Russian city in the government of Volhynia. A Jewish community was probably founded at Ostrog toward the end of the fourteenth century, when Lutsk was already noted for its important Jewish population. The first publishedreference to the Jews of Ostrog is dated 1532, and deals with the imposition of customs duties on horned cattle brought from Wallachia by Jewish drovers of Ostrog and other towns. The extent of this trade may be seen from the statement that Isachka, an Ostrog Jew, bought 1,500 oxen in Wallachia. In 1536 a number of Ostrog Jews were accused before King Sigismund I. of having driven several thousand head of cattle from Wallachia to Poland by way of Lithuania without paying the required customs duties: the accused claimed that they had paid the required duties in Poland, and that they had not passed through Lithuania at all. In 1550 the celebrated Jewish scholar Solomon Luria became rabbi of Ostrog. His fame brought many students to Ostrog, and the town thus became the seat of a widely famed rabbinical seminary. He was frequently called upon to act as judge in civil cases, especially in important legal suits. In 1568 the well-known tax-farmers Isaac Borodavka and Mendel Isaakovich went to Ostrog to submit a suit to a rabbinical court composed of Solomon Luria and the rabbis of Brest and Pinsk. Luria was followed by other noted rabbis—Eliezer ben Simḥah Kohen of Tulchin (d. 1612), Simson ben Isaac Boch (d. 1636), and Samuel Edels (d. 1631). The house of the last-named was preserved until 1889, when it was destroyed by fire. The fame and learning of these rabbis gave Ostrog great prominence among Jewish communities, so much so that it was styled by a contemporary writer "the great city of scholars and writers, uniting within itself learning and greatness."
Toward the middle of the seventeenth century Ostrog had about 1,500 Jewish householders, and the importance of the community may be seen from the fact that Ostrog was one of the four "main Volhynian communities" that sent their delegates to the diet of the Volhynian "ḳahals." which in turn selected delegates to the Council of Four Lands. The prosperity of the Ostrog community was shattered by the Cossack uprising under Chmielnicki. In Aug., 1647, the city was pillaged by the Cossacks, and the Jews who had not made their escape were massacred; in Feb., 1649, the town was again attacked, the Jews, with few exceptions, being killed in one night; men, women, and children were slain on the streets and squares, their houses were utterly destroyed, and the synagogue was transformed into a stable. Three rows of graves are still pointed out in one of the streets of Ostrog as being those of the victims of the massacre. It is the custom among the pious Jews of Ostrog to visit these graves on the Ninth of Ab and throw garlic on them: the origin of the latter custom is not definitely known.
In 1661 the town still bore witness to the destructive violence of the Cossacks. In that year there were only five Jewish houses in Ostrog, and the once flourishing community had vanished as if by magic. In 1666 a certain Aaron Zelig of Ostrog was sent as delegate to the general council at Pshevorsk. In the next decade of the same century the community of Ostrog had as its rabbi Shmelka Sack, who was at the head of the local yeshibah and who rebuilt at his own expense the synagogue destroyed in 1648. His synagogue was ruined by fire in 1889. Sack died in 1680 and was succeeded by the cabalist Naphtali Kohen, who went to Posen in 1689, then to Frankfort-on-the-Main and Prague, and after a checkered career returned to Ostrog in 1715. From Ostrog, Kohen started for Palestine, but died on the way, in Constantinople (1719). Joel Heilprin, previously rabbi of Lutsk, was rabbi of Ostrog between 1690 and 1710, and was called by the Jews there "Joel the Great." He was succeeded by Bezaleel Kohen (son of Naphtali Kohen), who died in 1717.
In the eighteenth century Ostrog was divided by the hereditary princes into two parts; and this led naturally to the division of the Jewish community into two ḳahal organizations, under their separate rabbis. The two ḳahals were not always on friendly terms. Internal dissensions arose and seriously affected the welfare of the community, rendering it less able to defend itself against common enemies. These internal dissensions were reflected in the relations of the community with other Volhynian communities, as exemplified by the formal protest, in 1758, of two rabbis, Löb of Kremenetz and Saul of Vladimir, against the conduct of the Ostrog ḳahal, in which some of the leaders of the latter were accused of abuse of their official positions.
Ostrog was affected but little by the Haidamack raids which kept the Jewish populations of Kiev, Volhynia, and Podolia in a state of fear between 1734 and 1768. A few Jewish merchants from Ostrog were killed while returning from a neighboring fair, and according to tradition an attempt was made by peasants from near-by villages to smuggle arms into the town with the purpose of later massacring the Jews and the Poles; the plot was discovered and frustrated by the aid of the Tatars living in the vicinity. The Jews of Ostrog regarded this as a miraculous escape, and for decades celebrated the event by reading appropriate psalms on the day after Passover.
The second half of the eighteenth century was a troubled time for the Polish Jewry. The census returns of that period show that the Ostrog community, like the rest, felt the pressure of contemporary events. The statistical data for 1765-87 collected in compliance with the regulations of the diets show the following:
|Date.||Number of Jews in Ostrog.||Jewish Houses in Ostrog.||Total Number of Jews in District of Ostrog.|
With the disappearance of their prosperity the Jews of Ostrog lost also much of their learning. Poverty, helplessness, and ignorance created conditions favorable to the teachings of the Ḥasidim, and in the last two decades of the eighteenth century Ḥasidism rapidly gained adherents throughout Volhynia. The last district rabbi of Ostrog under Polish rule was the famous Meïr Margolies (d. 1790), a faithful follower of BeSHT. The rabbis of Ostrog during the eighties of the eighteenth century were Jacob Joseph (d. 1790), known, after the title of his work, as "Rab Yeba," and Asher Ẓebi Koretzki, author of a Ḥasidic work. Both were pupils of Baer of Meseritz, and untiring preachers of Ḥasidism in Ostrog.
On the second partition of Poland Ostrog passed into the possession of Russia. During the siege of the city by the Russian army (1792) the old synagogue, in which the Jews had gathered for protection, was hit repeatedly by cannon-balls. One of these may still be seen embedded in the outer wall of stone, and another is suspended by an iron chain from the inner wall of the synagogue. The Jews of Ostrog regarded the escape of their synagogue from complete destruction as a miracle, and commemorated the event for many years on the sixth and seventh days of Tammuz. A house in Ostrog which belonged to a Jew and which was the home of the printing establishment that issued, in 1581, the first New Testament in Slavonic is still standing.
Ostrog has a total population of 14,530, of whom 8,000 are Jews. The community possesses three synagogues, fifteen houses of prayer, several Jewish schools, a Jewish hospital, and a Jewish government school. The Jews of Ostrog are chiefly engaged in retail trading and in handicrafts, especially tailoring and shoemaking.
- Dubnow, in Voskhod, 1894, p. 3;
- Regesty i Nadpisi;
- Russko-Yevreiski Arkhiv, vols. i., ii.;
- Ha-Meliẓ, 1860, p. 214.