Town in the government of Grodno, Russia. It is impossible to name the exact date when Jews first settled here. In the sixteenth century, during the reign of Sigismund Augustus, the Byelsk Jews were accused of ritual murder, but were acquitted. This trial, together with a similar one at Narva, resulted in the promulgation of a royal edict, termed "Privilegia," forbidding the torture of Jews accused of using Christian blood for their ritual. The king himself was to try these cases; and the accusation had to be proved in the manner mentioned in the "Privilegia."
Byelsk has a total population of 7,461, including (in 1898) 5,500 Jews. The economic conditions of the latter are generally poor. There is fierce competition among the petty shopkeepers, constituting about 75 per cent of the Jewish population. About 440 Jews are engaged in tailoring, baking, shoe-making, etc., while 60 are laborers. The increase of poverty is manifested by the number of applicants for charity at the Passover. These increased from 95 in 1894 to 195 in 1898. The committee of charities, numbering 300 members, collects annually about 2,000 rubles for the poor. There is a Talmud-Torah with 113 pupils, and an elementary public school having two classes.
- Regesty, i. 240, 247.