When the spiritual center transferred to the Jewish communities of Europe, the form of self-rule crystallized through the rabbinical customs and administrators, first in Spain, then in France and Germany. Thanks to the statutes that were enacted by the heads of the community as laws that were not to be broken the Jews achieved a greater degree of independence in Central Europe. In the 15th century there was established the Council of Lands in Poland and later a Council of the Nation in Lithuania.
The political upheavals and rebellions that took place under the Polish monarchy forced the kings to enforce heavy duties and taxes on their countrymen and to seek methods to centralize their power, frequently with a strong hand.
The privileges that the Polish kings had granted thanks to the emissaries of the heads of the communities served as a basis by which the community leaders could administer and carry out their duties. Whilst the Jews were differentiated from the local inhabitants by their different customs, they became enclosed in their own communities, having received permission to organize their affairs amongst themselves. The state benefited economically as the Jews had talents and commercial expertise and the Jewish communities with their practical abilities and skills set an example of communal life.
The 'Council of Lands was established due to the tendency of the ruling powers to oversee the collection of taxes through the Jewish leaders and officials that worked within their own communities. These leaders and community officials thereby found a means to broaden their powers and extend it to the establishment of administrative cells that had full autonomy. These functioned in all areas of Jewish life within the borders of that country. The 'fairs' in all the main cities that the Jews came to en masse for trade and commerce were an opportunity for all the community leaders to gather together. This was very useful for deliberation and decision-making about economic affairs, the collection of taxes that the king and the central power imposed on the cities. Therefore, this autonomous situation ultimately concentrated economic decision- making in the hands of the administrators of the communities. This was the Council of Four Lands, in which the rabbis and leaders of the important and influential communities met and decided on essential matter in their meetings. They dealt with edicts and customs that became strictly enforced laws in the Jewish settlements.
The organizational body in the lives of the Jews of Lithuania and Poland was the Kehilla. Some of the communities set up centers for their provinces. In the confederation of the Council of Four Lands, Lithuania was represented by the taxation system in Brest, the chief Jewish community of Lithuania. In the meetings of the council the distribution of the taxes to each country was decided, the elections of rabbis, scribes, shammes (beadles). The meetings usually took place every two years, and in the period between the meetings, the communities were represented in the central government in Warsaw by lobbyists (those who had the authority to stand in front of the King and his ministers). They represented their interests (the Jewish communities) to the central government and bureaucracy and tried to protect against adverse edicts with righteousness and prayer.
B. The Kehillot of Lithuania participated in the Council of Four Lands for over fifty years, until the Assembly of the Heads of the Communities in 1623 in Brisk D'lita when they founded their own Council of the Communities of Lithuania. From this assembly a wonderful regulation was adopted. It spread over 100 points that covered everything - all that concerned the social, economic, religious and ethical issues of the communities and their members
The foundation meeting of the Council of Lithuanian Communities was a turning point for Lithuanian Jewry, which apparently could not live under the same roof with the Council of Four Lands. After the communities developed and became economic and spiritual centers, specific customs and methods crystallized as community standards.
Early on in the Council of the Lithuanian State the delegates were representatives from Brest, Horodna, and Pinsk. Later on Vilna and Slutsk were added. The Vilna community was co-opted at the session of the Council in 1652, with the decision being made to present the proposal to the Head of the Vilna community residents Only 35 years later in 1687, did Vilna get equal status in the Kehilla of leaders through the representation of three leaders, a scribe and a Shammes.
The Slutsk community was co-opted under the supervision of Brest until 1691, when it received full status in the council whose activity already governed five provinces with all their communities.
Two or three leaders of each main community, together with the chief rabbis and the number of participants reached 15 attended the Council assemblies. Once every two or three years, the Council assembled in one of the cities of the communities and the meetings lasted from three up to six weeks. The leader of the community of the Host city was the chairman of the meetings. The expenses were covered by a levy of all the communities. As planned, the meetings first dealt with the summation of accounts and expenses (budget), and then with laws and statutes, lastly, education and charity.
The competence of the main kehillot was defined in the foundation statutes of the Council of 1623 that was composed of Brest, Horodna and Pinsk. Brest had 30 communities, Horodna 7, Pinsk 8.
The community of Brest was composed of the following: Mezrich, Warin, Yanov, Rashes (Rashi), Lamaz, Bila, Beshatz, Wlodawka, Slovatitz, Kadna, Wysokie, Amystivaya, Kobryn, Horodetz, Pruzhany, Maltesh, Seltz, Chernowitz, Kamenetz, Sherchavi, Rushanik, Slonim, Dvoretz, Novordok, Nezvitch, Slutsk, Minsk, Malavny, Orhsa and the inhabitants of Rus.
To Horodna belonged: Ambur, Mustetzki, Kuznitza, Nowy Dor, Ostrin, Rashin, and Litza.
The community around Pinsk encompassed: Kletsk, Lachovitz, Hamsak, Brahin, Dovrovitch, Wissotsk, and Torava
Apparently in those days Brest had so much importance that it ruled over distant cities in Russia Minsk, Mogilev, even until Orsha. Brest was the leading community because of its geographic position to all the neighboring communities, as well as it's economic importance and being the center of Torah learning.
At the first meeting of the Lithuanian Council the following was decided: During the life of our leader the illustrious Rabbi Meir who is old in his days and will not be able to leave the city anymore, every time there is to be an assembly of the Heads of Communities, it is to be held here in Brest, in honor of Rabbi Meir (son of Saul Wahl who was the King of Poland for one hour)). It was agreed that Brest would be the venue for the Council because the eyes of the nation were focused on Rabbi Meir who would ratify the documents of the Council. Rabbi Meir the chairman, who is ailing, gave full legal empowerment to the scribe to sign in his place.
After his death it was decided that the seat of the council be in Pruzhany. Then it returned to Brisk. At times it was held in Shiltz (1632-47). The council alternated from place to place. The assemblies were not precisely decided according to the town; rather the circumstances of the times dictated the venue.
The sessions of the Council of Lithuania that were held in Brest were:
Elul 1623, Adar 1626, Elul 1627, Adar 1631.
|Segment from original list|
|Name of Rabbi||Year||Title||Notes|
|1||Issachar Aron Luria||About 1470|
|3||Mendel Frank||1529||Head of the Beth Din|
|4||Joseph ben Moshe||1559/60||Head of the Beth Din|
|5||Naphtali Herz||1568/69||Head of the Beth Din|
|6||Klominus Schor||1573||Head of the Beth Din|
|7||Mordechai Reis||1573||Head of Yeshiva|
|8||Shimon||Head of Yeshiva|
|9||Yehuda Livo ben Ovadia Ellenburg||1589|
|12||Joel Sirkis||1614-18||The "Bach"- Author of Bayit Chadash.|
|13||Beinish Livshitz||1619-20||Son in law of Saul Wahl|
|14||Meyer Wahl||1622-25||Son of the Minister Saul Wahl.|
|15||Avrashka Wahl||Head of Yeshiva||Son of the Minister Saul Wahl.|
|19||Yakov ben Ephraim Naphtali||1631|
|21||Avraham ben Benjamin Aron Solnik||1639||'Baal- Tov'|
|23||Shlomo Zalman ben Yermiahu Yakov||1646|
|24||Yahov Kahana||Head of Yeshiva|
|26||Moshe ben Joshua Lima||before 1657|
|27||Shaul Ben Rabbi Moshe|
|28||Tzvi Hirsh ben Moshe Yakov||1663||Head of the Beth Din|
|29||Yehuda of Troppa||1664|
|30||Shmuel Kaidanover||1657-60||Head of the Beth Din|
|31||Moshe Pesach ben Rabbi Tanchum||1673|
|34||Mordechai Zyskind Rottenberg||1691||The Ramaz|
|35||Heshel Ben Yakov||1691-95|
|36||Shaul ben Heshel||The Rasha|
|37||Moshe ben Mordechai Zyskind|
|38||Menachem Mendel ben Benjamin Katz|
|40||Arye Leib ben Shaul Heshel|
|41||Avraham ben Rabbi Shloime||1711|
|42||Shmuel Tzvi Hirsh||1714|
|43||Nachman ben Shmuel Tzvi Hirsh|
|44||Israel Isser ben Rabbi Moshe||1757-60|
|47||Joseph Katzenellenbogen||1804||son of Avraham Katzenellenbogen|
|48||Arye Leib Katzenellenbogen||1798-1837||son of Joseph Katzenellenbogen|
|49||Yakov Meir Padua||1840-55|
|50||Tzvi Hirsh Orenstein||1865-74||expelled by the Russians as a foreign agent, died in Lwow 1888|
|51||Yehoshua Leib Diskin||1874-77||expelled by the Russians, died in Jerusalem.|
|52||Joseph Ber Soloveitchik||1878-92|
|54||Yitzchak Zeev Soloveitchik||1919 -40||The Last Rabbi of Brest, died in Israel 1959.|
The same is to be found regarding other publications and collection of documents from the archival sources of the Old Lithuanian Duchy and the Lithuanian Metrical Books. The number of documents of the Brest Courts and Government organizations to be found is far more than the documentation of any other Lithuanian town, including, Vilna, Grodno and Pinsk.
This is not just a coincidence, those who brought the material into order and into print, favoured the significant 'Altertumlichkeit' (precedence or antiquity) of Brest over the other Lithuanian towns.
The reason is the special significance Brest had compared to Vilna, in the story of the Lithuanian Duchy of the 15th and 16th centuries. Also in later times, at the end of the 16th, and 17th centuries when Vilna became the capital of the Lithuanian state and was in full bloom, Brest was still recognised as one of the most ancient and important provinces of Lithuania.
The volumes of the 'Vilna Archival Commission', 'Documents from West Russia', as revealed in the St. Petersburg Archive Commission 1846 1853, '14 archival collection' about the History of 'North-West Russia', published in 1867 by the Bureau of Public Education of the Vilna district. The documents of Bershavski (3 volumes of Jewish Russian Archives). The volumes registered in 'Registi I Nadpisi. The material contained in the 'Society of Spreading Education Amongst Russian Jewry' and other contents, besides the clear historical material about the Jews, contained a treasure of over 100 documents pertaining to the Jews of Brest and district.
It is therefore very important to concentrate and work through methodically and scientifically the very descriptive material which is vital to the history of the Jews of Lithuania and White Russia and kehillat Brest specifically. Amongst the documents published till now about the Jews of the Lithuanian Dukedom, there is special significance in volumes 28 + 29 of the 'Vilna Archival Commission', that are almost entirely dedicated to the topics of Jewish life.
The editors, who were appointed by the Russian authorities, in reality, endeavored to uphold the Russian official position towards the Jews, with a specific method of selecting documents and publications. The documents selected were ones that depicted Jews in a negative manner. Notwithstanding this, the significance of every document is that they throw light on the domestic, internal and external lives of Jews of Lithuania in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The first of the 2 volumes, number 28, appeared in 1901 and holds 332 documents, which cover 1560 1667, over 100 years of turbulent and stormy Jewish life afflicted with troubles. The day to day worries which punctuate the chronicles and reports of the city courts of Brest, Kovno, Minsk, Grodno, Pinsk, Slonim, Vilna, and Troki, in addition to the Lithuanian Supreme Tribunal. In those 100 years, the Brest community continued as the foremost community of Lithuanian Jewry.
In this period, there were statutes and laws formulated that crystallised the establishment of Jewish autonomy, their protection enabling those leaders who created the administrative separation of the Jewish Lithuanian bloc, and the establishment of the Council of the Land Authority of the Govt. of Lithuania, which included the community of Brisk. The Brest Community heads were considered leaders and responsible for the fate of the Lithuanian Jews
2). In order to further our knowledge of the Brest community and Jewish life in general in that period during which occurred the time of greatest historical responsibility, it is necessary to delve deeply into many documents in Volume 28. In this volume we come across 42 documents in this collection relating to Brisk, revealing protocols and chronicles of the town's court, divided into 5 groups which include:
1. One document taken from book 7012, which cover the years 1577-1586The description contained in document no.30 (15th March 1580) from which we learn about the dwellers of the Jewish quarter of Brisk towards the second half of the 16th century. It shows that an earthen wall had been built previously (in the 14th century) to protect the town, which had become a fortress. That wall encircled the whole settlement from the river Mukhavets to the river Bug. The entry into the town was through 2 gates that were cut into the wall. One of the watchtowers was on the road to Vilna (to the north) Zagrinski St., and the second was on Piesaki St. The Jewish dwellings were close to the wall, the gate went to Zagrinski St and the road stretched to the Bug River.
2. Fourteen documents taken from book 7075, which cover the years 1589 1596
3. Seven documents taken from book 7078, which cover the years 1589 1596.
4. Fourteen documents taken from the book 7079, which cover the year 1644.
5. Six documents taken from the book 7083, which cover the year 1663.
From these documents it is shown that the Jewish settlement had separated itself from the safety of the walls and spread to the other side of the walls, in those parts of the wall that reached the Jewish houses, the wall had been broken and destroyed because of the Jewish expansion.
It shows that due to the growth of that century (16th), the Jews wanted to settle in the open fields on the outside of the wall rather than live in the congested town, squeezed together by the wall, in close contact with their fellow townsmen, who were not noted for their friendliness to Jews.
The second group of documents are very important pertaining to the Jewish economic situation and their difficulties with the Polish Lithuanian society and it's conflicts, the opposing interests of the ruling feudal landowners and the influential bishops, and the Meschanes (townsmen) who fought with great tenacity for their existence, and the tavern owners who were accustomed to suffering and persecution.
Doc. 34, 1st May 1589, describes the drunkenness of the innkeepers. There was also the head of the Brest community, Shaul ben Yehudah, Joseph and others who complained about the damage caused to them by the Bishop of Lutsk, who had exempted taxes on liquor. This innkeeper, Shaul ben Yehudah was the treasurer of the Jewish community, and head of the Council of Jewish communities, and is mentioned in Pinsk. In the document we find that 34 years before the establishment of the Council of the Lithuanian State, which was the jewel in the crown of the community existence.
In Chronicle no.3, 30th March 1589, we find the activities of a Brest merchant, Yakov ben Eliezer who transported merchandise from Slutsk to Brisk and had entered into disputes with his driver.
Relating to the protection of Jews who hid in the shadows of the 'Paritz' (the nobility), and were involved in the conflicts between one aristocrat and the other, we found the chapter of Biala in the district of Brest. In that neighbourhood lived Prince Nicholas Radzivill and the aristocrat Kishkin of the Kadkevitch family (docs 35,36,41,42,.17th May, 14th August 1589). It eventuated that in 1589 that there was a tense relationship between these well-known noble families, to the extent that the guards of Kishkin Kadkevitch allowed themselves to attack the Arendar (leaseholder) of the Radzivills' estate, Israel ben Eliezer, who was severely beaten, tied in chains and threatened to be burnt alive.
The same fate was also threatened to his associate Marek Yaskevitch (Mordechai ben Yitzhak), Eliezer ben Yehoshua and Freide the wife of Joseph, who were all underlings of Radzivill. However, luck intervened and the guards of Radzivill saved them at the last moment. As it turned out, Radzivill had the upper hand and the opposing side had to capitulate to his demands and paid 1000 groschen surety that they would not harm the Jews that worked for Radzivill, and would enter the areas under his noble jurisdiction.
Then the noblewoman of the Katkevitch dynasty demanded from the Jews in Radzivill's service that they take an oath in the Brest synagogue as to their innocence, in the presence of the very men that had attacked and beaten them, these were the actual thugs themselves, the beaten victims came to take the oath but waited in vain as the guilty hooligans did not appear, thus showing their guilt.
The 'Mitnik' (Tax Arendar) from the shtetl Divin near Brest, Mordechai ben Nachman complained that he had been severely beaten by the tax collectors without any cause was documented on the 30th May 1589.
The arendars of customs and of the many taxes in Brest and Brest district, because of the nature of their profession the collection of taxes on alcohol, roads and river usage, etc., were depicted as having to endure all kinds of tribulations and incidents more so than people of all other classes. The Brest tax-collector representing the Prince Micholai Sapieha, Moshe ben Tuvia, complained about the estate owner Zhitavieski, claiming that he broke into the tax office on Pisatski St. in Brest, whilst the complainant was busy cashing the in the money collected from the Jewish merchants of Pinsk and district, and hit him without cause December 17th, 1589.
The arendar of the estate Tiachinitz, who was born in Brest, with the name of Aaron ben Pesach (who was also customs collector), his servant Moshe Patzalnik, and his guest Betzalel ben Moshe, told how they had been beaten up by the Pravoslavnim (the Russian orthodox priests) in the village, because they had requested distribution of the tax. (Doc. 45, 4th October 1589).
On the other hand, Moshe ben Yoske, a Brest inhabitant, does not detail why he was attacked by the district official in his town of Skivitch and beaten and robbed of certain articles, amongst which was a hat of fox fur. (Doc 43, August 1589).
Yes, not all Brest Jews were involved in collecting tariffs and taxes, which gave a good income, but was linked to many troubles. Others had studied law and the science of healing the sick. Doc.no.24, 24th March 1589, does not tell whether a Brest Jew, Yoske, was a doctor who studied medicine, or someone who healed the sick by special means, as was the custom in those days. However, this did not provide him with a secure livelihood. Yoske the doctor had to flee from Brest to unknown whereabouts because of the promise he had made to cure the sister of a peasant, Martin Kalitztich.
Better was the episode of the holy vessels. A shochet (ritual slaughterer), Pesach ben Shlomo, began to build a house on a plot which he had leased from a gentile in the Judenstrasse, and ended up by buying the plot for it's full price.(Docs.nos.39, 40, 20th July 1589). From these documents we learn, by the way, that a gentile could not withstand (hold out) in the Judengasse. A plot that the gentile bought in 1571 was bought by a Jew, Peretz ben Hillel and his wife Hannah, which was surrounded on both sides by Jewish homes, the gentile held on for 18 years, in the end he sold it back to a Jew.
The year 1629 was a year of grievous slander against the Brest Jews - 6 years after the demise of the Council of the Lithuanian State, which had been situated in that community, every filthy accusation and slander was levelled against the Brest Jews, this was likely to spread to every other Jewish community. The heads of the kehillot warned of the spreading of local blood-libels into widespread hatreds.
In the docs.101-4, 106, (4th March, 17th-18th April, 19th June, 1629) there arose a terrible slander against the heads of the kehilla, Eliezer ben Eliezer and Zalman ben Shmuel, and the whole community of 'unbelievers' (the Jews) of Brest and the other cities. In this episode are all the signs of the familiar blood-libels. A web of drunks, false witnesses, claiming that Jews poisoned a Christian, that they beleaguered the courts and the Christians, and tried to introduce rabbinical law. The same blood-libel charge which arose in the Middle-ages in all it's details. Like all blood libels this turned out to be false and the truth triumphed. But how much pain and fear was endured by the head of the kehilla until he proved his innocence and justice was done? In their defence, the Jews protested against the blood libel with pain and deep distress in the name of the whole of the Brest community, and in the name of all the Jews who live in the land of his Illustrious Majesty, the blood libel cannot be washed clean entirely until the accused swear an oath in the Brest synagogue in the presence of the State authorities that he is clear of any guilt.
In doc. no.25, 18th April 1629, we come across traces of the edicts that were made by the Council of the Lithuanian State. Concentration of the tax collection through the head of the community:
Zalman, in the name of the Brest community.Each of them paid sums for the road taxes that were levelled on the community according to the number of families. The image of the Jewish trader of merchandise, who sold on credit to the nobility and risked his money, this image was familiar to us all in the towns and villages of Lithuania until 1939.
Israel ben Yosef in the name of the Kobryn community.
Yitzhak in the name of the Sherechev community.
Nissim ben Yakov in the name of the Pruzhany community.
Yechia in the name of the Yania community.
Yitzhak ben Mendel in the name of the Biale community.
Eliezer in the name of the Chernovitz community.
This example we see in doc.no.107, 12th August 1629. Josef ben Yakov, a merchant from Brest, was honoured by the visit of an exalted visitor, the aristocratic Barbara Shaliska, from the house of Lipnitski, owner of the Matrikel estate near Brest. From the list of clothing we can see what sort of silks they bought in 17th century Brest. After she chose linen according to her taste, and sent them with her servant to her estate. She said that this time she would take it on credit to her father's account, not her husbands'. When the merchant presented the account to her father, he refused to pay. The merchant, Yitzhak ben Yakov, exhausted his legs between the estates of the Lipnitskis - the matter eventually went to court the document does not record whether the creditor was eventually paid his due, and by whom.
Just as 1629 was a year of blood-libels for the Jews of Brest, the years 1643-44 were filled with pogroms. Despite the terrible events of 1648 (4 years later), we should not see in them the beginning of these later massacres. The pogroms of 1643-44 were carried out by Poles alone and had no connection with the tensions between the peasants and the Cossacks against the Polish aristocracy and the Ukrainians. These started with wild attacks from gangs of Jesuit students on the streets of Brest we have no exact information as to the establishment dates of the Jesuit colleges in the city of Brest. In 1643 there were already a number of hooligan groups in Brest, namely students, spoiled brats of the aristocracy, who went over to the Jesuit upbringing. All this started in essence in 1644, when the students made a blood-libel charge against the townsfolk, to embitter and create trouble in the lives of Jews, inciting hatred. The Jews were not afraid and responded to the young Jesuits, as they should. This Jewish 'chutzpah' brought out the wrath of the Jesuit leaders. They had not expected such a strong response from the Jewish community. Therefore, they expressed their anger not only against the Jews who had defended themselves from the hooligans, but wanted revenge on the Jewish community of Brest in general. There is a fragment of the accusation found in the town's court (doc.no.143, March 1644), wherein the accusation is brought by the priests Jan Rachowski and Kristof Jankowski: we accuse the heads of the community of 'unbelievers' as well as the all the Jews of the Town of Brest, of being great enemies of Christian blood, not only of having attacked those students under our supervision, and insulted and beaten them, they also attacked the sons of the nobility with sticks and endangered their lives. One of these sticks is at present in the Jesuit seminary as evidence of the Jewish chutzpah. It was obvious at first glance that this wild incitement the Jews experienced as the Jesuit fathers and their young hooligans were preparing for more serious Tumult in the Polish judicial terms of those days. By the way, a new agent for the Jews brought the community an accurate and detailed intentions of the opposing side, with all the details of the intended pogroms (doc.no.146, 1644). The pogrom was planned to break out on the 16th May 1644, with all the participants of the town, the low-lives and rabble being incited to rob and plunder the Jews. this time they did not rely on their own forces , but applied for help from the Town Council and to the mayor and his advisors.
Behind the scenes, the Brest Town Council, were planning a pogrom against the Jews, in the doc.no.145, 1644, the mayor incited the military representatives against the Jews who would not deliver wagons to them, a duty that belonged to the town's magistrate, and from here it must be stressed that from this document we discover the inner workings of the kehilla administration which each month issued new edicts from the head of the kehilla.
The magistrate could not officially ignore the main plea of the Jews, and he had to come to an agreement. With no alternative, he devised a method whereby each side of the abovementioned parties (the magistrate and the Jewish kehilla) would be obligated to come to the help of each other in the case of wars and attacks on the city, and in reality on the 7th May, 1644, the kehilla turned to the town's magistrate to uphold the terms of their agreement when the news of the impending attacks by the hooligans arrived.
The pogroms subsequently took place according to previously detailed plans by the Jesuit provocateurs in the Town Council. The help from the magistrate, understandably, did not eventuate.
From the accusations of the head of the Jewish kehilla and in the name of all the Jews of Brest and all those who were persecuted, the double treachery of the mayor, Jan Kutanovitch became clear. After he received the plea for help, he ordered the town's militia and the members of the town's guilds to assemble and be ready. On the other hand, in his house he assembled the leaders of the Meschanes (the town's residents), the leading organisers of the pogrom, and immediately after that he assembled students and the common rabble that were prepared to do their tasks. Then the mayor ordered the police to go to their homes, and the 'progromchiks' were given a free hand.
In order to frighten the Jewish self-defence, and not to interfere with the 'progromchiks' work of breaking down the windows and doors of the Jewish stores, as it turned out, the Meschanes and the town's police overran the streets to frighten the defenders and to increase the confusion and uproar. In doc.no.49, 16th June 1644, the empty defence of the mayor was that he did not deceive the Jews, he tried to assume the guise of an idiot (Tam). His arguments were full of loopholes, until he tied himself in knots, and in the end, had to confess that he had ordered the police to go home, and then he added that the Jews were themselves responsible and guilty of the atrocities committed against them.
The attitude of the Jesuit clergy towards to the Jews is shown by the hostility expressed in the documents. In the meantime, also the Russian Orthodox clergy, followed the same path.
Docs 151-3, 29th 30th July, 1644 describe a dispute and blows between the Jewish hat-maker Shimon and the Russian priest Ivan Trasevich, a dispute which spread from the confines of a private argument and grew into abuse against the whole Jewish community, and united against the Jews all those Christians - Catholics, and Russian Orthodox.
The chronicle no. 154 of Sept. 1644, is again evidence that a Russian priest had made accusations against an Yitzchak ben Israel, a Brest Jew who travelled from village to village buying cattle, claiming that he had caused the outbreak of a plague from the fields of the villages and that he had bought diseased cattle and placed them in the villages.
There are 3 other documents in 1644 dealing with attacks on Jews. The nobleman Chitavetsky beat Hersh ben Faivel of Brest, his arendar. In the kehilla of Wysokie, district of Brest, and hooligans disturbed the celebrations of Succoth. In the middle of prayers, hooligans broke into the synagogue and attacked the praying Jews, five of whom were severely wounded, stole the silver etrog and the women's jewellery they promised to return and kill all the Jews of Wysokie. Interestingly, the prosecution's documents had details and names of all the people who were inside the synagogue at the time of the attack.
In doc.no.148 (May 1645), the issue at that time was pertaining to the competence of the synagogue's Shammes (beadle) and other learned members of the community, and throws some light on the organization of the synagogue. A bundle of documents from 1637 end this documentation of Brest a plague, wrongful accusations and even blood-libel.
In 1662 there broke out in Brest and district a plague that caused a diminishing of the town's population. But the arendars (leaseholders and agents) who collected the town's taxes had to fulfil their tax obligations to the government. In relation to this, a document tells of those days. Yakov ben Shmuel, an tax collector of the 'Tchapavi' and 'Shasavi' taxes for the estates Rasne, Wysokie, Zubatch, and others that belonged to the great Hetman (chieftain) Pavel Sapieha, was forced to confess that his people were not able to collect a cent from the populace because of the taxes of 1663. (Document 313, 9th January 1663).
An aftermath of the Brest pogroms of 1644 eventuated 19 years later - the action was carried out by a military commander and his men on a pretext that the head of the kehilla, shielding behind the privileges granted to the kehilla by the Polish king, had refused to obey an order to provide food and drink by one of his officers, Hiranim Dubiner. Dubiner was enraged and attacked the Jewish shops and the synagogue. Thereupon a huge panic broke out; there were much beatings and violence, followed by looting. The town square next to the synagogue was left in a terrible condition, destroyed houses and shops, salt and food littered the streets, groaning wounded, the result of this bloody day was about 20 wounded, and dozens of destroyed houses and shops.
The shtetl of Wysokie, Brest district, was a place ready for incitement, even from earlier times. In the book that recorded it, the catholic priest Ange Zhivnitski, harassed the arendar Laizer from the estate Gubatch, the arendar Yitzhak ben Aharon Batiak from Wysokie, Pesach Ruchotski, and others. He accused them of inciting hatred and attacking people of the local Catholic Church. This conflict occurred because the Jews had rescued a thief from the power of the church. (317-321, 30th June, 20th Sept. 1663).
The most interesting part of these documents deals with the Meschanes (townspeople) of Wysokie that did not participate in the priest's accusations and the ensuing trial. The Mayor (Voijt) and his council of townsmen, were as it happened, guests of the arendar in his house. According to these documents, at the head of the Jewish side stood a woman of valour, the wife of the arendar Yitzhak, in her honor and by herself.
A proven method by the healers of Brest in case of failure was to flee from the city. We have already seen in 1589 the fate of the healer/doctor Yoske, who ran away from Brest because of the accusations of the peasant Kaladich. Also in 1663 the healers of Brest did not know how to defend their honour or lives. Aharon ben Yakov, one of the heads of the Brest kehilla, complained about the healer Shmuel Shreiyer, that his son, Dovid ben Aharon, a goldsmith, had died because of improper treatment. (Not according to the doctor in his wisdom) Not an erroneous treatment, and not according to the doctor's knowledge. The doctor, who had received a proper fee for his treatment, ran away to unknown whereabouts at the time of his patient's death. (Chronicle 320, August 20th 1663).
A story of a blood-libel ends this series of docs. The libel was proved to be false, but in this case all the familiar signs of blood-libel, which tragically prevailed over hundreds of years. It began with a dead child being discovered with stab wounds to its corpse, a sign that the Jews had drained it of its blood. These wild accusations were admitted in the time of the torture during the interrogations the accused have confessed to this crime. (doc.318, 1st July 1663).
A deed will be recorded as it was: In the shtetl of Vanya, Brest district, a Christian child drowned. When he was pulled out of the water, there were no signs of torture or wounds, besides the signs of drowning. The townsfolk, who wanted to get rid of their Jews, grasped this opportunity and exploited it, so that whilst the mother went and reported the tragedy to the authorities, they stabbed and mutilated the body to give it the appearance of murder and torture. When the mother, who was alone without a man or family, returned, she was astounded at the fresh wounds on her child's corpse. The neighbours then attacked her with the accusation that she herself had wounded and killed the child. Their intention was to frighten the unfortunate mother, and through her to obtain the grounds of a blood-libel. The town's authorities were linked to this gang, who intimidated this woman, keeping her imprisoned. At night, they let in their emissaries to convince her 'have no fear, we won't harm you'; on the condition that you claim that 'the Jews murdered your child'. 'We Christians' lives are blighted as long as the Jews live in Vanya this town is theirs not ours. Do as we ask, madam, and nothing will happen to you'. To their great astonishment, the soul of this simple peasant woman shone with honesty and truth, and she categorically refused all their persuasions. Threats did not move her; she declared she would not denounce innocent people.
When the story became known to the Jews of Vanya, they demanded of the court that it investigate the holding of the woman in jail, in the presence of the court's representatives, the woman absolutely swore in front of witnesses that the Jews had no part in the death of her child, and that she had retrieved the body from the river without a single wound.
The initiators of the blood-libel did not desist and received an authority from the court to submit the woman to torture; the townsfolk urged the court to torture her without pity until she accused the Jews. This document does not mention the instrument of torture, but it mentions that the woman was burnt on her fingers and feet, such tortures were made at intervals, and the woman asked if she confessed to the Jews crime. However, she obstinately stuck to her story. 'Only the Jews could have sent her a magical potion to prison' the heroes of the blood-libel claimed, and they requested to apply even more tortures, with renewed energy. With her last strengths the peasant woman screamed to her torturers 'I am going to die of all this pain and torture, and with my last breath I will not denounce innocent people'. She died in prison on the 1st July 1663. The blood-libel was cancelled due to lack of evidence, and failed to ignite a fire against the Jews. The cesspit of accusations, blood-libels, floated in a sea of hatred before our eyes when we recall those sorrowful times of the Brest Jews. It is obvious that the deepest nature of humanity to sacrifice the body for truth, and that, with her sacrifice, humanity was saved through this woman - her name was Mariana Ivanova Litvianka.
|Arieh Leib Feinstein|
The year 1831 (fear and panic in the city) saw great changes in the situation of our city, Brest. This was due to a great tragedy, which was unleashed in the country of Poland war and insurrection broke out. The Poles rebelled against the Russian Tsar, who had increasingly spread his domination over them since the partition of Poland decided at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The city of Brest, located at the gates of Poland, was besieged and the inhabitants began building fortresses and barracks, which were surrounded by high earthworks with deep canals so that they could defend themselves against the Poles who had mobilized their last forces to try and take the town.
A year later, when the fighting had subsided, an edict was issued by Tsar Nicholas ordering that the town, which sat between wide rivers and lakes, be rebuilt and strengthened. A large fortress was built with large buildings housing munition stores and factories, and barracks for housing the garrisons. In order to make space for this fortress an order was issued to demolish and raze the houses that had stood there previously, so that in their place, a high wall with a gate in the middle of the town stood there, and high earthworks were built up around the town. When the builders began their work a proportion of the inhabitants left their houses
and moved to the new houses which were being built inside the city. These places were called suburbs, which the government had bought in order to resettle the population. One of these areas was a large suburb to the west, which was called Kobryner Forshtadt or the New City, and to the south a smaller area that was called, Volyner Forshtadt. The whole town was called Brest D'Lita or Brest Litevski.
The year 1835 was the year of the great fire, in which God's wrath was poured over the old town, which was consumed by fire, on the holy Sabbath, the fire became a blaze which consumed several streets in the centre of the city. About 500 houses were destroyed and the frightened residents rushed to find shelter and build new houses in the grounds of the new city. In order to provide shelter and protection, they rushed the building works with all their strengths, and within two years, in 1837, it was completed. The new town stood in all its' beauty, and tens of thousands of people filled it's streets large good quality stops were created, and the commerce and trade returned to normal and Brest once again became a joyous city. In the old town were the ruins of the burnt houses, which were demolished one by one, no memory of them was left. At the same time as the new buildings were growing in the new town, the town's rates and taxes increased five-fold. Also at this same time the government built storehouses for military equipment and uniforms. They also built barracks and residences for their employees. They built a beautiful and magnificent railway station. The houses that were built for the town's inhabitants were built on town land, so that the town spread to a village called Trishin, creating a new suburb called Horodek (small town in Russian).
As was the fate of all the residents houses, so followed the fate of the synagogues, which had been partially burnt down, partially vandalised, and then destroyed. These were rebuilt in the new city, and given the same names as the old ones, according to the size of their congregations, which multiplied and grew in the new city. This large city attracted masses that streamed to it from all the corners of the land to settle there. But the great synagogue was left in it's place until the year 1842 when the bitter cup overspilled itself and it was destroyed to it's foundations. 8000 roubles were given as compensation by the government for the damages. During the demolition of this synagogue, they found a damaged stone tablet that was built into the walls of the synagogue inscribed with the following:
'The officer Saul, son of the Gaon (genius) and Rabbi Shmuel Yehuda from Padua, built this synagogue for women and Torah and in memory of his wife Deborah, who was pious and righteous and the daughter of ...' These words had been partially erased by antiquity. Deborah was the daughter of David Drucker, one of the leaders in Brest, in the list of Brest luminaries.
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