The first mention of the Jews in Zhovkva dates back to 1593. In 1600, Castellan of Lviv Stanisław Żołkiewski, gave permission for the construction of a house of prayer. The community was apparently still small, subordinate to the Lviv kehilla. It became independent around 1620, although the oldest matzevot at the cemetery were placed there around the year 1610.

With time, Jews received their own street called Żydowska (“Jewish”), passing through the Jewish Gate – one of the four gates of the town. In the years 1648-1649, the community took part in the defence of the town against Khmelnytsky’s Cossacks.

Zhovkva quickly became an important centre of Jewish culture. In 1640, with the permission of the owner of the town, a yeshiva was established. Local printing houses gained fame throughout Europe, including the one located in the still existing building at 10 Market Square – the publishing house of Uri Fabus Levi from Amsterdam, which began its activities in 1692. In the period of 1680-1730, the town was a strong centre of the Sabbatean movement.

In 1635, Ruthenian Provincial Governor Jan Daniłowicz authorised the construction of a defensive brick synagogue. The privilege was affirmed several times by King Jan III Sobieski (1664, 1678, 1687), who even supplied the building material from his own quarries, but the final consent was given by Archbishop of Lviv Jan Lipski in 1692. The famous synagogue was built in the years 1692-1700. It was one of the most beautiful Renaissance buildings in the area of Lviv. It construction may have been overseen by the royal constructor, Piotr Beber. Legend has it that the local Catholic clergy forbade Jews to whitewash its façade out of envy. The Jewish community flourished under Sobieski’s rule, benefiting from direct connections with the royal court. Even the synagogue was known as the “Sobieski Shul”.

In the 18th and the 19th centuries, the town lost its former significance, and the local Jews formed a typical shtetl, though under the evident influence of the Haskalah. Nevertheless, even then Zhovkva boasted a number of prominent individuals, such as the eminent maskil (scholar) and philosopher Natan Krochmal (1785-1840), who earned his living as an accountant. There were also Jewish prints houses in Zhovkva.

In the mid-19th century, the fur industry began to develop, giving employment to hundreds of Jewish workers.

In 1931, Zhovkva was inhabited by about 3,000 Jews. There were Talmud-Torah and Tarbut schools in the town, as well as an orphanage and other charitable institutions.

Germans entered the town in June 1941. Just a few days later, they introduced drastic repressions against the Jewish population, starting with burning down the historic synagogue. By November 1942, about 3,200 out of the 5,000 Jews residing in the town were sent to the German Nazi extermination camp in Bełżec. The rest were imprisoned in the ghetto. In March 1943, they were murdered by Germans and their Ukrainian collaborators. When the Soviet army entered Zhovkva on 23 July 1944, only 70 Jews were still alive.