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[Page 35]

Chapter 2

Short Overview of the History
of the Community in Poland, in General,
and the Community of Bialystok in Particular


א    A

The value of the community to Jews

Translated by David Horowitz-Larochette

The Polish community-organizations were at first established in the same towns as the local Christian inhabitants, the burghers, who used the so-called Magdeburg rights, which gave completely into the hands of their members the local trade and industry, without allowing any competition, especially from Jews. In this manner the Jews were forced to work out parallel tight juridical and economic privileges, an independent Jewish “Magdeburgia”, i.e. a community-order. But after that all the little shtetls, even where there were no Christian Magdeburg rights, strived to become an independent community, because only a community could give its members enough privileges to protect the Jewish trade and industry from the Christian competition and also guard their material interests from the competition of newly-arrived foreign Jewish merchants and craftsmen.

In this manner the Jewish inhabitants in all cities where the Christian population was older than the Jewish, had a way out to strengthen their juridical and economic position, to receive parallel privileges to the Magderburgers- through an independent community. Community-organization was the aspired dream of every smallest settlement, because the community itself gave enough rights, which were worth striving for.

Economically, the community protected the Jewish trade and industry from the Christian competitors' monopoly, and on the other hand also regulated the Jewish work and protected the material interests of its individuals from the newly-arrived foreign Jewish elements. In religious matters the community guaranteed the right to build Shuls [synagogues], study halls and cemeteries. As an independent organization, the community guaranteed for its members the judgement in all their own processes between themselves through their own rabbinical court: the same organization also provided for the poor and sick (mostly through associations), for the founding of Hadorim [boys' pre-schools], Talmud-Torahs [boys' primary schools] and Yeshivos [men's secondary schools and colleges], also they divided among all the members the general royal and Jewish taxes[1] .

The community's activity encompassed tasks like these: a.) the financial administration; b.) the courts; c.) the religious educators. The community represented the interests of the whole Jewish population and was the agent between them and the government.

The vote to gather representatives from the community was given to all payers of the community taxes. Every community consisted only of two classes: payers and receivers. There was no middle-class. The elections were usually held every year on the first day of Chol HaMoed [“weekdays of the festival”] Pesach. The place of the election varied. According to the community's size, up to five parnosim [leaders] were usually elected, who were changed on a monthly basis. Each parnes was during his month the representative of the community and was called parnes-chodesh [leader (of the) month]. The leaders taking office gave a public oath that “By the knowledge [agreement] of God and by the knowledge of the community” they would strongly uphold all the community's regulations. There were also chosen between three to five Tovei HoYir [good (men of) the city] (they were, as it seems, interchangeable with the parnosim) and between five and fourteen “Kriei HoEdo” [appointed (ones from) the community] or “Kehila” [community], who were the staff. They also signed all their commitments to the public.

Apart from these three higher ranks of community leaders there were appointed also further commissions and sections, that the number of their members was greater or smaller according to the size of the community: accountants, from three to five members, who were a review and control commission; Gaboei Tzdokah G'dolah [Collectors of the Great Charity] or HaGaboim HaGdolim [The Great Collectors], who were in charge of charity, of the Chevre Kadisha [“Holy Society” who prepare corpses for burial], the poorhouse, the bathhouse and mikves [ritual bath], the funerals and the like; female collectors, between three to six women; collectors [of funds for] Talmud-Torah [boys' primary schools], collectors [of funds to pay] ransom [for the] imprisoned, “Shamoim” [appraisers] (this is the assessment- an evaluation-committee, that appraised the possessions of all the community members and assessed the amount of their taxes); delegated “Parnosei Hashuk” [chiefs of the marketplace], who supervised the correctness of weights and measures, the purity in the Jewish quarter, the kosherness of fodder, cheese and wine, and similar such commissions, as for the surveillance of morality and modesty, [monitoring] against luxury, bridal funds [for poor couples-to-be], finance commissions, workers' guilds, [and] building commissions.

All these commissions had staff and cost each community very much money. Usually the rabbi and the rabbinical court were reckoned the highest and first [most important] institution in the community. But it is proper to comment that, on average, a rabbi received rent in the large communities of the 17th and 18th centuries from eight to ten Polish gilden a week, apart from a free apartment and wages for the two sermons on Shabbos HaGodol [the Saturday before Passover] and Shabbos Teshuva [the Saturday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur], from two to five thaler [Polish silver coin] per sermon. In Vitebsk, for example, the rabbi received in the year 1738 five gilden a week and one thaler per sermon and it was more or less the same in all other large communities. The rabbi was chosen by the community with designated scholars from within the community. Apart from the rabbi and the judges there were also reckoned in the staff: the director of the Yeshiva, the shochet [slaughterer], cantors, preachers, shamoshim [Jewish equivalent of church-warden], the town scribe, the intercessor [diplomat], also the physician, the midwife, the optician etc.

In the community's budget were included all the royal and municipal taxes for all members of the community. The assessment-commission or the Shamoim [appraisers], whose members were forbidden to have relatives within the community, gave an estimate for every Jewish city dweller's royal and municipal taxes, and the community leaders had to be the first to pay their taxes. The non-payers were sanctioned with various penalties leading up to severe ex-communication. The assessment-commission had before [auditing] given an oath with Torah scrolls in their arms, that they would give concessions to no one except the poor. The estimate was given according to well-established norms, for example: a young couple dependent on their parents for room and board had to pay three years after their wedding two payments of 100 gilden each and one payment of jewelry; merchants who kept open shops payed 300 gilden a year, and those [businessmen] who traveled to Breslau, Gdansk (Danzig) and Frankfurt – 500 gilden. Anyone who wanted to open a shop, a workshop, build or buy a house, had to first receive a right of possession from the community for an appointed price; there were also specific fees for locking shops, also for turnover, wages, profits, weddings, titles, court rulings, [and] divorces. But all this couldn't cover all the community's necessities; from the second half of the 17th century a tax on kosher meat was introduced (the so-called “Groise Korobke” [Big Cow, from the Russian ęîðîâęà]), [also] on milk, bread, honey, mead, liquor etc. After everything the community [had to end up] borrowing money from the Christian clergymen to cover their budget.

To every community belonged all the small adjoining settlements, and thus each large community became a center for all the surrounding smaller communities. The larger communities were established earlier, because the immigration of Jews in Poland was as with the Germans, first in the larger cities and then in the smaller settlements; the larger communities remained the representatives before the government in financial and tax matters anyway. The agreement upon the boundaries of the aforesaid settlements was cause for great conflicts and friction between the larger communities and the [smaller] settlements, which with time became also large communities and separated from their metropolises and became independent. All these conflicts were handled by the high and mighty tribunals of the Polish-Lithuanian communities, which are known in history under the name “Vaad Arba Arotzos” [ Council of Four Lands]; they were actually the central organizations for the Polish communities from the year 1581 till 1764, for the Lithuanian communities- from the year 1623 till 1764. Until 1623 the representatives from Lithuania took part in the Polish council's sessions.

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ב    B

The beginning of the Jewish settlement of Bialystok

Translated by David Horowitz-Larochette

In regard to the first Jewish settlement of Bialystok it must be mentioned that, in the first times, when the burghers received the Magdeburg rights, they used them [the rights] to push the Jews out of the crown cities, who had till then in their hands the commerce and crafts and their protection was through the monarchy. In the middle-ages all the Jews in Europe were considered the king's private subjects; he used to take from them various taxes and in return was obliged to protect them. But now they became persecuted by the burghers.

Therefore, the Jews started from the second half of the 16th century and all throughout the 17th and 18th centuries to settle in noblemen's lands and emigrated from the crown cities and the noblemen's cities, because there they received all their rights from the noblemen, who were there the self-rulers and would give out diverse protection-laws, that became for them a source of income.

The Jews became the planters and spreaders of commerce and craftsmanship in the cities of the noblemen; they also became their money providers, middlemen and managers of their businesses and estates, their leases and contractors for their great wasteful luxury necessities, according to their aristocratic life-styles, as were led by the Sapiehas, Patatzkis, Krashinskys, Branickis etc.

Bialystok from the beginning was a noblemen's town. Definitely Jews settled there from the beginning on, but only a small group. The Jews of Bialystok only became a large group and an organized community in later times.

Jews were definitely settled in Bialystok, as is shown in the first document from the Tiktin [Tykocin] book of records in the year 1658, in the last year of Ostrowski's rule. As a small settlement they were at that time annexed to the Tiktin district community. From this we may infer that Jews, as a small group, settled in Bialystok maybe earlier, already in the Wiesiolowskis' times, when Jews were being attracted to Tiktin as well as to Bialystok so as to spread commerce and craftsmanship.

From the year 1659 and on, when Tiktin and Bialystok became the property of the hetman Stefan Czarniecki[2], and during the whole time of his heirs the Branickis till the year 1777, the settlement in Bialystok was annexed to the Tiktin district community.

Bialystok is also mentioned in connection to the Zabludow blood libel, which is tied up with the misunderstanding that a Jewish arrendator from the village Zverki in the year 1690 allegedly stabbed a six-year-old Christian boy [named] Gavrila and tortured him to death- in Bialystok[3]. But the community in Bialystok was one of the youngest in the region.

In the well-known conflict between Horodno [Grodno] and Tiktin concerning the hegemony over the Podlasie province communities, a conflict that continued during the whole 17th century, the Council of Four Lands in the year 1654 divided the hegemony between the Horodno and Tiktin communities, [and ruled] that in financial matters the small communities should be annexed to the Horodno community and on other matters- to the Tiktin community. Among the Podlasie province communities are mentioned today's small shtetls in the Bialystok region: Zabludow, Choroszcz, Horodok, but the name of a Bialystok community is not mentioned among them[4].

The community of Bialystok is first mentioned in historical sources in the first quarter of the 18th century[5], i.e. between 1700-1725. Then there was already a community in Bialystok, which received the right to build a large study-hall- this is the old study-hall in the synagogue courtyard, that carries on the pulpit the writing from the year 5478 [1718]; this is also confirmed by the study-hall ledger, as we shall see subsequently. The Jews were drawn to Bialystok by the Branickis, who gave them the same rights as all the non-Jewish burghers, protected them, among them especially the last Jan Klemens [Branicki]. Unable to fulfill his life's desire to become king of Poland, he returned to his town Bialystok and lived there a kingly life. As all aspirers to such a life he needed to receive it all on-the-spot, and this only the Jews could provide, he therefore gave them all the privileges, made them equal in their burgher rights to the non-Jewish burghers. He built [for] them their shops in the center of town, so as to concentrate all the necessary commodities in one place.

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ג    C

The oldest Jewish sources regarding
the Bialystok Jewish settlement and community

Translated by David Horowitz-Larochette

The oldest Jewish sources of the Bialystok Jewish settlement and community are found in the old communal book of records of Tiktin (Tykocin), which was the oldest Jewish communal district in the proximity of Bialystok. Tiktin was the representative in the Council of Four Lands of all the Jewish settlements and communities in its vicinity, which among them was reckoned the once small Jewish settlement in Bialystok; and therefore Bialystok is called in the old documents “Bialystok the adjacent to Tiktin”[6].

Tiktin community was founded in 1522, when the voivode [governor] of Trakai, the owner of Tiktin, Olbracht Gasztold allowed ten Jews from Horodno (Grodno) to settle in his town, where place was given them in Kaczorowo (behind the bridge) to build houses, to build a synagogue and to lay a cemetery behind the gardens. Permission was also given them to build shops near the magistracy and to trade freely with various benefits as they pleased, including [selling] salt and [alcoholic] beverages. For the first three years they were exempt from all taxes, and after this time the taxes reached one red gilden. The right was given to all Jews to settle in the town and also to leave it [freely] except for traitors to the crown. The Tiktin community had the right to evict from the Podlasie [province] villages all Jews who settled there without their permission. The judicial conflicts between a Jew with a Jew were given over to the rabbi and between a Jew and a non-Jew, if the Jew agreed- to a state official, or to the rabbi with the starost [Russian for town elder], if not- to the master of the town himself. According to the historical account, the Tiktin Jews soon in the first decades strongly developed thanks to their great businesses, locally and abroad, and thanks to their leases. Insofar as the King of Poland wrote to Gasztold, forbidding him to introduce new Jews [to the region], and that his Tiktin Jewish arrendators were forbidden from collecting from Horodno Jews and non-Jews any other payments apart from salt and wax. The Tiktin Jews underwent a great blood-libel in the last days of Olbracht's life (he died in 1539), but the Jews emerged clean from it.

In mid-16th century we know from a census that gives a clear picture regarding the number of Jewish home-owners from various Lithuanian towns. In the year 1552 there were in Brisk 25 Jewish houses, in Tiktin- 37, in Grodno (in the year 1566)- 60. In 1567 there was a great fire in Tiktin, the number of the burnt was more than 30. They were made exempt from tax-paying by royal decree.

As in other towns, in Tiktin there raged a financial war between the Christian burghers and the Jews concerning the permission to trade and dwelling rights. But there they came to an understanding under certain conditions. From 1646 there is a sort of document about a compromise agreement.

This is, in short, the history of the Tiktin community in the first century of its development, till it became in the 17th century a central community, that spread its dominion over many communities and settlements in its vicinity and became their representative in the Council of Lands, which was created in the year 1581 as the central unification of the autonomous Jewish communities and settlements. Tiktin had the right to collect and impose taxes on the annexed communities and settlements, also the juridical power of its Beis Din HaGodol [Great Tribunal] over all the major lawsuits in its settlements and communities, also the right not to permit appointing a rabbi without its approval.

In Podlasie there were three such central communities: Tiktin, Vengrov [Wegrow] and Tshechanovitze [Ciechanowiec]. The central communities were further divided into principal sub-communities. In the Tiktin central community there were four sub-communities: Tiktin, Semiatitch [Siemiatycze], Orle [Orlya] and Bodki [Bocki]. According to the 1765 census the number of Jews in Tiktin central community was 1694.

It is self-understood, that because of the income involved there had to be conflicts concerning the connection of the smaller communities and settlements to this or the other central community. Thus a conflict continued for decades between Grodno and Tiktin over the territories of the shtetls and settlements in today's Bialystok area, which lay between them. They came to an agreement over: Zabludow, Horodok, Choroszcz and afterwards also Vashlikove. The aforementioned conflicts were handled by the great rabbis and eventually by the Great tribunal of the Council of Four Lands[7].

The Bialystok Jewish settlement and community always belonged without any conflict to Tiktin and was annexed to it. Only from the year 1745, after Bialystok had become a city, and especially since Jan Klemens Branicki settled in Bialystok, and it became his residence-city and it developed and became a trade-city, did it become in itself an important community in the Tiktin district; it was not separated from Tiktin, because the same Branicki was also the master of Tiktin, and he did not wish to divide the community-organization. But nevertheless Tiktin gave it [to Bialystok] by its request in the year 1771 (5531) more than fifty settlements from its vicinity to take from them income under certain conditions, in keeping with an agreement that we discuss subsequently. In the year 5555 (1795), when the Prussian Jews-regulations divided the Jewish community-organization, the Tiktin community record book was closed anyway, because Tiktin had ceased to be a central community and the master of the surrounding settlements and communities.

The most important early Jewish source regarding the Bialystok community is indeed the Tiktin record book, in which are found the oldest documents referring to it. Form this record book we bring here chronologically[8] the following items (the Hebrew original- in the addendum: at the end of this volume):

A א. The first document is from the year 5421 (1661. According to that document the community of Tiktin gave over with the approval of Rabbi Moshe the right of possession to the lease of Bialystok and its two attached settlements Zvadi and Pravdo to Rabbi Yaakov son of Rabbi Moshe Segal and Reb Yitzchok son of Reb Moshe- to them and their children permanently.

In the year 5418 (1658) the aforementioned arrendators came to an agreement with the [Jewish] leaders of Tiktin to pay over 100 Polish gilden for the right of possession. The aforementioned 100 gilden were to be paid in four installments, but on Sunday, Cheshvan 17, 5421 [Oct.22,1660] the parties became divided over the lease; the arrendators claimed that in the record book it had been stated that a compromise had been made, that the arrendators would have to give the 100 gilden, even if they received the lease from the government for less money, but the leaders said, that there had been an agreement, that if they received the lease for less than eleven hundred gilden, as was in the year 5418 [1658], they would have to add [money]to [receive] the right of possession, according to the understanding of the leaders, with the rabbi's approval. But because the record book was lost in the year of the tempest [or “rage”][9], in the year 5420 (1660), it could not be verified. Therefore, they came to an agreement that the matter should be decided by ruling of the rabbinical court. Nevertheless, the arrendators are made from today exempt from the claim- “As proof and sign of truth I have written this Monday 27 Cheshvan 5421 [Nov.1,1660], Chaim son of my master my father his honor our teacher the rabbi Reb Shlomo HaLevi”.

B ב. The second document is from the year 5448 (1688), in that documented are quoted Mr. Aaron and Mr. Leib and the rabbi Reb Moshe, the son of Yitzchok Bialystoker, that they have today payed Mr. Yaakov the money for the right of possession for Bialystok and Zvod [the same Zvadi mentioned above] and they are exempt from him absolutely from today and forever, and from today on the rabbi Reb Yaakov, his representatives and his heirs have no argument or claim against the aforementioned brothers and their representatives, and all their deeds of property are null and void as a broken shard of pottery and are to be torn, because these rights have today been wholly liquidated by us, rabbinical court, fully and completely. This has been made today first day Elul 5448 [aug.27, 1688]. The words of Eliezer son of my master my father our teacher the rabbi A. [only initial] his memory to the life of the afterlife, residing in the holy community of Tiktin.

C ג. The third document is from the year 5458 (1698) from Monday eleven days [into] the month of Menachem Av [July 19]:

“We, the community, have sold to the dear and charming brothers, they are Mr. Aaron and the rabbi Reb Moshe, the son of the elderly Mr. Yitzchok, the right of possession of the town Bialystok, the village Zvod and the village Stary Shiltzi and the village Bialostotshek, and all belonging thereto will belong to the aforementioned brothers completely and permanently forever to them and to their children and grandchildren until the end of all generations, both in the business of renting the leases and in the business of zhelingnove and tshapove [both terms pertain to the sale of alcoholic beverages, as explained by the author in the footnote][10] and in all businesses. And no man in the world will have any right in the aforementioned rights of possession ever. And even when there is a change of government, or the lease will come to some uncircumcised person, who will hold it for many years, and even if a land-holder will come and save [retrieve] it from the new [owner], - they are to hold all these businesses, they and their children forever. And we, the community, are obliged to chase and push out anyone, who would wish to take possession of these referred to businesses, and the outcast (b'lial) [villain] shall be driven out with all sorts of persecutions in the world, so that they should remain- the said brothers- in their position. And all those court rulings which are in the hands of Reb Shabse son of Reb Yosef and Reb Leib son of Reb Yaakov and null and void from today, as a broken shard. They are obliged to give from today all the givings in the world [taxes?], such as are given by all the Jews living there. The principle of the matter is, that all the rights and all the empowerments in the world belong to the said brothers and their representatives from today and forever, without any speculation and doubt, that a mouth may utter or a heart think, and may this be commemorated and kept for many days. We have told the scribe: write this as a true reminder in the book of the community ledger; these are the words, that we have spoken and agreed in absolute agreement, today, the aforementioned day, Shabse son of Reb Boruch intercessor, Boruch son of our teacher the rabbi Reb Yosef Mordche from the house of Levi Axelrod trustee and intercessor at the holy community of Tiktin, and Israel son of my master my father the Hassid [righteous man, here not pertaining to Hassidism] his honor our teacher the rabbi Reb Yosef his memory to the life of the afterlife judge and scribe of the holy community of Tiktin.”

D ד. The fourth document is without a date[11], but it looks to be from the years 5424-5439 (1764-1779). In it is written that the elected leaders of Bialystok have come and claim that they can no longer suffice with two esrogim [citrons] for Sukkos [festival] as before; they need more, since the Tiktin community supplies all its settlements and communities with esrogim, which they bring from Breslau. The congregation claims they can no longer suffice with two esrogim for Sukkos but that the leaders of Bialystok should send in before the first day of the month Av 42 grosze [1 grosz=1/100 gilden] for six esrogim and another 13 grosze to pay the expenses of sending [a courier] to Breslau for the purchase of the esrogim with 6 lulovim [palm branches]and hadosim [myrtle]. Bialystok shall send a courier to Tiktin immediately at the end of Yom Kippur to wait for the esrogim from Breslau, because if the esrogim shall cost more, then for the money, that the courier shall give more than he received from the said leaders, they are obliged to give him for the rest [insufficient] of the money for every 5 grosze- 6 grosze, and if their money was more than it cost there, we are obliged to return all the left-over money completely. We make an exception for the leaders of Bialystok: after we receive the esrogim in our community, they shall receive before all settlements, that are annexed to us, and from the finest of the finest esrogim. So shall we conduct ourselves for generations upon generations till there stand up a priest [Biblical reference, i.e. till the 3rd temple is built in the future]. All this was made to the satisfaction of the gathered leaders at the assembly of the representatives of the eldest in the congregation here in our community, and God forbid we should change all these conditions. And to impose great penalties and to reinforce we sign…here holy community of Tiktin (Afterwards come three signatures which we can only partially read).

E ה. The fifth document from the year 5431 (1771) is the most important. It shows, that the Bialystok community had already then reached a high level on par with the Orle community.

The Tiktin community gave its consent to the proposal or demand of the representatives of the Bialystok community, that has decided to construct a synagogue this year, so “from today on shall belong to it the community of Choroszcz and all the villages annexed to it and also all the villages that are behind the river Narew, that are here enumerated, and the villages that are between the said villages and also the new villages, that [may] come up. And also the community of Horodok with all the villages, that belong to it, shall also belong from today to the Bialystok community and be annexed to it as regards all matters of law and custom both in financial law and in penal law and all juridical issues, that are in our district in the holy community of Orle, also all the settlements that belonged to us; nevertheless, shall the Bialystok community, the Choroszcz community and the Horodok community with their settlements belong to us and be annexed in all juridical matters (laws and rulings), as the other communities in our district. Only thus they shall be given over to us, that if the plaintiff or the defendant will want their judgement before us and they shall say:” We wish to go only to the Great Tribunal”, they leaders of Bialystok may not detain them with any force and artifice, which are only possible, but any who may wish to present their case before the Great Tribunal, must reimburse the other side 3 Polish gilden for expenses. This is an inviolable law, roughly similar to the regulations of Orle. Apart from this, Choroszcz is obliged to take [buy] from us one esrog [citron] every year; this is an inviolable law, and this is also a permanent law for the Bialystok community, that they may not appoint in their congregation more than three leaders through a ballot, as the custom is, and three collectors in the Chevre Kadisha [“Holy Society” who prepare corpses for burial] and three Gaboei Tzdokah G'dolah [Collectors of the Great Charity] and no more in any manner in the world; also no head or leader of their community may sign a certificate of craftsmanship (piska d'umnesa) or an excommunication document (piska d'shamso) or any document that requires the signature of a chaver [certified Talmudic scholar] son of a chaver , unless his father is actually a Moreinu [“our master”, a degree conferred by Talmudical academies], with no subterfuge in the world. And also if there a change in the situation, and the royal tax is reinstituted as once was, then the representatives of the holy community of Bialystok shall be obliged to turn to us for their assessment and that of their settlements, which are to us annexed. And regarding the poll tax, which according to the new constitution comes to the crown treasury also from the settlements behind the river and the count of souls by settlement of the commissioners [of] Zemski Belsk, that till now the poll tax was fixed according to our reckoning, shall from today on be our hands removed from the poll tax of the said settlements, and there shall be given to them enough registrars of the number of souls in the said settlements, correctly and truthfully, and they are obliged to collect the poll tax from them and bring in the money to the crown treasury, this is an inviolable law.

And whoever shall come with his case before us, as mentioned above, the leaders of the Bialystok community have the right to rule for the plaintiff and defendant only up to sixty Polish gilden, and from sixty gilden and upwards everyone must proceed to the Great Tribunal in Tiktin. Therewith they shall vote on all the details of the said document, that the leaders of the holy community of Bialystok are obliged to pay to the treasury of our congregation every year against a receipt from the heads and leaders, the opulent men of our community, only everyone together, and not a receipt for one or two, -a total of 160 Polish gilden. The payment shall be made between Pesach 5531 [1771] and Pesach 5532 [1772], and so also in the future, from Pesach to Pesach in all coming generations. And it has been expressly stated, that when the leaders of the holy community of Bialystok shall pay 500 Polish gilden according to the promissory document signed by the leaders of Bialystok, which is in our hands, then after paying the 500 Polish gilden they shall not be obliged in the future to pay, but 100 gilden each year, - a permanent law till the end of all generations. And for greater validity the delegates from the holy community of Bialystok took it upon themselves, who are here with us today his honor the opulent renowned rabbinical our master the Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf son of the deceased renowned our master the rabbi Reb David HaLevi of the family Horowitz, and his honor Abraham Dov son of the elderly rabbinical our master the…(?) Hillel with an oath and severe sworn statement with all the curses, damnations and excommunications, that are written in the Torah of Moses to confirm and strengthen all these details, that are in the document, that has been agreed upon between us to an eternal law, not to betray us and not to rebel against us and against our community record book, which is founded upon golden foundations.

All this have the delegates taken upon themselves and upon their children to uphold the said orders forever. Not only this alone: they have furthermore committed themselves, the aforementioned delegates, to receive before us the confirmation with a complete written document so as to reinforce and strengthen all, that has been agreed upon today between us; it shall remain guarded forever by our master the duke the righteous, the exalted field marshal, so as to be known to the last generation and understood to reinforce and confirm all the details of the said writ, permitting nothing to fall from it, and it shall be an everlasting law “ad amod Cohen leUrim” [Ezra 2:63, “Till there stood a priest with Urim”], for generations upon generations with complete firmness and strength –the doing of the community.

These are the words of all those who give their signature here, the holy community of Tiktin, on the day which “ki tov” is mentioned twice [reference to Genesis 1:9-13, on the third day, i.e. Tuesday, the words “that it was good” are written twice] and on the day tov [the numerical value of tov in gematria is 17, this was written on Nisan 17 (April 1st)], to the counting of the children of Israel [Hebrew calendar] tav kuf lamed aleph [value of 531, i.e. the year 5531 (1771), without the thousands].

Subsequently come the 14 signatures of the Tiktin leaders. Following [those] come the signatures of the Bialystok delegates, who took it upon themselves with an oath and sworn statement, as is mentioned above: the pronouncement of Ze'ev Wolf son of our teacher the rabbi Reb David HaLevi, righteous man of blessed memory, Horowitz, the pronouncement of Abraham Dov son of our teacher the rabbi Reb Zvi Hersch, may his creator protect and enliven him, the pronouncement of Israel son of our teacher the rabbi Reb Hillel, may his creator protect and enliven him.

Subsequently comes a list of 59 settlements, that the Tiktin community gave over to the Bialystok community, they shall be from today on annexed. From all the settlements the Jews were later expulsed from the beginning by the Prussians and ending with the Russian government. The said list is to be found in addendum 1 (at the end of the volume).

F ו. The last, the sixth document, is from the year 5553 (1793). It handles a conflict between Bialystok community and Choroszcz community, that their highest department was Tiktin as a district-community. In it tells the writer of the record book:

I have been ordered by the Parnes Chodesh [monthly leader], who has told to me by order of the congregation to write a commemoration of the ruling, which was between the leaders, the opulent delegates of the holy community of Bialystok and between the leaders of the holy community of Choroszcz, and this is the text letter by letter:

To our ruling have stood today the leaders, chosen from the opulent men of Bialystok and between the leaders and heads of the holy community of Choroszcz regarding the conflicts, that have between them arisen concerning the village Ihnatki (Ignatki), and have presented their opposing claims, and subsequently having reviewed all their rights, we have found, that the holy community of Bialystok has held the village in their ownership for many years, according to the tariff of the count of souls [census] and the payment of the poll tax for the village to the king's treasury, -therefore although we are not proficient in the king's laws according to the constitution…but since Bialystok community has held the said village for many years, therefore it emerges from us according to Jewish law and integrity, that the village Ihnatki is in possession of Bialystok for all things, as they have possessed, and no Jewish law may take it from them, only the Skarbowe [treasury in Polish] commission of “Rzeczpospolita” [official and traditional name of the Polish State]. All this has emerged from us, the leaders, nobles, opulent men together with his honor our master our teacher the rabbi the prodigy the great the renowned Av Beis Din [chief judge] and head of the yeshiva of our community and the district, to reinforce the doing of the congregation with integrity, today Sunday, Tishrei 2nd [Sep. 18] tav kuf nun gimel [553] without the thousands [i.e.5553 (1792)], here holy community of Tiktin, may God establish it, and as a proof we sign in this order: the pronouncement of… the pronouncement of… the pronouncement of…”[12].

The Tiktin book of records was closed in 5555 (the year 1795); this is the first year the Prussians annexed Bialystok department and divided with their “General-Judenreglament” [State rules concerning Jews] the community-organization in Podlasie province, which the Prussians called “South and East New Prussia”.

From then on Bialystok and the other communities in the Tiktin district became independent, and Bialystok later grew to become the largest and wealthiest community in the whole region owing to its geographical, economic and political situation. But Tiktin, that lacked this, remained a little poor shtetl till this day.

The documents from the Tiktin book of records which we have brought here, show the primitive stages of the Bialystok community, although in Branicki's time, as we have seen, already the Jewish town Bialystok was economically strongly developed, but in its community status it stood till the end of the community-organization on a dependent level, under the higher hegemony of the Tiktin district community.

We only find that, around 1764-1779 the Bialystok community was made distinct from the other settlements and communities only by that they were given the right to choose for themselves the finest esrogim [citrons], that were bought by the Tiktin community in Breslau for all its neighboring settlements. They had then, at a special meeting of the Tiktin community leaders, fulfilled their request to give them instead of two esrogim as earlier- six esrogim. But the rabbi of Tiktin was considered till the end the rabbi [and] chief judge of the whole district, his rabbinical court was the Great Tribunal over all the rabbinical courts in all the communities and settlements in the district. And even in the great agreement between Tiktin and Bialystok in the year 5531 (1771), in which Tiktin gave up 59 of its settlements to Bialystok, they placed limitations nevertheless, -that their court was not to rule in any case involving more than 60 Polish gilden.

At that time, in 1760, the rabbi Reb Yehoshua Shapiro, author of “Ponim Masbiros” [Welcoming Face], was already the rabbi of Bialystok and the nearby communities, who later became, in 1771, the rabbi of Schwerin and Chief Rabbi of the Grand duchy of Mecklenburg. And after him there were, one after another, great rabbis in Bialystok, nevertheless they were not allowed to rule in a case higher than 60 gilden; that belonged to the Great Tribunal in Tiktin. And it was also written that Bialystok may not choose for their leadership more than three men, and the same for the Chevre Kadisha and the Tzdokah HaG'dolah. They were also forbidden to sign on their own community documents, and also the Bialystok representatives had to present themselves in Tiktin for their tax assessment to be made, equal with all the small settlements and communities.

The miniscule perception of money matters in the Tiktin district was very characteristic. For 100 gilden a year Tiktin gave up in the year 1661 the lease of Bialystok, Zvod and Pravdo, and the sum was to be paid in four installments. In the business of the purchase of esrogim a deal was struck, that the Bialystok leaders had to pay their courier, who had to pay more than he had received from them, and add for the insufficient money for every five grosze a sixth.

The Bialystok community gave the Tiktin community a bill of exchange for their debts, which they owed them, and they proposed that when they had received the entire sum from Bialystok, that they would lessen the yearly 160 gilden agreed upon, and that they would from then on pay only 100 gilden a year – a large discount of 12%. But as we shall see further, we find the same poorly financial conceptions in the Bialystok record book from “the old study hall” in much later times.

During the whole of the Branickis rule they supported the community-organization [system]. Apart from that, Tiktin was also their property, after all. They were very much concerned that Tiktin should retain its hegemony, even when Bialystok became much larger and wealthier and therefore became their residence-city. To what extents Jan Klemens protected the said hegemony, is to be seen from that he approved and reinforced with his own signature the commitment that the Bialystok community had pledged themselves to before Tiktin.

[Page 50]

ד    D

Jews in Bialystok According to German Sources

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Jews in Bialystok were the preponderant force compared to the non-Jewish population both in number and in commerce and trade at the end of the 18th century,

[Page 51]

as A. K. Von Holshe, the German geographical researcher during the time of the rule of [Jan Klemens] Bronicki's widow in Bialystok, describes in his book of 1800.[13] The Prussians began to rule in the Bialystok Department during the annexation period. He complains about it and comments with bitterness about the Bialystok Department:

It is a mistake that the majority of the cities emphasized agricultural work and that, in general, there is no industry in the agrarian cities; the consequence of this is that the Jews who are not involved with any agricultural work are firmly established in all of the branches of nourishment and many citizens had to leave the cities for the suburbs, the villages and become farmers. The majority of cities have the right to brew and to have breweries, but it is rare to find a Christian citizen who is involved with this. This is an inheritance of the Jews along with the tavern. Christians are not involved with commerce at all and there are very few professionals among them. However, on the contrary, Jews are involved with various trades because trades do not require any great bodily exertion. An example of this is the city of Goniadz that according to the existing information was a blossoming city of over 600 citizens' houses 150 to 200 years ago and it had the privilege that a Jew was not permitted to live in it; it became a complete ruin through fires and plagues.[14] But recently, the citizens began to move back to it.

The basic concept of the new East Prussian Siemiatycze,[1*] wanting to increase their income and make their city into a large place of commerce, was to build a large city hall with more than 100 shops for their Jews.[15] The extent to which this basic concept did not achieve its purpose can be seen when Bialystok is compared with Suwalk. Bialystok, the majority of whose 3,370 residents were Jewish, had a city hall with 40 shops and 1,000 wagons would come to its weekly market[16] compared to Suwalk, which was free of Jews and had a large church with a large

[Page 52]

market, at which there was nothing to buy.[17] The villages around the Jewish cities also were brought to life.

Jews were very numerous and reached approximately a tenth of all of the residents. Jews in the Bialystok Department have over 100 synagogues.[18] The number of cities in the Bialystok Department is 86. Bialystok County has 10 cities, Bialystok, Choroszcz, Gradek, Janow, Jasinowka, Knyszyn, Adelsk, Sokolka, Zabludowe and Waszlikowke; of them five are royal and five noble (aristocratic). Bialystok is a noble state of Count Bronicki. Many royal cities had explicit limitations that no Jews could live in their own houses.[19]

Consequently, what Bobrowski says is entirely false, that until 1803 no Jews were found in many cities in the county that was called the Bialystok Department, but the Prussian government gave them the right to settle there and from then on their numbers grew a great deal. On the contrary, as we will further see, the Prussian government took strong means not to allow any new Jews to settle in the Bialystok Department because it had been fully settled earlier by Jews who were involved with commerce and trade. The Prussian government enacted laws whose purpose was to limit and reduce the number of Jews in the entire area.


  • History of the Jews in Russia, Moscow, 1914. “Mir” publishing house, p. 5. Return
  • The very same hero of the Polish-Swedish war had for the imaginary help, that the Jews allegedly gave the Swedes, took his revenge on them. Tens of communities were destroyed, hundreds of synagogues were demolished, thousands of Jews were murdered. The contemporary Jewish historians speak of Czarniecki the “Rotzeach” [murderer], “Talyon” [henchman]. In greater Poland he was mentioned with no less shudder and trembling as Khmelnytsky, the hero of the decree of 5408 [1648] (see A. Levine: “The Jewish Persecution in the Polish-Swedish War 1655-1659” and in “History of the Jews” [Russian], p.73-74). But in Tiktin the Jews settled already from the year 1522, and because he was their master, he protected them as did all noblemen for their Jews, and the same in Bialystok, and his heirs were actually the best of noblemen for the Jews. Return
  • In the year 1908 by decree of the Czarist monarchy the bones of the martyr Gavrila were transported from the Provoslavic monastery in Slutsk to the Provoslavic monastery in Suprasl, near Bialystok, with banners and great religious processions. Printed pages were handed out to the public, in which the “martyr” himself described in a poem, how Jews had tortured him. See about this also in Еврейская Старина [Jewish Antiquities], 1916. Return
  • See S. Dubnow's “Council of Four Lands Poland” and The Book of Jubilee by Nochum Sokolov, p.250-265. Return
  • In the work, Citations in Commentary 1, in the explanation to map 4. Return
  • About the history of Tiktin community see “Jewish-Russian Encyclopedia”, vol.15, p.69-70. But for detailed and precise [information] see: Israel Halperin in “View into Jewish Wisdom”, Budapest, 5691 [1931], year fifteen, fourth volume, p.287-298, and there all the Polish and Russian sources are brought. I give here only a short excerpt according to that which is necessary for my work in this [book]. Return
  • See Shimon Dubnow's essay “The Council of Four Lands and its relation to the communities” in The Book of Jubilee by Nochum Sokolov, Warsaw, 5664 [1903]. The work is based upon the record books of Tiktin and Zabludow, that the deceased Dr. Yosef Chazanowitz sent to him. Return
  • Israel Halperin has by my request copied the entire Tiktin record book. He gave over to me the copies of these same documents. He brings them in the addendum in the original, that is written in Hebrew in a bad style with mistakes. Return
  • What “ra'ash” [noise, commotion] there was, we cannot know. Return
  • Zhelingnove - permit to sell liquor in taverns. Tshapove- tax on wine shops. Return
  • By comparing the handwriting with that of other records, Israel Halperin has come to the conclusion they were written by the scribe Zvi Hersch Shamesh, he who wrote the record book in those years. Return
  • The ruling, that the Tiktin leaders and important men and the prodigy rabbi chief judge of Tiktin gave in the conflict between the two communities, and without the empowerment of the representatives of the communities, but as an older community with a great rabbi, because by then Bialystok already had their own rabbi chief judge and it was already an independent community, since 1777 (5537). Return
  • See the work cited in footnote 4 to the introduction of vol. 1, Berlin, 1800. Page 139. Return
  • Here is truly a plaintiff's acknowledgment that no city in the county at that time could exist without Jews. Return
  • Holshe, Writings, II, I, page 466. Return
  • Ibid, page 450. Return
  • Ibid, p. 433. Return
  • Ibid, 176. Return
  • Ibid, p. 234. Return
  •  :

    Translator's footnote

    1. During the First Partition of Poland, Siemiatycze was annexed by Prussia. Return

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