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Rights of Jews

Before 1772, i.e. before the inclusion of Vitebsk into the Russian Empire, the rights of the Jews were similar to those of the belorussians. Conflicting factors were at play: on the one hand, various restrictions applied, yet on the other hand, many specific rights were granted for state and economic reasons. The former was mostly driven by the fear of competition from the local inhabitants, while the latter came about as the ruling classes were interested in tax collection, export and import, trade in general, and thus defended the Jews who rented their land and practiced various trades. The poor Polish nobles, on the other hand, were envious of the Jews.

King Vladislav IV in 1633 defined the general privileges of the Jews and allowed them to freely settle and trade under the supervision of the local administrators (`voevoda'). Following a devastating war with Russia (1654), King Yan Sobeski III in 1679 gave the Jews the right to:

  1. build houses and sinagogues;
  2. keep and slaughter livestock for themselves and for sale to non-Jews;
  3. trade leather, textiles, iron, furs, bread and baked goods, jewellery, ... in open stalls, in the interest of the economic development of the city, and to pay the same rates of taxes as the non-Jews;
  4. provide services such as barbershops; and
  5. appeal to the King with complaints.
In October 1729, these rights were reaffirmed by August III. In 1678 Seim declared that Jews can be tried by the administrators (`voevoda') and the elders (`starosta') but not by the city courts. One must add that all of the above applied only to the Jews of the Great Duchy of Lithuania; for the Jews of the `Polish Crown' these right were greatly reduced. In short, the `backward' feudal Belarus treated its Jews with greater respect.

next up previous
Next: Economic conditions Up: End of XVI century to Previous: Jewish quarters
Ed Sternin