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Immigration and Settlement
of the Jews in Bukovina

by Dr. Samuel Josef Schulsohn (New York)

Translated by Jerome Silverbush

The question of their ancestry is extremely important and of historical significance for the history of the Jews of Bukovina. To solve this riddle, we must also consider the genealogy of the Jews in present day Romania, since this province until its annexation by Austria was a part of Moldavia1 and together with it formed an entity. We will therefore have to explore the origin and the dates of the first Jewish settlers in Romania. In order to proceed, we must first answer these two questions.

  1. Since when could we find Jews in the boundaries of present day Romania and from where did they come?
  2. Are the present day Jewish residents directly descended from these settlers or is there no genealogical connection with them? That is: Can we prove an uninterrupted residence through many centuries or was this chain broken during the flow of time and is it possible that throughout the centuries there were additional Jewish immigrations?

The period of the first settlement in the borders of the present day Romania can be determined from the course of the Jewish emigration from Palestine and their dispersion in other lands.

With the destruction of the first temple and the exile of the ten tribes it is know that the Jews went to Babylon and Assyria where most of them remained even after the building of the second temple, while a small percentage returned to Palestine. After that, the first mass Jewish emigration out of Palestine they dispersed even further, partly to the east in the direction of India, partly north to Armenia and the costal lands along the Black Sea where intensive commerce developed. While in Palestine, there was intra-Jewish contention for the throne and the land was becoming more and more a Roman province, many Jews emigrated to Rome where they founded a Jewish colony. Many moved to the commerce centers of Asia Minor and Greece for which much evidence can be found in the Talmud and the Midrasch as well as to the costal cities of the northern and western Black Sea. Actually, the inscriptions that were found confirmed the presence of Jews in Thrakischen Chersones and in the costal cities to the north and northwest of the Black Sea such as Anapa, Pantikapaeion (the present day Kertsch) and in Olbia. Here, also we are supported by written evidence such as the writings of the Greek Geographer Strabo stating that in the first century before Christ, there was hardly a city in the world in which Jews couldn't be found or the words of Philo Judaeus, the Jewish leader of the Alexandrian Jewish delegation to the Roman Imperator Caligula, that Jews lived on the most inaccessible bays of the Black Sea, facts confirmed by the inscriptions that have been found. Finally, many Jews, because of the destruction of the second temple, fled to the nearby Asia Minor or still further northward. The remaining went as prisoners to Rome. We won't examine the Jewish Diaspora in Egypt and their great center in Alexandria, since for our examination; it comes not at all or very little into consideration.

We see then that already before the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, many Jews verifiably settled in the area of the Black Sea, along the Danube region and in the first century before Christ, also going to the mouth of the Bug (the city Olbia) which belonged to the Dacian2 Empire which at that time stretched over the area of present day Romania, because of the fertility of the land and the many possibilities for commerce. In the same way we understand Jews settled and lived in the areas bordering Romania from the stories of the Apostles, especially Paul who particularly wanted to convert Jews to Christianity and traveled in Macedonia as far as Philippi and Thessaloniki and in Greece as far as Berhoea to found the first Christian communities in Europe. The Romanian historian Bogdan Petriceu Hasdeu even asserted that already in the time of the Hasmonean, Jews were in Romania and supports this theory with the Jewish coins from the Makabi period which he found in Hotin in present day Bessarabia3, which leads me to conclude with certainty that the possibility that some of the Jews in present day Romania descended from those early Jews cannot be completely excluded.

The area around the north and northwest coasts of the Black Sea where present day Dobrudscha is situated and where the Danube delta is located was a great cross roads of commerce at that time and we can conclude from reports and inscriptions that the first permanent Jewish settlements on the territory of present day Romania were established there. Actually, historians all agree that Jews certainly had already settled in the Danube region during the epoch of the Dako Romans4. Our job is now to answer the second question about the continuity of Jewish residence in the borders of present day Romania and we want to try to further follow the development line of the Jews of that region. After the Romans conquered Dacia, Jews came into the region as merchants about whose presence we know from inscriptions which the perhaps not quite objective Romanian historian and politician, Prof. Nicolae Jorga declared as “completely authentic.” The presence of Jews in this area of land during the period of Roman rule can be accepted as historically accurate. The Romans remained until the year 270. Then they left the land on the left bank of the Danube to the Goths while they remained on the right bank of the Danube where Jews also lived. They called this province, “aurelianische Dacia” to differentiate it from the area they had withdrawn from which had the full name of “trajanische Dacia.” It is difficult to determine now if the Jews remained or withdrew together with the Romans. Most likely, the majority of the Jews who had lived in trajanische Dacia left with the Romans. When one considers however that the Jews didn't fight the invading barbarians and were used to bearing suffering, that they didn't antagonize the enemy and had to judge the situation in other countries as very uncertain and even sad, the one can well assume that a considerable number remained in the North, the trajanischen Dacia and that they were well treated by the Goths.

We can also say with certainty that the Jews on the other side of the Danube in Roman aurelianische Dacia lived under the Christian Emperor, because Theodosius I issued an order to the prefects to stop the persecution and disenfranchisement of the Jews and to protect their synagogues and “haitaculae.” Moreover, we find that the East Roman Emporer, Justinian (527-565), built among other fortresses on the north side of the Danube one at Turnu-Magurele called the “Jew tower, which points to the presence of Jews in the area. Also, the hostile and draconian provisions in his body of law concerning the Jews bear witness to their presence in his empire. Somewhat later, we hear about persecution of the Jews in the Byzantine Empire under Leo III de Isaurier (722) who gave the Jews the choice of either accepting baptism or leaving the land. These laws which directly threatened their existence forced them to emigrate and many who didn't want to be baptized fled into the territory of present day Romania or crossed the Danube and found protection with the Khazars5 who had converted to Judaism in the 8th century. So, we observe the continued existence of the Jews in the Danube region and in the countries on the Black Sea where they were reinforced by the coming of the Khazar Jews. An influx of Jews from the right (Bulgarian) bank of the Danube to the left (Romanian) bank and a reinforcement of the existing Jewish population were able to take place during the dynasty of Assaniden (1180). Now for a while, we hear nothing until Benjamin von Tudela, a Jewish geographer of the second century reports about Jewish settlements. He found 50 Jewish families led by the patriarchs Jakob and Solomon living in Macedonia on the Sperchio River in harmony with the Walachen6 who call the Jews “brother” (1165-1173).

These documents, reports and circumstantial evidence justify us in assuming that the Jews lived among the Dako Romans and the Walachen who we can designate as ancestors of the contemporary Romanians – since the ethnic connection between the northern and southern Romanians had not been completely dissolved, and could be found since the period of the Roman conquest and in later epochs near Romania in the region around the Danube. There must have also been Jews in the area of the present day Romania, who either remained there after the withdrawal of the Romans or descended from the Khazars or from the Jews who fled there from the Eastern Roman Empire because of persecution, since we find them on Romanian territory right after the retreat of the Tartars. They are already mentioned in Akkerman (Cetatea-Alba) as living in a special quarter of the city under the rule of the Tartars who tolerated the Jews and traded with them. About this, the Romanian historian Prof. Jancu Nistor says that in the first half of the 14th century, the Jews lived in the Danube principalities and especially in Moldavia. This information is especially valuable to us for several reasons:

  1. We can say with certainty that there was an uninterrupted Jewish presence in Romania before there was any kind of immigration from other countries.
  2. We can't go wrong if we assume that the most likely original home of these Jews was Palestine, from where they went in great numbers to Dacia during the Roman reign and remained after the Romans were defeated by the Goths. We know that the Goths did not mistreat the Jews. We can say with certainty that today's Jews are descendants of those Jews who immigrated here because of persecution during the Byzantine empire, for example the Khazar Jews during the time of the Tartars.

From this we can draw the conclusion that these Jews partly came from Palestine, or were of Byzantine or Khazar origin and since the immigration from other European lands had not yet started, where else could they have come from.

We come now to the period when immigration started from the countries bordering Romania, and to be sure, spontaneously because of the riches of the land. Others came at the invitation of the Boyars (wealthy land owners) expecting prestigious positions and finally there were those who came because of persecution. Documents prove the increase in the number of Jews from decade to decade. Eventually, we find them living in compact groups in closed settlements. These newcomers felt superior to the resident Jews whose origin we discussed above and because of their overwhelming numbers, gradually absorbed them.

We can define two streams of Jewish immigration.

One was from the West, from Spain, Hungary, Poland and Russia and the other from the East, from Bulgaria and Turkey.

Under the reign of Ludwig I of Hungary (1351-1361) many Jews emigrated to Moravia and Austria because of persecution. Those from Transylvania7 moved to Walachia. This first mass migration was hospitably received and they were even offered dwellings. Radu II (Rudolf) and Dan I gave them many privileges in order to improve commerce. Sulzer even asserted that the city and fortress of Turnul was built by them when they were banned from Hungary and adds, “There was a settlement that can be proved by documents.”

Somewhat later a stream of Polish Jews started flowing into Moldavia, who in the 14th century exerted a large influence on Moldavian trade. They came in great numbers under Alexander the Good (1400-1432) and surely under Stefan the Great for purposes of trade and commerce and to settle permanently in Moldavia. Because the businessmen and residents of Vaslui complained that Jewish trade in cattle, cloth, leather and wax was harming them, Stefan VI, the Younger decreed on September 20, 1525 that Armenians, Greeks and Jews were to only have those old business rights that were given to them by his ancestor, Stefan the Great, that is to act as intermediaries and not to operate public houses. When the principalities (Walachia and Moldavia) came under control of Turkey, we find that many Turkish Jews came and settled for purposes of trade. So, we are told by Elias Kapsali in his manuscript (found on the island of Crete in 1525) that the ruler (domnul) of Walachia decreed that the Jewish merchants had to remain in a certain place for three days. On the third day, he demanded 1000 gulden ransom or he would gouge out their right eyes and shame all Israel. In reply, the Jews said, “We are Turkish subjects and you cannot hold us or our fortunes in slavery. Thereupon, he did as he had promised, taking the fortunes of the rich and maiming the poor.

Finally, the Jews who had been driven out of Spain in 1492 found a hospitable reception in Turkey and they also found asylum in Walachia, a Turkish vassal state, where they settled in small numbers and where they are know by the names of “Spanish Jews or Jewish Communities” and still maintain their old language and customs.

From this time on, we have many documents proving that Jews existed and lived in Romania. So, for instance, a letter from Stefan the Great to the Polish King Alexander Jagiello (1498) is preserved in which he advises him that the Ambassador Buhusz, had paid 1200 Gulden ransom for a Polish noblewoman who the Jews had freed from a Tartar prison. In 1550, the Polish chronicler Martin Bielski reported the story of Polish Christians who had converted to Judaism and who had to flee to Moldavia because of persecution by the Catholic clergy. Moreover, around 1545, Jews were reported in Turkish Chilia and in the same year, Jews complained to the Polish king that the Moldavian Hospodar9 Petru Raresch hindered them from taking Turkish horses to Poland and Lithuania, at that time a common trade article, which Jewish horse traders specialized in. Likewise, in Moldavia in 1550 the Jew Simon Hannel was active in the precious stone business.

These documents and reports bear witness to the existence of Jews in the borders of present day Romania without, however giving information about their numbers or distribution. We will now discuss this subject. In the responsa8 of Rabbi Josef Caro, the author of the great codex “Schulchan Aruch” (a table set for a meal) it is mentioned that in 1552 Jews lived in the vicinity of Bucharest. From this we see that already at that time, they were well dispersed in Romanian territories. Generally, they settled in the cities first and then spread out into the villages and the plains. If doubt still exists, we will soon have the opportunity to demonstrate from other documents and sources their wide distribution in these regions. For the present we want to follow the unbroken chain of their stay in the land further whereby we run into Jews, who because of their great influence in Turkey, like Don Josef von Naxon (1566-1587) we find in high places and wielding great power.

In the years 1570-1572, we find Moldavian freight carriers who worked for Jews. Jewish agents also signed freight contracts with them. In 1573 there was a certain Schaja, son of Josef the secretary for Hospodar Alexander Mircea in Walachia. Similarly a certain Salomon was in the service of Peter the Lame, the Hospodar of Moldavia at that time who demanded a fee for every service provided and of whom the historian Hurmuzaki and after him also Professor Jorga assumed that perhaps he was Salomon Tedeschi. However that may be, we find Jews in high positions, especially in the principalities. We now must take a position on the order of expulsion issue by Peter (1579). On January 8, 1579 he informed the merchants of Lemberg that an extraordinary council had decided to banish the Jews from Moldavia because they had taken over all the commerce. We can infer from this document that there must have already been large numbers of Jews there because an extraordinary council as well as an official notice to the magistrate of Lemberg would not have been necessary to deal with a small number of Jews. However, this expulsion of the Jews of Moldavia seems not to have been carried out because we find the originator himself dealing with Jews and Jewish money, Moses the son of Elieser for example and the above mentioned Salomon and many others or perhaps, the decree after a short period of application was forgotten because the Jews soon again entered business and commerce in Moldavia. Hardly two decades later we find the princes, Michael the Brave in Muntenien and the Hospodar Aron-Voda in Moldavia slaughtering Turks and Jews since they were the creditors of both these princes. Under the pretense of paying their debts the princes lured the Jews into a palace were they were gruesomely murdered.

A Jewish scholar who there at the time, gives us further information about the development of the Jews of the 17th century.

Josef Salomon Delmedigo tells us that as he was on a trip from Constantinople to Poland, in Iassy, he met Rabi Salomon ben Araja from Yemen who had lived there and carried out the function of rabbi for 40 years. The scholar stayed there himself for 11 years. This leads us to believe that there must have been a large Jewish population there. Otherwise, a rabbi wouldn't have come all the way from Yemen and remained there for 40 years. Similarly, we read in the responsa “Massat Binjamin(The Tribulations of Benjamin) by rabbi Benjamin Solnik of Saloniki who was well acquainted with conditions in Moldavia that Jews who went there or to Turkey to do business, were given accommodations in Iasy or other cities by Romanian or as he calls them, by Walachian Jews. If one also assumes that the Jews traveling there because of business often remained for a long period and only ate kosher food, we are led to the conclusion that Jews must have been there in considerable numbers.

In addition to this voluntary immigration of the Jews to Moldavia, we encounter at the beginning of the 17th century, those who were invited by the boyars, the great land owners to settle in the land to found cities and markets, to administer the estates, run taverns and to build distilleries. The oldest document of this sort which discusses the Boyar's inviting the Jews to settle in Moldavia was written by Stefan Tomscha in 1612 to the Magistrate of Lemberg requesting that merchants regardless of religion be allowed to settle in Moldavia in order to promote trade and that they be allowed to do business undisturbed. In order to lure Jews, he declared that Peter's expulsion order was “null and void.”

Also, the codicils of Matei Basarab (1646) in Walachia and of Vasile Lupu in Moldavia contain special articles concerning Jews, from which it can be concluded that they were present in both principalities in considerable numbers, since if they were present in miniscule numbers, a regulation of their conditions and a fixing of their rights through the law would not have been necessary or worth bothering with. In the same way, we can conclude from the reports of Paul d'Aleppo who (1650-1660) accompanied the Bishop Makarie, about the horrible persecution of the Jews by the Chmielnitzki10 hoards in Romania that Jews were present in large numbers, since otherwise, this phenomena would not have come to his attention and he would not have found it necessary to report it. He further tells us about two Jewish communities which existed in Muntenien11, one in Craiova and the other in Targoviste which were led by so called “Starosten” or elders. Shortly thereafter, before and at the beginning of the rule of the Phanariots12 in the principalities, Jewish communities had been founded throughout the land, especially in Moldavia

A final document that proves the already considerable number of Jews is the document written by Stephan Racovita in 1764 in which he discusses an institution that encompasses all the Jews called “Chacham-Baschi” (Great Rabbi) which established a “state rabbi” whose seat was in Iasy but whose area of influence extends to all of Walachia and Moldavia.

The original element of today's Romanian Jewry came from Palestine and was found here before or during the conquest of Dacia by the Romans. We then find this Jewish presence continuously throughout the centuries, partly in the territories bordering Romania living in harmony among the ancestors of the present day Romanians and partly in Romanian territory itself, where they sought and found refuge from persecution. We can precisely follow the continuity of their existence until the departure of the Tartars. At the time of the Khazars, in addition to this basic element, there must have also been Khazar Jews who settled here. While we can't state positively that the Jews among the Tartars were of Palestinian origin, that is the possible descendants of the Jews who remained after the withdrawal of the Romans from janischen Dacia, then at least, we can view them as a mixture of Palestinian, Byzantine13 and Khazar decent because up until then (13th century), besides the Jews who fled from the Byzantine Empire no other Jewish immigration had taken place. In the 14th century, began the inward flow of Jews partly because of persecution in neighboring countries like Hungary, that is involuntary and partly voluntarily because of improved transportation and possibilities for commerce like the immigration of Polish Jews under Stephan the Great and the Turkish Jews and partly also especially in more recent times by invitation of the Boyars to foster trade, found cities and markets and to manage their estates and businesses.

Thus, we can consider the Palestinian Jews as the original element or basis which over the course of time and many centuries was reinforced by immigrants, first Byzantine and then Khazar, followed by Hungarian, Polish, Turkish and a small group of Spanish Jews which because of continued inflow and overwhelming numbers eventually absorbed the original element. This original element has lived in Romania as long and is as old as the Romanians and a small part of today's Romanian and Bukovina Jews descend directly from the original Jewish Dacia families who settled here, while a larger part descended from the Jews who entered Romania from the neighboring lands over the years and is of Palestinian-Byzantine-Khazar-Hungarian-Polish-Turkish and to a very small degree Spanish origin.

For Bukovina, to be sure, these findings can be expanded to state that Polish-Russian origin is most prevalent, since during the Austrian period Jews immigrated in large numbers from Galicia and Russia and more recently, from Romania because of the favorable political and commercial conditions in Bukovina.


1) Moldavia: Part of the Roman province of Dacia. It became a political entity or principality in the 14th century. Its territory included Bukovina, Bessarabia and parts of the northeast corner of modern Romania. Russia eventually got Bessarabia and today it is the independent country of Moldova and Bukovina was split between the Ukraine and Romania. I'm not sure what the author is trying to say in the first paragraph. Moldavia is part of Romania, not visa-versa. Return

2) Dacia: A historic region roughly corresponding to present day Romania and all of Bukovina (which is now split between Romania and the Ukraine). It was a Roman province from about AD 105 to AD 270. The author uses the name Dazien. Return

3) Bessarabia: A historic region just to east of present day Romania, largely in Moldova and Ukraine. Return

4) Dako Romans: The author used Dakoroemer and the best I can do with that is Dako Romans. Probably the Romans who lived in Dacia. Return

5) Khazars: The Khazars were a nomadic Turkish tribe who eventually controlled an empire from the north shore of the Black Sea to the Urals. The Khazar kingdom existed from 569 to 1016. For approximately 200 years, from the beginning of the 9th century to 970, Judaism was the official state religion. This was probably due to the fact that a large number of the upper class had converted to Judaism. Return

6) Walachia: Walachia is a historic area which was part of ancient Dacia. It became a political entity in 1290 and eventually combined with Moldavia in 1861 to form modern Romania, Walachia being roughly the southern part of Romania and Moldavia the north-eastern part. The author sometimes refers to Walachia and Moldavia as the principalities. Return

7) Transylvania: Transylvania is a historic area. It was part of the Roman province of Dacia after 107. It is bounded by the Transylvanian Alps and the Carpathian Mountains. It is the north west part of modern Romania. The German immigrants who lived there used to call it Siebenbuergen. Romania finally took it over from the Hungarians after World War I. Return

8) Responsa: Answers to specific questions of Jewish law, written by the most respected rabbis of their time. Return

9) Hospodar: A title borne by the princes or governors of Moldavia and Walachia before those countries were united as Romania. Return

10) Chmielnitzki In 1648 the Cossacks (led by the demonic Bogdan Chmielnitzki) murdered over 100,000 Jews. Return

11) Muntenien: A historic area in Romania. In the middle ages, Oltenien and Muntenien together composed Walachia. Oltenien lay west of the river Olt (Alt) and Muntenien lay east of the Olt (Alt) Return

12) Phanariots: Prominent Greek families who lived in the Phanar quarter of Istanbul during the reign of the Ottoman empire and who held high positions as princes of Walachia and Moldavia. Return

13) Byzantine: The author often refers to “Byzantine Jews.” The Byzantine Empire or “Eastern Empire” was a successor state to the Roman Empire. The core of the Empire was the Balkan Peninsula (i.e., Thrace, Macedonia, Epirus, and Greece proper, the Greek isles and Illyria plus Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) Return

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