The Jews of Transylvania – timeline

The Jewish presence in Transylvania can be traced back to Roman Dacia through the discovery of several coins from the Bar Kokhba period (circa 133–134 CE) at various sites, including Ulpia Traiana Sarmisegetuza, Pojejena (Caraş-Severin County), and Ilişua (Bistriţa County).

During the Middle Ages, the Jewish presence in Transylvania is confirmed by various historical sources, such as a series of 13th-century documents mentioning Jewish entrepreneurs involved in the salt trade along the Mureş River. After their expulsion from Spain in 1492, Jews began to settle in Transylvania in greater numbers. As a result, the communities formed in Transylvania were predominantly Sephardic, with members arriving from the Ottoman Empire where they had found refuge following their expulsion from Spain.

During the Principality of Transylvania (1571–1691), the Jewish presence increased significantly, as evidenced by the existence of a rabbinical court (Beth din) in Alba Iulia in 1591. In the 17th century, Jews were primarily documented as visiting physicians attending to the princes of Transylvania or as mediators of trade relations with the Sublime Porte.

<em>Approbatae Constitutiones</em>

Rákóczi G., Approbatae Constitutiones, Claudiopoli[s], 1653

Approbatae Constitutiones

The Transylvanian princes encouraged the settlement of the Jewish population to stimulate economic activity and facilitate the principality’s entry into the prominent trade circles of the time through the mediation of Jewish merchants. To this end, in 1623, Prince Gabriel Bethlen granted privileges to the Jews he had invited to settle in Transylvania, which established their legal status in the region for almost two centuries. The privilege granted by Gabriel Bethlen guaranteed Jews the right to housing, freedom of movement within the principality, the right to leave with all their possessions, the right to practice free trade under the prince’s auspices, freedom of religion, and the right to pay taxes equal to those in their country of origin. The Approbatae Constitutiones, the codes of law of the Principality of Transylvania published in 1653 during the rule of Prince George II Rákóczi, established that the Jews’ right to settle was limited to the city of Alba-Iulia and only as cotters forbidden to acquire property.

During the 17th century, due to the protection offered by the princes, the Jewish presence became increasingly significant in the economic life of Transylvania. Historical records mention a synagogue belonging to the Sephardic community in Alba-Iulia in 1656.

Yehezkel Paneth

Tercatin, B., Herșcovici L. Z., Prezențe rabinice în perimetrul românesc, București, Hasefer, 2008, p. 424

Yehezkel Paneth (1823–1845)

Between 1691–1867, Transylvania was part of the Habsburg Empire, and between 1867–1918, it belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Under Habsburg rule, prohibitions on Jewish settlement were maintained. Therefore, new arrivals were only allowed to settle in Alba-Iulia. Between 1754–1879, the Jewish community of Transylvania was placed under the jurisdiction of a chief rabbi based in Alba-Iulia. The chief rabbis of this period were: Avraham Yitzhak Russo (1736–1738), Yosef Auerbach (1742–1750), Yonatan Trebitsch (1752), Binyamin Ze’ev Wolf (1764–1777), Moshe ben Shemu’el Levi Margolioth (1778–1817), Menahem Mendel (1818–1823), Yehezkel Paneth (1823–1845), and Avraham Friedman (1845–1879) all served as chief rabbis during this period. Under Yehezkel Paneth’s leadership, the Alba-Iulia community transitioned to an Ashkenazi orientation.

During the first half of the 19th century, the Jewish population in Transylvania grew significantly. According to several successive censuses, the Jewish population in Transylvania consisted of approximately 2,000 Jews (in the 1766 census), roughly 5,175 Jews (in the 1825 census), and around 15,600 Jews (in the 1850 census). After 1867, when Transylvania came under Hungarian administration following the establishment of the Austria-Hungary dual monarchy, the number of Jews increased to 23,536, representing 1.2% of the total population. The 1910 census recorded 64,074 Jews, comprising 2.4% of the total population. This demographic growth within the Jewish population was primarily due to an influx of Jewish immigrants from Galicia, Bukovina, and other regions of Poland and Ukraine.

In 1867, Transylvanian Jews (and those throughout the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire) were granted civil rights and the right to reside in any city within the empire. Additionally, an 1895 law officially recognised Judaism as one of the country’s religions. The emancipation of the Jews significantly facilitated their access to prominent positions within the nation’s social and community life.

The Jews of Transylvania – timeline