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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. The Recruiting Ukase of 1827 and Juvenile Conscription

The ukase announces the desire of the Government "to equalize military duty for all estates," without, be it noted, equalizing them in their rights. It further expresses the conviction that "the training and accomplishments, acquired by the Jews during their military service, will, on their return home after the completion of the number of years fixed by law (fully a quarter of a century!), be communicated to their families and make for greater usefulness and higher efficiency in their economic life and in the management of their affairs."

However, the "Statute of Conscription and Military Service," subjoined to the ukase, was a lurid illustration of a tendency utterly at variance with the desire "to equalize military duty." Had the Russian Government been genuinely desirous of rendering military duty uniform for all estates, there would have been no need of issuing separately for the Jews a huge enactment of ninety-five clauses, with supplementary "instructions," consisting of sixty-two clauses, for the guidance of the civil and military authorities. All that was necessary was to declare that the general military statute applied also to the Jews. Instead, the reverse stipulation is made: "The general laws and institutions are not valid in the case of the Jews" when at variance with the special statute (Clause 3).

The discriminating character of Jewish conscription looms particularly large in the central portion of the statute. Jewish families were stricken with terror on reading the eighth clause of the statute prescribing that "the Jewish conscripts presented by the [Jewish] communes shall be between the ages of twelve and twenty-five." This provision was supplemented by Clause 74: "Jewish minors, i.e., below the age of eighteen, shall be placed in preparatory establishments for military training."

True, the institution of minor recruits, called _cantonists_, [1] existed also for Christians. But in their case it was confined to the children of soldiers in active service, by virtue of the principle laid down by Arakcheyev [2] that children born of soldiers were the property of the Military Department, whereas the conscription of Jewish minors was to be absolute and to apply to all Jewish families without discrimination. To make things worse, the law demanded that the years of preparatory training should not be included in the term of active service, the latter to start only with the age of eighteen (Clause 90); in other words, the Jewish cantonists were compelled to serve an additional term of six years over and above the obligatory twenty-five years. Moreover, at the examination of Jewish conscripts, all that was demanded for their enlistment was "that they be free from any disease or defect incompatible with military service, but the other qualifications required by the general rules shall be left out of consideration" (Clause 10).

[Footnote 1: From _Canton_, a word applied in Prussia in the eighteenth century to a recruiting district. In Russia, beginning with 1805, the term "cantonists" is applied to children born of soldiers and therefore liable to conscription.]

[Footnote 2: See Vol. I, p. 395, n. 1.]

The duty of enlisting the recruits was imposed upon the Jewish communes, or Kahals, which were to elect for that purpose between three and six executive officers, or "trustees," in every city. The community as such was held responsible for the supply of a given number of recruits from its own midst. It was authorized to draft into military service any Jew guilty "of irregularity in the payment of taxes, of vagrancy, and other misdemeanors." In case the required number of recruits was not forthcoming within a given term, the authorities were empowered to obtain them from the derelict community "by way of execution." [1] Any irregularity on the part of the recruiting "trustees" was to be punished by the imposition of fines or even by sending them into the army.

[Footnote 1: The term "execution" (_ekzekutzia_) is used in Russian to designate a writ empowering an officer to carry a judgment into effect, in other words, to resort to forcible seizure.]

The following categories of Jews were exempted from military duty: merchants holding membership in guilds, artisans affiliated with trade-unions, mechanics in factories, agricultural colonists, rabbis, and the Jews, few and far between at that time, who had graduated from a Russian educational institution. Those exempted from military service in kind were required to pay "recruiting money," one thousand rubles for each recruit. The general law providing that a regular recruit could offer as his substitute a "volunteer" was extended to the Jews, with the proviso that the volunteer must also be a Jew.

The "Instructions" to the civil authorities, appended to the statute, specify the formalities to be followed both at the recruiting stations and in administering the oath of allegiance to the conscripts in the synagogues. The latter ceremony was to be marked by gloomy solemnity. The recruit was to be arrayed in his prayer-shawl (Tallith) and shroud (Kittel). With his philacteries wound around his arm, he should be placed before the Ark and, amidst burning candles and to the accompaniment of shofar blasts, made to recite a lengthy awe-inspiring oath. The "Instructions" to the military authorities accompanying the statute prescribe that every batch of Jewish conscripts "shall be entrusted to a special officer to be watched over, prior to their departure for their places of destination, and shall be kept apart from the other recruits." Both in the places of conscription and on the journey the Jewish recruits were to be quartered exclusively in the homes of Christian residents.

The promulgated "military constitution" surpassed the very worst apprehension of the Jews. All were staggered by this sudden blow, which descended crushingly upon the mode of life, the time-honored traditions, and the religious ideals of the Jewish people. The Jewish family nests became astir, trembling for their fledglings. Barely a month after the publication of the military statute, the central Government in St. Petersburg was startled by the report that the Volhynian town of Old-Constantine had been the scene of "mutiny and disorders among the Jews" on the occasion of the promulgation of the ukase. Benckendorff, the Chief of the Gendarmerie, [1] conveyed this information to the Tzar, who thereupon gave orders that "in all similar cases the culprits be court-martialed". Evidently, the St. Petersburg authorities apprehended a whole series of Jewish mutinies, as a result of the dreadful ukase, and they were ready with extraordinary measures for the emergency.

[Footnote 1: Since 1827 the Gendarmerie served as the executive organ of the political police, or of the so-called Third Section, dreaded throughout Russia on account of its relentless cruelty in suppressing the slightest manifestation of liberal thought. The Third Section was nominally abolished in 1880.]

However, their apprehensions were unfounded. Apart from the incident referred to, there were no cases of open rebellion against the authorities. As a matter of fact, even in Old-Constantine, the "mutiny" was of a nature little calculated to be dealt with by a court-martial. According to the local tradition, the Jewish residents, Hasidim almost to a man, were so profoundly stirred by the imperial ukase that they assembled in the synagogues, fasting and praying, and finally resolved to adopt "energetic" measures. A petition reciting their grievances against the Tzar was framed in due form and placed in the hands of a member of the community who had just died, with the request that the deceased present it to the Almighty, the God of Israel. This childlike appeal to the heavenly King from the action of an earthly sovereign and the emotional scenes accompanying it were interpreted by the Russian authorities as "mutiny." Under the patriarchal conditions of Jewish life prevailing at that time a political protest was a matter of impossibility. The only medium through which the Jews could give vent to their burning national sorrow was a religious demonstration within the walls of the synagogue.



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