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HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN RUSSIA AND POLAND - S.M. Dubnow




jewish genealogy in Argentina

HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN RUSSIA AND POLAND

FROM THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER I UNTIL THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER III

by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook

2. COMPULSORY ASSIMILATION

As for the measures of compulsory assimilation long ago foreshadowed by the Government, such as the substitution of the Russian or German style of dress for the traditional Jewish attire, the long coats of the men, they were without any effect on Jewish life, and merely resulted in confusion and consternation. A curt imperial ukase issued on May 1, 1850, prohibited "all over (the Empire) the use of a distinct Jewish form of dress, beginning with January 1, 1851," though the governors-general were given the right of permitting aged Jews to wear out their old garments on the payment of a definite tax. The prohibition extended to the earlocks, or _peies_, of the men.

A year later, in April, 1851, the Government made a further step in advance and proceeded to deal with the female attire. "His Imperial Majesty was graciously pleased to command that Jewish women be forbidden to shave their heads upon entering into marriage." [1] In October, 1852, this ukase was supplemented by the regulation that a married Jewess guilty of shaving her head was liable to a fine of five rubles ($2.50), and the rabbi abetting the crime was to be prosecuted. Since neither the Jews nor the Jewesses were willing to submit to imperial orders, the former from habit, the latter from religious scruples, the provincial authorities entered upon a regular warfare against these "rebels." Both the governors-general and the governors subordinate to them displayed extraordinary enthusiasm in this direction. The officials tracked with utmost zeal not only the women culprits but also their accomplices the rabbis who attended the wedding ceremony, even including the barbers who were called in to shave the heads of the Jewish ladies. Jewish women were examined at the police stations to find out whether they still wore their own hair beneath their kerchiefs or wigs. Frequently the struggle manifested itself in tragic-comic and even repulsive forms. In some places the police adopted the practice of cutting the _peies_ or shortening the long coats of the Jews by force.

[Footnote 1: In accordance with orthodox Jewish practice, married women are not allowed to expose their own hair. Apart from the wearing of a wig, or _Sheitel_, it was also customary for women to cut or shave their hair before their wedding and cover their heads with a kerchief.]

The opposition to the authorities was particularly vigorous in the Kingdom of Poland where the rank and file of Hasidim were ready to suffer martyrdom for any Jewish custom, however obsolete. The fight was drawn out for a long time and even reached into the following reign, but the victory remained with the obstreperous masses. Though at a later period, as the result of general cultural tendencies, the traditional Jewish costume made way in certain sections of Jewry for the European form of dress, it was not in obedience to police measures, but in spite of them. Compulsory assimilation was as little successful now as had been compulsory isolation in the Middle Ages. The medieval rulers had imposed upon the Jews a distinct form of garment and a "yellow badge" to keep them apart from the Christians. Nicholas I. employed forcible means to make the Jews by their style of dress appear similar to the Christians. The violence resorted to in both cases, though different in form, sprang from the same motive.



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