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jewish genealogy in Argentina



by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook



Special mention must be made of the position occupied by the Jews in the vast province which had be n formed in 1815 out of the territory of the former duchy of Warsaw and annexed by Russia under the name of "Kingdom of Poland." [1] This province which from 1815 to 1830 enjoyed full autonomy, with a local government in Warsaw and a parliamentary constitution, handled the affairs of its large Jewish population, numbering between three hundred to four hundred thousand souls, independently and without regard to the legislation of the Russian Empire, Even after the insurrection of 1830, when subdued Poland was linked more closely with the Empire, the Jews continued to be subject to a separate provincial legislation. The Jews of the Kingdom remained under the tutelage of local guardians who were assiduously engaged in solving the Jewish problem during the first part of this period.

[Footnote 1: Compare Vol. I, p. 390, n. 1.]

The initial years of autonomous Poland were a time of storm and stress. After having experienced the vicissitudes of the period of partitions and the hopes and disappointments of the Napoleonic era, the Polish people clutched eagerly at the shreds of political freedom which were left to it by Alexander I. in the shape of the "Constitutional Regulation" of 1815.[1] The Poles brought to bear upon the upbuilding of the new kingdom all the ardor of their national soul and all their enthusiasm for political regeneration. The feverish organizing activity between 1815 and 1820 was attended by a violent outburst of national sentiment, and such moments of enthusiasm were always accompanied in Poland by an intolerant and unfriendly attitude towards the Jews. With a few shining exceptions, the Polish statesmen were far removed from the idea of Jewish emancipation. They favored either "correctional" or punitive methods, though modelled after the pattern of Western European rather than of primitive Russian anti-Semitism.

[Footnote 1: The author refers to the Constitution granted by Alexander I., on November 15, 1815, to the Polish territories ceded to him by the Congress of Vienna. The Constitution vouchsafed to Poland an autonomous development under Russian auspices. It was withdrawn after the insurrection of 1830.]

In 1815 the Provisional Government in Warsaw appointed a special committee, under the chairmanship of Count Adam Chartoryski, to consider the agrarian and the Jewish problem. The Committee drew up a general plan of Jewish reorganization which was marked by the spirit of enlightened patronage. In theory the Committee was ready to concede to the Jews human and civil rights, even to the point of considering the necessity of their final emancipation. But "in view of the ignorance, the prejudices and the moral corruption to be observed among the lower classes of the Jewish and the Polish people"--the patrician members of the Committee in charge of the agrarian and Jewish problem accorded an equal share of compliments to the Jews and the Polish peasants--immediate emancipation was, in their opinion, bound to prove harmful, since it would confer upon the Jews freedom of action to the detriment of the country. It was, therefore, necessary to demand, as a prerequisite for Jewish emancipation, the improvement of the Jewish masses which was to be effected by removal from the injurious liquor trade and inducement to engage in agriculture, by abolishing the Kahals, i.e., their communal autonomy, and by changing the Jewish school system to meet the civic requirements. In order to gain the confidence of the Jews for the proposed reforms, the Committee suggested that the Government should invite the "enlightened" representatives of the Jewish people to participate in the discussion of the projected measures of reform.

Turning their eyes towards the West, where Jewish assimilation had already begun its course, the Polish Committee decided to approach the Jewish reformer David Frielaender, of Berlin, who was, so to speak, the official philosopher of Jewish emancipation, and to solicit his opinion concerning the ways and means of bringing about a reorganization of Jewish life in Poland. The bishop of Kuyavia,[1] Malchevski, addressed himself in the name of the Polish Government to Friedlaender, calling upon him, as a pupil of Mendelssohn, the educator of Jewry, to state his views on the proposed Jewish reforms in Poland. Flattered by this invitation, Friedlaender hastened to compose an elaborate "Opinion on the Improvement of the Jews in the Kingdom of Poland." [2]

[Footnote 1: A former Polish province, compare Vol. I, p. 75, n. 2.]

[Footnote 2: It was written in February, 1816, and published later in 1819.]

According to Friedlaender, the Polish Jews had in point of culture remained far behind their Western coreligionists, because their progress had been hampered by their talmudic training, the pernicious doctrine of Hasidism, and the self-government of their Kahals. All these influences ought, therefore, to be combated. The Jewish school should be brought into closer contact with the Polish school, the Hebrew language should be replaced by the language of the country, and altogether assimilation and religious reform should be encouraged. While promoting religious and cultural reforms, the Government, in the opinion of Friedlaender, ought to confirm the Jews in the belief that they would "receive in time civil rights if they were to endeavor to perfect themselves in the spirit of the regulations issued for them."

  This flunkeyish notion of the necessity of _deserving_ civil rights   coincided with the views of the official Polish Committee in Warsaw.   Soon afterwards a memorandum, prepared by the Committee, was   submitted through its Chairman, Count Chartoryski, to the Polish   viceroy Zayonchek. [1] Formerly a comrade of Koszciuszko, Zayonchek   later turned from a revolutionary into a reactionary, who was   anxious to curry favor with the supreme commander of the province,   Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich. [2] No wonder, therefore, that the   plan of the Committee, conservative though it was, seemed too   liberal for his liking. In his report to Emperor Alexander I., dated   March 8, 1816, he wrote as follows:

[Footnote 1: He was appointed viceroy in 1815, after the formation of the Kingdom of Poland, and continued in this office until his death in 1826.]

[Footnote 2: He was the military commander of the province. See above, p. 13, n. 2.]

  The growth of the Jewish population in your Kingdom of Poland is   becoming a menace. In 1790 they formed here a thirteenth part of the   whole population; to-day they form no less than an eighth. Sober and   resourceful, they are satisfied with little; they earn their   livelihood by cheating, and, owing to early marriages, multiply   beyond measure. Shunning hard labor, they produce nothing   themselves, and live only at the expense of the working classes   which they help to ruin. Their peculiar institutions keep them apart   within the state, marking them as a foreign nationality, and, as a   result, they are unable in their present condition to furnish the   state either with good citizens or with capable soldiers. Unless   means are adopted to utilize for the common weal the useful   qualities of the Jews, they will soon exhaust all the sources of the   national wealth and will threaten to surpass and suppress the   Christian population.

In the same year, 1816, a scheme looking to the solution of the Jewish question was proposed by the Russian statesman Nicholas Novosiltzev, the imperial commissioner attached to the Provincial Government in Warsaw.[1] Novosiltzev, who was not sympathetic to the Poles, showed himself in his project to be a friend of the Jews. Instead of the principle laid down by the official Committee: "correction first, and civil rights last," he suggests another more liberal procedure: the immediate bestowal of civil and in part even political rights upon the Jews, to be accompanied by a reorganization, of Jewish life along the lines of European progress and a modernized scheme of autonomy. All communal and cultural affairs shall be put in charge of "directorates," one central directorate in Warsaw and local ones in every province of the Kingdom, after the pattern of the Jewish consistories of France. These directorates shall be composed of rabbis, elders of the community, and a commissioner representing the Government; in the central directorate this commissioner shall be replaced by a "procurator" to be appointed directly by the king.

[Footnote 1: See above, p. 16.]

This whole organization shall be placed under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Public Instruction, who shall also exercise the right of confirming the rabbis nominated by the directorates. The functions of the directorates shall include the registration of the Jewish population, the management of the communal finances, the dispensation of charity, and the opening of secular schools for Jewish children. A certificate of graduation from such a school shall be required from every young man who applies for a marriage license or for a permit to engage in a craft or to acquire property. "All Jews fulfilling the obligations imposed by the present statute shall be accorded full citizenship," while those who distinguish themselves in science an art may even be deemed worthy of political rights, not excluding membership in the Polish Diet. For the immediate future Novosiltzev advises to refrain from economic restrictions, such as the prohibition of the liquor traffic, though he concedes the advisability of checking its growth, and advocates the adoption of a system of economic reforms by stimulating crafts and agriculture among the Jews. In the beginning of 1817 Novosiltzev's project was laid before the Polish Council of State. It was opposed with great stubbornness by Chartoryski, the Polish viceroy Zayonchek, Stashitz, and other Polish dignitaries, whose hostility was directed not so much against the pro-Jewish plan as against its Russian author. The Council of State appointed a special committee which, after examining Novosiltzev's project, arrived at the following conclusions:

  1. It is impossible to carry out a reorganization of Jewish life   through the Jews themselves.

  2. The establishment of a separate cultural organization for the   Jews will only stimulate their national aloofness.

  3. The complete civil and political emancipation of the Jews is at   variance with the Polish Constitution which vouchsafes special   privileges to the professors of the dominant religion.

In the plenary session of the Polish Council of State the debate about Novosiltzev's project was exceedingly stormy. The Polish members of the Council scented in the project "political aims in opposition to the national element of the country." They emphasized the danger which the immediate emancipation of the Jews would entail for Poland. "Let the Jews first become real Poles," exclaimed the referee Kozhmyan, "then will it be possible to look upon them as citizens." When the same gentleman declared that it was impossible to accord citizenship to hordes of people who first had to be accustomed to cleanliness and cured from "leprosy and similar diseases," Zayonchek burst out laughing and shouted: "Hear, hear! These sluts won't get rid of their scab so easily." After such elevating "criticism," Novosiltzev's project was voted down. The Council inclined to the belief that "the psychological moment" for bringing about a radical reorganization of the inner life of the Jews had not yet arrived, and, therefore, resolved to limit itself to isolated measures, principally of a "correctional" and repressive character.

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