A letter from Rabbi Meir Halevi Steinberg
With G-d's help
To Chortkov's townsmen
With gratification and great satisfaction I've heard about the publishing of
the Yizkor book for Chortkov's community that was once a Jewish metropolis
famous throughout the Jewish world as a center for the Torah, Hassidot and
Nationalism in Eastern Galicia.
For me, it was an honor and privilege to serve this magnificent community as a
rabbi and president of the court, until the break of the war and the beginning
of the terrible Holocaust. I will never forget the beginning of 1939, when
thousands of Jewish refugees passed through our city. Early morning Rosh
Hashanah prayers in our magnificent synagogue when the sound of the Shofar was
mixed with the wailing of the sirens. The help that our townspeople gave to
those who passed through the city, the order that was given by the authorities
to open all the shops and businesses, on that day of remembrance. A day that I
will never forget and a memory that will be engraved forever on the tablets of
With a shaking heart and great respect, I bring out the memory of the people
from our community, the righteous and the pure, may the Lord revenge their
blood, who fell serving our G-d, who were slaughtered and burned by Nazi
And to our townsmen from Chortkov, the survivors, wherever you are, I hereby
send you a blessing from a dedicated and loyal friend. I wish that you will be
given the opportunity to continue with the glorified tradition of Chortkov's
community and that your work will become an eternal memorial to the souls of
the martyrs who were destroyed during the days of the Holocaust.
May their memory be blessed!
Meir Halevi Steinberg
Rabbi and President of the Court Chortkov
At the present, a member of the Court of Justice in London and Israel
[Pages 27- 29]
By: Meir Balaban
Translated by Sara Mages
(Because of the importance of the writer, Meir Balaban, we left his words of introduction the way they were written with only a few changes)
The essay, written by Rabbi Dr. Efraim Zonenstien, bring us to question two issues in the history of the Jewish people in Poland and they are:
A. The issue of Jews living in privately own towns.
B. The issue of Communities Registry.
As we know, according to the constitution of the Polish House of Representatives (Sayam) from 1539, the Jews were divided into two categories: Monarchical and Private, let it be so, that up to that time, Jewish communities which were only under the jurisdiction of the King and his commissioners, were transferred, according to the laws mention above, into the hands of the ruling Monarchs, who became the highest institution in charge of administration and laws. The Monarchs granted the Jews rights and permits, and then, took them away. A function, that up to then, only the King had the right to perform. Only when it came to taxes, especially poll -(head) tax, that became law in 1549, Jews who lived under private rule were under the jurisdiction of the Kingdom. In other words, they were under the control of the members of the House of Representative and the treasury minister (Podkravski), of the Kingdom of Poland and Lita. As a result of that law, Jews who lived in privately owned towns joined the Jewish communities in Monarchical towns, and created a General Histadrut (organization) called; the Committee of the Country and the Committee of States, that existed during the years 1581 to 1764.
It is a mistake to think, that privately owned towns were small towns, or small settlements, with a few Jews who were farmers, worked in trades, milkmen or woodcutters. The truth of the matter is, that a number of small privately owned communities were created out of big cities who were under Monarchical rule, like; Zolkva, Zlochov, the communities of Lvov, Moschiska, Risha, the communities of Primishla, the communities of Pozin and others. But in time, the settlements that were under the kind protection of the mayor, became bigger and took a major role in the Histadrut of the Committee of States.
When we speak about privately owned communities, it is worth to mention the huge communities of Great Poland like Lita, Ostrove or Krotoshin, who quickly rose to power within their own Committee of the Country, overpowered the community of Pozin and removed it from the organization. We also have to mention the argument between Pinchov and the small private communities of Little Poland, and the ancient community of Krakow. The same argument also took place in the Russian district.
In those days, the prestige of privately owned towns increased. The Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Avraham of Lita, was the leader of the Committee of States, during the middle of the 18th century. Later on, the job was handed to Rabbi Avraham Rabaeino Chananel, from the Royal City of Lublin, but immediately he was forced to resign, vacate his position, and hand it to Rabbi Meir, resident of the private community of Dovna.
With the settlement work of the Polish Nobles, many towns where Jews settled, were created at the beginning of the 17th century. Most of the Jews came from the middle class and held in their hands all the trade and most of the industry. A similar settlement was Chortkov, which was established by Yarzi Chetkovskei in 1522 with the permission of King Zigmond the Old. By purchase and inheritance, that settlement passed through the hands of different families, later on, it was purchased by the Potozkie family. Different branches of the Potozkie family, controlled almost all of the towns and villages in Russia, Podolia and the Ukraine. Members of the family organized, according to their orders, the lives of the people living in their towns and villages. They established new communities from those Jews already residing there, and from Jews who escaped the Royal Cities, that were overcrowded. I want to mention here, Yandzi Potozkie, who created the Jewish settlement of Stanislavov in (?) 17 1662, and his grandson Joseph who during the years 1717-1721, transferred the whole community to the other side of the city and by doing so, created a special quarter for the Jews. In 1699, Stephen Potozkei created the community of Bochach and the Jewish community of Chortkov. In 1727, Anthony Potozkie contributed the Jewish settlement in Oschie Zilonie, and in the year (1714) 1704 the Potozkie family added the city of Brodie which was an important center for Jewish culture and center for trade with other countries.
Credits and rights for starting a Jewish community, should not always be given to the rulers of the city. Occasionally, these rights are only a confirmation or a statement on the existence of a settlement, as it is rightly proven to us by the person who wrote the essay before me, in regards to the establishment of the Jewish community in Chortkov. We know a lot about Chortkov 's Jews long before that time, mostly from the 17th century, and therefore we can't recognize the fact that Stephen Potozkie established the Jewish community in Chortkov in 1722 and we can't recognize the letter of agreement between the Jewish community and the governor of the city, a document that described the relationship in that city.
We assume that we can find those documents, orders, accounts, appointments and such, in the Potozkie's family archives in Yablona or in Kshishovchiki, and those who are interested in the history of the Jewish people of Chortkov, should use those archives. But to our dismay, admission to the archives in not permitted to researchers and individuals. Therefore, Mr. Zonenstein was not able to use that treasure, and he was forced to use the Community Registry that survived and was given to him by the community administrators for scientific investigation.
And now, for the second issue that is brought at the beginning of the introduction, the Community Registry, - employers and companies.
Recently, the Community Registry, with their extremely rare treasure, were mentioned in historical books written by different scholars, like; Perles in his book The history of the Jews from Pozin (Braslvie 1865), Dembizer and Vetstein in their essays about the Jews of Krakow, and Bober in his book about the wise men from Lvov and Zolkva. The Registry books experienced a lot of misfortunes and turn of events. Pozin's Registry was kept for many years in the library of the Rabbinical Seminary in Braslvie. Lvov's Registry books disintegrated and only a few shreds survived. Those shreds were given to Shelomo Bober for binding, and then, they were given to the community's library and from there they were stolen. For many years, Zolkva's Registry was in the hands of a private person and only a year ago it was given back. Also Krakow's Registry knew a lot of misfortune until they were returned to the community's archive. After the World War, many communities started to investigate the fait of their Registry, and by doing so, we learned of the existence of a large number of Registries that were not known to us until now. Those Registries are located the National Library of their cities, some are in the possession of the University of Jerusalem (Bialistock, Bokochvskei, Grodna, and others) or in Vilna's library and Anski's museum in the same city. Now, we also found Chortkov's Registry which is the subject of the following historical essay.
The first records in the Registry are from the year 1738 and the last from the year 1852. Rabbi Dr. Zonenstien opinion is, that this Registry of the Chortkov's community might not be the first, could be correct, since we have information about a Jewish community in this city from the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. In addition, there is a mention in the Registry of the existence of a previous book. But at the end, the older Registry does not exist and we don't have in our possessions the city's archives. Therefore, the author was only able to write about the history of the Jewish community in Chortkov from the middle of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century.
As it is known, the Jewish communities were self-governing only during the ruling days of the Polish Republic. At that time, it covered all the aspects of Jewish lives. There was as we know, a Jewish city council, tax department, a department for trade and industry, a department of the courts and its clerks, a department for schools and education that was also in charge of religious matters. For that reason, we find in Chortkov's Registry, that for a short period of time, during the years 1772-1738, community leaders made decisions in regards to; economic matters (trade and industry), taxes and payments to the city's governor, to the priests, to the castle's clerks and more. We can find rules and regulation for the elections of assessors, and also rules and regulations for the election of the community government, that is to say: leaders, accountants, treasurers of the synagogue and more. In short, a large battalion of honorable positions and paid clerks that included the Rabbis, cantors, judges and more.
The writer of the article before our's was especially interested in the history of the Rabbis. He searched and found other sources of information beside the information provided by the Registry. In order to create a complete list of all the Rabbis that served Chortkov, starting at the beginning of the 18th century, all the way to the Rabbis from the Rosenzvieg family at the middle of the 19th century, to Rabbi Shapira, the famous leader who was active at the end of the same century. Rabbi Shapira was born in the city of Memel. He excelled, in addition to his Talmudic knowledge also in general education. He was the first to plant the seeds of education in Chortkov and fought against the Hasidot and her leader in this city, the righteous Rabbi David Moshe Friedman, son of Rabbi Israel from Rozin, the father of the Sadigorit dynasty.
Among Chortkov's well known Rabbis (like Rabbi Tzvi Horowitz), and learned Torah scholars, were those whose hearts leaned towards the practicality of the writings. One of them, who was at that time a members of the Frankism movement, was suspected of being a follower of the False Messiah, and for that reason, his name was not written in the Registry because it is not possible to remember the name of a sinner like that. At that time, the Jewish Congress of States, that was being held in Konstantinov, sent Rabbi Elyakim, son of Asher Zelig from Ampal, to Rome to ask the Pope for a document, stating that the Jews do not shed or use the blood of Christians. All the communities contributed money to pay for the expenses of the delegation. Chortkov's community also contributed money for that mission, and that sum of money is known, since it was recorded in our Registry.
All the material that we find in the Registry is detailed by the writer, and is giving us interesting information about the community's leaders and officials from 1741-1755, and also about the leaders during the time of the Austrian rule. A special attention was given by the writer to the community's budget detailing all the income and expenses during the last days of the Republic. The writer came to the conclusion, that in the Chortkov's community, like other communities in Poland, the income from regular taxes and irregular taxes, was not enough to cover all the expenses and the community was in need of a loan, that was given by the ruler, and more then that by the priests. Those loans and their interest, emptied the budget of Chortkov's community which was in a need for new loans, in order to pay off the old once. Sometimes the interest together with the payments to the ruler of the city and the priests came to two thirds of the budget and only a small amount of money was left to pay the salaries of the Rabbi, caretakers, inspectors and other needs of the community.
In order to shorten my introduction, I won't add a summery of the essay before our's, the reader will read it for himself in this book. The writer, Rabbi Dr. Efraim Zonenstien, who was born in Chortkov, admired the city of his birth, and his admiration helped him in his tiring hard work, to collect and bring us details about the history of the Jewish community in his city. The picture that he is giving us with his work, sheds a light on the history of the Jews, not only in Chortkov, but serve as a foundation to the general structure and gives us a general picture of the history of the Jews in Russia and throughout the Republic of Poland.
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