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[Pages 7-10]


Hasefer Publishing Company presents the third monograph from a series dedicated by the distinguished historian and man of letters Itic Svart-Kara to some Jewish communities in Moldova.

The two previous works in this series by the same author – the excellent volume about the little-known Community from Podu-Iloaiei (1990) and the substantial monograph dedicated to the Community in Bacau (1995) – each represent an essential contribution to the demographic, economic, and cultural history of the Jewish community in Romania.

The present volume, a new step in this series, is dedicated to the most numerous and most important Jewish community in Romania – the one in Iasi. It offers the reader a far superior synthesis, both in documentary richness and in sociological perspective, to any previously published writings about this community. Together, these three works converge into a larger panorama of the history of Jewish communities on Romanian soil, of the place of these communities in the general history of the Jews in the Diaspora, as well as their specific role in the local history of the formation of modern Romania. For the contribution made by these three works, in particular by the present one, we must pay respectful homage to their author, the eminent writer Itic Svart-Kara.

I asked the author why he wrote this work and how he perceives its purpose. He answered: “It is a subjective moment. Since 1940 I have published approximately 35 works, large or concise, concerning the Jewish population of Iasi, to which I am profoundly attached. I feel the urge to shed light on those four centuries of history of the Jewish Community in the ancient capital of Moldova, as a citadel of the Jewish spirituality in Romania and as an objective source of historic truth.” And indeed, the author has achieved both his objective and subjective goals.

The author's activity as a scientist, researcher and writer is recognized and appreciated internationally today, in several continents and many countries, where his studies and articles have been and continue to be translated, published and reviewed. In itself, the author's work exemplifies a basic idea of his writings regarding the history of the Romanian Jews: namely, that the cultural activities of the members of this community contributes simultaneously to the Jewish culture as well as to the Romanian culture. As a matter of fact, the Romanian Academy has recently recognized and publicly honored the contribution of Professor Svart-Kara, conferring, in 1996, a high distinction – the Hurmuzaki Prize – upon the work “Inscriptions from the Medieval and Modern Romanian Epochs: The City of Iasi” - <<Hebrew Inscriptions>>, prepared by Svart-Kara in collaboration with Stela Cheptea. The work, published by the Iasi branch of the Romanian Academy, the European History and Civilization Center, contains the Romanian translation of about 300 Hebrew inscriptions on headstones from two Jewish cemeteries in Iasi – Ciurchi and Pacurari – and from two synagogues in Iasi – the Great Synagogue and the Tailors' Synagogue. The majority of the unpublished records of headstone inscriptions came from Kara's personal collection, the fruit of many years of tireless investigations.

The antiquity and the significance of some headstones erected in memoriam of important figures of the Iasi Community had attracted the early attention of several men of culture, who were aware of the importance of such historical artifacts – among them I. Psantir, N. Beldiceanu and others.

Invited by the author and by the Hasefer Publishing House to write – as a son of Iasi and a sociologist – an introduction to the present volume, I read the work of Professor Kara with arising surprise and admiration. I am convinced that many future readers will experience, in their turn, the same surprise finding, for the first time, about fruitful facts and hardly known events. I spent the first 13 years of my life in Iasi, have since cherished the city of my childhood, and I love it for its extraordinary cultural history. But even though I knew a few facts about the Jewish community of Iasi, only when reading the current book did I realize the multiple dimensions that this community gradually acquired, attested in documents as early as the 15th century, especially in the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century.

For instance, in demographic respect, data from 1831 and 1859 censuses indicate more than 17,000 and 31,000 Jewish inhabitants lived in Iasi, approximately half of the total population. In its turn, The Great Geographic Dictionary of Romania (vol. 4, 1901) gives the information that in 1899 Iasi had 59,427 inhabitants, of which 33,140 were Jewish.

The Jewish handicraftsmen stimulated the organization of the guilds, an important moment in the transition from medieval economy to incipient capitalism. The author offers what may be the most complete list – including the brick layers, the carters, the bakers, the tailors, the harness makers, the carpenters, the hatters guilds and others (in total 23 guilds documented in 1863, the predecessors of small and middle industries, to be developed in the following decades). So we learn how the economic structure of the Jewish community of Iasi reflected the denial of their access to public positions and to civil service (for example post office, railroads) and their concentration in handicrafts and commerce.

The current monograph contains vast, informative material on the cultural life of this community, on religious institutions, on internal tensions, on numerous newspapers and periodicals that appeared and disappeared throughout the ages, and on the discrimination and persecutions suffered for decades.

Ardently written, with emphasis on documented data, figures, names and facts, without digressions, the work offers the reader the most significant product of the micro monograph: the image of the daily life, the life of a community that no longer exists today.

We can talk about a reconstructive sociology or about an open window to a barely known past. Undoubtedly other works on that community will be written and published in the future, as an inseparable part of what was called “the sweet town of Iasi.” Certainly, the image built in this book is and will remain a precious gift from the author to its readers.

Corresponding Member of
The Romanian Academy

[Pages 11-12]

A Few Words and Point of View from the Author

by Itic Svart-Kara

The present contribution to the history of the Jewish community of Iasi is one of the results of my works regarding the history of the Jewish population in the Romanian Countries. I started to publish such works in 1938 (in Warsaw), I continued in Vilna (1939) and in Bucharest (1940). My works appeared in professional magazines, in the Yiddish and Romanian press, but also in English (New York), French (Brussels, Paris), Hebrew (Jerusalem) etc.

For the present work I strived to bring into relief previous works, but particularly studies and materials little or not at all known, especially in Hebrew, Yiddish, Aramaic and Judeo-Spanish. The exposition strives to be accessible to any reader. The scientific apparatus brings the essential; the references are made to a bibliography mentioned on page 101.

A considerable part of my works is dedicated to the discovery, study, revaluation and publication of new or too little known historical sources. I published guild and brotherhood registers, correspondence, official and private documents, headstone inscriptions, excerpts from the press of the era, travel notes, biographies and autobiographies, historical bibliography, literary and artistic folklore, etc. In the last five years I published in a volume two monographs on the Jewish communities of Podu Iloaiei and Bacau and a volume of Hebrew inscriptions from Iasi (with the collaboration of the researcher Stela Cheptea), as well as articles in the press. The historic materials are also included in the three Yiddish volumes published by the Kriterion Publishing House of Bucharest (1976, 1980, 1987).

The history of the minorities is an integral part of the history of the common Homeland: all the citizens of the country are an organic part of the Romanian reality, without denying their specific ethnicity.

I. K.

[Pages 13-28]


The first Jewish settlements in Iasi date to the period between the end of the 15th century and the middle of the 16th century. The Academic C. C. Giurescu[1] considers the Jewish population to have established itself at the same time as the Armenian population, having common interests in the field of commerce.

The relative rarity of documents and testimonies regarding the city life in Moldova, within its historic boundaries, may explain the rarity of data related to the Iasi Jews of the time. The void is partially filled by some Hebrew documents. For the 16th century there is a travel account from 1619, which confirms the leadership of the Jews of Iasi to a Rabbi Arroyo, for a period of 40 years, beginning in about 1580. Nothing indicates that he was the first to occupy the Iasi Rabbinic seat. As a matter of fact the frequent passages through Iasi of some Jewish merchants from the Balkans, during the reign of Stefan cel Mare [Stephan the Great], in front of whom they sought justice in their disputes with their Moldovan carters, implies the presence of a Jewish population which had to have at least a kosher slaughterer, a synagogue, and a ritual bath. The historian Dr. M. A. Halevy confirmed the existence of Rabbi Arroyo from a preface written by Shmuel Askenazi to a book written by Slomo Delmedigo.[2] As a matter of fact the date of the oldest headstone, 1610, found in the cemetery located in Ciurchi and still existing in 1943, when the cemetery was destroyed, also proves the existence of a Jewish community and its religious institutions as early as the 16th century. It is possible that this headstone was not the oldest.

Rabbinic consultations preserved from the 17th century concerned Jews who lived in Iasi prior to 1605.[3] The accounts of some foreign travelers, like Paolo Bennicio from Malta[4] (1632) supplements the little we know about the Jews of Iasi in that period.

The peasant revolt in Ukraine, led by Bogdan Chmielnicki, between 1648 and 1649, against the Polish Catholic landowners and the Jews, quickly degenerated into a monstrous pogrom with 150,000 innocent victims. Some Ukrainian Jews saved their lives escaping to Moldavia, between the Dniester and the Carpathian Range. Timush, the son of Bogdan, came to court Ruxanda, the daughter of Vasile Lupu, on which occasion many Iasi Jews were killed or robbed in a pogrom.

The land for the Great Synagogue of Targu Cucului (still existing today – 1997) was bought in 1657. The purchase documents were signed by the brother-in-law of the “doctor” Moise, a practitioner appreciated by the entire population. In 1662 this doctor bought several houses in Iasi (on Ulita Strimba).[5] The Synagogue was inaugurated in 1670 under the pastorate of the famous scholar Rabbi Natan Nata Hanover. The ritual slaughter house was documented in 1685 and 1686 according to the documents mentioned as numbers 165, 168 and 170 in the above-mentioned collection.

The Jewish population increased continuously during the 17th Century, with no possibility of exact evaluations, since precise data concerning the entire population of the Moldavian capital are missing.

The organization of the community during that period

In the specific way of traditional living of the Jews, the complicated and demanding religious rituals stipulated that even the smallest Jewish settlement of 16-20 families, if there was no bigger community in the vicinity, must organize its own, adequate institutions: a prayer house, a ritual bath, a religious leader who should also be a cantor, a seminary teacher, a cemetery, and some charity associations. They had to have some occupations related to the Halacha, the religious code: bakers, butchers and shoemakers. At the end of the 16th century and the following years the presence of a scholar rabbi and of a community leadership required recognition by the authorities.

This is confirmed by documents from 1620 and 1666. The Prof. N. Grigoras wrote: “Since the majority of the Armenian population and later on the Jewish one, lived in cities and were involved especially in crafts and trade, the Armenian and Jewish guilds had a predominant economic character and their organizations resembled those of the local craftsmen and dealers…”[6]

The purpose of these guilds was…. “to defend their own economic interests and their linguistic and religious privileges.”[7] Consequently the Jewish guild was the community representation with the authorities. The rights and the obligations of the guild were established by a decree. This kind of royal document dated 1622 can be found in the archives of Dr. M. A. Halevy.

Gheorghe Gibanescu mentioned in two lines a decree given to the Jews of Iasi by Ilias Alexandru Voivode in 1666.

The pastorate of renown Rabbis such as Natan Nata Hanover, Petahia Lyda and in particular the great Rabbi “….the teacher Arie Leib, son of our teacher Rabbi Shmuel, blessed be the memory of the righteous, died on 7 Nissan 5438,” i.e. on 30 March 1671, confirmed the existence of a stable, organized community.[8] The existence of the Jewish cemetery in the Ciurchi quarter of Iasi implies the presence of a burial society – Hevra Kadisha – which was not a guild of undertakers, but a benevolent association of prominent members of the community which undertook the mitzvah, the supreme charity, and the funeral ceremony. We have information on some of these volunteer pious men, entitled “aluf,” which translates as “leader, champion, chief.” Here we mention some of them: Naftali Hirt, son of Itzchak Rozes of Lvov, deceased in August 1676, Baruch, son of Moshe, deceased in December 1677.

The cultural life of that time is primarily illustrated by the presence of prominent personalities, Rabbis who gathered around them a group of people that engaged in studies and debates of biblical, talmudic or cabalistic subjects. These groups did not reach the quality or quantity of the great European communities but had a significant role in preserving traditions and in developing ideological debates. An Arroyo - kabalist, scholar, physician and philosopher - could not live four decades in a backward spiritual environment. Rabbi Natan Nata Hanover, famous as historian, lexicographer and mystic, was born in Krakow about 1620. In “Ieven Metzulah” he brings an eyewitness account of the Khmelnitzky slaughters. He held Rabbinic office in Iasi between 1652 and 1670. He was killed in Poland during a pogrom. In Iasi he wrote the lexicographic work “Safa Berura” (“Clear Language”) and the collection of mystical prayers “Sha'arey Zion,” which has often been republished. (One edition was published in Iasi in 1843 by the Gheorghe Asachi printing house.) Also important is the Rabbinate of the Great Rabbi Arie ben Shmuel. Also to be mentioned are the names of several scholars entitled “more horaya” (teacher of the Law), perhaps heads of a “yeshiva” – institute of advanced religious studies, like Meir ben Moshe, deceased in April 1661, the young scholar Iacov Copl, son of the scholar Meshulam Feivish, deceased in April 1681. Other scholars are mentioned on the tombstones of close relatives. That proves the existence of an authentic spiritual environment.

As to the cultural aspect of the people, let's not forget that all Jewish children learned to read the Hebrew prayers and translated them into Yiddish, at least the Pentateuch and its commentaries. Many of them also studied the popular Talmudic dissertation “Pirkei Avot,” in daily speech called “Peirik,” along with the traditional Book of Esther (“Megilah”) for Purim, Haggada for Pesach, and the “Ecclesiastes” (“Cohelet”), Ruth, Eikha and some stories about the Prophets. Writing of Hebrew characters was less common, especially among women. However, no commerce or practice of certain professions can be imagined without the study of elements of calculation.

The enlightening sermons of the rabbis or of some of the professional traveling preachers completed the spiritual landscape of the common people up to the beginning of the 18th century.

In the following years, as books became cheaper, they became more accessible to larger groups of the population.

In the rabbinical texts of the 17th century we find a lot of information regarding the commerce of Moldavian Jews - that is to say Jews from Iasi – with Poland and Turkey as well as news about the Jewish craftsmen.

Another source that is worth mentioning is the old Jewish cemetery in the Ciurchi neighborhood of Iasi that is mentioned by the Moldavian chronicler of 1711. This cemetery was used until 1881, when the cemetery in Pacurari was established. In 1943 – after the destruction of the old cemetery – 23,700 corpses were dug out, indicating the economic and cultural development of the Jews of Iasi. The preserved inscriptions indicate some of the occupations of the Jews of Iasi in the 17th century. Commerce was a main occupation: It is mentioned that a Jew from Iasi bought 800 fur caps from Liov (Lvov). There are many examples; Iasi was exporting raw materials (including skins) and importing manufactured products. The need for the development of certain handicrafts was necessary and the Jews responded to that need to a certain extent.

The demographic and historic development during the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century

Statistics provide important data regarding the population of Iasi in general and its Jews in particular. According to Gh. Ghibanescu[9] there were approximately 1,353 houses in Iasi – 65 belonging to Jews, 30 owned by converts and 33 owned by Christians married to Jewish women. These are figures for the year 1755. The same source also mentioned the professions of some Jews: Shmil the silversmith, Moisei the cantor, Isac Hahambasha, the administrative leader of the community and two other famous rabbis. There was Marco – former leader, Samson – old clothes dealer, converted, Ioan the cap maker, converted, David the goldsmith, Neculai, converted, servant at the Metropolitan Church. At that time the total population of Iasi was growing. The Register of taxable subjects of 1803 lists 367 Jews “that pay for the whole month.”

Verax[10] calculated the number of Jews in Iasi: In 1803 – 2420 people; in 1820 – 4,396 heads of families; in 1831- 17,570 people. From other sources we find that in Iasi in 1808 there were 432 Jewish “Raia” families with 1,822 members (ed. note: inhabitants of the Romanian territories compelled to pay taxes) and 142 Jewish “Sudit” families (582 people) (ed. note: settled foreigners who were exempt from taxes) of Russian and German origin. In 1821 Iasi had 4,654 Jewish tax payers.

“The Census of the inhabitants of Moldavia in 1831” served as the baseline document for all subsequent censuses and is also of great value for the history of the Jews. At the turn of the 19th century the economic role of the Jews of Iasi, both in commerce across the borders and as small shopkeepers, was a positive one, as they were considered “indigenous subjects,” paid high taxes and were “merchants and publicans” – according to Dimitrie Cantemir (he also noted the fact that the Jews could only have wooden synagogues).

In 1711, when Dimitrie Cantemir was forced to retreat from Russia, the disorder created by the war caused a lot of damage to the Iasi economy, also affecting the small Jewish community. In addition to that, the Tatar invasions, the famine and epidemics – all during the third reign of Mihai Racovita – brought suffering and instability. Moreover, the greedy Greek Prince Mihai Racovita staged, during Passover of 1716, an alleged ritual killing. Consequently he tortured the alleged guilty persons and extorted a huge ransom from the Jews of Iasi.

These abuses contributed to his banishment.

Constantin Mavrocordat, who ruled in Moldavia intermittently between 1739 and 1749, was just slightly more moderate. However, he introduced some discriminatory measures too, for example forbidding Jews from having Christian servants younger than 30 years old.

The Jewish community of Iasi continued to suffer in the following years. It is a known fact that Ioan Mavrocordat robbed the Jewish families and Matei Ghica (1750-1756) adopted discriminatory measures. The great fire of 1779 destroyed the street Ulita Mare where many Jews were living. During Alexandru Mavrocordat's reign (1782-1792) many Jews were banished from their villages and settled in Iasi, creating big problems for the citizens of Iasi.

The events in a disintegrating Poland brought Jewish refugees to Iasi among other places. Some of them could profit from the “protection” imposed upon Moldavia and Muntenia by Russia, Austria, Prussia and later by England, France, etc. This protection favored the “sudits,” (foreign subjects) in relation to the native inhabitants, Jews included. The sudits of all religions were exempt from paying taxes and their respective consulates defended them from administrative abuses. Over time many Christian merchants, boyars and clergymen acquired the status of sudit. Some of the Jewish sudits came into conflict with the local Jews, so they tried to build their own organization. The conflict escalated after 1796.

The Jewish population was plundered and killed by the eterists (ed. note: members of Eteria – revolutionary Greek movement of 1821). Mihai Sutu took measures to stop these crimes, defending the entire population of Iasi, including the Jews.

The beginnings of the Moldavian economic modernization imposed the development of local and foreign commerce, small and medium-sized industry, transport, and services. All of this deeply involved the Jewish population, especially in the towns. The Organic Regulations of 1831 legislated new economic and social tendencies, a legislation that would influence the development of the Jewish community.

The Jewish guild of Iasi continued to represent the Jewish population in front of the authorities and undertook the organization and the communal activities of the Jewish community of Iasi and of its institutions. The ancient charters, granted by the Moldavian princes to the Jews of Iasi, confirmed the freedom of commerce and of the trades. The guild was governed by elected leaders and was autonomous in solving its internal problems. The high official was entitled “Rosh Medina.” By agreements with the Treasury of the Department of Finance, the guild paid the collective tax of all the Jews, which it would then recover from the tax on kosher meat and similar fees. In view of the deficiencies of the state apparatus, the authorities were interested in having active Jewish community organizations that could make sure of the tax collection.

The ancient charters are only partially known, but complete texts from the 18th century were preserved in totality: The charter granted by Prince Grigore Ghica on May 21, 1741, confirms the existence of ancient charters. It determined that the elected high officials of the Jews will collect the “crupca” (“tacsia, gabela,” i.e. tax on the ritual meat), a tax that had to be paid by all Jews, “being for the benefit of all.”[11]

At that time “the leaders of the guild” and “together with the whole guild” decided to oppose any outside involvement or other abuses in the election of their own leaders. In a meeting at the Great Synagogue they decided to restore the old custom of electing a single high official, with no right to a tax exemption.[12]

The original document was written in Hebrew and signed by the leaders of the Jewish community and the representatives of the economic guilds of the Jewish artisans and merchants. Here are their names in Romanian transcription of the time: Ursul (= Berl, Bercu), Minas (= Manes), Leiba, Iosif sin Ursul (Iosif ben Dov). Following is a list of the most important persons of the community: Marcu, son-in-law of Iaacov, Lazar, son-in-law of Solomon, Leiba Hotinceanu, Leiba, son-in-law of Ursu, Cerbul (= Hers), son of Moise, another Cerbu, brother of Boroh (= Burah), Lupul Moisei (= Volv, Velvl), Smil, son of Naftule, Leiba, son of Minas, Minas, son-in-law of Leiba, David…, Biniamin…, Iancul……, Avram the tailor, Cerbul, Novac (= Noiah?), Minas from Coroca[13]. In these documents is also mentioned a certain Meier, leader of the Jews.[14] Around 1777 the community was made responsible for the crimes committed by its members: A certain Calmen Cascaval, mentally ill, injured some inhabitants of Iasi. The guild was sentenced to pay for the medical treatment and the material damage. The Court permitted the sale, by the community, of a house owned by Calman, in order to recover its expenses.[15]

The funeral inscriptions give us information about the names of some of the leaders of the Jewish guild from Iasi. High Official Shalom, son of the teacher of the Law, Meir, deceased on 25 Tishri 5489 (October 1728)[16]. The great historian Shmerl ben Shlomo died in Av 5493 (July 1773)[17]. High official Josef, son of the Rabbi Ischar Ber, died on 6 Adar 5518 (March 1758)[18]. The leader Tsvi, son of Moshe, died on 2 Shevat 5529 (January 1769). He is mentioned under the Romanized name Cerbu in a document of 1741.[19] Another high official with the same name, son of Simon, died on 26 Elul 5529 (September 1769).[20] A high leader is mentioned on the graves of his sons in 1770.[21] The high official Henemia Segal died on 13 Sivan 5530 (May 1770).[22] The rich and learned high official, the appreciated Shimon ben Baruch, died on 27 Iyar 5532 (May 1772).[23] Another high official, famous for his erudition and charity, Shlomo ben Aziel, died on 4 Adar 5587 (March 1827).[24] These few bits of information can serve as references in establishing the date of some documents.


During the pro-Turkish regime, community life of the Jews of Iasi became more complicated by the naming of a Chief Rabbi, ordered by Constantinople, who bore the Turkish title of the Bash-haham from the Ottoman. “Haham,” meaning “wise man” in Hebrew, famous erudite, person able to decide in religious matters, was used as the title for the Chief Rabbi. Prior to that, the election of a religious chief by the representatives of the community was based on the erudition, ethical personality and personal prestige of the person. The pro-Turkish regime had improperly broadened the administrative and organizational competence of the elected person and interfered in establishing the income, the tax exemption and the privileges of the new religious leader, the “haham basha.”

According to an unverifiable tradition, the first person named to this post was Rabbi Naftali ben Itzhak who, having cured some high-level Turkish dignitaries of a serious illness, was rewarded with this newly created position in 1724. He died in Constantinople without having exercised his duties. The first documented haham basha was his son, Yeshaya. He was followed by his son, Betzalel, Bezal in Romanian documents, who died on 25 Heshvan 5504 (November 1743). His son, Itzhak, Isac in the Romanian documents, occupied the post of administrator and deputy to his father in Muntenia, and then replaced his father in his post upon his death. In 1754 he had a house in Targul de Sus on Podu Hagioaiei in Iasi. His appointment was confirmed the same year.

The same Itzhak was given jurisdiction over the Jews of Muntenia. He names as his representative his brother, Yeshaya, who dies in Bucharest in 1765.

After the death of Itzhak, the guild of the Jews of Iasi tried to eliminate the monopoly of the Naftulovici family over the seat of the haham basha, and it succeeded in naming to the vacated post an erudite and venerated rabbi, Mordehai ben Moshe Haim. Alexandru Ghica Voivode appointed “… Marco the Jew … who is a scholar and knows the law according to their religion and customs….” He exempted him from taxation and he allowed him certain incomes: “… for his position as haham he can earn from weddings, engagements, divorces and from the Jews according to their customs….” He would also collect one leu from every head of household, would adjudicate disputes among Jews with the right of appeal to the Vel Camaras, the superior court for the Jews. Every year three representatives of the guild would be elected.[25]

After Mordehai's death, the position was held by Naftali, which he held until he died in 1808. Through the act of 1793, Naftulea [Naftali] was named haham basha over the whole of Moldova. In the year 1786, he received an order from the Sultan's “High-Chair” to prepare an inventory of a certain dowry, following a specific inheritance. On 17 May 1789 the administration of the Russian occupation reconfirmed him as haham basha. His son Avram took over from 1809 until his death, 12 Shevat 5573 (January 13, 1813). The position was then taken over by his youngest son, Yaakov, who was under the tutelage of his uncle Yeshaya, Shaim in Romanian documents. Yeshaya then succeeded in being named to the position of haham basha, which he held until September 14, 1834, when the post was eliminated by law. Shaim died on 8 Iyar 5600 (May 11, 1840).

Shaim often surpassed his judicial duties, since he oversaw inheritance proceedings, made legalized translations of Hebrew documents, controlled the taxation budget, kept community records, and obtained tax dispensations for his relatives. He became the feudal representative of highest authority of the Jewish population in an era that promoted the modernization of every aspect of life in the Romanian principalities.

The elimination of the position of haham basha unfortunately produced a crisis in the leadership of the Jewish community of Iasi, just when the Jewish population of the capital of Moldova was undergoing some complex quantitative and qualitative changes.[26]

Economic Life in the 18th Century and the Beginning of the 19th Century

The contribution of the Jews of Iasi to the development of commerce and trade was very important. “Trade of wine and brandy has been almost exclusively Jewish since the 17th century.”[27] “The other merchandise that filled the small Jewish shops was: tobacco, cotton, iron, rice, ropes, copper, boots, pots, salt – peasant household objects.”[28] Later trade developed with the large Galician center of Brody. Some Jews of Brody settled in Iasi and built their own synagogue. G. Zane remarked, “Even before the 18th century, a determining role in the commerce of Moldova has been attributed to the Jews, or at least of Iasi.”[29]

Some foreign travelers, such as the Hungarian Mikes Kelemen in 1739 and the Greek Katsaitis Marcos Antonios in 1742, attest to the Jewish importance in the commerce of Iasi. The Jewish merchants of Iasi dealt with the export and import of merchandise. Their importance grew after the peace treaty of Kuciuk Kainardji of 1774, when the Turkish monopoly over the Romanian commerce decreased.

Let us take a detailed look at the occupations of the Jews of Iasi. In 1777 there are the shops of the Jewish silversmiths Iosef and Moise. In 1793 “the Bear,” the Jew from the town of Tirgul de Sus “the Upper Market,” took over a brewery in Podu Ros with “… a few houses paying 350 lei.” It was to be inherited by his son Leib in 1817.

The Jewish bakers and pretzel makers knew how to respect certain ritualistic stipulations. There is a Jewish pretzel maker in 1774, according to information in the documents of that time.

Jewish haymakers had their own guild in 1820. By 1831 the number had grown to 59.

Bricklayers had their own synagogue in the 19th century (in 1838, on a street later named the Functionarilor (Clerks') Street).

Jewish watchmakers were held in high esteem. In 1763 there was an Aron, famous in the trade. In 1764 a watchmaker came from Ham Tatar. In 1762 a Jew Danila worked for Boyars (nobility). In 1794, the shop of the watchmaker Moise from Ulita Mare (Big Street) was valued at 375 lei.

Some carriage makers were also known, among whom an Aron Subar was working in 1798.

The Jewish hatters were especially sought after in the population of the city. In 1777 the master Vigder worked for the family of the boyar Iancu Canta. The Samaria Jew “… works for the manor-house and receives 3,800 lei.” The guild membership was strengthened in 1796, when it opened its ranks to tailors.

There were many shoemakers in Iasi in the beginning of the 19th century. They had their own guild, and their leadership (Pinkas) was strengthened on Tuesday 5 Av 5569 (July 18, 1809) by the renowned Iasi Rabbis Apter Rav and Zvolever Rav. The statutes set the rules for relationships among masters, apprentices, piece workers and other workers. There were rules governing different aspects of family life and respect for rituals. There were rules for electing the leadership of the guild, disciplinary measures to be taken against infractions, and dates were set for communal festivals. The guild's synagogue was still functioning in 1829. In 1831 there were in Iasi four Jewish master shoemakers and 145 Jewish bootmakers (for peasants and modest workers).

The Jewish tailors guild still existed in the year 1797, being united with the hatters. Its register was renewed in 1814.

“Doftors,” or rather popular doctors, also existed in small communities. Certain dignitaries had Jewish learned doctors. In 1774 a doctor Iosap was registered. A Jewish woman doctor practiced in 1798. In 1803 Doctor Meier was remembered; in 1820 – Doctor Avram. Zelig Rosenkrantz was known in Iasi in 1824 and it was known that he came from Galicia some 10 years earlier. He was 27 years old, he dressed traditionally and he was considered a “Jew doctor.” In 1832 a “Doctor Perit” leased the Scolbalteni Estate. Soon thereafter cadres of Jewish doctors with superior medical schooling appeared and contributed to the development of the medical school of Iasi.

In 1845 there were many Jewish barrel-makers and coopers. Their number rose to 62. As early as 1737 Cerbul the Jew was exempt from paying taxes because he made barrels for members of the nobility.

In 1774 there was a lantern maker named Avram. Jewish masters worked on lamp-posts to light the streets of Iasi in the next century.

Jewish butchers strictly adhered to all ritual laws. They were bound by tenant's taxes, to the demands of the haham and to some abusive measures of the local authorities.

The role of Jewish musicians (fiddlers) is recognized in Romanian folklore music. In 1741 a Solomon Tambalaru complained that two horses were stolen from him. Supposedly his troupe was traveling with the carriage through the country. Their guild also had its own synagogue.

Jewish seal engravers were renowned. An Iancu Pecetaru also worked on crafting pieces of precision mechanics.

Jewish stonecutters were not lacking either; in 1704 there was mention of a Jew who worked at Repedea, the quarry.

Under the name of glass-man were merchants and/or glaziers who went to people's homes to install glass. In 1774 there were four Jewish glass-men in Iasi. In 1778 a glass-man named Isac sold 66 glass panes to a certain boyer, which of course, he also installed.

Jews also play an important role in the transportation of merchandise. In 1820 “for ordinary needs one still goes … to the Jewish carriages, real stage-coaches that travel from Iasi to Galati.”[30] In the year 1845, in Iasi, there were 79 “Jewish waggoners, carriage drivers and coachmen.”[31] In 1828 a French traveler figured that in order to travel from Iasi to Leipzig it was more comfortable to use the Jewish carriages than to wait by the Danube for the ship from Vienna.[32]

The role of Jewish artisans in the development of small industries of the time is well known. Some produced alcoholic drinks. Jews were accused because the spirits produced in the distilleries encouraged alcoholism and decreased their import. As early as 1737, Grigore Ghica exempted the Jew Cerbul from Iasi, the son of the doorkeeper, from paying taxes “because he made vodka for the nobles.”

Jews were pioneers in the paper industry of Hirlau and in the production of gunpowder; they were the first to manage steam mills and mechanical workshops. They were also first to create the modern organization of credit, insurance companies, postal service, etc.

[Pages 29-39]

Moments from the Modern Era

The Interim Years 1831-1869

The dissolution of the Ottoman monopoly over Moldavian commerce – beginning in the year 1774 and formally ending with the peace pact at Adrianopol in 1828, led to a modernized economy, a stronger relationship between cities and towns and contributed to the progress of existing urban settlements and the founding of new localities. In the county of Iasi new settlements were created – Podu Iloaiei (1818), Bivolari (1834), Sculeni, Poieni – all with an overwhelming Jewish population. The Jewish population in older cities also grew: Hirlau, Targul Frumos and, naturally, Iasi. The census of 1831 confirms that there were 17,570 Jews, the one of 1838 – 29,052, and in the year of the Union, 1859, there were 31,015 Jews living in Iasi.

This demographic growth occurred in the backdrop of the general demographic growth of the localities, although there were grave and frequent discriminatory measures taken by the ruling lords, such as Mihai Sturza, known for his pecuniary greed. Some social strata – the small mushrooming Christian bourgeoisie, anchored in various occupations – also applied certain pressures. Civil servants demonstrated hostile attitudes, abuses, and acts of corruption. Their real aim was usually to extort money from the Jewish merchant or craftsman. The vagrant law, for example, caused expulsions of many “vagrant hobos” – who in fact were clerks or craftsmen, with their own homes inherited from their parents. The abuse was redeemed through corruption.

The romanticist participants to the Movement of 1848 had on their program “the gradual emancipation of the Moldavian Jewry.” Regardless of their intentions, this remained a simple case of wishful thinking and never became a reality, as concluded by the French historian, Prof. Carol Iancu.

The Organization of the Community

The dissolution of the “Jewish guild” demanded a new form of organization. When the new city councils were created, Jews were able to participate in their leadership. After some time, the mushrooming bourgeoisie got rid of “foreign” competitors and, of course, the foreign citizens. The system of collecting taxes from every resident gradually lessened the interest of the authorities in the organization of the Jewish community. Neither was the Jewish population of Iasi able to escape the inertia. The Jewish foreign subjects, being exempt of paying taxes before the changes, tried to organize their own taxing union, with their own haham; however, the new fiscal rules of the treasury forced them to pay the general tax like everyone else.

In 1824 Marco Marcovici and Volf Moscovici were leaders of the native Jews. Solomon Rozenstein was the leader of “Camara gospod” (the financial department). A document of 1826 was signed by Moise sin Eliezer, leader in Iasi. On September 16, 1830 the authorities offered the leadership of the community to some of their prominent persons: Zisu Caufman, Hascal Botosaneanul, Leiba Asler, Nahman Botosaneanul, and Leiba Carniol. In 1831 the Jewish guild, headed by Iancu sin Leiba, informed the treasury that it could not pay, at that time, the debt of 4,000 gold coins from past years, since the occupying Russian army charged them large sums of money.

In 1831 the banker Michel Daniel was charged with forming a leadership committee of the community. He tried to attract the famous Iancu Leiba and other respected members of the community. But most of them declined the offer for personal reasons.

The economic and administrative modernization raised many problems for the Jewish population. Several Jewish leaders, influenced by the rationalistic ideas of the haskala (enlightenment), agreed in 1849 to form a committee of leadership of the Jewish community of Iasi. The overseers were: the banker Israel Haim Daniel, his son Michel, the pioneer of modern credit in Moldova, Leiba Cana, great merchant and banker, prominent merchants such as Isac Wexler, Naftuli Caufman, Solomon Herman, Moise Hers Cahana, Simon Saraga, Simon Leib Schwarz and the famous banker and businessman Leibis Mayorhoffer. In spite of the new leadership stability was not achieved. The situation got worse due to the unstable economic and legislative situation in the second half of the 19th century.

An article in the Hebrew newspaper Hamagid from Lyk[33] mentions that after 1829 the Jewish community of Iasi was to be governed by leaders confirmed for 3 years by the country's Government. These leaders had almost unlimited authority. They were even permitted to decide civil cases among Jews.

An analysis of the existing historical information of this period leads to the conclusion that the situation of the Jews of Iasi was more favorable than that of the Jews of Galicia, which perhaps explains the demographic development, as well as the abundant information contained in the documents of the time and in pages of Romanian literature.

The Jewish community had the obligation to organize its own institutions. The meeting of the leaders of 6 March 1855 decided that the elections for the community's committee would be done through the 23 leaders of the Jewish economic guilds. Twenty-two – representatives of the community would be added to help them – appointed by the local authorities. The election would take place every two years at the community's headquarters. The elected leaders would be recognized by an official document.
Later on the budget of the community's Administration would have to be approved by the Administrative Council of Moldavia.

The elected leaders didn't manage the financial difficulties and their activity stagnated. The elections took place every two years in spite of the stagnation. There are minutes preserved from the elections of 1861 and 1863. The elected leaders would appoint the administrators of the schools and institutions, follow their activities, check the finance of the community, and have the right to introduce new taxes…

The years went by and the activity of the community oscillated because the elected officials were not prepared to work permanently for the well-being of the community. We can say that after 1866 the management of the community was inoperative.

The Sudits

A few decades after 1774 – “sudits” (foreign subjects), mainly Russians, but also Austrians, Prussians, later French and English, living in Moldavia, presented difficult problems to the country – while Jewish “sudits” increased the difficulties of the Jewish community. Having certain privileges – a result of the Kuciuk-Kaindargi peace – tax exemptions, consular jurisdiction, the “sudits” were at times in a situation more favorable than the natives.

In 1820-1821 there were 1451 Christian and 484 Jewish foreign subjects living in Moldavia.

The Jewish Sudits used their privileges in contact with the Jewish Community.

Thus, in 1796 Jewish Russian subjects refused to pay the increased ritual meat tax. A compromise was finally reached. Frequent confrontations took place, but ultimately the Sudits integrated themselves within the general organization of the entire Jewish population of Iasi.[34]

The Economic Life

After 1831 the Jews of Iasi continued their intense modernization of the economic activity. “The technique of the Jewish commerce is intended to bring in the clients… The Romanian shopkeeper waits for the customer to enter his shop, according to the traditional method, conducting a quiet life with many parties.” The Jewish commerce was innovative and encountered “…hostility from the traditionalists. The Jews strive to increase their current clientele and for the development of a new one by stopping and tempting those that pass nearby and by lowering prices.”[35]

“The Jewish merchants are disciplined and cautious and they put new products on sale, for example rabbit skins.”[36]

As for tradesmen, we mention Gheorghe Asachi's finding that the graduates of the Trade School in Iasi, which was intended to encourage trading amongst the non-Jews, did not turn to the trades, but instead took low paying employment.

Some demographic data helps us to better grasp the economic structure of the Jews of Iasi in the studied period. In 1832 – from the total population of Iasi of 48,314, the Jews numbered 17,032 – as noted by E. Negruzzi in the study Populatie si societate (“Population and Society”) vol. I, published in Cluj in 1972.

In 1844, there were 6,168 Jews listed in the census, namely: 2,073 merchants, 2,219 tradesmen, 860 journeymen and servants. Other professions were: kosher butchers – 5, teachers – 30, rabbi – 1, clerk – 1, cantors – 6, rabbi assistant – 1, grave diggers – 4, secretary – 1.[37]

In 1851, 1,169 Jewish merchants and 1,430 tradesmen of various professions were active in Iasi. Journeymen and servants were only 606.[38]

The Jewish economic guilds continued to exist as professional unions, defending the interests of the guild members. In 1885 there were 23 Jewish guilds in Iasi, namely: brass workers and bricklayers, grocers, coopers, butchers (their leader was M. Rozenstein), innkeepers, tailors (leader: Iosap sin Markovici). There were also harness makers, saddlers, carters, bakers, musicians, hatters (leader Fishl), shoemakers (Hevra Sandlers), street vendors, carpenters (leader Aron), fur and cap makers, upholsterers, old-clothes dealers, money changers, house painters and five leaders with no guild mentioned.

In 1845 more than 2073 Jews were involved in 11 different fields of commerce, “overrepresented in some of them.”[39]

The contribution of the Iasi Jews to the modernization of Moldavia was not political but of an economical nature, evidently efficient and noted by the researchers of the specified historical period.

The Cultural Life

In the first half of the 19th century the cultural life was dominated by two important trends: the Hassidism, the popular one, and the Haskala, the enlightened one, specific to the Jews of Southeast and Eastern Europe.

The Hassidic Movement

An ancient local tradition indicates that the Baal Shem Tov, the father of the Hassidic Movement, might have been born on Moldavian territory, in the north of Bucovina. In reality he was born in Galicia near the border with Bucovina. It is very possible that during his wanderings in the Carpathians he might have reached the surroundings of the town of Piatra Neamt. However, it is definitely known that the Hassidic movement became popular in Moldavia, especially in Iasi, around 1775. Here the “tzadik” Arie Leibish Volcinsker was rabbi for some time, then departed for the Holy Land and left his son Iosef Ioshke as rabbi.

Between 1805 and 1813 the Rabbinical leadership of the Iasi community was held by “the famous Apter Rav,” Rabbi Avraham Iohoshua Heshl (1756-1825), nicknamed “Ohev Israel” (The Lover of Israel) – after the title of his main work. He kept in touch with the Iasi Community even after his not so voluntary departure. His influence competed for a while with that of the Hassidic Movement BABAD.

It is intriguing that the above mentioned movement – which promoted the intensive study along with the profound, authentic religious way of life and the picturesque popular behavior – could find an interest in the Jewish masses of Moldavia, which were characterized by their piety and observance of ritual regulations. Later the BABAD movement established roots in the whole of Moldavia – where synagogues appeared bearing the name of the movement, or HABOD in the local Yiddish phonetics. The adherents of the movement were called “habotnics,” hence the appearance in the Romanian language of the word habotnic, meaning pious or fanatic.

In 1813 the famous Tzadiks (venerated Hassidic Rabbis) Levi Itzchak Bardichever, his son Itzchak from Pikow, Rabbi Chaim from Moghilev, also known as Reb Chaim Czernowitzer, met at a rabbinic wedding in Iasi. The later also held rabbinic office in Botosani. On Friday night they worshiped in the ancient Sinagoga Mare (Great Synagogue, inaugurated as such in 1670). Here 2000 Hassidim gathered to meet them, denoting the importance of the meeting.

Another great Rabbi, Zvolever Rav, held office in Iasi until 1831. A synagogue on Cucu Street was named after him and continued to exist until 1944, when it was bombed. Between 1837 and 1853 Litiner Rav, whom the people called “Baal Nes” (miracle maker), held office in Iasi.

The Iasi Community was of a great importance in the Principalities. That can be seen in the documents which mention the visit to Iasi of the tzadik Israel Rujiner, the founder of the Sadagura center. He was hosted by the banker Michel Daniel and thousands of Jews came from Moldavia to Iasi to receive his blessing. It is known that the followers of Israel Rujiner founded Hassidic communities in Stefanesti, Buhusi, Adjud and Galati.

The importance of the Moldavian Hassidic movement is also seen in the domain of typography. Between 1842 and 1843 a number of Hassidic books in Hebrew and Yiddish were printed at Gheorghe Asachi's printing house “Albina.”

Since the import of religious books was profitable, it lasted for awhile. Later, a group of Jewish leaders formed a partnership with Gheorghe Asachi, providing him with types and specialized typesetters. After awhile T. Codreanu's printing house also printed prayer books in Hebrew.


The rationalistic, reforming, secularizing movement of the Jewish enlightment, the Haskala, appears in a restricted circle in the second third of the 19th century. It was founded in Germany by Moses Mendelssohn. It had its beginnings in the 18th century. In Germany Haskala led to assimilation or baptism, a reform that was brought about by economic and cultural modernization.

Haskala spread into Central and Eastern Europe, the Habsburg Empire, Poland, Ukraine, the Romanian states, etc.

In the areas we are dealing with, Haskala stressed the importance of knowing the German language, perfecting the reading and writing of the Romanian language, and the establishment of Jewish primary schools. These schools offered the study of Torah and Jewish prayer, as well as secular studies following the curricula of Romanian schools. In Iasi the watchmaker Uhrman was a maskil (supporter of the Haskala ).

In 1847 some reformers tried to wear European suits (“German clothes”), but throngs of the pious demonstrated against them. These reformers (Finckelstein) were also the pioneers of the first modern schools, which, along with traditional studies, taught the curriculum of modern Romanian schools.

Jewish school reform in Iasi would have to wait another decade to score its first success. Even the attempt of a newspaper in Yiddish and Romanian did not last for more than eleven issues.

Beniamin Schwarzfeld (1822-1896) played an important role in the creation of modern Jewish schools. Father of the well-known historians and journalists Moses, Wilhelm, and Dr. Elias Schwarzfeld, he was a scholar and an inspiring force in the cultural development of the Jewish population of Iasi.

Moritz Schwartz contributed greatly to the area of teaching. He was a school headmaster and inspector, as well as the author of many teaching manuals that were used in state-run schools. The troubadour Velvl Zbarjer-Ehrenkranz was also well known. Originally from Galicia, he was an author, composer and interpreter in Yiddish and Hebrew. He was a popular rhapsodist who performed at weddings and family gatherings, holidays, and at restaurants and summer gardens in Jewish neighborhoods.

Zbarjer also satirized aspects of Hassidism of questionable authenticity in tzaddikism, the abuses of the wealthy, and immoral behavior. He was much appreciated in Iasi – he was in fact a precursor of Avram Goldfaden, the creator of the professional, permanent, modern, educational Yiddish theater. The creation of modern Yiddish theater was an important moment for the world Yiddish culture of the 19th century. It should be noted that Yiddish theater began in the “Pomul Verde” [The Green Tree] summer garden, which became famous in the history of the city of Iasi.

In the domain of learning, the publication of two Hebrew books is to be noted. The first, in a moderate rationalist spirit was “Darca shel Tora” (“The Way of the Torah”) by Zvi Mendel Pineles of Galati (1806-1871). It was published in Iasi in 1864 by the Hersh Goldner Printing House. The banker and scholar from Iasi, Moshe Waldberg (1829-1901), future father-in-law of the great linguist H. Tiktin, reacted along traditional lines to this publication with his own polemic work “Cakh hi darca shel Tora” (“This Is the Way of Torah”).

The development of the city of Iasi paved the way for the Jewish population towards modern culture, and a more intense and efficient enlightenment. In 1855 we see a Romanian primer printed especially for Jews by Mihail Vitlimescu, a converted Jew. A similar primer was printed in 1862 by Gusti's printing shop.

The Finkelstein enlighteners succeeded in maintaining a modern primary school in Iasi in the years 1853-1857, despite some pressure from the traditionalists, who predominated Jewish community life. The inspiring presence of Wilhelm Schwarzfeld, deceased prematurely, resulted in two Jewish schools, one in Tg. (Tirgul) Cucului, the other on Ulita Mare (the Big Street). The tendency toward the modernization of education is even more evident. In 1861 the Jews of the Pacurari district asked to have a modern school built. In 1864-1866 three such schools existed in a different district, in Podu Ros. In spite of the many difficulties, elementary education, modeled after Romanian public schools, became more widespread. Schools would become more numerous, the subject matter more diversified – all of this contributing to a widening scope of knowledge for Jewish students.

It should be noted that some maskilim from Galicia, residing in Iasi, also published in the Hebrew press of Central and Eastern Europe. Numerous letters, written in Iasi, constitute today a rich source of historical information. Despite some modernistic elements found in them, social and religious problems were dealt with along traditional lines.

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