SELETS YIZKOR BOOK
THE SESSIONS OF THE “VAAD MEDINAT” (COUNCIL OF THE STATE OF LITHUANIA) IN SELETS
by Mordechai Bernshtein
From the “Council of the Four Lands” or, as it was named, the Four Polish Provinces (Greater Poland, Smaller Poland, Russia and Lithuania) that existed from the year 1581 to 1764. In the year 1623, there was a separation of the “Council of the State of Lithuania”, which existed from 1623 to 1761. Originally, the Council of Lithuania was divided into three great communities - Brist-Dalita, Grodno, and Pinsk, with neighboring small communities. Besides them, there also existed in the Lithuanian Council, the large towns of Vilna and Salutsk, with their surrounding areas.
There is not here any place, for an exact dissertation on the “Council of the State of Lithuania”, one of the interesting events in the life of the Jewish Diaspora, one of the many phenomenons from the Jewish autonomy in their spreading out among the nations. From a kingdom within a kingdom, it is already about that instructive chapter of our story; there is a rich and diverse literature. However, we are taking in a fragment from that chapter in our book, because of the fact that of the thirty-three meetings which the Lithuanian Council had for the duration of its existence, thirteen came from the territory which is treated in our book, namely, twelve in Selets and one in Pruzany. the rest were from Chomsk, five in Brisk-Dalita; four in Zavidlava in Grodno: two each in Misletski, Krinki, Alkanik, Amdor; four in Slutsk; to one in Tzuney. Another meeting is not known about exactly where it met or its significance in Visake-Litovsk.
As we can see, Selets was the first place of the towns where the sessions of the Council were held. And another detail - generally of the 33 mentioned sessions of the “Council of the State of Lithuania”, there were enacted 1,010 decisions or rules; from those, at the time of the meeting in Selets, 395 were enacted; that is, more than a third. The fact is that what is included in our book in the section, Selets, is permanent. The shtetl, Selets, didn’t deserve that honor because in a former time it was one of the prominent and great communities; rather it was far from honored, not like the great communities of Brisk, Grodno, Vilna, Pinsk or Slutsk. It was even backward relative to Pruzany, Zavidlava and Mich. It was significant for another reason, the fact that Selets should have for itself as much as 12 sessions of the Council. There they had, you know, the delegation that was quiet and effective. They knew their job, in conducting, not disturbing, with extraneous facts; that was their true business.
Actually, we find in the protocols of the Lithuanian Council very many rules and regulations about the disorders on the part of outsider factions and also about singular troublemakers. That was often the reason why they had to change the place of the meeting; changing from one place to another. We found in the protocols clear hints about quarrels during the meetings, and even reports. As a result, they had to search here and there where to go, so as not to go against their principles, that an unfriendly eye would bring harm to the session and its participants. At first it was understood that the meetings would be held in Brisk-Dalita. There, actually, they held the first three Council sessions for the years 1623, 1626 and 1627. The reason for that decision we found actually in Rule number 68 of the first session in Brisk-Dalita. It says there that it was decided to come together in Brisk-Dalita. In the life of the Colonel Meir, being that he is very old, he is not able any more to go out. He is not able to come from his town and its environs at any time, so that he could meet together with the heads of the people of the State of Lithuania, therefore the Council will come to the holy community here in Brisk. (That means that our Colonel, the same as our teacher and Rabbi Meir, is so old already and cannot go out of the town any time when the Council of the State of Lithuania meets, that the Council will come to the holy community here in Brisk).
Rabbi Meir, because of whom it was decided that the meeting would be held in Brisk-Dalita, was the son of the legendary, Saul Wall (Voll), who was involved with stories of the Jews of Poland, with a half-fantastic story like the “First Polish King.” In the later Protocol of the Lithuanian Council, he actually reminded us with the title, “Colonel Meir Wall.” He was, at the time of the first Council session, very, very weak, while at the second and third sessions of the Council in Brisk-Dalita of the years 1626 and 1627, he couldn’t personally sign the protocol (minutes) of the meeting. The community scribe had signed for him, in agreement with the colonel’s wishes. In the signing of the minutes for the delegation of the Council in 1627, we find: Nachum Issachar Ber, community scribe, Brisk-Dalita, the signer, Zvi Kavod, Colonel Meir Wall, who injured his hand. May he be cured. Amen, Selah. That means that the secretary, Issachar Ber, had signed on the order of Rabbi Meir Wall, who had a hand injury.
Between the third Council-session of the year 1627 and the fourth of the year 1628, the significance of Rabbi Meir’s death was that it led to the possibility of moving the sessions to another place in the State of Lithuania. The great and proper get-together of the Council, according to its rules and regulations in the year 1628, was to hold the meeting in Pruzany. It was decided, generally, that the place of the Council will always be in the community of Pruzany. (the rule of the symbol KTZH - Hebrew letters). So the sessions will definitely be in Pruzany, and they should meet there every 2 years (concerning those meetings of the Council in Pruzany, which, according to the records, was a special capital). The decision, that the Council sessions should meet in Pruzany, was not carried out in their lifetime. Something interfered. The later fifth session of the Council occurred in 1631 in Brisk-Dalita. After the session in Brisk, a duration of 15 years elapsed, and then the next six sessions were held in Selets. After those sessions in Selets, they tried out something new, to put real order in the Council sessions. A crisis developed in the State of Lithuania. The project was that, as the meetings were being held in the three districts, according to the agreed order, twice in the Brisk region, once in the Grodno region and once in the Pinsk region, there was a bad omen. But also, the discussion was not realized. There came the panic years from 1648 and 1649, the Chmelnicki slaughter. One meeting of the Council was held in a small shtetl (Mistetski) of the Grodno district. From the subsequent minutes, I found out about the disorder in the holding of the meeting of the Council. On the one hand something that they threw in the face about the gathering of the Jews, on account of the authority, and secondly, an inner conflict, which started a fight, on the succession of rules on the running of the sessions. Actually, it shows in the decision that we should worry “about peace and quiet” during the Council sessions. In one decision, it says we should have the sessions in Chomsk. If the will of the community of Pinsk (Chomsk had heard of the district of Pinsk) was tempted by the decision, the gathering should meet in peace. (security and peace). In a second case, it was decided that we should appoint the leader of the community from the district where the gathering will take place. If he, as the number one of the community, is bound by the rule, a fourth of a year before the term of the session, he should be concerned and rule on the importance of peace and order at the meeting of the session.
In a duration of twenty years, again the meeting had to be held in Chomsk and in Selets. That means: instead of the towns in the neighborhoods of Pinsk and Brisk-Dalita. Suddenly, something happened when the Council held its session in Zabludov (in the Grodno region). That meeting suffered a disturbance (for what reason is not known) and was transferred to Krinki.
After that disturbance and a change of meeting place, we find in the minutes the clear meaning of libelous acts, concerning informers about what we must do about the business of the sessions of the Council and the customary rules. We had to be careful in traveling to the session, and, when we turn back from the gathering.
That anxiety and uncertainty had probably brought about the changes to the outside and the quiet shtetl, Selets, where there was appropriate atmosphere, and where a great number of Council sessions took place.
The twelve sessions in Selets took place on the following dates:
1. In the month of Elul, 1632, when rules 251 to 271 were passed.
2. In the month of Elul, 1634, when rules 272 to 305 were passed.
3. In the month of Elul, 1637, when rules 306 to 349 were passed.
4. In the month of Elul, 1639, when rules 350 to 401 were passed.
5. In the month of Elul, 1644, when rules 402 to 422 were passed.
6. In the month of Elul, 1647, when rules 423 to 450 were passed.
7. In the month of Adar, 1655, when rules 502 to 526 were passed. *
8. In the month of Cheshvan, 1662, when rules 527 to 555 were passed.
9. In the month of Ab, 1670, when rules 629 to 678 were passed. *
10. In the month of Tammuz, 1673, when rules 679 to 706 were passed.
11. In the month of Tishri, 1684, when rules 774 to 799 were passed. *
12. In the month of Nisan, 1700, when rules 906 to 909 were passed. *
*(No mention is made about where the missing rules were passed)
As we had previously mentioned, of those twelve sessions of the Lithuanian Council, which met in Selets, there were 395 rules passed. Therefore, it will be interesting to learn all that was known about the affairs that took place in those sessions in Selets, which ended up as rules.
Of three of those gatherings (of the years 1632, 1634, and 1684), the budget of the whole Lithuanian Council, or, as it was called, the State Accounts, was passed. It is also understood that other continuing business was handled. What kind of business and problems then existed? Without doubt, one problem would have been printing all the decisions word by word, whatever they are. It would have led us to the other world”, and would have opened for us a manner of new world; behavior, direction and customs; attitudes between individuals and relations from the individual to the group; the ties between one community and another; from the Jewish communities to the neighboring non-Jewish world; but such accurate and precise work is adjusted for an edition in another manner. We want to be satisfied, therefore, with the chapter headings by noticing the characteristic and remarkable rules; such that we can take out a moral lesson for our present time.
The greatest amount of the regulations, in general, is concerned with all kinds of taxes (both for the Jewish community and the others’), rules pertaining to the world of trade and work. (Agreements, leases, supervision of the border, holdings, inheritance of businesses) about inner concerns of the community, attitudes toward the holy vessels, the Rabbis, the ritual slaughterers, the judges, the teachers, preachers and the like; concerning troublemakers in the separate communities, keeping the Sabbath (by village Jews; leaseholders, notaries, innkeepers) and other trades (from the religious kind of life.)
And also, was it the legal affairs that had a relevance to a time of 300 years ago and more; is it worthwhile to count them and put aside and wipe out from them the archive dust, and today get acquainted with them?
Such, as an example, is Rule # 259, from the Selets meeting of the year 1632. It is worthwhile showing in that regulation to invite a Jew to live with his wife in a village, or another settlement, if it is the only Jewish family there. He can only live there on condition that there is another Jewish family there, or he has a Jewish servant; so that, when he goes away, his wife will not remain alone; either with a Jewish tenant or a Jewish servant.
At the same meeting, a second rule was taken up, one that had, as its goal, to warn all the Jewish families. This was Rule # 260, where it says: (we bring the account in Yiddish translation). “One must not remove any teacher from a congregation or settlement in the Lithuanian State, unless he has a written authority from the Beth Din (the Jewish Religious Court) of his village. As he goes, the teacher has the permission and wants his wife to accompany him. If he does not have with him that type of written permission, he must worry that, in a half-year’s time, he must be certain he has come to the community, and he must get such permission. If he doesn’t do that, they will expel him from the job, throw him out, and they will put him out with all kinds of coercion and pursuit in the world, until he will want to turn back to his home - to his wife.
Interesting is Rule # 280 from the Selets meeting of 1634, concerning someone who then wanted to travel to the Land of Israel. In the regulation, we read:
“Afterwards, is the case of the Torah scholar, Joseph Bar (son of) Eliezer, from Brisk, whom we have known from a long time ago to the present. He is one of the honored people of the land, an elder and a leader of the State, and he is an honest man, and all his acquaintances know him. He came to us and left his wealth (of knowledge) as God gave him, and he had the motive to go travel to the Land of Israel. Everyone knew how difficult is the task, that holy task to travel to the Holy Land. Great is the expense; far is the way, and it is a difficult burden on us; but we have decided that we will pay him with the same goodness that he has shown; so he can eat the fruit for his trouble; and we decided to give him money from the treasury of the State, 80 thalers for the time he is on his way, and a little more we decided to give from the treasury, as long as he lives. And 40 thalers a year that will be from the donations and alms, which will be collected in the State of Lithuania, for travel to the Holy Land. The Gabbai (synagogue manager) in Lublin had to pay out for travel to the Land of Israel by the scholar, Joseph Bar Eliezer. This is a law of the State and cannot be changed. (Month of Tevet, 1634)(Jan.-Feb.)”
Concerning the forenamed Joseph Bar Eliezer, who, more than 300 years ago, wanted to leave for the Land of Israel, we know, from the minutes of the Lithuanian Council, a whole succession of interesting details.
It was known around that he was on of those who produced and put together the accounts of the Lithuanian Council (the bills of the State). He also was one of those collectors for the appraisers, who knew how much this or that community must pay, or which individual “big cheeses” must appear before the Council. His signature as the custodian of the funds for the aforementioned is found in the rules. Concerning the telling of the points 99 and 100, from the first meeting of the Lithuanian Council, which took place in 1623. Those decisions were very characteristic, both for their activity and for their conditions, which he carried out.
It was decided that General Joel (written as Joseph, sometimes as Joel), from Brisk, would ride around and travel around the land both far and wide (length and width) in the shtetls from the borders of the holy community of Brisk and its surroundings, shtetls and villages, in every place where there was a Jewish settlement, to where they reached the influence of the holy community (congregation) of Brisk. He must still undo the taxes from the Jews, from the suckling baby to a grown adult (man or woman) and all types of lodgers (for whom taxes were designated). Let him have two splendid choices: in one there must go the gold of the already definite tax payers who figure in he Jewish tax list, and in the second, must go the sums from the other paupers who figure in the tax lists, that were not taken in. And listed also at the time, were visitors (alleged new taxpayers, whom no one knew when putting up the tax lists, before the affected year). He is obliged to bring a written list of all the places he has been, both communities and settlements. Also, we authorized that Rabbi Joseph (Joel) make a new Jewish community tax for all the congregations and surrounding areas of the holy community of Brisk, which are included in the current tax lists. He has for a week put a burden on himself to find a solution; that he will perform his work faithfully, will not be partial to anyone and will do his missions with rectitude.
Far away, a wage was just established and working conditions, by that delegate.
For the wages of Rabbi Joel (Joseph) (remembered in heaven), he received 200 guldens from the State Treasury and from the community from which he came. They must attend to him from one place or the other. They have to pay for his travel expenses everywhere, except Vilna.
That Rabbi Joseph-Joel was one of three State travelers. Besides him there were two others - riding around in the State of Grodno - Rabbi Eliezer, the son of Chaim of Horodna, and from the area of Pinsk, Rabbi Aaron, son of Moshe of Pinsk. In the statutes they were thus titled (named).
“And it came out to us by edict and law to send out delegates for the purpose of traveling, who fear God, men of truth, enemies of profiteering, wise, righteous and known men.” (Hebrew translation) That means - we accepted a statute to send out delegates, God-fearing, men of truth, who have hated money, wise, righteous and known men. In that category, the aforementioned Joseph-Joel probably heard that, for the time of his work (all told 11 years from 1623 to 1634), he had conducted himself with so much esteem, and had such earnings, that the State had decided to send him, on their account, to the Land of Israel and thereby decided on a lifelong pension. Whether he actually traveled to his faraway goal, the minutes do not tell.
A big move was the decision of the assembly to place limits against each luxury item, together with clothing, and against waste during celebrations. The point was written too much. The beginning was the hate within the Jewish community itself, and also the agitation on the part of the non-Jewish inhabitants. Also, there were times of sadness after edicts and slaughter. Also, from one of the sessions in Selets (from 1637), really there was a lot spoken about the difficult position of the Jews, and how hard was the previous ban on luxury clothing, on jewelry and silk wear, and expensive furs. There were very precise rules that had to be concerned with modesty at feasts and other examples.
Rule (59?) - About the regulation relating to clothing, which was already defined earlier (at a council meeting) and not kept, it was decided that the earlier regulation was effective and even stricter. Velvety clothes were forbidden in a ban already in vogue. Clothing with gold trim was forbidden. No one could make cut sleeves trimmed with gold or matching silver. Also they could not make sable hats (streimels).
Rule 310 - A slack in the business (affecting the making of clothes in those days) in cloth; the women could wear nice clothes only on the three holidays, Pesach, Sukkot, and Shavuot, and not more than that. Also, the best man of the wedding party, during slack season, should not do any sewing.
Rule 311 - When there is a slack (in business), they should not hang any pearls or other expensive stones, not even rubies.
Rule 312 - A chip of silver or gold, even imitation, they should not wear on luxury clothing; a woman who already has it a long time on her clothing has to take it off.
Rule 314 - Whoever makes a wedding for a daughter, and gets help from a charity or from relatives, the bride must not make any silk clothes.
Rule 316 - On holidays, no one (man or woman) should entertain relatives or friends, wearing marten fur.
Rule 317 - For the duration of two years, people should not dress with gold or silver, except the bride on the day of her wedding and on the Sabbath of her wedding.
Rules 318 & 319 - The wives should not by any means dress up with gold chains and gold rings, nor any pearls on their neck.
Rule 320 - Pearl crowns are forbidden, coming from bad habits, even for a young virgin.
Rule 324 - Also, the tailors are forbidden to sew such clothes, which are, in agreement with the regulations, banned. Also, the craftsmen, who will make the forbidden articles, will be very guilty, so as to lose their tenure.
Rule 327 - Concerning those which are not too necessary for feasts, it was determined that each community or settlement where there is a Rabbi, the latter must make certain that, at every celebration, the paying guests have to be asked, according to their dues, and, after that time, no other man shall come to a feast, if he is not asked through the Shamash (sexton). In a settlement where there is no Rabbi, the nearest beth din (Jewish religious court) to the settlement must make the connection.
The Session in Selets of 1639 was concerned a great deal with the fate and care for the neglected Jewish boys who come from foreign lands and who must be in custody; there must be a special rule concerned with them. About the Jewish boys who are from those lands, who left and came from very far, naked, without clothes, and barefoot; woe to the sons who are thrown out from the table by their parents, and they wander the streets, and no one takes them in. They have no one to lean on besides their Father in Heaven and in the pity of the Jews; those who pity them have decided that I should take charge, in our State, of 57 children. They must find protection under our wings. We must give them handouts from the different congregations in the nearby surroundings; they must get food, clothes and footwear. Young people, to whom God gave wisdom in their hearts, should be given education; they should be sent to a Hebrew School or other school. Young boys, who are raw, as far as learning is concerned, should be helped to find a job; they should learn a trade, a craft. They should not be hanging around without doing anything. And the children will be distributed in a divided way. For the Brisk congregation and the surrounding congregations, 35 boys. For the Grodno congregation and environs, 10 boys. For the Pinsk congregation and environs, 12 boys.
What could happen to a boy who comes from a foreign land? From where and why did they come to the towns in the State of Lithuania? It would not have been told in the fearful regulation. A second regulation from the same session in Selets sheds a little light on that subject. That is in the regulation where it says: Small children, male and female, who were exiled and come from an Ashkenazic land, must be accepted in any congregation to which they come, conspicuously, in order to become a “mensch”. They must ask them precisely their name, the names of their relatives, of the families and from which towns they come. And they have to write down in a notebook that information, so that, God forbid; there must not be a wedding between a brother and a sister.
Listen, 300 years ago, just 300 (1639 - 1939), before the Brown Shirts began their bloody march over the surrounding areas of former Jewish towns in Lithuania, already the Council from those towns had to deal with the escapees and the exiles from the Ashkenazic lands.
From the same kind also came the regulations in Selets where it was told in the decisions: “So, as we have seen, to our great sin, as happened here, such a taking of souls of Jewish children, by those who want to convert them. We have agreed to make up a special fund from the town account, in order to save them, and, if a father or mother, God forbid, go leave the Jewish faith, and take their children with them, so also, with that fund of the town, try to save the children.”
As we see, those were confusing times, on the one hand, exiled to Germany, plucked out refugee children; on the other hand they tried on the part of the Christian faith to seize souls. And then the conversion became a cure for keeping alive. Hand in hand, with countless wonderful examples of encouraging martyrdom, they also increased their role as dissidents of going over to Christendom. It was rare that they opposed their father or mother, who would not be able to resist the temptation, and, in their heart perhaps, thought that with a favorable opportunity, they would come back to Jewishness. God help us to save the souls of the children, and they must find that the elders must truly willingly put the children into Jewish hands, at the time they themselves are fleeing and going to convert.
That situation also cancelled the economic position of the Jews. That is to be seen from the special regulations for the Selets Council of the year 1639 about runaways, which means simplifying bankruptcies. Among the rules of the same council, one is available which speaks of the paupers of the world, who come to the Lithuanian towns. Not only from a distance did the Lithuanian Jews bring news concerning the pursuit and edicts. Also in a rough place that was in the abyss of the Lithuanian State, they began to come out publicly against the Jews. In the minutes, they actually wrote down in a simple Yiddish one case in the same council of Selets in 1639, the rule about “a bad business in a case of gifts of our ancestors, the Rabbis, in the holy Lithuanian Congregation”. Also about the hated legal matter from one case, which is full of blood in Vilna, the rule has decided that, in the face of that bad business, the town must give up in various payments 5,000 Guilden (money). It ends “if God wills, the payment for the good of the society; there will be written in the Constitution “that means if the intercession will be ended as heard, they should write in the Constitution - that means in the minutes of the Polish ‘Seym” (Congress).
Those runaways are listed in the minutes of the Lithuanian Council in an important place. Already, in a meeting earlier of the Council (of 1637 also in Selets), three rules (307, 335 and 345) were taken up with that anguishing affair, the exile of the Jews that must be organized with the students of the middle schools, and even of theological seminaries, often actually called the exile of the student runaways in the towns where the congregations have searched. On the contemporary manner, it came out publicly against that exile with a bribe to buy back the teacher, so that they should pay respect to the students, and, on the other hand, they could get strong youth (no Jews); they should avoid Jewish homes during such runaways, that is, in order to fear those rules.
About the associates of the town, in the business of the act of lying...bring them out, so they go out to the congregation, starting on that day, to be persuaded on vengeance or limit and barrier to the days to come. Because of one they will do honor, so that, God forbid, for the future, there won’t be any concerning the participation of the town in falling from a falsehood. The expenses that such a congregation will give out from today, and also by intervening to take vengeance or prevention, in the coming days, of a runaway, which has already happened, or which will, God forbid, happen.
Each community, which carries the name of a congregation, is obliged to lease for school money (men’s), whether in the community itself, or in the villages, or in the shtetls, which are close to it. If they don’t have any possibility, they have to help with town funds, through one of the leaders of the town.
About the affair of the holy congregation of Brisk, in which there was a runaway, there was an intervention in which people gave what they could afford, which would cover the expenses and would figure in the account of the town.
The fragments brought over from those regulations that were taken in Selets, about the matter of the runaway actually tell what kind of group that was. We had earlier heard about a runaway in Vilna, and it was told about a second one in Brisk, and about leasing in the town and thereby “and means actually healthy guards who will resist the wild students.” (It reminds us of the wild students in the same Vilna 300 years later in the time of the tragedy) The matter was so important and so bad that the Council session gave wide powers to the congregations to give out money, so as not to add confusion and prevent them from repeating.
In that session in Selets (in the year 1639) what was decided was a technological organizational affair, to which Selets gave great importance. Besides the fact that the shtetl was a place where the sessions or the gatherings took place; of the Council of the State of Lithuania, there is a special regulation in which it was decided that that will be a place for special get-togethers. The regulation 410 says:
“It was decided that every year on the 15th day in the month of Ab, the representatives of the three congregations should send one important delegate to Selets, where the duty of the State would be worked out. Those three persons should not take out their expenses from the group funds; they should only set up a special register of their expenses. They can spend up to 100 guldens. The three mentioned representatives must follow no other rules of the State, nor mix in any other rules of the account of the State. Those three were the actual finance-ministers. Without good reason, there was a mishap that affected all of Selets, so that those three, with a single solution, come year after year.
Speaking of that session in Selets, it was worthwhile to bring the report of the towns, which will be in the minutes of the afore- mentioned report. From the districts can be mentioned: Brisk, Minsk, the people of Russia, Grodno, Pinsk and Vilna. These congregations can be mentioned: Dvoretz, Zhetl, Moush, Palatzk, Velitze, Smargan, Krashin, Palanke, Simkavitch, Chamsk, Vichav, Kavrin, Kapulia, Stolavitz, Niesvietel, Slutsk, Navaredak, Slonim, and Kovne.
From places outside of the State of Lithuania, rules that have a connection with Prague, Lublin and Warsaw were established for that session in Selets. From a later sitting of the Council in Selets (in 1644), we want to bring two rules. In one, it speaks of a regulation, “parasite” as one should avoid such a misfortune, not to commit oneself to it; worthily, it says there: “And, in order to remove the obstacle, a roaring sound will come out from us“.
We will listen (in the synagogue) to part of the congregation of Selets for a big warning; then no one will come to mind, not a single one, nor many, to begin a business with a parasite. That means, in order to remove the roughness, the high voice, which has been heard, must come from there, in the local congregation of Selets (in the synagogue), with the big warning that no one should come to think, not a single one, or many, to begin with the regulation - “parasite”. There were already a lot of scholars who have looked for the meaning of the mysterious word “parasite”, because one must give out such a severe warning.
Professor Shimon Duvnov’s (and others after him) interpretation is that it means strangers to learning that which is available is puzzling, like strangers to Israel, like parasites. Strangers are difficult for the Jews, like a contagious illness. It is thus worth interpreting the meaning of that warning on account of those which multiplied coming from those whom the Christians had converted and which later gave rise to much trouble in the Christian world.
Some of the strangers have proven that they did it after the change in government of the enemies of Israel, who used to play at some time the sad role of outspoken people from Hadar, who used to make revelations about the Jewish “home-life”. Incidentally, the regulation, “parasite” was treated a second time in a further meeting of the Council, and it was about the problem of the resolution that was brought out at the “Council of the Four Lands.” One portion is from the convention of the Council of the Four Lands in Lublin in the year, 1644, and a second portion is from the year, 1681, which was taken up in the session of the Council of the Four Lands in Lentschne.
A sign of the dejection in the feeling of the Jews of that time is the regulation of the same session. It says, “Today there shall be no one thinking to build a synagogue, a new wall, except if they have had permission from the leaders, the heads of state, of the three highest congregations, when they have a consultation. That means that, firstly, a session of the Council of the State of Lithuania could issue a permit to build a shul of brick and cement. The style is not precisely known. Partly, it means personal motives have dictated the decision, as no one can undertake to build such buildings on behalf of the congregations when steeped in debt.
A second reason is that the mood of the present time controlled the Jewish population. The reason for that mood was the later bloody holocaust of the Chmelnitzki highwaymen that actually led to the Messianic movement. As the end was near, as the troubles followed, the Messiah, Shabbatai Tzvi (a false messiah) had a set-up partly getting ready for his movement.
From the meeting of the Council in Selets in 1647, it is necessary to recall the next three sessions, which tell about the contemporary way of life.
In the regulation # (?), it is worth dealing against matches, in which a young man, younger than 18 years old, falls in love without the knowledge of his parents.
The Rule 437 regulates the manner of gifts for the king; thanks to the enemy, he will go through the three highest congregations.
In the Rule 440 it speaks about the various edicts and about the others who kidnap Jewish children and convert them.
After the recalled six sessions of the Council of the State of Lithuania, which are one more of the others to occur in Selets, there is another gathering in Selets due to happen (after the gatherings in Mistetzki, Visake and Chamsk in 1655). That was one of the hardest times in the life of the Jews of Western Europe in all, and the life of the Polish Jews in particular. Those were the years after the Chmelnitzki slaughters from 1650 to 1660, and after the edicts entered from 1655 to 1664. The regulations of that session breathed actually with the bitter conditions of the Jews in the Lithuanian provinces.
The Rule 502 concerns strongly the contempt of the Torah by the Jewish children.
The Rule 503 concerns the very harsh rules of the productivity of prisoners of war from the ones left alive, who were sent to prison.
The Rule 504 is concerned with the tax rolls of the “Russian people from Gamaltim”, of the 3 fugitives who ran away from the Russian State.
The Rule 511 repeats again the former agreement about one prohibition on luxury clothes, and no congregation should bring in lightness in respect; on the contrary, it was done after another limitation.
The Rule 512 speaks about the law of the state, that Jews should not employ non-Jewish servants.
The Rule 514 is worth bringing up the way one must go. - And also we have to notice that we must bemoan the great holocaust that has taken place in our state. We have decided that, for the duration of a year’s time, we should not hear any klezmer players in a Jewish home, not even at a wedding.
The Rule 516 says, “the people from our Lithuanian State, who were exiled, because of the stirring of war, and who want to settle for the time being in other states, until it gets quiet in the land; either the congregation or the settlement should not cause a disturbance on them. They can do anything; can carry on any kind of a business, in order to have their livelihood, more for their possibility, more because together they must pay the tax in their dealings in the congregation. The same is also touching on the payers from other states, who have been living already for a long time in our (Lithuanian) State, and can not move home”
A later meeting of the Council took place in 1662; we are going to present the characteristic rule Article 546.
What is pertinent to the other people who were caught in the net of exile; people don’t look at them, and they come with strength to the synagogue. We came to the decision that it lies on the shoulders of the leaders of the congregation.
Then they were put in charge and (decided) that no foot of the excommunicated Jews should come into the synagogue, who will try to slip in with violence. They must punish them with seizure, without any explanation. And, if the leaders do not want to end the matter, then the heads of the Rabbinical Court must. And also they (the leaders) must punish with seizure. It is the duty of the head of the Rabbinical Court and the cantor of the community and the Shammas (sexton) to be concerned, that the excommunicated Jew should not come into the synagogue. If they don’t do that, then the Rabbi, the cantor and the sexton will be exiled.
The later sessions of the Council occurred after this in Zavladave and in Chamsk, and also two sessions in Selets in the years 1670 and 1673. The session in 1670 was greatly taken up with the question of modesty and humor of the Jews in celebration times. We see this from later regulations.
Rule 669. As it is an outright sin to spend a lot of expenses for the feasts of weddings and brisses (Circumcisions), it was decided not to make any feasts on Shabbat (wherever it is), only under watch.
Rule 670. The host of a wedding shall make only one feast after the chupah (wedding ceremony) and request only #?? minyans, besides the nearest relatives, the parents of the wedding couple, the familiar ones in the room where the bridegroom is staying; and the Rabbi, the cantor and the sexton. Outside of that feast, no one should ask, through the sexton, for another feast. As for a feast before the wedding, no one should invite any bosses or homeowners, only young men and the parents of the wedding couple and the relatives to the first cousins and members of the household where the groom lives.
Rule 671. At the feast of circumcision, they should invite only one minyan, no more besides the nearest members of the family and the mohel (circumciser), the sendak (man holding the baby boy), the Rabbi, the cantor and the sexton.
Rule 672. It is prohibited for any host to give gifts from his pocket, when there is no feast.
Rule 673. It is prohibited for the sexton to invite to a feast through a register, what is written with the seal of the holy administrator - The shamus is banned from inviting to a feast through a register written with the seal of the holy administrators.
Rule 674. The holy leader is obliged to look to see that no one should violate that. A holy administrator who writes such a note with more invitations is, just as if he wanted to eat a forbidden thing. The host who is in violation must be punished with harsh and bitter punishment, in disgrace, as he deserves, such as one who eats a forbidden thing, God forbid.
In one of the decisions in the session of the year, 1673, there is available a decision in which it says:
We must remember the orphan, the son of the holy man, Tuviah, from the holy congregation of Rizschnoi, as when the time comes for his wedding, there will be a debt on the town, to give him the sum of 100 guilden.
Concerning that deed in Rizschnoi, they found a series of items about payments and debts for that matter; it speaks of it in the decisions (553,623,628,277,704) and others.
Concerning the matter in Rizschnoi, it is worth noting that nothing is written in the minutes. In other history sources, we find out that it really pays to have the opportunity of telling briefly the awful deeds in Rizschnoi. It happened a few days after Passover in the year 1657. In the room of the Jew from Rizschnoi, Rabbi Israel, son of Rabbi Shalom, a dead Christian child was thrown. The following day, someone broke into the house, and they found the corpse of the child. The rumor was quickly spread that the Jews slaughtered the child, in order to use the blood to make matzos. A few Jews were arrested. The non-Jewish population made an attempt to attack the Jews and kill them. But against them stood the town commandant. The matter was turned over to the Court. According to the contemporary law of the Polish authorities, they had such a type of judgment that could come to a decision, if believable testimony was given by four Christian and three Jewish witnesses. If they learn from them that someone gave false testimony, he will get the death penalty. The judges had investigated the matter enough and could but find any foundation for the guilt of the Jews.
There followed some tumultuous times. The Polish monarch Jan Casimir the Second was taken up with the war with Sweden. The matter was extending into the summer of 1659. The town commandant was traveling about an important matter. This permitted the town’s Christian population to attack the Jews and almost all, besides a few rich Jews, who bought them out (continued with bribery) were sent to jail, and the Poles, with their own hands, carried out a “folks-judgment”.
They took the detained persons, in a frightful manner, herding them and tortured them, so they would confess; but nothing came of it. Also the “confession” of a couple did not come to a result. So the “folks-tribunal” brought forth a verdict.
“All Jews must be killed; if, however, they found two “intelligent” Jews who will take upon themselves the guilt, the rest of them will be freed.”
Two intellectuals, Rabbi Israel and Rabbi Tuviah, came forth and approached as martyrs and took the blame. Friday, the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah, they were decapitated.
It was agreed that, after the judgment is carried out, an order would come out to free the “innocent”. In Rizschnoi, there was established, as in the time of remembering souls, that Simon, the son of the saintly Rabbi Israel, will eat his last meal before the fast, when they ask for forgiveness. Two versions of the prayer for forgiveness are familiar. Both are well known (according to earlier sources) in the 3rd volume of Simeon Bernfeld’s “The Book of Tears (Berlin 1926) in the chapter, “Blood Libels in Rizschnoi”.
In the aftermath of the Rizschnoi matter, the Lithuanian Council had to pay, in any case, for the judgment results, for the various mediations and endorsements for the orphans and widows of the holy persons (the martyrs) of Rizschnoi.
A later session of the Council took place in Selets in the year, 1684. In between there came two sessions, in Zabludave and in Chamsk. From that session, what is interesting is the regulation about the moral plague that was discovered in Jewish life.
Section 793. About the people whose tongue weaves falsehood. Their tongues are like a sharp file to speak impertinence. They reveal Jewish private matters or give an excess of Jewish money (in Gentile hands), and they cause harm. They are excommunicated and cut off from all Jewish Congregations. Every eve of the New Moon (the new Jewish month) we have to ostracize them in the shul, according to the version of the decree, which is definite. Then, on the eve of Yom Kippur, before the beginning of the Kol Nidre prayer, they should be accursed with all the curses that exist in the chapter of curses, so that they turn from their evil ways and put a gag on their mouths.
Outside of the regulation about the running questions of the town and of the Congregations, came the sessions after the coming lawsuit, and they used to make judgments. Those were very important legal matters, which the local Rabbinical Court could not take it upon itself alone to judge. The customary rulings used to be brought, for generations, into the book of minutes of the Council. In the Pincus Council of the State of Lithuania, the verdicts, which were taken up in Selets, were made available at the time of the session in the year 1670.