A Tale of Divorces in Resekne, Latvia

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

Postcard of Rezekne, Latvia at the end of the 19th Century
(Courtesy of David Howard)

In Baltic Jewish records, there are usually few divorces mentioned and this makes it hard to distinguish any patterns or why they occurred. However, due to the diligence and perseverance of Christine Usdin, of the Latvia SIG, there are now translations of records from various Latvian shtetls. These records include an historic group of sixty divorce records from Resekne, Latvia, which was a substantial town and where Jews made up 54% of the population by the end of the 19th Century. The years which are covered are: 1872, 1876-1880, 1882, 1884-1885, 1887-1888, 1890-1892, and 1895.

These records contain the following data:
  • Date and Place of Divorce
  • Husband’s Name, Age and Father
  • Wife’s Name, Age and Father
  • Official in Divorce, Witnesses, and Causes
  • Places of Origin for Husband and Wife
Of especial interest are the main reasons for granting the divorces which provides us a small window into the marital relations of our ancestors. Given that many of our ancestors were matched with each other and did not marry for love, it is helpful to note why they took the enormously important step to divorce. It would have involved a social and financial cost to the wife, in particular, so was not taken lightly.

What follows are some instances of couples who divorced and their reasons:
  • Attempted murder with divorce pronounced after a trial – On July 11, 1880, Tevel ben Movsha FAINSHTEIN, age 22, from Dunaburg , and Rivka bat Getzel STIKAN, age 22, from Rezekne, were divorced. This was the most interesting divorce record, but unfortunately, the record does not state which spouse attempted the murder of the other.
  • Death of the husband – On August 15, 1888, David-Yankel ben Abram PLINER, age 45, from Rezekne, and an unknown named wife, age 28, from Rezekne, were divorced. It is strange that the wife’s name is not written into the record.
  • Disagreement – This excuse was used in six cases of divorce. An example is that on November 8, 1876, Iser ben Meer TAGER, age 42, from Rezekne, and Reiza bat Mendel GOLDBERG, age 40, from Rezekne, were divorced.
  • Disease of the husband - On April 16, 1878, Hirsh ben Vulf KAPLAN, age 46, from Opatshetzki, and Gita-Zlata bat Shaya (no last name given), age 24, from Vilkomir (Lithuania), were divorced.
  • Disease of the wife – On September 6, 1892, Berka ben Man PASTENAK, age 28, from Dunaburg, and Dveira bat (father’s first name not given) LOTZ, age 24, from Rezekne, were divorced.
  • Impossibility to live together – On February 3, 1876, Leib-Ber ben Mordukh FONAREV, age 45, from Rezekne, a soldier, and Sora-Feiga bat David (no last name given), age 38, from Rezekne, were divorced.
  • Lack of commitment to the marriage – On May 8, 1877, Khaim ben Gershon MANOIM, age 29, from Rezekna, and Nekha-Perka bat Vulf-Falka MANOIM, age 29, from Rezekne, were divorced. This was the major reason given for the divorce in twenty-eight out of the sixty cases in the records.
  • Mutual consent – On May 1, 1884, Sholom ben Abram TRIFMIK, age 56, a farmer, from Ludza, and Ester-Liba bat Mordukh (no last name given), age 45, from Rezekne, were divorced.
  • Mutual misunderstanding – On July 18, 1882, Zalman ben Leib GURVICH, age 41, from Polotz, and Rivka bat Shmuil (no last name given), age 42, from Rezekne, were divorced.
  • Separation of the husband from the wife – On November 15, 1888, Leiba ben Meer-Shevel BARKAN, age 45, from Druya, and Feiga-Tauba bat Izrail (no last name given), age 45, from Rezekne, were divorced.
  • Weak health of the husband – On July 4, 1882, Mordukh ben Esel FONAREV, age 62, from Rezekne, and Liba bat Yosel (last name not given), age 54, from Rezekne, were divorced.
Many of these records tell us that cousins married as the last names are the same. Further, there were, at least, thirty-three wives whose last name was not provided. Also, it appeared that many of the wives were from Rezekne, but that their husbands were from other shtetls, perhaps confirming that men went further a field to find their wives.

In other divorce records, for say, Kupiskis, Lithuania, during the period 1897-1900, the major reason given for the divorce was poverty. So, the time period and place are important in gauging what was happening in the community at the time and how this may have affected the marital relations of our ancestors.

In addition, due to the on-going translations of the marriage records for Rezekne by Christine Usdin, it is also possible to trace the auspicious beginning of these couple’s marital life together. It is a good idea to access the Latvia SIG digest on JewishGen in order to see the translations as they are posted on the digest.

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