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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

5. THE CODIFICATION OF JEWISH DISABILITIES

No sooner had the conscription ukase been issued than the bureaucrats of St. Petersburg began to apply themselves in the hidden recesses of their chancelleries to a new civil code for the Jews, which was to supersede the antiquated Statute of 1804. The work passed through a number of departments. The projected enactment was framed by the "Jewish Committee," which had been established in 1823 for the purpose of bringing about "a reduction of the number of Jews in the monarchy," and consisted of cabinet ministers and the chiefs of departments. [1] Originally the department chiefs had elaborated a draft covering 1230 clauses, a gigantic code of disabilities; evidently founded on the principle that in the case of Jews everything is forbidden which, is not permitted by special legislation. The dimensions of the draft were such that even the Government was appalled and decided to turn it over to the ministerial members of the Committee.

[Footnote 1: See Vol. I, p. 407 et seq.]

Modified in shape and reduced in size, the code was submitted in 1834 to the Department of Laws forming part of the Council of State, and after careful discussion by the Department of Laws was brought up at the plenary sessions of the Council. The "ministerial" draft, though smaller in bulk, was marked by such severity that the Department of Laws found it necessary to tone it down. The ministers, with the exception of the Minister of Finance, had proposed to transfer all Jews, within a period of three years, from the villages to the towns and townlets. The Department of Laws considered this measure too risky, pointing to the White Russian expulsion of 1823, which had failed to produce the expected results, and, "while it has ruined the Jews, it does not in the least seem to have improved the condition of the villagers." [1] The plenum of the Council agreed with the Department of Laws that "the proposed expulsion of the Jews (from the villages), being extremely difficult of execution and being of problematic benefit, should be eliminated from the Statute and should be stopped even there where it had been decreed but not carried into effect."

[Footnote 1: Compare Vol. I, p. 407.]

The report was laid before the Tzar, who attached to it the following "resolution": [1] "Where this measure (of expulsion) has been started, it is inconvenient to repeal it; but it shall be postponed for the time being in the governments in which no steps towards it have as yet been made." For a number of years this "resolution" hung like the sword of Damocles over the heads of rural Jewry.

[Footnote 1: See on the meaning of the term "resolution" Vol. I, p. 253, n. 1.]

Less yielding was the Tzar's attitude on the question of the partial enlargement of the Pale of Settlement. The Department of Laws had suggested to grant the merchants of the first guild the right of residence in the Russian interior in the interest of the exchequer and big business. At the general meeting of the Council of State only a minority (thirteen) voted for the proposal. The majority (twenty-two) argued that they had no right to violate the time-honored tradition, "dating from the time of Peter the Great," which bars the Jews from the Russian interior; that to admit them "would produce a very unpleasant impression upon our people, which, on account of its religious notions and its general estimate of the moral peculiarities of the Jews, has become accustomed to keep aloof from them and to despise them;" that the countries of Western Europe, which had accorded fall citizenship to the Jews, "cannot serve as an example for Russia, partly because of the incomparably larger number of Jews living here, partly because our Government and people, with all their well-known tolerance, are yet far from that indifference with which certain other nations look upon religious matters." After marking his approval of the last words by the marginal exclamation "Thank God!", the Tzar disposed of the whole matter in the following brief resolution: "This question has been determined by Peter the Great. I dare not change it; I completely share the opinion of the twenty-two members."

While on this occasion the Tzar endorsed the opinion of the Council as represented by its majority, in cases in which it proved favorable to the Jews he did not hesitate to set it aside. Thus the Department of Laws, as part of the Council of State, and, following in its wake, the Council itself had timidly suggested to Nicholas to comply in part with the plea of the Jews for a mitigation of the rigors of conscription, [1] but the imperial verdict read: "To be left as heretofore." Nicholas remained equally firm on the question of the expulsions from Kiev. The Department of Laws, guided by the previously-mentioned representations of the local governor, favored the postponement of the expulsion, and fourteen members of the plenary Council agreed with the suggestion of the Department, and resolved to recommend it to the "benevolent consideration of his Majesty," in other words to request the Tzar to revoke the baneful ukase. But fifteen, members rejected all such propositions on the ground that, as far as that question was concerned, the imperial will was unmistakable, the Tzar having decided the matter in a sense unfavorable to the Jews. In a similar manner, numerous other decisions of the Council of State were dictated not so much by inner conviction as by fear of the clearly manifested imperial will, which no one dared to cross.

[Footnote 1: The Kahal of Vilna, in a memorandum submitted in 1835, pleaded for the abolition of the dreadful institution of cantonists, and begged that the age limit of Jewish recruits be raised from 12-15 to 20-35.]

Under these circumstances, the entire draft of the statute passed through the Council of State. In its session of March 28, 1835, the Council voted to submit it to the emperor for his signature. On this occasion a solitary and belated voice was raised in defence of the Jews, without evoking an echo. A member of the Council, Admiral Greig, who was brave enough to swim against the current, submitted a "special opinion" on the proposed statute, in which he advocated a number of alleviations in the intolerable legal status of the Jews. Greig put the whole issue in a nut-shell: "Are the Jews to be suffered in the country, or not?" If they are, then we must abandon the system "of hampering them in their actions and in their religious customs" and grant them at least "equal liberty of commerce with the others," for in this case "we may anticipate more good from their gratitude than from their hatred." Should, however, the conclusion be reached that the Jews ought not to be tolerated in Russia, then the only thing to be done is "to banish them all without exception from the country into foreign lands." This might be "more useful than to allow this estate to remain in the country and to keep it in a position which is bound to arouse in them continual dissatisfaction and resentment." It need scarcely be added that the voice of the "queer" admiral found no hearing.

Nor did the Jewish people manage to get a hearing. Stunned by the uninterrupted succession of blows and moved by the spirit of martyrdom, Russian Jewry kept its peace during those dismal years. Yet, when the news of an impending general regulation of the Jewish legal status began to leak out, a section of Russian Jewry became astir. For to anticipate a blow is more excruciating than to receive one, and it was quite natural that an attempt should be made to stay the hand which was lifted to strike. Towards the end of 1833 the Council of State received, as part of the material bearing on the Jewish question, two memoranda, one from the Kahal of Vilna, signed by six elders, and another from Litman Feigin of Chernigov, well known in administrative circles as merchant and public contractor.

The Kahal of Vilna declared that the repressive policy, pursued during the last few years by the "Jewish Committee," had thrown a large part of the Jewish people "into utmost disorder," and had made the Jews "shiver and shudder at the thought that a general Jewish statute had been drafted by the same Committee and had now been submitted to the Council of State for revision." The petitioners go on to say that, weighed down by a succession of cruel discriminations affecting not only their rights but also their mode of discharging military service, the Jews would succumb to utter despair, did they not repose their hopes in the benevolence of the Tzar, who, on his recent trip through the Western provinces, had expressed to the deputies of the Jewish communes his imperial satisfaction with the loyalty to the throne displayed by the Jews during the Polish insurrection of 1831. The Kahal of Vilna, therefore, implored the Council of State "to turn its attention to this unfortunate and maligned people" and to stop all further persecutions.

A more emphatic note of protest is sounded in the memorandum of Feigin. By a string of references to the latest Government measures he demonstrates the fact that "the Jewish people is hunted down, not because of its moral qualities but because of its faith."

  The Jews, faced by the new statute, have lost all hope for a better lot,   inasmuch as the Government has embarked upon this measure without having   solicited the explanations or justifications of this people, whereas,   according to common legal procedure, even an individual may not be   condemned without having been called upon to justify himself.

The rebuke had no effect. The Government preferred to render its verdict _in absentia_, without listening to counsel for the defence and without any safeguards of fair play. In line with this attitude, it also denied the petition of the Vilna Kahal to be allowed "to send at least four deputies to the capital as spokesmen of the entire Jewish people for the purpose of submitting to the Government their explanations and propositions concerning the reorganization of the Jews, after having been presented with a draft of the statute." The final verdict was pronounced in the spring of 1835, and in April the new "Statute concerning the Jews" received the signature of the Tzar.

This "Charter of Disabilities," which was destined to operate for many decades, represents a combination of the Russian "ground laws" concerning the Jews and the restrictive by-laws issued after 1804. The Pale of Settlement was now accurately defined: it consisted of Lithuania [1] and the South-western provinces, [2] without any territorial restrictions, White Russia [3] minus the Villages, Little Russia [4] minus the crown hamlets, New Russia [5] minus Nicholayev and Sevastopol, the government of Kiev minus the city of Kiev, the Baltic provinces for the old settlers only, while the rural settlements on the entire fifty-verst zone along the Western frontier were to be closed to newcomers. As for the interior provinces, only temporary "furloughs" (limited to six weeks and to be certified by gubernatorial passports) were to be granted for the execution of judicial and commercial affairs, with the proviso that the travellers should wear Russian instead of Jewish dress. The merchants affiliated with the first and second guilds were allowed, in addition, to visit the two capitals, [6] the sea-ports, as well as the fairs of Nizhni-Novgorod, Kharkov, and other big fairs for wholesale buying or selling. [7]

[Footnote 1: The present governments of Kovno, Vilna, Grodno, and Minsk.]

[Footnote 2: The governments of Volhynia and Podolia.]

[Footnote 3: The governments of Vitebsk and Moghilev.]

[Footnote 4: The governments of Chernigov and Poltava.]

[Footnote 5: The governments of Kherson, Yekaterinoslav, Tavrida, and Bessarabia.]

[Footnote 6: St. Petersburg and Moscow.]

[Footnote 7: The time-limit was six months for the merchants of the first guild and three months for those of the second.]

The Jews were further forbidden to employ Christian domestics for permanent employment. They could hire Christians for occasional services only, on condition that the latter live in separate quarters. Marriages at an earlier age than eighteen for the bridegroom and sixteen for the bride were forbidden under the pain of imprisonment--a prohibition which the defective registration of births and marriages then in vogue made it easy to evade. The language to be employed by the Jews in their public documents was to be Russian or any other local dialect, but "under no circumstances the Hebrew language."

The function of the Kahal, according to the Statute, is to see to it that the "instructions of the authorities" are carried out precisely and that the state taxes and communal assessments are "correctly remitted." The Kahal elders are to be elected by the community every three years from among persons who can read and write Russian, subject to their being ratified by the gubernatorial administration. At the same time the Jews are entitled to participation in the municipal elections; those who can read and write Russian are eligible as members of the town councils and magistracies--the supplementary law of 1836 fixed the rate at one-third, [1] excepting the city of Vilna where the Jews were entirely excluded from municipal self-government.

[Footnote 1: Compare Vol. I, p. 368.]

Synagogues may not be built in the vicinity of churches. The Russian schools of all grades are to be open to Jewish children, who "are not compelled to change their religion" (Clause 106)--a welcome provision in view of the compulsory methods which had then become habitual. The coercive baptism of Jewish children was provided for in a separate enactment, the Statute on Conscription, which is declared "to remain in force." In this way the Statute of 1835 reduces itself to a codification of the whole mass of the preceding anti-Jewish legislation. Its only positive feature was that it put a stop to the expulsion from the villages which had ruined the Jewish population during the years 1804-1830.



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