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BYELOSTOK (Polish, Bialystok):

Early Tradition.

Town in the government of Grodno, Russia; by rail 52 miles southwest of Grodno; one of the youngest in Lithuania. Little is known of the history of its Jewish community. There is a tradition (see "Ha-Ḳol," i., Nos. 41 et seq.) that its last owner before its incorporation into Russia, the waywode Count Branitzky—at whose instance in 1749 King AugustusIII. of Poland raised the proprietary village to the dignity of a town—invited Jews to settle there in houses and stores which he built for them at his own expense. He also erected for them a synagogue—a wooden structure which is to-day one of the curiosities of the city. There is no record of the effect which the transition from Polish to Prussian dominion in 1793, and later from Prussian to Russian rule after the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807, had on the Jewish community, which must have been considerable in those times. But there is reason to believe that the short-lived German rule helped to stimulate commerce and industry and was the cause of German predominance in the business affairs of Byelostok at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Lichtenstein, brother of R. Abraham Yekutiel, author of "Zer'a Abraham" on Sifre (Dyhernfurth, 1811), who, in the work of his grandson, Rabbi Abraham of Prossnitz, entitled "Ha-Torah-we-ha-Miẓwah" (Wilna, 1820), is referred to as rabbi of Byelostok, is probably the first rabbi of the community of whom there is any record. In the "Shem ha-Gedolim he-Ḥadash" mention is also made of Rabbi Solomon of Byelostok (second half of the eighteenth century), and of his successor, R. Aryeh Loeb b. Baruch Bendet, author of the work "Shaagat Aryeh," on the tractate Makkot of the Babylonian Talmud (Byelostok, 1805). Then probably came Rabbi Nehemia, whose responsum upon the reading of the "ketubah," or marriage contract, at weddings, written by him in 1835, was published by Benzion Zechnilopovitch of Russia, in Vienna (printed by Adalbert della Torre, 1859). The existence of this Rabbi Nehemia is known only through that responsum, and is doubted by both Benjacob and Zedner, who seem to believe that Zechnilopovitch printed it under an assumed name. This would agree with Fuenn's statement ("Keneset Yisrael," p. 301) that Rabbi Moses Ze'eb became rabbi of Byelostok in 1824. Moses Ze'eb was the author of "Mareot ha-Ẓobeot," a work on abandonment (Byelostok, 1810), and of "Aggudat Ezob," sermons (ib. 1824), and formerly rabbi of Tiktin.

Eminent Rabbis.

After Ze'eb's death there was an interregnum, during which R. Eliakim Getzel acted as rabbi without having the title, until about 1860, when R. Yom-Ṭob Lipman Heilprin of Meseritz was called to Byelostok. Heilprin, who in his former community had had many quarrels with the Ḥasidim about his crusade against smoking in the synagogue, encountered many difficulties in his new position. His refusal to officiate at a wedding ceremony in the "chorschul," or quasi-Reform synagogue, caused him to be imprisoned at Grodno; and he was freed only after a long and expensive struggle. After his death in 1878, his son, R. Ḥayyim Herz (born 1850), who edited his father's voluminous work of responsa, "'Oneg Yom-Ṭob," was acting rabbi for about five years, until R. Samuel Mohilever of Radom was elected to the rabbinate in 1883 (see Samuel Mohilever). After the death of Mohilever in 1898, R. Ḥayyim Herz Heilprin again became acting rabbi. Meïr Marcus, a graduate of the rabbinical seminary of Wilna, has been the government rabbi of Byelostok for more than thirty years (d. Dec. 1900).

Jewish Manufacturers.

Byelostok was always an industrial city; and the material condition of its inhabitants is therefore superior to that of the population of other cities in poverty-stricken Lithuania. Its chief industry, the manufacture of cloth, was up to the middle of the nineteenth century mostly in the hands of Germans, who, however, relied largely on Jewish capital. Nahum Mintz and Sender Bloch were the first Jews to engage in the manufacture of cloth (1850); Mintz being also the first to employ the steam-engine in that industry at Byelostok. Among the other pioneer Jewish manufacturers were J. S. Barish, Breinin & Zabludovsky, and A. Halberstamm; the last-named being the father of the prominent banker Henry Halberstamm, who went to Germany to study the system of manufacturing in western countries. At present the Jews equal, in some points even excel, the Germans in cloth-making.

The Old Synagogue of Byelostok.(From a photograph.)Vital Statistics.

The growth of the population and the prosperity of Byelostok for the last forty years must be attributed almost entirely to the Jews. There does notseem to have been any increase of the Gentile population during that period. Semenov, "Geographical and Statistical Dictionary of the Russian Empire" (i. 372), gives the Jewish population of Byelostok in 1860 as 11,288 in a total population of 16,544. In 1889, according to "Entziklopedicheski Slovar," 1896 (the latest official authority available), it was 48,552 in a total population of 56,629. S. R. Landau, in his excellent description of the Jewish community of Byelostok at the present time says, in his "Unter Jüdischen Proletariern" (Vienna, 1898), pp. 45-58, that there are hardly 5,000 Christians among its 65,000 inhabitants. Semenov mentions only 3 cloth-factories in Byelostok in 1860; the present number, according to Leonty Soloweitschik ("Un Prolétariat Méconnu," p. 100, Brussels, 1898), is 60, besides about 20 establishments of allied industries. The number of Jewish weavers, according to Landau, is in round numbers 2,000. Almost all other industries and trades, as well as commercial enterprises, are in Jewish hands. The tobacco industry, which in Byelostok is second in importance only to the cloth industry, is entirely in the hands of Jews. In the earlier part of the nineteenth century Byelostok had a Hebrew printing-office, from which the first book known to have been printed was issued in 1805 and the last in 1824.

The Jewiṣh community of Byelostok is the most prosperous in Lithuania, and its communal institutions are models of their kind. The Korobka (meat-tax) and the yearly quota of conscripts to the army, which are the cause of much trouble in most Russo-Jewish communities, are dealt with here in a spirit of justice which satisfies all parties concerned. Byelostok has one large synagogue, or "schul," one "chorschul," four or five large "batte midrashim," and about twice as many small ones, or "minyanim." It has also one of the finest Jewish hospitals in the empire, a home for the aged, two "gemilut ḥasadim," or free loan institutions, a Talmud-Torah with about 500 pupils, and many other benevolent societies.

Notable Jews.

The number of distinguished Jews born or who have made their home in Byelostok is considerable. Isaac Zabludovsky, the ancestor of the most influential family in Byelostok, is said to have been the first Jewish millionaire in Russia. Michael Zabludovsky (1803-69), author of a work, "Mish'an Mayim," on the rational interpretation of the Haggadah, and Professor Zabludovsky, specialist in massage at the University of Berlin, belong to the same family. Eliezer Halberstamm, the wealthy scholar and author, was connected with them by marriage. Jacob Bacharach, who corresponded with Rapoport, Zunz, Luzzatto, and other great scholars of the century, and wrote on the Hebrew alphabet and other subjects, lived in Byelostok. The Nestor of modern Hebrew literature in Russia, A. B. Gottlober, spent his last years in Byelostok, and is buried there. The poet M. M. Dolitzki; Arthur Freeman, son of the Hebrew writer; A. D. Lieberman; and Leo Wiener of Harvard University, Massachusetts, U. S. A., were born there. J. Chazanowicz, the noted Zionist, who devotes his energy and almost his entire income to the national library which he founded in Jerusalem, is one of the interesting characters of Byelostok. Lazar Atlas, the critic, and formerly editor of the "Ha-Kerem," has been a bank official in the city since 1895.

Bibliography:
  • In addition to the works cited in the article, Ch. J. Kremer, Massa Byelostok, Keneset Israel, v. 1, Warsaw, 1886.
H. R. P. Wi.
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