A town in Russia, situated near the Rumanian and Turkish frontiers. Its Jewish community dates from about the middle of the eighteenth century. When Balta was founded, it was divided into a Polish part, called "Josephgrod," under the dominion of Poland, and a part called "Balta," under the rule of Turkey, the River Kodyma separating these districts and serving as boundary line between them. Jewish settlements were established in both sections when the rebellion of the Cossaoks or the Haidamaks broke out in 1768. These bandits perpetrated a terrible massacre among the Poles and Jews of Uman and its neighborhood. A large number of Jews sought to flee to the frontier town Balta, seeking the protection of the Turkish government. The Haidamaks pursued and overtook a part of them in the open steppe near Balta, and slaughtered them ([Tammuz] July, 1768). The Jewish community of Balta sent messengers offering a large amount to redeem from the bandits the bodies of the slain, in order to bury them according to Jewish rites. But the Jews of Balta themselves were made to feel the heavy hand of the Haidamaks. A new band entered Balta and was opposed by a regiment of Tatars, but during the struggle many Jews were slain and their property seized by both sides. After this uprising war broke out between Russia and Turkey, lasting some years and ending in the victory of the former.
By the treaty of Jassy, in 1791, Balta came, with other Turkish cities, under the domination of Russia. In 1797 Balta was made a district town of the government of Podolia. Commerce in grain and horses largely developed, and the Jewish population increased, until in 1890 the number of the Jews in Balta was about 27,000 (79 per cent of the total population of the town). The number of synagogues and houses of prayer was seventeen. In 1882, at the time of anti-Jewish riots (see Pogromy) in South Russia, the riot in Balta, March 30, surpassed all others in extent and violence and attained mournful celebrity among the Jews of Europe and America. A letter sent by the committee organized to succor the destitute Jews of Balta, to the editor of the "Voskhod," on April 9, and signed by the rabbi, runs as follows: "Balta is turned into a desert. All the merchandise and household goods of the [Jewish] inhabitants are plundered. The number of wounded reaches two hundred, of whom three have already died. The loss of property amounts to one and one-half million rubles. More than 5,000 families are utterly ruined. Mothers and daughters were violated." But in reality the calamity was much greater, for this information was published under Russian censorship, and the hands of the Russian officials, especially those of the minister Ignatiev, were not innocent of the blood spilled in Balta. It is an established fact that the anti-Semites among the authorities secretly encouraged the rioters.
In later years the commerce of Balta, consisting mainly of the export of grain to Odessa, has declined.
- Balinski i Lipinski, Starozytna Polska, iii. 476;
- Ma'asse Gedolah min Gezerat Uman ve-Ukraina, Wilna, 1845;
- extract of same published in H. J. Gurland's Ḳorot ha-Gezerot 'al Yisrael, pp. 75-77, Odessa, 1892;
- Khronika Voskhoda, 1882, Nos. 16, 17, 34;
- Razsvyet, 1882;
- Russki Yevrei, 1882;
- Brockhaus-Effron, Encyclopedia (Russian), ii. 820.