Students and teachers in a class at a Talmud Torah maintained by the Bene ‘Aniyim (Brothers of the Needy), Bendery (now Tighina, Moldova), 1937. On the wall is a portrait of King Carol II of Romania and on the blackboard are quotations from the Talmud: “Be heedful of the children of the poor, for from them will go forth the law”; “He who teaches the son of his neighbor the Torah the scripture ascribes it to him as if it were his own child”; and “He who causes others to do good is greater than the doer.” (YIVO)

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Town and district center on the Dniester River, presently in the self-proclaimed Republic of Transnistria, which broke away from Moldova. Tighina (Rus., Bendery; Yid., Bender) was part of Romania from 1918 to 1940 and was in the Moldavian SSR from 1944 to 1991. Jews settled there in Ottoman times; the first record of a Jewish presence dates to 1769. In 1770, a synagogue was built within the town’s fortress but was dismantled 76 years later as the community grew. The oldest Jewish cemetery has not been preserved; the earliest tombstone in the new one is dated 1781. Aryeh-Leib Wertheim (d. 1854), who was the son of Hasidic leader Shim‘on Shelomoh of Savran, settled in Bendery in 1814 and founded a Hasidic dynasty. Local tradition dictated the leaving of notes (Yid., tsetlekh) with requests for Wertheim’s intervention at his crypt.

There were 553 Jewish families living in Bendery in 1847; 3,929 Jews were there in 1857. By 1897, Jews numbered 4,612 (representing 33.5% of the population); this population rose to 9,937 (34.5%) in 1910. Numbers decreased, however, to 8,294 (26.4%) in 1930; to 5,986 in 1959; to 4,595 in 1989; and to 919 in 1997. In 1861 there were 5 synagogues in the town; in 1910 there were 11, and in 1930, 31.

A Jewish hospital with a pharmacy and a residence for the elderly opened in 1884. In 1912 there were 2 Talmud Torahs, 20 heders, a government secondary school for boys, and a private secondary school for girls. In 1917, a special hospital for patients with tuberculosis was opened. Tsevi Schwarzman started a Hebrew secondary school the same year. Zionist parties had a strong following in Bendery, and many Jews left the town for Palestine. A pogrom, lasting several days, took place in 1917. In 1925, of the 1,526 members of the Bendery Jewish loan-cooperative bank, 701 were working in commerce, 363 in handicrafts, and 49 in agriculture.

In 1918–1940 the town came under Romanian rule, and then was almost completely destroyed during World War II. German and Romanian forces entered it on 21 July 1941. In Tighina on 31 August of that year, Romania and Germany signed an agreement to deport Bessarabian Jews to Transnistria.

After the war, one synagogue still functioned; and from 1948 until 1960 the town’s rabbi was Yisra’el Bronfman (1915–1988). The Jewish cemetery was destroyed in the 1960s. Beginning in 1991, military clashes between armed forces of the Republic of Moldova and separatists of the Republic of Transnistria caused a drastic reduction in the number of Jews. In 1992, 400 Jews were evacuated by the Jewish Agency in buses belonging to the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem.

Several Jewish institutions still functioned in 2004—a Sunday school, a youth club, a library, a synagogue, and the charity center known as Ḥesed Yosef, serving the remaining 500 Jews of the community. Among famous personalities from Tighina are the dancer Barukh Agadati, the writers Efraim Bauch and Zina Rabinovich, and the mathematician Jerzy Neiman.

Suggested Reading

Moshe Tamari, ed., Kehilat Benderi: Sefer zikaron (Tel Aviv, 1975).