Jewish genealogy in Argentina
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jewish genealogy in Argentina



by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook


Several occurrences were instrumental in determining the Government to embark upon a new policy, that of investigating assiduously the inner life of the Jews. At the end of the sixties a man appeared in Vilna who offered his services to the authorities as a detective and spy among the Jews. Jacob Brafman, a native of the government of Minsk, had deserted his race and religion in the last years of Nicholas' conscription, hoping thereby to escape the nets of the vigilant Kahal "captors" who wished to draft him into the army. Embittered against the Kahal agents who had become mere police tools, Brafman desired to wreak vengeance upon the Kahal as a whole, nay, upon the very idea of a Jewish communal organization.

When the "fusion," or assimilation, of the Jews became the watchword of the highest official circles, the astute convert found that he could make his way by exposing the influences which in his opinion checked the endeavors of the Government. A memorandum presented by him to Alexander II., when the latter was passing through Minsk in 1858, opened to him the doors of the Holy Synod. He was appointed instructor of Hebrew at a Greek-Orthodox seminary and entrusted with the task of finding ways to remove the difficulties placed by the Jews in the path of their coreligionists intending to go over to Christianity. His mission to facilitate apostasy among the Jews proved a failure, and his services as detective were not yet appreciated during the liberal years of Alexander's reign.

However, with the reactionary turn in Russian politics, in the middle of the sixties, these services were once more in demand. Brafman hastened to the hot-bed of reactionary chauvinism, the city of Vilna, which was firmly held in the iron grip of Muravyov, [1] and there began "to expose the separatism of the inner life of the Jews" before the highest administration of the province. He contended that the Kahal, though officially abolished in 1844, [2] continued in reality to exist and to maintain a widely ramified judiciary (_Bet Din_), that it constituted a secret, uncanny sort of organization which wielded despotic power over the communities by employing such weapons as the _herem_ (excommunication) and _hazakah_ (the Jewish legal practice of securing property rights), [3] that it incited the Jewish masses against the State, the Government, and the Christian religion, and fostered in these masses fanaticism and dangerous national separatism. In the opinion of Brafman, the only way to eradicate this "secret Jewish government," was to destroy the last vestiges of Jewish communal autonomy by closing all religious and charitable societies and fraternities. The Jewish community itself ought to share the same fate, and the Jews forming part of it should be included among the Christian estates in the cities and villages. In a word, Judaism as a communal organization should pass out of existence altogether.

[Footnote 1: Michael Muravyov (see above, p. 183) was appointed in 1863 military governor of the governments of Vilna, Kovno, Grodno, Vitebsk, Minsk, and Moghilev, which he endeavored to Russify with relentless cruelty. He died in 1866.]

[Footnote 2: See p. 58 et seq.]

[Footnote 3: More exactly, the acquisition of property by continued and undisturbed possession for a period of time. This right of acquisition was formerly granted by the Kahal on the payment of a certain tax; see Vol. I, p. 190.]

The heads of the Russian administration in Lithuania listened eagerly to the sinister revelations of the new Pfefferkorn. [1] In 1866 Governor-General Kauffmann appointed a commission, which also included a few Jewish experts, to look into the material compiled by Brafman. This material consisted of the minutes of the Kahal of Minsk from the first half of the nineteenth century, recording the entirely legitimate enactments which the communal administration had passed by virtue of the autonomous rights granted to it by the Government. Brafman published his material in a series of articles in the official organ of the province, the _Vilenski Vyestnik_, "The Vilna Herald"; the articles were later republished in a separate volume, under the title _Kniga Kahala_, "The Book of the Kahal." [2] The data collected by Brafman were embellished with the customary anti-Semitic quotations from talmudic and rabbinic literature, and put in such a light that the Government was placed on the horns of a dilemma: either to destroy with one stroke the entire Jewish communal organization and all the cultural agencies attached to it, or to run the risk of seeing Russia captured by the "Universal Kahal." It may be added that the _Alliance Israelite Universelle_, which had shortly before been founded in Paris for the purpose of assisting Jews in various countries, figured in Brafman's indictment as a constituent society of the universal Jewish Kahal organization.

[Footnote 1: A medieval convert (died ab. 1521) who wrote against Judaism, especially the Talmud.]

[Footnote 2: The first edition appeared in 1869, the second in 1871.]

The "Book of the Kahal" was printed at public expense and sent out to all Government offices to serve as a guide for Russian officials and enable them to fight the "Inner enemy." It was in vain that Brafman's ignorance of rabbinic lore and his entire distortion of the role played by the Kahal in days gone-by was exposed by Jewish writers in articles and monographs; it was in vain that the Jewish members of the commission appointed by the governor-general of Vilna protested against the barbarous proposals of the informer. The authorities of St. Petersburg seized upon Brafman's discoveries as incontrovertible evidence of the existence of Jewish separatism and as a justification for the method of "cautiousness" which they saw fit to apply to the solution of the Jewish problem.

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