The Jewish settlement in the Podlachia Region dates back to the 15th century, when small groups of people of the Mosaic religion appeared in Bielsk Podlaski. In 1522, the Head of the Province of Troki - Olbracht Gasztołd, arranged for nine Jewish families to move to Tykocin[1.1].
The village, which had been established in the first half of the 15th century, became property of the Branicki family in 1685. As confirmed by the chronicle of the board of Jewish community in Tykocin, Jews had been among the village’s inhabitants as early as 1658. What is certain is that 75 Jews from Białystok had paid the poll tax in 1661. In 1663, a note was made in the chronicle that there were 75 men and women (older than 14 years of age) of Mosaic faith, living in Białystok. Obviously, the Białystok Jews were initially subordinate to the community of Tykocin.
The Branickis chartered the city in 1691. They made a lot of effort to encourage Jews to settle down there by providing them with housing infrastructure, shops and by founding a synagogue[1.2]. Already in 1692, there was a Białystok kehilla, subordinated to the Tykocin community[1.3]. A separate community was formed in 1745 with a population of 765 persons. The community from Białystok quickly acquired the leader’s position among other Jewish communities of the Podlachia region. [1.4]. In that same year Jan Klemens Branicki proclaimed Jews to be subject to bylaw and other local laws on par with the townsman. At the end of the 18th century, there were approximately 1,800 Jewish inhabitants, who constituted around 45% of the city’s population.
At the beginning of the 18th century (or, as other sources have it – after 1749) the development of the center undertaken by the Branicki family and their efforts to give it a true urban character had a decisive influence on the development of the Jewish settlement in Białystok. As stated by historical sources, after the city was granted city rights, Białystok was also presented with numerous privileges and tax exemptions, moreover, the act de non tolerandis Iudaeis (forbading Jewish settlements and trade conducted by Jewish parties within the city’s borders) was not in force[1.5]. Jews were settling in the vicinity of what is presently the southern frontage of the marketplace.
In 1700, the Białystok rector rented a plot of land to the Jews. It was the so-called pastewnik in the neighbourhood of Suraska Street and was rented for the construction of the synagogue known under the name of “Nomer Tamid Beth Midrasz” (hebr. Eternal Candle Flame). The exact date of its construction remains unknown, it is supposed that it could have been constructed in 1711, 1715 or in 1718 [1.6]. In 1718, Ner Tamid, an association dedicated to looking after the synagogue, was founded. Around this small wooden building, within the borders of the so-called synagogue square (present Suraska Street), grew, in subsequent years, the Białystok Jewish district called Szulhof (Shulhof) [1.7] Supposedly, the first Białystok Jewish cemetery had already been created at the end of the 17th century, or maybe even about 1658, in the vicinity of the Old Catholic cemetery. It is known that it had been located along the southern frontage of the marketplace and that it was closed before 1770, when the plot was bought by Miron Josiowicz, with the intention to construct a brewery[1.8].
[1.1] T. Wiśniewski, Ważniejsze białostockie synagogi, in: „Białostocczyzna” 1986, no 4, p. 8.
[1.2] I. Shmulewitz, Białystok – A Historical Survey, in: The Białystoker Memorial Book [Der Białystoker Yizkor Buch] (1982), 3–5; A. S. Hershberg, Pinkas Białystok; grunt-materyaln tsu der geshikte fun di yidn in Białystok biz nokh der ershter velt-milkohme , vol. I and II, New York, 1949-1950.
[1.3] A. Dobroński, Białystok - historia miasta, (2001), 14; T. Wiśniewski, Bóżnice Białostocczyzny, (1992), 135.
[1.4] Białystok, in: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, red. Sz. Spector, G. Wigoder, vol. I, (2001), 138; Białystok ,in: Encyclopaedia Judaica, F. Skolnik, M. Berenbaum (eds), vol. 3, (2007), 567.
[1.5] T. Wasilewski, Kształtowanie się białostockiego ośrodka miejskiego w XVII–XVIII wieku, in: „ Studia i materiały do dziejów Białegostoku”, vol. IV, (1985), 37.
[1.6] SA. Dobroński, Białystok. Historia miasta, (2001), 135; T. Wiśniewski, Ważniejsze białostockie synagogi, in: „Białostocczyzna”, no 4, p. 8; T. Wiśniewski, Bóżnice Białostocczyzny, (1992), 135.
[1.7] Białystok [online] http://www.kirkuty.xip.pl/bialystok.htm [Access 2 February 2009].
[1.8] T. Wiśniewski, Cmentarze Żydowskie w Białymstoku, in: „Studia Podlaskie” 1989, vol. II, 381; A. Sztachelska-Kokoczka, Społeczność żydowska w Białymstoku w XVIII, in: „Białostoczyzna” 1996, no 2, 22.
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