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jewish genealogy in Argentina



by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook


Nevertheless, the liberal spirit of the age did its work slowly but surely, and partial legal alleviations were granted by the Government or wrested from it by the force of circumstances. The barriers which had been erected for the Jews within the Pale itself were done away with. Thus the right of residence was extended to the cities of Nicholayev and Sevastopol, which, though geographically situated within the Pale, had been legally placed outside of it. The obstructions in the way of temporary visits to the holy city of Kiev were mitigated. The disgraceful old-time privilege of several cities, such as Zhitomir and Vilna, entitling them to exclude the Jews from certain streets, [1] was revoked. Moreover, by the law of 1862, the Jews were permitted to acquire land in the rural districts on those manorial estates in which after the liberation of the peasants the binding relation of the peasants to the landed proprietors had been completely discontinued. Unfortunately, what the Jews thus gained through the liberation of the peasants, they lost to a large extent soon afterwards through the Polish insurrection of 1863, forfeiting the right of acquiring immovable property outside the cities in the greater part of the Pale. For in 1864, after quelling the Polish insurrection, the Government undertook to Russify the Western region, and both Poles and Jews were strictly barred from acquiring estates in the nine governments forming the jurisdiction of the governors-general of Vilna and Kiev.

[Footnote 1: On the medieval privilege _de non tolerandis Judaeis_ see Vol. I, pp. 85 and 95.]

The two other great reforms, that of rural self-government and the judiciary, were not stained by the ignominious label _kromye Yevreyev_, "excepting the Jews," so characteristic of Russian legislation. The "Statute concerning Zemstvo Organizations," [1] issued in 1864, makes no exceptions for Jews, and those among them with the necessary agrarian or commercial qualifications are granted the right of active and passive suffrage within the scheme of provincial self-government. In fact, in the Southern governments the Jews began soon afterwards to participate in the rural assemblies, and were occasionally appointed to rural offices. Nor did the liberally conceived Judicial Regulations of 1864 [2] contain any important discriminations against Jews. Within a short time Jewish lawyers attained to prominence as members of the Russian bar, although their admission to the bench was limited to a few isolated cases.

[Footnote 1: A system of local self-government carried on by means of elective assemblies and its executive organs. There is an assembly for each district (or county) and another for each government.]

[Footnote 2: Among other reforms they instituted the Russian bar as a separate organization.]

Little by little, another dismal spectre of the past, the missionary activity of the Government, began to fade away. In the beginning of Alexander's reign, the conversion of Jews was still encouraged by the grant of monetary assistance to converts. The law of 1859 extended these stipends to persons embracing any other Christian persuasion outside of Greek Orthodoxy. But in 1864 the Government came to the conclusion that it was not worth its while to reward deserters and began a new policy by discontinuing its allowances to converts serving in the army. A little later it repealed the law providing for a mitigation of sentence for criminal offenders who embrace Christianity during the inquiry or trial. [1]

[Footnote 1: See above, p. 45.]

In encouraging "the fusion of the Jews with the original population," the Government of Alexander II. had in mind civil and cultural fusion rather than religious assimilation, which even the inquisitorial contrivances of Nicholas' conscription scheme had failed to accomplish. But as far as the cultural fusion or, for short, the Russification of the Jews was concerned, the Government even now occasionally indulged in practices which were borrowed from the antiquated system of enlightened absolutism.

The official enlightenment, which had been introduced during the forties, was slow in taking root. The year 1848 was the first scholastic year in the two enlightenment nurseries, the rabbinical schools of Vilna and Zhitomir. Beginning with that year a number of elementary Crown schools for Jewish children were opened in various cities of the Pale. The cruel persecutions of the outgoing regime affected the development of the schools in a twofold manner. On the one hand, the Jewish population could not help turning away with disgust from the gift of enlightenment which its persecutors held out to it. On the other hand, the horrors of conscription induced many a Jewish youth, to seek refuge in the new rabbinical schools which saved their inmates from the soldier's uniform. Many a parent who regarded both the barracks and the Crown schools as training grounds for converts preferred to send his children to the latter, where, at least, they were spared the martyrdom of the barracks. The pupils of the rabbinical schools came from the poorest classes, those that carried on their shoulders the whole weight of conscription. True, the distrustful attitude towards the official schools was gradually weakening as the new Government of Alexander II. was passing from the former policy of oppression to that of reforms. By and by, the compulsory attendance at these schools became a voluntary one, prompted by the desire for general culture or for a special training as rabbi or teacher. Nevertheless the expectation of the Russian Government under Nicholas I. that the new schools would take the place of the time-honored educational Jewish institutions, the heder and yeshibah, remained unfulfilled. Only an insignificant percentage of Jewish children went to the Crown schools, and even these children did so only after having received their training at the heder or yeshibah.

Realizing this, the Government decided to combat the traditional school as the rival of the new. Immediately upon his accession to the throne, Alexander confirmed the following resolution adopted by the Jewish Committee on May 3, 1855: "After the lapse of twenty years no one shall be appointed rabbi or teacher of Jewish subjects, except graduates of the rabbinical schools [1] or of the general educational establishments of a higher or secondary grade."

[Footnote 1: i.e., the Government training schools for rabbis provided by the ukase of 1844. See the preceding page.]

Having fixed a term of twenty years for abolishing the institution of melammeds and religious leaders, the product of thousands of years of development, the Government frequently brandished this Damocles sword over their heads. In 1856 a strict supervision was established over heders and melammeds. A year later the Jewish communities were instructed to elect henceforward as "official rabbis" [1] only graduates of the rabbinical Crown schools or of secular educational establishments, and, in default of such, to invite educated Jews from Germany. But all these regulations proved of no avail, and in 1859 a new ukase became necessary, which loosened the official grip over the heders, but made it at the same time obligatory upon the children of Jewish merchants to attend the general Russian schools or the Jewish Crown schools.

[Footnote 1: Crown (In Russian _kazyonny_) rabbis in Russia are those that discharge the civil functions connected with their office, in distinction from the "spiritual" or ecclesiastic rabbis who are in charge of the purely religious affairs of the community. This division has survived in Russia until to-day.]

The enforcement of school attendance would scarcely have produced the desired effect--the orthodox managed somehow to give the slip to "Russian learning"--were it not for the fact that under the influence of the inner cultural transformation of Russian Jewry the general Russian school became during that period more and more popular among the advanced classes of the Jewish population, and gymnazium and university took their place alongside of heder and yeshibah. Yet the hundreds of pupils in the new schools faded into insignificance when compared with the hundreds of thousands who were educated exclusively in the old schools. The fatal year 1875, the last of the twenty years of respite granted to the melammeds for their self-annihilation, arrived. But the huge melammed army was not willing to pass out of Jewish life, in which they exercised a definite function, with no substitute to take its place. The Government was forced to yield. After several brief postponements the melammeds were left in peace, and by an ukase issued in 1879 the idea of abolishing the heders was dropped.

Towards the end of this period the Government abandoned altogether its attempts to reform the Jewish schools, and decided to liquidate its former activity in this direction. By an ukase issued in 1873 the two rabbinical schools and all Jewish Crown schools were closed. On the ruins of the vast educational network, originally projected for the transformation of Judaism, only about a hundred "elementary schools" and two modest "Teachers Institutes," [1] which were to supply teachers for these schools, were established by the Government. The authorities were now inclined to look upon the general Russian schools as the most effective agencies of "fusion," and put their greatest trust in the elemental process of Russification which had begun to sweep over the upper layers of Jewry.

[Footnote 1: In Vilna and Zhitomir. The latter was closed in 1885. The former is still in existence.]

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