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[Columns 98/99]

From the History of Ludmir
8th– 9th Centuries

Moshe Margalit, Ramat Hasharon

Translated by Esther Snyder

The Geographic Location of the Town of Ludmir

In Eastern Europe, east of the river Bug whose waters lead into thef101Visla, lays the district of Volhyn. In the north, this region borders on Polcia and is covered with swamps and forests; in its central and southern areas, there are plains and wide hills with fertile lands that yield plentiful crops and fruit. In the western part of this region, 12 kilometers east of the Bug, on the right bank of the Lug River, the town of Ludmir is located.

Paved roads and train tracks connect the town with other towns in the area: to the east with Luzak at a distance of 70 km, to the north-east with the town of Kobel 54 km away and to the west with the towns of Poland across the Bug. The train tracks lead in the north to Kobel and in the south to Sokol-Lvov.


The Town at the beginning of the Second Millenium, C.E.

As the successors of Mohammed expanded their rule on the shores of the Mediterranean, and north of the Caucasian Mountains on the banks of the Don and the Volga, and the Khazars expanded their dominion, the areas around Ludmir were settled by the Slavo-Voliniam tribe.

At the beginning of the 10th century the Prince of Kiev succeeded, by use of force, to establish the Kievian principality and then quickly conquered the Khazari kingdom in the south and the Volinaim tribe in the west.

After the prince of Kiev, Saviatoslav, gained control of this region where an ancient road led from Western Europe to Kiev and Constantinople, he laid the foundations of the town of Vladimir named after one of his sons (the Jews colloquially called it Ludmir).

In chronicles from the Kievian principality, the name Ludmir is first mentioned in the year 988 as a town having a large fortress. The town's buildings were surrounded by a very high artificial hill that served to protect it from the Polish kingdom that was gaining strength in the west.


The City until the Tatar Conquest

In 1054, a separate Volhyn principality was established in the area of Volhyn with Ludmir as its center.

In the 12th century, the town grows, expands and becomes a commercial center between east and west. Merchants of various nationalities from all over Europe meet there. Beautiful buildings and churches are constructed and craftsmen are brought in from all the surrounding towns. A remnant from this era is the Ospanski Church that was built during the years 1147-1161 by the prince Mitzislav Izislavitz (and called the Cathedral) and is preserved until this day.

At this time, due to the crusades and pogroms against the Jews of Western Europe, the first waves of Jews began to move east. Because Ludmir was an important commercial center, the first group of Jews settled there (and perhaps there already were Jewish merchants there from Kiev and other places?).f101The earliest record mentioning the existence of a Jewish settlement in Ludmir indicates that in 1171 there was a Jewish merchant named Benjamin Handis (the origin of the word Handis is, in my opinion, from the Slavic word “handlez” meaning a merchant).

When the Ludmirian prince took control of the Galician principality (in 1199), the importance of the city increased. It maintained economic ties with Western Europe and the Byzantine and became the strongest economic and cultural center of the Russian principality.

In the year 1240, the Tatars conquer Ludmir and destroy it. Most of its buildings are left in ruins. It can be assumed that most of the Jewish inhabitants escaped to Poland.


The City from the 14th Century (until the end of the 18th Century)

With the disintegration of the Tatar rule and the increase of persecution in Western Europe, the Jews returned to Ludmir. Records indicate that in the 14th century there existed a large Jewish community in Ludmir and Lutzk. At that time, Ludmir is under Lithuanian rule. When the agreement between Poland and Lithuania is signed in Ludmir in 1569, the region of Volhyn is included within the territory of the Polish kingdom. Ludmir, which is located on an important international artery, flourished again. After the Arab takeover of the maritime routes and the subsequent danger of commercial ties between Genoa and Venice, in Italy, and the villages along the shores of the Black Sea, the road leading from Ludmir to the East becomes especially important. The city was full of Jewish merchants who transported goods from Silesia to the Far East and back. Even in the mid-15th century, Jews from Turkey, Italy and Kiev could be found in the marketplace. With the fall of Kushta (14”3) the economic importance of Ludmir strengthens and Jewish merchants purchase merchandise that the Christians transport to the Orient and to Turkey, bringing back from there silk, spices and weapons.

The name of the Jewish merchant, Yitzhak from Ludmir, is known from the 14th century. The Jews at this time also traded in cattle and especially horses that were brought from Hungary and sold to the Polish army. The growth of a large Jewish settlement in the town attracted tradesmen especially in the Jewish occupations such as butchers, bakers and tailors.

The Lublin Treaty, signed between Poland and Lithuania, improved the legal status of the Jews in the town. Whereas previously they had been subjected to the mercy of the Strosta (mayor), now they were under the rule of King Zigmund Augustus (1548-1572) with a status equal to the other Jews of Volhyn and the Lithuanian communities.

At the start of the 17th century, the community in Ludmir was growing and expanding. The community was autonomous from 1460 and not directly subject to the Volhyn District. It should be noted that Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller from Bavaria, who served as a rabbi in his later years, was the head of the Jewish community for a short time. He was reknowned for his commentary on the Mishneh called “Tosafet Yom Tov.”

At that time, many Jews in Volhyn worked in the profession of leasing property. They leased bars and flourmills, fishponds and fruit orchards (and sometimes entire villages). However, the majority remained in their previous professions – commerce and trade.

The outbreak of the Kossak rebellion in the Ukraine caused a decrease in the Jewish community in Ludmir due to the fear of an imminent incursion of the Milnitzki armies into the Volhyn District. In 1648, the Jewish and Polish residents fled the town.

However, when the rebellion is suppressed, the Jews return to the town but now there is much poverty. Most of the Jews live meagerly in reduced circumstances. Many others move to the surrounding villages in search of employment.

In 1764, the Polish government conducts a census of its Jewish population and this is the first time that we have information on the number of Jews in Ludmir. According to their account, there were 1327 adults and 74 children, totaling 1401 persons. This was the second largest community in all of Volhyn (after Lutzk). Since the census was conducted in order to levy heavy taxes on the Jews, it is likely that some Jews avoided being counted and therefore the exact number is probably greater.

We have information that in 1782, the Jews of Ludmir dealt in horse trading with the Polish army and neighboring armies as well as establishing Jewish factories that produced items to be sold to the armies.

The third partition of Poland in 1795 and its loss of independence brought the Jews of Ludmir under Russian rule.f101As all the other Jews of the Ukraine and Russia, they were subject to the rules of the “pale of settlement.” An onerous burden of taxation weighed heavily upon them and they were further oppressed by the Czar's government.

Parna Street
General Zionists clubroom and National Fund Institutes on the 3rd floor

[Page 101]

Ludmir After the 1880s

by Mendl Bavyode

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

In the 1880s, when the bathhouse–fire took place that began in the women's immersion bath that was connected to the large house of prayer and the entire Jewish city burned, the muddy roads remained because highways were not known then, but on the sides of the roads ditches would be dug so that the water from the roads would have something through which to flow from the city. Covers for the ditches would be made of wood, a sort of bridge. The horses and wagons that had to drive through would pull along the small bridges; mainly the heavy moving roads were “springboards.” The greatest movement from the city to the village always was on Lutsker Street. There were 30 springboards there and people would jump over the road from one side to the other.

Because of the heavy traffic, the Lutsker road was always muddy no matter how many horses pulled wagons. Wagons always remained stuck in the mud until Rosh Khodesh Tammuz [the start of the month of Tammuz – June] when all of the mud dried up. Then the wagons could be dug out of the mud.


Reb Shmuel the Blond

Shmuel the blond, the Ludmir businessman held in esteem by the gentiles and noblemen, had an apartment on another corner of the small Kowler Street.f101The city council then consisted of five people: two aldermen were the executive agents of the city council and would always sit on the city council. Reb Shmuel the blond always stood at the main door of the city council and when the aldermen wanted tobacco to sniff or to smoke, [the aldermen] would ask Reb Shmuel to provide it for them. Understand that Reb Shmuel was the most trustworthy person to the city council and when something needed to be taken care of at the city council, it was through Reb Shmuel.

After the great bathhouse fire, cabins of a few square arshin [Russian measure of length equal to 28 inches or about 71 centimeters] per cabin began to be erected at the government market. This was a city market for selling salt and resin, grease, horsewhips and oats. The cabins could only be visited during the day and they were open as long as it was daytime. At night this was prevented by the winter darkness. In order for the shtetl to develop, the city council decided to erect

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four glass lanterns so that if someone was looking for where a cabin was located to buy something he would find it.

Reb Shmuel the blond unexpectedly found a small shop for himself and his three sons (one – a beis–hamedrashnik [one who spends time in a house of prayer], the second – a cook for Reb Shmuel's family [he no longer had a wife] and the third – a yeshiva student), and Reb Shmuel took on through his council of noblemen the responsibility for the lamps: to prepare them and to light them every day: it is understood that he wiped the lamp glass and the lanterns every day. This was the work of his son, the cook, and also for the remaining family members. This made Shmuel, who brightened the darkness in the city, even more well–liked as a Ludmir businessman.

In time the city developed and shops were built with windows and shutters. Goods were brought, mainly salt and wagon grease. The salt was brought in lumps from the cities that had train service such as Kowel, Lyubelya and so on. Booths that little by little became shops had shutters; and the shutters opened up onto the street and all of the goods that were to be sold in the shop were displayed on the shutters. They made two round stones, each about half an arshin and one stone was used to rub the other and a small lump of salt that was broken off a large lump was placed between them, which ground it thinly – until it fell through the stones. They earned 3 groshn for a quarter of a liter of grated salt. They worked in the shop the entire day and sold the goods and it fed the entire household. The most difficult time was during the muds; the peasants could not drive into the city, mainly from the bridge from Lutsker Street to Nisen Szmelke's [house]. After all the difficulties, the city was built and they looked for a way to get rid of the heavy muds. They did not speak of a highway, but because there were many forests around the city, they built a crude wooden bridge from Riliwicer Bridge up to Nisen Szmelke's [house]. The project was approved. The only fear was of frequent fires because of the wooden bridge.

The bridge was built over the course of two years and the movement from the Rojstaszter house to the Szmuleks[1] was solved. People thought about what would happen if, God forbid, a city fire ignited the large wooden bridge; if this happened, how could the houses, which were all built of wood, be saved?

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There were no wells, but kettles and casks of water were kept with which to put out a fire. There was only one well with pumps and only for the Cossacks and their horses; only they deserved to use the pump. Therefore it was decided to create a form of well built of bricks with a barrel inside, near the large house of prayer in the very center of the city, so that 20 men could surround it and draw water to put out a fire.

Thanks to the well–pump, the city revived and grew. Summer came quickly and a fire occurred near Yankl Achde's inn. The crowd tried to extinguish it; it succeeded thanks to the new well.

A few years later another fire broke out in the middle of the night (there was a legend that the artisans had set it to create work for themselves). The first broke out at Chaim Shmuel Rajce's [house] and it ignited the neighboring “synagogue” that stood with its entire scaffolding that consisted of poles 28–30 meters [about 92 to 98 feet] tall. The synagogue had stood thus from the 1880s on. The fire, with the speed of wind, took an entire half of the city that lay on the market side; the entire wooden bridge was burned over the course of two hours. An empty spot remained where the bridge had been located and the city undertook to rebuild the bridge with a new design and the houses with bricks and shingle roofs.f101

The city endeavored to build a highway and took steps to pave parts of the city up to one kilometer with cobblestones. There were no cobblestones in streets such as the small Kovel Street, but there were no longer great muddy streets.

The [organized Jewish] community provided a bathhouse and a mikvah [ritual bathhouse] for women. And the city grew, with suburbs on all sides.

A small river called “Smatsh” flows near the city. When Ludmir was a city in the Council of Four Nations, gets [religious divorces] were written: “near the river Smatsh.”[2]

At that time Ludmir was fed with exports and imports from the nearest city, Kovel, 50 kilometers from Ludmir, which already had train connections to all of Russia. Communal institutions were created in the city, as for example:

A People's Bank, an old age home and a hospital and public kitchen. The young people took part in the creation of the institutions.

The People's Bank consisted of 300 merchant members. Lewitan, a young man [not from Ludmir] came and became director of the bank. Those in the city thought that a young man could not lead the bank. Lewitan became a visionary and ruled as a despot in the city.

[Page 104]

He provided a great deal of credit to several rich men and Christians and the bank became as if it was his property. Among the membership was a majority who wanted the bank to serve all its members. However, they were not permitted to have any influence. Little by little, great opposition arose against the “despots” – until the finance minister had to get involved and answer the charge with a special dispatch that an extraordinary meeting soon would be called of all of the members with equal rights for all.

When the city reached equality with other cities with communal institutions, Jews were reminded that they needed a rabbi, a teacher who understood worldly things. It was decided to hire a rabbi who could succeed Tosafot Yom–Tov.[3] It took time until such a young man could be found with all of the necessary qualities.[4] With the agreement of the regime, it was at first made a rule that cattle would only be slaughtered according to the Jewish rules of kashrus [religious dietary laws] and the cattle had to be checked by a veterinary doctor and along with the city council they designated one ruble per cow for the doctor.

Then the rabbi became involved with social aid; he created “societies,” that is, cooperatives with all of the workers and each branch of work. And the societies began to become equal to all of the entrepreneurs in everything that the city's population consumed. There was a ban on buying all of the needs from outside of the city that now were being produced by the city's artisans themselves. In contrast, simultaneously, very strong opposition arose among the merchants who would bring in finished products from the larger cities. However, they could not endure the competition from their own cooperative, the rabbi's cooperative.

They approached the rabbi asking that he liquidate the “partnership.”

The rabbi was a “foreign citizen,” but he secretly had received a “false” passport with city citizenship with about 60 witnesses who gave an oath that he was born in Ludmir and had lived in Ludmir for the entire time. The rabbi was given the nicest building in the city and the rabbi began to exhibit his good capabilities in all areas, but they began to undermine his prestige among the Jewish scholars and the Christian residents. He himself gave Shabbos [Sabbath] sermons and wanted to lead the merchants on the right path with the strength of his knowledge, drawing from the area of the Torah.

However, finally the 60 [witnesses] who had sworn that the rabbi was born there, [changed their minds].

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The regime took the rabbi and placed him in the Kovel jail and brought him to a large, proper trial. Three hundred families with wives and children sat on the bench for the accused. The congregation [was defended by] all of the greatest Russian lawyers with Kapernikovich at the head. The trial was held behind closed doors, according to Russian

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law of that time, with 12 sworn [jurors] and a prosecutor and the congregation sat on the bench for three days until Sunday. The verdict was issued on Friday: freedom for the entire accused population and the rabbi received a judgment of expulsion from several gubernias [provinces]. On Shabbos the Jews in the small one–room synagogues and houses of prayer fervently discussed this. It truly became [as heated as] a war among them.

Translator's notes:

  1. Szmulek is spelled Szmelke in the paragraph above this one. Return
  2. The text of a religious divorce usually includes the location of where the get is being signed, including the name of the river near which it is located for a more accurate geographical description. Return
  3. Tosafot are Talmudic commentaries. Tosafot Yom Tov is the name of Talmudic commentaries by Yom Tov Lipmann Heller. Those writing Talmudic commentaries are often known by the name of their most famous book. Return
  4. The Rabbi Yakov ben [son of] Yitzhak Shur (Yakov ben Reb Yoal Rapoport 1886) Return


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