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Chapter 4

From the Peace of Adruszow to the Capture of Pinsk by the Swedes
(1667 - 1706)

Development of the community

The growth of the Jewish community continued in the last three decades of the seventeenth century, after the Peace of Andruszow. There are no numerical data on the increase of the Jewish community at that period, but it is known that by the end of the sixties or in the seventies some houses passed into Jewish possession, and in the eighties a larger number -- perhaps as many as two hundred. In the burghers' complaint against the Jews registered in 1717, there occurs the statement that the Jews then owned six hundred houses. This total was perhaps exaggerated to some extent, but not unduly. We shall be close to the facts if we estimate the number of Jews in Pinsk in 1717 at about 2,200, and in 1700 at about 2,000. It would then appear that in comparison with the number of inhabitants (about 1,000) before the Cossack Rebellion of 1648 the population had increased twofold. By the end of the seventeenth century Pinsk was already a Jewish town by virtue of a Jewish preponderance among the inhabitants. The burghers were withdrawing to the suburbs and to the farming area, and a majority of them were turning to manual labor, in particular to agriculture.

The demographic changes that took place in the Pinsk district: in the years 1650 to 1679 permanent settlements were established in the hamlets KoŸangródek, Lubieszow, Drohiezyn, Motel, Dawidgródek, Lakhwa and Stolin as a result of the connection between these places and groups of lease-holders who conducted their affairs in them for a number of years, and also because of the weakening of the bond with the mother community. From the sixties onward, until the end of the century, an increasing number of Jews settled in villages in the Pinsk district, making a livelihood from small or medium-sized leases, especially those on the production and selling of liquor. The petty lease-holders and the tavern-owners in the villages were partly members of families who had drawn their income from large leases in the forties, partly people who came to Pinsk from other areas, and partly people from Pinsk itself who were trying to find new sources of livelihood and entered the tavern business in the villages. The town of Karlin was founded in 1690, and by 1700 many of the impoverished burghers of Pinsk had settled there, and also, apparently, the first Jews.

The demographic changes taking place in Pinsk and its vicinity were the result of many cross-currents of population movement. Inhabitants of Pinsk left the town and tried to find means of livelihood in its surroundings. Nevertheless the Jewish population grew, instead of dwindling, not only because of natural increase, but also because of reinforcements of population that accrued from other areas, apparently as refugees from the Cossack and Muscovite massacres in the Ukraine, and as immigrants from Poland. The number of the latter increased, it seems, from the beginning of the sixties onwards.

Economic life

The last three decades of the seventeenth century continued to be years of decline in the economy of Poland-Lithuania. During this period the financial position of the burghers of Pinsk, in commerce and in crafts was greatly weakened for they did not have enough reserves to draw upon to rehabilitate their ravaged enterprises. In contrast, the Jews, who succeeded in restoring their economic existence in the sixties, continued to develop stable undertakings whose number increased to an appreciable extent in the comparatively peaceful conditions of the period in the face of diminishing opposition on the part of the burghers. At this time the economic image of the Jews of Pinsk was established according to the lines of development that had been indicated in the sixties, which determined the future economic and social composition of the community.

Commerce: In the period under discussion Jews still enjoyed rights of free trade, and Pinsk still continued to be the center for commerce in wax, leather and wheat in the area. Merchants from distant places were also attracted there, to sell finished goods and buy local products. Several of the well-off families are known to have been merchants of considerable importance in the town and to have participated in the major fairs of Lithuania, where the leaders of the "Main Communities" used to meet and order the affairs of Lithuanian Jewry as a whole. This fact displays the lively trade connections of Pinsk with the rest of Lithuania, but there is no documentary evidence of trade between Pinsk and Volhynia or the Ukraine, or with foreign countries. Also at this period trade connections with Poland were to some extent interrupted and the Pinsk merchants were replaced by Jewish merchants from other towns, especially Wysowie. It is clear that the extent of the more important businesses of the Jews of Pinsk greatly diminished, and their undertakings were much smaller than before. Petty commerce continued to expand. At this difficult period people grasped at every shadow of possibility of making a livelihood, and toiled hard in support of their families and homes. Christian commerce was in a process of decline. There indeed still remained Christian merchants at the period under discussion, but in the end of the seventeenth century the burghers had no real foothold on trade.

Customs: According to the law Jews were forbidden to lease customs, but in practice this was done against the law, or through evasion of it. The nobles who were interested in the income from customs leases were not actually eager for the work involved in their collection, and willingly handed tile job over to others, including Jews who already had experience in these affairs. There are several pieces of evidence of the participation of Jews both in customs leasing and in the management of customs houses in Pinsk and its vicinity. For the greater part of the eighties and nineties the customs house of Pinsk and the customs houses subordinated to it were leased to members of the nobility but in practice Jews managed the affairs. Gershon Beliiaszewicz, one of the leaders of the Pinsk community, made his living from customs over a period of some duration, and, it seems, maintained his hold on the collection of customs even when the lease changed hands. He and his partner were experienced in organizing the management of customs affairs. They paid all or a large part of the basic cost of the lease when this was granted to a member of the nobility who did not intend to manage it, and who handed it over to them in exchange for part of the income. Competition in customs affairs was sharp, both between Jews and Christians and among the Jews themselves, and was sometimes accompanied by quarrels and even by criminal acts. Support of the community for one or another Jewish competitor sometimes determined in whose hands the lease would remain.

The machinery of customs collections in the customs houses depended to a large extent on Jews, known as scribes, for appearances' sake, while in reality they were partners, and as clerks and inspectors. The leaseholders and the scribes had considerable power, and a force of armed well-disciplined retainers stood at their disposal.

In the Pinsk district there were also small customs houses belonging to the starosta's that were likewise leased to Jews. These apparently formed part of the lease taken out by the lease-holders of villages (arenda).

Leasing of estates and arendas of villages: During this period, much initiative was directed to the leasing of liquor making and selling of cornmills. The type of the big Jewish lease-holder became rare. In his place arose on the one hand an extensive class of small lease-holders of arendas, and on the other, a group of people who remained in the service of respected noblemen and property-owners as factors, i.e., managers and administrators of estates or agents of estate owners.

Medium-sized and petty lease-holding by Jews in the villages and hamlets of the Pinsk district increased. The documents mention the names of many lease-holders in the villages, who drew their chief income from taverns. Jews from Pinsk and its surroundings and from other areas came to some of those villages for the first time in the period under discussion. Taverns greatly increased in number because the nobles were interested in exploiting this source of income as much as possible, and the Jews occupied a central position inthe implementation of this aim.


An appreciable change took place at this period in the area of Jewish money lending in Pinsk. Loans by Jews to Christians shrank, and this activity no longer occupied a significant place in their economy, perhaps because loans ceased to be a good investment owing to the decline invalue of the coinage. As against this, there is increased evidence of the need of the community and of individuals for loans from Christians, especially from church bodies and from the powerful nobles.

Communal loans: In 1664 the Pinsk community was among those who owed money to the Lithuanian Council. In 1667 a change for the worse took place in the economic situation of the community. At first it was not listed among the creditor communities of the Lithuanian Council, and from 1673 and onwards, until the end of the nineties, it was mentioned inthe minutes as a community in debt to the Council. Its financial situation is recorded as being more difficult than that of the other "Main Communities". The community's indebtedness apparently influenced its leadership to take a number of planned steps. First, the community seems to have looked for a cheap loan; in addition, they requested, and succeeded in obtaining (on the strength of the precedent established by the Wilne community in1884) a charter from the king, in1679, giving them permission to pay their debts in promissory notes instead of cash, and inthe same year, or a year later, they obtained a moratorium of three years on the payment of their debts. The cheap loan referred to was received from the Jesuits of Pinsk in three installments: two in 1678, each of 1,500 zloty, at an interest of 10%, and one, in 1680, of 7,000 zloty, at an interest of 8%. As well as these sums the community also obtained in 1680, a loan from a burgher for the amount of 5,620 zloty. These loans enabled the Pinsk community to settle almost all its debts to the Lithuanian Council, according to the summary of the Council's accounts in 1684, but its financial situation still remained very critical, for it appears that it was difficult for it to collect and pay the amount of tax imposed on it, and the Council even made certain special reductions for the community's benefit. In 1695 the Council received a loan of 8,000 zloty from a certain noblewoman, apparently for the purpose of paying the Pinsk community's debt to it. And in 1698 the community obtained from the person the enormous sum of 32,000 zloty at an interest of 10%. For this she was assured a special security, the income from the purchase tax on meat (krobka rzeznica). The obtaining of this loan, in 1698, was insome way connected with the Lithuanian Council's decision, in 1697, to pay itsmany debts all at one time, to satisfy the suddenly pressing demands of its creditors -- government, authorities, nobles and priests. To this end itdecided to oblige the communities to divert their income from the krobka tax towards the abolition of its debts. The Pinsk community stood behind this move of the Council, and succeeded in implementing it in practice. This large loan, which engaged even the possessions of the community as security, as well as the krobka tax, also contributed, it seems, to the consolidation of the community's debts to the Council, and in the restoration of the community's standing in the Council.

The interest on these loans was reasonable: 8-10%. The loans themselves were given under the fictitious appearance of sale of property or gift (widerkaf), and the securities received from the community seemed to satisfy the lenders. The Jews did not meet with difficulty in finding persons prepared to lend them money, and this fact proves that they inspired the lenders with good faith in their ability to repay interest and principal. If the Pinsk community was indeed in need of so many and such large loans, this shows that it was actually in need of money, as is shown by its evident lack of it, but it is also clear that it was capable of fulfilling the obligations it took upon itself. The documents used in this research lend no support to the opinion that the community took loans from Christians in order to finance Jewish trade, and especially to finance the commercial activity of groups connected with the leadership of the community.

Individual loans: Private loans by Jews from Christians were frequent and normal at this period. Not a few Jews received private loans for considerable amounts for their commercial requirements from the officer in charge of the royal economy (namiestnik). Relations of mutual trust reigned between lender and borrowers, and on occasion the loan was even given without promissory note. The borrowers were always able to meet their obligations. Although the merchants were indeed inneed, even to a large extent, of loans from Christians to finance their affairs, this cannot be interpreted as a sign of severe economic difficulty. It is more plausible that there was a lack of liquid capital for the running of businesses. The borrowers whose names are known to us are members of the class of well-off, respected merchants of the community. They were not in difficulties over paying their debts, and usually fulfilled their obligations to the exact letter. The possibility exists that some individuals needed loans from the community to finance their affairs, but there is no direct evidence of this.

Organization of the community

The great changes that took place in the life of the Jews of Pinsk after the Khmelnitsky massacres did not shake the authority of the leadership of the community, which preserved its basic stability and firmness. The same social class that concentrated the leadership in its hands before 1648 continued to hold it until the end of the century. The available documents present no evidence of any internal struggle, or antagonism between rich and poor, nor of any active opposition to the leadership of the community. But even if there was some .internal conflict as regards the exercising of influence, and over the just division of the taxes, it appears to have been mild and the traditional leadership of the community controlled affairs well, displaying good sense and presence of mind in solving contemporary problems, even the most difficult. Of course some shortcomings were to be found among a few leaders who rose to eminence by not strictly honest methods, and exploited their status fortheir own benefit, but it was not these who set the tone for the leadership of the community. It seems that a kind of cooperation existed between the leadership and the learned men, and they, acting in partnership, in fact composed the leadership class of the community.

Pinsk as a "Main Community" and the quarrel between the "Main Communities": In the eighteenth century Pinsk still maintained its place among the four "Main Communities" (Brest-Litovsk, Horodno, Pinsk and Wilno). But relations between the "Main Communities" themselves became complicated as a result of the stresses that affected the Lithuanian Jewish community in the period of almost continual wars. At the end of the sixties a quarrel arose for the first time between Brest-Litovsk and the other "Main Communities" on the question of the subordination of certain settlements in the environs of the bigger centers, a disagreement caused by the demographic changes that occurred in the settlements as a result of population migrations. The Pinsk community was more deeply involved in discussion with Brest-Litovsk than were the other communities, because a greater number of settlements in its vicinity were affected by the movement of their inhabitants westwards, in the direction of Brest Litovsk and its vicinity. At the beginning of the seventies there were incidents that disturbed the accepted order of precedence of the "Main Communities" – Brest Litovsk, Horodno, Pinsk, Wilno -- to the disadvantage of Brest Litovsk, which had enjoyed greater privileges. It is evident that the communities of Horodno, Pinsk and Wilno collaborated against the Brest Litovsk community in the matter of the division of the taxes imposed by the Lithuanian Council (which was only one of the aspects of the quarrel regarding control over the settlements in the various districts). Matters reached the point where the Brest Litovsk community wanted to walk out of the Council, thus breaking it up. It decided instead to make an end to attempts to diminish its standing and influence in the Council, and at the same time to check the tendencies shown by some settlements subordinated to it, especially Slutsk and Minsk, to leave its jurisdiction, and to extend itsprotection to communities not yet owing a well-defined allegiance -to any of the "Main Communities" -- a matter vitally concerning the right of each "Main Community" to collect taxes in itsvicinity. To this end Brest-Litovsk set in motion the machinery of tax collection which was in the hands of Jews from the towns in many parts of Lithuania, arrested people and confiscated goods and possessions in customs houses, on roads and at fairs (in 1680). Those affected were in particular people from Slutsk and Minsk. The quarrel became more and more bitter, and finally the king intervened in reply to complaints from the "Main Communities", and ordered them to settle their differences, or, failing this, to set up a special Beth-Din to judge the matter. A Beth-Din was indeed constituted, and in 1683 issued a judgment that showed the way to a reconciliation of the quarrelling parties by restoring to Brest Litovsk a good part of the influence that the three other communities had attempted to take from it. The judgment was accepted, it seems, by the "Main Communities", and led to the meeting of the Lithuanian Council in 1684, where representatives of the "Main Communities" came to an agreement on the method of division of taxes among the communities.

Internal life

Information on the internal life of the community is very scanty. The chief evidence is to be found in the sermons of Rabbi Yehudah Leib Puhovitser of Pinsk, who seems to have based his preaching on the actual contemporary life of Pinsk and its surroundings.

Education of the boys: In Pinsk as in Poland and Lithuania every Jewish boy studied from his childhood onwards. At the age of four he was sent to Heder; boys of four and five learned the alphabet, studied Siddur and Humash, and children of six or seven even started studying the Talmud. The teachers were paid by the children's parents. It seems that the community paid for the expenses incurred in the education of poor children. Rabbi Yehudah Leib Puhovitser criticizes the method of teaching used, which in his opinion was based on the interpretation of the meaning of words, and not on progress from the easy to the difficult or on the understanding of the contents of the matter taught.

The Yeshivah: The Rabbi of Pinsk maintained a Yeshivah, attended by boys and youths both from Pinsk and from its vicinity. Rabbi Yehudah Leib Puhovitser complains of the change for the worse in the standards of learning in the Yeshivahs in the second half of the seventeenth century in comparison with pre-Khmelnitsky period, and also inveighs against the method of study that gave pre-eminence to Pilpul.

Study of Torah: Pinsk was a place of study of the Torah, and a well-known group of outstanding learned men flourished there. Rabbi Yehudah Leib Puhovitser exercised great influence on this group. He demanded the establishment of Batei Midrash, for the maintenance of permanent students of the Torah and he demanded that every Jew should devote a fixed time every day to the study of the Torah. And infact the custom of studying the Torah spread at this time to many sections of the community.

Synagogue: The synagogue was the focal point of the community. It was used of course for public worship, but there the general public also came into contact with the leadership of the community, and matters of importance could be brought to their attention. Rabbi Yehudah Leib complains about various cases of unsuitable behavior, in the synagogue: -- worldly conversation, announcements of sales of goods and every-day requirements, Hazanim who were vain of their fine voices and did not understand Torah or prayer. Pinsk acquired two new synagogues in the seventies of the seventeenth century, where Torah and Mussar (moral) were studied in permanence.

Daily life: The Jews of Pinsk, like the Jews of Poland-Lithuania generally, lived their lives according to Minhag and Halakah. Observance of the Mitsvoth was something that was taken for granted, but the sharp social and economic reality of the period caused certain cases of departure from the strict letter of the HaIakah. People lived their lives and laid down rules for themselves in areas where the Halakhah was neutral, followed the obligatory rules that were consolidated as a result of the observance of the Mitsvoth, and found a generally peaceful modus vivendi in the observance of both together.

Rabbis of Pinsk: The Pinsk Rabbinate continued to be one of the most honored inPoland-Lithuania, and great Rabbis of that generation served there. In this chapter we give a list of Rabbis of Pinsk and a summary of what is known of their lives. (Rabbi Naftali Hirts Ginzburg, 1664-1667; Rabbi Yisrael b. Shemuel from Tarnopol, 1667; Moshe b. Yisrael Yaakov Isserles, before 1673-1689; Rabbi Yoel b. Yitshak Isaak Heilperin, 1691; Rabbi Yitshak Meir b. Yonah Teomin Frankel, 1693-1703; Shaul b. Naftali Hirts Ginzburg, (1703-1712). This chapter also presents a new biography of Rabbi Yehudah Leib Pukhovitser, one of the great preachers and moralists of the second half of the seventeenth century, a native of Pinsk, who, at the height of his activity and powers as a preacher, inthe last third of the seventeenth century, lived and worked in Pinsk.

Chapter 5

History of the Jews of Pinks in the 18th Century

A new period in the history of the Jewish community in Pinsk begins at the start of the 18th century. In the year 1706 the city was invaded by the Swedes and in the course of events was badly destroyed. Following the invasion there was an increase in settlement of Pinsk citizens in Karlin and their population in Pinsk itself diminished. Jews too, it appears, began to leave Pinsk at that time and to settle in Karlin. The Jewish settlement in Pinsk revived at a faster rate than the city population.

In the year 1717 it would seem that the Jews had at most 250 - 275 houses at their disposal and 300 families i.e. 1,500 souls, lived in them. In the course of the 18th century the Jewish population of Pinsk grew but only slightly, since residents of Pinsk moved either to Karlin (which seceded in the fifth decade from Pinsk) or to the villages and small settlements in the area.

Between the years 1766 and 1784 the Jewish population of Pinsk increased from 1,613 to 1,900 (a growth rate of 17.8%). In Karlin, the Jewish population in 1784 was 765. If we surmise that the Jewish population continued to increase at the rate of 1% a year, also from 1784 - 1793, we have grounds to suppose that at the time the city passed over to Russian rule, in 1793, it comprised:

In Pinsk1,900+171 = 2,071Jews
In Karlin765+69 =834
Total:   2,095Jews

At the beginning of the 1790's the Jews constituted 70% of the general population and the Christians 30%, according to which reckoning there were in Pinsk and Karlin at that time approximate]y 1,205 Christians. Altogether the general population of Pinsk and Karlin therefore numbered approximately 4,140 souls.

Quarrel between the Community of Pinsk and the Neighboring Communities

The deep political state and social crisis in which Poland found itself in the 18th century had a profound effect also on the independent rule of the Lithuanian Jews. From the second decade on, signs of a serious crisis began to become evident in the organizational frameworks of the Lithuanian Council and of the communities in the environs. The problem of relations between the "Main Communities" and the communities in the environs and those people living in them, who wanted to become independent of their reliance on the "Main Communities" and be autonomous, became particularly complicated as of the second decade. The reason lay in the burden of taxes and debts in which the communities of Lithuania were involved at the time of the Northern war and the civil war in Poland in the two first decades of the 18th century. The Lithuanian Council was compelled to act severely and imposed on the heads of the Council the personal authority to collect taxes. Communities living in the properties of the aristocracy began to need the patronage of the nobles against complaints of the "Main Communities". This led to a renewed process of settlement in the properties of the aristocracy. At least 12 new settlements (townships) sprang up between 1679 and 1764 beyond the 14 settlements known to us by name from 1679 in Polesia and these were: Voinov, Lonishin, Horodnia, Petrikov, Naravel, Turovetsz, Slavczena, Ozorich, Lelchitz, Kopitkevich. Mozyr, Rechitsa. Also there was an increase in the number of Jews in the villages at that time. The communities of North Volhynia that were under Pinsk organized themselves under the leadership of Owrucz and in 1718 tried to shake off their dependence on the Pinsk community. However, their attempt was foiled by the assistance of the Polish Government. In 1725, the community of Ostrorog also tried to free itself, but to no avail. In about 1750 a renewed quarrel broke out between the community of Pinskand the Council of Communities of Volhynia concerning the governing of a number of communities in North Volhynia (Owznez, Olewsk, Jezomyrz, Baracze and others). The community of Pinsk embarked on a legal battle and evidently succeeded, in obtaining a verdict which permitted it to continue governing the communities in North Volhynia. In the years 1763 - 65 all the communities and settlements in the area rose up against the rule of the Pinsk community, without doubt after the plan of the Polish Government became known -- which was to dissolve the Lithuanian Council and to incur the head tax by other means than through the Council. The Council was officially disbanded in 1764. The Government was compelled to continue to acknowledge in the framework of an organization the independent, regional, and national power (which was properly dissolved in 1764) chiefly because of the need to collect current debts but any real assistance that power could offer was limited. In the passage of years until the seventies there was no further possible resumption of official relationships between the area communities and their "Main Community".


In the first half of the 18th century both Christians and Jews left Pinsk and went to live in the neighboring settlement of Karlin which was founded on the privately inherited property of a nobleman at the end of the 17th century. The Jewish settlement in Karlin grew continuously to such an extent that in the 40s it had its own synagogue, Rav, Dayyanim, Shamashim and teachers, and teachers. When in 1751 the Jews of Karlin won a license to build a cemetery of their own, they separated in fact from their mother community, Pinsk, and founded their own community, to the displeasure of the Pinsk community leaders. The fact of the secession of Karlin was apparently influenced by that of Antokol from Vilna and the secession attempt of the North Volhynia community in 1751. Against the background of the secession, the problem of collecting the royalty taxes and participation in the settling of debts plays the prominent part.

The Pinsk community reacted strongly against the separate organizing of Karlin and reciprocated by causing disturbances to the merchants of Karlin in their commercial affairs. The Karlin community reacted against this by open mutiny and disassociated themselves from their taxation obligations to the community of Pinsk. The quarrel reached the point of a legal clarification by the community of Horodno (Yrodno) which handed down a severe sentence in terms of money against the Karlin community. Only after the Starosta of Pinsk, Michael Oginski, and the master nobleman of Karlin Bzhostovski mediated in the matter did Pinsk and Karlin arrive, in 1756, at a mutual agreement of compromise which fixed the mode of relations between the two communities. According to the compromise agreement, Karlin succeeded in assuring itself a generous measure of autonomy and its dependence on Pinsk was cut to the minimum. The Karlin community was however bound to participate in the settlement of the Pinsk community's debts and bound to paying Pinsk the head tax and the various tax impositions according to custom, but in matters of judgment Karlin won a nearly complete victory. The Karlin community admitted only formally the superiority of the Rav of Pinsk. In all other ways, Karlin won its independence. Karlin got a new bill of rights authorizing the new judicial standing on the basis of the agreement.

The Pinsk community after a short time regretted the settlement with Karlin and complained that the agreement had been signed in the absence of the Starosta under pressure of the nobleman, the lord ofKarlin, but to no avail.

After the dissolution of the Lithuanian Council in 1764, Karlin stopped paying the head tax to the Pinsk community (according to the new law). Pinsk saw this as a contravention of the agreement and began to limit the movements of the Karlin people in Pinsk, in the areas of commerce, sale of houses, and so on. The war between the two communities intensified and finally reached the point of legal action before the "Committee for Payment of the Jewish Debts". The Committee was in a dilemma and decided to transfer the quarrel to the judgment of the Financial Committee. It seems that the matter was not cleared up to the liking of the Pinsk community and mutual quarrels still ran rife between the two communities at the end of the 18th century.


From the turn of the 18th century the matter of debts settling was a burning problem in the lives of the Lithuanian Jews, especially the Jews of Pinsk. Many claims were brought against the "Main Communities" about non-payment of debts and taxes and even strict sentences were passed on them by the Lithuanian Tribunal. The war in the North and the anarchical situation in Poland in the first 15 years of the 18th century prevented the sessions and regular functioning of the Council and it appears that many communities could not then bear the heavy burden of taxes and obligations, and with the assistance of noblemen, a good many of them loosened their ties with their "Main Communities".

The Pinsk community, as other communities in Lithuania, began to need loans continually, chiefly from the Church and from private persons with aristocratic standing. This caused a great conglomeration of owed amounts which in the sixties reached a total of 309,140 zloty. The situation of Pinsk suddenly became very grave since the communities in the surrounding areas refused to pay their taxes and their part in the settling of debts and Pinsk was unable to meet its obligations alone.

The "Main Communities" and the Pinsk community especially embarked on a struggle for the continuation of their power in some way over the neighboring settlements in order to have them participate in the repayment of debts. In this matter the Polish Government was forced to come to their assistance. In year 1764 the Government (Sejm) set up a Committee for Payment of the Jewish Debts, for the matter necessitated action to cope with the demands of the lenders (the church and the private money lenders with aristocratic standing). The Committee lowered the rate of interest and fixed new arrangements for conducting the communities' financial matters. The community was forbidden to receive new loans or to give out to agents the collection of taxes. Supervision of the community's financial affairs was given to the court of the "Castle" which was to assist the collection of taxes. The item of incomes on the budget amounted to 37,500 zloty from direct and indirect taxes, and could not suffice to meet all needs, and the community was obliged to make a renewed effort to get the outlying areas to bear a share of the burden of debts.

In Pinsk itself, the Government representatives supervising the debt-payment of Pinsk made the supervision a source of revenue for themselves and were a heavy toll on the budget of the community, weakening even further itsability to pay off the debts. It also felt the pinch of the individuals' debts to the nobility and to the Government. Debtors who could not pay up their debts were taken into custody, either they themselves or their children, and kept under arrest or in prison. The leaders of the community made great efforts to free these captives.

Economic Life

Less is known about the economic life of the Pinsk Jews in the 18th century than in the 16th and 17th centuries, due to the paucity of source material. The complaint of the citizens against the Pinsk Jews in 1717 furnishes us with important information on the economic life of the latter in the early 18th century. At that time, according to the terms of the complaint, the townsfolk no longer had a hold on the commerce. Also, at the beginning of the 18th century, there was a process of increasing the modest Jewish commerce and the small beverages businesses which began in the last third of the 17th century. The citizens withdrew also from their position in the crafts. At the end of the 18th century there were in Pinsk 115 Christian craftsmen, and a far greater number than this of Jewish craftsmen (engravers, metal workers, millers, bakers, lace-makers, tailors, fur craftsmen, and so on).

In 1764 merchants and craftsmen of Pinsk paid to the Starosta chief rent for 88 shops of which 75 were held by Jews and 13 by Christians. In 1778, 60 Jews and 15 Christians paid the Starosta chief rent for shops.

In the 18th century Pinsk continued to fill a worthy position in the export and import trade of Lithuania. Improvement of transportation routes in the days of the reign of Zigmunt August Poniatovski and the canals dug to join the rivers Dnieper and Nieman and the Dnieper with the Bug-Visla placed Pinsk at the center of two streamlined transportation networks and, from the eighties, gave a tremendous boost to the commerce of Pinsk. The commerce of Pinsk and Karlin was conducted mainly near the Pinna shore.

The Pinkas of the Lithuanian Council records journeys of Jewish merchants from the Lithuanian communities to fairs at Danzig and Koenigsberg, as a regular and acceptable occurrence and an almost certain thing that the Jews of Pinsk bore an active part in the trade of Lithuania with the above mentioned places. From Breslau, we have documents bearing witness to the considerable part played by Jewish traders from Pinsk in the commerce of Breslau with Lithuania in the first decade and early second decade and also in the fifties and sixties of the 18th century. The revival which was evident in the beginning of the 18th century (before and after 1720) was apparently temporary. Most of the information about the branching out of trade relations dates from the second half of the 18th century. The Jews of Pinsk took an active part in the trade in cattle which was forbidden to them according to the law of 1746. They managed to circumvent the prohibition and conduct trade under the protection of or in the name of monasteries and nobles, doubtless against payment of part of the profits to the protector.

In the 60s and 70s tenancy of the beverage businesses and the commercial property tax (arenda), tenancy of the weighing-scale and wax production firms was in the hands of the Jews.


Speculation on the amounts of taxes paid by the Lithuanian communities as detailed in the Pinkas (Register) of the Lithuanian Council (until 1761) teaches us that the amounts of head tax imposed on the region of Pinsk grew less and less in the first half of the 18th century (1713 - 40) 6.650 zloty in 1713 to 2,860 in 1741. But the amounts of the tax of the Brisk (Brest-Litovsk) region and Horodno (Grodno) remained more or less constant. This was apparently due to a decrease in the size of the population, or a deterioration in Pinsk's economic situation, or both reasons together.

In 1761, the amount of the head tax in the Pinsk region increased again to 3,031 zIoty. In the year 1731 the proportionate part of the Pinsk head tax as compared to the total paid by all the Jews in Lithuania was 6.6%.

The Jews of Lithuania continued to pay the "amount" of the State through the "Main Communities" to the Lithuanian Council. The proportionate share of the Pinsk region in paying this amount was 3.8% in 1731 and 5.1% in 1761.

The head tax which was raised in the 18th century freed the Lithuanian Jews from other royal taxes (powrotne, and transportation costs) but Pinsk participated together with the other citizens in paying the hyberna (tax for strengthening the army) and paid to the city council apparently a tax on weights and measures, pomierne, and perhaps also 30 zloty a year on their drink businesses.

The annual total income of the Pinsk community for the year 1767 (after the dissolution of the Lithuanian Council) amounted to 37,500 zloty revenue from these items of income: excise on salt, tobacco, pickles, tar, resin, and other goods, due from owners of workshops and a certain percentage of dowries, a third of the incomes from the city flour mill which was tenanted by the community, the tax on the beverage businesses, kosher meat (ritual slaughtering) and other items. From the list of incomes of the Starosta of 1778 it is evident that the incomes came chiefly from a number of circumvention taxes, korobka from goods, meat, from the weekly "amount", from etrogim, and so on.

From these incomes the community covered the following payments and dues: payments to the Starosta, payment of the tax to the army (hyberna), head tax for the poor, rent to the Government supervisor over Jewish matters and to the Starosta deputy. Also they paid rents to the religious judges (Dayyanim) and other officials, and various unforeseen expenses. The circumvention taxes doubtless weakened the popular classes. (From Vilna and Minsk we have information about the active opposition of the popular classes against the leadership of their community because of the heavy taxation burden weighing on them).

The problem of taxation of the Pinsk community in the 18th century is closely linked with the payment of the burden of taxes and the community leadership was plainly in chronic financial distress.

Rabbis and Learned Men

Pinsk continued to be an important place of Torah study also in the 18th century. Rabbis among the greatest of their generation still resided at the seat of the Pinsk rabbinate. Study of the Torah spread and embraced extensive levels and a group of learned men increased and spread out. Until the appearance of Hasidism, the following rabbis served in Pinsk in the position of Rav Av Beth-Din:
R. Asher ben Shaul Ginzburg: 1713 - 37.
R. Yehudah Leib ben Asher Enzilm-Pinchov: 1737 - 40. Before going to Pinsk he served in the rabbinate at Ostrog and Slutsk.
R. Yisrael Iserel ben Avraham, went to Pinsk to serve as Rav from the seat of the Brisk rabbinate before 1747 and stayed there till 1762 or 63. In 1753 R. Yisrael Iserel joined in the Herem (excommunication) of R. Jakov Emden against R. Yehonathan Elibesbits.
R. Rafael ben Yekuthiel Hacoen (later Hamburger) was the Pinsk Rav from 1763 - 1772. Before Pinsk, he was Rav at the communities of Rakov near Minsk, Vilkomir, and from 1757 was the Rav of the "upper region", with his seat in Minsk. After leaving Pinsk, he became Rav of Poznan, and in 1776 was elected Rav in the three communities (Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbeck). In the period of his rabbinate, Hasidism began to spread and settled firmly in Karlin and Pinsk.
On the part of the rabbis there was in Pinsk and Karlin a large and alert group of learned men and a considerable number of them produced books on the subjects of Halacha and homiletical works. The increasing number of learned men bears witness to the depth and extent of Torah study on the lines laid down at the end of the 18th century by R. Yehudah Leib Pukhovitzer and his followers. It seems that mainly in these groups Hasidism caught on quickly and easily and started to strike at the roots of Karlin and Pinsk, whence came agitation and diffusion.

From Hasidim to their opponents (Mithnaggedim)

Hasidism increased in Karlin from the sixties on and from there was disseminated to the communities of Lithuania and White Russia.

R. Aharon of Karlin (1736 - 72) the true pupil of the Maggid (preacher) of Mezerich, played a central part in the spread of Hasidism in Lithuania and in the movement's organization. Under his authority, Karlin became -- already in the 60s (in the period of R. Rafael Hacohen's rabbinate) -- one of the two main centers of the Hasidic movement. When R. Aharon died at the age of 36 his place was taken by his pupil-friend R. Shelomo of Karlin (1738 - 92), also a former pupil of the preacher of Mezerich.

After R. Rafael Hacohen left Pinsk in 1772, the seat of the rabbinate was left vacant for three years. In 1775 the Rav Av Beth-Din elected was R. Levi Yitshak ben Meir (of Berdichev, a pupil of the Maggid of Mezerich and one of the great leaders of Hasidism of his generation. R. Levi Yitshak served the rabbinate of Pinsk until 1785.

New checking of the sources with respect to Pinsk's part in the war declared by the Lithuanian communities on Hasidism led by the Gaon of Vilna brings us to the following conclusions:

R. Rafael Hacohen, Rav of Pinsk from 1763 to 1772, under whose term Hasidism spread rapidly, took a neutral stand towards Hasidism and avoided lending his support to the Herem against Hasidism. Renewed study of the letter from the Maggid of Mezerich to R. Hayyim and to R. Eliezer Halevi and of the evidence given by R. Eliezer in the book 'Shema Shelomo" (the author of "Siah Hasadeh" and "Reiah ha-Sadeh") reveals that R. Eliezer Haievi not only was not an active opponent but was himself a Hasid or close to Hasidism at least until early in the eighties; from the letter itself one should not conclude that there were actual persecutions against the Hasidim in Pinsk in the year 1772 or previously.

From the fact that R. Levi Yitshak ben Meir of Berdichev was appointed Av Beth-Din in Pinsk in 1775 or 1776, we can learn that the Hasidim had a great influence on the leadership of the people and on the groups of learned men. Nevertheless, leaders of the Pinsk community, at the fair of Zelva in 1781, joined in the Vilna community's Herem against the Hasidim but the text of the Pinsk leaders' ban was worded cautiously and in Pinsk itself the standing of R. Levi Yitshak was therefore not affected. The attitude towards R. Levi Yitshak began to change only in 1784 as a result of strong pressure on the side of the Rav R. Avigdor and the Vilna community to remove him and R. Shelomo from Karlin. Then also R. Levi Yitshak was not removed immediately but allowed to serve a further year, thereby completing a period of office lasting ten years. R. Shelomo too then left Karlin.

The conclusion that can be drawn from this is that until the 80s Pinsk, as Karlin, was a center of the Hasidic movement in Lithuania. This explains why Pinsk did not join in the Herem of 1772 against the Hasidim, and also explains the appointment of R. Levi-Yitshak as Rav of Pinsk.

The election of R. Avigdor to Av Beth-Din of Pinsk in 1785, following the removal of the Hasidic rabbi R. Levi-Yitshak ben Meir of Berdichev, was feasible against the background of temporary change in the relationship of the powers in Pinsk between the Hasidim and their opponents -- Mithnaggedim -- which removed the spiritual leadership out of the hands of the Hasidim. The activity and pressure effected by the Committee for Payment of the Jewish Debts apparently decided in favor of electing R. Avigdor who was willing to pay for the esteemed rabbinical office at Pinsk the high sum of 54,000 zloty, which eased the financial situation of the community. Consideration of his personal greatness and enormous learning was, it seems, secondary in his election. The years of his service were years of great internal tension in the community of Pinsk and in the settlements of the region. His activity in uprooting Hasidism through communication and cooperation with Vilna alerted the public to the struggle against his leadership and led to a resuscitation of the Hasidic camp which was mainly in Pinsk and in the villages of the region.

The division of Poland for the second time and attachment of Pinsk to Russia in 1793 neutralized the support of the Polish Government for R. Avigdor and for the Mithnaggedim leadership and enabled the Hasidim to obtain the community leadership and remove R. Avigdor from his post. R. Avigdor resolved to fight for his office. He embarked on the struggle in 1793 with an application to the Magistrat (Municipal Council); he pursued it with numerous endeavors in the days of Catherine the Great before the Governor Neplyuyev and the Governor General Tutolmin during the years 1793 - 96. He brought it to a climax in the year 1800 when he presented a public document of incriminating information to Tsar Paul I against the community of Pinsk and against the Hasidic camp. The head of the Hasidic community of Pinsk and all the Hasidim defended themselves as well by applying to institutions of the new Russian government.

It seems that there is an explanatory link between the new judicial standing of the Jews in the areas attached to Russia and the new character of the religious war. Because Catherine equaled the standing of the Jews with that of other citizens and the city matters with community affairs, the Jews required in an increasing measure the judgment of the Government. The new boundaries between the province of Minsk which was attached to Russia in 1793 and areas of Lithuania (Vilna, Brisk) which remained under Polish power until 1795, loosened the bond between the Pinsk Mithnaggedim and the stronghold of the Mithnaggedim in Vilna and the Kosciuszko mutiny in the Lithuanian areas in 1794 severed the connection completely.

In all the stages of the war between R. Avigdor and the Pinsk community one must properly differentiate between judgments of the Government and false declarations, in spite of the fact that both sides were treading on thin ground and slipping over from accusing ground and slipping over from accusing to informing was very easy. The efforts of R. Avigdor in the years 1793 – 96 to convince the Government that they should stand by him in his claims from the Pinsk community in fact terminated in failure.

The character of the reign of the extremist autocratic Tsar Paul I and the further and last attempt by the Lithuanian Mithnaggedim to put down the Hasidic movement with the aid of the Russian powers, brought about a close cooperation of interests between the Mithnaggedim and R. Avigdor. After the fake declaration of the Vilna Mithnaggedim against R. Shneur Zalman of Ladi and other Hasidic leaders in 1798 was refused, the only alternative left to them was to present a document of complaint by a private individual to fight for correction of a personal injustice.

R. Avigdor undertook this task and opened the last and most extreme stage in his war against the community of Pinsk and the Hasidic camp. In his document of libel, R. Avigdor implicated private money matters in matters of religion and faith by means of thrusting blame on and accusations against the Hasidim. The purpose of this was to place the Hasidim in the light of opponents of the existing order and Government and potential reactionaries. The inquiry which was opened as a result of his denunciatory document did not satisfy the expectations of either R. Avigdor or of the Mithnaggedim and terminated, from their standpoint, with no real outcome other than that the Russian powers made use of his accusation against the Hasidim when they began to plan their new diplomacy towards the Jews, after the plots against the life of the mad Tsar Paul I which caused their rights to be curtailed and possibilities reduced for their existence and development. R. Avigdor succeeded only in blemishing his own name in the eyes of the generations following.

Chapter 6

History of the Jews of Pinks Under Russian Rule
(1793 - 1880)

R. Shaul, son of R. Moshe Levin of Karlin, was born circa 1775 into a family which was evidently one of the founding families of the Karlin community at the time of its establishment. R. Shaul was a very learned man. At an early age he entered into affairs of commerce and property leasing and was successful in them, thereby earning his reputation as a rich businessman. The last will of R. Shaul is a very important source for his history and for the history of Pinsk and Karlin. R. Shaul had nine sons and daughters. His daughter Hayyah Lourié (1791 - 1873) and some of his sons inherited his business acumen and aggressive character. Against a background of commercial activity R. Shaul quarreled with his daughter Hayyah. The houses of Levin and Lourié who were outstanding in their economic activity and in their wealth, also in their great acts of charity, were the sons and grandsons of R. Shaul.

As the family legend goes, R. Shaul Levin caused the separation of Karlin from Pinsk with the assistance of the new Russian governments. This traditional story of the second separation of Karlin from Pinsk may be true only if we take it that in the years 1784 - 5 the two communities united into one and R. Avigdor ben Hayyim was the Rav (rabbi) of them both. Also after R. Avigdor had been dismissed from his rabbinical post and the Hasidim took power into their own hands, R. Shaul -- who was a sworn Mithnagged (opponent of Hasidism) -- brought about a renewed severing of Karlin from Pinsk. In Karlin, the Mithnaggedim began to concentrate their forces, from the level of the wealthy to the learned men, and gradually Karlin took on the character of a Mithnagged community. This development may explain the fact that the Tsaddik (rabbi of the Hasidim) R. Asher returned from Stolin to Karlin after 1810, when the truce prevailed between the Hasidim and the Mithnaggedim and the 1804 law imposed on both camps a joint communal leadership.

Economic Life

When the Russians first took power, in the short period of Paul I's reign (1796 - 1801), a serious setback was felt in the commercial activity of Russia in general and of Pinsk in particular. The situation began to ameliorate in the first decade of the 19th century but the Napoleonic war of 1812 caused ruin and destruction and again curtailed economic activity.

In the travel records of the Pinsk region in the year 1819, by Julian Nimzevicz, the demographic and economic situation of Pinsk is described as depressing and wretched. The Polish writer did not find in the city any signs bearing witness to industry or crafts, commerce or wealth. Pinsk only retained its control of the salt trade. The population then totaled approximately 3,200 souls of whom 3,000 were Jews.

Between the years 1819 - 29 there came about an important development in the economic life of the Pinsk Jews. One can learn about this development from the account of a trip taken by Kazimierz Konterim through Polesia in 1829 on an assignment for the Polish Bank. From his description one gets an encouraging picture ofcommercial activity notably in the area of timber export. This commerce was in the hands of Jews and employed Jews in supervisory official or clerical positions. But in the writer's opinion, the great majority of the merchants were poor and needy and only few of them were well-to-do.

The central character in the economic life of the Pinsk-Karlin Jews in the period under discussion was R. Shaul Levin. He held leases, dealt in the salt and timber trades and even put his hand to industry. He amassed a great deal of property and was known as an exceedingly rich man. His daughter, Hayyah Lourié, also achieved a sound economic basis and wealth in the first and second decades of the 18th century.

R. Shaul as a leader of the people

His talents, his connections, his erudition, and his wealth elevated R. Shaul to positions of public leadership of the Pinsk and Karlin Jews and of the Jewish public in Russia. R. Shaul began again to participate actively in Pinsk's community affairs following dissolution of the internal tension between the opponents of Hasidism -- Mithnaggedim -- and the Hasidim after 1804. He built synagogues and institutions of charity and contributed to charitable enterprises both inKarIin and in Pinsk. He served as adviser to some of the communities and settlements in the environs of Pinsk. His connections with the Government, people of authority, and the nobility, enabled him to represent the affairs of Pinsk-Karlin to the Government and in internal consultations with the communities of Russia in the first and second decades. In the twenties, R. ShauI held a central position assisting the young Perushim-Mithnaggedim settlement in the land of Israel and through him Pinsk-Karlin served as the second center (after Vilna) for the collection and delivery of funds to Israel.

In the last years of his life, R. Shaul extended his assistance to R. ltshak Ber Levinson, one of the first champions of the HaskaIah (enlightenment) in Russia.

Growth of the Jewish Population

In the 19th century, the Jewish population ofPinsk-Karlin considerably increased:

Year Jews General
1819 3,000 3,200
1847 5,050  
?1861 6,956 11,135

The population increased five- tosix-fold under Russian rule. The rate of increase was greater notably in the second half of the nineteenth century. Until the middle of the 19th century Pinsk managed to hold on to her place in the topgroup of the larger communities, but in the second half of the century many townssucceeded in surpassing her in the rate of their demographic growth and Pinsk from that point belonged only tothe groupof intermediate communities. At the same time, Pinsk was still singled out as a Jewish town and the percentage of her Jewish population was between 75% and 83%.

Legal Standing

Under the Russian rule Jews were equaled in theory with citizens; Governmental and jurisdictive authority over them was referred to the Magistrats (City councils) in complete contradiction to the custom in Poland. Following the new administrative arrangement, the Government town Minsk, rose to the forefront and Pinsk lost her place as the "Main Community". For actual needs, the Russian rule recognized also the prominence of Government towns over the other communities. As the community of the Province town Pinsk ruling was restricted to only those communities in her province (Libeshei, Stolin, Lohishin, Pohost of Libehin and Pohost behind the river, Horodnia and perhaps a few other settlements).

Our information about Jewish participation in official positions in the Magistrat is slight. It is a known fact that Jews were employed as clerks in the urban police and in urban and regional offices. The real influence on conducting town affairs was in the hands of the clerks (Chinovniki) and police personnel. Bribes softened the tyranny of the police and the Government officers.

The Kahal (Jewish Community) and its administration

Subsequent to the 1844 law, the power of the Kahal was taken away. Leadership of the Kahal continued but adapted itself to the new law. In the office of Tax-collector (slorshchik) many of the community rights were centralized; besides tax-collecting and mobilizing recruits for the army, it dealt also with other public matters. Part of the traditional jobs of community leadership were given over in the new circumstances, to charity and goodwill societies. Thanks to the existence of a large wealthy class in Pinsk-Karlin who in most cases volunteered to meet the general needs, there were no problems in the town as to late payment of taxes. In fact, we have proof that the rich people's filling the public requirements in the tax burden weaned a part of the population from the custom of sharing in public expenses.

In the sixties, a certain stirring was felt in the activity of the Kahal. A young maskil (supporter of HaskaIah movement) Tsevi Hacohen Shereshevski, was appointed at that time as Secretary of the Kahal and acted in the name of the Pinsk community in matters which concerned the public interest.


According to the law, the Jewish population of a town was a community, in the matter of tax payment and mobilizing of recruits and was responsible for producing both to the Government and to the urban rulers.

The Jews of Russia and the Jews of Pinsk especially, paid direct and indirect taxes. In 1857 they paid somewhat more indirect than direct taxes. The indirect taxes were the general Korobka which was collected from kosher (ritual) slaughtering and the sale of meat; and from the tax on candles. The Korobka was practically the only source of the current budget money of the Kahal. In Pinsk, the situation of the Korobka was in good order and her incomes sufficed for the budget money of the Kahal. Representatives of the Minsk communities regarded the Korobka (in approximately 1860) as the most efficient and best financial instrument for financing the communities' budgets. The system of the Korobka and the candles tax severely crippled the popular class but in Pinsk in her prosperous years from the fifties to the beginning of the sixties this was apparently not an overpowering burden.

Mobilization into the Army

The law of 1827 obliged the communities to present numbers of recruits for the cruel military service of 25 years. The Jews of Russia saw in this law a deprivation and a disaster. Undesirable social elements and sons of the poor were mainly those taken for army service. Evasion from the lines was acceptable in all eyes and the Kahal began to employ a means of kidnapping children and giving them over as Cantonists for a life of suffering and hardships and often forced conversion. The matter gave rise to estrangement between the privileged rich and middle classes and the sons of the poorer classes who were taken or kidnapped for the army. All in all, our information is very sparse about the kidnapped and mobilized youths of Pinsk.

We have no data about the problems of army call-up between 1856, the year when the Cantonistic law was repealed, and 1874, the year of reform which did away with forced mobilization and set up service duty in the army which was encumbent on all the 20-year-olds in the land. The MaskiIim accepted the law gratefully but in fact the young men who reached army age, and their families, considered even the shortened military service a personal disaster. In Pinsk, as in other places, there were a great many youths due for military service who did not join up or else they used all kinds of contrivances in order to be released from service.

Economic Life after 1835

The middle of the thirties saw the ripening of results of the economic policy undertaken. This policy had been consolidated in the twenties through the work of the Finance Minister, Kankerin, who drew up a development plan for commerce and industry according to the lines of capitalistic policy (which was designed also to preserve the Feudal construction of the society and of the agricultural production). In order to advance his policy, methodical action was taken to improve the communication lines. Improvement of the Dnieper-Pripet network turned Pinsk, starting in the thirties, into a central transit port for exporting the production surpluses of S. W. Russia to the Baltic ports and for transporting imported goods in the opposite direction. Some of the Pinsk-Karlin merchants (especially members of the Levin and Lourié families) had the necessary capital, the initiative and the talent to organize properly the purchase, transporting and marketing of the S. W. Russian surplus produce.

The financial value of exports (from the Ukraine) and imports (from the West) which passed through Pinsk in the years 1855 - 57 amounted to 15 million rubles approximately. The merchants of Pinsk-Karlin played a leading part in this trade. Alongside the bigger traders, the average and smaller merchants also took part in it. Becoming rich was a common phenomenon and the wealthy class grew considerably. Children of the Levin and Lourié families became at that time exceedingly wealthy. The merchants for their part were assisted by a personnel force of agents, mostly men from Pinsk, who were attached to the markets all over the Ukraine, where the produce was purchased.

At that time Pinsk's domestic trade was consolidated, bringing a constant increase in the number of shopowners; in 1860, Pinsk had 244 shops owned by Jews and six owned by non-Jews.

Pinsk's economic prosperity reached its peak in the fifties. In the sixties, signs of crisis were felt. The new capitalistic policy in the days of Alexander II's rule (1855 - 81) emphasized the development of industry and of the railway network which were known to be, amongst other things, a cheap and fast means of transporting grain. The railway construction plan excluded Pinsk. The Pinsk merchants' request, that Pinsk also be joined to the railway network, went unheeded by the Government for subjective reasons. Many of the PinskJews from the various classes began then to uproot themselves and move to the rapidly developing Ukraine. In the seventiesthere came a crisis and Pinsk fell from her prime after the railways increasingly came to replace shipping as a means of transport for carrying out the exports of the Ukraine.

During the whole of the nineteenth century, the timber trade and occupations connected with forest exploitation, held a worthy place in the general sustenance of Pinsk Jews. The wood trade was less affected by the crisis.

Until the mid-fifties, industry had not had a real place in the Pinsk Jews' economy. The pioneer of industryin the Pinsk area in the period of her commercial prosperity was the Polish nobleman Alexander Skirmunt. Just a slight stirring towards initiative in industry was felt in 1860 - 70. The pioneer of more modern industry in Pinsk was Moshe Lourié who in 1860 established an oil factory and a flour mill worked by steam machinery. In the year 1872 the candle factory passed into Jewish hands.

Most kinds of crafts were also centralized in the hands of the Pinsk Jews. The trade and production of Pinsk handicrafts were well able to compete with the Government town of Minsk. Pinsk craftsmen were specialists in certain fields, for example – watch making.

In the 60s and 70s some activities were started, led by Gad-Asher Levin, for children to learn an occupation in the crafts. There were in Pinskwonderful artisans supported by master craftsmen.

In 1855, fifteen families settled in Ivanivki, a village near Pinsk, with the active assistance of Zeev Wolf son of R. Shaul Levin. The settlers were exempted from taxes and from army work. In theory they should have worked in agriculture but in fact they were mainly occupied with city jobs. The village was no more than an episode in the productivity attempts of the Jews of Pinsk.

In the years of the economic crisis there existed in Pinsk a broad stratum of people without income and without work. Many needed assistance and the leaders of the public began to talk then about productivity plans through crafts and manufacturing as a long-term means of solving the problem.

Haskalah (Enlightenment)

In the passage of time from the twenties to the thirties, the influence of Haskalah began to spread. Ideas of the Haskalah developed side by side with the needs of the businessmen's class which was starting to join energetically in the export development of Russia. The middle-class learned population in Pinsk-Karlin was, already in the thirties, more tolerant and open to new ideas of moderate culture preached by R. Itshak ber Levinson. There were in Pinsk learned men who studied the Beur of Mendelssohn and grammar and research books by the Berlin MaskiIim. In the thirties Reuven Holdhor wrote a book of apologetics entitled "Divrei Shalom ve-Emeth" ("Words of Peace and Truth”) in Hebrew and in Russian, which bears witness to Pinsk-Karlin's joining in publicist literary activity of the Enlightenment movement in Russia at this premature state. Ideas of the Enlightenment were discussed and promoted in the Batei Midrash (houses of prayer and study) and culture was acquired by the young people through individual study or with the assistance of other Maskilim.

The turning-point in the public attitude to the HaskaIah and its importance for them came with the passage from the first to the second half of the 19th century. In the 1860's there was already in the town a considerable stratum which identified openly with the ideas of the Enlightenment. They expressed their identification in the will to learn Hebrew, Russian and other languages in a methodical manner and in attempts to improve the educational system by improving schools and TaImud Torah institutions. Many adopted new norms of reading and study and began to need publications in Hebrew and Russian and even to contribute to them themselves. In about 1880, the ideas of the Enlightenment, moderate in its Hebrew form, were dominant in the cultural and social life of Pinsk. Various local factors eased the penetration of ideas of the Enlightenment and their dissemination. There was in Pinsk a not insignificant group of people who because of their business were proficient in the Russian language: lawyers, middlemen who came in contact with the Government and also clerical workers employed in the town and regional police (until 1879), writers of requests to the Government, and the like. Their manners, their dress, their mode of life and the education which they gave their offspring, influenced the strength of the Haskalah camp in Pinsk.

In the sixties there already existed quite a large class of intelligentsia which had a profound influence in forming the spiritual-cultural character of Pinsk-Karlin. Some of them preached and practiced an approchement to Russian culture. A larger group of Maskilim autodidacts from among the learned men preached the moderate Hebrew culture. To this group belonged several writers of the Enlightenment period (Shemuel-Aharon Shatskes, Avraham-Dov Dovzewich, Tsevi Hacohen Shereshevski, Avraham-Hayyim Rosenberg, Nahum Meir Shaikevich-Shemer and others). In that period many pieces of writing were sentto the Hebrew press. In these writings the dominating direction was that of the moderate Hebrew culture. Russification appealed to only a few. Rich people in Pinsk employed teachers and excellent private tutors who taught their children both secular and religious studies. From them came the pioneers of modernization of the economic life in Pinsk, both in methods of management and in the running of steamships and working of the first industrial plants with steam machinery.

There was in Pinsk a small group of religious radicals. Its importance, in the seventies, to the public was minimal and its influence insignificant. Groups of landlords -- who were learned men -- agreed to the education program for the young generation which put together traditional religious studies and secular studies. The rabbis of Pinsk and Karlin (Rabbi Elazar-Moshe Hurwitz and Rabbi David Friedmann) also accepted it in practice. The orthodox, for their part, established popular societies for Torah study attached to the synagogue to balance the influence of the HaskaIah ideas and strengthened Hebrew-national moderate culture which crystallized in Pinsk-Karlin.

Educational Institutions

Until the mid-nineteenth century, the system of traditional education (Hadarim and Yeshivoth) was the only educational system. In the second half of the century the schools too began to play an increasing role in the education of the children of Pinsk-Karlin.

An elementary school for Jews was founded in Pinsk in 1853 in the framework of the policy drawn up by Minister of Education Ubarov to "improve" the standing of the Jews of Russia (in fact, to bring them closer to Christianity). The school was frowned upon, as was the case in most communities in Russia but because it was an order from the Government there was nothing to do but open it. A committee was charged with actually finding pupils for it. The director of schools was a Russian Christian.

In the sixties there were changes in the educational policy of Russia and the basis for keeping them by force disappeared. It seems that there was then a certain improvement in the standing of the school. "The Society for the Promotion of the Enlightenment among the Jews in Russia" which had a few members in Pinsk, began to support the school and groups of Maskilim started to take an interest in it. The school continued to exist (an apparently poor existence) also after the new law came out in 1873 causing the closure of most of the Jewish Governmental schools in Russia.

By the same law official rabbi Hayyim Rosenberg instituted in 1873 a private school which taught secular studies in Russian, but the accent was on Jewish studies. The general direction of the school was traditional religious and therefore gained the enthusiasm of most of the public. Extreme radical MaskiIim bent on Russification did not look favorably upon it.

From the fifties on, the Russian High School (Gymnasium) began to play a part also for Jewish youth in Pinsk. In the first days of Alexander II's reign, the principal of the High School attempted to attract Jewish pupils to it. In the sixties, Jews started to stream of their own accord to study at the Gymnasium. By the end of the seventies, the Real-school (this was the general public High School) was full of Jewish pupils, up to 39% of the overall number of pupils (70 pupils).

Talmud Torah Institutions

In the sixties, two Talmud Torah institutions were established in Pinsk and Karlin with the active assistance of the rabbis of Pinsk and Karlin. These institutions, which opposed the public school educational institutions, continued the traditional education system and afforded also organized knowledge in Russian and in Mathematics, in writing and in grammar of the language. These institutions were designed for children of the popular classes. In the Talmud Torah of Pinsk, set up in 1862, there were difficulties in realizing the study program because of the opposition of people from the orthodox groups who took over the running of the institution at the time of its establishment and ran it until 1876. The situation of the TaImud Torah of Pinsk under their direction deteriorated.

In the Karlin Talmud Torah, also set up in 1862, suitable arrangements were instituted from the start and the planned study program succeeded. The opinion of the Maskilim was kind because of the pedagogic arrangements and the variegated study program and they saw in it a model educational institution suited to the education of the children of Israel. Its expense budget was financed mainly by contributions from the wealthy and to a lesser extent by the tuition fees. After 1876, action was taken to better the condition of the Pinsk Talmud Torah following the example of the Karlin Talmud Torah.

In the TaImud Torah institutions of Pinsk and Karlin traditional teachers performed jointly their teaching duties. The Heder in its traditional form was still on the decline from the sixties onwards, but the popular classes overcome with devotion for the Hadarim and their teachers, continued to entrust the education of their children to them. In the second half of the century, Melammedim and teachers were attracted toPinsk from Lithuania. But the Melammedim, of the old type had gained not a little of the spirit of the times and in the Hadarim themselves some changes came about.


As was the custom in the communities of Israel, there were also in Pinsk and Karlin societies for the instruction of Torah and Philanthropy. During the nineteenth century, the number of societies grew to a great extent (a characteristic phenomenon in the 19th century Jewish communities of Russia). Pinsk's favorable economic situation and the generosity of many of her inhabitants created a sound material basis for the societies' activity and many of them set up splendid institutions and buildings.

In the 19th century these societies were active: Hevrah Kaddisha, which was very old, and alongside it Hevrah Ketanah; which performed acts of charity among the dead; Bikur HoIim society which was active throughout all the 19th century; a Hevrah Linah (at the end of the 19th century). Torah instruction societies which were active in Pinsk: Talmud Torah society, from the beginning of the 19th century; at the end of the century there were in Pinsk a Torah society, a Shas (Shishah Sedarim) society, a Mishnayoth society, the Ein Yaakov society, the Tehillim society and a Shomerim Laboker society. At the end of the century there were in Pinsk two charitable societies which gave interest-free loans.

In Karlin, these societies were active: Hevrah Kaddisha, established in the 1880s, and alongside it a Hevra Ketanah for performing charitable duties with the deceased. The Shas society, which existed between 1832 and 1842, and to which were appointed many of the community's notables; two philanthropic societies which gave loans, one founded by R. Shaul Levin, and the other established in 1872 from contributions from various people, chiefly from the Lourié families; a society for supporting needy people, who had no means ofincome, was founded in 1876; a Bikkur Holim society, which existed during the whole of the 19th century. In 1874, a Shas society was founded at the great Beth Midrash in Karlin.

Charity Institutions

There had been a small hospital in Pinsk previous to 1862. In 1868, a new and spacious hospital was built there with the money left by Betsalel ben Tsemah Flores. The hospital was outstanding in its cleanliness, its order and its high medical standard.

Near the hospital an old age home and a guest house (Beth Hakhnasath 0rehim) were built. In Karlin a modern hospital was established before 1857 with contributions from wealthy benefactors. The hospital was well organized, properly equipped and of an excellent medical standard.


In 1854 there were in the town, according to official statistics, two synagogues and 12 Batei Midrash (Houses of Worship and Study). Actually their number was far greater. In 1857 there were in Karlin alone 12 synagogues for the Mithnaggedim and two for the Hasidim. At the end of the 19th century there were in Pinsk 15 houses of worship for the Mithnaggedim (including the very old Great Synagogue) and two for the Hasidim, while in Karlin there were 13 houses of worship for the Mithnaggedim and 2 for the Hasidim. Altogether there were in Pinsk and Karlin 32 houses of prayer. The small number of Hasidic synagogues shows the decline in public power of the Hasidim.

The Rabbis of Pinsk

After the dismissal of R. Avigdor ben Hayyim in 1793, the seat of the Av Beth-Din (Head of the rabbinical court of law) remained vacant for some years. In 1807 R. Hayyim ben Perets Hacohen was appointed to the position, which he retained until his immigration to Israel in the summer of 1826. It seems that R. Hayyim Hacohen was acceptable to the Mithnaggedim and to the Hasidim alike. After his immigration to Israel the seat of the Av Beth-Din of Pinsk was again a cause of concern. No new Rav was elected and the seat was filled by the Maggid R. Josef ben Benjamin. About 1840, the Av Beth-Din Kretingen R. Aharon was elected Av Beth-Din. He was author of the book "Tosefeth Aharon". R. Aharon died suddenly in 1841. After his death, the Av Beth-Din's place again became vacant for three years and only in 1844 was R. Mordekhai Zackheim from Rozinoi elected to the position of Av Beth-Din of Pinsk and served in this office of the Rabbinate until his death in 1858.

In 1860, R. Eliazar Moshe Hurwitz, Rav of Monastyrschina, was elected and served until his death in 1890. He was much esteemed by the people and earned their great respect by his profound knowledge of the Torah, by his pleasant manner, by his shrewdness, by his leadership of the community and his talent in coping with the problems of modern times. Towards the end of his life, the first part of his Book "Ohel Moshe" which included modern interpretations of the TaImud was printed. The second part, which included Responsa was printed in Jerusalem in 1928.

The Rabbis of Karlin

From the twenties on, the position of Av Beth-Din of Karlin was filled by the greatest Torah scholars in Russia and the position's estimation rose in comparison with that of Pinsk.

In the second and third decades of the 19th century, R. Shemuel ben Aryeh-Leib from Pinsk served as Av Beth-Din of Karlin and Antopol. Responsa and legendary sayings which he wrote were not printed and the manuscripts were lost. Between the years 1824 - 44, R. Yaakov ben Aharon Barukhin, a native of Minsk, was appointed Av Beth-Din of Karlin. He had previously served as Av Beth-Din of Davidhorodok. He was one of the great Posekim I and Mesbivim (halakhic authorities) of his generation. He wrote the books "Misbkenotb Yaakov" and "Kehillath Yaakov".

After R. Yaakov's death, his younger brother, R. Itshak ben Aharon Mikovsky -- author of the book "Keren Orah" -- was Av Beth-Din until his death in 1851.

Between 1855 and 1866, R. Shemuel-Avigdor Tosefaah was Av Beth-Din of Karlin. His important work was a commentary to the Tosefta "Tana Tosefaah" which was printed even before he came to Karlin. His other writings are "Sheeloth Shemuel", "Sheerith. Hapleitha", "Hidushei Halaoth al Hilhoth Pesah”, and his interpretation of the Pesah Haggadah.

When he died, R. David Friedmann was elected to the position of Av Beth-Din of Karlin and served in ituntil 1915.

Official Rabbis

From 1857 on, official rabbis were elected in the larger communities chosen mainly from graduates of the rabbinical seminaries. We have information about official rabbis in Pinsk from the sixties on. They kept records of the births and deaths and mediated between the Government offices and the Jewish community.

In the sixties, persons without any formal culture were also elected; only in the 70s were the official rabbis, who had been educated in the seminaries, appointed. These rabbis in Pinsk were far removed from any designs of Russification and fitted in well with the cultural social views of the Pinsk Jews.


In the first quarter of the nineteenth century the Hasidim still retained their power, but in fact events progressed to the detriment of the Hasidic camp, which apparently lost some of its attraction in the eyes of the neutral classes and caused the disinterest of its followers in a period of considerable demographic growth. The many learned men in Pinsk and Karlin again failed to find worth in Hasidism. The town's economic prosperity and the Enlightenment movement (Haskalah) also caused a regression from Hasidism. Pinsk and Karlin became Mithnaggedim communities. However, in face of the rise to power of the Haskalah, the Mithnaggedim victory had a limited effect in the formation of the cultural character of Pinsk and Karlin.

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