Update to the History of the Skala Jewish Community

by Max Mermelstein

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In the leading chapter of “Sefer Skala”, entitled “ The History of Skala”, authored by my late friend and co-editor of the Skala book, Gedalyahu Lachman of blessed memory , we are told, that according to 18th century Polish records, the history of the town dates back to the year 1395 and that according to a 1570 census, there were 10 Jewish households in Skala in addition to 186 Christian households. This led us to the assumption that the beginnings of Jewish Communal life in Skala date back to the year 1570. Recently, that assumption turned out to be, totally erroneous, in a strange and unexpected way.

During a routine pre-Passover dusting of my library books in mid-March 2012, I came across a 1956 issue No.3-4 of “ZION”, a Hebrew quarterly of the Israel Historical Society, published in Jerusalem. I don't remember when and how this volume came into my possession , but I don't recall reading it before. Leafing through it, I was intrigued by the opening chapter entitled “Jewish Participation in the Colonization of Ukraine (1569-1648) by S. Ettinger. In closer examination in turned out to be a 142 page part of a PHD thesis written by Ettinger, at the time a graduate student of the Hebrew University under the guidance of Prof. Benzion Dinnur *)

According to this richly annotated and referenced doctoral thesis, based on Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and Talmudic sources, Jewish settlements in the Ukrainian region of Podole , east and west of the river Zbrucz, started in the year 1503. Quoting the eminent Polish historian Leon Bialkowski, author of “Podole in the 16th Century” , Warsaw 1920, page 110, the beginning of the Skala Jewish Community dates back to the year 1526 or 44 years earlier than we thought until now. In fact, Skala was one of the earliest 9 Jewish settlements in the Ukraine . The other 8 were: Vinnitza -1506; Miedzyborz-1518; Zinkov – 1526; Bar -1542; Satanov -1565; Chmielnik- 1565; Probuzhna- 1569; and Sharabka – 1569. In all, a total of 115 Jewish communities established in the Ukraine between 1503 and 1648 are alphabetically listed in this thesis along with their exact location, years they are first mentioned and the relevant sources.

The thesis is also accompanied by elaborate footnotes, statistical charts, a hand drawn map and fascinating information about the socio-economic and political factors that stimulated the growth of Jewish settlements in the Ukraine in the 16th century. That however, is another subject for further exploration . . .

*) Professor of Modern Jewish History at Hebrew University (1936-1948; Israel Minister of Education and Culture (1951-1955) and President of “Yad Vashem” (1955-1959).
Passed away in 1973.

Text copyrighted by Max Mermelstein
This page created by Max Heffler
Updated Jul 5, 2012. Copyright 2005 Skala Research Group. All Rights Reserved.