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[Page 53]

The Great Miracle of the Author of “Machane Yehuda”

by Mordkhai V. Bernshteyn (Buenos Aires)

Translated by Janie Respitz

The book “Machane Yehuda” was published by the Shuldberg Brothers Publishing House in Warsaw in 1893. This book contains novel interpretations of venerated texts and subtle argumentation over finer points of Jewish law in three tractates: Something Profane (Secular), the Talmudic tractate Betzah, and Sukkah. The author is listed as: the Rabbi, the Gaon (Genius), the sharpest and best known of his generation, righteous and innocent in his deeds, our esteemed teacher Yehuda from the holy community of Zhetl. This book was brought to publication by his grandson. He was his grandfather on his father's side. He tells us his maternal grandfather was the holy Reb Levi Yitzkhak of Berditchev. His name is Dovid son of Yehuda Epshteyn from Zhetl.

Who was the author and when did he live?

The publisher of this book tells us in the introduction that he could not innovate any novel interpretations of venerated texts.

We have learned that the grandfather of the author, Reb Yehuda Kharif (Harif) who died more than one hundred years ago left behind Chidushei Torah. His grandson decided to publish these innovations to honour the memory of his grandfather.

Recommendations in the front of the book were written by: the Rabbi from Slonim, who writes under the name Naum Yosef, and the Zhetl rabbi Reb Borukh Avrom.

Both recommendations ask for financial support to help publish these writings. We learn from the Zhetl rabbi that the person publishing this work is not a wealthy man and it is difficult for him to carry this burden…we also see in the introduction the author's name was Reb Yudl Kharif.

This book contains 32 columns, 64 pages, numbered with letters and numbers. On page 62, under the title “The Story of the Miracle” the author recounts the miracle which happened to him.

We see this took place in 1783 on the 24th of Cheshvan (October) when after midnight a guest, a servant of a neighbouring nobleman, wanted to kill Reb Yehuda, whom he had allowed to spend the night.

He shot him but did not kill him. Disregarding this great danger, the author recovered and lived another 15 years after this event.

From the thanks the author expresses to those who helped publish his book we learn details about his family.

His mother's name was Golda, a granddaughter of “Kdushat Levy”. When the book was published she was still alive.

His wife, Khana Miriam, the daughter of Moishe was also a granddaughter of the author. His son's name was Alter and his daughters were: Mushka, Stirke and Yehudis.

He thanks his brothers in law: Avrom Yegal from Piesk, Shimshon and his sister in law Stirke.

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Books by Zhetl Authors

Translated by Judy Montel

Title of the Book
Rabbi R Tzvi son of R Meir HaKohen Innovations of the Maharsha Hanau 1717
Rabbi R Aryeh Leib Segal Horovitz Marganita Taba (Good Pearls) 1755
Rabbi R Chaim Rappaport Responsa of our Rabbi Chayim Kohen on the Four Sections of the Shulchan Aruch Lemberg, 1861
Rabbi R Chaim Rappaport Zecher Chayim [Memory of Life] Lemberg, 1865
Rabbi R Baruch Bendit Ner Tamid [Eternal Candle] Nowy Dwor, 1788
Rabbi R Baruch Bendit Ner Elohim [Candle of God] Nowy Dwor, 1788
Rabbi R Yaakov Krantz Kol Yaakov [The Voice of Jacob] (on the 5 scrolls) Warsaw, 1819
Rabbi R Yaakov Krantz Emet LeYaakov [Truth to Jacob] (Commentary on the Passover Haggadah) Zolkiew, 1836
Rabbi R Yaakov Krantz Mishlei Yaakov [Proverbs of Jacob] 1862
Rabbi R Yaakov Krantz Kochav MiYaakov [A Star from Jacob] Warsaw, 1872
Rabbi R Yaakov Krantz Sefer HaMidot [Book of Qualities] 1862
Rabbi R Nissan Otot LeMoadim [Signs for Holidays] Grodno, 1798
Rabbi R Zeev Wolf HaLevi Emek Halacha [Valley of Jewish Law] Vilna, 1845
Rabbi R Yisrael Meir HaKohen Chafetz Chayim on the injunctions against slander Vilna, 1873
Rabbi R Yisrael Meir HaKohen Shmirat Halashon [Preserving the Tongue] essays and advice how to avoid negative speech Vilna, 1879
Rabbi R Yisrael Meir HaKohen Machaneh Yisrael [The Camp of Israel], Commandments with instructions for those serving in the army. Vilna, 1881
Rabbi R Yisrael Meir HaKohen Ahavat Chessed [Loving Kindness] Warsaw, 1888
Rabbi R Yisrael Meir HaKohen Mishna Brura Warsaw, 1892
Rabbi R Yisrael Meir HaKohen Collections of Rulings, Conclusions on the Matters in Seder Kodashim [the volumes of Talmud dealing with Purity and Impurity] Warsaw, 1899
Rabbi R Tzvi Hirsch HaKohen Chidushei Maharsha [Innovations of Maharsha]  
Rabbi R Baruch Avraham Mirski Shmateta DeRaba Jerusalem
Rabbi R Aryeh Yellin Yfat Eynayim [Of Beautiful Eyes] Vilna
Rabbi R Noach Rabinovitz Torah VeHaMitzvot [Torah and the Commandments] Vilna, 1864
Rabbi R Noach Rabinovitz Mei Noach [Waters of Noah] (Innovations on Jewish Law) Vilna, 1881
Rabbi R Noach Rabinovitz Toldot Noach [The History of Noah] (in three volumes) Vilna, 1884
Rabbi R Netanel Patzavski Meshivat Nefesh [Restores the Soul] Berditchev, 1891
Rabbi R Netanel Patzavski Emunat HaTchiya [Faith of Resurrection] Berditchev, 1893
Rabbi R Yehuda Charif Machaneh Yehuda Warsaw, 1893
R Asher Shushan Maaseh Shushan (Explanations and Commentaries on the Tanach) Warsaw, 1893
R Nathan Nette HaKohen Zeishtik Chidushei Torah [Innovations on the Torah] (Published by his son in America [in Yiddish)  
R Dov Moshe Namiat Divrei Moshe [Words of Moshe] Vilna, 1906
Rabbi R Zalmen Sorotzkin HaDeah VeHaDibbur [Knowledge and Speech] Part I Warsaw, 1937
Rabbi R Zalmen Sorotzkin HaDeah VeHaDibbur [Knowledge and Speech] Part II Jerusalem, 1948
Rabbi R Zalmen Sorotzkin Oznayim LaTorah [The Torah has Ears] Part I Jerusalem, 1951
Rabbi R Zalmen Sorotzkin Oznayim LaTorah [The Torah has Ears] Part II Jerusalem, 1953
Rabbi R Zalmen Sorotzkin MeOznayim LeMishpat [Scales for Justice] Jerusalem, 1955

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Articles About Zhetl in Encyclopedias


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Geographical and Statistical Dictionary
of the Russian Empire, year of 1865, p.267

Translated from Russian by Maria Krol

Zdzentsiol (Zdentsiol, Dzentsiol) a small state place of Grodno Governorate, Slonimsky Uyezd (subdivision), located 45 versts northwards from the county town, by the postal road to Vilna near Dzentsiolka river. In XVI century Ostrozhski dukes who owned the place built a fortified castle here. Later on it was owned by Radziwill family and then Saltana family. Number of residents - 602 people of both genders, 85 yards (homesteads), an orthodox church, a catholic chapel, a Jewish synagogue and 3 prayer schools. Weekly bazaars and twice-yearly fairs (on Yuriev day [St.George's Day] and Pentecost Day); in 1859 goods worth in total 2000 rub. were brought here, and sold for 1480 rub. in total.

(Balinsky, Staroz. Polsk., III, 648; Urban Settlements, part II, p.113; Bobrovsky, Grodno Governorate, part II, p.1,070, appendix, part II, p.158).


Materials for Geography and Statistics of Russia, p.1070.

Forty-five versts northwards from Slonim by postal road is located a small place named Zdentsiol, in which vicinities in several villages there live descendants from Prussian Bartians, who speak Lithuanian. Some people mistakenly believe them to be the remnants of Yotvingians. As is known, Bartians accepted by Traidenis (the Great Duke of Lithuania), were partly settled in Grodno, and the other part was settled in the suburbs of Slonim.


Encyclopedic Dictionary, vol.XI, 1893. - F.A. Brockhaus, I.A. Efron, p.400

Dyatlovo (Dzentselovo) - a small place in Grodno Governorate, Slonimsky Uyezd [subdivision] located in 44 versts from the county town; 3233 residents; dressing of parquet, known as “dyatlovsky”.


Jewish Encyclopedia

A small town in Slonim Uezd [subdivision] of Grodno Governorate in 1897 - 3979.


Great Soviet Encyclopedia, vol.85, p.368.

Dyatlovo - an urban-type settlement, the center of Dyatlovsky area in Baranovichi region of Belorussian SSR. Located along the road 13 km westwards from Novoyelnia railway station (Baranovichi - Lida railway line). In Dyatlovo there is a sawmill, an industrial complex, several artels. As of 1952 there is a secondary school, a cultural center and a cinema. In the area there is grain and potato cultivation, animal production is developed (cattle and pigs).

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Zhetl in the Hebrew Press][a]

by Yitzkhak Epshteyn (Kfar Neter)

Translated by Judy Montel


The Meeting of Chovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) in Zhetl to Commemorate the 100th Aniversary of the Death of the Vilna Ga'on

From Zhetl (Horodna Province) B”Z announces that on the evening of the third day of chol hamo'ed Succot, on the 100th Yahrzeit of the Vilna Ga'on Z”tzl, the Chovevei Zion Association in the city gathered at the study hall (Beit Midrash) and held song and prayer in memory of the soul of the Ga'on, Z”tzl with great pomp and circumstance, and the attendees pledged to “Gan Shmuel” in order to plant two trees in honor of the Ga'on Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever Z”tzl and afterward the attendees said words of acclaim to the Grsh”m, to the committee in Odessa, to all of the Conolists in the holy land and all of the Chovevei Zion, and many members joined the support organization.

From “HaMelitz”, 1897, No. 227.


Yehoshua Aizenshtat Visits Zhetl

Zhetl (Grodno Province). It is announced that a respected visitor has arrived there, who is Mr. Yehoshua Aizenshtat, member of the HaPoel committee in Jaffa, and who was previously a resident of the city, and he will speak there about the situation of the Yishuv (Jewish settlement) in these times in the holy land and will describe to the audience the material and spiritual situation of our brothers the farmers in the Moshavot (early settlements) of the Land of Israel and its good relationship with the government and with their Arab neighbors, also he had much to say about the National Bank (Bank Le'umi) and other large undertakings that are now on the agenda in the world of the Yishuv in the holy land, from which good will result to our nation and our land.

His words made a large impression on the hearts of the people of the city, causing many to donate to Zion, and even the extreme opponents have already begun to look with a kinder eye upon the Zionist movement. And the following day in the evening, Chovevei Zion gathered around him and he spoke again and give them details of the lives of our brothers the farmers, at home and in the field, and gave them a faithful picture from the Moshava Kustina (today, Be'er Tuvia) of which one of its sons, Reb Elimelech Izraelit, is a native of this city. And after this he made a toast to the lives of all of the Chovevei Zion wherever they are, and to the lives of our brothers who are working upon the mountains of Israel, and the entire crowd responded with a trumpet-like call: Amen! Amen! And they pledged donations for the workers in Kustina.

“Hamelitz,” 1898, No. 232.


Donations for those Working in Our Holy Land

Due to the terrible tragedy which happened in our city, Zhetl, on the second night of the portion of Bishalach in the women's section [of the synagogue], since twelve women were asphyxiated when they pushed one another to get out of the building (details of the tragedy were printed in Hamelitz 22) the following women whose names are mentioned [lth”p?] in the holy ark and give thanks to the merciful God that they were not in the upheaval:

M. Shifra Leah Dzhenchelski, Sarah Rachel Dunetz, Sara Dvora Wernikovsky, 36 kop each.

Elke Mirski, 30 kop. The Rebbetzin of the place, Shifra, wife of Rabbi Yehuda Levit, Solieh Rabonovitch, Leah Doba Finklstein, Hinde Miriam Izraelit, Sarah Shifra Dvoretzki, Mecha Kamenitzki, Shifra Yeletzki – 18 kop each. Elke Leah Solimianski – 10 kop. Nechama Lichter, Sarah Musha Shushan, Sarah Dvoretzki, Leah Dvoretzki, Shayna Breskin, Pruma Mirski, Yocheved Orzichovski, Rivka Aronovski, Elke Serevrovski, Bayla Levit – 9 kop each.

The money, a total of 3.91 rubles was collected by Mr. Shlomo Zalman Dunietz and Mr. Moshe Orzechovski and I received as written 5/122.

The history in the city of Zhetl: Menachem Vernikovski.

“HaMelitz,” 1898, No. 44.


A Zionist Association was founded in Zhetl in 1899

In spite of vigorous objections from the extreme Haredim and the followers of the Rebbe of Slonim who are commanded to oppose Zionism, the few Chovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) in our city have finally succeeded in founding a Zionist Association. Every Friday evening, they explain the weekly portion before a large audience which gathers each time in the old Beit Midrash (study hall). And in this and other such ways they have succeeded in promoting Zionism in our city.

Also, the “Holiday of the Maccabbees”, which the Zionists celebrated in a large hall, and gave speeches and sang nationalist songs did much to spread the Zionist idea and at that same event some thirty members joined our Association.

The daughters of our city have also founded themselves a “Daughters of Zion” association, and the respectable founders are working, as much as possible, to spread Zionism among the women of our town.

“Hamelitz”, 1899, No. 280.

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The Bernikker Magid of Zhetl Preaches in Kaidani

The preacher, teaching rabbi Bernikker from Zhetl visited Kaidani and with his excellent speeches, in which he spoke on Zionism in this city, moved the hearts of his listeners and many people joined the association of Zionists in that city.

“HaTzefira”, 1900, No. 155.


The Zionist Association during the German Occupation

In the town of Zdzieciol; there is a Zionist association, whose numbers have become very numerous. During the four months of its existence the association has collected approximately 400 Mark benefiting the National Fund and has sold 120 Shekels. The association maintains a library with 223 members. The number of readers is over 123. A large number of lectures and readings about Zionism, Hebrew History, the history of Hebrew and Yiddish culture and literature. Five public gatherings have also been held, two in the study hall (Beit Midrash) and three in the theatre. Classes for adults have also been instituted.

“HaTzefira,” 5678 (1917-18) Nos. 13, 14.


Reception for Rabbi Reb Baruch-Avraham Mirski

A day of celebration and joy was had by us, the congregation of Zhetl, on the 30th day of the Omer (15th Iyar, 5652 – 1892) [May 12, 1892], for the great rabbi, Reb Avraham Baruch Mirsky from Porozowa, came to dwell in honor on the rabbinical seat in our city. All of the shops were closed and bolted, each and every person left their work and business and they streamed to greet this honored guest with great pomp and circumstance. The moment he arrived everyone cried out “Welcome!” and across from them came the answer, “Hooray, hooray!” Before entering the city, the great rabbi stepped out of his carriage and walked on foot in honor of the many who had gathered, with many of the prominent citizens around him and a great crowd before them and with a celebratory clamor brought him to the old study hall (beit midrash), which was already full of people. And the rabbi went up onto the stage and gave a fine and pleasant sermon, and the content of his sermon was to awaken the feelings of our brothers, the children of Israel, who dwell in our city, and to unite and connect their hearts to their father in heaven and to love their nation. All of this with exalted ideas and holy emotion. Afterwards, the entire congregation accompanied him to the house and parted from him in peace full of good feeling. That very day our congregation received letters of greeting from the great rabbi M. Yitzchak Elchanan of Kovno, from the great rabbi R' Shmuel Mohilever of Bialystok, from the great rabbi Yosef of Slonim and from the great rabbi Yehonatan of Volkovisk.

Reported by: Eliezer Mattityahu Kantorovitch

“HaTzefira”, 1892.


The Death of Rabbi R' Aryeh Michl Dvoretzki

On 26 Tevet, 5672 [January 16, 1912], our new rabbi, the Ga'on R' Aryeh Michl Dvoretzki died, less than three weeks before assuming the rabbinical seat in our town. Just two months ago we accompanied the great rabbi R' Baruch Mirski to his burial place, and again a great rabbi has died here.

In his death our nation lost one of its more excellent and beloved rabbis, for besides being a great leader and scholar, he was a pleasant man and well loved by everyone.

The deceased was born in our city Zhetl to his great father, R' Yosef Tzvi Hakohen, and served here with the rabbinical crown for over 40 years. When he was still young, he was appointed to the rabbi of Timkovitz, and later to be a rabbi in Ivintz and from there he moved to Stavisk and later was brought (after the death of Rabbi Mirski) to be a rabbi in our city. He was fifty-five years old at the time of his death.

Y. Zimilvitz

“Hazman”, 1912, No. 5


The Funeral of Rabbi R' Aryeh Michl Dvoretzki

Residents of the city including several rabbis from the nearby towns participated in the funeral of the rabbi in Zhetl, 27 Tevet [January 17, 1912]. From his home he was carried to the courtyard of the synagogue. There eulogies were given by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch of Zhaludok and the rabbi of Bielitz. All described the excellent traits and elevated habits of the deceased and the great loss experienced by our city in particular and our nation in general. For besides being one of the excellent rabbis of the generation, besides his great genius and greatness in Torah knowledge, he was also very involved in public works, a lover of charities, and did much to improve the lot of every poor person.

In the large study hall (Beit Midrash) a long elegy was made over him by Rabbi Zalman Sorotskin of Varnova. He was buried next to the grave of Rabbi Baruch Avraham Mirski z”l. The people of Zhetl knew to do their duty to the widow of the deceased and committed to give her, after one year, a total of 3300 rubles, beyond the

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salary of the rabbi for an entire year which costs a total of 1200 rubles, after deducting 80 rubles a week for a teacher.

Permission was granted to the people of the city to appoint a rabbi also in the middle of the year, but on the condition that they would pay this amount to the Rebbetzin retroactively.

“Hazman,” 1912 No. 7


A Dispute Regarding Choosing a Rabbi in Zhetl

The Zhetler Rabbi died and the question of the rabbinate came up in Zhetl. And when the question of the rabbinate comes up, that is where the devil dances. The devil dances in Zhetl as well and is inciting the people against one another. Some want one rabbi and others want another. Some choose for themselves and so do others. Some make haste and announce by telegraph amongst the entire diaspora of Israel from Dan to Beer-Sheva: ‘So-and-so has been chosen’ and others make haste and announce from one end of the world to another by the telegraph that some other person has been chosen. And I receive the two Zhetler telegrams at one time and stand in confusion, without knowing where the truth lies. And it can happen that while still speaking I receive a third telegram with the command and warning not to publicize the previous telegrams at all, because it's all baseless: there were no elections and no rabbis were chosen at all; and it happens that I receive a fourth telegram begging me to ignore the third telegram because it was sent by a person who favors the wishes of the widowed Rebbetzin, who doesn't want a new rabbi, so that the sextons (gabbays) of the community won't stop paying her board. And thus, these telegrams upset my mind frequently, and bring me into a confusion from which I am unable to extract myself.

“Hed Hazman,” 1912, No. 55 – from “A View of Cities and Towns”


People from Zhetl who Donated Funds for Our Siblings, Children of Israel in Persia who were in Danger of Starvation

The Honorable R' Avraham Shlomo Namiat – 3 rubles, Mr. R' Avraham Yitzchak Levit – 1 ruble' Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf – 1 ruble.

Donations of 50 kop: Rabbi Yosef Chever Masef, Rabbi Yosef Ber Ginzburd, Tzvi Hirsh Behari, Eliyahu Me'ir Finsklstein, Yehoshua Ailperin, Avraham Yitzchak Lobenski, Aharon Zelig, Moshe son of Eidel HaLevi, Yehoshua Eizenshtat, Nissan son of R.I. (or Nissan B.R.I.), Mordechai Dvoretzki, Shlomo Levinstein.

36 kop: Gershon Katz.

35 kop: Gedalyahu.

30 kop: Neta Zeitzik, Zalman Bras, Zecharya Nissan,Noach Rabinovitch, Leib Michobedkia, Yitzchak son in law of R' Dov.

Donations around 25 kop: Chayim Dober Slutzk, Shlomo Shlomovitz, Moshe Tanchum Breski, Aharon Katz, Uri Bar David, Yitzchak Bred, Ya'akov Baruch, Yehushua Zelig HaLevi, Mendel son of Gershon, Yehushua Zelig Katz, Herz son of Menashe Shub, Avraham son of Daniel, Dober B.R.A.

Donations around 20 kop: Yisrael Dov Luski, Benyamin Chanan Schatz, Yitzchak son of R' Aharon, Ya'akov Katz.

Donations around 18 kop: The groom Ze'ev Wolf son of R' Menashe Yizraelit.

Donations around 15 kop: Chayim Ochanovski, Leib from Minsk, Meyrim Katz, Moshe Ya'akov Dvoretzki, Leib Sadow.

Donations around 10 kop: Shlomo Barsh (B.R.S.), Yoel David, Moshe Eizik, David Ber Katz, Moshe Aharon, Yitzchak Meklir.

Collected by: Yechiel Michl Berkovitz, Yosef Chever.

“HaMagid”, 1872 No. 30.


Yosef Hailperin of Zhetl Educates Abandoned Children

Zhetl. (Grodno Dist.)

In our town there is a man and his name is Yehushua Hailperin, who has himself done “the act is greater than the actor,” for even if he is not one who is protected by money and works hard to earn his livelihood for his large household, in spite of this he has allocated from his efforts and time to a good and beneficial thing. He saw that mischievous boys from our nation had been led by idleness and poverty to extend their hands into the purses of strangers, without differentiating between Jews and Christians, and he was zealous for his people and he persuaded the boys to leave their despicable activity and to choose a profession and a craft. For the past three years he has supervised the boys as a father would his sons, including their behavior and their moral lives and paid artisans for their tuition. In order to fund all of the expenses of this endeavor, he himself went around every week to ask for charity and with this he educated approximately twenty boys to be useful people for themselves and for human society and without shame to Judaism.

And you, my bothers, here, know to respect the enterprise of this dear man, strengthen his hands so that he will have enough to expand his activity and to cover all of the needs of this great endeavor, and to ease from him the added burden and also to strengthen his hands that they should not falter, and that he should not become disheartened. And even if our city has become impoverished due to the fires, even so it is necessary to support he who worries about the good of Jewish children and to save them from poverty and shame and to ease the future of the congregation lest they fall upon it as a burden and a disgrace: Ya'avetz

“Hamelitz,” 1883 No. 15.

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Bikur Cholim (Visiting the Ill) In Zhetl in 1888

In the town of Zhetl, a “Chevre Lina” [“Lina” means sleeping, it was common at the time to aid the ill by having someone sleep at their home to help with their care] was established due to the efforts of the honorable citizens: R' Moshe Leib Levit and R' Zev Wolf Slutzky, to visit the sick. Announced by: Yosef Winietzki.

“Hatzfira,” 1888 No. 138.


Controversy over the Doctor

Zhetl (Grodno Dist.)

For many years there has been a Jewish doctor in our town, an expert and experienced doctor and an honest man, who participates in all of the charitable works in our town and is also a member of the support association of Odessa, and he is also the doctor for the “Bikur Cholim” association that is in our town and is known to carry out the responsibilities of his task with them in good faith: responds to the ill who are poor humbly, and accepts everyone politely and for this he has been beloved and well-liked by all the people of the town.

But recently a certain man in our town who has a shop for selling medical drugs has gotten up and has joined with someone else in our town, a comrade like him, and they began spreading terrible libels about the respectable doctor and about those who head the respectable organization “Bikur Cholim,” and despite what is clear and known to all the people of our town, that they were doing this only for their private benefit, they succeeded in their slyness to attract others to them, from those who always jump in to things, and they founded themselves a new “Bikur Cholim” organization, and they brought in some young doctor who barely finished his studies at the University of Warsaw a year ago. But as far as it seems, with all of his great knowledge, which he has studied, he didn't learn the simpler thing that is known to every cultured person, that it is not appropriate to settle in a small town, which in no way can support two doctors at a time, and to use all means to chase away the first doctor.

And thus, for the past three months, from the day the new doctor came to our town, the controversy and disputes have increased, and the most aggressive among us have found ample opportunity to tell tales and slander and several respectable people were already jailed and many cases were handed over to the lawyers. And they have still not stopped their activities, and their leader continues to incite and with all of this they were not content and on Shabbat, Chol HaMo'ed Sukkot that just passed, they continued to bring shame on the name of Israel by gathering disreputable people to the dwelling of the new doctor and there they opened the good treasure that is all “Mashkeh” (alcoholic drinks) and this aroused them to riot in the study hall. And during the prayers when it was time to take the Torah scrolls out of the holy ark, they all burst into the study hall and snatched the Torah scrolls and put them back in the holy ark. And they made a great noise and commotion and called for blows as well, but with the help of the police, those in prayer were able to quiet the storm to silence and the name of Israel was desecrated. M.R.

“Hamelitz,” 1899 No. 280


The Situation of Institutions and Hebrew in Zhetl

Zhetl (Grodno Dist.)

In the public life of our town light and darkness are mixed together. It contains honest institutions that are run in an orderly way and governed wisely like “Linat HaTzedek,” “Bikur Cholim,” and others. And about two years ago a Savings and Loan Association was founded here. This latter has been growing and developing from day to day and brings great benefit to the small and medium-sized shopkeepers and grocers in particular, and to all the townspeople in general. Currently, it has about 300 members.

In contrast, the instruction of Hebrew is lacking. There are about 20 “melameds” (teachers) here and among them a few Hebrew teachers, but their situation is very run down. The degree to which the language of the past is loved in our town can be attested to by the number of Hebrew Newspapers that are received in our town: three instances. Everyone wants the Yiddish Newspapers, and amid the twenty Yiddish newspapers, in first place is “Friend” newspaper, and by reading the Yiddish papers the fathers have also done their duty in educating their daughters. There are 12 instances of Russian newspapers that are taken in our town.

There is no library in our town at all. Several years ago, there was a small one, but sadly it did not last long.

In our town, many of the young men aged 13 and up study Gemara and the rest go to general school (in other cities) or learn a craft and a minority are aimless.

Ya'akov Zimilivitz

“Hed Hazman,” 1909 No. 186.


Forging Mezuzot

In the town of Zhetl, near our town of Slonim, one “sofer” (scribe), by the name of Avraham Tikachinski, invented a trick to enable the young scribes to not sit on their seats all day, not to mention the nights – to write out the parchments for mezuzot and the portions that go into tefillin, which is work that exhausts their weak bodies and pays very little. So, he brought a printing press from Vilna and thus he prints hundred and thousands of mezuzot and portions every day {page 62} without any agitation and sends them over the Atlantic Ocean. Some say: this clever man became rich from the unfit mezuzot and portions. But to his sorrow, critical eyes found him out here in our town for our scribes examined them and discovered that they were not written by hand, but by machine, and only the words “Shadai” and the words “kuzo bemuchso kuzo” – were written by hand.

Eliezer Benkstein of Slonim

In the Hebrew weekly “Hayehudi,” that appeared in London, 1903, No. 35.


A Large Fire in Zhetl in 1874

A terrible event took place here, in Zhetl that is near to Slonim. In the last month of Menachem-Av a large fire burst out and spread itself over the four directions of the town and burnt two hundred and fifty houses down to the ground and three study halls of stone, that had just recently been built and the work on them finished and their cost was twelve thousand rubles, for naught did those who built them toil. Also, the old synagogue which had stood for over two hundred years with beautiful paintings and flower buds became a tumbled ruin and all of the people of our town left their homes naked, even though we worked hard to save our property and Torah scrolls and holy books and brought them to the cemetery, for we imagined that the stone wall that stands around the cemetery would protect them.

Alas, what we imagined was not to be, for where they were set, there they were buried. When the stormy wind arose with a fury, it didn't skip the cemetery either and heated it all around until the flames licked the graves themselves and the damage was close to two hundred thousand rubles. Also, a six-year-old boy was lost and despite searching for him tirelessly, he was never found. And our hearts ache about the houses of Torah learning and the various “cheders” (schools for children) where five teachers used to sit at the head of the advanced study hall to preach lessons to hundreds of boys, who had come on foot from a distance to come here and the sextons (gabba'im) in charge did not stop or tire from elevating the foundations of the Torah. Day and night they would be on guard to supervise with open eyes its income and expenses to prevent its pillars from weakening, that its character would not be diminished and so that it would not be too difficult for them to spend the amount of money necessary for this thing and they kept an eye on the teachers and on the students to increase Torah learning and glorify it. And now they are left as a bird who leaves its nest, as a scattered sheep, to this you, readers of “HaLevanon,” put this to your hearts, and don't withhold your hand from feeding many souls who are hungry for bread and to help them in their straitened time. May God allow and comfort those mourning for it and fulfill the desires of their hearts and the year will end as will its curses. I speak to you with a broken and downcast heart – Shlomo Hemtzovski

“HaLevanon,” Eve of Succot, [September 25] 1874 No. 7


Zhetl (Vilna District)

May our appeals be pleasantly received above to give room for our words, to report in the public gate how God judged our town with fire and put to flame all good things.

On Monday, 28 Tammuz (July 13, 1874), a fire started in the outskirts of the town and for three hours the town turned into a tumbled ruin and over two hundred homes were burned, aside from the synagogue and the study halls with their books and all of the houses that were the glory and beauty of the town went up in smoke.

And now, merciful ones, children of merciful ones, have mercy on your miserable brothers, help them with much or with a little, as far as you can bear, and send to this address to the following rabbi (the ga'on, head of the holy rabbinical court)/

Yitzchak Yaakov Perls

“HaMagid,” 1874 No. 36


Fire in Zhetl in 1882

Zhetl (Grodo Dist.)

The evening of Monday (September 18), in the ten days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur a fire broke out and consumed over one hundred houses and three study halls as well as shops with their merchandise were burnt. The people of the town are wandering the streets with their wives and children without an anchor or support. Therefore, I ask in the name of all those whose homes were burnt to send help rapidly whether with money or with clothing and to send to the name: Yitzchak Naftali Hirsch Kosowski of Dvoretz, Slonim District.

“HaMelitz,” 28 September, 1882. No. 37


The Great Fire in Zhetl in 1883

Zhetl, 11 Shvat 5643 (January 19, 1883)

I have just received a total of 25 rubles to support those whose homes burned and as this person has been so good to us, I thought to turn to him with a request, but first of all I must describe the situation in our town, Zhetl.

Previously our town was the first in the entire district of well-known people who were learned and God-fearing, in respectable congregants and generosity of charity and loving-kindness and now it has become a tumbled ruin, for during a year and five months it has been fated to suffer fire three times, may the Merciful One save us, and the last conflagration during the ten days of repentance of this year was aggravated because it started in the middle of the night and all the inhabitants of our town have been left without any of their capital and work. Some two thousand people, naked and {page 63} destitute in the streets and the barns on cold and freezing days, which days have predominated, no fireplace to warm their flesh, no dress to protect from the terrible frost and their bones and joints knock against one another and the great tragedy is that hunger has taken hold of the town and there are many ill people and quite a few souls die every day, for our many sins.

I myself composed a letter to the Champions of Judah in Petersburg and Moscow with no response. Only in Kiev did the respectable heads of congregation the great Yona Zeitzow and Dr. Mandlstam arouse themselves and send us six hundred rubles and we quickly spent this money as frugally as possible to feed those who have felt God's anger. And now we do not have even one farthing and we have nothing with which to feed a great multitude, whose souls are wavering from hunger and cold. Therefore, I raise my eyes to the respectable publisher of “HaMelitz,” please, do well with those who know shortage and scarcity in our town and please try to awaken the generous members of our nation to a large congregation in Israel, whose inhabitants are in a great misfortune, wrapped in starvation and naked in the frost, lest they die before their time, if no care is taken of them soon.

My heart is certain and ready, for my words come from a broken heart, which is depressed and shaken from what my eyes see, may they take root in the heart of one who feels the pain of his brothers, and with the feelings of his soul and the power of his pen come to help and enliven a great multitude. And may the Merciful God put his words in the mouth of his pen to work upon the hearts of our brothers, so that by his efforts the pains will be lifted. And for this may he be blessed by God in all that he turns to, be successful and merit to see the comfort of Israel, my soul blesses him, heart and soul.

Yosef Zvi-Hirsch HaKohen, standing here in the holy community of Zhetl.

And the Publisher himself added in the margin of this letter: “The words of his honor, the rabbi of Zhetl must shake the heart of anyone with a soul, for our newspaper is ready to take the average between the volunteers and between those who demand support and he hopes, that our brothers, children of Israel, will awaken to the voice of the honored rabbi, who describes the terrible catastrophe that has come upon his flock in faithful and frightening colors that shake the feelings of the heart.

The letters to Peterburg I sent to Baron Horotz P. Ginzburg, to the Minister Shmuel Poliakow and to the generous nobleman, M. Meyer Friedland and I did not get any answer from them.

“HaMelitz,” 1883 No. 6


Fire in Zhetl in 1894

Zhetl (Grodno Dist.)

On Wednesday, April 6, at the third hour after midnight, a fire suddenly burst out of one of the houses in the heart of the town and some twenty houses, including shops with their merchandise, were burned to the ground. Some thirty families that at that moment had no lack and in one moment the wheel of fate upturned them and naked as the day they were born they are rolling on the dung heaps together with their young children who cry out for bread but there is none. For these unfortunates did not have time to save anything from the fire even a shoelace, and they escaped with their lives. Two nearby towns, Slonim and Navahradok, hurried to rescue their brothers and that day they sent two wagons loaded with matza, meat and wine, but this mite was not enough to satisfy the lion.

Maurice Namiat

“HaMelitz,” April 13, 1894. No. 85


A Scoundrel from Zhetl is Exploiting the Fires for his Own Benefit

Today a Jewish man came to me, around fifty years of age, who has streaks of white in his hair and said to me, that he is a rabbinical arbiter in the town of Zhetl and he was sent to collect charity for that town, which had gone up in flames. And as a reference for his words he showed me a letter of request from the great rabbi of our generation, the great rabbi R' Yitzchak Elchanan shlit”a, from 8 Iyyar, 5654 (May 14, 1894) in which was written that the town of Zhetl had been totally burned down with its synagogues and our brothers the children of Israel remained naked and barefoot and destitute.

And thus, said the great rabbi, I sent the rabbi and arbiter Zvi Hersch son of rabbi Yechiel Halprin, great grandson and grandson of many generations to collect charity etc. After the signature of the Ga'on shlit”a there were in the notebook of that collector two letters in Rashi script from two scholars of the town, requesting their brothers the children of Israel to stand up to help the one collecting. And in a small notebook, wherein the donations were written, the collector showed me two letters, one from Rabbi Benizni Novogorod and the second from the rabbi of the town of Koretz, asking from their brothers the children of Israel in favor of the collector. And after I showed this collector that in “HaMelitz” No. 85 of 5654 (1894) it is reported from the town of Zhetl that only 20 houses were burned on the 6th of April and not the entire town with its synagogues etc, this man responded first, that the reporter in “HaMelitz” is a child, very young and we couldn't rely on his words, however later he admitted to me that the collection was only for himself and not for the town. I the undersigned indeed wrote these words on the letter mentioned above!

The writer of those words was to collect charity only for himself and not for the town, because in the town only around 20 houses burned – in any case, I thought it right to report this in the dear “Hamelitz.” A stranger and resident.

“Hamelitz”, 1895, No. 33.

[Page 64]

Twelve Women Asphyxiated in Zhetl

From Zhetl, (Grodno Dist.) we have reports of terrible tragedies that have occurred there this month: Saturday night, the portion of “Bo”, while a sermon was being given there by one of the preachers, fire broke out in one of the Christian homes and the townspeople ran from the study hall to the location to offer their help. And while they were rushing to and fro part of the burning thatched roof fell on the respectable mayor, also a townsman, and the flames took hold of him, and even though they saved him from the fire and accompanied him to his home, several hours later he died from the force of the pain.

And on Monday, the portion of “Beshalach” [i.e., the following week] in the evening, many people, men and women, gathered in the study hall to hear the eulogy that the same preacher gave for the great rabbi Mahar”il Diskin [died, January 22, 1898] and the crowding was very great and to a greater degree was this so in the women's section. And there are two sections [for women]. One next to the northern wall and it is built above the corridor of the study hall from the outside – and the second – against the western wall from within the building upon beams, where one end is attached to the wall and the other end rests on a long beam that lies in a north-to-south direction. And there is one small and narrow access point from the outside through which the women can enter these two women's sections.

Suddenly, one of the beams that supported the floor of the western section broke. From the weight of its burden and from the sound of the break, there was chaos and confusion in all three areas. Many of the men hurried to escape with their lives through the entrance, for they thought the ceiling was falling on them, and several broke the windows of the building and created an escape route through them.

The pandemonium grew from moment to moment, especially in the western women's section. When they saw that the floor had collapsed beneath their feet, each took strength to leave the tight space before others. In the small and narrow entry-way they fell from the tremendous crowding and blocked the way to the exit for the other women who were hurrying after them, and the steps that lead to the entryway was full of beaten and tortured women, holding on to one another and pressed together, and even women who wished to turn around and go back into the building could not do so.

After the initial fright passed, many of the men came to the aid of the women. But every idea they had to get the women out of this turmoil through the entry-way failed, so they set up ladders and climbed up the windows and the lattices of the women's section that overlooked the study hall and they pulled the women back into the building and thus they were able to bring about salvation. This tumult went on for an hour until they came up with and idea of how to take down the small wall that separated the entry-way and the corridor of the building, and when they took down the wall, many women rolled out of the space, but it was too late, for 12 women had asphyxiated.

Most of the women were young and left behind small children with fathers who are not wealthy. The outcry encompassed the entire town and every face was pained and reddened, and who can describe the loud cries and wails of the small children who had in a moment become unfortunate orphans. Besides this, one of the men also suffered a brain injury and the doctors despaired of his life. In addition, some forty women were injured and took ill. For now, the police have sealed the study hall.

“HaMelitz,” Tu Beshvat [February 7], 1898, No. 21


A Flood in the Town


On Wednesday, second day of the new moon of Elul [August 18, 1909], the waters of the stream in the small road Pomereika overflowed due to the many rains and flooded the houses who stand on the two banks of the stream on Lisigori Street and the courtyard of the synagogue, and also the houses on “Courtyard Street,” that stand close to the stream. For two hours dreadful damage was done in the town. The houses were filled with water higher than the windows and those who lived within were in great danger and they cried out for help.

Thanks to a few young people, there was no loss of life. They also saved many possessions from the houses. The force of the water destroyed the bridges, the trees planted alongside the stream were uprooted, and many planks that had been prepared for building were swept away by the current. The contents of the gardens that were close to the stream with all of their plants and fruit-laden trees were swept away. The flood lasted from about 7 until 9 in the evening and during that short time it managed to do a great deal of damage amounting to several thousand rubles. Those with cellars suffered especially, for they were filled with water and many different types of merchandise were ruined. Many people could not save their most precious possessions and escaped with their lives.

The waters also made their way into the study halls. The Chassidic study hall was filled with water up to the third step around the bima. Also, the waters burst into the “Talmud Torah” school building and did a lot of damage in the room, which is also where the collateral pledges of the “Gmilut Chassadim” [charity loan society] were located. Many objects were ruined, the cellars and low buildings are still full of water, and using special machinery, the fire department is now emptying them of water.

In total, some thirty families have suffered from the flood, amongst whom are some in abject poverty who lost the remainder of their capital, and also their houses – though not totally destroyed, but they are now unlivable without repair and therefore they need help.

Z. Zimilevitz

“Hed HaZman,” 1909. No. 178.


Original footnote:
  1. Collected by Moshe Tzinovitz and Baruch Kaplinski Return

[Page 65]

Dates From the History of Zhetl

Translated by Janie Respitz

15th Century
1498 Duke Konstanty Ostrogsky receives Zdietyl Estates with the rights to found a city there.
16th Century
1507 King Zigmund I confirms the handing over the Zhetl Estates to Duke Konstanty Ostrogsky
1530 The Zhetl Estates are given over to the widow of Hetman (Cossack chief) Konstanty Ostrogsky, Duchess Alexandra Slutzka.
1541 The Zhetl Estates are passed down to Duke Vasil Ostrogsky.
1570 Duke Vasil Ostrogsky builds a hospital at the church.
1580 The first information of a Jew, Nisn, who occupies an area of 8 poles on the Zhetl marketplace.
1598 A second bit of information about Jews, Aharon Goshkevitch from Mizevetz, Meir Levkovitch and Merl Yuditch live in Zhetl and litigate with the nobleman Yarash Zhibort.
17th Century
1627 Zhetl together with Dvoretz is mentioned for the first time in the records of the Jewish Council of Lithuania.
1646 Zhetl Estates are given over to the family of Duke Safyeha.
1646 The Church in Zhetl was rebuilt by the chancellor from Slonim, Duke Casimir Leo Safyeha.
1655 The Zhetl Esates are given over to Duke Alexander Polubinsky.
1685 The Radziwills from the Zhidlovetz line are now in possession of the Zhetl Estates.
1670 The great Talmudic scholar from Zhetl, Reb Arye Leyb Segal, author of “Marganita Teva” is hired as rabbi in Minsk.
1670 The Zhetl synagogue is built.
1670 Zhetl is independently taxed by the Council of Jews of Lithuania.
18th Century
1704 The story is told in “Knesset Yekhezkl” by the rabbi Reb Yekhezkl Katzenelnboygn about the Zhetl leather merchant Reb Yisroel son of Yesheyahu who was murdered on a raft in Banden near Telz and Reb Yekhezkl had to inform his wife she was an Augunah (a woman who can't remarry as she has no proof of her husband's death).
1738 Mykolai Fausten Radziwill brings Rachitov law to Zhetl.
1720 - 1729 The rabbi Reb Khaim HaKohen Rappaport serves as chief rabbi of Zhetl.
1740 The Preacher of Dubno, the rabbi Reb Yakov Krantz is born in Zhetl.
June 4, 1743 a great fire breaks out in Zhetl and destroys the town.
1750 (Approximately) the first records of the new cemetery.
1751 The church in Zhetl is rebuilt.
1790 Reb Nisn is now chief rabbi in Zhetl.
19th Century
1806 - 1813 Reb Khaim Lifshitz is chief rabbi in Zhetl.
1831 The Zhetl Estates which had belonged to the Saltans since the end of the 18th century were confiscated by the Czarist regime.
1836 The rabbi Reb Moishe Avrom Eisnshtat leaves the Zhetl rabbinate.
1839 The Chefetz Chaim, Reb Yisroel Meir HaKohen was born in Zhetl.
1840 The first Interest Free Loan Society was founded in Zhetl.
1840 - 1850 The rabbi Reb Zev Wolf Halevy, author of “Emek Halacha” is chief rabbi in Zhetl.
1850 - 1892 Rabbi Zvi Hirsh HaKohen Dvoretzky is chief rabbi.
1874 250 houses in Zhetl burn as well as the old synagogue.
1877 The new Talmudic Society was founded.
1882 The writer A.M. Dilan (Zhukhovsky) was born in Zhetl.
1882 One hundred houses burn including all three Houses of Study.
1883 A great fire breaks out in Zhetl and 2000 people remain without a roof.
1891 A library was founded in Zhetl.
1892 The chief rabbi is now the Parizov Rabbi, Reb Borukh Avrom Mirsky.
1894 20 houses burned down in Zhetl.
1898 A horrible tragedy occurred in the women's synagogue where 12 women lost their lives.
1898 The well known Zionist businessman, Yehushua Barzilai (Eisneshtat) came from Eretz Yisrael for a visit. His in laws lived in Zhetl.
1899 The Zionist organization “Agudah” was founded.
1899 The first circles of the Bund were organized.

[Page 66]

20th Century
1902 The Volunteer Fire Department was founded.
1906 Zhetl revolutionaries carried out an expropriation on the train at Novoliyene.
1907 The first Savings and Loan Credit Union was founded in Zhetl with 300 members.
1909 The Talmud Torah was built.
1909 A flood destroyed property in the area near the Pomerayke River.
1912 The position of Chief Rabbi was taken by the Voronov rabbi, Reb Zalman Sorotzkin.
1915 Zhetl is occupied by the Germans.
1915 The youth in Zhetl begin a drama club.
1917 Two sisters, Esther and Libka Kaplinsky founded the first school in Zhetl.
1918 An independent authority is organized and lead by Yisroel Kaplinsky.
1918 - 1920 Zhetl goes from one regime to another.
1920 A delegate from the Joint visits Zhetl by the name of Lev and organizes a help - action committee for the town.
1921 A Folks Shul (school teaching secular subjects) is founded in Zhetl.
1923 They begin building the school.
1924 “Hechalutz” (Zionist organization) opens in Zhetl.
1924 A Professional Union is founded.
1926 The Interest Free Loan Society is reorganized.
1927 The “Tarbut” organization opens a Hebrew kindergarten.
1928 The first graduates of the Zhetl Folk Shul.
1928 The first City Council is elected.
1929 A “Tarbut” school is founded in Zhetl.
1930 The Chief Rabbi in Zhetl is the rabbi Reb Ytzkhak Raytzer,
1933 A great fire breaks out in Zhetl.
1935 Another great fire breaks out in Zhetl.
1939 Zhetl is occupied by the Soviets.
1941 Zhetl is occupied by the Germans.


The manor on the banks of the Zetelka River


[Page 67]

Geographic and Climate Conditions in Zhetl

by Dr. A. Y. Braver (Jerusalem)

Translated by Janie Respitz

In a bill of divorcement, where great attention must be paid to every letter and spelling of every word, Zhetl, according to the great rabbi Reb Zalmen Saratzkin was called: “Zitl on the river Zhitklo and on the river Pomerayke and on spring sources”. (Translator's note: A Jewish divorce (a get) can only be issued on a town on a river).

The name Zhetl is apparently a shortened version of the name Zdietel, taken from the Lithuanian - Polish period and fit well phonetically into the Yiddish language.

The Polish name Zdzicciol and the Russain name Dyatlovo apparently derive from the name of a forest bird whose Latin name is Picus, Russian name is Dyatel and Dzicciol in Polish. (Translator's note: Woodpecker).

In the forests around Zhetl there were two types of woodpeckers: green and black. However it is not certain the name of the town really derives from the bird. It probably had an old name that came from a language incomprehensible to the Slavs and they pronounced it to sound like the bird.


Geographic Conditions

Zhetl lies at 53° 33' to the northern geographic length and 25° 24' geographic width, east of Greenwich. It lies north of Jerusalem 21° 45' to the west 9° 41'.

Midday, sunset and the sunrise in the months Nissan - Tishrei (Approx. April - September), occur 39 minutes later than Jerusalem. In the period: Tishrei - Nissan (September - April) the days in Zhetl are shorter.

The long summer days and the long winter nights, together with climatic conditions, had an effect on the lives of Zhetl's Jews.

Two rivers flow through Zhetl: the Zhetlke River whose Polish name is: Zdzicciolka and the small river Pomerayke which flows into the Zhetlke.

Both the Zhetlke and Pomerayke are tributaries of the Nieman which flows 13 kilometres north of Zhetl. The Malchadke River, also a tributary of the Nieman flows 7 kilometres to the east of Zhetl.

Zhetl is situated on the north - west end of the Navagrudke Highlands, at the spot where they descend in the direction of the Nieman valley.

Zhetl is situated 150 - 160 metres above sea level. In the region there are hills which are 200 metres above sea level. Between the hills there are valleys and flat lands with small rivers running through. Near these rivers you can find marshes and small natural ponds. There are two such ponds in Zhetl which the Zhetlke River flows through.

Zhetl's soil is sandy and muddy, mixed with stones. Fertility is low. Large areas around Zhetl are covered with evergreen trees (in sandy soil), as well as leafy trees (Ash, alder and others).

The poet Adam Mickiewicz described the landscape of the region beautifully. He came from Novogrodek which is 30 kilometres east of Zhetl and wrote the following words: “Turn me toward the forest hills and toward the green meadows”.

This landscape was created by glaciers during the last ice age.

In its long journey from Scandinavia, the glacier brought along rocks, stones, sand and earth. This entire mass was left by the glacier which melted due to rise in temperature. This is how these small hills were formed that stand a few dozen metres high.

The Nieman Valley is like a crater where the melted water of the glacier flowed. In the direction of the crater valleys tributaries were formed and among those tributaries were those that flowed through Zhetl.

Given that the mountains made of glacier sand and stone blocked the path of the streams to the Neiman, marshes and wetlands developed which were not well suited for raising livestock or producing hay.



The climate in Zhetl matches its geographic situation bordering between central Europe which is dominated by the influence of the Atlantic Ocean and Eastern Europe whose dominant influence is the Eurasian continent with its vast temperature differences winter and summer.

The average temperature of the month of January, which is considered the coldest month of the year is between 4 - 5 degrees Celsius below zero. However, the temperature would sometimes drop to 30 degrees Celsius (below zero).

[Page 68]

The warmest month is July. The average temperature in July is 19-20 degrees Celsius. However the temperature sometimes reaches 30 degrees Celsius.

If we were to compare the temperature in Zhetl to a place in Israel at the same altitude, we can be sure the difference would be greater in winter than in summer. On a hot wet July day, before the rain, one can really sweat in Zhetl, but in Zhetl the summers are much shorter.

The greatest difference someone from Israel would observe when visiting Zhetl is the amount of sunlight and moonlight. Not only is the light in Zhetl weaker, because the sun and the moon are not in the middle of the sky, but rather in its margins, and it is much cloudier.

The clear skies we see in Israel are rarely seen in Zhetl, and only in the winter.

There is another difference. In Israel, fields grow all year. In Zhetl, they grow approximately 200- 205 days a year. For 160 days a year the temperature does not lend itself to cultivation of what was planted.


Atmospheric Precipitation

The difference in the amount of precipitation (rain) between Zhetl and Jerusalem is not so big. The average rainfall in Zhetl is around 600 cm a year, and in Jerusalem it is sometimes more. The difference, just between us, is that in Zhetl it never happened that it would not rain for 10 days while Jerusalem is rainless for 7 months.

Our dry summer is the main rainy season in Zhetl. That is the blessing of that region. Rain falls in the hot summer. It is a blessing for agriculture which is the basis of the economy.

In Israel, the water evaporation is often higher than the atmospheric precipitation. In the region of Zhetl, evaporation is far less than precipitation resulting in moisture of the soil and a large amount of marshes and swamp.



Zhetl and its vicinity lived off primitive agriculture, from livestock and forestry.

The most important agricultural products of Zhetl is corn, (bread) potatoes (for eating, fodder and producing alcohol) and flax. Zhetl is situated in an area which produces a lot of flax for export. The buying up and exporting of flax was in Jewish hands. Cattle, sheep, horses and pigs in the Zhetl region were backward (Deficient) breeds not desirable in western markets. The businesses of fur, wool, pig hair and lumber were also in Jewish hands. The main export, lumber, sailed down the Nieman.



Zhetl specialized in the manufacturing of poplar parquetry which were called Zhetl Parquet. The production did not transform into another industry and remained within the framework of handiwork.

The main source of income for Zhetl's Jews was small business with the farmers, buying their agricultural products and selling them to industry and handicraft production.

A few generations before its destruction, Zhetl was unable to support its Jews. Therefore, many Jews left Zhetl for larger local cities or across the ocean, particularly to America. Beginning at the end of the 19th century, support by American relatives played an important role in maintaining the town.

When we examine the geographic situation of the town we don't find any economic pluses which could ensure the existence of such a large Jewish community, except for the road from Slonim to Vilna which passed through Zhetl and was probably a source of income before the railroad was built and wagon drivers would stop over and spend the night in Zhetl.

Another important plus for Zhetl compared to other towns was that within a radius of tens of kilometres, the fact was, it always belonged to important Polish magnates, who had other estates throughout Poland. The protection by the nobility defended the Jews of Zhetl in town as well as on the road which served as a powerful attraction for many Jews.

Understandably, the Zhetl nobility exploited their Jews and actually the protected Jews and lessees of the Ostrogskys, Safyehas and Radziwills were never wealthy however they earned a living, taught their and grandchildren Torah, Khuppa (married them off), and good deeds.

The large palace in Zhetl is a reminder and witness of the great magnates who, to their merit, allowed the Jewish community of Zhetl to grow.

[Page 69]

Population and Occupations

by Borukh Kaplinsky (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Janie Respitz

The population in Zhetl was mixed. It was comprised of: Jews, White Russians and a small cluster of Poles. We do not have any statistics of the population on Zhetl from the 17th or 18th centuries. Our first information comes from a Slavic Geographic source which states in 1893 there were 3233 people in Zhetl, 2233 Jews comprising 70% of the general population. In later years Jews comprised 77% of the population.


The Jewish and General Population in Zhetl

Year General
% of Jews Source
1893 3233 2233 70% Slavic Geographic Source
1897 3079 3033 76.2% Jewish Encyclopedia (In Russian)
1921 3080 2376 77.1% Periodical Demographic / History Berlin 1928
1926 4600 3450 75% According to A. Ivenitsky

Right after the First World War the populations of the general and Jewish communities fell. However by 1926 there were 4600 residents, 3450 Jews, (75%).



We do not have any statistics of the occupations of the Jews in Zhetl from the previous century. From the statistics we find in the work of Avorm Ivenitsky in his “Yekapo Books” from the years 1926 -29 we learn there were 621 Jewish families according to the following trade distributions:

303 Artisans
210 Merchants and retail
33 Scribes
30 Coachmen (teamsters)
19 Professionals
12 Land Workers
9 Jewish Functionaries of Religious Life
Total: 621

According to A. Ivenitsky there were 3450 Jews in Zhetl in 1926. On average there were 5 members per family. The job distribution is not exact but does reflect the proportion. We learn, almost 50% of Zhetls providers were artisans.

M.M. Lazerovitch, in his work “Zhetl and its Artisans” gives the percentage of artisans at 65%. Even if we count the scribes as artisans, the percentage according to Ivenitsky is no more than 54. Therefore we must note the distinction between merchants and artisans is not exact. Some of the butchers in Zhetl were merchants but in our statistics they feature as artisans.

From the “Statistical Information” from the cooperative credit unions of Poland we find the following table:


Membership in the Zhetl Cooperative People's Bank in the Years 1929 -1921 in Numbers and Percentages

Year Amount of
% of
Amount of
% of
Amount of
% of
Amount of
% of
1929 107 62 63 36     3 2
1931 156 40 140 35 22 6 22 6


Year Amount of
% of
Amount of
% of Varia Total
1929         173
1931 20 6 34 8 394


From this table we learn, in 1929 28% of Jewish providers in Zhetl participated in the bank. In 1931 63% of all providers.

In 1931 the artisans comprised 40 % of bank members and we believe that their percentage in the total amount of providers did not exceed 50.

[Page 70]

The distribution of trades among the artisans is the following:

Needle trade 81 families
Leather trade 80 families
Nourishment trade 51 families
Lumber trade 27 families
Metal trade 24 families
Building trade 22 families
Various trades 18 families
Total 303 families

As we can see, the needle and leather trades employed the largest amount of artisans, 161 in total, 53% of all artisans.

The artisans of Zhetl were well organized with a union which defended their wages and cared about their social position in town. For exact information about the artisans in Zhetl see the article “Zhetl and Zhetl's Artisans” by M.M. Lazerovitch.


Merchants and Retailers

210 families, or 35% of all providers in Zhetl worked in large or small businesses. This amount includes peddlers. Merchants and retailers comprise 41% of bank members. Apparently they had a greater need for help from the bank than artisans. Unfortunately we do not have exact statistics on line of business distribution in Zhetl. However, even without statistics we can see the majority of businessmen and merchants were concentrated in the food and clothing industries.

The statistics of A. Ivenitsky probably does not include forest merchants who made up about a dozen Zhetl families and earned an honourable living.



Scribes held an important place in the economic life of Zhetl. The majority of them were artisans and worked for merchants and exporters in Slonim. Their Torah scrolls and Mezuzahs were exported abroad. In the weekly “Ha Yehudi” (“The Jew”) which was published in London, (vol. 32, 1903) we read this work was difficult and exhausting and did not pay well. From this correspondence we learn about a scribe from Zhetl who brought a printing press from Vilna to print his Mezuzahs. He was punished by the other scribes. From the statistics of A. Ivenitsky we learn the scribes of Zhetl comprised 5% of all providers.



A similar number of Zhetl providers were coachmen, or as they were called, wagon drivers. For generations, wagons were the only means of transportation between Zhetl and the rest of the world. These wagons brought people and loads of goods to Novogrudek, Slonim, Baranovitch, and even Vilna. Every driver had his route. There were those who only connected our town to Lida or Slonim. This occupation was practically tenured and was passed down through inheritance.

In the 1920s buses were introduced. Some wagon drivers became partners in this new mode of transportation. Others remained in their old profession which was now confined to transportation of goods. Zhetl's shopkeepers and merchants relied on these Jewish wagon drivers to bring merchandise from other cities: Slonim, Baranovitch and Lida.



Zhetl's youth yearned for education, but unfortunately only a few could achieve this as studying in a high school or university in Russia and post –war Poland was very expensive. Therefore the number of people from Zhetl with higher education was very small. The greatest number were high school graduates.

Zhetl imported doctors, dentists, pharmacists and teachers from large cities. According to our statistics only 3% of Zhetl's providers worked in these secular professions.


Farmers and Unskilled Workers

The percentage of farmers and unskilled workers in Zhetl is insignificant. Farmers comprised 2% of providers and unskilled workers did not even amount to 1%.



The general picture of the occupations of Zhetl's community is not exact. We are lacking statistics about business employees, forest merchants and forest employees. We are also lacking information on second or third members of families.

However the general picture is clear. About eighty percent of all Zhetl families were either merchants, storekeepers or artisans.


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