Sunday, December 30, 2012

SERIES Sephard in Ashkenaz and Ashkenaz in Sephard. The Case of Zamocz; a Sephardic Enclave in the Heart of Poland (Part I)

  A Jew in Zamocz, under Nazi occupation (photo, courtesy of Shem Olam Institute for Holocaust Studies)

 These are for the most part unedited excerpts from my upcoming book on Sephardic heritage in Eastern Europe. Please note that this is not the final product and there may be errors and such.

Jan Zamoyski, founder of the city of Zamocz who also served later as the hetman of Poland was a scion of a family of Polish magnates whose estates stretched out over a large territory and was almost a state within a state.

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This appears to be a list of immigrants to Zamocz from the Ottoman Empire. Appended to some of these names are some intriguing details. For instance, Solomon Marcus and Avraham Mizrahi arrived from Venice, Italy. Yehuda Zakuta is referred to as "Jewish native of the sephardic nation". Efraim Kastiel was born in "Sepharad". Hanna Campus Italica, it is pointed out, married a local Ashkenazi man named Yaakov Bar. Samuel Jakubowitz appears to have arrived to Zamocz from Constantinople. Meshulam Cohen is called "turcicus" (the turk). 

From לתולדות הספרדים בפולין מאת נ.מ. גלברנדפס ב"אוצר יהודי ספרד" , ספר ו' ירושלים 1963Trans:
"History of the Sefaradim in Poland" by N.M. GelberPrinted in "Otzar Yehudai Sefarad", volume 6, Yerushalayim, 1963

In 1571, he inherited this large estate and decided to establish a new sort of capital for his estates Zamocz that would became a sort of economic and spiritual capital of Poland. He received his education in France and in Italy; there he was influenced by the enlightenment humanism of the time. While he was in Padua he became aware of the great scholars of the university in that town and also came into contact with people of many different nationalities, including Jews. Upon his return to Poland, he wanted to transplant that enlightened and sophistication to his native land to make Zamocz a sort of Padua with its unique architecture and liberal humanistic values. In 1580 he officially established the city of Zamocz and in its center he established the private university to which he brought scholars from Italy and other countries in order to spread to Poland the new wisdom and humanistic values of Western Europe. Zamocz also played an economic role as a center of trade. King Stefan Bathory granted the privilege to Zamocz of holding a fair three times a year. The city was surrounded by a high wall in order to keep invaders out. In order to attract trade to the city, Zamoyski offered incentives for investors, including the rights of monopoly in certain fields, the rights to establish exclusive communities and also granted them properties for residential and business purposes. And indeed these incentives brought to the city a heterogeneous mix of different ethnicities and religions and lent the city a cosmopolitan air. In addition to the Polish population, there were also Ruthenians (Ukrainians), Armenians, Greeks, Germans, Italians, English, Scots, Sephardic Jews and others.

Some of the Sephardic residents of Lviv already sought permission to settle in Zamocz in 1586. Zamoyski’s attitude toward these Jews was magnanimous because he wanted them to settle in his new city. He therefore wrote a letter to the Lviv city council on November 12, 1586, asking the council to ease the transit of a group of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who are interested in leaving Lviv and settling in Zamocz.

The first recorded Jew to settle in Zamocz was Moses de Mosso Cohen, son of Abraham de Mosso who served as one of Nassi’s agents. After the death of Nassi in 1579, Stefan Bathory renewed the rights and privileges granted to Don Yosef Nassi’s agents. These rights were also inherited by the sons of Abraham: Moses and Mordechai de Mosso Cohen. They continued their extensive business dealings and Poland and maintained close ties with the Jews Abraham Pasha who enjoyed an elite status in the Palace of the Sultan, similar to that which Nassi enjoyed. Abraham also served as a liaison between the Polis diplomats who occasionally arrived in Istanbul and the Sultan. The Turkish Jews played an important role in maintaining the peaceful relations between the two countries and in return received many rights and privileges by the Polish Kings.

In the period between the death of Stefan Bathory to the ascendance to the throne of Sygmund III in 1586, the financial situation of the de Mosso brothers gradually worsened. They became mired in debt and could not pay their creditors. Moses de Mosso opted to settle in Zamocz and seek protection under Jan Zamoyski. When he returned from his trips to Constantinople or Zamocz he was seized in Lviv and brought to court where he was ordered to pay his debts. De Mosso claimed immunity from the local courts since he was a citizen of Zamocz and under the jurisdiction of Zamoyski. It didn’t help the entreaties of Zamoyski himself who called de Mosso ‘Iudeus meus Zamosciensis Moses’ literally Moses my Zamocz Jew. Under order of the courts Moses was imprisoned for four days after which he was forced to sign new documents. As collateral he was forced to forfeit all his assets. When he was released from prison Moses left Poland and returned to Turkey. In 1596 he again showed up in Lviv and demanded that his seized property be returned to him. It seems that from 1596, he settled permanently in Zamocz. The last piece of information about him is from 1605 and in that document one of Zamoyski’s underlings is ordered to pay Moses 100 gold pieces. In 1587 we find Moses writing to his brother where he mentioned that the Councilor (Zamoyski) has granted him property to build a house in the city and added ‘ it is possible to receive here properties for the construction of houses and fields, it is plentiful and free [whereas] in Lviv it is very expensive.. and if there are people there who want to settle in Zamocz, they would receive property and ample rights…these things are not just guaranteed for us [Jews] but for every Turkish citizen’

In 1588, Jan Zamoyski publicized his charter of rights for the Jews of Zamocz which is still extant in the Latin original (in the archives of Krasnystaw) and its Polish translation. Similar documents can be found being granted to Sephardic Jews in Gluckstadt, near Hamburg in 1618, and in Troppau (Polish: Opawa) and Karniow (Silesia) in 1612. The documents all have in common the provision that the privileges and rights enumerated within only apply to the Spanish and Portuguese Jews and not to the general Jewish population. The Sephardic in the minds of the rights givers are a desirable element that would be a valuable asset to the city and stimulate trade culture etc.

Pertinent to our discussion is the fact that a Polish councilor in the end of the 16th century (200 years before the French Revolution) Jews (albeit a small portion) are granted equal rights and privileges.
Let us now focus on specific excerpts from the charter. In the opening lines of the document Zamoyski informs that 'he was asked from one of the Jews of the Spanish Portuguese nation to allow him to settle in his city Zamocz in which there has been settled already many people from east and west’.  He adds that he consulted with his city council and concluded that in order to increase the population of the city and to develop its commerce the Spanish Portuguese both those arriving from Turkey and those with Ottoman citizenship should be allowed to settle in the city. They can maintain right to come and go as they please, it is forbidden to persecute them on the basis of their religion and to engage in inquisition, they have the right to keep their traditions and customs and live according to their beliefs. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as the rest of the underlings of the senators and noblemen. Following is al listing of streets (in the center of the city) in which the Jews can build their house to inherit them to their children, to sell them, or exchange them whatever they see fit.

In proximity to their residents they are permitted to build a house of worship made of stone. Until such time as the structure is built they are permitted to conduct services and religious services in a private house. They are allowed to have religious tracts for the purpose of prayer and education.

In addition to that, Jews are allowed to gather wood from the surrounding forests as well as stones and mortar for the construction of their homes. In the event that the Jewish population outgrows its present location, they will be allowed to live outside the designated city. Zamoyski also pledged to assign space for a cemetery. The Sephardic Jews are given the right to engage in all kinds of commerce both in the city and outside of it. Those who are skilled in the art of healing, after taking an examination at the Academy in Zamocz will be allowed to practice medicine in the city.

They are permitted to wear any type of clothing they like of any color and it is forbidden to force them to wear specific clothing or other features that would identify them as Jews. They are also permitted to carry arms as all other citizens are permitted for self-defense. They are also permitted to build a ritual bath as long as it does not hurt the business of the local bathhouse.

Several limitations on commerce were imposed in order not to negatively impact the rights that were given to the Armenians, Greeks and Czechs. Jews were forbidden to trade in liquor, bread and poultry; however they were permitted to engage in the wine trade. In order not to impact the local merchant guilds, Jews were forbidden from engaging in fur making, shoemaking, butchery and pottery. However they were allowed to slaughter for their own needs and sell the non-kosher sections at the fairs or in the surrounding towns under the jurisdiction of Zamoyski.

The document also stipulated that the aforementioned Jews should not fall under the jurisdiction of other Jews; they will elect their own leaders and councils in which no Jews of other nations (Ashkenazim) will be able to participate. No Jew will be accepted in the community without the authorization of the heads of the Synagogue. Only with the consent of the majority of the Sephardic congregants will the individuals name be inscribed in the synagogues roster

The injunction also specified that the Spanish Jews are permitted to elect their own community heads and is granted the jurisdiction to judge their disputes and also mete out punishment against their members if necessary, including excommunication and banishment from the community. Here Zamoyski adds that should a dispute arise between “my townspeople” i.e. the Sephardim and a non-Jewish resident of the city, Zamoyski himself would adjudicate the case or appoint someone trustworthy and acceptable for all sides.

This remarkable document illustrates the sense of liberalism, an obvious product of the Renaissance of which Zamoyski was heavily influences by. However it is important to point out that this sense of liberalism and tolerance did not extend to the local “indigenous” Polish Jews. From a letter dated 1587 by De Mosson Cohen we learn that “the councilor only wants frankim to settle there and does not desire the local Jews”. The preference of Sephardim over Ashkenazim continued after Zamoyski’s death when his heir and successor Thomas requested to extend the 1588 injunction for newly arrived Sephardic settlers from Flanders and Holland. This blatant discrimination was based mainly on the economic benefits the city derived from the mercantilist and diplomatic skill and talent of these Jews. In general these Jews were more cultured and modern and therefore fit in very well in the cosmopolitan atmosphere that the city and its founders fostered.

From the writ in the many injunctions there is also evident the faint hope that these Sephardim would prove to be a source of emulation for their “backward” Ashkenazic brethren. This can be observed from the fact that the Sephardim were given the right to accept into their communities Ashkenazim if they so desired and in addition they were permitted to admit local Jews into their educational institutions.

Zamoyski’s vision of creating in Zamocz a center of scholarship and trade never came to fruition. Likewise his hope that Sephardic Jews would continue to settle there and swell the ranks of the community never occurred either. Schatzky surmises that the Zamocz Sephardim conducted most of their business in nearby Lviv, and never gave the Zamocz community a chance to get off the ground. According to Schatzky, by 1600 the Sephardic community in Zamocz was no more.

Another Polish-Jewish historian named Morgenstern rejects Schatzky’s claim and claims that the Sephardic community existed there as a separate entity at least until the end of the 16th and possibly even into the first decades of the 17th.

In the first decade of the community’s existence until the year 1600, the Zamocz archives contain the names of 11 Sephardic Jews, of them 6 are of Venetian origin, 3 from Turkey and 2 whose origins are not given.  The total property ownership totaled 4 structures. From 1600 to 1610, 11 new names are added to the list, of them 9 of Italian origin, one Turkish Jew and one whose origins are not given. This time the community was in possession of 7 houses. As mentioned before, Thomasz Zamoyski welcomed newcomers from Flanders and Holland into the city and indeed the archival documents reflect that fact. Documents from the 30s and 40s of the 17th century adds yet 18 new names to the list of Jewish residents of the city and this time, property ownership rises to 15 houses. In the years 1638-1641, there seems to be a trend of selling houses, this mysterious development may have come as a response to the Chmielnicki massacres, which may have caused a migration of Sephardic residents out of the city.

It is safe to assume that at the height of its success, in the first half of the 17th century- the Zamocz community numbered 40 to 50 families bringing it to a grand total of 200 to 250 people, if we calculate 5 to 6 members to a family.

Shatzcky’s claims were based in part on the fact that there is no remnant of a Sephardic cemetery in the city. In addition we are unaware of the name of even one Sephardic Rabbi in Zamocz. However this contention is erroneous since the cemetery in the city was first used exclusive by Sephardim and later by Ashkenazim as evidenced by the discovery of Sephardic tombstones of residents who died before 1809. In regards to Rabbis, remnants of the old Synagogue and communal institutions reveal the name of at least one spiritual head of the community named Michael Doktor and his sexton David. The first reports of a synagogue in Zamocz speak of a structure built in 1603 made of wood, which was only rebuilt as a stone structure in 1620. An inscription gives the name of the synagogues benefactor as one Shmuel Barzel. There is evidence to indicate that there existed in Zamocz both a Sephardic and an Ashkenazic community in the 40s and 50s of the 17th century. As mentioned, in the writ of freedom granted to the community, it stipulated the right to accept Ashkenazim into their ranks if they so desired. Indeed, the archival records indicate that several wealthy and distinguished Ashkenazic were granted permission to buy property in the city. In the years 1632-1635, we find 20 Ashkenazic families in the city with ownership of 9 houses. In the years 1640-1650 many Sephardic settlers sold their property and left the city, presumably because of the increasing threat from Cossack hordes. At that point, many Ashkenazim began moving in because of the increased security that the city -which was surrounded by a wall and had its standing army –offered.  As a result, the Ashkenazim quickly became a majority in the city. Nevertheless the Sephardim community still managed to maintain a separate existence

It is difficult to estimate the number of Sephardim in the city after 1648. Here and there we find mention of such individuals residing in the city at the close of the 17th century; for example we see Thomasz Zamoyski granting permission to one Moshe Zacuto in 1691 to purchase houses in any part of the city. Additional silent testimony to the continued Sephardic presence in the city are the tombstones in the cemetery with dates as late as 1809.

The Sephardic community continued to exist as an independent entity not subject to the Jewish tax that their Ashkenazi brethren were required to pay. Toward the end of the 17th century the community breathed its last and ceased to exist (though as mentioned Sephardim continued to reside in the city as individuals and eventually assimilated into the Ashkenazic majority).

 The Sephardim fast becoming a minority were forced to assimilate. Zamocz joined the Council of the Four Lands in 1666. The assimilation process began with intermarriage, which was a process that already began in the 40s when the Sephardim still constituted the majority. The Ashkenazic newcomers were a decidedly advanced and upper class element and it was not before long before they mixed comfortably with the cultured Sephardim leading to close ties and marriages between the two groups. Examples of “intermarriage” are Chana of the De Kampos family who married the Polish Jew Yaakov Bar, the daughter of Samson Manes married the Polish Jew Moshe Ben Avraham, the wife of Lazer ben Nachman (Nachmanovitz) was a sister of the head of the Sephardic community. In the beginning of this process, the Ashkenazim still encountered some difficulty in establishing title to property in the city, which is why for example we find the aforementioned Yaakov Bar registering his house in the name of his Sephardic wife. As time progressed the differences between the 2 groups became increasingly murky, at least in the eyes of the authorities, whereas in the beginning the Polish authorities added the moniker “Italikus” (a sort of generic term to describe all Sephardim whether they came from Italy or not) in order to differentiate them from the Ashkenazim, by the end of the 17th century this name no longer appears on official documents. In addition many Jews polonized their names which made it even more difficult to tell the 2 groups apart. For example we see Sephardic Jew Abraham Uziel mentioned in official documents as Abraham Uzelowitz.

Until recently there were many Jewish families in Zamocz who were well aware of their Sephardic roots. Some even held on to a copy of the writ granted to their ancestors by Jan Zamoyski. One of these families was the Peretz’s who numbered among them the famous Yiddish writer Yehuda Leib Peretz (of whom I blogged about here several times).

According to Eva Bar Zeev who chairs the Israel-based Association of Jews from Zamocz[1], the first families in Zamocz were descendants of Jews expelled from Torque in Spain. Other than the oft cited Peretzs, there were many other families in Zamocz who bore evidence of their Iberian roots in their surnames; families like, Kastiel, Bechar, (Efrat) Efros[2], Manzis (Manes), Margulis (Margaliot), Kohen, Maimon, Safian, Gerzon/Gerszon ( antecedents of Russian revolutionary Grigori Gershuni and the famed Lithuanian Rabbi Yehuda Gershuni?) and others.


See here a list of murdered Jews from Zamocz. Note the various surnames of different origin.

The appropriately named “Beit Haknesset Hasephardi” (literally, the Sephardic Synagogue) was founded in 1588 by the new arrivals and is still extant. It has recently been restored.

The city of Zamocz has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site see here


[1] See

[2] A probable member of this family was Israel Isaac Efros, a Hebrew educator , poet and scholar born in Vilna in 1891 who later emigrated to Israel in 1955 and served as rector of Tel Aviv University (see “Efros, Israel Isaac” Encyclopedia Judaica.)


Alexander GutermanYehudim sefardim al admat Polin, which appeared in the Hebrew journal Pe’amim 18 (1984)


Thursday, December 27, 2012

SERIES Sephard in Ashkenaz and Ashkenaz in Sephard. The (lost) Sephardic Jews of Transylvania Part I

 These are for the most part unedited excerpts from my upcoming book on Sephardic heritage in Eastern Europe. Please note that this is not the final product and there may be errors and such.

The history of the Sephardim in Transylvania, a region that borders the countries of Hungary and Romania, is not very well known. The first serious attempt at a study of this community was made by Bernard Klein who in 1965 contributed an article entitled The Decline of a Sephardic Community in Transylvania to Studies in honor of M.J. Bernadette[1]. The article (a condensed version of which follows) is a monographic sketch of the Sephardim in Karlsburg (not to be confused with ‘klausenburg’), dubbed the “Jewish Capital” of  Transylvania.

The defeat of the Hungarians by the Ottoman Turks at Mohacz in 1526 precipitated the partition of Hungary into three sections: the Western section was controlled by the Hapsburgs; the Central section, including the cities of Buda and Pest, were under the direct domination of the Turks; the Eastern section of Transylvania was autonomous but under Turkish suzerainty. Within the latter two areas the Turkish conquest was responsible for considerable changes in Jewish community life, especially in bringing Ashkenazim and Sephardim together in the same town and frequently in one community. We know for example, that Ashkenazi Jews had emigrated to Turkey, where they eventually assimilated with the Sephardim. On the other hand Sephardic Jews frequently settled in Hungary[2]. Thus a significant Sephardic community was established in Buda, which existed as a separate entity for close to 200 years[3]. Similar communities developed elsewhere, and especially in Transylvania. All of the Sephardic communities were, however eventually absorbed by the Ashkenazim.

 In Transylvania there were a number of communities which were organized and established by Sephardic Jews[4]. The reasons why Sephardic Jews were attracted to Transylvania are many. Geographically, Transylvania was in proximity of the Balkans which had been settled primarily by Sephardic Jews. The Turkish conquest of the Balkans and Hungary facilitated communication and migration between these areas. Furthermore, the towns in which the Sephardim settled were important trade centers. Thus Karlsburg (also known as Alba Iulia), the most important Sephardic center in Transylvania was a frontier town through which Turkish trade was exchanged. It was only natural for Sephardic Jews, acquainted with the business matters and tastes of the Turks and their language, to exploit existing trade opportunities. They also acted as tax farmers. Finally the political condition in Transylvania was extremely favorable to Jews. There existed a general tolerant climate and an absence of the virulent anti-Semitism which characterized life in other parts of Europe. The Jewish population of that area in that period was considerably small. Around 1780, after a considerable influx of Ashkenazim, there were only 322 Jewish families in all of Transylvania. Karlsburg, its capital, had 31 Jewish families who paid taxes in 1764. How many of these were Sephardim and how many Ashkenazim is unknown. There is however no question that the early Jewish residents in Karlsburg were Sephardim. This is obvious from the fact that the minutes of the community were in the Hebrew script customary among the Sephardim and that the early contacts which the Karlsburg community maintained with other Jews were primarily with other Sephardic communities mainly Belgrade and neighboring Ungarish-Brod (also known as Temesvar)[5]. Their questions on law were addressed primarily to Sephardic Rabbis and one seldom comes across any reference to an Ashkenazi scholar.

In 1623 Prince Bethlen Gabor granted the Jews of Alba Iulia a liberal charter of residential and commercial privileges framed at the insistence of Abraham Szasza (his name is also given as Sasa and Shasha), a Jewish Physician from Constantinople who had been invited to settle there. The first known Chief Rabbi of the city was R. Abraham Isaac Russo (d. 1738).[6]

In Porumbacul de Sus near Fagaras in southern Transylvania, Sephardic Jews are credited with introducing glass manufacture to the region. In Targu-Mures, Sephardim are mentioned from 1582; a permanent community was founded in 1601 in the nearby village Naznan-falva. The first known communal leader was Moshe Aizik Frenkel, heir to a converso family (Yivo 1689).

The Numerical predominance of the Sephardim seems to have been broken around the beginning of the 18th century. The influx of Ashkenazim from Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and Germany on the one hand, and from Poland on the other, not only undermined the numerical superiority of the Sephardim, but also challenged their authority in communal affairs by the 18th century, the Ashkenazim and Sephardim were considered two distinct communities. Unity of the two congregations was only a necessity in relation to the non-Jewish community and in the selection of a Chief Rabbi who served both Congregations. In the period between 1736 and 1823 Karlsburg had 7 Chief Rabbis, of these 4 were Sephardic. The fact that in 1742 an Ashkenazi Rabbi could be appointed to this former Sephardic stronghold indicates that by that time the Ashkenazim were already a dominant and influential factor in the community. On the other hand the election of a Sephardic Rabbi as late as 1818 seems to demonstrate that despite their decline the Sephardim were not without influence in the community. As the 18th century progressed, it became obvious that the Sephardim were losing ground and that the Ashkenazim were becoming the dominant factor in the community. This is also obvious from the fact that the Sephardim had to resort to a ban against any member deserting the Sephardic congregation in order to attend services at the Ashkenazic one. Many Sephardim disregarded the ban. In order to prevent any further decline, the Sephardim deemed it advisable to enlist the cooperation of the Ashkenazim. In 1793 both the Sephardim and Ashkenazim appeared before the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Moses ben Samuel Halevi Margolioth. This momentous occasion was recorded in the community minutes and was also transmitted to Rabbi Moses Sofer of Pressburg (known as the Chatam Sofer) [7]by a correspondent from Karlsburg who asked for a decision regarding the case. According to these sources, the statement from Rabbi Margolioth was as follows: “today the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities presented the following case to me. The Sephardim had issued a ban on their members not to attend the Ashkenazi Synagogue. Several individuals have however disregarded the ban. The holy community of the Sephardim has therefore presented a complaint against them. It is therefore our decision that in accordance with the law of the holy Torah, the ban is to apply to these individuals until such time as they return to the Sephardic Synagogue. Moreover the Ashkenazim are not to accord any honor or holy functions to these individuals, as is prescribed by law for those in a state of excommunication. Should any influential man call these individuals to the Torah or accord them any honor, this individual will likewise be in excommunication and all Israel will be absolved of any guilt. In return the Sephardic community has obligated itself to subscribe to the ticket system and contribute half the expenses for the needs of wayfarers and itinerary speakers. Each individual is to receive half the expenses from the congregation of the Ashkenazim and half the expenses from the congregation of the Sephardim..”.

Soon however, most of the Sephardim themselves-because of their rapidly shrinking numbers- regretted issuing the ban and sought to extricate themselves from it. They therefore sought the advice of the two leading Halachic authorities of that time, namely Rabbi Ezekiel Landau of Prague and Rabbi Moses Sofer of Pressburg. Rabbi Landau [8] in his lengthy response paints a picture of a rapidly declining Sephardic community in Karlsburg that could barely complete a minyan for prayers. The children of the Sephardim had no choice but to attend the schools of the Ashkenazim and slowly forget their own customs and traditions. Both Rabbis Sofer and Landau answered that the ban might be lifted. However, both Rabbis also insisted that they were interested in the preservation of the Sephardic community as a distinct entity with its own customs and tradition and hoped that the dismal conditions of Sephardic life would prove to be temporary. Of course this did not prove to be the case; the community rapidly shrank to the point where only several years later they ceased to exist as a separate community. Their exit from the public scene was, however, accompanied by an uproar. In 1818, the Karlsburg community was engulfed in a bitter conflict over the selection of a Chief Rabbi. The community preferred the outstanding Ashkenazi candidate, Rabbi Ezekiel Paneth. The file electors, however, selected the Sephardic candidate, Rabbi Menachem, a descendant of an ancient and wealthy Transylvanian family. Many influential members of the community refused to accept the appointment of Rabbi Menachem. The latter’s detractors spread rumors that he achieved his position through bribery and that he was not sufficiently learned to hold such a position. The matter was sent to Rabbi Sofer in Pressburg to decide. The latter wrote a respectful but stern letter to Rabbi Menachem that he go have a “scholarly conversation” i.e. be tested by the local Rabbi of Sighet and. if he is unwilling or unable to do so, he should engage a Rabbi or a teacher until he is able to render Halakhic decisions on his own. We do not know if Rabbi Menahem acquiesced to these proposals but we do know that he stayed secure in his post until his death in 1823 when he was succeeded by the aforementioned Rabbi Ezekiel Paneth.

In retrospect it is difficult to tell whether the struggle against Rabbi Menachem was purely a struggle of Ashkenazim vs. Sephardim. The names of his known opponents perhaps indicate that some of them were Sephardim (among these names are Solomon Mexiner, Moses Doman and Moses Rafael) thus ruling out a purely anti-Sephardic motive, though there were certainly opponents within the Ashkenazi camp with such a vendetta. Be it as it may, with the death of Rabbi Menachem, the once flourishing and prominent Sephardic community of Karlsburg exhaled its last breath. Thereafter one no longer hears of quarrels between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, as Rabbi Paneth at the helm became the unchallenged and dominant leader of the Jewish community of Karlsburg and its environs.

Temeshvar (Ungarish Brodt)

The Timisoara region received Sephardic immigration during the 16th and 17th centuries. Turkish armies occupied Timisoara in 1552, after which Sephardic Jews coming from Belgrade and Istanbul settled throughout the area. In Lugoj to the north, Caransebes to the East, and Faget to the South, Sephardic Jewish settlements were documented in 1733, 1746, and about 1750, respectively. At the time of the Hapsburg occupation in 1716, Sephardim in the city of Timisoara were given the option of remaining and living on the city’s outskirts; many chose to stay. Don Moses Pereira became a leading merchant and held the tobacco monopoly for the whole Habsbug Empire, while Diego Aguilar obtained the right in 1739 to found a community composed of both Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Two Synagogues, one of them Sephardic, were built in 1762. During the 19th century, two Sephardic communities, one Orthodox and one modern, were founded (along with three Ashkenazic ones), led by Rabbi Moshe Alkalay between 1831 and 1863 and Yosef Levi between 1815 and 1856, respectively. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were approximately 1,000 Sephardim in the city (Yivo 1690).

The oldest grave found in the Jewish cemetery of Timisoara/Temshvar belonged to Rabbi Azriel Asael of Salonica, who died in Temeşvar in 1636, but it had been in use long before then. In 1716, the  Hapsburgs conquered much of the Banat, including Temeşvar. The city’s Jews could have left with the Turks, but chose to remain. In 1718, local Jews were accused of spying for the Ottomans. Vienna ordered them exiled, but the decree seems to have been cancelled, possibly through the intervention of Don Moses Pereira Diego Aguilar, the founder of the Sephardi community in Vienna, who held the monopoly on importing tobacco to the Austrian Empire. In 1739 a united Ashkenazi-Sephardi community was formed in Temeşvar. During the  Austro-Ottoman War (1787–1791), the Ottomans recaptured Temeşvar in 1788 and pillaged it in 1789, but at war’s end it was returned to the Austrians.

The first Rabbi of the town was a Sephardic Jew by the name of Jacob Moises (1739-1741).Shortly after Moises’ reign, both communities shared the same Rabbi.

At the end of the fifteenth century and beginning of the sixteenth, Jewish merchants in Transylvania traded in domestic animals, financed ransoms to free Poles captured by Tatars, and supplied credit to traders in the three Romanian principalities. Jews migrated to Transylvania from Poland (mainly Lvov) and the Ottoman Empire. Under Ottoman suzerainty, Alba Iulia was the capital. The Hungarian Báthory family ruled Transylvania as Ottoman princes (hospodars) from 1571 to 1599, followed by a period of conflict and the succession of several princes.  In 1618 Prince Gabriel (Gábor) Bethlen (r. 1613–1629) suppressed the Christian-Jewish Sabbatarian sect. Influenced by Abraham Sarsa, a Jewish physician in Istanbul, Bethlen encouraged Jews to settle in Transylvania to help restore its economy. In 1623 the Transylvanian diet granted special privileges to the Jewish settlers, but in 1650 it again imposed commercial restrictions on them.

When Ashkenazi refugees from Poland began to arrive after the Chmielnicki massacres in 1648, Jewish settlement was restricted to Alba Iulia. The Italian Street was renamed the Jewish Street in 1657, and from then until 1848 Alba Iulia had the first and only officially recognized Jewish community in Transylvania. In 1698, it numbered only fifteen families—perhaps seventy or eighty people—but between 1711 and 1735, the community was estimated at somewhere from six to seven hundred souls. In the second half of the seventeenth century, Jews from Moldavia who came to Transylvania to work for the nobility set up unofficial Jewish communities in Gheorghieni, Zlatna, Maramureş and other places in the Turkish areas of the principality.

In the second quarter of the nineteenth century, Temeşvar had three Ashkenazi and two Sephardi synagogues. In 1919 the city was incorporated into Romania. The 1930 census found that its Jewish population was 7,264.

In the Sephardic cemetery, there are still extant graves dating back to the Turkish occupation, the oldest of them belonging to the mentioned Azriel Asael, a Rabbi and surgeon who died in 1636 and on whose gravestone is inscribed “born in Salonica”. A century after his death, in 1736, Rabbi Meir Amigo and another four Sephardic Jews from Istanbul were permitted to settle in the city. Rabbi Amigo became the head of the city’s combined Ashkenazi-Sephardi community. Agent for Diego d’aguilar of Vienna, who held a Tobacco monopoly in Austria, he was known as “little king” (rey chico) because of his wealth and he was highly respected in the court of Maria Theresa. His descendants Yitzchak Amigo and Yosef Meir Amigo continued to be prominent in the Jewish community of Timisoara until the early 19th century[10].

The other “Sephardim” of Transylvania

The election of Rabbi Moses Glasner to the post of Chief Rabbi of Cluj, Transylvania (better known by its German name; Klausenberg) in 1878 precipitated the establishment of a newly formed “Sephardic” community in that city. The group consisted of about one hundred families (out of a total Jewish population in Klausenburg that exceeded 10,000) who decided that they could no longer remain subject to the authority of a Zionist Rabbi (Rabbi Glasner was an outspoken religious Zionist, a very unpopular ideology among Hungarian Chassidim). The term “Sephardic community” was a sort of legal fiction designed to gain the recognition of the secular authorities that would recognize only one Orthodox community within a given town or district. The only “Sephardic” aspect of the community was that they recited prayers in “nusah s’fard.”[11] Largely made up of Sigheter Hasidim, the group chose as their spiritual leader Joel Teitelbaum, the future Satmar Rebbe, whose older brother, the Atzei Haim, was then the incumbent Rebbe in Sighet, original seat of the family dynasty. R. Teitelbaum never took up residence in Klausenburg, and after heading the Klausenburg Sephardic community for about five years, he vacated the position in favor of his nephew Rabbi Y. Y. Halberstam, who later became famous as the Klausenburger Rebbe. [12]    



Information on the Sephardim in Temeshvar/Timisoara is based partly on the research of Dr. Yitchak Kerem.  See Yitzchak Kerem. " Romania (Ottoman)." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World.

[1]  Langnas, Izaak A.Sholod, Barton.Studies in Honor of M.J. Bernadette. Las Americas Publishing Company (NY, 1965). pp. 349-58

[2]  The Jewish population of Bekescsaba, Hungary had a tradition that they were descended from “Mizrachi” (literally, eastern) Armenian Jews who originally left present day Iraq or Iran. Recent DNA testing of some Jewish natives of Bekes strongly suggests that this may be more than a mere tradition. Peter Hagyo- Kovacs in “DNA, Magyar Israel and the Mizrahi Synagogue of Dohany Utca” concludes that “looking at the pictures and reading the history of the Dohany Street Synagogue(in Budapest) with its self-consciously Mizrachi influenced planning and appearance one is tempted to see a subconscious memory of a Mizrachi past expressed in monumental architecture”. (see  Hagyo-Kovacs, Peter.DNA, Magyar Israel and the Mizrahi Synagogue of Dohany Utca”. November, 2008 (unpublished).

(Hollywood actor  and Hungarian Jew Tony  Curtis in his autobiography: “my father’s family originally came from the middle east and they must have been dark skinned because when they came through Germany they were called ‘Schwartz’ “).

[3] One of the more well known members of the Sephardic community of Uban (Hebrew for Buda) was a man by the name of Akiva Kohen Tzedek (Katz) who legend has it had 12 sons and 12 daughters, all of whom he married off to Cohanim. He would join his sons and sons-in law in the priestly blessing thus matching the numerical value of the Hebrew letters ‘kaf’ and ‘heh’ (koh) which amounts to 25. He did this in order to fulfill the verse of “koh tevarchu et benei yisrael” literally, “thus shall you bless the children of Israel”.

The Sephardic community in Buda rapidly assimilated among the Ashkenazim, so much so, that by the time the Austrians conquered the city in 1686 there were only 30 Sephardic families in Buda (in 1580, roughly one third of the city’s 800 Jews were Sephardic. Buda became the main contact between oriental and western Jewry, opening the way for Sephardic influences on Hungarian Jewry (Yivo 1689). It is also worth noting the presence of Rabbi Ephraim Ha-Cohen of Vilna (1616-?) in the city and his contribution in making Hungary in general and Buda in particular a center for Jewish scholarship. R’ Ephraim, though an Ashkenazi, was a big proponent of the Sephardic method of learning and sent his grandson Tzvi (later known as the Chacham Tzvi) to study in the Talmudic academies of the Sephardim in Salonika. He also frequently corresponded in Halachic matters with Sephardic Rabbis particularly those of the Balkans.

Another indication of a certain unity and leveling between Sephardim and Ashkenazim particularly in Hungary of the 16th century  is the entreaty of Rabbo Noah of Nuda who in 1619 ordered that the Safed Yeshiva founded by him and maintained from his donations, should have an equal number of Sephardic and Ashkenazic students (see Jewish Budapest p. 459).

[4] W. Bacher in his article on the gentile Sabbath observers of Hungary (called Sabbatarians, not to be confused with the Sabbateans who were followers of the false Messiah Sabbeatai Sevi), “The Sabbatarian of Hungary” (in The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 2 no. 4, [July , 1890], pp. 465-493)  cites the arrival of Sephardic Jews from Turkey in the 17th century into Transylvania as being a major boost to this peculiar Philo-Semitic sect. Their foremost leader Simon Pechi (1560?- 1642?) adapted many of the Sabbatarian hymns and prayers from the Sephardic Machzor (Festival book) and translated the Sephardic prayer book into Hungarian. In addition, he translated many other Jewish classic works, including a commentary on Tractate Abot, parts of Orchot Chaim by Rabbi Asher (the Rosh), parts of the Shulchan Aruch and Yalkut Shimoni among others

[5] See Greenwald, Leopold. Mekorot L’korot Yisrael (Humana, 1931), pp. 73-83.

[6]Alba IuliaEncyclopedia Judaica

[7] See Rabbi Sofer, Moses. Likutei Shaalot U’tshuvot Chatam Sofer (New York, 1958) v. 6, Responsa I, pp. 169-70

[8] Landau, Rabbi Ezekiel. Sheelot U’teshuvot Shivat Tzion, Responsa 5

[9] See Neuman, Victor. The History of the Jews of Banat (in Romanian) (Bucharest, 1999)

[10] An 1848 Hungarian census of Jews lists many Amigos and Amigas in Oradea, Romania (also known as Nagyvárad in Hungarian and Grosswardein in German and Yiddish). A list of Hungarian Jewish births from 1846-1881 also lists a host of Amigos (and one Amugo) from Debrecen and Kecskemet.

[11] Similarly the so- called “Sephardi Prayer-house” on 22 Teleki ter in Budapest was a shtibel used by Galician Chassidim of the   Chortkov dynasty, who prayed in the Chassidic rite, and not by Spanish Jews.  See Jewish Budapest p. ?. On 'nossah sefard' and 'sephardic nossah' and the all too often conflation between the two, see my post here.

[12] For the background and more information about the reasons behind the secession see 

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Rediscovering Lost Sephardic Liturgical Music in Early America

Historians estimate that close to three million Jews immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe between 1880 and 1924. Today the majority of American Jews are descended from the immigrants of that period and are, by heritage, Ashkanazi Jews.

Until the mid 19th century, however, most of the Jews in America were Sephardic. The first Jews arrived in North America from Recife, Brazil after fleeing the new Portuguese rulers and their Inquisition. Early American Jews were mostly Dutch and English subjects and the first American synagogues and Jewish institutions adhered almost exclusively to Sephardic customs and liturgy.

This history has been researched extensively by the Lowell Milken Archives which tracks American Jewish history through its music. The project has collected a vast amount of material which follows the maturation of American Jewry from its early years in Colonial America to its present situation as a multi-ethnic community with a rich variety of traditions, customs and styles of worship.

The Sephardic component of America's Jewish past is presented in several volumes including Jewish Voices in the New World: The Song of Prayer in Colonial and 19th-Century America.  The collection reviews a wide selection of Sephardic melodies, compositions and tunes which were brought to America by Sephardic Jewish immigrants. Some of this music continues to be chanted and sung in Sheariath Yisrael and Touro synagogues in New York and Jeshuat Yisrael in Rhode Island -- early Sephardic synagogues which continue to adhere to their original Sephardic liturgy and customs. 

The Sephardic music section at the Milken Archives presents information in an engaging and vibrant fashion which allows visitors to expand their understanding of the ways in which early American Jewish music influenced the immigrants' integration into American life.

The Archive was created by the Jewish philanthropist Lowell Milken with the goal of preserving the history of American Jewish Music. It features oral histories, historical memorabilia, photographs and interviews with knowledgeable historians which lend context and depth to the material contained in the Volume and other data about American Sephardic Jewry which is available at the archives

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