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City in the Podolian region of Ukraine. Medzhibizh (Rus., Medzhibozh; Pol., Międzyboż; Yid., Mezhbizh) documents its history from the twelfth century, and the Jewish community’s from 1511. Located at the convergence of the Boh and Buzek Rivers and at the intersection of several trade routes, Medzhibizh, with its multiethnic population, was an important regional military, commercial, and administrative center from the sixteenth century through the early Soviet period.

Until the second Polish partition (1793), when the city came under Russian rule, Międzyboż contained one of the largest and most prosperous Jewish communities in Poland–Lithuania; its commercial connections extended to Germany in the west and Kiev in the east. It is most famous as the home of Yisra’el Ba‘al Shem Tov (Besht), founder of Hasidism, who lived there between 1740 and 1760.

In 1570, the town had 70 houses in which Jews lived; in 1648, there were 600 Jewish families (at least one-quarter of the total inhabitants). Depleted by the Khmel’nyts’kyi uprising in June 1649, the Jewish community reestablished itself in the late seventeenth century. By 1765, there were more than 2,000 Jews; however, an epidemic in 1770 killed at least one-third of this population. In 1897, the 6,040 Jewish residents formed 70 percent of the town. Early twentieth-century emigration, World War I, and Soviet policies worked against growth, though, and by the time of World War II there were only about 3,500 Jews in greater Medzhibizh. After the Red Army liberation (24 March 1944), about 20 Jewish families settled there, but most had left by the 1970s.

From the late sixteenth century, Międzyboż had a synagogue and yeshiva, headed by Yo’el Sirkes from 1604 to 1612. Międzyboż’s Jews generally worked as estate and monopoly lessees (arendarzy), in commerce, and as artisans. Wealthy merchants and lessees such as the Charyton and Zelmanowicz families dominated the community. Communal institutions were highly developed, and the town was the site of several notable public controversies.

In 1740, the Międzyboż kahal offered the Besht free housing if he would be the resident ba‘al shem and head of the bet midrash, an institution that taught a mystical, ascetic type of Judaism and was a forerunner of the Hasidic movement. The Besht’s grandson, Barukh, established a Hasidic court (1788–1810), and the community was then split between Hasidim and Misnagdim, with Yisakhar Ber Segal-Landau, Barukh, and Avraham Yehoshu‘a Heshel of Apt leading the former; and Dov Berish and his son Tsevi Aryeh ha-Kohen Rapoport serving as rabbis of the latter. From the mid-nineteenth century until the Soviet period, members of the Bick family were rabbis, and the Hasidic camp prevailed. From 1810 to 1827, Medzhibizh had a Hasidic press. Around the turn of the twentieth century, some Jews were involved in the Russian socialist movement; others belonged to Zionist organizations and the Bund.

Medzhibizh suffered only minor damage in the pogrom waves of 1881–1882 and 1903–1906, but some Jews were killed in 1919–1920. After the Soviets stabilized their rule in late 1920, traditional Jewish institutions were shut down and replaced by Soviet-style ones. A Jewish kolkhoz (collective farm) was established in 1930; it attracted Ukrainian members as well.

During the Holocaust period, the Jews of Medzhibizh were imprisoned in a ghetto, and were later murdered by the Nazis (who occupied Medzhibizh on 8 July 1941) and their Ukrainian collaborators, who shot them following the liquidation of the ghetto (22 September 1942) in an aktion lasting three weeks. In 1967, a memorial was established for the town’s victims and became the gathering point for an annual commemoration by former residents and their descendants. In the late twentieth century, the Besht’s gravesite became a pilgrimage and tourist destination.

Suggested Reading

Binyamin (Viktor Mikhailovich) Lukin, “Medzhibozh,” in 100 Evreiskikh mestechek Ukrainy, vol. 1, Podoliia, ed. Boris Khaimovich and Binyamin Lukin, pp. 127–172 (Jerusalem and St. Petersburg, 1997), includes summary in English; Moshe Rosman, “An Exploitative Regime and the Opposition to It in Miedzyboz, ca. 1730,” in Transition and Change in Modern Jewish History, ed. Shemu’el Almog et al., pp. xi–xxx (Jerusalem, 1987); Moshe Rosman, “Miedzyboz and Rabbi Israel Ba‘al Shem Tov,” in Essential Papers on Hasidism: Origins to Present, ed. Gershon David Hundert, pp. 209–225 (New York, 1991); Moshe Rosman, ed., Founder of Hasidism: A Quest for the Historical Ba‘al Shem Tov (Berkeley, 1996); Shmuel Spector and Geoffrey Wigoder, eds., The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life before and during the Holocaust, vol. 2 (New York, 2001).