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Town in Belarus. The first evidence of Jewish life in Slutsk (Pol., Słuck) dates from 1583, when the town formed part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth; its Jewish community was granted a formal privilege in 1601. By 1623, Jews owned 16 houses. Though affected by wars in the mid-seventeenth century, both the town and the Jewish community developed rapidly. In the Lithuanian Jewish Council, Slutsk, originally a satellite of Brisk (Brest Litovsk), became one of the five leading communities in 1691.

By 1750, there were 1,593 Jews (representing 33% of the total population) in Slutsk. Relations with non-Jewish society were tense, particularly due to economic competition. Jews made up more than 75 percent of the towns’ merchants, and a similar proportion was engaged in the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Though Slutsk was not an important center for Torah study, major rabbinic figures, including Yehudah Leib Pohovitser and Ḥayim ha-Kohen Rapoport, served there. According to legend, the Ba‘al Shem Tov visited Slutsk in 1733, having been invited by a wealthy leaseholder, Shmuel Ickowicz.

Annexed to the tsarist empire in 1793, the town grew more slowly in the nineteenth century, partly because the railway system bypassed it. In 1897, the Jewish population had reached 10,264 (77% of the total population). Jews played a crucial role in local markets that specialized in agricultural produce, especially fruit and vegetables. In those years, the imposing Kalte synagogue was built and the town formed a bastion of anti-Hasidic Misnagdim. Among its rabbis was Yosef Dov Ber Soloveichik (1865–1874), later head of the Brisk yeshiva. A major yeshiva was founded in Slutsk by Isser Zalman Meltzer in 1897. The Haskalah and modern Jewish political parties were also popular, with such intellectuals as Ya‘akov Cahan, Yitsḥak Dov Berkowitz, and Ephraim Lisitzky hailing from the town.

Following the 1917 October Revolution, Slutsk became part of the Soviet Republic of Belorussia. Independent Jewish merchants and craft workers—the majority of the community—did not easily fit into the new economic order, leading to high levels of impoverishment. The number of Jews had declined to 8,538 (53%) in 1926. Jewish institutions were closed and liquidated, with the Kalte synagogue serving as a military warehouse. The yeshiva moved to nearby Kletsk in the early 1920s. Slutsk’s rabbi, Yeḥezkel Abramsky, who was arrested in 1929, escaped to London in 1931. Soviet Jewish schools in Yiddish were established in the mid-1920s but were liquidated in 1935.

With the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, many of the Jews of Slutsk were summarily shot and the rest sent to a ghetto. The ghetto was liquidated on 8 November 1942, with the few surviving “useful” Jews murdered within months. In the post-Holocaust years, very few Jews lived in Slutsk—1,275 were recorded in 1959 and 606 in 1989. No synagogue existed, and a minyan was held in a private home; its members maintained the Jewish cemetery. The fall of the Soviet Union has seen little revival of the community: in 2006, the Jewish population numbered less than 500 and was receiving support from the American Lubavitch and Reform movements. A Holocaust memorial fund has been established.

Suggested Reading

Shimshon Naḥmani and Naḥum Ḥinits, eds., Pinkas Slutsk u-venoteha (New York and Tel Aviv, 1962); Barbara Pendzikh, “The Jewish Community of Sluck after the Polish-Muscovite War of 1654–1667,” World Congress of Jewish Studies 11.B1 (1994): 173–180; Adam Teller, “Masoret Slutsk ‘al re’shit darko shel ha-Besht,” in Meḥkare ḥasidut, ed. Immanuel Etkes, David Assaf, and Yosef Dan, pp. 15–38 (Jerusalem, 1999); Adam Teller, Kesef, koaḥ ve-hashpa‘ah: Ha-Yehudim ba-aḥuzot Bet Radz´ivil be-Lita ba-me’ah ha-18 (Jerusalem, 2006), pp. 34, 55–76, 155–161.