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The Story of a Community -
An Introduction to the Volume

The Editor

From the book Pinsk , Volume I

Tel Aviv, 1977

Historical Course of the Pinsk Community

Foundations and Motives

The long history of the eternal people is marked by countless milestones. In every period, in every country and city where Jews have lived, the tenets of Judaism have been cherished and fostered by the group historically known as the "Community" (kehillah), or with greater emphasis, the "Holy Community" (kehillah kedoshah).

The first prerequisites for any knowledge of such Jewish community are a study of its whole history -- its origin, development, rise and decline or tragic destruction -- and a scholarly assessment of this history, on the basis of documentary evidence and eye-witness reports which reflect the community's spiritual character and cultural values in social, economic and political terms.


Such a study provides us with valuable information not only about the community in question but also about the great majority of the other communities in the same "Land" (erets) or "State" (medinah) (cf. the Committee of the Four "Lands", the Communal Register of the "State" of Lithuania). Hence every scholarly investigation of a community and the consequent determination of that community's influence means the establishment of a further landmark in our knowledge of Jewish history, according to the community's size and relative importance. A study of this kind may also provide guidance and source-material for students of Jewish history as a whole.

Such is the awareness that has induced us Jews of Pinsk to choose this way of commemorating the two communities of Pinsk and Karlin. We have sought to erect a lasting historical memorial to them, not by a static description of their leading personalities, but rather by a vivid, dynamic portrayal of their active and vital communal life. We have tried to present not only the details of their day-to-day existence, with its brighter and darker sides, but also the faith in eternal life that was the central theme and mainstay of these two communities throughout their history, as of all Jewish communities: not only the earthly Pinsk-Karlin, but also its heavenly counterpart.

The large-scale migrations eastward of Jews in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries from western Europe brought them to Lithuania. Some of the Jews of Brest-Litovsk continued eastwards until they reached Pinsk, where they obtained permission from the authorities to build a synagogue and dedicate ground for a cemetery (1506), thus laying the foundations for a new Jewish community -- that of Pinsk. The part of the city that they chose for their residence and the way in which they settled in it were characteristic: they established themselves en bloc in a "Judengasse" hard by the prince's castle (to ensure his protection), and not far from the riverside market (to facilitate their economic activity). Thus did the Pinsk ghetto come into being.

The growth of the city's Jewish population was gradual, both in absolute terms and relatively to the total number of inhabitants. At the time of its establishment (1506), the Jewish community in Pinsk numbered about 75 souls -- men, women, and children. Sixty years later (1566), their numbers had risen to about 300, or 8% of the total population. At the time of the 1648 Khmelnitzki massacres they numbered approximately 1,000, or 25% of the population, and in the year of Pinsk's annexation to Russia (1793) about 5,100. From then onwards their numbers increased rapidly to 19,754 in 1878 (or 86'% of the total population) and 21,965 in 1897 (or 74.2% of the total). On the eve of the First World War there were 28,063 Jews in Pinsk, constituting 72.4% of the city's population. This remained the demographic structure of Pinsk until the tragic end of the Pinsk and Karlin communities. These statistics show that, starting with a small Jewish minority, Pinsk became first a mixed city, and eventually a city with a Jewish majority numbering as much as seventy five percent, or even more, of the total population. Pinsk was the second Russian city, after Berdichev, with such a high percentage of Jews, a situation which had a decisive influence on the mentality of the Pinsk Jew. Since the majority of the non-Jewish population lived in the outskirts, the Jewish character of the city was particularly felt in such matters as the celebration of Sabbaths and Festivals, and the like. Indeed, the sight of the Christians coming out of their churches on their holy days, dressed in their best clothes and walking through the streets of the city, was offensive to the Pinsk Jews, who regarded this as something alien to, and detracting from, the especially Jewish character of the city.


The numerical growth of the Jews in Pinsk resulted in their spreading out in all directions from the quarter where they had originally settled, viz. the "Judengasse" which ran from the cemetery in Zavalna Street to the great synagogue and the market. They turned first eastwards, to the city's main thoroughfare, Spaski Street, ("die greisse Gass") and to the roads running parallel to it, and then westwards to Lohishin Street and the area between it and Brisk Street. Later on they occupied the whole length of Brisk Street and the lanes running off it; and in the 18th and 19th centuries they pushed out northwards beyond Zavalna Street, and southwards to the bank of the river Pina. The way in which they spread out was typical. Maintaining their cohesion, they penetrated in large numbers into the Christian streets adjoining the area in which they were already living. In these "new" streets the Jews first of all lived side by side with the Christians, till in the course of time, with the natural increase of the Jewish population these streets too came to be inhabited mainly by Jews. The Christians moved out to the suburbs, while the Jews continued to live where they were in a solid, homogeneous bloc. This process took place in all parts of the city, both those subject to the municipal authorities and those under the control of the Pravo-Slavic, Catholic priesthood or of the feudal barons (peritsim). According to the situation, the Jews presented their petitions to either the municipal authorities or to one of the churches, taking full advantage of the rights granted them. Their struggle against the restrictions imposed on them by all these authorities was a successful, though hard, one. In addition to this expansion from the center (the "Judengasse") to the periphery, there was also a process of Jewish settlement in the opposite direction, from the periphery to the center. At the end of the 17th century a Jewish community was established in Karlin, to the east of Pinsk. The Jews of Pinsk thereupon began to settle in Karlin, partly at the request of the local inhabitants. The number of Jews in Karlin increased steadily and Karlin itself grew in size until it eventually reached the boundaries of Pinsk. Karlin now became a suburb of Pinsk with both places being inhabited mainly by Jews. Thus was Pinsk "taken over" by the Jews. The independence originally enjoyed by Karlin gave its Jewish inhabitants such a deep-rooted desire for autonomy that in the 18th century two separate Jewish communities arose in the one city of Pinsk -- the Pinsk community and the Karlin community, which together accounted for most of the city's population.


Having "taken over" their own city, the Jews of Pinsk went on to play an important historical part in the setting up of Jewish communities in the small towns in the district of Polesia (such as Kletsk), and even outside its boundaries (in Volhynia). One of the main economic activities of Pinsk Jewry was the leasing of estates, villages, forests, and lakes, together with their movable effects (including serfs) and immovable property (such as inns, mills, foundries), the latter often including transport facilities and road tolls. Such leases necessitated the administration of the property by trustworthy officials, sub-Iessees, and the like. As these latter were nearly all either members of the chief lessee's family or fellow-townsmen of his who took up residence in the places leased, a process began whereby the Jews of Pinsk gradually "colonized" the small towns. Even after great changes had taken place in the social structure of the Jewish population in Pinsk and its surroundings, Pinsk still remained the cultural, economic and political metropolis of the whole of Polesia and the seat of the district government offices. Here the Jews established industrial enterprises for processing the raw-material of the district (saw-mills for the wood from the Polesian Forests, the factories of Lourié and Halpern, and the like) and turned the city into a marketing center for the agricultural produce of the whole region. But, above all, Pinsk became a center of Torah (religious study) and haskalah (secular Jewish learning). To take only one example out of many: it was to Pinsk that Ozer Weizmann, from the nearby small town of Motele, sent his son Chaim and his other children to continue their studies, and then moved there himself for the sake of his own business activities and his children's education. Many other Jewish fathers in the region did the same. So great was the influence exercised by Pinsk over the whole surrounding district that the new doctrine of hasidism, which had come from Karlin, the suburb of Pinsk, evoked a readier response in the 18th and 19th centuries amongst the Jewish population of the small towns and villages than in Pinsk itself. The Jewish community in Pinsk and its surroundings continued to grow and spread, despite the hardships (legal disabilities, expulsions, burning-down of property, wars) to which it was constantly subjected. A decisive factor in this natural increase was the autonomy that the community enjoyed in its internal affairs. This autonomy was already recognized in principle in 1506, when the authorities granted the request made by the first minyan of Jews in Pinsk for permission to build a synagogue and to dedicate a plot of land for a cemetery, both in the "Judengasse".

In the first twenty-five years of the Pinsk community's existence the foundation was laid for cooperation with the other Lithuanian Jewish communities, and a joint organization was set up in which the Pinsk community was prominently represented. In 1555 we find a Jew from Pinsk making representations to the secular authorities on behalf of all the Jews of Lithuania. And of the three "chief communities" represented on the supreme body of Lithuanian Jewry -- the "Council of the State of Lithuania" -- which was set up in 1623, Pinsk was the third, after Brest and Grodno. The Pinsk community suffered severely in the Khmelnitzki massacres of 1648, but quickly recovered. At first, Pinsk was a "chief community" for 26 smaller Jewish settlements, but this number steadily decreased. To protect its rights as a "chief community in the State of Lithuania" Pinsk had to wage a struggle with the Communal Council of Volhynia, and with all the other "leading communities of Lithuania", especially with the neighboring small communities which had been founded from Pinsk, and now wished to shake off its authority. The severest threat to Pinsk's leadership came from Karlin, where the Jewish population established its own independent community. Nevertheless, despite these conflicts, which often led to open quarrels between the communities, Pinsk succeeded m preserving its position and influence, down to the abolition of the "Council of the State" (1764). During all this period it represented the Jewish population to the secular authorities, administered the collection of taxes throughout the district, dealt with the release of Jewish captives, maintained its own independent law-court (for both civil and religious matters), its own Rav, school teachers, hazan and shamash, and provided money for the support of its yeshivah students and for the establishment of religious and charitable organizations, etc. All these activities were an essential part of the "chief community's" autonomy. The national significance of this communal organization is illustrated by the prohibition promulgated by the heads of the community, as a sign of solidarity with Polish and Ukrainian Jewry in their times of trouble, on the wearing of finery, the playing of musical instruments, and the eating of unnecessarily large meals. Even when, in 1844, the secular authorities legally abolished the institution of the kehillah, that of Karlin -- and possibly also that of Pinsk -- still continued to function, as is attested by the letters of the Pinsk Av Beth-Din (President of the Religious Court) and the Karlin Av Beth-Din to the Rebbe of Kobrin, stamped with "the seal of the Karlin kehillah" and dated 1857. After the abolition of the kehilloth, the leaders of all the various Jewish communities became legally the functionaries of the secular power and were used by it for its own purposes (the collection of taxes, the payment of duties, etc.). But Pinsk and Karlin, like the other Lithuanian kehilloth, retained their social, juridical, and cultural autonomy. The affairs of the kehilloth were administered by the president and members of the religious courts, in cooperation with leading public figures and the officially appointed Rabbi. A very important factor in the preservation and extension of this autonomy in Pinsk were the local rich "philanthropists", who established and maintained educational and charitable institutions out of their own pockets, and were influential with the secular authorities. In contrast to the assimilating tendencies of many of the Jewish dignitaries and wealthy merchants in the Polish communities, the leading Jews in Pinsk and Karlin were distinguished by their loyalty to Judaism and the Jewish people, and their devoted service fully earned them the title of "the Rothschilds of Pinsk and Karlin" (the Levin, Lourié, Halpern, and Eliasberg families). The factories and commercial enterprises established by them employed only Jewish labor. In this way, despite the lack of official authorization, the Jews of Pinsk and Karlin were able to preserve their autonomy in internal Jewish matters. In the twentieth century, the management of communal affairs passed to the political parties, each of which fostered its own brand of Jewish nationalism. In the last period of Poland's independent existence between the two World Wars, an attempt was made to resuscitate the kehillah as a legally recognized institution. However, for mainly internal reasons, this attempt had only limited practical results.

In the martyrology of our people, Pinsk has its own page of glory. The members of the Jewish community not only suffered from the restrictions imposed on their civil rights by various rulers, but they were also time and again the victims of expulsion and massacres, especially during political upheavals and Wars. On account of its geographical position, -- wedged first between Pravo-Slavic Russia, Catholic Poland and Lithuania, and in its last years between Bolshevik Russia and nationalist Poland -- the city frequently changed hands in times of war, with the Jews of Pinsk, who were neither Russians nor Poles, serving as a scapegoat for both sides. In this situation, the Jews of Pinsk from time to time tried to escape their fate by abandoning their property and fleeing from the town before its conquest by one of the warring armies, only to be pursued and caught. Those that stayed in the town -- mostly the poorer classes -- were expelled or even put to death by the conqueror; often with the active assistance of the local Gentile population. This long, tragic sequence of persecutions reached its climax of horror in the second half of the 17th century (the Khmelnitsky massacres, the Muscovites, the Cossacks, Kurhan's marauding bands, the Poles) and again in the confusion after the First World War (1918 - 1920; the Bolsheviks, the armed bands of Bulak-Balakhovich, the Poles, the 1919 pogrom).

As the district capital of Polesia, Pinsk was the place where the Jews who had been expelled by decree of the secular power from the surrounding villages sought refuge. Together with the other Lithuanian kehilloth, Pinsk extended aid to the Jews expelled by the Russian general, Nikolai Nikolaievitch, at the beginning of the First World \\'ar. The condition of the Pinsk community at that time is well indicated by the three "orphans' homes" established by the Jews of Pinsk during and after the First World War -- two of them for the kehillah's own orphans, and the third specially for those of the whole district. In addition to the specifically anti-Jewish persecution, the Jews of Pinsk also suffered from the numerous disasters of war which time and again afflicted the whole population, such as the burning down of the city by the Poles (1648) and by the Muscovites and Cossacks (1655, 1660), its destruction by the Swedes (1706), the expulsion of most of the population by the Germans in the First World War, the burning down of the factories by the Russians before the Germans' entry into the city (1915), and the rest. Nor was peacetime free of its scourges: the houses of Pinsk being built, until modern times, mostly of wood, large parts of the city were frequently devastated by disastrous fires, such as the great conflagration of 1799 (in which the Burial Society register – pinkas -- was destroyed, and also apparently the communal register), and those in 1901 and 1921.

One cannot help being amazed at the vitality displayed by the Pinsk community in surviving and overcoming all these devastating shocks, and again and again rebuilding a flourishing spiritual and economic life for itself out of the ruins of a previous edifice. In the days of the "Council of the State", Pinsk preserved its autonomy as a "chief community", despite the Khmelnitski massacres. Similarly, the energy with which the Jews of the town devoted themselves to the study of the Law, to Jewish education, and to the betterment of their economic condition remained undiminished in all the hardships and disasters of the First World War, in the years of bloodshed and revolution that followed, and in the period of harshly anti-Semitic Polish rule (1921 - 1939). The determined spirit of Pinsk Jewry and its power to remain unaffected by outside economic and political factors -- such as the partitions of Poland and the other political upheavals in the region -- is attested by the growth of a special branch of hasidism -- Karlin hasidism -- in its midst in the second half of the 18th century, just at the time of these violent events. The constant growth and development of the Pinsk community, despite all these blows and set-backs, bears witness to the powerful spiritual vitality with which its members were endowed and which was their mainstay in time of trouble.


The economic condition of the Pinsk community took its own distinctive forms and followed its own distinctive development.

Whereas the community enjoyed cultural and national independence from the day of its establishment, and its autonomous control of its internal affairs raised it to the status of a "chief community" with the creation of the "Council of the State" (1623), it did not become economically independent of the Gentile population till the 19th century, after Pinsk had passed under Russian rule. The economic development of the Pinsk Community falls into two chronological halves: the Lithuanian-Polish period, marked by the small size of the city's Jewish population and by the wars fought all around the city by hostile powers; and the period of stable Russian rule and the great increase in the Jewish population, from c. 5,100 at the end of the Polish period (1793) to 22,000 in 1886, or 83% of the city's total inhabitants. In the first period, the Jews of Pinsk, as a minority -- and at first a small one -- were not able to constitute an independent economic unit. Thanks to their commercial and organizational talents some Jews, as individuals or small groups, succeeded in finding places for themselves in the economic and social structure of the town and its surroundings. As described above, their chief economic occupation was leasing in all its various forms: leasing of estates, including the peasants, serfs, inns, highways, road- and bridge- tolls, and the like. Many Jews dealt in loans, mainly to Gentiles; and the borrowers, for example the "boyars" (the wealthy upper classes), used to mortgage their lands as surety for the repayment of the loan to the Jewish moneylenders. There were also Jewish dealers in furs, salt, and forest-products, such as potash, etc. These goods were sent to the Ukraine or Poland. Then, in the market, there were Jewish shop-owners who helped to develop the town's commercial center, close to the "Judengasse". If Jews acquired land, it was only as an investment, since they took no part in agriculture. Nor were there many Jewish artisans.

As time passed, the economic structure of Pinsk Jewry underwent various changes. As a result of the frequent wars and the consequent political instability, the large leases disappeared completely, while tax- and duty-leasing and money-lending to Gentiles steadily declined. On the other hand, there was an increase in Jewish business dealings -- whether import and export trade in, e.g., timber, potash, crops, hardware, and food commodities, or purchases and sales in the shops opened by Jews in the market-place. The Jews of Pinsk now participated in the fairs inside and outside Pinsk, going as far afield as Breslau in Germany. They gained themselves a prominent place among the city's wholesalers, gradually pushing out the Gentile merchants. This process whereby the Jews gave up leasing and turned more and more to developing the city's commerce gathered momentum. The Jews began to sell drinks, to buy the produce of the local farmers, and to set up a new commercial center next to the synagogue. A Jewish retail trade now developed, which also began to force the local Gentiles out of business. Some Jews also started to work as artisans. Thus, parallel to the "taking over" of the city by the Jewish population as a result of its numerical growth and spread, the Jews already at this early period succeeded in gaining control of the city's commerce. As the Gentiles were dislodged from their economic positions, they moved to the outskirts and took to manual trades. The Jewish domination of all kinds of business aroused the envy and hatred of the Gentiles, and gave rise to a hostile attitude on the part of the churches, the secular authorities, and the aristocracy. However, this Jewish domination of the commercial life of Pinsk had no sound economic foundation, since in order to carry on their businesses the Jews had to take loans from the Gentiles, for example from the aristocracy. Now the boot was on the other foot: the former lenders were now the borrowers, and the former borrowers became the lenders. At that time, the latter part of the 18th century and the end of the Polish period, there was a general collapse of moral restraints and an outbreak of license and violent robbery which caused great suffering to the Jews of Pinsk and greatly harmed their economic position. In addition to these blows from outside, they were also afflicted by a great decline in the community's prestige, in consequence of its inability to pay off large debts incurred to various monastic orders and government officers. It was in such unstable and difficult circumstances that the foundation was laid of Pinsk Jewry's economic independence, though the full flowering of that independence had to wait until the city had passed from Polish to Russian rule.

The development of Pinsk's economy was favored by the change for the better in the city's geographical position after the abolition of the Russo-Polish border (1795), and by the improvement in its transport facilities at the end of the 18th and in the course of the 19th century, following on the cutting of the Oginsky and Royal Canals, and the laying of the railway lines, westwards to Zhabinka-Brest-Litovsk (1844) and eastwards to Luninets (1887). It was the Jews of Pinsk that set the city's economy -- first its commerce, and then its industry -- on a firm basis by making the most of three factors: the exploitation of the region's natural resources (especially the forests of Polesia) and of the city's position as an inland port and transport center (for Poland, the Baltic, the Ukraine, and Polesia); the commercial initiative and organizational talent displayed by the Jews of Pinsk in setting up large-scale enterprises run by the technological methods of Western Europe; and the skill and strength of the Pinsk Jewish worker. In the period preceding the annexation of the city to Russia, the Jews of Pinsk had already (as described above) taken control of the city's wholesale and retail trade. Now they set up large business concerns which developed the city into an inland harbor capable of handling goods coming from distant places: crops, wood, textile products, salt, tobacco, sugar, iron, etc. Pinsk thus became an important transit station on the great commercial arteries running along the inland network of rivers, and a link with the outside world was established. The commercial life of Pinsk in those days was concentrated on the banks of the river, so that it was correctly dubbed "the Jewish Hansa". Of the great merchants of that time, mention should be made of R. Shaul Karliner (Levin), one of the most influential Jews of Pinsk, Karlin and the whole region. His great wealth and influence are evident from his will, which is a document of historical value. He apparently made his money from timber and government contracts. His commercial activities were continued by his four sons, also among the richest Jews of Pinsk. But they were outshone by their sister Hayyah, the ancestress of the Lourié family, who by her talents became one of the wealthiest Jews in Pinsk, if not the wealthiest of them all. In furthering her business interests -- apparently the buying and selling of corn and timber -- she exploited Pinsk's central position to extend her commercial power southwards and westwards. Her great contribution to the development of Pinsk as an inland port was recognized by the Russian government when the Tsar Alexander II awarded Hayyah Lourié and her descendants the title of "Honorary Citizen of the Russian Empire". Naturally, the chief beneficiaries from her commercial enterprises were Pinsk Jews, such great merchants as Hayyah's own sons -- Moshe and David Lourié, and Gad-Asher Levin -- and the tallow-magnate, Mordekhai Lifschitz. To develop the city's harbor, some Jews acquired steam-boats, which they operated between Pinsk and the towns of the Ukraine in place of the oar-propelled rafts. Meir Levin led the way by purchasing one such steamboat (before 1862) from a Gentile and renaming it "Liov". In 1868, 8 of the 12 private steamboats carrying goods on this waterway were Jewish-owned. That was the time -- the sixties of the last century -- when these Jewish magnates began setting up factories for the processing of the raw materials which they brought in steamboats from the surrounding district and further south. It was a period when the economy of the Jews of Pinsk was based partly on commerce and partly on industry. As with the actual settlement in the city, so in the commercial and industrial operation of the steamboats, the Gentiles preceded the Jews. In the course of time, most of the above enterprises passed into Jewish hands, like the factory for making candles and soap from tallow which was built by Gentiles in 1850 and came under Jewish control in 1872. However, whereas the settlement and spread of the Jews in the city mostly followed on their purchase of property from the local Gentiles, many Jews (e.g. Moshe Lourié) developed the operation of the steamboats, and industrial activities in general, on their own initiative, ordering ships and machinery from abroad. The laying of the railway lines through Pinsk in the eighties of the 19th century decreased its importance as a transport center and had a damaging effect on its commerce. As a result, industry began to take the place of commerce, developing as the Jewish population increased. Pinsk now became a mainly industrial city, with various branches of commerce playing a secondary role. The feature common to the industry and the commerce was that both were almost entirely in Jewish hands. So much so, that the anti-Semitic Russian economist, J. Jansson, in his study of the economy of Pinsk (1869), was obliged to call it "this Jewish city".

The following is a list of the factories built by the Jews of Pinsk during the 19th century and up to the First World War:

  1. Two factories for the manufacture of candles and soap. These were originally put up by Gentiles, but when the first owners proved incapable of running them properly and lost their money, they were bought out by Jews (Eliyahu Eliasberg, the son-in-law of Hayyah Lourié's son Moshe, Shemuel Rabinovitz, the son-in-law of Gad-Asher Levin, and Scheinfinkel) who proceeded to operate one of them, which became a household word throughout Russia. At first, most of the workers employed in this factory were Gentiles but in the course of time their place was taken by Jewish workers, 120 in number. The factory was destroyed by fire in 1900 and never rebuilt.
  2. In 1865 a flour-mill was built (by Moshe Lourié), and in 1872 it was operated by a steam-powered engine imported from Germany.
  3. At about the same time, a second steam-engine was imported to power an oil-press (also owned by Moshe Lourié).
  4. In 1879 - 80, the same Moshe Lourié built a large factory for wooden nails for shoes, the first of its kind in Russia. This factory, which was also powered by steam-engines imported from abroad, employed 200 workers, and its products were sold all over Russia.
  5. This was followed by the erection of a factory for the production of wooden containers for cart-wheel grease, with a special bark-stripping machine imported from Germany by the owner (Moshe Lourié's son, Lippa).
  6. In 1898 - 99 a large factory was erected for the production or plywood boards for building and furniture. In order to be able to make full use for this purpose of the alder growing in Polesia, the owner of the factory (Lippa Lourié) introduced two improvements in the technical process of manufacturing the boards: he put into operation a hydraulic press to squeeze out the oil with which the sheets of plywood were stuck together; and he was the first to make use of wet glue in place of dry glue. The new industry which thus came into being in Pinsk provided a livelihood for thousands of Jews. The products of this factory found a market not only in Russia, but also in Austria and England. In the Haifa "Technion" there is preserved a cast-iron plate from one of the presses which were used for the first time in this factory.
  7. In about 1890, a large saw-mill was built, also operated by steam-power (owned by the brothers L. and A. Lourié).
  8. A special factory for the production of parquet flooring. All these factories for the processing of timber together employed 800 people, the great majority of them Jews.
  9. In 1892, a Jew from Courland opened a match-factory. _After its destruction by fire in 1897, it was rebuilt by Yosef Halpern and employed 400-500 workers, 80-90% of them, and even more, Jews. The matches produced by this factory, one of the largest of its kind in Russia, were sold as far away as Southern Russia, the Caucasus, the towns on the shore of the Caspian Sea, etc. This was the next largest factory in Pinsk after those of the Lourié family, and provided a livelihood for a considerable part of the Jewish population.
  10. Of the two cork-factories in Pinsk, one was owned by Gentiles, and the other, larger one, by Jews.
  11. The well-known Zionist, Grigory Lourié, a contemporary of Herzl's and one of the delegates to the First Zionist Congress, built a factory for making chalk, and also a small chemical works in which the first President of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, worked in his student days. Grigory Lourié was the first, and in his day the only, employer in Pinsk, who introduced an eight-hour working day in his industrial enterprises.
  12. Also in Jewish ownership were plants for tobacco, beer, bricks, leather, envelopes, glassware, sweets, "halva", straw, and many saw-mills, etc.

There were two Gentile-owned ship-repair yards on the banks of the river Pina. Close to the railway station there was a large government railway coach-repairing works employing 1,500 Gentiles, whose homes were on the outskirts of the city and whose daily needs were a source of Jewish livelihood (tailoring, shoe-repairing and the like). A government-owned brandy distillery was built by the government near the railway station. This is evidence of the process whereby the Gentile minority segregated itself from the Jewish majority in the city, first topographically, with the Gentile population being pushed out to the periphery and the city being "taken over" by the Jews, and then economically and socially. On a rough estimate, the number of Jewish workers -- men and women -- in Pinsk at the end of the 19th century was at least 2,500 - 3,000, many of them heads of families. The creation of many new places of work brought about a significant change in the social structure of Pinsk Jewry. An industrial and clerical proletariat now came into being, with 50% of the city's Jewish population making its living by manual labor. The number of Jewish artisans, which was about 95 in 1865, greatly increased in the eighties of the century, when the government set up the large railway-coach repair works. There was also a significant rise in the number of building-workers, furniture-makers, tailors, shoe-repairers, fur-makers, etc. Some of the enterprises included in the above list of factories were presumably no more than modest family workshops in which the members of the family earned a hard-won livelihood, either by themselves or with the assistance of one or two workers. There may also have been some small concerns which have not been included in our list. It should also be mentioned that Jews were the first bankers in Pinsk.

Since the Jews of Pinsk came to have virtually no economic relations with the Gentile population, they were obliged to provide all the labor force required for the satisfaction of their needs out of their own midst; carters, porters, fishermen, artisans of all kinds, factory workers, clerks, and managers. Many trades were completely taken over by Jews (builders, painters, plasterers, carpenters, glaziers, tinsmiths, watch-makers, goldsmiths, and many others). Only in the academic professions (doctors, engineers, lawyers, mid-wives, and pharmacists) were there as many Gentiles as Jews. With justice did "Karliner" (the pen-name of Lippa-Leopold Lourié) entitle his article about Pinsk, which was published in Dr. Herzl's "Die Welt" (1898, No. 11, p. 3 ff.), "Eine juedische Arbeiterstadt". Important details about the economic condition of Pinsk, especially at the end of the 19th century, are to be found in the article "On Pinsk, Karlin, and their Inhabitants" (in Hebrew) by the first historian of the Pinsk community, Shaul Mendl Halevi Rabinowitsch, which was published in the literary journal Talpiyoth (Berdichev 1895, Mador Kehilloth Yaakov, pp. 7-17). The harbor town of Pinsk now became the city of Jewish labor.


But economic success and economic independence are far from being the whole story of the Pinsk Jewish community in the 19th century. The spiritual character of the community in this period was molded by the traditional values of Judaism, and in consequence the Jewish population's whole way of life and the whole atmosphere of its existence were given a characteristically Jewish stamp. On the eves of Sabbaths and Festivals the workers in the factories would lay down their tools an hour before the time for lighting the ceremonial candles. Two long blasts on the siren from the Lourié factory would herald in the Sabbath -- the first announcing the time for closing the shops, and the second, about half an hour later, the time for lighting the candles. Not only the Jews of Pinsk, but also those of the neighboring smaller communities beyond the lakes and rivers, took these siren-blasts as their sign for bringing in the Sabbath. The factories of Pinsk were closed on Sabbaths and Festivals, and some of them stopped work on Tisha b'Av too. In the large factories (like that of the Lourié's, and the Halpern match factory) provision was made for a synagogue in which, especially on the "Penitential Days", the manager and the ordinary workers prayed together. The workers who came to the first shift before sunrise would down tools to pray, a special break being allowed them for this purpose. An Ark and Scroll of the Law were placed in the hall set aside as a synagogue. At Passover, the workers in the plywood factory would be given wooden boards to cover their tables and thereby make them ritually clean for the Festival of Unleavened Bread. In normal years, the same workers also received matsoth free of charge. In the synagogue that stood in the industrial zone in the west of the city, the overwhelming majority of the congregation consisted of workers from the factories. Here it was that many of them, after their day's toil at the workbench, spent their leisure together on Sabbaths and Festivals, and also their free evenings during the week. Near to this synagogue was the home of a dayyan, Rav Hindin, to whose halakhic authority the workers appealed in matters of religious observance and for the settlement of any money disputes between them. Various artisans' and workers' organizations set up special synagogues (minyanim) for their own members, and there were thus synagogues of, e.g., the tailors, the butchers, the porters, the fur-makers, the fish-merchants, the hat-makers, etc.

From the end of the 19th century until the First World War, and also between the two World Wars, there was intense socialist activity in the factories, carried on by the Haskalah movement and the various political parties, as described in detail in the volume "Toysent Johr Pinsk" (ed. B. Hoffman, New York, 1941). During the years of the "reaction" in Russia, many of the workers were forced to leave Pinsk and emigrate to the U.S.A. The factory managers and clerks were among the leaders of the Hovevei Zion and Zionist movements in Pinsk, e.g., Meir Lieberman and Dr. Hazanovich from the candle factory, Aharon Rubinstein, Shaul Rabinowltscht Mordekhai Eisenberg, Aharon Stillerman, Yaakov Eliasberg from the Lourié factory, Moshe Y. Rom, Avraham Kreinyuk, Aharon Rubin from the match factory, and others, all of whom played an important and honorable part in the Zionist effort during and after Herzl's time.


The position of Rav in Pinsk and Karlin was one of the most important rabbinical offices in Lithuania and Poland. Amongst the great Rabbanim, and talmudical scholars of these communities, who until the end of the 19th century were their spiritual leaders, we find representatives of all the different trends in Judaism. There were darshanim (homiletic exegetes), such as R. Yehudah-Leib Pukhovitser (b. Pinsk c. 1630, d. after 1700); the exegete and preacher, popularly known as "the moralist from Pinsk", who wrote the works Keneh Hokhmah, Derekh Hokhmah, Divrei Hakhamim, Kevod Hakhamim, and whose books are today studied in the Hebrew University; R. Eliezer, the son of R. Meir Halevi, a Pinsk Rav in the second half of the 18th century, the author of Siah ha-Sadeh and Reiah ha-Sadeh, allegorical and moralistic commentaries on the Pentateuch; R. Eliezer, the son of R. Reuven Cahana, who lived in Karlin in the first half of the 18th century and who wrote Siah Sejunim, an allegorical commentary on the Five Scrolls which was translated into Yiddish, and also Taamei Torah. Among the posekim (halakhic authorities), who wrote new interpretations in matters of halakhah and responsa to religious questions, were the following: R. Yaakov, the son of R. Shimon, who lived in the first half of the 18th century and was the author of Kehillath Yaakov (interpretations to the Talmud and Responsa); Dov-Baer, the son of R. Nathan-Note, who lived in Pinsk also in the first half of the 18th century and was the author of Nitei Shoashuim, a. halakhic commentary on various talmudic tractates; R. Raphael Hamburger, who wrote the book Torath Yekuthiel while serving as the Pinsk Av Beth-Din from 1763 to 1772; R. Shelomo Katz of Pinsk, author of Halakhah Pesukah (published in 1787); R. Yaakov, the son of R. Aharon (Barukhin), the Av Beth-Din of Karlin (d. there in 1844), the author of Mishkenoth Yaakov and Kehillath Yaakov; his brother and successor in Karlin, R. Yitshak, the son of R. Aharon (Minkovski) , d. in Karlin 1851, and author of Keren Orah, a volume of new halakhic rulings on various talmudic tractates which went through many editions (the last in Jerusalem, 1959) and is especially well known among yeshivah students; R. David Friedmann, the Av Beth-Din of Karlin from 1868 to 1915, author of Piskei Halakhoth and Sheeloth David, works based on the sayings of the first halakhic scholars; R. Aharon Valkin, the Av Beth-Din of Pinsk-Karlin from after the end of the First World War until 1942, wrote Beth Aharon, Zekan Aharon, Metsah Aharon (allegorical homilies), and Hoshen Aharon, and published his own commentary to the Sefer Yereim by R. Eliezer, the son of R. Shemuel of Metz, one of the authors of the tosafoth (all R. Aharon Valkin's books were originally printed in Pinsk); R. Elazar-Moshe Halevi Hurwitz, the Pinsk Av Beth-Din from 1859 - 1890, left in manuscript, at his death, "marginal comments" to the Talmud which were included in the Vilna edition of that work and were also published, together with comments on the Talmud, Midrash and other Jewish source-texts, under the title Ohel Moshe.

Three Pinsk Rabbanim applied themselves to parshanuth (exegetical commentary). The first, R. Aharon of Kretingen, Av Beth-Din of Pinsk (d. there in the early forties of the 19th cent.), wrote Tosefoth Aharon, a volume of exegetical commentary on cruxes in the tosafoth, with comparisons of the Babylonian and Jerusalem versions in the Talmud and allegorical interpretations in the spirit of the Kabbalah. The other two wrote commentaries on the additions to the Talmud. R. Shemuel-Avigdor Tosefaah, the Karlin Av Beth-Din from 1855 or 1856 till his death in 1866, compiled a commentary to the Tosefta, for which he was known, among rabbinical scholars, as Tanna Tosefaah. His commentary on the talmudic "orders" Nashim, Zeraim, Moed, and Kodashim was included in the Vilna edition of the Talmud, and in the Vilna edition of Hilekhoth R. Alfas. R. Tsevi-Hirsch Hacohen Valk, the Pinsk Av Beth-Din from 1895 till his death in 1906, wrote a commentary to Sifrei entitled Kether Kehunah. R. Yitshak, the son of R. Aharon, in his above mentioned book Keren Orah, also offers exegetical comments on various talmudic tractates, from the tone of which it is clear that he took account of contemporary social conditions.

R. Barukh Epstein (b. 1860, d. Pinsk 1942) was a talmudic encyclopedist and chronicler. In his well-known work, Torah Temimah, he assigns to every verse in the Written Law appropriate rabbinical comments from the Oral Law. To substantiate the connection between the two sources, the author added his own explanatory remarks, written in the logical and analytical style characteristic of a Lithuanian Jew from the Volozhin yeshivah. R. Barukh Epstein's second great work, Mekor Barukh, a volume of varied autobiographical reminiscences in four parts (2039 pages), is a particularly rich mine of historical information about Lithuanian Jewry during the last three generations before the Second World War. His other books, some of them written in the spirit of Torah Temimah, are: Tosefeth Berakhah (printed in Pinsk), Gishmei Berakhah, Barukh she-Amar (3 vols., on the prayers, the Passover haggadah, and Pirkei Avoth, printed in Pinsk shortly before the Communist occupation of the city in 1939), Mekor Barukh (a commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud), Nahal Dimah (a eulogy of his deceased father-in-law, R. Elazar-Moshe Hurwitz, the Pinsk Av Beth-Din), Safah la-Neemanim, Mehkerei Safah (printed in Pinsk), and supplements to the work of his fellow-townsman, A. B. Goldin, Othiyoth Mahkimoth.

Of biographical and bibliographical interest is the volume Oholei Shem by R. Shemuel-Noah Gottlieb (printed in Pinsk) which contains many important details about the lives of the Rabbanim who were the author's contemporaries (1912).

A very important episode in the history of our two communities -- the rise of the hasidic movement -- is commemorated by two books of homiletic exegesis in the hasidic spirit: Kedushath Levi by R. Levi-Yitshak of Berdichev, the Pinsk Av Beth-Din from 1875 or 1876 to 1885; and Beth Aharon by all the Tsaddikim of the Karlin hasidic dynasty.


In Pinsk and Karlin, as in other Jewish communities, every generation had its own scholars and sages. The most gifted of them molded the spiritual character of the two communities, preserved and fostered their cultural values, and often brought about far-reaching changes in their spiritual lives.

Culturally, the period from the establishment of the Pinsk and Karlin communities to the early sixties of the 18th century was marked by the same unvaried pattern: the Av Beth-Din and the Rav, the melammed and the yeshivah, the Shulhan Arukh, the Talmud and its commentaries, and in some measure the kabbalistic lore -- all these determined the character of the lives lived by the Jews of Pinsk and Karlin, as of the Jews in all the other communities of Eastern Europe throughout this long period.

In the early sixties of the 18th century, there came into being in Karlin a hasidic center (R. Aharon the Great and his disciples) which became famous in the history not only of the hasidic movement but also of the whole Jewish people; so much so, that "Karliner" was for a whole century a synonym for "hasid". The rise of Karlin hasidism was one of the reasons for the bans promulgated against hasidism in Lithuania, and split both the Pinsk and Karlin communities into the two bitterly opposed factions of the hasidic minority and the mithnagged majority. So strong was the feeling generated by the bans and the communal schism that the Tsaddik R. Levi-Yitshak was forced to give up his rabbinical office in Pinsk and move to Berdichev (1785), the Tsaddik R. Shelomo of Karlin had to leave Karlin and move to Ludmir in Volhynia (before 1784), the Pinsk Av Beth-Din, R. Avigdor, was forcibly deposed from his rabbinical office by the Karlin hasidim (1793), the Tsaddik R. Asher the First, on his return from Volhynia to his birthplace was too afraid of the mithnaggedim to dare take up residence in Karlin and settled in the nearby small town of Stolin, and the Tsaddik R. Aharon the Second was obliged, on the insistence of an influential mithnagged family in Pinsk (the Lourié family), to transfer his "court" from Karlin back to Stolin (before 1864), one hundred years after the setting up of the first hasidic minyan in Karlin. These events testify to the bitterness of the factional spirit prevailing in Pinsk and Karlin at this time, though it grew gradually weaker with the passage of the years. Besides the Karlin Hasidim, there were also, from the beginning of the 19th century, in these two communities followers of the Rebbes of Libeshei and David-Horodok (both close to Pinsk) and of Bereznah in Volhynia (where, however, there were altogether only a few hasidim). All in all, the hasidim in Pinsk and Karlin had six prayer-houses (shulkhen) out of the forty two synagogues in the city, including the Great Synagogue. After the tension between the two opposing factions had died down, the mithnaggedim and hasidim lived peacefully side by side, each group according to the tenets of its own doctrine.

An important place in the lives of both mithnaggedim and hasidim alike was occupied by the movement for the "resettlement of the Land of Israel". As a result, two parallel kolelim (groups of settlers) were established by them in Palestine -- the "Pinsk kolel", founded by the mithnaggedim, and the "Karlin kolel", founded by the Karlin Hasidim. Many of the leaders of the kolelim in Palestine were Jews from Pinsk, while the Karlin kolel acquired lands and prayer-houses in Tiberias, Safed, and Jerusalem.

In about the middle of the 19th century the first signs of the haskalah movement began to appear in Pinsk and Karlin. A group of maskilim was established like the similar groups which came into being at this time in Vilna. These maskilim stirred up the stagnant waters of Jewish thought and Jewish communal life by their historical researches and belletristic writings. But whereas the Vilna maskilim confined their activities to their own city, many of the Pinsk maskilim spread their doctrines throughout East European Jewry. Almost all the Pinsk maskilim were pupils of the talmudic yeshivoth, whose secular know ledge was self-taught and intuitive. One of the first of them was Moshe-Aharon Shatskes who, in his well-known book Ha-Mafteah, sought to give an unorthodox, logical, allegorical and critical interpretation of the rabbinical legends. The work caused a great furor, with the orthodox condemning it to the flames (as in the town of Grodno), and the younger generation making Shatskes their intellectual hero. His Yiddish book, "Der Yiddisher far Pesach", contained a satirical criticism of what he thought to be the overdone precautions taken to ensure a ritually pure Passover. Another of the Pinsk maskilim of the time, Avraham-Dov Dovzevich, also dealt with the interpretation of the talmudic legends in his book Ha-Metsaref. The same author takes up the cudgels in defense of the well-known scholar of the haskalah generation, A. Z. Zweifel, against the criticisms of Shatskes. A third member of this group of Pinsk maskilim was the Pinsk-born writer and journalist, Tsevi Hacohen Shereshevski, who as a boy had been close to the Pinsk Av Beth-Din R. Elazar-Moshe Hurwitz and had gained his knowledge of the Law from private conversations with him. Shereshevski wrote a satirical poem, Bosef Avoth, on the education of the younger generation, and was a member of the editorial board of the journals Ha-Melits and Ha-Emeth. Two other members of the Pinsk group were Nahum-Meir Shaikevich (Shomer) and Avraham-Hayyim Rosenberg, the sons-in-law of Michal Berchinski, himself a maskil and a member of the city council. On coming to live in Pinsk, Shaikevich joined the maskilim of the city and was one of the first writers of fiction in Hebrew and Yiddish. His stories and plays -- numbering altogether nearly three hundred -- were meant primarily for the plain man, and were historically a direct outcome of the haskalah movement. Avraham- Hayyim Rosenberg was educated by his father, R. Uzziel Yaffe, a Pinsk dayyan (religious judge). His varied career was typical of many young men of the haskalah generation. After studying in the rabbinical seminary in Zhitomir, he became an officially appointed Rabbi in his hometown of Pinsk (1872 - 1881), where he founded a Jewish boys' school in which the language of instruction was Russian, but the syllabus made ample provision for Hebrew studies in the spirit of traditional Judaism. He wrote a text-book of Jewish history in Russian, contributed articles to Ha-Melits, Ha-Carmel, Voshod and Rasvet, subsequently joined the Hibbath Tsion movement, and after emigrating to the U.S.A. wrote there for the Hebrew and Yiddish press. His magnum opus was the Otsar ha-Shemoth (5 vols.), an attempt at a biblical encyclopedia.

All these were the leading representatives of the spirit of the haskalah, which penetrated to Pinsk and began to influence the younger generation of the time.

The later Hibbath Tsion movement played a large part in the history of Pinsk. Recalling his youth in Pinsk of those days, Chaim Weizmann writes: "Pinsk became one of the centers of Hibbath Tsion. Rabbi David Friedman [the Karlin Av Beth-Din] was a member of the presidium at the Katovitz conference [of Hovevei Tsion, 1884], and was therefore named the leader of the movement in Pinsk". The Pinsk Av Beth-Din R. Elazar-Moshe Hurwitz also wrote approvingly of the movement. The well-known preacher of the day, Tsevi-Hirsch Maslianski, was the driving spirit of the movement in Pinsk, where the committee was headed by some of the most respected communal leaders: Tsevi Hiller, M. M. Strick, Yitshak-Asher Naidich, S. Friedman, Aharon Rubinstein, and others. The number of members reached 250, and even as many as 400, only to fall to about 70 in the periods of crisis through which the movement passed. Many were the Pinsk Jews whom the movement inspired to immigrate to Palestine: Yaakov Shertok (the father of Moshe Sharett), who immigrated a short time before the Bilu (1881), Rav Zerah Epstein (1883), Yosef Vinograd (1883), Yitshak Vinograd {1886}, Yaakov-Tsevi Zisselman (1886), Nimtsovitz (1886), Efraim Graver, and others. Between 1882 and 1891 about two hundred souls emigrated from Pinsk to Palestine, where the Hovevei Tsion association and various of its individual members bought land. A special association (Agudath ha-Elef) was founded to raise funds, and emissaries were sent to Palestine to purchase land. When the "Odessa Committee" was formed, Moshe-Hayyim Eliasberg was its representative in Pinsk; and when the Benei Moshe order was established, a branch of it bearing the name Lishkath Zerubbavel was organized in Pinsk, headed by the well-known Zionist Yehudah-Leib Berger. The two young Hovevei Tsion and maskilim,, Shaul Rabinowitsch and Yeshayahu Grossberg were the correspondents of Ha-Melits in Pinsk and published reports on all the activities of the Hibbath Tsion movement in their city.

The Pinsk members of Hibbath Tsion were the first to preach the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language and to press for the modernization of the heder (religious school). In 1890, only one year after the establishment of the Safah Berurah society (for the revival of spoken Hebrew), first in Jerusalem and then in Odessa, some of the young Jews of Pinsk set up a society with the same name and purpose in their city (S. M. Rabinowitsch, Y. H. Grossberg, M. Frankel, Y. Y. Volovelski, Y. L. Vintz, A. Rubinstein, A. Blumenkrantz, Y. Gottlieb, Y. Shulman, P. Bregman, E. D. Lifschitz, S. N. Gittelman, and others, including disciples of the well-known Pinsk talmudist and maskil, R. Tsevi Zilberman, "the melammed from Slutsk"). From the regulations of this society, and from the correspondence between its members and those of the Odessa society, we can gain some idea of the great difficulties encountered by them in their efforts to realize their aim. In 1895 members of Safah Berurah were prominent among the founders of the "modern heder", one of the first of its kind in any Jewish community. Amongst those that took an active part in this enterprise were Y. L. Berger and Chaim Weizmann, and the teachers S. Dubovski, S. N. Gittelman, A. A. Feinstein, and others. The Safah Berurah society and the "modern heder" in Pinsk played an important part in the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language and in the reform of Jewish education. Many of the society's members were contributors to the Hebrew press, writers of literary works, or authors of learned articles on the history of Pinsk. E. D. Lifschitz was the author of the poem "Numah Perah Beni Mahamadi" which became a popular lullaby.

From all that has been written above, it is clear that Herzl's political Zionism found a very ready response among the Jews of Pinsk. Chaim Weizmann's words about this period in his autobiography may serve as personal evidence: "It was here in Pinsk that I grew from boyhood into early manhood, here that I had my social and intellectual contacts, and here that I was inducted into the Zionist movement. Pinsk, then, set the double pattern of my life; it gave me my first bent towards science and it provided me with my first experiences in Zionism". The propagators of the Zionist idea in Pinsk in those days straddled two Jewish worlds, the old and the new. Products of the talmudic education, with a wide knowledge of the classical texts of Judaism, they were at the same time well versed in the modern "Juedische Wissenschaft" and in secular learning. This combination actually started in the days of Hibbath Tsion, but without the degree of national consciousness subsequently added to it by the Zionist movement. Interesting evidence of the social and cultural condition of Pinsk Zionism in those days can be found in the "Pinsker Stot-Luah", an annual published (1903-04) by the Agudath Tsion and devoted to contemporary problems, the Zionist movement, and local history. The Pinsk Zionist Organization was represented at the various Zionist Congresses, its three delegates to the First Congress being Berger, and Grigory and Shaul Lourié. The constitutive assembly of the Colonial Bank in Cologne (1898) was attended by Grigory Lourié and Moshe-Hayyim Eliasberg. Grigory Lourié was one of the Bank's first directors, and Pinsk was the center of the sales-propaganda for the Bank's shares in Russia. Amongst the active members of the Pinsk Zionist Organization mention should also be made of M. Lieberman, Dr. L. Hazanovitz, M. Y. Rom, S. M. Rabinowitsch, Y. Bregman (who attended the Helsingfors Convention), the Weizmann family, Y. A. Minkovitz, P. Mandelbaum, Mordekhai Eisenberg, Y. Volovelski (Karni), A. A. Feinstein, and others. Shimshon Rosenbaum, a native of Pinsk, used to travel from Minsk, where he lived, to his hometown to carry on Zionist propaganda there. In the course of time, other Zionist groups were formed in Pinsk -- the Mizrahi (headed by Rav Glicksberg, P. Eisenberg, and others), Poalei Tsion, whose members subsequently joined the S. S. (Socialist-Territorialist) Party, and the Ha-Tehiyah association (founded and led by Zelig Tir). Since the Zionist movement was banned in Russia, many of its members were under police surveillance and were forbidden to leave Pinsk. The more active among them were actually in danger of being deported to Siberia, a fate from which they were saved by the intervention of Dr. Tchlenow with the Russian authorities.

Side by side with the Zionist movement, which drew its strength mainly from the Jewish middle-class, there also came into being in Pinsk two anti-Zionist socialist parties -- the "Bund" and the S.S. – whose members were mainly workers. The aim of these parties was, in their own words, "to add our spark to the flame of the revolution in Russia ... and to liquidate the capitalist world". To this end, they waged a revolutionary economic and political struggle, under the slogans of a shorter working day, higher wages, and better social benefits. They strove, in writing and by word of mouth, to educate the workers to a complete change of mental attitude -- to convince them that they could dictate conditions to the employers. They were opposed to the traditional Jewish way of life and attacked the patriarchal rule of the gevirim (the rich members of the Community), who were at this time moving out of Pinsk. While the Zionist struggle in Pinsk was carried on surreptitiously, behind closed doors (the sale of shekels and of Colonial Bank shares) and through school education and propaganda sheets, the socialists fought their battle openly in the streets of the city, in the woods, and in the factories. They even formed their own pistol-carrying armed bands and did not recoil from acts of violence, such as throwing acid in policemen's faces or even murdering some of them, and robbing government institutions to finance their activities (the purchase of weapons, and the like). Since Pinsk had a large proletariat, its leaders (most of whom came from outside) were able to conduct a large-scale and bitter revolutionary struggle. The history of these socialist parties, especially of the "Bund", is a long series of public meetings, strikes, demonstrations, clashes with the police and, as already stated, murders (like that of the policeman Bundarzig). The authorities were obliged to bring Cossacks to Pinsk to crush these terrorist activities. The socialists' struggle now took on all the fervor of a holy war. They fought with selfless heroism, risking, and often sacrificing, their lives. Hershel Stern was murdered by a policeman, who was himself subsequently murdered by members of the "Bund". Dolinko was killed when a stick of dynamite exploded in his hand; and Moshe Kolodny was blown to pieces by a bomb that he was preparing for use, and his remains were buried by his comrades to the accompaniment of revolutionary songs and pistol-volleys. At the funeral of another Bundist, who had died a natural death, the dead man's comrades, standing round the open grave, shouted: "Long live political freedom! Down with the monarchy! ". These are some of the many examples of the courage displayed by the Pinsk socialists in those days. Many of them were condemned to long terms of imprisonment with forced labor, were deported to distant parts of Russia, or were placed under police surveillance, were beaten, and the like. Outstanding among the leaders of this struggle were Shlomke Zeleznikov, Moshe Adler, the shop-assistant Notke, Volodka (who was shot in the leg), and others. By their heroism, the young Pinsk workers of those days wrote a glorious page in the history of Jewish socialism, even though they were ultimately defeated in their struggle. At the height of the oppressive anti-Jewish measures and persecutions (1905), many of them emigrated to the U.S.A. These emigrants still remained loyal to their comrades in Pinsk, providing them with financial support year after year, especially during the hard times through which Pinsk passed after the First World War.

The ideological differences between the various socialist movements often led to quarrels between them, and even to acts of violence. Thus, for example, when the Jews of Pinsk were threatened with a pogrom, no fewer than three defense organizations sprang up in the city: that of the Benei Tsion, that of the "Bund", and that of the S. S. Party. The hostile relations between these rival parties are a sorry chapter in the history of the socialist movement in Pinsk.


In the First World War, the Jews of Pinsk shared the bitter fate of all the Jewish communities in places conquered by the Germans. Pinsk was particularly unfortunate because of its proximity to the battlefront, and suffered both from war-damage and from food-shortage. Nevertheless, even in these hard conditions, the Jews of Pinsk continued to maintain their communal institutions and to provide for the education of their youth.

In the violent years of political anarchy (1918 - 1920), when the Jews of Pinsk were at the mercy of their enemies to the east and west (the Polish pogrom of 1919, the excesses committed by the Balakhovich gangs), an outstanding example of utterly selfless and devoted public-service was set by one of the last survivors of the Hibbath Tsion period, a man who had gained many adherents for Zionism and the national revival in his city -- Avraham-Asher Feinstein. Throughout this desperate period, he did not spare himself in his efforts to protect the lives, honor and property of his fellow Jews, and his record of the time and of his endeavors is preserved in his historical volume; Megillath Puranuyoth (Tel Aviv 1929).


Pinsk's period of being under Polish rule (1920 - 1939) was marked by political oppression and by economic discrimination and struggle, side by side with flourishing cultural growth and activity. The various movements that had arisen amongst the Jews of Pinsk at the end of the previous century (Zionism in its various forms, the modern heder, the "Bund" and the other socialist parties, the Yiddish school, the trade unions) now consolidated their ideologies and laid down the lines of the policies to be followed by them: In external matters, they waged a united struggle against the anti-Semitic Polish regime and in defense of their own political and economic rights. But internally they were torn apart by bitter conflicts, particularly on cultural and educational issues. These conflicts sometimes assumed extreme forms, as in the "Bund's" opposition to the election of a communal Rav, the language dispute (Hebrew versus Yiddish), and the like. The schools established by these movements were a faithful reflection of the spiritual condition of Pinsk Jewry at this time. The orthodox Jews, as the conservative element, ensured the maintenance of the two Talmud Torah institutions -- the one in Pinsk, with 350 pupils, and the other in its own building in Karlin. Unlike their counterparts in Poland, these Talmud Torah schools included secular subjects in their syllabus, and amongst the members of their staffs were teachers who had received a general education and formal pedagogic training. The main patrons of these schools were the Rabbanim Ravinski and Rosenzweig, the Rebbe of Karlin R. Elimelekh Perlov, and the older members of the community Dov Levin; Alter Kolodny, Aharon Shub, Shemuel Tchernihov, Yeshayahu Gevirtsman, David Bonyuk, Moshe Bregman, and others. Also established in Pinsk at this time was the Beth Yosef yeshivah, which was transferred there from Russia. In its religious teaching and rules of conduct this yeshivah belonged to the Musar movement which had been till then unknown in Pinsk. It was under the direction of the Rabbis Shemuel Weintraub, Yosef Glick from Kazan, Yitshak Wolfshen from Shershov, and Yitshak {Itchele) Berlin from Karlin. It had three hundred pupils, who studied in very difficult conditions. Another educational institution established in Pinsk at this same time was a branch of the Tifereth Bahurim movement for religious evening classes. The presence of the Rebbe R. Elimelekh, the son of the Yenuka of Stolin, in Karlin, and of the Rebbe R. Yitshak-Aharon of Libeshei in Pinsk, brought about a hasidic revival in the city, albeit limited to their own narrow circle.

The Zionist movement developed a network of educational institutions for the propagation of Zionism and Jewish national consciousness. The MidrashahTarbuth primary school in Pinsk, and later in Karlin, was a continuation of the “modern heder" and prepared its pupils for the Tarbuth high school. The girls' school founded at the beginning of the present century by the General Zionists, and called first the Leah Feigeles Shule and subsequently Tel Hai, was later taken over by members of the Tseirei Tsion movement. It educated its pupils in the spirit of the Zionist Labor Parties as did the "Y. H. Brenner" primary school. The technical school was already under Zionist direction in the days before the First World War and its principal, Yaakov Ehrlich, emigrated with his family to Palestine before the War. After the War, the school was reopened under the joint direction of the General Zionists, Tseirei Tsion, and leading industrialists and businessmen. The pride of the Pinsk Jewish educational system was an institution which gained itself a fine reputation throughout Poland -- the Tarbuth high school founded by its energetic and devoted first principal, Avraham Mazor, whose work was faithfully carried on and developed by his successor David Alper (neither of them was a native of Pinsk). The school's teachers gave their hundreds of pupils a general education which equipped them to continue their studies at university level and imbued them with the spirit of Zionism and Jewish nationalism. A large number of these pupils realized their parents' ambition and put their teachers' instruction into practice by emigrating to Palestine and playing their part in the rebuilding of the Jewish homeland. The governing bodies of these Zionist educational institutions were composed of middle-class members of the Zionist organization, such as A. A. Feinstein, S. N. Gittelman, M. Basevich, Y. Bregman, A. H. Neiman, Y. Shkolnik, A. Papish, M. Y. and Z. Segalevitz, M. Eisenberg, A. Stillerman, F. Ginsburg, A. Bodankin, Y. Pekatz, Y. Eliasberg, Dr. E. Bregman (in his capacity as Deputy Mayor), A. Weiner (Yisraeli) , H. Pinski, B. Katzman, J. Briski, Engineer Reich, P. Borushok, and many others. The women of Pinsk were spurred on to form their own organization by the difficult social conditions in the town after the First World War and the Balakhovich pogroms, and also by the fund-raising activities for the upbuilding of Palestine and the practical realization of Zionist aims after the Balfour Declaration. They founded a WIZO branch in the town, which was very successful in the fields of social work and education, as well as in fund-raising. The WIZO office was headed by the following ladies: R. Rabinowitsch, A. Burstein, S. Kahan, H. Budkovski, M. Rubin, R. Stillerman and others.

The workers' parties, which were opposed; to religious education and were fervent advocates of the use of Yiddish and of socialist indoctrination (especially the "Bund"), set up their own educational institutions, in which the language of instruction was Yiddish: an orphans' home, and a primary school bearing the name of M. Gleiberman which was outstanding amongst Pinsk schools for its teaching standards and cultural attainments. It had more than 250 pupils, mostly workers' children, and was supported by the ZYSHO (Zentrale Yiddische Schulorganizatsye). There was also a club for adults called “Arbeiter Winkel” and a youth organization called “Zukunft”. The left wing of Poalei Tsion opened two primary schools, and also evening classes. These various institutions were directed by a joint board of intellectuals and workers: Leizer Levin, A. Y. Shlakman, Temchin, Motel Fishko, H. K. Busel (of the left-wing of Poalei Tsion), and others.

Many Jewish parents sent their sons and daughters to study at the "Chechik high school" where, though it was Jewish owned and under Jewish direction, the language of instruction was Polish and the pupils received a government matriculation certificate. The syllabus, however, included Jewish history. Although there were assimilationist Jews from Galicia and Poland on the teaching staff, the Jewish atmosphere in the pupils' homes and elsewhere outside the school (the Jewish political movements) preserved the pupils' national consciousness. Just as the "modern heder" proved itself stronger than the Pinsk "Realschule" in the time of Russian rule, so in the Polish period the idea of the Jewish national revival was powerful enough to prevent assimilationist tendencies from having any adverse effect on the Jewish consciousness of the younger generation.


We are now nearing the end of the history of the Pinsk Jewish Community. In writing these pages, I have been aided by the thorough and comprehensive researches included in this volume. My aim in this Introduction has been to evaluate, in the light of all the extant material, the various elements and factors of which the history of the Pinsk community was composed, and to reflect the various aspects of this history.

In the Jewish social spectrum of the Pinsk and Karlin communities in the last phase of their existence we thus find, at one extreme, the Zionist Haluts movement which established in Palestine "the settlement in memory of the Pinsk martyrs”, and at the other extreme, a group of assimilationist Jews who came to Pinsk from the outside – teachers, lawyers, doctors, and government officials, who were remote from Judaism and who aspired to become part of the Polish people. This period came to an end when Pinsk was occupied by the Russian communists, who put an end to all Jewish activity in the city (1939 – 1941). They were followed by the Nazis, who exterminated the Jews of Pinsk, destroyed the Jewish cemeteries, and smashed to pieces the memorials of centuries of Jewish Life.

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