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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Bucharest

Walachian princes and the Jews - Russian occupation - quarrel between orthodox and progressive Jews - emancipation - cultural life - WW I and WW II - Jews in communist Bucharest

from: Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971), vol. 14

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)



[Jews in Bucharest - arbitrariness of Walachian princes against the Jews - Russian occupation of Bucharest]

[[There is no indication about Jews in Bucharest from 1500 to 1700 in this article]].

<BUCHAREST (Rum. Bucuresti), capital of *Rumania [[Romania]]. Before the union of the Danubian principalities (Moldavia and Walachia) in 1859, it was capital of the principality of Walachia. Up to the 19th century almost the entire Jewish population of Walachia was concentrated in Bucharest, where the great majority continued to live subsequently.

Thus the history of the Jewish community in Bucharest is essentially the history of Walachian Jewry. The community, consisting of merchants and moneylenders from Turkey and the Balkan countries, is first mentioned in the middle of the 16th century in the responsa of several Balkan rabbis (e.g., Samuel de Medina, nos. 5, 54). When Prince Michael the Brave revolted against the Turks in November 1593, he ordered the massacre of the Jews in Bucharest along with the other Turkish subjects. Toward the middle of the 17th century, a new community, now predominantly Ashkenazi, was established. Many of the Phanariot princes who ruled Walachia in the 18th century maintained close relations with leading Constantinople Jews and brought a number of them to Bucharest, where they attained influential positions (e.g., the Bally family).

In the 18th century the Jews were concentrated in the suburb of Mahalaua Popescului, but as the community increased a number began to move to other parts of the city, where they even established synagogues; however, these were closed by the princes. The populace, afraid of Jewish economic competition, was intensely hostile toward the Jews, and in 1793 the residents of the Râzvan suburb petitioned Prince Alexander Moruzi to remove Jews who had recently settled there and demolish the synagogue they had erected.

The (col. 1438)

prince ordered the synagogue to be closed (January 1794), but refused to have the Jews removed from the suburb, and a few days later even issued a decree affording them protection.

In 1801 there were anti-Jewish riots following *blood libel charges, and 128 Jews were killed or wounded. The community again suffered persecution during the Russian occupation of Bucharest from 1806 to 1812, and in particular during the Greek revolt (Hetairia) under Alexander Ypsilanti and its suppression by the Turks in 1821.

During this period, the Bucharest Jews, like those elsewhere in Walachia and Moldavia, were organized as an autonomous Breasla Ovreilor ("Jewish corporation") headed by a Staroste ("provost"). The head of the Bucharest community also acted as the deputy of the hakham bashi (chief rabbi) of Moldavia, whose authority extended over Walachian Jewry as well.

In 1818-21, the Staroste of seceded from the authority of the Moldavian hakham bashi and assumed the title independently. The few Sephardi Jews, whose numbers began to increase only at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, did not then constitute a separate community, although they had their own synagogue in a rented house in Mahalaua Popescului and in 1811 established their own burial society. In 1818 they were granted permission to build a synagogue.

[1820-1899: immigration movement - quarrel about taxes, authorities, and different synagogues]

The Bucharest community grew rapidly in the 19th century through immigration. From 127 families registered in Bucharest in 1820 and 594 in 1831, the community grew to 5,934 persons in 1860 and 40,533 (14.7% of the total population) in 1899. Under the *Capitulations system foreign subjects were free from the regular taxation and jurisdiction in Rumania. Hence the immigrants questioned the authority of the community leadership and refused to pay the tax on kasher meat, which constituted its sole income.

The authorities, drawn into the conflict, at first upheld the traditional rights of the Bresla Ovreilor. However, following repeated complaints from both sides, as well as constitutional changes in the principality resulting from the promulgation of the Organic Statute (see *Rumania) in 1832, the community was given a new constitution in that year which severely curtailed its autonomy and placed it under the direct authority and close supervision of the municipality.

The Ashkenazi community was again reconstituted in 1843, and the new statute, which further curtailed the community's autonomy, was confirmed with slight changes by the reigning prince in 1851; although never formally abolished, it fell into disuse in the second half of the century. In the meantime the Sephardi Jews (numbering about 150 families in 1854), had founded their own community. Within the Ashkenazi community, the conflicts between the native and foreign-born members continued. Finally, in 1851, the Prussian and Austrian subjects (about 300 families) were permitted to found a separate community. In 1861, a bitter conflict broke out between the native community and the Russian subjects because some articles had allegedly been removed from the Russian synagogue.

[Fight between Orthodox and Progressive Jewry in Bucharest - both sides damaging to each other]

At that time, the Bucharest Ashkenazi community was also torn by violent strife between the *Orthodox and *Progressive wings (the latter led by Julius *Barasch and I.L. *Weinberg). The controversy centered around the modern school opened in 1852 (a year earlier a similar school had been established by Austrian and Prussian subjects) and a proposal in 1857 to build a Choir Temple and introduce certain reforms into the service. The dissension reached its peak when, in 1858, Meir Leib *Malbim was called to the rabbinate. He placed himself at the head of the Orthodox wing and a fierce struggle ensued. (col. 1439)

The conflict also had a social character since the Progressives were drawn mainly from the well-to-do, while the masses were Orthodox. In 1862 the Progressives achieved success; the government deposed Malbim from the Bucharest rabbinate, and in 1864 he was arrested and expelled from the country. The Temple project was resumed in 1864; it was completed in 1867 and became the center of Progressive Jewry and the focus of a variety of cultural and educational activities. Continued quarrels within the community and repeated complaints to the authorities by each of the competing factions brought about in 1862 the government's decision (which applied to the whole country) not to interfere any more with the internal affairs of the Jewish communities and to withdraw from them their official status. This decision reiterated in 1866, led to the gradual disorganization and dissolution of the Ashkenazi community in Bucharest, which in 1874 had ceased to exist as an organized entity.

Several attempts were later made to reconstitute the community, the most serious in 1908. However, it was only in 1919 that an organized Jewish community was again established in Bucharest. Until then various benevolent societies and organizations undertook educational and social welfare activities. Chief among them were the Choir Temple Congregation, formally constituted in 1876 as a separate and independent organization levying its own tax on kasher meat, and the [[racist Herzl]] Brotherhood Zion of the B'nai B'rith, founded in Bucharest in 1872 by the American consul B.F. *Peixotto. These succeeded in setting up and maintaining a network of educational and charitable institutions, including, in 1907-08, 15 schools, filling the void created by the lack of an organized community.

[Jewish cultural life in Bucharest]

Cultural bodies were also established, and a number of Jewish journals and other publications made their appearance. Bucharest also became the center of Rumanian Jewry's political activity and the struggle for *emancipation. National Jewish bodies, among them the Union of Native Jews, established their headquarters there.

Among the most prominent spiritual and religious leaders of the community before World War I were Antoine Lévy and Moritz (Meir) *Beck, rabbis of the Choir Temple Congregation from 1867 to 1869 and 1873 to 1923 respectively, and Yitzhak Eisik *Taubes, rabbi of the Orthodox congregation from 1894 to 1921. The most prominent lay leader was Adolf *Stern.

[Occupations and professions]

In the 19th century, a high proportion of the Jews in Bucharest were occupied in crafts. There were 2,712 Jewish artisans in the city in 1899. Others engaged in commerce and several, notably Sephardi Jews, were prominent in banking.

During the second half of the 19th century a number of anti-Jewish outbreaks occurred in Bucharest. In 1866, when the legislative assembly was discussing the legal position of the Jews, an excited mob started a riot in which the new Choir Temple, then under construction, was demolished. Another serious riot took place in December 1897, when hundreds of Jewish houses and shops were attacked and looted.

[[There are no reasons indicated for these actions, but it can be assumed there were some reasons, or the regime only steered the bad energies in the country against the Jews for looting as a compensation]].

[[There was a huge emigration wave to the criminal and racist "USA" since the new anti-Jewish legislation in Russia 1881, see: Encyclopaedia Judaica: Migration 1881-1914 ]].

After World War I. [modification of the statutes - anti-Semitic agitation in the 1930s]

In the period between the two world wars in Bucharest community grew in both numbers and importance. The Jewish population of the city, now the capital of greater Rumania and attracting settlers from all parts of the country, increased from 44,000 in 1912 to 74,480 (12% of the total population) in 1930, and to 95,072 in 1940. About two-thirds of those gainfully employed were occupied as artisans, workers, clerks, and shop-assistants; others were active in the liberal professions, especially medicine and law.

In 1920, the statute of the reconstituted Ashkenazi community was officially approved, and in 1931, following the publication of the new law for the Organization of the Cults, the community was officially (col. 1440)

recognized as the legal representative of the city's Ashkenazi Jewish population; at the same time the community's statute was amended to conform to the requirements of the law. The organization of the community was again modified by a new statute in 1937.

With the reconstitution of the organized community, all Jewish institutions were brought under its jurisdiction. The community's religious, educational, and welfare institutions included over 40 synagogues, two cemeteries, 19 schools, a library and a historical museum, two hospitals, a clinic, two old-age homes, and two orphanages. The spiritual head of the Ashkenazi community during this period was J.J. *Niemirower, while the outstanding lay leader was W. *Filderman.

Like many other Jewish communities in Rumania, the Bucharest community was harassed during this period by recurrent anti-Jewish outbreaks and excesses varying in intensity in which the university was the focus of anti-Jewish agitation. The Bucharest community and its leaders continued to play an important role in the social and political life of Rumanian Jewry, representing in particular the attitude of the Jews from the Old Kingdom.

Holocaust Period. [Deprivation of the Jewish rights, confiscations and prohibition of professions]

In September, 1940, with the accession to power of the *Antonescu-*Iron Guard coalition, Bucharest became one of the main centers of the anti-Jewish activities of the new regime and of the Legionnaire terror (see *Rumania). The terror culminated in a bloody pogrom during the Legionnaire rebellion (Jan. 21-24, 1941), when 120 Jews were murdered, thousands arrested and maltreated, Jewish houses, shops, and public institutions destroyed and pillaged, and a large number of synagogues desecrated and devastated.

Until the end of the Antonescu regime (August 1944), Bucharest Jews were subjected to all the restrictions and persecutions which were the lot of the rest of Rumanian Jewry. Thousands of Jews were deprived of employment. In 1942 only 27.2 percent of the city's Jewish population of about 100,000 was registered as gainfully employed, compared with 54.3 percent of the non-Jewish population.

In September 1942, several hundred Jews were deported to *Transnistria and killed. At the same time, 5,236 buildings and 14,492 apartments belonging to Jews, including all buildings occupied by Jewish institutions, were expropriated. In January 1942 the community was forced to pay, in money and in kind, a sum amounting to over 760 million lei ($2,550,000). The closing of the government schools to Jews and the growing pauperization of the Jewish population imposed upon the community the need to greatly expand its educational and social-welfare activities.

In 1943 the Jewish community maintained 27 schools of various grades and 21 canteens. Bucharest became the center of relief activities for Rumanian Jews, and especially for those deported to Transnistria.


[[Add to this there were
-- Jews coming from Transnistria
-- the general flight movement from Communist Russia to Eastern Europe with the hope to evade communism
-- the emigration movement from Rumania (Romania) to Palestine]].

Contemporary Period. [Jewish institutions closed down or taken over by the communist state]

After the establishment of the Communist regime in 1947, all Jewish national, cultural, and welfare institutions in Bucharest were gradually closed down

[[As since 1948 the Israel regime under dictator Ben Gurion was cooperating with criminal CIA and criminal "USA" Stalin cut off all connections between the eastern and western Jewry because Israel became another "American" state and was a stone of the encirclement of the "Soviet Union" (which was financed also by the criminal "USA" of course...]].

The welfare institutions were nationalized and the schools absorbed in the general educational network. A state Yiddish school was opened in 1949 but closed a few years later. Communal activity is organized by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Rumania. Jewish cultural activities center on the Yiddish theater taken over by the state in 1948. A Yiddish school of dramatic art was established in 1957.

[Jewish newspapers - Federation of Jewish Religious Communities - figures]

Two Jewish newspapers, the Rumanian Unirea, followed later by Viata Novua, and the Yiddish Ikuf Bleter were published, but both were discontinued in 1952/53. From October 1956 a periodical in Rumanian, Yiddish, and Hebrew, Revista Cultului Mozaic was published on behalf of the Federation of Jewish Religious (col. 1441)

Communities. The Federation also cares for the religious needs of its members, supplying them with mazzot, prayer shawls, prayer books, etc. In the late 1960s there were 14 regular synagogues in Bucharest, including the Choir Temple. There is also a talmud torah [[school]], a "Hebra-Shas" (weekly courses in Talmud), a Yiddish theater, and a kasher restaurant. About 400 Jewish students participate in courses in Hebrew and Jewish history organized by the religious community, but the main problem in this sphere is the lack of competent teachers.

Of the 44,202 Jews (3.6% of the total population) registered in the city in the 1956 census, 4,425 declared Yiddish to be their mother tongue. In 1969 it was estimated that 50,000 Jews lived in Bucharest.> (col. 1442)

Jewish Population in Bucharest
Number of Jews
204 familiesxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
from: Rumania; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 4, col. 1438


-- M.A. Halevy: Comunitatile Evreilor din Jasi si Bucuresti, 1 (1931)
-- idem, in: Sinai (Bucharest), 2 (1929, xxix-xxxi; 3 (1931), xvii-xxxiv; 5 (1933), lviii-lxiv
-- idem: Monografie istorica a Templului Coral din Bucuresti (1935)
-- idem: Templul Unirea-Sfânta din Bucuresti (1937)
-- E. Schwarzfeld, in: Anuar pentru Israeliti, 9 (1886), 70-83; 19 (1898), 55-62
-- M. Schwarzfeld: ibid., 9 (1886), 1-30; 10 (1887), 195-9
-- Barasch, in: Kalendar und Jahrbuch fuer Israeliten (1854), 245-80
- idem, in: AZDJ, 8 (1844), 750-1; 9 (1845), 94-95, 108-11, 177-9, 444-7, 480-2
-- Feldman, in: ZHion, 22 (1957), 214-38
-- Anuarul Evreilor din România (1937), 161-83
-- Comunitatea Evreilor din Bucuresti. Raport asupra activitatii cultului mozaic (1943), typewritten, in Jewish Historical Archives, Jerusalem
-- M. Carp: Cartea neagra, 3 vols. (1946-48), index
-- Herbert, in: Journal of Jewish Bibliography 2 (1940), 110ff.
-- Ariel, in: Analele Societatii Istorice I. Barasch, 2 (1888), 187-208> (col. 1442)

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Bucharest,
                          vol. 4, col. 1438
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Bucharest, vol. 4, col. 1438
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Bucharest,
                          vol. 4, col. 1439-1440
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Bucharest, vol. 4, col. 1439-1440
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Bucharest,
                          vol. 4, col. 1441-1442
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Bucharest, vol. 4, col. 1441-1442