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NICOPOLIS (Bulgarian, Nikopol):

Early History.

City of Bulgaria, situated on the right bank of the Danube, 160 kilometers southeast of Widdin. The settlement of Jews in Nicopolis was most likely contemporaneous with the foundation of the city by the emperor Trajan (98). In the year 811 Jews formed a portion of the 30,000 prisoners taken in Thessaly by Krum, the Czar of Bulgaria (see Bulgaria). In 967 many Byzantine Jews settled in Nicopolis (see responsa of Solomon Abr. Cohen, Leghorn, 1592), as did a large number of Jewish merchants from Ragusa, Venice, and Genoa when the two brothers Assen and Peter reestablished the empire of Bulgaria in 1189, and entered into commercial relations with those cities (Ubicini, "Provinces Danubiennes").

In 1367 the Czar of Bulgaria, Ivan Sisman, who, according to legend, was the son of Queen Theodora, a converted Jewess, granted an asylum at Nicopolis to the Jews driven from Hungary by King Ludovic I. It is thought that at the death of Ivan Sisman, a year after the fall of the Bulgarian empire, all the Jews of Tirnova were driven thence and took refuge at Nicopolis (1368). Since that period Tirnova has not been inhabited by Jews ("Anuar Pentru Israeliti," 1888).

When Mohammed the Conqueror took Nicopolis he found there a Jewish community which was very flourishing from a commercial standpoint. It contained Byzantine, Italian, and Ashkenazic Jews, who sympathized with the conquerors, many voluntarily entering the ranks of the non-Mussulman legion called "Gharibah."

Under Mussulman Rule.

Nicopolis received a large quota of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 (see responsa of Joseph Caro, "Abḳat Rokel," passim). At this time the chief rabbi of the community was Ḥayyim ben Albalgri (or Al-Bulgari = "the Bulgarian"?). He was succeeded at his death by Ephraim Caro of Toledo, father of the well-known Joseph Caro. Later Joseph Caro himself filled the same office. One of the successors of Caro was Judah Bembassat (1547), a noted Talmudic scholar in his day.

In 1547 a rich and pious Jew of Nicopolis died at Salonica, and left by will a legacy of 30,000 aspers to be disbursed by his son for the benefit of the community of his native city.

The period from 1595 to 1598 was a stormy one for the Nicopolis Jews. The Turks, led by Sinan Pasha, and the Wallachians, with Prince Michael at their head, contended for the possession of the town, which finally fell into the hands of the Turks. Isaac Vega, a chronicler of the time and an eyewitness of these events, relates that during the bombardment and the conflagrations the dwellings of the Jews were destroyed, and that they witnessed the destruction of their valuable library ("Bayit Ne'eman," preface by Isaac Vega, Venice, 1621).

In 1559 the community of Nicopolis erected three buildings: a synagogue, a school, and an asylum for the poor. The most noted Jewish family in the city at that time was that of Ben Sanje (Sanche), over three of whose members Isaac Vega delivered funeral orations, found in "Bayit Ne'eman." Vega officiated as chief rabbi in the early part of the seventeenth century. His successor was Reuben Ḥadidah (c. 1660). In the nineteenth century Raphael Gabriel Almosnino was chief rabbi of Nicopolis from 1840 to 1864, having previously been chief rabbi of Sofia and Bulgaria.

Relics of Nicopolis.

But three Jewish relics in Nicopolis can be mentioned, all connected with the name of Joseph Caro, whose memory is still venerated in the city. The first of these is the bath where he performed his ablutions. Near the bath a garden now occupiescity, and as often rebuilt, it was in ruins in 1888. Thanks to the munificence of the Prince of Bulgaria, Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who visited Nicopolis at that period, the hall has been rebuilt again.

The ancient Jewish community of Nicopolis has fallen from its former estate. There are now (1904) but 189 Jews in a total population the site of Caro's habitation. The second relic is a superb parchment copy of the Law, written by Caro himself, which after various fortunes was presented to the Jews of Branta, Rumania, where it is still preserved. The third of these remains is Joseph Caro's hall for prayer and study, known as "Midrash Maran." Repeatedly destroyed in the several bombardments of the of 5,238. Some are grain-merchants; others, dealers in cotton goods and calicoes. The rabbinical school has disappeared; and there is at present only a small mixedprimary school containing 43 pupils. There are, however, a handsome synagogue and a ḥebra ḳaddisha.

Bibliography:
  • Ubicini, Provinces Danubiennes;
  • Isaac Vega, Brayit Ne'eman, Venice, 1621;
  • Walden, Shem ha-Gedolim he-Ḥadash.
D. M. Fr.
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