G. U.




(A great part of this material was given by Professor Sh. D. BROKER) 


In 1863 when out brake a great fire because of the negligence of a Russian soldier, of the Regiment which had defeated Polish rebellion, Seltzer St. (today Dombrowska), near back streets, as well as synagogue's yard, were razed by the fire.


Great fire of 1899 in Shershev St. in a Jew's house, destroyed the streets Shereshev, Brest, Pacevitz, a part of Kobrin St., and near back streets. These fires that happened in the city, destroyed all old buildings in which Batei Midrashim and synagogues were. The new built buildings, no longer had an architectural design similar to previous ones.   


In an official document of 1473, is mentioned it was a synagogue in Pruzhany. In this document is mentioned that during the reign of DIMITRI SAPEHA in 1563, in Pruzhany and after Dobuchin, there was a synagogue located near Jews houses. Old men tell that in old synagogue was a "physical sign", in the sense that it existed from approximately 400 years before (TN: counted from great 1863 fire). 


This synagogue was burnt in 1863, and was not reconstructed (was rescued a silver cup, and the seat of Eliahu that was used in circumcision acts). Until today, the wide surface in synagogue's yard is empty (T. N.: see synagogue courtyard and silver cup in our Pruzhany gallery); it was because this space was in the middle of poor persons neighborhoods  (see neighborhoods picture in Pruzhany Gallery).  


Also many of those who were located next to synagogue's oriental wall belonged to qualified workers social group, or were poor people. Wealthy families didn't want to be in that place, and they planned to build another synagogue.  In years 70 of XIX Century "VOVTSHE the tailor" was one of the beginners of the project of tailors synagogue building, but given the opposition of wealthy persons, he  did not succeed.   


At the beginning of XX century, another person MOISHE GOLDBERG (MOISHE YANKELE'S) tried again to reconstruct the synagogue, and prepared land basement, but he could not advance in this project until German's occupation. The other cause, was the opposition of Rabbis and rich people of Pruzhany (without a synagogue there was not a Rabbi, neither a liturgical singer, neither a service man called in Yiddish "shames").


The "GREAT BET MEDRESH" is the older in city, but we don't know the date of its foundation. Was burned in 1863 together with the Synagogue, and immediately was lifted in  same place the building that lasts until today. In the Great Bet Medresh, was also included Rabbi's housing.  


The current Bet Medresh " KADISHA " was in same place during much time until its fire in 1863, and then was lifted the building that today exists .


The Bet Medresh "ACHNOSAS ORCHIM" in Kobrinska St. was built in years "60 of last century, in a back street near current building. Some years later was burnt and fire destroyed the whole sector, of Kobrinska and Seltzer Streets, beginning from  MOISIHE HALPERIN''s house until crossing  Seltzer St., going by Broiz back street, and on the same place was reconstructed and stays until today. Until Bet Medresh "BET YAAKOV" was built, was considered the  biggest  and most beautiful synagogue.


In this opportunity is interesting to know the content that characterizes the document about the Bet Medresh, of year 1870. The document was written in Russian and directed to the Rabbi that assisted social aspects, about the complaint of Synagogues Collectors ("gabays") that was the following: "an individual with his son and son-in-law, went to Bet Medresh drunk with alcohol and bothered people who were praying."


There was also another case, continues the writing: those people attacked the Collector TZADOK URINSKY, and they bit him the fingers. The police intervened and worked out a minute . Therefore prayers requested the Rabbi to prohibit their entrance to the Bet Medresh, to inform police, and to force them to pray in another Bet Medresh. The name ACHNOSAS ORCHIM was given because besides its building was a group who helped poor people.


The Bet Medresh "MALBUSH ARUMIM" was built in the 60's  of XIX century in Wasser St., which until then  was not inhabited. The Bet Medresh burnt in 1899. The current building was built in 1900, and the name was adopted because next to the Bet Medresh was a social help group with the same name.  


The Bet Medresh that was in Seltzer St. was called "MOIER" (TN: " Moier " because it was not wooden but of bricks, it is a word in Yiddish) and was built in the 60's of last century. A person called  MATSHE BLEGER had a basement in which stored alcoholic drinks, and built for him a bricks house. The owner of the earth where was settled this house called SHVEIKOVKSY, donated to this BLEGER bricks of his property. After 1863's rebellion, SHVEIKOVKSY had to emigrate and MOTSHE BLEGER didn't have the possibility to build the house; he sold it for a Bet Medresh that exists until today. 


The Bet Medresh "NER TOMID" (TN: eternal veils) belonged to wealthy class, and is located at the beginning of Firemen's St., but it was burnt in great 1863 fire. It was then reconstructed in same place where it was located before, and there is it until today. 


The Bet Medresh "SANDLER" (of shoemakers)  was built in years 80's of XIX century and burnt during great 1899 fire. Shoemakers didn't have necessary economic means to build again their Bet Medresh, and sold the land for a Talmud Torah.


The " BALEBATISHER " (householders) Bet Medresh , was built at the beginning of  years ' 90 for the middle class and for families that retired from SANDLER BET MEDRESH which burnt in 1899. This place was near "SANDLER BET MEDRESH" close to Shereshev St., but according to  Russian law, it didn't fulfill the requirement of maintaining required distance from a Russian church. Due to this, they bought another land in Zaulek III St. and built in 1907 there current "BET YAAKOV" Bet Medresh in the name of the wealthy man YAGLOM who donated an important amount of money for that Bet Medresh..  


The Bet Medresh of tailors " CHAIATIM " was built in 1824 thanks to a  permission granted, and had the agreement of "distinguished" Kehila  local authorities. It burnt in 1863.  Immediately was reconstructed in the same place a building which is there until today. 


Bet Medresh "EIN YAACOV' (TN: Jacob's fountain, also called slaughters synagogue)  began to be built in 1884, on Iatke St., in a land parcel that belonged to a small yard which didn't have constructions around. The authorities of Orthodox Russian Church, frequently interrupted the construction with the pretext that the Bet Medresh was not located at prudential distance of the Church.  The construction ended in 1892 (follows a popular legend about this fact).




We bring next a popular legend about this last fact. 


"After the great fire of Pruzhany's synagogue , the Tailors Bet Medresh was also razed, and  parishioners went to pray to middle class Bet Medresh. It was no their pleasure. Then they began to build their own Bet Medresh. Landowners collaborated giving wood of their forests. The Bet Medresh was reconstructed with a beautiful "Aron Ha'Kodesh" (Ark in which stays Sacred Rolls) and an altar carved artistically.


"Qualified workers, tailors, hatters, carpenters and bricklayers, recovered their property and  included among the members to butchers, chimney - sweepers and wall painters. Next to  oriental wall were located old and most distinguished men and butchers.  


"Besides the name "Tailors synagogue" because its founders had this occupation, it received the name of "Psalms  Book study group", because besides working day and night, people ran to the dawn to recite Psalms chapters.  When Pentecost festivity , anniversary of King David's  death, they recited and intoned whole night; the Bet Medresh was illuminated with thousands of lamps. The Tailors Bet Medresh, was illuminated as for a Czar's coronation. With few " groshn " they brought a Rabbi to teach a Bible chapter during  Saturdays, and during working days to evening prayers  and to night prayers.


" When came close "terrible days" among Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, they hired a liturgical singer. Who was not present in Yom Kippur during certain prayers in Tailors Bet Medresh , he never listens men's and women laments and cries  Also walls cried, tears fountains spilled out of  parishioners eyes, and they had reasons to cry.  


"While they read prayers, their bitter hearts spoke another language: "King of Universe: you created us with our 248 body parts and 365 veins and arteries  (TN:  the sum is 613 which is the number of religious precepts - mitzvot - to keep), to serve you, and we serve you. We work day and night  whole week, and when sacred Saturday arrives, we don't have resources to honor you, it already comes close winter, we need a housing, logs, shoes, clothes for us and for tender creatures.  


"Anyway, we accept it with love, and Your Blessed Name be praised. Maybe it should be this way. We are in the Diaspora, we suffer King Alexander rough laws, be his name erased!. What can we do Sir of the Heights? It should be possibly this way!  


"We also suffer the indifference of our siblings. You have cursed the first man, Adam, and all fell on us, poor hard workers. With bitter perspiration we win our bread, and however our Jewish siblings move away from us. They consider workers are impure as if it were a pig, and a merchant or bartender is believed to have higher hierarchy, and they do not want to be related with us."


"Jewish life developed this way some years, until grew a new butchers generation and other distinguished characters of Tailors Bet Medresh. As says popular statement "they went to bed on feathers" and it was for them ingrate to pray next to tailors. They said: butchers are merchants and are not workers, and they wished an own Bet Medresh. They thought it and they made it. In front of butcher shops there was an empty space. Then they introduced an application to the commissary, to build a Bet Medresh which is not near the Orthodox Russian Church.


"In Church back street, for several centuries was another old wooden Church , just in the place in which the Bet Medresh would be built. The Commissary sent his official IVANOV to measure the distance form Bet Medresh to Church yard. The butchers "introduced in the official's hand....." and he did not measure until the yard, but until Church door entrance. Were lacking some meters in comparison to what was established in the law, and anyway activists received permission to build the Bet Medresh.  


"Tailors, old workers  were bitter:  what will happen now to their Bet Medresh if rich parishioners,  the butchers, retire and don't  come? How will we be able to maintain Bet Medresh? Going at dawn to recite Psalms, they began to request King David: "King, help us! .What are we going to do?  How we will be able to recite your psalms in cold dawns if the Bet Medresh is not heated? How  will we illuminate it? Who will pay the service man if rich people don't come? ; we are old and weak.... 


"King David seems that presented the request to celestial throne, and an echo sentenced: GOMELITZKY. 


"The new Bet Medresh began to be built,  butchers could get some money from taxes and of  payments for permanent places in the synagogue. When the Bet Medresh was already covered with a roof, and only lacked the chimney and the oven, arrived to Pruzhany a new District priest, whose name was GOMELITZKY. 


"One Friday walking toward public bathes " Dvoriansk " passed next to new Bet Medresh and asked: what is here being built? Was answered that Jews built a Bet Medresh. A Bet Medresh so near the Church?, asked astonished. Immediately ordered to measure the distance from new construction to Church yard, and lacked a short distance.    


" Then he sent a report to Grodno and from there arrived the order to interrupt works and close the building. Some years later, Bet Medresh  had walled doors and windows. Jews didn't lose the hope. Were next "terrible days" among Rosh Ha'shana and Yom Kippur, Jews ran until Antopol to that of  Great and Compassionate Rabbi PINCHAS MICHAEL and they told him: Rabbi, help us, we invested so much work and money in the Bet Medresh and Reb PINCHAS MICHAEL  promised.... 


"Arrived Rosh Hashana and Reb PICCHAS MICHAEL was in Antopol Synagogue, saying in silence corresponding prayers, and when he arrived to the verses: "and the idols to be destroyed will be destroyed" he glimpsed that "There" in "High World" were observing what happened with Pruzhany's  Bet Medresh. Then he repeated old verse: "What gentile will say" ... Idolatries can not restrain us! Did  Jews maybe want to build a theater,  G-s do not permit it ?  They will build a Bet Medresh, a small sanctuary as Norms determine!...   


"Then came near him Reb ELINKE, the tailor that was already in the "world of  truth" (TN: figurative expression about the world of dead people) and  said: your son Reb EFROIM YOSEL promises to teach people of EIN YAKOV, and the Bet Medresh  will  be called this way; a patriarch for the patriarch YAACOV. Also came near him VEVE KIRZNER that was also in the "world of truth" and  said: our workers already had on their shoulders quite an heavy load, and could continue tolerating the load of Tailors Bet Medresh. In that moment came near Reb AIZIK SHUBITSHER and  said: They are to impose the law of our enemy IGNATIEV, expelling  Jews of the villages, they will arrive to the city, and Batei Midrashim will be filled.


"Was listened an echo and a sentence: LIULKE TZIBIK. 


"That eve of Yom Kippur chickens  price had lowered a lot. The gentiles of the villages hurried to sell them, because they were attacked by an epidemic. Even most poor  workers could make "Kapores" for their children (TN: popular ritual not mentioned in sacred texts according to which a chicken was sacrificed to expiate sins of family members ) .  


"After  Jews of Pruzhany sat down to eat the rich soup of noodles before fasting , and also  the beautiful chicken portions, they headed to the Bet Medresh to participate of  prayers. The liturgical singer  began with Saturdays Songs as that year Yom Kippur coincided with eves of Shabbat.


"When they intoned the song: "it rises our requests from the evening, and arrive our screams to the dawn." they listened screams coming from the street: fire!... At the beginning, it began to sound old wooden church bells , and then the strokes of bells of other two Churches of Pruzhany, and the fire was already seen through Bet Medresh windows  . People took off ritual mantel, and left the synagogue to go to save their belongings.


"They could clarify that  priest Gomelitzky barn  caught fire   . The priest's barn was some steps of the old wooden Church, and in few hours caught  fire the Church. When bells fell and was listened last stroke of a bell,  Jews understood that everything concluded, they returned to the Bet Medresh and they found parishioners next to the altar, sunk in their prayers.


" After Yom Kippur people knew bad news. The priest Gomelitzky sent a document to Grodno, accusing  Jews of Pruzhany of causing the fire, to be able to build their Bet Medresh. Arrived  Grodno Procurator with a "Great Priest" who asked to priest GOMELITZKY: Who was that afternoon  in the barn?  He answered: two gentiles thrashed cereals in my barn. 


"They brought the gentiles, and these declared that they were thrashing the whole day, and to the evening came a supervisor who saw all work carried out, invited them to his house and they had alcoholic drink. They returned to the barn, they lit their pipes, and fell asleep. Meanwhile, a pipe lit the straw, and when they woke up was burning all surroundings, and they survived of miracle.  


"The authorities saw clearly that  Jews were not guilty, but this was not enough. They investigated in all firemen offices if in whole Russian Empire, some time happened that a  Jewish house which was insured was set on fire the night of Yom Kippur, and they received as answer a "No": The police of all Russia was asked if  some time they caught some Jewish thief in Yom Kippur and they answered them that no.


"They asked in all Russian frontiers if at some time they caught a Jew passing silk smuggling to  other side of the frontiers a night of Yom Kippur, and the answer was No!. They asked in all Russia, in Police's posses, if it was  registered in  protocols that a Jew has set on fire his house the night of Yom Kippur and they answered that not.


"Then everything was tranquil.  


"The priest Gomelitzky received his punishment. In an opportunity he came to Pruzhany's mail office to get one commend. The Mail Chief , as always, sat him down near his desk and when moving away commends,  also took package that was on the table which contained money. The Mail Chief, when discovered that was lacking money, ran toward him, and he returned it. This episode was herd by authorities who ordered the following : priest GOMELITZKY was degraded to be a  common priest and was sent to a distant and remote place. He did not travel to that place, got mad, and from Pruzhany was sent to an asylum. When he left the city, the proprietors insisted again on inaugurating the Bet Medresh, and the authorities allowed it, because the old wooden Church no longer existed..." 




Most outstanding Rabbis occupied rabbinical throne in Pruzhany during last 150 years. They are  the following (a part of this information belongs to Professor  YOSEPH BABITSH): at the beginning of  XVIII century was rabbi in Pruzhany Reb AVIGDOR B' Reb SHMUEL, father of the last Chief of Vilna's tribunal, for which arouse the famous and historical discussion. The Rabbi R' YOM-TOV LIPMAN SHIK, son of the Rabbi of Shklove, Rabbi R' CHANOCH HENACH SHIK who was grandson of the famous Reb YOM TOV LIPMAN HA'LEVY SÉLLER, author of "The delights of YOM TOV."


The Rabbi ZEEV WOLF that then was Rabbi in Slonim,  was pupil of the famous Rabbi Reb DOVID, author of the book "Walls of Jerusalem" and he was rabbi in Shereshev. The Rabbi Reb MORDECHAI MEIDIL, is registered in the Pinkas of Pruzhany's Kehila. Then was Rabbi Reb SHILEM, acquaintance under the alias "Pruzener Maguid" (Pruzhany"s preacher). He was a very poor man and Rabbinical duties didn't offer him enough money to  sustain himself, and for this cause he should constantly travel to preach in other cities. He left many hand written papers and books. Some of his "questions and answers" were with the Rabbi of Padua.


After his death, took the position in 1860  Rabbi SHAUL ZELIG HA'COHEN that then was Rabbi  in Deneburg.  He was reminded in the "questions and answers" for his writings "Tabernacle of Betzalel" (TN: BETZALEL BEN URY was the artist, designer and manufacturer -together with his collaborators - of Jerusalem's First Temple Tabernacle destroyed by  Babylonians), and by the book " Spring Primitials". In 1871 was Rabbi in Pruzhany Reb YERUCHAM YEHUDA LEIB PERELMAN who then was famous with the alias " Minsk Majestic". From year 1884 until the year of his death (1929),  during 45 years occupied Rabbinical throne REB ELIOHU HA'LEVI FAINSHTIEN.


Also, as it is remembered in the book "Vilna City" by HILEL NOACH MAGUID, nicknamed " Shteinshnaider ", Reb YOISEF was Rabbi in Pruzhany - according to our  calculus in year 1850.