Members of the Torah mi-Tsiyon (Torah from Zion) Literary Circle, Târgu Neamt, 1904. Two men hold up placards with the organization’s bylaws. (YIVO)

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Târgu Neamţ

Town in the Moldavian region of Romania, at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. Jewish settlement in Târgu Neamț (also Tîrgu Neamț) dates from the second half of the seventeenth century: Jews were first mentioned in a document from 1685, and the oldest tombstones in the Jewish cemetery are dated 1677 and 1689. A synagogue was built in 1737.

Under the Ottomans, Jews in Târgu Neamț were organized into an isnaf (guild) led by a staroste. Their numbers grew from the end of the eighteenth century: in 1774, there were 12 Jewish families, a number that rose to 223 in 1821 and to 220 in 1830. In 1859, a total of 3,006 Jews lived in the town; there were 3,671 in 1899 (representing 42% of the population) and 3,439 in 1910. Numbers diminished in the interwar years, totaling 2,507 in 1930 and 2,538 in 1941. The Jews of Târgu Neamț were craftsmen, merchants, dealers in cattle and cattle products, textile traders, innkeepers, and professionals.

In 1829, a Talmud Torah with four teachers and 200 pupils functioned. A modern Jewish school for boys was founded in 1890; however, it closed in 1893 due to opposition by Hasidic leaders of the community, spearheaded by Rabbi Yitsḥak Friedman, the admor of Buhuşi. With financial help from the Jewish Colonization Association, a TalmudTorah in which secular disciplines were also taught was opened in 1897 and became a modern Jewish school for boys. The community was organized and recognized as an association in 1932.

Târgu Neamț experienced a series of accusations of ritual murder. The first such allegation in Moldavia occurred in the town in 1710: Jews were accused of killing a Christian child and using his blood for ritual Passover use; the child’s body was discovered in the courtyard of the synagogue. Consequently, 5 Jews were killed and another 22 arrested, “denounced” by a monk and two converts. After an appeal to the prince of Moldavia, the case was investigated, its falsity demonstrated, and the arrested Jews freed. Additional charges of ritual murder were leveled in 1765, 1806, 1816, 1836, and 1859. In another manifestation of antisemitism, during the Greek anti-Turkish revolt (Zavera) in 1821, more than 100 Jews were killed and the synagogue set on fire by Greek insurgents.

By 1940, nine synagogues were active. Among Târgu Neamț’s rabbis was Simḥah Yo’el ha-Kohen, author of the halakhic studies Me ha-Shiloaḥ (1849) and Ḥalat leḥem ve-shi‘ure berakhah (1853). Rabbi Ḥayim Mordekhai Roller lived in the town from 1895 to 1941; as an important halakhic casuist he was the author of several books, among them the five-volume responsa collection Be’er Ḥayim Mordekhai (1939). The Israeli researcher on Kabbalah Moshe Idel (1947– ) was born in Târgu Neamț.

After Jews achieved emancipation in 1919, they participated in municipal life, electing two members to the municipal council in 1930 through the Union of Romanian Jews. However, in 1940 Jewish merchants and professionals were forced through torture to sell much of their property to members of the Iron Guard at absurdly low prices. In June 1941, Jews from neighboring villages and small towns (Drăguşeni, Cristeşti, Călugăreni, and Hangu) were forcibly moved to Târgu Neamț. In July 1942, the Romanian forest engineer Gheorghe Cojoc arranged with authorities for 50 Jews from the city of Piatra Neamț to work in forests near Târgu Neamț, saving them from deportation to Transnistria.

In 1947, some 2,900 Jews lived in Târgu Neamț. Their numbers then diminished due to emigration, mainly to Israel. In 1992, just 34 Jews lived there; and in 2004 there were 30, still with a functioning synagogue.

Suggested Reading

Mihail E. Ionescu, ed., Comisia Internațională pentru Studierea Holocaustului în România: Raport final (Iaşi, 2005), p. 310; Dumitru Ivănescu, “Populația evreiască din oraşele şi târgurile Moldovei între 1774–1832,” Studia et acta historiae iudaeorum romaniae 2 (1997): 59–67; Josef Kaufman, Cronica comunităților israelite din județul Neamțu cuprinzând hrisoave, documente, inscripții, fotografii, vol. 2 (Piatra Neamț, Rom., 1929); Theodor Lavi, “Targu-Niamts (Târgu-Neamț),” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Romanyah, vol. 1, pp. 127–129 (Jerusalem, 1969).