Rabbi Hannover’s Yeven Metzulah: Responding to Catastrophe in Seventeenth Century Eastern Europe
One of the most catastrophic times in the tragedy filled history of Eastern European Jewry was the middle of the seventeenth century. In 1648-1649, immediately after the Thirty Years’ War, there was a Cossak uprising led by Bogdan Chmielnicki. While viewed by many non-Jews as the liberator of Ukraine, Chmielnicki massacred many thousands of Jews and destroyed many Jewish communities. Beginning in Nemirov on the 20th of Sivan in the year 5408, corresponding to June 10, 1648, the Cossaks wreaked havoc on many Jewish communities. From Nemirov, Chmielnicki advanced to Tulczyn, Polannoe, and destroyed metropolitan areas such as Ostrog and Lublin. The massacres took a brief respite, but continued through 1649. The Cossaks, whose name is of Tartar origin and means “independent war adventurers,”1 were first found in Russia in the fifteenth century. Groups of Cossaks rose in Poland and, by the sixteenth century, were organized along the lower Dnieper River in Ukraine. By the turn of the seventeenth century it is reported that among the ranks of the Cossaks, there existed many Turks, Tartars, Jews, Russians, and others.2 As time passed, and the Cossaks developed a more sophisticated military identity, Cossak revolts occurred.3 Unsurprisingly these uprisings were easily suppressed by the Polish army.4
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