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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

7. JEWISH LITERATURE IN THE RUSSIAN LANGUAGE

The left wing of "enlightenment" was represented during this period by Jewish literature in the Russian language, which had several noteworthy exponents. It is interesting to observe that, whereas all the prominent writers in Hebrew were children of profoundly nationalistic Lithuania, those that wrote in Russian, with the sole exception of Levanda, were natives of South Russia, where the two extremes, stagnant Hasidism and radical Russification, fought for supremacy. The founder of this branch of Jewish literature was Osip (Joseph) Rabinovich (1817-1869), a Southerner, a native of Poltava and a resident of Odessa. [1] Alongside of journalistic articles he wrote protracted novels. His touching "Pictures of the Past," his stories "The Penal Recruit" and "The Inherited Candlestick" (1859-1860) called up before the generation living at the dawn of the new era of reforms the shadows of the passing night: the tortures of Nicholas' conscription and the degrading forms of Jewish rightlessness.

[Footnote 1: See above, p, 219.]

The fight against this rightlessness was the goal of his journalistic activity which, prior to the publication of the _Razswyet_, he had carried on in the columns of the liberal Russian press. The problems of inner Jewish life had but little attraction for him. Like Riesser, he looked upon civil emancipation as a panacea for all Jewish ailments. He was snatched away by death before he could be cured of this illusion.

Rabinovich's work was continued by a talented youth, the journalist Ilya (Elias) Orshanski of Yekaterinoslav (1846-1875), who was the main contributor to the _Dyen_ of Odessa and to the _Yevreyskaya Bibliotyeka_. [1] To fight for Jewish rights, not to offer humble apologies, to demand emancipation, not to beg for it, this attitude lends a charm of its own to Orshanski's writings. His brilliant analysis of "Russian Legislation concerning the Jews" [2] offers a complete anatomy of Jewish disfranchisement in Russia, beginning with Catherine II. and ending with Alexander II.

[Footnote 1: Compare above, p. 220 et seq.]

[Footnote 2: The title of his work on the same subject which appeared in St. Petersburg in 1877.]

Nevertheless, being a child of his age, he preached its formula. While a passionate Jew at heart, he championed the cause of Russification, though not in the extreme form of spiritual self-effacement. The Odessa pogrom of 1871 staggered his impressionable soul. He was tossing about restlessly, seeking an outlet for his resentment, but everywhere he knocked his head against the barriers of censorship and police. Had he been granted longer life, he might, like Smolenskin, have chosen the road of a nationalistic-progressive synthesis, but the white plague carried him off in his twenty-ninth year.

The literary work of Lev (Leon) Levanda (1835-1888) was of a more complicated character. A graduate of one of the official rabbinical schools, he was first active as teacher in a Jewish Crown school in Minsk, and afterwards occupied the post of a "learned Jew" [1] under Muravyov, the governor-general of Vilna. He thus moved in the hot-bed of "official enlightenment" and in the headquarters of the policy of Russification as represented by Muravyov, a circumstance which left its impress upon all the products of his pen. In his first novel, "The Grocery Store" (1860), of little merit from the artistic point of view, he still appears as the naive bard of that shallow "enlightenment," the champion of which is sufficiently characterized by wearing a European costume, calling himself by a well-sounding German or Russian name (in the novel under discussion the hero goes by the name of Arnold), cultivating friendly relations with noble-minded Christians and making a love match unassisted by the marriage-broker.

[Footnote 1: In Russian, _Uchony Yevrey_, an expert in Jewish matters, attached, according to the Russian law of 1844, to the superintendents of school districts and to the governors-general within the Pale.]

During this stage of his career, Levanda was convinced that "no educated Jew could help being a cosmopolitan." But a little later his cosmopolitanism displayed a distinct propensity toward Russification. In his novel "A Hot Time" (1871-1872), Levanda renounces his former Polish sympathies, and, through the mouth of his hero Sarin, preaches the gospel of the approaching cultural fusion between the Jews and the Russians which is to mark a new epoch in the history of the Jewish people. Old-fashioned Jewish life is cleverly ridiculed in his "Sketches of the Past" ("The Earlocks of my Mellammed," "Schoolophobia," etc., 1870-1875). His peace of mind was not even disturbed by the manifestation, towards the end of the sixties, of the anti-Semitic reaction in those very official circles in which the "learned Jew" moved and in which Brafman was looked up to as an authority in matters appertaining to Judaism. [1] But the catastrophe of 1881 dealt a staggering blow to Levanda's soul, and forced him to overthrow his former idol of assimilation. With his mind not yet fully settled on the new theory of nationalism, he joined the Palestine movement towards the end of his life, and went down to his grave with a clouded soul.

[Footnote 1: Levanda sat side by side with this renegade and informer in the Commission on the Jewish Question which had been appointed by the governor-general of Vilna. (See p. 189.)]

One who stuck fast in his denial of Judaism was Grigory Bogrov (1825-1885). The descendant of a family of rabbis in Poltava, he passed "from darkness to light" by way of the curious educational institution of Nicholas' brand, the office of an excise farmer in which he was employed for a number of years. The enlightened _Aktziznik_ [1] became conscious of his literary talent late in life. His protracted "Memoirs of a Jew," largely made up of autobiographic material, were published in a Russian magazine as late as 1871-1873. [2] They contain an acrimonious description of Jewish life in the time of Nicholas I. No Jewish artist had ever yet dipped his brush in colors so dismal and had displayed so ferocious a hatred as did Bogrov in painting the old Jewish mode of life within the Pale, with its poverty and darkness, its hunters and victims, its demoralized Kahal rule of the days of conscription. Bogrov's account of his childhood and youth is not relieved by a single cheerful reminiscence, except that of a young _Russian_ girl. The whole patriarchal life of a Jewish townlet of that period is transformed into a sort of inferno teeming with criminals or idiots.

[Footnote 1: See p. 186, n. 1.]

[Footnote 2: Shortly afterwards the "Memoirs" were supplemented by another autobiographic novel, "The Captured Recruit."]

To the mind of Bogrov, only two ways promised an escape from this hell: the way of cosmopolitanism and rationalism, opening up into humanity at large, or the way leading into the midst of the Russian nation. Bogrov himself stood irresolute on this fateful border-line. In 1878 he wrote to Levanda that as "an emancipated cosmopolitan he would long ago have crossed over to the opposite shore," where "other sympathies and ideals smiled upon him," were he not kept within the Jewish fold "by four million people innocently suffering from systematic persecutions."

Bogrov's hatred of the persecutors of the Jewish people was poured forth in his historic novel "A Jewish Manuscript" (1876), the plot of which is based on events of the time of Khmelnitzki. [1] But even here, while describing, as he himself puts it, the history of the struggle between the spider and the fly, he finds in the life of the fly nothing worthy of sympathy except its sufferings. In 1879 Bogrov began a new novel, "The Scum of the Age," picturing the life of the modern Jewish youth who were engulfed in the Russian revolutionary propaganda. But the hand which knew how to portray the horrors of the old conscription was powerless to reproduce, except in very crude outlines, the world of political passions which was foreign to the author, and the novel remained unfinished.

[Footnote 1: See on that period Vol. I, p. 144 et seq.]

The reaction of the eighties produced no change in Bogrov's attitude. He breathed his last in a distant Russian village, and was buried in a Russian cemetery, having embraced Christianity shortly before his death, as a result of a sad concatenation of family circumstances.

Before the young generation which entered upon active life in the eighties lay the broken tablets of Russian Jewish literature. New tablets were needed, partly to restore the commandments of the preceding period of enlightenment, partly to correct its mistakes.



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