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Mogilev

MOGILEV

MOGILEV , capital of Mogilev district, Belarus; from the middle of the 14th century until 1772 Mogilev was part of Poland-Lithuania. One of the largest and most important in Belarus, the Mogilev community was founded during the 16th century by Jews who leased the collection of customs duties; the first of these was Michael *Jozefowicz (1522). During the 1580s one of the most prominent Jewish merchants of Lithuania, Ephraim b. Jeraḥmeel (Afrash Rakhmaelovich) lived in Mogilev and leased the customs duties. In 1585 the Christian population requested King Stephen Báthory to prohibit the settlement of Jews in Mogilev. Although the king agreed, the order was not carried out and Jews continued to live in the town. A synagogue existed from the beginning of the 17th century. The struggle between the townspeople and the Jews of Mogilev continued throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1626 King Sigismund iii Vasa granted letters patent to the town (confirmed by King Ladislaus iv in 1633) in which it was stipulated that all the Jews must move into the street where the synagogue stood, beyond the city walls. On Rosh Ha-Shanah 5406 (1645) the townspeople, led by the mayor, attacked the Jews. In 1646 the municipality decided to forbid the Jews to live in lodgings rented from the townspeople or to acquire these lodgings. This too was confirmed by King Ladislaus iv. When Mogilev was occupied by the invading Russian armies in 1654, on the request of the townspeople Czar Alexis Mikhailovich ordered the expulsion of the Jews. Their houses were to be shared equally between the municipality and the Russians. The order was not immediately carried out, but as the Polish army approached Mogilev in 1655, the Russian commander drove the Jews out of the town and ordered their massacre. Those Jews who remained became apostates. After the end of the war the community was renewed and most of the apostates returned to Judaism. In 1656 John iix Casimir granted letters patent to the town, according to which the Jews were forbidden to live within the walls of the city and to build houses or maintain shops there. There was a *blood libel in Mogilev in 1692. In 1736 King Augustus iii confirmed the earlier letters patent of John ii Casimir, adding further anti-Jewish restrictions. Restrictive orders on settlement and occupations were later reissued, but were not applied in practice.

In spite of opposition, the community continued to develop. By 1692 there were two synagogues. In 1748 the municipality reprimanded the townspeople because they themselves had helped the Jews to settle in the center of the town and to engage in commerce. In 1766, 642 poll tax paying Jews were registered within the community of Mogilev and the surrounding villages. In the *Councils of the Lands Mogilev was subordinated to *Brest-Litovsk, and a few gatherings of the Council were held in Mogilev. The community developed to a considerable extent after Mogilev was annexed by Russia. The Jews of the annexed region were granted judicial autonomy, and the community of Mogilev was designated as the central community of the whole province, its bet din being given authority to hear appeals against the legal decisions of the province's communities. The Jews played a principal role in Mogilev's extensive trade with Riga, Memel, Koenigsberg, and Danzig (*Gdansk), and later with southern Russia. In 1847 there were 7,897 Jews registered in Mogilev. The Jews were greatly influenced by *Chabad Ḥasidism, but by the end of the 18th century there were several maskilim among the wealthy merchants. In 1783 one of them, Jacob Hirsch, addressed a memorandum to the Russian government in which he suggested that the ḥadarim and talmud torah schools in both the district of Mogilev and the town itself be converted into schools where secular studies would also be taught. During the 1860s and early 1870s Pavel (Pesaḥ) *Axelrod, who had studied at the local secondary school and later spread the ideas of the Haskalah among Jewish youth, lived in Mogilev. In 1870 the *Malbim (Meir Leib b. Jehiel Michael) was invited to become rabbi of Mogilev, but was soon compelled to leave the town after the maskilim denounced him to the authorities as disloyal to Russia. In 1897 there were 21,539 Jews in Mogilev (about 50% of the total population). In October 1904 pogroms were initiated by soldiers mobilized for the war against Japan. Mogilev was one of the important centers of the *Bund and of the Zionist Movement. Jews owned 219 small factories, where 667 workers were engaged, and also the 93 distilleries (except for one). There were 400 small merchants and wholesalers, and most of the Jewish artisans, 244, were tailors. Following World War i and the establishment of the Communist regime, the number of Jews decreased and by 1926 only 17,105 (34.1% of the population) remained, increasing to 19,715 (20% of the total population) in 1939. During the 1920s a violent struggle occurred between the religious circles and the Zionists on the one hand, and the *Yevsektsiya on the other, which terminated with the liquidation of Jewish communal life in the town. In 1924, 432 Jews were artisans, and many city Jews worked the 2,000 acres allocated by the government. Two seven-grade schools and one with four grades existed in Mogilev. In 1927 Jewish sections were opened in the local law courts. Mogilev was the birthplace of Mordecai b. Hillel *Hakohen, Nachman *Syrkin, and Jacob *Mazeh, the writers David Pinski and Eliezer Zwiefel, and the actor Aharon Meskin.

The Germans occupied the town on July 26, 1941. In August 80 Jews were shot, a Judenrat and a ghetto were established, and the Jews from the surroundings were concentrated there. In September another 337 were killed and the ghetto was moved to another place; 113 Jews who refused to move were murdered. On October 2–3, 2,208 children, women, and older persons were executed. On October 19, 3,600 were killed, and in November another 3,726 Jews were murdered. The 315 skilled laborers who were put into a labor camp were killed in December 1941. Most of those who were in hiding were discovered and murdered or later sent to Shiroka camp in Minsk. It was estimated that there were about 7,000 to 10,000 Jews in Mogilev in 1959. The last synagogue was closed down by the authorities in 1959 and turned into a sports gymnasium. There was a Jewish cemetery.

The Province of Mogilev

Together with the province of Vitebsk, it was the first region with a large Jewish population to be annexed by Russia, later comprising the core of the *Pale of Settlement as one of the "western" provinces in which most of Russian Jewry was concentrated. The province of Mogilev was one of the two provinces where the prohibition concerning the settlement of Jews in the villages, included in the "Jewish Constitution" of 1804, was fully applied (in 1823). In 1847, 87,739 Jews were registered in the communities of the province. By 1897 the number had risen to 203,947 (12.1% of the total population), 37.9% living in the towns, 38.9% in the townlets, and 23.06% in the villages. The large communities of the province included (in addition to Mogilev): *Gomel (20,385 Jews), *Orsha (7,383 Jews), *Shklov (5,422 Jews), *Mstislavl (5,076 Jews), and *Rogachev (5,047 Jews). In 1897, 38.95% of the province's Jews earned their livelihood from commerce and 36.90% in crafts; 9,517 Jews (4.7% of the total Jewish population) depended on agriculture. There were about 70 small Jewish agricultural settlements in the province. Under the Soviet regime, most of the territory of the province was incorporated into the oblasts of Mogilev, Vitebsk, and Gomel. In 1926 there were 48,900 Jews in the oblast of Mogilev.

bibliography:

Belkind, in: Keneset Yisrael, 1 (1886), 699–704; Dubnow, in: Pardes, 3 (1896), 94–100; Darin-Drabkin, in: Haaretz (Dec. 6, 1963); Mstislavskiy, in: Voskhod (Sept. 1–10, Oct. 1–16, Dec. 1–8, 1886); P.B. Axelrod, Perezhitoye i peredumanoye (1923), 33–67.

[Yehuda Slutsky]

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