Jews in Minsk 01: 15th century to 1941
capital of Belorussian S.S.R.; in *Poland-Lithuania from the
beginning of the 14th century until 1793; under czarist rule,
the capital of the province of Minsk; the most important
commercial center of Belorussia from the 15th century.
(14th century-1773 part of Poland-Lithuania, since 1793
capital of Minsk province under czarist rule, 1921-1941
Immigration into Poland-Lithuania - community life
under Russian czarist rule - enlightenment, labour
movement, and Herzl Zionism - Soviet rule until 1941
from: Minsk; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 12
presented by Michael Palomino (2008)
[Poland-Lithuania: riots and
protection by the kings]
Jews first leased the customs duties of Minsk in 1489, and
during the 16th century they began to settle in the town. In
1579 King Stephen Báthory granted the Jews of Minsk a charter,
but in 1606 King Sigismund III prohibited Jews from opening
shops there or engaging in commerce. In 1633 King Ladislaus IV
confirmed these rights and permitted the Jews of Minsk to
acquire real estate on the market square or anywhere else, and
to buy land for a new cemetery.
During the *Chmielnicki revolt and the Russian-Polish War
which followed it, the Jews of Minsk were among those who
suffered. In 1679 King John III Sobieski confirmed their right
to the ownership of houses and shops, their synagogue and
cemetery, and restated their freedom to engage in commerce and
crafts and their exemption from all jurisdiction excepting
that of the king. These rights were confirmed in their
entirety by King Augustus II in 1722. Hence the community of
Minsk prospered during the 17th (col. 51)
and 18th centuries in spite of the opposition of the
In 1766 1,322 Jewish poll tax payers were registered in Minsk.
Jews were prominent in the town's commercial life and at the
fairs of nearby *Mir and Kapulia (see *Market Days and Fairs).
The spiritual life of the community was also enriched. In 1685
a yeshivah [[religious Torah school]] was established by the
local rabbi, Moses Mordecai. Among the rabbis and rashei yeshivah [[heads
of academies]] of Minsk during the 18th century were Jehiel b.
Solomon *Heilprin, Aryeh Leib b. Asher *Gunzberg, and Raphael
In the framework of the *Councils of the Lands, Minsk was
subordinated to *Brest-Litovsk (Brisk) in 1623, but by 1631
Minsk and its surrounding district was considered a separate
[19th century: since 1773 in
the "Pale of Settlement" - 52.2% Jewish population by 1897 -
community life: conservatives, enlightenment, and Jewish
During the 19th century, Minsk was one of the largest and most
important communities in Russia. In 1847 the Jewish population
numbered 12,976, rising to 47,562 (52.3%) of the total
population) in 1897 [[probably also by migration into
cities]], which made Minsk the fourth largest community in the
*Pale of Settlement.
Jewish life in the first half of the 19th century is reflected
in the community records, which were published with a Russian
translation by Jacob *Brafman. Mitnaggedim [[also: misnagdim, mitnagdim:
opponents]] were influential in Minsk, and Hasidism was
relatively weak. There were several yeshivot [[religious Torah
schools]] in the town, the largest of which was known as
At the end of the 19th century Jeroham Judah Leib *Perelmann,
who was known as "the gadol
[the great scholar] of Minsk", officiated there as rabbi. A
circle of maskilim
[[followers of the
Haskalah, enlightenment Jews, secularists]] also existed in
the town, and in the 1840s several Jewish schools which
included secular subjects in their curricula were opened
Minsk was one of the places where the Jewish labour movement
originated and developed. In the mid-1870s circles of Jewish
Socialists were organized, which were very active during the
1880s and 1890s. The years 1893-94 also saw the birth of the
"national opposition" to them, led by A. *Liessin.
In 1895 a convention of Jewish Socialists was held in Minsk,
which discussed the projected establishment of a Jewish
Socialist Federation. The Jewish Socialists of Minsk sent
delegates to the founding convention of the *Bund in 1897, and
Minsk became one of the centers of the Bund's activities,
being the first seat of the movement's central committee until
1898, when it was dispersed by the police.
From 1901 to 1903, Minsk likewise became the center of the
activities of the *Independent Jewish Workers' Party. Jews
were predominant in the demonstrations and revolutionary
meeting held in the town in 1905 and were also the principal
victims of the riots directed against liberal elements in
general which took place in October 1905.
[Zionism and Herzl Zionism in
Minsk - Zionist conventions in Minsk]
Groups of Hovevei Zion (see *Hibbat Zion) were first organized
in Minsk in the early 1880s. In In 1882 the Kibbutz Niddehei
Israel association was founded there, and in 1890 the Agudat
ha-Elef. Later, Zionism became very influential. In 1902, with
the authorization of the government, the Second Convention of
Russian Zionists was held in Minsk.
In the communal elections of 1918, the Zionists and (col. 52)
*Po'alei Zion won 33 seats, the Orthodox 25 seats, the Bund 17
seats, the non affiliated six seats, and the *Folkspartei and
the *United Jewish Socialists Workers' Party two seats each.
[1919-1939: Soviet rule:
religion and Zionism suppressed - Yiddish Jewish culture
After the establishment of the Soviet regime, Jewish communal
and religious life was silenced at Minsk as elsewhere in the
Soviet Union. The suppressed religious and national
institutions were replaced by institutions of Jewish culture
based on the Yiddish language and Communist ideology, and
Minsk became an important center of Jewish-Communist cultural
activity in the Soviet Union. Yiddish schools were
established, and at the Institute of Belorussian Culture,
founded in 1924, a Jewish section was organized.
It published several scientific works, including Tsaytshrift [[Yidd.,
Engl.: Magazine"]] (5 vols., 1926-31) devoted to Jewish
history, literature, and folklore. A Jewish department was
also established (1921) within the faculty of education of the
University of Minsk. These institutions, however, were closed
down in the mid-1930s. Various newspapers, periodicals, and
other publications in Yiddish were issued in the town. These
included the daily newspaper Der Shtern [["The Star"]] (1918-21), Der Veker [["The Alarm
Clock"]] (1917-25); until 1921 the organ of the Bund), Oktyabr [["October"]]
(1925-41), and the literary monthly Shtern [["Star"]] (1925-41).
In 1926, there were 53,686 Jews in Minsk (40.8% of the
In 1808 Simhah Zimel set up in Minsk a Hebrew printing press
which he had brought from *Grodno. Up to 1823, he had printed
at least 12 books, mostly liturgical. Another press was
established in 1820 by Gerson Blaustein, who by 1837 had also
printed 12 books, again mostly liturgical, though including
one volume of Hebrew poetry by M. *Letteris (1832). In the
20th century a Hebrew press once more operated in Minsk,
printing books and newspapers mainly for local use. After the
Russian Revolution, the studies in the history of Russian
Jewry and Yiddish literature which were published in Yiddish
by the Jewish section of the Institute of Belorussian Culture
were printed in Minsk.
The Minsk Province.
In czarist Russia, the province of Minsk was one of the
"western" provinces of the Pale of Settlement. In 1797 its gubernator presented Czar
Paul I with the resolutions of the meetings of the province
noblemen, who alleged that the Jews were responsible for the
sorry plight of the peasants of the province and for the
famine which then raged. This statement was the forerunner of
the program to expel the Jews from the villages, which later
took the form of the "Jewish Statute" of 1804 (see *Russia).
In 1847 there were 37 Jewish kahal [[assembly]] administrations, in which
87,633 Jews were registered.
In 1897 the Jews of the province numbered 345,015 (16% of its
population); 37.5% of them lived in the towns, the same number
in the townlets, and 25% in the villages. The largest
communities of the province (with the exception of Minsk
itself) were then
*Pinsk (21,065 Jews),
*Nesvizh (4,687), and
41.5% of the province's Jews earned their livelihood in crafts
and as hired labour, and 28.9% from commerce. About 21,000
Jews (6.1% of all those in the province) depended on
agriculture, and over 6,000 of them lived in the mostly small
Jewish agricultural settlements. In Minsk oblast there were
70,713 Jews (13.1% of the total population) in 1926; in the
Minsk oblast as it had been organized in 1938 (with the
exception of the town of Minsk itself), there were 9,054 Jews
(0.61% of the population) in 1959.
[Y.S.]> (col. 53)
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Minsk, vol. 12, col.
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Minsk, vol. 12, col.