Jewish communities have existed in Belarus since the 14th century. The Russian empire required Jews to live in designated areas (the Pale of settlement), one of which was Belarus. Most Jews lived in urban centers. In some towns they made up half the population. By 1914, Jews made up 10% of the population of Belarus.
In the 19th century, Belarus was home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the Pale of Settlement and an important center of Jewish religious life and cultural creativity. A community of 875,000 Jews thrived in towns whose names — Minsk and Pinsk, Brest and Grodno — resonate in the collective memory of World Jewry. The Chassidic movements of Habbad and Karlin–Stolin were born here as were the famous Yeshivoth in Volozhin and Mir. And it was there that so many giants of Jewish culture, religion and history were born: Marc Chagall and Mendele Mocher Sforim; Chaim Weizmann, Golda Meir and Menachem Begin.
More than 1 million Jews lived in Belarus before the war.
Belarus — country of the great Jewish past and unprecedented tragedy — the Holocaust. In 1941 the Nazis occupied the country and murdered about 90% of its Jewish inhabitants.
Because of the genocide of the Second World War and postwar emigration, Jews now are represented by 50,000 people.
However, the Jewish community is also experiencing a revival. After Russia and Ukraine, Belarus is the third–largest Jewish community in the CIS. Minsk maintains the largest concentration of Jews (30,000).