The demographic changes that took place in the Pinsk district: in the years 1650 to 1679 permanent settlements were established in the hamlets Koangródek, Lubieszow, Drohiezyn, Motel, Dawidgródek, Lakhwa and Stolin as a result of the connection between these places and groups of lease-holders who conducted their affairs in them for a number of years, and also because of the weakening of the bond with the mother community. From the sixties onward, until the end of the century, an increasing number of Jews settled in villages in the Pinsk district, making a livelihood from small or medium-sized leases, especially those on the production and selling of liquor. The petty lease-holders and the tavern-owners in the villages were partly members of families who had drawn their income from large leases in the forties, partly people who came to Pinsk from other areas, and partly people from Pinsk itself who were trying to find new sources of livelihood and entered the tavern business in the villages. The town of Karlin was founded in 1690, and by 1700 many of the impoverished burghers of Pinsk had settled there, and also, apparently, the first Jews.
The demographic changes taking place in Pinsk and its vicinity were the result of many cross-currents of population movement. Inhabitants of Pinsk left the town and tried to find means of livelihood in its surroundings. Nevertheless the Jewish population grew, instead of dwindling, not only because of natural increase, but also because of reinforcements of population that accrued from other areas, apparently as refugees from the Cossack and Muscovite massacres in the Ukraine, and as immigrants from Poland. The number of the latter increased, it seems, from the beginning of the sixties onwards.
Commerce: In the period under discussion Jews still enjoyed rights of free trade, and Pinsk still continued to be the center for commerce in wax, leather and wheat in the area. Merchants from distant places were also attracted there, to sell finished goods and buy local products. Several of the well-off families are known to have been merchants of considerable importance in the town and to have participated in the major fairs of Lithuania, where the leaders of the "Main Communities" used to meet and order the affairs of Lithuanian Jewry as a whole. This fact displays the lively trade connections of Pinsk with the rest of Lithuania, but there is no documentary evidence of trade between Pinsk and Volhynia or the Ukraine, or with foreign countries. Also at this period trade connections with Poland were to some extent interrupted and the Pinsk merchants were replaced by Jewish merchants from other towns, especially Wysowie. It is clear that the extent of the more important businesses of the Jews of Pinsk greatly diminished, and their undertakings were much smaller than before. Petty commerce continued to expand. At this difficult period people grasped at every shadow of possibility of making a livelihood, and toiled hard in support of their families and homes. Christian commerce was in a process of decline. There indeed still remained Christian merchants at the period under discussion, but in the end of the seventeenth century the burghers had no real foothold on trade.
Customs: According to the law Jews were forbidden to lease customs, but in practice this was done against the law, or through evasion of it. The nobles who were interested in the income from customs leases were not actually eager for the work involved in their collection, and willingly handed tile job over to others, including Jews who already had experience in these affairs. There are several pieces of evidence of the participation of Jews both in customs leasing and in the management of customs houses in Pinsk and its vicinity. For the greater part of the eighties and nineties the customs house of Pinsk and the customs houses subordinated to it were leased to members of the nobility but in practice Jews managed the affairs. Gershon Beliiaszewicz, one of the leaders of the Pinsk community, made his living from customs over a period of some duration, and, it seems, maintained his hold on the collection of customs even when the lease changed hands. He and his partner were experienced in organizing the management of customs affairs. They paid all or a large part of the basic cost of the lease when this was granted to a member of the nobility who did not intend to manage it, and who handed it over to them in exchange for part of the income. Competition in customs affairs was sharp, both between Jews and Christians and among the Jews themselves, and was sometimes accompanied by quarrels and even by criminal acts. Support of the community for one or another Jewish competitor sometimes determined in whose hands the lease would remain.
The machinery of customs collections in the customs houses depended to a large extent on Jews, known as scribes, for appearances' sake, while in reality they were partners, and as clerks and inspectors. The leaseholders and the scribes had considerable power, and a force of armed well-disciplined retainers stood at their disposal.
In the Pinsk district there were also small customs houses belonging to the starosta's that were likewise leased to Jews. These apparently formed part of the lease taken out by the lease-holders of villages (arenda).
Leasing of estates and arendas of villages: During this period, much initiative was directed to the leasing of liquor making and selling of cornmills. The type of the big Jewish lease-holder became rare. In his place arose on the one hand an extensive class of small lease-holders of arendas, and on the other, a group of people who remained in the service of respected noblemen and property-owners as factors, i.e., managers and administrators of estates or agents of estate owners.
Medium-sized and petty lease-holding by Jews in the villages and hamlets of the Pinsk district increased. The documents mention the names of many lease-holders in the villages, who drew their chief income from taverns. Jews from Pinsk and its surroundings and from other areas came to some of those villages for the first time in the period under discussion. Taverns greatly increased in number because the nobles were interested in exploiting this source of income as much as possible, and the Jews occupied a central position inthe implementation of this aim.
Communal loans: In 1664 the Pinsk community was among those who owed money to the Lithuanian Council. In 1667 a change for the worse took place in the economic situation of the community. At first it was not listed among the creditor communities of the Lithuanian Council, and from 1673 and onwards, until the end of the nineties, it was mentioned inthe minutes as a community in debt to the Council. Its financial situation is recorded as being more difficult than that of the other "Main Communities". The community's indebtedness apparently influenced its leadership to take a number of planned steps. First, the community seems to have looked for a cheap loan; in addition, they requested, and succeeded in obtaining (on the strength of the precedent established by the Wilne community in1884) a charter from the king, in1679, giving them permission to pay their debts in promissory notes instead of cash, and inthe same year, or a year later, they obtained a moratorium of three years on the payment of their debts. The cheap loan referred to was received from the Jesuits of Pinsk in three installments: two in 1678, each of 1,500 zloty, at an interest of 10%, and one, in 1680, of 7,000 zloty, at an interest of 8%. As well as these sums the community also obtained in 1680, a loan from a burgher for the amount of 5,620 zloty. These loans enabled the Pinsk community to settle almost all its debts to the Lithuanian Council, according to the summary of the Council's accounts in 1684, but its financial situation still remained very critical, for it appears that it was difficult for it to collect and pay the amount of tax imposed on it, and the Council even made certain special reductions for the community's benefit. In 1695 the Council received a loan of 8,000 zloty from a certain noblewoman, apparently for the purpose of paying the Pinsk community's debt to it. And in 1698 the community obtained from the person the enormous sum of 32,000 zloty at an interest of 10%. For this she was assured a special security, the income from the purchase tax on meat (krobka rzeznica). The obtaining of this loan, in 1698, was insome way connected with the Lithuanian Council's decision, in 1697, to pay itsmany debts all at one time, to satisfy the suddenly pressing demands of its creditors -- government, authorities, nobles and priests. To this end itdecided to oblige the communities to divert their income from the krobka tax towards the abolition of its debts. The Pinsk community stood behind this move of the Council, and succeeded in implementing it in practice. This large loan, which engaged even the possessions of the community as security, as well as the krobka tax, also contributed, it seems, to the consolidation of the community's debts to the Council, and in the restoration of the community's standing in the Council.
The interest on these loans was reasonable: 8-10%. The loans themselves were given under the fictitious appearance of sale of property or gift (widerkaf), and the securities received from the community seemed to satisfy the lenders. The Jews did not meet with difficulty in finding persons prepared to lend them money, and this fact proves that they inspired the lenders with good faith in their ability to repay interest and principal. If the Pinsk community was indeed in need of so many and such large loans, this shows that it was actually in need of money, as is shown by its evident lack of it, but it is also clear that it was capable of fulfilling the obligations it took upon itself. The documents used in this research lend no support to the opinion that the community took loans from Christians in order to finance Jewish trade, and especially to finance the commercial activity of groups connected with the leadership of the community.
Individual loans: Private loans by Jews from Christians were frequent and normal at this period. Not a few Jews received private loans for considerable amounts for their commercial requirements from the officer in charge of the royal economy (namiestnik). Relations of mutual trust reigned between lender and borrowers, and on occasion the loan was even given without promissory note. The borrowers were always able to meet their obligations. Although the merchants were indeed inneed, even to a large extent, of loans from Christians to finance their affairs, this cannot be interpreted as a sign of severe economic difficulty. It is more plausible that there was a lack of liquid capital for the running of businesses. The borrowers whose names are known to us are members of the class of well-off, respected merchants of the community. They were not in difficulties over paying their debts, and usually fulfilled their obligations to the exact letter. The possibility exists that some individuals needed loans from the community to finance their affairs, but there is no direct evidence of this.
Pinsk as a "Main Community" and the quarrel between the "Main Communities": In the eighteenth century Pinsk still maintained its place among the four "Main Communities" (Brest-Litovsk, Horodno, Pinsk and Wilno). But relations between the "Main Communities" themselves became complicated as a result of the stresses that affected the Lithuanian Jewish community in the period of almost continual wars. At the end of the sixties a quarrel arose for the first time between Brest-Litovsk and the other "Main Communities" on the question of the subordination of certain settlements in the environs of the bigger centers, a disagreement caused by the demographic changes that occurred in the settlements as a result of population migrations. The Pinsk community was more deeply involved in discussion with Brest-Litovsk than were the other communities, because a greater number of settlements in its vicinity were affected by the movement of their inhabitants westwards, in the direction of Brest Litovsk and its vicinity. At the beginning of the seventies there were incidents that disturbed the accepted order of precedence of the "Main Communities" Brest Litovsk, Horodno, Pinsk, Wilno -- to the disadvantage of Brest Litovsk, which had enjoyed greater privileges. It is evident that the communities of Horodno, Pinsk and Wilno collaborated against the Brest Litovsk community in the matter of the division of the taxes imposed by the Lithuanian Council (which was only one of the aspects of the quarrel regarding control over the settlements in the various districts). Matters reached the point where the Brest Litovsk community wanted to walk out of the Council, thus breaking it up. It decided instead to make an end to attempts to diminish its standing and influence in the Council, and at the same time to check the tendencies shown by some settlements subordinated to it, especially Slutsk and Minsk, to leave its jurisdiction, and to extend itsprotection to communities not yet owing a well-defined allegiance -to any of the "Main Communities" -- a matter vitally concerning the right of each "Main Community" to collect taxes in itsvicinity. To this end Brest-Litovsk set in motion the machinery of tax collection which was in the hands of Jews from the towns in many parts of Lithuania, arrested people and confiscated goods and possessions in customs houses, on roads and at fairs (in 1680). Those affected were in particular people from Slutsk and Minsk. The quarrel became more and more bitter, and finally the king intervened in reply to complaints from the "Main Communities", and ordered them to settle their differences, or, failing this, to set up a special Beth-Din to judge the matter. A Beth-Din was indeed constituted, and in 1683 issued a judgment that showed the way to a reconciliation of the quarrelling parties by restoring to Brest Litovsk a good part of the influence that the three other communities had attempted to take from it. The judgment was accepted, it seems, by the "Main Communities", and led to the meeting of the Lithuanian Council in 1684, where representatives of the "Main Communities" came to an agreement on the method of division of taxes among the communities.
Education of the boys: In Pinsk as in Poland and Lithuania every Jewish boy studied from his childhood onwards. At the age of four he was sent to Heder; boys of four and five learned the alphabet, studied Siddur and Humash, and children of six or seven even started studying the Talmud. The teachers were paid by the children's parents. It seems that the community paid for the expenses incurred in the education of poor children. Rabbi Yehudah Leib Puhovitser criticizes the method of teaching used, which in his opinion was based on the interpretation of the meaning of words, and not on progress from the easy to the difficult or on the understanding of the contents of the matter taught.
The Yeshivah: The Rabbi of Pinsk maintained a Yeshivah, attended by boys and youths both from Pinsk and from its vicinity. Rabbi Yehudah Leib Puhovitser complains of the change for the worse in the standards of learning in the Yeshivahs in the second half of the seventeenth century in comparison with pre-Khmelnitsky period, and also inveighs against the method of study that gave pre-eminence to Pilpul.
Study of Torah: Pinsk was a place of study of the Torah, and a well-known group of outstanding learned men flourished there. Rabbi Yehudah Leib Puhovitser exercised great influence on this group. He demanded the establishment of Batei Midrash, for the maintenance of permanent students of the Torah and he demanded that every Jew should devote a fixed time every day to the study of the Torah. And infact the custom of studying the Torah spread at this time to many sections of the community.
Synagogue: The synagogue was the focal point of the community. It was used of course for public worship, but there the general public also came into contact with the leadership of the community, and matters of importance could be brought to their attention. Rabbi Yehudah Leib complains about various cases of unsuitable behavior, in the synagogue: -- worldly conversation, announcements of sales of goods and every-day requirements, Hazanim who were vain of their fine voices and did not understand Torah or prayer. Pinsk acquired two new synagogues in the seventies of the seventeenth century, where Torah and Mussar (moral) were studied in permanence.
Daily life: The Jews of Pinsk, like the Jews of Poland-Lithuania generally, lived their lives according to Minhag and Halakah. Observance of the Mitsvoth was something that was taken for granted, but the sharp social and economic reality of the period caused certain cases of departure from the strict letter of the HaIakah. People lived their lives and laid down rules for themselves in areas where the Halakhah was neutral, followed the obligatory rules that were consolidated as a result of the observance of the Mitsvoth, and found a generally peaceful modus vivendi in the observance of both together.
Rabbis of Pinsk: The Pinsk Rabbinate continued to be one of the most honored inPoland-Lithuania, and great Rabbis of that generation served there. In this chapter we give a list of Rabbis of Pinsk and a summary of what is known of their lives. (Rabbi Naftali Hirts Ginzburg, 1664-1667; Rabbi Yisrael b. Shemuel from Tarnopol, 1667; Moshe b. Yisrael Yaakov Isserles, before 1673-1689; Rabbi Yoel b. Yitshak Isaak Heilperin, 1691; Rabbi Yitshak Meir b. Yonah Teomin Frankel, 1693-1703; Shaul b. Naftali Hirts Ginzburg, (1703-1712). This chapter also presents a new biography of Rabbi Yehudah Leib Pukhovitser, one of the great preachers and moralists of the second half of the seventeenth century, a native of Pinsk, who, at the height of his activity and powers as a preacher, inthe last third of the seventeenth century, lived and worked in Pinsk.
In the year 1717 it would seem that the Jews had at most 250 - 275 houses at their disposal and 300 families i.e. 1,500 souls, lived in them. In the course of the 18th century the Jewish population of Pinsk grew but only slightly, since residents of Pinsk moved either to Karlin (which seceded in the fifth decade from Pinsk) or to the villages and small settlements in the area.
Between the years 1766 and 1784 the Jewish population of Pinsk increased from 1,613 to 1,900 (a growth rate of 17.8%). In Karlin, the Jewish population in 1784 was 765. If we surmise that the Jewish population continued to increase at the rate of 1% a year, also from 1784 - 1793, we have grounds to suppose that at the time the city passed over to Russian rule, in 1793, it comprised:
|In Pinsk||1,900||+||171 =||2,071||Jews|
|In Karlin||765||+||69 =||834|
At the beginning of the 1790's the Jews constituted 70% of the general population and the Christians 30%, according to which reckoning there were in Pinsk and Karlin at that time approximate]y 1,205 Christians. Altogether the general population of Pinsk and Karlin therefore numbered approximately 4,140 souls.
The Pinsk community reacted strongly against the separate organizing of Karlin and reciprocated by causing disturbances to the merchants of Karlin in their commercial affairs. The Karlin community reacted against this by open mutiny and disassociated themselves from their taxation obligations to the community of Pinsk. The quarrel reached the point of a legal clarification by the community of Horodno (Yrodno) which handed down a severe sentence in terms of money against the Karlin community. Only after the Starosta of Pinsk, Michael Oginski, and the master nobleman of Karlin Bzhostovski mediated in the matter did Pinsk and Karlin arrive, in 1756, at a mutual agreement of compromise which fixed the mode of relations between the two communities. According to the compromise agreement, Karlin succeeded in assuring itself a generous measure of autonomy and its dependence on Pinsk was cut to the minimum. The Karlin community was however bound to participate in the settlement of the Pinsk community's debts and bound to paying Pinsk the head tax and the various tax impositions according to custom, but in matters of judgment Karlin won a nearly complete victory. The Karlin community admitted only formally the superiority of the Rav of Pinsk. In all other ways, Karlin won its independence. Karlin got a new bill of rights authorizing the new judicial standing on the basis of the agreement.
The Pinsk community after a short time regretted the settlement with Karlin and complained that the agreement had been signed in the absence of the Starosta under pressure of the nobleman, the lord ofKarlin, but to no avail.
After the dissolution of the Lithuanian Council in 1764, Karlin stopped paying the head tax to the Pinsk community (according to the new law). Pinsk saw this as a contravention of the agreement and began to limit the movements of the Karlin people in Pinsk, in the areas of commerce, sale of houses, and so on. The war between the two communities intensified and finally reached the point of legal action before the "Committee for Payment of the Jewish Debts". The Committee was in a dilemma and decided to transfer the quarrel to the judgment of the Financial Committee. It seems that the matter was not cleared up to the liking of the Pinsk community and mutual quarrels still ran rife between the two communities at the end of the 18th century.
The Pinsk community, as other communities in Lithuania, began to need loans continually, chiefly from the Church and from private persons with aristocratic standing. This caused a great conglomeration of owed amounts which in the sixties reached a total of 309,140 zloty. The situation of Pinsk suddenly became very grave since the communities in the surrounding areas refused to pay their taxes and their part in the settling of debts and Pinsk was unable to meet its obligations alone.
The "Main Communities" and the Pinsk community especially embarked on a struggle for the continuation of their power in some way over the neighboring settlements in order to have them participate in the repayment of debts. In this matter the Polish Government was forced to come to their assistance. In year 1764 the Government (Sejm) set up a Committee for Payment of the Jewish Debts, for the matter necessitated action to cope with the demands of the lenders (the church and the private money lenders with aristocratic standing). The Committee lowered the rate of interest and fixed new arrangements for conducting the communities' financial matters. The community was forbidden to receive new loans or to give out to agents the collection of taxes. Supervision of the community's financial affairs was given to the court of the "Castle" which was to assist the collection of taxes. The item of incomes on the budget amounted to 37,500 zloty from direct and indirect taxes, and could not suffice to meet all needs, and the community was obliged to make a renewed effort to get the outlying areas to bear a share of the burden of debts.
In Pinsk itself, the Government representatives supervising the debt-payment of Pinsk made the supervision a source of revenue for themselves and were a heavy toll on the budget of the community, weakening even further itsability to pay off the debts. It also felt the pinch of the individuals' debts to the nobility and to the Government. Debtors who could not pay up their debts were taken into custody, either they themselves or their children, and kept under arrest or in prison. The leaders of the community made great efforts to free these captives.
In 1764 merchants and craftsmen of Pinsk paid to the Starosta chief rent for 88 shops of which 75 were held by Jews and 13 by Christians. In 1778, 60 Jews and 15 Christians paid the Starosta chief rent for shops.
In the 18th century Pinsk continued to fill a worthy position in the export and import trade of Lithuania. Improvement of transportation routes in the days of the reign of Zigmunt August Poniatovski and the canals dug to join the rivers Dnieper and Nieman and the Dnieper with the Bug-Visla placed Pinsk at the center of two streamlined transportation networks and, from the eighties, gave a tremendous boost to the commerce of Pinsk. The commerce of Pinsk and Karlin was conducted mainly near the Pinna shore.
The Pinkas of the Lithuanian Council records journeys of Jewish merchants from the Lithuanian communities to fairs at Danzig and Koenigsberg, as a regular and acceptable occurrence and an almost certain thing that the Jews of Pinsk bore an active part in the trade of Lithuania with the above mentioned places. From Breslau, we have documents bearing witness to the considerable part played by Jewish traders from Pinsk in the commerce of Breslau with Lithuania in the first decade and early second decade and also in the fifties and sixties of the 18th century. The revival which was evident in the beginning of the 18th century (before and after 1720) was apparently temporary. Most of the information about the branching out of trade relations dates from the second half of the 18th century. The Jews of Pinsk took an active part in the trade in cattle which was forbidden to them according to the law of 1746. They managed to circumvent the prohibition and conduct trade under the protection of or in the name of monasteries and nobles, doubtless against payment of part of the profits to the protector.
In the 60s and 70s tenancy of the beverage businesses and the commercial property tax (arenda), tenancy of the weighing-scale and wax production firms was in the hands of the Jews.
In 1761, the amount of the head tax in the Pinsk region increased again to 3,031 zIoty. In the year 1731 the proportionate part of the Pinsk head tax as compared to the total paid by all the Jews in Lithuania was 6.6%.
The Jews of Lithuania continued to pay the "amount" of the State through the "Main Communities" to the Lithuanian Council. The proportionate share of the Pinsk region in paying this amount was 3.8% in 1731 and 5.1% in 1761.
The head tax which was raised in the 18th century freed the Lithuanian Jews from other royal taxes (powrotne, and transportation costs) but Pinsk participated together with the other citizens in paying the hyberna (tax for strengthening the army) and paid to the city council apparently a tax on weights and measures, pomierne, and perhaps also 30 zloty a year on their drink businesses.
The annual total income of the Pinsk community for the year 1767 (after the dissolution of the Lithuanian Council) amounted to 37,500 zloty revenue from these items of income: excise on salt, tobacco, pickles, tar, resin, and other goods, due from owners of workshops and a certain percentage of dowries, a third of the incomes from the city flour mill which was tenanted by the community, the tax on the beverage businesses, kosher meat (ritual slaughtering) and other items. From the list of incomes of the Starosta of 1778 it is evident that the incomes came chiefly from a number of circumvention taxes, korobka from goods, meat, from the weekly "amount", from etrogim, and so on.
From these incomes the community covered the following payments and dues: payments to the Starosta, payment of the tax to the army (hyberna), head tax for the poor, rent to the Government supervisor over Jewish matters and to the Starosta deputy. Also they paid rents to the religious judges (Dayyanim) and other officials, and various unforeseen expenses. The circumvention taxes doubtless weakened the popular classes. (From Vilna and Minsk we have information about the active opposition of the popular classes against the leadership of their community because of the heavy taxation burden weighing on them).
The problem of taxation of the Pinsk community in the 18th century is closely linked with the payment of the burden of taxes and the community leadership was plainly in chronic financial distress.
R. Asher ben Shaul Ginzburg: 1713 - 37.On the part of the rabbis there was in Pinsk and Karlin a large and alert group of learned men and a considerable number of them produced books on the subjects of Halacha and homiletical works. The increasing number of learned men bears witness to the depth and extent of Torah study on the lines laid down at the end of the 18th century by R. Yehudah Leib Pukhovitzer and his followers. It seems that mainly in these groups Hasidism caught on quickly and easily and started to strike at the roots of Karlin and Pinsk, whence came agitation and diffusion.
R. Yehudah Leib ben Asher Enzilm-Pinchov: 1737 - 40. Before going to Pinsk he served in the rabbinate at Ostrog and Slutsk.
R. Yisrael Iserel ben Avraham, went to Pinsk to serve as Rav from the seat of the Brisk rabbinate before 1747 and stayed there till 1762 or 63. In 1753 R. Yisrael Iserel joined in the Herem (excommunication) of R. Jakov Emden against R. Yehonathan Elibesbits.
R. Rafael ben Yekuthiel Hacoen (later Hamburger) was the Pinsk Rav from 1763 - 1772. Before Pinsk, he was Rav at the communities of Rakov near Minsk, Vilkomir, and from 1757 was the Rav of the "upper region", with his seat in Minsk. After leaving Pinsk, he became Rav of Poznan, and in 1776 was elected Rav in the three communities (Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbeck). In the period of his rabbinate, Hasidism began to spread and settled firmly in Karlin and Pinsk.
R. Aharon of Karlin (1736 - 72) the true pupil of the Maggid (preacher) of Mezerich, played a central part in the spread of Hasidism in Lithuania and in the movement's organization. Under his authority, Karlin became -- already in the 60s (in the period of R. Rafael Hacohen's rabbinate) -- one of the two main centers of the Hasidic movement. When R. Aharon died at the age of 36 his place was taken by his pupil-friend R. Shelomo of Karlin (1738 - 92), also a former pupil of the preacher of Mezerich.
After R. Rafael Hacohen left Pinsk in 1772, the seat of the rabbinate was left vacant for three years. In 1775 the Rav Av Beth-Din elected was R. Levi Yitshak ben Meir (of Berdichev, a pupil of the Maggid of Mezerich and one of the great leaders of Hasidism of his generation. R. Levi Yitshak served the rabbinate of Pinsk until 1785.
New checking of the sources with respect to Pinsk's part in the war declared by the Lithuanian communities on Hasidism led by the Gaon of Vilna brings us to the following conclusions:
R. Rafael Hacohen, Rav of Pinsk from 1763 to 1772, under whose term Hasidism spread rapidly, took a neutral stand towards Hasidism and avoided lending his support to the Herem against Hasidism. Renewed study of the letter from the Maggid of Mezerich to R. Hayyim and to R. Eliezer Halevi and of the evidence given by R. Eliezer in the book 'Shema Shelomo" (the author of "Siah Hasadeh" and "Reiah ha-Sadeh") reveals that R. Eliezer Haievi not only was not an active opponent but was himself a Hasid or close to Hasidism at least until early in the eighties; from the letter itself one should not conclude that there were actual persecutions against the Hasidim in Pinsk in the year 1772 or previously.
From the fact that R. Levi Yitshak ben Meir of Berdichev was appointed Av Beth-Din in Pinsk in 1775 or 1776, we can learn that the Hasidim had a great influence on the leadership of the people and on the groups of learned men. Nevertheless, leaders of the Pinsk community, at the fair of Zelva in 1781, joined in the Vilna community's Herem against the Hasidim but the text of the Pinsk leaders' ban was worded cautiously and in Pinsk itself the standing of R. Levi Yitshak was therefore not affected. The attitude towards R. Levi Yitshak began to change only in 1784 as a result of strong pressure on the side of the Rav R. Avigdor and the Vilna community to remove him and R. Shelomo from Karlin. Then also R. Levi Yitshak was not removed immediately but allowed to serve a further year, thereby completing a period of office lasting ten years. R. Shelomo too then left Karlin.
The conclusion that can be drawn from this is that until the 80s Pinsk, as Karlin, was a center of the Hasidic movement in Lithuania. This explains why Pinsk did not join in the Herem of 1772 against the Hasidim, and also explains the appointment of R. Levi-Yitshak as Rav of Pinsk.
The election of R. Avigdor to Av Beth-Din of Pinsk in 1785, following the removal of the Hasidic rabbi R. Levi-Yitshak ben Meir of Berdichev, was feasible against the background of temporary change in the relationship of the powers in Pinsk between the Hasidim and their opponents -- Mithnaggedim -- which removed the spiritual leadership out of the hands of the Hasidim. The activity and pressure effected by the Committee for Payment of the Jewish Debts apparently decided in favor of electing R. Avigdor who was willing to pay for the esteemed rabbinical office at Pinsk the high sum of 54,000 zloty, which eased the financial situation of the community. Consideration of his personal greatness and enormous learning was, it seems, secondary in his election. The years of his service were years of great internal tension in the community of Pinsk and in the settlements of the region. His activity in uprooting Hasidism through communication and cooperation with Vilna alerted the public to the struggle against his leadership and led to a resuscitation of the Hasidic camp which was mainly in Pinsk and in the villages of the region.
The division of Poland for the second time and attachment of Pinsk to Russia in 1793 neutralized the support of the Polish Government for R. Avigdor and for the Mithnaggedim leadership and enabled the Hasidim to obtain the community leadership and remove R. Avigdor from his post. R. Avigdor resolved to fight for his office. He embarked on the struggle in 1793 with an application to the Magistrat (Municipal Council); he pursued it with numerous endeavors in the days of Catherine the Great before the Governor Neplyuyev and the Governor General Tutolmin during the years 1793 - 96. He brought it to a climax in the year 1800 when he presented a public document of incriminating information to Tsar Paul I against the community of Pinsk and against the Hasidic camp. The head of the Hasidic community of Pinsk and all the Hasidim defended themselves as well by applying to institutions of the new Russian government.
It seems that there is an explanatory link between the new judicial standing of the Jews in the areas attached to Russia and the new character of the religious war. Because Catherine equaled the standing of the Jews with that of other citizens and the city matters with community affairs, the Jews required in an increasing measure the judgment of the Government. The new boundaries between the province of Minsk which was attached to Russia in 1793 and areas of Lithuania (Vilna, Brisk) which remained under Polish power until 1795, loosened the bond between the Pinsk Mithnaggedim and the stronghold of the Mithnaggedim in Vilna and the Kosciuszko mutiny in the Lithuanian areas in 1794 severed the connection completely.
In all the stages of the war between R. Avigdor and the Pinsk community one must properly differentiate between judgments of the Government and false declarations, in spite of the fact that both sides were treading on thin ground and slipping over from accusing ground and slipping over from accusing to informing was very easy. The efforts of R. Avigdor in the years 1793 96 to convince the Government that they should stand by him in his claims from the Pinsk community in fact terminated in failure.
The character of the reign of the extremist autocratic Tsar Paul I and the further and last attempt by the Lithuanian Mithnaggedim to put down the Hasidic movement with the aid of the Russian powers, brought about a close cooperation of interests between the Mithnaggedim and R. Avigdor. After the fake declaration of the Vilna Mithnaggedim against R. Shneur Zalman of Ladi and other Hasidic leaders in 1798 was refused, the only alternative left to them was to present a document of complaint by a private individual to fight for correction of a personal injustice.
R. Avigdor undertook this task and opened the last and most extreme stage in his war against the community of Pinsk and the Hasidic camp. In his document of libel, R. Avigdor implicated private money matters in matters of religion and faith by means of thrusting blame on and accusations against the Hasidim. The purpose of this was to place the Hasidim in the light of opponents of the existing order and Government and potential reactionaries. The inquiry which was opened as a result of his denunciatory document did not satisfy the expectations of either R. Avigdor or of the Mithnaggedim and terminated, from their standpoint, with no real outcome other than that the Russian powers made use of his accusation against the Hasidim when they began to plan their new diplomacy towards the Jews, after the plots against the life of the mad Tsar Paul I which caused their rights to be curtailed and possibilities reduced for their existence and development. R. Avigdor succeeded only in blemishing his own name in the eyes of the generations following.
As the family legend goes, R. Shaul Levin caused the separation of Karlin from Pinsk with the assistance of the new Russian governments. This traditional story of the second separation of Karlin from Pinsk may be true only if we take it that in the years 1784 - 5 the two communities united into one and R. Avigdor ben Hayyim was the Rav (rabbi) of them both. Also after R. Avigdor had been dismissed from his rabbinical post and the Hasidim took power into their own hands, R. Shaul -- who was a sworn Mithnagged (opponent of Hasidism) -- brought about a renewed severing of Karlin from Pinsk. In Karlin, the Mithnaggedim began to concentrate their forces, from the level of the wealthy to the learned men, and gradually Karlin took on the character of a Mithnagged community. This development may explain the fact that the Tsaddik (rabbi of the Hasidim) R. Asher returned from Stolin to Karlin after 1810, when the truce prevailed between the Hasidim and the Mithnaggedim and the 1804 law imposed on both camps a joint communal leadership.
In the travel records of the Pinsk region in the year 1819, by Julian Nimzevicz, the demographic and economic situation of Pinsk is described as depressing and wretched. The Polish writer did not find in the city any signs bearing witness to industry or crafts, commerce or wealth. Pinsk only retained its control of the salt trade. The population then totaled approximately 3,200 souls of whom 3,000 were Jews.
Between the years 1819 - 29 there came about an important development in the economic life of the Pinsk Jews. One can learn about this development from the account of a trip taken by Kazimierz Konterim through Polesia in 1829 on an assignment for the Polish Bank. From his description one gets an encouraging picture ofcommercial activity notably in the area of timber export. This commerce was in the hands of Jews and employed Jews in supervisory official or clerical positions. But in the writer's opinion, the great majority of the merchants were poor and needy and only few of them were well-to-do.
The central character in the economic life of the Pinsk-Karlin Jews in the period under discussion was R. Shaul Levin. He held leases, dealt in the salt and timber trades and even put his hand to industry. He amassed a great deal of property and was known as an exceedingly rich man. His daughter, Hayyah Lourié, also achieved a sound economic basis and wealth in the first and second decades of the 18th century.
In the last years of his life, R. Shaul extended his assistance to R. ltshak Ber Levinson, one of the first champions of the HaskaIah (enlightenment) in Russia.
The population increased five- tosix-fold under Russian rule. The rate of increase was greater notably in the second half of the nineteenth century. Until the middle of the 19th century Pinsk managed to hold on to her place in the topgroup of the larger communities, but in the second half of the century many townssucceeded in surpassing her in the rate of their demographic growth and Pinsk from that point belonged only tothe groupof intermediate communities. At the same time, Pinsk was still singled out as a Jewish town and the percentage of her Jewish population was between 75% and 83%.
Our information about Jewish participation in official positions in the Magistrat is slight. It is a known fact that Jews were employed as clerks in the urban police and in urban and regional offices. The real influence on conducting town affairs was in the hands of the clerks (Chinovniki) and police personnel. Bribes softened the tyranny of the police and the Government officers.
In the sixties, a certain stirring was felt in the activity of the Kahal. A young maskil (supporter of HaskaIah movement) Tsevi Hacohen Shereshevski, was appointed at that time as Secretary of the Kahal and acted in the name of the Pinsk community in matters which concerned the public interest.
The Jews of Russia and the Jews of Pinsk especially, paid direct and indirect taxes. In 1857 they paid somewhat more indirect than direct taxes. The indirect taxes were the general Korobka which was collected from kosher (ritual) slaughtering and the sale of meat; and from the tax on candles. The Korobka was practically the only source of the current budget money of the Kahal. In Pinsk, the situation of the Korobka was in good order and her incomes sufficed for the budget money of the Kahal. Representatives of the Minsk communities regarded the Korobka (in approximately 1860) as the most efficient and best financial instrument for financing the communities' budgets. The system of the Korobka and the candles tax severely crippled the popular class but in Pinsk in her prosperous years from the fifties to the beginning of the sixties this was apparently not an overpowering burden.
We have no data about the problems of army call-up between 1856, the year when the Cantonistic law was repealed, and 1874, the year of reform which did away with forced mobilization and set up service duty in the army which was encumbent on all the 20-year-olds in the land. The MaskiIim accepted the law gratefully but in fact the young men who reached army age, and their families, considered even the shortened military service a personal disaster. In Pinsk, as in other places, there were a great many youths due for military service who did not join up or else they used all kinds of contrivances in order to be released from service.
The financial value of exports (from the Ukraine) and imports (from the West) which passed through Pinsk in the years 1855 - 57 amounted to 15 million rubles approximately. The merchants of Pinsk-Karlin played a leading part in this trade. Alongside the bigger traders, the average and smaller merchants also took part in it. Becoming rich was a common phenomenon and the wealthy class grew considerably. Children of the Levin and Lourié families became at that time exceedingly wealthy. The merchants for their part were assisted by a personnel force of agents, mostly men from Pinsk, who were attached to the markets all over the Ukraine, where the produce was purchased.
At that time Pinsk's domestic trade was consolidated, bringing a constant increase in the number of shopowners; in 1860, Pinsk had 244 shops owned by Jews and six owned by non-Jews.
Pinsk's economic prosperity reached its peak in the fifties. In the sixties, signs of crisis were felt. The new capitalistic policy in the days of Alexander II's rule (1855 - 81) emphasized the development of industry and of the railway network which were known to be, amongst other things, a cheap and fast means of transporting grain. The railway construction plan excluded Pinsk. The Pinsk merchants' request, that Pinsk also be joined to the railway network, went unheeded by the Government for subjective reasons. Many of the PinskJews from the various classes began then to uproot themselves and move to the rapidly developing Ukraine. In the seventiesthere came a crisis and Pinsk fell from her prime after the railways increasingly came to replace shipping as a means of transport for carrying out the exports of the Ukraine.
During the whole of the nineteenth century, the timber trade and occupations connected with forest exploitation, held a worthy place in the general sustenance of Pinsk Jews. The wood trade was less affected by the crisis.
Until the mid-fifties, industry had not had a real place in the Pinsk Jews' economy. The pioneer of industryin the Pinsk area in the period of her commercial prosperity was the Polish nobleman Alexander Skirmunt. Just a slight stirring towards initiative in industry was felt in 1860 - 70. The pioneer of more modern industry in Pinsk was Moshe Lourié who in 1860 established an oil factory and a flour mill worked by steam machinery. In the year 1872 the candle factory passed into Jewish hands.
Most kinds of crafts were also centralized in the hands of the Pinsk Jews. The trade and production of Pinsk handicrafts were well able to compete with the Government town of Minsk. Pinsk craftsmen were specialists in certain fields, for example watch making.
In the 60s and 70s some activities were started, led by Gad-Asher Levin, for children to learn an occupation in the crafts. There were in Pinskwonderful artisans supported by master craftsmen.
In 1855, fifteen families settled in Ivanivki, a village near Pinsk, with the active assistance of Zeev Wolf son of R. Shaul Levin. The settlers were exempted from taxes and from army work. In theory they should have worked in agriculture but in fact they were mainly occupied with city jobs. The village was no more than an episode in the productivity attempts of the Jews of Pinsk.
In the years of the economic crisis there existed in Pinsk a broad stratum of people without income and without work. Many needed assistance and the leaders of the public began to talk then about productivity plans through crafts and manufacturing as a long-term means of solving the problem.
The turning-point in the public attitude to the HaskaIah and its importance for them came with the passage from the first to the second half of the 19th century. In the 1860's there was already in the town a considerable stratum which identified openly with the ideas of the Enlightenment. They expressed their identification in the will to learn Hebrew, Russian and other languages in a methodical manner and in attempts to improve the educational system by improving schools and TaImud Torah institutions. Many adopted new norms of reading and study and began to need publications in Hebrew and Russian and even to contribute to them themselves. In about 1880, the ideas of the Enlightenment, moderate in its Hebrew form, were dominant in the cultural and social life of Pinsk. Various local factors eased the penetration of ideas of the Enlightenment and their dissemination. There was in Pinsk a not insignificant group of people who because of their business were proficient in the Russian language: lawyers, middlemen who came in contact with the Government and also clerical workers employed in the town and regional police (until 1879), writers of requests to the Government, and the like. Their manners, their dress, their mode of life and the education which they gave their offspring, influenced the strength of the Haskalah camp in Pinsk.
In the sixties there already existed quite a large class of intelligentsia which had a profound influence in forming the spiritual-cultural character of Pinsk-Karlin. Some of them preached and practiced an approchement to Russian culture. A larger group of Maskilim autodidacts from among the learned men preached the moderate Hebrew culture. To this group belonged several writers of the Enlightenment period (Shemuel-Aharon Shatskes, Avraham-Dov Dovzewich, Tsevi Hacohen Shereshevski, Avraham-Hayyim Rosenberg, Nahum Meir Shaikevich-Shemer and others). In that period many pieces of writing were sentto the Hebrew press. In these writings the dominating direction was that of the moderate Hebrew culture. Russification appealed to only a few. Rich people in Pinsk employed teachers and excellent private tutors who taught their children both secular and religious studies. From them came the pioneers of modernization of the economic life in Pinsk, both in methods of management and in the running of steamships and working of the first industrial plants with steam machinery.
There was in Pinsk a small group of religious radicals. Its importance, in the seventies, to the public was minimal and its influence insignificant. Groups of landlords -- who were learned men -- agreed to the education program for the young generation which put together traditional religious studies and secular studies. The rabbis of Pinsk and Karlin (Rabbi Elazar-Moshe Hurwitz and Rabbi David Friedmann) also accepted it in practice. The orthodox, for their part, established popular societies for Torah study attached to the synagogue to balance the influence of the HaskaIah ideas and strengthened Hebrew-national moderate culture which crystallized in Pinsk-Karlin.
An elementary school for Jews was founded in Pinsk in 1853 in the framework of the policy drawn up by Minister of Education Ubarov to "improve" the standing of the Jews of Russia (in fact, to bring them closer to Christianity). The school was frowned upon, as was the case in most communities in Russia but because it was an order from the Government there was nothing to do but open it. A committee was charged with actually finding pupils for it. The director of schools was a Russian Christian.
In the sixties there were changes in the educational policy of Russia and the basis for keeping them by force disappeared. It seems that there was then a certain improvement in the standing of the school. "The Society for the Promotion of the Enlightenment among the Jews in Russia" which had a few members in Pinsk, began to support the school and groups of Maskilim started to take an interest in it. The school continued to exist (an apparently poor existence) also after the new law came out in 1873 causing the closure of most of the Jewish Governmental schools in Russia.
By the same law official rabbi Hayyim Rosenberg instituted in 1873 a private school which taught secular studies in Russian, but the accent was on Jewish studies. The general direction of the school was traditional religious and therefore gained the enthusiasm of most of the public. Extreme radical MaskiIim bent on Russification did not look favorably upon it.
From the fifties on, the Russian High School (Gymnasium) began to play a part also for Jewish youth in Pinsk. In the first days of Alexander II's reign, the principal of the High School attempted to attract Jewish pupils to it. In the sixties, Jews started to stream of their own accord to study at the Gymnasium. By the end of the seventies, the Real-school (this was the general public High School) was full of Jewish pupils, up to 39% of the overall number of pupils (70 pupils).
In the Karlin Talmud Torah, also set up in 1862, suitable arrangements were instituted from the start and the planned study program succeeded. The opinion of the Maskilim was kind because of the pedagogic arrangements and the variegated study program and they saw in it a model educational institution suited to the education of the children of Israel. Its expense budget was financed mainly by contributions from the wealthy and to a lesser extent by the tuition fees. After 1876, action was taken to better the condition of the Pinsk Talmud Torah following the example of the Karlin Talmud Torah.
In the TaImud Torah institutions of Pinsk and Karlin traditional teachers performed jointly their teaching duties. The Heder in its traditional form was still on the decline from the sixties onwards, but the popular classes overcome with devotion for the Hadarim and their teachers, continued to entrust the education of their children to them. In the second half of the century, Melammedim and teachers were attracted toPinsk from Lithuania. But the Melammedim, of the old type had gained not a little of the spirit of the times and in the Hadarim themselves some changes came about.
In the 19th century these societies were active: Hevrah Kaddisha, which was very old, and alongside it Hevrah Ketanah; which performed acts of charity among the dead; Bikur HoIim society which was active throughout all the 19th century; a Hevrah Linah (at the end of the 19th century). Torah instruction societies which were active in Pinsk: Talmud Torah society, from the beginning of the 19th century; at the end of the century there were in Pinsk a Torah society, a Shas (Shishah Sedarim) society, a Mishnayoth society, the Ein Yaakov society, the Tehillim society and a Shomerim Laboker society. At the end of the century there were in Pinsk two charitable societies which gave interest-free loans.
In Karlin, these societies were active: Hevrah Kaddisha, established in the 1880s, and alongside it a Hevra Ketanah for performing charitable duties with the deceased. The Shas society, which existed between 1832 and 1842, and to which were appointed many of the community's notables; two philanthropic societies which gave loans, one founded by R. Shaul Levin, and the other established in 1872 from contributions from various people, chiefly from the Lourié families; a society for supporting needy people, who had no means ofincome, was founded in 1876; a Bikkur Holim society, which existed during the whole of the 19th century. In 1874, a Shas society was founded at the great Beth Midrash in Karlin.
Near the hospital an old age home and a guest house (Beth Hakhnasath 0rehim) were built. In Karlin a modern hospital was established before 1857 with contributions from wealthy benefactors. The hospital was well organized, properly equipped and of an excellent medical standard.
In 1860, R. Eliazar Moshe Hurwitz, Rav of Monastyrschina, was elected and served until his death in 1890. He was much esteemed by the people and earned their great respect by his profound knowledge of the Torah, by his pleasant manner, by his shrewdness, by his leadership of the community and his talent in coping with the problems of modern times. Towards the end of his life, the first part of his Book "Ohel Moshe" which included modern interpretations of the TaImud was printed. The second part, which included Responsa was printed in Jerusalem in 1928.
In the second and third decades of the 19th century, R. Shemuel ben Aryeh-Leib from Pinsk served as Av Beth-Din of Karlin and Antopol. Responsa and legendary sayings which he wrote were not printed and the manuscripts were lost. Between the years 1824 - 44, R. Yaakov ben Aharon Barukhin, a native of Minsk, was appointed Av Beth-Din of Karlin. He had previously served as Av Beth-Din of Davidhorodok. He was one of the great Posekim I and Mesbivim (halakhic authorities) of his generation. He wrote the books "Misbkenotb Yaakov" and "Kehillath Yaakov".
After R. Yaakov's death, his younger brother, R. Itshak ben Aharon Mikovsky -- author of the book "Keren Orah" -- was Av Beth-Din until his death in 1851.
Between 1855 and 1866, R. Shemuel-Avigdor Tosefaah was Av Beth-Din of Karlin. His important work was a commentary to the Tosefta "Tana Tosefaah" which was printed even before he came to Karlin. His other writings are "Sheeloth Shemuel", "Sheerith. Hapleitha", "Hidushei Halaoth al Hilhoth Pesah, and his interpretation of the Pesah Haggadah.
When he died, R. David Friedmann was elected to the position of Av Beth-Din of Karlin and served in ituntil 1915.
In the sixties, persons without any formal culture were also elected; only in the 70s were the official rabbis, who had been educated in the seminaries, appointed. These rabbis in Pinsk were far removed from any designs of Russification and fitted in well with the cultural social views of the Pinsk Jews.
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