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[Columns 275-276]

The Synagogues in Ternopil


The Old Synagogue[1]

by Engineer, Architect Zeev Porat (Oks)

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Not once was the Ternopil's community fall victim to provocations and calamities. It is, therefore, not surprising that Ternopil's community built its synagogue in the style of a fortress-like building. It was similar to synagogues built in other Jewish communities like Lutsk, Brody, Rzeszow [Zheshuv], Leshniv, Zhovkova [Zolkiew], Lyuboml, and Brzeziny [Bezhezhin]. The building could serve as a fort to protect the life of Jewish residents during wars and other dangers.

Due to their unique architectural exterior and original interior design, these citadel-like synagogues acquired a name in the art world.

The square shape of the building is emphasized in these synagogues. The solid construction is expressed in the exterior of the monumental and mighty building with its large measures (compared to its renaissance-style square predecessor) and the thick walls (in Ternopil, the thickness of the walls reached almost one meter and a half). It was supported from the outside by auxiliary walls and the middle columns - those mighty support pillars that held the dome.


The Old Synagogue


The citadel-like synagogue is adorned outside by a roof banister forming a beautiful gallery. The gallery is a classic example of outdoor decorations of most of the 16th and 17th centuries baroque-styled synagogues in Poland. It was also used in other majestic buildings in Poland that remained from the Krakovian renaissance period and beyond.

The gallery is undoubtedly the architectural element that most characterizes the Krakovian renaissance construction. The renaissance artists tried to emphasize the classical architecture format. The horizontal and continuous lines of the building are in contrast to the gothic style with its rising lines. Those artists could accomplish their style easily using the long gallery, particularly during that period of construction of attractive public buildings sporting a fairly wide front. The tall ledge of the Krakovian gallery adorns the roof of the building while hiding it. It distinguishes itself in its graceful architecture, made of protruding minarets and sunken arcades held between two ledges.

In contrast to the smooth and vast exterior walls with their large windows, the blind arcade that encircles the main portion of the building presents a single architectural element having a unique stylistic character.

With its rich profile, the gallery suggests a shape of a crown, and since it is located at the head of the building, it actually becomes like the wreath of the house, presenting the most decorative part of the synagogue [exterior].

A reference to the gallery tradition can be found in the Torah commandment

[Columns 277-278]

about building a banister for the house roof: “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof…” (Deuteronomy 22:8). There is also a reference included in the description of the Temple in the book of Ezekiel.

The gallery consists of four main parts, characteristics of most citadel-like synagogues. a) The lower ledge that separates the gallery from the building itself b) The gallery itself with its decorations shaped like a blind arcade and half circle arches of blocked and sunken windows separated from each by flat columns. Guns' embrasures, like the ones in Ternopil, were often placed in these sunken windows. c) The upper ledge. d) The upper part is usually made of toothed wall steeples with shooting slots between them.

The interior of these types of synagogues is adored by the composition of the walls. It is also a result of the square shape of the building. The decoration of the walls was mostly the same. The walls are divided into three main areas, separated by three decorated half-circled arches, three windows, and two pilasters. That division is the natural result of the dome structure with its nine squares. Only the eastern wall that houses the holy arc is different from the other walls. In that wall, only two windows were cut out on the two sides of the arc, and sometimes there is an additional small circular window.

Usually, we do not know who were the architects of the citadel-like square synagogues. There is no doubt, however, that the style of these synagogues was influenced by Italian construction. During the reign of Queen Bona Sforza [d'Aaragona, 1494 – 1557], the [second] wife of King Sigismund I, Italian architects arrived in Poland. It is conceivable that some of them were Jewish and that they may have designed synagogues. The Ternopil synagogue serves as a classical example of citadel-like synagogues because it embodies all the architectural lines that characterize that unique construction.

Author's Note:

  1. For historical details, see the article by Dr. N. M. Gelber, column 25, etc… Return

Houses of Prayer, and Batei Midrash

by Dr. Hillel Zeidman

Translated by Moshe Kutten

When I set to begin the sacred work of writing (instead of etching the words on gravestones) for my city Ternopil, especially for the keepers of religion in it, the dear and near images of the murdered, tortured, and burned figures, rise up my memory and light up the darkness of that period with the brightness of their souls.

From the big synagogue, the building that looks like a fort from the 16th century, ancient and rich with tradition; From the Husiatyn Kloiz filled with Hassidim and learners; From the R' Yanka'leh's Kloiz of the honorable people; from the Beit HaMidrash enveloped by the kindness of the simple people; From Ozherna Kloiz, where praying learning took place days and nights, seven days a week; From the praying house of the rabbi from Medzhybizh [Mezhbuzh], Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, the grandson of [Rabbi Yehoshua Heschel] the author of “Ohev Israel” from Opatow [Apta]; From the parrying house of R' Yose'leh, the grandson of the Rabbi [Tzvi Hirsh] from Zidichov, and the follower of the Zidichov's style of praying, with its unique sweet sadness tone and soft melody – from all the synagogues, Batei HaMidrash houses of prayer, and Kloizes – the melodies of the cantors, and prayer leaders are rising within our souls. Their voices are delectable, glorious in their appearance, and amicable. The prayers of the holy congregations yearning for salvation are echoing and rising - the congregations of diversified crowds, the smallest of which is filled with good deeds and the lesser of which possesses supreme virtues. Everybody is firm in their faith and dedicated to the Torah and the sanctities of the Jewish people.

The last sigh of the holy congregation of Ternopil, a mother city for the Jewish people, is rising from the torturous abysses and the annihilating gas chambers of Belzec. The dying cry of the large congregation who always waited for the messiah penetrates the depths of our souls. The sigh of the Mishnah scholars and Poskim, the Jews of the Psalms and Mishna chapters, penetrates our depths. The bitter fate united them all - the humble and the proud, Hasidim and “bourgeoises”, rich and poor, learned and simple people – who were united in spirit and faith, became equal in their calamity.

No more holidays would be celebrated at the home of the rabbi from Medzhybizh, on Tarnovskiego Street. People would no longer celebrate at the homes of the local rabbis, R' Ya'akov Shalita, and Rabbi R' Heschel BABa” D in Simkhat Torah. People would no longer meet at the Beit HaMidrash of the butchers and water carriers and would not gather any longer at the Kloiz Husiatyn and Kloiz Chortkiv. We would never be able to hear R' Yosel'eh's Zidichov's style effusion of the soul during the Days of Awe around the big synagogue and the commercial streets of Ruska, Rynek, and Sobieski. No longer would people observe the Shabbat and holidays. The whole community became desolated, passed, and disappeared as if it never existed. The entire community was sacrificed on the altar by a nation of beasts and sank into the abyss of tortures and annihilation without a trace, grave, or gravestone. Our childhood and youth, the magical dreams of our youth, were washed away by the blood of the mass killings. Cruel strangers settled in our houses where we were born to love the Torah and where we were educated to be faithful.

Whatever was precious and holy was desecrated and destructed. Only the survivors of our community,

[Columns 279-280]

the remnants of the annihilated generation, carry their memory with grief. We must guard the ember of memory, write the names and history, and erect gravestones on graves floating in the air.

The Jewish Ternopil with its pious Jewry, was, like most other Jewish cities, a city inside a city – a Jewish enclave within a gentile city, alien corn in the diaspora land. Jews who were strict with the commandments encircled the Jewish enclave with erub of limits (R' D. Ber dealt with that diligently and guarded the wires lest they were cut off). The faithful Jews lived their lives within that Jewish enclave, far from any foreign culture. These were Jews with a resilient character, and the spirit of times and the gentile surrounding could not change them. They built their own life, sourced within the Judaism treasures, in a unique Jewish atmosphere, around the Jewish holidays: Passover Eve, Days of Awe, fasts, and celebrations.

The lives of the pious Jews, the keepers of the Torah and commandments, concentrated around the houses of prayer, Kloizes, and Batei Midrash. These were the centers of congregations, denominations, and Hasidic groups. Every one of these houses of prayer had its own character. None was the same as the other. The people who prayed in each of these houses of prayer made their mark on them and were influenced by them.

So, let's try to make a list of the houses of prayer of the Ternopil community. It was believed that there were 52 such houses. However, a detailed list did not survive, and we are forced to rely on our memory.

The Big Synagogue. That was a stone fort-like building from the 16th century. Famous cantors lead the prayers, accompanied by choruses organized tastefully. The last cantor, Hillel Hershaft, was murdered by the Germans in 5702 [1941/42]. The Ba'al Koreh [Torah reader] was the exceptional Hebrew teacher, Zisha Wahler. He performed his work with precision, knowledge, and remarkable competence. His reading of the Torah was like art.

The Old Beit HaMidrash. Learned homeowners prayed in it, Ashkenazi style. Scholars conducted lessons there about weekly Torah portions, Bible rabbinic teachings, and the Mishnah. The last prominent scholar was Shmeril Eikhenbaum, a distinguished scholar who was sharp-minded, knowledgeable, wise, and witty. He was a confidant of Rabbi Menakhem-Munish BABa”D. He managed, for the rabbi, the politics at the community council and its management, where he was a member for many years.

Kloiz Husiatyn. The kloiz was located near the old Beit HaMidrash and the big synagogue. The people who prayed at that kloiz were scholars. Some of them were distinguished scholars, knowledgeable in the Mishnah and Poskim, such as the Melamed, R' Avreme'leh Delitz, and the merchant, R' Pinkhas Schwartz. The most prominent figure in Kloiz Husiatyn was R' David Lvov, a wealthy Hasid philanthrope with noble virtues and character. He was a Boyan Hasid but prayed at the kloiz of the Husiatyn Hasidim. He held the highest authority among the Haredi Jewry and was elected as its representative for the community council.

The Kloiz of Rabbi Yekl'leh (named after the founder R' Ya'akov Podhortzer, the grandfather of the mayor of Safed). The kloiz attracted wealthy homeowners and some scholars. Rabbi Menakhem-Munish used to pray at that kloiz during the Days of Awe. He was the Ba'al Toke'ah [The person who blows the Shofar]. With his prayers before the blowing of the Shofar, he caused quivers in the hearts of his audience.

 Kloiz Chortkov. The kloiz served as a center for wealthy people and famous scholars. Hasidic estate owners R' Yehuda-Ber Zeidman and his sons R' Avraham-Shlomo, R' Mordekhai and R' Ya'akov Breitman, and his prominent son-in-law, Meir Shapira, prayed in that kloiz. The latter gained fame as the Rabbi of Lublin and the founder of the Yeshiva of "Khakhmei Lublin”. He became the leader of “Agudat Israel”, and one of its representatives for the Polish Sejm. The rest of R' Ya'akov Breitman's sons-in-law were also famous scholars, like Leibush Arak, the relative of Rabbi Arak of Buchach, and R' Moshe Rozner, the deputy head of the community council and the chairman of the Haredi union “Tif'eret HaDat”.

Ozerner Kloiz. The kloiz was located on Podolska Wizsza Street, which was parallel to Ruska Street. Perhaps because of its central location or its other virtues, the kloiz was filled with praying people and diligent learners. It held several Minyans in the morning and evening prayers. From among the people who prayed, I remember R' Leib Hersh Thaler, “HaRo'eh” (the inspector of the lungs and the decider between a Kosher and Treifa [non-Kosher] meat). He was exceptionally proficient in the Mishna and Shulkhan Arukh. His proficiency spanned beyond the limits of his profession. I also remember R' Yitzkhak Walfish, who now[1] resides in Toronto Canada. He was an educated man, excellent speaker, and preacher, and one of the flag carriers for “HaMizrakhi”.

R' Neteh'leh's Kloiz. It was located across from the Big Synagogue and was one of the oldest houses of prayer in the city. It was found 150 years ago by a pious merchant, Neteh'leh, who did not have sons and thus dedicated all of his fortune and house to the community. The kloiz had two floors. R' Yehoshua Heschel BABa” D, the author of the famous “Sefer Yehoshua” lived on the second floor. After his death, both floors served as houses of prayers.

Katberg's Beit HaMidrash. It was located near the old synagogue. The people who prayed there were learned homeowners.

R' Efraim Soshe's Kloiz. Also, a house of prayer for wealthy homeowners.

R' Nekhemchi's Shulakhel [small shul –small synagogue]. It was located across from Kloiz Husiatyn on Podolska Nizsza. A house of prayer for the craftsmen.

R' Nathanieli's Kloiz. The people who prayed in this kloiz were wealthy merchants and enlightened but pious.

The house of prayer of the bakers (Das Bekerrisheh Shulakhel).

[Columns 281-282]

Not only bakers prayed there but also other craftsmen

The New Beit HaMidrash. Near Baron Hirsch Street.

The House of Prayer at the Jewish Hospital. It was located on Ostrogskiego Street.

The House of Prayer at the Old Cemetery. It was also located on Ostrogskiego Street (also called Mikulintzer Street).

The Minyan If R' Yose'leh. The house of prayer of R' Yose'leh Eikhenstein who was related to the Zidichov [Hasidim]. It was located near the big synagogue.

Mezbuzher Minyan. The house of prayer of Rabbi Yehoshua-Heschel from Medzhybizh [Mezbuzh], related to the Afta family, son-in-law of the rabbi of Kapischnitz.

The House of Prayer of the Water-Carriers. It was located near the Big Synagogue. On Shabbat and holidays, it was crowded with the common people, who prayed there, and in the afternoon, attended lessons taught by volunteer melameds.

The House of Prayer of the Coal Handlers. The house of prayer of the craftsmen.

The House of Prayer of Rabbi Menakhem Munish BABa”D. It was located at the rabbi's home on Perl Street. The rabbi studied there on weekdays with his students, and on Shabbat and holidays, people prayed there in public.

The House of Prayer of R' Yekl'leh. It was located on Yosef BABa”D Street. The brother-in-law of Rabbi Yosef BABa”D and the son of the rabbi of Mikulintsy [Mikolnitz] resided in that house. People prayed there in public on Shabbat.

The Tempel. Named after Yosef Perl and was located on Perl Street. It was the house of prayer of the enlightened and serve as the “fort” of the assimilators. That synagogue does not belong to the chapter of Haredi Jews and requires a separate review.

Translator's Note:

  1. Here and wherever the text refers to the current time, it means the time of publication February 1955. Return

Cantors and Cantorship

by M. Sh. Geshuri

Translated by Moshe Kutten

With the progress in Torah education, its cantorship also developed. Starting in the 16th century and later, some Jewish congregations had famous cantors, some of whom were mentioned in the literature, particularly on their gravestones. The Jewish audiences were eager for music and a good cantor, and known cantors served in the Big Synagogue in Ternopil. Unfortunately, we did not receive any information about Ternopil's cantors before the 17th century.
In the 17th century, Ternopil was influenced by the western world through Vienna, Austria, which captured a central role in music. The greatest composers resided there, whose compositions spread throughout the entire cultural world. The other influence came from the east, big Russia with its millions of Jews, which served as an important center for the traditional emotional cantorship. Russia's cantors visited Galitsia from time to time. Obviously, the traditional-learned Ternopil was interested in listening to great cantors whose singing carried artistic value. Big Russia had many such cantors who did not belittle Ternopil, which was remote geographically. Cantors did not consider Ternopil a unique city. The best of Russia's cantors, the most famous of them “Little Yerukham (Blindman)” visited Ternopil.

* * *

Little Yerukham (1798 – 1891)

Little Yerukham, called little because of his short stature, was one of the fathers of the traditional cantorship in Eastern Europe in the 19th century. Ternopil was fortunate to have Yerukham serving in it for about nine years as a cantor and even established a school for cantorship, where his famous chorus came from. That chorus laid the foundation for traditional music in the diaspora. Yerukham erected a fence around his cantorship to protect it from the influence of western music coming from Vienna. Yerukham was a courageous fighter who possessed all of the required attributes for a battle and win.

From Ternopil, he moved to Berdichev, where he served as a cantor for fifty years. He died there in 1891at the age of ninety.


Yehoshua (Pichi) Abrass

Ternopil enlightened people who wished to make changes in the synagogue, would not dare to establish a “Temple” based purely on the German modernization movement, due to the resistance by most of the pious city residents to any radical changes. However, they did not hesitate to establish their “temple” based on the “corrected” original singing, according to the harmony rules, and to unify the two styles as much as possible (called Soltzer's method).

[Columns 283-284]

The “temple's” activists began looking for a cantor loyal to Soltzer's method.

Fortunately, they found such a cantor by chance “from the heavens”. A “Temple” activist visited with a local Brody banker, Moshe Kalir, on his business. A young cantor by the name of Yehoshua (Pichi) Abrass, one of the senior students of Soltzer, visited the same banker with a letter of recommendation. He sang a few compositions of Betzalel from Odesa for the activist. The latter was fascinated by Abrass's voice. After he heard that Abrass was one of Viennese Soltzer's students, he did not let him go and literally dragged him to Ternopil. The “Temple' gabbais listened to his voice and offered him the cantor position in the new choral-style synagogue. Abrass stayed in Ternopil for two years and amazed many listeners, who never tired of listening to him. Undoubtedly if it was up to Pichi himself and his employers, who were more than satisfied with him, he could have stayed in Ternopil for many years.

He stayed in Ternopil until 1842 but was forced to leave for personal reasons. He moved to Lviv and was accepted as a cantor in the big synagogue there.

Pichi was one of the reasons the Ternopil zealots spread libels against Rabbi SHI”R as he sang for SHI"R in Shavuot. It happened very early in the morning following the all-nighter “Tikkun Leil Shavuot” [The practice of staying up all Shavuot night to study Torah[1]].

If cantor Pichi had written his memoir, he would have covered details about life in Ternopil during his stay, especially about the status of the Jewish music in the city.


Kalman Lev

Kalman Lev was one of the most influential cantors of our generation. He was a composer and composed wonderful recitatives that the cantors used successfully.

Kalman Lev was born in Ternopil in 1862 and received a traditional Jewish education. He sang with the greatest cantors who served in Ternopil. He sang as a tenor for Little Yerukham, while the latter served as a cantor in Ternopil. He moved to Kherson and sang for Pinkhas Minkovski. Later, he moved to Odesa and was accepted to the “Cold Synagogue” there. Two years later, he moved to the larger Nikolayev synagogue. From there, he moved to Nikopol, where he served for fourteen years, accompanied by a beautiful chorus. In the end, he left Europe and moved to America.

He composed many Jewish-styled compositions and educated many students, poets, and cantors who continue his work in promoting today and help in lifting the image of the cantorship. He died in New York in 1914 at the age of 52.


Isidor Edelsman

Born in Otyniya (Galitsia) in 1886. His parents were merchants. His father was a great scholar and a hearty prayer leader without making it a profession. Isidor began to sing, as an assistant to the cantor, at the court of the rabbi from Vyzhnytsya [Vizhnitz], R' Rabbi Khaim Hager. In 1897, after the passing of his father, he traveled to his uncle in Austria, where he was a prominent merchant. His uncle sent him to a conservatorium in Vienna under the supervision of the chief cantor, Bauer. He later served as a cantor in Hungary, and from there, he moved to Ternopil. Immediately in his first appearance, he captured the hearts of his listeners in Ternopil. His voice, which was clear as a crystal, electrified the audience. In addition, he was knowledgeable in music. In 1929 he left Europe and settled in America, where he accepted a cantor position in Boston.


Shaul Brandes (1866 – 1929)

He was born in Ternopil in 1866 to poor peddling parents. He had a pleasant alto voice and sang for prominent cantors, including Nisan Belzer (Spivak). He liked the theater and moved from cantorship to the theater and back to music, several times.


David Hirsh

He was born in Khyriv [Khyrov], near Przemyœl [Pshemishl] in 1870 and sang with many cantors. Little Yerukham took him to Ternopil, where he sang with his chorus. He was enrolled there in school to study music. He resided in Ternopil for three years until the famous cantor, Ya'akov Bekhman, took him to Lviv.


Avraham Trakhtenberg

He was born in Kamyanets Podilskyy [Kamenets-Podolsk], in 1861. He was 16 years old when his family moved from Russia to Austria. He joined the chorus of Little Yerukham in Ternopil and in a short period, managed to learn the musical notes and become professional until he became the conductor of the chorus. He served in that position for two years.


Shmuel Kavetzki

Was born in Vinkivtsi [Vinkovitz], in Podolia province. In his youth, his voice was a soprano. Served as a singer with the cantors Shlomo Wlochisker, Avraham Klikhnik, Shumel Weinman, and others. He showed great talent in composing his own compositions and conducting choruses, In the end, it turned out that his talent as a chorus conductor was no less than being a cantor.

[Columns 285-286]

He served in Ternopil as a conductor at the Big Synagogue for a short while.


Ze'ev-Wolf Wilder

Ze'ev-Wolf Wilder was born in 1860 in Stanislavchyk, near Brody. He studied in his father's Yeshiva, who was a known Ba'al Tfilah [leader of the prayer]. Later, he was accepted as a singer in Little Yerukham's chorus in Ternopil and served there successfully for three years. Only when he lost the soprano voice he returned home. He studied kosher slaughtering and, at the end of eighteen, became a cantor/slaughterer. Cantor Wilder gained fame in the Jewish world for his mighty voice. He published twenty of his compositions, which were accepted enthusiastically by the cantors. Wilder served as a cantor in various countries, including America, England, and Africa. Today[a], he resides in America and serves as a cantor there.


Levi Liuberer

Cantor Levi Liuberer, who gained fame as a great “Ba'al Tefillah”, was also known by the name of “Levi Ternopoler” or “Levi Balter”, after the cities of Ternopil and Balta. He was a unique recitator and a great scholar. Many cantors taught him in Ternopil, some of whom gained fame. All of his students were proud of their excellent teacher.


Moshe Goldbaum

He was known in Ternopil as “Moshe Khazan [cantor]. He prayed with his own chorus in the “Temple” on Perl Street for many years. He was the last of the cantors, a student of Soltzer and other western-style cantors, and diligently guarded their melodies. The “Temple” in Ternopil, at the time it was established, was slated to be a modern house of prayer. It was aimed to unify the religious spirit with the beauty of the external form of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century. It was far different from the reform “temples” of today. It had more order, quietness, and politeness in the way people prayed than in the “Shitbalakh” [Small houses of prayer, less formal than a synagogue]. However, that did not affect the inspiration. Unlike all other cantors, Moshe Khazan and his family were residents of Ternopil throughout their entire life, a symbol of Perl's period. He maintained that tradition with the caretaker who was a descendant of Perl's family and the only descendant who did not become a gentile.


Hillel Hershaft and M. Kotzik

In 1933, two new cantors came to Ternopil to replace their predecessors who left the city. Hillel Hershaft served at the Big Synagogue and M. Kotzik at the Chorus Synagogue. In 1938, cantor Weintraub from Lviv replaced Kotzik.


Nisan from Odesa

At the end of the 16th century, a famous cantor, Nisan Odisser served at the Big Synagogue. He sang with a chorus of ten singers. During the Days of Awe, 4000 people who enjoyed his pleasant prayers came to the synagogue.

* * *

These are the names of the cantors I managed to collect from Ternopil natives. Obviously, many names were lost. It is worthwhile for Ternopil natives to write down the names of the cantors so they would be remembered for eternity. 

Author's Note:

  1. See the article by Dr. N. M. Gelber, column 84. Return

Translator's Note:

  1. Here and everywhere else where the author relates to the current time, it means the time of publication of the book – February 1955. Return


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