« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

{Pages 265-266}

Yiddish Section

 

Slutsk in Eternity

Translated by Hershl Hartman

This was Slutsk–an old Jewish town in Russia, on the border of Poland… surrounded by thick forests and swampy fields…with green gardens and rich orchards…traversed in its length and breadth by the deep yet narrow, swiftly flowing Slutsh River…secured by its old, wooden, yet solid homes and stores… enriched and respected for its varied Houses of Study, prayer gatherings and synagogues…all sorts of large and small yeshivas, drawing young boys from nearby shtetlekh and towns to study Torah…settled and populated by old-time, pious and well-learnéd Jews…tradesmen and craftsmen, almost all schooled in the holy books, Talmudic experts among them…famous egotists…sharp minds and sharp tongues, among whom pedigree was based not on wealth, nor even on ancestral glory, but on the merit of Torah…where a drayman would enter the House of Study with his whip under his arm to study a chapter of Talmud –a real Slutsk that disappeared from the Earth long ago.

It began to crack and crumble soon after the First World War, with the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, when Polish bandits invaded that district, attacked towns and villages and pogromized, murdered and robbed the defenseless Jewish population. This was followed by Bolshevik rule which, in addition to the hunger and poverty it brought to the [economically] displaced Jews, brutally destroyed, ostensibly for ideological reasons, the Jewish spirituality which had inspired and elevated the Jewish people over generations, tearing out by the roots the enshrined Jewish soul. What miraculously remained of Jews and Judaism in that area was destroyed by that beast of gentile humanity, the most horrendous criminal of all generations, may his name and memory be obliterated.

Now Slutsk, the living Jewish Slutsk that we knew, from which we originate, along with all the thousands of other Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, has been totally wiped off the face of the earth, so that not even a sign of it has remained for us, its children, as well as for the Jewish world that knew its name.

So we must direct our view and our hearts to that old, former Slutsk that still lives in our memories as the good, warm nest of our childhood years and that serves us now as a sort of “Slutsk in Eternity.” It is no longer on Earth, but it floats high above us…in our minds…in our yearning dreams…providing us with a rich heritage for our spirits…the foundation of our Jewish spirituality.

“Know from whence you came”–this commandment in its higher meaning must serve as a signpost not only in a general sense for the children of an entire people, but also in a narrower sense for the children of a specific location. They must remember for themselves and transmit to future generations that they were not born from a stone, that they had parents, that they came from a loving, lofty home which one may embrace and from which one may benefit and may learn something for the future. – Y. D. B.


{Pages 267-268}

From Historic Sources

– From the Jewish-Russian Encyclopedia

by Brokhauz – Efron

Translated by Hershl Hartman

Slutsk was the residence of the Duchy of Slutsk.

The first references to Jews in Slutsk date to the year 1583.

A Jewish community was already in existence in Slutsk at the beginning of the 17th century and, according to the minutes of the Lithuanian Va'ad [rabbinic council] in 1623, Slutsk was under the influence of the Brisk Va'ad.

However, in 1691, the leaders of the Va'ad gave autonomy to Slutsk and other major communities, recognizing the large Jewish population of Slutsk and its greatly honored learnéd men and Talmudic experts. The meeting of the last Va'ad took place in Slutsk in 1761.

In 1655, when the Moscow military occupied Lithuania, there was a panic in Slutsk and most Jews took refuge in Vilna [Vilnius]. Slutsk again became one of the major trading towns in Lithuania when the military unrest died down.

The Radziwills, to whom Slutsk belonged as their property, aided in the redevelopment of the town and related to its Jews in a friendlier fashion than to the other inhabitants. This explains the accusation against Lord Radziwill by the Slutsk archimandrite [Eastern Orthodox Church cleric] in 1660. In 1754, the Orthodox Church in Slutsk complained to the commissar of the Slutsk Duchy that, ever since Jews had been appointed tax-farmers [collectors on commission] of the meat tax, the Russian Church had lost all its income.

The Jewish population of Slutsk and its surrounding region in 1776 came to 1,577 individuals. (Pinkus kehiles Lite–record of the Lithuanian Jewish communities and according to Bershadsky.) According to the pinkusim [records] of 1800 there were three Christian traders in Slutsk and 47 Jewish traders. Christian citizens–641; Jews–1,537. A survey of 1847 counted 5,897 Jews; in the Kapulye community–1,824.

The census of 1897 showed the total population of the Slutsk region to be over 260,000, of which 40,906 were Jews.

Town/VillageTotal Pop.Jewish Pop.
Slutsk14,34910,264
Vizne 1,593 532
Hresk 1,674 207
Hrazave 928 765
Kapulye 4,463 2,671
Fahast 863 685
Romanove 1,535 494
Semzheve 2,538 2,881
Starobin 2,315 1,494
Timkovitsh 2,393 1.523

 

Slutsk in the Period of the “Council of the Four Lands”

There is a very strong tendency in the historiography of Jewish life-styles in the post-exilic period to emphasize the striving toward communal autonomy in the spiritual and social sense. Such striving was realized in olden times from the Babylonian to the Hispanic exiles. This review will not dwell needlessly on the details of that period.

A “Va'ad of the Land” was organized in Poland in the 15th century. The famous “Council of the Four Lands” was established in the 16th century (1580-1), which included the Jewish communities of Great Poland, Little Poland, Russia [Eastern Galicia] and Volhynia.

The Jewish communities of Lithuania joined that Council in 1588. The records of that year refer to “five lands” (Great Poland, Little Poland, Russia [Eastern Galicia], Volhynia and Lithuania). The main communities were: Posen, Krakow, Lemberg and Brisk.

The Lithuanian communities, headed by the one in Brisk, participated in the “Council of the Four Lands” over the course of many years.

In the year 1623, when the Lithuanian Jewish communities had achieved a high level of spiritual and economic development, a gathering of all of them was held and the “Council of the Land of Lithuania”[1] was proclaimed. At the beginning, participating delegates represented Brisk, Grodno and Pinsk.

In 1652, at a meeting of the “Council of the Land,” it was decided to admit a representative of the Vilna community. The Slutsk community was independent of the Brisk community in all matters during that entire period. Finally, it was in 1691 that the Slutsk community attained equal standing in the “Council of the Land” with the above-cited communities.

The gatherings of the Councils took place during the “market-fair days” in various central cities, including Slutsk, where important issues of the day were dealt with:

  1. Relations with central and local power-organs [governments and church powers].
  2. Determining amounts of taxes due the governments and collecting them.
  3. Regulating the internal life of the communities: selecting communal heads, judges, synagogue heads, sextons, etc.
  4. Religious and education matters: yeshivas, Talmud-Torah [schools], etc.
  5. Economic concerns: leaseholds[2], internal taxes[3], etc.
The meeting of the “Council of the Land of Lithuania” in Brisk in 1623 passed an all-embracing statute regarding the lifestyle of the Jewish communities. The rules discuss and determine the duties of each community to the government, inner relations among community members themselves as well as intercommunity relations. Details on the role of the Slutsk Jewish community as recorded in rabbinic literature of that period will be found in the Hebrew section of this volume.


Footnotes:
  1. Generally referred to as “Council of the Principal Communities of the Province of Lithuania.” Return
  2. “Jews were permitted to rent not only estates but even entire villages from the feudal landowners.” – Nathan Ausubel, A Pictorial History of the Jewish People, 1953. Return
  3. Taxes on such necessities as candles and meat were to cause great inner friction in later centuries. Return


{Pages 269-272}

Documents

Translated by Hershl Hartman

Our respected fellow-townsman, Prof. Tsvi Razran of New York, sent us an article on “Slutsk of Old And in the Recent Past,” accompanied by important historical documents in Russian. We found it necessary to translate the documents into Yiddish for publication in our records [pinkes]. We believe that these documents reflect the history of the Slutsk Jewish population over the course of centuries.

The Editors

 

1583

297                        No. 642
Feb. 23 – Elia Lifshits and Merkl Novakhovitsh may export from Slutsk to Lublin this merchandise: goat skins; local, ordinary animal skins such as fox, wolf, etc.

This merchandise is free of duties in Orsha, in Tsetsersk, in Mistislav[1] and Bobruisk. Part of the merchandise is for shipment to Lublin and the balance to the market-fair in Gnezensk on April 15.

 

1622

766
A complaint by a Slutsk Jew against a Christian for failure to appear at the Kofu1 court on a charge of suspicion of theft of various items.

Avrom Aranovitsh, a Slutsk Jew, accuses Meshtsanka Yoroshevitsaya, of Slutsk, of hiding her son Karp who had stolen several items from Aron. Karp was jailed pending further investigation. On advice of her elder son, Stefan (a foe of Jews), Yoroshevitsaya brought a charge against Aron, accusing him of arresting Karp without authority and of robbing her home; it was found that his action was in accordance with the law, with permission of the court, and that nothing was robbed.

Acts of Vil. Arch. Com. B XVIII, p. 258

 

1622

768–“Kofus,” an investigation in the matter of a theft. The matter of a theft by Karp Yaroshovitsh from the Jew Aron. Karp did not appear, and his brother and mother, under subpoena, stated that Karp is not under their control, and as an independent businessman he is never at home during the day.

Karp was declared guilty of failure to appear at the appointed time.

Acts of Vilna Archive, B, XVIII, page 257

 

1623

700                        17th November
Report by Ilya Leskovitsh about blows struck by Mikhl Moshkevitsh, who also jailed the former. He was freed by the “Kofna” court.

Ilya Leskovitsh accused Mikhl Moshkevitsh, a Jew, in the following: leaving his work in Ratskovitsh, where he was employed by Mr. Yitskhak Moshkevitsh, Mikhl's brother, he, Leskovitsh, came to Slutsk; there he met Mikhl, who invited him to come home with him. At home, at the beginning he tried to convince him to return to his [Mikhl's] employ. When he refused, Mikhl began to curse at and beat him. At the same time, Leskovitsh's belt tore, from which money fell that Mikhl took for himself. Noticing later that Leskovitsh was consulting with friends as to what to do next, Mikhl had him put in jail, from which he had him released after a week, in order to accuse him before the court in Kopnish and to set fire to his brother's courtyard.

The court declared Leskovitsh innocent. Vizh testified that he had seen the wounds caused to Leskovitsh. At his demand, it was recorded in the books.

Vil. Act. B XVIII, page 266

 

1623

771                        18th November
Protest by the zhid [sheenie, i.e., Jew] Mikhl Moshkevitsh against Ilya Leskovitsh's accusation dealt with in Kope. The Slutsk Jew, Mikhl Moshkevitsh, reported the following to the Slutsk government's high official: Ilya Leskovitsh, heroic [sic. read: loyal] servant of his brother Yitskhak Moshkevitsh, also a Slutsk Jew, participated in a robbery and was punished; then he began to threaten that he would escape, and he finally did voluntarily leave his employment. The next day he set fire to Yitskhak's grain barn. Yitska[2] asked his brother to sue in court and, if possible – to detain him.

Mikhl asked that his brother's charge be recorded in the books and, happening upon Leskovitsh in Slutsk, he ordered that the latter be arrested and extradited to Ratskovitsh, in order to make it possible for his brother to bring him before the court (Kofo) to investigate the matter of arson.

Kofo freed Leskovitsh pending further investigation. Leskovitsh charged Mikhl with beating and robbing him.

All of this, Mikhl avers, is no more than a lie, invented through envy to avoid punishment. Mikhl Moshkovitsh guarantees that he will be able to prove the correctness of his charges and asks that his testimony be recorded in the books. This was granted.

Vil. Ac. Arch. Kom. B XVIII, page 261

 

1654[3]

953                        8th August
A letter from Vilna (writer unknown), describing the unrest in Vilna due to the absence of the [Cossack] Chief and the advance of the Moscow [Russian] troops. It reports, in addition: “In Slutsk there is also a great uproar of the Cossacks. The zhides [sheenies, i.e., Jews] are running off to Vilna.”
Vitebskaya Starina, B. IV, part 2, page 358

 

1659

972                         17 April
A letter of the Protopop [Cardinal] Jan Bakatsish, on behalf of all the [Russian Orthodox] clergy, to the Lithuanian Prince Boguslow Radziwill. Jan Bakatsish informs Duke Radziwill that criminal acts are occurring among the Jews of Slutsk. A Jew from Sloboda Krolevets, on the estate of Lord Panyatovski, had converted to Christianity along with his wife and children. He had always shown envy of the Christian faith and, after the death of his first wife, having married again, being a Christian for ten years, he came on a visit to Slutsk. The Slutsk rabbis convinced him to return to Judaism with his Christian-born wife and children. Seeing this as an insult to the Church, Bakatsish complains to the Prince in the name of all the clergy, reminding him thereby that the Christian boy they [the Jews] had murdered ten years ago in Doktorovits had still not been buried.
Archeog. VII, page 112

 

1660

976                         18 March
A letter from the Kaydan constable, Oborski, to Prince Radziwill in Konigsberg. Sending the letter via a Jew, Oborski reports that the Jew came from Slutsk to Kaydan at the risk of his life and that he will be a “living letter.” The Jew, according to Oborski's words, “was shackled in chains by the [Ukrainian?] Prince Khovanski, was in Novogrodek, also endured Russian whipping. He saw the enemy military” and can report on all of it. Oborski recommends giving the Jew verbally or in writing everything that is needed to enable him to penetrate the enemy's camp: “He speaks like a native-born Russian, his demeanor is purely Russian and he has done this more than once.”
Archeogr. Coll. B. VIII, page 3–3

 

1666

1045                        24 March
The letter of the Slutsk archimandrite [Eastern Orthodox Church cleric] Feodosy Vasilevitsh to the Lithuanian Prince Boguslaw Radziwill:[4]

Certainly reports, circulating through Lithuania and Poland, have by now reached the Prince that the Slutsk Jew Yakub Davidovitsh dared to use sharp, piercing words against holy praise and against Vasilevitsh's honor and that he had attacked him with a knife.

Arresting Davidovitsh, Vasilevitsh brought him the castle and charged him with heresy, insulting the Prince as the defender of all the churches and monasteries, as well as for insulting the Metropolitan and clergy in the person of Vasilevitsh. The Assizes Court sided with Davidovitsh – not by legality, but due to the special respect shown to Jews.

“More than once, the Jews of Slutsk have attacked holy houses, graves, clergy, and now it appears that the unbelieving zhides have become believers. I am a Christian and (as I have been informed) the subject is known to be a nonbeliever. The court has often condemned Christians to death because of Jews, but for insulting God himself, His houses of prayer and his holy ones, for disrespect of the Prince, of the Metropolitan, of the clergy, there is refusal to establish the same precedent of abolishing the death penalty for Jews – because of Christians.”

At the end Vasilevitsh asks the Prince to condemn the Jew to death. He admits that he is not blood-thirsty and would not insist on carrying out the death sentence, but would be satisfied with whatever punishment might be meted out to Jews. But everyone must know of the guilt of the Jews. Because he is shamed before all the clergy when the Jews of Slutsk attack him.

Archeo. Ac. Coll. B. VII, page 31

1669

1071                         11 April
A letter, from the Slutsk archimandrite Feodosy Vasilevitsh to Prince Boguslaw Radziwill:

Inter alia, he complains that the Plotsk court refuses to take up his complaints against Jews; for five years he has lost the the deposit of his assigned sum of 100 silver grivenyes; since the court official refuses to deal with his issues, he asks the Prince to turn the matter over the Slutsk commissars.

Archeograph. Collection B. VII, page 146

 

1669

1079                         4 October
A letter from the Slutsk archimandrite Feodosy Vasilevitsh to Prince Boguslaw Radziwill:

Inter alia, he says: he is unable to cease complaining about the Slutsk Jews until he obtains the return of his deposited sum of 120 grivenyes; though he, the archimandrite, trusted the Prince's promise, it was not fulfilled. True, the honorable commissars wanted to deal with the matter. However, the Jews have delayed it all until now and have issued only promises. He will have to go to Krakow, where he, the archimandrite, will be forced to legally prove their guilt. He pleads with the Prince to deal with him, at least, with as much good will as he shows to the Jews; would that he were not to defend the Jews as he does not defend the archimandrite from their damages and insult.

Archeogr. Collection VII, page 148

 

1734

1765                         26 February
Complaint of the Slutsk clergy to the Tshernigov commissar about the “estates” of the Slutsk nobility:

About the fact that, as the Slutsk Jews have received the lease over meat, all the freedoms granted to the clergy have been abrogated. They do not receive meat from the leasehold, nor the 16 pounds of wax-income for the Slutsk churches.

The Jews do not pay tariffs on wax, food products, wood.

Imports to Slutsk are free. The clergy has received a new prescript from Princess Radziwill; but the leaseholders have not yet provided any wax. They stop wagon-loads of food stuffs and wood and demand tariff payments. In addition, on February 21, 1734, the same leaseholders with the aid of soldiers of the Slutsk garrison, attacked the home of the priest Roman Kazyulitsh while he was baptizing a child, driving off the guests at the celebratory meal, frightening with noise and banging the priest's sick wife, the children and all the house-residents, confiscating clothes, oxen and two barrels of beer – and all this was done to oppress the clergy.

In view of all this, the clergy requests: requiring the leaseholders under threat from the garrison to hand over the wax, restoring their independence, forcing the return of the stolen goods and punishment of the guilty in accordance with the law.

Archeo. collection VII, page 178

 

1741

1875                         1 August
Protest by householder Saveli Korda against the chief treasurer, Kritsevsk constable of Prince Yefonim Radziwill, the zhid Shmula Itskovitsh, for an unnecessary investigation of his land.

In his own name and in that of his relatives, he complains that the chief treasurer and Kritsevsk constable Shmula Itskovitsh, with the aid of an armed mob, forcefully conducted an investigation of the land-seekers in the villages of Patuze, Leshtsanke, Ushaki, all in the Mistislav district, and levied inventory taxes that are paid only by Christian serfs, on the lands of the seekers and Yaskevitsh. Saveli asks that, in the event of resistance, the criminals be arrested and sentenced to the Slutsk prison, and their lands settled by others. In carrying out this order, he promises all benefits and protection to his neighbors.

Hist. Jurid. Mater. Sasonovas, Edition XVII, page 280

 

1754

2036                          27 September
A letter from Mikhael Kozatsinski, Slutsk archimandrite, to Prince Yefonim Radziwill:

He complains against several Slutsk Jews. By demand of the Jews, last July there was proclaimed, by a beating drum, that any kind of trade is forbidden in the area around the Slutsk Troyitsk Monastery. There has never been any kind of trade there, neither now nor since Slutsk has been in existence. This is probably over some minor debt for an eighth [of a kilo] of bread or a stalk of hay.

This was the first result of the Jewish complaints.

The next time, the beating drum proclaimed that no one might enter the monastery's inn, in which liquor has not been sold for scores of years. No one drank beer there, fearing punishment by knightly blows at the stocks of shame. To carry out this [order], three soldiers were sent into the inn by the Slutsk commander on market days. Thus, people were not even allowed to rest in that place.

But as the Slutsk archimandrite, on the basis of the tariff established in 1690 under oath, was to pay 160 gulden per year to the “retsi pospolitoy” [?] – the question arises: where did they get the money if even a glass of beer was forbidden there? This was the second [result of] Jewish informing. In the end, the leaseholder of the monastery's inn pays all possible taxes to his [Jewish] community, and all the craftsmen who live in the vicinity of the Troyitsk monastery carry out all their craftsmen's guild responsibilities; even those who bring things to town for sale or who buy whatever they need – they always pay the required tax. One might ask: what do the Jews lack? Perhaps but one thing: to oppress the Christians.

Archeogr, Collection B. VII, page 249


Footnotes:
  1. Subsequently spelled in various ways. Return
  2. Disrespectful diminutive of Yitskhak. Return
  3. The unrest briefly described here refers to the Khmelnitsky uprising of Cossack and Ukrainian peasants against their Polish overlords that was deflected into a terrible slaughter of scores of thousands of Jews. Return
  4. Here and further, the apparent pro-Jewish prejudice of Radziwill and other Polish and Lithuanian nobles,also reflects their antagonism as Catholics toward the Eastern Orthodox Church. Return

{Pages 272-273}

Rabbis, Judges and shuln of Slutsk

Translated by Hershl Hartman

  1. Rabbi R'[1] Yekhiel Lurye, the father of R' Shloyme Lurye, known by the name of “Maharshal,” [Our Teacher Sh. L.], nifter[2] 12 Kislev, [common year] 1574.
  2. Rabbi R' Nakhum of Slutsk Katzenelenboygn, Chief of Rabbinic Court in 5415 (1655). Nifter in 5446 (1686).
  3. R' Moyshe, son of Peysakh son of Tanakhum of Cracow, rabbi and head of yeshiva in the small study house (1664), nifter in 5446, 12 Nissan 1686.
  4. Rabbi R' Benyomin Volf (Master of the House of Benjamin), nifter 28 Kheshvan 5446 (1686).
  5. Rabbi R' Naftoli Herts Gintsburg, came to Slutsk as rabbi in 5430 (1670), nifter 22 Tammuz 5447 (1687).
  6. Rabbi R' Yitskhak Mayer Tumim (1693).
  7. Rabbi R' Arye Leyb Epshteyn, son of the Gaon [genius] Yudl of Kavle (he was called R' Leyb the rabbi's son). 5457 (1697). He was previously the rabbi of Smolovitsh.
  8. R' Moyshe of Radom 5460 (1700).
  9. R' Shloyme of Zalkava (R' Shloyme the Bright), son of the Gaon R' Elkhanon. Nifter 25 Tammuz 5466 (1706).
  10. R' Yehuda Leyb, son of Asher Enzil 5482 (1722).
  11. Rabbi R' Betsalel, son of Shloyme of Slutsk (R' Betsalel the Preacher), 12 Nissan 5482 (1722).
  12. Rabbi R' Arye Leyb, son of rabbi R' Nosin Note, nifter 29 Nissan 5489 (1729).
  13. Rabbi R' Yitskhak Yosif Tumim 5505 (1745).
  14. Rabbi R' Avrom Katzenelenboygn 5512 (1752).
  15. Rabbi R' Isakhar Ber 5521 (1761)
  16. Rabbi R' Khayim HaKohen [the High Priest] Rapoport. Arrived as rabbi in Slutsk 5490 (1730). Nifter 17 Tammuz 5531 (1771).
  17. Rabbi Khayim Zeldes (it is reported that he was in Slutsk a short time after Rabbi Rapoport.
  18. Rabbi R' Shloyme Zalman Lifshits 5531 (1771).
  19. Rabbi R' Yosif, son of the Gaon R' Menakhem Mendl of Slutsk 5532 (1772).
  20. Rabbi R' Yehude Yudl, son of Avrom Halevi [the Priest] Hurvitsh, 7 Tevet 5534 (1774).
  21. Rabbi R' Shloyme Zalman Monish 5558 (1798).
  22. Rabbi R' Simkhe Bunim, nifter 5584 (1824).
  23. Rabbi R' Yosele Faymer. Sat in the rabbinic chair of Slutsk for 35 years. Nifter 5624 (1864).
  24. R' Yoshe-Ber Soloveytshik, rabbi in Slutsk (1865-1875). Nifter in Brisk 5652 (1892).
  25. Slutsk Rabbi R' Mayer Faymer, who brought to Slutsk Rabbi R' Yankif Dovid, son of Zev Vilovski in 1899.
  26. Rabbi R' Yankif Dovid son of Zev Vilovski, Slutsk rabbi from 5654 to 5660 (1894-1900).
  27. Rabbi R' Iser Zalmen Meltser, from 1901 to 1920.
  28. Rabbi R' Yosele, son of Mayer Faymer, Slutsk rabbi until 1920.
  29. Rabbi R' Yekheskl Abramski 1924-1927.
  30. Rabbi R' Yitskhak Hakhmark – last Slutsk rabbi 1928-1930.

 

Names of the last Slutsk dayanim (judges of rabbinic court)

 

Names of the shuln [synagogues] and bote-midroshim [study houses] in [Yiddish] alphabetical order

  1. Ostrover shul
  2. R' Iserke's shul
  3. Bogodelner shul
  4. Balebatishe [for the well-off] shul
  5. Bes-medrish [house of study]
  6. Vigoder [benefits] shul
  7. Zaretser shul
  8. Khafashker shul (the old one)
  9. Khafashker shul (the new one)
  10. Yeshive shul
  11. The Muravankes
  12. Mishne shul
  13. Butchers' shul
  14. Cold shul
  15. Furriers' shul
  16. kloyz [small study house]
  17. Cobblers' shul
  18. Investors' shul
  19. Tailors' shul
  20. Blacksmiths' shul

Footnotes:
  1. Abbr. for Reb: term of respect similar to Mister. Return
  2. Died: used to describe the passing of a highly respected person. Return


{Pages 273-274}

Slutsk

by M. L. Gorin, New York

Translated by Hershl Hartman

In its hundreds of years of existence, Slutsk experienced good times as well as bitter, difficult periods of war, plagues, fires and epidemics.

There was an ongoing struggle for existence in all aspects of life. The region saw strife between Poles and Russians, Russians and Germans. Slutsk was often devastated.

The Jews of Slutsk, as all Jews in the “Pale of Settlement,”[1] occupied the middle classes, mostly as petit-bourgeois such as storekeepers, traders and craftsmen like tailors, cobblers, smiths, tanners, commission-agents and draymen.

For the most part, the stores and workshops were their own private property and their earned income came from their labor, alone or with the aid of family members.

The more prosperous storekeepers or craftsmen had aides, employees or apprentices. These workers, insignificant in number, constituted the working class, the proletariat in the Marxist lexicon. The upper and lower classes of Slutsk – a major regional city of the former province of Minsk – were composed of the Belorussian, Polish, Christian population, with a mix of Poles [sic; read: Ukrainians] and Great Russians. The nobles, the estate-owners and a small group of capitalists owned the greater part of the lands and the small number of minor industrial factories. The peasant masses were the underclass.

In a modest but important sense, Slutsk served as the spiritual and cultural center [of the region] for generations.

The children [i.e., sons] of poor parents had but one goal: to study Torah and achieve higher levels of piety. They studied in large and small yeshivas [schools of advanced religious studies]. The wealthier studied to become doctors, pharmacists, dentists; they took entrance exams for the Slutsk gymnasia [secular high schools] and often failed. A small percentage of them studied in the gymnasia, commercial, and liberal arts schools.

The greatest part of poor young men had to earn their bit of bread quite early in life as apprentices at various crafts, assisting tailors, cobblers, tinsmiths, iron forgers, carpenters, etc. or as clerks in stores and trading houses. The latter earned more and had opportunities to work themselves up and, in time, to own their own businesses.

The more intelligent – who absorbed Jewish knowledge in the khedorim [elementary religious schools] and yeshivas and who excelled in Hebrew, Bible, Talmud and a bit of Russian, besides – became teachers, melamdim [instructors in the khedorim], while some of them would be hired by the semester to teach the children of yeshuvnikes [isolated Jewish settlers] in rural villages or smaller communities in the Slutsk area.

The practical term for this type of pedagogy was “a condition.” A poor yeshiva student would save a few rubles toward studying or marriage, go off to the village to teach and would return home at peysakh or sukis[2] with a hundred rubles and sometimes even more.

Slutsk was truly a genuinely Jewish center for many centuries–first under Polish rule, then at the end of the 18th century, under the Russians. According to historical records, Slutsk figured significantly in medieval times in the famed “Council of the Four Lands” of the regions in the Polish state. Its customs and spokesmen had great influence there. Thus the name of Slutsk was famous in the Jewish world, not only for its born aristocrats, the rich, leading families, but more importantly for its learnéd householders. Almost every tradesman and many poor Jews and workers knew well the holy books. There were Jews who were learnéd and experts in the Talmud and its later interpretations.

There was a commonly-told joke that, when a Slutsk Jew would travel to another area and the subject of his yikhes [patrimony] would arise, he would hold out his hand and begin to count on his fingers, bending the pinky and declaring: “Well, first of all, I'm from Slutsk.”

Slutsk had a large yeshiva, small yeshivas, [traditional] khedorim, modern khedorim, genius-rabbis such as R' Yosele, R' Yoshe Ber Soloveytshik, R' Mayerke Feymer, R' Yankef Dovid, R' Iser Zalman Meltser, R' Yekheskl Abramski, R' Yosele Feymer the Second. Famous judges, such as Peyshe and R' Mayer, R' Leyb Naymark of Salant. Yeshiva heads: R' Nekhemye, R' Yoshe Tritsaner, R' Peysekh, R' Berl Gribenshtsik.

In Yiddish literature, the character of Mirele Efros, whom Jacob Gordon immortalized in his famous play [of that name], was a type taken from the reality of Slutsk. Such an aristocratic heiress, highly privileged, actually represented the class position and psychology of those times.

Such inter-class struggles between the upper and lower societal groups went on then not only between the rich and poor, but there were also disputes within the rabbinate.

Slutsk was divided into two camps. The battles persisted for many years between R' Mayerke and R' Yankif Dovid, until the latter left and finally settled and was nifter in Safed [Palestine, now Israel].

The rise of the haskala[3] produced literary figures and personalities whose birthplace was in Slutsk or its surrounding areas. The “zeyde” Mendele[4] came from Kapulye, about 20 vyorst from Slutsk. He studied, “ate days”[5] in Slutsk. He describes it in his [autobiographical] novel, Shloyme reb khayim's [Shloyme, son of Khayim]. In [his novel] di klyatshe [The Old Horse] he depicts types and characters taken from reality. Kaptsansk and Gluptsk[6] are shtetlekh [Jewish hamlets] identifiable as being in the Slutsk area and relecting that sort of lifestyle.

The philosopher Solomon Maimon, from Nezvizh, studied and lived in Slutsk.[7] Too, Prof. Raphael Cohen, of [New York's] City College, preeminent in modern philosophy, comes from the Slutsk area.

Among the famous modern writers is I. D. Berkowitz [son-in-law and chronicler of Sholom Aleichem], Slutsk-born. Also the well-known poet A. A. Lisitski and Zamye [Zalman] Wendrof, once characterized as the Yiddish Chekhov for his sketches and humorous tales, who lives in old age in Moscow.[8] Prof. Mayer Vaksman came from Slutsk and studied at the Slutsk yeshiva.

The late Yehuda Grazovski came from the Slutsk area, from the shtetl of Fahast. Rabbi Prof. Sh. Asaf comes from Lyuban, Slutsk region, as well as the two famous writers, the brothers Zalman and Yitskhok Epshteyn. The writer Rokhl Faygenberg (Amri) is from Lyuban. The historian Dr. Y. N. Shimkhoni is a son of the famous Slutsk scholar and leader Shimkhovits.

The famous pedagog and writer Avrom Epshteyn (Aba Arikha) was from Slutsk; the poets Yakov Kahn and Barukh Katsnelson are Slutsk-born. These wellknown teachers (now in Israel) and others are from Slutsk: Shimshon Nakhmani, Yarkoni, Nakhum Khinits.


{Page 274}

Folklore

by M. L. Gorin

Translated by Hershl Hartman

Slutsk nicknames:
  1. Reb Nekhamye Imerman, the famous Head of Yeshiva in Reb Iserke's shul [synagogue], was a strictly observant Jew with red hair and with a flaming red beard. Because he wouldn't allow them to smoke cigarettes in shul, the older yeshiva students called him the “Red Cow.”[9]
  2. Khashke the rebetsin [rabbi's wife], who taught Jewish girls to pray and read the women's prayers, limped. When she walked carrying the evening prayer-book under her arm, her head would bob up and down. So they called her: “Khashke, a bob up, a bob down.”[10]
  3. One of the congregants in the Vigoder [benefits] synagogue was called “the hunchback.” One can't recall any other name for him. Once someone called to him from behind, “Reb Hunchback!” and he turned and replied without rancor: “Are you calling me?” The amazing part is that he was not hunchbacked. His back was as straight as those of the others in that synagogue.–
  4. There was a pelt-trader on Zaryetsher Street who was short and had a great red beard. His wife was twice his size. So the folks in Slutsk called them: “Short Friday and the Great Sabbath.”

Footnotes:
  1. Beginning in 1772, a vast section of Southwestern Russia and Ukraine, Eastern Poland, and Lithuania, established as the sole area of the Russian Empire in which Jews were permitted to reside. Return
  2. Passover and Succoth, the eight-day festivals that mark, respectively, the onset of spring and autumn. They also denoted the breaks between teaching semesters. Return
  3. Enlightenment, which brought modern scientific and cultural ideas into the Pale of Settlement. Return
  4. Sholom Yankif Abramovitsh (1836?-1917), regarded as the zeyde – grandfather (patriarch) – of both modern Yiddish and modern Hebrew literature. He assumed the pen-name Mendele moykher-sforim – Mendele the book-seller – in 1863 because writing in Yiddish was then regarded as shameful or degraded. Return
  5. Custom whereby poor yeshiva students would take supper one day a week each at a series of well-to-do homes. Return
  6. Respectively, “Poortown” and “Idiotville,” among Mendele's pseudonyms for Jewish hamlets. Return
  7. 18th century prominent German philosopher and critic of Immanuel Kant, Maimon became a rabbi in Lithuania at an early age but rebelled and fled the ghetto to Germany, where ten years later he rose to fame in his new role. Return
  8. Wendrof lived in the U.S. for a few years after the failed 1905 revolution, returning to Russia as a correspondent for American Yiddish journals. Arrested and jailed for ten years during Stalin's 1948-1952 purge of Yiddish writers and cultural leaders, he was released at age 80. His 90th birthday was marked by the publication of his works in Yiddish in Moscow and celebrated worldwide. (See Sol Liptzin, A Literature, 1972.)History of Yiddish Return
  9. Biblically designated to be sacrificed, burnt, and its ashes used to cleanse impurities. In Yiddish folkspeech: naive fool. Return
  10. In original, a bi-lingual play on words: Yiddish kop (head) and Russian kopek (penny). Return

{Pages 275-277}

The Cold Shul and Its Courtyard

by M. L Gorin, New York

Translated by Hershl Hartman

From the distance of the surrounding fields and highways, a tower appeared: the famous, attractive, walled-in, white-plastered Cold Shul [Synagogue] with its sloped, green-tinted tin roof. Handsome, symmetrically-built in the Gothic style with balancing, architecturally straight lines, ledges, cornices, tall windows with panes colored blue, green, red, etc., the impressive building produced both respect and divine inspiration.

Little birds would fly through the multi-colored little panes, chirping and squeaking, marching back and forth, singing their avian hymns. The building was tall, drawing everyone's attention, and rested on large, thickly-rounded interior columns. It appeared that the great pillars held and supported the building, symbolically representing the Slutsk community, itself supported by its age and great ancient pedigree. Even in winter, crowds would come to pray in the Cold Shul, wrapped in furs or thick, warm coats. Teeth would chatter, but neither the common folk nor the elite paid attention. The prayer leader's voice echoed and bellowed; one felt hurriedness, scrambling to get it over with.

The Torah-reading was cold, as was the cry of “rise up” [yamoyd–to read a portion]! There was no standing: it was too cold. The mi-shevorakh [blessing of the reader] and the prayer of holy contribution were rushed, as well.

Prayers were said while strolling through the large, spacious building. No one sat in one place: people moved like whirlwinds, their prayer-shawls draped over long coats. murmuring, reading, praying.

In 1908 a rumor spread like lightening: there would be a women's gallery built on two sides of the Cold Shul. So the jokes and witticisms began: let the women, too, know the meaning of cold.

But in summertime, the congregants cheered up and enjoyed the coolness and comfort–almost a Garden of Eden. Prayers then were far different.

Famous cantors would appear in paid performances at the Cold Shul. Gershon Sirota, Mayer Lider, Leybe Uzder and many other cantors would cause a great stir in town. People would express their opinions, relishing bits of successful cantorial skill. Many Jews stood outside, listening to the cantillations and becoming ecstatic: “Ay, did he pray! Such sweetness deserves having every body-part kissed!”

The Slutsk [volunteer] fire brigade would hold training at the Cold Shul during the summer months. Almost every Thursday evening a fireman in uniform and a brass hat would drive through town in a horse-drawn cab, blowing a trumpet, alerting his fellows to that night's exercises at the Shasen–a large, empty square near the marketplace, where they stored the fire wagons, the pumps and water barrels, stalls for the horses as well as a residence for the guards who stood watch around the clock in the event of a fire alarm.

The Slutsk fire brigade was headed by Yisroyl Baron, a shrewd Jew, and the nobleman Kuratsevitsh who lived on his estate, a handsome building at the closed end of the boulevard.

The firemen, in neat uniforms, would march in straight rows, like military squads, led by an orchestra whose notes and sounds would draw the boys from the khedorim [religious primary schools] and ordinary ne'er-do-wells, good-fornothings for whom this was a useful spectacle for time-wasting.

Standing in the courtyard, near the bath-house, they would place their ladders against the walls of the Cold Shul and climb on its slanted roof. A contest developed among the lads to see who could climb faster than the others and show off their training in the craft. Music would play as the hoses, plugged into the barrels, would pour streams of water far and wide into the air.

Little boys would volunteer to work the pumps with the firemen, to draw water from the nearby wells.

These fire drills were, in their display, both useful to the community and a good pastime for the volunteers and for the bands of boys, and the onlooking townsfolk who were curious about such things. The firemen would then relax at the taverns where they would enjoy Slutsk's tasty dishes: fish, goslings, cracklings, blintses, layer cakes, sponge cakes, and then wash them down with genuine 90 proof vodka.

During “chart days” [Czarist government holidays] the students of the [secular] “Hebrew Day School,” of the gymnazye [public high school] and the commercial school would march into the Cold Shul in their parade uniforms like well trained troops. They would be seated in the pews around the bime [platform] at the center, and [government-appointed] Rabbiner Eshman, dressed in his black robe with a chain around his neck, would deliver a patriotic speech for them in Russian about the importance of the event. He would center his sermons on current events: the birthday of the Czar or other personages of the Romanov dynasty.

After the ceremony, reading from the 21st Psalm [21:2], “Lord, the king rejoices in Your strength,” he would end with a call to be good and pious and to obey the Czar. After the prayer for deliverance and “Lord our Czar,” they would disperse.

The induction oath was also administered in the Cold Shul to the young Jewish draftees into military service. Embittered, disheveled, eyes ablaze, they murmured with compressed lips the oath that Rabbiner Eshman proclaimed in poor Russian, demanding loyalty and devotion to the Russian Czar. His words rang out wildly and echoed ironically in the empty shul in the presence of military and civilian officials. Sometimes, there would appear here the commander, the German Shtriker, a hefty blonde man. He commanded 25 policemen and a squad of soldiers who lived in the barracks. Their parade grounds was near the Catholic church.

He had secret agents in the Cold Shul who would, in disguise, visit the synagogues.

He was not generally a bad person. Everyone knew him. He would stroll the streets dressed in his grey uniform with epaulettes on the shoulders and bright brass buttons and smile at the passers-by.

He was, however, cruel to young people guilty of membership in freedommovements and to “sitsialists” [socialists].

In March of 1905, his 15 year-old son, a gymnazye student, after an argument with his father, grabbed the latter's revolver and shot himself. He was leftist inclined and could not stand his father's actions.

This caused a great furor in Slutsk. It happened just a week before Passover. The funeral was held in the Lutheran church, on the boulevard, and he was buried on the mohilkes [?].

There were five synagogues on the shul square: the Cold Shul on the east side; to the west, the bes-medrish [house of study]; at the north, the kloyz [small study house] and the karanim [investors'] shul; and at the south, the shnayderishe [tailors'] shul.

In the middle [of the square] there was a significant open space. which could accommodate hundreds of people. It was here that khupes [wedding canopies] were erected under open skies, where klezmer [musicians] would play. If Eyzl the klezmer's group or Shimon Leyb's music was heard in the streets, it was a sign that a wedding procession was headed for the shul square.

It was on the shul square near the kloyz that orations for the worthy departed would be given. The final funeral ceremony would be held here, among the walls of the nearby houses of prayer. Members of the khevre-kedishe [burial society] would bring the corpse and place the coffin near the kloyz. On a table resting on a study stand, the orator–the rabbi or Reb Leybe Naymark, the dayan [religious judge]–would relate the good qualities of the departed, that he was a son of Torah and a fine Jew. The assembled crowd, men and women, would dissolve into bitter tears.

The mournful nign [melody] and the funeral participants threw a pale over the shul square. Kheyder boys would follow the black bier singing “justice shall follow you all the days of your life [?].” The town sexton R' Fayvl would shake the collection box, intoning: “charity rescues from death.” This was how the sorrowful processions went forth in summer heat, in autumn's mud, in winter's snows, carrying the biers on their shoulders–exhausted Jews with measured tread, in still, respectful silence, other than the sound of coins in the charity box, until they arrived at the cemetery near the river, at the end of Zaretser street, which was fenced-in by a stone wall.

One would often hear from the synagogues the cries of women who, with possessed shrieking at the Holy Ark, would plead with the Master of the Universe to take pity and preserve the honor of a seriously-ill person who was at death's door.

Often, one would hear unusual sobbing and cries from bitter hearts at the opened Holy Ark. If a pregnant woman was having a difficult delivery, her mother or grandmother would plead with the Master of the Universe not to withdraw His grace but to help everything to turn out well.


 

Folklore

When a Slutsk Jew would talk about his town with good-humored, homey scorn, he would call it “Slutshizne.”
slutsker krupnik–A Slutsk stew”–an ordinary dish of water and barley in Slutsk homes among both rich and poor. This also meant: “An ordinary, runof- the-mill guy,” “A common man.”

slutsker flodn–Slutsk fruit layer cake” –A sort of sweet, hard-baked tart, homemade, filled with honeyed dough-balls, that served as the best treat at a cake-and-whisky event, as well as an export item beyond Slutsk. Day-old cake could be chopped with an ax. This also represented the nature of Slutsk people: hard on the outside but sweet within.

slutsker beres–Slutsk pears” –Large, heavy pears from Slutsk's famous orchards. They would be stored until late winter when they would finally grow ripe, soft and sweet. In certain cities they were sold in large fruit stores. This, too, also represented the nature of Slutsk people: it would take a long time until one could uncover their real nature.

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


  Slutsk, Belarus     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Max Heffler

Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 1 Feb 2011 by LA