Chapter 18





By  N. Tzukerman




Jewish religious studies


The "Chadarim"[i] in Pruzhany during second half of  XIX century were not different in their characteristics, from other chadarim, in other Jewish communities in Pale of Settlement. The school institution "Talmud Torah"[ii] had authority over "Chadarim" but at the same time there were about 10/12 chadarim that were private. Teachers didn't have special qualifications; for this reason the quantity of "Chadarim" was not considered definitive. It was enough to gather 6 children in a house and it was already a Cheder.  There was         "chadarim" with long permanency, and they were divided in different categories.


A course lasted two periods of six months each one.  In a " Cheder " were teachers for small children who learned only alphabet, and then passed to another course. In this second level Pentateuch and something of "Rashi "[iii] was already studied. The study in this level usually lasted some semesters. In third level, the teacher taught "Talmud" and here children began to learn writing. Next follows a descriptive story of a teacher of small children, in the years 70 of XIX century (M. Lew,  "Pruzener Lebn").


"The first time brought me to the Cheder teacher's assistant. He came to look for me to my house and load myself on his back. Mom, with tears in her eyes, went behind. They took me to that of Mordechai, the teacher of small children. 


Mordechai, the teacher, lived in a small house divided by the half. The kitchen and the Cheder were in one of the halves,  and in the other half was Rebe's bedroom. In the kitchen was a big oven, and it was a warm space where met about 50 males. The teacher's wife, the "Rebetzn", worked in her tasks. On Fridays she baked breads braided for Saturday, and the "Tchunt " that stayed prepared hot in the oven, for not lighting the oven on Saturday. Smoke and lack of oxygen provoked us a strong headache, and in these conditions we returned home. 


The teacher's assistant went from house to house, and in a basket with bottom of wooden charts  picked up food for the children; each one received his part. 


On the wall hung a great alphabet with wooden letters, and  the teacher with a stick pointed out each letter, pronounced it and repeated it aloud; all children repeated afterwards. There was a hole in the ceiling, closed with a plug. Of this hole  good angels threw "kopeks"[iv] for studious children. In many opportunities I repeated well each letter, and lifted my eyes to see if some coin appeared. The teacher taught for separate to each boy , and when concluding we left to the patio to play. It used also happen that all children repeated the lesson aloud. 


Before the fire of great Synagogue, there was another habit. Every morning, small children and teachers assistants, met and went to great Synagogue. There we "sacred flock' were stood up on the banks, and answered aloud "Amen" after each prayer. After the fire this habit was annulled.


There was another habit. When a male was born, were feasts in that house  during 7 days. Each evening teacher's assistant drove us to the house where the male was born, we surrounded the bed of the mother , and we prayed in high voice the "Shma"[v]. One of the Ladies invited us with beans and peas. The Mohel[vi] brought the scalpel, and placed it under baby's pillow. That day we received besides beans and peas, sugar cake. Everybody exclaimed "good night to male baby."


In Chadarrim of second group, was taught Bible and we began to write "one line". Next we give the description of this type of teacher, whose author is M. Lew. 


"He was a very severe teacher. We trembled when he looked to us, as his sight  was fire. Besides becoming trained in Bible and Talmud, he taught us to write in "sacred language"[vii], in Yiddish and also in Russian. I remember it until today the first line that I learned to write, because I repeated it during several months. In winter we studied up to 10 p.m., and as in the Cheder  was not clock, some boys left running toward street to AIZENBERG's factory, because there worked up to 10 p.m.


"Once our Rabbi returned from "Kadisha" synagogue where frequently he prayed  afternoon prayers. He was very happy. We children were surprised because his eyes were always severe, and this time they reflected certain softness. 


The Rebe said: "children  I have to communicate you something cheerful, a good news. In our generation, in which we live, in these times, and certainly very soon will come...guess children who?  


"We don't know Rebe who?, " we answered all aloud.


The Rebe says: "Ahhh, vagrants, don't you know whom Jews yearn and wait? Whom do they wait? To the Messiah, boys, and he comes! Understand, he comes! The whole synagogue boiled during evening service, the whole city is happy. The great news arrived to us, do you know through whom? Our sacred Bible demonstrates it. Up to now it was a secret, our patriarch Jacob wanted that their descendant, in the end of the days, discovered the secret, but  generations later wandered through  unknown lands until           "Boyberik", but as is written in "Ecclesiastes" book, everything arrives at it's time, and now is the moment. YTZHOK the Yeshiva student, the invalid that  studies in the Synagogue Kadisha, discovered it in the first word of the book Genesis. Bring the book here and I will demonstrate it to you. Here see, said, in the first word of this book "B .R .A. Sh. Y. T" which means "at the beginning" is interpreted this way: " Byimey mot, Russian, Alexander, Shlishi, Yavo, Thishpi" (which means: "when Russian Alexander III dies Messiah will come"). Do you children understand now? This will happen if G-s allows it, in our days? For that reason children, now return home, today we no longer study"


The czarist government imposed a compulsive law. All teacher should be registered and those that didn't, would be seriously punished, This caused a great commotion among  teachers in Pruzhany and Lew comments it this way 


"One morning the Rebe announced children: A compulsive law was decreed in St. Petersburg about  teachers. The State should authorize them to teach, otherwise they could not teach. Here in Pruzhany, added the Rebe, I met  the inspector of  Russian State School Circle . He would grant us the authorization if we follow his guidelines in our school. There students demonstrate a great respect toward teachers, they stood up when their enter and exit, and not as you, not well educated, that try making life impossible to the Rebe.  


Some days later having visited the inspector, the Rebe hung a " poster " written in Russian that said: "Cheder Melameda Michaelia Píana."  There were not many of this class of posters in the city, since most of teachers didn't respect regulations, and continued teaching without the authorization. 


There was not much of difference between  Chadarim and Talmud Torah's, and these last ones were dispersed in "Batei Midrashim"[viii] and in private homes. Most students came from poor homes, while children of rich homes hardly attended these one, and therefore the Rebe used  poor students in his benefit, teaching them only a little. It was told this way , about the Talmud Torah (M. LEW, in Pruzener Lebn):


"This happened about 50 years ago. Came bad time at home, appeared poverty, my father   could not pay school installment, and I arrived  to Pruzhany's Talmud Torah. There my teacher was called KALMAN. The Cheder was located in the "Tailors Bet Medresh". The atmosphere there was not very fine, because lived there YANKEL the blind , MORDECHAI the painter, and MICHEL the fool . Also  teacher SHOLEM MALIES taught to about 40 small children. 


"Our teacher KALMAN, was an unbearable Jew, and even more with his students. We received slaps and blows. On Saturday he took us out of "Tailors Bet Medresh" and went with us to the house of NECHEMIA the butcher, and there taught us Bible. Also in honor to Saturday, drank liquor of a copper pitcher.


"We should also help teacher in domestic tasks. He had a cow, and we should get it's food. His family was numerous, every week they baked bread, and we took wheat to the mill. I remember, once, in a winter very cold day, the Rebe orders me and CHAIM VELVEL the son of the binder,  to take wheat to the mill in a sled. The mill was far, almost close to arriving to MULIE'S house, and we milled the wheat there. When returning, the cold freezes us in such a way that we had to stop in front of  ARKE POTSHER's house. The wife of ARKE, for pity, invited us to enter and  protected us in her house. In some way she communicated to KALMAN that we were there.


"Our Talmud Torah had a rich student, the son of ARE PODVOLTSHIK, called MOLKE. The whole city was proud of him, because a rich man sent his son to the Talmud Torah together with poor children. Certainly, MOLKE, the son of the rich man, was treated better than us, workers' children. An evening, when concluding our study, MOLKE came near the Rebe and asked him to leave before classes end, to go to his house. The Rebe caresses him the cheek, and allowed him to go. I also wanted to go home together with him, because we lived in same street. I also come closer to the Rebe, and I received as answer two slaps, that was because my father was a poor shoemaker, and the Rebe didn't receive from me any benefit... 


"Jewish society maintained the Talmud Torah. Sometimes schools obtained some extra income from Community (Kehila). Two days per week, about six children traveled the city to pick up candles from pious women, and this way be able to continue studying by the light of candles. Those that didn't give candles could contribute with some coins. They were many  candidates to travel around the city, and for that reason it was instituted some kind of a chance, since they were necessary only  6 children. 

Also, children went to house of women who just had a baby to read the " Shma ", or to visit a  seriously sick person to pray some Psalm chapters. All these  were additional incomes for Talmud Torah teachers. 


Jewish children of the city attended 5 Chadorim controlled by the Talmud Tora,  . The quantity varied continually, and it was calculated approximately that they were about 200 children.  


State Russian Schools


In Pruzhany  were not Russian State Schools[ix]  . The first ones began to open in 1847, in Vilna and Zitovir. To maintain these schools was decided to set an illumination tax . In this tax was also included the city of Pruzhany in 1845, but probably community activist ignored this disposition. In some communities of Grodno Gubernia, this tax was paid since previous times, but incomes were used to cover community (Kehila) debts . The community of Vilna in years 1831/1841 also used them for that objective. In Pruzhany were not   this type of schools, but in Grodno Gubernia, in big cities as Byalistok, Brest and then Slonim, opened up these schools. 


It is necessary to highlight that in years 50 of XIX Century, Russian government decided to open a Russian school in Pruzhany. They had already sent teachers, but the community through a bribe, could annul this disposition and  didn't open any school. In that time lived in Pruzhany many rich and progressive families. They had many commercial contacts and they carried out many trips. Some of them, even allowed themselves a liberal behavior, but community didn't dare to face those powerful people, and people said: if this happened to a poor merchant, it would had been already denounced  to the Army.   These families (the rich ones)  sent their children to receive general instruction. They decided to bring a teacher, a certain HOROVITZ that taught rich families children writing, mathematics, and Russian language.


The Jewish elite of that time, sent its children to the "School for noblemen". This school had a four year-old cycle, and besides general studies, they studied Polish. This school began to work in 1835. After the rebellion of  year 1863, when the repression was  severe with anything related to Poles, this school was closed, and in its place was inaugurated the "School Circle" whose pupil were children of rich families. They also sent their daughters to a "Private Boarding School" that worked in that time in Pruzhany.  


In the years 60 ( XIX century) arrived to Pruzhany LEIB STARINSKY who began to teach privately in homes of rich Jewish families.  Through his initiative was created a "Popular School" called "Narodnoia Yebreiskoye Upshilishtshe"[x] were he taught, and earned his salary. We ignore if this was a State Decree, because in the summary sent by Pruzhany Higher Chief - a certain KRILOV - to  General Mayor of Vilna, he mentions among other institutions existing in Pruzhany the "Popular School" ("Narodnaia Shkola"), maintained by local society by means of contribution of 200 rubles. In  same summary  was detailed which was income from illumination tax. The school was divided in two shifts: mid-day poor children studied free, and they were many students. The school had a single course in a room in the house of LEIZER the Doctor, in  Old Shereshev St. In same school, teacher STRARINSKY opened an evening class for middle class students, in which fees were paid. In 1874 the school finished working, teacher STARINSKY finished his functions, and then he worked as lawyer. If the community were interested in maintaining the School, for granted the State had designated another teacher, but local activists didn't give importance when School closed.  


There was not in Pruzhany any more "Narodnoia Yebreiskoye Upshilishtshe" or popular schools.   


Rusian Orthodox religious  education.


At the end of  XIX Century,  primary Russian Orthodox Religious Schools increased in Russia [xi], which began to work in most populated towns of the District. Besides Primary Schools, opened up in different places Teachers Seminars for mentioned schools. These Seminars, worked in  Churches and Monasteries. 


In Pruzhany, Teachers Seminar opened up in last years of  XIX century. It was located in  Derechin St., in the place in which there before was a Church[xii]. Curious of this Church was that there was not any document about the date when it was built. 


In Volume III of Vilna Commission Records, are detailed all Churches that existed in Brest District  and the names of their priest. There is highlighted that except the Church "Birth of  G-d's son" that was founded in 1473,  existed other three churches : 1) "Sacred Spirit", 2) "Trinity" and 3) " Preobrazshensky ". About Sacred Spirit Church says it was founded in 1570 where now is the cemetery of the Church, on Gurke St.. Of most of  Churches mentioned in documents of  XVI to XVIII Centuries,  foundation date is ignored.  


In 1786, in Brest Economic Register, is mentioned the location of a Church on Derechin St. In this document is called " Derechiner ". At the end of XIX Century the church did not exist, and legends circulated about its disappearance. We should obtain the conclusion that this church was destroyed in course of last 100 years and before end of XIX Century. It was not far from the city and we ignore how much time existed. We deduce that the Church was very old, and it was built in the means of the city by Count Kobrinsky, since it is impossible to imagine that the Church built in 1473 could be the first Church, since Pruzhany population would not travel to other places to pray.


It is possible that this church was dismantled in XIX Century because it was no longer necessary, and in that place was built Teachers Seminar that prepared futures teachers for  religious  elementary Russian schools.  


Besides the Seminar worked in Pruzhany a one year course of  state elementary religious teaching , instead of previous Primary School. This happened during time of POBEDONOSTZEV, when was imposed in schools orthodox religion in czarist Russia. 


Until end of last century only some Jewish students attended Russian schools [xiii]. Only at the end of  XIX century finished their studies there a dozen young Jewish students, with knowledge of Russian literature and their humanist ideals, and they began to look to overturn among people and spread out this knowledge.


Reformist Jewish institutions


From that time, when began to spread Zionist politics' ideas, was created a Zionist Youth Union with the name "Pirchei Zion". To this organization belonged not only mentioned youth, which studied in "Schools Circle", but also other people. These decided to create a School for poor children[xiv]. In  most important cities with Jewish population, the reformist " cheder " already existed, and according to this model  was founded in Pruzhany the school "Obraztzovy Cheder". The legality of this school was suggested to policeman " NADZIRATEL ", whom was promised as bribe the sum of 10 rubles in name of DAVID PISETZKY, because he had a permission to teach. In 1900 this school opened up in house of blacksmith MOISHE SHMIDT, on Waser St. Immediately were registered approximately 40 children of private "chadarim" and Talmud Torah's. The means for their maintenance were obtained through activists of that group and people sympathetic with them. At the beginning,  teachers were not paid for their work[xv].


Studies program  was according to the pattern of  Russian elementary school.  Was taught Russian, mathematics, geography and Russian history. All these subjects were taught in Russian. Was also studied Hebrew and Bible. Yiddish was taught once a week, some lines that teacher wrote and students copied.


This school acquired popularity with the name of "Poor's School" or "Common School" .Were registered many students and it had to  be transferred to another housing, in the house of A. LIATZKY (on Firemen back street) and of there to  " Broiz " back street, in front of old barracks. The revenues grew and  began to pay salary to some teachers. Were bought banks and useful school elements. The source of previous income, that is to say activist monthly payment [xvi] and money collected of literary veiled in Russian,  didn't cover all needs. Therefore the Institution President A. BIRENBOIM [xvii]  got to receive about 200 rubles for the school of taxes collected.


Most householders, treasurers of Talmud Torah's, and  own Rabbi, were not satisfied with this school arguing that males were deviated of G-d's road, and  also if they receive an intellectual instruction they won't have an occupation. The Rabbi called the authorities and demanded that they don't accept males of the Talmud Torah's, neither  teach them Bible. The demand was not successful. Was next to year 1904, and revolutionary atmosphere was higher every day. Police repression was most severe. The only political gendarme that visited the Institution, received his bribe.


Great part of activists'  overturned to socialist organizations that began to enter in Pruzhany. A part moved away toward other towns to continue studies and others emigrated to US.  The average money expenditures for students was every time higher, and it was very difficult to maintain the school. After four years of existence, it should close  in 1904.


In those years a group of young women alumni of Private Russian School " Pension " tried to found a school for women. This experience was very combated by town's  middle class , which commented: "Of where will we get service women if these receive instruction". For lack of economic resources this school worked one year.

[i] Plural of " Cheder " which textually means "room where met a small group of children to educational effects".

[ii] Private school in which  Bible and prayers were taught.

[iii] Interpretations of a French Rav (approximately XII century).

[iv] Name of Russian coin.

[v] Pray that claims our G-d is unique.

[vi] Man who does circumcision

[vii] This was the name of Hebrew language

[viii] Plural of "Bet Midrash" or  elementary third school level.

[ix] This material was sent by SH. D. BORKER

[x] Name of School was given during 1873 Reform. In Pruzhany these schools worked some years before this date.

[xi] This material was given by SH. D. BORKER

[xii] About this Church is told in town a legend which was transmitted with different variants. Was said that this Church was of oldest past centuries. Once, passed near the church a pious Jew. Members of Community went out to receive illustrious guest, and in their way was located Derechin School. One member of service personnel, to offend pious Jew, began to peal bells. Therefore, Jew cursed the church, which was destroyed..

[xiii] This report is transmitted by A. BIRENBOIM and Dr. M. FAINGOLD

[xiv] First President was MARKE FAINGOLD and Secretary was MOISHE FAINGOLD.  Members were M. A. AVERBUCH, ZILBERKVAIT, L. LICHTZIER, MALIN, SHPANIN, etc.


[xvi] A rich man MOISHE FISHMAN who lived in Warsaw, in an opportunity donated 100 rubles. Another person whose last name was VAISMAN contributed with 25 rubles. Mr. VAISMAN was a well-known Russian secret agent, that was complicated in the murder of Serbian King  Alexander in  1903,  and then was Investigations Chief in Warsaw. Was a sad figure in czarist Russia. He visited  Pruzhany with his wife that was daughter of "MEYERUK" the constructor, and sister of famous actress SHTRASFOGEL

[xvii] Were also attracted to this task  siblings VISHNIAK, siblings POMERANIETZ,  M. POLINOVKSY, SH. ROZENBLUM, etc.