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MONASTIR (Serbo-Croat, Bitolj; Macedonian, Bitola), town in Yugoslav Macedonia 1918–1992, now in the F.Y.R. of Macedonia, near the Greek border. Monastir was situated on one of the ancient and main trade routes of the Balkans (the Roman "Via Egnatia") which went from the Albanian port of Durazzo to Salonika and Constantinople. It is therefore not surprising that Jews lived there already in Roman times. Direct evidence of Jewish settlement in this region was discovered in 1930 by a Yugoslav archeologist, Joso Petrović, who found at nearby Stobi a column from a third-century C.E. synagogue donated by one Claudius Tiberius Polycharmos, pater synagogae ("father of the Synagogue") – the chief parnas Marmorstein presumes that the ancestors of Polycharmos were freemen of the Emperor Claudius who had left Rome for Macedonia around the middle of the first century.

Nothing is known about Jewish settlement in Monastir in the Byzantine period. In the 12th century there were Greek-speaking (*Romaniote) Jewish artisans and traders in the town. More Jews arrived after the expulsion from Hungary in the 14th century. At the end of the 15th century refugees from Asia Minor, and during the first half of the 16th century many Spanish exiles who came by the sea or through Salonika, settled in Monastir. Throughout the Ottoman period (1382–1913) Monastir was a lively commercial center. Trade was mainly in Jewish hands (export of liquor, olive oil, salt and salted fish, and import of wool, silk and woven cloth, copper, etc.); many Jews were tanners, silversmiths, cheesemakers, etc. In the 16th century R. Joseph b. Lev was head of the yeshiva. In the 18th century Abraham b. Judah di Buton was a rabbi of Monastir. A fire which swept through the town in 1863 destroyed over 1,000 Jewish homes and shops. A blood libel accusation was leveled against the Jews in 1900.

In 1884 there were 4,000 Jews in Monastir and in 1910, 7,000. After World War I the economic situation deteriorated considerably and many Jews left the town, mainly for the United States and Chile, while others settled in Jerusalem. The remaining Jews were impoverished, and there were many unemployed and poor people who were workers, porters, and peddlers. Between the two world wars community activity was varied and intense, with growing Zionist consciousness and endeavor; the leader was Leon Kamhi. In the 1930s, the central Jewish bodies became aware of the acute social problems in this community and introduced vocational training courses, encouraged ḥalutz youth movements and other activities, but the time was too short. This old community with its several synagogues, diverse social and cultural institutions, as well as a rich and original Judeo-Spanish folklore with some Turkish admixtures, was wiped out during the Holocaust. The approximately 3,500 Jews were deported by the Bulgarian occupation authorities, for the most part to Treblinka on April 5, 1943. In 1952 there were only one or two Jews in the town, and none at the outset of the 21st century. The Jewish cemetery was renovated by volunteers from Israel.


Marmorstein, in: JQR. 27 (1936/37); Rosanes, Togarmah, 1 (1930), 152–3; 2 (1938), 41, 59; M. Luria, Study of the Monastir Dialect of Judeo-Spanish (1930), 1–9; Jevrejski Kalendar za godinu 5713 (1952), 189–95. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Lebl, Ge'ut va-Shever (1986; Serbian version, 1990).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.