safety here, as in all Moldovian principalities, for the very long period of 400 years, frequently forced the residents in general and the Jews in particular to flee across the Prut River and to wherever the wind would carry them. This caused the population to decline year by year, and when the Russians won Bessarabia from the Turks in 1812, all of Bessarabia was in ruins.
In the time of transition when Bessarabia changed from Turkish rule to Russian rule, we see a big drop in the Jewish population in Orheyev and in the district. The statistics for 1798 registered 450 shopkeeper taxpayers, and by following this estimate, the total number reached 4000 people. Then in the first census after the conquest in 1817, they found 345 families in general in several places in the district; there were no numbers for Jews in Orheyev. Panic from the war seems to have caused the Jews to flee to Romania and to other places, and the Jewish settlements dwindled. We see a radical change in the growth of the Jewish population at the end of the 19th century.
According to the census conducted among the Jews in 1847, to determine the number of young men eligible for the draft, there were 1,960 people in Orheyev and altogether 4,403 Jews (men 2,217, women 2,186).
According to the census conducted in 1897, the number in the entire district was 213,000, among them 26,699 Jews according to the following distribution:
A) Birth: In the survey period (1877-1926) there were 14,125 Jewish children born in Orheyev. Of those, 7,926 were boys and 6,499 were girls (55% boys, 45% girls).
B) Mortality: During this time 8,264 Jews died in our city, among them 2,111 children up to 1 year old (25% of Jewish deaths), 2,016 children 1-10 years old (24%). On average, for every year, there were 165 deceased. The smallest number of deceased was in 1881 (78 people) and in 1892 the biggest number of deceased (271).
C) Marriage age: In the period mentioned (1877-1926) 3,827 Jewish weddings were conducted, 78 per year. Of those, there were 2,889 Jewish weddings that were registered for the first time and 938 Jewish weddings registered for the second or third time, which makes 75.5% registered once, 24.5% registered two or three times.
Dr. Shlissel and his demographic research conclude: this count of the population is indeed a drop in the ocean compared to what needs to be done in coming generations regarding improvements in the process of physical maturation and in the health of the Jews in Bessarabia in general and in particular in our city. This adds another layer to the research of the demography of our people in the Diaspora. (Bessarabia AZE pamphlet 13-14)
Indeed, Dr. Shlissel unknowingly performed a considerable service when he presented the data that brought reliable testimony to the development of the demographical record of our community. Of course it did not occur to him that a day will come when this one layer (one brick) will testify about a community that existed and is no more and for that may his name be for a blessing.
Thanks to the gorgeous view of the area, the fertile land with thick woods, orchards, limestone quarries, and all the features that are needed for economic development, it is no wonder that Jews were drawn here and, for practical purposes, settled here and dealt in commerce and industry to earn their livelihoods. In 1834, twenty-two years after the conquest, Orheyev was declared the capital of the district. Every Sunday farmers would stream in to the market (bazaar) from the entire area, bringing their produce and grain and their farm animals to be sold in the Sinoyah Square next to the Church of the Holy Nicolai.
The Jews also made a living from trading the goods of the villages with merchants of different crafts like shoemaking, carpentry, metalworking (smithies), and so on. Indeed, the Jewish settlement at the time of the Russian occupation was very small but its growth began to accelerate year by year. We do not have well-based information about the make-up of the Jewish settlement from those days. We do not know which groups first came after the initial early settlement or where they came from, but it is known that besides the economic conditions that we mentioned, an increase in the settlement here was also caused by political factors (denying the civil rights of the Jews in the time of Ekaterina, the deportation of Jews from the villages, and the decree of the canton) and also the special rights the Russian government promised to the settlers who would come to the Bessarabian district to farm. Therefore many Jews who were interested in farming and raising cattle were the ones who were attracted to the area. In the summertime when the sheep gave birth, they would sell the lambs for slaughter and the skins to merchants, and the quality of the sheepskins and the lambs was so well recognized that it was known at the big fairs held in Birmlinitz and in Balta in the Ukraine. In Orheyev the merchants bought these skins wholesale to sell them abroad. Others also would make a living from the wood trades. This line of agriculture branched off to a few secondary industries that gave a serious push to the economic development of this region.
Tens of families in Orheyev made a living from the industry of hats and furs for local consumption and for marketing at the annual fairs. Another important branch of agriculture was the production of cheese from sheep's milk. The cheese (brinza) would be purchased by the farmers and city folks, and they would eat it with great relish along with the national dish of mamaliga (ed. note: a yellow cornmeal polenta) which was so loved by the Bessarabian population; the dairy industry also went far beyond the borders of Bessarabia.
There were also tenant farmers working on large estates who would grow grain for local settlements and for export. Well known at this time in Orheyev was the estate owner Leyb Reznik who had come here from Poland as a young man (in those days the government discharged, from military service and taxes, those Jews who settled in Bessarabia). Reznik at first made his living from a small shop and after accumulating some money began to cultivate some land. In time he purchased more land and developed a big farm. Although he was very successful in the grain market, he kept the shop. In a very short time his small shop became a large store selling a variety of goods and was well known in the entire region. After his death he left a lot of property, a big estate with thousands of hectares and many houses. We have to mention here that, despite his wealth, his name does not appear among the donors who gave for our city's public needs. The only enterprise he established while alive was the synagogue named after him.
Among other estate owners in a later period (from the 1890's to World War I) we should mention the families Averbukh-Barsutsky, Rozen, and Motl Reznik (the son of Leyb Reznik). In the later years more farms with different crops such as tobacco came into being as a means of livelihood. They also grew sunflowers for oil for the locals and for export, cultivated vineyards for wine, and grew orchards (apples, pears, plums, cherries, apricots, and nuts) that employed hundreds of people. In addition many families made their living from businesses that branched off from agriculture, and they reached respectable economic status.
The period from the 1820's to the 1870's was marked by accelerated economic development. The Jews were permitted to live in the villages, purchase land under their own names, and were exempted from taxes and military service. Despite that, we cannot report satisfactory achievements for small businesses that had little income, for craftsmen and peddlers, and for many who barely made their living for lack of financial resources and who used their entire income to pay the interest on borrowed money. The big competition was against them, their work was exhausting, especially so for craftsmen with endless work hours and with the decline of their income due to the competition. The low social status of the craftsmen at this time also depressed them, as they were isolated in their own professional circles.
It became worse from the eighties on, which was a period of restrictions implemented by the emergency law of Russia - the Christian citizens expelled the Jews from commerce and cruelly made the terms of every negotiation a harsh burden. The government oppressed the Jews with heavy taxes that led to a drop in all types of commerce. The mandatory draft law uprooted the young from their families (for a period of four years) and also uprooted whole families from their homes because they were denied citizenship and were deported from the villages. All of this paralyzed the activities of the Jewish settlements here.
Regarding the deportations from the villages, Segev (ed. note: The Sublime or The Great) Shmuel Gershon Baru writes in Hamelitz (The Advocate) Number 177, July 27 1887:
Yesterday fourteen Jewish families were brought here from the village of Kobylka which is nearby. All of them are people who lived in the village for many years, before the famous May Laws were published, and their meager livelihood trading with the local peasants was strained. Also among the expelled were a few craftsmen and one old man who had lived in this village for thirty years and who had also had land and a vineyard. All of this happened to them due to the fault of the local clerk who had not registered them in the Jewish List kept for the people who lived in the villages a few years before. All the efforts of these miserable people at the district government offices, and also the testimony of the peasants of the village that they had lived there more than 10 years, did not help them. Many of them are planning to bring a complaint before the ministers and the legislators who sit in Peterburg. But what can those unfortunate people do before their case will be clarified? Where will they find their livelihood in our city where seventy-seven people will be crowded in the one available branch of business? And there will be too much competition which will collapse the trade, leading to their complete bankruptcy. On top of that there will not be enough craft work, which will lead to a lack of a means of support
It's not the same with Orheyev, there is only one legend about the first rabbi Reb Nakhumtshe, may he rest in peace. The rabbi once complained to the community that his salary was not enough for the survival of his family and he asked for a raise. Trying to be humorous, they answered him jokingly: Our dear rabbi, it is well known that our forefather Jacob crossed the Jordan with his cane and as long as our rabbi holds his cane may he, please his highness, go from house to house and ask for his salary from the homeowners.
Even though this is only a legend, there is no doubt that, as in any legend, there is some truth in it; we can learn from it how wretched the economic situation was and also about the makeup of the society that was composed of a mix of immigrants from different districts - people did not know each other and as a result, institutions and organizations to benefit the community's welfare suffered because the immigrants did not realize their importance and the dire lack of these public services.
It is worth mentioning that all the foundations that symbolize the public image of every Jewish community existed in Orheyev since its beginning from the Russian occupation until the holocaust. Also we should trust the story which the elderly from our city related - that the big synagogue on the Reat River, where the city began and from which it expanded, was already in existence in the first half of the 18th century. The Hadmur Rabbi Chanoch Zilberfarb related according to the elderly Reb Zelikel, may he rest in peace, that according to tradition, the Ba'al Shem Tov (ed. note: the owner of the good name, a title of esteem, from the name of the founder of Hasidism) visited here, and he immersed himself in the mikvah (ed. note: ritual bath) which was next to this synagogue. The elderly among us still remember this big synagogue where the wall leaned on a stone support with walls below the ground for at least one meter, and the structure of the building was extremely old, which was evidence of its antiquity.
The synagogue second in importance to this central synagogue on the Reat was called The Kloiz (ed. note: a small synagogue) and was also as old as the central synagogue. It contained about 200 seats in addition to a side room that was used during ordinary days for minyan, and on Shabbos simple Jews would gather here and Reb Zelikel, the old shoykhet (ed. note: a ritual slaughterer of kosher meat), or Reb Alter Menashes would teach and discuss with them the week's Torah reading portion.
As the settlement grew and developed, due to lack of space, more and more houses of prayer began to be added, for example Bet Homidrash, the synagogue of the Talna Hasids where not only the Hasids but also the educated townspeople would pray. In this synagogue there was a concentration of people who were the first to become active in service to the community in the first Hibat Zion organization (Fond of Zion), and in the period of political Zionism it was also a meeting place for the young Zionist members.
At the end of the previous century more synagogues were added, among them the Chabad Synagogue, the Synagogue of the Caretakers (Hashamashim), the Synagogue of the Market (The Shuk Synagogue), the Tailors' Synagogue, The Yeshiva, the Boineh Shul (named after the neighborhood with the municipal slaughterhouse), the Kafestra Synagogue named for the stall of the leather workers who made harnesses (kafestra): at this time the wealthy resident Reb Henikh Tabachnik, may he rest in peace, donated a plot of land and on it was built the Shoemakers Synagogue, so we had synagogues for all levels of society - people of Bet Homidrash, and Hasids, craftsmen, people involved in civic affairs and despite diverse social classes and other distinctions that existed in this community, public affairs were not affected, and people treated each other with fondness and respect.
This is how we see the city of Orheyev, its gradual development as a community, and its cultural and economic institutions, a community which after the time of the legendary rabbi was led by other famous rabbis and judges, for example Rabbi Moyshe Chayim Elkin, who excelled as a modest and learned person. He led his community for 30 years and died in the year 1902, and after him came his son Rabbi Avrum Yosef Elkin who was educated by his father in Torah, was taught to be a mentsh (fine person), and was also highly respected by the community. He wrote a book in his own hand about the Six Hundred Thirteen Mitzvot (ed. note: religious commandments), which survived and garnered the approval of the geniuses of the generation. Another tsadik (ed. note: Hasidic rabbi or pious man) who came to live in our city, the Hadmur Rabbi Chanoch Dov Zilberfarb, became very popular in the community, especially among the workers and the simple Jews. Highly respected, he lived in our city for a few years until he was fortunate when he got older to make aliyah with his family to Israel and settled in Tel Aviv.
The shokhtim (ed. note: plural of shoykhet) had an important role in our community, even though for practical reasons they sometimes had to do secular work that did not fit their religious position, but some of them excelled in helping their community and in loyal and devoted activities for the community's welfare. Here we have to mention the respected name of Reb Zelikel, Shoykhet ve bodek (ed. note: shoykhet specialist certified to inspect the animal for defects after slaughter in order to insure that it is kosher), in his position of moyel (circumciser) specialist who was fortunate to make a bris (perform circumcisions) for three generations and was a kosher Jew with a good and pleasant manner, so much so that we must point it out. There was also Shoykhet ve bodet Reb Moyshe, son of Rabbi Binyumin Yonovich, who became known by the name Rabbi Moyshe the Shoykhet, and who for a long time headed the religious program for progressive education. When a need for higher education in religious studies was felt, they established a yeshiva for gifted young men who also wanted to study the Gemara (ed. note: the commentary of the Talmud) and interpretation of Rashi (ed. note: a commentary named for the 11th century Talmudic scholar Rashi) and other editions. Even though not exactly like the yeshivas in Lithuania, a great effort was made to have the learning here concentrated on Talmud and the writings of rabbinical authorities.
To complete the public image of Orheyev in the 1880's we have to include the writings of the famous traveler Ephraim Reinard in 1877:
Orheyev - a small city in a valley, her houses built of wood, with about 4,000 inhabitants and about 1/3 of them Jews. Most of them in the dark, believing in the nonsense of the Hasidim but are practical people who are engaged in craft work and commerce and live a peaceful life, but the sparks of the enlightenment have started to penetrate the hearts of the young, the elite of the city, those who can understand Hebrew and Russian. They try as hard as possible to get educated in this village and also to attract their friends to learn, so there is hope that soon the new generations will benefit from the knowledge of their brethren in villages close by.And indeed after a relatively short time the hope of the traveler Reinard became true and not only did the new generation become more knowledgeable from its brothers in the villages but in a very short time the public life here changed almost in every way - the cultural, the social, the economic.
As the Jewish settlement grew and developed, the needs of the public as a community became more relevant. Differences in the settlement took shape, and people were more enthusiastic about volunteering in the community and public life, devoting their lives to public service and making a strong commitment. The institutions that existed here were improved and as needs developed, new institutions were established which we will discuss in upcoming chapters.
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