BERDYCHEV (Polish, BERDYCZEW):
A city in the government of Kiev, Russia; in historical and ethnographical relations part of Volhynia. It has one of the largest Jewish communities in Russia, and is often called the "Jerusalem of Volhynia." It is difficult to determine the time when Jews first settled there. From the sixteenth century till the end of the eighteenth, Berdychev was under the dominion of Poland; and the Polish family of Tishkewitz, the hereditary owners of that domain, ruled over it as they pleased. In 1593 it is stated that the owners of the "new town" of Berdychev farmed out to a certain Jew the mill-and bridge-taxes. In the eighteenth century the Jewish population increased considerably, and a Jewish "Ḳahal" (government of the community) was established, as in other large cities of Poland. A trade-union of Jewish tailors was formed in 1732 with the permission of the lady of the domain, Tereza (Theresa) Zawisha, who granted them autonomy and exemption from the rule of the Ḳahal. In 1794 Prince Radziwill permitted the Jews to elect their own civil judges in addition to the ecclesiastical court.
In 1765 King Stanislaus of Poland decreea that some great fairs be held during each year at Berdychev; and from that time the city became a commercial center, attracting the Jews from all parts ofthe country. At the government record office of Kiev some statistical data concerning the Jewish population of that period are preserved, according to which the numbers of Jews at Berdychev were: in 1765, 1,220; in 1784, 1,319; in 1787, 1,504; in 1789, 1,951. According to their occupations, 246 were liquor-dealers, 452 house-owners, 134 merchants, 188 artisans, and 150 clerks, together with 56 idlers. These figures may be considered too low; the taxes of the Polish government being heavy, as many persons as could possibly do so avoided being placed on the registers.
At the end of the eighteenth century, when the movement of the Ḥasidim among the Jews of Poland was at its height, Berdychev became the metropolis of the Ḥasidim of Volhynia, owing to the fact that about 1780 the celebrated "Ẓaddiḳ," Levi-Isaac, the author of "Ḳedushat Levi" (The Holiness of Levi), made it his headquarters. He created a great commotion by his teachings and by his quarrels with the "Mitnagdim." It is probable that the above-mentioned permission for the election of separate judges, given by Prince Radziwill in 1791, was secured by the Ḥasidim, who sought to emancipate themselves from the jurisdiction of the Ḳahal and the rabbis of the Mitnagdim. Great masses of people then flocked to Berdychev to see Levi-Isaac, who ruled there until 1810. At this period a printing-establishment for Hebrew books was in existence in the city.
In 1793, at the second division of Poland, Berdychev, with other cities of Volhynia, came under Russian domination. During the reign of Emperor Nicholas I., Berdychev was the largest commercial center in the Jewish pale. Afterward commerce diminished, and the poverty of the Jews there increased accordingly. Of all cities in the pale, Berdychev has the largest proportion of Jewish inhabitants. In 1899 there were 50,460 Jews in a total population of 62,283. There were seven synagogues and sixty-two houses of prayer.
- Regesty i Nadpisi, No. 694, St. Petersburg, 1899;
- Balinski i Lipinski, Starozytna Polska, ii. 632-635;
- Archiv Yugo-Zapadnoi Rossii, v. 55, 506, 608, Kiev, 1890;
- Bolshaya, Entziklopedia Pod Redaktziei Yuzhakova, iii. 74, St. Petersburg, 1901.