Compiled by Martin Davis © 2010- 2017

Early Jewish Practice

It is difficult to know exactly what was the exact religious practices (procedural, liturgical etc.)  of the Jewish community of Kamenets prior to the 18th century. As mentioned on the Home page, Jewish inhabitants were first noted in 1447  and in 1598, after first granting Jews freedoms and rights, the Polish King Sigismund III prohibited Jews from settling in the town and suburbs and from engaging in trade there. Whether those practices were most likely of the Sephardic tradition, modified by time and location. By the start of the Cossack Uprising, the Jewish community of Kamenets was clearly strong and well established as it was seen as a refuge for the more isolated Jewish communities which came under threat of extermination from the Cossacks. It is suggested that as a result of the terror, atrocities and the fear of imminent death during the period of the Cossack uprising, a fertile ground was provided for the development of superstitions and belief in miracles which encouraged the belief in Shabbetai Zevi (the false messiah) to take hold. From the late 1600’s, this powerful messianic movement embedded itself in Podolia and a significant Sabbatean movement continued to exist into the 1700’s [1].

Shabbetai Zevi (the False Messiah) and Jacob Frank

Bishop Dembowski took the "Anti-Talmudists," or "Zoharists," under his protection and in 1757 arranged a religious debate in Kamenets between them and the rabbis (there is no mention of the Kamenets rabbi who may have taken part). The bishop decided that the Talmudists had lost the argument, and ordered them to pay a fine to their opponents and ordered his functionaries to burn all 1000 copies of the Talmud, which had been previously gathered, in the the town hall square.

Chassidic Movement and the Misnaggedim

At around the same time as the Frankist debate, the Chassidic movement was developing. This movement, founded by Israel Baal Shem Tov “originated almost within the gates of [Kamenets] city” [3] and had many followers in Kamenets. In fact the burning of the Talmud in Kamenets became an allegorical story, incorporated by the emergent Chassidic movement into their own traditions of the triumph of Rabbi Israel the Baal Shem Tov over Satan: The majority of the population however remained traditionally observant Jews (Misnaggedim) who followed their own rebbes. The liturgy was according to the Sephardic formulation “...because of the influence of the Spanish Jews” who had migrated to the area [3] pp13

Jewish Life in Kamenets in the late 19th/early 20th century

The substantial Jewish community of Kamenets had a full and rich cultural and religious life. There were numerous avenues down which an observant (or non observant) Jew could go which enabled the community as a whole to retain a vibrancy and unique pattern and way of life up until the absolute restriction of that way of life by the Communist dictatorship of the 1920’s. By the early 19th century it is known that the rabbinical seat was occupied by Rabbi Yitzhak Meizlisch and by the mid 1800’s a series of rabbis - including Rabbi Zalman Lerner and Pinkhas of Koretz, Rabbi Dov Berish Eliash are recorded. The seat of the rabbinate was held for a long time  by the author of Da’at Kedoshim - a Chassidic rabbi  Rabbi Abraham David Wahrmann. Many of the more wealthy Jewish parents sent their sons and daughters to the public schools. This was the beginings of a movement toward secularism, with the development of scouting groups, Zionist clubs and youth groups and secular political activity. This gradual change continued from 1900 until the chaos of the First World War - see History post 1850. In 1921 the city was ceded to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) under the Treaty of Riga, as part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. From then all public religious life was restricted and came to an abrupt halt in 1926. The authorities conducted a policy of enforced atheism and this meant that in Kamenets prayer houses and synagogues were closed and religious artefact (synagogue decorations, Torah dressings etc. were confiscated). This by the advent of the Second World War, according recent research conducted by the Kamenets Authorities, the religious buildings had already remained unoccupied and inaccessible for several years prior to their destruction. There destruction probably occured during the fighting to recapture the city from the Nazis in March 1944 [1].
[1] Kamenets Old Town by Anna Kavilsha. Published 2002 [2] Classic Hassidic Tales by Meyer Levin. Dorset Press New York. Published 1985 [3] Kaminits-Podolsk and its Environs Randolph. Ed Abraham Rosen and others. Published by the Avotaynu Foundation Inc Bergenfield NJ 1999. p.p.13 Reference The Jewish Encyclopaedia - Jacob Frank
“ Then the Enemy (Satan), tormented as he saw Rabbi Israel doing good on earth, schemed to overcome the Master..... then Satan went to G-d and said ‘Take away the Torah from your Jews’.....The Bishop of Kamenitz- Podolsky was the most zealous to follow the commands of the Archbishop [who had required his bishops to burn the Talmuds]...The Bishop of Kamenitz-Podolsk took a tractate of the Talmud and hurled it into the flames...” [2]
The Sabbatean movement was exploited by Jacob Frank (1726-1791), who was born in Podolia as Yacov ben Jehuda Leib. He founded the movement that became known as the Frankists; a heretical Jewish sect that was an anti-Talmudic outgrowth of the mysticism of the false Messiah Sabbatai Zevi. In the early 1750s, Frank became close to the leaders of the Sabbateans. Two followers of Osman Baba (the leading Sabbatean of the period) were witnesses at Frank’s wedding in 1752. After traveling in Turkey, where he changed his name to Frank, and where he joined the Sabbatean sect, he returned to Podolia (c.1755). Posing as a messiah, he gathered a following, by whom he was addressed as "holy master." Frank began to preach the "revelations" which were communicated to him by the Muslim Zeviists in Turkey. However, he was forced to leave Podolia, while his followers were denounced to the local authorities by the rabbis (1756). A congress of rabbis in Brody proclaimed a universal Cherem (excommunication) against all "impenitent heretics", and made it obligatory upon every pious Jew to seek them out and expose them. The Sabbateans informed Bishop Dembowski, the Catholic Bishop of Kamenetz-Podolsk, that they rejected the Talmud and recognized only the sacred book of Kabbalah, the Zohar, which did not contradict the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. They stated that they regarded the Messiah-Deliverer as one of the embodiments of the Holy Trinity.
The blessing of the foundation stone of the new Yeshiva of Kamenets (Tif’eret Yisra’el) circa 1909 - courtesy of the YIVO Institute
By implication however, the large range of Jewish houses of worship suggests a very vibrant religious  environment. In 1882, according to statistical data compiled by NA Ostroverhova quoted in his book ‘Kamenets: history and economy of the city’, there were two synagogues and 21 prayer halls in the old town. By 1884 , the number of prayer halls had increased to 24 and at the beginning of 20th century there were 31 prayer hall recorded. This did not include those in the Kamenets districts of Karvansary, Podzamche, and the Polish and Ruthenian suburbs . According to  Y Bernstein [3], the largest centre of houses of study and small synagogues (prayer halls) was located in Dulgaya Street (in Yiddish, the ‘Yotkegas’)  and the street of the butchers (near the Shulgas).  There was the Sadgura kloyz,  the kloyz of Gedaliah Heller (Zinkover kloyz), the kloyz of Reb Yitzhak the blacksmith, the kloyz of Reb Moshe Yoine Rubinstein (Boyaner kloyz), the Stambulski Synagogue, the Bet Midrash  of Reb Naftali Rabinovitch, the Axelrod synagogue, the Pallbearers synagogue, the Askenazi synagogue (the only one to use the Askenazi liturgy), and the Blacksmith’s synagogue. On the other side of the street were the, Husyatim Chassidim, the Chortkov Chassidim, the Vaislovitch Synagogue and the Marmelstein Synagogue plus the Rabinovits and Sheindlis synagogues in other parts of the old town. However, in the years before the First World War the traditional observances were starting to erode.  There was a noted decrease in the number of of one room religious schools and the number of young people attending a kloyz decreased.
Mid 19th century Torah Crown from Kamenets - now in the Museum of Historical Treasures
Click to enlarge photo
Judaism in Kamenets