Chapter 6



By M. Volansky



(Translator's warnings: This chapter deals also with burial rites of Jewish Community at beginning of 1700's; readers sensible to death and to burial rites are recommended to skip cases who describe them, which are mentioned as "Case No….". It also has references to prayers of year 1450 (which is the oldest reference to Jewish life in Pruzhany), to Jewish relations with then Saxon authorities, and describes how was opened Jewish new cemetery at beginning of 1800's, being this one the cemetery surviving now).


A small, thick book, with leather covering, old and blurred pages, sometimes written with trembling old man's hands, faded yellowish ink, sometimes with rounded calligraphic letters, written with black ink scribes used.  Paper was mostly gray yellowish. Other times, was blue, all manuscript. Last pages that were approximately one fifth of a thick book was bound in modern form. The format of Pinkas, is 14 x 18 cm., height - including covers - is 11 cm. Cover format is a hall door, of one lateral is "Moshe Rabeinu" (our teacher Moses) and of other lateral is Aaron Ha'Cohen (the "priest" Aaron, with his priestly gear).  In it means  figures the inscription: "This it is the Pinkas of Chevra Kadisha and Loan Fund of the Pruzana Saint Community, year 1785."


We cannot determine how old the Pinkas is according to this date, because protocols that were registered in first pages show dates previous to this year. The oldest date found in general in  Pinkas is year 1701. Considering what is registered in protocols, and news of first pages, is seen they had dates without chronological order.


Therefore, we get the conclusion that date 1785 written in cover, refers to the year during which re bounding was carried out. Pages are numbered, but certainly this numbering was carried out after re bounding, together with cover drawing. (See section "Pictures and documents/Pruzhany" in this web).


It is an error to think that beginning of registrations is year 1701.  In second page we find following news:


I saw registered in Pinkas that one of first inhabitants wrote " Selichot " (prayers to G-d requesting pardon for sins ) for the Chevra Kadisha, and they were read in fast day,   Cheshvan 19 1450. But they got lost, and they don't appear in Pinkas. For that reason, other " Selichot " appear so that they are remembered through generations..


"Selichot" and when they have to be prayed are detailed in footnote.[i][ii].


Chevra Kadisha existed in 1450, and Pinkas was also then instituted. Regrettably Pinkas that covers about 250 years didn't come to our hands, and we deduce that was destroyed as years passed, and only some pages were saved  and appear in this Pinkas. Pages saved include registers from year 1701 to 1785, being this last one the year of the cover.


This evaluation is justified because were not present conditions to loose these pages. In certain opportunities, the Chevra Kadisha decided which event should be registered, for example: to seal commercial agreements with privates, and these one tried to eliminate pages which could danger them. For this reason, we find in the Pinkas - in different times -, amendments  by which was prohibited to extract or pull off pages; in general nobody had access to the Pinkas. This was the cause which for was designated a person responsible of keeping access to the Pinkas.


In Pinkas were registered issues that had direct relationship with society. Most pages were full with news about community new members. The style was the same whole time, and it was this way: "Day ...received ..from Mr. any of us that who paid in advance... the debt...."


An important part was full with corrections made after a certain time, which dealt with election of community treasurers or other who were called  "distinguished community members ". Community Treasurers elections were frequently carried out, and the list of candidates was registered in the Pinkas. General interest issues or non important facts were not registered.  Here or there are registered with lot of detail, stories about deaths, funerals, etc.


Burial Case No 1


This way was registered a terrible fact that happened in the city during 1714. It was the time in which dominated Poland Saxon Kings. This is the text of  news (we try not to change style of news in Pinkas, in spite of errors).


Be remembered happenings by blame of our sins. Once, during  Friday, Saturday eves, first day of  month of Yiar, year 1714, was a man of our community called YTZIK BEN R' MOISHE KATZ, nicknamed ITZIK THE YELLOW who serviced our community during all his life. In that time were in our community King soldiers, and one of them inhabited the house of mentioned YTZHAK. He  hit his wife while YTZHAK was outside his house in the market, because it was fair day.


When he was told that his wife was hit, he went to soldiers Chief, to request him to begin a trial because his wife was hit. Meanwhile, YTZIK found accidentally the Saxon in market, and he began to talk about this issue. The Saxon got anger, pushed him, and YTZIK fell to floor which was covered with ice. Me, the one that writes these lines, and  "distinguished" Reb MOISHE son-in-law of Reb NOTE, who were far from that place, saw Reb YTZHOK in floor, his mouth was bleeding, as were his eyes and nose. But we didn't see when and who pushed him. Other members of the community saw the case from the beginning until the end.


On this fact was informed Reb YACOV son-in-law of Reb ISROEL, and he went to that of  "distinguished" Reb MOISHE, and with me, who writes these  lines, went to that of Saxons Chief.. Rich Reb ISROEL was there. Mentioned Reb YTZHOK was also in the yard, and they asked him who of Saxons was responsible of the facts, and he answered. He continued bleeding, and on Saturday midnight died. On same Saturday was informed Saxons Chief about death of mentioned Reb YTZHOK.


Immediately was ordered to arrest the Saxon, and was sent a doctor to cut skull skin, to verify if it was complete, or maybe was already sick before he was hit. "Distinguished" community men requested this order was not executed because it was Saturday, but was shaved his head and  laid down on the bank were he had died. They asked to Community Rabbi if they could lay him down on the floor, since died in Saturday. They decided not to move it. The martyr was spread down there three days, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.  


Distinguished Reb ISROEL ordered to bury him, and we did it according to laws corresponding to a murdered. We did not purify him, but we put him pants and a tunic. The Saxon that made this fact was sent to Brest, because there resided Mayor Lieutenant.


After six days of being buried, Brest Mayor Liutenat sends another Regiment doctor, the cadaver was exhumed, and was trepanned the skull to verify that death had not taken place harming without justice the Saxon. Authorities of Kingdom pressed us, and we had to exhume the martyr. We requested  the deceased to forgive us.  


The cadaver was complete. Saxon doctor together with another  Jewish doctor that visited us (who was of the town Tiktin), accompanied us to the cemetery. Saxon doctor opened up with a knife the skull skin  in four parts, as a cap is made. Then cut around the skull, and determined it was broken as consequence of the fall.


This doctor requested to doctor of our community,  that sutured with silk thread the skin around the skull. Then we buried him in same previous place. The martyr's blood was placed under the cadaver.  


All this was registered for future generations, and G-d saves us of these laws, have pity of us, say ENOUGH! and avenges us of our enemies. Send us soon our redeemer. Amen 


All this was registered by order of Chevra Kadisha authorities, and should be  swallowed forever  year 1714. Signed by TZVI HIRSH Ben Reb MORDECHAI DOV called Rav MORDECHAI DOV Ben Reb LEIBESH.


Relation with Saxons


Certainly if it was not have been this fact, we had not found any signs of Saxon times. Accidentally we find another important news that is related with  same time: 


"We register that us,  "distinguished" people of the Chevra Kadisha, gravediggers, had to give "distinguished" MENACHEM MENDL Ben Reb YOSEF money to pay debts to Saxon soldiers."


Of this we deduce that Pruzhany society paid taxes to Saxon military authorities military, and if it was not for the loan given by the community, the Pinkas had not registered it. In this text I don't mention the date, but according to texts close to it , this happened - we imagine - among years 1704 to 1707.


Burial case No. 2


Are not absent facts about murdered that were found outside the city who were brought and buried by the Chevra Kadisha, chord to Jewish laws. There are also references about deaths due to  accidents "(in a mill due of a thunder, the horses got excited ...etc.)". Given the concept that characterizes suicide in Jewish society, and nonexistence of a similar fact in that time, we brings next following description:


"Was a fact that happened in our community . All person that listens to it will sound hearings". Was a Sunday, Yiar 21 1738. An individual named DOVID son of ARON HA' COHEN, called DOVID PEISACH, was found hung of a new rope in  threshold of his house.


It was clarified that the rope that we call " reins ", he bought them Friday, and just as their relatives they tell it, on Saturday night was awake thinking, checking the bills in bulletins that were sent him, and he should pay. After half night, he left their  and his relatives thought that he went  to "make his personal needs". To dawn, his grandson left house and  found him hanging. Immediately widespread the news in the city. Was cut the rope and he fell on floor on house threshold.


He laid down dressed with leather pants and a shirt. All person that passed through, were surprised, about how an individual could happened to do such a cruelty. Studious people met to consult in  sacred books how should be funeral  proceeding..  


They decided to bury him in a place far from other deceased. The Chevra Kadisha did not take care of the case. Other people dug the grave. At evening they took him to cemetery through a lateral road, and not through cemetery entrances. They covered him as the rest of deceased, with only a robe, a ritual mantel ("talit"), they covered him with a sheet, and they threw him to a grave that was near the fence, together with the rope.  


Whole community, women and children,  accompanied him so that each one conserves clear in his memory this shameful fact, and that they can tell it to future generations. His tomb was next to a sallow, and this was a sign for cohanim"[iii]. We remained moved and we prayed asking for forgiveness: "Our eyes didn't see and our hands didn't spill this blood. G-d forgive your people".  "This fact was registered so that it is remembered, and all sufferings of our town are avoided forever." 


This was in that time the terrible concept regarding suicide.


Burial case No. 3


On the contrary all those that were exterminated, or perished in accidents, were considered " martyrs " and were buried in a special place of the cemetery, among martyrs. As an example we bring next the case of an individual who was murdered:


"Should be remembered this  fact,  because young Reb ITZHOK son of Rev DOVID was murdered near the village of Dobuchin, on Thursday  Sivan 14 1740, and buried in our community  Sivan 18. His remains rest next to the martyrs, and they found elements that he left: a velvet cup appraised in 3,5 guilden, an old coat valued in 5 guilden, and three leathers valued in 2 guilden. This money was good for sepulcher expense, and it was given to ARON 8 guilden."


"This good man donated the sum 4 guilden as gift on behalf of the martyr to light in his memory a candle in Bet Medresh. The rest of money was given to me, the below signatory, because I had with him a family link, since I was his aunt's husband. I categorically confirm that the money obtained by the sale of the cap and the coat, I gave it to community, and according to this, I sign, Monday 18 1740, BINYAMIN..."


Burial case No. 4


This is a good illustration of the Jewish population's cultural situation 200 years ago, and the description of cases of parturient death. We bring next following description:


"A fact happened in our community on Sunday  Kislev 21 1737. The woman ZISL wife of Reb ELIOHU, had difficult childbirth work and she died. According to  women's comments, she was pregnant of twins. Was treated by all possible means to take out the baby of her mother's but it was not possible".


"Chevra Kadisha named some of its men, so that they go to died woman's house, with an energetic warning; "that the woman should give birth"  (!!!!), but this was not good for anything. Then met specialists of the city, but this neither had a result. They looked for it in sacred books, and  didn't find any similar case, about how to behave about the sepulcher, because it was terrible to bury the woman with the children in her ...Afterwards gravediggers covered her with a sheet and childbirth clothes ...All this fact was registered to be remembered and that G-d avoids all suffering to our siblings."


Of fact up mentioned we are informed of customs and habits that dominated population. The scribe of text admits that was not find a similar case in sacred books. The discussion, about how the funeral should be made,  took place because they listened about the terrible concept of burying a parturient with her baby within her.  The description about sending community representatives and of the specialists, was absurd because from the beginning could not be waited any answer.


New cemetery is sanctified


Another description tells about life system, and it shows how were buried  first deceased in new cemetery.

"In 1839 was communicated a governor City Decree, which ordered to distance the cemetery of the city, and that the Chevra Kadisha doesn't dare to dig a grave in the cemetery that was near the city. When community "distinguished" persons were convinced that the order was strict and there was not bribe possibility, they were forced to fulfill the order and they had to sanctify a new field. Anyway, they invested many efforts to bury  those most religious deceased in old cemetery. When Governor knew that the order was disobeyed several times, he  was anger and destroyed stone fence around  old cemetery, and Jews didn't dare to rebel.  Then city "distinguished" men  met to look for a solution, and decided to sanctify a new field.  In several opportunities, the Chevra Kadisha tried o bury illustrious deceased in the old cemetery, and achieved it."


One day, died a certain Reb YTZHOK Ben YEHUDA, and the Chevra Kadisha to honor the deceased,  wanted to bury him in same places as pious Jews in old cemetery. They dug the grave, the cadaver was laid down next to the grave. In that moment arrived City Chief and his soldiers, they covered the grave, and when the community Chief saw that there was not alternative, they entered the cadaver in another place, for not leaving it exposed in the sun, because that day was very hot. At dusk Jewish tribunal decided to gather population, to close business in honor of deceased, to join  the retinue, and to sanctify the new field with Bible songs and  prayers.


Men of Chevra Kadisha said that this one would be last funeral in the  cemetery, but local authorities didn't consent. They were forced to take the deceased to new field, they offered him honors with biblical songs and prayers, and almost all inhabitants of the city accompanied him. The town recited chapters of Psalms, and distributed gifts. The Chevra Kadisha named ten men that remained the whole day and the whole night for Torah studies and to recite Psalms.  They also decided to put watchmen, according to instructions of Tribunal, until were three additional death..  Our eyes looked hopeful to  Merciful so that he accelerates Redeemer's arrival, death disappears , and G-d dries tears of each face. Amen"


As we commented, we observe that were registered in Pinkas with same consideration all facts that happened in the city, in the country, or any aggression to Jewish community. They didn't register for example, Napoleon's times, the years of famine, or lost produced by malaria that was catastrophic for Pruzhany population. Neither would be remembered the great fire happened in year 1801, if it was not because of it, almost whole city was destroyed, all buildings and houses, nothing stayed on it's foot  It neither had been a house where annual meeting of Chevra Kadisha. For this cause they should postpone it for another date, and this issue was registered in the Pinkas


Language used in Pinkas.


Pinkas registrations were made in Hebrew language, there are many errors, and very few times sentences and expressions were inserted in Yddish. When this happened, it was because the scribe didn't find the expression of the concept in Hebrew. This happened when it was tried to avoid lack of accuracy and errors, when it was the case of guarantees for monetary reasons.. Then they were  registered in Yddish.


Here we bring some example:


"Guarantee by Reb DOVID for his wife (1) ykatnsh (word of unknown origin that means masculine clothes), (2) karmezin (word to identify the cloth of crimson color) (3) vrak ( word to denominate a good tuxedo) with threads of gold and (4) saie (word of unknown meaning that is possibly a mantel covered in leather), (4) velaichter (it combines the copulates "ve" which means "and" in Hebrew with the word " laichter " in Yiddish that means chandelier), (5) vefan (mixes the same "ve" in Hebrew with  " fan "t which means a "source" in Yiddish ). (TN That it to say same word had combination of Hebrew and Yiddish )


The texts in Yiddish in the Pinkas are two.


Starting from last years we don't find in Pinkas any registration, only names of treasurers, and of community new members. No any sign about events of WWI, German occupation, establishment again of Poland, or of Pole-Soviet war, although war operations were carried out in the city.



[ii] "G-d answered" to be read during Yom Kippur morning prayers   

"I will implore G-d"  to be read during even of Rosh Ha'shana.

"G-d, there is not any other" to be read during days between Rosh Ha'shana and Yom Kippur.    "Long life" to be read in Rosh Ha'shana eves.  

 "The tie" to be read during days between Rosha Ha'shana and Yom Kippur, and with "Liberated Israel." music   

"Please cure us D-s"    .

[iii] TN : Aaron descendants, brother to Moshe, called "cohanim" are not allowed to e cemetery according to Jewish Laws..