KERCH (in antiquity, Panticapaeum), port at the eastern extremity of Crimea, Ukraine. A Jewish settlement appears to have existed on this spot during the period of the independent kingdom of Bosphorus (fifth century B.C.E.) but the earliest extant evidence dates from the time that the town was under the dominion of the Roman Empire. A Greek inscription of 81 C.E. concerning the liberation of a Jewish slave reveals that a Jewish community existed in the town at that period and that there was also a synagogue. Non-Jewish inscriptions belonging to the first centuries of the Christian era bear numerous Jewish symbols. During the second half of the ninth century the patriarch Photius wrote to Archbishop Antony of Kerch thanking him for his efforts to convert the Jews of the city. In his letter to *Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut the *Khazar king Joseph mentions Kark (Kerch) among the cities of his kingdom, and it may be assumed that the Jewish community flourished there during the eighth and ninth centuries under the Khazar kings, who became converts to Judaism. As a result of the wars between the Khazars and the Russians during the second half of the tenth century and the wars between the Russians and the Greeks at the close of the 11th century, the Jews abandoned Kerch, so that when *Pethahiah of Regensburg visited the city in 1175 he found a community of *Karaites only.
During the 17th century the Turks built a fortress in the city and a site was granted to the Karaites for a cemetery. After the city had been captured by the Russians in 1771, a new community of local and Russian Jews was established but it was destroyed during the Crimean War (1854–56). After a number of years, the Jewish settlement was reconstituted, and in 1897 numbered 4,774 persons (14% of the city's population), including *Krimchaks and Karaites. Most of them earned their livelihood in the dried fish and salt industries and in the oil refineries, but also in petty trade and crafts. There were several synagogues in Kerch, including one built in the 1830s, another in 1875, a separate Krimchak synagogue, and a Karaite one. In 1859 the talmud torah had 160 pupils, and there were schools for boys and girls, and a number of charitable institutions. On July 31, 1905, several Kerch Jews were killed in a pogrom; the Jews there organized *self-defense. There were 3,067 Jews in Kerch (8.9% of the city's population) in 1926, and their numbers had risen by 1939 to 5,573 (total population 104,443), including about 500 Krimchaks. A few Jewish schools were probably opened in the 1920s. The Germans occupied Kerch on November 16, 1941. On December 1–3 they killed about 2,500 Jews, and the rest of them were murdered by the end of the month. On December 30, 1941, the town was taken by the Soviet army, but by May 23, 1942, it was retaken by the Germans, who killed the few remaining Jews, mostly Krimchaks. Together some 7,000 Jews from Kerch and surroundings were murdered. The city was liberated on April 11, 1944. In 1970 the Jewish population of Kerch was estimated at about 5,000, but there was no organized religious life. Most left in the mass emigration of the 1990s.
A. Tcherikower, Ha-Yehudim ve-ha-Yevanim ba-Tekufah ha-Hellenistit (1963), 271, 281; B. Dinur, Yisrael ba-Golah, 1 (1962), index; D.M. Dunlop, History of the Jewish Khazars (1967), index; I. Ben-Zvi, The Exiled and the Redeemed (1967), 109–111; S.M. Schwarz, The Jews in the Soviet Union (1951), index; M. Osherovich, Shtet un Shtetlekh in Ukraine, 1 (1948), 241–51.