SIRET (Ger. Sereth ) town in Bukovina, N. Romania, one of the oldest urban settlements; capital of Moldavia between 1363 and 1376. Situated at the crossroad of European routes linking the cities of Cernăuţi and Suceava, Siret was an important customs city and trade center (cereal, cattle, horses, swine, raw hides, etc.). A census of 1774 mentions eight Jewish families with a total 43 persons. Their number must have been higher if we are to consider the funeral stelae prior to 1775 and the fact that, after only seven years (1782), the Austrians evicted 61 Jews from the town. For the year 1787 we know the names of 36 house and distillery owners there. Representatives of the Siret Jews were among those who signed a memorandum to the authorities during this period, in which they requested permission to trade in wine and alcohol. Their request was rejected, and they were authorized to maintain one inn in the town and were restricted to serving Jews in transit through Siret to other places in Bukovina.
During the period when Bukovina and Galicia were united (1786–1849), the number of Jews in Siret grew substantially, so that in 1880 the Jewish population numbered 3,122 (37.1% of the total). Jews played an important role in Siret's economic development and were also active in general public life, owing to their position in trade, crafts, banking, the food and textile industries, and the professions. Between 1912 and 1918, there was a Jewish mayor, and other Jews were elected to the municipal council. The communities were led by a guild-master (staroste), a well-known type of organization in Moldova. The epitaphs mention people with the function of aluf, more hora'ah, dayyan, illustrating a complex community life. The cemeteries contain graves dating from the beginning of the 18th century, with impressive funeral stelae presenting a diversity of adornments; several epitaphs constitute the traces of a community which stood out by virtue of its organization, accomplishments, and personalities. The community expanded and during the 18th century already had a rabbi. At first it was affiliated to the community of Suceava but gradually became independent. The regulations of the independent community were ratified in 1887. At the beginning of the 19th century, in addition to the central synagogue, there were four battei midrash and four houses of prayer. Their activity in the community sphere (social assistance, education, religion) is well-known. Before Bukovina was incorporated into Romania after World War i, the Jewish youth studied at the local German high school. There was also a yeshivah with a large number of students. The Vishnitz trend of Ḥasidism was dominant in the community. Cultural activity deeply rooted in Judaism and initiated by the elites unified the Jews from all social layers. Their interest was directed towards the vigorous cultural and political life of the metropolis of Bukovina. During World War i, Siret and its Jewish inhabitants suffered severely, particularly under Russian occupation. After the war, there were about 3,000 Jews living there.
After its reunification with Romania, there were many integration problems, owing to the loss of some important positions in economic, political, and social life, in administration, education, and adjustment to the new official language. Community life improved, its rehabilitation aided by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Commitee.
There is information on Zionist organizations of different social statuses operating there, and from the Siret community there arose leaders of the Zionist movement in Romania and then of the development of Israel (among others, Yitzhak *Artzi and Iehuda Shaari).
The antisemitic movements intensified, and the anti-Jewish laws, especially after 1938, marked the beginning of successive exclusion from socio-political life, which led to the annihilation of the economic base and to poverty. In July 1941 evictions occurred in Calafat, and in October 1941 many Jews were deported to Transnistria, where cold, famine, and typhus claimed 700 victims from among the members of the Siret community. During the post-war period, the population of the re-established community gradually decreased from 500 to 100 (1980) and completely disappeared by 2000.
H. Gold, Geschichte der Juden in der Bukowina, 2 (1962), 105–7; I. Popescu Sireteanu, Siretul – vatră de istorie şi cultură românească, Iaşi, 1994; S. Sanie, Dăinuire prin piatră. Monumentele cimitirului medieval evreiesc de la Siret (2000); T. Weggemann a.s.o., Die sprechenden Steine von Siret (2001).
[Yehouda Marton /
Silviu Sanie (2nd ed.)]