N. Tzukerman 




During the mid XVII Century, one of the big conflicts in the history of Poland in general happened, in particular, for the Jewish community in the South East region of the former Poland. This was when a sad period of Jewish history took place in the name of the renowned Decrees TACH-TAT (1648-1649). In this time waves of Cossack rebellious peasants expanded though the whole South East of Poland, bringing with them desolation and destruction. Whole communities were destroyed, and thousands of Jews perished in the rebels' hands.


These Cossack rebellions not only were concentrated primarily in Ukraine and Volin, but they also reached the areas around Pruzhany, although the regular divisions of Chmelnitzky did not come the Pruzhany. The area suffered only aggressions from local peasants addicted to rebellion.  We find a writing of the famous SHABETAI HA'COHEN of Vilna, where he affirms that after the slaughter in Vladove, a town near Brest, sad news of Brest and surroundings arrived. Painful voices, brittle sounds and sobs were heard in the sacred communities of Brest, Pinsk and surroundings. This is also written by SHAPAR in his Chronicles of Israel. Material relating to the destruction of Kobrin was preserved, but in Pruzhany this kind of material was not found.


We find the name Pruzhany in the year 1659 when, in our city, the Lithuanian-Polish army had settled down in general barracks and, together, were in combat against the Russian army. The fighting was around Pinsk. This war exploded because of the coalition pact made by rebellious Cossacks with Russia.


Here in Pruzhany, Major HETMAN from the Lithuanian feudal state, Pavel Safeha, decreed that citizens of the district of Pinsk should be prepared to fight. Another of the documents that is preserved, among the materials of this time, is the notification to the Jew of Pruzhany, YACOV BEN SHMUEL. He could not pay the annual real estate tax because his revenues decreased so much because of the epidemic. In that period Pruzhany suffered a great epidemic that impoverished the local population.


During 1644, VLADISLAV IV King of Poland, traveled though different areas of his Kingdom to request credits and to collect new taxes for the war.


Rebellions took place everywhere then, and governmental war forces of Poland were too weak to face this powerful wave. The same year 1644, VLADISLAV visited Pruzhany. His popularity in our city is confirmed with the following words: "... according to the application of Jews of Pruzhany, and due to the intervention of members of the commission and the officials of our yard, I should highlight the solidarity that Jews demonstrated in the city of Pruzhany which is in the District of Brest".


Jews of Pruzhany took advantage of the fact that the King requested our collaboration, and presented another request to him that consisted of granting them a special privilege to strengthen their situation. It is not known which was the price to be paid, was but beyond doubt the Jews contributed a certain amount to National Treasury.


The different points of the privilege were signed in Warsaw on December 20 1644. This covered different aspects of the economic and religious life of the Jews. These privileges did not result in big changes in the life of Jews in Pruzhany. This is because the whole Lithuanian region enjoyed the privileges granted to all the Jews. King VLADISLAV IV remembers this and it is stated in his memoirs: "For the present, and by application of Jews of Pruzhany, we approved the general privileges granted by our predecessor of blessed memory, our majesty our father ZIGMUND III, for the Jews in the whole Lithuanian feudal state..."


These special privileges for Jews of Pruzhany strengthened their rights and this was very important.  It allowed the Jews of Pruzhany to buy cedar wood, plows and fields. At the same time we find a list for the year 1562 where 11 Jewish owners of parcels of lands outside the city are mentioned. This number in fact is very small, in relation to the number that the gentiles had, which was 262. However, it demonstrates that much of the time before, Jews were owners of properties. This privilege strengthened the existent situation and it offered them the security of continuing maintaining those goods.


King VLADISLAV IV granted Jews of Pruzhany the right to 1) buy houses in the center of the market and in surrounding streets, 2) manufacture alcoholic drinks for wholesale and retail sale, 3) be owners of taverns and business, 4) manage several occupations, 5) sell the meat from their own slaughter houses and, 6) pasture their livestock in the forests together with the livestock pastured by the local peasants.


A very important point of the privileges was to allow them to buy places to build a synagogue, and that if it was destroyed by fire, they could build another synagogue even if in another place and reconstruct the first one again. This is a very important case for that time, because it allowed the community the freedom of buying lands for their synagogue. The King added one single thing: the synagogue, externally, should not resemble that of a Catholic church. We should not conclude that, starting from this privilege, Jews began to build synagogues. As was recorded in Lithuanian Register, a synagogue had existed in Pruzhany since the year 1473.


All of these privileges were confirmed as is by later kings. It was mostly informal, because the privileges had not changed a lot, but on December 13, 1650 King IAN CASIMIR confirms the previous privilege with only one change.  It concerned the synagogue and stated, "Jews were not allowed to buy new parcels for their synagogues and it could only exist on the same parcel in which it was now located."


By another privilege, confirmed by IAN III in year 1677 (and also two years later, June, 15 1679), two Jews of Pruzhany MODECHAI BEN SHMUEL and ZAVEL BEN HILEL were called to record their names in National Registration.


During 1830 the privilege was edited, and was preserved until today. Thus it happened just as it was transmitted to us. There was a discussion between local peasants and Jews on the rights of shepherding of their livestock.  The peasants didn't allow the livestock of Jews to be shepherded in common lands under the pretext that they didn't have that right. For that reason the issue in the privilege was edited in that year where the right of the Jews on shepherding fields is restated.


Apart from the privilege mentioned above, Jews of Pruzhany received other privileges from later kings.


The original documents were in the Municipality, and during WWI they were taken to other places. In the year 1896 an inhabitant of Pruzhany, M.N. YANOVSKY, sent a letter to the Jewish historian, SH. DUBNOW, where he tells him that the privileges were written in parchments and that they are in the local Municipality.  In the same way, it was certified officially in an act in the Chancellery of the Governor of Vilna, in the year 1868.


This was the way of life of Jews during the XVII century and their rights and privileges, beginning from the time of VLADISLAV IV.