JELGAVA (Ger. Mitau; Rus. (until 1917) Mitava), city in Zemgale district (Courland), Latvia; formerly capital of *Courland. Jews lived in Jelgava from the late 17th century, but their residence was endangered with expulsion orders (that were circumvented), and Jewish trade continued to expand. In 1710 they acquired land for a cemetery. A ḥevra kaddisha was founded there in 1729 and a bikkur ḥolim society in 1770. From 1778 to 1828 the community was led by the wealthy Kalman and Samson Borkum, whose endeavors enabled the first synagogue in the city to be erected in 1784. In 1799, under Russian rule, the local Jews made up 70% of all Courland Jews. There were 642 Jewish males in the town in 1797 and altogether 5,453 Jews (21% of the total population) in 1860. Half of them traded in horses and farm products, and a third were engaged in crafts. The first historian of Courland Jewry, Reuven Joseph *Wunderbar, was active there during this period. The departure of 115 families (863 persons) from Jelgava for agricultural settlement in southern Russia in 1840, and a severe cholera epidemic in the town in 1848, brought about a decline in the community. Many also were attracted to the developing cities of *Riga and Libava (*Liepaja). The world crisis in the grain markets and the direct linkage of the agricultural areas, as well as competition from Latvians, created a decline in the economic position of the Jelgava Jews and caused about 800 families to ask for relief. According to the census of 1897, there were 5,879 Jews (16.8% of the total population). Rabbis of the community included Samuel Teomim-Ashkenazi (18th century), and Ẓevi Hirsch Nurock and his son Mordechai *Nurock (20th century). In 1910 there existed three synagogues, a talmud torah, a Jewish state school for boys, and three Jewish private schools. In May 1915 the Jews of Jelgava, along with the rest of the Jews in Courland, were expelled to the interior of Russia. Some returned after World War I, to find most of the houses burned down and to suffer a pogrom organized by local Germans. The community did not regain its former strength. It numbered 2,039 (6% of the population) in 1935. Levi *Ovchinski, historian of Latvian Jewry, was rabbi of Jelgava until the Holocaust. Jews maintained dominance in trade and owned, among other establishments, a large flax-processing factory. The community maintained welfare services, such as a hospital, an orphanage, and an old age home. It had a talmud torah, a Jewish public school, a Hebrew high school, and four synagogues. Zionist parties and youth movements were quite active. Under Soviet rule in 1940–1941 the economy was nationalized, and Jewish institutions and parties were closed. The Germans entered Jelgava on August 29, 1941. Many Jews fled with the retreating Red Army. In the first week of occupation five Aktionen were carried out by Einsatzkommando 2 and Latvian police, and many hundreds of Jews were murdered, some burned alive in the synagogues. In the beginning of September 1941 a few hundred mental patients from the town and from Liepaja were killed. In fall the town was declared by the Germans to be "free of Jews" (judenfrei). There were some 20 Jews living there in 1970.
L. Ovchinski, Toledot Yeshivat ha-Yehudim be-Kurland (1908), 110–28; idem, Di Geshikhte fun di Yidn in Letland (1928), 132–68; J. Gar, in: Algemeyne Entsiklopedye, 6 (1963), 376, 391–2; M. Kaufmann, Die Vernichtung der Juden Lettlands (1947), 305–9.
[Yehuda Slutsky /
Shmuel Spector (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.