Photo Credit: Israel Mizrahi

The Chmielnicki Uprising, embedded in Jewish memory as Tach veTat (the equivalent of the Hebrew years 5408-09) was a Cossack rebellion that took place between 1648 and 1657 in the eastern territories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which led to the creation of a Cossack Hetmanate in Ukraine. In the course of their campaigns, Chmielnicki’s followers acted with savage and unremitting cruelty against the Jews. Chmielnicki aimed at establishing an autonomous Ukraine, if not under Poland, then under the Ottoman Empire, Moscow, or Sweden. After his death, this plan ended with the annexation of eastern Ukraine to Muscovite Russia (1667). Chmielnicki was bent on eradicating the Jews from the Ukraine. Jewish chronicles have tallied over 100,000 Jews murdered at a time when the entire world population of Jews was estimated at under a million.

Following the great tragedies and deaths, many of the survivors were left destitute and homeless, with many traveling west or south. An indirect result of the tragedy was the arrival of many great rabbis as refugees in the Jewish communities of Central and Western Europe. Two such survivors, as a response to the tragedies that befell them, published sefarim in their new hometowns, something that would not have been possible in their Eastern European former homes where no printing press existed. I was lucky to be able to obtain these two works recently, and both contain introductions by the authors recounting what brought them to writing these books.


The first is titled Birkat Hazevach by R. Aaron Samuel Kaidanover (1614 in Vilna – 1 December 1676 in Chmielnik), printed in Amsterdam in 1669. From his introduction:

I remained alone, moaning and bruised, limping and handicapped, when G-d upturned the Holy communities in Poland and Lithuania, and saved me from the hands of the gentiles. In our city, full of scholars, the holy city of Vilna, in the upheaval of the city of Lublin, and its surrounding town of Korov, there was taken from me my beloved, all of my possessions and my two daughters that were killed in the sanctification of G-ds name…. All my writings that I wrote on Talmud and poskim were taken by these cursed gentiles. I thus said that I am forsaken by the L-rd, as I was starving for bread and water, left without clothing. Several times they took me out to be killed and I was saved at the very last moment… In an extraordinary miracle, I was able to escape with my surviving children to Mehren, to the great holy community of Nikolsburg, may G-d protect it. They supported me and there I was surrounded by young students… I said I must thank the L-rd, and therefore I have written this work….

The second work, in which the author details his horrific experience, is Kene Chochma, printed in Frankfurt DeOder in 1681. From his introduction:

When I recall the great miracle that occurred to me in the year 5420 (1660), when the town of Buchov in Reissen was captured, Sunday eve, the 29th of Kislev, and nearly 300 souls of our brethren were killed, among them many great and G-d fearing scholars. May their name be preserved in good memory among the other great tzadikim of the day. When G-d was destroying the city, G-d remembered me and my daughters and we were saved without any physical or spiritual harm… An hour before the upheaval, I had a vision where two rabbis from Shklow appeared to me and revealed to me that they were here to save me. They described to me how to escape and how to exit the city. And so it was. Our daughter Sarah could not come with us, as she was betrothed to be married, may G-d avenge her death speedily. I pondered what caused me to be saved and I thought it must be due to my habit of giving over classes of Mussar…. I said I shall write my words in a book and they shall be etched in a printing press to redeem to the righteous….

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Israel Mizrahi is the owner of Mizrahi Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY, and He can be reached at [email protected].