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Research Tools - Ecclesiastical/ Church Jurisdictions
by Deborah G. Glassman, copyright 2004

This is a page in our Special Record Collections and Jurisdictions section. To see all of the resources of this area, click the "Collections" button in the left-hand column

See July 2009 entry at bottom of page on records of the Franciscans in the Russian Archives

Before we look at the records created by the various Church authorities about individual Jews in Lyakhovichi and the Jewish community as a whole, it is useful to get an overview of Church History in the area.

In the fifteenth century when the Jews were coming in much larger numbers to this region, the land centered in Minsk was called the Grand Duchy of Lithuania or just Lithuania. The smaller area today called Lithuania was then the newly acquired and not-yet-Christian territory of Samogitia. The name Belarus and its variants did not exist before the Russian conquest of the area in the Polish Partitions (1770s-1795) when the name Lithuania was first restricted and then outlawed. So the towns of Minsk, Slutsk, Slonim, Poltava, Vitebsk, etc. were Lithuanian towns. The majority of fifteenth century Lithuania was inhabited by a single group of people with divergent dialects but shared religion – those who spoke what is today called Ukrainian and Belarusian also shared the Orthodox religion. Over a territory spread from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea they used the same religious hierarchy from the year 1000 to the 1300s.

When the Metropolitan of Kiev was set up as the highest official north of Constantinople in the year 1000, his jurisdiction included all of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and all of the lands of Kiev and the Rus. In 1240, the Mongols overran Kiev and the Metropolitan’s office was moved to Moscow. The Orthodox in the southern regions continued to be under Moscow’s jurisdiction, but in 1316 some of the noble families of Lithuania who had recently converted to Christianity and their still pagan Grand Duke, got the Patriarch of Constantinople to set up a separate Metropolitan for the Orthodox Church of Lithuania. It was installed in Novogrodek in 1316 and also included the jurisdictions called the eparchies of Polatsk and Turau. Its primary work through the fourteenth century was teaching Christianity to a population proudly "pagan.” Getting the position of Metropolitan set up in Lithuania was a huge coup for the nobles and later when Kiev was made part of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy, the Metropolitan in Novogrodek also held the title of Metropolitan of Kiev and all Rus. Moscow was not pleased at any of the authority previously held in Kiev, moving out of its control. The pressure from Moscow to retain that particular title, to the Metropolitan resident in its own city, was large, and ranged from bribery to assassination. It did not help Moscow’s view of the situation that this claim to the seat of a rival Metropolitan was from a country not viewed as officially Christian until 1387, nor that much of Lithuania, the border lands of the Samogitian tribes, seemed to show no sign of wanting to be Christian. The area that is now Lithuania was not substantially Christian before the sixteenth century.

In 1412 the Metropolitan in Novogrodek died and a new one was appointed by Constantinople. The new appointee was said to have been bought off by the authorities in Moscow and went there with his title rather than to Novogrodek. At that point Grand Duke Vytaut demanded another Metropolitan be appointed but with political pressures mounting from Moscow, the Patriarchate remained silent. Vytaut now demanded that a religious council be formed to elect a new metropolitan. In 1415 the council in Novogrodek elected a Metropolitan that the Patriarchate neither recognized nor deposed. Grand Duke Vytaut the Great, had what Henry the Eighth of England would need another half century to accomplish – an independent church within his borders.

It could have proceeded very favorably for the leadership of the Grand Duchy from there, but for the consequences of a change that had been happening in the lives of Lithuanian peasants and nobles. The peasants were being systematically converted from free small-scale farmers to serfs who worked the estates of the nobility. The nobility, which had originally spoken the same language and worshipped in the same churches as their farm workers, was becoming increasingly Polonized (while the nobles of Poland stressed their civility by speaking Latin and western European languages, the nobles of Lithuania emphasized their culture by speaking Polish). Lithuanian nobles saw little difference between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy and by being willing to accept Roman Catholicism; they could create alliances and marriages that brought new wealth into their region. The Grand Dukes of Lithuania wanted to re-design the Orthodox Church of Lithuania so that it would be acceptable to their allies in Poland – Orthodox in some traditions but subject to Roman authority. Grand Duke Vytaut’s leading church official, The Metropolitan of Novogrodek, was coerced into going to a conference of Roman Catholic Bishops in 1418 where the unification of the Orthodox Church of Lithuania under Roman Catholic primacy was pushed very stridently. The Metropolitan refused and resigned upon his return. Though another generation of Novogrodek leadership would continue, the door was opened for Moscow to try to present itself as the last defender of the Orthodox faith, an excuse for invasions of Lithuanian territory for the next two hundred years. In 1448, the Moscow church created a new office of Metropolitan higher than all others outside of Constantinople without even going through the motions of petitioning Constantinople (which was under threat on many fronts at that time). Constantinople was conquered by Moslem forces in 1453, and so Moscow’s new claims received no challenge. The Metropolitan in Novogrodek was not in a position to offer more than correspondence, his authority was being undercut everyday. By the 1480s, the personal alliances between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland had put the Orthodox Church on the GDL's territory into grave danger of extinction. Their Church properties were being turned over to Catholic officials, their revenues were being assigned elsewhere, and their rights to minister to their congregants was being actively fought. Even the repair of Orthodox Churches was being forbidden by the 1480s.

The wars of Lithuania that fill the sixteenth century may blend together in an outsider’s eyes, but the wars with Muscovy had direct consequences for Churches in Lithuania. When in 1514 Muscovite armies occupied the cities of Smolensk and Polatsk, old strongholds of the Lithuanian Orthodox Church, Church officials in those cities were replaced with those from Moscow. But the most telling Church effect was when Poland, Lithuania’s long-time ally, made its own incursions, taking the Ukraine communities in Podolia and Galicia. The Lithuanian nobles tried to shore up their resources by marrying into Poland’s ruling houses. Which made more and more demands on the Orthodox Church to conform to Roman Catholic custom. When prominent Lithuanian nobles converted to Roman Catholicism, lands with their churches and monasteries that had been on perpetual lease to Orthodox orders, were suddenly made available to Roman Catholic Church officials. In a trickle down effect, loans that were outstanding from Jewish communities (many more Jewish communities owed money to Christian religious establishments than vice versa) were called suddenly, because the Orthodox leadership needed funds for bribes or for relocating. In 1563, the Roman Catholic Council of Trent determined that all Roman Catholic parishes around the world would start keeping registers of baptisms, and marriages. A later amendment included burials. The King of Poland ordered that this law be kept by all religious officials including those of the Jews and the Orthodox Christians.

In the end it was the Union of Lublin in 1569 that changed the religious allegiances of Lyakhovichi and its surrounds. The Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were unified in a treaty called the Union of Lublin in 1569. Pressure to bring the Orthodox churches of Lithuania (and Poland and the Ukraine) into conformity with Roman Catholic practice, was increased daily. In 1589, their opponents in Moscow decided that electing a Metropolitan was not sufficient in a world where the Patriarch in Constantinople was no longer a leader of a Christian city (the city being under Turkish-Moslem rule for the previous century). A religious synod in Moscow elected a Patriarch in Moscow. As the new Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth saw Moscow as one of their worst foes, a response was sought, so that local Orthodox peasants would clearly align with the new state’s goals. In 1596 the Union of Brest-Litovsk celebrated the Union of the two churches, with the Lithuanian Orthodox Church now subordinate to Rome. This modified church is called in most literature, the Uniate Church, and eventually it included most Ukrainians and a significant number of what would be called Belarussians. It survived for two hundred years of Polish rule, but Czar Nicholas I of Russia put an end to it as an official religion in the Belarus area in the 1830s (though large numbers of believers continued to practice and the church was allowed to continue in Ukraina).

This means that as Jewish history in Lyakhovichi begins, (in the fifteenth century), church records we might find, related to land ownership, leases, rents, court complaints, manorial disputes, etc, were created in the Lithuanian Orthodox Church which two centuries later, became the Uniate Church. Records kept in the churches themselves were acquired in 1795 by Russian Orthodox officials who reported to Moscow and we probably have a significant removal of documents to Moscow and St. Petersburg in that time period. When the Russian Orthodox officials arrived they also saw as part of their duties, the need to “russify” the local community. Prayer books and materials written in the local language were replaced by Russian language materials. Old records were shipped to the consistory in Moscow and some to archives in St. Petersburg. We are continuing to search for information on the fates of those records including both those created at the local level and those at the office of the Metropolitan in Novogrodek. At this time, we know that the records of the Polesie Consistory are posted as among the records of the Brest State Archives.

Jews seemed to have gotten here right as the established order was being overturned, and the religious turmoil took a long time to settle. The rulers of the family of the Grand Duke of Lithuania, were pagans when the Jews entered the country. The fifteenth century local Church authority was Lithuanian Orthodox, the sixteenth century Church authority was Uniate and Roman Catholic, the seventeenth and eighteenth century authority was wholly Roman Catholic. The records of the Roman Catholic churches, monastic orders, and officials that would have most affected the local Jewish community from the 1500s forward to 1795, are largely related to leases, rents, and court complaints. But back in 1563, parish registers with births, and marriages, were ordered kept. In 1614 deaths and burials were added to the requirements. In places where there was not an official of another recognized faith, the priest was required to register everyone regardless of faith. In practice, most events in the lives of non-Catholics were not recorded. Only the deaths of non-Catholics made it into Catholic registers with any regularity and then only after the recording of Catholic deaths was made mandatory in 1614. Complaints against Jewish intrusion on Church prerogatives also made it into the record books - Jewish music sang too loudly, insufficient respect given to Catholic Holy days and Feast Days, structures for Jewish worship built without the agreement of Church officials. Catholic institutions also kept good records of claims they had against Jews, and initially the Russian Box Tax had been designed in Polish-Lithuania to deal with debts owed by the Jewish community to the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church was the State Religion in the Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth until the final Russian conquest in 1795. The Russian Orthodox Church moved into control in 1795 and their records will have to wait for another report. But the now much more marginalized, Roman Catholic Church, continued to have a significant role in the administration of the municipal government of Lyakhovichi. Many of the functionaries of Lyakhovichi's 19th century municipal government were educated or ennobled Poles with strong connections to their faith. St Joseph's Church, built by Chodkewiecz, was the church attended by the local nobility and the most of the city officials. If records of that church have survived, it would be interesting to note if the good relationship between its members like Lord Rejtan, who offered to rebuild a burned down synagogue for the community, or Michael Kuntsevich who as a city official campaigned for the Jewish vote, was mirrored in the relationship of the Church and the Jewish community. Late nineteenth century Russia was a time/place where some mutual respect and recognition had begun to be given to clergy of different faiths - Ukrainian archives show that campaigns for schools, rebuilding after fires, and other mutually beneficial interaction, occured between Orthodox and Jewish organizations, in both directions. I don't know if relationships between two minority faiths - Roman Catholics and Jews in small Russian cities have been studied, but if you know of any research that can cast some light, please let us know.

Records of the Moslem Community of Lyakhovichi There was no Protestant Church in Lyakhovichi but there was a Moslem mosque, which was built by Lithuanians of Tatar descent. They dated their settlement back to the same Vytaut the Great who gave rights to Jewish settlers in Lithuania and who sought out Tatar soldiers to serve in his army. They brought skills in crafts, horse-breeding and rearing, and commerce, and were allowed from an early day to serve as soldiers and public officials. They appear in Lyakhovichi muncipal registers as noblemen and property owners and officials. The street Tatarskaya was named for the primary street of their residence and that of their mosque, but it was not exclusive to them, Jews lived on Tatarskaya also. The 1826 Registry law, required them to keep community registers also, but they had followed the practice for centuries. If typical of other Moslem communities in the region, their registers were replete with the items that fill Turkish archives; registers of marriage contracts, registers of divorce, community witnessed depositions, et al. These Sunni Moslems were a small group that reportedly found it difficult to find suitable marriage partners for their children without some intermarriage. It was illegal for a Christian to convert to Judaism, but there are a number of documented cases from other Lithuanian communities, of Lipka Tatars converting from Islam to Judaism to marry. This small percentage of a small group probably did not impact much of Lyakhovichi's Jewish life, but such occasions may have created records. Not properly a religious document but within the schema of Tatar paperwork - military censuses designed to tally Tatar forces available to the Grand Duchy, may have also listed the town militia, which in the seventeenth century Grand Duchy, included Jewish householders. In Slutsk such a census enumerated those Jews who were to guard specific buildings, to man sections of the wall and to participate in fire brigades. The published inventories of the State Historical Archives in Minsk and the archives in Brest, list no records of this group from any location, but the material may be there, unindexed.

Images from Ecclesiastical Jursidictions


The priest at St Joseph's in 1910
from the pages of Radzima.org

a Belarussian History site with many
interesting pictures on towns in Brest oblast.

We would like to post here a wide variety of records to show those that would have impacted Jews in the community. Have you come across any in a scholarly publication, a website of a genealogist, an archive's report?

We invite scholars who are investigating any of these materials in our part of Belarus, to share their findings here!

ADDED JULY 2009
Church Material in Russian Archives Related to Jews of Belarus
Notes by webmaster Deborah Glassman, July 2009

I was drawn by the wonders of the modern search engine (special blessings on Google at all times) to "DOCUMENTS ABOUT THE FRANCISCAN ORDER ACTIVITIES IN RUSSIA, BYELORUSSIA, LITHUANIA AND UKRAINE LATE XVIII-EARLY XX CENTURY, IN RUSSIAN STATE HISTORICAL ARCHIVE. THE DIRECTORY OF ARCHIVE FILES. Compiler: S. G. Kozlov. Moscow. Moscow Franciscan Conventual Brothers publishers. 2002."

The authors announce in the first paragraphs their intention not to take on the 6.5 million documents in the Russian State Historical Archives related to the history, organisation, management, and abolition of the Roman Catholic parishes and convents, or legislative acts that regulated the status of the Church in the Russian Empire and in the Kingdom of Poland. Rather they took on the still daunting task to summarize and catalog files relating to the history of the Order of St. Francis and its congregations on the territory of the Russian Empire creating the most comprehensive list of these documents. Those congregations also include Bernardines, the Conventual Franciscans, the Capuchins, the Reformats. and the Franciscan sisters-missionaries of Virgin Mary. Because the documents detail the building, repairing, and closing of church property, and the leasing of various assets including the names of lease holders, tenants, et al, the researchers also name Jews who appear in those records.

These were the listings for Belarus communities. Some that I could not clearly identify, may in fact be for other parts of the Russian Empire. I excluded those Ukrainian towns that I could clearly identify - Bar, Chudnov, Kremenitz. Most importantly, I have not yet seen any for Lyakhovichi. I am hoping by posting some of the archival notes about Jews in other Belarus communities, I will end up with more people looking for similar records and uncovering Lyakhovichi finds. We know that convents in Nesvizh owned property in Kletsk and other nearby communities. We also can see in the property records that the Russian diocese owned property in Lyakhovichi proper. Help us look!

These are the pages on the internet referencing this publication and the archival fonds cited here.

http://www.catholic.uz/library/books/docs_fran/page09.htm

Depository 384, inventory 5, files nn.: 527 - Regarding the senate's law about sending a decision about the tavern built by Jew Filkelshtein [Lyakhovichi webmaster note possibly the Latin lower case n has been mistaken for a Russian L and the name would in that case be Finkelstein]on the lands belonging to Franciscan convent of Ivenets in Minsk province, in 1851, 10 pp.;

Depository 797, inventory 10, files nn.: 26473 - Regarding the lands belonging to the Orthodox church of the Ascension and those of the Bernardine convent, which were occupied by Jewish buildings in Mogilev district and province, in 1840-1841, 15 pp.;

Depository 797, inventory 18, files nn.: 288 (Department 3, bureau 2) - Regarding the lands belonging to the Bernardine convent in Mogilev which were occupied by a Jewish school and synagogue, in 1854, 23 pp.;

Depository 1405, inventory 39, files nn.: 2786 - Regarding the case of the Franciscan convent in Senno with the Jewish community of Cherey about sums of money, in 1841, 24 pp.; List of depositories and inventories containing files, concerning the history of the Order of St. Francis in the Russian Empire:

http://www.catholic.uz/library/books/docs_fran/page08.htm

In 1818: 2172 - Regarding the proposal of Duke Golitsyn that the Bernardines in Mstislavl should get the admittance to build Jewish houses on their land, 21 pp.;

In 1830 4510 - The proposal of State-Secretary Bludov regarding an action brought by the Bernardine convent in Yanov against the local Jewish community for tallow and wax;

4619 - The proposal of State-Secretary Bludov regarding Jew Leiba's complaint on Sadovsky, Guardian of the Franciscan convent in Senno, for turning him out of the inn, 8 pp.;

4760 - Regarding the proposal made by State-Secretary Bludov in connection with the suit of the Bernardine convent in Grodno against Jew Botkovsky for the land occupied by the houses, 14 pp.;

4809 Б - Regarding the estate belonging to the Bernardine convent in Druya after the testament of Sapeha from the estate Sapezhinky;

1831 4888 A - Regarding the proposal made by State-Secretary Bludov in connection with the suit brought by the Franciscan convent in Senno against the Jewish community in Charnotsk and Jew Eliashevich for sums of money;

1835 6233 - Regarding the Minister's proposal about the case of the Bernardine convent in Mstislavl with the Jew Liberman;

1840 7866 - Regarding the proposal of Governer of the Ministry about the recover of money from Jew Chertkova to the Franciscan convent in Pinsk;

1840 8024 - Regarding the proposal of Governer of the Ministry about the money of the Jewish community in Zaslavl used to satisfy claims (including those of the local Bernardine convent);

8390 - Regarding the buildings erected by the Jews near the Bernardine convent in Mogilev, in 1841-1857, 33 pp.;

8428 - Regarding the money claim of the Franciscan convent in Sennitsaa to the Jewish community in Chereya, in 1841, 5 pp.;

13376 A - Regarding a synagogue and a Jewish school built on the land belonging to the Bernardine convent in Mogilev, in 1855, 4 pp.;

13528 Б - Regarding the recover of the debt from the Jewish community in Telshi to the local Bernardine convent, in 1855-1885, 36 pp.;

17660 - Regarding the debt of the Jewish community in Orsha to the local Bernardine convent, in 1876, 11 pp.;

18961 - Regarding the same subject (the Bernardine convent in Yanov gets from the Jewish community of Rzezwow, in 1889;

19195 - Regarding the debt of the Jewish community of Luknik to the Bernardine convent in Telshi, in 1890;

1892 19501 - The Bernardine convent in Druzhkopol - from the Gorohov Jewish community;

19505 - The Bernardine convent in Komargrod - from the Jew A.Perets, according to an acknowledgment of debt;

19663 - Regarding the sum of money, which the Bernardine convent in Polotsk gets from the local Jewish community;

19672 - Regarding the sum of money, which the Bernardine convent in Grodno gets from the local Jewish community;

19690 - Regarding the sums of money, which the Bernardine convent in Ivie gets from the Jewish community of Novogrudek;

1898 20557 - Regarding the same subject (the Franciscan convent in Olkenniki gets from the local Jewish community);

Debt Cases 1899 20714 - Regarding the annuity, which the Franciscan convent gets from «prikagalok» (Jewish community) in Lukoml';

The Information above in tabular form:

Jews and Jewish Communities
in Franciscan and Bernardine Catholic Records in Russia

Jewish Name

Occupation or significant fact

Location

Lessor or other party

Date

Jew Eliashevich and the Jewish community in Charnotsk

For sums of money owed

Charnotsk

convent in Senno

1831

Jewish community in Chereya

Money claim

Chereya

Franciscan convent in Sennitsaa

1841

Jewish community of Gorohov

Regarding the debt

Gorohov

Bernardine convent in Druzhkopol

1892

Jewish community of Grodno

Sum, of money paid to convent

Grodno

Bernardine convent in Grodno

?

Jew Botkovsky

Land occupied by houses

[Grodno?]

Bernardine convent in Grodno

?

“Jew” Finkelstein

Tavern owner

Ivenets Minsk

Franciscan Convent

1851

Jew A.Perets

Acknowledgement of debt

[Komargrod?]

Bernardine convent in Komargrod

?

Jewish community of Luknik

Regarding the debt

Luknik

Bernardine convent in Telshi

1890

prikagalok (Jewish community) in Lukoml'

Annuity paid to convent

Lukoml

Franciscan convent [in Lukoml?]

1899

Jewish buildings

Jewish buildings

Mogilev

Bernardine Convent

1840-1841

Jewish buildings

Jewish buildings

Mogilev

Orthodox Church of the Ascension

1840-1841

Jewish school and synagogue

Jewish school and synagogue

Mogilev

Bernardine Convent

1854

Jews in Mogilev

Jewish buildings erected  near the convent

Mogilev

Bernardine convent in Mogilev

1841-1857

synagogue and a Jewish school

Built on convent land

Mogilev

Bernardine convent in Mogilev

1855

Admittance to build Jewish houses

Jewish community

Mstislavl

Bernardines in Mstislavl

1818

Jew Liberman

 

Mstislavl

Bernardine convent in Mstislavl

1833

Jewish community of Novogrudek

the sums of money paid to convent

Novogrodek

Bernardine convent in Ivie

?

Jewish community of Olkenniki

 

Olenniki

Franciscan convent in Olkenniki

1898

Jewish community in Orsha

Debt to convent

Orsha

Bernardine convent (local)

1876

Jew Chertkova

Recovery of money

Pinsk

Franciscan convent in Pinsk

1840

Jewish community of Polotsk

Sum, of money paid to convent

Polotsk

Bernardine convent in Polotsk

?

Jewish community of Rzezwow

Debt to the convent

Rzezwow

Bernardine convent in Yanov

1889

Jewish community of Cherey

Jewish community

Senno

Franciscan Convent in Senno

1841

“Jew” Leiba

innkeeper

Senno

Franciscan Convent Senno

?

“Jew” Leiba

innkeeper

Senno

Sadovsky guardian of the Franciscan Convent Senno

?

Jewish community in Telshi

Debt to convent

Telshi

Bernardine convent (local)

1855-1885

Jewish community in Yanov

Lawsuit regarding tallow and wax

Yanov

Bernardine convent in Yanov

1830

Jewish community in Zaslavl

Money used to satisfy claims

Zaslavl

Bernardine convent (local)

1840


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Catholic  Church of Lyakhovichi built in 1602 by Chodkewiecz
Catholic Church built 1602 by Chodkewiecz
Called St Joseph's, it had in the nineteenth century and early 20th century, a steeple and belltower, no longer present, as the building was "re-functioned" under the Soviets into a health center. Nobleman Rejtan, who in the late nineteenth century had a very positive relationship with Lyakhovichi's Jews, (he offered to rebuild a synagogue lost to fire at his expense) was the holder of the "First Pew" or "Founder's Pew" at that time. His widow, Countess Rejtan, who had been equally supportive of the Jewish community, was deported by the Soviets in 1941 along with many Jewish members of the community, and she died in Siberia alongside her long-time Jewish neighbors.

A Description of Church Documents (Catholic and Orthodox) of Lyakhovichi that affected its Jews)
by Deborah G. Glassman, copyright 2004 as "Church Records of Lyakhovichi", updated and copyright 2007

Jews arrived in Lyakhovichi under a pagan ruler, Vytaut, who eventually converted twice, once to the Orthodox faith and once to the Catholic. The early owners of Lyakhovichi, following the reign of Vytaut, were members of the Gostautas family, patrons of the Roman Catholic Church. The Gostautas men were generous benefactors of the Cathedral in Vilna, having donated beautiful worship objects (i.e. The Gostautas monstrance) and having their family crypt built right into the church. There is no evidence of a Catholic church in Lyakhovichi mentioned in the published histories of the area before the Great Hetman Chodkewiecz, built one in the seventeenth century, which still stands. That early Catholic Church would have been required to implement the 1563 law called for by the Council of Trent and instituted by Stanislaw Augustus – that a parish register be created to register baptisms, and marriages In 1614, burials were made a requirement for Catholic priests to register, too.

The law, of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, was that parish registers be kept, recording every baptism and every marriage. Births were not recorded per se, but baptism was done as soon after birth as possible, so they were de facto birth documents, as well as administrative documents of the Church. The requirement that marriage registers list each of the public announcement of the banns called out in the parish church, meant that these records, too, were not civil documents, equally applicable to all faith communities. But the government found a benefit in having this information equally available for all subjects and soon required that the priest extend his parish coverage, to include those of other faiths. In practice, most events in the lives of non-Catholics were not recorded. Baptisms in the Orthodox faith were not reported to the Catholic Church, marriage banns or their equivalent in the Jewish and Moslem communities were not reported to the Catholic priest. Only the deaths of non-Catholics made it into Catholic registers with any regularity, and then only after recording of Catholic deaths was made mandatory in 1614. Deaths were much more public events and adults of all faiths were reported with more regularity than either birth-connected events or marriages. Still the amount of knowledge and taxable events, dropped off significantly in the non-Catholic population and the remedy was to expand the number of responsible parties. The law to keep a parish register was extended to all recognized faiths within the borders of the Commonwealth, and the earliest registers of the Jewish communities of Poland and Lithuania date to this period, also. No registers of Lyakhovichi's Jewish Community's births, marriages, or deaths, has yet been found from any time period.

The important thing to consider before dismissing the records of other religions as irrelevant to the Jewish population, is to understand the wide variety of activities for which the priests were responsible for recording. Priests were responsible for the morality of their adult parishioners and so might intervene in disputes involving tavern behavior, marketplace complaints, and any signs of judaizing – which was often defined as "too close association with Jews." They were required to educate the young – but in an unhappier version of the traditional town-gown animosity of western nations, teenagers in gymnasia and Catholic colleges were often inculcated with strong Jewish animosity, which was then vented in the Jewish section of town. The local Churchmen defended the attackers vigorously. Complaints against Jewish intrusion on Church prerogatives also made it into the record books - Jewish music sang too loudly, insufficient respect given to Catholic Holy days and Feast Days, structures for Jewish worship built without the agreement of Church officials and too close to churches. Catholic institutions also kept good records of claims they had against Jews, and initially the Russian Box Tax had been designed in Polish-Lithuania to deal with debts owed by the Jewish community to the Roman Catholic Church. Records of individual Catholic churches and facilities that would have most affected the local Jewish community in Lyakhovichi are those related to leases, rents, and court complaints, as the Church was often the holder in due course of real estate or lease-hold privileges which the Jews rented between the sixteenth century and the Russian takeover in the 1790s. The Catholic Church was the State Religion in the Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth until the final Russian conquest in 1795.

The Russian Czar in the 1720s instituted parish register laws comparable to those in effect in Poland-Lithuania. Despite an extension of the law to require the inclusion of believers of other faiths in some part of each parish register, other laws made it moot for both Catholics and Jews before the Polish partitions. Jews had been forbidden access to the country execpt for short entries to certain fairs, and there were almost no Catholics in the land yet. The huge number of Catholics who were members of the Uniate Church in Volhynnia and Podolia gubernias (today renamed and part of Ukraina), and in the gubernias of Vitebsk, Minsk, and Grodno (today in Belarus) were lands at that time still part of Poland-Lithuania. With the partitions of Poland, Russia acquired the largest contiguous Jewish population in the world, and a Catholic Uniate population that was much more densely settled than the Russian Orthodox interior of the Russian nation. Armed with the new requirements of the parish register laws, the Russian Orthodox hierarchy, moved into a new role. The documents and the registers of each parish were expanded in scope.

Most Russian Orthodox metrecheskiei knigi (register books for the parish) begin around the time of the 1722 law of Peter the Great. Two copies were made and one was sent to a central office at the deaconate level, the central office copy was considered the original in legal claims and documents. The format was strictly maintained with a requirement for neat printing in 1806 and except for a small change in the 1830s, followed the same format until the Russian Revolution. The registry was sent to the deaconry, which was not the top level of administration, but was the district's top level. The priesthood itself reported to superiors who reported to bishops at the consistory level. The area subject to a consistory was an eparchy whose smaller division was blagochenie/ blahoczynias (deaconates), which were subdivided to the smallest unit, the prikhod (parish). In this region the Orthodox deaconates were headquartered in Nowogrodek, Wielki Zuchowicz, and Kolpienicy. So copies of Lyakhovichi's Russian Orthodox registers would have been sent to Nowogrodek's church offices.

The Russian Czar’s eagerness to better manage the lives of his people resulted in many more documents being required to be recorded by the priesthood, including proof of smallpox vaccination in 1804 and later, registers for military recruits being kept by all faiths. Because of the use of Church registers as recruitment data, if a person was born in a place other than where the father was a registered resident, the Church supplied a "Birth Certificate." This would be sent from the town of birth, usually the mother's hometown, to the father's legal residence, with a copy kept for the officials in the birth town, which might record it in a town document. This was designed to keep down the recruitment quota for the birth town. Marriage Permissions are an important genealogical tool recorded in these books. Russian law required a male to be eighteen, but you were still a minor needing your parents' permission until you were twenty-one. Government officials and military personnel needed the permission of their superiors, regardless of their age. This included even minor government officials Because of the requirement for military permissions, most men of all faiths, did not marry while in the service. Marriage Banns were required - three public announcements of an intended marriage declared in Church. If the bride and groom were from different home churches, the announcement had to be sent to both. If no objection was raised after the third publication, the declaration would be sent to the church where the wedding would occur. If one of the parties was converting to the Russian Orthodox Church, no notice was published ,as it was seen as a threat to the successful conversion. An inquiry was sent following the conversion, because the Church had a claim on children of the convert under a certain age. The priests were even put into the position of having to ge involved with legal decisions. Before a priestcould perform a marriage for someone previously divorced or widowed, he had to enter into his register that he had seen a statement from the township court that claims of the heirs of the deceased, (children and parents primarily) had been legally met.

The bureaucracy of the Russian Orthodox Church, as it existed from when Lyakhovichi became part of Russia to the Russian Revolution, meant that many records were created in multiple copies, with copies sent to the central organization. A Jewish child kidnapped as a conscript under Czar Nicholas the First might convert to Russian Orthodoxy during his extensive and punitive captivity. The Army chaplains were required to send a notice to the Central consistory with the relevant information, including the child’s original residency. The policy at the central office was supposed to result in a notice being made in the records of that town’s church, at least at the central office. Later conversions (from 1865) also made it into the Eparchy’s newspaper, which was published monthly and are still available today on microfilm, but to my knowledge (please correct me or inform me further) there are no indices to the names and towns listed in those newspapers.

The value of Russian Orthodox registers and records, as a primary source of information on members of the Russian Orthodox community, is just beginning to be explored. Individual registers in archives have just begun being analyzed and written about in Russian historical journals. So it is no wonder, that their value for Jewish research has barely been addressed. As with Catholic registers, the value for Jews is most likely to be in documents related to leases, rents, and court complaints. The Jews would have had to get signatures of approval to allow the construction of synagogues, for the expansion of cemeteries, etc. They would have made gifts to new administrators of land-owning church facilities in their area, to maintain good relations with people of influence. Church officials may have also made themselves interested parties in many court cases between Jews and Christians. While the law required the Russian Orthodox parish priest to keep records on the Jews in Lyakhovichi from 1795 until a Jewish Registry law went into effect (variously reported as 1826 and 1835, not clear if went into effect at different dates for different gubernias or if one report is simply mistaken) it is not yet known if that was done. The older Polish laws where the Jews were to create their own registers, were probably still regarded as in force, especially as the noble jurisdiction in the Kassakowski family and then the majority of the urban officials of Lyakhovichi mestcheko, were each Catholics of Polish heritage. When the Jewish Registry law went into effect, the Jewish community was responsible for the same two registries as the Russian Orthodox parish, but where the priest turned his copy over to the deaconate in Novogrodek, the Jewish registers were turned over to the government. From 1826 or 1835 (depending on which was the correct start date) until 1857, the register was the responsibility of Jewish community officals, in 1857, the responsibility became that of a government appointed rabbi for each community. See more information on the Jewish Metrical Registers on another of our website’s pages.

Roman Catholic registers maintained under Russian law might date back to the 1563 ordinance, but more often, fire and war meant that the copy in use as the Russians took over, was much younger. The State Historical Archives in Minsk, shows Catholic records in Lyakhovichi dating from 1702-1849 (with certain breaks) a start date that is a full century after we know the Chodkewiecz church in the city was built. After 1826, Catholic registers were to be made in triplicate: the first stayed in the parish; summaries of that went to the consistory; and the third copy, now the legal original, going to a government office. The records of the Lithuanian Orthodox Church which was absorbed by the Uniate Church and the Uniate Church were acquired by the authorities of the Russian Orthodox Church as they moved into the area in 1795. There was a significant removal of documents to Moscow and St. Petersburg in that time period. When the Russian Orthodox officials arrived, they saw as part of their duties, the need to “russify” the local community. Prayer books and materials written in the local language were replaced by Russian language materials. Old records were shipped to the consistory in Moscow and some to archives in St. Petersburg. The Belarus State Historical Archives in Minsk lists in their catalog that they have the Orthodox and Uniate parish registers for Lyakhovichi in Slutsk uyezd for 1771-1827 and also for 1834. The Lithuanian Orthodox Church which had been incorporated into the Uniate Church in the 16th century, was long gone when the first records of 1771 are recorded but perhaps old church privileges and court records remain. The Uniate Church is probably the one represented in most of those records before 1800, with the Russian Orthodox Church becoming dominant thereafter.

Records of Jewish-Christian intermarriage are, according to repeated complaint of the Polish Catholics of the 18th century and the Russian Orthodox of the 19th century, amazingly low. The churchmen were unhappy that more Jews did not intermarry as the law required that the marriage of partners of two faiths could only be done in the Christian church that was dominant in that time. The law further specified that the children of that marrige were Christians and subject to the guidance of the church, in all things. We would, if anecdotal evidence is reliable, therefore not expect to find many conversions, or baptisms, marriages, divorces, or deaths, where one party was previously Jewish. Despite, the small percentages, the late nineteenth century saw a number of Jewish to Orthodox conversions. Such a conversion was an aid to school admission and acquisition of government position. Further they provided some measure of relief for Jewish-community sanctions on unlawful marriages to "chained wives", or to "illegitimate children", or to men who refused to properly divorce their wives. Records of these conversions and their consequences in law, appear in Russian governmental archives separately from their appearance in those of the Russian Orthodox Church. Annual summaries of marriages and lists of those who received Orthodox communion were sent to the Metropolitan in Novogrodek after 1794. Comparable records were sent to the Polesie Consistory which are posted as among the records of the Brest State Archives. The rights of Jewish converts to Christianity to inherit the estates of their Jewish relatives was asserted in courts of law with supporting documentation. Complaints against male converts who didn't properly divorce their Jewish wives are documented in court records and in a special Russian format, petitions by women, directly to to the Czar. Returned soldiers who had converted during their service, found that the report of the conversion had been forwarded to their local church, returning home didn't meaning returning to obscurity. If the soldier was intent on rebuilding his Jewish life, he would have had to emigrate, the notations were on all of his Russian legal documents, thereafter.

If the Orthodox or Catholic records of Lyakhovichi in the Minsk archives are digitized or microfilmed or become the subject of a scholarly study, please drop a note to us and let us know about this potentially important resource.