City in the central Moldavian region of Romania on the banks of the Bârlad River. Jewish settlement in Bârlad (Bîrlad) is documented from the end of the seventeenth century, and the oldest tombstone in the Jewish cemetery is dated 1728. A Jewish staroste (head of the Jewish guild) was mentioned as early as 1738. Jews in Bârlad were employed in local commerce, grain dealing, and crafts.
Evidence from 1769 notes “the rank of the Jewish shops” on the main street in the town. In 1803, Bârlad was home to 120 Jews, a number that rose to 401 in 1831; to 2,001 in 1859; and to 5,883 in 1899. The Jewish population then decreased to 5,000 by 1910; to 3,727 by 1930; and to 3,063 by 1941. This decline in numbers resulted from the loss of the economic position of the town and an economic crisis in 1899–1903. Many Jews moved to other towns or immigrated to America.
In 1900, a young Jew from Bârlad initiated the phenomenon of fusgeyers: literally, pedestrian emigration to the United States of poor Jews who could not afford the railway fare to the ports. The fusgeyers published occasional bulletins in Romanian and Yiddish, among them Emigranții (The Emigrants); Rămas bun (Farewell); and Bas ami (Daughter of My People).
Bârlad’s modern Jewish community was organized in 1870 but ceased to be active in 1885 due to conflicts between Hasidim (many of them followers of Rabbi Yitsḥak Friedman of Buhuşi) and maskilim (it renewed its activity in 1896). In 1873, the new association Infrățirea Zion (The Brotherhood of Zion) opened an elementary school for boys, and in 1874 a separate school for girls. The two schools were united in 1936 into a mixed elementary school, and in 1940 a Jewish coeducational secondary school was founded. The Jewish hospital was established in 1891. Eight synagogues were active in 1940.
Among Bârlad’s religious leaders were the “modern” maskil rabbi Yitsḥak Aizic Taubes (1837–1920; in Bârlad 1861–1891), author of the polemical booklet Ha-Yehudim be-Romanyah veha-minister Bratianu (The Jews in Romania and the Minister Brătianu; 1869); Taubes also translated Romanian literature into Hebrew. Rabbi Shimshon Thenen, who lived in Bârlad from 1889, wrote several books on halakhah, among them Midot ḥakhamim (1909) and Ziv ha-shemesh (1910). Other notable Jewish intellectuals were the engineer Martin Bercovici; medical scholars Marcel Saragea and Paul Pruteanu; military historian Eugen M. Bantea; economist Avram Rosen (who published studies on the economic history of Romanian Jews); Romanian-language writers Avram Axelrad-Luca, Felix Aderca, Isac Schechter, Virgil Duda, Lucian Raicu, and Mircea Gorun; and the Israeli historian Shim‘on Rubinstein.
After Romanian Jews were granted emancipation rights in 1919, the leadership of the Jewish community consisted of Jews who were members of Romanian political parties. Jews were also active in municipal affairs; in 1930, four were elected to the town’s municipal council. Zionist organizations, including a strong Revisionist group, were active as well; among its members were Sapsa Gutenmacher (later the Israeli ideologist, writer, and publicist Shabetai Nadiv); his brother Shmil Micki Gutenmacher (killed on the Struma, a ship that was wrecked en route from Romania to Palestine in 1942); and Iuju Epstein (later the Israeli businessman Yehudah Epstein).
In 1941, after the outbreak of World War II, Jews from neighboring Plopana, Murgeni, Avrameşti, and Rădeni were forced to move to Bârlad. Consequently, there were 3,224 Jews in Bârlad in 1942. The Jewish community helped 600 impoverished Jewish families in 1943. The postwar Jewish population measured 3,100 in 1947. This number diminished due to emigration, chiefly to Israel, after 1948. The community continued to exist, though, and in 2005, a total of 46 Jews lived there, maintaining a synagogue.
Israel Bar-Avi, O istorie a evreilor români, vol. 1, Emigrările anului 1900 (Jerusalem, 1961), pp. 88–91, 141–148, 158–160; Lucian Herşcovici, “Obştea din Bîrlad în secolele trecute,” Revista Cultului Mozaic 221 (1 January 1970): 5; Ițic Kara-Schwartz, “Cimitire vechi din fostul județ Vaslui: Bârlad,” Buletinul centrului, muzeului şi arhivei istorice a evreilor din România 2 (1998): 69–71; Theodor Lavi, “Barlad (Bârlad),” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Romanyah, vol. 1, pp. 17–21 (Jerusalem, 1969); Ornah Rubinstein (Grinberg), Mi-Barlad ‘ad Galats uva-ḥazarah (Jerusalem, 2004); Shim‘on Rubinstein, Comments on Several Personal Tragedies That Were Part of the General Tragedy Called Struma (Jerusalem, 2000), pp. 5–9.