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.

No automatic alt text available.
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)


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

Labels: , , , , ,

free counters