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The history of the Jewish community of the town of Slutsk in the XIX century.

(an essay by Sergey Rybchenok, Andrey Levchik and Oleg Perzashkevich)

Presented by Oleg Perzashkevich of the Minsk Historical Genealogy Group to the Belarus SIG for use on the SIG webpage

Related sites: Slutsk school records

A street map of Slutsk

(Click to enlarge)

The main idea of this research is to select and to group materials on Jewish religious and educational institutions, both state and private, of the town of Slutsk for the 2nd half of the XIX century. Except for the probable historical significance, such information could be used also for the purposes of genealogy, and this is why we do put here as much names, as we were able to found. Our sources were the documents, being stored at the National Historical Archive of Belarus in Minsk, at the National Library of the Republic of Belarus and in. Also, some records from the St. Petersburg State Historical Archive and the known researches on the same subject were taken into account.

Slutsk was mentioned in local chronicles in 1116. After the decay of the Ancient Russian State (Kiev Russia) in XII century, the town became the centre of local duchy. Since the late XIII century Slutsk Duchy occurred in the Great Lithuanian Princedom. Since 1395 Slutsk Duchy was a possession of Olelkovich Duke family, who were a brunch of the Great Prince Ghedeminís dynasty. Dukes Olelkoviches fortified and enlarged the town considerably enough, and, as being strong adherents of the Orthodoxy, founded and built several Orthodox churches and monasteries there. In early XVI century Slutsk warded of few attacks of Crimean Tatars.

Jews were mentioned in Slutsk for the first time in 1583, and that thing was related probably to their presence at local fairs. In 1617 the last representative of Olelkovich family Princess Sofia bequeathed the city of Slutsk to her husband Yanush Radzivill, who, probably, was the first, who permitted Jews to reside there. In its beginning, according to the judgement of Lithuanian Vaad for 1623, the local community was under the sovereignty of Brest Kahal. Radzivills provided the city with the Magdeburg Law, established annual fairs, strengthened the garrison of local castle (thanks to those efforts Slutsk was able to ward off the besiege of Russian troops in 1655). After the period of wars of local magnates between themselves (so called ìbloody floodî) Slutsk became one of the most important trading centres of the Great Lithuanian Princedom. Radzivills, who possesses the city until 1832, and Neiburg Princesses, who possessed Slutsk temporally in 1695 - 1744, did all their best to assist the economic growth of the city, the development of trade and crafts, and that was why they treated favourably to settlement of Lutherans and Jews there, provided them with various privileges. Certainly, such things often provoked a counteraction of local Orthodox activists, mostly because of their own economical interest.

In 1691 the Vaad, considering the large number of members in the community and the availability of many connoisseurs of Torah and Talmud there, put Slutsk in the number of main communities. After it the city representative participated in the Vaad congresses with the right to vote, if the cases of all the Lithuanian Jews were discussed. It was the only once, when the Vaad congress took place in the very Slutsk ó in 1761.

Slutsk Kahal power was limited with small enough region: we can just mention two big enough shtetles: Kopyl, where a famous fair took place in XVII - XVIII centuries, and Glusk. In 1766 there were 1577 Jews in Slutsk Kahal. Unfortunately, we were not able to find any record about the number of praying schools for that time.

After Rech Pospolitaya (Polish - Lithuanian Federal State) had been partitioned for the second time in 1793, Slutsk occurred in Russia and was included into Nesvizh District, but in 1795 it became the centre of the District, so it was until 1917. In 1832 Slutsk, as a dowry of Sofia Radzivill, was got by her husband Duke Wittgenstein, who possessed it until 1846, when the city was bought by the State Treasury for 342,821 roubles.

In Rech Pospolitaya, where Jews had got the absolute religious autonomy, the authorities were interested a little about where and how many synagogues, praying houses and kheders were active. But after that territory occurred in Russian Empire with its centralised religious system and bureaucracy, the situation was changed absolutely. As soon as two years after Slutsk was attached, during the 5th ordinary revision of population, all the Jews were to be registered and put under control. So, 9 merchant households (37 men and 42 women) and 280 petty-bourgeois ones (931 men and 1121 women) were registered in Slutsk in 1795, including 87 students of craftsmen, i. e. 2131 Jewish persons, and 4 praying schools. According to the ìJewish Encyclopaediaî, published in Russian by Broghaus and Efron in the early XX century, by 1800 there were 2228 citizens in Slutsk, including 3 Christian and 47 Jewish merchants, and 641 Christian and 1537 Jewish petty-bourgeoisie; so, Jews made over 70% of total population of the city. In 1808 there were already 1577 just male members of Slutsk Kahal, and those increase was connected to the eviction of Jews from local villages, what had been recently begun, but, unfortunately, we did not find anything about the number of Jewish praying schools.

We have found such information only for 1836, because that time the Emperorís Decree on Jews for April 13, 1835 had been published. That document established the following order of the foundation of Jewish praying schools: it must had been founded only after special permission of the Government and in the definite proportion ó every 30 households were able to found 1 praying school, every 80 households ó 1 synagogue. So, in 1836 in Slutsk there were 1 synagogue and 9 praying schools, 7 of them were in School yard or so called ìShkolishcheî1 , and in 1841 ó 1 synagogue and 8 praying schools, which had united 572 Jewish households (probably, after the 8th ordinary revision of population for 1834). Since September 11, 1835, after the previous Slutsk rabbi had died, Isroel son of Nesanel Vulfson became the rabbi. There is some survived information about Jewish praying schools of that time, that seems us to be interesting.

It was the school of Iserlis (or Iserlin), that was one of the most famous ones in Slutsk. Iserlis family can be considered as one of the most famous and wealthy in the city. Its founder was Abram, who was born c. 1740. One of his sons, Yevna, became a merchant, first of the 2nd (about 1811), than of the 1st guild (Yevna lived in 1771 - c. 1850). He kept big business in the field of timber trade business. He, probably, bought timber from Dukes Radzivills and Dukes Wittgensteins, transported it in rafts by Neman river abroad to Prussian Koenigsberg. One can estimate Yevnaís wealth with the help of the real estate valuation sheet on Slutsk for 1848. He possessed a wooden house with extensions in his own land in Zamkovaya st., 2-floors stone house with a store in Kopylskaya st. and 2 wooden stores in the Market place, all those total estimation made 4,833 roubles, the net income from those made up to 260 roubles annually. Yevnaís direct descendants left Slutsk for Koenigsberg, but some of poorer siblings stayed in Slutsk.

Yevna was not only one of the most influential in the community, but very religious also. In 1820, at his own expense, he built a wooden praying school for the community needs on his own land in Zamkovaya st., which, unfortunately, was burnt away by the fire of 1827. That was why Yevna built the new one of stone there, and again at his own expense. But that initiative was not totally supported by Slutsk community for some reason, especially after the administration of Kahal had ordered to destroy 2 school extensions. Jewish man Perlis (or Perlin) informed Minsk Provincial Administration on as if illegal collection of funds, made by the Kahal administration and Iserlis, for that purpose. The trial took few years and only in the end of 1835 the school opening was permitted. In 1838 the elections of the community administration took place in Iserlis school, and the following persons were elected: the scholar-teacher Yankel son of Shmoyla Kagna, the monitor (gabe) Shakna son of Iosel Livshits, the treasurer (neiman) Itska son of Abram Nekrich.

In the same 1838 the administration of another praying school, that was in Novomeyskaya st. in the very bad condition, particularly the scholar-teacher Nokhim son of Volf Bord(z) and the monitor (gabe) Idel son of Shender Finkelshteyn, petitioned for to allow their community to build a new school of stone instead for the old wooden one. Local authorities measured its distance from the school to the close situated St. George Church for a long time to make everything correspondent to the current law, found 42,5 m quite enough, and after long correspondence permitted the school reconstruction, but with absolute construction of the fence around it.

Some time earlier, in 1835, the authorities were asked by the Jews, who lived in the suburb of Ostrov. The latter claimed to the wrong actions of the town mayor Stakhovsky, who had closed the school, which had existed there ìimmemorial since timesî. However, on March 26, 1836 the city possessorís administration (that time Slutsk was a private possession and belonged to Duke Wittgenstein), by its officer Bulgarin, confirmed its permission, and Stakhovsky had to concede.

In 1853 there was a new wave of collection of information about Jewish praying institutions and their officials, that give us chance to observe the situation for the mid. XIX century. According to the revision of Jewish population for 1847 there were 5897 people in Slutsk. And there were 1 synagogue and 10 praying houses, 6 of them were in Shkolishche. Here is a list of those religious institutions:

1) the Synagogue in Shkolishche, distance to the closest church - 326 m, number of parishioners: 600 men and 500 women, state rabbi since 1847 ó Leyba GOLDGANT;

2) Teplaya school at the synagogue, distance to the closest church - 326 m, number of parishioners: 60 men, the scholar-teacher Yankel seliber, the treasurer (neiman) Shlema zakin, the monitor (gabe) Yankel kanter (after his death Dovid Volfson);

3) Klauz, distance to the closest church - 341 m, number of parishioners: 250 men, the scholar-teacher Yellya soloveychik (if he is absent, so Shakhna son of Berko Livshits), the treasurer (neiman) Yevel frumkin (if he is absent, so Movsha sh(t)eyn), the monitor (gabe) Volf ratner;

4) Besgamedres, distance to the closest church - 336,5 m, number of parishioners: 300 men and 300 women, the scholar-teacher Nakhman lyanda (after his death Iosel nikelburg), the treasurer (neiman) Mordukh iserlin, the monitor (gabe) Leyzer seglin (after his death Zelik tsyrkel);

5) Portnyazheskaya (tailor) school, distance to the closest church - 335,5 m, number of parishioners: 100 men and 195 women, the scholar-teacher Zelik gutzayt, the treasurer (neiman) Rafal tults (after his death Leyba laznik), the monitor (gabe) Mordukh Brodzsky (if he is absent, so Movsha mashalok);

6) Tokarskaya (tuner) school, distance to the closest church - 343 m, number of parishioners: 50 men, the scholar-teacher Ghirsh kheyfets, the treasurer (neiman) Shlyema lifrak (after his death Borukh utsekha), the monitor (gabe) Govsey dolgov (after his death Benyamin kozberg);

7) the school of the merchant of the 1st guild Iserlin, distance to the closest church - 160 m, number of parishioners: 100 men and 150 women, that school was opened according to the permission of Minsk Provincial Administration for November 6, 1835, the scholar-teacher Yankel kagna(after his death Khaym troychansky), the treasurer (neiman) Itsko nekrich, the monitor (gabe) Shakhna lifshits (if he is absent, so Ayzik temchin);

8) the school in Vilenskaya st., distance to the closest church - 106,5 m, number of parishioners: 70 men and 80 women, the scholar-teacher Iser lyanda (after his death Abram neyman), the treasurer (neiman) Tsalko Lyanda (after his death Abram Rakov), the monitor (gabe) Leyba zakin;

9) the school in the suburb of Vygoda, distance to the closest church - 724 m, number of parishioners: 50 men and 100 women, the scholar-teacher Elya shafira (after his death Movsha vygodzsky), the treasurer (neiman) Abram karmin, the monitor (gabe) Elya karmin;

10) the school in Novomeyskaya st., distance to the closest church - 104 m, number of parishioners: 160 men and 300 women, the scholar-teacher Nokhim bord, the treasurer (neiman) Benyamin tsytrin (after his death Leyba nusbaum), the monitor (gabe) Idel finkelshteyn;

11) the school in the suburb of Ostrov, distance to the closest church - 213 m, number of parishioners: 60 men and 100 women, that school was opened according to the permission of Minsk Provincial Administration for December 10, 1836, the scholar-teacher Osher perlin (after his death Benyamin tsyrkel), the treasurer (neiman) Nokhim pilshchik (after his death Khaym buya), the monitor (gabe) Ellya krakovsky (after his death Sholom goldsberg).

As it was reported in the note to the document, ìthose officers got no salary or any income from the parishioners, but the heating, illumination and servants at those schools are paid by voluntary donationsî, there was no information about any permission to open those schools, except for pp. 7 and 11, their time of construction was shown as ìbefore the Emperorís Decreeî, i. e. before 1835. The administration of all those institutions were authorised by the decree of Minsk Provincial Administration for April 26, 1853, # 3833.

Next proper information was taken by us from an additional revision of male population, took place in 1874. Those records showed no praying schools, but kheders and State owned Jewish schools2, which were opened in 1850s as one of the measures of state reformation Jewish educational system. So, we can get some new essential facts.

In 1874 there were 1 State owned Jewish school and 20 kheders. The State owned school was opened in 1853. It was situated at the house, rented from Leyba Shafira (we do not know its exact address), the annual rent price was 230 roubles. In 1874 1216 roubles were assigned for the maintenance of the school, taken from the fund of Jewish candle tax. All the teachers were of Jewish religion. The school supervisor and the teacher of Russian language was Iosef son of Samuel GLIKMAN, the graduate of the former Moghilev State owned Jewish school of the 2nd class, he started to work on January 17, 1857, took that position on November 9, 1873, his salary was 250 roubles plus an apartment for free.

Other teachers:

arithmetic: KOYRANSKY Moisey son of Mikhel, the graduate of the former Vilno State owned Rabbinical school, he received a qualification of the teacher of the state owned Jewish school of the 1st class, took that position on December 20, 1871, his salary was 225 roubles;

Jewish subjects: KULKES Mendel son of Shmuyla, had got home education, took that position on April 20, 1854, his salary was 225 roubles;

calligraphy: granat Movsha son of Yankel, had got home education, took that position on September 6, 1872, his salary was 50 roubles plus 50 roubles in addition.

The school had two forms (1st form - 48 pupils, 2nd form - 11 ones) plus two streams (1st stream - 21 pupils, 2nd - 15 ones) in addition, so 95 pupils in total. Their average ages were 10-14 years old, they were the local petty-bourgeoisie children mostly. There were 16 non-Slutsk citizens from Slutsk District shtetles, but also from Lida, Moghilev, Gorval and Minsk.

Kheders .

1) Melamed Brodotsky Iosel son of Leyba, his kheder was in Shkolishche, in the own house, 10 pupils in the age of 4,5 - 7 years old.

2) Melamed Goltsberg Ghirsh son of Sholom, his kheder was on the Highway, at the house of Vulf GRING(A)AUYZ, 6 pupils in the age of 8 - 12.

3) Melamed Iofa Yudel son of Volf, his kheder was in Kopylskaya st., at the house of Yankel Galenson, 5 pupils in the age of 8 - 12.

4) Melamed Karon Peysah son of Ezra, his kheder was on the Highway, at the house of Iosel Brodsky, 10 pupils in the age of 5 - 8.

5) Melamed KLEYN Kalman son of Berka, his kheder was in Vilenskaya st., at the house of Govsey ZAKIN, 6 pupils in the age of 6 - 12.

6) Melamed LOBShTEYN Abram son of Movsha, his kheder was in Shkolishche, in the own house, 10 pupils in the age of 8 - 15 years.

7) Melamed maslyansky Aron, his kheder was in Vilenskaya st., at the house of Tsalka lyanda, 5 pupils in the age of 9 - 13.

8) Melamed mirsky Borukh son of Yevel, his kheder was in the Market place, at the house of Abram gubar, 10 pupils in the age of 7 - 10.

9) Melamed MLOTOK Gdaliya son of Movsha, his kheder was in the Market place, at the house of Kushel ShWARTS, 6 pupils in the age of 8 - 12.

10) Melamed naymark Yankel son of Leyba, his kheder was in the Market place, at the house of Nakhmon grayev, 10 pupils in the age of 7 - 11.

11) Melamed Polyak Ghirsh son of Nokhim, his kheder was in the Highway, at the house of Khaym Bokshitsky, 10 pupils in the age of 6 - 10.

12) Melamed rabinovich Nokhim son of Nota, his kheder was in the Market Place, at the house of Shlema kopshteyn, 9 pupils in the age of 6 - 12.

13) Melamed Rachin Ghirsh-David son of Yelya, his kheder was in the Highway, at the house of Itska son of Benyamin mekhanik, 8 pupils in the age of 6 - 9.

14) Melamed Rep Gdalya son of Meyer, his kheder was in Mostovaya st., at the house of Movsha EPShTEYN, 10 pupils in the age of 6 - 9.

15) Melamed rivin Shmuyla son of Abram, his kheder was in Shkolishche, at the house of Itska denburg, 10 pupils in the age of 6 - 12.

16) Melamed tokar Movsha son of Leyb, his kheder was in Shkolishche, at the house of Aron son of Movsha shutkin, 5 pupils in the age of 10 - 16.

17) Melamed fortman Shimon son of Iosel, his kheder was in the Market Place, at the house of Movsha lifrak, 11 pupils in the age of 8 - 11.

18) Melamed shapiro Khaym son of Beniaminov (he is the rabbi of Slutsk), his kheder was in Mostovaya st., at the house of Sholom kaminsky, 6 pupils in the age of 8 - 10.

19) Melamed shostak Elkona son of Volf, his kheder was in Vilenskaya st., at the house of David postov, 10 pupils in the age of 5 - 7.

20) Melamed emanuil Osher son of Shmuil, his kheder was in Vilenskaya st., at the house of Mordukh finkelshteyn, 10 pupils in the age of 8 - 11.

So, 167 children at the ages of 4 - 16 years old studied in Slutsk kheders in 1874. Mostly they were the children of Slutsk petty-bourgeoisie, but their were 23 pupils from other settlements: Bykhov, Glusk, Kossovo, Minsk, Mozyr, Novogrudok, Slonim and some others. To be noticed, that almost all the kheders were situated in the central part of the city: 4 ones in Shkolishche, 4 ones in Vilenskaya st., 4 ones in the Brest-Moscow Highway and 5 in the Market place. To end with the information for 1874 weíd like to mention: the public Jewish hospital, that was situated in the Shosseyny Lane; there were only 2 patients there, Rakhmiel ISERLIN (b. 1796), who was a nephew of the mentioned merchant Yevna ISERLIN, was one of them; and a public house (probably, a shelter). There is a references, that there was a Yeshibot in Slutsk in Melnitskaya st. in XIX century, but we did not find anything about it in official documents.

In 1879 the authorities made one more revision of the number of Jews and their religious institutions. At this time the information was planned to publish in the reference book about non-Orthodox beliefs of Russian Empire. This information forms an essential addition to the previous one. In 1879 in Slutsk there were:

- 1 synagogue;

- 14 praying houses;

- 9990 Jewish people.

Sholomon son of Vulf SHAPIRA was the Slutsk District rabbi. He was confirmed at that position on November 17, 1860.

In the end of XIX century Slutsk total population made 14180 people, including 6764 men and 7416 women. Also, there were:

- 1 Orthodox monastery,

- 8 Orthodox churches,

- 1 Roman Catholic church;

- 1 Lutheran church;

- 2 synagogues;

- several Jewish praying houses;

- a gymnasium for boys;

- an Orthodox religious high school;

- a public school with a stream for women;

- the Talmud-Torah;

- several kheders;

- 4-years private high school for girls;

- several private schools;

- several charitable societies;

- town hospital;

- a hospital of the town jail;

- an ambulatory at the Orthodox religious high school;

- 2 flour mills;

- a mead factory;

- a beer factory.

The last information about Jewish religious institutions, we have found, is the one for 1890. Unfortunately, there are no names there. Moreover, they are different from some of the information, shown above, so, weíd like just to cite it as it is indicated in the documents.

In 1890 there were 1 synagogue and 15 praying schools in Slutsk in total. Here are them:

1) a synagogue;

2) the stone praying school of ìKlauzî, founded officially on September 30, 1868;

3) the praying school of ìKarnaimî, founded officially on July 30, 1870;

4) the praying school of tailors, founded officially on August 5, 1870;

5) the praying school of ìBoys-Gamedreshî;

6) the praying school of the merchant of Iserlin;

7) the praying school of masters;

8) the praying school of fir-makers;

9) the praying school in Sadovaya st.;

10) the stone praying school in Mostovaya st.;

11) the praying school in Vygoda suburb;

12) the praying school in the suburb of Ostrov;

13) the praying school behind the Kopyl gates;

14) the praying school of smiths in Luteranskaya st.;

15) the old praying school in Vilenskaya st.;

16) the praying school of ìYeshibotî in Shkolishche.

Also, there was one more well known institution in Slutsk — the kheder of Iser-Zalman Meltser, as Moshe Faynshteyn, a famous Luban rabbi, had studied there. It was founded, probably, in the very end XIX - early XX century, but we have nothing more about it.

Copyright © Sergey Rybchenok, Andrey Levchik and Oleg Perzashkevich