Jews and Jewish Life in Minsk, 1795-1917

Prof. Shibeko specializes in the history of Minsk during the period of 1861–1914. Building on earlier research, he has started working on a monograph devoted to the history of the Jews in Minsk. Joining the Center has provided the opportunity to research new sources and publications, which will allow him to recreate a panoramic image of the life of the Jews of Minsk during the period of 1795–1917, when the city was part of the Russian Empire.

This volume, based on careful study of a single, particular city, will provide a detailed reconstruction of the urban life of Jews in a certain historical epoch. Strangely, there has until now been no significant research on the history of the Jews in Minsk, which is the present capital of Belarus and which was one of the most important Jewish centers in the past. The current availability of sources makes it possible to reconstruct a vast panorama of the life of the Minsk Jews, in a city typical of the Belorussian region of the Russian Empire. Prof. Shibeko’s work examines a number of different topics: the Minsk Jewish community in its historical retrospective, the living conditions of the Jews in the capital of a governorate, the Jews in the structure of the Minsk population, the role of the Minsk Jews in the economy of the city and the region, the specific features of the Jewish self-government, the peculiarities of their spiritual, cultural, and everyday life, the participation of the Minsk Jews in the all-Russian political struggle, and in the national (Zionist) movement. The book will be concluded with two chapters of a memorial and reference character: “The Minsk Jews in Memory, Literature, and the Arts,” and “The Jewish Addresses of the Old City.” The book itself will become a kind of a monument to Jewish Minsk, where at the end of the nineteenth century the Jews formed 51% of the inhabitants. Probably, a vast panorama of the research would make it possible to understand how the Belorussian regionalism influenced the national self-identification of the Jewish people. At present, it is not completely clear to us why Czarist Russia failed to assimilate the Lithuanian Jews to the same degree as the Jews in Poland, and even the Ukraine, to say nothing about France and other European countries. It is possible that the preservation of their individuality was due also to some Belorussian factors. Moreover, a study of a single, concrete location, covered by a plethora of sources, will make it possible to establish methods and experience necessary for working on a promising international project on the history of the Lithuanian Jews.

During the 2016–2017 academic year, Prof. Shibeko has been conducting research in various libraries of Israel and Belarus, analyzing recent research in the field. He made additions to a previously compiled list of scholarly publications on the history of Jews in Belarus and Minsk in that period. He has completed his study of archival materials related to the history of the Minsk Jews concentrated in the Central Historical Archives of Belarus (Minsk). In the process, he was greatly aided by local Jewish volunteers.

The History of Retail Trade in Belarus

“The History of Retail Trade in Belarus” is a Belorussian-Israeli research project started in 2013, which is financed by the Belorussian company MENKA and is under the scholarly supervision by Prof. Shibeko. The goal of the project is to write a research monograph on the history of trade in Belorussia from ancient times to the 1990s. Nineteen Belorussian historians, archeologists, ethnographers and economists will take part in creating scholarly studies to be included in the future monograph. This is the first time that such a large-scale research project on the history of trade is being undertaken within the territory of the former Soviet Union. One of the central topics will be the participation of Jews in trade in Belorussian lands, their role in the development of the trade, and their interaction with non-Jews in the Belorussian consumer market.

The planned research will consider various aspects of the entrepreneurial activity of merchants in a close connection with market conditions and consumers’ demands. The research will study the development of trade through an examination of human activity, highlighted by the use of an anthropological-historical methodology. In the course of the implementation of the project, two international conferences and a workshop have been held, the proceedings of which are in the process of being published. Prof. Shibeko helped to organize these events and is the academic editor of the collections of proceedings.

Professor Shibeko has begun editing the full text of the monograph “The History of Trade in Belarus”.

Jewish Trade in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the End of the Fourteenth Century to the Nineteenth Century

The idea of writing a book on the topic of Jewish trade in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania emerged during the course of work on a collective monograph entitled The History of Trade in Belorus. The research is being carried out primarily on the basis of published primary sources, as the main sources on the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) have already been published. While the available studies published in Israel, Belarus, Poland, and Lithuania focus on the spiritual life, culture, and self-government of the Jews in the GDL, in this monograph, trade, as one of the most widespread economic occupations of the Jews, is taken as the subject of research. The factors of language, religion, and self-government kept the Jews largely isolated from other peoples in the GDL, and it was only at the market that they came into contact with non-Jews. In the process of trade and the resulting interaction with Gentiles, carriers of the local culture could not but affect the development of the Lithuanian Jewish community, a subdivision of the broader Ashkenazi Jewish community. However, very little research has been conducted on this cultural impact of trade on the Lithuanian Jewish community. The planned book will study the general context of Jewish life in the GDL, the sources, the consumer market, the legal and financial conditions for trade activity at the consumer market, Jewish trade itself, and the relations of Jews with the consumers, non-Jews included. Prof. Shibeko will try to determine how the interaction between the Jews and Belarusians was implemented through trade. The source-oriented character of the book would become a reference point for more detailed studies of Jewish trade in Old Lithuania by future researchers.

During the 2016–2017 academic year, Prof. Shibeko has written the chapter “Liquor Trade”, for his future book “An Outline of the Jewish Trade in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the End of the 14th Century to the End of the 18th Century”.

Publications

“Jewish Studies in Belarus: History, Current State and Perspectives”, Belarusian Review, 2016. Special Jewish issue, pp. 7–12. Co-authored with Leonid Smilovitsky.

“Belarusian Judaics: Problems of formation and Development Prospects”, Maladosc' (Youth). 2016, № 4, S.104–109. In collaboration with Leonid Smilovitsky [in Belarusian].

Book review: Lev Smilovitsky: From the Experiences of Life – Memories, Jerusalem, 2016, 191 pp., The Point, 2016 [in Belarusian].

Book review: Representative Organizations of the Bourgeoisie in Ukrainian Gubernias (1861–1919 gg.): A Monograph, I.O. Shandra, Kharkiv, 2016, 316 pp., in Historical and Political Research, № 1 (59), 2016, S. 162–170. [in Ukrainian]. In collaboration with A. Kishtymau.

Editing and Review

Professor Shibeko completed the editing of the materials of the Second International Conference: "The History of Trade in Belarus: The Art of Entrepreneurship in the Consumer Market" (Minsk, November 21–22, 2015).

Together with Dr. Smilovitsky, he edited the materials of the special issue of the journal The Belarusian Review (Prague), which was published in cooperation with the Goldstein-Goren Diaspora Research Center.

Prof. Shibeko reviewed the monographs of Prof. A. Smolenchuk, "The Edge Idea" in Belarusian History (Minsk, 2017, Belarusian).

He also reviewed Urszula Anna Pawluczuk’s book Eighteenth Century Vilnius – A City of Many Religions and Nations, (Białystok, 2015; in Polish).

Articles in Preparation for Publication

“The Funding of the Jewish Trade in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the End of the 14th to the End of the 18th Centuries” – accepted for publication in second issue of Proceedings Center for the Study of the History of Trade of Belarus (Minsk).

“The Liquor Trade of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Participation of Jews” – accepted for publication in the scientific journal Wschód Europy, (Lublin, Poland).

“The Jews in the Liquor Trade in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the Era of the Jagiellons: Late Fourteenth century to 1572” – accepted for publication in the Proceedings of the Sixth Congress of Belarusian Researchers (Kaunas).

“The Path to the Belarusian People's Republic Under the German Occupation (1915–1918): The Role of Germany in an Attempt to Restore the Belarusian Statehood” – accepted for publication in the scientific journal Belarusian Review (Prague).

Conferences

  • October 69, 2016

    Prof. Shibeko represented the Center at the Sixth Congress of Belarusian Researchers (Kaunas, October 6–9, 2016), where he presented a paper on the topic “The Jews in the Liquor Trade in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the Era of the Jagiellons: Late Fourteenth Century to 1572”.  He also served as a moderator at this event.

New Projects

Prof. Shibeko is a contributing author to the volume The History of Belarus, which will be translated into Czech and published in Prague this year. This project was initiated by the Prague publishing house Lidové Noviny. He wrote seven sections on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which occupy one third of the book. His chapters for the volume include many Jewish topics.

Other Activities

Prof. Shibeko is a member of the committee of experts responsible for naming the winners of the annual competition for the best academic books and articles on the history of Belarus, which is held in Kaunas, Lithuania during the annual Congress of Belarusian Studies. On his initiative, beginning last year, a contest of scholarly works by foreign authors devoted to the history of Belarus is being conducted.

Thanks to a grant from the Nevzlin Center, Prof. Shibeko was able to conduct new research in Minsk. As a result, he has finished the process of collecting materials on the history of the Minsk Jews (1795–1917) from Minsk libraries and archives. During his stay, he also gave a public lecture entitled “How People Drank and Were Ruined by drinking in Belarus”, in which he refuted the myth that Jews forced the Christians to drink alcohol. Prof. Shibeko spoke on the same subject in “Радыё Свабода“ [Radio Svaboda].

Consultations

Prof. Shibeko was a consultant to a Belarusian-Jewish group from the Netherlands which is creating an animated film for children on the main events of Belarusian history.

Prof. Shibeko is an editorial board member of the scientific historical journals: Archivist (Minsk), Białoruskie Zeszyty Historyczne (Bialystok, Poland), Belarusian Review (Prague), and Wschód Europy. Studia humanistyczno-społeczne (Lublin Polska). He is also a reviewer for the scientific journal Acta Baltico-Slavica (Warsaw).

 

 

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