(Bel., Sklou; Pol., Szkłów), district city in the Mogilev region, Belarus. Jews first received a charter to settle in Shklov in 1668. In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Shklov became an important commercial center, where, in the words of a visiting diplomat in 1699, Jews were “the richest and most influential class of people in the city.” In 1746, the Shklov kahal briefly seceded from the regional council of Jewish communities (Va‘ad Medinat Rusyah), due to a dispute over its heavy tax burden. According to the Polish census of 1766, there were 1,367 Jews in Shklov, the same number as in Minsk.
The golden era of the Shklov Jewish community was the period between its annexation by Russia in 1772 and the Napoleonic war of 1812, when it was a thriving economic and cultural center. A yeshiva was established there by Binyamin Rivlin (1728–1812), a close disciple and associate of the Gaon of Vilna who trained a generation of scholars that followed the Gaon’s teachings, including Menaḥem Mendel ben Barukh Bendet of Shklov, who prepared many of the Gaon’s writings for publication. In early 1772 Shklov was the first community in Eastern Europe to pronounce the followers of Hasidism heretics, and Rivlin was the driving force behind the enactments against Hasidim issued by the Va‘ad Medinat Rusiya in Shklov in 1787.
In 1777, Count Semen Gavriilovich Zorich established a lavish court in Shklov, whose lifestyle and cultural institutions influenced part of the local Jewish population. Zorich’s Jewish contractors included Note Notkin, who became the preeminent Jewish political leader of late eighteenth-century Russian Jewry, and Yehoshu‘a Zeitlin, who became a leading patron of Jewish scholarship in Russia. Both Notkin and Zeitlin maintained contact with leaders of the Berlin Haskalah and were influenced by their ideas. Several pioneers of the Haskalah in Russia lived in Shklov or on Zeitlin’s neighboring estate; they include Naftali Herts Schulman, who argued for the reform of Jewish elementary education, and Yehudah Leib Nevakovich, the author of a pamphlet pleading for the acceptance of Jews into Russian society.
During this period, Shklov was the largest center of Hebrew printing in Eastern Europe. In the 1790s, there were approximately 2,500 Jews in Shklov, constituting 80 percent of the local population.
In 1808–1809, Menaḥem Mendel and Yisra’el ben Shemu’el of Shklov organized the migration of several hundred Jews, including scholars and merchants, from Shklov to the Land of Israel. There they established the first non-Hasidic Ashkenazic communities in Palestine, in Safed and Jerusalem. After their departure, the influence of Lubavitch Hasidism grew in Shklov.
With the construction of railways that bypassed Shklov, the city declined. At its peak, in 1847, there were 9,677 Jews in Shklov; in 1897, there were 5,122 Jews and in 1939 only 2,132 Jews.
The Hebrew novelist Perets Smolenskin (1842–1885) studied in a yeshiva in Shklov during his youth; in his novel Kevurat ḥamor (A Donkey’s Burial; 1873) he depicted the community as superstitious and intolerant of enlightenment. The author Zalman Shneour (1886–1959) was a native of Shklov, and presented a nostalgic portrait of the town in his memoir Shklover yidn (Jews of Shklov; 1929).
After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the rabbi of Shklov was Mordekhai Feinstein (brother of Mosheh Feinstein), who headed an underground yeshiva until 1930. He was arrested in 1936, and died in Siberian exile. The majority of the Jews of Shklov and its neighboring villages were executed by the Nazis in September 1941.
David E. Fishman, Russia’s First Modern Jews: The Jews of Shklov (New York, 1995).