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by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook




There was a brief moment of respite when, in the phrase of the Russian poet, "the fighter's hand was tired of killing." The Russian Government suddenly felt the need of passing over from the medieval forms of patronage to more enlightened and perfected methods. Among the leading statesmen of Russia were men, such as the Minister of Public Instruction, Sergius Uvarov, who were well acquainted with Western European ways and fully aware of the fact that the reactionary governments of Austria and Prussia had invented several contrivances for handling the Jewish problem which might be usefully applied in their own country. Though anxious to avoid all contact with the "rotten West," and being in constant fear of European political movements, the Russian Government was nevertheless ready to seize upon the relics of "enlightened absolutism" which were still stalking about, particularly in Austria, in the early decades of the nineteenth century. As far as Prussia was concerned, the abundance of assimilated and converted Jews in that country and their attempts at religious reform, which to a missionary's imagination were identical with a change of front in favor of Christianity, had a fascination of its own for the Russian dignitaries. No wonder then that the Government yielded to the temptation to use some of the contrivances of Western European reaction, while holding in reserve the police knout of genuine Russian manufacture.

In 1840 the Council of State was again busy discussing the Jewish question, this time from a theoretic point of view. The reports of the provincial administrators, in particular that of Bibikov, governor-general of Kiev, dwelled on the fact that even the "Statute" of 1835 had not succeeded in "correcting" the Jews. The root of the evil lay rather in their "religious fanaticism and separatism," which could only be removed by changing their inner life. The Ministers of Public Instruction and of the Interior, Uvarov and Stroganov, took occasion to expound the principles of their new system of correction before the Council of State. The discussions culminated in a remarkable memorandum submitted by the Council to Nicholas I.

In this document the Government confesses its impotence in grappling with the "defects" of the Jewish masses, such as "the absence of useful labor, their harmful pursuit of petty trading, vagrancy, and obstinate aloofness from general civic life." Its failure the Government ascribes to the fact that the evil of Jewish exclusiveness has hitherto not been attacked at its root, the latter being imbedded in the religious and communal organization of the Jews. The fountain-head of all misfortunes is the Talmud, which "fosters in the Jews utmost contempt towards the nations of other faiths," and implants in them the desire "to rule over the rest of the world." As a result of the obnoxious teachings of the Talmud, "the Jews cannot but regard their presence in any other land except Palestine as a sojourn in captivity," and "they are held to obey their own authorities rather than a strange government." This explains "the omnipotence of the Kahals," which, contrary to the law of the state, employ secret means to uphold their autonomous authority both in communal and judicial matters, using for this purpose the uncontrolled sums of the special Jewish revenue, the meat tax. The education of the Jewish youth is entrusted to melammeds, "a class of domestic teachers immersed in profoundest ignorance and superstition," and, "under the influence of these fanatics, the children imbibe pernicious notions of intolerance towards other nations." Finally, the special dress worn by the Jews helps to keep them apart from the surrounding Christian population.

The Russian Government "had adopted a series of protective measures against the Jews," without producing any marked effect. Even the Conscription Statute "had succeeded to a limited extent only in altering the habits of the Jews." Mere promotion of agriculture and of Russian schooling had been found inadequate. The expulsions from the villages had proved equally fruitless; "the Jews, to be sure, have been ruined, but the condition of the rustics has shown no improvement."

  It is evident, therefore--the Council declares--that restrictions   which go only half way or are externally imposed by the police are   not sufficient to direct this huge mass of people towards useful   occupations. With the patience of martyrs the Jews of Western Europe   had endured the most atrocious persecutions, and had yet succeeded   in keeping their national type intact until the governments took the   trouble to inquire more deeply into the causes separating the Jews   from general civic life, so as to be able to attack the causes   themselves.

After blurting out the truth that the Government's ultimate aim was the obliteration of the Jewish individuality, and modestly yielding the palm in inflicting "the most atrocious persecutions" upon the Jews to Western Europe, where after all they were receding into the past, while in Russia they were still the order of the day, the Council of State proceeds to consider "the example set by foreign countries," and lingers with particular affection over the Prussian Regulation of 1797 issued by that country for its recently occupied Polish provinces--the Prussian Emancipation Edict of 1812 the memorandum very shrewdly passes over in silence--and on the system of compulsory schooling adopted by Austria.

Taking its clue from the West, the Council delineates three ways of bringing about "a radical transformation of this people":

1: _Cultural reforms_, such as the establishment of special secular schools for the Jewish youth, the fight against the old-fashioned heders and melammeds, the transformation of the rabbinate, and the prohibition of Jewish dress.

2. _Abolition of Jewish autonomy_, consisting in the dissolution of the Kahals and the modification of the system of special Jewish taxation.

3. _Increase of Jewish disabilities_, by segregating from their midst all those who have no established domicile and are without a definite financial status, with a view of subjecting them to disciplinary correction through expulsions, legal restrictions, intensified conscription, and similar police measures.

  In this manner--the memorandum concludes--it may be hoped that by   co-ordinating all the particulars of this proposition with the   fundamental idea of reforming the Jewish people, and _by taking   compulsory measures to aid_, the goal of the Government will be   attained.

As a result of this _expose_ of the Council of State, an imperial rescript was issued on December 27, 1840, calling for the establishment of a "Committee for Defining Measures looking to the Radical Transformation of the Jews of Russia." Count Kiselev, Minister of the Crown Domains, was appointed chairman. The other members included the Ministers of Public Instruction and the Interior, the Assistant-Minister of Finance, the Director of the Second Section of the imperial chancellery, and the Chief of the Political Police, or the dreaded "Third Section." [1] The latter was entrusted with the special task "to keep a watchful eye on the intrigues and actions which may be resorted to by the Jews during the execution of this matter."

[Footnote 1: See p. 21, n. 1.]

Moreover, the _expose_ of the Council of State, which was to serve as the program of the new Committee, was sent out to the governors-general of the Western region [1] "confidentially_, for personal information and consideration." The reformatory campaign against the Jews was thus started without any formal declaration of war, under the guise of secrecy and surrounded by police precautions. The procedure to be followed by the Committee was to consider the project in the order indicated in the memorandum: first "enlightenment," then abolition of autonomy, and finally disabilities.

[Footnote 1: See above, p. 16, n. 1.]

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