Friday, July 10, 2020

Timisoara (Yid, Temeshvar) in Transylvania (which switched between Hungarian and Romanian rule over the centuries) was one of the more interesting and unique communities of pre-war Jewish Eastern Europe. Take a look at this reproduction of a list of rabbis who stood at the helm of this community from its inception until its destruction during the Holocaust. As you can see, there are a mix of Sephardim and Ashkenazim. At times the communities maintained separate kehillot, each with its own respective spiritual leader. However, this was not always feasible, and often a sole rabbi (sometimes a Sephardi, at other times an Ashkenazi) served both communities.

One of its earliest prominent members was Rabbi Meir Amigo, who was a transplant from Salonika in the Ottoman Empire (I found it interesting that there were members of this family in Timisoara who retained the surname Amigo as late as the 19th century. Some apparently also lived in nearby Oradea [Grosswardein]).

Yitzchak Kerem in Brill Online Encyclopedia gives a good background on the beginnings of the Sephardic community there:

“The Ottomans first tried to capture the fortress of Temeşvar (Timişoara) in the Banat from the Hungarians in 1526, but did not succeed until October 1551. The city became the administrative center for the Ottoman province of Temeşvar, its rebuilt fortress becoming a major military base. Under Ottoman rule, Jews took a central role in reviving the commerce and economy of the city and of the Banat region in general. The oldest grave found in the Jewish cemetery belonged to Rabbi Azriel Asael of Salonica, who died in Temeşvar in 1636, but it had been in use long before then. In 1716, the Hapsburgs conquered much of the Banat, including Temeşvar. The city’s Jews could have left with the Turks, but chose to remain. In 1718, local Jews were accused of spying for the Ottomans. Vienna ordered them exiled, but the decree seems to have been canceled, possibly through the intervention of Don Moses Pereira Diego Aguilar, the founder of the Sephardi community in Vienna, who held the monopoly on importing tobacco to the Austrian Empire. In 1739, a united Ashkenazi-Sephardi community was formed in Temeşvar. During the Austro-Ottoman War (1787–1791) the Ottomans recaptured Temeşvar, in 1788, and pillaged it in 1789, but at war’s end it was returned to the Austrians.

In the second quarter of the 19th century, Temeşvar had three Ashkenazi and two Sephardi synagogues.

There was a degree of intermarriage between Sephardim and Ashkenazim in Timisoara as late as the 19th century. This is unique for Jewish communities in Eastern Europe.

From the interesting book on the Chatam Sofer and his disciples, חת»ם סופר ותלמידיו, we see an entry for Rabbi Gershon Kitza (Schlesigner), a religious judge in Timisoara. A disciple of the pre-eminent leader of German and Hungarian Jewry, Rabbi Moses Sofer- Kitze, he married the daughter of the Sephardic rabbi of Timisoara/Temeshvar.

The minutes of this community (and also that of nearby Transylvanian communities such as Alba-Iulia/Karlsburg) were recorded in both Yiddish and Ladino—a unique phenomenon, to say the least.

In this list, reproduced from the excellent book תולדות יהודי טרנסילבניה by Moshe Carmeli-Weinberger, one can see the diverse nature of the community’s leadership. For instance, Levi Yerushalmi served both communities from 1681-1752. He was an Ashkenazi who had previously served in both the Sephardic and Ashkenazic congregations in Belgrade, Serbia. He was intimately familiar with both rites as well as fluent in Yiddish and Ladino, often giving sermons in both tongues.

The community—like so many others—was destroyed by the Nazis during World War II, thus bringing an end to this fascinating and unique ingathering of exiles in Eastern Europe.

The author is an independent scholar of history and translator of Hebrew text. Please contact [email protected] Check out Channeling Jewish History on Facebook for daily updates.

By Joel S. David Weisberger