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
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As for the measures of compulsory assimilation long ago
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
confusion and consternation. A curt imperial ukase issued
on May 1,
1850, prohibited "all over (the Empire) the use of a
form of dress, beginning with January 1, 1851,"
governors-general were given the right of permitting aged
Jews to wear
out their old garments on the payment of a definite tax.
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.
Majesty was graciously pleased to command that Jewish
women be forbidden
to shave their heads upon entering into marriage."
 In October, 1852,
this ukase was supplemented by the regulation that a
guilty of shaving her head was liable to a fine of five
and the rabbi abetting the crime was to be prosecuted.
Since neither the
Jews nor the Jewesses were willing to submit to imperial
former from habit, the latter from religious scruples,
authorities entered upon a regular warfare against these
the governors-general and the governors subordinate to
extraordinary enthusiasm in this direction. The officials
with utmost zeal not only the women culprits but also
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
shortening the long coats of the Jews by force.
[Footnote 1: In accordance with orthodox Jewish practice,
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
The opposition to the authorities was particularly
vigorous in the
Kingdom of Poland where the rank and file of Hasidim were
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
Jewish costume made way in certain sections of Jewry for
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
to make the Jews by their style of dress appear similar
Christians. The violence resorted to in both cases,
though different in
form, sprang from the same motive.