Polonnoye, Ukraine, is located in Khmelnyts’ka oblast (formerly in the Kamenets-Podolski oblast) and is one of the oldest communities in Volhynia. Its Jewish historical roots go back to the 14th century. The Jewish community in Polonnoye became one of the largest in the region. By 1648 it was a fortified town where 12,000 Jews together with many Poles sought refuge in its fortress during the Cossack uprising led by Bogdan Chmielnicki (1595-1657). Together, they defended themselves against the Cossacks for two days.
When the Cossacks finally overran the town, about 300 Jews gathered in the bet ha-midrash and, led by the kabbalis Rabbi Samson Ostropoler, wrapped themselves in their tallitot and met death with a prayer on their lips. Others died in their houses without any resistance. An estimated 10,000 people were slaughtered.
The Jewish population from Polonnoye had difficulty recovering until 1684. At that time Polish Countess Lyubomirskaya, gave permission to the Jews to build nice houses and live in a portion of Polonnoye. Jews were also granted exemptions from military service except for during a general mobilization. And they were allowed to be merchants and to operate businesses. Special payments were required for these privileges. Because of this, Polonnoye became a large commercial center at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century.
Polonnye became a center of Jewish learning during the last half of the 18th century. Aryeh Judah Leib (the 'Mokhiah' of Polonnoye, d. 1770) and later Jacob Joseph Ha-Kohen (d. 1782), chassidic rabbis carried on the teachings of the Ba’al Shem Tov. Hebrew printing also flourished from 1782-1820. Active were printers Samuel b. Issakar Ber and Joseph b. Tzevi ha-Kohen. Together they published some 90 kabbalistic, chassidic, and ethical works, some in Yiddish.
At the time when Polonnoye became part of Russia, 350 Jewish people resided in the town. The community grew to 2,647 in 1847. The census of 1897 shows that there were 16,288 people in Polonnoye and of them 7,910 were Jewish
Polonnoye was involved in the 1919 civil war between the Red and Ukrainian Armies. During Passover of that year, most of the inhabitants fled to nearby towns. In September, Budenny’s cavalry raided, killing some 40 Jews. By 1926 Polonnye had 5,337 Jews. Almost all were annihilated during the German occupation in the summer of 1941. The formerly vibrant Jewish community has vanished. Less than 100 Jews live in Polonnoye today.
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