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[Page 251]

(Lenino, Belarus)

53°03' 27°14'


Working the Land in Romanova

Translated by Mendel Y. Spalter

The Jews in our small town worked by the sweat of their brow on land they had leased from for the local squire, Prince Wittgenstein, for some twenty years. The squire leased it to them for only six years at a time. Each time the lease was renewed, the Jews were prepared to leave the lands if he decided to raise the rent to the point that they would be unable to pay.

Nevertheless, when they could pay what he wanted, they did not slacken in their work. Twenty families from our small town, who each rented up to ten “desyatin” of fertile land, went out to work until evening. Just like the Christian peasants, who owned their own land, the Jews too farmed the land responsibly, and fertilized and cleared it. They treated it as though they were farming their own land.

Had the people of our town been able to afford purchasing the fields for themselves, they would truly have been fortunate. Instead of the substantial amounts they now spent on annual rental, they would be spending for whatever they might personally have needed.

Large numbers of people in other cities wanted to leave their business, (for many were doing badly in their businesses,) and begin working the land. Indeed, it seemed that only with that would they have enough to live. Proof of this desire is the charity of philanthropists among our people. They willingly distributed large sums of money to this end; and even greater proof are the small donations that were reported to be coming from all corners of our blessed land. One may further call to mind the Rabbis in the small cities, whose number is great in our land, who called upon the leaders of each city to awaken to truly rescue the thousands of the wretched, to establish for them a hopeful solution for living tranquilly in the places they resided.

(Ish Yehudi Safra (A Jewish scholar) / “Hatzfirah,” #31, 10th of Elul 5640 – 1880)

* * *

Concerning the matter of the Jewish farmers, on December 26, 1844, an addendum was added to the law of April 13, 1835, giving rights to those Jews wishing to be farmers, as well as practical means to subsidize the farmers' needs. These were the first rights and subsidization given by the government.

  1. Permission was granted to Jews who had reached the age of military service, to be able instead to farm the land.
  2. Those who would settle on government land in the western provinces, would receive a plot of about twenty “desyatin,” as well as be exempt from meat taxes amounting to 100 silver rubles per family. Additionally, the government would build them houses and provide them with everything necessary for the work, as well as many other rights.

According to reports received, it seems that from among 144,465 Jews living in the Minsk province, 2727 of them were considered farmers.

Despite all the benefits and subsidies provided through the government to Jewish farmers, not many were stirred, and they did not decide to change from being city people, to villagers and full-fledged farmers.

According to reported figures, we reckon that around 15 of every 1000 Jews worked as farmers in this province. However, only a third of them worked on their own, in the fields, while most sufficed with working the patch around their homes, and they would rent out the fields [they had from the government,] to the peasants. They 1 would say, that according to Jewish belief, one may not work on land in the Diaspora, and it is therefore impossible to appeal to them to become farmers, for it is not in the spirit of their beliefs.

It says in the book2: “If Jews were to rent patches of land and larger plots, they would endeavor, with all their energy, to hold on to them permanently. And if it would not be worthwhile for them to do so, they would destroy every piece of wood—cut down every tree in the forests, neglect fertilizing the earth. The land would become barren; rich, fertile land would become a wasteland. They would destroy every good, worthwhile structure and not leave even one stone in place.” One of our, so to speak, sympathizers, distanced himself from that group and said, (“The Voice,” fourth year,) as in the “book of records,” that many obstacles in the belief of the Jews prevents them from dedicating themselves to working the land.

(From the “record book” (the section on statistics, Minsk province, p. 69 – 1878)

(Pictured in this section are members of the Dumanitz family)


  1. The non-Jews of the area. Return
  2. An anti-Semitic publication see the end of the section. Return

[Page 252]

My Town, Romanova

Dr. Aharon Dumanitz

The town of Romanova is nearby to Slutsk. The distance between them is around twenty kilometers. Most of its inhabitants, around two hundred families, are Russian peasants, and there are a number of Jewish families. Our home was in the yard of one of the peasants, and the rent was eight rubles a year, as well as an additional two rubles for the shed where we kept our cow.

All the yards and the houses were built in a specific pattern, as in a colony: There was a long row of houses, with straw-thatched roofs, and two rooms each; one to live in and the other for storage. Behind the house were a shed, a stable for horses, a pig pen 1, and a barn for the wheat. Behind the property was a range of vegetable gardens and fields of wheat, as well as orchards with different types of trees belonging to the owner. Aside from this, there was one cherry tree, which the wife of the owner allowed me to climb with my satchel in tow, from which I could cut fruit for my mother, to my heart's content, so long as the owner did not know of it.

After the harvest season, the peasant would give us some of the produce of his gardens and fields. The peasant-woman would also sell us during the winter, at a cheap price, something from the pen for our needs. We thus lived on good terms with our neighbor – a peasant family and a Jewish teacher.

After Passover 2, my father arranged for me to begin studying with a teacher of children beginning school, although I already knew well how to read in the prayer book. In the second grade, they learned, besides to read from the prayer book, also Chumash3 for beginners, where each lesson included several verses of the Chumash. Each Thursday, every student would have to read his verse aloud, but only some of us knew how to recite and translate it correctly. I moved around from one study group to another, and by the time I reached seven years old, I was already learning the Talmud. At a certain point during this time, I was in my father's group, where my father taught Tanach4, with the commentary of the Malbim, as well as two pages (a daf) of the Talmud each week. My father had a talk with his friend Reb Itsheh Gittes, who was a great scholar and who had left teaching, and they decided to establish a Yeshiva for younger students. This school drew several youths who were younger than I was, and Itsheh Gittes served as the Rosh Yeshiva5. Another three years passed for me in this manner, the years of the end of my youth in my birthplace, the town of Romanova.

The rabbi of Romanova, named Reb Pinchas Goldberg, was known only as “The Miracle Worker of Romanova.” He was born in Meltz, near Pruzhni 6, from where he came to Romanova to assume the rabbinical post until his passing.

From the entire area, people came to him in droves with Halachic7 questions, for advice, and to ask for his blessing.

He was also well respected by the non-Jews of the town and of the surrounding villages, and upon meeting him in the road, they would remove their hats to him in respect and give him their blessings. Throughout his lifetime, he made do with little, and from his meager livelihood from selling salts and yeast, he also gave to the needy. He passed away in the year 5685, at an age greater than ninety years old.

The rabbi of Hadera (Israel), Rabbi Yoseph Dov HaKohen, is his son-in-law.

* * *

Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Fras was a great scholar, and a well-known communal worker in Warsaw.

He was born in Romanova on the seventh of Adar 5620; excelled in his abilities, possessed a vast knowledge of the Talmud and its foremost commentaries, and was widely read in books of philosophy and Judaica. At the age of sixteen, in 5636, he contributed to “The Voice.”8 He then moved to Warsaw, where he became known as a national figure, and he published essays and articles in “ Hatzfira9, and various other news periodicals.

(Pictured in this section is Reb Itsheh Gitte's, a teacher of Talmud in Romanova. He is pictured without a hat 10.)


  1. Some poultry etc Return
  2. Of a specific year not mentioned in the article, when the writer was a young boy of around five years old. Return
  3. The Five books of Moses, the Torah. Return
  4. The entire scripture, including the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings. Return
  5. The position of dean of the Yeshiva, who would teach the older students. Return
  6. Was unable to verify the names of these places. Return
  7. Questions in Torah law. Return
  8. Apparently, some publication in Romanova. Return
  9. (Literally, the Dawn.) One of the first Hebrew newspapers of the 19th century. Return
  10. During the reign of Tsar Nikolai I, teachers were required to have a photograph taken without a hat, although religious Torah teachers would generally wear may ho be without a Yarmulkeh (a head covering), and that may be why it explains his not wearing a hat. Return

[Page 253]

The Rabbi of Romanova

Baruch Dumanitz

I wish to add several facets to the general picture: Everyone recognized him as a miracle worker, and all were therefore respectful in his presence, because everything he expressed, whether a blessing or a curse, became fulfilled.

There were several occurrences related about him:

Chaim Simcha Miezel had an argument with the rabbi concerning wheat for Passover, and he insulted the rabbi in public, saying he was mad. The rabbi replied: “If so, may you indeed become mad.” The argument happened in the synagogue on Shabbat. That night, Saturday evening, Chaim Simcha traveled to Slutsk, to obtain more wheat for Passover without the rabbi's consent. During the trip, when he stopped to water the horses, a wild dog attacked and bit him. After about a week of terrible suffering from his wounds, Chaim Simcha died.

In one of the villages between Romanova and Kapyl there lived a Jew with a large family, who rented a flourmill from one of the local princes. At one point, a certain gentile conspired against the Jew and had the mill taken from him. The Jew came to the rabbi to pour out his bitter heart. The rabbi summoned the gentile and cautioned him to return the mill and he would not be punished from heaven, but the gentile did not heed his words. A short time later, the gentile got himself trapped in the millstone, and was injured and died. The prince returned the flourmill to the Jew, and he was again able to support his family.

Two Jewish youths were traveling to Timkowitz by way of Romanova. They passed Romanova on Friday, just before sundown, before candle-lighting time. The rabbi was standing at his door gathering Jews for a Minyan1, (this was during the Bolshevik era). As they passed, upon recognizing them as Jews, the rabbi invited them to stay with him for Shabbat, but they refused. He then said to them, “You will spend Shabbat with me regardless,” but they laughed and continued on their way. Twenty or so minutes passed, and they were brought back, injured, to the rabbi's house, where they spent the entire Shabbat, and afterward were taken to the hospital in Slutsk What had happened, was that as their wagon was crossing the bridge, the horse died, and they fell into the river. They were rescued by peasants who brought them to the rabbi's house. They begged the rabbi's forgiveness, and promised never to travel again on Shabbat.

A neighbor of the rabbi, a devout, kindhearted Catholic woman who had often presented the rabbi's wife with the best of her produce from her garden and fields, was having great difficulty while giving birth. The rabbi sent his wife, saying “Reizel, go to her, help her out; it is a pity on these fine gentiles.” Indeed, everything did turn out well.

During the great fire that occurred around sixty years ago, the gentiles of the area came to rescue the synagogue and the rabbi's neighboring house. The rabbi said to them, “Go and save your church. Instead, I will watch over things here.” As known, the entire village burned in that fire, aside from the synagogue, the rabbi's house, and the church.

There was a child who had received a slap in the face from his teacher, and he had problems with his ear as a result. The rabbi blessed him and said: “This is not of much consequence, it will save you from something much worse.”. When the time of the draft came, the young man was released from duty as a result, and a short while later, his ear healed as well.

The rabbi married at the age of twenty-five, and continued studying Torah away from home for three years, without seeing his wife. He was a colleague and student of the known “great one” from Minsk. On the night the “great one” 2 from Minsk passed from his world, the rabbi rose at midnight, washed his hands, lit a candle, and sat barefoot on a low stool3 for an entire hour, not uttering a word. However, he did not explain his actions. The following morning, Motteh the wagon-driver arrived from Minsk and brought the news that “great one” from Minsk had passed away. The rabbi uttered, “That is it…” Until his last day, he was able to read, without glasses, the small print of scholarly works. He was also able to easily crack open nuts with his teeth, like a young man.

He had penetrating green eyes, bushy eyebrows and a deep, compelling voice. I remember him well, as though I have just seen him. The storehouse 4 was just across from his house. He liked to take walks late in the afternoon, with my father of blessed memory, down to the river that flowed pleasantly on the outskirts of town.

(Pictured in this section is Yitzchak Leib Dumanitz, (son of Reb Asher Dumanitz, the schoolteacher in Romanova), an ardent Zionist, and a soldier in the Jewish regiment. He passed away in 1960, in San Diego Ca.)


  1. A quorum of ten, essential for prayer. Return
  2. One of the greater Torah scholars of the time, who resided in Minsk. Return
  3. In mourning. Return
  4. Perhaps where the Dumanitz family kept their food. Return


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