« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »
[Page 23]

The Jews in Biala (cont'd)

Section translated by Rabbi Molly Karp

I. The Struggle of the Jews Over the Right of Residence in the city; The Idea of the Establishment of the Jewish Ghetto

For generations upon generations the struggle between the Jews and the Christians continued in the cities of Poland that yearned to distance or at least to minimize the danger of competition from the Jews. One episode on that front is the fight for the rights of residency in the city. The Christian population sought, in legal and illegal ways, to drive the Jews out of the center of the city and the streets that surrounded it. There were even cities that obtained writs of rights, according to which it was forbidden to Jews to dwell within them. This kind of writ of rights, which was known by the name “Privilegium de non tolerandis Judaeis”, “The Privilege of Excluding the Jews”, was among others also in the hands of the cities of Warsaw and Vilna, and a protracted war about it was carried out in many cities, among them Krakow and Lublin. Also in the 19th century this struggle was continued, and it even grew more serious on the occasion of the new invention of “Moral” reasoners: it was the lot of the Jews to suffer because they are “decadent” – because they lack European culture, because they are not productive in their activities, only in trade and inn–keeping, because they are set apart from the general population in their dress, in their customs, and in their language. The claim of this ideology is that before the Jews are offered an expansion of their rights, they must undergo a process of moral correction in these areas (dress, language, customs, and productivity). That is to say, they must become different people, and to assimilate; this claim came to justify the existing discrimination, and therefore there was conducted in Congressional Poland a protracted and well–thought–out struggle against the Jews, a struggle whose sting was deliberately economic, and whose cover was in a moral explanation. The government nullified the communities and established in their place an institution called “Dazur Bozhnitzi District”, whose powers were only religious and fiscal; a school for rabbis was founded in Warsaw, whose intention was clearly assimilationist.

In 1822 two special decrees within this plan were published: one with the intention of reducing the number of Jews in the city, which announced that the Jews would be concentrated in specific neighborhoods, and one simply determining that in the cities where the right of the Christians existed, and with the limitation of the Jews of the type of the privilege mentioned above, it was forbidden in the future for the Jews to settle, unless they obtained the right to a tavern through legal means. If not, they were obligated to leave the aforementioned city within three years. These two decrees contained danger for the Jews of Biala. From within “the desire for good and evil”, it was possible to interpret that according to the arrangements in 1621 the Jews could keep only thirty houses in the city: it was possible to interpret further that thirty houses really meant thirty families, and since there were then in Biala 389 Jewish families, that 359 of these families were illegal, and they could expect either expulsion from the city, or concentration in a specific ghetto. And indeed the Starosta [local government officer in the Polish administration] together with the leaders of the city began to make fundamental clarifications in the matter of the arrangement of the Jews in the future. According to the decree of the year 1822 and according to the above interpretation of the writ from 1621, they planned to set up a ghetto; they did not even consider the expulsion of the Jews. The Jews in Biala immediately stood against the danger and on their own initiative – it would seem – the representatives of the communities in Podliasha spoke and sent a message to the Governor, in whose hands was the final authority. On the memorandum were the signatures of Abraham David Cohen of Shedliltz and Aaron Zak from Biala. The memorandum requested only to delay the first decree, that determined that from January 1 1823 only one family would be permitted to live in each Jewish house (the law for any above that number was that they were to leave the house), and requesting to delay the implementation of this decree for six years. Since only a few weeks remained until the specified day, and it would not be possible in that short time to erect such a great number of new houses, when the Wojesodstwa began to implement this law, the Jews delivered an additional request – this time to the Minister of the Interior – to refrain from additional steps for the time being. On the problem of the ghetto the Jews did not yet see a need to speak, for the matter seemed far enough off in the future. At the beginning of December 1822 the answer came from the Minister that the decree would not be nullified, that the date of January 1 was firm and abiding, but the letter promised that those who would carry out the decree would be compassionate, and would consider the difficult situation of those before them. This question however was omitted for the time being from the agenda; regarding officials who would not reveal explicit understanding of the words “to act with lovingkindness” it would be possible to encourage individual persuasion – the giving of a bribe. But in the meantime, the problem of the ghetto entered into the agenda in all its gravity. The Wojesodstwa willingly accepted the idea and the plan that was delivered by the Starasta and the administration of the city and forwarded the matter for the permission of the Ministry. According to this plan, the following arrangements were set:

  1. It was forbidden for the Jews to live and own stores in the center of the city (rynek), [marketplace] and in Warsaw, Lublin, Mezeritz, Yanov, Brisk and Reformatska streets, and also in the alleys between these streets. The Jews who lived on these streets and in the corner houses between the permitted streets and the forbidden streets were required to leave their houses, until the end of the year 1825. Otherwise heavy financial penalties would be imposed upon them.
  2. The Jews would live only on Prosta Street (above Brisk Street) and Grabonov Street, and beyond that in the streets that would be established in the future: Jerusalem Street (between Brisk and Grabanov Streets), a new street, Rinkawa Street, Dzilna and Rechoka (Dalika) [streets].
  3. On these streets it would be forbidden to build wooden houses; only masonry houses would be permitted.
  4. As a special kindness, two Jewish families would be permitted to live in the streets of the Christians, and these are the terms that are required of them: that they will be important merchants, that they should have in their possession at least 24 gold pieces, that they should be able to speak Polish, French, or German, that they send their children to government schools, that they not be distinguished from the general population by any external signs (dress, forelocks, customs, and the like).
  5. Artisans, scholars, manufacturers who employ Jewish workers, wholesalers, Jews who build large houses on empty lots if they meet the cultural requirements of the preceding paragraph.
  6. It is further emphasized that in keeping with the decrees of 1822 it is forbidden for more than one family to dwell in a room of a Jewish house (whether in the permitted streets or the forbidden streets).
It is necessary to explain that paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 are local matters: the rest of the paragraphs are according to the general assimilatory line that the Polish authorities took at that time; they were not invented in Biala, and not in the Wojesodsto in Shedlitz, they came into expression in the mind of the Polish community (in the newspapers, pamphlets, and books) and also in governments plans regarding

[Page 24]

other cities, with the city of Warsaw at the head. The financial details are interesting: the government surpassed the methods that were used in western Europe already in the second half of the eighteenth century, which was to give preference to the wealthy Jew, and compel him to invest his capital in factories that would have a result in the land – in commerce, manufacturing, construction. The directive in the matter of the employ of Jewish workers is reminiscent of the intention of the productivization among the Jewish masses by means of Jewish capital. In short, there is in the plan danger of the complete destruction of the masses of Biala, that the hub of the city (except for two houses), the streets of Mezerich, Yanov and Brisk, would be the important places for concentrations of the Jews. To the joy of the Jews of Biala (and the Jews of other cities), other winds began to blow in the Ministry. The answer that was received to the suggestion of a ghetto is characteristic: which is, since Biala is a central city and the number of Jews is greater than the number of Christians, it is undesirable to concentrate the Jews in it in a special district, and further, the Squire would have to agree to it. In this way this dangerous matter was deferred for one year. In 1824 the authorities in Shedlitz again raised the question, this time from the announcement that the local authority was relying on the decree of 1621, and was not permitting other Jews to settle in the city, but in vain, for what was there to do? From within this position it was clear that also in Shedlitz they abandoned the idea of the ghetto and considered that maybe they could save face by means of raising the question on a new plain: not a ghetto but a restriction on the entry of new Jews. A vague answer was given by the Ministry, which said that the directive from 1822 remains in effect in the matter of cities that have the right of the “The Privilege [of Excluding the Jews]” mentioned above. There was therefore cause to worry that the number of Jews would not increase. It is known from this exchange of letters that the local and central authorities in Poland were in confusion, and life went on in the usual way. The clerks carried on extensive correspondence – reduction of the number of Jews or concentrating them in a ghetto, and the Jews continued to multiply. In the 1860's there were already in Biala 3456 Jews (compared to 2083 Christians). The plan for a ghetto and the plan for maintaining the number of Jews with limited cover passed to the archive; the stringencies of the interpretation of the writ of 1621 no longer had authority, and since the Ministry was convinced of the idea that implementation of the plans of districts was unrealistic, a decision came in 1833 to nullify it completely. Over the course of thirty years (1862), the Jews came to possess, at least according to law, the complete right to free settlement in the cities of Congress Poland.


J. In the Battle Ranks of Jewish Labor in Biala

The second front, in which Jews and Christians in Poland struggled over the course of hundreds of years, was work, or, more correctly, the problem of whether the Jews had the right to engage freely and legally in labor. The determining cause in this field was the professional union of the tradesmen– the Tzach. The tzachim ruled in all aspects of the regulation of the market, preventing competition, maintaining oversight of the quality of the products, purchase of raw materials, work relationships between the employer and his employees, relations between the manufacturer and consumer, and the like. As a social office which was concerned for its members, they established a kind of insurance fund for those without means, for orphans and widows. In the religious life of the local community every Tzach had a restricted area – a special corner in the church, sanctified and set apart for him alone, and in the same way the Tzachim knew to fortify for themselves a suitable place in the autonomous administration of the city. The essence of their power was expressed in the fact that their authority in the field of labor was exclusive, that belonging to the Tzach was a kind of obligation on all of the tradesmen in the profession; a tradesman who did not want to join the Tzach would be compelled in the end to submit, if only in the form of a tax, as compensation to the Tzach for his standing outside of it. Further, control of the Tzach was not only explicitly over labor, but also over the products of the craftsmen, and by means of this they acquired for themselves considerable influence in the field of trade. The Tzach had a religious nature, and in general encompassed members of only one faith. In Poland there also lived members of the Protestant faith, Greek Catholic, Pravoslavie [the eastern Orthodox church]; these were compelled to fight for their right to work within the general (Catholic) Tzach, or outside of it, as a union within itself, and paid for this stance amounts that were not small. The most positive outcome of this was that the Jews joined together amongst themselves and established Tzachim societies of their own. Indeed, in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries there arose many Tzachim societies that made great strides in the battlefield of the existence of the Jewish worker. Since the question was not merely religious but also and mainly economic, it was clear that the Christian and Jewish Tzach could not live in peace, and the history of Jewish labor in Poland was one long line of conflicts and disagreements accompanied by more than one incident of robbery and bloodshed. On one side stood the general Tzach, which was supported by the city authority, and on the other side, the “Chevrah” – the Jewish “Society”, which was supported apparently by the community, and, as agents and arbitrators, the state authority and the king at their head, courts of the legal authority from the lowest to the most supreme authority, and in the private cities, the private landowners who controlled them. The disputes were mostly concluded with compromises, but these were not carried out, as both sides wanted to obtain the most favorable terms, so the struggle continued and did not come to an end. In Biala the struggle was about three professions: shoemaking, hat–making and tailoring.

The Christian shoemakers in Biala in 1693 received from the landowner a writ of permission, according to which all merchants and tradesmen coming to the markets in Biala to pay, for the benefit of its Tzach, one groschen for every pair of shoes produced. This obligation also fell on Jewish merchants selling shoes in their shops. The first decree was a kind of protectionist tax for the good of the local worker, to shield his production from outside production. The second decree had a fiscal nature to it; its purpose was to weaken the Jewish manufacturer, and it imposed a tax on the Jewish shopkeeper. The words of the privilege were unclear, and the two sides were permitted to interpret them for their own convenience. The question was whether the payment on the sale of shoes was only on market days, or every day, and whether it was levied on all the merchandise in the store or only on shoes, or maybe only on shoes that the shopkeeper bought for his store on market days. The revenue from this tax was budgeted in accordance with the privilege of the religious needs of the Tzach, for candles for the church, purchase of flags, etc. As if that wasn't enough, two years afterwards (in 1695), the Tzach obtained an additional writ of rights, which broadened the previous one, so that from now on the payment was due not only on footwear, but on every piece of leather. In the Magistrate of Biala there were two privileges: this last one was approved anew in the year 1778, hence the Tzach viewed it alone as obligating.

[Page 25]

It was immediately revealed that it was difficult to collect the payment and difficult to oversee the implementation of the whole matter. The Tzach agreed therefore to compromise with the Jews on a sum of 10 pounds of wax[a] a year from each Jewish shopkeeper, for the needs of the church, in addition to the previous payments. It seemed that the Jews did not meet their obligations, and due to the many disputes the matter was transferred to the court of the landowner (1740). He took a position for the good of the church and ruled that the Jews are obligated annually to pay 15 (not 10) pounds of wax from every shopkeeper, and in order for there to be the possibility of overseeing the fulfillment of the first decree, all sales of footwear and leather should be centralized in the marketplace; the ruling further stated that if the Jews did not obey then they would be obligated to pay a fine, half of which would be for the Tzach and half for the judge of the royal court. The judge found that the Tzach had not been entirely in order, therefore he set the collection methods and kept for himself the right to supervise the method of collection of the monies. When the Tzach saw that its standing was strengthened it demanded for itself additional rights, and actually an additional right was given it in 1751, according to which every new Jewish shopkeeper was obligated to pay it a sum of 6 gold pieces, for the same purpose.

It seems that now matters entered a normal course, and the two sides came to a mutual understanding. In the Warsaw archive of “old documents” we find a document from 1754 in which four shopkeepers from Biala request pardon that they did not pay off the wax fine, that they are obligated to pay it before a certain date, and if not they would pay double. From the year 1774 there is in the documents a decree regarding seven shopkeepers who opened new stores and had not yet paid the proceeds from them. In the days of the Napoleonic Wars the arrangements were disrupted and the Jews stopped paying; when the Tzach demanded its due, the Jews responded that they did not recognize the rulings of 1740 and 1751, and that they are ready to conform only to the Privilege of 1695. Thus began a series of claims and counter–claims, and at the end they again reached, in 1815, a compromise: the Jewish shopkeepers would from that point on pay one and a half gold pieces a year, and they would pay off the proceeds from the years 1815–1816 up front. In this way the Jews were obligated to cover the expenses of the judgement: 8 gold pieces. The payments of the workers and the shopkeepers that came to the market remained in force, with this easement, that the sales need not take place in the market, and only for sales in the market itself they would be required to pay the old payment of one grosch for a pair of shoes. Apparently all had been settled, but not that.

In effect there now was opened a new series of struggles due to the new royal decree of 1815. This law was intended to pave a path to the freer development of private initiative for the sake of the movement in the field of labor and manufacturing. These are the important decrees of the stated law:

When the law was published, the shoemakers rose against it because of the fact that the entire matter was unpleasant; and since over the course of time the Jewish shoemakers had increased, this was for them a double question: the relationship with the Jewish shopkeepers on the one hand, and on the other hand the arrangement of the affiliation of the shoemakers to the Tzach and their acceptance in it was because of official recognition of new competition. In was likewise clear that the Jewish shoemaker who was in the Tzach would reveal anew the problem of the payments and their usage. And further, this: paragraph 145 of the law declared that all the old laws were nullified. It was possible to see from the start that the stated payments were “old laws” and it seems that the Jews apparently stopped paying the amounts to which they had become obligated in 1815. The managers of the Tzach therefore seized upon the rule of the removal of the 60 gold pieces in the rules of Tzach registration fees. The Jews refused to pay, and the matter was brought to the court of the Starosta. He delved into the details of it, and ruled (1824) that according to the law a Jewish tradesman must prove that he underwent the required training steps; if afterwards he fulfilled the ruling, it was within the law that he should be accepted to the Tzach with a registration payment of 30 – 60 gold pieces. If he did not fulfill these requirements afterwards, he did not have the right to consider himself an independent tradesman. In the matter of the payments from the merchants, the shopkeepers, and the tradesmen who were bringing merchandise from outside, for the time being there was no opinion, and they should turn to the supervisors about it. On the surface all appeared clear, but only on the surface, since the Jewish shoemakers claimed that they were experienced tradesmen, as they had been involved in their trades already for a long time, and they should not be seen as new members upon whom the registration payment of 60 gold pieces should be imposed. For its part, the Tzach claimed that it was not so, that the Jews were not in the Tzach, and there was no doubt that they should be treated as new members. Regarding the payments for the marketplaces, Biala turned to Shedlitz, Shedlitz asked the Ministry, and here the matter become stuck; since the officials were not familiar with the entire matter, nor with a similar matter in Garwolin[b], they delayed their response. The matter remained suspended until 1840 when the file was closed and went dormant without a solution. In effect, the Jews won. The matter will be further clarified for us when we examine the list of craftspeople in Biala in 1841; from this list we learn that in Biala there were in all a total of 11 shoemakers and that most of them were Jews – 7 Jews and 4 Christians. The number of Christians grew smaller and smaller from year to year; for the sake of enlarging their prestige they first demanded of the Jews payment for registration as mentioned above, but with no choice left, in the face of lack of desire of the Jews to pay, they gave up. In this way they themselves nullified the marketplace payments. From a number of documents in the city archive (from 1845), it is possible to conclude that only two Tzachim were active, one for builders and one for potters. We can say of the shoemakers that in effect they had no Tzach, since “the Christians were few, and the Jews were impoverished”. Matters appear that in 1853 a Tzach for the shoemakers was re–established. Details about the number of Jews in the Tzach and the arrangements for registration payments are lacking, but one thing is clear: that there were only two Christian shoemakers, and, in keeping with the law, these two were made the administrators of the Tzach.

Until now only the leather department was discussed. Now we will turn to the needle department. With the publishing of the law in 1816, there began in Biala preparation for the reorganization of the Tzachim, and there was reawakened – as we have seen above – the problem of Jewish membership in the Tzach. For the Jews it was important to transform the Chevreh [Society] into an official Tzach. According to law, 10 artisans were required for the formation of a Tzach, and 2/3 of them must be Christians, in order that it be possible to elect from among them 2 administrators. It was a serious question what would be the outcome if there were enough members of this profession or another many Jewish artisans in the city, but there were lacking enough Christians to be administrators. The financial authorities of the Tzachim were in upheaval, for it became clear that in many cities there were a great number of Jewish craftsman

[Page 26]

but the required Christians were lacking. After much consideration, in most cases the following two outcomes occurred: either the Jews joined the Tzach for their profession in another city, or they joined a Tzach for a different profession in their own city. This was how it worked, for example, in Sokolow[c]: there were 50 Jewish tailors, and they were included by the authorities in the official Tzach for tailors in Biala. In Sokolow there was not even one Christian tailor, and because of this the official Tzach for tailors was established in Biala. After negotiations that continued for five years (1830–1835), the Jewish tailors of Sokolow obtained an agreement that since membership in Biala was not comfortable for them, they would be affiliated with the official local Tzach of the furriers until such time as they achieved the settlement of two Christian tailors.

How did things fall into place in Biala? We have in our hands a list from 1841 of the religious and professional distribution of the craftsmen of the city, and these are the details: there was one artisan in each of these crafts: chimney cleaner, miller, soap maker, welder, wagoner, weaver – the soap maker and the weaver were Jews, and all the rest were Christians. There were two artisans [in the following professions]: hat–making, book–binding, cotton–wool cleaner, watchmaking; all, except for one watchmaker, were Jews. Three artisans [in the following professions]: tinsmiths, tanners, roofers (all of them Jewish). Four artisans [in the following professions]: painters (three Jews), blacksmiths (one Jew). Five artisans [in the following professions]: floorers (all Jews), leather workers (one Jew). Six artisans [in the following professions]: carpenters (all Jews). Eleven artisans [in the following professions]: meat preparers (7 butchers, 4 pig slaughterers), shoemakers (of them, 7 Jews), potters (all Christians), and in addition 13 bakers, (among them only one Christian), thirteen tailors, (all Jews)[43], 17 builders (among them 2 Jews). All together 127 craftspeople, among them 76 Jews and 51 Christians. From the numbers mentioned above it can be deduced that only five types of professionals were on hand to establish a Tzach (excluding the meat preparers), and they are the shoemakers, the potters, the bakers, the tailors and the builders, and actually only the shoemakers, the potters and the builders, since among the bakers and the tailors there was not even one Christian craftsperson. We have already spoken above about the shoemakers; there remain therefore only the potters and the builders, who indeed established organized Tzachim. And then suddenly in 1849 there arose “the Jewish Problem” regarding professional organization, which did not quite contain every job among the craftspeople of Biala – meaning the hat makers. The initiative came from the authorities. The Tzach had to include the hat makers from Biala, Kėdainiai, Piszczac, Lomazy, and Rossosz. Responsibility for the arrangement of the matter was placed on the Magistrate of Biala; however, this was not an easy job, since all of these hat makers were Jews. The Starosta pressured and urged – they needed to search high and low for the two Christians. They searched and searched, but did not find them. The matter was postponed again and again[44], and finally in November of 1850 the Magistrate assembled all the hat makers and established the Tzach; two Jewish hat makers from Biala were chosen as members of the administration, Ephraim Tzinomon and Shimon Leizer Cohen[45]. The head of the city knew that something was out of order, but the Starosta applied pressure, and he had no choice. The Starosta was not familiar with the question, maybe he played dumb, and demanded immediately to establish the Tzach fund. However, in the authority of the gubernia[46] there sat an official who had the very most experience with these issues, and he ordered that the Tzach be dissolved. However, four months after the above–mentioned elections, the head of the city assembled the hat makers again, in order to inform them of the sad announcement that the election of Jews to the administration of the Tzach was illegal, and that, lacking Christian hat makers, they had to nullify the Tzach. The Gubernia tried further to remedy the situation, and ordered that all the furriers be included in the Tzach, but also among the furriers there were no Christians. Finally, in the summer of 1851, a solution was found: the furriers and the hat makers from Biala were joined with Losice, Yanov, Konstanynow, and Sarnaki, since among them would surely be found the two redeeming Christians, and a shared Tzach could be formed. In this way the “Painful Jewish Problem” of the hat makers in Biala was solved.

And now to the matter of the tailors. The establishment of a Jewish Society for tailors was already mentioned above in connection to the communal budget in the eighteenth century. From the period following that no material remains, but there is no doubt that the society continued to exist. The issue of the transfer of the society to a new form of an official Tzach is not clear. It is only known to us that in 1825, a new idea of the creation of a shared Tzach for the tailors of Biala and Sokolov suddenly appeared; in Sokolov there were at that time no Christian tailors. Is it possible to suppose that there were any Christian tailors among those in Biala in that same year? At any rate, the tailors from Sokolov did not agree to the joining, and the matter was removed from the agenda. I lean towards the assumption that the tailors in Biala continued to maintain their old association, and vis–à–vis the authorities they appeared as new division of the Tzach of the hat makers. On the special right of the tailors within the burial society we will dwell in the next chapter.


K. Societies in Biala

The Society within the Jews of Poland was quite developed, and in every community different forms of associations were cultivated – for the sake of learning, social aid, and professional unification. The number of associations was dependent on the vigor and alertness of the men of the community, but at a minimum one Society was found in every community. This was the Society of the gravediggers, whose concern was the care of the cemetery and in burial. In certain communities this society was also responsible for visiting the sick and the Home for the Aged (religious trust). The name that was given to this society was generally “The Holy Society”. Actually the names of all the societies were “The Holy Society” (The Holy Society of…) however since the burial society was the most prevalent, the name that included all the societies became attached to it. Regarding the period that we are discussing (from the end of the sixteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century), we have received no information on any kind of society in Biala at all, not regarding matters of learning, and not for the needs of social aid (except for the tailors' association). Nevertheless, there is no doubt that these societies existed. If as regards the city that was adjacent to Biala, Mezerich, we have knowledge of seven associations (Shas [Six Books of the Mishnah], students of the Gemara, the Candlestick for the Light[d], Midrash [Homiletics], Tehillim [Psalms] and the Morning Watch, The Charitable Hostel and Aid to the Poor, The Eternal Light)[47], it is impossible to suppose that the societies were entirely lacking in Biala. Rather, what? Their ledgers were not found, or they were not concerned with finding them. Regarding the professional societies, it was known that there was a society of tailors, but we do not have much information about it, since its ledgers and papers were lost. The only society on which we are able to dwell on in detail is the burial society, whose name in Biala was “The Holy Society For Acts of True Lovingkindness” ([Abbreviation:] H”K GUCHSHA).

This society had been established some time ago; above we alluded to its part in covering the deficit of the community for the budget year 1749/50. In a ledger that was in my hands

[Page 27]

I found material regarding only the years 1800 – 1905, accounts for the years 1806–1838, and also decrees from the year 1813 with additions from later years. Every Jew was accepted into the society, but only by the general agreement of all the members, “only one could prevent” [meaning that all had to agree]. There existed, therefore, a right of veto, and this was surely for the society an influence on the number of members, and the exclusive nature of the society. The high membership fees certainly also functioned as a fence to the growth of membership. There were two customary levels of membership fees: one who held the erudite rank of “Member” paid 72 gold pieces, and the one who acquired the higher title, the title “Our Teacher” – paid only 54 gold pieces. Thus the nominal value and the real value of the amounts mentioned above were both quite high. In the first three years the only new member was by obtaining a position (młodość – that is to say, a youth). His responsibilities were greater; he was required to visit every sick person according to the instructions of the administration, and his rights were fewer, since he had no active or passive rights of choice. All disobedience brought in its wake an extension of the positions for an additional year. Elections for the administration were held every year after Passover, and at the latest before the beginning of the month of Iyyar [the month following Passover]. The elections were not direct, and it may be more accurate to call them “appointments” and not elections; they placed the names of all the members in the ballot box, and took out five pieces of paper. These five, who were called “arbitrators”, were given the responsibility of choosing the administration. In the administration we find 20 members: four general managers, who took turns from month to month; four “expenders and conveyors” – the conductors of the daily affairs of the society; four account overseers, who oversaw the fund; four regulation supervisors, who oversaw all regulations and authorizations for the initiation of receipt of new regulations; and four handlers, who were expert in matters of burial and the cemetery in general. The arbitrators had the right and the responsibility to review their operations before they appointed the administration of the old and new cemeteries, and to repair any damage or disarray that occurred in the previous year. If they failed to fulfill this responsibility according to Jewish law, they were dismissed, and new arbitrators would take their place. A general manager could be chosen only from those who had served as an “expender and conveyor”; therefore, a general manager would only be appointed for two consecutive years. The “expender and conveyor” could only make expenditures by means of a note from the general managers, and for every expenditure he had to file a report with the account overseer. One of the arbitrators could be appointed to be general manager or expender and conveyor, but only on condition that the three other arbitrators agreed. In the passage of time, two important changes were made to the rules: the manager could not, on his own initiative, expend more than 12 gold pieces in his month of duty; if the need arose to exceed that, it was incumbent upon him to obtain the agreement of the rabbi or two members of the society who were appointed for that purpose by two of the arbitrators (1846). Secondly, new members would no longer be accepted into the Society by general agreement of the membership but rather by the general managers and members of the group of “expenders and conveyors” in conjunction with ten members of the Society (1879).

The regulations don't tell us much about the functions and operations of the Society, in total 4 out of 18 branches (18 regulations). When a Jew from Biala died, the general manager immediately sent – by ballot – six members of the Society to the task. If anyone of these filed to comply, or to send a substitute, he had to pay a fine. During the funeral, the general manager would walk around with the donation box, and afterwards he would give to the expender and conveyor the money that he had collected. The minimum fee for the erection of the gravestone would be 2 gold pieces. One who did not have that sum on hand would give an item for collateral, and if he did not have the funds to redeem it, it could be brought for sale with the knowledge of the general manager, after two warnings to the owner of the collateral. When a member of the Society died, a minyan [quorum of ten, traditionally men, for prayer] was arranged at the home of the deceased for the period of thirty days following the death, and men from the Society were appointed to attend the minyan by ballot. At the end of each month the general manager had to turn over the ledger to the manager for the next month, and if he failed to do that. He would be expelled from the Society.

It is surprising that the regulations deal so much with the organizational aspect of the Society, and so little with other matters. It is also surprising that the members did not pay a membership fee. It is possible that there were additional regulations from earlier years, that were not copied into the ledger that we have from 1813. For the sake of comparison, we will bring here regulations from two other cities, from nearby Radzin, and from Pruzhany[48] [in Belarus] which was farther away; perhaps we will find similarities between them.

  Biala 1813
(18 Regulations)
Pruzhany 1715
(18 regulations)
Radzin 1816
(9 regulations)
General Character of the Regulations Essentially organizational regulations 11 regulations on the obligations of members 2 clauses on the functions of the Society; 7 organizational clauses
Acceptance of Members Extremely restricted Also restricted, but without veto power According to the opinion of a majority of the membership
Enrollment Fees Very high Not mentioned According to the decision of the general managers
Membership fee Did not exist One grosch a week Not recorded
Authority of the General Manager Quite great Reduced; could not expend more than two gold pieces without permission of the account overseer He was permitted to expend only six gold pieces on his own authority
Relationship with the community and the rabbi The rabbi possessed recognized authority The Society objected to involvement of the community in its affairs The regulations were made by the rabbi

We will bring several facts about the budgetary basis of the Society, which will clarify its nature for us. In the years 1810–1812 there were two instances of the imposition of a fine. In the first incident, a butcher (Joseph Butcher son of David Doctor) was caught

[Page 28]

in an act not proper with a man's wife. He was removed from the community for six years, and after it was revealed that he was not repentant, he was expelled from the Society “forever”. Thus it was decided that upon his death only the official from the Society would attend him. The second incident touches on a member who “opened his mouth without limit”; he certainly held a critical stance about the administration of the Society, and was removed for three years. It appears that after that he mended his ways, and his transgression was forgiven.

The information about the tailors is important. In 1884 15 tailors were accepted into the Society, and it was recorded in the ledger ‘the financial managers of the tailors stand in place of the command of the tailors (of the Society).’ From this it is possible to learn that the tailors held a special position within the Society, and that they constituted a special unit in itself under the supervision of special managers. Perhaps this was a means of providing legality to the society of the tailors, which existed illegally.

From the budget of the Society it is possible to see that it did not limit itself to matters of the cemetery alone, but, rather, operated in broader social activity. Here are several details about expenditures: for a woman who married a doctor, for a feldsher[e] for one woman, for guests, “wheat money”[charitable funds for Passover necessities][f], bridal expenses, for the rabbi, for the preacher, wood for the Study House, learning fees for one boy, shrouds for people who died in the poorhouse, for a sick person lacking funds, for a blind man from Kaminetz, wages for the schoolteacher, wages for the custodian of the Study House, shroud for the poor, firewood for the poorhouse, for the cellar, for a cart [or, a calf] for a poor man from Mezerich, three times donations for poor people are listed for converts; a male convert, a female convert, and one hosting a convert. One item is anonymous: for the one [person or object] that is known”. Thus, the Society fulfilled general charitable functions and contributed to the maintenance of the community. From this matter, for example, the budget for one month from 1811: in this month the Society spent 65 gold pieces, of them 16 gold pieces for guests. “Guests” surely refers to poor people who wandered from community to community.


L. A Portrait of the City in the Beginning of the 1860s

In 1860 a ruling was published in the matter of eliminating the debts of private cities to the Polish landowners. It is interesting, therefore, to see what the face of the city was from the legal and socio–economic aspects prior to the elimination of debts mentioned above, and until it gradually acquired the character of a modern city.

There are 344 houses in the city. Only 66 of them are of masonry. 145 houses belong to the Jews, 160 belong to the Christians, to the government, 10, to the city, 1, to the Polish landowner, 16, and 12 to the church. The population of the city stands at 5539 souls, of them 3456 Jews, 2032 Poles, others (Russians, Germans, French), 51 souls; by percentages, Jews: 64.4%, Poles: 36.7%, others: .9%. The number of families is 1753 – 1036 Jewish, 717 Christian (by percentages, 40.9 Christian, 59.1 Jewish). A Jewish family consists of 3.3 people, and a Christian family 2.9. 383 families live in houses of their own; the rest (1370 families) are tenants (kamarnikim). The physical condition, therefore, is not bright. According to the religious make–up, we get the following table:

Jewish tenants 886 families 64.7%
Christian tenants 484 families 35.3%
Total: 1370 families 100%

Jews who don't have their own houses constitute 64.7% of those who are tenants, at a time when in the general population the Jews comprise only 59.1%. Jewish poverty is therefore greater than that of the Christians. The matter is understood also on the basis of another analysis.


In the Jewish Population

3456 souls, which are 1036 families. Among them, 886 tenant families. The percentage of kamarnikim in families in total is 86.5%. Among families in general, kamarnikim are 25.7%.


In the Christian Population

2083 souls, which are 717 families. Among them are 484 tenant families. The percentage of kamarnikim in families in total is 67.5%. Among families in general, kamarnikim are 23.2%.


What Were the Occupations of the 1753 Families in Biala?

120 families were engaged in agricultural work, and they also owned their house and land
62 families were engaged in agricultural work and also labor, and they too owned their house and land
201 Home owners who occupations were not indicated
1370 Tenants who were engaged in commerce and labor
1753 in total

And now to the matter of the obligations of the town and its inhabitants to the landowner. We have already dwelt on this in the discussion of the communal budget in the eighteenth century. There, before our eyes, were only Jews. In our addressing the elimination of the feudal tax of the city vis–à–vis the princely palace, we will give our knowledge of the general population. A payment for the land preceded every paid–up bill of every homeowner and every landowner, since from a legal perspective, the land belonged to the nobleman. This is the income of the nobleman from this source: 274 rubles from the Christians, 140 rubles from the Jews; in addition to these there was the payment known as the “tithe”, in total 284 rubles. The village as an administrative collective unit paid an additional total of 150 rubles as a payment for work in paving in Biala, and therefore there was an argument about the work of the residents of Biala – one day a week. Besides that which was mentioned above there were in the hands of the nobleman other monopolistic rights that brought in for him substantial income: the propensity which included 14 inns owned by residents of the town/the sale of wine and brandy – 2500 rubles a year, 57 kopecks for each barrel of beer and 13 kopecks for each pot of mead made and sold by residents of the town. He received 15 kopecks from each barrel of salted fish, for milling at home and not at the landowner's mill – 15 kopecks, from the sale of tar and oil he received 5 rubles, for fishing rights he received 50 rubles, for each pig slaughtered he received 7 & = kopecks. From the sale of imported pig meat he received 7 & = kopecks. In comparison to the concessions, the nobleman had the following obligations: he paid 30 rubles a year as his share in supporting a system for extinguishing fires,

180 rubles to repair roads and roadblocks. Aside from that there existed for the Christian population as individuals the following rights: the use of the nobleman's mills at a low price, free grazing in the nobleman's forests, and also a wagon of wood for heating each week. All of these services of the nobleman are valued at an amount of 2250 rubles per year. As stated, only the Christians benefited from these individual rights. For the sake of the city, Jewish and Christian residents paid, for the right of maintaining inns, 135 rubles. Taxes for the right of commerce and labor – 360 rubles; for cleaning the marketplace, 42 rubles; for maintaining a system for extinguishing fires, 210 rubles.

To the national fund were paid the following taxes: house tax, 2019 rubles; land tax, 149 rubles; for the removal of drafted and conscripted soldiers, 64 rubles; personal tax, 1971 rubles; for the billeting of soldiers, 2882 rubles; for the support of the school, 292 rubles. In the detailed monthly budget, there is a value to the amounts included above which is not insignificant; regarding the Jews one must also take into account the additional expenses of supporting the community and its institutions.


M. Summary

We have tried to describe the history of the Jews of Biala over the course of an approximately 300–year period, to the extent that the source material supplied the necessary information. We accompanied them in their struggle for decent lives and we saw that they withstood this challenge with dignity, with maximal unity and aid to the needy; the shadow points that we raised aren't able to darken the general picture. However, all existence was built on sand; the last decades of the existence of the Russian government and the period between the two world wars under the Polish government didn't change much. Then, suddenly, everything collapsed and disappeared from the map of life: the Jews, their houses, their businesses, their books and all the documents that were in them that might have testified to their previous lives.

Translator's footnotes

  1. See footnote here: http://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/Biala_Podlaska/bia003.html#f9–13 Return
  2. http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/garwolin/garwolin.html Return
  3. http://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/kolbuszowa/sokolow/Sokolow1.html Return
  4. In the Wilderness Tabernacle (Exodus 25:31); also the name of a book by Rabbi I. Abohav in the 14th century. Return
  5. a medical or surgical practitioner without full professional qualifications or status in some east European countries and especially Russia http://www.merriam–webster.com/dictionary/feldsher Return
  6. http://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/1170218/jewish/Maot–Chitim–Wheat–Money.htm Return

Author's Notes
[for translations of notes 1–5, see translation p. 22 http://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/Biala_Podlaska/bia003.html#f9–16]

  1. The title “master” vis–à–vis a Jew is rare; the accepted title is niewierny, (the unbeliever).
  2. The value of red gold in the eighteenth century is 18 gold pieces.
  3. It is worthwhile to note that among the supporter we find women as well – shopkeepers, a glazier, and a smith.
  4. Wax is an important commodity for the manufacture of candles.
  5. Karavka was an indirect tax, mainly on meat.
  6. The festival of Saint Julian fell on January 25th.
  7. Plett – a slip of paper that designates to which home–owner the charitable recipient had to apply for his allowance (ASH”L – abbreviation for food, drink, and lodging).
  8. The Parnasim would rotate on a monthly basis.
  9. The impoverishment began after the decrees of 1648: [http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Gzeyres_Takh_Vetat]; sources of income dwindled, and the tax burden increased.
  10. A. Yaari, “Journeys in the Land of Israel,” p. 329 Return
  11. M. Banayhu, “The Holy Society of Reb Judah the Pious”, Panels 3–4, p. 175 Return
  12. “The Ari”, (The Divine Rabbi Yitzchak) [Rabbi Isaac Luria] established practical mysticism in the land of Israel in the sixteenth century; see “An Epistle on the Ascent of Rabbi Rovigo”, Yaari, Epistles of the Land of Israel, p. 241. Return
  13. SHD”R – Rabbinic Emissary; the emissary who go out from the land of Israel for the purpose of collecting funds for the poor of the Jewish settlement. In May 1960 the coffin of Hayyim Yoseph David Azulai was brought up to the land of Israel from Livorno and buried in Jerusalem. Return
  14. “The Book of the Good Journey; The Diaries of Rabbi Hayyim Yosef David Azulai” p. 27 [ [ [ [https://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/4409099]. Also see M. Banayhu, “Rabbi Hayyim Yosef David Azulai”, p. 146. Return
  15. Y. Halpren, “The Ledger of the Council of the Four Lands” 186 [http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/112038/jewish/Rabbi–Jacob–Emden.htm] Return
  16. Y. Halpren, “The Ledger of the Council of the Four Lands” pp. 362, 364 [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4705–council–of–four–lands] Return
  17. Y. Halpren, “Additions and Supplements to the Ledger of the State of Lithuania” pp. 66–67 [http://www.worldcat.org/title/tosafot–u–miluim–le–pinkas–medinat–lita/oclc/38718090] Return
  18. Y. Halpren, “The Ledger of the Council of the Four Lands” pp. 392–393 Return
  19. ibid. p. 374 note 4 Return
  20. ibid. pp. 376–377 – pasht – postal fee Return
  21. ibid. p. 378 Return
  22. ibid. p. 399 Return
  23. ibid. p. 402 Return
  24. A Jewish–Muslim sect, the last remnants of which continue to exist in our time. Return
  25. Y. Halpren, “The Ledger of the Council of the Four Lands” pp. 188–189 Return
  26. Y. Halpren, “The Ledger of the Council of the Four Lands” p. 401 Return
  27. M. Balaban, “Towards a History of the Frankist Movement p. 190 [http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Ba%C5%82aban_Majer] Return
  28. Suplika – a request. The Nunciatora is the envoy of the Pope to foreign countries. Return
  29. Halpren, op.cit., pp. 423–424 Return
  30. M. Balaban, op. cit., p. 190 note 3 Return
  31. H. Gratz, “Frank und die Frankinsten”, p. 33 Return
  32. The Pope expressed his opinion in the year 1753 that was not enough basis for proof that the Jews were indeed using Christian blood, and that in every individual case the details and the evidence should be thoroughly checked. Return
  33. S. Bronfeld, “Book of Tears”, Volume 3, pp. 125–126 Return
  34. ibid. pp. 138–139 Return
  35. According to the memories of Rabbi Dov of Bolichow, pp. 50–51 his grandfather was among the refugees of Mezerich after the Decrees of 1848. [http://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/bolekhov/bolekhov.html] Return
  36. Rabbi Zvi Yehezkel Michelzen in the introduction to a publication of the homilies of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Halberstater, Biala, by the name of “The Crown of Zvi”. Return
  37. Rabbi Yehudah Leib Fishman (Maimon), “Princes of Israel”, Volume I, p. 11 Return
  38. In the previous years there were apparently also Christian tailors in Biala (at least two). Return
  39. One time the representatives from Fishchach and Lomza were late in arriving; another time matters were postponed because the meeting had been scheduled for Yom Kippur. Return
  40. From among the 10 hatmakers that were present, eight signed with a circle, indicating that they did not know how to write. Return
  41. From the year 1837 the województwa was called the Gubernia. Until 1844 Biala was included in the Shedlitz gubernia. Until the year 1866 – in the Lublin gubernia, and after that, again in Shedlitz. Return
  42. The material of the regulations of the societies of Mezerich is in my possession in manuscript form. See also about the societies in Sokolow in my article “Towards an Investigation of the Societies of Craftsmen in early Poland”, Records, New Series, Volume 5, pp. 131–146. Return
  43. The regulations of the Burial Society in Pruzhany are quoted in “The Ledger of the State of Pruzhany” pp. 100–118. The ledger of the Burial Society of Radzin I saw in the possession of a Jew from Radzin in my visit to the city in 1934. Return


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Biała Podlaska, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Max G. Heffler

Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 5 Jul 2022 by LA