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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

3. MISCARRIED RELIGIOUS REFORMS

The storm of pogroms not only broke many young twigs on the tree of "enlightenment," which had attained to full bloom in the preceding period, but it also bent others into monstrous shapes. This abnormal development is particularly characteristic of the idea of religious reforms in Judaism which sprang to life in the beginning of the eighties. A fortnight before the pogrom at Yelisavetgrad, which inaugurated another gloomy chapter in the annals of Russian Jewry, the papers reported that a new Jewish sect had appeared in that city under the name of "The Spiritual Biblical Brotherhood." Its members denied all religious dogmas and ceremonies, and acknowledged only the moral doctrines of the Bible; they condemned all mercantile pursuits, and endeavored to live by physical labor, primarily by agriculture.

The founder of this "Brotherhood" was a local teacher and journalist, Jacob Gordin, who stood at that time under the influence of the South-Russian Stundists [1] as well as of the socialistic Russian Populists. [2] The "Spiritual Biblical Brotherhood" was made up altogether of a score of people. In a newspaper appeal which appeared shortly after the spring pogroms of 1881 the leader of the sect, hiding his identity under the pen-name of "A Brother-Biblist," called upon the Jews to divest themselves, of those character traits and economic pursuits which excited the hatred of the native population against them: the love of money, the hunt for barter, usury, and petty trading. This appeal, which, sounded in unison with the voice of the Russian Jew-baiters and appeared at a time when the wounds of the pogrom victims were not yet healed, aroused profound indignation among the Jews. Shortly afterwards the "Spiritual Biblical Brotherhood" fell asunder. Some of its members joined a like-minded sect in Odessa which had been founded there in the beginning of 1883 by a teacher, Jacob Priluker, under the name of "New Israel."

[Footnote 1: A Russian sect with rationalistic tendencies which are traceable to Western Protestantism.]

[Footnote 2: See above, p. 222.]

The aim of "New Israel" was to facilitate, by means of radical religious reforms conceived in the spirit of rationalism, the contact between Jews and Christians and thereby pave the way for civil emancipation. The twofold religio-social program of the sect was as follows:

  The sect recognizes only the teachings of Moses; it rejects the   Talmud, the dietary laws, the rite of circumcision, and the   traditional form of worship; the day of rest is transferred from   Saturday to Sunday; the Russian language is declared to be the   "native" tongue of the Jews and made obligatory in every-day life;   usury and similar distasteful pursuits are forbidden.

As a reward for all these virtuous endeavors the sect expected from the Russian Government, which it petitioned to that effect, complete civil equality for its members, permission to intermarry with Christians, and the right to wear a special badge by which they were to be marked off from the "Talmudic Jews." As an expression of gratitude for the anticipated governmental benefits, the members of the sect pledged themselves to give their boys and girls who were to be born during the coming year the names of Alexander or Alexandra, in honor of the Russian Tzar.

The first religious half of the program of "New Israel" might possibly have attracted a few adherents. But the second "business-like" part of it opened the eyes of the public to the true aspirations of these "reformers," who, in their eagerness for civil equality, were ready to barter away religion, conscience, and honor, and who did not balk at betraying such low flunkeyism at a time when the blood of the victims of the Balta pogrom had not yet dried.

Thus it was that the withering influence of reactionary Judaeophobia compromised and crippled the second attempt at inner reforms in Judaism. Both movements soon passed out of existence, and their founders subsequently left Russia. Gordin went to America, and, renouncing his sins of youth, became a popular Yiddish playwright. Priluker settled in England, and entered the employ of the missionaries who were anxious to propagate Christianity among the Jews. A few years later, during 1884 and 1885, "New Israel" cropped up in a new shape, this time in Kishinev, where the puny "Congregation of New Testament Israelites" was founded by I. Rabinovich, having for its aim "the fusion of Judaism with Christianity." In the house of prayer, in which this "Congregation," consisting altogether of ten members, worshipped, sermons were also delivered by a Protestant clergyman.

A few years later this new missionary device was also abandoned. The pestiferous atmosphere which surrounded Russian-Jewish life at that time could do no more than produce these poisonous growths of "religious reform." For the wholesome seeds of such a reform were bound to wither after the collapse of the ideals which had served as a lode star during the period of "enlightenment."



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