HOME  DISINFORMATION  KHMELNYTSKY

Bohdan Khmelnytsky
Bernard D. Weinryb
on
the Hebrew Chronicles
on
Bohdan Khmelnytsky


The following is a demonstration that the same pro-Ukrainian view of the Bohdan Khmelnytsky rebellion of 1648 as has already been extracted from several sources on the Ukrainian Archive can be extracted yet again from Bernard D. Weinryb's examination of the six Hebrew Chronicles:
Bernard D. Weinryb, The Hebrew Chronicles on Bohdan Khmel'nyts'kyi and the Cossack-Polish War, Journal of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 1(2) June 1977, pp. 153-177.
Who is Bernard D. Weinryb?  The best information that I have at hand is the following:

Weinryb, Bernard Dov Sucher
(1900-  ), economic and social historian; b. Poland, emigrated to Erez Israel 1934, later settled in U.S.  Prof. at Dropsie College fr. 1949.  Wrote on economic and social history of Russian and Polish Jewry.  (Geoffrey Wigoder (ed.), Encyclopedic Dictionary of Judaica, Len Amiel Publisher, New York-Paris, and Keter Publishing House, Jerusalem, 1974, p. 622)

Weinryb helps oppose the perversion of history

Contemporary that is, end-of-the-twentieth-century references to the Khmelnytsky rebellion have a tendency to be distorted in the direction of hyperbolizing the magnitude of Jewish suffering, ignoring or minimizing the suffering of others, including that of Poles and Ukrainians themselves, assuming that the conflict divided cleanly along ethnic lines, and of positing as the cause of the uprising the motive of anti-Semitism, and even genocide directed against the Jewish people, rather than legitimate Cossack grievances together with a Polish-Jewish oppression of the Ukrainian populace.  Increasingly, contemporary Jews find political gains to be made from portraying Khmelnytsky as the first Hitler but that is a perversion of history, and reading Weinryb points to a quite different picture of what happened during the Khmelnytsky uprising.

A recurring historical pattern?

The pattern that we see in the events of 1648 may be one that can be found repeated throughout Jewish history that is: invasion, exploitation, overthrow, and flight.  We may view the Russian Revolution followed by the recent evacuation of Jews from Slavic territories as following approximately this pattern, and we may view Israel as having entered into the same pattern with the terminal stages of overthrow and flight not yet realized, but already envisioned as inevitabilities by some Jewish thinkers, as for example Philip Roth in his discussion of Diasporism.

My hypotheses, Weinryb's data

And before starting, a few procedural comments.  Below, in a large colored font, I offer hypotheses that are suggested by the Weinryb article, and after each one in a smaller black font within a tinted box show the Weinryb statements that support those hypotheses.  The chief defect of several of these hypotheses is their political incorrectness, which however may be viewed as a defect not in the hypotheses themselves but in those who have forsaken their committment to truth in favor of their committment to finding safety in locating themselves in the middle of the herd.  My purpose below is not to provide a synopsis of the Weinryb article, and not to maintain a position in the center of the herd, but rather to use the Weinryb article to support a view of the Khmelnytsky rebellion which has not been perverted by any motivation to undermine and discredit Ukraine.

Transliteration from the Ukrainian

For the surname of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, Weinryb uses the pedantic Khmel'nyts'kyi, to no practical purpose, and even to marked disadvantage.  One reader out of a thousand will know what to do with those two apostrophes within the name (they stand for Ukrainian soft signs which change the pronunciation of the preceding consonant), or what to do with the terminal "yi" (the sound conveyed does not differ appreciably to English ears from the sound that is conveyed by a simple terminal "y").  In connection with the soft sign, I recollect many years ago demonstrating to philosophy professor Wheatley at the University of Toronto the difference in sound between a hard and a soft "L" and with him ultimately replying that he was not sure that he could hear any difference from which I conclude that for a speaker of English, the distinction being conveyed by a soft sign may be inappreciable.  And think of the monstrosity created when one mixes within the same word two apostrophes indicating Ukrainian soft signs together with one English possessive apostrophe, as in "Khmel'nyts'kyi's revolt."  The chief effect of using the pedantic Khmel'nyts'kyi is to deter the average English speaker from attempting to pronounce or write the name, and so is to render the subject of Bohdan Khmelnytsky less accessible to discourse either oral or written.  I see no virtue whatever in attempting to convey Ukrainian pronunciation to an English reading public that will gain nothing from the attempt other than to be confused and deterred and for that reason I subscribe to the simpler Khmelnytsky, which is already daunting enough to the English speaker who is unlikely even to be aware that the initial "Kh" is a fricative to be pronounced like the "ch" in the Scottish "loch" or in the German exclamation "Ach!" and the first "y" as in "myth" and the terminal "y" as in "pony."  It would have been a blessing for the entire English-speaking world if the name had been rendered Kmelnitsky but I digress.

Footnotes, alterations, Polish letters

Footnotes in the original Weinryb article have been omitted in my quotations of Weinryb below, although occasionally the quotation itself may be from a footnote.  As the original Weinryb text contains ellipses and may employ square brackets to indicate alterations that Weinryb himself may have made to material that he is quoting, I will indicate my own alterations by means of red brackets, as for example [...] to indicate a location at which I have deleted material, or the use of "[M]ost" to indicate my capitalization of the initial letter of the word.  Polish letters in the original Weinryb article are rendered in the nearest English equivalents.


The Jewish Invasion
Ukrainian ethnic territory suffered a large influx of precisely those Jews whose exploitive practices the rest of the world had found insufferable and had expelled:
During the next century and a half the Jewish population in Poland increased tremendously, with large numbers settling in the eastern and southeastern regions.  Intensified pressure on Jews in the West (Bohemia, Germany, and Austria) frequently culminated in expulsion, forcing a great many to emigrate to Poland.  Small numbers of Jewish settlers came from Spain (after 1492) and Italy, and possibly a few from Kaffa.  Paralleling the augmentation of the Jewish population in Poland, possibly even accelerated by it, was the ever fiercer struggle of the non-Jewish burghers against Jews in the royal cities (the expulsion of Jews from Cracow to nearby Kazimierz in 1495 may be regarded as the beginning of this action).  Some cities and towns won the right to exclude Jews (de non tolerandis Judaeis) and/or limit their economic activity.  As a result, Jews migrated toward the east and southeast.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 156)

Growth of the Jewish population on Ukrainian ethnic territory was particularly rapid:
Although no reliable statistical data are available, there are indications that the Jewish population in these [ethnic Ukrainian] regions grew much faster than in ethnic Poland.  In the Belz palatinate, for example, Jews lived in nine towns prior to 1565; by the first half of the seventeenth century they resided in more than twenty.  During the fifteenth century only about a dozen Jews lived in three or four places in the Halych region; by 1569 there were ninety-five Jewish families in many others.  Jews are mentioned in Hebrew and other sources as living in about fifty locations in the Ukraine during the sixteenth century and in an additional sixty-five in the first half of the seventeenth century.  The following computations by Professor S. Ettinger reveal a considerable growth in the Jewish population.

 
ca. 1569
ca. 1648
  No. of
localities
where Jews
lived
No. of
Jews
No. of
localities
where Jews
lived
No. of
Jews
 
Volhynia 13 3,000  46 15,000
Podillia  9   750  18  4,000
Kiev        33 18,825
Bratslav  2      18 13,500
 



Totals 24 3,750 115 51,325

(Weinryb, 1977, pp. 156-157)

Jews initially were accepted:
The discrepancy between these [Polish and Ukrainian] Jews and the Christian stereotype of the Jew was noted by observers.  Cardinal Commendoni, who made two journeys to Poland during the second half of the sixteenth century and who also visited the Ukraine, wrote that many Jews lived there and, unlike Jews in other regions, were not despised.  On the contrary, they owned land, engaged in a large variety of occupations, and were prosperous, respected people.  Outwardly, they did not differ from Christians: they were permitted to have swords and bear arms, and enjoyed rights similar to those of others.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 159)

This mingling with non-Jews may have spread to some other areas of life in the Ukraine, where Jews were not segregated in ghettos and usually lived alongside Christians.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 159)


Jewish Exploitation
These Jewish expellees quickly assumed positions of power within a social structure based on exploitation and coercion:
[M]ost of the Ukraine was united with Poland and large tracts of land were granted to noblemen and magnates.  These new landowners sought to attract settlers, including Jews, to their towns and cities by granting them various privileges.  During the colonization of the Ukraine, Jews were given the opportunity to become leaseholders and managers of estates and towns, and to engage in various enterprises, such as toll- and tax-farming, the leasing of mills and fish ponds, etc.  Perhaps Nathan Hanover, the foremost Hebrew chronicler of that time, was not exaggerating unduly when he reported that "the Jews in the state of Rusia [Ukraine] who were [leaseholders] were rulers and lords in all the places of Rusia [Ukraine]."  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 156)

Jews were part of the oppressive ruling class, holding life-and-death powers over Ukrainians:
The various occupations with which they [Jews] were associated leaseholding, estate and town management, tax collecting, and toll-farming offered Jew and non-Jew the opportunity to practice financial abuse (or to be accused of such) and to exercise control over the lives of the local population.  For example, leaseholding was frequently linked with the exercise of certain legal powers: the right to adjudicate the people of a given estate or town and to pass even a death sentence was sometimes transferred from the owner to the leaseholder.  This served to identify the Jew with the Polish landlord whom he represented.  Also, the Jewish leaseholders and tax-farmers could, and sometimes did, behave like the Polish landlords.  Their attitudes were often influenced by the necessity to maintain good relations with the landlords and their administrators, including high state officials.  All this served to bring some Jews closer to the life-style and behavior patterns of the non-Jew and to develop feelings of superiority, arrogance, and self-reliance among them.  (Weinryb, 1977, pp. 158-159)

The same qualities that led to the Jewish expulsion from other lands were inflicted on Ukrainians, which incited Ukrainian resistance:
[T]he success of some Jews and their role in the economy antagonized Christian burghers and lower class nobles, who frequently complained that Jews overcharged in collecting tolls and other revenues.  Their fear that the Jews were intent on destroying their businesses prompted a whole series of complaints, charging that the Jews were ruining the cities (Kovel 1616), spreading out and harming trade (Kiev 1618), and monopolizing the markets (Pereiaslav 1620).  Other objections were that Jewish tax-farmers refused to allow the burghers to sell beer or other beverages (Zhytomyr 1622), that they ruined the market by overcharging on tolls, and that they spread out too far (Luts'k 1637, Terebovlia 1638, 1645).  In 1647, almost on the eve of the Khmel'nyts'kyi revolt, the burghers of L'viv asked the bishop of Kamianets' to intercede for them before the Polish Diet and seek action to rescue "the poor city [living] on the last drop of blood" because of the Jews who had seized and ruined all business and reduced the city's income.  In fact, at the end of the sixteenth and during the first half of the seventeenth century several decrees, usually resulting from petitions by concerned groups, were issued limiting Jewish activity in the Ukraine.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 161)

The Ukrainians joined the Armenians in complaining before the city council that the Jews were securing all the business in the city.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 162)

Historians have observed that Jews living in other places and at other times, under rulers whom they, too, served as tax-farmers, contractors, leaseholders, and administrators, "were easily associated in the popular mind with the forces of governmental and class oppression ... they [non-Jews] saw first of all the immediate agents of oppression and struck at them whenever the latter became unbearable.  The defenselessness of these [Jews] made them the more obvious targets of popular resentment as religious antagonisms had long prepared the ground for Jew-baiting demagogues."  Something of this may also have been true of the Polish-Cossack-Jewish relationship in Poland.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 163)

Despite his bias, even Hanover recognizes that a significant cause of the revolt was Jewish oppression of Ukrainians.
Hanover was the only Hebrew chronicler to analyze the reasons for the Ukrainian Cossack revolt.  He believed that these were two: the oppression of the Greek Orthodox Ukrainians, and the role of Jews as tax-farmers and estate managers.  The latter, he claimed, "ruled in every part of Rusia [the Ukraine], a condition which aroused the jealousy of the peasants and resulted in the massacres."  He believed that religious oppression [of the Ukrainian Orthodox by the Polish Catholics, and perhaps by the Jews] was responsible for the impoverishment of the masses: "they were looked upon as lowly and inferior beings and became the slaves and handmaids of the Polish people and the Jews."  Hanover wrote that, except for the Cossacks, "the Ukrainians were a wretched and enslaved lot, servants of the dukes and the nobles.  The nobles levied heavy taxes upon them and some even resorted to cruelty and torture."  His assessment of the causes for the Cossack uprising is, of course, very similar to what others were saying, including the Ukrainians.  (Weinryb, 1977, pp. 170-171)

Hanover's dramatization of Khmelnytsky's appeal to Cossack officers to rescue him from Polish prison demonstrates Hanover's awareness of both major causes of the Cossack revolt mistreatment of the Cossacks and oppression of the populace:
Why are you keeping silent?  Know that the people of Poland are becoming more haughty each day.  They enslave our people with hard work....  Not only are the nobles our masters, but even the lowliest of all nations [the Jews] rule over us.  Today this is being done to me; tomorrow they will do it to you.  Afterwards they will plow the field with our people as one plows with oxen.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 171)

Jews were not defenseless victims they were armed and proficient in the use of arms and fortified, and allied with the Poles constituted the overwhelming military presence, as is to be expected of any ruling class:
The lives of Jews in the southern frontier regions developed somewhat differently than in Poland.  The recurring Tatar incursions into the area persuaded the population, including the Jews, to join a defense militia headed by Polish officials (starosty and others).  The settlers were obliged to drill regularly with guns and cannon, and organized groups, such as artisan guilds, were charged with the defense of certain sections of the city walls, the manning of cannons, and the securing of gunpowder.

Jewish participation in these defense activities is mentioned in the rabbinic responsa of the sixteenth century.  From the first half of the seventeenth century this information becomes much more abundant.  We learn about the existence of a number of synagogue-fortresses (i.e., synagogues built with turreted fortresses surmounted by cannon which were to be manned by Jews).  The one in Luts'k was built in this fashion because the king made it a condition (1626) for the construction of the synagogue.  Other synagogue-fortresses existed in Luboml' (Volhynia), Sharhorod (Podillia), Brody, Ternopil', Zhovkva (Zolkiew), Terebovlia (Trembowla), Janov, Budzanov, and some other towns, usually those owned by the nobility.  Possibly there was also one in L'viv, which had two Jewish communities one inside the city and the other outside its walls, in the suburb Krakowskie Przedmiescie.  Jews participated in the general defense of L'viv, as evidenced by a document dated 1626 in which an official attests: "the Jews are, in accordance with the old customs, participating actively in guarding and defending the city....  Throughout the whole period the Jewish guards have done their duty day and night ... properly following the orders of the commanders."  In some places Jews served as commanders or co-commanders of military operations.  In the city of Riashiv (Rzeszow), where all citizens, including Jews, were required to own a rifle and a specified amount of ammunition, one of the three commanders was a Jew, another was a burgher, and the third lived in the suburbs.  Defense duties were later transferred to the artisan guilds, among them the Jewish artisan guild.

Frontier conditions in the south, the unsafe roads, the lurking danger of Tatar attacks and the likelihood of captivity had some impact upon the Jews.  (Weinryb, 1977, pp. 157-158)

Other Jews became lax about adherence to Jewish rituals as they participated with non-Jews in defense activities and quasi-military exercises.  As mentioned above, this obligatory defense activity comprised training by non-Jews, periodic exercises in the use of weaponry, and responsibility for the defense of city walls on a par with other citizens, as well as the defense of the turreted synagogues built especially for defense purposes.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 159)

Thus, some of the killing during the Khmelnytsky rebellion must have been of Ukrainians by Jews:
In general, Hanover points out the role of Jewish fighters (mentioning "hundreds" in a few places and a "thousand" in another) who defended or co-defended certain places (Nemyriv, Tul'chyn and others) and at times even joined Polish forces in revenging the rebels.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 176)


Participants Crossed
Ethnic Lines
Some Cossacks were Jews:
There is evidence that some Jews joined the Cossacks in their sporadic raids and even became Cossacks themselves, sometimes remaining Jewish but more often converting to Christianity.  Documentation of these occurrences ranges from an order forbidding Jews and burghers from taking part in Cossack raids (implying that they were doing so) to rabbinical sources reporting the death of a Jew during a raid and a Jewish woman's demand for a divorce because her husband participated in such raids.  A Hebrew responsum mentions the untimely death of a Jewish Cossack hero, named Boruch or Bracha, who was killed in 1611 near Moscow; from the context we know that he was one of eleven Jews, but it is unclear whether the others were also Cossacks.  Jewish names appear in the Cossack registers of 1649 and earlier, while converted Jews are also mentioned as Cossacks in rabbinical sources.  Other information indicates that in some places Jews under attack by the Cossacks (in 1648) "converted to Christianity and joined the Cossack forces"; certainly there were some converted Jews among the Cossacks in the Ukraine.  A few of them may even have attained relatively high standing, as was indicated by a pastor from Stettin who accompanied a Swedish ambassador on a visit to the Ukraine (1657): after an audience with Khmel'nyts'kyi, he reported that the latter's treasurer was a baptized Jew.  (Weinryb, 1977, pp. 160-161)

Jews participated in the violence of the times:
These forms of secularization in day-to-day life may also have been connected with the reported illiteracy among Jews, some of whom could not read one word of Hebrew.  The latter may also have influenced the reported "loafing" and "crime" among Jews in the suburbs of L'viv, where they lived together with non-Jews and where, according to Balaban, Jewish thieves, highwaymen, and robbers joined non-Jews in attacking Jews and Christians alike.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 160)

Jews acted both against Khmelnytsky and for him:
Jews not only informed on Khmel'nyts'kyi, but also advised and helped him.  An informer, says Hanover, was Zekharia Sobilenki, "the governor and administrator of Chyhyryn"; a close friend was the Jew, Jacob Sobilenki.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 171)

Jews proved themselves useful to Khmelnytsky by doing business with him during the revolt, one must imagine at a profit to the Jews:
[Hanover] tells how Khmel'nyts'kyi and the Cossacks sold booty from Wallachia to Jews during a period of peace, although he is unclear just when this occurred.  (Weinryb, 1977, pp. 172-173)

And on the other hand, the chief defender of the Jews was a Ukrainian.  A Polonized Ukrainian, it is true, but still a Ukrainian Count Jeremi Wisniowiecki (of the Ukrainian family, Vyshnevetsky):
Hanover's account of Count Jeremi Wisniowiecki's activities at this time must have been an exaggeration, for he gives the impression that Wisniowiecki made rescuing the Jewish population his principal endeavor:
Count Jeremi Wisniowiecki was a friend of Israel ... with him escaped some five hundred Jews.  He carried them as on the wings of eagles until they were brought to their destination [reported as Wisniowiecki left for Lithuania].
Later we are also told that after the Nemyriv onslaught Wisniowiecki set out with a command of 3,000 men to revenge the Jews.  Clearly, Hanover considered Wisniowiecki the greatest of generals, one who should have become commander of the Polish army.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 168)

Hanover describes a mixed response from the Ukrainian population:
His depiction of urban Ukrainians is at times positive, at others, negative.  About one town he writes that the Ukrainians "appear as friends of the Jews and speak to them pleasantly and comfortingly, but lie and are deceitful and untrustworthy"; elsewhere, he speaks of Ukrainians who are "neighbors and friends."  The dichotomy holds as Hanover speaks about specific cases.  He writes that the residents of Nemyriv (Nemirov) aided the Cossacks because they hated the Jews and that some Jews from Zaslav (Zaslaw) hid in the woods, hoping in vain for rescue as their Ukrainian neighbors caught and killed them.  In Bar, Ukrainians allegedly burrowed beneath the city walls to let Cossacks into the city.  Yet, when some three hundred Jewish refugees arrived at Tul'chyn, the city's Ukrainians came to their aid.  In an account of their flight north from Zaslav, Hanover says that Jews stayed overnight at inns owned by Ukrainians, always fearing the worst, which, by implication, never happened.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 173)

Ukrainians sympathetic to Jews warned them of approaching danger:
Hanover's second explanation [of the strong bond between Poles and Jews] regards the "information service" the Jews allegedly organized.  He says that during a lull in the war, Khmel'nyts'kyi sent letters to the nobility expressing regret for having initiated the war and advising them to return to their estates.  At the same time, the Cossacks, who were planning a new offensive, dispatched secret messages to the Ukrainians exhorting them to prepare to kill all Poles and Jews alike:
When the thing became known to the Jews through their friendly Ukrainian neighbors and also through their own spies who had been placed in all their settlements, they notified the noblemen.  Immediately messages were sent forth from community to community by means of horse riders informing the Jews and the nobles of daily developments.  In recognition of this the nobles befriended the Jews exceedingly and became united with them in one union ... had it not been for this action there would have been no stand for the Jewish remnant.
(Weinryb, 1977, pp. 167-168)

Poles joined with Khmelnytsky against the Poles:
Hanover goes on to describe the collusion that Khmel'nyts'kyi arranged with the Tatars and their initial successes in the spring of 1648, which resulted in a number of Polish nobles, among them the former secretary of General Koniecpolski, joining the Cossacks.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 172)

Tatars killed and enslaved Ukrainians, sometimes with Khmelnytsky's permission.  Cossacks robbed and killed Ukrainians:
Two of the [six Jewish] chroniclers also allude to Ukrainians victimized by the Tatars, Meir of Szczebrzeszyn mentions that the Tatars killed Ukrainian villagers as they left after the Zboriv agreement, while Hanover has a longer story in this vein.  He tells of the "forceful revenge" the Tatars took on "Ukrainians in the towns and villages" in Volhynia and Podillia; "Some of them they killed by the sword and tens of thousands they took prisoner.  There remained only those who hid in the woods and marshes."  When speaking about the situation after the Zboriv agreement, Hanover also points out the troubles of the Ukrainians.  He maintains that the poor Ukrainians "died in the thousands and tens of thousands" from hunger "since the Cossacks and the Tatars robbed them of all their money and possessions."  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 175)

The information about Tatars killing Ukrainians apparently reflects both the actual facts and the peasants' resentment of Khmel'nyts'kyi because he allowed the Tatars to kill and take prisoners among them: Mykhailo Hrushevs'kyi reported a reflection of this in a Ukrainian folk song (see his Istoriia Ukrainy-Rusy, vol. 9 (New York, 1957), pp. 552, 663, 895 ff.).  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 175)

Khmelnytsky sold out the Ukrainian peasants:
Meir of Szczebrzeszyno emphasizes that the strongest opposition to the Zboriv agreement came from the peasants, who "heard about the compromise and trembled.  They had revolted against their lords and the latter had been forced to move away.  But should the lords return, they will take revenge on the peasants."  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 176)

Khmelnytsky was taken prisoner by the Tatars, and had to pay a high ransom to win his own release but this was only because he first betrayed them:
The Polish army prevailed and reinforced ... they struck a severe blow at the Tatars and Ukrainians.  The Tatar kind escaped to his land....  He took the oppressor (Chmiel) with him into captivity because the latter did not inform him of the strength of the Polish king's army.  [...]  [Later Hanover relates how Khmel'nyts'kyi paid the Tatars a high ransom for his release].  (The first three sentences are Hanover's; the last sentence in square brackets is Weinryb's, 1977, p. 169)

The Poles allied themselves with the Jews but if Ukrainian forces had given them a choice, they would have abandoned the Jews.
In telling the story of how Kryvonis took Tul'chyn in June 1648, and how both Poles and Jews were killed despite an understanding that the Poles would be let alone, he says:
When the [Polish] nobles heard of this they were stricken with remorse and henceforth supported the Jews and did not deliver them into the hands of the criminals.  And even though the Ukrainians repeatedly promised the nobles immunity they no longer believed them.  Otherwise no Jew would have survived.
(Weinryb, 1977, p. 167)



Hebrew Chronicles
or
Jewish Calumny?
Hanover had a motive for making his story as gory and hyperbolic as he possibly could he was impecunious and was writing for income, and gory, hyperbolic writing sold then just as it does today:
Hanover's psychological and socioeconomic situation at the time he wrote and published the booklet may be gauged by the end of his introduction.  Although he had found some temporary shelter in a private "house of study," he may have been needy, for he advertises his "commodity" and asks the public to purchase his work.  He writes: "I dealt at length on the causes which led to this catastrophe, when the Ukrainians revolted against Poland and united with Tatars, although the two have always been enemies.  I recorded all the major and minor encounters ... also the days on which those cruelties occurred, so that everyone might be able to calculate the day on which his kin died and observe the memorial properly...  I have written this in a lucid and intelligible style and printed it on smooth and clear paper.  Therefore buy ye this book at once, do not spare your money so that I may be enabled to publish [another book]" (Hanover, Hebrew, pp. 16-17; English, p. 25).  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 166)

The Hebrew Chroniclers never aimed to write objective history, but only hyperbolic, partisan polemics:
The writer was likely to be less than precise in his expressions, since he tended to use literary clichés, metaphors, and certain concepts with little regard for their appropriateness in a given context.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 165)

[T]here was a long-standing tradition in Jewish writing that every mention of an enemy be followed with a Hebrew acronym meaning "may his name be blotted out."  Hanover adheres to this tradition in writing about Khmel'nyts'kyi whereas the other chroniclers generally do not.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 166)

Hanover peoples his account with fictional characters:
In his dramatization of the beginning of the Cossack revolt, Hanover created a Jewish character who befriends Khmel'nyts'kyi and advises him how to escape from jail.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 160)

Weinryb himself twice asserts that the Hebrew Chronicles are less informative of events than they are of the attitudes of the writers:
Indeed, as we shall see, the chronicles' main value may lie more in the attitudes and orientations they divulge than in the facts they relate.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 166)

In our context the factual accuracy of these stories is irrelevant.  What is important is the kinds of attitude they reflect.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 168)

The authors of the Hebrew Chronicles are particularly to be distrusted on the question of numbers, not only because of their addiction to hyperbole, but also because they were not proficient in arithmetic:
Also, most rabbinic writers of that time were unaware of the scientific developments among their European contemporaries.  For example, Hanover, apparently the most well-informed of the six chroniclers, knew no mathematics.  Hence, it is not surprising that in referring to groups of people the chroniclers used biblical metaphors such as "thousands and tens of thousands" or "as many as the grains of sand on the seashore," and that the figures they do mention are often meaningless.  (Weinryb, 1977, pp. 165-166)

The Hebrew chronicles should not be considered completely reliable historical documents.  Certainly the figures they contain are often inaccurate, both for the size of various armies (apparently no more exaggerated, however, then figures in contemporary Polish sources) and for the numbers of victims.  Between the years 1651 and 1655, for example, the chronicles mention the following numbers:

1.  Hanover: killed over 80,000; died in epidemics 41,000 (or 141,000?); taken prisoner by the Tatars 20,000.

[chronicler number 2 is missing in the original Weinryb article]

3.  Sabatai Hakohen: killed 100,000.

4.  Gabriel ben Yehoshua: destroyed more than 1,000 Jewish communities.

5.  Samuel Feivel ben Natan: destroyed 140 (or 262?) Jewish communities; killed 670,000 (or 60,070?) householders together with their wives and children.  (This would amount to some 2,400,000-3,300,000 persons [4-5 per family], an impossible figure for a Jewish population estimated to number 170,000 to 480,000 on the eve of Khmel'nyts'kyi's revolt.)

6.  Abraham ben Samuel: destroyed 744 Jewish communities.  (Weinryb, 1977, pp. 174-175)

It seems that Hanover was generally inexperienced in handling large numbers: for him 18 times 100,000 became 18,000,000, rather than 1,800,000.  Inaccurate figures are also found in other contexts.  Hanover tells of "about 300 Jews" who survived the slaughter of Tul'chyn (1648), while a Jewish eyewitness puts the number of survivors at 13 (Hanover, Hebrew, p. 43; Responsa Avodath Hagershuni [Hebrew], no. 106).  Also, the number of Jewish prisoners taken by the Tatars he reports is under question (Israel Halperin, Eastern European Jewry [Hebrew] [Tel-Aviv, 1968], p. 248).  What is said here about the Hebrew chronicles also holds true for the contemporary Polish sources and, apparently, for Tatar materials, as indicated by a chronicle published in recent years (Zygmunt Abrahamowicz, Historia Chana Islama Gereja III, [Warsaw, 1971]).  In all this sort of material the large figures may not have been meant as exact numbers, but rather as a metaphor for such phrases as "a great many" or "a large amount" (as in Turkish 40,000 until recently meant "a large number" generally, rather than the specific figure.)  The exaggerated figures of the Hebrew chronicles seem to be symbols of the "great calamity" or "tremendous affliction" to which the writers reacted in the different ways indicated here.  (Weinryb, 1977, pp. 175-176)

Indeed, it is highly likely that all the figures mentioned in the chronicles, including the "tens of thousands of Ukrainian prisoners," are exaggerated.  (Weinryb, 1977, p. 175)

There are also discrepancies about the numbers killed in certain cities and about the sizes of the various armies.  For these see Weinryb, Jews of Poland, p. 362.  It may also well be that "participant observers" in any great catastrophe live through the event psychologically "outside of time and outside reality," so that any figures they remember are unrealistic.  At any rate, one researcher who interviewed survivors of the Hitler holocaust maintained that "accounts given of the number of deportees, number of dead, etc., are nearly always unreliable" (K. Y. Ball-Kadury, "Evidence of Witnesses: Its Value and Limitations," in Yad Vashem Studies 3 [Jerusalem, 1959]: 3, 84.)  p. 166)


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