The Great Jewish Refugee Crisis of the 17th Century

April 14 2020

In his book Refugees or Migrants: Pre-Modern Jewish Population Movement (reviewed in Mosaic here), the medievalist Robert Chazan argues that for much of history Jews were more likely to leave their homes in exile not because of expulsions, or to flee violent persecution, but to seek new economic opportunities. One of the many examples Chazan cites is the wave of massacres of Jews in Ukraine—then part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth—carried out by the followers of the Cossack leader Bodgan Chmielnicki in 1648 and 1649. While the violence inflicted on Jews during the Chmielnicki uprising and the subsequent period of unrest would not be matched until the Holocaust, Chazan notes that the affected communities quickly reconstructed themselves.

In a recent book on this period of East European Jewry, Adam Teller doesn’t disagree with Chazan’s overall conclusion, but calls attentions to the enormous impact that the massacres did have. Allan Arkush writes in his review of the two books:

Relying, like Chazan, on the research of Shaul Stampfer, Teller reports that of the 40,000 Jews in Ukraine, some 18,000 died between 1648 and 1654, in addition to an indeterminable number of others who were massacred in other parts of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Refugees who remained within the borders of the Commonwealth must have numbered at least 15,000, and another 10,000 seem to have migrated beyond them. Contemporary but unreliable reports refer to 20,000 to 30,000 Jews who were sold [into slavery] or redeemed [by local Jews] in Istanbul, yet “the best we can say is that many thousands of Jews were captured and swept up in the slave trade” between 1648 and 1667.

The overall numbers may seem small by modern standards, but they weren’t then. The total world Jewish population at the time numbered only around one million. Jews in other parts of the world collected money to care for the newly homeless and ransom the captives. For the Lithuanian communities outside Chmielnicki’s reach, already in 1651 the burden was huge, “and under its pressure, communal organizations began to unravel.”

In Teller’s eyes, however, the long-term significance of the refugee crisis lies mostly in the way the Jewish world responded to it: strengthening intercommunal connections, improving channels of communications, and expanding the range of Jewish philanthropy. In addition to these positive developments, the crisis also contributed to the centuries-long tension between German Jews and their coreligionists to the east.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Anti-Semitism, Chmielnicki massacres, Diaspora, East European Jewry, Immigration, Philanthropy

 

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror