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History of the Jews of Volyhn

by Shmuel Spector

Translated by Shalom Bronstein

This translation is dedicated to the memory of my grandmother Fannie Dimmerman Bronstein – Freyda bas Ya'akov Moshe Halevi and Ruchel Beck Dimmerman - Ostrog 1892 – Philadelphia 1919

When describing Volhyn we include the region of the Polish administrative district between the two world wars with the addition of Kamien Koszyrski and some settlements bordering on the Sarny region. In all probability the name Volhyn derives from the name of a Slavic tribe – the Volhynim - that lived in the area of the Bug River.

From the 10th century the Russian Kingdom of Kiev ruled the area. In 988, Prince Vladimir the Great founded the city of Vladimir (known by Jews as Ludmir) and placed one of his sons there. Later, the rest of Volhyn was divided among the Russian princes. The kings of Poland attempted to conquer western Volhyn and make the Russian princes their vassals. Prince Roman Mastislovitz (1170-1205) conquered the principality of Halych and established a large kingdom that stretched from the Carpathian Mountains in the south, the city of Brest-Litovsk in the north, from the region of Chelm in the west and close to the banks of the Dnieper in the east. The Tatar invasion in 1240 led to the decline of the Volhyn-Halych princedom. Only a few fortified cities such as Ludmir withstood the onslaught and devastation.

In 1319, the Lithuanian prince Gedymin conquered Volhyn and appointed his son Lobert, who established his residence in Lutsk, to rule the area. Casimir the Great, the King of Poland, captured the Halych area in 1340 effectively putting an end to the Volhyn-Halych principality. The Poles continued to claim the entire Volhyn region and these claims ceased only with the annexation of the region by the Polish crown according to the Union of Lublin in 1569. The Poles converted the region to the Voivodship (province) of Volhyn and placed Prince Alexander Chartoriski in Lutsk as the first Governor (Voivodie) of the Region. The region was divided into three districts: Ludmir, Lutsk and Kremnitz. A governor (starosta) was appointed for each district. The Lubomyl-Ratna district was not incorporated into Volhyn but remained a part of the Ziemia Chelmska region.

In order to win over the loyalty of local nobility, which was mostly of Russian origin, they were given the same rights as the Polish nobility. Likewise, they were given estates and granted vast tracts of land. Those who were interested in developing and profiting from their holdings invited city-dwellers, among them Jews, to settle here. In Volhyn the prominent families of magnates were Ostrogski, Wisniowiecki, Lubomirski, Sanguszki-Koshirski, Kisyel and Radziwill.

During the Chmielnicki rebellion, in the middle of the 17th century, Cossack armies, gangs of rebelling peasants and bands of Tatars destroyed most of the towns of Volhyn. During the Swedish wars in the first half of the 18th century, settlements in Volhyn were again assaulted. In 1795, at the first partition of Poland, Volhyn came under Russian rule, which established the Guberniya of Volhyn with Zhitomir as its capital.

The Jews from Their Arrival until the “Union of Lublin” 1569

The origins of Jewish settlement are obscure. It is possible that in the 11th century, after the merger of the area with Kievan Russia in the 10th century, Jews began to settle there. Of Babylonian-Byzantine origin, most came from the southeast, from the Kiev Princedom. This foundation was well established until the 16th century when Ashkenazi Jews began to overtake them. The first clear evidence of Jewish presence is from 1171. It speaks of R' Benjamin the philanthropist of Volodymyr who arrived in Koln, Germany for business purposes. Because of an accusation lodged by a quarrelsome Christian woman against him and his friend they were both put in jail. After paying a bribe part of which was contributed by local Jews they were freed.

In 1213 the princedom was led by Vladimir Daniel Romanowitz who invited foreigners to settle in his territory; one can suppose that among them there were also Jews. This is deduced from information dating from 1259 stating that when Chelm, which was in the territory of Vladimir's princedom, was founded foreigners, including Jews were invited to settle there. The prince of Ludmir, Vladimir Vasilkowitz died in 1288 and in the ancient funereal chronicle it states: “Many of the residents of Vladimir wept over him, men, women, children, Germans, people of Suraz and Novgorod and Jews who wept as they did when Jerusalem fell and they were carried into Babylonian captivity . . .” It can be assumed that the number of Jews at that time was rather small and it decreased in the wake of repeated Tatar incursions.

The period of unrest continued during Lithuanian rule until the last quarter of the 14th century. On 1 July 1388 Prince Vitovt (Witold) the Great granted the Jews of Grodno, Brisk, Drohiczyn, Lutsk and Vladimir a Declaration of Rights. Similar to the privilege granted by Boleslaw of Kalisz and the princes of Silesia and Bohemia, this confirmation of rights was adapted to the conditions that prevailed in Lithuania. It stated that Jews were a class by themselves, having an independent status like that of the gentry and nobility. Thus, those harming Jews would receive the same punishment as that meted out to those who harmed nobles. It was further established that the Jews were the subjects of the Grand Prince and authority to judge them was granted to him or to his officials. Jurisdiction in internal matters was in the hands of the Jews themselves. From this Charter of Rights and the Charter granted the Jews of Grodno in 1389, it is possible to learn that at that time Jews were involved in commerce, money-lending against pledges (pawnbrokers), production and sale of alcoholic beverages, petty crafts and agriculture while wealthy Jews engaged in tax farming. The text of the Declaration of Rights of Vitovt has come down to us through a document authorized by King Sigismund I in 1507.

From the 15th century on the number of references to Jews in Volhyn increases. They are mentioned again in Ludmir, Lutsk, Lyuboml (in the years 1370-1382), Ostrog in 1447, Kremnitz in the beginning of the 16th century and Ratno in 1516. King Wladyslaw Jagellon granted rights to the Jews of Lutsk in 1432 that were similar to those given the Jews in Krakow and Lwow.

In 1495 a crisis took place in the life of the Jews. For religious and economic reasons (numerous debts owed to Jews) the Grand Prince of Lithuania expelled his kingdom's Jews, confiscated their property and distributed it among the city dwellers. It can be assumed that many of those expelled did not move far settling temporarily in Lyuboml, Ratno and other areas that were then under rule of the Polish crown. We know of some Jews, particularly the wealthy, who converted to Christianity in order to escape the expulsion order. Among them was Sania of Ludmir, a wealthy tax-farmer and landowner.

Eight years later in 1503, Prince Alexander permitted the Jews of Lithuania to return to their land. He anticipated a large influx of Germans that would lead to the development of the cities, but his hopes were not realized. The city-dwellers were required to return confiscated Jewish property to its owners. However, in a number of places it was not done quickly and litigation on this matter continued for many more years. Jews were given permission to return because this was a period of transition to mercenary armies. Jews were required to provide the prince's army with 1,000 horsemen. A few years later in 1505, this obligation was replaced with a tax and this eventually developed into the head tax. Jews were also obliged to pay taxes to local city authorities.

By the mid 16th century there were Jewish communities in Horochow, Klewan, Lokacze, Miedzyrzecz, Niesuchojeze, Stepan and other places. According to the estimate derived from the Volhyn head tax in 1565 some 3,000 Jews lived in thirteen communities. For example – Ludmir had 600, Lutsk and vicinity counted 1,000, Ostrog and vicinity had 1,000 and Kremnitz and vicinity had 300.

Involvement in the return Jews brought cooperation with the communities of Lithuania to protect their own interests. In 1540 in the presence of King Sigismund I, the Jews of Poland accused the Jews of Lithuania of moving to Turkey with their possessions, purchasing and kidnapping Christian children, circumcising them and smuggling them to that country. In order to refute that accusation a delegation of Jews from Grodno, Brisk, Ostrog, Ludmir, Lutsk and Kovel appeared before the king in Vilna (the capital of the princedom) denied the charge out of hand and even demanded an investigation. Indeed, an investigation was conducted proving before all that the accusation was false. At the same time, the king reiterated that Jews were not to be arrested without evidence and that they were to be tried in court according to the law.

Another issue that brought them into dialogue with the Jewish leaders of Lithuania concerned the division of taxes. In addition to the main tax, which was the head tax, there were further taxes collected for the treasury during the war. Taxes and the special provisions for their collection were matters to be negotiated with the king and sometimes above the heads of the Lithuanian Sejm. King Sigismund August in June 1567 halved the annual tax from 6,000 Lithuanian shok groschen (60 groschen to a shok). The head tax payment for the Jews of Volhyn that year in Lithuanian shok groschen was:

Community 1563 1565
Ostrog 600 500
Ludmir 500 300
Lutsk 550 300
Kremnitz 140 150

The total tax for all the Jews of Lithuania in 1563 came to 4,000 Lithuanian shok groschen; of this the Jews of Volhyn were obligated to pay 1,790 shok groschen, almost half. The communities of Ostrog and Pinsk paid the highest amounts. This was a period of growth for Ostrog and Prince Ostrogsky the Hetman of Lithuania established his place of residence there. A Jewish religious center also began to develop there at a fast pace.

From the beginning of the 16th century to the 1550s Magdeburg Law rights were granted to many communities in Volhyn. The struggle between the burghers and the Jews, which had been quiescent, intensified. The burghers attempted to force the major portion of the tax burden on the Jews and competed with them economically in commerce and petty crafts. The Jews defended themselves with the help of the privileges they received from the king, which accorded them economic independence reducing their tax burden to one quarter of the general tax imposed on the burghers living in the same city. In the 1560s a Jew still served as the tax farmer for the royal taxes in Volhyn and the majority of his functionaries and agents were Jews. This caused dissatisfaction both among the burghers and the nobility who then harassed the Jews in various ways. The Jewish tax-farmers complained to the king's officials. At that time, the Jews were sometimes referred to in documentation as 'master' – “pany,” they had equal rights with the burghers and in cases dealing with damages they were equal to the gentry.

Ftom the “Union of Lublin” to the Pogroms of 1648-1649

In the wake of the decision of the Sejm in Lublin regarding the 'Union' [Uniya] on 25 May 1569 and the takeover of Volhyn by the Polish crown, representatives from the nobility, the burghers and the Jews were required to come to the regional centers and affirm their agreement to the annexation by oath. The Jews who came from Lutsk and swore their allegiance were Patcholka, Joel, Mosko, Shanko and Mordecai while the Karaite representatives were Batko (Abba), Hovsha, Misin, Shanko and Valdiko. This affirmation took place on 23 June 1569. Volhyn then became districts (vaybodia) in the kingdom of Poland. Lutsk was its capital and there were three districts: Ludmir, Lutsk and Kremnitz.

The desire of the noblemen to develop their extensive estates offered the Jews ample opportunities and they began to settle in the private cities and areas under the jurisdiction of the noblemen in the royal cities. The protection the noblemen granted the Jews enabled them to overcome the opposition of the burghers. The centralization of government and power employed by King Sigismund II August, especially in the area of taxation, that had its origins during the reign of Sigismund I, helped in creating Jewish autonomy. The regional councils, the Council of the Four Lands and the Council of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were established at that time.

In 1577 the Jews of Volhyn paid the sum of 519.5 guilders as head tax. Its division among the settlements was as follows:

Ludmir District - Ludmir – 150 guilders; Trisk – 13 gulders; Olyka – 8 guilders; Miedzyrzecz – 10 guilders and Lokacze – 12.5 guilders.

Lutsk District – Lutsk – Rabbinate Jews – 76 guilders, Karaites – 40 guilders; Olyka – 8 guilders; Miedzyrzecz – 10 guilders; Stepan – 12 guilders; Murawica – 15 guilders; Beresteczko – 15 guilders and Torcyzn – 5 guilders.

Kremnitz District – Kremnitz – 100 guilders; Wisniowiec and Radziwilow were exempt from tax payments because of the damage caused by Tatars. Ostrog was also freed from tax payments for the same reason.

The period of time from the Union of Lublin (1569) to the Chmielnicki pogroms 1648-1649 was a time of progress for the Jews of Volhyn. They participated in Ukraine colonization sponsored by the noblemen. The owners of vast estates who required large sums of money to develop their holdings and maintain their expensive style of living, leased estates, towns, flour-mills, the right to distill and sell alcohol, the collection of import taxes, etc. Jews constituted a large percentage of those who leased these items. Thus, a type of leasing developed that was popularly known as arrenda. Jewish leaseholders of large areas would, in turn, sub-lease their holdings in smaller sections to other Jews. In the 17th century the leasing of alcohol rights expanded so much that the word arrenda became synonymous with whisky production. Alcohol production and its sale in taverns in the cities provoked increased opposition from the burghers. Jewish controlling interests grew as a result of the arrendas [leasing], protecting the Jewish leaseholder from competition. The nobility, which owned the leases, preferred long-term leasing as it permitted the leaseholder to invest in the property and see to its development.

Crop yields increased with the area's agricultural development. Jewish merchants exported produce to other parts of Poland as well as to foreign countries and in turn imported expensive cloth, metal products, jewelry and bulls. Jewish shopkeepers in the towns fought against the burghers who sought to restrict them either to small areas of the marketplace or to the street where Jews lived.

Data on Jewish craftsmen is sparse. First and foremost, Jews were involved in those crafts that were connected in some way to Jewish religious observance such as, butchers, tailors and weavers. But even in these, they had to compete with the tzachim, the Christian professional guilds, that among other things, sought to collect taxes from them and limit the amount of goods they were allowed to produce. Generally, the tzachim (guilds) were weak in Volhyn and so only in a few instances were they able to force their will on Jews. This happened in Ludmir in 1570 and in Kovel in 1617. Because of economic reasons mentioned above and the fact that the tzachim (guilds) were Christian religious organizations, Jews refrained from participating in them.

The Jewish life-style was influenced by life in the frontier districts and the process of settlement. The Polish writer Miczynski in his book Aspects of the Polish Crown, 1618 [Zwierciadlo Korony Polskiej] describes the Jews as ”kind and courageous people,” and says “among them are broad-shouldered young men, who are mostly Russian, Volhynian and Podolian who you see with sword, bow and rifle willingly riding on horses and if required they fight with courage and bravery.”

Economic prosperity prompted a cultural and religious reawakening. Beginning with the seventies of the 16th century prominent rabbis headed several Yeshivot in Volhyn, primarily in the oldest communities of the district. The largest was in Ostrog where the greatest scholars of the day served as rabbis: the Meharshal – Rabbi Solomon Luria (1540-1574); the SHELAH – Rabbi Isaiah Halevi Horowitz (1600-1615), the author of Shnei Luhot Habrit [the Two Tablets of the Covenant - hence his acronym]; the Meharsha – Rabbi Samuel Eliezer Edels (1615-1632); Rabbi David ben Shmuel Halevi, (1642-1648) the author of the Turei Zahav (Ta”z) [the Golden Columns – a commentary on the Shulhan Arukh], and others. There was also a Yeshiva in Ludmir headed by Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller, the author of Tosfot Yom Tov, between 1634-1643. He is the one who enacted the regulation prohibiting the purchase of the position of rabbi from gentiles [government officials] bringing it for approval before the District Council and the Council of the Four Lands. Rabbi Jacob Shor, the author of the Talmudic commentary Pilpela Harifta, Rabbi Moshe ben Yehuda Katz and Rabbi Joseph ben Eliakim, known as “Getz” all taught at the Yeshiva in Lutsk. Teachers in the Kremnitz Yeshiva included Rabbi Mordecai Jaffe, Ba'al Halevushim, Rabbi Shimshon bar Bezalel, the brother of the Meharal of Prague and Rabbi Hayim ben Rabbi Shmuel Ashkenazi. At various times, there were Yeshivot in smaller communities such as Trisk [Turzysk] and others.

Several factors contributed to the development of Jewish regional autonomy. These included the centralization of tax collection for the royal treasury, the need to divide the tax burden among the Jews in the various districts, the annual fairs and the prominent rabbis who served in Volhyn. This last aspect attracted many Jewish merchants as well as people with questions requiring rabbinical adjudication. At these gatherings attempts were made to solve inter-communal disagreements. These meetings led to formation of the Regional Councils from which in turn developed the vitally important Council of the Four Lands.

Our earliest reference of the Volhyn Council dates from December 1587. Since the Council of the Four Lands was established well before 1581 we must assume that the Volhyn Council began even before that, perhaps shortly after the Union of Lublin in 1569. The celebrated meeting of the Volhyn Council was held on 18 Iyar 5395/1635 in Wisniowiec. Delegates from the leading communities of Volhyn - Ostrog, Ludmir, Lutsk and Kremnitz participated. Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller was present at that meeting at which he raised the issue of approving a regulation that prohibited the purchase of the position of rabbi from gentiles - that is from the noblemen who were the landowners of the area or from officials of the king. That same year, the regulation was brought for approval at the meeting of the Council of Four Lands in Jaroslaw where it was adopted.

In August 1666, Ludmir community leaders appeared before the court of the fortress and requested that the resolution adopted at the District Council be entered into their records. The resolution appointed Isaac ben Ozer of Kremnitz and Aaron Zelig of Ostrog to represent the Jews of Volhyn at the meeting of the Council of the Four Lands that was to take place in Pashborsk [Przedborz?]. Book approbations indicate that District Councils took place in 1689 in Kremnitz and in 1698 in Trubitz [Targowica]. Among those signing the decisions from the meeting at Trubitz was the rabbi of Kovel indicating that at this time Kovel had become a leading Jewish community.

On 20 January 1700 the Council of Four Lands met in Horochow in the presence of an official from the royal treasury, in order to divide the 26,232 guilders head-tax for that year. At that time Volhyn included five major communities, each with smaller surrounding communities under their jurisdiction: Ostrog with 23 communities; Ludmir with 17 communities; Lutsk with 18 communities; Kovel – number of communities not specified; Kremnitz with 7 communities (an incomplete number) and two independent communities – Olyka and Dubno. At that time, Volhyn had a total of more than 70 communities. Among the sub-communities under the jurisdiction of the larger communities were several large enough to be required to pay 1,000 guilders. These included Rovno – 1,000 guilders; Miedzyrzecz-Kilekiev – 1,550 guilders; Koretz – 1,150 guilders; Zaslaw – 1,000 guilders and Polonnoye – 1,700 guilders. All of these were in the area under the jurisdiction of Ostrog. In addition there was Beresteczko – 1,050 guilders in the jurisdiction of Ludmir.

In 1703, the leaders of the Olyka community complained that the heads of the District Council did not respect their independence, did not hold meetings in their town, did not invite their delegates to attend District Council meetings and even levied taxes on them without their consent. On 10 September 1705 the Council met in Polonnoye and again chose Ephraim Fishel, the son of Arieh-Leib of Ludmir, to be the Speaker of the District. He was a well-known public figure who already served as the scribe and speaker of the Council of the Four Lands.

The Council meeting in Kozin on the 26 Tevet 5480 (1720) included the discussion of the complaint by Rabbi Shten that the leadership of his community persecuted him to the point that he was arrested and reduced to ruin. On 6 Tammuz of the same year another meeting was held, this time in Trubitz. The Council met in Beresteczko on 28 Tishrei 5499 (1738). At the 27 July 1745 Council meeting in Ostrog support for poor Yeshiva students was among the issues dealt with. This topic was discussed a year later on 5 November 1746 at Rachmanowo near Kremnitz. The Council was scheduled to meet at the end of February 1750 to discuss the decision of the Treasury Tribunal at Radom to transfer all the communities of the Oberutz region from the jurisdiction of Pinsk, which was in Lithuanian territory, to Volhyn. An invitation to attend the deliberations was sent to the community of Chernobyl, which was the largest in the District. Due to pressure from these communities, the local nobility intervened and the Council meeting did not take place. On 25 March 1758 the District Council met in Koretz and approved the decision of the leaders of Kremnitz to place eighteen small settlements under the jurisdiction of the community of Teofipol. The disagreement between the community leaders of Kremnitz and Ludmir on one side and those of Ostrog and Lutsk on the other was also addressed. There were mutual accusations concerning misuse of public funds by trustees. In order to clear the air an additional meeting was held in August of that year in Rachmanowo at which all the trustees were cleared of any guilt. At the same time, the debts of some communities were rescheduled. A few years later in 1764, the District Council of Volhyn along with all the other Councils were disbanded. Since the above description of the activity of the Council is incomplete, it should not be looked upon as a comprehensive account of the Council's work.

The Cossack revolt under the leadership of Bogdan Chmielnicki in the years 1648-1650 slowed down but did not completely end Jewish expansion in Volhyn. Cossack hordes, Tatars, as well as bands of local farmers and burghers participated in the slaughter and plunder of the Jews. The first to be attacked were communities in the furthest east under the jurisdiction of the most important community, Ostrog: Belaya Tserkov (Sde Lavan/[Schwartztumeh]), Chudnov, Luber [Lyubar] and others. A few of the survivors of these communities were given refuge in Ostrog. When the Cossacks drew close to this city their leaders declared that no Jew would remain there or in nearby Miedzyrzecz. Many, indeed, did flee while the ill and poor who could not hire wagons remained and were killed. According to Neta Natan of Hanover who was there and writes in his book Yeveyn Metzulah [Abyss of Despair] there were 600 Jewish victims. In the beginning of 1649 poor Jews returned to Ostrog but they were soon murdered in an attack on the city that took place in Adar 5409/1649.

The cup of venom was also passed to other communities: Beresteczko; Berezne; Bereznica; Dubno; Klewan; Kolki; Koretz [Korzec]; Korytnica; Kremnitz; Lubomyl; Lutsk; Ludmir; Mervitz [Murawica]; Miedzyrzecz the Larger; Olyka; Radziwilow; Rowno; Stepan and Trubitz [Targowica]. Most likely other cities were also attacked but their names were not recorded by chroniclers of that time. Even though a portion of Volhyn's Jews appear to have fled westward, it can be assumed that thousands remained in their localities or were caught fleeing for safety and were murdered. The numbers of victims recorded in the books by R' Natan Neta Hanover [Yeveyn Metzulah], R' Shmuel of Szczebrzeszyn, Zuk Hazemanim [Troubled Times] and R' Feivish ben Natan, Tit Hayeven [Place of Suffering] appear exaggerated but it is certain that the percentage of victims was not small. In addition to those murdered, we must include those who died from plagues that broke out in those places to which the refugees fled.

Until its Acquisition by the Russian Empire (1793)

The Catastrophe of 1648/1649 caused great loss of life and property. The Volhyn nobility at their conference (Seymik) held in 1653, sought to levy taxes on the Jews in order to cover the expense of the war. But they did not do this and remarked that it was not possible to collect money from the Jews since some were killed, some of their houses were destroyed, some set afire, while others fell victim to plagues and others were dispersed to various regions and districts. After the area quieted down, Jews began to rebuild their lives. The nobility and owners of cities helped in freeing people from taxes and this is testified to the Seymik [regional assembly] decision on 30 January 1662. While their material well-being was restored the same did not hold true in the spiritual realm. Most obvious was the decline in importance of the Yeshiva of Ostrog. The emergence of Shabtai Zvi made a great impression on the Jews of Volhyn. In contrast to the recent devastation, he aroused joy, hopes for the soon to come redemption and retaliation against the murderers. The disillusionment and its consequences came quickly.

Volhyn as a frontier region made it vulnerable to frequent Tatar attacks. Therefore, the obligation of Jews to participate in the defense of the community in which they lived was generally incorporated in the charters of rights granted them. This was understood to mean that they had to participate financially in the procurement of weapons and the hiring of soldiers. In the beginning of the 17th century, the Jews of Volhyn were required to construct their synagogues as fortresses with the high parapets on the roofs equipped with rifle slots. The charter of rights granted the Jews of Lutsk by King Sigismund III mandates: that they “Conduct defense and at their own expense purchase a canon and when the pagans [Tatars] attack they are to provide an adequate number of men as the situation requires to defend that place...” Fortress synagogues are preserved in Lobmyl and Lutsk but it is most probable that they were constructed in other locations as well. It was already stated above that the Jews of Volhyn were well acquainted with the use of weapons. In a question directed to the Mehar”am of Lublin it states that in one of the cities of Volhyn one Jew accidentally killed another Jew while training with a musket.

The area under the of the Council of Volhyn's jurisdiction far exceeded the territory of Volhyn proper. Prior to the Catastrophe of 1648-1649 it reached to the gates of Kiev and the area under the authority of Ostrog included Belaya Tserkov, Chudnov and others. After 1648-1649 it expanded to include the western portion of the Kiev Voivodie that was not incorporated into Russia. According to the 1747 decision of the Polish Treasury Tribunal, sections of Podolia were added with Lipowiec, Pikov, Vinnitsa and other cites coming under Ostrog's jurisdiction. As was stated above in 1750 the same court transferred the jurisdiction of the Jews of the Oberutz region that had been under the domain of Pinsk (Lithuania). The implementation of this decision was postponed a number of times. However, in the 1767 decision of the Polish Treasury Tribunal on the matter of canceling the debts of the Jews, the towns of the Oberutz region are listed as being in the District of Volhyn.

Like other District Councils, the Council of the Volhyn District was mired in heavy debt. In particular the money it owed to churches and priests outside of the region such as Zamosc and Podkamen grew. In 1767 at the meeting where the cancellation of debts was arranged the Council's debt stood at 781,542 guilders. Ludmir and its surrounding area owed 34,421 guilders; Ostrog and its surrounding area owed 76,973 guilders with the total debt coming to 892,936 guilders. At that time Volhyn had a population of 73,451 Jews.

Two individuals who headed the Council of Volhyn also led the Council of the Four Lands. The first was Efraim-Fishel the son of Arieh-Leib from Ludmir who served as a trustee from the 1670s and is noted for his distinguished service. On 18 April 1679 King Jan III Sobieski [1629-1696] granted him the title of “servant of the king (servus regis).” King August II [1670-1733] reaffirmed this title on 11 June 1699. According to the declaration granting him the title, Efraim-Fishel was given permission to live any place throughout the kingdom, to construct beer breweries and liquor distilleries on his lands in Ludmir and be judged in the king's court. Efraim-Fishel served as the trustee in the session of the District Council in Horochow in January 1700 and again at the session in Polonnoye in September 1705.

The second personage was the community leader R' Meir the son of R' Yoel from Dubno. He was elected a trustee of the Council of the Four Lands in the late 1750s, close to the time when the Councils were disbanded in 1764. This was a difficult period for the Jews because the Council of the Four Lands and the District Councils were deeply in debt. In addition, the widely circulated blood libels entailed large financial disbursements. R' Meir who was a wealthy man sent his relative R' Eliakim Zelig of Yampol to Rome. With the help of the Jews of Rome R' Eliakim was able to procure a Papal Bull against the blood libel. R' Eliakim saw to it that this Papal Bull was recorded as an official document, was translated into Polish and published in a widely distributed booklet. He expended large sums of money for this and in suits against the Council of the Four Lands and the State Council he sought the cancellation of the debts of the Jews so that he would be reimbursed with these funds.

On the eve of the Catastrophe of 1648-9, some 15,000 Jews lived in forty-six communities in Volhyn. In the 1670s there were approximately 20,000 Jews. This number continually increased until the second half of the 18th century. From then until the second partition of Poland in 1795 there was an economic decline and the number of Jews decreased. When a census was conducted in 1765 for the purpose of directly collecting the head-tax, 51,736 people were counted: 7,421 in the Ludmir District; 23,322 in the Lutsk District and 20,993 in the Kremnitz District. Since children under one-year of age, clergy and a not insignificant number of evaders were not included in the count it can be estimated that the actual number came close to 55,000. The census conducted in 1787 revealed that in the Ludmir Region there were 4,184 Jews, in the Lutsk Region there were 15,002 and in the Kremnitz Region there were about 14,000. The total number of Jews at that time comes to about 33,500 and if we add to this the Jews who were not included in the count as mentioned above, we arrive at a figure of some 37,000. In 1793, close to the second partition of Poland the Jews numbered 31,027 making up four percent of the total population.


The population and economic decline can be traced to the political unrest that prevailed in Poland on the eve of the partitions that manifested itself in internal armed struggles and the tremendous debt burden that oppressed the Jews after the Councils were disbanded.

Under the Rule of Tsarist Russia

With the first partition of Poland in 1792, a small strip of Volhyn was taken over by Austrian Galicia. In the second partition in 1793, eastern Volhyn was annexed to the Russian Empire and two years later in 1795 the western part of Volhyn also came under Russian rule. The Guberniya (Province) of Volhyn was established in 1797, with Zhitomir as its capital. It was divided into twelve districts, seven of which are included in the geographic area covered in this volume. The 1847 census of Jews in these districts follows:

Ostrog 11,584
Dubno 15,441
Ludmir 14,886
Lutsk 12,417
Kovel 9,029
Kremnitz 18,264
Rovno 15,097

In the first fifty years of Russian rule the number of Jews in Volhyn tripled. By the end of the 19th century that number doubled and according to the 1897 census there were 201,667 Jews. Volhyn was included in the Pale of Settlement. The percentage of Jews in the general population rose from six percent in the first half of the 19th century to thirteen percent by the end of that century. The limitations and prohibitions against Jews living in villages forced them to concentrate in towns and especially in cities. Thus, by the middle of the 19th century they already constituted half or more than half of the population of these towns. As in other places what was created here was the traditional “shtetl” – the Jewish town with all of its special economic, social and cultural characteristics.

At the start of the era of Russian occupation, all the privileges previously granted Jews in the cities and towns by the Polish kings were cancelled. The Jews were added to those classified as townspeople and the few wealthy people were added to the three classes of merchants. The Pale of Settlement and the travel restrictions within it made making a living very difficult for the Jews. The Russian government conspired against the whisky and inn business that supported many Jews in the 18th century. Because of this Jews were forced to turn more and more to petty trade and crafts.

In 1864, industry in the Volhyn District was small and technologically undeveloped. The numbers it employed were low. Of the 466 enterprises that were enumerated, 216 were Jewish owned. Some areas were completely controlled by Jews.

Commodity Total
Tobacco 13 13
Paper 6 5
Butter 19 15
Leather 128 95
Cloth 25 12
Candles 29 25
Soap 6 3
Paint 3 3

An important area where Jews were involved was in purchasing agricultural products and exporting them to East Prussia via the Bug and Pripet Rivers or to Odessa via the Bug and Dnieper Rivers.

Industrialization began in Russia in the 1870s and railroad tracks bisecting Volhyn were laid. Volhyn had a modest role in this. The railroad facilitated expanded development of trade between areas. In addition to exporting agricultural products, Jewish merchants started dealing in lumber from the cutting of trees, preparing the wood and exporting it in a semi-complete state to England and Germany.

In 1899 the entire Guberniya of Volhyn had 1,636 factories. Here, too, Jews played a major role.

Product Total
Sawmills 55 40
Paper mills 20 4
Flour mills 251 59
Beer breweries 40 13
Leather 161 73

Jews also owned factories producing: furniture – 6; matches – 2; china – 4; tobacco – 2; soap – 15 and bricks – 15.

About 40% of Volhyn's Jews were engaged in commerce. Of them 16% were involved with agricultural products; about 35% in skilled handicrafts and most of them, 35.2% with clothing and similar items; 17.1% were involved with leather and 13.8% with lumber.

To a limited extent Jewish financial institutions aided Jewish economic activity. Volhyn had nine Free Loan Societies [Gemach] in 1898 that provided small interest free loans. By 1912, there were about twenty mutual loan organizations, a type of co-operative bank. The capital of these funds was raised by selling shares to members who included a small number of non-Jews. At a conference of [representatives of] these funds held in Rovno in 1913 it became clear that most of them were on very shaky ground because the national bank as well as local, district and regional banks refused to assist them in their time of trouble even though they did came to come to the aid of the non-Jewish funds. Only four of the funds, those in Rovno, Ostrog, Koretz and the Volhynian Fund were financially stable. In the beginning of the 20th century branches of Jewish banks in Minsk, Kiev and other places opened in Volhyn, this along with local private banks. All of the funds and banks ceased operations in the first year of World War I.

Jewish agricultural settlements were established in Volhyn in the 1840s and 1850s, some by local residents and others by Jews who came from various communities in the Pale of Settlement. This was in keeping with the policy of Tsar Nicholas I to make Jews “productive.” According to an order issued on 13 April 1835, Jews were permitted to settle on state lands or to purchase land privately as long as it was within the Pale of Settlement. Those who settled on the land were promised that they would not have to pay taxes for twenty-five years nor would they have to serve in the army, which at that time was also of twenty-five years duration. The state lands that were offered were in northern Volhyn but of a poor quality – sandy or swampy. The settlers were not given financial aid; the Russian officials who dealt with them created bureaucratic difficulties, treated them with contempt, caused delays and even undermined their efforts. In spite of all of these and other difficulties, there were twenty-three Jewish agricultural colonies with 151 families, numbering 1,724 people in the Volhyn Guberniya in 1858. Sixteen of the colonies were established on state land, six on private land and two on estates of landowners.

In 1876 an investigative committee composed of the Tsar's officials was sent to evaluate the state of the colonies. Using the pretext that the Jews were not working their lands, the committee ruled that most of the government land should be taken away from them. This was a severe blow to Jewish colonization. In 1899 the ICA organization reported on nine Jewish colonies and the presence of Jewish farmers in five mixed villages. There were a total of 924 families numbering 4,667 people living on 56,516 dunams [14,129 acres - one acre equals four dunams]. At the end of the 19th century the expulsion of Jews from villages, but not from the agricultural settlements, began, continuing off and on until the start of 1913.


The Hasidic movement of the Besht [Ba'al Shem Tov] also spread to Volhyn where it was disseminated by the pupil and disciple of the Besht, R' Dov Baer the Maggid of Mezerich [Miedzyrzecz]. He was born on 19 Kislev 5564 (1703) in Lukach and was a Maggid in Torczyn, Koretz and Dubno and was an Admor in Mezerich and Rovno. He died in 5533 (1773) in Annopol. Rabbi Dov Baer was the author of Magid D'varav L'ya'akov [His Word is Transmitted to Jacob], Or Torah [Light of the Torah] and Or Haemet [Light of Truth]. His son Rabbi Abraham “Malakh” [The Angel] (1740-1776) continued the dissemination of Hasidism. He wrote Mishnat Hakhamim [The Scholars' Mishna] and Hesed L'avraham [Grace for Abraham]. The great grandson of Dov Baer was Rabbi Israel (Friedman) of Rizhyn [Ruzhany]. This renowned Admor was forced into exile to Bukovina, where he established the Sadagora dynasty. Another important disseminator was Rabbi Pinchas Shapira (1726-1791) who lived in Koretz and was a student of both the Besht and the Maggid of Mezerich.

In the first half of the 19th century, Rabbi Abraham Twersky settled in Trisk. He was the grandson of Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, a disciple of the Besht, and founder of the Trisk dynasty of Hasidism. On the eve of World War I, his court moved to Kovel with his sons dispersing over the cities of Volhyn and Poland. Another dynasty was established in Stepan by the Maggid [preacher] Rabbi David Halevi (d. 1810) who was related to the family of the Admor of Karlin-Stolin. He was a disciple of the Besht and of the Maggid of Mezerich and the son-in-law of Rabbi Yehiel Mikhal of Zlotchov. His descendants continued his dynasty in Stepan until 1936, when the only daughter of the family who was married to Rabbi Barukh Twersky moved to Lublin. Anther son of Rabbi David Halevi, Yehiel Mikhal Patchnik (d. 1848) was invited by the owner of the city of Brezhna to settle there. He established a Hasidic court in that town and in the beginning of the 20th century, rabbis from the Patchnik family served in Dombrovitz and Sarny. After September 1939, the last member of the dynasty, Rabbi Aaron Patchnik moved from Brezhna to Rovno. In the summer of 1942 he fled from Rovno to the forest with his family where he died in the winter of that year.

Another Hasidic dynasty was that of Nezkizh, founded by Rabbi Mordecai Shapira (1748-1800) who was one of the disciples of Yehiel Mikhal of Zlotchov. He was a 'miracle-worker' and his sayings were collected in the book Rishfe Eish [Sparks of Fire]. His first-born son, Rabbi Ya'akov Arieh (1780-1830) lived in Kovel, Nezkizh and Trisk. His son born to him in old age, Rabbi Isaac (1789-1868), was a disciple of Rabbi Barukh of Miedzyboz and of the Seer of Lublin [Ya'akov Yitzhak d. 1815]. He was influenced by Rabbi Yitzhak Levi of Berdichev and like his father was a 'miracle-worker.' He was the author of Toldot Yitzhak [The Generations of Isaac] and Zikhron Tov [Good Memory]. Descendants of this dynasty spread to Kovel, Ostila, Stovikhova, Poryck and other places.

The Olyka dynasty was established in the beginning of the 19th century by Rabbi Hirsh-Leib, the son of Rabbi Abraham Landau (d. 1812), who was the disciple of Rabbi Yehiel Mikhal of Zlotchov. He was succeeded as Admor by his son Rabbi Joseph-David (d. 1849), his grandson, Rabbi Mordecai, the author of G'dolot Mordecai [The Wonders of Mordecai] and his great-grandson Rabbi Shimshon-Shlomo who died at an early age leaving a young son. Fraydla, the rabbi's wife [rebbitzin], ran the court until the son Alter-Yosef reached the age of twelve when he was installed as Admor. He perished in the Holocaust together with his family.

Another dynasty was that of Kashivka, founded in the first half of the 19th century by Rabbi Samuel the son of Rabbi Michel Ginzburg. His son Michel, one of whose sons-in-law was the Admor Rabbi Isaac of Nezkizh, succeeded him. His son Rabbi Samuel followed him. In the beginning of the 20th century Nezkizh was in an economic decline and the Admorim [plural of Admor] moved to Rovno where they maintained a kloiz [small court] between the wars. The Ostrog dynasty lasted for only three generations. Established by Rabbi Jacob Joseph Sefarad the grandson of Rabbi Yib”i (Rabbi Jacob Joseph the son of Yehuda)[Yib”i is the Hebrew acronym of his name]; followed by his son Rabbi Eliyakim-Getzel and his grandson Rabbi Alter-Mordecai. The dynasty ended with his death in 1934.

Among those who spread Hasidism in southern Volhyn were the two sons of Rabbi Yehiel Mikhal of Zlotchov, Rabbi Mordecai in Kremnitz and Rabbi Isaac in Radziwillow.

Haskalah [Enlightenment] Education and Society

In the beginning of the 1830s through the initiative of Dr. Rotenberg of Berdichev the Society of Friends of Light and Knowledge was formed. Similar groups of intellectuals very quickly were created in Berdichev, Zhitomir, Dubno, Kremnitz and other places. Among the first and most important of these early intellectuals was R' Isaac bar Levinson (Haribal)[Hebrew acronym of his name], who was born in Kremnitz. In 1821 he returned to the city of his birth where he was active in spreading the concept of enlightenment until his death in 1860. He favored adjustments in all areas of Jewish life but especially in the area of education. In worldly matters he called for settling Jews on the land and learning trades. With his backing, a school for training teachers opened in Zhitomir in 1848. Because of this institution, Zhitomir became an important center for the spreading of enlightenment. His ideas are clearly stated in his two well-known books T'udah L'yisrael [Diploma for Israel] and Beit Yehudah [The House of Judah].

Another personage who worked hard to spread the ideas of the Enlightenment was the teacher, poet, author and editor of the periodical Haboker Or [Good Morning], Abraham Ber Gutlover. Among the other maskilim [enlightened people/intellectuals] are Dr. Solomon Mandelkern, the author of the classic Concordance of the Bible, the physician and author Dr. Kolisher, the teacher Zev Wolf Adelson and others.

The ultra-Orthodox fought tooth and nail against the spread of the Enlightenment. They especially opposed the opening of government schools for Jewish children, something that was supported by the maskilim. They succeeded in this area, as by the end of the 19th century there were only a small number of these schools. In 1898 in all of the Volhyn Guberniya, there were forty-three educational institutions for young children of which only seven were government schools paid for by the respective communities, eight Talmud Torah schools and twenty-seven private schools. The total enrollment of these schools was 2,264 boys and 490 girls. In addition, there were three trade schools enrolling sixty-three students. At the same time, there were 1,289 Hedarim [plural for Heder, the traditional one-room school] enrolling 19,698 boys, 2,124 girls and staffed by 1,502 teachers. In the beginning of the 20th century the number of private schools increased and the 'improved Hadarim,' whose number continued to grow, made their appearance. The Or Torah Yeshiva was founded in Bereznica in 1897 by Rabbi Joel Shurin, known as the Illui of Potlava [the Genius of Potlava]. A few years later, it moved to Zvihil (Novograd Volynsk) and from there to Koretz and after World War I, Rovno. Rabbi Fishel Greenberg started a Yeshiva in Ostrog in 5669 (1909).

In 1898 in the area of social welfare, the Volhyn Guberniya had nine free loan societies, eighteen hospitals, twenty-six housing shelters, seventeen societies for visiting the sick, seven wayfarers' lodgings and seven inexpensive restaurants for the poor.

Zionist activity began in Volhyn in the 1880s, when groups of Hovevei Zion [Lovers of Zion] organized. After the first Zionist Congress [1897] they became Zionist organizations. These were founded in the cities and towns of Volhyn where they spread Zionist ideas. They raised funds to settle the Land of Israel, sold shares in the Colonial Bank and worked to widen the distribution of the Zionist shekel. Rabbis also joined in Zionist activities and ultra-Orthodox opposition was inconsequential. Local Zionist organizations established and supported 'improved Hadarim'. There they taught using the Hebrew-to-Hebrew method, also learning general subjects in Hebrew. Modern Hebrew schools were a development of these schools and the Hebrew teachers were the energizing element in these Zionist institutions.

In spite of the prohibitions enacted by the government, from the beginning of the 20th century, Zionist activity increased. Most of it was conducted clandestinely notwithstanding the danger that entailed. Alongside of branches of Tz'erei Zion [Youth of Zion] groups of Poalei Zion [Workers of Zion] began functioning from 1905/6. At the Congress of Volhyn Zionists held at Miropol in 1906, Ze'ev Jabotinsky was nominated as a candidate for the second Duma that was scheduled to convene that year. Candidates were required to own property in Volhyn and to fulfill that obligation a Jew from Aleksandria registered his house in Jabotinsky's name. The Russian police conducted an investigation but two witnesses, a Jew and a Christian, were found who testified that the candidate [Jabotinsky] had lived in the city for a number of years. Zionist conferences were held in Polonnoye in 1907 and in Rovno in 1909. At the end of that year Tz'erei Zion met in Kovel. All of these meetings were illegal and held in secret. The Tsarist police detained many for questioning and numerous arrests were made thus weakening activity between 1906-1911. After 1911, Zionist activity rebounded. Dedicated Zionist workers combed the cities and towns of Volhyn and along with local volunteers revived and expanded the scope of activity. They even planned a Zionist conference in Rovno to take place in 1912 however it did not come about. In the years 1905/1906 groups of the Bund were organized but they were badly hurt by the reaction that followed.

Anti-Semitism, which increased as a reaction to the 1905 Revolution was supported by groups of 'the Russian Peoples' Party,' whose members instigated pogroms. To fight this danger Jewish self-defense groups organized. However, except for a pogrom in Zhitomir and attacks on individual Jews, Volhyn Jewry was not harmed.

Emigration from Russia that began at the end of the 19th century continued until the beginning of World War I. Assisting the immigrants was the ICA organization and for the district of Volhyn a committee representing them operated in Rovno; in other communities there were local agents. On 13 April 1911 a meeting of ICA agents was held during which they discussed the committee's activities for the year 1910, which included medical and legal aid to immigrants and the problem of exploitation of the immigrants by the smugglers who helped them cross the border. Immigration increased in 1913, especially as a result of increased expulsions from the villages. The committee in Rovno received 3,271 requests for assistance, of which 1,600 were for medical help. More than 1,000 people immigrated on their own or with the aid of relatives with the majority of them going to North America.

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