by Dr. N. M. Gelbar (Jerusalem)
Translated from Yiddish by Mark Froimowitz
Translator's comments are indicated by [ ]
A. The City Itself
Chmielnik, which lies midway on the road between Kielce and Busko, is well known in the history of Poland. Already in the year 1241, there were major battles with Tatars in its vicinity. In fact, Chmielnik itself was a fortress against Tatar invasions. In a battle near Chmielnik against Tatar hordes under the leadership of Batukhan [the grandson of Ghengis Khan] in 1247 [most histories indicate that this was also in 1241], the Polish army was destroyed and the entire Tzoozmir (Sandomierz) - Krakow - Wroclaw region was almost completely erased from the Earth. The Tatars penetrated to Sieradz and Leczyca and took into captivity thousands of inhabitants, among them also Jews from Silesia and from Poland. These regions were left desolate for decades and only with the help of German colonists were new settlements again established there. It is not known if Chmielnik was a city in that era.
The first document that designates Chmielnik a city with municipal rights comes from the year 1551. In that year, due to the efforts of the owners of the city and the estates of the neighborhood Olesnicki-Dembinow, a royal privilege was granted in which Chmielnik was declared a city. The settlers of the city, Samuel and Mikolaj Olesnicki, were concerned about its development. In the 16th Century, when non-Catholicism began to spread in that area, the city settlers adopted it and built a non-Catholic community and school. After them, the city came into the possession of the Goluchowskis who were Calvinists and who had, until 1689, such a community with their own church. Chmielnik, in fact, was a center of anti-Church and non-Catholic movement in Poland, of the Arians [the Arian heresy that Jesus was not coequal with God; anti-Trinitarians] who held all of the key positions in their hands. Their provincial synods came together here. The best known of them is the Synod of the year 1644 during which Andrzej Wegierski was chosen as the District-Senior. Also, the Synod in the year 1650 in Chmielnik, did not have a small effect on the spread of the Arians in Poland. Together with the expulsion of the Arians from Poland, also fled a portion of the Chmielnik burghers.
By the end of the 17th century, Chmielnik was transferred to the Tanski family. They were faithful Catholics and returned Catholicism to the city. They also founded the Catholic church in the city. The nobles Azarowska and Elzbieta of the Przebendowskis gave considerable funds for the building of the church which took from 1732 to 1787. Economically, Chmielnik was important because of her copper and steel mines. Already in the 17th century, a group of German colonists received a concession to seek mineral mines. How well this succeeded is not known. It is a fact that in the documents concerning mining in Poland in the 18th century, Chmielnik is not mentioned.
In the 18th century, Chmielnik filled a vital role in the traffic and trade between Poland and Prussia and Silesia, particularly in the trade of grain, wood, cattle, and the import of textiles and haberdashery into Poland.
In the second half of the 18th century, particularly in the '70's and '80's, when efforts were made to set up industrial undertakings, the city owners of Chmielnik intervened to set up factories following the pattern of the Charterists in Staszow and Wegrow.
In the time of the third partition of Poland, 1795, Chmielnik was taken over by Austria and remained under its management until 1809, when she was attached to the Duchy of Warsaw. Between 1815 and 1837, Chmielnik belonged to the Tzoozmirer (Sandomierz) voivodship of the Polish Kingdom and between 1837-1914 to the Kielce gubernia. There were attempts to convert Chmielnik into an industrial city. However, these did not succeed in the first half of the 19th century during the time of the growing industrialization of Poland. In contrast to other cities in Poland who expanded their territories and developed large construction industries, the Tzoozmirer voivodship, and, in it, Chmielnik, lagged in its overall development. For example, in the year 1826, there were 204 brick houses built in Polish cities while in Tzoozmirer voivodship just one such house. In 1827, there came a change for the better and, of the 266 brick houses built in all of Poland, 11 brick houses were built in Tzoozmir voivodship and, in 1828, of 181 in all of Poland, there were 14 in Tzoozmir voivodship.
The development of the cities in the Tzoozmirer voivodship came about together with the development of manufacturing. Already by the second half of the 19th century, there were factories in Chmielnik that employed a considerable number of workers, such as tanneries with large annual productions, a soap factory, a candle factory, and factories of rural fabrics, a brewery, a machine factory with an iron works for raw materials, and a workshop for agricultural tools.
The political situation in the years 1855-1865 did not hinder the development of Chmielnik in a small way. What also hurt were events in connection with the Polish uprising of 1863. During the time of this revolt, battles broke out near Chmielnik between the rebels under the leadership of General Bosak [Hauke-Bosak] and Chmielenski with parts of the Russian military. The 4th of November 1963 by Staranow (7 km SE of Chmielnik) and the 20th of November by Tarna Skala (8 km SW of Chmielnik). The 9th of December 1863, a battle took place between the rebels under the leadership of Kalita against a Russian regiment in Huta Szczecienska in which more than 250 persons participated. On January 20, 1863 [this was in 1864], the rebels succeeded in taking Chmielnik. On the 18th of January, 110 Polish riders, mostly Polish deserters from the Austrian army, came into the city and united there two days later with the group of Major Rumowski. After repelling the Cossacks, they went in the direction of Kalisz.
At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, industry expanded. Factories of textiles, wood and building materials, metals, chemicals, and graphic arts that were mostly in Jewish hands.
According to the count of 1897, there were 560 Jews as independent employers in industry.
In the year 1876, the revenues of city hall were 3074 rubles and the expenses 2099 rubles. In the same year, there broke out a huge fire that destroyed the entire city. Altogether, 208 houses and 416 assorted structures were burned. The loss from the burned buildings amounted to 153,204 rubles and from objects 140,000 rubles.
It was only several years later that the population recovered and renewed her economic life. In the '80's and '90's, the city returned to normal and the same for her Jewish population.
B. The Jewish Settlement
The Jewish settlement in Chmielnik came into existence in 1565.
The Jewish population in Chmielnik held the opinion that the community was a very old one. We refer hereby to the fact that in the old cemetery near the synagogue are also found old gravestones with inscriptions from 800 years ago. We can rely on it in a small way as on the tradition that the first Jewish inhabitants of the city were escaping Jews from Spain.
As is usual in most Polish cities, the first cemeteries of the old founded communities were in the vicinity of the synagogues. Jews used to voluntarily concentrate themselves in their own sections. This is not a ghetto according to our concept. Because of the restricted area, the cemetery in Chmielnik was a very small one. It was therefore necessary to bury one dead person over another according to families, the son over the grave of his father and the daughter over the grave of the mother. Over time, this became a tradition that remained long after the broadening of the scope of the Jewish settlement. With time, together with the process of economic development and the expansion of trade, the Jewish settlement moved out of the Jewish quarter and into the city and gradually Jews took stores, houses, market stalls, and even residences in the city center.
In Chmielnik, this process began in the second half of the 17th century after the Arians were expelled in 1658 from Poland and, in general, from their center in Chmielnik. Jews took over their houses and shops together with their economic positions. Since that time, the community grew so much that the number of Jews overtook the non-Jewish population. Jews built a synagogue that was famous in Poland as one of the most artistic buildings, not in one of their places but in a place of the Catholic Church which did not want to sell it to Jews but leased it for a yearly charge (rent). In its appearance, apart from its round chapel, the synagogue was similar in full detail to the synagogue of the RMA [Rabbi Moses Isserles] and the high synagogue in Krakow. The readers platform in the middle was built of stone with eight corners over which stood stone columns decorated with refined ornaments, adornments from the Renaissance era which remind one of the old Greek Odean. In the synagogue, there were a known number of ark curtains of greatly esteemed art. In particular, it is especially appropriate to remind of the ark curtain that was a gift from Mrs. Vedel daughter of the distinguished Abraham in the 17th century. It was a work of the Baroque era with all the signs and the precise artistic beauty of that era. This fabric and the ornaments show a high level of artistry. Another important artistic object was the ark curtain which had been given as a gift from the parnes [elected elder] of the Vaad [assembly of rabbis and community leaders] of the Four Lands [Great Poland (Poznan), Little Poland (Krakow and Lublin), Red Rus' (Lemberg [now Lviv in Ukraine]), and Volhynia (Ostrog and Krzemieniec)], Rabbi Yehuda Landau, the father of Yechezkal Landau, the author of Nodeh Beyehuda who lived in Chmielnik for a short time. These artistic objects show the wealth of the community in that era and also the high level of culture of her manhigim [leaders] and roshim [heads].
From an organizational point of view, Chmielnik was like all of the communities in old Poland, with heads and good sons at the summit.
The community was conspicuous in a short time from its founding and took a vital place in societal living of that region already in the 16th century. From an organizational-national standpoint, Chmielnik belonged to the framework of the Jewish autonomous institutions in Poland, to the Vaad HaMedinah Krakow-Tzoozmir.
To the province of Krakow-Tzoozmir belonged the communities of the voivodship Krakow, Tzoozmir (Sandomierz), a portion of Kujawy and Leczyca and a number of communities of the Rus' and Belz voivodships. Krakow and Sandomierz were the center of the province. At a certain time later, in the 17th century, the hegemony of Krakow fell. After a difficult internal fight in the Vaad HaMedinah, Krakow became an independent unit. The rabbinate of the province was divided. The Krakower rabbi is rabbi of half the province and the second half is officiated by the rabbi of Pinczow or Wodzislaw as rabbi of the province. The sitting of the Vaad took place in Pinczow, Wodzislaw, Stopnica and, after that, in Chmielnik. In the Vaad HaMedinah, the Chmielnik community was part of the Vaad HaGalil Szydlow, together with the following 17 communities: Szydlow, Rymanow, Zmigrod, Tarnow (Torneh), Dukla, Nowe Miasto, Pacanow, Olesnica, Zabno, Rakow, Dabrowa, Bogoria, Wislica, Stopnica, Kurazweki, Polaniec, and Staszow.
At the head of this Vaad stood the rabbi of the galil and the parnes of the galil. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Vaad HaGalil was based in Chmielnik and there is also where they would come together to meet. The decrees, the interpretation of law, and the decisions were recorded in the record books of the heads and judges of the province. Unfortunately, there is no trace of them left.
The Jews of Chmielnik lived through a hard time during the Polish-Swedish War. The community was destroyed. The soldiers of the Polish hetman Czarnecki, who blamed the Jews for helping the Swedes, caused the death of close to 150 Jews in the year 1656. Among them was also the rabbi of Chmielnik, Rabbi Yitzchak.
During the meeting of the Vaad HaMedinah which took place in Chmielnik in the year 5450 (1690), the rabbi and av bais din [chief judge] of Krakow, Rabbi Aharon Teoomim, the author of Begdei Aharon and the Choshen Aharon also participated. He had just been taken up as the rabbi of Krakow (before which he was rabbi of Worms). On the Shabbos, parshes [section of the Pentateuch] Masai, after the afternoon prayer, soldiers came to his inn and, without any reason, began to hit him cruelly, arrested him and took him Colonel Strawnik. Along the way, the Rabbi fell several times from the blows until he died. The next day, Sunday, they took the tormented Rabbi away from Chmielnik to Pinczow because they were afraid to bury him in the cemetery in Chmielnik.
An unusual incident also took place during the time of the sitting of the Vaad HaGalil that took place in Chmielnik in the month of Tamuz in the year 5436 (1676). One of the participants, Harav Aharon Shmuel Kaidanover, died on the 19th of Tamuz during the time of the session.
After the wars, there began in the autonomous institutions that were part in the Vaad HaMedinah, a splintering process and quarrels between Krakow and the Vaad HaMedinah: the misuse of money, the machinations of influential persons, and strife between the communities for hegemony. The community of Pinczow grabbed power and her heads of the Vaad and her rabbis used this for their purposes. The debts rose. The taxes burdened the member communities so much that they complained to Sandomierz Voivodship which, in the year 1754, delegated commissions for the meeting of the Vaad of Stopnica. On that sitting, resolutions were made to better the situation, particularly the money issues. The resolutions, however, helped very little, because it pleased the power that should curb the influential heads. According to the report of 1764, when the autonomous institutions were liquidated, the heads of the Vaad took for their expenses in the years 1754 to 1763 a sum of 897,607 zlotys but only were able to provide bills for 541,466 zlotys. The debts of the Vaad HaMedinah in the year 1764 amounted to 338,089 Polish zlotys.
In the 17th century, Chmielnik Jews had in their hands the trade in grain, animals, and wood. In 1632, Pesach Yehuda from Chmielnik carried out many large money transactions at a variety of fairs, particularly in Lemberg. In Chmielnik itself, in the middle of the 18th century, fairs were staged in which were sold large quantities of cloth from Silesia, French velvet, damask, and linen. There was a good and liberal atmosphere for Jews in the city in those days. The population, which for decades had been influenced by anti-Catholic sects such as the Arians, was not inclined to hate Jews. This was also true when the Catholic Church, after the expulsion of the Arians, controlled the city. The Jews in Chmielnik did not suffer from the burghers in legal relations such as oppression and restrictions in trade, work, or limitations of living rights for the inhabitants or newcomers from foreign places.
[Shraga Feival and the Woman from Staszow]
From everyday life of that time belongs the following story which is echoed in a number of books:
At the end of the 18th century, a Chmielnik Jew by the name of Shraga Feival married a woman from Staszow and, a year after the marriage, the man suddenly disappeared. Relatives of the woman searched for him in all of the communities of Poland and were unable to find him. The woman was left an agunah [a woman who cannot remarry because it is not known if her husband is dead or alive]. Eight years later, during the time of the war of Napoleon against the Prussians and Russians, soldiers who were staying at the house of the parents of the Staszow woman narrated that Shraga Feival of Chmielnik had converted to Christianity and was serving in the Russian Army. In the year 1799, information came to Staszow that the man had gone over to the Prussians. After long searches and efforts, the woman succeeded in bringing the convert to Staszow. He agreed to give a divorce but, before doing so, went away again. After a certain time, they received letters from him from Cologne and Regensburg together with an authorization for the rabbis to issue a divorce for his wife. After a while, they received another letter from the commander of the regiment that the convert Shraga Feival had fallen in a battle.
The situation created a tangled problem. 1) The legality of the authorization from the convert for the divorce. 2) Whether the testimony of the commander about the death of the man is enough to allow to woman to remarry.
The Jews of Staszow turned to the Kozshenitzer Maggid [preacher] for a legal question. The Maggid gave a long answer in which he; a) did not recognize the authorization as being enough to give the woman a divorce, 2) recognized the testimony of the army commander.
During the time of the census of the year 1764, there were 1445 Jews in Chmielnik with children up to one year [greater than one year is probably meant]. According to the official census, 1132 souls were registered. In the count, there were 265 heads of household. Of them, 68 heads of families were registered as employed; 1 beer brewery, 2 lessors of the brewery in city hall, 1 wine maker, 10 storekeepers, 1 wagon driver, 9 tailors, 4 hat makers, 1 knitter, 2 lace makers, 1 goldsmith, 6 butchers, 4 bakers (one of these a honey cake maker, Piernikash [also honey cake]), 1 soap maker, 3 candle makers, 1 cutler, 1 book binder, 2 lime makers, 1 rabbi, 2 cantors, 1 sexton, 1 ritual slaughterer, 1 grave digger, 8 religious teachers, 1 klezmer, 1 wedding jester, 1 watchman, 1 copper smith. Of these 68, 20 were employed in learned professions (7.5%) - of them, 6 ecclesiasticals (2%), 10 in trade (3.8%), 1 in transport (0.4%), 33 who worked with their hands (12.4%), 4 lessors of taverns (1.5%). In the 18th century, the Jews had a large portion of the cattle trade with Podolia that they used to lead through Malogoszcz, southwest of Kielce toward Wroclaw (Breslau) with hides for Prussia and Silesia and also with grain.
With the liquidation of the autonomous institutions, the communities in Poland had to pay off debts. There was not a single community, even the smallest with no more than tens of people, that was not sunken in debts. The debts of the province Tzoozmir-Krakow, to which Chmielnik belonged, in that year approached 288,818 zlotys plus tributes in the amount of 34,218 zlotys according to the government inspection. It is not known how big the debts of Chmielnik itself were. It is certain, however, that the debts of Chmielnik were figured in the debts of the province.
[Rabbis in Chmielnik]
In the era of old Poland, a number of renowned rabbis with recognized unlimited ordinations held office in Chmielnik.
1. The first known rabbi is the already mentioned Rabbi Yitzchak who was rabbi before 5416 (1656) and who was killed along with members of his community in the Polish-Swedish war.
2. In the second half of the 17th century, Rabbi Yitzchak Yair Frenkel Teoomim was rabbi, but it is not known exactly in which years.
3. From the year 1702, Harav Eliezer Bar-Yehuda (1660-1730) was rabbi. Born in Pinczow, he was a grandson of the Lubliner Rabbi, Harav Tzvi Hirsh, the son-in-law of the sister of Yakov Moshe B'rav Avraham Hemlin Ashkenazi, and the author of the Midrash Rabbeh. It was printed with supplements from the book Yofeh Tohar and supplements from Avraham's son. It was printed together with a commentary from the year 5475 from Harebbi Eliezer from Pinczow, Frankfurt-an-der-Oder 5465, and later also in Amsterdam 1728, under the name Mishnas Eliezer, a commentary of stories from the Talmud.
Before he took over the rabbinate in Chmielnik, he was already rabbi in several Polish communities. Several years before his demise, he went over from Chmielnik to Pinczow and he also was rabbi of the Krakow Galil. Of his books are known Damasek Eliezer (Yeshnitz 1723) about Mesoreh [tradition] and also kree and k'siv [differences between how something is written and how it is pronounced, presumably due to errors in the copying of manuscripts by hand] from the texts of the Talmud. He was a strict interpreter of Jewish law and, in general, a rare person among Polish rabbis of that era. He died in Pinczow in the year 1730.
His book Damasek Eliezer was highly esteemed by the parnusim and manhigim and, during the sitting of the Vaad of the 18th of Elul 5481 in Rittshevall, they gave him a great sum from the treasury of the Vaad HaMedinah for the printing of the book.
4. Harav Shimon Vulf B'Rav Yakov Yekel, before he became rabbi in Chmielnik, was a judge and head of the yeshiva in Pinczow, author of the book Kovod Chachomim - Agudas Yerushalmim (concerning stories of the Jerusalem Talmud Hamburg 5463) Kovid Habais (Hamburg 5467). Being av bais din in Chmielnik, he participated in the session of the Vaad of the Four Lands in Jaroslaw in the year 1699. In Chmielnik, he gave religious approval of the book Misgerres Hashulchan by Rabbi Binyamin Zev Vulf Sbati from Pinczow (Berlin 5473) on the 7th of Kislev 5472 (1712).
He is mentioned in the book of rabbinical opinions Yad Eliyahu from Rabbi Eliyahu B'rav Shmuel from Lublin (100 Questions and Answers) and in Bais Yisroel from Harav Shmuel Halevi, av bais din of Szyslow and Piardeh. His daughter was married to Rabbi Yissachor Berish, son of the av bais din, Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel from Krakow, parnes and manhig of the Vaad of the Four Lands.
How widely he was honored in his generation is shown by the religious approval of his book Kovid Chachomim by the eminent Jewish scholars, the rabbis of the Four Lands who stood at the apex of the communities in Poland (Great Poland, Little Poland, Rus', and Volhynia) which is called in Polish: Zjazd Czterech Ziem albo Sejm Zydowski.
5. Harav Dovid Shmuel Shmelka was the son of Harav Rabbi Yehuda Leib, av bais din of Rakow and Szydlow, who was the son of Yitzchak Isaac, av bais din of Przemysl. His father, Rabbi Yehuda Leibish, who is also known as Rabbi Leib from Szydlow, was taken up as av bais din and Head of the Seminary from Krakow HaGalil at the end of 5473. He was a parnes and manhig of the Vaad of the Four Lands. He died in Krakow in the year 5491 (1713) [discrepancy between Hebrew and Western date].
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Shmelka had five brothers: The rabbi from Szydlow, Rabbi Yehoshua, the rabbi of Tarnow, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac, the parnes and manhig of Opatow, Rabbi Mordechai, the parnes and manhig in Staszow, Rabbi Shmuel, and the av bais din in Pinczow, Rabbi Yosaif.
Harav Dovid Shmuel Shmelka also participated in the session of the Vaad of the Four Lands in the year 1728 and was rabbi in Chmielnik until 1731 and thereafter in Pinczow.
Being rabbi in Chmielnik, he gave, on the first of Cheshvon 5499 (1729) [discrepancy between Hebrew and Western date], religious approval of the book Zera Baruch (Vandsbeck, 1730) from Menachem B'rav Baruch Halevi, novel interpretations of the Talmud and its commentators.
In the year 1731, his father, Harav Yehuda Leib from Szydlow, who was then rabbi of Krakow, died. After his demise, his oldest son Yehoshua did not receive the rabbinate nor Dovid Shmelka, who, after being the rabbi of Chmielnik, was rabbi in Pinczow and from there he came over to Krakow.
Because of the [legal] will of the mother, which was not favorable to the oldest son Yehoshua, an argument broke out between the brothers which compromised Rabbi David Shmelka so badly that he was removed from the rabbinical chair in Krakow. Rabbi Yitzchak Yosaif Teoomim from Sluck became rabbi and av bais din in his place. Rabbi Yehoshua accused his brother Dovid Shmelka of falsifying the will in his favor. In 1730, he brought an accusation against him in the court of Nowe Miasto - Nowy Korczyn and he [that is Dovid Shmelka] received a confirmation of the will from the woman Pazshasrovski, the owner of Chmielnik where he was then rabbi. This went as far as a struggle between the brothers during which, Rabbi Yehoshua was severely injured and this was confirmed by a medical examination (visum refertum [investigation on the spot?]) in Tzoozmir court in the year 1734. Yehoshua even threatened to murder his brother. Dovid Shmelka appealed and argued that the will of the mother was legally written by the instruction of all the brothers and parnusim in Chmielnik, that Yehoshua had agreed with his brothers, and had attacked David Shmelka after the mother's death and, only thanks to his sexton Yosaif, was he rescued.
After this story, Yehoshua disappeared from Szydlow. In the year 1739, he appeared in front of the Vaad of the Four Lands in Wroclaw and asked the judges of the Vaad to hear his complaints against his brother Dovid Shmelka. When they didn't want to and drove him from the city, he ran away to a Jesuit monastery and there converted to Christianity. According to uncovered documents from Prof. Meir Balaban, after a lot of trouble, he received a noble title Pan Yakov Szydlowski. The story compromised Dovid Shmelka and he left the rabbinical seat in Krakow and he went over to Dzialoszyce where he died in the year 5511 (1751). He left two sons: Rabbi Yehuda Leib who was rabbi in Kobylin near Poznan and Menachem Mendel, rabbi in Turek.
The initiators for the removal of Rabbi Dovid Shmelka from the Krakow rabbinical chair, Harav Yechezkal Landau of Tarnow and Meir of Pinczow, the presidents of the galil of Little Poland, succeeded after his demise to appoint Harav Yitzchak Landau as the Krakower rabbi. The Landau family was, from then on, interested in arranging to make their family members rabbis in all of the communities of the galil. In every community where a rabbi would die or leave his position, they were concerned about taking the empty place.
This is how, after Dovid Shmelka, one of the Landaus was also taken up as rabbi of Chmielnik.
6. Harav Yosaif Landau, on 11th of Adar 5523 (1763), gave his approval in Chmielnik for the book of rabbinical decisions Gaonai Basra written by Rabbi Eliyahu B'rav Moshe Gershon of Pinczow (Turek 1764) and, on the 9th of Elul 5525, for the book Sefer Doros (Karlsruhe 1769).
7. After the demise of Harav Yosaif Landau, the son of the Lemberg rabbi Harav Yehuda Leib Ittinger, Harav Yosaif Halevi Ittinger became rabbi. He was the son-in-law of the Krakower av bais din, Harav Yitzchak Landau, who was previously rabbi in Rohatyn, a brother of Rabbi Aharon Ittinger (1720-1769) who was rabbi in Jaworow and, from the year 1760 in Rus', where he waged a strong battle against Chassidim and especially against Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk, the author of the book Noam Elimelech.
Harav Yosaif Halevi Ittinger was already rabbi in Chmielnik in the year 5523 (1763), since his approval of the book of rabbinical decisions Gaonai Basra was available from that year [this contradicts that Harav Yosaif Landau was rabbi in that year]. His son Rabbi Yakov Simcha was the rabbi in Opatow after the demise of Harav Rabbi Shaul Halevi.
Harav Yosaif Halevi Ittinger was a supporter of Rabbi Yonason Abeshitz. In the book Luchos Ha'aidos was printed his letter concerning the disagreements with Rabbi Yakov Emden. Ittinger occupied the rabbinate in Chmielnik until the '90's of the 18th century.
After the demise of Harav Ittinger (29th of Av 5544), Harav Rebbe Berish became rabbi in Chmielnik.
By the end of the 18th century, Chassidism began to take an increasingly dominant place in Jewish life. In Chmielnik, an effect in that direction was made by the av bais din Avraham Dov Aurbach, a student of the Mezericher Maggid Rabbi Dovid Baer and Rabbi Yakov Yosaif HaCohen, the av bais din of Poolneh, the author of Toldos Yakov Yosaif. Later, the Chassidic doctrine of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk was more accepted here and it was spread by his son Rabbi Lippeh (Weisbloom) who lived in Chmielnik and who was renowned as a miracle worker. According to the author of Seder Hadoros Hachadash he was a great and holy tzaddik [righteous person] and many from Israel took Torah from his mouth. He died on the 26th Adar 5566 (1806). His son, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Weisbloom of Chmielnik was a son-in-law of ADMOR [abbreviation of the Chassidic title of Our Lord, Teacher and Master} Shmuel Abba Spira, grandson of Rabbi Pinchas Koritzer. Rabbi Lippeh left behind a manuscript of the book Orech Li'Tzadik which first appeared in the year 1903.
Chmielnik was already bound with the land of Israel in the second half of the 19th century. Among the first Chassidim in Safed in the year 1830 was also Rabbi Moshe Shimon Volf the son of the Gaon [genius] of Chmielnik. He put his seal on a letter which the envoy of Safed Chassidim, Rabbi Reuvain of the family of Rabbi Mordechai Mordesh, the av bais din of Poryck, took along when he left for Europe to gather charitable funds.
C. A Markedly Jewish Shtetl
In the 19th century, because of the Chassidic influence, a visible change occurred in the spiritual and cultural face of Chmielnik Jews. The many year battle between Misnaggdim [the opponents of Chassidism] and Chassidim in the end brought the absolute triumph of Chassidism.
The strengthening of Chassidism began with the coming of Rabbi Dovid Landau as rabbi of Chmielnik. He was known as a great fanatic and it is no wonder that the battle of the Misnaggdim against him became stronger day by day. They were not deterred from any means of battle and even wanted to remove him from his position as rabbi. However, his great scholarship and the prestige of the Landau family helped him. The battle endured during his tenure until Chassidism, particularly Kotzker Chassidism, completely dominated the city. In the second half of the 19th century, they even succeeded to seat a Kotzker Chassid, Harav Avraham Yitzchak Silman, on the rabbinical chair. He used to travel to Rabbi Leibeleh Eiger, the author of Toras Emes and to Rabbi Tzadok HaCohen , the author of Pri Tzedek. After the demise of the author of Pri Tzedek, the Lubliner Chassidim wanted him as a replacement. However, Harav Silman refused and remained in Chmielnik. A thanks to Harav Avraham Silman, who was a student of Rabbi Avramaleh Eiger of Lublin, author of Shevet Yehuda. In the '70's of the 19th century, Chmielnik was dominated by Lubliner Chassidism. Later, the community was, until the end of its existence, involved in arguments concerning the rabbinate. Battles as a result of the rivalries between the Chassidic houses of Ger, Modzich, Oizsherov, Alexsander, and Lublin.
The education of the youth to that time was not out of the framework of traditional learning in cheder, by teachers of the Talmud and in the houses of study. In the second half of the 19th century, an advanced yeshiva was founded with two classes in which learning took place 10 hours a day and which was renowned for her heads of the yeshiva and teachers. Students used to come to Chmielnik from many places in Poland in order to learn Talmud in this yeshiva. In the years 1840-1870, the head of the community, Yisroel Goodman, accomplished a great deal for the organization of Jewish institutions in the city. In the second half of the 19th century, Rabbi Yochanan Silman who was known as Rabbi Yochanan Chmielniker, the grandfather of Harav Silman, was renowned as a leader and worker for his community. He represented the city in the assembly of community leaders in Warsaw after the pogroms in Russia (1880) and was chosen as the envoy of Russian Jewry to go to Paris and London to intervene on the part of Jewish leaders to the Russian government.
From an economic standpoint, the position of the Jews of Chmielnik in the 19th century was sufficiently stable. In truth, there were years in which fires broke out in many houses, and stores and granaries went up in smoke. The Jews, however, quickly recovered. In economic life, Jews took key positions in business, trade, credit, industry, and labor. A number of Jews also set up a textile factory. Other Chmielnik Jews, in the years 1866, took over the textile factory in Chocari that was founded by Zalman Posner. These Jews founded the factory in Chmielnik and produced rustic linen. However, in the year 1867, they had to close the factory. The same Jews were also the initiators of a rustic textile industry in Chmielnik itself, that was established in the '70's and continued until the outbreak of World War I.
The great fire that took place in the year 1876 destroyed many Jewish incomes but already in the '80's the Jews took back the key positions in business, credit, trade, industry, and labor.
In the year 1897, in which the Russian government conducted a census, there were 5660 Jews in Chmielnik, 1618 heads of households and 4042 family members. Of them, 1563 were employed and only 10 family leaders with 29 family members were unemployed, and 30 heads of families with 8 family members lived from pensions and 15 were in the military.
In that time, there were already professionals with learned callings, 4 doctors, a lawyer, and three civil officers. In business and credit were employed 554 independents with 1930 family members. Well to do and house owners were 77 with 232 family members, in industry and labor were 589 independents with 1390 family members, in trade were 30 with 106 family members, ecclesiastical - 16 (17 - sons of the family), religious and secular teachers [no number given] (28 family members), agriculture 5 (12 family members).
The following figures show the growth of the number of Jews in Chmielnik in the years 1765-1939 in comparison with the general non-Jewish population.
From that you can see that during the entire period 1765-1939, Chmielnik had a markedly Jewish character and markedly Jewish majority.
The percent in new Poland (after 1918), in truth, began to fall as a result of the general situation and from the applied economic politics with regard to Jews. However, we have, thereby, to also take into consideration, that, at the time of World War I, many Jews fled the city never to return and, after the war, began an emigration to America, Canada, and Israel.
Nevertheless, the Jewish population in the year of the outbreak of World War II approached a full 80% of the overall population.
[There is a parallel Hebrew version of the Yiddish text on pages 56-70 that contains footnotes. The translator would like to thank Norman Buder and Stanislaw Tekieli for their invaluable help in completing this translation.]
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