Chapter 9


By N. Tzukerman



(TN: We should remember that word "Pinkas" means "register", a book were certain acts are registered, as notaries do. They were registered in protocols, and its binding was done later and in many cases out of time order)


We have the Pinkas of Pruzhany Community that includes the period from year 1801 up to 1851. This Pinkas as that of the Chevra Kadisha (Holy community), is paged in disorder. We can find "protocols" of previous years at the end of the book, or old one at the beginning. It is very difficult to define if it was the only protocol book of the community, or there were others that got lost. According to information received, there was in the city another  Pinkas, still older, but nobody knows where it is.


The cover is very simple, without decoration neither ornaments. Pages are united with a double  line with the form of a portal. In upper part, there is an inscription: "Pinkas of local Community, Saint Community, Pruzana". Lower says "year 1801" and very below there is a stamp with an  double head eagle (T.N.: See Kahal seals in documents section).


Language used in the Pinkas is Hebrew, but also existed texts in Yiddish. They didn't register continuously the facts, and for that reason there were many non written pages. It is very difficult to imagine which was the cause for which they left free spaces. Maybe they were reserved to register facts that should be registered, and that finally were not written.


Economic life


In the Pinkas we find a great quantity of material related with economic and social life of Jews in our city. Are very interesting and instructive protocols that treated then economic situation of Jewish population. We bring a protocol written in Yiddish in year 1823, page 119, column b.


In this act is proclaimed in the Synagogue and Bet Medresh of this town a severe sanction, according to the consent of most distinguished people of this city and of the Rabbi. We decree that is absolutely forbidden from today on, to all horse mill proprietor in our community, to rent it, to leave it empty and to charge a rent, or to associate with others. It should maintain it for it's own means. All person that doesn't respect the order up mentioned, will be transgressor of the law, he will be excommunicated and expelled with all severity, without harming another person not being the transgressor.


Month Elul, 1823


As we see in the content of this writing, authorities of the community prohibited absolutely to join other millers, for not raising product's price. It didn't also allow to organize a society, under excommunication threat.  


About this text, we cannot define which were possibly real causes that impelled to community authorities to act in so strict way, could possibly be for other reasons or simply to benefit people.  In general, the community regulated economic situation of Pruzhany Jews. Besides the before mentioned example, the community protected consumers from millers that raised product price. We have another very characteristic case in year 1851 when the community tried moderating cereals trade. The price increased a lot, and began to prevail hunger in the proximities. These went warnings to consumers, according to following protocol:


That nobody buys in the market any trade cereal, barley, trenches, or any eatable cereal ...Nobody will be located in lateral streets outside the city, to buy cereals to merchants that bring it to the market, until imposing decreed price...


This way community authorities limited prices increase. There was also a warning, prohibiting the exit of cereal outside the city, because this would create hunger and price  would increase even more. 


That same year, 1851, was written another protocol in which situation of the community is evaluated. We should highlight that  financial situation worsened.  Tax to alcoholic beverages collected by the community, didn't mean a great income (as we have highlighted in previous protocols). Permission to elaborate alcoholic beverages was obtained through a bid that was made in Grodno, where was defined the beneficiary. People most outstanding of the city, decided to send YTZHOK AIZIK GOLDBERG, the richest man of Pruzhany, to the city of Grodno to negotiate the bid, which was granted to  the person that offered the highest amount.  The important part of the protocol was the following observation.


Members of the community demanded to boycott strangers that sought to obtain in the bid the right to elaborate alcoholic beverages. The end of mentioned case, was that it fell in strange hands and the boycott was imposed, as it was registered in a later protocol. There they mention that they won't rent them houses to be used as taverns, and neither accept the lease of taverns.  




We also find in the Pinkas interesting information about Pruzhany community income sources. Here as in other Jewish towns, taxes existed: to illumination, to meat, to bread. We lack figures that clarify the amount of each item. We have only a summary of year 1827, but only related to bread tax.


It was an extraordinary year. Were imposed high taxes to Pruzhany bartenders.  They presented an application to the community so that it  helps them in this emergency. The community leaders decided that collection of bread tax of year 1826/27 was going to be the sum claimed by bartenders.  At the end of the Pinkas we find Cash summaries. This tax produced an income of 97 silver rubles monthly , or 1164 annual rubles. It was the only case in the community of Pruzhany in which the community authorities defended  certain group, and was paid this sum of money, considering that  bartenders were most outstanding proprietors. Population approved this tax!!


In normal times, the community collected bread tax  just as is registered in the protocol of year 1825: 


Therefore we are forced to give in lease bread tax of years 1826/27, that previously was paid only by some people.  


This protocol had below the stamp of local community, and it is the only case in  whole Pinkas.  As we deduce from this material, the destiny of sums collected also covered state tax.      


Illumination tax was instituted in Pruzhany in 1845 (protocol of page 38). Just as tells Pinkas scribe, was a great emergency that year,  poverty grew constantly, and then community decided to impose general illumination tax. For candles that were produced for sale, were charged three guilden for a (the quantity called) " pud ", when it was for private use two guilden, and one guilden were charged those veil of Russian origin.  


In Pinkas is never mentioned which was the amount of income from illumination tax, but a summary sent to the District in 1878 declares that had entered 659 rubles for illumination. Which was income of other taxes, is impossible to imagine, due to lack of information.


Another fact highlighted in Pinkas, was the means by which were given taxes in lease. First protocols tell us that members of community decided that starting from that date on, would not be given in lease taxes until proclaiming three times in synagogue the price specified by experts. Lacks information about how was given  collection of taxes until then. We should imagine that lease was received  by rich people and distinguished men of town by means of a "familiar procedure", and was maintained with strong hand. This is demonstrated by a sentence in the protocol that says: 


"Will be what will be" 


meaning that rulers waited a rebellion of some sector that didn't agree with new regulations. The case, for granted, was due to community taxes, which should fulfill all taxes State demanded, and the form of acquiring important sums was to give in lease its collection by means of a bid.


Military recruitment


The other important issue that constantly worried community  members was recruitment. In 1833 they decided to collect gifts for soldiers who were sent to army in benefit of the town, and be able to maintain their Judaism by means of  bribe to state authorities. These sums were collected in marriages, circumcision acts, monthly regular payments, which are detailed in  following protocol.


"We are shaken because was requested us, those that that sign below, the following: to accelerate water of  spring just as we listen it; we also saw writings of depressed and broken-hearted, they are those that lead souls of city inhabitants, who left in dimness, without light. They risked their life with fear, as were taken in charge of serving King, in benefit of others. They are oppressed by damages that are caused to us in current moment, and they cannot make anything to vivify their soul and be liberated of rulers. This way, they will allow other fulfilling Jewish laws".


"For this means we inform all that it is our the responsibility, and it is worthy and desert to pity intensely, for  soul of those that should load sufferings and to support poor and needful." 


"Therefore our demand to city inhabitants of our city, is that they don't stop to maintain constantly  the commitment with community authorities and with distinguished people, so that they are not discouraged and repair those that load with the responsibility, and sign below. We clarify different forms of contributing..."


The issue of the protocol refers to the situation of those who were mobilized in State army in benefit of Jewish Community. They suffered a lot and community authorities were the only responsible of this situation. Therefore they decided to offer different forms of monetary help for  soldiers who were recruited.  


When one of the youths was given as soldier, through him were liberated his more closer relatives who were not included in  lists of candidates to serve State Army. There were cases in which community activists forgot that a person had already been recruited, and one of his brothers or close family members appeared in the list. Those cases were registered in the Pinkas to remember and not to forget that it should not happen again.


A very outstanding case was registered in 1842 protocol; content is following:  


The young ZUZMAN son of CHANOCH BERESTITZKY, went to  military service and this way liberated all his family. His brother was father of two boys, and nobody should make  injustice of inscribing them in the list for future military service, while there is not a new warning.


Parents of youths whom community sent to military service, were exempt of paying taxes. Tells  us the protocol that during year 1845 a certain R' YTZHOK was liberated of paying taxes during 10 years, but he should pay alcohol taxes, for not being different of rest of community.  


In hands of community authorities, and later on "representatives" was destination of each Jewish citizen. If any made some error, was placed first in recruits list, but if somebody protested and his cause was fair was liberated, and his place was occupied by following one. 




At the end of Pinkas are registered different cases, as for example: an accident happened with small girls, in which resulted the doubt if in that occasion she lost her virginity. The text tells the following: 


Be registered and remembered what happened to a girl  named RIBL daughter of SHIMON BEN R' AVIGDOR. She jumped from one bed to another one and she hit in that place. Her nightwear was bloodstained, and for this cause she lost her virginity. This was their mother's GUITL story, and it happened in the night of sacred Saturday  Tamuz 10, 1869.


This is another example: 


Be registered and remembered what happened last summer,  year 1868. That the girl of Mrs. ESTER RIBL was hit by a Christian in that place and she bleed a lot. She possibly lost her virginity. So was told by her father SHLOIME CHAIM son of MORDECHAI ARON, the day 11 of Shvat 1868, here in Pruzana.


Other issues 


Were registered similar cases in Pruzhany City Pinkas. Almost all got lost in same decade, and we cannot affirm if this was carried out according to  time in which happened, or were added later in last Pinkas pages 


All detailed in this description, is about important issues that embraces Pruzhany Jewish life system . We also find protocols that are related with personal issues, questions on not paid accounts, questions on places sold, etc.  


Among others, we find the translation of a manuscript carried out by a local merchant, MICHAEL BIRNBOIM. He went to Jewish community, for they liberate him of being devoted to intermediation, and be able to become an independent merchant of  first Pruzhany's  "guilda". The community grants to plaintiff MICHAEL BIRNBOIM a manuscript with the condition that he continues paying taxes to the community. 


Another important place is occupied by issues related with religious community life. Some protocols mention money that earns the Rabbi. For  judges  were law amendments which regulated  relationship of new Batei Midrashim with Great Old Bet Medresh, etc. 


We have to see that Pinkas (as well as other " Pinkasim ")  frequently made grammatical errors, so much of style as of language. For that reason they used - and it is characteristic - a symbolic language when writing protocols. Many times through this sea of symbolic language, substantive content of protocol is eclipsed..