Community in Belarus - World Jewish Congress

The Jewish community in Belarus is represented by the Union of Belarusian Jewish Public Associations and Communities, the Belarusian affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate
Union of Belarusian Jewish Public Associations and Communities

Address: 28, V. Khoruzhey str., Minsk, 220123, office 402.
Telephone: +375172867933

Social Media:

Facebook: Union of Belarusian Jewish Public Associations and Communities
Instagram: @ubjoc

Chairman: Oleg Rogatnikov

The presence of Jews in Belarus can be traced back to the 14th century, when what was then called "Belorussia" was a region of Poland-Lithuania, and the Grand Price Vytautas of Lithuania allowed Jews into the region. Jewish settlement there was interrupted briefly at the end of the 15th century when the Jews living in Belorussia were expelled, but they were allowed back in 1503.

With the establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 16th century, Belorussia became a part of this federation. As a result, the majority of Jews in Belorussia became members of the Lithuanian Jewish communal representative body. Jewish life in Belorussia was somewhat harsh, as many Christian Belorussian citizens tried to dissuade Jews from settling in the region. Measures that prohibited Jews from certain jobs and from building synagogues were implemented in different areas of the nation, and in some cases, Jewish communities in Belorussia were physically attacked. Nevertheless, the Jewish Belorussian population continued to grow.

With the establishment of yeshivas in Brest and Grodno in the 16th century, and one in Minsk in the late 17th century, Belorussia became influential in the field of Jewish learning. It was not, however, until the partitions of Poland in 1795, as the result of which Belorussia became part of the Russian Empire, that Belorussian Jews began to take part in broader Russian society. Under Russian rule, Jews were able to find better jobs than those afforded to them in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

However, Belorussian, Russian, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian Jews were all later forced to live in the Pale of Settlement, as Tsarina Catherine the Great wanted to limit the influence of Jewish mercantilism and appease non-Jewish merchants in the region. In the Pale of Settlement, poverty and destitution were rampant, though Jewish intellectual life continued to prosper. The mid-1800s saw the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) enter Belorussian Jewish life and greatly influence the community. Hasidism also became an influential force among Jews.

The Belorussian Jewish population continued to increase throughout the 19th century, and by 1897, the Jewish population in the region was so large that many Belarusian cities, including Minsk, were inhabited by a majority of Jews. However, the overall abysmal economic conditions of Jews in Belorussia could not be ignored, and many Jews in the region began emigrating at the century’s end. Many of those who remained became Zionists, while others joined the socialist Bund movement, which strived for the social equality of Jews.

Cooperation between these organizations saw the creation of small Jewish armies to combat pogroms and defend Jewish communities in the region against violence – this was particularly the case during the Russian Revolution of 1905. During World War I, Belorussian Jews experienced violence conducted by the Russian and Polish armies. Having been expelled from western Belorussia due to it being in a combat zone, Belorussian Jews found themselves on the border between Poland and Russia and were accused of spying for both countries. The Polish army attacked Jewish communities closer to its side of the border, while the Russian army massacred those under their control.

Following the 1917 Revolution, more Jews joined radical political parties. Belorussian Jews cautiously supported the new Bolshevik regime, believing that it was a better alternative than a potentially more reactionary government. The Bund slowly began to espouse support for the Bolsheviks and other Jewish organizations in Belorussia began to follow suit. In 1921, the Treaty of Riga divided Belorussia between Poland and the Soviet Union, and Jewish life in the country became somewhat stable. Many Jews in the region worked in trade or white-collar occupations in the city, and Yiddish was recognized as an official language.

However, the Soviet leadership heightened its campaign against religion and conducted a mass closure of synagogues in Belorussia in 1929. This saw a general decline in Jewish religious and cultural life in Belorussia, and by 1938, Yiddish had lost its status as an officially recognized language. Moreover, the annexation of western Belorussia by the Soviet Union in 1939 exacerbated such developments, as Jewish religious institutions in the area were immediately shut down and Jews living there were expected to assimilate into broader “Soviet” society.

After World War II, Belorussia remained under Soviet control, and with Communist rule, antisemitism continued to be prevalent in the region. Various anti-religious (and particularly anti-Jewish) campaigns shut down the remaining Jewish institutions in Belorussia and many Jews were arrested. The postwar years saw a gradual decline in the Belorussian Jewish population as a number of Jews emigrated to Israel and the United States throughout the successive decades.

During Perestroika, there was a revival of Jewish life in Belorussia as a number of Jewish cultural institutions were established in cities throughout region. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the establishment of the independent Republic of Belarus furthered this trend and saw the formation of a Jewish communal representative organization, the Union of Belorussian Jewish Organizations and Communities.

Despite independence from the Soviet Union and the formation of a democratic government in Belarus, there are still concerns about the Belarusian Jewish community’s status in the country. Antisemitism continues to be somewhat widespread, if not latent, in the country, and the Belarusian government has taken a generally indifferent position on such incidents. A law officially recognizing religions was passed in 2002, and though it included Judaism, there is a general sense of unease about the law, which some fear may lead to more discrimination. Despite such concerns, Belarusian Judaism continues to exist and operate in a manner not afforded in past years and under past regimes.

The Years of the Holocaust

At the outbreak of World War II, the Soviet Union was largely focused on assimilating the western portion of Belorussia. Jewish noncommunist leaders and activists, among many others, were sent to the Gulag to ensure that this portion of Belorussia was completely “Sovietized,” an endeavor that came to an end in 1941 when the Germans invaded the USSR.

The arrival of Nazi armed forces on Soviet territory saw a large number of Belarusian Jews attempt to flee to Soviet territory. Some escaped, but many others were either stopped by approaching German troops or by Soviet soldiers who prevented Jews from crossing the border. Many of those left to the mercy of the Nazi army were massacred en masse by the SS and local Belorussian police. There were also several pogroms throughout Belorussia, and those who managed to survive the explosion of violence were placed into ghettos. The largest such ghetto in the region was in Minsk.

By 1942, a large portion of Belorussian Jews had been murdered, and the mass killing intensified even more in late 1942 and early 1943. Those Belorussian Jews who were able to join the anti-German partisans or who fought in the Soviet army were among the only Jews to survive in Belorussia. By the end of the Holocaust, nearly 90% of the Jews in Belorussia had been murdered.

Community Facts

1. From the early 1920s until 1938, Yiddish was one of the four state languages in Belarus.

2. At the beginning of 2024 in Belarus, the Commission on Commemoration of Holocaust Victims under the Union of Belarusian Jewish Public Associations and Communities installed more than 160 memorial signs at the site of the extermination of Jews in Belarus.

3. The Jewish community in Belarus is the fifth-largest after the Belarussian, Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian communities.

4. The Union of Belarusian Jewish Public Associations and Communities operates the Museum of History and Culture of the Jews of Belarus, which has unique items, archival documents, and books, as well as a museum site for the study of Hebrew, Yiddish, genealogy, and the training of guides to Jewish places.

5. There are more than 70 religious and non-religious Jewish communities in Belarus. Thirty-four of them are members of the UBJOC. The rest are part of the Litvak, Chabad, and Reform religious movements.


A recent study estimates the current Jewish-Belarussian population to be around 14,000 to 60,000. In 2023, there were 388 Belarussian Jews that made aliyah from Israel, an increase of 229% compared to previous years.

Community Life

The main Jewish communal representative organization in Belarus is the Union of Belarusian Jewish Public Associations and Communities, which is comprised of about 100 Jewish organizations from nearly 20 Belarusian cities. Besides acting as a representative organization working to ensure that Belarusian Jews are accounted for in governmental or regional affairs, the Union of Belarusian Jewish Public Associations and Communities also works to aid the practice of Jewish religious and cultural life in the country.

Jewish charitable organizations provide food, home care, and medical care to needy Jews. Among these organizations is the public charitable Jewish organization Chesed Rachamim. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) financially supports the Union of Jewish Associations and Communities. Additionally, Maccabi and a children's choir are active in Belarus.

There are several Jewish organizations for war veterans and Holocaust survivors, such as the Belarusian Association of Concentration Camps and Ghetto Survivors, the Belarusian Jewish Union of War Veterans, Partisans, and Underground Fighters, and the Republican Holocaust Center Public Union. The World Association of Belarusian Jewry helps to financially support war veterans in Belarus, though the organization itself is based in the United States. Moreover, Belarusian victims of the Holocaust receive compensation from the Swiss Fund for Needy Victims of the Holocaust.

Religious and Cultural Life

Jewish life in Belarus is diverse and varied, with the major streams of Judaism active in the country. For the most part, Jewish religious life is decentralized, and there are a substantial number of local organizations that operate independently. This includes the Union of Religious Jewish Congregations of Belarus (OIROB), the Judaic Religious Union in the Republic of Belarus (IROB), and the Association of Progressive Judaism. The OIROB mainly unites the representatives of the Hassidic Chabad Lubavitch movement, the IROB, the orthodox congregations, and the Association of Progressive Judaism oversees Reform Jews.

Each stream of Judaism has its own chief rabbi: The chief rabbi of the OIROB is R. Shneur Deitch; the chief rabbi of IRO is R. Avraham Benenson, and the chief rabbi of the congregations of Progressive Judaism is R. Grigory Abramovitch. The IROB claims it controls 14 communities, the OIROB mentions 13, and the rest belong to the Association of Progressive Judaism.

Kosher Food

Kosher food is available in Belarus. Currently, there is a kosher restaurant in Minsk, and such enterprises as Kommunarka, Minsk Bread Factory No. 2, Lida Beer, Darida, and Santa Bremor have kosher status for certain products.

Jewish Education

The Union of Jewish Associations and Communities and the Jewish Agency run 13 Jewish Sunday schools that cater to about 500 students. There are two other Sunday schools run by the Reform movement, as well as a Sunday school for deaf Jewish children. In addition, Jewish classes are taught at Minsk School No. 132, and there is a Jewish national school in Gomel named "Hatikva." The Orthodox Union supports Bnei Akiva schools in Minsk, Chabad supports two high schools, and the Karlin-Stolin congregation funds a high school in Pinsk.

Additionally, other institutes include the Jewish "B-L" gymnasium and the Or Avner school in Minsk, the Beys Aharon boarding school in Pinsk, and the Or Avner schools in Mogilev and Babruysk. There are five Jewish kindergartens in Minsk, Gomel, Hrodna, Mogilev, and Vitebsk. Organizations such as Chabad, Aish HaTorah, and the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) have created cultural and study groups to help maintain Jewish traditions within the communities.

In terms of Jewish secondary education, there are several options for students, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, interested in Judaic studies. After the closure in 2004 of the Marc Chagall International Humanitarian Institute, a Jewish university based in Minsk that opened in 1999, its Department of Jewish Studies was transferred first to the Office of International Relations and then to the Department of Humanities of the Belarusian State University.

Several Jewish scientific conferences, events, and publications have also been held in Belarus. Between 1997 and 1999, the international scientific conference “Jews in a Changing World” was held. In 2000, on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of famous Belarusian Jewish historian S. M. Dubnov's birthday, "Dubnov Readings" were organized in his honor. 

Since 2014, hundreds of Jews, including foreigners, have gathered at the annual Limmud festival of Jewish education. Nowadays, city Jewish festivals and Days of Jewish Knowledge are held.


There is a summer camp system for kids and teenagers, and Jewish youth programs and events take place every week. Youth clubs also operate in large Jewish communities throughout Belarus, including in Gomel, Bobruisk, Grodno, and Vitebsk.

Since 1997, the Hillel youth organization has operated in Minsk. In 2005, the International Center for Jewish Education and Field Studies, Hillel, the Sochnut, and the SBEOOO all joined forces to arrange an initiative called "Student Expeditions to Jewish Sites in Belarus: A Seminar on Wheels." Since then, the project has involved about 300 young Jewish men and women from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. The tenth round of the Mega Project, which attempts to revitalize abandoned Jewish cemeteries, will take place in 2024.

Jewish Media

Since 1995, the Jewish historical and journalistic magazine “Mishpokha” has been published, which first appeared as a historical and journalistic almanac of the Vitebsk Jewish community. In 2005, the editors of Mishpokha and the Mishpokha Jewish Cultural Center launched a series of books called Shtetls of Belarus; three issues have been published as of September 2010. Since 1996, six issues of an academic collection on issues of Jewish history and culture in Belarus have been published. Later, a series called Memory Reborn was also published, as well as Shtetl and Family Stories; five issues have been published as of September 2010.

There are several Jewish publications in Belarus, including a monthly newspaper entitled Aviv that is published by the Union of Belarusian Jewish Organizations and Communities. Other Jewish publications in Belarus include Berega (published monthly by the Orthodox Union), Gesher (published by the Bobruisk Jewish community), Karlin (published by the Pinsk Jewish community), and Mishpokha (a yearly journal published in Vitebsk).

Information for Visitors

Once part of the Jewish heartland in Eastern Europe, Belarus had several notable Jewish sites throughout the country, as it was renowned for synagogues, sages, and yeshivas. However, its Jewish heritage has been devastated over the past century, both by World War II and by Soviet rule. Many of the hundreds of Jewish cemeteries were destroyed, their gravestones were removed for use as paving and construction, and the sites of Jewish cemeteries and mass graves were built over, ignored, or marked with monuments that failed to note that the victims were Jews. As many as 700 synagogues or more once stood in what today is Belarus, but only about 100 survive; most are ruined, empty, or transformed for other uses, with just a handful used for worship.

Today, there are grassroots and other efforts to document and preserve Jewish heritage. Many historic Jewish sites have been renovated in recent years and synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, confiscated by the Communist Party, have been returned to Jewish communities, as well as yeshivots and other buildings.

Some of the top Jewish attractions in Belarus include the grave of Israel Meir Kagan, or the Chofetz Chaim, one of the most influential rabbis in Europe before the Holocaust. The 16th-century synagogue in Grodno, which UNESCO declared a World Heritage Site in 2007, also attracts a steady stream of visitors, as does the Khatyn Holocaust monument. The small Jewish shtetls of Pinsk and Babruysk are among the very last of their kind in Europe. There is also a ruined 17th-century fortress synagogue located in an architectural preserve on the territory of Bykhov Castle, in a fortified compound that also includes a former Catholic church.

In 2002, the Museum of History and Culture of Belarusian Jews opened and has since served as an educational center, teaching and researching the Holocaust, as well as the history and culture of the Jewish people. Yama, a Holocaust memorial in Minsk, was first built in 1946, but was renovated and rededicated in 2000. In November 2005, a Public Academy for Jewish Culture and Arts was established, however it could not be registered by the Ministry of Justice because only state institutions are allowed to contain the word “academy” in their names.

There is a comprehensive and up-to-date survey of Jewish cemeteries in Belarus that was carried out in 2017 by the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative with the support of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. It includes information on more than 150 Jewish cemeteries, including GPS and condition of the sites.

Relations with Israel

Belarus and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1992. During the 1990s, around 130,000 Belarusian citizens made Aliyah to Israel. Belarus operates an embassy in Tel Aviv, while Israel operates an embassy in Minsk. In 2017, Belarus hosted The Days of Israeli Culture Festival, while Israel hosted The Days of Belarusian Culture, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their diplomatic relationship. In November 2022, Belarus was one of 52 countries that abstained on a United Nations General Assembly resolution, that requested an International Court of Justice opinion on Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Embassy of Israel in Belarus  
pr. Partizansky 6a
220033 Minsk, Belarus
(+375) (17) 330-25-00
(+375) (17) 330-25-10 / 15 (Consular)
Fax: (+375) (17) 330-25-55

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter
The latest from the Jewish world