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Jews in Biale*

by Dr M. Hendl,Tel Aviv

Translated by Libby Raichman

(Their history from the end of the 16th century to the middle of the 19th century)


A. The town of Biale

Old Poland consisted of two parts: Crown–Poland and Lithuania. Biale belonged to Lithuania, lying close to the border between Lithuania and Crown–Poland. In Poland there were two kinds of towns: state towns, whose inhabitants determined the level of development amongst the people, and private towns that were founded by the Polish nobility on their land. Biale was a private town. It was connected to the great princely family of the Radzshivils, who – thanks to their enormous estates, their strong military power and the high positions that they occupied in the running of the state – developed a significant force, that for the most part, had little to do with the government, its laws and decrees. The main–centre of the Radzshivil “kingdom” could be found in Ni–esvi–ezsh, but there were times when Biale[1] also occupied a most prominent position.

Among the Radzshivils there were princes who were noted for their outlandish characteristics, and their wild whims were famous throughout the whole of Poland. It is understandable that their reign was a huge scourge for their subjects – Jews and Christians. One summer, one of the Radzshivils had a desire to drive a sledge so he ordered that the path be strewn with salt. Another Radzshivil prince who lacked birds to shoot, sat a Jew in a tree, told him to imitate a bird, and then shot him.

A story is told about one of the Radzshivils (in the 18th century), who had a kind of fantasy of love for Judaism. He chose Jewish advisors; he learnt Yiddish and Hebrew and on the Sabbath he used to wear a prayer shawl together with his military awards. His family wanted to restrain him and placed him under strict control – first in the Biale castle and then in Slutsk. But he did not sever his contact with the Jews. The Jews of Slutsk suffered a lot because this. The Rabbi of Slutsk was even imprisoned in the Biale jail. The story only ended with the death of the Judaising sympathiser in 1781.

Historians also mention good rulers, who cared for their subjects and ruled with kindness. The historian Bartoshevicz, who is himself from Biale, writes for example, about the princess Anna. Under her rule Biale was a happy town and a city of refuge for the poor.

The local inhabitants of Biale – Jews and Christians – benefited from the princely court–trade, the work it provided and the economy. On the other hand, the court oppressed the town by placing upon it various burdens and taxes.

Among the institutions that existed in Biale, the Biale Academy must be mentioned separately. It was an educational institution that filled the place between a middle–school and a high–school. The town – Jews and Christians were obligated to contribute to the budget of the Academy; but they also profited from it, through trade and contracting. Students were ordered not to contact any of the inhabitants of the town or those passing through, not to offend them by word or deed and not to carry arms without the knowledge of the rector. The fact alone that such a warning was included in the oath of every newly–enrolled student, shows that the relationships were not ideal, and that there were probably some clashes. We know from other towns that the school–youth were in many cases, the cause of anti–Jewish excesses.

The Polish writer Krashevski, who took a great interest in Biale (he studied in the Biale Gimnazye) wrote that the town did not have a rich history: “She lived in herself and for

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herself”. Yet it is worthwhile mentioning that Biale endured a few historical experiences besides the political events in the stormy life of the Polish government and Polish party–conflicts, in which the Radzshivils played a substantial part.

We will enumerate a few events here:

In 1665, a sitting of the Lithuanian Senate was held in Biale. Three years later the Polish king Jan Kazshimierzsh visited the town. During the North–War (at the beginning of the 18th century) in which Poland sided with Russia against Sweden, the town was run by the Swedish army. In 1789 the German Kaiser Josef the 2nd travelled through the town on his return from a visit to Petersburg. The events mentioned (except for the Swedish occupation) made little impact on the population. However one section of these historical events had a major effect on the town: these were the frequent fires, from which the town suffered in the course of centuries. One has to remember that the town consisted mostly of wooden houses. As the Polish historian Bartoshevicz said: “ Biale burned constantly, always burning and always rebuilt anew”. After one of these fires that happened at a time of a raging plague (1711) – it was said that in Biale and the surrounding villages a total of 559 Christians souls suffered and according to the declaration of the leaders of the community, Koppel ben Yitzchak and Shmuel ben Meir, the “inhabitants and civilians” – numbered 37 (Jewish) souls.


B. The Biale Community

The Biale Community, with regard to Jewish self–administration, belonged to Brisk (the holy community of Brisk), that together with the communities of Vilna [Vilnius], Pinsk, Grodne [Hrodna] and Slutsk developed the Jewish Autonomous Central–organisation for Lithuania (the committee for the State of Lithuania). In 1705 when the representatives of the communities that belonged to Brisk gathered to divide the state taxes that Jews were compelled to pay in the form of a head–tax, the Biale community had to pay the sum of 510 zlottes[2], the third–largest sum after Brisk [Brest] (1384 zlottes), and Visokke [Vysokaye] (700 zlottes). Those communities who had to contribute less were: Pruzshanne [Pruzhany] (485 zlottes), Vlodavve [Wlodawa] (400 zlottes) and Shedletz [Siedlce] (230 zlottes). From this we have an approximate idea about the place that Biale then occupied among the towns and villages of the Brisk [Brest] Circle.

We do not know exactly when Jews settled in Biale. We are also missing the exact date of the founding of the Biale community[3]. We have the lists of payments between Crown–Poland and Lithuania, in Bielsk and in Lukov from the year 1580[4]. In those lists Jews from the following towns are mentioned: Tiktin [Tykocin], Bielsk, Vengrov [Węgrów] and Kotzk [Kock] and Christians from: Tshechanovtze [Ciechanowiec], Loshitz [Loštice], Bielsk, Kobrin [Kobryn], Mezrich [Międzyrzec], Brisk [Brest]and Pinsk. They travelled through carrying merchandise from Crown–Poland to Lithuania or vice–versa. However we do not find here even one mention of Biale Jews or Christians. Is this merely a coincidence? We have to accept that specifically in this connection, with the border–trade between both parts of the Polish state, the Jewish settlement in Biale is to be thanked for the existence of this border–trade.

The first known information about Biale Jews, we found out by chance and the incident has a connection to the Land of Israel. A Biale Jew, Reb Uri bar Shimon immigrated to the Land of Israel at the end of the 16th century and settled in Tsfat [Safed] which at that time was experiencing a period of economic and spiritual prosperity. From there he was sent to Europe to organise the collection of money for the material needs of the Jewish population in the Land of Israel. In 1575 we find Reb Uri in Italy where, for propaganda purposes, he printed a list of the holy graves in the Land of Israel[5].

We do not know who this man Reb Uri was, and when he left Biale. It appears that he was a Jew who was skilled in worldly–matters, and was therefore chosen to be an emissary for the community in Tsfat. No matter what the situation was – thanks to this Reb Uri we can establish that around 1575 a Jewish community already existed in Biale. Here it is worthwhile noting that in regard to missions from the Land of Israel to Jews in the diaspora, Biale occupied an important place: the greatest and most important emissary, Reb Chaim Yosef Dovid Azoulai who lived in the 18th century, was the grandson of a Biale resident; we will talk about this in further chapters.

We have actual knowledge about Biale Jews, for the first time in 1621. This shows, that in this year Jewish settlement in Biale was already well established. As in other Polish towns, also here, conflict between the Christian and Jewish populations increased, with regard to dwelling rights, trade, employment and taxation.

The nobleman, Prince Radzshivil, was forced to regulate in an official document, laws that would alleviate the conflict. From this very document we learn about a series of important details regarding the situation of the Biale community.

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The Biale Jews had earlier privileges from the court even before 1621, according to which they were freed from various payments to the nobleman's court; they were obligated to pay 6 groshen annually for local needs. Their main employment was in trade. As the most important trading place was the central point of the town, i.e. the “Rynek”,[market place] it is understandable that they lived mainly in the houses that stood there. From now however, i.e. from 1621, they were forbidden to continue to settle on the “Rynek” and in the whole town they were not allowed to possess more than 30 houses in total and specifically, small houses (that means: single–family houses that occupy not more than one plot for each house). It was explicitly stressed that here in these 30 houses, free trade could be conducted and only the occupants of the 30 houses, could enjoy the privilege of being free from the payments to the court and from the right to pay the local treasury not more than 6 groshen per year. And now comes an important point, that shows that the number of Jews that lived in Biale was much larger; the clause reads like this: “If however it would turn out that Jews in Biale own more than 30 houses, then the Jews of these houses would bear all the taxes (landowners and local) equal to the Christian population.”.

The picture it seems, is quite clear: a community of more than 30 families, whose members live in their own houses, mainly in the “Rynek” and are engaged in trade. It must be assumed that this was the general situation during the 17th century: with the passing of time however, the number of Jews and their houses grew considerably, as we will see in further chapters.

How did Biale Jews live and maintain their relationships with the town and with the landowner? What was their economic situation? We will learn the exact details from later events. Here we will end with the legal position of the community.

It appears that the autonomy of the community was severely restricted and the court intervened in all the details of community life: the budget had to be presented to the court and even in regard to appointing a Rabbi, they meddled; they even took upon themselves the right to depose a Rabbi, if they did not like him and to nominate a new one in whom they had more trust. This was at least the situation in the 18th century. One can assume that it was most probable that the situation was better in earlier times. In the course of time the number of Jews increased and the conflicts with the Christian population became more acute. Anti–Semitism became stronger and more aggressive in aggravated economic situations, and also in the climate of growing religious fanaticism. The economic position of the entire Polish Jewry was strongly undermined in the second half of the 17th century. So it is therefore no wonder that the social and legal situation of the Jews also became worse, and as a result Jewish autonomy was restricted. Here we will compare two contracts that the Biale court made with Jews, that took into consideration the income that the lessees earned from managing the Biale noblemen's estates; one in 1645 and one in 1736. The first contract, concerned a Jew Pinchas ben Shmuel, from Brisk, who received the right to judge with full legal power, the peasant population of the Biale estates (”the gentleman lessee[6] himself or his official”); but in the case of a punishment that could lead to the death penalty, the landowner secured the right to provide a judge from his side. Even in situations where free landowners were being judged, Reb Pinchas had the right to propose a judge from his side (a nobleman landowner). In contrast, in the contract with the “General–Treasurer” named Shmuel ben Yitzchak (a Biale resident) of 1736 it means explicitly: “in the case of a severe punishment, the agent Reb Shmuel, may not judge or sentence the subject and no Jewish hand may touch a Christian”. The difference, it seems, is clear and does not need further explanation.

Now let us see how restrictions on Jewish autonomy in the 18th century impacted on their lives. Legal acts demonstrate to us four important examples regarding this matter: two from 1736 and two from 1763 to 1765. In 1736 Princess Anna began to “make arrangements” in the Biale community and ordered the above–mentioned General–Treasurer Shmuel ben Yitzchak to look into all community matters, and “prepare the budget of income and expenditure”. Under threat of serious punishment she ordered the community to present to Shmuel all the lists and all other acts and papers; follow all his orders and “not to do a single thing without his knowledge”. Reb Shmuel received the right to depose the elected community committee and nominate another in the event of the community not obeying his orders. The princess announced these decrees in the synagogue so that from then on everyone would know what she expected regarding the community management committee. It must be added that the decrees contained one item that showed that the highly regarded, just princess had good intentions in championing the cause of the poorer classes of the Biale community.

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She specifically stressed in the decree that the budget must be constructed in such a way that the rich should not be privileged at the expense of the poor and that one must not suffer for the good of the other. We have here a clear indication of the social contrast of the reign of the wealthy in the Jewish communities in the 18th century at the expense of the poorer classes. According to the historians, this situation contributed a lot to the downfall and ruin of the Jewish autonomy. Whether our Reb Shmuel maintained the social detail of the princess's decree – cannot be ascertained but we do have a certain indication. In 1748/9 Reb Shmuel allegedly paid not more than 15 zlottes in tax (in fact he paid not more than 9 zlottes) and in the year 1749/50 he paid even less, not more than 7 zlottes. Reb Shmuel was certainly a rich Jew, his position as General–Treasurer of the court must have without doubt given him a substantial income; and if so – and if he still had his former legal power in the years 1748 – 1750 – then one might ask, why does he pay so little when others are paying sums of more than 250 zlottes?

Let us now see how the aforementioned decree of the princess worked. It appears that there was an uproar in the community as they did not want to give in to Shmuel, the princess's lessee and General–Treasurer, and as one can imagine, they decided to excommunicate him. The princess however was resolute in her dealings. For her it was not a question of Jewish autonomy or not Jewish autonomy. For her that was not the fundamental issue. She was more interested in her income. A community that dares to rebel against her is, from a fiscal point of view, not a loyal subject and must therefore be severely punished. Three days after announcing the aforementioned decree (9th September 1736) about the legal power of Reb Shmuel, the princess deposed the Rabbi and imposed upon him a considerable fine of 100 red gulden[7]. Reb Shmuel was given the legal authority to appoint a new Rabbi and bring order to the community. As an introduction to this very ruling, the princess specifically said that the reason is a fiscal one; that the transfer of the lease to the General–Treasurer (by this she meant also the supervision of the community's economy) was done with the purpose of assuring her, the princess, of an income from the Jews. She also said that the community, as well as the Rabbi, wanted to reduce her income. We see therefore that the community was in her eyes, merely an object, as were all her other possessions. How long Reb Shmuel ben Yitzchak's reign lasted, is unknown. From a chance article in a German newspaper, we learn that in 1751 he had already passed away.

In 1763 we are faced with new information about the aristocratic rule over the community. The prince informed them that “from various places people spoke to him in praise of the scholarship and humility of the Jew Reb Yosef ben Ya'akov and he therefore nominated him as Rabbi of the Biale community.” He transferred to his hands the authority to judge and carry out sentencing and reserved the right to be an appellate judge. The appointment was for six years (that means until 1769). The new Rabbi (unfortunately we know nothing about him) wanted to be secure in his new position, for which he was surely well paid and – after prolonged negotiations – he received in 1765, an official confirmation of his position from the highest state official, from the very Interior Minister himself.


C. Biale Jews and their economic situation in the middle of the 18th century

The number of Jews in Biale amounted to approximately 200 families in the mid–18th century. 110 families lived in their own homes and approximately 90 families as “komornikkes” (tenants) who lived with strangers. Assuming that each family averaged 5 souls – man, woman and children – we reach the sum of approximately 1000 souls. One must remember that the statistical figures for those times were not clear and therefore not accurate. In one list, the number of residents in Volye (a suburb of Biale) were counted together with the Biale residents and in another list – not. In one list the Jews of Biale, Dokudov (the village of Dokudovve) and in the surrounding villages are calculated together and in another – only Biale. In one list the whole Jewish population is counted plus all the children and in another, only the children over 10 years of age were included. One list speaks about houses and another – about families or house–owners. The fires and plagues, on the other hand, often altered the numbers. The assertion that in the mid–18th century, Biale had 1000 souls is only an assumption that approaches the truth but it is not an accurate one. In each case it appears, that Biale was considered not as a small town in regard to the Jewish population. We know, for example, that in 1764 the community of Lublin (the town only, not counting the surrounding villages) numbered 1383 souls; the Lukov community – 543, Radzin [Radzyń ]– 537, Shedletz [Siedlce] – 332, Krashnik [Kraśnik] – 921, not counting children under one year of age. Compared to these towns Biale can be considered a large community.

We have a list from 1742 of Biale residents, also according to the streets, and though this list

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is not a precise one, yet it gives us a picture of the Biale population.


The Biale population according to the streets

Name of street
Rynek (Street of Market) 14 17 14 18
Briske (a)[a] 20 22 24 34
Reformatn 15   22  
From Blonye to the market 23 2 27 3
From Reformatn to Volve 6   9  
From Reformatn to Yurizditshne[b] 6 8
Lublin 7 8
Lublin Yureditshne (b) 15 18
Piebonsk behind the Farre 15 17
From Church, at the back 6 6
In the town from Piebanshtshizne 7 4 9 6
Mezritsh 31 7 35 10
Garntsarske 17 18
Loshitze 16 22 17 28
Yanover 25 1 29 1
Zashkolne from Yanover (c)[c] 24 45
Total 242 112 281 166

What do we learn from this list? Let us draw a few conclusions:

  1. 447 families lived in Biale in 1742 of which the Jews were about 37%. We know, that in the 19th century the number of Jews grew significantly and outnumbered the Christians.
  2. In Biale there were 354 houses (excluding Volye), of which the Jews occupied 32%.
  3. In every Jewish house lived 1.36 families; in every Christian house – 1.16 families.
  4. The Jews lived in almost every street, but they were concentrated mainly at the “Rynek” (market place), on Briske Street, on Loshitze Street and in the vicinity of the synagogue. In the streets where no Jews lived, the houses were occupied mainly by public servants; that means that in those houses families of the court–servants lived, or they were also inhabited to some extent by Christians (with one exception, of Garntsarske Street where only Christians lived).
  5. Generally Christians lived together with Jews but in a certain circle around the synagogue, there was not one Christian house.
Let us now see how Jewish people made a living , what were their occupations. The list from 1742 does not give us an entirely precise picture, yet the indications are quite clear. Not less than 53 income earners of the 166 Jewish families were tradesmen (approximately one third). Tailors and cap–makers as amongst all Polish Jewry at that time, occupied first place – 22 tailors and cap–makers amongst 53 tradesman (approximately 42%). Amongst the other tradesmen there were: lace makers, goldsmiths, boiler makers, bookbinders, turners, metal workers, glaziers and understandably, also butchers. Before 1748 the following were also listed: wagon drivers, bakers, stone cutters and free occupations such as: musicians and medical assistants. Of the non–working population, the Rabbi occupied himself with trade and inn–keeping[8]. The rich conducted greater farming trade with the town and with the court, and also acquired an income by leasing land owned by the nobility of the surrounding estates.


(a) The Jewish hospital is located here
(b) The Christian hospital is located here
(c) The synagogue is located here

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Jews bought agricultural products from the court and added various products for its maintenance. We find in the various accounts in the statutes that the court was not always punctual in paying their debts. Here we have a list of the debts (from 1791) that the court owed merchants and tradesmen: 4716 zlottes for supplies of milk, wax, coffee and meat; debts for other provisions – a sum of 8000 zlottes; debts for work completed – a sum of 2836 zlottes (that included tailors and cap makers 869 zlottes, the turner – 1384 zlottes), and in addition a whole list of other smaller and larger debts.

An interesting example of how the court did not pay its debts, can be seen in the accounts for the year 1780. That year the court owed the community 3756 zlottes for additional wax[9]. The community received 400 zlottes in cash and to the value of 900 zlottes, it received 40,000 bricks. The Prince undertook to pay the remaining 2456 zlottes by the end of the year, but in fact we still find that debt in 1795 amongst the other 5000 zlottes of debt that accrued in the course of the years. In order to reduce the debt, the prince declared that he was prepared to deduct 500 zlottes annually from the sum that Jews pay him for the meat tax[10].

The differentiation in community–membership from the point of view of their material possessions, we can see with the support of a tax list from the mid–18th century. One must however remember that also here the preciseness is not entirely certain. We know, that also today, the tax burden is not an altogether exact reflection of the true situation of the taxpayer. In a certain sense however, we do have from the list, an approximate picture of the situation. We have here before us a list of 214 taxpayers that takes into consideration almost all the taxes for 1749/50.



Those who paid nothing 27
Those who paid up to 1 zlotte 3
Those who paid 2 – 5 zlottes 26
Those who paid 6 – 10 zlottes 46
Those who paid 11 – 15 zlottes 25
Those who paid 16 – 20 zlottes 25
Those who paid 21 – 30 zlottes 20
Those who paid 31 – 40 zlottes 12
Those who paid 41 – 50 zlottes 9
Those who paid 51 to 60 zlottes 8
Those who paid 61 – 70 zlottes 3
Those who paid 71 – 80 zlottes 2
Those who paid 81 – 90 zlottes 1
Those who paid 91 – 100 zlottes 1
Those who paid 101 – 150 zlottes 3
Those who paid 151 – 200 zlottes 1
Those who paid 201 – 250 zlottes 1
Those who paid more than 250 zlottes 1
A total of 214

Considering the payment of up to 5 zlottes for the poor, up to 40 zlottes – for middle–income earners, up to 100 zlottes – for the rich, more than 100 zlottes – for the very rich – we have here following income levels in Biale:


Poor 56 26.2%
Middle income 128 59.8%
Rich 24 11.2%
Very rich 6 2.8%
  214 100%

It is worthwhile mentioning amongst those belonging to the middle income group, we find many tradesmen.


D. The community budget in the mid–18th century

From these details we have can understand the general situation of the community and its members. We will have an exact picture of the functioning community machine, its competency and relationship with those in power: the court, the state and the town, by analysing the budget of the community – its income and expenditure. As the budget of a private person is known, so too, in greater measure, is the budget of a public–societal corporate body, one of the most reliable indications of its situation, its needs, its aspirations and wishes. We will pause here at a budget for the year 1748/49 (”of the holy year 1748 until the holy year 1749”[11]), and analyse its particular position and compare information of other years. It does not have to depend on the fact that the budget bears a Christian date and not a Jewish date (from Tishrei to Tishrei or from Nissan to Nissan). It is a clear indication that the economy of the community is not purely a Jewish venture but a “partnership” with the master, the landowner, who is the underlying influence on the community. Firstly let us see the figures and then we will stop to look at their significance from a fiscal and economic point of view.

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The Biale community budget for 1748/9

Direct taxes (possession and head–tax) 3133
House tax 661
Director's tax from the leases in the villages and estates that belong to Biale 604
Income tax from small trade 900
Meat tax (Korobke) 3225
A separate tax to cover the loss of money from the noblemen's promissory notes 231
Income from the Mikveh (ritual pool) and the bath house 150
Fines 15
Payments from free places 30
Loans 1079
Total 10028
State taxes 1035
Payments to the court 2609
Payments to the Catholic Clergy 2534
Separate gifts for the court and for the Catholic Clergy 365
Payments to the town council 112
For our own Jewish needs 1467
Various expenses 529
Debts and interest 2075
Repairs 342
Total 11,068

Before we begin to explain the meaning of every entry, we must say a few words about the procedure for the community house–keeping. Outwardly the community was conducted as a single body, and the community was the official representative and mediator between every individual and every external government organisation. On tax issues, that means, every burden, every obligation and responsibility did not lie with the individual, but with the community. The community had three ways of collecting the necessary money:

  1. by imposing direct taxes – according to the assets of the individual committee members.
  2. by imposing indirect taxes on unused articles as for example, meat.
  3. when both sources did not suffice, the community had to go into debt, borrowing money from Christians or from Jews – at high rates of interest, incurring debt in this way for future years, that might perhaps be better. The Biale community operated in these three ways as did other Polish communities.
In order to impose direct taxes, they used to elect an assessing committee (assessors) and they would, according to specific procedures, impose the tax. Unfortunately the community book of records does not exist so we do not know how the assessment committee functioned in Biale. In any case, one must remember that the direct tax also served as a key to political and social rights, and only the highly taxed had the privilege to vote or to be voted on to various organisations of community management and administration. The executive committee that collected taxes were the trustees and the beadles; and, it appears that they also received help from the court personnel.

The indirect taxes were leased by the community and the lease–holder had his income from them. Sometimes the lease–holders were in trouble, when the court imposed too high an assessment of the lease–money, or it expected assurance of the punctual delivery of meat for daily use. In this way, for example, the community paid a once–off sum of 60 zlottes to bribe the landowners supervisor, so that he should not in these cases, punish the lease–holder.

And now we will see what each item means, firstly – the expenses.

Jews paid the government two kinds of taxes: a house tax that amounted to 8 zlottes, approximately, from each house (paid in two instalments): A. in the budget year that we are speaking about here, 70 houses were taxed (the sum of the tax amounted to around 537 zlottes). B. a head tax, that according to its value, the Biale community had to negotiate with the Brisk community, and through its mediation, the state –treasury was paid. In 1748/49 the head–tax came to 498 zlottes. This method continued until 1764. In this year Jewish Central autonomy was abolished, and the head–tax was imposed personally on each individual for the amount of two zlottes annually for each soul, except for children under one year of age.

The community paid the court various amounts that were of a threefold nature. One kind of payment was actually disbursements by the court for members of the community, as for example, interest on the plots of the Jewish houses. The other kind – those were various gifts for various occasions. The third kind – those were payments, that according

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to the feudal system that ruled Poland then, and also almost the whole of Europe – all its subjects, first and foremost the farmers, were forced to make payments in favour of the nobility. Of the 2609 zlottes paid to the court, actually only 609 zlottes were evident as a fee for actual payments in favour of the Jewish taxpayer. The rest, as much as 2000 zlottes (and perhaps more than that) were payments of the second and third kind. Let us list a few situations: spanning a horse to a wagon “for various court needs” (twice to Warsaw”); horse and cart for various field work; repairing the fences and field gates; light for the main guard and other guards of the court; to approve once again Jewish rights; gifts for Christmas and Easter; money for good wishes for a birthday and other similar occasions of this kind. To this list also belongs the not small charge of 808 zlottes that the community had to pay the court to compensate for the devaluation of the Polish currency. Various rates of exchange circulated in Poland and there was no stable mutual rate of exchange. The people of the Biale court garrison received their salaries at a good rate of exchange and the Jews were obligated to pay the difference between a good and bad rate. There were still a few situations that were difficult to decide – whether they belonged to the first kind of payment or to the second and third. Therefore the reader should decide where he wants to insert the expenses that are written in the following columns:

“For bringing order when many Jews, simple folk, did not want to pay any taxes and payments according to the existing custom”.

“For lawsuits with small dealers, male and female, who did not want to pay what belonged according to old customs and agreements”.

“For bringing order when the community did not want to buy corn and oats, that the court obligated them to buy”.

“Bribing an officer to treat fairly, one of the representatives of the community that was in prison”.

“To support other Jewish prisoners who are serving prison sentences in the castle–prison”.

We see that the court made the Jews pay harshly for the favour of allowing them to live in Biale. The court knew well, how to secure its income, without considering other financial obligations with which the Biale Jews were burdened. We hear for example, that in 1849/50, Biale Jews approached the Brisk community to arrange to pay only 340 zlottes head–tax (instead of 498 zlottes). As the Biale Jews would not, or could not pay the general head–tax that was imposed on the entire Polish Jewry, other communities had to pay the sum as the court would not forego its income from the Jewish population and demanded payment to the last cent.

A small portion of the payments to the Catholic clergy was interest on loans taken, but they were mainly for gifts for various priests and churches, for nuns and monks; for the Academy, its rector, its professors and its students; for the Home for the Aged that was located in one of the Biale churches (a full 336 zlottes), for light and milk in the churches. All these payments that exceed by more than 1000 zlottes, the funds required for the needs of the community, are clear evidence of the Feudal system in which the Christian clergy enjoyed the same privileged position as the nobility. The leadership of the clergy also belonged to the noble classes, possessing large tracts of land.

With regard to the town, the community was quite independent of it. The town and the community were two units that were under the court, but each on its own. Yet the town was more privileged, as the community had also to give gifts to the town leadership and assist in maintaining the town administration; the mayor, the chimney–sweep and others.

The needs of the Jewish community (1467 zlottes) amounted to not more than 13.25% of the of the whole budget. That says a lot and needs no further explanation. If we should include in our calculations, part of the expenses that figure in the budget as “various expenses”, the picture would change very little.

Among the Jewish expenses, the salaries of the religious ministrants take the highest place. The Rabbi receives 360 zlottes, besides his house; the trustee 224 zlottes; the town–preacher 156 zlottes. Then there are beadles, the treasurer that is concerned with social assistance and distributes “allowances”[12] to the poor, the slaughterer, the cantor and singers, community officials and finally – the community night–watchman. The community employees receive, besides salaries, also payments in kind, like meat for the festivals and some receive boots.

It is worthwhile mentioning, that the community was not punctual nor consistent in its payments of their employees because their finances did not allow it. So the Rabbi for example, received (in the year that we are discussing) only 166 zlottes (in the next year only 93 zlottes); the preacher only 57 zlottes etc. The community was prompt in covering expenses of other kinds because the authorities did not keep quiet.

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The salaries paid amounted to 969 zlottes i.e. approximately 2/3 of the expenses for purely Jewish needs. Another important aspect concerns social help: donations and support for travelling Jews passing through and particularly preachers. All these preachers who passed through Biale were given support by the community and besides that, a wagon, to go further. In our budget–year, Biale was visited by no less than 26 preachers (from: Horchov[Horokhiv], Kurov {Kurów], Lemberg [Lviv], Pintshev [Pińczów], Ostre [Ostroh], Pshemishl [Przemyśl] , Yavorov [Yaroriv], Slutsk, Radzin, and Tiktin [Tykocin). Biale receives Yeshiva–students from other towns, it assists poor widows with making a wedding, it receives emissaries from the Land of Israel, or a cantor, a messenger from the Brisk community who comes to collect the head–tax or a poor Jew who arrives in town, either from Poland or from a foreign country (in our budget–year, two emissaries come to collect donations from as far as Prague) – each one turns to the community representative[13] for a donation and the community does not refuse.

In 1748 a sum of 234 zlottes was collected for small donations. The community did not give this willingly, particularly as the preliminary budget that the nobleman put together, did not foresee this this kind of expense. The community sent a special delegation to Brisk [Brest] to find a solution and requested that they not send so many preachers and random poor people through Biale. This helped a little (in 1749 only 66 zlottes were spent for this purpose). In later years however, the number of people seeking hand–outs grew larger, because the need was great and Jews were impoverished[14].

A third aspect of the expenses were of a representative nature. The community had to present well and it was a custom that if an important visitor came to town, a rabbi, a cantor or just a communal worker, then the community representative would honour him and entertain him with liquor. Of these individual aspects one can imagine that at most, the community representative could send two bottles of mead (at 19 groshen a bottle). Jews would often come from other Radzshivil towns to take care of various matters at the court and this also cost the community a significant expense –in 1748, 24 zlottes and a year later 34 zlottes. It was also customary for the community to send liquor on the occasion of a wedding in the family of one of the leaders of the community. In 1748, eight weddings cost the community 14 zlottes.

A fourth aspect was administrative–expenses like: liquor for the assessors that arrange the taxes, for the selectors that carry out the community elections, contract money when leasing the meat–tax, renovations to the ritual bath–house, religious items, community butcheries etc.

Finally there were also the expenses of covering debts and paying interest. This issue plays an important part in the history of Polish Jewry in the 18th century. With the growth in poverty (the large number of wandering preachers serves as certain proof of this) and the rising taxes, the amount of debt also increased. In this way, for example, it reveals when the central Jewish autonomy was abolished (in 1764) that the debt of the Polish Jewish representation reached an amount of 2½ million zlottes. We do not know exactly what the situation was regarding the Biale community. On the grounds of the little evidence that is available to us, it can be assumed that Biale was not largely in the wrong and that the court kept a firm hand on the community and did not allow it to create new debts. If it was apparent that a loan was an absolutely necessary, then the court expected an exact account. This is what occurred in 1745, when the community wanted to borrow a sum of 3000 zlottes from the priest of Vohin.

And another explanation about the sum of 342 zlottes that appears at the end “renovation” (deficit). This was the amount submitted as the income from taxes that had to flow in according to the “lists”, that the assessors drew up; in actual fact a number of payers remained owing, others died or left Biale and the community had to write off that income. It did that by its own initiative or according to a draft from the court. All these write–offs (62 of them) were recorded as expenditure. In 1748 the deficit amounted to 342 zlottes from an original 5529 zlottes (from direct taxes and additional taxes to cover the debt arising from the rates of exchange of the court funds), therefore hardly 6.2%. We will still add that amongst the 62 cases of write–offs there were: 8 cases were from Jews who left Biale, 6 cases where the debtor died, 5 cases where the court itself decided to write off the debt, 2 cases where the write–off occurred in connection with honoured members of the community, that were according to a community law or according to a an order from the court, freed from the tax; and finally 2 more cases in which the money apparently flowed in, in the form of registered work on the part of the payers in favour of the court – we will then come to the conclusion , that the tax system worked well and it was difficult to free oneself from it. This is how it must have been, because the government–supervisor, the nobleman, involved himself in every detail and saw to it that everything would be in order. So, for example, we see a fact from 1742, when a contract was sealed with the lessee of the meat tax and the court immediately put out an account of how the money was to be spent. Just as this, or

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the other expense amounted to 55 zlottes more than the income from the lease of the meat–tax, the court ordered that this amount should be regarded by the lessee as a tax. Evidently the lessee had to deposit the whole sum of the preliminary expenses into the hands of the nobleman.

Going over to the income, we immediately see, that the direct taxes are foremost. When we divide the income into four sections we have this picture:


  Zlottes %
Direct taxes 5529 55.1
Indirect taxes 3225 32.1
Loans 1079 10.8
Other small income 195 2.0
Total 10028 100

According to modern conceptions of the politics of a budget of a public corporate body, it can be assumed that the Biale community–budget was a progressive one, from the fact that it attempted to lessen the income from indirect taxes. It is only a question whether the burden of the direct taxes were correctly divided, so that the rich paid more and the poor – less.

Now we come to the balance. We see that the budget left a deficit of 1040 zlottes. The situation will become clearer if we look at the relationship of the situation in 1748/9 and also consider the economy of the community for the year 1749/50. For these two years we find in the legal acts a court document that looks like a preliminary one, that was put together by the court commission. The preliminary estimation for both years can be seen here:


Income Not specified Total: 18434
For the clergy 5045
Government taxes 2712
Horse and cart, materials for the court –
for covering the deficit of the rate of exchange for the court
Light for the main guard of the court 86
Payment for houses and places 83
For the executioner 74
For the chimney–sweeper 156
Gifts for the Christian holidays 600
Salary for the Rabbi 720
Salary for the beadle 312
Salary for the trustee 312
Salary for the cantor 416
Gifts for the above for the Jewish festivals 200
Total 12582
Therefore there remains a surplus of 5852

In fact the situation was quite different. Here the court is granted a sum of 2409 zlottes for the two years (dividing the amount for the Christian holidays in two parts, half for the court and half for the clergy), but from the previous analysis, we know, that in the year 1748/9 alone, the court received a sum of 2609 zlottes and a half from the separate gifts, 182 zlottes, therefore together 2791 zlottes. The preliminary estimate is therefore not realistic, because the court kept secret a fine sum of money as it was sure that it would receive it anyway. As opposed to that the court ignored the actual Jewish expenditure. In 1748/9 alone, the community spent 1467 zlottes on Jewish needs. In two years the expenses should therefore amount to 2934 zlottes and not 1960 zlottes, as is stated in the preliminaries (Rabbi, beadle, trustee, cantor and gifts for them).

The actual account is presented in reality here:

1748/9 10028 11068
1749/50 10214 8940
Total 20242 20008

It is evident that the surplus for both years is only 234 zlottes and not 5852 zlottes. Also this surplus is only on paper. The loan of 1079 zlottes of the year 1748/9 is not covered; the debts from the salaries of the community employees were not paid; and in the year 1749 the community took new loans: from the priests 350 zlottes, from Shmuel the shopkeeper 105 zlottes, from Yosye the tailor 321 zlottes – altogether 776 zlottes. And another interesting fact: in 1749/50 the community found itself forced to burden the budget of the synagogue, of the Burial Society (Chevra Kadishah) and also the tailors' society with a combined sum of 245 zlottes. How can one speak of a surplus? And where is the money to cover the debts from the years before 1748/9? Something is therefore not right here. The court knows this full well but it ignores it and does not want to forego its income. The Jews know this well. They moan, they bargain, they rebel, they go to jail, make various combinations and money transactions, but the court is in possession – and Jews pay, pay more than they can. A hole in the year is covered with a patch and the hole in the patch is covered with a new patch.

One must add that the above budget expenditure does not include all the Jewish expenditure. Jews also paid membership taxation to the Burial Society and to

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the Tailors' Society to maintain the hospital and the Society for Visiting the Sick (Bikkur Cholim); The Jews who live in the “Rynek” make separate individual payments to the court and the town; for inn–keeping – a separate individual payment to the court and the government; Jews that sell footwear and leather – pay a separate tax to the Shoemaker's guild. If we add to this expenses after a fire, expenses after a plague, expenses from separate events in the life of the state, the court, the community and general happenings that affected the whole of Polish Jewry – we have a picture of how difficult and bitter their situation was. The struggle to exist was hard and tough but Jews endured the struggle with honour.


E. Events in Jewish life.

The internal life of the Biale community did not differ from the lives of other Jewish communities: trading and peddling, the pains of raising children, learning Hebrew and Yiddish, rabbinical college, synagogue, small and large community disputes, Rabbis and others holding religious positions, disputes with the town council and with the court of the nobleman, suffering from living in the diaspora and hope for the coming of the Messiah – this was the arena in which daily Jewish life functioned. But apart from this the Biale community had to record three events of general Jewish significance, in which Biale Jews played a specific role, and in the last two, a major role. All three events were linked with the furore that ruled the whole of Jewry in general, and Polish Jewry In particular, in the 18th century.

In 1666 Shabtai Tzvi took on the Islamic faith and it was hoped that with this, his mission had come to an end. In truth however, it was different. His followers did not retract, they saw in his conversion, a means of concealing the redemption that would come soon. In the following decades, there appear in various countries, and to a great extent in Poland, miracle–workers and prophets that urged the end, who called for repentance and faith in the coming redemption. And as the general situation of the people was an oppressed one, it is no wonder that they found many followers. The belief in Shabtai Tzvi and in his mission as a Messiah, was reawakened and a violent struggle ensued in Jewish life.

One of the leaders of the anticipation of the coming of the Messiah was a Jew from Shedletz [Siedlce] Reb Yehuda Chossid, who together with another Polish Jew, Chaim Malach, organised a large emigration to the Land of Israel. Among the emigrants were ardent followers of Shabtai Tzvi as well as ordinary believers, who wanted by the ethical way in which they conducted their lives, by repentance and torment, by attaching their path in life to the land of Israel, pave the way for deliverance. When they left Poland the group numbered 120 souls, then it grew to 1500 souls, of which about 500 died on route. After a long period of wandering over Austria, Hungary, Germany and Italy that lasted a whole year, the remaining Jews arrived in Jerusalem on Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan 5461 (October1700). But luck was not in their favour. Five days after arriving in Jerusalem, Reb Yehuda Chossid died. The material situation of the emigrants was a very difficult one. Many of them fell into despair, and the result was, that part of them converted (those were the ardent followers of Shabtai Tzvi) and part of them returned to Europe. But those, for whom the emigration to the Land of Israel was a religious and nationalistic life choice, remained, hoping for better times. Among those who remained was Reb Yosef Bialer.

It is quite natural that the movement that left Shedletz [Siedlce] had an impact on Biale. We do not know how many Biale Jews were amongst the emigres, but we know two of them by name: one, Reb Zalman Bialer died immediately after his arrival in Jerusalem and he was buried on the same day as Reb Yehuda Chossid[15], and the second, the above mentioned Reb Yosef Bialer, for whom the emigration to the Land of Israel was a true beginning of a new life of holiness and purity.

In 1712 a group of immigrants from Italy arrived in Jerusalem under the leadership of the kabbalist Reb Avrom Raviga from the city of Modena. In the group we find Shabtai Tzvi followers on the one hand, and on the other, Jews who were believers, who wanted to find in the land of Israel a way of improving their personal, general–religious lives and nationalistic aspirations. In the intermediate weekdays of the festival of Passover 5462 (April 1702) Reb Avrom established a yeshivah and among the ten elected members who were to educate the minds and hearts of the yeshivah students, we find our Reb Yosef (besides him, we find amongst them another five Polish Jews from the Reb Yehuda Chossid group: a Jew from Kalish [Kalush], from Opotshne [Opoczno], from Semiatitsh [Siemiatycze], from Lukov [Lukow] and also the son–in–law of Reb Yehuda Chossid). The ten selected members had to sit “ – – nights and days, – – and in their prayers, they called out and cried and confessed with their broken and depressed hearts until they pierced the heavens – – and immediately after their prayers, in holiness and purity, with the tallit and tefillin on their heads, they chose to study the book of the Zohar, and after that the writings of (Haari)[16] the kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria until the time of the afternoon prayers”[17]. In this way through the

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personality of Reb Yosef who had a large following, there was a large emigration.

We know nothing of his later life, but there is an opinion that he was a familiar personality in the Land of Israel and that he proved to be one of the respected Sephardic leaders. Reb Azoulai formed a relationship with him by taking his daughter as a daughter–in–law. This marriage produced a son Chaim–Yosef–David, and the Biale grandson Reb Chaim Yosef David, born in 1724 in Jerusalem, died in Livorno, Italy, in 1806 and is famous to this day as one of the most important emissaries[18], as a great scholar and bibliographer. He wrote more than a hundred books, amongst them a bibliographical lexicon called “The Great Names” and a book of memories “A Good Circle” about his journeys in Europe and North Africa as an emissary for the Land of Israel.

His first mission took place between 1753 and 1758 when he wandered through: Italy, Germany, Holland, England and France. His second mission took place between the years 1772 and 1778. That time he visited: Tunisia, Italy, France, Belgium and Holland. To all those places he brought living greetings from the Land of Israel and aroused an interest in the land and encouraged a preparedness to help the settlement there. He searched and found hand–written books and printed books. What a pity that he did not visit Poland; it is possible that he would have given us some information about his mother–town, Biale. It is evident that he had a keen eye and a talented quill to describe everything that he saw, and he presented it with full richness in his book of travels “A Good Circle”. In Kislev 5515 (1756) while staying in the west German town of Cleve, he found an aunt there “ – – a sister of his mother, she is Mrs Gitli the daughter of Meilech my master, the elder, the Rabbi, the pious Kabbalist, man of God, holy, our teacher, Rabbi Yosef Biali, may his memory be blessed – – “[19].

In 1756 however our Reb Yosef had already died. Unfortunately we cannot dwell any longer on the interesting personality of Reb Yosef Bialer. We do not know about his life before his emigration, about his life in Jerusalem and his ties to his father's home–town, while staying in Jerusalem.

The second great event to affect Jewish life in general, and in which Biale Jews played a large part, almost the main part, was their connection to the renewed turmoil surrounding Shabtai Tzvi.

In the middle of the 18th century the entire Jewish world was stirred up because of the suspicion that fell on the Rabbi of Hamburg, Reb Yonatan Aybeshitz, one of the greatest rabbinic authorities of that time, that he had leanings towards the views of Shabtai Tzvi. The Jewish rabbinical and social world fell into two camps: one that sided with Rabbi Yonatan Aybeshitz and cleared him of every harm and suspicion, and the second, denounced him on the grounds that he distributed amulets to children and the sick, claiming that he did this with signs and wonders. They tried to prove that Reb Yonatan was lost to heresy, and if so, he must be persecuted, excommunicated and deposed as a Rabbi.

The leader of those opposed to Reb Yonatan was Reb Yaakov Emdin, the son of the wise man Tzvi Ashkenazi, the former Rabbi of Hamburg. Reb Yaakov ben Tzvi Emdin lived in Altona (one of the parts of the Hamburg community) and there he stirred up a stormy life and death battle against Reb Yonatan. He set himself the objective, just like his deceased father, to root out all the bad elements of Shabtai Tzvi'ism. For both parties it was outwardly important to win the sympathy and support of the autonomous organisations of Polish Jewry, whose authority was recognised not only in Poland but also in the entire Jewish world. With Yaakov ben Tzvi Emdin, were two Jews, one might say his main agents in Poland who were both from Biale. One was the Biale Rabbi Reb Yitzchak bar Meir (who was at the same time, the Rabbi in Slavatitsh, where it seems, that it became a custom that both communities should share a Rabbi). He was the son of the famous Rabbi Reb Meir MRH”M from his name – our teacher the Rabbi Reb Meir Izenshtat, the brother–in–law of Yaakov ben Tzvi Emdin. The second was a Jew who came from Volin [Volhynia] and settled in Biale, Reb Boruch ben David, who was known by the name Reb Boruch from the land of Greece. This Reb Boruch was a wealthy Jew who conducted financial business with the Polish–Saxon minister, Bril, and with the Polish finance–minister Shedlnitzki. He could therefore help with religious matters through government intervention. He later proposed a marriage between Nechama, the daughter of Yaakov ben Tzvi Emdin, and his son Eliezer.

This is how Reb Yaakov ben Tzvi characterised the activities of Reb Baruch in his memoirs (”The scroll of the Book”): “ – – he was a man who fought the wars of God, for my sake –– –– even though he could have taken bribes for his own benefit, if he sided with those who were against me, but he would not take bribes and he did according to God's will and fought against those mentioned above. He gave of the little that he had to glorify and bless the name of God and because of his passion for the Torah –– ––”.[20] And the battle was not an easy one. The Rabbi of Lublin, Reb Yaakov bar Avrom bar Chaim and his father Reb Avrom bar Chaim had great ideas of becoming one of the elected heads of the Synod of the Four Lands [Greater Poland, Little Poland, Belorussia and Lithuania] and were followers of Aybeshitz and in 1751 they excommunicated Reb Yaakov ben Tzvi Emdin. But Reb Boruch did not take fright. This is what he wrote after the excommunication to the Rabbi of Amsterdam who was one of the important fighters

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for Reb Yaakov ben Tzvi Emdin: “ – – every day, at every time and at every hour, I drew the attention of the honoured Rabbis, loyal heads of the community when I said: why are you silent –– –– I was persistent and I guarded the doors of the faithful Rabbinic leaders –– ––”. When he saw that from the Jewish side he could not hope to get help, he turned to his supporter, the Polish finance–minister Shedlnitzki, who put Reb Avrom in prison. From Avrom's side they wanted “ – – to pay me a few hundred as a bribe to silence me, but matters like these did not deter me and I would just respond by giving them the cold shoulder but even this I spread around from the little that God gave me and he was gracious unto me –– ––”. In short this is what Reb Boruch wrote to Amsterdam: and in all this I am thankful to God that I stood my ground, I was an antagonist against them all – – “.[21]

All this however did not help. The Aybeshitz party was stronger both in the Lithuanian committee and in the Polish committee so they spoke out in his favour. In Kislev 5512 (1751), the Lithuanian committee of the state decided: “ – – we will ban and ostracise and curse and damn, whoever will dare to verbally denigrate –– –– against our teacher, our Rabbi the genius – – Yonatan – – “.[22] In Cheshvan 5514 (1753) the Polish Synod of the Four Lands [Greater Poland, Little Poland, Belarussia, Lithuania] spoke out in favour of Reb Yonatan as a Jew “ – – in whom the spirit of God rests and he is worthy of being Divinely inspired –– –– he is absolved of wrongdoing and he sent his explanation that was sufficiently rooted in holiness, the amulets of the genii of the time –– –– and whoever suspects him, it is as if he suspects the Divine Presence”.[23]

And the committee decreed that all the writings that had been published against him had to be burned –– those were the writings of Reb Yaakov ben Tzvi Emdin and his followers.

In the course of this entire time: 1751 – 1753 Reb Boruch and Reb Yitzchak stood guard and were present at every important meeting and session. They tried to influence whomever they could. For them this was a holy–war but according to the official directive of Polish Jewry, their view about Aybeshitz was not the right one. For Reb Boruch it was easier to carry out his activities as he had the necessary means to do so and his influence was greater. In contrast, for Reb Yitzchak it was more difficult. More than once he complained that the fight was dragging him into great expense: I am compelled to travel to a gathering of the Four Lands, to the holy congregation of Kostantin [Konstantynów] and God will compensate me for my great expense”.[24] “ –– –– I was in conflict with the writings in my possession and I gave an amount of 12½ gulden in coins –– –– “.[25] I was there (in Brod) [Brid] for a month in order to guard the path of Torah, –– –– and to remember for good deeds the name of the master of the Torah, my Rabbi, our teacher, the scholar and our master Reb Boruch from the land of Greece, who supported me strongly and whole–heartedly –– –– and the wise Rabbis decided to send two Rabbis to the holy community of Hamburg, of whom I was one –– –– the main thing that is missing from the story is, who would pay for the expenses –– –– who would have to give a few hundred gold coins for one hour”.[26] Reb Yitzchak kept on believing that he would manage to do something and renew the battle against Aybeshitz: “and I am still active in the committee whose gathering will take place on the 12th Tammuz 1755, an event that is approaching for our good in the holy community of Kostantin”.[27] “–– –– for how long can we be under threat and turn the other cheek, for in every place where the desecration of God's name occurs, the Rabbi is shown disrespect –– –– “.[28]

Reb Yitzchak and Reb Boruch were prepared to fight further but in the meantime something else occurred in Poland that was worse than the amulets of Reb Yonatan Aybeshitz. This is the third act of the general Polish–Jewish history, in which Biale Jews – this time again Reb Yitzchak and Reb Boruch – played a large part.

At the end of 1755 the Podolye [Podolia] Jew, Yaakov Frank returned to Poland. He spent a lengthy time in Turkey and there he was in close contact with the Shabtai Tzvi sect of the “Denmayer”[29] [a Jewish/Islamic sect]. In Poland, all the followers of Shabtai Tzvi gathered around him, and if until now Frank was inclined towards Islam, from now on he began to turn his gaze towards Christianity. Frank and his followers lived a licentious way of life, one of vice and heresy, in defiance. The idea of taking on the Christian faith was ripe. They came as far as making an accusation, that the Talmud commands the use of Christian blood on Passover.

One sees clearly the difference between the opinions of Yaakov ben Tzvi Emdin – Aybeshitz and the Frank problem. One was a purely Jewish matter and the other, a great danger that threatened Polish Jewry. In those dark times, blood–libel was the order of the day and the testifying of Jews, could bring about a great tragedy.

The Jewish leadership immediately went out in protest against the terrible situation and a fiery battle broke out. In Sivan 5516 (1756) the committee in the region of Lemberg [Lviv] excommunicated the followers of Frank and this excommunication was substantiated by the Synod of the Four Lands in Konstantin (September 1756). On the side of the Frankites was the Kamienietzer Catholic Bishop and he decreed an open public dispute between the Jews and the Frankites. The dispute ended according to a verdict by the Bishop with the defeat of the Jews and with the decree to burn the Talmud (June 1757). Frank took his agitation further and as a candidate for Christianity, he won the support of the king. He appealed to the Lemberg {Lviv] archbishop saying that one more dispute should take place between his followers and the Jews, in order to prove that the right observance of Judaism and messianic belief, leads of necessity, to the acknowledgement of Christianity. The Jews consented with honour to the dispute from Lemberg (July – August 1759) but the Christian authorities declared that the Jews were defeated.

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However, in one aspect the Jews had a partial victory but the details were the most dangerous: the Canon that led the dispute, left open the question of blood–libel, as he was awaiting an answer from the Pope, to whom the Jews turned for help.

The Frankites now openly took on Christianity. Frank himself however, came into conflict with the church and was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Tshenstochover [Częstochowa] fortress. During the first division of Poland (1772), the Russians freed Frank and he, and his followers settled first in Berne (Austria) and later in the area of Frankfurt on Maine where he died in 1791 at the age of 91.

We are interested here in the entire history, in the role of the Biale Jews in the battle against the Frankites. Rabbi Yaakov ben Tzvi Emdin writes in his memoirs “The scroll of the Book”: also my in–law, the wealthy, the honourable Reb Boruch, mentioned above, will be remembered for good things in this matter, because here too, he played his part and stood like a pillar of steel before the king of Poland and his ministers –– –– to change their opinions and nullify their bad thoughts about Jews, so he volunteered to pursue them with all his soul and all his might so that they get what they deserve.[30]

At the forefront of the conflict in the first years stood our Reb Yitzchak. In a letter from Reb Boruch to Yaakov ben Tzvi Emdin he writes about the Konstantin committee: And also he, (Reb Yitzchak) was here for some time and he attended the meeting of the Great Synod –– –– and he was strengthened in his faith and he appointed himself as head of the language and he did not involve himself in any activities other than the observance of the commandments –– ––”.[31] Reb Boruch on his part, did extensive work so that the issue should not be considered a Jewish one but also a matter that concerns the Christian church: “And also we will gather our strength before them, we will stand before the rulers and the Bishops to judge these cursed ones in fire because to their law, he who creates a new faith will be judged in fire –– –– “.[32] His view was correct. Using this tactic, one could hope that the battle would be easier and more successful.

After the Kamienietzer decree, Boruch turned to minister Bril and described to him the developments of the events “I opened my lips with a cry and a plea for mercy so that he would request of our master the king to deal harshly with the sect of Shabtai Tzvi may his name and his memory be erased”. Bril advised him to write a memorandum to the king (August lll, 1734 – 1763), requesting that he take further action with the help of the Pope. Reb Boruch immediately composed the memorandum and sent it to the king. But he did even more as he relates this anecdote: “And I did more than this by taking people with me –– ––, and I made a request for judgement to the diplomatic representative of the Pope[33] –– –– and I, as if I had the hand of God upon me, I gave an amount of one hundred red gulden for the necessity of dismissing this judgement –– ––”.[34] It is also worth mentioning, that in his activities he treats Reb Boruch not as an influential person who takes matters into his own hands but he consults with him and gives an account to the official leadership. Reb Boruch is hopeful that matters with the Frankites will now come to an end. He writes: “When our eyes saw the burning of the Torah, it was as if one was seeing one's own daughter burnt in a fire”[35] and at the same time he asks Reb Yaakov ben Tzvi Emdin to approach the Amsterdam community to turn to the Pope through the community in Rome.

We saw above, how the issues developed further. Reb Boruch became involved in the course of events once more. When Frank sat in the Tshenstochover [Częstochowa] fortress, he made contact with Moscow and Petersburg, expressing the view that he would be prepared to take up the Slavic faith. Here Reb Boruch threw himself into the battle again (”he truly relinquished all his activities and occupied himself entirely with the work of God”) and he managed to reveal the true face of Frank and his followers: “and these evil ones were led astray in disappointment”.[36]

In summing up the whole matter, we have evidence that the two Biale Jews represented the viewpoint of Jewry with great honour; it is not their fault that they did not manage to do a lot.[37] Here too, we must comment that it is a great pity that we do not know more about Reb Boruch and Reb Yitzchak besides what we have related above. It would have been very interesting to know what such important leaders as these two men, did within the Biale community itself.


F. The Community and the outside world

In the rich history of suffering, persecution and evil decrees that Polish Jewry experienced, the Biale Jews also had a significant part. We do not have any direct information about the decrees that the Biale community endured thanks to Chmielnitzki, but according to indirect intimations, it can be assumed that Biale was also involved in the tragic events. The main chronicler of the decrees, the scholar Reb Natan Hanover, who himself experienced this tragic chapter, pauses little on the fate of the Lithuanian communities. He satisfies himself with a general quote that : “and the people of the holy community of Slutsk, and the holy community of Pinsk and the holy community of Brisk–D'lita [Brest] fled, a few to greater Poland, a few to Dansk [Gdansk]on the water on the River Visel. Of the poor people as well as the remnants of the holy community of Brisk and the holy community of Pinsk, a few hundred were murdered for the sanctification of God's name”. “Many Jews gathered in the holy community of Vlodava [Wlodowa]and there about ten thousand souls were murdered in different ways. And in the rest of the large communities in Lithuania, Jews were killed in their tens of thousands”.[38]

In the introduction to the Penitential Prayers that were composed by

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the great Talmudist Reb Shabtai Cohen, the author of the famous commentary of the Shulchan–Aruch “The Lips of Cohen”, who was himself a victim of the decrees that were inflicted on Lithuanian Jewry and regarding the painful after effects of the decrees, we read: “ – –– in the holy community of Vladvi there was a great slaughter –– –– also in the holy community of Brisk [Brest] and in the holy community of Minsk and in all the surrounding regions, there was no place where there were no killings. Whole families were destroyed there”.[39] In another chronicle (”Place of Suffering” by Reb Shmuel Fyvish bar Natan Fytl) the decrees of various communities are listed “ in the state that is called Podlashia”.

In the list of the communities, Mezritsh [Miedzyrzec] is mentioned three times – (Great Mezritsh, Small Mezritsh and Great Mezritsh) and there is no doubt that one of the three towns is Mezritsh near Biale. About Mezritsh we have incidentally, quite direct information: In the 18th century we find the well–known writer of memoirs, Reb Ber Bolechover [Bolekhiv] in the Galician town of Bolechov. From his text we can accept that his great–grandfather, Reb Yehuda Leib, is a descendant of the fugitives of “the Great Mezritsh close to Brisk–D'lita”.[40] Biale itself is not mentioned anywhere, but it is certain that its fate was the same as the fate of the entire Brisk vicinity.

From the beginning of the 18th century we note two personal tragedies amongst the Biale residents. In 1710 a Biale Jew was sentenced to death in connection with a case of blood–libel. A few years later something happened in Biale that has not been historically proved, but it is definitely based on fact. The event concerned the famous son of the Rabbi of Lemberg [Lviv] Reb Tzvi Hirsh ben Reb Naftali Hirtz, whom the Biale Jews were honoured to have as a Rabbi and head of their Yeshivah. In the sources he is called Reb Tzvi Hirshli Halbershtater (in honour of his position as Rabbi that he accepted in Germany after he left Biale), but, it appears, that he took the name Biale as his surname.

Reb Tzvi Hirsh had a beautiful daughter and the nobleman wanted to take her for himself. The Rabbi and his wife wanted to rescue their daughter and quickly arranged a marriage with the Rabbi's student, Reb Moshe Brisk. During the marriage ceremony the nobleman suddenly appeared and wanted to take the bride by force. Fear spread amongst the guests but the young groom was not afraid and with a mighty blow threw the nobleman to the ground and ran away with the bride. The nobleman was burning with rage and to avenge the great shame that was brought upon him, he imprisoned the rabbi and his family. The prisoners were threatened with the death–sentence, but here the powerful Jewish mediator and financier, Reb Yissachar bar Lehman intervened. He had great influence in government circles and Reb Tzvi Hirsh together with his family were allowed to go free. Reb Tzvi Hirsh could no longer remain in Biale. Also the tragic news that his daughter died three days after her wedding, placed a heavy burden on the whole family. Reb Tzvi hirsh therefore accepted the proposal of Reb Issachar Bern and arrived as a Rabbi in Halbershtat, taking with him Reb Moshe who then became a Rabbi in Pressburg.

The following is told about his rabbinical tenure in Biale: when he was in the town of Biali, all the people of the town loved him and honoured him greatly. They knew and understood, that their Rabbi was one of the genii of the generation, unique and extraordinary in the diaspora community. The people honoured him from the depths of their hearts, for his great modesty, the charity that he distributed to the poor and the respect that he showed everyone in his community, each according to his worth and his honour. No man wanted to distract him from Torah learning to which he devoted himself day and night and he spent all his time, in the intellectual pursuit of Halachah.[41]

In Halbershtat Reb Tzvi led a great yeshiva and he himself excelled in great scholarship – his nickname was “Kharif” (sharp–witted). He was involved in many activities as spiritual leader of his community. He died in 1748. Two of his rabbinic writings were published: “Ateret Tzvi”(the Crown of Tzvi) and “Kos Yeshuot” (The cup of Salvation). Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaCohen Fishman praises him in his book “Sarei Ha–meah”(masters of the century) as: –– –– a master of Torah, and a holy and pure genius –– –– a wonderful and endearing personality, winning hearts, a person of influence and generous spirit; there is none like him”.[42]

In the middle of the 18th century, we came across by chance, news from a German newspaper of 1751, about the former general–treasurer and lessee of the court in Biale, Shmuel ben Yitzchak, who was mentioned earlier. While conducting business of the court, he entered into a dispute with the economic government organisation of the Prussian king and with his main contractor, Ephraim. It appears that the dispute had serious repercussions for the finances of the court and as a Jew was involved in the dispute, the nobleman took revenge on the Jews of Slutsk and Biale and imprisoned 92 of them. After various negotiations, the dispute was crushed in 1751. Trade between Prussia and Biale–Radzhivil resumed and the nobleman freed the 92 Jews from prison. He gave gifts to the Jews that he freed, and in particular, he demonstrated his generosity to the family of Reb Shmuel (who died in the interim) providing “lavishly for them, for life”. This information originates from correspondence from Danzig. We can assume from this, that the dispute

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broke out regarding the trade of products from the Radzhivil estates at the Danzig sea–market.

There is one more piece of information from the 60's of the 18th century, that came to us by chance. It is in connection with a great Rabbi. In 1744, the great Rabbi, Reb Meir ben Yitzchak died in Isenshtat (Hungary). He was known by the name “maharam” first letters of his title (our teacher Rabbi Meir Isenshtat). We find his son Reb Yitzchak bar Meir as a Rabbi in Biale in the 40's and we have already conveyed information about him in the previous chapter. In 1766, Reb Yehuda, a brother of this Reb Yitzchak, also a Biale Rabbi, published his father's book “The Hidden Light” in Fiorda (Germany) – new comments on tractate writings and the laws regarding “libation wine”(wine touched by heathen hands that is forbidden to Jews). In the introduction he tells us the following: “ –– –– when our great and holy community was in turmoil –– –– in the time of the kingdom of Poland –– –– in the year 5524 (1764), –– –– I was given forbidden wine, and in the same year –– –– on the 1st and 2nd days of Tammuz, the enemy came to our community with a thundering noise and told all the others to do as they wish with the Jews, whatever their hearts desire, that is called in the German language, plundering. They gave permission to the slaughterers and for three hours they stole and tortured from time to time, Heaven Forbid. No one can appreciate the magnitude of the horror, particularly what the enemies did in the Great synagogue and in the community's House of Study. They plundered and stole all my possessions, they undressed my wife and I and our children and left us without clothes, naked. Despite this I gave thanks to God, for with his help, the God of mercy, they did not damage our souls. God should remember with mercy the holy community of Brisk D'Lita for their good deeds and protect them, for the rulers (the leaders and benefactors) of the holy community mentioned above, warned of the coming disaster. Our enemies and thieves left our community and went to the community mentioned above. It was decreed that whoever buys from the spoils taken from our community, is obligated return them. They were to be redeemed without profit and this was of great help and comfort to our community. We lost many of the holy writings of my father, the Rabbi, the teacher, may his memory be blessed, and nothing remained except the book about the Torah, The Coat of Light, and new discoveries about the laws of libation wine and the tractate of Ketuvot”.

From the introduction, we learn something else: in 1764 at the time of the turmoil that broke out in Poland in connection with the election of the last Polish king, Stanislav August Paniatovski, the Biale community experienced a small pogrom, that by some miracle, ended without any loss of life. Our Reb Yehuda, it appears, suffered greatly and was most upset about his great father's writings that were lost during the pogrom.

Two years after the pogrom he undertook a journey to towns in Poland, Austria and Germany, to collect money to publish the remaining writings of his father. He gave the manuscript of the book “Coat of Light” to the son of his sister who lived in Biale, who was a Rabbi in Zabludove, and he actually printed it. He published the book “The Hidden Light” himself. We know, by the way, from his stories, how well they were treated by the Brisk community and how they helped Biale Jews to return to a normal way of life.


G. Transition–period from Old Poland to the new Congress–Poland (1795 – 1815)

In 1795 Poland ceased to exist; the third division of the remaining Polish territory was enforced (after the first and second divisions of 1772, 1793) and the three great countries: Russia, Austria and Prussia enriched themselves again with new Polish provinces. The entire Lublin and Shedletz area, and with them also Biale, fell to Austria, creating the province of “West–Galicia”. Fourteen years later (1809) came a new change: as a result of Napoleon's victory over Austria, West–Galicia (and Biale in its midst) were cut off from Austria and attached to the Warsaw principality that Napoleon created in 1807 with the Saxon king at its head. For 14 years therefore, the Biale Jews had the “privilege” of being “Galicians” and then they returned again to Poland. The long period of transition dragged with it, changes in legislation and in the legal–economic situation. It must still be added that this period was a time of wars. Napoleon did not let the world rest. Austria and the Warsaw principality were in a state of war all the time and it was clear, that this fact must have had its consequences. The Jews of Biale had to experience yet a third change; in 1813 Prince Dominic Radzhivil died in Germany after he had participated in the great Napoleonic slaughter of Leipzig. Biale fell under the rule of his son–in–law, the Russian Prince Vitgenshtein.

During the Austrian occupation Biale became a circle–town, and the academy was converted to a Kaiser type of High School [Gimnazye]. In the record book of the “Chevra Kadisha” (Burial Society) we found a note that informs us about the changes in 1809. The note mentions that until today, Austrian money was in circulation but from today membership fees for new members must be paid in the currency of the new state “because of the changing times”. In the time of the Warsaw principality Biale remained a circle–town and her chronicles of this particular time, record three greater events.

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In 1812 there was a government decision to refrain from joining the great movement of Napoleon towards Moscow. In this year a Russian–Saxon battle played out in Biale and it cost Biale a huge sum of money. In Autumn 1815 the Russian Czar Alexander 1st passed through Biale on his way to the Vienna Congress where they wanted to overthrow the Napoleonic rule. During his stay in Biale, he held an audience with a delegation from the Polish senate.

Regarding the Jews, the Austrian government brought in two new, special taxes: the “Kosher tax”, which meant increasing the price of meat for the meat–eating consumer and the “light–tax” that every Jew had to pay. In this way the government made itself the guardian of Judaism with regard to the lighting of Sabbath candles. And when we also add that the old Polish head–tax was significantly raised (it is now called “tolerance –tax” meaning a tax for the privilege of living, dwelling and working in Austria) and that they also implemented a high payment for making a wedding – it will become clear, that life did not become easier. The state of war on the one hand, with new opportunities for trade and work, alleviated the struggle to exist, but on the other hand, it was a heavy blow to the Jews because in Austria, Kaiser Joseph ll implemented general compulsory military service for Jews.

In general, the Austrian Jewish politic displayed specific liberal tendencies, but the intention was to lead Jews to assimilation or even to conversion; and only when they will experience the internal revolution, will they be privileged to have equal rights. In the meantime Jews only saw and felt negative aspects to government politics: a decree about synagogue visits, a decree to take on Christian names, a decree to overthrow traditional Jewish dress, a decree for Jews to give up inn–keeping in the villages etc.

In Biale however, we find also positive signs of a liberal trend under Austrian rule: in 1800 a situation arose paving the way for a reconciliation between the town council and the community that could have had important outcomes. The terms of the reconciliation contained many important statements: Jews will participate in the election of the town council; two Jewish representatives will participate in the revision of the town finances; Jews will enjoy all rights of citizenship as long as they are not contrary to government laws and decrees; the town council is obligated to cater for Jewish interests in equal measure as for local interests; the Jewish community will take part in the recruitment of Jewish soldiers; as a counter offer the community undertakes to pay 100 Austrian gulden annually.

If the terms of the agreement had been honoured, it would certainly have had a great impact on the general situation of the Biale community. However as we will see further, it did not happen.

In the constitution of the Warsaw principality of 1807, it was decreed that “all citizens are equal regarding this law”, but as far as Jews were concerned, it was not clear whether they were actually citizens. And they did not have to wait long for an explanation. A year later (Autumn 1808) a decree was issued that the question of political rights for Jews was being postponed for 10 years. So concerns about Jewish taxes and dwelling rights etc. began again. The “kosher–tax” and the “light–tax” on the one hand and the “head–tax” on the other (now it is called “class–tax or family–tax”) put great pressure on the impoverished Jewish towns, and in addition there was also the “recruitment–tax” where Jews in the Warsaw principality were compelled to pay the outrageous sum of 700 thousand zlottes annually as compensation for being released from military service. Rich and Europeanised Jews wove various concessions for themselves, but the greater mass of Jews in towns and villages, amongst them Biale, were not rich and not Europeanised.

When the government took over the rule of the Shedletz [Siedlce] area in 1809, they promised to abolish the “family–tax” as soon as the Jewish debt of the old autonomy organisation of Polish Jewry would be adjusted and repaid. But for that one would have to wait a very long time. In the meantime they had to pay, and pay according to a good rate of currency exchange, without taking into consideration, perhaps intentionally, that the old money had lost its value. And besides the heavy government taxes, Jews still had a whole row of other financial commitments: to maintain the community, added taxes for the town budget and various repayments to the court. In 1810 a few communities , together with Biale (also Mezritsh [Miedzyrzec], Shedletz [Siedlce], Vlodave [Wlodowa] and Lubartov) made a request to the Minister of Interior asking for mercy: “the war impoverished us, the decree that we pay a good rate of currency is an edict that we cannot sustain and the “family–tax” is not fairly distributed – the rich and the well–to–do pay little and the poor are oppressed. The debt of the old Polish period is a

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complex matter and should be regulated with the former Austrian government that demanded a substantial amount of money for this account”. The petition attempts to play on the patriotic strings: “the heavy charges and the great needs of the people diminish the joy of returning to the homeland, and the hope of a better future”. The answer to the petition was not found amongst the acts, but it is clear, that it was not a positive one.

In the meantime the new war of 1812 crept up and as a consequence of it, the Warsaw principality was abolished. The Polish kingdom was established under Russian rule (Congress–Poland), and the history of Polish Jewry and also Biale Jews, opens a new page.


H. The Town Budget in the first years of Congress–Poland

In the middle of 1815,with the establishment of Congress–Poland under Russian sovereignty, a new chapter begins in the history of the town generally and in the Jewish community in particular. We find ourselves at a time of the beginning of a new era; a time of the rise of a new social power: the town bourgeoisie and the factory–proletariat; of new ideas that draw their benefits from the French revolution, from the Napoleonic wars and from the English Industrial Revolution – the sovereignty of the people, social and economic freedom, ideas of reconstructing a more just society, the beginning of new living standards and new life–concepts with regard to social and personal hygiene, and in regard to communication of daily needs.

The world also took a small step forward in its attitude to Jews. The question of equal rights and emancipation surfaced in the past years. In some countries attempts were made to give Jews rights as citizens and with regard to debts, to give them the same treatment as all other citizens. This is the way it was in Western and Middle Europe. It was the same in all the lands that experienced the French–Napoleonic occupation but in Russia everything retained its old ways. In the course of time, a new period of industrialisation began in Congress–Poland with stronger emphasis on the power of the town's bourgeoisie but in the beginning the changes were hardly felt.

Concerning the Jews – again they had to fight as in earlier Polish times – the old battle for existence, the battle for dwelling rights, for the right to free employment etc.

Right at the beginning, in the first years of Congress–Poland it seemed as if the wheels of history were turning backwards, and Polish Jews began to experience a return to the middle–ages. In 1816 a wave of blood–accusations went through Poland, and cases of blood–libel came close to the Biale community: not only because the blood–lie came to the fore simultaneously in nearby towns such as: Mezritsh [Miedzyrzec], Shedletz [Siedlice] and Vlodave [Wlodowa]but also due to the tragic fact that the Biale prison played a sad role; here the accused Mezritsh Jews sat for some time before being transferred to Chentshin [Chęciny in order to isolate them from the purely Jewish vicinity. The accused from Vlodave were also imprisoned in the Biale prison and were tormented for a long time, until they were freed in 1821. According to the official document of 1817 it can be assumed that in Biale itself there was talk of a blood–lie, but further information is missing.

In the next two chapters we will look at details of the fate of the Biale community. First we will present a picture of the town in 20's of the 19th century, in the light of the town budget, that mirrors, in a certain sense, the situation of the Jewish community. The individual entries, those of the expenses and those of the income, give a true testimony of what the town was like, and what the goals of the government supervisor who put the budget together were. But first, let the numbers speak for themselves.

The Town's Preliminary Budget For the year 1819/20

Town taxes to maintain the chimney sweepers 1000
Taxes from the Christian population for the town administration 934
Income from various market repayments 920
Contribution from the Jewish community for the town administration 374
Bridge repayments 176
Income from local pastures 160
Income from the local meat market 100
Contribution from the taverns 42
Total 3706

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Salary of the Mayor who is also the treasurer 1200
Salary of an Alderman who is also the secretary 300
For the chimney sweepers 1000
Two town servants 400
Two night watchmen 200
Contribution to the salary for the representatives of local matters in the military 144
Payment for the premises of the magistrate 100
Writing materials and lighting 150
Publication of official journals 21
Representatives of local butchers 50
Extraordinary expenses 141
Total 3706

The high level of the amounts detailed in the expenditure, speak for themselves. One of the most important expenses of the local budget was the chimney sweep and his assistants. Their salaries amount to 27% of all the expenses. It is no wonder: a poor little town, that complains that it does not have money to pave the streets, to buy new tools to extinguish fires and other needs, must at least, have good service for the chimneys. One must remember that the town consists of almost all wooden houses and experience has taught that firstly, something must be done to avoid a fire.

To the above listed expenses one must also add the expenses that the town pays the court. This is not reflected in the budget but they did exist and were only abolished in the 60's. In Mezritsh [Miedzyrzec] for example, the bridge repayments and the market repayments belonged to the Mezritsh court. If in Biale the court waived these payments, then on the other hand, they took upon themselves the obligation to provide wood to heat the house of the magistrate. In this way they found a means of covering the deficit in the form of other incomes of the town, about which the town's budget tells us nothing.

The local budget makes a notable impression, particularly when compared to the community budget of 70 years earlier, that amounted to approximately 10.000 zlottes, at a time when the actual value of money was greater.

In the budget the government predicted a sum of 165 zlottes (for the representative of local matters and for publishing official journals), that make up 4.5% of the budget but in truth they also have at their disposal funds under the title that reads “extraordinary expenses”. In the certified budget the entry received another name, where it was called “at the disposal of the ministry”. So we see that in reality, we can speak very little about an autonomy and an independent management committee, when in such minor matters, the state economy is dependant not only on military power but also directives from the ministry. By the way, it should also be noted that the legal custodians made a small change in the list of items of expenditure, in order to free a sum of 27 zlottes as provision for the security of the Mayor when taking up his position.

And now about the income. The tax system was still primitive in those days; one sees that clearly from individual entries. Over time, two important sources of income were implemented: a concession tax for inn–keepers and a kind of industrial tax for the traders and artisans. In 1863 these two taxes brought in 3300 zlottes.

When analysing the income, we have this picture:

  zl. %
Direct taxes 2350 63.4%
Indirect taxes (market and bridge repayments 1096 29.5%
Income from local estates 260 7.1%
Total 3706 100%

Speaking about the direct taxes we will look at the amount of 374 zlottes that burden the Jewish community. According to the agreement of 1800, Jews had to contribute the amount of 100 Austrian Gulden to the local budget, and for that they were to receive a list of citizen rights. The agreement however remained only on paper. They never actually collected this tax. When the preliminary budget for 1819/20 was being reviewed, the question of reconstructing the income of 1800 arose. Among the Christian population opinions emerged that since 1800 the number of Jews had grown significantly, that 31 more Jewish houses had been added and that the number of Jews had reached 2020 souls as opposed to 1457 Christians. If that is so, then the Jews have to pay tax in the same proportion as the Christian population. So the magistrate presenting the budget for certification to the ministry alerted them to the fact, and the ministry certified the budget and put in a common entry of 1308 zlottes, as a citizen tax to cover the expenses of the town's administration, with a note that Jews and Christians must work out between themselves how to divide the sum.

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In the meantime the magistrate imposed only the 374 zlottes mentioned above. Jews however, did not keep quiet. The Biale community requested a meeting with the ministry and showed that as the magistrate did not fulfil the terms of the agreement of 1800, the Jewish obligation to contribute to the town's budget is void. The community also demonstrated that the number of Jews is, in fact, less than the number of Christians and that during the Napoleonic wars Jews carried on their shoulders, the entire burden of contributing, to military quarters etc. Now, the petition says further, the Biale community has become impoverished and cannot bear the burden of 374 zlottes (that the magistrate imposed, on the grounds of certifying the budget).

The ministry did not report the petition to higher authority and stressed the view that Jews and Christians must arrange the equal division of taxes amongst themselves in this budget and in later years (1821 – 1826). Now that the magistrate saw that he had the ministry on his side, he actually began to demand that Jews pay half of the whole sum, that means, 654 zlottes. The Jews again appealed to Warsaw. This time the ministry gave a clear answer, that as the Jews have the entire trade in their hands and overtake even the number of the Christian population, it is fair that they should pay the same as the Christians. And so it remained for a long time.

Regarding the indirect taxes, it is worth noting that the task of collecting repayments was placed in Jewish hands.

Resuming the details up till now, we come to the conclusion that Biale was a small town with a Christian population whose main employment was working the land and small farming businesses; and with a Jewish population that was employed in trade, labour, leasing and inn–keeping. Two more numbers for comparison: in 1826 the Biale town budget reached 2899 zlottes, in Mezritsh 4810 zlottes, and in Radzin 1256 zlottes.


I. The Jewish struggle for dwelling rights

The battle between Jews and Christians in Polish towns lasted for generations. The Christians attempted to sideline what was for them, fierce Jewish competition. One chapter of the struggle was the question of dwelling rights.

The Christian population tried by legal and illegal means to see that Jews would be banned from the Rynek and the nearby streets and certain towns even earned the right to demand that Jews may not live in them at all. Amongst them were also Warsaw and Vilna and a long–lasting battle about this question also took place in Lublin. This was called “non–tolerance of Jews”.

This battle continued in the 19th century and in certain instances was even intensified. They also added to the restrictions “moral” reasons: Jews must suffer because they are corrupt; because they do not have a European education; because they are not productive, employed only in trade and inn–keeping; because they separate themselves from residents in the vicinity by their dress, customs, language etc. Before they will allow Jews to have elementary rights of freedom of movement and freedom to practise their professions, they expect them to “improve morally”; they should change their ways. For many years in Congress–Poland there was a well thought out and wide–branched battle about economic purposes and “moral” excuses. Jewish communities were dismissed and in their place the “Dozur Buzshnitski” came into existence whose competence was limited only to religious and fiscal matters. A school was established for Rabbis in Warsaw with an outspoken assimilatory character, and at the same time in 1822, two important anti–Jewish decrees were published. One presents various measures that will restrict the number the Jews in the towns and simultaneously it informs that in various towns separate areas will be organised for Jews. The second decree states that Jews may no longer live in the towns that had previously the right of “non– tolerance of Jews” unless, in the interim, they legally acquired a concession for an inn. If not, they must leave the town within three years.

Both decrees were terrible for the Biale Jews. With good–bad will, one could interpret the decree of 1621, that Jews were allowed to own no more than 30 houses. One could go still further and claim that 30 houses means 30 families. And as there were 389 Jewish families in Biale at that time, it means that 359 of them are not legal and they are compelled to drive them out of the town, or in the best case, to be concentrated in a separate Jewish ghetto. In fact the circle–commissioner and the town administration began to occupy themselves intensively with the issue and supported by the decree of 1822 and the indicated interpretation of the decrees of 1621, worked out specific plans to

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create a Jewish ghetto; there was no talk of exile. The Jews of Biale immediately assessed the danger and, it appears, of their own initiative, the Jews of Podlashe [Podlasie] decided to communicate with a written request to the Head of State who had the highest power in Congress–Poland. In the request (signed by Avrom David Cohen from Shedletz [Siedlice] and Aharon, from a line of saints, from Biale), Podlashe Jews ask that the time given to put the edict of the first decree into effect, that says that from the 1st January 1823, only one family may live in each Jewish house and all others must move out, should be prolonged for six years because it would be impossible to erect so many houses in such a short time (barely a few weeks remained until the 1st January 1823).

As the local government began to carry out the above–mentioned task, an appeal was also sent to the Minister of Interior requesting that in the meantime, no further steps should be taken.

On the 9th December the reply arrived from the ministry, that the decree could not be altered. They were only assured that those organising the execution of this procedure, would treat the matter with favour, considering the difficult situation of the Jews concerned.

Regarding this matter therefore, the Jews of Biale were safe for a certain time. Now a new danger drew near. The plan for a ghetto in Biale as mentioned above, found favour with the local government and in 1823 it was sent to the ministry for confirmation. The plan states that:

  1. Jews are forbidden to live and have shops in the market and in the following streets: Varsheve, Lubline, Reformatzke, Mezritshe, Yaneve and Briske and also in the small streets between those mentioned. Jews that live in these streets and also in the corner houses (between the permitted streets and those not permitted) must move out by the end of 1825. If not – they will be punished with large money fines.
  2. Jews will be allocated Grabanovve and Proste streets (from Brisk Street upwards) and besides that, a row of new project streets as for example: Yeruzalimske (between Briske and Grabanovve), Nye Street, Rinkovve, Vytte, Dzshelne.
  3. Only stone houses may be erected in these streets and not wooden houses.
  4. As a favour, two Jewish families will be allowed to live in Christian streets. They must however observe the following conditions: they must conduct substantial trade, must possess 24,000 zlottes, know Polish, French or German, send their children to government schools, not make themselves different from their surrounds with outward signs (Jewish clothes, customs etc.). In addition to them, the following will also receive permission to live in Christian streets: artists, educated people, manufacturers who employ Jewish workers, big wholesalers, Jews who will undertake to erect multi–storied houses on empty plots; they must however observe all the aforementioned cultural stipulations.
  5. In addition it was stressed, that in accordance with the agreements of 1822, only one Jewish family may live in each house (both in the streets permitted and in the forbidden streets).
Insert town plan

Points 1, 2 and 3 are purely local Biale matters. The others are general and show without clarity, the trends of assimilation and repression that existed in leading Polish social circles. Neither the Biale locals nor the Shedletz [Siedlice] local government created them. They are result of general public opinion, as was printed in the press, brochures, in books and also in government plans for other towns, mainly for Warsaw.

The economic matters are also interesting. Polish society and the government followed the path that was marked in Western and in Middle Europe already in the second

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half of the 18th century i.e. to favour the rich Jew and force him to be of greater use to the country by his investment of capital in substantial trade, industry and in housing construction.

The issue that compels Jewish manufacturers to employ Jewish workers, if they themselves want to live in Christian streets, is characteristic. In truth, did they seriously mean the question of professional upheaval.

Or did Biale Jews know about the new decree that threatened the existence of so many Jews? The whole of the market, except for two houses, the whole of Mezritsh, Yaneve and Briske streets were occupied by Jews. Unfortunately we have no information at all about this.

Fortunately the ministry ruled differently regarding this matter. They realised that the threat to Jewish existence also threatened the income of the government. The ministry issued an opinion that as Biale was a district town that contains a Jewish settlement, whose number exceeds the Christian population (1457 Christians and 2020 Jews), the establishment of a Jewish precinct was not worthwhile. More than that, it would then be necessary to acquire the approval of the Head of the Town. With this in place, the matter was put to sleep for a whole year. Only in summer of 1824 did the local government in Shedletz [Siedlice] turn again to this matter. They asserted that according to the edict of 1621, only 30 Jewish families may live in the town. Afterwards the decree from Warsaw stated that in those towns where they had the authority previously to restrict Jewish dwelling rights, the restrictions were valid, then and in the future, so the circle–commissioner tried not to allow new Jewish families to come into the town. However he did not manage to enforce this and the number of Jewish families continued to grow. It was therefore, for the ministry to express its intention regarding the future.

We see from this that in Shedletz [Siedlice] too they changed their views and thoughts of a Jewish ghetto were abandoned. It is possible that this happened because of Jewish influence. The answer of the ministry to this, was that the lower organisations of government should abide by the above–mentioned regulations of 1822, and see to it that the number of Jews should not increase. The answer was intentionally clouded because in the ministry, as we have seen above, there was no definite line of thinking regarding the introduction of Jewish precincts. As a result the Circle–Commissioner did not know what else he had to do.

And life went on its way. The government organisations continued to exchange a comprehensive correspondence and the plan to reduce the Jewish population or to create a Jewish ghetto precinct, was postponed from year to year. Jews continued to live freely in Biale and their numbers increased. In the 60's there were 3456 Jews in Biale and 2083 Christians. The plan to create a Jewish quarter and regulations regarding the number of families in the individual houses, remained in the statutes. The difficulties with the badly interpreted act of 1621, until now, as well as in the future, meant that the act could not be enforced. As they convinced themselves in the ministry, that the whole plan for a Jewish precinct could not be carried out (in Sokolov for example, Jews returned to their dwellings at night, and in the morning they were removed again), it was decided in 1833 to annul this decree entirely. Thirty years later, (in 1862), Jews received full dwelling rights in the whole of Congress–Poland, at least, on paper.


J. The struggle for work for Jewish people

The second battle field on which Jews and Christians wrestled in Poland over an entire century, was about work or more precisely – the right of Jews to legally engage in various professions. The authoritative opinion in the domain of work was the professional organisation of tradesmen – the guild. The guilds regulated the links between production and consumption. They judged in all matters regarding the market, eliminating competition, supervising good work–practice in handling products, purchasing of raw–material etc. They had welfare–boxes for the poor, the sick, orphans and widows. They had their own areas in the churches and each guild was assigned a separate part along the town– walls that they were obligated to defend in case of a war. In many towns they also had an important say in the town council. Their power was increased due to two factors:

  1. belonging to a guild was obligatory and the tradesman who tried to free himself from the guild and its regulations experienced many problems, and finally he had to bear all the payments that the guild imposed on him without benefiting from his rights as a member.
  2. The guilds regulated and dominated, not only production, but to a certain extent also trade; every guild according to the products of its trade.
As the guilds bore a distinct religious character, it is clear that only followers of a particular faith could belong. The Polish guilds

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were of an overwhelming majority Roman–Catholic and the other tradesmen were: Protestant, Greek–Catholic and Greek–Orthodox who had to withstand a difficult battle for their existence in the guild, or from without the guild. Understandably, it was not possible for Jews to belong to the guild. Jewish tradesman established their own guild–societies, mostly tailoring. And as the matter was not only a religious one, but to a much greater extent, an economic one, it is clear that the Christian guilds (who saw themselves as the solely official and entitled) and the Jewish societies of tradesman could not live together in peace. This is also the story of all Polish towns, filled with battles between Christian and Jewish tradesmen, battles that lasted decades and centuries. On the one side, stand the Christian guilds and the town council that protects them, and on the other side – the Jewish societies and the community. The mediators and arbitrators were: the government, all the way to the king, the courts – from the highest to the lowest, and in the private towns, also the landowners. Sometimes it landed up with bloodshed. A contract would be sealed, and both sides agreed with the full intention of not honouring it. The issues would be referred to the courts and again new contracts would be sealed, sometimes in favour of one side and sometimes in favour of the other side and the battle never ended. And life went its way – legally and illegally the numbers of Jewish tradesmen and their societies increased and somehow they organised themselves. In Biale the battle concerned shoemaking, hat–making and tailoring.

The Biale Christian shoemakers organised themselves and in 1693 they elicited a document from the nobleman, according to which they were given the right to establish a guild organisation. In this document, the rights and duties of the members were formulated and the entire internal organisation of the guild was determined. In order to increase the income of the guild, they imposed a tax on all merchants and tradesman that came into the town to the fairs with footwear for sale. They had to pay one groshen to the guild for each pair of footwear that was brought in. The Jews who had shoe shops also had to pay one groshen for every pair of boots. The first regulation concerns a kind of protection–tax. It aims to protect the local tradesman against external competition. The second regulation, in addition, was of a fiscal nature, that aimed to weaken Jewish competition and also imposed a random tax on Jewish shop owners. The regulation is very vague: it is not clear if the tax applies only to the fairs or to every day trade; is the tax only imposed on the items sold or on the entire merchandise in the shop. One could also interpret that the payment is valid for those shopkeepers whose merchandise was purchased during the fair. The text of the regulation infers that evidently this applies only to the pairs of boots sold at the fair. But as the rule is not a clear one, it created distress and caused uncertainty in the Jewish shoe–trade. The income from the taxes were earmarked for church purposes by the guild (lighting and a guild flag etc.). The shoemakers were not satisfied with this: two years later for instance, in 1695, they again approached the town–authority and without mentioning the regulations of the previous two years, requested that they confirm a new rule that differs from the previous one, in one particular aspect – the one that imposed on the Jews a duty to pay, not only for every pair of footwear, but also for every piece of leather. The nobleman confirmed the document and from then on the guild used the last rule, only as a basis for its needs regarding the Jewish shop–owners and merchants. The Biale magistrate kept a copy of both regulations. On the second, that contains the additional clause, there is confirmation from 1778. Apparently it was only this rule that the guild presented for confirmation. It chose rather not to mention the first.

Already in recent years it became known that the taxes were difficult to collect and that it is simply difficult to control the whole issue. So the guild compromised with the Jews, that instead they should give 10 pounds of wax annually to the church and in exchange they will receive the right to free trade.

The Jews however did not keep the agreement. Disputes increased and the matter was finally handed over to the High–Court. In 1740 a judgement was delivered stating that Jews had to give a total of 15 pounds of wax annually. In addition, in order to enable the guild to control the shoe–trade with foreign shopkeepers and tradesmen, Jews were forbidden to buy, or to sell, other than in the market place, under threat of a severe monetary fine, half of which went to the guild and half to the Chief Justice. The judge however realised, that the guild's expectations were unfair, and determined exactly, the manner in which the payment was to be collected. He also secured for himself the right to have control over the utilisation of the money.

The guild, seeing that he was in control, after 11 years (1751), elicited an additional right, that every new Jewish shopkeeper pays the guild

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six zlottes for the same purpose. Now it appears the ratio is more or less controlled: Jews paid and the guild was satisfied. In the Warsaw “archive of old acts” we find a contract from 1754, in which four Biale shopkeepers ask to be pardoned for not giving the wax. They commit themselves to giving it over a certain period, and if not, they will pay double. In 1774 there was another decree for seven shopkeepers who opened new shops and did not pay the tax to the guild.

In the time of the Napoleonic wars, the Jewish shopkeepers again stopped paying and when the guild demanded payment, the Jews argued that they did not acknowledge the regulations of 1740 and 1751 but they were prepared to fulfil the agreements according to the regulations of 1695. The mutual negotiations finally brought them to the point where in 1815, they compromised on the following points: the Biale shopkeepers must pay 1½ zlottes annually and in addition they must pay this amount for the years 1815 and 1816 in advance. The shopkeepers must also cover the cost of the lawsuit in the amount of eight zlottes. The payment by the foreign shopkeepers and tradesmen, remains as before but with one important change, that the trade does not necessarily have to take place in the market place and only for the price that that it would be in the market, is the old groshen tax paid.

In 1816 a new decree regarding the guild was brought in. The decree aimed to pave the way for a freer development of private initiative, in order to enable an upswing in work and industry. The form of the guild remained but the guild was no longer the regulator of economic life. In the decree, amongst other issues, the development –path of the tradesman is described: he must first go through the steps as a student journeyman, and after participating in an appropriate “master's course” and demonstrating that he has learnt his trade well, he is then registered as a master, and pays 30 to 60 zlottes. The decree applies to all tradesmen.

As already stated , this decree of 1816, applies to all tradesmen, both Christian and Jewish. The Jews were now permitted to be taken into the guilds with the restriction that as they do not have equal right of citizenship, they cannot be elected to various guild offices.

When the above decree came out and people began to think about it, Biale Christian shoemakers realised that for them the whole matter was an uncomfortable one. And as in the course of time, Jews also turned to shoemaking, the matter for the Christian shoemakers was twofold: the proportion of Jewish shopkeepers that trade in footwear, and secondly – the issue of Jewish shoemaker, taking the Jews into the guild meant that with their own hands, they would create right–minded competitors. It could also have been a suspicion that the Jewish shoemakers might open the question of payments and also perhaps about the distribution of the money. And another thing: paragraph 145 of the decree of 1816 confirms that all old guild customs are abolished. It was easy to imagine that the tax that is discussed here had to be thought of as an “old guild custom”. And it seems really that on these grounds, after 1816, they again stopped paying the tax, to which they themselves were agreeable in 1815. The guild therefore had to consider what to do, and it found a solution. He took this same decree and interpreted in this way – that all Jewish shoemakers, as new guild members, must pay a registration fee of 60 zlottes. The guild hoped in this way to collect a substantial sum of money. The Jews however, did not keep quiet. The shoemakers and the shopkeepers went to the circle–commissioner and accused the guild and in 1824 he formally ruled that every new tradesman must substantiate how he fulfilled the regulations about a course of education with a qualified master. Those who cannot bring evidence of this may not work as independent tradesmen. Those who have attained the prescribed qualifications must pay 30 – 60 zlottes as determined by the guild leaders. And concerning the tax to be paid by the Biale shopkeepers and foreign merchants and tradesmen at the market and the fairs, the Circle–Commissioner stated that he will turn to the higher powers regarding this matter. The first question has again remained unclear. Most Jewish shoemakers were considered professional tradesmen from before, although they did not belong to the guild. The guild on the other hand, considered them as newly qualified and demanded the tax. Therefore the disputes between the guild and the Jewish shoemakers increased. In the second matter the Circle–Commissioner turned to the town administration in Shedletz [Siedlice] and from there they enquired of the ministry, if according to the decree of 1816, the taxes can remain. The ministry postponed the decision for some time . A lecturer even added that he had to give an opinion on a similar matter in Garvollin, [Garwolin] but no decision was taken. The decree was not mentioned in Biale or in Shedletz. In 1840 the matter was shelved in the acts of the ministry.

The reason for the silence will be clarified afterwards

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when we look through the list of the Biale tradesmen of 1841. Evidently in this year there were 11 shoemakers in Biale and amongst them only 4 Christians. Now everything becomes clear. With each year the number of Christian shoemakers fell. They wanted then to save their prestige, expecting up to 60 zlottes from every shoemaker but afterwards, it appears, they resigned from this. Of its own accord, the taxes for the footwear and leather shopkeepers, surely must have ceased to exist. In the local archive of 1845, we discover that only two guilds functioned in the town: bricklayers and pot makers. Regarding the shoemaker guild, it means apparently, that it simply did not exist “because there were very few Christian master tradesmen and the Jews were very poor”.

The shoemaker's guild, it seems, reorganised itself after eight years (1853). We do not know how the question of the Jewish taxes and the rights of the Jewish shoemakers was organised in the new guild but we can accept with certainty that the tax of the Jewish shopkeepers was abolished entirely. We do not know how many Jewish members there were in the reorganised guild of 1853. One thing is clear – There were no more than two Christian shoemakers and they were actually in agreement with the regulations of 1816, elected as the guild leaders.

Until now we have spoken about the “leather–line of business”. Now we will look at the matter of the Jewish hat–makers and tailors.

When the decree of 1816 came out, the guilds in Biale also began to reorganise themselves. As in many other towns, the question of Jewish membership of the guilds and their right to vote, presented itself here as well. The decree could be interpreted in different ways, particularly in cases where there was not a full complement of ten master tradesmen who were legally necessary in order to form a guild or inversely, when there was a large number of Jewish master tradesmen but the two Christians who were needed in order to form a guild committee, were non–existent. It was important for Jews to belong to the guild, firstly because it protected them from non–professional competition. The Christians again, did not want to allow the Jews to have the privileges that the guild offered. For this reason, long disputes and negotiations took place in which the government, in a purely formal manner, referred to the decree: that Jews have no passive voting rights in the guild. In this way it emerged, for example, that 50 Jewish tailors from Sokolov [Sokolow] were attached to the Biale tailors' guild because in Sokolov they were short of the two Christians to stand at the head of the guild. Only after protracted efforts (1830 – 1835) did they manage to extract an agreement from the ministry that they would be added to the local cap–makers guild until a few Christian tailors settled in Sokolov.

And what was the status quo regarding this matter, in Biale? We have a list from 1841, of the membership of the professional tradesmen that states:

attached to each master tradesman in the town there is: a chimney sweep, a miller, a soap–maker, a locksmith, a wheelwright, a lace maker; all except the lace–maker and soap–maker were Christians. To every two master tradesmen there were: hat–maker carpenters bookbinders, makers of wadding, watchmakers. All except one watchmaker were Jewish. To every three master tradesmen there were: metal–workers,, tanners, roofers (only Jews). To every four master tradesmen there were: carpenters (one Jew amongst them), painters (three Jews amongst them) blacksmiths (one Jew amongst them). To every five master tradesmen there were: pavers(only one Jew), harness–makers (of them only one Jew). To every six master tradesmen there were: joiners (only Jews). To 11 master tradesmen there were: butchers (of them 7 Jewish, and 4 pig slaughterers), shoemakers (7 of them Jews), and pot–makers (only Christians). Besides them, 13 bakers (amongst them only one Christian), 13 tailors (only Jews), and 17 masons (amongst them two Jews). A total of 127 tradesmen, of whom 76 were Jews and 51 Christians.

From the numbers above we can see that there were only five kinds of tradesmen that could organise a guild (not counting the butchers and pig slaughters because these are in fact, two different trades), those are; the shoemakers, pot–makers, bakers, tailors and masons. From this number we remove the tailors and bakers as they do not have the required two Christians to form a guild committee. We have written previously about the fate of the shoemakers' guild and about the position of the Jews in it. The masons and the pot–makers were therefore the only tradesmen in Biale who had a legal guild.

In 1849, suddenly the Jewish question arose in the organisation of a profession that did not feature in Biale – the hat–makers. When there was an iniative to establish a hat–makers' guild, the government withdrew. This guild was to accommodate the hat–makers from Biale, Kodniye [Kodnya], Pistshatz [Piszczac], Lomaz [Lomazy] and Rososh [Rossosz]. The Biale magistrate was supposed to be involved in its organisation. It was immediately evident that there were 4 hat–makers, in Kodniye also 4, and in Lomaz and Pistshatz, one each, and in Rososh there were no hat–makers. All these hat–makers were Jews and the Circle–Commissioner, it appears, was not very involved in

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the matter. When this became clear to him in 1850, he began to urge them to find the Christian tradesmen. They searched and searched but did not find any. After another two postponements,[43] the Biale magistrate gathered all the hat–makers and in November 1850 the guild was established. As elders Ephraim Tsinamon and Shimon Lazer Cohen were elected, both from Biale[44]. The magistrate knew, that something was not right here but the Circle–Commissioner demanded it, so there was no other solution. As was mentioned in the beginning, the Circle–Commissioner again did not want to be involved in the situation. As soon as the elections took place, he ordered the magistrate to organise a cashbox for the new hat–makers' guild. A couple of months later however, he received instructions from the provinces[45] that the elections were illegal and had to be annulled. The magistrate did so and four months after the founding–gathering the hat–makers got together again, in order to receive the sad news. As the Jews could not be elected and as there were no Christian hat–makers, they had to dissolve. For the provincial administrators the whole issue was embarrassing so they still tried to maintain the guild in Biale and in order to make it acceptable, and ordered that the hat–makers guild include all the cap–makers. However it again became known that also among the cap–makers there were no Christians.

Similarly in the summer of 1851, after an investigation by the district chief, it was established that a cap–makers guild was being formed that will comprise all the cap–makers and hat–makers of Biale, Loshitz [ Łosice] , Yanneve [Janowo], Konstantin [Konstantynów] and Sarnak [Sarnaki]. The centre of the guild would be in Loshitz. It is probable that amongst such a large number of tradesmen they finally found the two necessary Christians.

This is how “the painful Jewish–issue” was solved in the Biale hat–makers guild.

Unfortunately we know very little about the tailors. We have already mentioned the existence of a tailors' society in the chapter about the community budget in the middle of the 18th century. No material has remained from the later years, but there is no doubt that the society continued to exist and it certainly had a similar story to all the other tailors' society in Poland from the standpoint of organisational and professional–societal activity. A history of converting the society into an official guild, is not clear. We only know that after 1825 there was a plan to create a partnership with the tailor guilds of Biale and Sokolov [Sokolow]. The plan was in the framework of the guild regulations of 1816: if a town did not have two Christian master tradesmen to form a committee then a guild could be formed to which tradesmen from a few towns could belong.

In Sokolov [Sokolow] there were no Christian tailors. Should we assume that in Biale there were Christian tailors? Whatever the situation was, it immediately emerged that Sokolov was not agreeable to the plan to merge and it was removed from the agenda. I am inclined to the supposition that the Biale Jewish tailors re–established their old society according to the Jewish formula and that from a government point of view they appeared as a division of the hat–makers guild. In the next chapter we will talk about the individual right of the tailors in the Chevra–Kaddisha.


K. Societies in Biale

The social life of the Jews of Poland (and not only in Poland) was very well developed. In every community, large or small, we find societies of various kinds and with various goals: study groups (studying the Talmud, the society for Ayn Ya'akov [the Talmudic collection of legends and homilies of Rabbi Ya'akov the son of Shlomo Ibn Haviv], and a group studying the Psalms), groups for social assistance (dressing the poor, visiting the sick, marrying off a bride etc.), professional organisations that were of similar character to the guilds (the tailors' society, the charity society and others). Some communities had more and some fewer societies, according to the social activity of its members but there is one society that could be found in every community, that is, the burial society whose realm of activity centred around the cemetery. In some communities the work of the burial society included visiting the sick and maintaining the home for the aged (the holy). The name by which the society is generally known is “Chevra Kaddisha”. In fact all the societies bore the name “Chevra Kaddisha” (the holy society), like: “Chevra Kaddisha for charity, “Chevra Kaddisha for tailors etc. But as the burial society was the most extensive and the most popular, the name of all the other societies was transferred to it.

Prior to the time that we are dealing with here (end of the 16th century to the middle of the 19th century), we do not know about any study groups or societies for social help in Biale. There is however no doubt that groups such as these did exist. If in the neighbouring town of Mezritsh [Miedzyrzec] we find seven societies, why would such societies not have existed in Biale? What does this mean? Either that their record books were not found or the “people” did not take the trouble to find out. Regarding the professional societies, it is certain that Biale had a Tailors' society (to which other tradesmen also belonged) but also about this society, we know

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little, because it appears that its record book was lost. The only one on which we could rely more precisely is the burial society, whose exact name in Biale was “The holy society, bestowal of loving kindness and truth”.

The Chevra Kaddisha had been in existence for a long time; we have indicated above the role it played in covering the deficit of the community in 1749/50. In the record book that was accessible to me however, I only found entries from 1800 – 1905, accounts from 1806 – 1838 and statutes from 1813, with addendums from various later years. It appears that this record book was opened in 1813 and part of the material from earlier years was transferred to it. Every Jew could belong to this society, but to be accepted into the society one had to have the general approval of all the members, “even if one person voted against, the applicant would not be admitted to the society”. There was therefore a veto–right, and this had without doubt, an influence on the number of members of the society and its exclusive character. Also the high membership fee could have been an obstacle. There were two kinds of fees, according to the level of scholarship: a Jew who had the study–title of “associate” paid 72 zlottes, when, thanks to his scholarship he attained the higher title of “our teacher”, he paid only 54 zlottes. Both payments, according to their nominal and their real worth, were quite substantial. In the first three years of membership, the member was only a candidate (nominated –– it means of course, a young man); he has greater obligations (he must visit every sick person according to the orders of the committee) yet he has no rights, not active and not passive voting rights. For not following orders, he is threatened with an extension of his period of candidacy for another year. The voting for the committee took place every year after Passover and at most, until the first days of the month of Iyar. The voting was indirect, and it would be more correct to speak about nominations and not about voting. All the names of the members were placed in a ballot–box and five names were drawn out. The five members whose names appeared on the notes that were drawn out were called “arbitrators” and they nominated: the committee, that consisted of four “trustees” (they held office in rotation, each one for one month), four “executives” (these are the actual administrators of the society), “four auditors” (treasurers and managers of the cash), four “keepers of the statutes” (their duty was to keep the laws, and see that everything was conducted according to the regulations. In their year of office they could also bring in new laws), four burial attendants (those were the experts in all matters concerning burial and the cemetery). Aside from this honour and duty of nominating, the arbitrators still had one more responsibility: before they could carry out a nomination, they had to go to the old and the new cemetery and repair the damage and disorder that occurred during the year. If they failed to fulfil this duty, they would be declared unfit to hold office and would be replaced by other arbitrators. Only a person who has already served as an executor can be appointed as a trustee. Also, a trustee may not be nominated for two consecutive years. The executor may not incur any expenses without a note from the trustee and when he has incurred the expense, he must give an account to the auditor. One of the arbitrators can also be nominated as a trustee or as an executor, on condition that another three arbitrators are agreeable.

In the course of time, two important changes were made to the regulations:

  1. The trustee may not take it upon himself to spend more than a sum of 12 zlottes a month. If he needs to spend more, he needs to have the approval of the Rabbi and another two members of the society who have been appointed by the arbitrators (1846);
  2. New members are not accepted by the vote of all the members with a veto–right from each one, but by the trustees and the executors together with another ten members (1879).
The statutes of the society tell us little about the activities of the society (not more than four paragraphs of the 18 – 18 regulations). If one member dies, the trustee of the month immediately selects six members whose names are drawn from a ballot–box and sets them to work. If the member does not obey the rules and does not send a representative, he pays a fine. During the funeral the trustee goes around with an alms–box and the money that he collects is handed over to the executor. For putting up a gravestone, one pays not less than two zlottes. Whoever does not make a payment immediately, must make a pledge. When the time comes to redeem the pledge and the debtor does not have the money to pay, then the executor, “with the knowledge of the trustee” can sell the pledge after he has warned the debtor twice of his commitment.

In the field of social activity of the society, we have one regulation that states, that if one of the members dies a “memorial service” must be held for him in the course of 30 days and the names of the members who are expected to attend are drawn from a ballot–box.

The last regulation that can be cited, is the one that states that the trustee of the month is obligated at the end of his term of office, to hand over the records of the society to the new trustee of the month and if, after three warnings, this is not done, he is excluded from the society.

It is notable that the statutes are concerned mainly with organisational matters and very little with other issues. It is also surprising that

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in the society, a record of the duty to remit weekly payments through each member, does not exist. It is probable that there were other rules from earlier times, that were not transferred to the new record book of 1813. To compare we will present the statutes of Pruzshanne [Pruzhany] and Radzin [Radzyn][46] with whom Biale was surely in contact.


(18 statutes) 1813
(18 statutes) 1715
9 statutes 1816
Mainly organisational paragraphs 11 paragraphs of the duties of the members; 7– organisational 2 paragraphs of the duties of the members; 7 organisational
Very restricted Also very restricted but without veto–rights Much less; without the accountant's approval he may only spend 2 zlottes
Very high,
High enough
Not mentioned.
A groshen a week.
Much less; without the accountant's approval he may only spend 2 zlottes
At his own responsibility he may only spend 6 zlottes
The Rabbi is the acknowledged authority The society secures itself from the interference of the community in societal matters The Rabbi has a very high position here; the statutes are made with his approval

From the history of the Biale Chevra–Kaddisha and its budgets, we will highlight a few facts, that will clarify its essence. In the years 1810 – 1812 there were two cases of members being disciplined. The first case was in connection with a butcher (Yosef ben –Dovid Roffe), who was caught in an unpleasant incident of having a relationship with a married woman. He was barred from the society for six years and after it was apparent that he was not repentant, his name was deleted altogether from the members' list, “forever”. As a punishment it was decided that when he dies, the servant of the society will see to his burial. The second case concerned one who “spoke illegally”. He must have certainly taken a critical view of the management of the society and they therefore kept him away from the society for three years. It appears that he improved afterwards and they forgave him the sin.

The knowledge about the society of tailors is important for us. In one year the society accepted 15 tailors and it was noted: “the tailors are under the supervision of the appointed trustees and financiers”(of the society). This shows clearly that the tailors had distinct rights in the society, and that they formed a separate group with their own trustees. It can be assumed that in this manner, an appropriate way was found to incorporate the tailor's society (that was illegal) into the Chevrah–Kaddisha.

From the budgets of the society one can see quite clearly that it was not limited to matters relating to burial and the cemetery, but that it also conducted broad social activities. And here a few entries will bear witness to the expenditure: For a woman who travelled to a doctor, to a surgeon for attending to a woman, wood for the house of study, study fees for a boy, shrouds for people who died in the poor–house, to a sick assistant–teacher, to a blind person from Kemnitz, for hiring a teacher, for hiring a beadle for the synagogue, shrouds for the poor, wood for the hostel for the poor, for the cellar, a wagon for a poor person from Mezritsh [Miedzyrzec]. Three times we find donations for strangers (a righteous male convert, a female convert, a visiting stranger). One entry is anonymous “for the sake of identification”. The society therefore fulfilled the duties of a general charity–character, and also contributed to the community budget. What is interesting for example, is the budget for one month in 1811; in this month the society spent 65 zlottes, of which 16 zlottes were for visitors, and visitors means, none other than poor people that wander from one community to another.


L. A view of the town at the beginning of the 60s in the 19th century

In 1866 a decree was issued about doing away with the town taxes with regard to the administration of the private towns. It was very important to see what the town looked like from a judicial and social–economic point of view before such a decree could be imposed, and until it slowly assumed the character of a town in a modern sense.

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In the town there were 244 houses: 278 wooden and 66 stone houses. Of the 344 houses, 145 belonged to Jews, 160 to Christians, 10 to the government, 1 to the town, 16 to the nobleman and 12 to the church. The town consists of 5539 residents, of them 3456 Jews, 2032 Poles and 51 others (Russians, Germans and French). (Percentage wise: Jews – 62.4%, Poles – 36.7%, others 0.9%). The 5539 residents form 1753 families: 1036 – Jewish, 717–Christian (percentage wise: 59.1% – Jewish and 40.9% Christians). 383 families live in their own houses and the remaining 1370 families live in houses that are not their own, as “tenants”. The financial situation is therefore not a bright one, but it is worthwhile comparing the situation of Christians and Jewish families.


  Families Percentage
Jewish tenants 886 64.7
Christian tenants 484 35.3
Total 1370 100%

The Jewish families who did not own their own homes, therefore make up 64.7% of the general number of tenants while they are only 59.1% of all the families. The poverty amongst Jews is on average, greater than the Christians. This is also evident in another analysis:

In the Jewish population:
3456 people – 1036 families – of which 886 are tenants which comes to 85.5% of the general number of families and 25.6% of the general number of people.

In the Christian population:
2083 people – 717 families – of which 484 are tenants, i.e. 67.5% of the general number of families and 23.2% of the general number of people.

From what does the Biale population make a living? The 1753 families are engaged in:

Agriculture; they possess houses and land 120
Agriculture and trade, they also possess houses and land 62
Home–owners whose professions are not given 201
Tenants who are engaged in trade and labour 1370
Total 1753

What commitments did the town and the residents have to the nobleman? We have already dwelt on this a little, when dealing with the community budget in the middle of the 18th century. There we only had the Jews in mind, now, standing before the abolition of the local taxes in favour of the nobleman, we will deal with all the residents. Firstly every house and ground–owner pays a tax for bathing, but from a judicial point of view, the bath–house is the property of the authorities. From this tax the nobleman has the following income: 274 rouble from the Christians for bathing and 140 rouble from the Jewish shop–owners. Those who own plots of ground pay a tax called “a tithe” (284 rouble). The town as one unit, still pays the nobleman 150 rouble as a ransom for their work (people and horses) at the rake at the Volye and it consists of a dispute about work (one day in the week) by the residents of the Volye. Besides this the nobleman has a few monopolies that bring him a substantial income:

The proceeds (14 inns that sell wine and brandy) bring him 2½ thousand rouble annually. From beer and Mead production, that every citizen is permitted to sell, the nobleman receives a payment of 57 kopecks from every barrel of beer, and 15 kopecks for every pot of mead. For every barrel of herring sold, the nobleman receives 15 kopecks. For using home–made millstones to avoid the nobleman's mills – 15 kopecks. For dealing with tar, oil and wheel–grease, 5 rouble. For the right to catch fish, 50 rouble. For every slaughtered pig – 7½ kopecks. For trading with imported bacon – 7½ kopecks.

As opposed to this the nobleman had a few obligations to the town: he paid 30 rouble annually as his share in maintaining the fire–brigade and another 180 rouble for repairing the tarred roads, the field gates etc. Besides this every Christian resident had the following benefits from the court: the use of the court mills in exchange for a small fee, free pasture in the court forests, and the right to a wagon– full of firewood every week. These payments from the court were rated at 2250 roubles annually. As already mentioned, only the Christians had the right to enjoy the benefits; for the Jews no benefits existed.

Biale citizens, Jews and Christians, payed the following taxes to the town: for inn concessions (135 rouble), a head tax (360 rouble), for cleaning the market–place (42 rouble), for maintaining the fire–brigade (210 rouble).

The following taxes were paid to the state treasury: house–tax 1219 rouble, ground tax 149 rouble, for transporting recruits and vagabonds 64 rouble, for a fire–tax 1971 rouble, for supporting the school for children 292 rouble, a lodging tax 2882 rouble.

In the private monthly budget of every citizen, all these obligations had real meaning. As regards Jews, one still has to add the expenses to cover the needs of the community.

[Page 124]

M. Conclusion

We tried to portray the history of the Biale Jews in the course of approximately three hundred years, as much as the available material allowed. We accompanied them in their struggles in life, and we saw that they endured their battle with honour, attempting to help and support all those in need. Their whole existence was built on sand, and suddenly everything was destroyed.

Original footnotes

  1. Unfortunately I did not manage to find a plan of the town from that time, but Biale people will certainly easily be able to identify the above mentioned names of the streets in their time. Return
  2. By Yuredich houses are meant those that belong to the court, and their residents are not subject to local rule. Return
  3. Zoshkalne – means the street of the synagogue; towards the field – towards the cemetery. Return

Coordinator's footnote

    * The translator has used the Yiddish names of towns. Current names have been entered in square brackets for research purposes. I have retained the Yiddish name “Biale” now known as “Biala” as it appears many times in the document. Return

Translator's Footnotes

  1. I gathered this material in the Polish Archive between the years 1933 and 1935. When writing this document in 1953, the necessity arose more than once, to look again into the acts, but unfortunately this was not possible. Because of the lack of specific historical literature in the Israeli libraries, unfortunately I had to forgo the interesting chapter about Biale Jews in the Polish national struggles in the years 1794, 1831 and 1863. I also did not pause at the chapter about Biale Chassidism. Return
  2. 11 (1910) pages 142– 143. (material concerning the history of the Jews in Russia published by the Jewish historical–ethnographical society). Return
  3. In his history of the Jews of Krokke (written in Polish 1912), Professor Ballaban mentions a Jew from Biale named Jesko Szlomowicz (Hershke? Ben Shlomo) already in the year 1533 (page 268). It appears that this is an error. In the Russian act of 1533, that Professor Ballaban uses to support his theory, it speaks of Belski what the word Belski means, is clearly evident from a Latin act of 1542, in which is written, Jesko Szlomowicz de Bielsko.
    Russian Jewish Archive I, no. 152, no. 340. The reference is therefore to Bielsk and not to Biale. Return
  4. R. Mahler: “a fragment about Jewish trade between Lithuania and Poland in the 16th century”. Historical writings from “YIVO” volume 1, pages 130 – 204. Return
  5. A. Ya'ari : “Emissaries of the land of Israel” (5711 – 1951) page 80, 248 (and perhaps this Reb Uri is not from Biale–Podlaska?), Return
  6. The title “Mr” is seldom found preceding a Jewish name; the usual title is “non–believer” one who does not believe (in the Christian faith). Return
  7. In the 18th century, a red gulden was worth 18 zlottes. A zlotte comprised 10 groshen. Return
  8. It is worth mentioning that amongst the income earners, we also find women: shopkeepers, glassmakers and goldsmiths. Return
  9. Wax was an important commodity and it served to provide light. The illumination of a large courtyard required a lot of wax. Return
  10. ”Korobke” – an indirect tax, mainly for meat. Return
  11. The holy year falls on the 25th June. Return
  12. Accommodation tickets – given to a poor person passing through the town, assigning him to a home where he would receive lodging and food. Return
  13. A leader for a month – the leaders (representatives of the community) rotated their leadership role each month. Return
  14. Poverty set in after the decrees of 1648; the internal and external conflicts and the taxes that kept rising. Return
  15. ”Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” by Reb Gedaliah Mesimiatitz; see A. Ya'ari “Journeys in the land of Israel”, page 329. Return
  16. Ha'ari (title of the Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the founder of the practical Kabbalah, in the land of Israel in the 16th century. Return
  17. ”Notes on the emigration of Rabbi Avraham Raviga” in A. Ya'ari's “Notes about the Land of Israel”, page 241. Return
  18. The emissaries of the Rabbis, the emissaries who went to collect money for the settlements in the Land of Israel. The bones of Chaim Yosef David Azoulai were brought from Livorno (Italy) to Israel and were buried in Jerusalem on the 20th Iyar 5720 (17.5.1960). Return
  19. Rabbi Chaim David Azoulai: “The complete book of the good circle” page 27. Return
  20. Ya'akov Emden ben Tzvi: “The scroll of the Book”, 5657 (1897), page 186. Return
  21. Y. Heilprin: “The Book of Records of the Synod of the Four Lands”, pages 362 – 364. Return
  22. Y. Heilprin: “Additions and Supplements to the Book of Records of the State of Lithuania”, pages 66 – 67. Return
  23. Y. Heilprin: “The Book of Records of the Synod of the Four Lands”, pages 392 – 393. Return
  24. Y. Heilprin: “The Book of Records of the Synod of the Four Lands”, page 375 (note 4). Return
  25. Y. Heilprin: “The Book of Records of the Synod of the Four Lands”, pages 376 – 377. Return
  26. Y.Heilprin: “The Book of Records of the Synod of the Four Lands”, page 378. Return
  27. Y.Heilprin: “The Book of Records of the Synod of the Four Lands”, page 399. Return
  28. Y. Heilprin: “The Book of Records the Synod of the Four Lands”, page 402. Return
  29. A Jewish Islamic sect that still exists in small numbers, to this day. Return
  30. Ya'akov Emden ben Tzvi: “The scroll of the Book”, pages 188 – 189. Return
  31. Y. Heilprin: “The Book of Records of the Synod of the Four Lands”, page 408. Return
  32. Professor M. Balaban: “The History of the Frankite Movement”, page 190. Return
  33. A request Return
  34. Y. Heilprin: “The Book of Records of the Synod of the Four Lands”, pages 423 – 424. Return
  35. Professor M.Balaban: “The History of the Frankite Movement”, page 190 (note 3). Return
  36. H. Gratz: “Frank and Frankites” 33 ff. Return
  37. The Pope who was supposed to judge regarding the various cases of blood–libel in Poland at that time, stated in 1753, that there was not sufficient evidence to charge the Jews with using Christian blood, and in every case the concrete evidence must be precisely and accurately investigated. (see: R. Mahler “The History of the Jews in Poland”, pages 344 – 345). Return
  38. Sh. Bernfeld “The Book of Tears” 111 (5686 – 1920) page, 125 – 126. Return
  39. There, pages 135 – 136. Return
  40. ”Memories of Reb Dov Mabulichov”, the edition of Dr. M. Vishnitzer, pages 50 – 51. Return
  41. Reb Tzvi Yechezkel Michelzon in the introduction to the publication of Reb Tzvi Hirsh Halbershtatter (Biale): “The Homilies of the Crown of Tzvi”. Return
  42. Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaCohen Fishman (Maimon): “The Ministers of the Century” volume 1, page 11. Return
  43. Once Fishman and Lomaz came too late; the second time, the matter was again postponed because the magistrate designated that voting take place at the end of Yom Kippur. Return
  44. Of the 10 hat makers indicated, eight signed with rings, that means that only two were able to write. Return
  45. From 1837 the magisterial districts became known as provinces. Until 1844 Biale belonged to the province of Shedletz, from 1844 to 1866 – to the province of Lublin and then again to the province of Shedletz. Return
  46. The regulations of the Chevrah–Kaddisha of Pruzshan were printed in the “Book of Records of the Town Of Pruzshan” (1930), pages 100 – 118. I saw the hand written Book of Records of Radzin, from a Jew from Radzin. Return


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