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from The Jewish Encyclopedia
Pinsk: Russian city in the government of Minsk, Russia. There were Jews in Pinsk prior to the sixteenth century, and there may have been an organized community there at the time of the expulsion of the Jews from Lithuania in 1495; but the first mention of the Jewish community there in Russian-Lithuanian documents dates back to1506.

Early Jewish Settlers

On Aug. 9 of that year the owner of Pinsk, Prince Feodor Ivanovich Yaroslavich, in his own name and in that of his wife, Princess Yelena, granted to the Jewish community of Pinsk, at the request of Yesko Meyerovich, Pesakh Yesofovich, and Abram Ryzhkevich, and of other Jews of Pinsk, two parcels of land for a house of prayer and a cemetery, and confirmed all the rights and privileges given to the Jews of Lithuania by King Alexander Jagellon. This grant to the Jews of Pinsk was confirmed by Queen Bona on Aug. 18, 1533. From 1506 until the end of the sixteenth century the Jews were frequently mentioned in various documents. In 1514 they were included in the confirmation of privileges granted to the Jews of Lithuania by King Sigismund, whereby they were freed from special military duties and taxes and placed on an equality, in these respects, with the other inhabitants of the land, while they were also exempted from direct military service. They were included among the Jewish communities of Lithuania upon which a tax of 1,000 kop groschen was imposed by the king in 1529, the entire sum to be subject to a pro rata contribution determined upon by the communities. From other documents it is evident that members of the local Jewish community were prominent as traders in the market-place, also as landowners, leaseholders and farmers of taxes. In a document of March 27, 1522, reference is made to the fact that Lezer Markovich and Avram Volchkovich owned stores in the market-place near the castle. In another document, dated 1533, Avram Markovich was awarded by the city court the possession of the estate of Boyar Fedka Volodkevich, who had mortgaged it to Avram’s father, Mark Yeskovich. Still other documents show that in 1540 Aaron Ilich Khoroshenki of Grodno inherited some property in Pinsk, and that in 1542 Queen Bona confirmed the Jews Kherson and Nahum Abramovich the possession of the estate, in the village of Krainovichi, waywodeship of Pinsk, which they had inherited from heir father, Abram Ryzhkevich.

Abram Ryzhkevich was a prominent member of the Jewish community at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and was active in communal work. He was a favorite of Prince Feodor Yaroslavich, who presented him with the estate in question with all its dependencies and serfs. The last-named were relieved from the payment of any crown taxes, and were to serve Abram Ryzhkevich exclusively. He and his children were regarded as boyars, and shared the privileges and duties of that class.

Pesakh Yesofovich

Pesakh Yesofovich, mentioned with Yesko Meyerovich and Abram Ryzhkevich in the grant to the Jewish community of 1506, took an important part in local affairs.

Like Abram Ryzhkevich, he was intimate with Prince Feodor Yaroslavich, was presented by the prince with a mansion in the town of Pinsk, and was exempted at the same time from the payment of any taxes or the rendering of local services,with the exception of participation in the repairing of the city walls. The possession of this mansion was confirmed by Queen Bona to Pesakh’s son Nahum in 1550, he having purchased it from Bentz Misevich, to whom the property was sold by Nahum’s father. Inheriting their father’s influence, Nahum and his brother Israel played important roles as merchants and leaseholders. Thus on June 23, 1550, they, together with Goshka Moshkevich, were awarded by Queen Bona the lease of the customs and inns of Pinsk, Kletzk, and Gorodetzk for a term of three years, and had the lease renewed in 1553 for a further term of three years, on payment of 875 kop groschen and of 25 stones of wax. In the same year these leaseholders are mentioned in a characteristic lawsuit. There was an old custom, known as "kanuny," on the strength of which the archbishop was entitled to brew mead and beer six times annually without payment of taxes. The Pesakhovich family evidently refused to recognize the validity of this privilege and endeavored to collect the taxes. The case was carried to the courts, but the bishop being unable to show any documents in support of his claim, and admitting that it was merely based on custom, the queen decided that the legal validity of the custom should not be recognized; but since the income of the "kanuny" was collected for the benefit of the Church the tax-farmers were required to give annually to the archbishop 9 stones of was for candles, "not as a tax, but merely as a mark of our kindly intention toward God’s churches."

The Pesakhovich Family

The Pesakhovich family continues to be mentioned prominently in a large number of documents, some of them dated in the late sixties of the sixteenth century. Thus in a document of May 19, 1555, Nahum Pesakhovich, as representative of all the Jews in the grand duchy of Lithuania, lodged a complaint with the king against the magistrate and burghers of Kiev because, contrary to the old-established custom, they had prohibited the Jews from coming to Kiev for trading in the city stores, and compelled them to stop at, and to sell their wares in, the city market recently erected by the burghers. Postponing his final decision until his return to Poland, the king granted the Jews the right to carry on trade as theretofore.

In a document of Oct. 31, 1558, it is stated that the customs, inns, breweries, and ferries of Pinsk, which had been leased to Nahum and Israel Pesakhovich for 450 kop groschen, were now awarded to Khaim Rubinovich for the annual sum of 550 groschen. This indicates that the Pesakhovich family was yielding to the competition of younger men.

An interesting light is shed on contemporary conditions by a document dated Dec. 12, 1561. This contains the complaint of Nahum Pesakhovich against Grigori Grichin, the estate-owner in the district of Pinsk, who had mortgaged to him, to secure a debt of 33 kop groschen and of 5 pails of unfermented mead, six of his men in the village of Poryechye, but had given him only five men. The men thus mortgaged to Nahum Pesakhovich were each compelled to pay annually to the latter 20 groschen, one barrel of oats, and a load of hay; they served him one day in every seven, and assisted him at harvest-time. This would indicate that the Jews, like the boyars, commanded the services of the serfs, and could hold them under mortgage. In another document, dated 1565, Nahum Pesakhovich informed the authorities that he had lost in the house of the burgher Kimich 10 kop groschen and a case containing his seal with his coat of arms.

The Pinsk Jewry in 1555

In 1551 Pinsk is mentioned among the communities whose Jews were freed from the payment of the special tax called "serebschizna." In 1552-55 the starost of Pinsk took a census of the district in order to ascertain the value of property which was held in the district of Queen Bona. In the data thus secured the Jewish house-owners in Pinsk and the Jewish landowners in its vicinity are mentioned. It appears from this census that Jews owned property and lived on the following streets: Dymiskovskaya (along the river), Stephanovskaya ulitza (beyond the Troitzki bridge), Velikaya ulitza from the Spasskiya gates, Kovalskaya, Grodetz, and Zhidovskaya ulitzi, and the street near the Spass Church. The largest and most prominent Jewish property-owners in Pinsk and vicinity were the members of the Pesakhovich family–Nahum, Mariana, Israel, Kusko, Rakhval (probably Jerahmeel), Mosko, and Lezer Nahumovich; other prominent property-owners were Ilia Moiseyevich, Nosko Moiseyevich, Abram Markovich, and Lezer Markovich. The synagogue and the house of the cantor were situated in the Zhidovskaya ulitza. Jewish settlements near the village of Kustzich are mentioned.

A number of documents dated 1561 refer in various connections to the Jews of Pinsk. Thus one of March 10, 1561, contains a complaint of Pan Andrei Okhrenski, representative of Prince Nikolai Radziwill, and of the Jew Mikhel against Matvei Voitekhovich, estate-owner in the district of Pinsk; the last-named had sent a number of his men to the potash-works belonging to Prince Radziwill and managed by the Jew above-mentioned. These men attacked the works, damaging the premises, driving off the laborers, and committing many thefts.

By a decree promulgated May 2, 1561, King Sigismund August appointed Stanislav Dovorino as superior judge of Pinsk and Kobrin, and placed all the Jews of Pinsk and of the neighboring villages under his jurisdiction, and their associates were ordered to turn over the magazines and stores to the magistrate and burghers of Pinsk. In August of the same year the salt monopoly of Pinsk was awarded to the Jews Khemiya and Abram Rubinovich. But on Dec. 25, 1564, the leases were awarded to the Jews Vaska Medenchich and Gershon Avramovich, who offered the king 20 kop groschen more than was paid by the Christian merchants. In the following year the income of Pinsk was leased to the Jew David Shmerlevich.

In the census of Pinsk taken again in 1566, Jewish house-owners are found on streets not mentioned in the previous census; among these were the Stara, Lyshkovska, and Sochivchinskaya ulitzy. Among the house-owners not previously mentioned were Zelman, doctor ("doctor," meaning "rabbi" or "dayan"), Meir Moiseyevia, doctor, Novach, doctor, and others. The Pesakhovich family was still prominent among the landowners.

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