Romanian Jews - Early 19th Century

Early 19th Century

By 1825, Jewish population in Wallachia (almost completely Sephardi) was estimated at between 5,000 and 10,000 people - of these, the larger part resided in Bucharest (probably as much as 7,000 in 1839); around the same time, Moldavia was home to about 12,000 Jews. In parallel, the Jewish population in Bukovina rose from 526 in 1774 to 11,600 in 1848. In the early 19th century, Jews who sought refuge from Osman Pazvantoğlu's campaign in the Balkans established communities in Wallachian-ruled Oltenia. In Moldavia, Scarlat Callimachi's Code (1817) allowed members of the community to purchase urban property, but prevented them from settling in the countryside (while purchasing town property became increasingly difficult due to popular prejudice).

During the Greek War of Independence, which signalled the Wallachian uprising of 1821 and the Danubian Principalities' occupation by Filiki Eteria troops under Alexander Ypsilantis, Jews were victims of pogroms and persecutions in places such as Fălticeni, Hertsa, Piatra Neamț, the Secu Monastery, Târgoviște, and Târgu Frumos; Jews in Galați managed to escape over the Prut River with assistance from Austrian diplomats. Weakened by the clash between Ypsilantis and Tudor Vladimirescu, the Eterists were massacred by the Ottoman intervention armies - during this episode, Jewish communities engaged in retaliations in Secu and Slatina.

Following the 1829 Treaty of Adrianople (which allowed the two Principalities to freely engage in foreign trade), Moldavia, where commercial niches had been largely left unoccupied, became a target for migration of Ashkenazi Jews persecuted in Imperial Russia and the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria – by 1838, their number seems to have reached 80,000, and over 195,000, or almost 12% of the country's population, in 1859 (with an additional 50,000 passing through to Wallachia between the two estimates).

Despite initial interdictions under the Russian occupation of 1829 (when it was first regulated that non-Christians were not to be regarded as citizens), many of the new immigrants became leaseholders of estates and tavern-keepers, serving to increase both the revenue and demands of boyars - leading in turn to an increase in economic pressures over those working the land or buying products (usual prejudice against Jews accused tavern-keepers of encouraging alcoholism). At the same time, several Jews rose to prominence and high social status - most families involved in Moldavian banking around the 1850s were of Jewish origin. After 1832, following adoption of the Organic Statute, Jewish children are accepted in schools in the two Principalities only if they wore the same clothing as others. In Moldavia, authorities forced the community to abandon its traditional dress code through the 1847 decree of Prince Mihail Sturdza.

Before the Revolutions of 1848, which found their parallel in the Wallachian revolution, many restrictive laws against the Jews had been enacted; although they had some destructive effects, they were never strictly enforced. In various ways, Jews took part in the Wallachian revolt - Constantin Daniel Rosenthal, the painter, distinguished himself in the revolutionary cause, and paid for his activity with his life (being tortured to death by Austrian authorities in Budapest). The major document to be codified by the 1848 Wallachian revolutionaries, the Islaz Proclamation, called for "the emancipation of Israelites and political rights for all compatriots of different faiths".

After the close of the Crimean War the struggle for the union of the two principalities began. The Jews were sought after by both parties, Unionists and anti-Unionists, each of which promised them full equality; and proclamations to this effect were issued (1857–1858). In 1857, the community began issuing its first magazine, Israelitul Român, edited by the Romanian radical Iuliu Barasch. This process of gradual integration resulted in the creation of an informal Romanian identity assumed by Jews, while conversion to Christianity, despite encouragement by the authorities, remained confined to exceptional cases.

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