[Page 9 Hebrew] [Page 281 Yiddish]
Sh. Etinger and Ch. Shmeruk (Jerusalem)
A. The Town of Kremenets and Early Jewish Settlement There
English Translation by Thia Persoff
Kremenets is one of the ancient towns of Volin. Its location on the highway between Red Russia, Galicia, and Lithuania made it an important geographical crossroads. In addition, the mountains surrounding the town provided a favorable environment for erecting the castle around which the town developed. Some say that the town existed has since the 11th century and even before, but documents show the date as the 12th century. In a Russian chronicle from 1226, the town is mentioned in connection with a Hungarian king's war against the principalities of Halych and Volin: and the king went to Terebovle and conquered Terebovle. Then he went to Tikhomel, from there he went to Kremenets and fought near Kremenets. (The Russian prince Mstislav the Brave) killed and wounded many Hungarians.
[Translation Editor's Note: Note 1 is in Russian, at the bottom of p. 9. Translations of the numbered notes appear at the end of this section.]
In the early 1240s, the armies of the Tatar commander Batu-Chan fought but failed to conquer the strong castle of Kremenets. Nor did they succeed during their next try in the fifties. In the 1260s, at the demand of the Tatars, the princes of Halich managed to destroy the town's fortifications. In spite of the Tatar invasion, the principalities of Halich-Volin continued to rule themselves throughout the 13th and into the first half of the 14th century. Accelerating pressure by the Lithuanian princes began to have an impact in the middle of the 14th century. The Polish king, Kasimir the Great, took advantage of the weakening principalities and tried to conquer parts of them. He succeeded in annexing only the lands of Halych to his domain. He was forced to give the lands of Volin to the Lithuanian princes. In 1366, Prince Aleksander Koriatovich, a vassal of Kasimir the Great, received the towns of Ludmir and Kremenets. After his death, the Hungarians took Kremenets, but by 1382 the town was back in the hands of the Lithuanian prince Liubart and was included in the Lithuanian principality.
In the late 14th and early 15th centuries, the lands of Volin were divided among three principalities: Lutsk, Kremenets, and Ludmir. After the Lithuanian Archduke Vitold (Vitovt) dissolved the principalities, the town of Kremenets and its district were governed by the archduke's appointee.
Internal struggles and constant pressure by the Teutonic order paved the way for stronger relations between Lithuania and Poland at the close of the 14th century. Solving the difficult question of the Polish royal crown contributed to a process that concluded with a treaty in 1385, although a large segment of the Lithuanian aristocracy was opposed to it. The struggle surrounding the treaty greatly influenced the fate of all the Lithuanian archdukedoms. In 1430, after the death of Vitold, the tension reached its peak. The princes, together with the Russian Boyars, who had always been against a Polish-Lithuanian treaty, supported Svidrigaillo as archduke. A struggle for dominion ensued between Svidrigaillo and Prince Sigismund, who was supported by Polish King Jagiello, and ended with a crushing defeat for Svidrigaillo at the hands of his opponents. All the Lithuanian archduchies were now under the rule of Sigismund, except for Kremenets (thanks to its special geographical situation) and the eastern part of Podolia, which remained in the hands of Svidrigaillo until the mid-forties. During his rule over those small areas, Svidrigaillo wanted to make Kremenets his capital. This may explain the privileges, similar to those of the Magdeburg Law, granted to the townspeople of Kremenets in 1438 (e.g., approval of self-organization by the townspeople in the manner of German cities). These privileges gave the German Mayor Yorka the right to judge the Russian, German, Volokhy, Armenian, Jew, and Tatar. However, this does not prove that there was a permanent Jewish settlement in the town of Kremenets at that time. The document was apparently worded to attract new settlers to the town, which was destined to be Svidrigaillo's capital, by giving them favorable conditions. Jews, who were well known as an important factor in the economy, would have been among these settlers. Until the Jews were expelled from Lithuania in 1495, we have no document that in any way mentions the presence of Jews in Kremenets.
One can assume the settlement of Jews in Kremenets began with their return in 1503. Still, although the documents of special privileges decreed by Sigismund the First in 1514 state that Jews are exempt from military service, Kremenets is not mentioned as one of Lithuania's main communities. However, by 1536, a significant Jewish settlement existed there. At that time, King Sigismund gave the Kremenets district to Queen Bona (Bona Sporza), and on that occasion he gave the district the privileges of the Magdeburg Law and freed them from taxes. Still, the same document says, but the Jews who live in the town of Kremenets will not benefit from the privileges, and they are not allowed in any way to disturb or harm commerce, by way of opposition to the privileges (of the townspeople).
In general, the kings of Poland-Lithuania valued even encouraged the Jews' economic activity in that period, and it is clear that this paragraph was inserted in the document of privileges on the demand of the townspeople. That they demanded the inclusion of a paragraph that is clearly directed against the Jews shows that the Jews were already having an effect on life in the town and that there was concern about competition from them. Characteristically, this document, the first to deal clearly with the Jews in the town of Kremenets, hints at the townspeople' conflict with the Jews. This conflict would be like a thread woven through the history of the Jewish settlement in this town for hundreds of years.
Jewish settlement in Kremenets is mentioned among other Jewish settlements in Lithuania for the first time in 1551.
English Translation by Thia Persoff
The 100 years between the mid-16th century and the persecution decrees of the mid-17th century were a period of continual development and prosperity for the Jewish residents of the town of Kremenets.
How many Jews were in Kremenets in that period, and what were the goals of the development, quantitatively?
Royal Lithuanian documents are one of the most important sources of help in answering this question. During the reign of Sigismund Augustus II, a system of registration was established for the royal lands in an effort to organize the administration of the Lithuanian archdukedom. The resulting lists were called lustrations.
[Translation Editor's Note: A lustration is an act of purification by means of certain ceremonies. The word derives from lustrum, which in ancient Rome was a purification of the people by means of ceremonies held every five years, after the census. Hence lustration, in the sense used here, has to do with a periodic census or registration.]
According to the 1552 lustration, there were 48 Jewish houses in the town of Kremenets. In the 1563 lustration, the number of Jewish houses went up to at least 63. The next lustration is from 1629, when there were 169 Jewish smoke (houses). In addition, it is possible to get an idea of the number of Jews living in Kremenets from the taxes they paid, particularly since a head tax on the Jews was established in 1578. According to the list of taxpaying Jewish communities of that year, 100 gold coins were received from Kremenets. Figuring one gold coin per head (head of household), the Jewish population was about 100 households in 1578. Relying on all the information given in the lustrations and the head-tax lists, it is possible to estimate the number of Jews in the town:
[Translation Editor's Note: These figures assume five people per household.]
It is assumed that the town's population continued expanding until the decrees of the mid-17th century.
What percentage of the town's total population consisted of Jews?
In 1552, the total number of houses in the town of Kremenets was about 450. In 1629, the number was 1,119. From this, we calculate that the percentage of Jews was only 10.6% in 1552 and about 15% in 1629.
We should also mention the increasingly important socioeconomic status of the Kremenets Jewish community among the Jewish communities of Volin. In the breakdown of taxes, the percentage of the overall taxes from Volin that came from Kremenets was as follows:
The overall amount, we believe, tended to decrease. But the increases in the Jewish population of Kremenets and in the community's importance in Volin are very apparent. The numbers above demonstrate that this was an era of prosperity for the Kremenets community.
During that period, the main livelihood of the Jews in Kremenets came from business and assorted leases. As mentioned, Kremenets was situated on an ancient crossroads of commerce; of special importance was trade from south to north. The town is mentioned as a passageway for the salt trade. The privilege document of Sigismund I releases all the subjects of the Prince of Ostra from paying taxes, no matter their origin, nationality, or religion. From the 1430s onward, we have proof of business dealings between the Jews of Kremenets and Greater Poland. We see this in the council books of the city of Pozna. In 1544, three Jews, the brothers Yitschak, Yosef, and Avigdor, received a two-year certificate of protection. There is information about Jews from Kremenets who dealt in fattening and selling oxen on a large scale. The increasing number of complaints by the townspeople and of royal orders forbidding Jews to disrupt the townspeople's businesses indicates the expansion of Jewish businesses.
The information that we have about the assorted leases is greater than what we have about trade; Jews from Kremenets leased taverns in 15541557, and the development of Kremenets attracted Jews from other communities. Thus, in 1559, a Jew from Brisk took over the lease of the taverns, mills, and distilleries in Kremenets. In 1560, it went to a Jew from Vilna, the son of Feliks, who was in charge of the coin foundry in Vilna. In 1561, this same Yakov, son of Feliks, succeeded in obtaining a special privilege from the king: a permit to build distilleries in Kremenets. The lustration from 1563 notes that this Jew paid 750 large shuk (groszy), a very large sum in those days, to the king's treasury for all of his leases. Also, Jews from Kremenets, in partnership with a Jew from Ludmir, leased the collection of various taxes for the upkeep of the castle, such as the moat, as well as the business fee, the store fee, fees for horses and other livestock, and the leases on taverns in the neighboring villages. It seems that there were also some Jews in charge of the Kremenets customs house. In addition, we have some information about Jews from Kremenets who rented flour mills and water reservoirs in different villages, and some even owned them.
Little information about the kind of work that the Jews did in that period has survived, although we do have information about the struggle of the Jewish butchers in Kremenets against the Christian butchers' guild. According to the latter, the Jewish butchers refused to join the guild, so they had to pay taxes directly into the castle treasury. The Jews, like the Christian townspeople, cultivated the land and had vegetable gardens and fruit orchards in town and in the suburbs. According to the 1563 lustration, a Jew named Sore had more than 10 frants of land (1 frant = 56 square yards) in different areas of the town, as well as 6 frants of vegetable gardens and 16 frants of fruit orchards. A Jew named Avraham owned 8 frants in different areas of the town and 9 frants of vegetable gardens.
Additional evidence of the stable economic condition of the Jews of Kremenets is the employment of Christians by Jews in spite of the high taxes that this incurred.
Direct information about the economic activities of the Jews of Kremenets in that period is very limited, but the information we have corroborates the conclusions we derived from reviewing the numerical growth of the community: the economic worth of the Jews increased. The community became more and more established in different economic sectors. Competition from the townspeople was unsuccessful in blocking growth in various sectors, and Jews from other towns were attracted to Kremenets. And so it was that Kremenets became an important town for the Jews, one of the leading communities in Volin province and all of eastern Poland.
Until 1569, Volin belonged to the Lithuanian archdukedom, and its Jewish residents were bound to the Lithuanian rulers in all legalities and tax burdens. The basis for their legal standing in Lithuania was the privilege granted to the Jews of Brisk by Lithuanian Archduke Vitold in 1388. According to that, the Jews were under his rule and that of his representative, the starosta. Eventually, Jewish self-rule was established in Lithuania, as it was in Poland, and the authorities recognized this self-rule.
[Translation Editor's Note: Starosta, which means elder, is a term used for various positions of leadership throughout Russian and Polish history.]
The Lithuanian Jews, returning after the expulsion in 1503, were forced to recruit and pay for 1,000 horsemen to guard the country. Shortly after, this obligation was changed to regular monetary payment. In the mid-16th century (1563), Lithuanian Jews were compelled to pay 4,000 large shuk (groszy). Of this amount, Kremenets Jews had to pay 150 large shuk. In addition to special taxes on Jews, they had to contribute, as non-Jews did, to the upkeep of the castle (its walls and towers as well as a cannoneer and his helpers) and to other civic works (such the upkeep of the bridge over the river). For this purpose, a 2.5 percent tax per house was collected from all inhabitants of the town, Jews and Christians. Added to those were special taxes on stores and parcels of land, as well as other taxes. Until 1556, residents had to contribute labor, but that year the king, Sigismund August II, released them from most labor and substituted special payments. In addition, Jews and non-Jewish townspeople had to pay servashchizna (money tax), which was levied irregularly from time to time as a tax for defense purposes.
The Lublin Confederation of 1569 severed Volin from Lithuania and added it to the Polish crown. The principles of Polish law began to penetrate Volin. Immediately after the declaration of unification, Volin's military governor, Aleksander Chartoriski, requested the right of jurisdiction over the Jews from King Sigismund II, as Volin was in Poland. The king granted his request, and on August 9, 1569, gave him jurisdiction over the Jews of Lutsk, Ludmir, and Kremenets, adding that no one was to dare to contest this privilege. The annexation of Volin to Poland created a great deal of friction, as royal bureaucrats tried to take advantage of the unclear status of those territories and particularly that of Volin's Jews. In 1576, this resulted in a direct appeal by the rabbis and Jews in general to King Stephen Batory for a clear declaration that Volin Jews had rights equal to those of Polish Jews and the abolishment of Lithuanian jurisdiction over them. On December 1, 1576, the king granted the petition and added the sentence, In the future, the deputies of the military governors are not to judge [the Jews of Volin] differently or in different places, but together with two leaders of the Jews, in their house of worship. This paragraph was a first for Volin's Jews, as there was nothing like it in the privileges given to Lithuania's Jews.
Polish King Batory's new system for levying taxes included a special head tax on the Jews (pogłówne żydowskie). In 1578, Jews of Volin paid 587 gold coins, of which 100 gold coins were the portion from Kremenets. The special tax was to be paid by Jews who employed non-Jews (as mentioned above). In 1583 the tax was raised to 15 gold coins only for the Jews of Kremenets.
What was the character of the Jewish community in Kremenets during this period?
We have no information about the internal organization of the Kremenets Jewish community in the first half of the 16th century. The abovementioned lustration of 1563 gave us a glimpse the Kremenets Jewish community, with all its assets and institutions. The lustration includes registrations for two lots for the house of worship. These may be a synagogue and a study hall. Added to this were a hospital (Hekdesh Jewish Hospital) and a Jewish cemetery. In the city, there was also a rabbi or a head of a study hall by the name of Shmuel and a beadle named Yosko (Yosef). A Jewish physician is also mentioned.
In 1573, in the days of the MHRShL (R' Shlome Luria), the head of the Kremenets yeshiva, R' Yitschak Ha-Kohen, was teaching Torah. This R' Yitschak was the son of R' Duvid Shapira, who later was a rabbi in Krakow, and the son-in-law of the MHRM of Lublin. The latter was very proud of his son-in-law and used to sign most of his responsa the in-law of the royal genius, our teacher the rabbi, R' Yitschak, righteous Kohen. R' Yitschak Shapira's responsum is cited along with those of the other great ones of that generation, the supporters of the MHRShL, in the famous case of the release from wedding vows of a woman whose husband was killed in battle by Muscovites in the city of Polotsk in 1563.
Until 1587, R' Mordekhay Yafe, Ba'al Halevushim, held the Kremenets rabbinical chair and was the head of the yeshiva there. He is the distinguished scholarly rabbi, the notable elder who carries the flag of the Jewish nation, etc., who was rabbi and head of yeshiva for as many as 20 years in the holy communities of Horodne, Lublin, and Kremenets. He has educated many students and is a leader among the great heads of yeshiva and judges of the three lands.
[Translation Editor's Notes: MHRShL is an abbreviation for morenu harav (our teacher the rabbi) R' Shlome Luria. MHRM is an abbreviation for our teacher the rabbi, R' Meir. Responsa (teshuvot) are written decisions and rulings on Jewish law. Ba'al Halevushim literally means master of the clothing, after R' Yafe's compendium of Jewish law, Royal Garments (Levush Malkhut).]
In 1587, the head of the rabbinical court in Kremenets was R' Shimshon, son of R' Betsalel, the brother of the MHRL of Prague. That year his signature was on a document signed by 30 rabbis prohibiting and banning the purchase of rabbinical degrees. In 1597, at the Yaroslav fair, these decrees were renewed, and the first signature again is that of R' Shimshon, son of R' Betsalel of Kremenets. Apparently he was the rabbi there until the end of the 16th century.
[Translation Editor's Note: MHRL is an abbreviation for our teacher the rabbi, R' Liva.]
From this list of rabbis, we can see that Kremenets was already one of the leading Jewish communities in Volin province and an honored one in Poland in the 16th century. We learn this from the character of the rabbis and from the role of R' Shimshon, son of R' Betsalel, in reforming the regulations by the Council of Four Lands. In 1596, too, one of the two judges of the land of Volin was R' Avraham of Kremenets.
In the early years of the 17th century, the head of the rabbinical court of Kremenets was R' Yehuda, son of R' Naftali.
The last head before the decrees of 1648 was R' Chayim, son of R' Shmuel Ashkenazi Ish Tsvi. It appears that he represented Kremenets at the conventions of Volin's communities, which were initiated by R' Yom Tov Lipman Heler, as he writes in Scroll of Hate:
[Translation Editor's Note: Scroll of Hate (Megilat Eivah) was R' Yom Tov Lipman Heler's autobiography.]
And lowly me, in the holy community of Ludmir, with principals and leaders of that region, we confirmed my original words and added to them, as they were only about those who receive money; but these leaders and I have added prohibitions and ostracisms on top of the accepted ones. Because of this, I acquired enemies and much hostility, without good reason, and they spread fiendish accusations about me. In spite of all that, I did not retreat. I joined the convention in the holy community of Vishnivets (Wisniowiec, near Kremenets) in the region of Lutsk, where the leaders of the four holy communities of Volin Ludmir, Ostra, Kremenets, and Lutsk got together. On 18 Adar, all of us the heads of the four communities' yeshivas, along with the emissaries of the heads of other lands, as is the custom have reconfirmed the prohibitions and the ostracisms. In addition, we announced those decisions most efficiently, in a large public meeting.
This was in reference to the ban against buying a rabbinical degree.
About half a year after the Vishnevets convention, a major dispute broke out between the leaders of the Volin communities and the writer of The Additions of Yom Tov on the matter of the Lokatsh community's rabbinate. The Ostra community approached the leaders of the Ludmir community (where Yom Tov Lipman Heler lived) with a request to restrain their rabbi's extreme opposition to R' Yozl of Lokatsh. A similar letter, signed by the rabbi and leaders of the Kremenets community, did the same.
The abovementioned Rabbi Chayim kept his rabbinical chair until the 1648 decrees and witnessed to the demise of his community. He passed away in 1649 and was eulogized by R' Avraham, son of Yisrael Yechiel Rapaport, the Rabbi of Lvov, who called him my in-law.
In 1644, as the representative of Kremenets at the Four Lands convention during the Yaroslav fair, R' Yakov of Kremenets signed an approbation on book publishing .
Kremenets was established as an important center of Jewish learning not only because some of the generation's greatest rabbis held the rabbinical chair there, but also because sages from outside the town settled there. In the early 17th century in Kremenets, we find important scholars whose writings are widely read. R' Yosef, son of the holy R' Moshe of Kremenets, wrote a commentary on The Great Book of Commandments by R' Moshe of Kotsi and received the acceptance of the sages and heads of Poland's and Volin's yeshivot. Among them were Ba'al Halevushim R' Mordekhay Yafe and R' Shmuel Eliezer, son of R' Yehuda. This R' Yosef also wrote other books.
Also of the Kremenets community was R' Aharon Shmuel, son of R' Moshe Shalom, author of the book Man's Soul, which was published in 1617 in Hanau, with the approbation of R' Yeshayahu Horovits, author of Two Tablets of the Covenant. The reasons for R' Aharon Shmuel's leaving Kremenets had to do with some unexplained persecution. After wandering for a long period, he accepted the rabbinical chair in the town of Fulda, Germany.
[Translation Editor's Note: In Hebrew, Man's Soul is Neshamot Adam, and Two Tablets of the Covenant is Shney Lukhot Habrit.]
Other proof that Kremenets was an important religious center is that R' Shimshon, head of the holy community in the town of Brisk, copied an extremely old book found in Kremenets.
We also know that the Kremenets community had ties to Israel. It is well known that emissaries from Israel visited the Jewish communities of Poland with the purpose of collecting donations to help in the resettlement of Israel. In 1645 and 1646, R' Yitschak Binga Ashkenazi of Jerusalem toured Poland's main communities, and he mentions Kremenets in the list of towns he visited.
Thus the general picture of social and religious life in the Kremenets Jewish community parallels some of the lovely passages in R' Natan Neta Hanover's book, Abyss of Despair, describing the life of Polish Jewry before the great destruction. In spite of all the exaggeration in the mourner's words, we can definitely agree with him: The famous ones do not require proof that there was not as much learning in the Diaspora as in the land of Poland and among the important communities in Poland was the holy community of Kremenets.
English Translation by Thia Persoff and David Dubin
The great events that shook Poland in the middle of the 17th century resulted in widespread disaster for all of its Jewish residents, and particularly those in the eastern districts. There were many reasons for the Cossack rebellion, led by Bogdan Chmielnitski (Chmil the Evil, as he was called by our people), which most Ukrainians joined within a short time. There was a sharp socioeconomic contrast between the oppressed Ukrainians and the ruling Polish nation, between the serf and the landowner, and between the Ukrainian Pravoslavic farmers and the Polish Catholic nobility. At the core of the enormous force of the eruption was the fact that Ukrainians were mostly Pravoslavic farmers while Poles were mainly Catholic nobles. The Jews in Ukraine were tied economically to the Polish nobility, but this did not make them an independent factor in this struggle.
The rebellion began on the Dnieper River. But before Chmielnitski had the opportunity to organize the Cossacks into an army, the indentured farmers rose up in all the areas east of the San. Banding together in gangs, they attacked farms and towns, murdering and pillaging. Led by Maksim Krivonos, the gangs acted with frenzied violence, especially in Volin and Podolia, until Chmil and his army arrived. They acted with excessive brutality and cruelty.
The surge of riots arrived in Volin with dizzying speed: the Polish army was attacked on May 26, 1648, near Korsun, and by June 10 the besieged Nimirov had already fallen, and its Jews were slaughtered. In June and July, Tultshin, Bar, and Polanah fell. After a meeting between the Polish representative, Jeremi Wisniowiecki, and Krivonos in the vicinity of Konstantin, the Polish army retreated westward, and all of eastern Volin was given over to gangs, who were joined at the end of July by Chmil's Cossacks.
Kremenets was not damaged by the gangs until the end of July, since the area was used as a staging area for the Polish army. Despite a great deal of harassment in the area, the gangs did not bother Kremenets during September and October. Only after Chmil's armies laid siege to Lvov and began to send gangs in different directions did Chmil send Dzhidzhaly, a famous gang leader, to set siege to and capture the city and its defenses. He began on October 20, continued until December 13, and finally captured the city and its defenses and completely destroyed it. It is likely that some of the Jews of Kremenets managed to escape before the siege, but the descriptions of the destruction of the community found in Jewish chronologies are apparently tied to this siege and capture of the city.
There is no doubt that the descriptions of contemporaries, Jews and non-Jews alike, require investigation. A witness to the destruction of communities and the mass murder of fellow citizens is not inclined to investigate specific events and the exact numbers killed. By quoting the records, he seeks to emphasize the magnitude of the destruction. In his thoughts, the frightening sights and terrifying reports combine into a single catastrophic vision. From this approach, we evaluate the stories of the events in Kremenets as they appear in the chronicles of the events of 16481649.
No eyewitness accounts exist of the decrees in the holy community of Kremenets. Testimonies were written down from hearsay. In Stressful Times, R' Meir of Shebreshin mentions the killing in the community when Chmil's armies laid siege to Lvov:
[Translator's Note: In Hebrew, Stressful Times is Tsuk HaItim.]
For several miles around Lvov,
Greece dwelled with all the armies
and killed among the Jews with death as their aim,
leaving the provinces of Volin empty.
They flew lighter than eagles and were braver than lions;
the province is destroyed, arise, arise.
Kremenets, the holy and great community,
they destroyed her and left her at the bottom of the sea,
and they killed Jews without mercy.
The cruel one slaughtered 100 children,
a holy seed pleasantly planted,
the blossom of Israel, Levites and priests.
When the evil one killed them in anger,
he told the cruel ones standing with him:
throw all the prey to the dogs.
And the evil one slaughtered the others
and exposed the area to be cut as if they were cows,
laughing and saying, these are kosher.
And they killed in every corner of the cities,
the fleshy along with the dainty;
they gave them no mercy.
In describing the destruction of the large community of Kremenets, the author specifically emphasizes the slaughter of 100 children and the desecration of their bodies, which reminds him of the traditional connection with nonkosher meat.
Other chronicles return to this motif. In Abyss of Despair, R' Natan Neta Hanover, after mentioning also in the province of Volin, in the holy community of Ludmir, the holy community of Lubemla, the holy community of Lutsk, the holy community of Kremenets, and their outskirts, they carried out great massacres of several thousand Jews, continues in the manner of Stressful Times: And in the holy community of Kremenets, one evildoer took a ritual slaughtering knife and slaughtered several hundred Hebrew children, asked if this was kosher or nonkosher, and threw them to the dogs. Afterward, he took one corpse, uncovered the place of the cut, said, 'This is kosher,' and examined it as one does kids and lambs. They carried the corpse on a stake through all the streets of the city, and he announced, 'Who wants to buy kids and lambs?' May God avenge their blood. In The Suffering of Many, R' Avraham Ashkenazi says, No evil like this calamity had ever befallen the holy community of Kremenets or the holy community of Bar. The enemy fell upon the small children, sharpened the knife, and slaughtered them in a complete carnage. Afterward, they hung them by their feet above, as it is done. They opened their throats, examined them, and asked, is it nonkosher or kosher?
[Translator's Note: In Hebrew, Abyss of Despair is Yeven Metsula, and The Suffering of Many is Tsar Bat Rabim.]
This unique occurrence in the description of the Kremenets massacre was elaborated on further in the retelling: R' Natan Neta Hanover transformed the sentences of R' Meir of Shebreshin into another frightful incident of mockery: the slaughterer's knife, the examination for kosher status, and the traditions of the Jews in general. And according to R' Avraham Ashkenazi, there was also a desecration of the slaughterhouse, in which the bodies were hung up on hooks.[52a]
A later chronicle, Deep Mire, states, From there Chmil went to the holy community of Kremenets, where there were 800 householders, and nearly all were killed.
Apparently, refugees from the community who went to Germany expressed a similar impression of hundreds slaughtered, as is also mentioned in the Memorial Book of the community of Vermaysa: The innocent and holy, several hundred souls of Israel, who were killed and burned and gave their lives into water, sanctifying the Holy Name in the holy community of Kremenets in 1649. May their souls be bound up in the bonds of eternal life.
Without pursuing the question of the numbers and particulars of the slaughter, it is clear from all of the above that the Kremenets community was destroyed in 1649. The refugees left in various directions. Information on one of the refugees has been preserved for us in a letter from R' Yochanen, son of R' Meir, head of the rabbinical court of Markish Fridland (in the area of Pozna): ... my renowned father, our rabbi and teacher Meir Kremenetser, who escaped in the decrees of 1649 to Kalish; he was the son of the Kabbalist Rabbi Yitschak.
The sentiment of the descendants of that generation and their assessment of general and personal destruction are genuinely described by R' Moshe Naral, a native of Kremenets, in his heartfelt eulogies for all the children of Israel in Poland:
Those who wait for death and search for it in the depths,
the leaders of thousands of the wise and intelligent of Israel,
we are for God, and to God our eyes are looking,
and they died for the holiness of the Lord of the first and the last.
I turned from hearing, I despaired of seeing and was overcome by trembling,
how could holy stones be spilled in every street,
and the holy seed be intermingled with the nations of the world,
and the small temples be like scattered limestone blocks.
In noble Poland, ancient seat of Torah and renown
since the days when Efraim split from Yehuda,
the Torah was learned and sealed,
and now is exiled and removed, desolate and forsaken.
English Translation by David Dubin
We do not know exactly when the community of Kremenets was reestablished after the decrees of 1648. There are even traditions that the Council of Four Lands amended its ban not to live in the province of Ukraine after the decrees. But we know that a few years after 1648, Volin's Jews had already begun to return to their places.
And as early as 9 Nisan 1656, the emissary of the Kremenets community, Yitschak son of Rabbi Ozer of blessed memory of Kremenets, appears among the signatories to the judicial ruling by the supreme leaders of the Lands at the Gromnits fair in Lublin. One can infer from this that the Kremenets community suffered at most a six-year hiatus. Although the community was reestablished, it did not return to its former glory for many years, until 1793, during the second partition of Poland, when all of Volin was annexed to the Russian state.
[Translation Editor's Note: Gromnits refers to the Catholic holiday Gromnice (Candlemas Day), which took place in February.]
As mentioned, before the events of 16481649, the Kremenets community comprised more than 800 people. In the Jewish census of the vicinity of Kremenets on January 2, 1765, 649 Jews were counted in Kremenets proper, and together with its environs, there were 1,029. Even if we allow for a certain percentage who were not counted (the census was performed for the purpose of assessing per capita taxes), even considering that one-third were not counted, the number of community members in 1765, more than 100 years after the events, does not exceed the number before the events. Comparing this static condition with the continual increase before the 1648 decrees, and especially comparing the state of Kremenets in 1765 with that of other communities in Volin, even nearby communities, such as Konstantin Yashan and Lekhovits, one can argue that the weakening of the Kremenets community is quite apparent.
|1629||1765||% gain or loss|
Moreover, in the towns and villages in the Kremenets district where communities had not previously existed, the number of Jews also increased while the number in the central city did not. Before the decrees of 1648, Jews were known to live only in 13 cities and towns in the Kremenets district, and in 1765, Jews lived in 40 cities there, in addition to the large number of settlers in the surrounding villages. In 1765, 20,085 Jews were counted in the Kremenets district, which constituted the second-largest Jewish population in Volin after the Lutsk district 23,289 Jews many more than the Ludmir district's 7,421.
How can we explain the stagnation of the Kremenets community during this period?
We have seen that in the same era in which the Kremenets community did not flourish, other communities in Volin and even in the Kremenets district itself did so. Therefore, we cannot ascribe the situation to the destruction resulting from the decrees of 16481649.
Events after 1648 changed the entire complexion of the Polish state and even its method of governance. The monarchy, which had been weak beforehand, was even weaker after the disturbances. The nobility, particularly the large landowners, had more and more influence over the management of the state, and the existing administrative order teetered. This phenomenon is best appreciated with regard to cities that were under the direct influence and rule of the king's administration or, as they were called, royal cities. The functionaries stationed in these cities were interested in amassing the maximum benefit for themselves. Often, the cities were administered by low-level officials, and they were obviously that much less reliable. Especially in this era, these cities found themselves increasingly in competition with cities located on noblemen's land and under their rule and guidance or, as they were called, private cities. The owner of the private city, interested in its expansion, used all his influence to protect the residents' rights, including those of the Jewish residents. Moreover, royal cities were by and large administered under the Magdeburg Law, which gave townspeople great power, and they tried to use the law against the Jews, as these cities had no incentive for restraint. On the other hand, in the private cities the owners determined the character of relations between the Jews and the citizenry. Thus the Jews fled royal cities like Kremenets to privately owned settlements in the area. Practically speaking, it seems that the Jewish population of Kremenets was greater than that counted in the census, but some counts Jews may have been included as residents of private cities.
Moreover, the situation of the Kremenets Jews was worse than in many other royal cities. The frequent wars and their attendant terror also left a mark on the life of the community. Relations with the townspeople of Kremenets were strained during the entire era under discussion.
The priesthood joined these enemies of the Jews of Kremenets, and the severe blood libels of the middle of the 18th century were promulgated from this camp of persecutors.
As far as we can determine, the era of persecution began in 1687, when the local Franciscans complained about the Jews, saying that the city manager had sided with them. They complained that the Jews were allowed to build houses close to the church or encroaching on the Uniate Cemetery and made other, similar accusations. Their complaints were transferred to the tribunal in Lublin.
The 18th century in Volin began with the ominous appearance of Cossack attacks and wars. In 1702, a Cossack rebellion broke out under the leadership of Samus Weflay. They enlisted the villagers in revolt against Polish rule and particularly against Polish officers and Jews. After capturing 20 cities west of the Dnieper River, several bands advanced into Podolia and Volin to the Bug River. We have information about severe attacks on the Jewish settlements in the Kremenets district: In 1703, the Jews and townspeople of Konstantin Yashan entered in the annals of the siege a declaration of a week of destruction in Kremenets in 1702 by the Cossacks. A similar declaration was entered in the annals of the Jews of Lubar Yashan, also in the Kremenets district. In this declaration, the Jews complain not only about the rebelling Cossacks of 1702, but also about the Polish army and its Mazfa Cossack allies, who came to Volin to quash the rebellion, looted them, and refused to allow them to return to their homes. Presumably, the Kremenets community also suffered from these armies. The Polish army and the Russian Cossack army from Mazfa, which had participated in the northern war against Sweden, entered Volin. We have the testimony of the Jews' complaints about these armies' actions. In 1706, the Swedish army invaded Volin, decreed a heavy tax, and looted every location that came into their hands. After the Swedes retreated, the Russian armies entered and repeated their enemies' actions. In 1707, the Polish army came in place of the Russians, and it also demanded money and provisions from the impoverished population and attacked it, especially the Jews. In the annals of the siege of Kremenets, two declarations of the inhabitants report their inability to continue to pay the required contribution due to the destruction of the preceding years. Similar statements are recorded by residents of most of the cities in the Kremenets district. The Haidamaks also apparently attacked the Jews in the Kremenets district. After the Haidamak revolt of 1768 and the beginning of the war between Russia and Turkey, the plague increased (in 1770), and the fire spread in many districts in innumerable cities and villages, to the point where the Jews fled their land, left their houses and property, and escaped to be hamlets and fields. The panic also increased in the region of Volin. An eyewitness, an inhabitant of Kremenets, describes the situation in his city as follows: I fled to Berestitska and stayed there desolately, fearful and trembling, expecting to hear what had happened in my city. During the week of the Shoftim portion, a refugee came to say that the city had been conquered and all its inhabitants were also fleeing, dwelling together in the dust. The people observed Sukkot, trembling from the plague, the rains, the bread no longer in their vessels, and the sustenance and provisions cut out of their mouths and out of those of many villages near and far....[70a]
[Translation Editor's Note: The week of the Shoftim portion refers to the portion of the Torah read each week. Shoftim, in the Book of Deuteronomy, would be read in August or September.]
The 18th century is famous in Polish Jewish history for its cycles of blood libels. The popularity of libels was rooted in the economic bitterness between the townspeople and the young nobility on one side and the Jews on the other. There is no question that the directions for libels were given by the Catholic priesthood, which was always and forever notable for its hatred of the Jews. Also, the upsurge in the struggle of the Orthodox priesthood, which was supported by the Russian government, had no small part in the blossoming of libels. Several libels took place on Volin soil, and Kremenets in particular was a forum for several of the libel trials.
In 1747, in Zaslav, the fate of several Jews who were accused of killing a Christian found frozen in the snow was decided before the governor and the citizen-prosecutors of Kremenets. As a result of this judgment, four Jews were taken for execution.
Several years later, an attempt at a blood libel was made in Kremenets itself. In 1753, one of the Christian residents of the city attacked his three-year-old daughter and stabbed her through the heart in a stable belonging to a Jew. Luckily for the Jews of Kremenets, the girl did not die of her wounds and testified against her father. The Jews registered a complaint in the Kremenets castle court regarding this event.
In 1756, a blood libel case from Yampol was heard in Kremenets. R' Elyakum son of Asher Zelig, one of the accused of Yampol, escaped from prison in Kremenets to nearby Konstantin, where the Council of the Lands sat in those days. There it was decided to send a special emissary to Rome, and R' Elyakum volunteered out of personal responsibility to include himself in the troubles of Israel. As a result of his efforts, the Pope decided to investigate the affair and delegated responsibility to Cardinal Ganganelli (later Pope Clement XIV). The Cardinal assembled a great deal of material about the history of blood libels and in 1758 presented a memorandum that acquitted the Jews of these accusations. One of the major proofs in his memorandum regards the abovementioned incident of the Kremenets blood libel.
It is worth mentioning that the area surrounding Kremenets never ceased to be a center for the blood libel phenomenon: In 1772, at Pochayev Lavre near Kremenets, a Russian translation of the anti-Semitic text called Fables of the Talmud was published; it had originally appeared in Polish in 1758, during the famous dispute with the Frankists in Lvov. Among other matters, this book discusses the blood libel. The Russian translation was published a second time in the same place in 1794, with the annexation of Volin to the Russian state.
[Translation Editor's Note: Pochayev Lavre probably refers to the Pochayev Lavra, a monastery of Orthodox Christian denominations in Pochayev.]
We should not assume that these incidents in the vicinity of Kremenets are mere coincidence. We have already noted that relations between the townspeople and the Jews were especially strained. We can imagine that this tension is what led directly to this anomaly, and there is no question that this affair further weakened the Jews' status in the city.
Relations between the townspeople and the Jews of Kremenets, which were strained during this entire era, were especially so in the second half of the 18th century. The townspeople maintained that the Jews had no right to lease the town's taverns. In 1777 and 1778 they brought their complaint to the authorities, and the affair reached its peak in 1778, when it was dealt with at length. As a result, relations became more and more strained. Furthermore, the townspeople complained about the Jews' right to retain houses that had been built on city land many years before and attempted to forbid the Jews to rebuild their homes after fires during those years. In 1781 the affair reached the courts, which ruled against the Jews, despite the intervention of the governor, Prince Sangoszko. The municipal record of 1789 shows that the verdict was not enforced. The townspeople complained about Sangoszko, who does not allow the judges' verdicts between the townspeople and Jews to be carried out and protects the Jews with his soldiers from the enforcements of these verdicts, etc.; the Jews do not want to come to agreement; they refuse to billet the soldiers; they occupy trades and occupations and services without licenses from the city; they do not want to pay taxes on their businesses to the city coffers; they do not participate in paying fees for the upkeep of roads and bridges; they build on thoroughfares and in places where they are not allowed; they do not pay taxes to support city services and the students sent to school in Krakow. These words show the sharpness of the struggle between the two sides, a struggle that was especially difficult for the Jews because of the contemporary parliamentary policy of inciting the cities. The Jews had been exempt from taxes until then because of the founding privileges bestowed by the municipalities and their councils. New rulings of the Sejm provided an opening for the townspeople to ask for judicial limitations on and taxes from the Jews. Since Kremenets was a royal city, the Jews were at a disadvantage, despite the support of the governor. At the end of that municipal record, we hear the recordkeepers' opinion of the city's status. They state that the townspeople's complaints and actions regarding the Jews were destroying the city and that many of the Jews had left. Despite this, a new Christian population had not materialized, so the income of the city was not ensured. The city found itself in decline.
[Translator's Note: The Sejm is the lower house of the Polish parliament.]
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