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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Minsk 01: 15th century to 1941

(14th century-1773 part of Poland-Lithuania, since 1793 capital of Minsk province under czarist rule, 1921-1941 Soviet BSSR)

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)


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<MINSK,  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.

[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 townspeople.

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 *Cohen.

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 province.

[19th century: since 1773 in the "Pale of Settlement" - 52.2% Jewish population by 1897 - community life: conservatives, enlightenment, and Jewish labour movement]

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 "Blumke's Kloyz".

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 there.

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 supported]

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 population).

Hebrew Printing.

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. [1773-1941]

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),
*Bobruisk (20,759),
*Slutsk (10,264),
*Borisov (7,722),
*Mozyr (5,631),
*Rechitsa (5,334),
*Novogrudok (5,015),
*Nesvizh (4,687), and
Shchedrin (4,002);

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)

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Sources
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Minsk, vol. 12,
                        col. 51-52
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Minsk, vol. 12, col. 51-52
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Minsk, vol. 12,
                        col. 53-54
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Minsk, vol. 12, col. 53-54


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