PODOLIA, region in southwest Ukrainian S.S.R.; formerly a region of southeast Poland, passed to Russia in 1793. The history of the Jews in the region was largely dominated by its position as a border territory between Poland-Lithuania and the Ottoman Empire. *Medzibozh, the most ancient community in Podolia, is first mentioned in 1518. On the eve of the Union of Lublin between Lithuania and Poland (1569), there were at least 750 Jews living in nine communities of Podolia, about half of them in Medzibezh. Under Polish rule, Jews took part in the settlement of Podolia, though not at the same pace and extent as in neighboring regions. In many places, the settlement of Jews met with opposition on the ground that their presence as a foreign element was undesirable within the vicinity of the Ottoman Empire (see *Kamenets-Podolski). In 1639, Jews of Podolia were granted the right to have lawsuits with Christians tried before the provincial governor (wojewoda). There were then 18 communities in the region, of which the most important were *Nemirov, *Tulchin, *Bar and Medzibozh. Yom Tov Lippmann *Heller was rabbi in Nemirov.
On the eve of the *Chmielnicki uprising of 1648 there were 4,000 Jews in Podolia. During this period, numbers of Jews there were massacred in Nemirov, Tulchin, Bar and other communities. Thousands of Jews from Podolia and other regions of Ukraine took refuge in the fortified city of Kamenets-Podolski where, in ordinary times, Jewish residence was forbidden.
Under Ottoman rule in Podolia (1672-99), the Jews enjoyed the same rights and protection as the rest of the Jews in the empire. With the return of Polish rule in Podolia, their situation again deteriorated and it was only in 1713 that they regained the right to bring lawsuits before the provincial governor. In 1765 the Jews of Podolia numbered 38,365. Some communities of northern and eastern Podolia suffered severely at the hands of the *Haidamacks.
With the first partition of Poland in 1772, the region of "Red Russia," where about one-third of Podolian Jewry lived, was annexed by Austria and became an integral part of *Galicia. In 1787 there were 25,438 Jews in the rest of Podolia living in about 60 towns and 853 villages. The Jews there at the time earned their livelihood by trading, as innkeepers, and especially by *arenda, which was almost entirely in Jewish hands. The proximity of Podolia to the territories dominated by Turkey, and the commercial relation between the Jews and their coreligionists in the Balkans and Turkey, resulted in the spread of kabbalistic teachings in Podolia during the 16th century, and subsequently in the success of the movement of *Shabbetai Zevi and its aftermath. The Frankist movement (see Jacob *Frank) originated in Podolia. The disputation with the Frankists forced on the rabbis of Podolia by the Frankist leaders in 1757 resulted in the burning of the books of the Talmud (see *Talmud, Burning of), seized from the communities throughout Podolia, in Kamenets-Podolski. Podolia was also the cradle of Hasidism. *Israel Ba'al Shem Tov lived and died in Medzibozh. Many Hasidic leaders, including *Nahman of Bratslav, set up their "courts" in its towns.
When Podolia passed to Russia in 1793, the administrative province of Podolia was established, which at first had a Jewish population of 16,687. The Jews formed the majority of merchants and townsmen in the province throughout the 19th century. There were 165,000 Jews in Podolia in 1847 and an estimated 418,458 in 1881. During Passover of 1882, *pogroms broke out in *Balta and the surrounding villages, accompanied by murder and rape. Subsequently, the number of Jews in Podolia declined, mainly due to the legislation of May 1882 (see *May Laws) which restricted Jewish economic activity in the villages, and to the retardation of industry and commerce in Podolia. Thousands of Jews emigrated to the provinces of "New Russia" and Bessarabia, as well as overseas. In 1897 Podolia was the only province whose Jewish population had decreased in comparison with the figures for 1881. The Jews then numbered 370,612 (12.3% of the total population), with a proportion of 100 men to 106 women (compared with 101 women in the neighboring province of *Kherson and 102.8 in Bessarabia). There were 88 communities with over 1,000 Jews in Podolia, including Kamenets-Podolski, Balta, *Mogilev, *Vinnitsa, *Proskurov, Tulchin, *Bershad, Medzibozh, *Chmielnik, Bar, Bogopol, *Krivoye, Ozero and Nemirov. About 55,000 Jews lived in villages. Approximately 47% of Podolia Jewry was engaged in commerce (compared with 38.6% of the Jews in the whole of Russia) and 30% in crafts and industry (35.4% in the whole of Russia). About 7,000 Jews (2%) were engaged in agriculture in Podolia, almost half of them in 16 Jewish settlements.
During the civil war in Russia (1918-21), Podolia was among the regions which suffered most severely. Pogroms began with the retreat of the Ukrainian army though Podolia before the advancing Red Army, fomented by Ukrainian army units, bands of peasants who rebelled against the Soviet regime, and units of the "White Army" commanded by A.1. *Denikin. Massacres took place in Proskurov and Felshtin (Gvardeyskoye) in February 1919. Up to the end of 1921, 162 pogroms had occurred in 52 localities of Podolia, of these 125 by the Ukrainians, 28 by the "White Army," and nine by the Poles. The total number of victims has been estimated at about 3,700. The most sinister pogroms (after Proskurov and Felshtin) took place in Trostyanets (with 342 dead), *Bratslav (where pogroms occurred 11 times), and *Litin. The small Jewish settlements in the villages were destroyed and completely abandoned. Refugees from the villages and the townlets streamed into the larger towns of the region and *Odessa. Many crossed the borders into Bessarabia and Poland. Typhus and famine also devastated the Jewish population. In many settlements (Orinin, Chmielnik, Kamenets-Podolski, etc.), Jewish *self-defense units were organized against the pogroms. They withstood the rioters but could not resist the regular army units. Many Jewish youths joined the ranks of the Red Army, within whose framework Jewish units were occasionally formed. These were specially sent on punitive expeditions against rebellious villages.
Under Communist rule, Jewish communal life ceased and the position of the Jews of Podolia was the same as that of the rest of Russian Jewry. In the 1920s Jews in Podolia organized cells of *He-Halutz and other secret Zionist youth movements. In 1925 a petition for the right to study Hebrew, signed by thousands of Jewish children in Podolian towns and townlets, was presented to the authorities. The Jewish population in 1926 numbered 347,481 in the seven regions which comprised the former province of Podolia (and some smaller areas outside it).
At the time of the liberation of Transnistria by the Red Army in the spring of 1944, there were some 60,000 Jews in the region, of whom 15,000 had lived there before the German occupation while the remainder were from Rumania. In 1970 there were still many thousands of Jews living in Podolia but their exact number is unknown. There was apparently no Jewish communal life except for small groups of worshipers connected with local synagogues.