by Rabbi Dr. Efraim Zonnstien
Translated by Sara Mages
(This translation is only a summary of Mr. Zonnstien work)
1. Early history
The city of Chortkov lies in a deep valley on the right bank of the river Seret. Chortkov is the capital city of the region of Podolia known as Hot Podolia. The first documented historical record, concerning the city of Chortkov, is from the year 1427. An estate owner by the name of Chortkovicy signed his name on a submission document that was given by the town's Nobel Grodi Chrvinska to the Polish king Wladyslaw Jagiello. In 1522 a landowner by the name of Czortkovski received from King Zygmunt Starry (the old) a charter to build a town, according to the German regulation, and name it Chortkow. From the first days of its establishment, the city was frequently attacked by the Tartars who destroyed it, and captive its citizens. During the Cossacks' revolt, the city fell several times into the hands of the united forces of the Tartars and the Hungarians. In 1672, Chortkov, and all the cities in Podolia, fell into the hands of the Turks. In 1680 Chortkov's status was elevated by the Turks to be the Seat of the Vice-Pusha. In 1683, the Turks were expelled from city by Andrej Potocki. In 1699, as a direct result of the Carlovitz peace treaty, the whole district of Podolia was given back to Poland and the ownership of Chortkov was returned to the Potocki family. After the first partition of Poland in 1772, Austria took control over Galicia and divided it into six districts with Chortkov belonging to the Hilitzi district. In 1809 the control of the district of Ternopol, with Chortkov included in it, was given to the Russians and it was under their rule until 1815, when it was returned to the Austrians. In 1846, Austria elevated the status of Chortkov to be the capital city of the region, that included; Yazlovitch, Zalshchiki Kopychinzi and Borschov.
The city's castle was build at the beginning of the 17th century by the Gilskei family who owned the city. Later on, the city and its castle were given to the Potocki family, and it was in their possession until 1787 when the ownership of the city was transferred to the Sdovskei family. The last owners leased the castle to the Austrian government.
In 1865, Princess Hironima Borkovska sold her palace, together with some of her land in Starry Chortkov to Rabbi David Moshe Friedman, who is known as the Rabbi from Chortkov.
During the days of World War I, for a few years, from 1914 to 1917, the city was under the rule of the Russians. After the war, it was returned together with all of Galicia to Poland.
You can find detailed information about the earlier days of the city of Chortkov in the following books:
According the book Maseat Binyamin Chortkov's Jews, like many other Jews from nearby towns like; Yaglnitza, Skala and others, traveled to other countries to conduct their business. They traveled in a long caravans, in large number of wagons, in order to bring back wine barrels. During the Austrian rule of the district, Chortkov's rich wine merchants traveled for their business and stayed away from homes for a long period of time. They were the subject of a book written by K. A. Prabzoz: Die Juden von Barnov nach Höheren Gesetzen
Reb David from Bolichov wrote in his memoir (page 46), about his father who was a wine merchant. He is also telling us about a journey he took with his father in 1739, traveling from Tismeniz through Bochach and Chortkov to Komeinitz, where he sold a number of wine barrels for a few hundred Adumin (gold coins).
In the ancient cemetery there are a number of gravestones dated before 1648. To find the ancient gravestones you have to face the Ohel of the Righteous Rabbi David Moshe, of blessed memory, and then walk in a straight line towards the city's hospital. I am copying here the engravings from two of the stones that I saw with my own eyes. This is what is written on them:
K.A. Franchoz, a Jewish author who wrote his books in German, was born and educated in Chortkov. In his book he is telling us legends about Chortkov's Jews, from the early days before 1648. Among the many stories written in his book, he is telling us (on page 62) about the time when Chortkov's Jews were hiding in the synagogue from the servants of Duke Chtrtoriskie, who were attacking them. They were in hiding until they were rescued by King Jagiello's servants who arrived from the nearby town of Yaglinzia. In another section of the same book (page 229), he is telling us a story about the dispute that broke between the followers of Tlostie and the Jews from Old Chortkov (in the book the place was called Old Barnov). Four hundred Jews were killed at once, and all of them were buried, at the same time, in the cemetery. We don't have any documentation to prove the accuracy of his stories. Those stories might be a figment of the author's imagination or he might have based his writings on folk tales.
Chortkov's Jewish community, and all the communities in Podolia, were destroyed during the war of 1645. A very important entry, that was probably written on a later date, after the year 1809, and during the days of Rabbi Yizchak Rosenzveig, providing us with the following information: (Registry page 50 first paragraph) May it will be written to the last generation to be, that in the year 1645 there were many troubles and murders in the country of Okraina by the Chamil may his name be blotted out, who brought emergency to all the district of Podolia, including Chortkov, when I heard from honest people about the false accusations and the cruelty of people who murdered for no reason a number of martyrs who sanctified the Lord's name may the Lord revenge their blood, and therefore it is forbidden said the wise rabbis from the four corners of the world, a son of Israel will never live here, until the year Taf Samekh He' (1705) when the governor returned and asked to come and live here and gives them freedom and by endeavor a permission was given to live here.
It is apparent from this entry, that during the war of 1645 Chortkov's Jews suffered not only from the hands of the Cossacks, but they also fell victims to false accusations that were being told by the Poles, who suspected that the Jews formed an alliance with the Cossacks. That led to a massacre, and many Jews were murdered. Therefore, we assume that the stories written by the author Franchoz, were based on the events of 1645. The author Litvin, tells us in his book, Jewish Souls (volume 5), that the section of the city known to us as Vignanka, was called by that name, because the word vignanka means deportation. It was the place where the Jews were assembled before they were deported from Chortkov.
During the first years, after the Jews returned to live in Chortkov, the Registry informs us that one of the families, who helped to rebuild the community, was the family of the elderly Rabbi Chaim son of the Righteous Rabbi Ysrael. In the ancient cemetery, there are a number of gravestones, and the name son of the Righteous Rabbi Ysrael is carved on them. Among them, is a gravestone from 1702 with the carving Rabbi Yizchak son of the Righteous Rabbi Ysrael. It is without a doubt, that the righteous Rabbi Ysrael was one of the Jews who were murdered in 1645.
We can learn from non-Jewish sources, that in 1630 the Turks and the Tartars attacked Chortkov and the surrounding area, and took its residents captive. During the days of King Yochanan Kazmiz, Chortkov was in the hands of the Tartars, the Turks, and the Cossacks, who build their own towns in the area and settled in them. In 1655, the Tartars attacked Chortkov for the second time. They captured the castle, destroyed Chortkov and all the cities in the surrounding area and took Potochi captive. In 1680 Chortkov's statues was raised to be the seat of the district's Turkish governor Sobphshi. In 1683, Andzi Potochi drove the Turks out of the city but Podolia was not annexed back to Poland until 1699. Only then, all the assets were returned to the Potochi family.
For a short period of time, Poland withdrew from the region of Bochach with Chortkov included, and handed it of the Turks. Only after the Carlovitz peace treaty of 1699, Poland obtained all of Podolia, including the city of Kamienich, and by doing so brought peace to the region.
In the Jewish encyclopedia, written in German,(volume 5), Viznizer informs us that in 1648 around fifty Jewish families lived in Chortkov. His information came from the article Tit Hoin. According to my opinion, the writer was mistaken, because in the list Podolia's cities that were destroyed, we can't find a trace for a city by the name of Chortkov. The listing on page 422 is for the city of Chrkov in Bevlin, and not Chortkov in Podolia.
In 1745, Podolia was annexed back to Poland, and Chortkov was returned to ownership of the Potochi family. In the community's Registry we can read that the Jews were asked by the city's governor to build a new settlement in Chortkov. The request was made in 1745. We assume, that a few Jews returned to Chortkov long before that year, because in the cemetery we can find a gravestone for Rabbi Yizchak son of the righteous Rabbi Ysrael, from the year 1703.
It is known to us, that the Jews received their rights from the city's governor Stefhana Potocki in 1722. The original document was lost, but we know of its existence in the magistrate, it was titled: Prawa nadane zydom m. Czortkowa przez Stefana Potockiego 1722. In the document we can also find the names of: Stefan P. Teresa Potocka, Joachin Potocki.
A legal copy of the document is on file at the administration office, and an Yiddish translation was published in the anniversary book for the Society of Rabbi Shapira in New York.
According to that document, Jews who lived in Chortkov before that year, were given the right to return and live in the city. All of the Jews were promised the right, to build homes and stores anywhere they wished in the city, and the right to choose their occupations as they pleased. In return, the Jews had to pay every year, to the city's treasury, the amount of 3 Zehovim for every house that was build in the city, and only 1 Zahov for homes that were build across the river near the castle. For a store with an apartment the tax was 5 Zehovim, and a store without an apartment paid the tax of only 3 Zehovim. Exempt from the tax was the rabbi's home (in the original document he was called Doctor), the hospital and the home of the cantor. The Jews were allowed to make and sell beer and vodka, and were allowed to sell them any place they found suitable, and without any restrictions. For each beer keg covered with a lid, they had to pay 18 Zehovim, for a pot of honey-syrup 10 Grush, and for a pitcher of beer only one Zahov. It was not allowed to hold a market on Sabbath and it was forbidden to bring a Jew to justice in the courthouse on Sabbath.
It was allowed to send a Jew to jail, only if he was caught stealing. The Jewish Judge was the city's governor or his substitute. In a case, when a Jew was not satisfied with his trial and with the judgment given to him by the governor's substitute, it was his right to appeal his case in front of the governor. The Jews were exempt from military work in the castle, and from road constructions. The Jews could only bring other Jews to trial in a Jewish court. Jewish tradesmen were forced to join a general union (a guild) and had to pay for that right 6 Zehovim. In addition, they had to pay, every year, the sum of 24 Grush for the purchase of wax for the monastery.
In all the cities, that were privately owned by the Nobles, Jews were forced to pay taxes and recognize the judgment of the city's ruler. On the other side, it was the duty of the Nobles to protect the Jews. Chortkov's Jews respected and loved their governor, who gave them their rights. They called him: The honorable and charitable master, His Majesty Fan Starosta from Lvov, governor and ruler of our community (Registry page 367).
The young community of Chortkov earned a name for itself when Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Horovitz, who is known even today by the name Rabbi Reb Hirsheli, was hired to be her rabbi and educator. He was considered, together with Rabbi Segal from Lvov, and the Rabbi from Stanislave, to be the Gaon (genius) from Podolia.
From Chortkov's religious school, came many genius rabbis who serve many large communities in the west. Among them were the two brothers, Rabbi Smuelike and Rabbi Pinchas, sons of the righteous rabbi, Rabbi Hirsheli from Chortkov. His students worked as teachers and instructors in the important communities of Nikelshborg in Moravia, and Frankfurt on Main, which was a very important and large Ashcenazi community of that time.
Chortkov's community was connected to the blood libel of the city of Yampol.
The Congress of the Committee of Nations, that was being held in Konstntibov,
decided to send a delegation to the Pope in Rome. Leading the delegation was
the mediator Rabbi Eliakim son of Asher Zelig. An entry in Chortkov's Registry
reads: paid to the Rabbi Alyakom and Rabbi Tzadok for the expenses for
traveling to the city of Roma to plea for the Jews of Poland according to the
estimate that was decided by the leaders of the country, we owe only two
hundred Polish Zh' to pay for the estimates mentioned above
2. Internal life
During the first period of the existence of Chortkov's community, most of its members came from two important families. The family of the leader, our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Yakov, and the family of the elderly leader, our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Chaim son of the righteous Rabbi Ysrael. In 1741 members of the Bresler family contributed large sums of money to pay for the needs of the community. In the 19th century, there was a well-known family, who for some reason was called Die Kinder (the children) and also the well-known Rosenzveig family. The wealthy families build homes all over the city, and stores in the city's center (in the market). Most of the Jewish homes were build near the river Seret, later on, the Jews build homes in the upper part of the city. The owners of homes, stores, distilleries, wine cellars, and honey-syrup, paid taxes to the city's governor, and taxes to the community. According to Registry, those who were called money owners, were the only members of the community who had the right to vote.
In Chortkov, there were different kinds of tradesmen, who according to the first set of rules, did not have the right to vote. There was only one person, our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Meir Katz, who was given the right to vote because he donated a considerable amount of money to the building of the synagogue. According to the anniversary book, that was printed in New York in 1932 for Rabbi Shapira's Society, the association Poalei Tzedek was established in 1721 and in 1722 it was split into two independent associations. During the same year, the Tailors' Society rented the small synagogue, that was located in the hallway of the big synagogue, for a period of 3 years. Throughout the first years of the Jewish settlement in Chortkov, there was a large number of needy people, who according an entry in the Registry from 1739, received the amount of 2 Adumim (gold coins) for Rosh Hashanah.
We know the number of Jews who lived in Chortkov and the nearby villages in 1765. In his book The number of Jews and Karaites in the year 5671, Professor Meir Balaban informs us that; in the city of Chortkov and in the villages nearby, there were 812 souls plus 56, all together 868 souls. The number of Jewish homes in Chortkov in the year 1722 was 110, 69 of them in the city's market. The number of Jewish stores in the market was 35. The number of Christian homes at the same year, was 142 and only 4 of them in the market. In the suburb of Vignnka there were at that time 36 homes, and in Old Chortkov 81 homes. We can find a proof in the Registry from 1766 that says: if he owns a home in the Rynek or a store in the Rynek he is allowed to put his ballot in the ballot box meaning if a person did not own a home in the city's market (rynek) or a store, he did not have the right to vote or the right to be nominated to a community job.
From a statistical data we learn that in 1797 there were 121 Jewish homes in
Chortkov and 232 Christians homes. According to the book The Land
written by G. Hect in 1926,
in the year 1809, the population of Chortkov, Jews and non-Jews together, consisted of: 727 homes, 906 families and 3930 persons.
At the head of the congregation stood the community leaders, who together with the rabbi managed all the community's matters. As is was traditionally done in all of the Jewish communities in Poland and Lita, the elections and nominations took place, every year, on the first day of the intermediate days of Passover. The same positions were filled in each election. Four head leaders, three beneficiaries, and one replacement, 3 collectors for great charity, 2 collectors for Eretz Ysrael, 3 collectors for Talmud Torah, 3 collectors for the construction of the synagogue, 2 trustees or accountants, leader of the court and 3 judges for the first court and the same for the second. The elections and nominations were executed according to special rules that were mandated many years before, and it was necessary to get the approval of the city's commissioner. When the region was taken over by Austria, there were changes and long intervals in the election and nomination, and no more than three or four head leaders, who were called by the German name Regierer (governors) were nominated.
Even though, Chortkov's community was no longer under the control of the Lvov's community, it continued to operate by her rules, as it is written in the Registry; and also today we live by their rules. Discipline was enforced by the community leaders and those who disobeyed the head leaders, were given a stiff fine and their right to vote was taken away.
The leaders together with the trustees, looked after the expenses and the income of the community.
The Bochach peace treaty of 1672, removed Podolia from Poland. As a direct result, there was a temporary separation between a number of communities and the Lvov community (in the region of Ros). When Podolia was returned to Poland after the Carlovits peace treaty of 1699, Podolia's Jews tried to rid themselves from the control of Lvov, in matters of taxes and religion. But, the Lvov community and the committee of the Ros region, continuously tried to reunite the regions and bring the communities of Podolia back under their control.
During the years of the Brody's fame, the region's assembly usually took place in the city of Brody or in the towns nearby. In 1738 Chortkov's community sent representatives to the region's assembly in Brody, in 1741 to Bialokamin and in 1830 to Podkamien.
In 1739, and also in 1765, the community paid for the right to build a synagogue. The first time the sum of 42 Adumim, and the second time 1000 Zehovim. At the beginning, there was only one Beit Midrash (house of learning) named after Rabbi Harsheli. It was build during the first days of the Jewish settlement in Chortkov and is still standing today. According to the Registry it was a place used by Torah Scholars. In 1754, the construction of the synagogue was under way. The Registry informs us that Rabbi Meir Katz donated money for building it, and for strengthening it with a stone wall, because until now we only had a wooden building, and for that reason he was given the right to vote even though he was only a tradesman and not a money owner. In 1808 the number of worshipers grew, and in the Registry we can find a detailed list of the places and the names of their owners. There is also a list of Torah Scrolls and dome lights.
The rabbi and the community leaders mandated the rules concerning the community's finance, the elections and nominations, they evaluated the Shamaim (caretakers), monitored the accounts of the community leaders and the trustees, and also enforced the regulations on tavern owners, making sure that they don't purchase their wine elsewhere and that they pay their taxes.
In the Registry, we can read stories about special events that occur in the Chortkov's community, but we don't know for sure if those stories are based on real historical facts. At any rate, it is typical that a large number of community Registries talk about horrible events or miracles concerning community leaders, who risked their lives to save Jewish lives.
The Registry is in front of us originated in 1738, and in it are the first entries from that year. At the present time (1932), this old Registry is located at the community's office. This Registry is not the first, it was proceeded by another one, the first Registry of Chortkov's community. In that Registry, we can find a lot of important historical information, and most of all, information about the community's finance and income. The documents included in it, are of official and legal matter, and were used to solve legal questions and arguments. Because the Registry was available to the public, and many people were using it, in more then one occasion, unworthy people ripped out pages or changed the entries as they saw fit, and to their own benefit. For that reason, a severe warning is written on the first full page, stating; if a person raises his hand to add one word in the Registry without the wish of the Torah Scholars, or without the knowledge of the rabbi, the president of the court or the righteous teachers of our community each person whose arrogant heart tells him to raise his hand on this Registry to erase and to write or register on the Registry, that person who has a wicked heart have done the forbidden task all by himself making his own decision without a public meeting or the knowledge of the rabbi and the president of the court.
The last entries in the Registry are from the times of Rabbi Moshe Natan Rosenzveig. The last entry is from 1853. As a result of a quarrel that broke later on, nothing was entered in it and it was almost forgotten. Later on, it was found thorn and neglected in the attic of Rabbi Yokal Horovitz. From there, it was taken to be repaired and was given to the hands of the righteous rabbi, Rabbi David Moshe of blessed memory. Today the Registry is in the possession of the community's directors, who received it from Rabbi Ysrael Rapoport, a relative of Rabbi David Moshe. In 1917, at the end of the World War (the first), Rabbi Ysrael wrote an entry in the Registry, informing, that it was hard to get Ethrogim for the holiday of Sukkot.
It is clear that the order of the pages, that we see today, is not the first and the original order. In some places the pages are reversed, many pages that belong to the end of the Registry are now at the beginning and vice versa.
3. The Rabbi and the Righteous Teachers
We bring you here a full list, but in few details, of Rabbis who
served the Chortkov community during the years and generations as
they are listed in the Registry, and in more details, a list of the Grand
Rabbis and Zaddikim, who were well known
throughout the region and beyond it.
Recorded in the Registry are the rights that the rabbis had in community matters. The rabbi together with a community trustee monitored the elections and all the final decisions had to be approved by them. It is also recorded that all the community's expanses had to be approved and sign by Rabbi Hershili. In a later time, we find the signatures of the district's rabbis, from the Rosenzveig family, on all the important community documents.
There isn't any clear information in the Registry about the salary that was paid to the rabbis. Also, in the list detailing the wages of the community clerks and community expenses from the year 1778, we can't find any information about the salary that was paid to the rabbis. It is possible, that the rabbis did not get paid regularly, and their income came from their services as slaughterers. But it is known to us, from other sources of information, that the rabbis who worked in the big cities during the 17th and 18th centuries, in addition to an apartment and income from different jobs, received a weekly salary of 8 to 10 Zehovim.
An entry in the Registry from 1785 provides us with detailed information about the salary that was paid to the cantors. In 1738 the sum of 104 Zehovim was spent on an apartment for the cantor. In 1739 7 pots of honey and a small sum of Grash (?) was paid to a visiting cantor. We can also find detailed information about the salary that was paid to the three synagogue's caretakers (Shamashim) Reb Zvi Shemesh received 100 Zehovim, Reb Shemaya 55 Zehovim and a third caretaker received 36 Zehovim. Also listed is the amount of 40 Zehovim that was paid in 1786 to a night watchman and 24 Zehovim to a community scriber.
4. Community appointees
As it was traditionally done in all the of Jewish communities in Poland, Chortkov's community elections also took place, every year, on the firs day of the intermediate days of Passover. The community Registry is listing all the yearly nominations from 1741 to 1807 (for unknown reasons to us, as of 1750, the elections took place every two years). After the conquer of Galizia by the Austrian army, the elections did not take place during the years 1776 to 1780. From 1780 until 1808, after the government took away the wide range of rights that were enjoyed by the Jewish communities, once every three years, three leaders and three Gabaim were nominated. Starting in 1796 and onwards, after the Austrian Kaiser, Yoseph the Second, gave Ashkenazi surnames to all the Austrian Jews, were can find among the nominees, who were called at that time by the name Ragirar, names of well known families, who are well known even today in the city of Chortkov.
In the list of nominees from 1741 to 1778 we can always find four masters chiefs and leaders, three for the public good, and one to replace them, three collectors (Gabaim) of great charities who supervised all of the charity work in the community. Two trustees who inspected the community's accounts, and it is said on them in the Registry they knew all that was happening in the community they controlled the accounts and a community loan could not be taken without their knowledge Two collectors for Eretz Ysrael that collected contributions for the poor in Israel and sent them through Lvov, three collectors for the study of the Torah, three collectors for building the synagogue. In addition, nominated every year were, leader of the court and three judges and in addition, one to three Gabaim to light the candles. And all of this come to an end, with the acceptance and the permission of the arbitrating chiefs and as witnesses, came the leaders and the arbitrators. Those nominations were approved the commissioner the governor secretary, as it was the custom in all the towns that were the privet property of the governors.
There were set rules for electing public appointees. The right to be elected to a public office was given in stages. First the person had to serve in a low level job, and after a number of years serving in that job, he was able to climb to a higher and more important position. One of the most important positions was, the collector for great charity. In order to get that job, first the person had to be nominated as a collector for Erects Israel, or a collector for Talmud Torah and serve in that position for at least 3 years. After three years as a collector for great charity, it was possible to be elected as one of the seven town's trustees, and only after serving in that job, it was possible to be elected as a chief or a head leader. There were those, who because of their importance or their financial situation, were elected as leaders for life. There were also rules forbidding the nomination to a public office because of family connection, but those rules were not enforced. In Chortkov for example, the community was based on two large family, and it was impossible not to elect most of the leaders out of these families.
Tradesmen did not have the right to be appointed to a community position, but when it was needed to enforce the walls of the synagogue a permission was granted to Rabbi Meir Katz to put his ballot in the ballot box because he was an honest man and injustices never touched his lips. The same rabbi, Rabbi Meir, was elected a number of time as the synagogue's Gabai and also as the Gabai who lights the candles. Voting rights were also taken away from those who insulted the heads of the community.
Out the large number of leaders and nominees, whose names are listed in the Registry, I only list here the names of a few, because of their special importance.
The holy synagogue is mentioned numerous times in the Registry. From those entries we are able to learn about the construction of the building and its maintenance.
It is apparent, that during the first years of the Jewish community in Chortkov, Jews were given the right to build a synagogue, and for that right they had to pay a fee. In the Registry we read about a loan money for the right, in 1739 the sum of 42 Adumim, and in 1766 the sum of 1000 Zahav. At that time, a house of learning (Beit Midrash) already stood on its place in Chortkov. Even today, it is called by the Jews Beit Ha'Midrash of Rabbi Hershili. In 1755 the construction of the synagogue was under way, and in charge was his Highness Rabbi Meir Katz who received from the masters the right to put his ballot in the ballot box.
According to the Registry, the building had to be a strong building a synagogue surrounded by a stone wall, because until now, the synagogue was build out of wood planks, and in 1754 it was decided to fortify it, and build around it a strong stone wall.
In the 1722 bill of rights that was given to the Jews by the Graff Potockie - in front of me is the Hebrew translation from the anniversary book in memory of Rabbi Shapira - it is written: they are given the permission to use their own synagogue. From those words it is reasonably clear, that a synagogue was already standing, but on the other hand, we can interpret those words differently and read: a synagogue will be build here in the future. But, according to my opinion, it was not surrounded by a stonewall.
There are many legends connecting the building of the synagogue to an earlier period, but according to my opinion, those legends are not based on true historical facts. Hact in his 1926 book Adama (land), presenting us with a legend, about a synagogue that was build in the 16th century. In his book Jewish Souls(volume 5), Litving assures us that the synagogue was build by the Polish king Sovieskei. The author Franzos is going farther (page 62 of his book) and telling us about a synagogue that was build in the Middle Ages, and was called by the Gentiles the Jewish Fort. It is also told in a folk tale, that when the synagogue was being build, a priest laid the corner stone, and therefore, the first worshipers to enter were condemned. The story is probably based on the fact, that when the synagogue was completed, a number of Chortkov's Jews became followers of the Frank's Movement.
In 1770, twenty years after the construction of the building and the wall started, the work was not completed due to lack of funds. In order to draw income, it was decided to lease places in the synagogue. On the stone Mezuzah, located at the entry from the corridor to the synagogue, it is carved: this is the gate to the Lord Taf Kuf Lamed Alef the righteous will enter it, meaning, that the stone wall was completed in 1771, and a Mezuzah was put in the entryway, but the building itself was not finished until 1779, eight years after funds were collected for the completion of the building. It is also certain, that only the walls and maybe the roof were standing, but the ceiling the dome and the women sanctuary were not finished it stood many years free in the air without a building around it.
From stories told by the elderly of our generation, we learn that during the uprising of 1848, when the Russians passed through Galicia to help the Austrian Kaiser, the synagogue was leased to the army, and the income was used for the building of the dome.
Among the old religious relics that belonging to the synagogue known with their splendor:
by Mordecai Zilberg
Translated by Sara Mages
Rabbi David Moshe Friedman, of blessed memory, was born in 1827 to his father Israel from Rozyn and his mother Sara. At first he sat on the Rabbinical Throne in the town of Potok and later on he moved and settled in Chortkov.
Rabbi David Moshe was a modest man that kept away from world affairs and spent all his days studying the Torah and the relationship between man and his creator. Everything about him showed his spirituality. He was consumed with one idea that took over him: How could he bring forward salvation and redemption? He felt the pain of his tortured people who were suffering from riots, persecutions and poverty. In order to find a way to end their suffering, he lived a tortured life, keeping himself from the pleasures of the world, though surrounded by luxury and abundance. He ate very little, just enough to keep the spirit in his body. He stayed awake at night dreaming of salvation and redemption for the Jewish people.
His love of Israel and his love of humanity were his guiding light. By nature he was a peacemaker and kept away from conflicts and quarrels. Unfortunately, at this time there was a fierce argument among the city residents. Between those who followed Rabbi Shapira, who was a person with modern ideas Exceptional Ideas in the spirits of the times. He educated the workers and the poor. He preached, orally and by writing, many years before Herzl, about settling in Eretz Israel." There was a fierce argument between him and the Hassidim, who with their strong senses felt that the smell of skepticism was coming out of all his doings. This fierce fight turned very quickly into a cruel civil war. Even though, the Rabbi ordered his Hassidim to restrain themselves, he did not have enough power to control them and to solve the dispute.
In those days, the Hovevei Zion Movement (Lovers of Zion), started to develop and later on also the Zionist Movement founded by Dr. Herzl. While the argument, that I wrote about earlier, centered only in the city, the Zionist Movement split the Jewish people into two camps. On one side were the enthusiastic followers and on the other side were the jealous opponents. Also among the Rabbi's entourage were the same two camps.
One Gabbai (manager or treasurer of a synagogue), was an enthusiastic Hovevei Zion. Another Gabbai was a strong opponent to the Zionists and acted with ridicule and mockery towards the movement and its leaders. Maybe it is useless to mention the negative stand against the Zionist Movement of one unimportant person. This man stood at the threshold of the Rabbi's room and everyone who wanted to visit the Rabbi had to go through him first. It is possible that a great historical and important opportunity to the Zionist Movement was lost because of this evil and jealous man. Who knows, maybe the Zionist Movement had a better chance to exist if not for the negative actions of this average person. There were a lot of attempts to draw the religious Jews, who had a lot of influence in those days, towards the Zionist Movement. All these attempts failed (as it is told by Rabbi Y. L. Maymon in his memoirs). Rabbi Aharon Marcus, an author and philosopher, who was a Hassid and an enthusiastic Zionist, decided to try and use his power to influence the Rabbi to support the Zionist Movement." After many attempts, the Rabbi finally agreed to meet with the committee and talk about the Zionist Movement." When the committee that included also Dr. Rabbi Y. Tahon and Dr. Zaltz arrived, the same Gabbai started to talk against the Zionists and asked: Could Herzl lead us to Eretz Israel? Could Herzl be our Messiah?" The meeting with the Rabbi ended without any results.
Later on, there was another attempt by Rabbi Landau from Peshmishel to intervene between Dr. Herzl and the Rabbi from Chortkov. Dr. Herzl gave Rabbi Landau a letter he wrote to the old Rabbi. In the letter he asked his permission to meet with Rabbi Israel, the son of Rabbi David Moshe. After the Gabbai read the letter, that was given to him to read to the Rabbi, he dismissed the whole matter. Saying that the letter does not worth anything and it was like a pebble on top of a flask." (meaning that its legal value is worthless and its only value is to seal an everyday storage utensil.)
The purpose of the matters written here are not to remind us of old sins.
These matters are written 17 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, and it is tasteless to renew an old argument that lost its reason. The facts given here are as they had happened, for the purpose of remembering historical truth. They can't take away from the Rabbi's greatness, from the influence and the spiritual leadership that he had on his large Hassidic congregation.
To understand the reasons why the Rabbis had so much influence on their Hassidim we have to start from the beginning. From the first days of the Hassidic Movement." The movement started after the riots and the murders in Kamenitz during the years' 1648-49 and after the bitter disappointment from the False Messiah Movement lead by Shabtai Tzvi and Yakov Frank. If we look at the fundamentals of the Hassidic Movement we can find the search for a way out from the difficult life of the Jewish people. The Hassidic Movement was the Jewish spiritual reaction to life of suffering, oppression, riots, lack of confidence and humiliation that was the way of life, at that time, for the Jewish people. The major foundations of the Hassidic Movement are: Yearn for redemption. The belief that redemption will be arriving soon, breaking the barrier between the rich and poor and between the scholar the illiterate and many more. The admiration of the Rabbi and the belief in his wisdom supported the Hassid when he talked to him and asked for his advice. Believing that the Rabbi's advice is correct and his blessing might come. Just looking at the face of a Hassid after he received the Rabbi's blessing we can understand the influence the Rabbi had on his Hassidim. It was no wonder why many Hassidim left their families during the holidays and travel hundreds of miles to visit the Rabbi. It helped them to forget day-to-day troubles and to find themselves, even for a short time, in an atmosphere of happiness, dancing and excitement in the company of the Rabbi.
In the history of the Hassidic Movement the name of Rabbi David Moshe, of blessed memory, the founder of the Rabbinical Dynasty in Chortkov, is written as one of the greatest Hassidim.
The Rabbi died on Hoshanna Raba 1904.
Rabbi Israel son of Rabbi David Moshe, of blessed memory,
Second generation to the Dynasty born on 5 Iyyar
After the death of Rabbi David Moshe, his son Rabbi Israel, inherited the Rabbinical Throne in Chortkov. Unlike Rabbi David Moshe, who spent all his days in G-d's work, Rabbi Israel was interested in world affairs. He spoke fluently in German, a popular language among the intelligent Jews in Galicia. During the life of Rabbi David Moshe the most popular phrase among the Hasaisim was: blessing you asked from the old man but advice you asked from his son. Rabbi Israel was a handsome man and was elegantly dressed. Among his followers were thousands of Hassidim not only from Galicia but also from Poland and Rumania.
On the eve of the first world war, as he was doing every year, the Rabbi and his family left for the resort town of Maribad. After the war broke and after the Russians invaded Chortkov he settled in Vienna. He visited Chortkov a few times during the holidays but lived in Vienna until his last days.
Rabbi Israel was active in religious organizations. At first he was involved with Hetachdot Hahardim (Orthodox Organization). Later on he was the leader of Agudat Israel and was interested in the Return to Eretz Yisrael Movement and the establishment of religious settlements there.
Rabbi Israel died in Vienna on the 13 of Kislev 1934. An honorable place is being kept for him in the history of the Hassidim.
Rabbi Nachum Mordecai son of Rabbi Israel, of blessed memory.
Third generation to the Rabbinical Dynasty - born in 1875
When Rabbi Nachum Mordecai took over the Rabbinical Throne, after the death of his father Rabbi Israel, the world stood in the shadows of the events were happening in Germany after Hitler's rise to power. It was the beginning of the destruction of the Jewish centers, who were the only sources for the Hassidim. The Hassidim's decline started after the brake of the First World War and continued in a fast pace. After Rabbi Nachum Mordecai immigrated to Israel in 1939 the Hassidic Movement from Chortkov had very little impact and only a small group of followers stayed by his side. It took a lot of efforts to rescue Rabbi Nachum Mordecai and his family from the Nazi hell in Vienna and bring them to Israel. He died after a long illness on the 18th of Second Adar 1946, just a few years after he sat on the Rabbinical Throne in a modest apartment in Tel-Aviv (Israel).
He was a noble man with a gentle soul.
Rabbi Shlomo son of Rabbi Nachum Mordecai, of blessed memory.
Fourth and last generation to the Rabbinical Dynasty.
After the death of his father, Rabbi Nachum Mordecai, Rabbi Shlomo sat for a few years on the Rabbinical Throne in Tel-Aviv. Until his death of serious illness he was known for this charitable work, love of truth and generosity.
With his death, the Rabbinical Dynasty from Chortkov, that lasted for four generations came to an end.
Rabbi Shlomo died in 1958.
The Court and its customs
During the year, the number of people traveling to visit the Rabbi was relatively small maybe a few hundred a week. There were those who came to ask the Rabbi for his advice and to seek a cure for the sick. There were those who could not find a husband for their daughters and those who came to complain of unemployment. During the holidays, mostly during the High Holidays, thousands of Hassidim traveled to visit the Rabbi.
The trip to visit the Rabbi was a great spiritual experience for each Hassid. It gave him a chance to break from his daily routine. It was like a transit from his secular world to a sacred world. The Hassidim traveled in a group as a Team." Along the way, Hassidic music was played and songs were sung in high spirits and excitement. They stopped to visit old acquaintance and in the process made new friends. They talked about the Rabbi and discussed the Torah. The anticipation for meeting the Rabbi face to face gave the trip a special and different flavor that could not be experienced by any other traveler or a tourist. Sometimes it was necessary to sneak across the border between Russia and Austria.
When they reached the Rabbi's town, the rich Hassidim stayed in hotels while the poor among them were hosted by the Rabbi. In the first Reception they escorted the Rabbi on his walk from his apartment to prayers at the synagogue. The Rabbi and his entourage walked in the space between two lines of Hassidim who were greeting and blessing the Rabbi and his attendants. When they arrived to the synagogue, the Rabbi entered a special room called the Golden Room." The Hassidim congregated in the sanctuary and the cantor immediately started with the public prayers. After the prayers, they escorted the Rabbi back to his apartment and went back to the place were they were staying for lunch.
In a later hour that afternoon a Table was set in a large building that was called Salash." Along the length of the room stood a large table, on one side of the table were bleachers leaning against the wall reaching all the way to the ceiling. On the other side were benches with back support. The Hassidim crowded behind them, pushing to see what was happening listening to the Rabbi talking about the Torah and getting ready to snatch the leftovers.
After the Rabbi blessed the bread and sliced a piece from the chalah, the Gabbai divided the slice to very small pieces. Since a scrap will not satisfy the lion those who were sitting way back, were only able to get a few crumbs. Also in the tradition of snatching of the leftovers there was one rule first come first served. Those who lost, never complained. During the meal the cantor and his choir sang songs. When the meal was over, there was silence in the hall. Everyone was listening to the Rabbi discussing the Torah.
When the Table service was over, the congregation escorted the Rabbi to his apartment and immediately the Hassidic dancing started. In the square in front of the Rabbi's home they danced in a big circle. Those who could not join the circle broke into it and formed a circle inside it and others formed new circles next to it. They sang in a powerful voice: Purify our hearts we are your humble servants The dancing and singing lasted until they lost their strength. Sweat covered their faces but none of them was troubled with such a small inconvenience knowing that the Rabbi was watching them through his window, enjoying the sight. The elders among them were the first to leave the circle for a short rest. Their places were taken immediately by fresh and passionate dancers who encouraged the other dancers and did not allow the chain to break. At sunset, when it was time for Mincha services, the crowd jumped and ran, as if ordered, towards the window from which the Rabbi was watching the dancers. Loud shouts came from the crowd: The Rabbi will lead us to Eretz Israel! - Next year in Jerusalem! The window opened and the Rabbi, in a few words, responded to their quest. After the window closed the crowd dispersed for Mincha and Ma'ariv prayers.
After the holidays were over, it was time for the Visit to the Rabbi's room and time to say farewell. The Gabbai stood at the threshold surrounded by a crowd of Hassidim pushing their way in. The Gabbai decided who was the first or last to get in. Those who missed his signal and lost their turn, patiently waited until it was their turn again. The Hassid who entered the Rabbi's room had a note with him that he prepared earlier. On the note, written in Hebrew, he listed his needs and requests. While the Rabbi was reading the note, the Hassid left a Pidyon (present) of his table. Some left a large gift and some very little. After the Rabbi finished to read the note, he sometimes asked a question, sometimes gave advice and at the end gave his blessing and stretched his hand for farewell.
The miracle of the Rabbi from Chortkov, Rabbi Moshe, of blessed memory
In order to complete the story of the Rabbinical Dynasty in Chortkov, it is important to put in writing the following miracle for two reasons:
The story was written by Dr. Yigendorf, a citizen of Bat-Yam (Israel), the grandson of the recipient of the miracle. He heard the story from his grandfather, Avaraham Yigendorf, of blessed memory.
And this is how the story went: In the town of Mylnizia in Eastern Galicia, lived a Jewish man by the name of Nagler. He owned a distillery that he leased from a Polish landowner by the name of Golokovsky. One night, a farmer broke into one of the rooms in the Distillery in order to steal a bucket of alcohol. In the room stood a three meter tall barrel full of hot alcohol. The farmer failed in his mission, fell into the barrel and drowned. The Austrian government was quick to press charges against Nagler in the district court house in Ternopol. They claimed that as the owner of the distillery, he was responsible for the farmer's death. Nagler received the letter, written by the district prosecutor, on Friday, the trial date was set for the following Tuesday morning at the district court house in Ternopol. The news of the upcoming trial ruined his Shabbat's rest. After sunset, he hitched a couple of horses to his carriage (at that time there wasn't a train service in the area). Nagler traveled to Chortkov on his way to Ternopol were he was going to hire a lawyer to defend him. The trip lasted all night and he arrived in Chortkov early Sunday morning. After a lot of efforts he was able to meet with the Rabbi (the Rabbi met with his Hassidim only in the evenings). When the Rabbi heard his story and the severe verdict that was waiting for him, he encouraged Nagler and wished him luck. He also ordered Nagler to send his driver and carriage back home and to take the mail wagon that was leaving for Ternopol early Monday morning. Nagler was shocked when he heard the Rabbi's advice and tried to explain to him that it was an impossible thing to do. The mail wagon was slow, stopping to change horses in each town all the way to Ternopol. It stopped in towns like Kopetzinza, Horostkov, Trambola and Mykolintza. He will arrive in Ternopol late Monday evening, long after the law offices were closed. If he could find a lawyer, he will not have enough time to prepare his defense for the early Tuesday morning trial. The Rabbi heard Nagler's argument and insisted that Nagler should listen to his advice and take the mail wagon. Nagler, who new that he should not refuse the Rabbi's advice, gave up. After he left the Rabbi, he immediately sent his carriage back home and checked into a hotel room in Chortkov. He was restless all day and could not sleep all nigh.
On Monday morning, when he sat in the mail wagon, on his way to Ternopol, he could not stop sighing. A woman entered the wagon and sat next to him. Nagler's non-stop sighs attract the woman's attention. She turned to him and wanted to know what was wrong and why was he sighing so much. I feel as bad as you do, she said, and I don't sigh like you. Then she told him her story: I have an only son and he is very sick. The doctors gave all hopes for his life. I was told that only the Rabbi from Chortkov can help me in my time of need. Even though I'm Christian I traveled all the way from Ternopol to visit the Rabbi. He wished my son full recovery and even gave me charms and while she was talking, she took out the charms and showed them to Nagler saying: I believe in the Rabbi and believe that my son will recover from his illness. The Christian woman belief in the Rabbi and the kisses she poured on the charms encouraged Nagler to tell her what had happened in the distillery and the fact that he is facing a severe sentence. When he was done telling her his story the woman started to calm him down saying: My husband is a judge in the district court house in Ternopol. Maybe he can do something to help you." Her words gave Nagler new hope. He stopped sighing and started to think on how he could meet with such a dignified man. Finely the woman found a solution: She had two suitcases. One she would take home with her and the other she will give Nagler so he could bring it, a quarter of an hour later, to the address she had given him. And that's exactly how it had happened: They arrived in Ternopol at 8 o'clock in the evening. The woman took one suitcase and went home quarter of an hour later, Nagler brought the second suitcase to the address she had given him. When he arrived to her home he was welcomed at the door with great respect by her husband. In a way of an educated man, he invited Nagler to come in. The woman told her husband what had happened to Nagler and that he will be put on trial at the district court house the next morning. Then, her husband asked for his name and after he was told that it was Nagler, he turned to Nagler and said: I have read your file, relax and go home in peace. Nagler thanked them and rush into town to find a lawyer that will represent him in court the next morning.
On Tuesday morning, at the appointed hour, Nagler and his lawyer were at the courthouse. At exactly 9 o'clock, his case was brought in front of the judge. Only a quarter of an hour later, the judge read his sentence, acquitting Nagler of all charges.
Nagler happiness was twice fold: That he was cleared of all charges and was able to cope with the emotional stress before the trial. That he never gave up and followed the Rabbi's orders to send his carriage back home and take the mail wagon. It was the only way for him to meet the woman who helped him and saved him from a severe sentence that was waiting for him. We can tribute this miracle to the great wisdom of Rabbi David Moshe Friedman, of blessed memory, from Chortkov.
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