OSTROG (Heb. אוסטרהא, אוסטרא), city in Rovno district (Volhynia), Ukraine; formerly in Poland. Evidence of the beginnings of Jewish settlement in Ostrog dates from the 15th century; inscriptions on two Jewish tombstones in the ancient cemetery date from 1445, and the archives of Lvov contain documents of 1447 relating to Ostrog Jewry. In 1495 the Jews were expelled from Ostrog, during the general expulsion of Jews from the grand duchy of Lithuania, but they were able to return after a short interval. Their trading activities were opposed by the burghers who in 1502 complained to the Polish king that the Ostrog Jews were depriving them of their profits from the transit trade through Lvov to Podolia and Russia. Sigismund i adjudicated a case relating to customs dues in which Ostrog Jews were involved in 1536. The growth of the Ostrog community was linked to the expansion of trade with Walachia, Walachian cattle being exchanged for cloth and other goods which the Ostrog Jews sold in Poland. They also exported timber, wax, potash, leather and leather goods via the Bug River to Danzig. The Ostrog community was one of the four original leading communities in Volhynia represented on the *Council of the Four Lands. The community perished during the Cossack uprising under *Chmielnicki in 1648–49 when 1,500 families (about 7,000 persons) were massacred. In 1661 there were only five Jewish families in the town. Later the community revived, to regain its former leading position in Volhynia, with jurisdiction over a number of communities in the vicinity. The Jews of Ostrog were miraculously saved during the *Haidamack raids in the middle of the 18th century, with the help of their Tatar neighbors. They also emerged unscathed when Russian troops in 1792 attacked the synagogue of Ostrog, believing it to be a fortress, in the fighting that preceded the second partition of Poland. In commemoration of their deliverance the Ostrog Jews instituted a "Purim of Ostrog," and the Megillat Tammuz was read in the synagogue on the 7th of Tammuz. At the end of the 18th century the Jewish population numbered under 2,000 and in 1830 2,206. By 1847 it had increased to 7,300, a similar figure to that in the period preceding the 1648 massacres, an influx evidently following the decree of *Nicholasi of 1843 ordering the expulsion of Jews from western border settlements (see *Russia). In 1897, the Jews numbered 9,208 out of a total population of 14,749; and in 1921 7,991 (out of 12,975). By 1939 nearly 10,500 Jews were living there.
Ostrog was one of the most important centers of Jewish religious learning in Poland, its name being interpreted in Hebrew as Os Torah ("the letter of the Law"). Some of Poland's most eminent scholars served as rabbis and principals of the Ostrog yeshivah, which was already in existence by the beginning of the 16th century. The first-known rabbi of the congregation and principal of the yeshivah was Kalonymus Kalman Haberkasten. Among his notable successors were Solomon *Luria (Maharshal), Isaiah *Horowitz, author of Shenei Luḥot ha-Berit (first quarter of the 17th century), Samuel *Edels (Maharsha), and *David b. Samuel ha-Levi (Taz). According to the last, the Ostrog yeshivah was probably the greatest in Poland: "Never have I seen so important a yeshivah as this." Ostrog was the "great town of scholars and writers" according to Nathan Nata *Hannover. The yeshivah was restored soon after the Cossack destruction through the efforts of Samuel Shmelke, who loaned a large sum to the Council of the Four Lands for its reestablishment and the maintenance of students. Its rabbis included many distinguished scholars and its graduates provided rabbis, principals of yeshivot, dayyanim, and maggidim for numerous communities. Ostrog also became celebrated as a center of *Ḥasidism which was disseminated there by several disciples of *Israel b. Eliezer (the Ba'al Shem Tov). A number of benevolent societies and foundations functioned in Ostrog, the most important being the burial society. During the Russian rule the Jewish population grew from 1,829 in 1787 to 7,300 (including nearby settlements) in 1847, and 9,208 in 1897 (total population – 14,749). Jews were active in the trade of lumber, cattle, and farm products. They owned sawmills, hide-processing and furniture factories, and two banks. After World War i Ostrog turned into a border town within Poland, and was cut of from the Eastern market. This led to an economic decline. The number of Jews fell to 7,991 (total population – 12,975) in 1921, and 8,171 (total population – 13,265) in 1931. The Zionist movement and the Bund flourished. There was a Hebrew elementary and junior high school, and a kindergarten.
[Azriel Shochat /
Shmuel Spector (2nd ed.)]
Under Soviet rule (1939–41), the Jewish communal bodies were disbanded. A number of Zionist youth left for Vilna in the hope of reaching Palestine from there. In the summer of 1940 some Jewish families were sent into exile to the Soviet interior. When war broke out between Germany and Russia on June 22, 1941, groups of Jewish youth left the town with the retreating Soviet army. About 1,000 Jews from Ostrog reached the Soviet Union, leaving about 9,500 Jews in Ostrog itself. During the heavy fighting 500 Jews were killed. The German forces entered Ostrog on July 3, 1941, and immediately embarked upon a campaign of murder and plunder among the Jewish population. On Aug. 4 2,000 Jews were rounded up and murdered in the woods in the New City, followed on September 1 by a similar action against 2,500 more victims. The members of the first *Judenrat headed by Rabbi Ginzburg were murdered in the first murder Aktion in August. A second Judenrat was set up, headed by Avraham Komedant and including Chaim Dawidson, Yakov Gurewitz, and Yakov Kaplan. A ghetto was established in June 1942, where the remaining 3,000 Jews were concentrated. The third and final Aktion came on Oct. 15, 1942, in which 3,000 persons were taken and murdered on the outskirts of the town. About 800 Jews escaped to the forest, but few of them survived, as they were often attacked or betrayed by the Ukrainian peasants, or were murdered by gangs of the Bandera Ukrainian nationalists. Some of the escapees organized partisan units operating in the vicinity. Among the outstanding partisans were Yakov Kaplan, Mendel Treiberman, and Pesach Eisenstein. When the Soviet forces returned to Ostrog on Feb. 4, 1944, about 30 Jews emerged from the partisan ranks. Approximately another 30 came out of hiding. Later on, former Jewish inhabitants who had fled to the Soviet Union also returned, but the vast majority left Ostrog for Poland, on their way to Ereẓ Israel or other countries abroad. The community was not reconstituted after World War ii.
M.M. Biber, Mazkeret li-Gedolei Ostraha (1908); Arim ve-Immahot be-Yisrael, 1 (1946), 5–40; Halpern, Pinkas; Pinkas Ostrah: Sefer Zikkaron li-Kehillat Ostraha (1960). add. bibliography: Pinkas ha-Kehillot Poland, vol. 5 –Volhynia and Polesie (1990).