||Communal records in Yiddish for the city of Brisk prepared by Isaac Yerushimiski, the records keeper (accountant) and issued by the mayor. The report begins with a history of the community from 1834. It records the city’s population by religion and all the expenses, including income and expendituresm such items as administrative costs. Inlcuded are comparative costs of other communities, such as Grodno. At the end of the report are several fold out pages with income and expenses from 1910 1931. The text is in square letters in a single column.
Brisk (Brest-Littovsk) was the capital of Brest oblast, Belorus. In the medieval grand duchy of Lithuania, from the 14th to the 17th centuries, in particular after the union of Poland and Lithuania in 1569, it was the main center of Lithuanian Jewry. Its situation on the River Bug, at the junction of commercial routes and near the borders of the two countries, made Brest-Litovsk an important communications and commercial center. The first Jews settled there under the grand duke Kiejstut (Kestutis; 1341–82). His son Vitold (Vytautas) granted them a generous charter in 1388, which was later extended to all the Jews in the duchy. Jewish merchants from Brest-Litovsk are mentioned in 1423–33 in the muncipal records of Danzig (Gdansk) where they bought textiles, furs, and other goods. The community increased toward the end of the 15th and in the first half of the 16th century, and became one of the largest in Lithuania. It also became the most important organizationally as contacts with Poland steadily expanded. The Jews of Brest-Litovsk engaged in commerce, crafts, and agriculture. Some conducted extensive financial operations, farming the customs dues, taxes, and other government imposts. They also farmed and owned estates. Their business connections extended throughout and beyond the duchy. By 1483 Jews in Brest-Litovsk had established commercial ties with Venice.
In 1495 all Jews who refused to accept Christianity were expelled from Lithuania. Only one convert, of the Jozefowicz family, remained behind in Brest-Litovsk. The Jews were permitted to return in 1503, and the community regained its former eminence. Michael Jozefowicz played a leading role in its communal affairs in the first half of the 16th century. Records of 1566 show that there were 156 Jewish-owned houses in the town out of a total of 746. Two years later, after the great fire there, the Jews were exempted by King Sigismund Augustus from paying tax for nine years, provided that they thenceforth built their homes of stone only. The Jews in Brest-Litovsk took an increasing share in the Polish export trade to Germany and the import trade from Germany and Austria in the 16th century. The influential Saul Wahl of Padua, who lived in Brest-Litovsk, established a synagogue and yeshivah in the town.
Brest-Litovsk was a stronghold of the Mitnaggedim in opposition to Hasidism. Some of the early disputations between the leaders of the two trends took place there. Distinguished rabbis officiating in Brest include R. Jehiel b. Aaron Luria, the grandfather of R. Solomon Luria (mid-15th century); R. Moses Raskowitz; R. Menahem Mendel Frank; R. Kalonymos, the father-in-law of R. Solomon Luria (16th century); R. Solomon Luria; R. Judah Leib b. Obadiah Eilenburg, author of Minhat Yehudah (1609); Moses Lipschitz; Ephraim Zalman Schor, author of Tevu'at Shor (1613); R. Joel b. Samuel Sirkes; R. Abraham Meir Epstein; R. Jacob Schor, author of Beit Ya'akov (1693); R. David Oppenheim (17th century); R. Aryeh Judah Leib, author of Sha'agat Aryeh; R. Abraham b. David Katzenellbogen; R. Nahman Halperin; and R. Aaron b. Meir, author of Minhat Aharon (18th century); R. Zevi Hirsch b. Mordecai Orenstein; R. Moses Joshua Judah Leib Diskin; R. Joseph Baer Soloveichik; his son R. Hayyim; and his grandson R. Ze'ev (Welvelei).
After its incorporation into Russia in 1793 the economic importance of Brest-Litovsk diminished. Many historic edifices of the Jewish quarter, including the old synagogue and cemetery, were demolished to give way to the building of a fortress in 1832. The economic position again improved after the completion of the Dnieper-Bug Canal in 1841, and the Jewish community, which handled most of the commerce and industry in the city, began to grow appreciably. A tobacco factory and two large mills were established by Jews in 1845. A hospital was erected in 1838, a new synagogue during 1851–61, and a home for widows in 1866.
The Jews were driven out of Brest-Litovsk on Aug. 1, 1915, by order of the Russian high command. On August 26 the Austro-German army occupied the city, and many of the exiles returned. Shortly afterward, however, they were again expelled by the Germans. After the Poles occupied the region in 1919, Jewish communal life revived. Although more attention was paid to secular aspects, the traditional cultural activities continued to flourish. A communal committee was organized and other institutions were established. Half of the pupils in the general schools (which included a commercial school, a real-gymnasium, and a secondary school) were Jewish. In 1921 the Jewish population numbered 15,630 (out of a total of 29,460) and in 1931, 21,440. For several years the deputy-mayor of Brest was a Jew. Prominent in Brest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were the philologist and talmudist Jacob Nahum Epstein; Michael Pukhachewsky, a pioneer farmer in Erez Israel; the journalists Abraham Goldberg and Noah Finkelstein; and the author and physician Benjamin Szereszewski.