Jewish Communities in Belarus

Jewish communities in Belarus have a long history. The first Jewish settlements in Belarus were in Brest and Grodno, and later in Minsk.

Jewish learning flourished in the region. Yeshivas were established in many towns throughout the country and Hasidism was also a growing movement.


Once a central hub for Jewish life, Belarus was renowned for its synagogues and yeshivas. However, many of the buildings that housed them were nationalized after World War II by anti-religious and often antisemitic governments.

In many places the structures that remained standing are now being converted to other uses. This is a common trend in Eastern Europe. A number of former synagogues are now being used as residential and commercial units, including the Great Synagogue in Ostrino and the 19th-century Great Synagogue in Porazava, near Slonim.

A 17th-century synagogue in Bykhov, a town near Minsk, is one of the best preserved examples. Its interior features stucco walls and paintings on the dome of the bimah.

Several other Jewish communities in Belarus have restored synagogues, some of which are still functioning today. The Babruisk Synagogue, located in the heart of the city of Babruisk, was rescued from neglect and has been renovated to become an important place for religious and cultural activities.

There are a number of rabbis in Belarus, both local and foreign-born, who serve the needs of the community. There are also several Jewish schools, including one in Gomel and two in Minsk.

Jews in Belarus are divided into two streams, Orthodox and Progressive. There are about 100 Jewish cultural groups in the country, with the majority of them being small in size.

The Jewish community is largely concentrated in the capital of Minsk, where it has several synagogues and numerous other religious institutions. In addition, there are many kosher restaurants in the city and a few Jewish schools.

Other cities with thriving Jewish communities include Grodno, Brest and Vitebsk. There are a number of Jewish schools in these cities and rabbis are available to serve the needs of the community.

In addition, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has several charitable organizations in Belarus that provide food, homecare and medical care to needy Jews. The Jewish Federation of the Republic of Belarus also has a large number of cultural and educational programs to help maintain Jewish traditions within the communities.


Yeshivas have long been a key part of Jewish culture. They are a place where Jews can learn from teachers, study the Torah and other religious texts, and make friends with other students. In Belarus, there are several notable yeshivas that have played an important role in the history of Jewish learning.

A renowned rabbinic scholar, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, founded the Volozhin Yeshiva in 1803, revolutionizing Jewish education and setting the standard for Torah study. The yeshiva soon attracted students from around the world.

The early Chassidic movement, which began in the 1700s, had many adherents in the region that now makes up Belarus. It was a spiritual movement that sought to live a fully observant Jewish life. It was also a political movement, with its followers taking positions on government councils and other public committees.

In the 16th century, Jews began to settle in the Belarusian towns of Brest and Grodno. These communities developed a number of important institutions, including schools and synagogues.

Shaul Wahl, a prominent leader in the area of Brest, was known for his piety. He was also a powerful religious scholar and served as a member of the Va’ad, or Jewish Council governing Jews in the region.

Prince Radziwill was impressed by the young man’s scholarly abilities and invited him to live with him in his castle. It was there that Shaul began to study the Bible and other Jewish texts, achieving fame in the area.

When Bathori, the king of what is now Belarus, died in 1586, two major factions fought over who would succeed him. In an audacious move, Prince Radziwill suggested that if the nobles wanted a wise leader who could lead the country to prosperity they should ask for the help of a Jew.

A brilliant young Jew named Shaul had been studying at a yeshiva in the nearby town of Brest, and Prince Radziwill offered him a job as a teacher at his castle. The young man took up the offer, and soon he was an extremely popular leader.

Another influential figure in Jewish history was Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, who lived in Lithuania and was known as the “Vilna Gaon” or the “Vilna Genius.” Together, they revolutionized the way Talmud was taught, focusing on moral character and development rather than simply learning the rules of Jewish law. The combination of these two men’s ideas paved the way for widespread Torah study in Europe.

Chassidic Movement

Many of the most important leaders of the Chassidic movement have come from the Jewish communities of Belarus. Their incredible spiritual lives have shaped the way that Torah study is taught today in Eretz Yisroel and around the world.

Belorussia, which lies on the path between Russia and Poland, has a long history of Jewish life. It was first visited by Jews in the 14th century, and today there are approximately 12,000 Jews living in the country.

During the 17th century, Hasidism began to gain popularity among Jews in Belarus, and by the 19th century it had become the dominant Jewish ideology. Unlike in other areas of Europe, Hasidism did not split into different factions; rather, the movement remained unified.

Hasidism is characterized by exuberance and ecstatic prayer, as well as other practices that reflect a deep desire to connect with G-d. Throughout the 19th century, the movement developed many Hasidic centres, each with its own Rebbe and community.

While Hasidism was a popular choice among Belorussian Jews, it was also controversial within the Orthodox world, especially in Eastern Europe. Many Mitnaggedim, or Orthodox rationalists, were opposed to the Hasidic movement. This explains why Hasidism did not spread as quickly in Belorussia as it did elsewhere in Europe.

In addition to its impact on the religious life of the Jewish community, Hasidism also helped shape the political landscape. As Gershom Scholem argued, “Hasidism was not an isolated phenomenon; it sunk into a political instrument of reactionary forces that had a significant impact on the formation of the Polish state”.

By 1921, the Soviet government had taken control of Eastern Belorussia, and Jewish organizations were quickly shut down by the Communist Party. This forced many observant Jews to relocate in Western Belorussia, where the economic situation was less severe.

Even in these less-affluent regions, however, Hasidic life was still strong, and observant Jews in Belorussia continued to study Torah and practice piety. The region became a centre of Jewish learning and cultural activity.

A number of renowned Torah leaders from Belarus also studied and lived in Eretz Yisroel. Among them are Rav Aaron Kotler (see profile) of Slutzk, who guided generations of students in the ways of Torah and piety; Rabbi Moshe Elchonon of Baranovitcher, who led one of the most famed yeshivot in Belarus and shaped hundreds of students who would go on to become great Torah teachers themselves; and Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer of Kletzk, who taught countless students and wrote a shiur that continues to inspire fourth and fifth generations of shiurim the world over.


The Jewish communities in Belarus are a mixture of secular and traditional. A few orthodox chassidic synagogues remain in the country, while many others are modern Orthodox or Conservative. The Jewish population is growing, and the numbers of older Jews are on the rise.

The political crisis that is now gripping the country, following the election of a new government, is causing a lot of anxiety for Jewish communities in particular. The protests that have engulfed the city of Raisky, for example, have created fears among older people and their families. They are afraid that their children might get arrested or be subjected to violence by police, and they fear for the safety of their elderly relatives as a result of the strikes and economic crisis.

But despite the protests, life is still going on for most of the population. And for some, it may even be getting better.

A number of community centers and day schools in Minsk Vitebsk and Gomel, where some of the country’s oldest Jewish residents are based, provide services to people in their golden years. They offer everything from language classes and chess clubs to yoga and pottery.

Some chassidic communities have also started offering COVID-19 hotlines for older clients, one of the first such programs in the world. They’ve set up phone calls between elderly people and trained volunteers, who check up on them regularly and send them packages of groceries or food.

Older people are also more vulnerable to the pandemic, as they may have weaker immune systems and be less able to fight off infection. Often, they are not aware of the symptoms of the virus and have no access to health care or information about how to prevent it.

This makes them more susceptible to catching the virus and exposing themselves or others to it. So, they need to be extra careful and follow CDC guidelines when they are not sick.

For many of the older people in the Jewish communities in Belarus, preventing Covid-19 is more important than ever. But as the political crisis continues and the economy worsens, they are also at risk of being left alone to deal with the disease.

Belarus Jewish History

Jewish history in Belarus is rich, tragic and little spoken of. This cultural project has the potential to connect communities and create valuable dialogue around identity and heritage.

In this blog, we will be exploring the Jewish heritage of Belarus and its peoples. During the course of this blog, we will build a cultural trail that, in time, may become a certified route on the European Routes of Jewish Heritage.

The Early Years

The Jewish people in Belarus have been an important part of the country’s history since the Middle Ages. During that time, Jews have played a pivotal role in the development of the country and its culture.

In the Middle Ages, the region of modern-day Belarus was ruled by rulers from neighboring Lithuania and Poland. One of these rulers, Jogaila (later King Wladyslaw II Jagiello), was known for welcoming Jews into his territory.

Jews inhabited Belarus for many centuries, and in the 16th century they were a large presence in the city of Minsk. Their presence was characterized by religious diversity, with both Orthodox and Reform Jews making up a significant portion of the population.

During the 19th century, Jews began to make an increasingly large contribution to the economy of Belarus. They dominated trade and artisanry, and their numbers increased with the advent of industrialization.

The Jewish community in Belarus grew as a result of its geographic position as an entry point into the Russian Empire for Jews from Eastern Europe. According to the 1926 census, 407,000 Jews constituted 8.2% of Soviet Belorussians.

However, this demographic change was halted by the Nazi invasion of 1941. During the war, Belorussian Jews were murdered en masse by both SS troops who fought in Soviet Russia and by local Belorussian police.

The Holocaust killed about 148,000 Jews in Belarus. As a consequence, Belarus today is home to fewer than 30000 Jews. Despite this, Jews remain an important part of the community and there are a number of communities in the country that have been revived.

The Middle Ages

In the middle ages, Jewish history in Belarus was a vibrant and complex one. Several major political changes occurred during this period, and Jewish communities in Belarus faced challenges as a result of these changes.

During the 14th and 15th centuries, Belarus became an important center of Jewish learning. This was partly due to the efforts of Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk and Shneur Zalman of Liady, who were both influential in the development of Hasidism. In addition, there were many notable yeshivas in the region, including those of Volozhin and Mir.

Jews also made an impact on the country’s politics. When King Stephen Bathori died, two factions fought over who should be his successor. In the end, Prince Radziwill suggested that they crown Shaul, a Jewish man who had studied in some of the most famous yeshivas in the area.

Although it was an audacious move, the nobles followed his suggestion and made Shaul king of the land. This demonstrates the extent to which Jewish leadership was valued by the nobility in Belarus during the middle ages.

While the middle ages of Belarus Jewish history was relatively peaceful, there were some violent times. These were often caused by anti-Semitism. In response, some Jews sought a new way of life and eventually moved to Israel.

The Renaissance

Belarus is located in Eastern Europe, bordering Poland and Lithuania on the west, Russia on the north, Ukraine on the east, and Kazakhstan on the south. Its population was estimated to be 10,366,719 in 2000.

Despite the political and cultural oppression faced by Belarusian Jews, they have managed to form a variety of national and local organizations and activities. The Jewish community in Belarus is represented by the Union of Religious Jewish Congregations, which had 20,000 members in 2000. It has twelve regional offices and supplies humanitarian aid to Jewish communities around the country.

The Belarusian government has consistently limited freedom of speech and religion, a fact that has been blamed for anti-Semitism in the country. However, the President, Alexander Lukashenko, has given amnesty to individuals who were convicted of crimes against Jews.

As a result, many of the historic Jewish sites have been restored and rebuilt, such as synagogues and cemeteries. These structures were used for Jewish religious services in the past and are now being converted to museums or other public spaces.

Art is a major part of the Belarusian culture. Decorative and applied arts are prevalent in Belarusian society, with ceramics, glass, batik, and tapestry being popular. Performance arts are also growing in popularity.

During the nineteenth century, many of Belarus’s Jewish communities had a strong presence in music and dance. These influences can still be seen in the compositions of many amateur musicians and in folk music festivals that take place throughout the year.

In addition, Zionist and Bundist groups spread throughout Belorussia during the nineteenth century. They created small defense armies to combat the numerous pogroms that took place in the region. Both of these parties became active in government leadership during the twentieth century.

The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment was a movement that changed the way that people thought about society. Many philosophers developed new theories of human behavior and a more naturalistic view of the world around us. They also formulated new ways to approach political questions.

Although the Enlightenment was a great movement for the advancement of ideas, it came under attack from authoritarian governments around the world. Some of these nations stifled civil rights, ignored the principle of separation of church and state, and suppressed democratic freedoms.

In the 18th century, a number of Jewish communities formed in Belorussia. The most significant ones were in Brest, Grodno, and Pinsk.

Despite the Enlightenment’s influence, traditional Jewish practices were maintained in Belorussia. Some of these traditions were based on medieval sources, while others were influenced by contemporary Jewish thinkers.

Spinoza, for example, was an important figure in the Enlightenment because of his use of scientific reasoning to deconstruct traditional religious beliefs. His writings helped to establish the foundation for a more naturalistic understanding of religion and a more secular view of human nature.

A significant number of the Enlightenment’s most renowned writers and thinkers also rejected traditional morality. This led to a culture of ethical self-questioning and criticism.

These trends are reflected in the work of authors such as d’Alembert, Diderot, and Voltaire. In their philosophical texts, they criticized traditional morality and defended their own views of the good.

However, the Enlightenment’s most enduring legacy was its optimistic views of human progress and development. This optimism still exists in some parts of the world today. It is particularly prevalent in authoritarian countries, where leaders quash civil liberties and stifle democracy. In these instances, the Enlightenment’s ideals of freedom and equality come under threat.

The Holocaust

The Holocaust was a devastating time in Belarus Jewish history, and it is the only major tragedy in the country’s history to have directly affected its Jewish population. Its Jews were among the most targeted by the Nazis, and tens of thousands of them did not escape the genocide.

Western Belorussia, which had been annexed by the Soviet Union two years before, was much more resistant to the Nazis than the eastern part of the country. Despite their relative poverty, Jewish communities in the western region were lively with culture, including underground choirs, Talmudic study, Zionist organizations, and theater.

In Eastern Belarus, on the other hand, Jewish communities had been wiped out, and many Jews were left in ghettos where they were subjected to extreme violence from the Nazis. Some escaped to the countryside, but others were murdered by local people.

A remarkable family in Nowogrodek – the Bielskis – led by their eldest son, Tuvia – set up a makeshift camp where they took shelter from the war. There, they began to grow food, and by the end of the war, they were able to save the lives of over 1,230 Jews.

Those who survived were either mobilized into the military, joined partisan groups, or lived in family units with other Jews. Some managed to obtain non-Jewish documents or found shelter in Russia.

Since 2002, several organizations in Belarus have worked to restore and preserve the country’s Jewish heritage. They have been working to reclaim synagogue buildings and other Jewish cultural property that was confiscated by the Nazis. While this is a slow process, it is vital for the preservation of the nation’s Jewish history. The government has also designated some sites of Jewish annihilation for historical and cultural preservation.