SOFIA, capital of Bulgaria. Jews lived in Sofia from the first centuries of the Christian era under Roman rule. Later they were known as *Romaniots. Their synagogue ("Kahal de los Griegos"; the Greek Synagogue) stood until 1898. When Jews were expelled from Hungary in 1376, some of them came to Sofia. A second wave of Hungarian Jews was brought by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, after the short-lived conquest of Buda in 1526. After the expulsion from Bavaria in 1470, Ashkenazi Jews arrived in Sofia, where they established their own community. The refugees from Spain also established a new community. During the 16th century, there were three separate communities – the Romaniot, the Ashkenazi, and the Sephardi. Eventually they amalgamated into a single Sephardi community. Even though the Ashkenazi Jews integrated with the Sephardi Jews, their synagogue was, until in recent times, known as the Kehillat Ashkenazim in order to distinguish it from that of the newer Ashkenazim, who came from Russia, Romania, Hungary, Germany, and Galicia.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Jews of Sofia worked as craftsmen and businessmen. The town was a transit center for goods which were sent from Salonika to Bucharest, Belgrade, and other cities. After an abortive rebellion against the Turkish rule, the merchants of *Dubrovnik (Ragusa), who held an important place in the economic life of Sofia, were compelled to cede their position to their Jewish rivals, in whose hands the whole of the commerce became concentrated during the 17th century. At the time the community of Sofia numbered 2,000. When Bulgaria became independent in 1878, the Jews saved the city from pillage and fire. The largest Jewish population of the country was then located in Sofia (according to the official census of 1880, numbering 4,146). Two Jews were appointed to the municipal council. The Jews lived in a quarter which was known as Hagada, situated in the center of the present city. In 1884–85 there were 6,000 Jews in Sofia and in 1920, 16,196. During the Serbo-Bulgarian war in 1885, the community set up a hospital which treated the war casualties. The Jews of the town engaged in commerce, crafts, and brokerage. Three-quarters of them barely earned enough to sustain themselves.
During World War II, in May 1943, an expulsion decree was issued against the Jews of Sofia. At that time they numbered some 25,000. The project to exterminate them, however, was not carried out. After the mass immigration of Bulgarian Jewry to Israel (until 1949), 5,000 Jews remained in Sofia. In 1951 there were 5,259 Jews, in 1964 4,000, and in 2004 around 3,000. (For the postwar period, see also *Bulgaria.)
Rosanes, Togarmah, passim; S. Mézan, Les Juifs espagnols en Bulgarie (1925), 19, 75; E. Condurachi, in: REJ, 1 (1937), 90f.; A. Hananel and E. Eškenazi, Fontes hebraici ad res oeconomicas socialesque balcanicarum, 1 (1958), 47–48.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.