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[Page 8]

Heavenly Slutsk

by Y. D. B.

Translated by Sara Mages

Slutsk, the ancient Jewish city in Raysn [Belarus], which sits on the border of Polesia, surrounded by dense forests and swampy fields, decorated with extensive vegetable gardens and fine fruit gardens. The deep Sluch River, which flows in a narrow channel but in a clear stream, cuts it to its length and breadth. Slutsk is established, its old houses and shops are sturdy although most of them were made of wood. It is praised for its synagogues and schools, big and small yeshivot, which attract young men and boys, who seek education, from the surrounding cities and towns. Its Jewish inhabitants, who are God-fearing and pious, hold on to the old and do not stay away from the new. They are all important homeowners and honest craftsmen, almost all of them are well-versed in the book and even the owners of wagons enter Beit HaMidrash with their whip under their armpit to hear a lesson in the Gemara. The same Slutsk, which was considered to be an important Jewish metropolis, is gone, lost from the world. The beginning of its collapse and destruction took place immediately after the First World War. With the outbreak of the Great Revolution in Russia, gangs of Polish soldiers destroyed the area and abandoned it to all evil and cruel. They attacked cities and towns, carried out pogroms, murdered, robbed and abused their defenseless Jewish inhabitants. Later, the Bolsheviks took control and, apart from bringing distress and hunger to the Jews living in the cities, who were deprived of the means of existence in times of chaos, they also destroyed everything sacred in their lives, everything that exists and lifted their spirit throughout the generations. With brutal malice, under the guise of redeeming the people and repairing the world, it suppressed the Jewish soul and uprooted it with the rage of tyrants. The Jewish population, which was miraculously saved in these places, was destroyed by the beast of horror, the scum of a human race, in the decree of madness of the evil Satan. Slutsk, with all the thousands of Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, was erased from the face of the earth, and no one survived there.

[Page 9]

Therefore, we, the natives of Slutsk and her daughters, the nearby towns, which were bound to it with substance and spirit, need to direct our eyes and our hearts to the Slutsk that once existed, the one that is still in our memory, the nest of our good and warm childhood. It is revealed to us now, out of the fog of the past, as a “Heavenly Slutsk “ as a homeland that no longer exists on the earth, but hovering in the heavens, rising sometimes, in moments of solitude, in our thoughts, in our minds, in our longing for what was and is not - the one that we carry within us, without knowing the best of its inheritance, the influence of her nature and spiritual atmosphere.

“Know where you came from” - this command, in its supreme sense, should serve as a great guide for members of a nation as a whole, but also, to a small extent, for members of the private public in a small corner. We should remember, and we will also tell future generations after us, that we weren't collected from the market, that we are the sons of a father and a mother, natives of a homeland excellent in its virtues, that it is good and pleasant to cling to it, that it is better to receive something from it and learn something from it for the future.


[Page 11]

The City and Its Fullness

by Y. D. Abramsky

Translated by Sara Mages

In the past, a sack of soil from Eretz-Yisrael was brought to a “resting place” in every Jewish city, whereas now, the sons of the Diaspora are awakening to bring a handful of soil from their land in a foreign country to a grave in Eretz-Yisrael, because the soil has turned to ashes.

A fire came out and ate Jewish dwellings.
And there is no survivor.
Only the calamity, the disaster, the memory of destruction survived.
And also Slutsk is nothing but a memory, a story that was…
And Slutsk's hand, which is usually clenched, is now fully open, to spread praises to Slutsk with a wide open hand, to erect a monument for her and thank her for past kindness.

* * *

How is my city from other cities?

Slutsk was specific and recognizable by its own distinguishing features

Slutsk - cities and towns around it - and it wasn't able to subsist without outside help. Slutsk was one of the open cities, open to all four directions, and it took in new forces from there: Kapyl and Timkovits (not only the place of Mendele Mocher Sforim, but also the home of genius rabbis), Uzda (Dvorah Baron), Grozovo and Pohost (Gerzovsky), Viznah (Reuven Valenrod), Strobin and Lyuban (Yitzchak and Zalman Epstein, Rachel Feinberg, HaRav S. Asaf). All were the sons of the city of Slutsk, because each town is like a limb of the city itself, from it, and in it. Slutsk was “Beit HaMoked” [The Hearth], the fire of the Torah blazed there and each “Beit Hanitzutz” [House of Sparks], from near and far, was lit by its fire.

When it was time to build a “yeshiva,” the Ridvaz [Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Wilovsky] set a place for it next to an uncultivated field, outside the city. When he was asked why he wanted to distance the yeshiva from the settlement and its residents, he replied: “If a “patron” [ball in Yiddish, and a nickname for a yeshiva student] will fall - it would fall far from a settlement… However, the “patron” fell in a settlement. Slutsk became the father and the patron of the Torah, Slutsk was the place of study. It firmly sat there.

Slutsk had an abundance of Batei Midrash and synagogues. Its many craftsmen - tailors, blacksmiths and slaughterers, built synagogues for themselves. Wherever a Jew walked in Slutsk, his feet stood in the confines of a synagogue. Everywhere he turned, he was in a synagogue's courtyard. And when you want to know the number of synagogues in Slutsk, you always come to the wrong number: you always remember one too many synagogues, and you always add it to the first ones that you remembered. In any event, Slutsk's houses of worship and synagogues were in the shape of a “Star of David.” At each end, at each angle - a house of worship, and in the center - the heart, the “spiritual center,” Der Shul Hoyf, the synagogues' courtyard, the houses of worships' square.

The houses of worship were full and stuffed, until they gasped.

Slutsk was a city of Mitnagdim [opponents of Hasidim]. Mitnagdim and “extreme,” but not “Hasidim”… The elders of my generation knew to tell a story about R' Yisrael Baal Shem Tov who came to Slutsk, to the city's abyss, and they wanted to hurt him, tie him to a stone in the chilly synagogue (“Di Kalt Shul”) and punish him for disobedience. Baal Shem Tov escaped and the city's gates, which were closed, were torn off and lifted up, and to this day they are suspended in the air. The story of this act can be interpreted: this is Slutsk, gates carried themselves there, bore their head to the name of the Torah, and Slutsk's gate was always a high and elevated. “A city full of sages and writers” wrote about it the emissary of Sabbatai Zvi.

And at the same time Baal Shem Tov said: the Messiah will come when there is a minyan of Hasidim in Slutsk.

During the First World War a group of Hasidim gathered in Slutsk and had their own minyan at the “Shtiebel” of the Synagogue of Mishnayot, and the Messiah has not yet arrived. They said: “Baal Shem Tov didn't say what he said, only when all the Hasidim are followers of one rabbi, while those are not of one rabbi and not of one skin”…

[Page 12]

In the days of “Va'ad Arba' Aratzot” [”Council of Four Lands”], Slutsk's letters were interpreted to say: Solet, LOmdim,Tzadikim, Kzinim [the finest, study, righteous, leaders]. The community leaders were also among the learners, and from them - great scholars. And when they attended the “fairs,” the councils of the lands, their answer was raised to the place of worship, because the home of the city's proprietors was in the synagogues,

* * *

Slutsk was more than a “city of gold,” a “crown of gold” was on its head: Slutsk wore a necklace to its neck and each genius rabbi was a necklace. Slutsk strung a necklace of rabbis, one after another: R' Yosef Feimer (the first), R' Yosef Ber, the Ridvaz, R' Isar Zalman Meltzer (“Even HaEzel”), R' Yehezkel Abramsky (“Hazon Yehezkel”), all of them, the Cedars of Lebanon, the mighty of the Torah.

However, Slutsk didn't conceive and give birth to the “children of this necklace.” They only “lowered the light” on Slutsk. And against them you find the “children of the house,” Slutskaim, sons-of-Sluts aim:  Dr. P. Lifshitz who built the basic law for social sciences in Hebrew, he started out as an economist and sociologist in Hebrew (in his book, “ Social Sciences in Hebrew,” Mr. Gezel Kressel gives P. Lifshitz credit for this primacy), Y.D. Berkowitz, Yakov Cohen, A. A. Lissitzky and Dr. Y. N. Simchoni praised their birthplace among the gates of Slutsk.

And two of them: Avraham Epstein and Meir Waxman, Baruch Katzenelson and the rest of Slutsk's sons, each gave as much as he could, each according to what he is.

* * *

As mentioned, the largest synagogue in the city was called “Di Kalt Shul,” to differentiate it from the Great Synagogue (“Di Grosse Shul”), and there is something in the name to teach you about: it became cold in the synagogue. A chill entered the hearts towards religion and conventional tradition. Another voice was heard with the voice of the Torah, of “new birds.” The letters began to blossom in the Jewish “spring,” the new Hebrew was confused, and it seemed that the old “parchments” were burnt or hidden deeper into a corner. The young people were drawn away from the Torah, drawn to the Hebrew language and its literature. They were the first Zionists and teachers of those who aspired to learn Hebrew.

* * *

But the Torah cannot extinguish its past. There was light and fire in Slutsk, but its shadow was also great. There was someone who once said about Slutsk: Slutsk - to say: Slutsk, Leizanim and [O] TZiknim Kamzanim [Slutsk clowns and stingy cowards]. Slutsk was well known for its stinginess, and the city's clowns were telling about Binyamin Avin (who was a rich man, but not a rich man to his brothers. His hand was clenched, as was the case with every man in Slutsk who was fond of his money the way he was fond of his body, and even more than that). Avin asked a carpenter to make him a wooden box and covered it with white cloth. It was always placed on his table and everyone who saw it said: Ah-Ha, the “rich man” eats cheese every day. A loaf of cheese per day…

This and more: there was a yeshiva student in Minsk who was a great spender. His wife's family tried to convince him to change his taste and way of life. He said to them: what can I do that God made me like that, how can I change for the better? They pleaded with him to travel to Slutsk to learn stinginess from Avin. He was moved by their humble request and traveled. Came, entered the best hostel, ate the heartiest meal and went to Avin. Avin was happy that his reputation precedes him, he found a student worthy of learning from him, and invited him to his home for the Sabbath. He would show him the doctrine of stinginess. On the Sabbath, the yeshiva student from Minsk saw black candles burning and thought: a person, who wants to be a miser, should know that black candles are cheaper than white candles. Then he saw that Avin was making a blessing over coarse-bread, not over fine-bread. He pondered: is this all the wisdom of stinginess? It turns out that I didn't have to spend a fortune on this journey. And when he saw herring instead of fish, he said to himself: the expenses I spent were not worth the damage of time because I didn't acquire more wisdom. And so it was the next day. He was uncomfortable with what he saw until it was time for the “cholent.” And here he sees: the lady of the house, Mrs. Avin, unties the stuffed intestines and hangs the strings on a hook on the wall. What is the reason for that? - asked the yeshiva student. Avin answered and said: these strings can be used several more times.

[Page 13]

slu013.jpg
The “Cold” Synagogue (Di Kalt Shul)

 

The yeshiva student was immediately satisfied and his heart was no longer troubled: this thing would not have occurred to me, and if I only came for this thing only - my expenses are justified.

However, Slutsk's stinginess was a fable, kind of tale, but not a real act. Things were exaggerated.

The story of Slutsk, the reality of Slutsk: the moneylenders in it. There were, there were loan sharks in Slutsk.

* * *

The “Community Book” of Slutsk is, in general, the “Community Book” of the entire “community,” and other communities in those days. From the description of each community you can learn about Slutsk and, the other way around, from what you discover about Slutsk you are allowed to tap on other Jewish settlements. The history researchers of Slutsk would probably reveal much of what was wrapped in mystery to this day. It is a place for scholars and persons of powerful memory to study and explore.

In the past, Slutsk, like any other Jewish metropolis, it was a “place” and not “time”: it was a Jewish settlement and it seemed to stand still, frozen, beyond all time. Whereas now - the place is destroyed and desolate. There's only “time,” a memory of the days that were. In the words of one, who observes, looks and sees, and knows what he sees: “geography ended, history has begun again.”

* * *

Was Slutsk a rich city with great poverty, or a poor city with great wealth? I catch that last expression: poor and rich in poverty, meager - and proud. There was a lively Jewish life there. Slutsk was rich in power: there was Jewish charm, Jewish friendship, and Jewish brain. The children of the poor had a strong will and, therefore, didn't kneel under the burdens of their lives. They, the porters, who shouldered the suffering, looked up: to education, Zionism, and socialism. The ideal got them to their feet, gave them strength to live. They ate a little bread, bread of poverty, but not bread of nerves. They ate their bread happily and hopefully, a small amount of bread and a lot of vision, a narrow plot of land and vast horizon. The sky over Slutsk was vastly larger than the land of Slutsk. Life and hopes fermented in the depths of poverty.

[Page 14]

Indeed, there was a thing called “the instinct of existence.” If not for this instinct of existence, how, how were they able to be enlightened with the light of the living and emerge from this darkness of Slutsk, Slutsk the poor and the dark?

Slutsk was also compared to a king who had thin glasses. The king said: “if I put hot liquid in them - they crack, cold - they collapse.” And what did he do? He mixed hot with cold, put it in them, and they stood. Slutsk was a vessel that collapsed and lost its original form. But Slutsk was twisted, “black - and beautiful.” This vessel lasted for many years, and for many years this vessel held Judaism and preserved Judaism. Slutsk, which blackened and rotted, wasn't only a virtue of smoke, but also a virtue of grace and beauty…

At the doorstep of Kiryat Sefer [republic of letters] sits Efraim E. Lisitzky, a native of Slutsk, son of poverty, and he is tortured and bleeding.

Mendele [Mocher Sfarim] wrote “Sefer Hakabzanim” [The Book of Baggers]. Bialik is the “poet of poverty” of a good family (Shirati, Yatmot, Shivah), Lisitzky wrote in “The History of Man” that he is not only a man of the poor class, but also from the edge of society, from the most outcasts who have no attribution. His father was a water-drawer, “Givony” [woodcutter and water drawer for the entire community]. And he drank the cursed bitter water, the poisoned water.

And they turned in him into living water.

A thorn sat in his heart. Lisitzky turned the crown of thorns into a bouquet of flowers, not the “flowers of evil,” but flowers of glory and majesty.

A personal binding, Lisitzky was sacrificed in Slutsk: according to his origin and birth. He's Iyyov [Job] that was and became - for example, to be an example, a sign and a wonder. Even God, so it seems to me, is watching Lisitzky with honor. God examined him carefully and found him worthy to be filled with life experiences.

An autobiography was not written for Shlomo Maimon in Lisitzky's autobiography, “The History of Man.” You cannot find many books like this one in any nation and language. In Hebrew literature there's no one more pure and more holy than Lisitzky.

He was born - in the furnace of poverty. He grew up - in purgatory, the purgatory of suffering. Berger was his brother and Lisitzky was greater than him as a man, as the writer of a biography, the history of life. His revelation is nothing more than the events of his life and the circumstances surrounding his life. This is the history of all the poor people of Slutsk who lived in darkness and drew light.

* * *

About the end, about the parting from Slutsk, told me Akivah Barski, my soul mate, and the story, the story of us all:

One day, the place became too narrow for me in Slutsk, as if I was bigger than Slutsk, A city which is actually a town, a big town, a family unit, or a home, with many branches and wings. And I was a stranger in my family, cut off from them. I became alienated and also fell into great terror and darkness. I didn't have a bright and polished perspective, I only saw blackness. I saw an act: a brother rose up against his brother - in the market! - and killed him with a log: two brothers - natives of the place and sons of the sons of Avraham Avinu - one of them was Cain and the other was Abel. The light in my soul darkened, my soul suffered. And I saw more: the arrest of Zionists in Slutsk and their prosecution, their stand in the trial with Jewish dignity and Jewish pride. These two things filled my whole heart, and my soul found no other interest to deal with. I wanted to escape, to escape to the big city. The big city is bigger than me, there's “no end” there, there's serenity there. You see clearly, the city is too big to hold in your arms. Your arms will not contain it, and it will contain you. And there was a vague hope in your heart that you would meet a group of pioneers and cross the border with them in secret. I ran away once, and failed, and ran away for the second time, and failed again. In the end, I came to a large city in Russia. Slutsk dropped from my memory, as if it had fallen to the bottom of my knowledge and lay hidden deep in my soul.
I also didn't find my place in the big city, and in the end, God revived me and I arrived to Eretz-Yisrael.

And I drew Slutsk from of the depths of my soul. I turned back to her.

And behold, it shines in the light of the Torah, illuminates many lights: Torah and enthusiasm, enthusiasm for Hebrew, literature and spiritual renewal. Rich, rich, was Slutsk, and from Slutsk's well, the well of life, the heart will go forth and irrigate the past with the drug of life, and the future with a drink of grace, innocence and hope...


[Page 15]

History of the City

From Encyclopedias

From the Russian Jewish Encyclopedia published by Brockhaus–Efron

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

slu015.jpg
  Map key
  1. Nesvizh (Niasviž)
  2. to Baranovichi
  3. Liachavičy
  4. Timkovichi
  5. Kletsk
  6. Kapyl
  7. Hrozava
  8. Hresk
  9. to Minsk
  10. luch River
  11. Semezhevo
  12. Romanovo
  13. Vizhna
  14. Pohost
  15. Starobin
  16. Moroch River
  17. Slutsk
  18. Urechya
  19. Lyuban
  20. Uresa River
  21. Hlusk
  22. Verkhutino
  23. Staryya Darhoi
  24. Horki
  25. Asipovichi
  26. Berezina River
  27. Babruysk

 

The City of Slutsk was the capital city of the Principality of Slutsk in the Region of Novogorodok. The earliest information regarding Jews relates to the year 1583. There was already a Jewish community in Slutsk at the beginning of the 17th century. According to the regulations of the Lithuanian Council of 1623, it was under the influence of the Brisk Council. The heads of the council only included community of Slutsk among the chief communities in 1691, having taken into account the population increase and the Torah greatness therein. From that time, the delegate (head of the state) of Slutsk sat in meetings with the right to vote when they adjudicated matters that affected the Jews of Lithuania. The final meeting of the council took place in Slutsk in 1761. When brigades from Moscow invaded Lithuania in 1655, a commotion took place in Slutsk and the Jews fled to Vilna. At the end of the military disturbances, Slutsk once again became a commercial and information center of Lithuania. The Radziwills, who were the owners of the Principality of Slutsk, assisted greatly in the restoration and expansion of the city. They preferred Jews over other residents. This explains the complaint of the Slutsk Archemandrite to Prince Boguslaw Radziwill in 1660. The Greek Russian Church in Slutsk complained to the commissar of the Principality about this once again in 1754, stating that with the leasing of the meat tax to Jews, all the income of the priesthood had disappeared. In 1776, the number of Jews in the community of Slutsk and its region reached 1,577 (Ledgers of the Communities of Lithuania, according to Bershadski[1]). According to the ledgers of the year 1800, there were 3 Christian merchants, 47 Jewish merchants, 641 Christian citizens, and 1,537 Jewish citizens. According to the revision and inspection of 1847 in the district, the community of Slutsk had a population of 5,897, and Kapyl had 1,824. According to the census of 1897, there were more than 260,000 residents in the district, including 40,906 Jews. This included 14,349 residents of Slutsk, of whom 10,264 were Jews. From among the residents of the district: Vizhna – 1,593 residents of whom 532 were Jews; Hresk – 1,674 residents of whom 207 were Jews; Hrozava – 928 residents of whom 765 were Jews; Kapyl – 4,463 residents of whom 2,671 were Jews; Pohost – 863 Jews of whom 685 were Jews; Romanowa – 1,535 residents of whom 494 were Jews; Semezhevo – 2,538 residents of whom 288 were Jews; Starobin – 2,315 residents of whom 1,494 were Jews; Timkovichi – 2,393 residents of whom 1,523 were Jews.

From information from 1910, there was a two–grade private school in Slutsk for children, a seminary for girls, a Talmud Torah, a Yeshiva, and a private school.

 

Documents

A royal command to the Slutsk Prince Yury regarding the return of merchandise that had been confiscated in Slutsk to the king's subject, the Jew Shmuel Nochimovich of Kobrin, with the addition of reparations for the merchandise that had been damaged or was missing, in accordance with the list of the aforementioned Shmuel.

In the event of non–fulfilment of his command, the king ordered to repay

[Page 16]

the aforementioned Jew in lieu of the entire sum of 100 kopecks, owned by ten servants from among the subjects of the Prince of Slutsk, up to the complete amount of the damages of the aforementioned Shmuel.

* * *

This command was issued in accordance with the principality, and was adjudicated in court by the commissars of the king. The Prince of Slutsk refused to allow the commissars of the king to be present while the list of the aforementioned Shmuel's confiscated merchandise was being inspected. The merchandise was being guarded in the home of a Polish citizen.

Number 167, October 5, 1537.

From the registry books of events of Lithuania.

“Matters of Judgments” number 21, paragraph 195.

* * *

The command of King Sigismund to Yuri, the Prince of Slutsk, regarding the return of merchandise to Yoska Peiskovich, a Jew of Brisk, that was stolen from him by Werbicki, the director of the estate of the Slutsk Prince in Petrikov, as well as the issue of payment for the missing merchandise in accordance with the price set in Yoska's list regarding the pillaged property.

October 5, 1537, number 166.

From the registry books of events of Lithuania

Paragraph 193, number 21.

* * *

A letter from King Sigismund to Yuri, the Slutsk Prince, in which the king explains that justice demands equal rights for a simple person as well. Therefore, the king sees no possibility to permit the Prince of Slutsk to be a sole judge regarding Werbicki, the director of his estate in Petrikov. Rather, he commands the Prince of Slutsk to provide an accounting to the commissars, the emissaries of the king, regarding the accusation against Werbicki for attacking the Jew Yoske Szajn, a citizen of the king, along a free roadway, pillaging the money (from the income of the district of Mohilov and the district of Bobruisk), that he was bringing to the treasury, and for imprisoning him in the warehouse.

Number 165, June 20, 1537.

From the registry books of events of Lithuania, paragraph, number 21, in 159.

* * *

From the General Russian Encyclopedia published by Brockhaus–Efron

Slutsk is a district city in the Minsk region, on the banks of the Sluch River. It has a population of 14,180, including 6,764 men and 7,416 woman, one monastery for men, eight Christian churches (including Ospansko–Nikolivskaya, built in 1409), one Roman Catholic church, a Calvinist, two synagogues, and several Jewish houses of worship, a gymnasja for males, an Orthodox school, a school of the Pravovlavic Church (Приходское училище – Parish School), a seminary for Jewish girls, a Talmud Torah, private cheders, several charitable organizations, civic hospitals next to the prisons, and an infirmary next to the school for priests.

In 1896, the income of the city was 16,264 rubles, the expenditures were 15,986 rubles. There were two flourmills, a beer brewery, and businesses to work and tend to plantations and vegetable gardens. Many of the residents of Slutsk and its region grew fruit that excelled in taste and health. The pears of Slutsk (beri) were especially well–known.

Slutsk is first mentioned in the annals of the generations in 1116, when it belonged to the Kievan Prince Vladimir Monomakh, and it was conquered and burnt by the Minsk Prince Gleb. In 1148, Slutsk transferred to the ownership of the Chernigovian Prince Stanislav. Fourteen years later, it transferred to the Kievan Prince Mstislav, and later to the Turovian Prince. At around 2017, Slutsk was owned by the Lithuanian princes. After the unification with Kapyl in 1395, a special area was created where the first prince, Vladimir Olgradovich, ruled. Prince Oleksander (Olelko) was considered as one of the princes of Slutsk, who were called by the name Olelkoviches. Through their direction and rulership, the city was built up and expanded at a quick pace. In the year 1444, it was considered as one of the principal cities in Lithuania. At the end of the 15th century, the city suffered from attacks by the Crimean Tatars. They did not succeed in conquering its fortresses. Slutsk especially suffered from the Tatars during the years 1503–1504, and from Michal Glinski in 1506. At that time, Princess Anastasia, the mother of the young Prince Yuri II, headed the defense of the city. In 1579, Slutsk was divided among three brothers. In the wake of this partition, Old Slutsk, New Slutsk, and Ostrov remain to this day.

Sofia, the last of the Olelkovich dynasty, married Prince Jan Radziwill. After her death, it transferred as a bequest to the Radziwills. They imposed German law and order, and conducted bi–weekly market days there. They also organized effective and strong army brigades. Thanks to them, they were able to stand up to the Moscow army in 1655. From 1673 until 1732, friction and disputes arose between the Radziwills and the Sofiagites, which concluded in favor of the former. From that time, an economic decline began in the city, to the point that, in 1775, the residents of the city had to be freed from various taxes and fees for the period of several consecutive years. After the area was annexed to Russia in 1795, Slutsk was declared as a regional city in the commissionership of Minsk. In 1848, Slutsk was sold by Prince Wittgenstein to the Russian government for the price of 342,821 rubles (lists of information from the district of Minsk, 1878).

The district of Slutsk consists of an area of 18,528 square verst[2], or 713,833 dessiatin[3].

After the census of 1897, the population in the district of Slutsk numbered 261,047, corresponding to 39.1 individuals per square verst. The district of Slutsk was third in the district of Minsk in terms of population density, following the districts of Minsk and Novogorodok. The Pravoslavs formed 73.3% of the population, the Catholics 8.8%, the protestants 0.1%, and the Jews 17.3% (most of them in towns), and the Muslims 0.5%. The farmers formed 65.7% of the population, the city residents 23.5%, the nobility 4.6%, with the remaining 6.1% belonging to other classes.

Commerce was centered in Slutsk, Nesvizh, and other towns. The towns that were prominent in commerce included Kletsk, Kapyl, Lachovichi (which provided approximately a half a million pod of grain), and Starobin. The district of Slutsk included a city (Nesvizh), 12 towns, and 514 villages and other settlements (such as farms and the like). There were 62 Pravoslavic churches, 6 Catholic churches, 4 mosques, and 15 Jewish synagogues and houses of worship. There were 11 postal and telegraph branches (outside of the city ones), 2 village hospitals (with 10 beds), 4 infirmaries, 2 physicians, 7 pharmacies, a teachers seminary in Nesvizh, 31 public schools of various types, 11 church affiliated schools, cheders, and yeshivas. In some schools, professional studies were taught, including gardening, planting, and beekeeping. There were many mounds of earth, ruins of settlements and paved roads in the district.

The ancient settlements in the district included Kapyl and Kletsk (which was its own principality).

* * *

The crafted weaving and handworking products in the second half of the 18th and first half of the 18th century were called

[Page 17]

“Slutsk belts.” Production of those belts was set up in 1758. They served as a substitute for valuable belts that were imported from the lands of the east for the suits of the wealthy people of White Russia, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia. After some time, these belts were also manufactured in Nesvizh, Warsaw, Krakow, and other places, with the name “Slutsk Belts” being preserved. They also imitated them in the French and Moscow factories. The Slutsk belts were woven of silk, silver, and gold. They were double sided, very long (3–4 meters) and wide (5–30 centimeters). A narrow, marginal adornment was on the perimeter, with wonderful designs copied from the plant world. The first artist and craftsman in Slutsk was Armoni (according to another version: Ungari) Jan Mozeski and his son Leon. The Slutsk belts are found in many current house, and in museums of the U.S.S.R, Poland, and other countries.

 

The Soviet Encyclopedia

Slutsk is a central regional city in the Minsk Region of White Russia. It is situated on the banks of the Sluch River, and is on the Baranovichi–Asipovichi railway line. It has factories for mechanical welding, fixing of engines, sawing lumber, manufacturing of butter and cheese, and others. It has four high schools, two public schools with seven grades, a school for working youth, schools for mechanics, two libraries, a culture house, a theater, and movie theaters.

Surrounding the city are fields of grain, wheat, barley, corn, flax, tobacco, potatoes, and all types of fruits and vegetables, as well as for the care and raising of livestock. There are three stations –for tractor repair, and for machines for the drying and raining of bogs.

 

slu017.jpg
The entrance to the agricultural exhibition on Wygoda Street in 1908

 

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Bershadski Return
  2. An obsolete Russian unit of measure. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verst Return
  3. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dessiatin Return


[Page 18]

From Historical Ledgers

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The aspiration for internal autonomy in preserving economic and spiritual life stands out in the history of Jews in the Diaspora. This aspiration was expressed strongly in ancient times from the Babylonian exile until the Diaspora of Spain. We will not deal extensively with this in this survey, but rather only touch on matters relevant to our enterprise, the memorial book of Slutsk a major Jewish city.

The Council of the Four Lands was founded during the 16th century, in 1580, which is the year 5341 according to our calendar. It included Lesser Poland, Greater Poland, Rus, and Volhynia. In the year 5348 [1588], Lithuania was added, and from the regulations of that year, the “Five Lands” are mentioned (Lesser Poland, Greater Poland, Rus. Volhynia, and Lithuania). The main communities were Poznan, Krakow, Lwow, and Brisk.

For many years, the communities of Lithuania, headed by the community of Brisk, participated in the Council of Four Lands, but in the year 5383 (1623), after the community of Lithuania had developed from an economic and spiritual perspective, the leaders of the communities of Lithuania gathered in Brisk and founded the Council of the State of Lithuania, in which the leaders of Brisk, Horodno, and Pinsk were the first to participate.

At a meeting of the Council of the State in the year 5412 [1652], they decided to include the leaders of Vilna. The community of Slutsk was under the influence of the community of Brisk, and only in the year 5451 (1691) was it granted an equal place with the other communities on the Council of the State.

The meetings of the aforementioned councils took place during the fair days in various central cities, and dealt with question that arose at the times.

  1. The relationship with the central and local governments.
  2. Imposition and collection of government taxes.
  3. The internal order of life in the communities: the election of parnassim [administrators], judges, gabbaim [trustees], shamashim [beadles], etc.
  4. Matters of religion and education (Yeshivas and Talmud Torahs).
  5. Economic matters, leasing of property, taxes, etc.
In a meeting of the Council of the State of Lithuania that took place in Brisk in the year 5383 (1623), a charter was composed that covered all orders of life in the Jewish communities.

The charter deals with the obligations of each community to the government, internal relations between the communal members, and intercommunal relations.

The following are the sources. We bring some excerpts of them with omissions.

949 959

Rister Terifa, the assessment of a head tax that as assessed for each person, as we, the tribes of Israel, gather together, that is the captains, leaders and heads of the communities of our country, may it be built up, who were chosen from the primary holy communities to the holy council in the state. The holy community of Slutsk, may it be protected [has been assessed] (6,000) Polish zloty, corresponding to 41 guilder to our mighty, pious master, the great, famous ruler, the renowned, great head of the army of the State of Lithuania, may G–d protect it; as well as the sum of 21 guilder to the flag of the tribunal. This was enacted with the agreement of all the leaders chosen, may G–d protect them, in accordance with our and their regulation. Today, Friday, eve of the holy Sabbath 24 Sivan 5551 [1791]. – – – The holy communities of Slutsk, Hlusk, and Kapyl, T.Ch. Z.P.

951 961

The sum made in the great country of Lithuania, may G–d protect it, in the council of the state in Slutsk, may G–d preserve it, 5551 [1791] a – – – the holy community of Slutsk with the holy community of Kapyl. A.Z. Ch.G.

956

Regarding that which took place in the holy council of the greater state, here in the holy community of Slutsk in the year 5521 [1761], where the holy community of Amdor dealt with the head tariff as it is, and as it never had been previously, for they were evaluated together with the holy community of Horodno and the district a – – – .

957

With the help of the Blessed G–d. The following are the significant enactments that we here, the sages, have enacted, and the strong men and the counts of the country, in a gathering of the nations together and in a gathering of the heads and leaders of the nation, may G–d protect them, the leaders, captains, and heads of the State of Lithuania together with the honorable rabbis and Gaonim, the renowned luminaries of the holy council of the greater state, may G–d protect it, in the holy community of Slutsk, may G–d protect it, 5521 [1761].

(All the enactments of the council of Slutsk up to item 1027 are also noted in an arrangement unique to this council, from item 1 until 69.)

1027

All of the previous enactments that were not contradicted through the enactments of this current holy convention remain in force. (And every enactment in the conventions that has been erased, and the leaders of the states have enacted them themselves in accordance with their own will, and not in accordance with the Gaonim. All the aforementioned, has come forth from us, the rabbis, Gaonim, people of renown, heads of the rabbinical courts, heads of the Yeshivas of the primary communities, in conjunction with the heads of the communities of our country, may G–d protect it. We have signed today, Wednesday 27 Tammuz 5521 [1761], here in the holy community of Slutsk, may G–d protect it, and the holy council of the greater state.)

Regarding the acceptance of the mediator of the state in Vilna 5521 [1761]

– – – We have agreed with complete agreement, and have chosen and accepted the venerable and great scholar, Rabbi Chaim the son of Rabbi Yosef as a mediator, to be the emissary of G–d and of us to intercede and to serve as attorney throughout our country of Lithuania, may G–d protect it. His eyes will be open to all the needs of the state, to defend us before the king, may his honor increase, and the ministers of the kingdom – – – His salary will be paid from all the guilders of the head [tax], the larger half according to the tariffs, in a manner that his residence will be specifically in the holy community of Vilna. – – –

All the aforementioned has come from us, the leaders, captains, and heads of the provinces of the major communities, in conjunction with the honorable rabbis, the great luminaries, heads of the rabbinical courts, heads of Yeshivas, may G–d protect and bless them. At our convention here at the meeting of the great state. Today, Sunday, 24 Tammuz, 5521 [1761], in the holy community of Slutsk.

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Regarding the warning that was sent from the leaders, captains, and heads of the holy community of Vilna, and from the honorable leaders and captains of the holy community of Slutsk; a special emissary was sent to the holy community of Shklov to come to a meeting of the council of our state of Lithuania, may G–d protect it, that will convene in the holy community of Slutsk. They should come with all their complaints and demands to the aforementioned leaders, captains, and heads that come from the holy community of Shklov and the country of Russia, whether regarding debs that are owed by the states of Russia and from the holy community of Shklov to the aforementioned communities, or with regard to the tariffs, or with regard to the rabbinate. –

 

From the Ledger of the State of Lithuania to Dubnow

The names of the rabbis and communal leaders who signed the enactments of the councils, as well as those mentioned within the edicts (Ledger of the State of Lithuania to Dubnow)

  1. Aryeh Leib, the head of the rabbinical court of Slutsk. 939.
  2. Asher Zelig the son of Yosef Freinkel of Slutsk. 947–48.
  3. Yehuda Yudel the son of the holy Avraham Halevi Horowitz of Slutsk. 947, 948.
  4. Yaakov the son of Yitzchak Izik HaLevi Epstein of Slutsk. 949, 951, 953, 1027, 1028, 1029, 302.
  5. Yitzchak Izik the son of Avigdor of Slutsk 949, 951, 953, 302.
  6. Yitzchak Meir the son of Yona, the head of the rabbinical court of Slutsk (also of Pinsk).
  7. Yissachar Ber, the head of the rabbinical court of Slutsk. 952, 1027, 1029, 1030, 302, 304.
  8. Tzvi Hirsch the son of Moshe, the scribe of the state, from Slutsk. 950, 951, 953, 954, 956, 303, 302.
  9. Shaul the son of Tzvi Hirsh Mezia of Slutsk. 942.
During the time of the head of the rabbinical court, Rabbi Avraham Epstein of blessed memory who served as the head of the rabbinical court in Horodno from the year 5376–5393 [1616–1633], the council of the state of Lithuania separated from the state of Poland, which conducted itself in accordance with the Council of the Four Lands. They set up for themselves a council of three main communities in the year 5393 [1623]: the first was Brisk, the second Horodno, and the third Pinsk. From the year 5430 [1670], Vilna was also a main community, numbered fourth. In the year 5451 [1691], Slutsk became the fifth main community.

 

Relations Between the Communities (A compromise between the holy community of Slutsk and three main communities regarding business in several areas)

The leaders of the holy communities of Horodno, Pinsk, and Vilna made a positive compromise with the important leaders of the holy communities of Slutsk regarding the business of those three communities with Slutsk. That is: permission was given for those communities to conduct business in the city of Slutsk to the extent that they please, whether to buy or to sell. However, they can only bring in four individuals at one time, and no more. These four individuals can only remain there for a period of two weeks from when they first arrived. The merchandise that they bring to Slutsk cannot be sold to any gentile during the first three days from the bringing of the merchandise to Slutsk. They cannot make any ruse or trick in this manner, under threat of confiscation. If they cannot sell to Jews within the first three days from bringing in the merchandise, then they have permission to sell all or some of the merchandise to any gentile that they desire. After the end of those three days, no resident of the aforementioned communities can come to Slutsk for business until six weeks after the four individuals leave Slutsk. After the conclusion of the six weeks, residents of those communities are permitted to come to Slutsk for business for a period of two weeks. They can only bring the four aforementioned individuals at one time, and in any case, in accordance with the aforementioned protocol. This is enacted from today and forever as an inviolable law until the end of all generations. The residents of the aforementioned communities cannot keep merchandise in the houses of gentiles in Slutsk, but rather only in the markets and the streets, in accordance with the aforementioned protocols. Enacted on Monday, 18 Elul 5394 [1624]

(Enactments of the council from 5394)

 

From the Ledger of the Council of Four Lands

It is noted that the Duchess Battenstein announced that the Catholic apostate Jan Serafinowicz libeled the Jews and appeared at the blood libel trial in Kuzmir and testified that Jews require the blood of Christians. He was summoned to trial by the Council of the Four Lands, and escaped. She issued a certificate that his guilt has not been proven.

The apostate was born in Brisk of Lithuania [Brest Litovsk], and received rabbinical ordination in Slutsk and Brisk (according to the words of Father Pikolski in his anti–Semitic work)

506 – 984

As I pass through the holy community of Kostantin in the company of eminent rabbis, great luminaries, the Gaonim of the country who have gathered together from the four lands of the country of Poland, may G–d protect it – – as the spokesman states – – Sunday night 11 Elul 5506 [1746], which actually was on the Sabbath, on Saturday night (Geulat Ben David)[1]

Avraham the son of the Gaon Rabbi David Katzenelboigen, of the holy community of Slutsk, may G–d protect it.

 

Amulets

Blessed is G–d, Sunday 27 Menachem [Av] 5512[2]. My words have already been stated, a statement of love, holy love, to cleanse and purify myself from the travesty that took place in Israel[3] with regard to several amulets – – and a writ was already issued from the leaders of the State of Lithuania, may G–d protect it – – – I was shown several amulets, and we have no clarity regarding who produced them – – – therefore they are banned and forbidden before G–d – – – Anyone who intends to enter the name of Shabtai Tzvi, may his name be blotted out, into the amulets – – these are the words of Avraham, etc.

In Edut Yaakov, page 50 (70), the name is written in full: Avraham of the family of Katen Aleh (Elen Bogen), may G–d protect and bless him, who lives in the holy community of Slutsk, may G–d protect it.

In the ledgers of the Council of the Four Lands, page 71, from the year 5424 (from the Gromnitz fair) at a meeting of the elders of the lands, we find the name of Rabbi Yissachar Ber Segal, the head of the rabbinical court of Slutsk, participated in the meeting “to rectify every thing and statement properly in accordance to the good hand of G–d upon them. Only with respect to taxes and communal payments, and anyone who wants to move their place of residence from our community – – “

454

Its pages are seven, sermons from Rabbi Betzalel the son of Rabbi Shlomo, the preacher of Slutsk, Prague, 434. The Council of the State of Lithuania provided significant help to the author to publish his book. Apparently, the Council of the Four

[Page 20]

Lands also helped him to some degree, as the author testifies in his introduction: I found grace in the eyes of the captains, chiefs, heads, and leaders of the State of Lithuania, who generously gave me a large, great gift to publish my book. I also found grace in the eyes of the captains, heads, and chiefs of the State of Poland, who did good and proper for me.”

444 – 415

The rabbi and renowned, great luminary, the honorable Rabbi Meir the son of the great luminary Rabbi Yona Teomim (head of the rabbinical court of Zalkovi, and later in Slutsk and Pinsk, died before the year 5463 [1703]), may the memory of the holy be blessed. His kindness was great and wondrous, with vigorous diligence, to publish the fine book, Ein Yaakov, with novellae on aggada [Talmudic lore] – – – Thus are the words of the leaders, captains, chiefs, and heads of the four lands, may G–d protect them, at the holy convention on the market day, which is a time of gathering every day, Sunday, 13 Tishrei, 5444 [1685], here in the holy community of Jaroslaw.

Signed – – –

376

Regarding matters and disputes that broke out in the fairs of Kapyl and Stolovich [Stalovichy], and there is nobody to function as a mediator, to realize the results of mediation. It arose, and was concluded: at all fairs, there should be a special shamash [functionary] who is fitting for mediation. That shamash must stand on guard for all needs of mediation during the times of the fair, with all his energy: for the needs of individuals or the public. The income for serving in that capacity at that fair will go to that shamash. The acceptance of a shamash for the Kapyl fair will be in accordance with the two communities of Slutsk and Nesvizh, in conjunction with the merchants of the community of Brisk. The acceptance of a shamash for the Stolovich fair will be in accordance with the merchants of the community of Brisk, and the expenses will be paid as above.

 

From the Ledger of the State of Lithuania, convention of 5451 [1691]

Today, the case of the leaders, chiefs, and heads of the holy community of Slutsk, may G–d protect it, has come before us, with the presentation of many complaints against the leaders, chiefs and heads of the holy community of Brisk, may G–d protect it, regarding that they have been subordinate to the community of Brisk, may G–d protect it. Today, G–d has made them numerous, and they are as the stars of the heavens in purity. It is a big city, with many political opinions, and we praise them. They have evaluated their situation, and wish that their splendid, praiseworthy community be recognized among the main communities in an honorable fashion We have already seen the strength of what was written already by the Gaonim of the land and the rabbis and leaders of the communities of our State of Lithuania, the holy ones of the land, who connected themselves and gave honor to the G–d fearing leaders of the holy community of Slutsk, may G– d protect it. It has already been several years that they were not able to see the conclusion of this, and to set the matter straight. As of this day, after negotiations and great deliberations, when we heard and also saw in the city of G–d, with a praiseworthy community, scholars of intelligence, of which the walls of the houses of study testify that their wisdom spreads afar, who expound the Torah with proper faith, built like fortresses, with brave people around them, and a double edged sword in their hand to fight the battles of the Torah, pious people of modesty, of whom it is fitting to make use of the crown of freedom[4]. After seeing all this regarding the praiseworthy city, of course, it is established in Heaven, and is declared that they should have a praiseworthy mark and name. Therefore, in accordance with their recommendation, and in accordance with the will of the two leaders of the aforementioned sides, we have issued a verdict, and it should be established. The following is what has emanated from us:

From this day and onward forever, until the advent of the Messiah, the holy community of Slutsk will be an independent community in accordance with their honor. The leaders and heads of the holy community of Brisk will have no authority or governance over the leaders and heads of the holy community of Slutsk in any matter, whether large or small, from anything that the mouth can speak and the heart can think, in any fashion at all. All complaints, disputes, verdicts, written statements, and oral demands that existed between the leaders of the two aforementioned sides up to this day, everything is null and voice, as a broken shard. Neither side can have any complaint against the other. Furthermore, the leaders of the holy community of Slutsk can have settlements, that is, all areas within six parasangs of the holy community of Slutsk, whether a community or individuals, are all considered subordinate to them, and must heed their statements. We have extended this matter only for the holy community of Kapyl until the next convention, when it will be registered in the ledger. Eight weeks prior to that future convention, the leaders of the holy community of Slutsk have permission to deal with the three main communities, may G–d protect them, other than the holy community of Brisk which does not have to be consulted, and to intercede with the three aforementioned communities regarding Kapyl, and it will be established by majority. In any case, judgments regarding the holy community of Kapyl will be adjudicated at the judges of the fairs. Other individuals will belong to the cemetery of the holy community of Slutsk, which is a holy, complete city, even if they are beyond six parasangs from the holy community of Slutsk.[5]

We have seen that the leaders, heads, and chiefs of the holy community of Slutsk, which is the holy city, full of council, a bustling city full of scholars and scribes, dear sons of Zion, who are fitting to be experts and noblemen, all the leaders and heads of the four main holy communities at the gathering of the emissaries of our state (Lithuania), may G–d protect it, were all willing to give over of their honor, and to coronate them with the crown of glory, so that the leaders and heads of the holy community of Slutsk could become the fifth community in Lithuania, may G–d protect it. The division of honor and leadership will apply to their Gaon and rabbi as one of the other main communities, may G–d protect them, from now and forever. This will apply in the following manner: That they have two state heads as of today, and that in the current convention they will have one additional assessor; after the current convention, that is eight weeks prior to the next convention, they leaders and heads of the community of Slutsk have permission to approach the four leaders and heads of the main communities, may G–d protect them, and to present their words regarding the third head of the state, and it will be established according to the will of the majority of those heads of communities; and if the heads of the communities do not agree, then, in any case, after the conclusion of three state conventions that will take place after the current convention, they will have a third head of state. On account of the sitting of the council, the leaders of the community of Slutsk will have a place on the council of the state. Their rabbi, head of the rabbinical court, and Yeshiva head will be the rearguard. They will also have a parnas [administrator] for the state council, a scribe, and a shamash. They matter will wait until the convention of the council first takes place in the holy community of Vilna, and then it will cycle around in turn. Then, when the time for the holy community of Vilna arrives, the leaders of the holy community of Slutsk will have permission to present their matters regarding the aforementioned distribution of honor. Regarding judgments during the fairs, they will have one judge in all the fairs, with the exception of the Kletzk fair and the Zelwa fair, where they won't have a judge. At the Kapyl fair, the leaders of the holy community of Slutsk will have permission to choose their rabbi and appoint him as judge, for those fairs, or for one judge[6]. Regarding the convention of kinds and ministers,

[Page 21]

the holy community of Slutsk will only send in accordance with the approval of the heads of the main communities. However if the heads of the holy community of Slutsk wish to send to the convention of kings and ministers at their own expense, they are permitted, and it will be required that their emissary be included in all business of the convention like the rest of the heads of the communities, may G–d protect them. If necessary, the heads and leaders of the holy community of Brisk or the heads and leaders of the holy communities of Slutsk can interchange with each other, Brisk with Slutsk or Slutsk with Brisk. If the state gathers for their aforementioned business, they should not sit atop of each other. Only the Gaonim and rabbis from the two aforementioned communities are approved to conduct their business. At the end of six years, the leaders of the holy community of Brisk will have the option to not exchange with the holy community of Slutsk, and to not negotiate their busines between the aforementioned conventions. Thus, the holy community of Slutsk should not exchange with the holy community of Brisk, and the only ones who shall conduct their business are the rabbis of the two aforementioned communities, who are authorized to sit. All this is only for twenty years from today. Aside from all the aforementioned details, they are equal to the other heads of communities, may G–d protect them. At the current convention and the upcoming convention, the holy community of Brisk should not interchange with the holy community of Slutsk, and the holy community of Slutsk should not interchange with the holy community of Brisk.[7]

All the aforementioned has been decided upon at a full meeting and with a full, pure table, also with the approval of the sides in any case, and with full force and effective authority. No rabbinical court or community of any state, and no rabbi, even in a convention of the leaders ,shall speak against this or negate any of the aforementioned details stated in good faith. They shall not even change the smallest tittle of any large or small matter. Everything shall remain in full force as an immoveable stake , as words of the wise, and as nails planted firmly from now and forever. If any person, no matter who, whether an individual, a group, or a community, wishes to dispute this decision or to remove even the smallest tittle of the aforementioned, then they will be punished with bans, excommunication, harsh, bitter punishments, and large fines that will be unbearable. All the aforementioned is on paper, written so it can be read currently and for generations, so it will stand for many years until the advent of the Messiah, who will take us to freedom and liberty.

These are the words of the leaders, captains, and heads of the states of our county of Lithuania, may G–d protect it, in conjunction with the honor of the great luminaries, the heads of the rabbinical courts and the heads of the Yeshivas of our country (Lithuania), today on 2 Adar II, 5450 [1690], at the convention of the state in the holy community of Chomsk, may G–d protect it.

 

The Convention of 5521 [1761] in the Holy Community of Slutsk

It was discussed that several communities and regions are obligated in the head tax. Every community, region, state, and city that does not discharge [the tax] for every head, and pay the expense, is liable to have some merchant from the community or the state sequestered.

957 (967)

It was noted that these are the great edicts that have been discussed here by the wise ones, enacted and formulated by the heads and chiefs of the land, at a convention in which the heads and chief of the nation, may G–d protect them, gathered together – the heads and chiefs of the main communities of the State of Lithuania, in conjunction with the honorable rabbis and Gaonim, the luminaries of the Diaspora, people of renown, at the holy convention of the greater state.

 

The Convention of 5551 [1791], Slutsk

… The following emanated from us, the leaders, chiefs, and heads of the main communities of our country, and we have been charged to sign their orders. Today, Tuesday 4 Av, 5551 [1791], here in the holy community of Nesvizh, at the convention of the greater state, may G–d protect it.

After meetings of the council in Slutsk in the months of Sivan and Tamuz 5521, factors apparently arose that forced us to move its location – at a meeting of all or part of the members – to Nesvizh, and to conclude our work there.

For forty years, from the year 5412 to 5451 [1652–1691], the council of the state was the central governing authority for the union of the four main communities of Brisk, Horodno, Pinsk, and Vilna. In the year 5451 [1651], the community of Slutsk came to requisition a place at the conventions of the council. In the convention of Adar 5454 [1961] that convened in Chomsk, it was decided that “the community of Slutsk shall become a main community in our state of Lithuania” – that is that they would have two heads of states at meetings of the council, and after some time, also a third head of state, a parnas of the council, and a scribe (a shamash, as in the rest of the main communities). Thus, it became a center for the organization of five communities. It remained in this form for 70 years, from the year 5451 [1691] until 5521 [1761], when the final convention of the state of Lithuania convened in Slutsk.

 

From the Cemetery Ledgers of Slutsk

(copied by Rabbi Yosef Feimer)

5614 [1854]

On Wednesday, the seventh day of Passover of the year 5614, the renowned scholar and wealthy man, Rabbi Shalom Shachna, the son of the renowned scholar Rabbi Yona Isserlin, died. He is buried on the left of his father, who died on the Sabbath, 2 Av, 5609 [1849] in the row in front of his grandfather, on the south side.

5566 [1805]

On Wednesday, 13 Kislev 5566, the rabbi and renowned, great Gaon Rabbi Chaim the son of Rabbi Aryeh Leib, rabbi and head of the rabbinical court, and teacher of our community, died and was removed from us. He is buried in a new row opposite the Gaonim, headed by Rabbi Yudel the son of Rabbi Alexander, who was also a teacher in our community.

5669 [1909]

On Tuesday, the last day of Passover 5669, the rabbi, renowned in Torah, may G–d bless him, whose mouth never ceased uttering his studies in the Beis Midrash , day and night throughout his life – that is the elderly, Rabbi Chaim the son of the scholarly Rabbi Baruch HaKohen, the shochet of our community. He rests in honor far from the grave of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Czernichow who died on the 10th of Kislev of that year, in the fifth row on the side of the city. His grave is two graves away from he who died on the 15th of Shvat of that year (Yosef Gincberg).

5620 [1860]

On Wednesday, 12 Nisan, 5620, the young man Rabbi Yisrael (Behmer) the son of the famous rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Yosef, the rabbi of our community, died. He is buried next to he who died on Tuesday, 14 Kislev of that year, in the fifth row on the side of the city.

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He runs like a dear and is mighty like a lion

To do the will of his father in heaven[8]
Yud – A person should look at this monument
Vav – and understand who is lying in the dust
Nun – We will weep together than the closet of our strength has been taken
He – He was a great prince, how did he fall from our people
Beit – The sun of his righteousness appeared at the edges of the earth
Nun – He was called the father of the orphan, and a saving angel to the poor
Aleph – He desired the final day from the beginning of his life
Beit – His soul shall be sated with the pleasantness of the Supreme One
Reish – He did a great deal of good, as if he lived a thousand times
He – He had just reached the age of might [i.e. 80]
Mem – Many days will pass and he will still illuminate

His spirit returned to on high, and his memory will be for generation after generation. He is the wealthy rabbi, Rabbi Yona the son of Rabbi Avraham Iserish, who died on the holy Sabbath, 2 Menachem–Av 5609 [1849]

A Stone Monument[9]

Shin – Shmuel died, and reposes here in the ground,.

Mem – What are you waiting for, raise a wail of desolation,
Vav – and raise a bitter lament for the breach in Israel
Aleph – Woe, for he is no more. Shmuel's place is missing.
Lamed – He fought the wars of G–d as a lion with bravery
Beit – In a sitting of the council of rabbis in the capital city
Nun – He preached the teachings of his Torah to nations and ministers
Tzadi – Right are the words of G–d, pure and upright
Beit – Weep, weep over his passing. The pain is very great
Yud – Days and years will pass, and Shmuel will not return
Shin – Joy set, and behold there is grief, pain, and darkness
Aleph – One thing will comfort us, his name did not die and he did not descend to the depths

The honorable rabbi and Gaon, the wise man who blended Torah and greatness together, Rabbi Shmuel the son of Rabbi Tzvi Simchavich. He died on Monday 3 Adar, 5656 [1896], here in Slutsk.

May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life

5495 [1735]

Wednesday, the seventh day of Passover of 5495, two people were found murdered one parasang from Pohost next to the village of Nevlad: Reb Avraham the son of Hirsch Katz and his son Reb Michel, members of the community of Hlusk. They were brought here on the last day of Passover. According to the words of the residents of the village of Pohost, these men were killed on Thursday, 16 Adar 5495, and were buried on Wednesday 27 (24?) Nisan 5595. Their graves are in the area of martyrs. The son is buried on the right side of the father. Next to them on the right is buried Zelig the son of Lipman, who was killed on a route, and was buried on Wednesday 26 Tishrei 5406 [1647]. Next to the aforementioned Reb Avraham is Yitzchak Segal who drowned in the Vyuben River on 26 Cheshvan 5504 [1745].

5521 [1762]

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, four martyrs were killed. They gave themselves up to death and sanctified the Name of G–d in public, as they extended their necks and withstood the test. They placed their heads under the sword, and their blood was spilled like water in sanctification of the Singular Name. Their souls left them in their blood, as they were all killed together. They are the martyr Reb Noach the son of Reb David of Romanow, the martyr Reb Baruch of Romanow the son of Reb Yaakov, the scholar Shimon Yuda Shamash, the martyr Reb Yaakov of Romanow the son of Reb Shlomo, and the martyr Rabbi Yisrael the son of Reb Chaim of Romanow. The aforementioned martyr Rabbi Yisrael is buried next to Shalom Mastrew, first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul 5518 [1758].

Here is buried

The year Woe for the Ark Has Been Taken 5660 [1900][10].
Reish – See here the splendid memorial stone
Peh – He acted justly, and was holy like the ark
Aleph – His faithfulness to those forlorn aroused the spirit from heaven
Lamed – To teach the way of G–d to all who desire life
Yud – He sat and studied Talmud and decisors for 47 years
Vav – And pursued peace at every opportunity
Samech – He refused gifts, and was satisfied with meager bread
Peh – He prayed for the sick and brought joy to bitter souls
Beit – He left us at the age of 71
Nun – Weeping and wailing is heard from all the people of our city
Yud – Our eyelids drip water and our eyes tears
Tzadi – He was righteous and modest, we have lost, we have lost, who will comfort us
Chet – He loved the early ones, and he always observed his customs[11]
Kuf – The sound of his prayers was heard on high, and his progeny will always inherit the land[12]
He is our teacher, the righteous, pious, modest rabbi, Rabbi Rafael Yosef, may the memory of the holy be blessed, the son of Reb Yitzchak, peace be upon him. Died on Wednesday 23 Sivan 5660 [1900]. May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.

See the Memorial Book of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch, may his light shine, Maslanski, New York, 5684 [1924], folio 60, and what I noted there in on the pages of the book.

Rabbi Meir, who was a rabbi in Brezin and here in Slutsk, Karelich, and Lyakhovich, served as the rabbi in our community for 35 years. He died on Thursday, 20 Iyar 5671 [1911] in Slutsk. May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.

 

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. The dating here is obscure, with two conflicting dates. 11 Elul 5506 was indeed a Saturday. The phrase Geulat Ben David literally means “the redemption through the son of David”, but is written with apostrophes in each word, indicating that it is a gematria [Jewish numerology]. The equivalent number is 506, which is a reference to the Hebrew year. The practice of using a phrase as an innuendo to a date is common in rabbinic literature. Return
  2. A fascinating dating schema was used here. The month of Av was not mentioned directly, but rather through its nickname Menachem (the comfort, given that the month marks the destruction of the two Temples, and includes Tisha B'Av). The year is provided with the gematria of Mevaser (the bearer of good news, referring to the Messiah). Thus the phrase Menachem Mevaser means: may the comforter bear good news – i.e. expressing a hope for the coming of the Messiah. Return
  3. Israel here refers to the Jewish people, and not the land. Return
  4. This long, run–on sentence is replete with obscure, kabbalistic terminology. I translated it as literally as I could, although I glossed over some of the more obscure innuendoes that did not lend themselves to easy translation. It can be summed up as: there are great sages in Slutsk. Return
  5. This long sentence fragment seems to imply that individuals may belong to the community of Slutsk and use its cemetery, even if their location is beyond six parasangs. Return
  6. The last part of this sentence is unclear. I translated it literally. The entire style of this piece is highly repetitive and wordy. Return
  7. The concept of “interchanging” seems to imply that neither community should overrule or overlord the other community, and only the rabbis of each community have the rights to negotiate on behalf of the community. Return
  8. The acronym of this gravestone is Yona the son of Avraham. Return
  9. The acronym on this gravestone is Shmuel the son of Tzvi S A. The last two letters may be a short form of his surname Simchavich. Return
  10. The gematria of this phrase is 660. The acronym of the gravestone is Raphael Yosef the son of Yitzchak. Return
  11. There is a footnote in the text with an alternate version: He loved the early ones, and heeded and rectified good customs. Return
  12. There is a footnote I the text with an alternate version: The holy one of G–d, prepare to meet your G–d. Return

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