Khmelnitsky Massacre in Polonnoe

Original edition of by Nathan Neta Hanover, 1653

12 July 1648 – 3 Av 5408

Ten thousand Jews from Polonnoe, Ukraine were murdered by Bogdan Khmelnitsky in the pogroms still known by his name. Among those murdered was Kabbalist Rabbi Samson of Ostropol, a nephew of Maharal, Rabbi Yehuda Loew of Prague. His disciple, Reb Nathan Hanover, wrote a chronicle called Yeven Mezula, recounting the terrors of the Khmelnitsky Uprising and its horrific attacks on Jews. He described his teacher’s death:

Among them was a wise man, a kabbalist of great understanding, whose name was Rabbi Samson our teacher, from the community of Ostropoli. Every day an angel came to him and taught him secrets of the Torah. This kabbalist wrote a commentary on the Zohar according to the tradition of the Arizal, which we did not merit to publish. The angel told him of the Divine decree, and that they should repent exceedingly to avert it. He preached in synagogue a number of times, urging his people to repent and prevent the tragedy, and all the communities indeed repented thoroughly, but to no avail, for the Heavenly decree was already sealed. When the foes and enemies came upon the town, this kabbalist went into the synagogue with 300 of members of the community, all of them great men, wrapped in shrouds, with prayer shawls over their heads, and prayed loudly until the enemies entered the city and all of them were killed in the synagogue, on sacred ground, may God avenge their blood.

The Khmelnitsky pogroms changed not only Jewish demography in the region, but Judaism itself. The Sabbatean heresy, beginning just over a decade after the pogroms, gained traction by presenting the tragedies as Messianic travails, presaging the arrival of Shabetai Zvi as the Messiah. His wife, Sarah, was a survivor of the pogroms.