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SAMOGITIA (Yid. and Heb. Zamet or Zamut ; Lith. Žemaitisa ; Pol. Źmudź ; Rus. Zhmud ), historical region of W. Lithuania. Jewish settlement in the area dates from the 14th century, and it gained in importance under the grand duke Witold of Lithuania, who granted the Jews a number of significant privileges. In the 16th century, especially after the union of Poland and Lithuania (1569), several Jewish communities were established. The Jews acted as government tax collectors, exporters of raw materials to Germany (timber, grain, etc.), and importers of silver and gold objects and manufactured goods.

Samogitia played an important role in the second half of the 17th century, when Lithuanian Jewry had a semiautonomous organization. This came about because of the growth of the already established communities and the creation of many new ones. The area attracted immigrants from other parts of Lithuania and Poland, and in particular refugees from the *Chmielnicki massacres, from which Samogitia itself had been spared. In the early period of the Lithuanian Council (see *Councils of the Lands; which lasted officially from 1623 to 1764) most of the communities of the Samogitia region belonged to the province of Brest-Litovsk, except for those in the vicinity of the Niemen River, which belonged to the Grodno district. In the third quarter of the 17th century Samogitia became a separate administrative unit, named Medinat Zamet, and consisted of three districts: *Kedainiai (in the southwest), *Birzai (in the northwest), and Vyžuonis in the east. At its beginning, the entire Samogitia unit had a single rabbinical court, but in the course of time several of the larger communities appointed their own rabbis.

The Kedainiai district, which was the largest, comprised the communities of *Jurbarkas, *Plunge, *Siauliai, *Raseiniai, *Palanga, *Kelme, Kraziai, *Skuodas, and *Telsiai, the spiritual leaders of the district being the rabbis of the *Katzenellenbogen family. The Birzai district consisted of the communities of Salantai, Pasvalys, Seta, Pumpenai, and Pakrojus. The Vyžuonis district comprised the communities of *Braslav, *Druya, *Kraslava, *Utena, and Anyksciai, and its spiritual leaders were the rabbis of the Ginsburg family. Samogitia continued to maintain administrative links with Brest-Litovsk, and the rabbi of Brest-Litovsk attended the Samogitia district meetings and affixed his signature to their minutes. Samogitia was one of the 11 central districts which came under the jurisdiction of the Lithuanian Council, and its name is frequently mentioned in the protocols of the early meetings of the Council which listed the communities paying the poll tax. (The "Council" was abolished in 1764, but the communal organizations that had been established in Samogitia continued to function for another two decades.) The first census of Lithuanian Jewry, conducted in 1764 and the beginning of 1765, showed a total of 157,250 taxpayers, Samogitia accounting for 15,759, or 10% of the total. In the Third Partition of Poland (1795), Samogitia became a part of the Russian Empire and remained so until 1915, when Lithuania was occupied by German troops. After World War i it became a part of independent Lithuania. At first the main center of the district was Raseiniai and later, Telsiai. During the Nazi occupation (1941–44), Samogitia was a part of Generalbezirk Litauen, and its Jews shared the tragic fate of the rest of Lithuanian Jewry.

As a center of Lithuanian Jewry, Samogitia was also famous as a center of Jewish religious life and learning. There were a number of world-renowned yeshivot in the area, and some of the communities were headed by great rabbis, whose authority extended far beyond their constituencies. When the *Haskalah movement spread in Lithuania, it also found adherents in Samogitia; the influence of German Haskalah was especially strong, due to the geographic proximity of the region to its sources.


S.A. Bershadski, Litovskye vevrei (1883); D.M. Lipman, Le-Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Lita-Zamut (1934); Lite, 1 (1951), 2 (1965); Yahadut Lita, 1 (1959), 3 (1967); E.E. Friedman, Sefer ha-Zikhronot (1926), 8–90.

[Joseph Gar]