G. Urinsky




Kehila as institution existed in old Poland from XVI Century, and it's legal functions were annulled by Russian government in year 1844. The Kehila was in charge of Jewish population's religious and social life, and also in certain cases regulated economic life of its members. Was responsible in governmental eyes for collecting state taxes paid by members of the community. In sad period of Nikolai I reign, the Kehila also designated Jewish males for their presentation to military service. After year 1844, when the Kehila's legal rights were officially annulled, were limited it's functions to collect taxes paid by Jewish community  .


In  XVII and XVIII Centuries the small Kehila belonged to Brest District. At the end of  XVIII Century[i] was annulled the "Jewish Lithuanian Country Council" (Vaad Medinat Lite"), that is to say  Pruzhany  Kehila no longer was under the influence of Brest, and  became independent.  


Kehila's authorities


The Pinkas of Pruzhany Kehila began its registrations in year 1801 until year 1851. We find some registrations about the form in which elections were made in the Kehila. In the protocol of year 1838 we can read the following:


" ...With good luck (Mazal Tov) wishes, we, Head of Pruzhany's Saint Community gathered here, chosen by will of majority of "distinguished people", by order of the King and for law of Grodno Gubernia, we designate three people denominated by their name, to be responsible at the eyes of authorities during a three year period, according to King's order..."


Who were the distinguished men that choose the Kehila's representatives? It was not registered in the protocol [ii]. We only know that they should be in functions during a three year period. The protocol is signed by the slaughter of the community, that at the same time was the scribe of the Pinkas. This people - all together - were designated at the same time consultants of the members designated by the Kehila, as we find it in the protocol of year 1817:

"…these were elected by the Kehila. They will be summoned in each opportunity, and they will be responsible in front of local population's necessities. Each one of them will be called by his name when the "Parnás" of the Kehila summons them for monthly meeting, and no other person without being registered in the Pinkas may gather this meeting, either for an important issue or it would be non important. The suggestions or opinions will be accepted when they have the approval of the majority of them.  


This whole administration is according to the will of "distinguished men" of our city and their signatures are.


Appear the names of 23 people designated for the meetings, and the protocol was signed by seven of them. 




The Kehila had the load to collect taxes and to pay them to the King, had they financial possibilities or not. This is the situation found by community activists about funds available in year 1838. To be able to pay expenses from taxes to the government, they should request money loaned by private people, paying high interest rate and taking the responsibility to return the money with the income of taxes to alcoholic drinks, meat and bread.  In the protocol about the financial situation of the Kehila, we read the following:


"...Pinkas is open[iii] and the hand writes to remember every day of the year the debts to National Treasure that were not paid on time. From this year and until January 1, 1839, will be given to mentioned Kehila authorities , and they will pay in due time to National Treasure, the following:


Year 1837, 1170 rubles with 28 kopeks 


March 1838, 4990 rubles 

September 1838, 4970 rubles 

Total (approximately) 11.170 rubles[iv]. 


Until next year, 1839,  Kehila's Fund  has: 


Taxes for land leased: approximately 1800 rubles

Tax to meat: 1400 rubles 

Tax to bread: 1000 rubles 

Total:  4200 rubles 


This whole debt corresponds to previous authorities. They gave to current Board to pay mentioned obligations. Also, they gave debts contracted in cash and products that were registered and signed. Considering that the State demands payment of debts to National Treasure, we had to request a loan to several proprietors of our Kehila, for the sum of 1.170 rubles. The names of people are in second page, that is to say #136.


They will be returned to each one by means of the loan fund, plus 1% monthly, taking it from the money  received for leasing during year 1839. That is to say, after paying the annual debt to National Treasure during year 1839, the balance will be to pay to each one, immediately without postponement, added the percentage up mentioned. This General Assembly was carried out in Main Room of the Kehila, Tuesday Sivan 12, 1838, here in Pruzhany."


Then is mentioned the detail of people that lent money to the Kehila.




In 1839 National Authorities demanded to the Kehila the construction of a slaughterhouse.[v]. As registers the Pinkas Protocol they didn't have the money needed, and they should appeal to volunteer contributions .  


We transmit the content of the protocol here: a wealthy Jew left in his testament the sum of 100 "reds" for the "Mishna study group"[vi] of the Great synagogue, with the condition that the fund is untouchable, taking 10% of the sum for these destinies:


8% for the study group

2% for a fund to help Eretz Israel.


But was seen  that finally it was not 10% but 20%, and that year Government forced that the slaughterhouse was built. Were forced to move away half of the basic capital, that is to say 50 "reds", to build the slaughterhouse. But the income obtained of slaughtering would be  dedicated for same objectives of the testament, and in same proportion.[vii].


Vital records


Pruzhany's Kehila was practically always in a very difficult situation. In year 1838 the Kehila was forced to choose an official to carry out Jewish population's registration. The community did not assign him a fixed salary, but paid an amount for each registration, according to the economic situation of each person registered.  


" ...According to Government's order and laws of His Majesty the King, will be registered in a book under the supervision of a Rabbi elected  for this circumstance, people born and deceased among Jews. Jewish authorities decided that from now on, should not be given a name to a new born, male or woman, without Rabbi's YTZHAK KATZ consent, and they will receive from him a voucher that will allow them the registration. Each one will pay according to his economic position. The amounts were: 



Wealthy family: males 18 kopeks, women 9 kopeks 

Middle class: males 9 kopeks, 6 kopeks 

Poor: males 4 kopeks, women 3 kopeks. 



Wealthy families: 27 kopeks 

Middle class: 18 kopeks 

Poor: 9 kopeks 



Wealthy families: 27 kopeks 

Middle class: 18 kopeks  

Poor: 9 kopeks  


Deaths (males or women) 

Wealthy families: 18 kopikes. 

Middle class: 9 kopikes 

Poor: 3 kopikes. 


Tributes should be paid with silver coins. All who contravenes this law, will be considered rebellious and will not accomplish state laws.


With the approval of Kehila's authorities, on Tamuz 23, 1838. According to this law, we sign up on the day mentioned" 


Rabbi's salary payment


We find in a rabbinical manuscript of a later date (year 1860), the contribution of wealthy families to maintain rabbinical status of Pruzhany. The Kehila committed to pay a sum - important for that time - to the Rabbi, the Liturgical Singer and the service person (" shames ") as we find in  following manuscript:


" We, elder men [viii] meet in this General Assembly in our Pruzhany Holy Kehila. In this Assembly we decide unanimously to receive as Rabbi and Superior Tribunal, to direct the Great Bet Medresh and guide our Holy Kehila, the Illustrious Rabbi SHAUL ZELIK HA'COHEN, son of the illustrious Rabbi MEIR HA'COHEN. Those below signatories give him the Rabbinical Crown with the highest respect which he deserves, who will direct the sacred flock, and give to drink the lambs of  Purzhany's Kehila, with his deep Bible knowledge.  


We should enjoy all his indications and his words will guide us. Nobody of our community will rebel the authority of  His Majesty in matters related with religion or less important issues. We won't move from his guidance, right or left, according to laws and commands. This manuscript was given to the illustrious Rabbi,  by those below signatories  with desires of good luck and success for the three year period from now on.  


Following are the details:


a)       The Rabbi will receive a weekly payment of 5 rubles cash. Also a comfortable house and the necessary logs for heating the house. Was designated a controller of the expenses, to pay to the Rabbi immediately, with the help of G-d.  

b)      We approve that the Rabbi is liberated of local issues until mid-day, to dedicate that time to teach Torah and  Talmud, to prepare outstanding youths that listened the purity of his mouth, and receive every day an excellence lesson.

c)       The Rabbi will give a "Drasha"[ix] on "Great Shabbat"[x] and on "Regret Shabbat"[xi], and also during Saturdays selected by him.

d)      Fees for the Rabbi, the Liturgical Singer, and the service man (shames) will arise from marriages  carried out in our city with good luck (mazal tov) , or in a town belonging to our district. As usual. the Rabbi will receive half of amounts paid, and if the bride is of Pruzhany and the nuptial ceremony is carried out in another city, he will receive half of the amount previously settled down 

e)       Fees of "rabbinical trials" corresponds half to the Rabbi, and the other half to judges designated . Of divorces, the amount will be distributed according to Rabbi's suggestion.

f)        Amount of first "sandek"[xii] of each month belongs to the  Rabbi.[xiii]

g)      Fees of nuptial ceremony corresponds to the Rabbi, and he will decide if  gives it as donation. 


All above mentioned is an unanimous agreement, of all heart, volunteer and without discussion, as  it is proven by below signatory, today Cheshvan 18 1848, here in the Holy Kehila, Pruzhany[xiv]


In previous times, in 1807, the Kehila designated Rabbi YOM TOV LIPMAN, as is registered in the Pinkas, with a salary of one weekly silver ruble. 


Also had happened cases in which the Kehila accepted a payment made by a candidate to be in charge of  rabbinical chair. It is clear in the case of 1808 about the Rabbi ZEEV VOLF son of  Rabbi YOSEF YAKOV, who paid 1000 guilden for a 10 years Rabbinical contract. The money was distributed as follows:  


72 silver rubles, for the Major 

7 silver rubles to maintain the horse of a  Chancellery official   

35 silver rubles for logs purchase 

16 silver rubles for books whose destiny was the religion study group. 


A commitment was made: in case the Rabbi remained in his position a short time, for example two weeks, and he didn't continue in his position, he will lose the right of claiming the money. This was understood as "the marriage was not opportune". Later in year 1810, we find a registration about a trial between the Kehila and the Rabbi for 1000 guilden; the Kehila won the trial.


Annulment of Kehila's legal rights


In 1844 the government  decayed the legal authority of Kehila members. Didn't was leadership, neither "first and main person", and those that paid taxes no longer participated as candidates in elections, as we find in previous protocols. In year 1848, five people were selected for only one year, and was registered this way: "They will be leading the Kehila for all Community members needs. These participants, will be in functions only one year without reelection possibility. They will accept the position without any complaint". 


The Kehila situation was very difficult because of being retired legal rights, as we find in the protocol of 1851: "The situation of the Kehila is very difficult, and it cannot continue existing so far because of annulment of legal rights effective until today". Soon after this situation, was limited the time during which  Kehila members remained in function. They were called "Distinguished deputies". Were elected twelve, that is to say, every month were in functions four people that every three months were interchanged, during the three years during which they were in functions. 


The regulation of 1848 that established election of authorities for only one year was annulled, and "deputies" were elected to be in their positions  three years. Were limited the rights of the "Gabai" (Treasurer) who could not receive money of tributes without the consent of six representatives of the Kehila (money collected was deposited in the Municipality).


Taxes collected and their application


How much was the amount of money collected for  taxes in general , and where was invested? We don't know. In 1826 is registered in the Pinkas the bread tax for the sum of 1164 silver rubles. Was for the Kehila, besides incomes of the slaughterhouse as we mentioned and the income for public bath. In 1842 the Kehila prohibited absolutely to build private baths, and the person who did it would be  excommunicated. With regard to different taxes, in many opportunities the Kehila insisted that they should not be paid to private people, and should be paid only to people approved by Kehila  authorities, for its benefit.


The Kehila had intervention in economic life of its members, and fixed different regulations about some groups as the bartenders. Established the quantity of taverns in the city, and defined which could sell  wholesale. The same case happened with cereals trade.  When "got lost"  debts notes, were registered in the Pinkas, and if the paper was not found the debt  was annulled.


Kehila designated synagogues treasurers for a three year period. Also a "faithful and responsible" cashier was designated for money collection in synagogues. In 1824 the tailors group  built a synagogue, and the Kehila ordered that incomes during First Rosh Ha'shana and Yom Kippur would be dedicated to the "Great Synagogue and Bet Medresh". Also in the future, only two thirds of income would be for the own synagogue, and one third for the Great Synagogue.


Kehila worried that would  not be annulled and could be carried out, feasts and lunches in  circumcision acts. A declaration proclaimed it in the "Great Synagogue and Bet Medresh", and was registered in the Pinkas, but it has no date. There is also remembered that the execution of this precept was weak, because of years of hunger. Was also instituted a minimum payment of 18 groshen in all Synagogues and Batei Midrashim, when the liturgical singer honored a person to go up the octopus while Torah reading.  Many Jews of Pruzhany abandoned the place quietly in  opportune moment. This regulation is registered in 1802.


Other issues


After 1801 great fire, landowners wanted to remove Jews from their properties in market area, with the objective of building there taverns and business. The Kehila opposed strongly, and could achieve - through the intervention of Vilna District Governor  JOHAN FRIZEL - that those places were restored to original owners.  To avoid complaints, the Kehila registered the complete text of Governor's order in  Polish language, that was the original.


In 1825, the Kehila signed an agreement with a certain MOISHE BEN YTZHOK who should pay a certain tax annual amount, and with that payment he would be liberated of other debts. A copy of this agreement written in Polish, is registered in the Pinkas.


The Kehila fought rebels with most hard means, even of own society, but  tried not to harm them. A characteristic conflict happened with one of Kehila members. "With regard to the vile person MORDECHAI ben Reb YEHUDA LEIB DERECHINSKY, he opened his mouth and made inadmissible things". He broke official documents, and he -  write members of the community - has to be given to  National Justice, but it was not good for the community. For that reason they decided to move him away, not to allow him to participate in any lease, and prohibit him in general to be part of Kehila's issues. Neither could he be called Reb, but only for his name.  All this was confirmed with a warning: all the time that he remains in Pruzhany, any regret request won't be accepted. This protocol was registered in the Pinkas in 1812, and was signed by authorities of the Kehila.


Another extraordinary case happened in 1862. A Jew of Pruzhany was accused of violating a 8/9 year-old girl. Which way reacted Kehila members? It is ignored. There is only registered a laconic note in general, about YOSEF LEIB ben SHMUEL TZVI SANDLER who violated the girl MIRIAM bat Reb PINCHAS, on Friday, eve of Sacred Saturday.


In second half of XIX Century, happened a tragic case. It was a fight between the Kehila and a person. In Pruzhany lived a certain VELVEL YUDELEVSKY, rich man owner of a beer still. He was a well educated man and offered his children European education. In the city he was known as "YUDELEVSKY the writer", because he knew to write Russian, and was erudite in laws. He was in conflict with Kehila authorities. He was pursued for this cause . In the year ' 70 of  XIX century one night fired the beer still of SHVEIKOVSKY, in the yard POLINOVE, in city entrance.


Was suspected that YUDELEVSKY - his competitor-  was the cause of the fire. Jewish witness arose headed by the member of the Kehila Board YUDEL FAYN, saying that they saw as VELVEL YUDELEVSKY had sent men to produce this act. YUDELEVSKY was judged, he lost all his rights, and was sent to Siberia. His still was confiscated in benefit of SHVEIKOVSKY. It was an open tribunal in market square, as was then usual, was shaved half of his head, and was stuck a yellow patch to his back.


Population grew up a legend about the testimony of YUDEL FAYN, in the sense it was false, and after as short time he died suddenly. The son of VELVEL YUDELEVSKY, after this history, distributed a pamphlet in  Hebrew titled: "This is for Yehuda" (that is to say YUDEL FAYN). There he tells what happened, attacking Kehila authorities headed by YUDEL FAYN (we could not obtain this document).


About YUDEL FAYN tells Jew-Russian writer NILOKAI PRUZHANSKY in his memoirs: when he was 17 year-old age, in the years ' 70, he went to that of FAYN to obtain a passport to travel to Vilna. FAYN don't give it, and he was forced to appeal to Russian Military Commandant's intermediation that had defeated Polish rebellion in 1863.[xv]


In Pinkas we don't find signs of "Chasidic" movement, since  didn't penetrate this thought and  practice in Pruzhany's population. . It is very difficult to define which were the causes, because at the same time in the near cities, as Kobrin and Brest in the East, and Slonim in the N.E the "chasidism" gained many adherent. A tradition was conserved, in the sense that the cities with acronym KRPS[xvi] (Kosove, Rozhinoi, Pruzhany and Selcz), didn't have "chasidim""[xvii]


After this, were removed last Kehila legal functions, as recruits selection and taxes collection, and did no longer existed as official affairs institution.

[i] TN: Coincidently with third partition of Poland. A great Jewish settlement began in Pruzhany around year 1800

[ii] TN: Even the author did not find the names, you can see them in our web, thanks to our research. See Kehila's  section.

[iii]All Pinkas is full with grammatical and style errors.

[iv] The addition is not exact.

[v] The slaughter house was located in Bod St. , near the river,  and stayed there until 50 years ago.

[vi] Post biblical laws.

[vii] Prices paid by animals slaughtering: for an ox 20 groshen, for a cow 15, for a calf 3 to 5 months  old or a sheep, 5 groshen.

[viii] Aged people had a privileged status, because was understood they had the wisdom to drive Kehila's issues.

[ix] Interpretation of biblical texts. .

[x] Saturday before Pesach

[xi] Saturday before  Rosh Ha'shana

[xii] Person who holds the  cushion on which is laid baby to be circumcised.

[xiii] In the regulation of year 1822 was designated the "sandek" of every month , by Kehila's leader, without the obligation of contributing a gift.

[xiv] In manuscript are more than 100 signatures, of most distinguished families, and among them those of:: TZADOK URINSKY, MICHAEL BIRNBOIM, ZELIK MOISHE and MOISHE ARON BORKER,  MOISHE ZEV VOLF POLINOVKSY. Among fist signatures we find that of  ZEEV VOLF YUDELEVSKY, about whom we will write later.

[xv] N. Pruzhansky, a well known Jewish- Russian writer from the end of XIX century and beginning of XX's was born in a village next to Pruzhany.

[xvi] In Hebrew is written as the word "karpas" (without vowels) which means potato

[xvii] We have to consider that in this time lived the  "Gaon (genius) of Vilna", the religious  leader  most opposed to Chsidism, born in Selcz next to Pruzhany. Is told that 50/60 years before  , a Pruzhany rich man called MINTZ, and his son in law born in Kobrin, wished to open a "chasidic study group" in Pruzhany, but due to contextual resistance they gave up the plan.