Pinkas Pruzany and It's Vicinity


                                    p. 17 - 20

N. Zuckerman



We possess the pinkas (Memorial Book) of the kahal in Pruzana from 1801 to 1851. This pinkas, like that of the Hevra Kadisha, has no beginning nor end. Protocols from the earlier years are found at the end and vice-versa. It is difficult to determine if this pinkas was the only one of the kahal or whether there were others, which have been lost. According to the reports we have, there was another pinkas from an earlier period, but it has disappeared. The cover is a simple one, without decoration or illustration. The page is circumvented with a parallel line in the shape of a gate. jewish stamp.gif (7187 bytes)At the top is the title "Pinkas of the Kahal of the Holy Community of Pruzana": at the bottom, there is the date-1801 ( 5561 - Jewish year)  in the abbreviated version and the seal of the kahal  that shows an eagle with two heads, on which is written: "Kahal Adat Yeshurun of the "Holy Community of Pruzana" .      



The language of the pinkas is Hebrew, but there is also one text in Yiddish. The minutes are not continuous and there are many empty pages between one minute and another. It is difficult to surmise why this happened. Apparently, they left room to register more minutes later, but they were not recorded. We find a lot of material in the pinkas about the economic and social life of the Jews in our town. The minutes relating to the economic situation of the Jewish population are very interesting.

As can be seen from the content of a minute written in Yiddish in 1823, the community defended itself against the cartel of the millers who intended to milch the public. The kehila even threatened excommunication for creating cartels. It is not clear from the wording what circumstances existed that caused public figures to adopt this step: were there subsidiary causes or did a real concern the welfare of the public guide their action? In many instances, the kehila organised the economic life of the Jews in Pruzana. Apart from the above example, which shows how the kehila protected the public against the millers, who sought to raise the cost of milling, there is another very characteristic incident: in 1851, the kehila sought to organise the grain trade. Grain prices soared and there was hunger in the area.

Public figures sought to stop the price rises. In addition to this step, there was also a warning not to send grain out of the town, because this would lead to more hunger and even higher prices.

There is another minute of the same year (1851), which discusses the state of the kehila. It shows that the financial situation was deteriorating. The excise taxes on brandy which belonged to the kehila did not bring in a lot of income (as mentioned in previous minutes). Tenders were being held in Grodno for the right to farm taxes for a further period. The important people in the town decided to send the rich man Yitzhak Goldberg to Grodno to acquire the tax farming rights. Later, the kehila held a competition giving the right to the person who paid the largest sum. The most important thing in the minute is that kehila figures call for a boycott of the `foreign' leasees of the Pruzana excise, The lease was indeed given to foreigners and the boycott implemented, as can be seen from the next minute, which was recorded later. The leaders decided not to lease houses to the intruders for use as public houses nor lease public houses from them.

There are interesting reports on the Pruzana kehila's sources of income in the pinkas. As in other communities, commodity taxes were introduced. Taxes on candles, meat and bread are mentioned, but figures on the income from each tax separately are lacking. There is one report of 1827 about income from the bread (Kozolke) tax
 . It was an extraordinary year. The authorities imposed large taxes on the turnover of the public houses (bars) in Pruzana. They appealed to the kehila to help them in their distress. The kehila leaders decided to lease out the "bread box" to raise the necessary sum for the leasees of the public houses. The "bread box" was leased and at the end of the pinkas a report for that year showed that the "bread box" brought in 97 roubles a month or 1,164 roubles for the year.

That is the one recorded case in the pinkas of the Pruzana kehila that shows how the community leaders helped a group with that sum. The significance is that the public house tenants were among the important household owners who were supported by the kehila. Ordinarily, the kehila dealt with the bread box, as the 1825 protocol shows.

That is to say, for the next two years, we had to lease out the bread box, which was meant for payment of the poll tax. At the end of the minute, the kehila's seal was stamped, the only instance of its use in all the pinkas. In order to explain the importance of the decision, it was explicitly stated: "To give greater validity to all that has been said above, the kehila's seal was imprinted".

The tax on candles (korobke) was introduced in Pruzana in 1845 (as the protocol on page 38 shows). The writer of the minute reported that want increased in that year, the number of paupers increased and the kehila decided on a general tax on candles. The rate of tax on candles prepared for sale was three guildens a pud (about 16 kilos); on candles for home use-two guildens and for Russian candles-a guilden.

The pinkas never mentions how much the candle tax brought in. On the other hand, we found a report that was sent to the regional offices which said that in.1868 the income from candle tax was 659 roubles. It is difficult to estimate how much other taxes brought in due to lack of information.

Another interesting fact in the pinkas records how the korobkes were farmed out. The first minutes related that the kehila leaders decided that the taxes would not be farmed out until the sums the proposed leasees were prepared to pay were announced three times in the synagogues. The pinkas does not contain information as to how korobkes were leased. It can be assumed the lease was made through "family" arrangements by the town's autocratic overseers, who acted high-handedly. This is evidenced by the remark in the protocol "whatever shall be, shall be," which meant that the leaders expected opposition to the new regulation, which resulted from the kehila's financial interests. The kehila had to bear a burden of taxes imposed by the authorities. The only way to get big sums was to hand over "korobkes" for leasing through tenders.

The second most important "calamity" that bothered community leaders was army recruitment. It was decided in 1833 to collect donations for the soldiers who were taken into the army "for the general good", so that they could buy themselves out through their superiors and keep religious commandments. The donations were collected at weddings, circumcisions, in monthly payments and haphazardly, as can be seen from the following minute: This minute dealt with the situation of those who went "to serve the authorities for the public". They suffered a lot and kehila leaders explained that they were taking decisions whose aim was to help and strengthen those who suffered. The pinkas details the methods of collecting money for the soldiers. When a soldier was sent to the army, he redeemed the rest of his relatives, who would not appear on other army recruitment lists. There were many cases of brothers or relatives of soldiers being sent to the army when community leaders forgot that one relative was already in the army. Such cases were recorded in the pinkas to prevent recurrence. A similar case occurred in 1842:

This is the content of the minute: Since the Sussman boy, the son of Hanoch Berestitzky, was recruited into the army, he thus redeemed his whole family. And as his brother became the father of two sons, nobody must do them a wrong by registering them under another number in the list (Izkazka) of inhabitants and until a new "reviziah" is compiled their names must not be included among those eligible for call-up.

The kehila also exempted the parents of the recruit from taxes. The 1845 protocol referred to some Yitzhak, who was exempted from payment of taxes for ten years, but not from the "korobkes", because "he could not be an exception". The fate of every Jew lay in the hands of the kehila notables (deputaten) and later the representatives. Anyone commiting a felony was immediately placed at the head of the list (Izkazka) and had to go to the army: if anyone complained and his arguments were substantiated, his name was struck off the list and the next-in-line went instead.

At the end of the pinkas, there are descriptions of several cases of accidental loss of virginity through mishap by young girls.

There are 14 similar cases in the Pruzana pinkas in ten consecutive years. There are also many protocols or minutes referring to personal matters, unredeemed promissory notes, property matters, etc. The religious life of the kehila also occupies an important place in the pinkas. Some of the minutes deal with the salary of the rabbi and dayanim; there are also regulations sorting out the ties between two new Botei Midrash and the old, large synagogue, "Shul" and the large Beth Midrash   .

Note: (1) Although the "korobke" on candles was introduced in 1845 by the Russian government for the sole needs of the Jewish schools, the Pruzana kehila leaders apparently knew nothing about this and allocated the income from the candle tax to general community needs.


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