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Copyright Martin Rudner, 1993


At the Partition of Poland

With the partition of Poland in 1772, Buczacz came under Austrian rule. No longer did the Jews of Buczacz benefit from the protection of the local authorities. Under the new regime Jews were restricted from living in surrounding villages unless they were directly engaged in agriculture. Taxes were increased substantially, including taxes on candles, marriage, and kosher slaughter. Although in return for bribes Jews could still trade in surrounding villages, the overcall economic condition of the Buczacz Jewry deteriorated markedly during the 18th century. In the early 19th century the Jews of Buczacz joined with the Jews of Lvov and Brody in sending delegations (Buczacz was represented by the long-time Parnass, Meir Shnauer) to Vienna to plead for an easing of the fiscal burden.

In 1831 a cholera epidemic struck Buczacz and some 600 Jews perished. That same year a fire consumed half the town, including the Great Synagogue. This was quickly rebuilt with the help of the local Polish headman. The Great Synagogue was again damaged in a fire that tore through the town in 1865.

Emancipation of the Economy

Special regulations affecting Jews were abolished in 1848. Subsequently the Jewish community of Buczacz grew in population and began to flourish once again. The number of Jews in Buczacz increased from about 1200 in 1812 to over 7000 in 1910, comprising over half the town's population. Jews engaged in all types of commerce, wholesale, retail and peddling. They concentrated on the marketing of local agricultural produce, and traded in urban manufactures. They were exporters of eggs, poultry, meat and dairy products to markets in neighbouring countries.

Industry came to Buczacz around the end of the 19th century. Among the small-scale industries there included a brickwork, and candle and soap factory, (modern) flour mills, a textile plant, and a necktie factory. The town also boasted a brewery and a winery. The largest factory was established early in the 1900s, when the Hilfespharein concern of Vienna set up a plant for the manufacture of wooden toys in Buczacz employing some 200 workers, mainly young girls. In 1912 the Stanislavov-based Savings and Credit Union opened a branch in Buczacz, and this served as a bank for local industrialists and business.

Jews were predominant in certain artisan occupations in Buczacz, notably tailoring, furriers, tin-smithing, book publishing, and waggoneering. Jews were also active in carpentry and cabinet making. From the late 19th century local Jews began to enter the free professions. By 1910 there were 14 Jewish lawyers and four medical doctors belonging to the Association of Zionist Professionals, and this reportedly represented about half the total number of Jewish professionals in Buczacz. An association of accountants was formed in 1905 with 40 members.

Religious Patterns

From the early 18th century the religious and cultural fabric of Galician Jewry was buffeted and torn by the rival beliefs and doctrines of Hassidism (Jewish charismatic pietism), Mitnagdim (traditionalist Talmudism, in opposition to Hassidism) and the Haskalah (secular Jewish Enlightenment). Hassidism swept into Galicia from Podolia and Volhynia, winning over large numbers - perhaps a majority - of the region's Jews. Exhibiting the characteristics of a pious folk religion, Hassidism tapped the profound religiosity of a populace subjugated by rabbinic legalism and poverty. Each centre of Hassidism evolved around its rebbe, a charismatic and mystical rabbinical intermediary to God, who defined and shaped the spiritual traits, customs and behavioural attributes of his particular sect.

Opposing Hassidism were those Jews rooted in the traditional scholasticism and legalism associated with religious orthodoxy. For Mitnagdim, literally "opponents (of Hassidism)", authentic Judaism demanded strict adherence to rabbinic authority manifested through Talmudic scholarship. To these Mitnagdim, Hassidim were heretics. Religious and communal conflicts between Hassidism and Mitnagdim were heated and intense.

Despite differences over doctrine and rabbinic leadership, Hassidim and mitnagdim alike remained unalterably commited to a punctilious observance of orthodox beliefs, values, rituals and identity. Acculturation into the secular, inherently Gentile culture surrounding them was firmly rejected.

In fact, the inward-oriented world of Galician Jewry was being swept by social changes and intellectual ferment accompanying the onset of the Age of Reason. Jews inspired by the Enlightenment, the Haskalah, broke with the hitherto exclusivist, theocratic value system dominating Jewish society in Galicia. Early maskilim, disciples of the Haskalah, were outward oriented in their social pursuits, attending schools and even universities, and pursuing professions not confined exclusively to the Jewish community. They promoted cultural contact with the outside world, and subscribed to the pluralistic values and ethos of an emerging secular society. The Galician maskil, Joseph Perl (1774-1839), satirized and criticized Hassidism and its rabbinical leadership. Other maskilim joined in the attack on religious obscurantism and the anti-modern stance of the rabbinnate. In 1834 the Austrian government decreed that "no rabbi should be appointed who had not taken an academic course" in an effort to modernize and secularize Galician Jewish society. By way of reaction, the rabbinical authorities remained adamant in their opposition to the Haskalah, and strenously resisted the inroads of secular culture and educational development.

Like other Jewish settlements in Galicia, the Jews of 19th century Buczacz were divided as between Hassidim, Mitnagdim, and Maskilim. Yet, by way of contrast with many other towns and shteitls, in Buczacz relations among the three groupings remained cordial. No religious kulterkampf ensued among the Jews of Buczacz. By the middle of the 19th century there were 12 official houses of Jewish worship in Buczacz, including the Great Synagogue, two Batei Midrash (the "Old" and the "New"), two Hassidic kloizim (Tshortkov and Husiatin), and prayer houses for particular occupation groups. In addition there were about ten minyanim meeting in private houses.

Hassidism came to Buczacz through Rabbi Avraham David b'ar Asher-Anshel Waarman, who assumed a rabbinical post in 1813. He published eleven books, among them Da'at Kedoshim, Amarot Tehorot, and Birkat David. Serving as an Admar as well as a Rabbi, he died in 1841. His son, R. Eliezer, succeeded as head of his Court, albeit without success, and was succeeded in turn by his nephew R. Avraham David. Thereafter the Hassidic Court in Buczacz was headed until 1853 by R. Zadoik Rainek, followed by R. Avraham ben Zvi Teumim, author of Chessed l'Avraham (d. 1863), R. Sholom Mordecai Shvedrom [known as "Hamarhasham"] (1876 to 1881), R. Yechiel Michael Breimer (1881-1907), and R. Meir-Arik Miazlubitch.

The majority of Buczacz Jews adhered to the traditionalist Mitnagdim. Most were relatively well educated. Their residences tended to congregate around the two Batei Midrash which had built up substantial collections of religious books. Dignitaries from among the Mitnagdim tended to constitute the communal and institutional leadership of Buczacz Jewry.

The Enlightened Maskilim were in a distinct minority in Buczacz. Prominent among them was Pinchas Eliahu Horowitz, author of Sefer Ha-Brit and Divrei Emet, one of the earliest prototypical encyclopedias of the natural sciences in the Hebrew language. One of the organizations which was active in late 19th century Buczacz was the Leunchneutch, an association similar in outlook to Shomer Yisrael, and it maintained a library of Hebrew and German-language materials.

Government and Social Institutions

As a result of new regulations put in place by the Austrian authorities, the first elected municipal system of government was established in Buczacz in 1874. Among the 30 elected municipal representatives there were 12 Jews, 9 Poles and 9 Ukrainians. In 1879, Bernard Shtern, son of the Parnass of the Kehila, was elected mayor, and held office until 1921. After 1890 he also served as Parnass of the Kehila following the death of his father. Bernard Shtern emphasized the importance of cooperation between Jews and Poles. He made every effort to persuade Jewish voters to support candidates for office in regional institutions in Lemburg (Polish: Lwow; Ukrainian: Lviv), and in national institutions in Vienna, who adhered to this viewpoint. In 1911 he was himself elected to the Austrian parliament.

Modern education was first introduced to Buczacz during the Haskalah (Enlightenment) period at the end of the 18th century. A government decree requiring that Jewish children be education in public schools or Jewish secular schools w was given over for implementation to Naphtali Herz Homberg, a Czech Jew and a Maskil. Under his supervision a network of 107 secular Jewish schools offering instruction in the German language were set up in Jewish communities across Galicia, including Buczacz. However, their secular orientation cut against the grain of a mainly traditionalist Galicianer society, so that enrolments dwindled. In 1806 these schools were finally closed down.

For most of the 19th century the only type of Jewish education available in Buczacz, as in many other places in Galicia, was traditional religious learning. Then in 1899 the Baron de Hirsch Foundation established a modern Jewish school which enrolled 262 children in its inaugural year. By the early 20th century it had more than 500 pupils, though by the time it closed down in 1911 its enrolment had fallen to only 163. Meanwhile an influx of Jewish refugees from Russia saw the establishment, in 1906, of a yeshiva offering four grades and headed by R. Raphael Kitigorodski. In 1909 the local dayyan, Feivel Vilig, founded the General Torah School which was intended to absorb the traditional cheders and the yeshiva. Financial support for this institution came from a local wealthy contributor, Leivush Fohorileh.

The Safah Brurah Hebrew comprehensive school was founded in 1907. Alongside there was established a kindergarten that was to provided training for many of the kindergarten teachers in Galicia. The head of the school and kindergarten was one Bercovitz, who had come to Buczacz from the Holy Land.

The first modern-style social institutions were established in Buczacz during the last decade of the 19th century. A welfare kitchen was set up in 1890 by Regina Reiss, a lawyer's wife. Children attending the school founded by Baron de Hirsch also accessed this kitchen. In 1891 a new Jewish hospital was opened with modern facilities and equipment, based on the earlier Kodesh, headed by Dr Fabian Hecht. This was the only hospital in Buczacz. In 1905 a geriatric facility was opened next to the hospital. In 1912 the Rachel organization, a Zionist women's association, opened a non-residential orphanage.

These social institutions were all supported by voluntary contributions from members of the community. In the 1890s the Kehila acquired its own administrative building, and built a poultry slaughter house. Among other cultural institutions, a Jewish public library was opened by the Agudath Zion association. This burnt down in 1905 and was rebuilt a year later. A "Toynbee-Hall" club operated from early 1907, and conducted lectures which eventually reached an audience of some 2600 listeners. It was here that as a young local writer, Sh. Y. Agnon, the Nobel laureate, first read his poetry. Dramatic and orchestral performances took place under the aegis of Zion and Poalei Zion ("Zionist Workers"). A Hebrew newspaper, Ha-Yarden ("The Jordan") first appeared in Buczacz in 1905 and lasted at least three issues. Around the same time the magazine Dar Yidishe Vorker ("The Jewish Worker") transferred to Buczacz from Stanislavov.

Political organizations representing the various contemporary ideological stripes were all present in Buczacz. Already in the 1820s a socialist organization, Braterstavo ("Fraternity"), was founded in Buczacz among Jewish workers. This later became a branch of the Jewish Socialist Party (Z.P.S.). A Buczacz Zionists organization, Zion, was founded in 1894. Dr Yitzhak Fernhof was its representative to the first Zionist Congress. Women Zionists were organized in the Rachel, Bat Yerushalayim and B'not Zion movements, while student Zionist associations included Hashmonayim and Bar-Kochbah. Although Zionist activity subsequently waxed and waned, it had picked up again following the Kishinev pogrom. In 1906 the Poalei Zion opened a branch of the worker's Zionist movement in Buczacz. The Tseirai Zion general Zionist youth movement came to town in 1911, and were soon followed by the Mizrachi religious Zionists. During this period, a small group of Jewish anarchists were also active.

Around the turn of the 20th century Polish merchants and artisans set up a cooperative society of their own in order to ostracize their Jewish competitors. Catholic priests began to incite the faithful against Jews. In 1911 Ukrainian peasants attacked Jewish villagers, vandalizing their homes and pillaging their property.

By then, large numbers of Jews from Buczacz were emigrating to the United States and Canada. However, the more traditionalist religious elements remained staunchly opposed to emigration as well to acculturation and assimilation. Under the combined leadership of the Hassidic and Mitnagdic rabbinate, guided by the Mo'etzes G'doilei Ha-Toirah (Council of Torah Sages), the Agudas Yisroel movement strove to maintain intact the communal framework of Orthodox Jewry in inter-war Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe against the cross-currents of secularism and assimilation. At the heart of their struggle to maintain the influence and standards of Orthodox Jewry was the desire to live their traditional lifestyle and practice their religion undisturbed. By encouraging stasis and fostering aversion to emigration, Hassidim and Mitnagdim rabbinate caused many if not most of their coreligionists to remain cloistered in their traditional areas of settlement in Galicia and elsewhere in Poland, including Buczacz. The events of history were to overtake this rigid traditionalism, leaving large numbers of Jews immobilized socially and culturally before the cataclysm of the Holocaust. On the stand taken by the Orthodox rabbinate in Poland in opposition to emigration, and its consequences for the Holocaust, see Samuel Heilman, Defenders of the Faith. Inside Ultra-Orthodox Jewry New York: Schoken Books, 1992, pp. 30-33; Menachem Friedman, "The Haridim and the Holocaust," Jerusalem Quarterly, Vol. 53 (Winter, 1990).

With the outbreak of the First World War, most of Buczacz Jewry fled for sanctuary to the western parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, mainly to Vienna and the Czech lands. Those remaining suffered greatly at the hands of the Cossacks, who comprised the Russian occupation forces, as well as from conflagrations and epidemics.

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