“Piatra Neamt” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Romania, Volume 1
(Piatra Neamt, Romania)

46°55' / 26°20'

Translation of “Piatra Neamt” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Romania

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1969


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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Romania,
Volume 1, pages 208-216, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1969


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(Pages 208-216)

Piatra Neamt, Romania

Translated by Shula Laby, M. D. and Morton Laby, M.D

Chief town of the district of Moldova , on the Bistrita River, at the foot of the eastern Carpathian Mountains.

In Jewish sources, “ Piatra was known as the village which lies on the banks of the Bistrisa and Kayeshd Rivers and by the water sources”.

In the time of the Dacians and the Romans the town was called “Petro-Dava”, or “Petris”. The Slavic name was “Kamena”.

Jewish Population

Year Number of Jews Percent of the Population
1803 120 (taxpayers)  
1820 160  
1831 681  
1838 1760  
1859 3900 33%
1872 4987  
1894 8361  
1907 8489 50%
1910 8000  
1930 7595 24%
1941 7267 20.8%
1947 8000  

 

Prior to World War I

Beginnings of Jewish Settlement in Piatra Neamt:

Jewish settlement is very old, as evidenced by names given to different locations in the town and environs.:

Poiana lui David (lawns of David), Davideni, Jidovina, Locul lui Avram (Abraham's Place), Mosia lui Moise (Moses's Estate), and Valea Jidanului (Valley of the Jews). According to tales told by Jewish and Christian farmers, the Baal Shem Tov lived in the nearby Carpathian Mountains. There are also those who say he was born in one of the nearby villages.

The great synagogue was built, according to tradition, in the 16th century; and it is said that the Jews hid Prince Petru Rares there during the war with the Turks (1541-1546). But the earliest physical evidence of a Jewish presence is an inscription on a tombstone in the Jewish cemetery dated 1627.

The first listings in the Pinkassim {records} of the Chevra Kadisha are from 1771, which include the rules for the Chevra. From these, it appears that the Chevra administered the affairs of the Kehilla. {community} The Gabai of the Chevra and the Rabbi were authorized to punish lawbreakers; and the mashgichim (supervisors) watched over weights and measures, as well as Sabbath observance. With the money they collected, they supported the poor of the Kehilla, poor people passing through the town, and the Talmud Torah. They also took care of hosting travelers and visiting the sick.

rom1_00209a.gif [30 KB] - Pre-Zionist Yiddish Newspaper: Die Hoffnung
Pre-Zionist Yiddish Newspaper: Die Hoffnung

Top right column on p.209

 

The days of the revolt of the Greeks in 1821 were days of pogroms for the Jews of Piatra Neamt. The Chief of the District Police aided the revolutionists in robbing and murdering Jews. Only the Turkish Army, which arrived in time, prevented a mass murder. In 1841- 48, Jews were arrested in nearby villages because of a blood libel, and were brought into town. They were tortured by the local police and were forced to admit their guilt. Even though the libel was proved false, they were not freed until Sir Moses Montefiore received from the Sultan a release order, which he presented to the Governor of Moldova in Iasi. The prisoners were freed, and the Chief of the District Police was punished by the Governor.

In the mid 19th century most of the buildings in the town were destroyed in a fire. An estate owner gave loans to victims in order to rebuild their homes, so that they would not leave. In 1860 the Greek merchants again spread a blood libel against the Jews, but this time the Chief of Police arrested the prevaricators and expelled them from the town.

In the second half of the 19th century the newly independent Romanian authorities began to persecute the Jews.. In 1870-72, Jews who were poor were mistreated because they were considered to be vagrants.. Romanian professional charitable and cultural societies refused to accept Jews as members. In 1879 a nationwide organization of butchers was organized to compete with the Jewish butchers. From 1883 “foreign” Jews required a permit to leave the town. In 1844 , six Jews were refused admission to the Government hospital. Jewish students were not permitted to study in public schools. In 1890 about 100 homes belonging to Jews were destroyed by the municipality on the grounds that they were in danger of collapsing. In 1891 there was again a blood libel, and in 1899 the riots became so intense that the Chief of Police forbade any demonstrations.

Organizing the Kehilla

The origin of the Kehilla was in the Jewish Guild. This guild was mentioned in documents as “The Jewish Nation, or “The Kahal of the Jews of Piatra”. The head of the guild was under the authority of the great “Starista” of Iasi, and of the Hacham Bashi (Chief Rabbi) of Iasi. The guild kept the records of the Jewish population and paid the taxes for all the Jews. The money for the taxes came from the selling of meat. In a document dated 1826 and written by the ruler Sturza, it was stated that the taxes should be reduced, and that the guild should be allowed to pay in instalments because the Jews were in such a distressed condition. At times the authorities would invite the head of the guild for consultations. In 1819 the head of the guild (Bercu Leibu) was also second in command to the chief of the Municipal Police. After the elimination of the position of Hacham Bashi in 1846, elections to the Kehilla were held in the Police Building. The budget of the Kehilla required the approval of the municipality. In 1861 the overall tax on the Kehilla was abolished, and a tax was imposed on each individual Jew. In 1876 there were 1,051 Jewish taxpayers.

In 1865 the organization of the Kehilla changed. Only persons who contributed funds to the Kehilla were allowed to participate in elections. Sometimes there were groups ( such as craftsmen) who objected to the election ; then the municipality ordered new elections. Until 1884 the Kehilla paid the municipality a certain amount of money as its share of the upkeep of the public gardens and maintenance of the military orchestra.

Because of friction between the merchants and the craftspeople, the Kehilla fell apart. In the years 1877-78 the Jewish Charitable Organization fulfilled the role of the Kehilla. The years 1889-96 were years of deep turmoil in the Kehilla.

rom1_00209b.gif [30 KB] - Pre-Zionist Yiddish Newspaper: Die Hoffnung
Proclamation of the Interior Ministry in 1868,
forbidding the head of the district to
interfere in the affairs of the Kehilla

Lower left column on p. 209

 

The Rabbis received their honoraria from the tax on meat which the butchers paid; and the Jewish poor and the Talmud Torah were sustained by charitable organizations. In 1895, delegates from all the synagogues met and elected a new committee for the Kehilla; and on Jan.1, 1896 the committee began to function. But the division continued and found its expression in propaganda leaflets and in articles in newspapers and periodicals. The committee had to be changed often.

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