From Chapter 4. In The Age Of Reforms or https://200yearstogether.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/chapter-4-in-the-age-of-reforms/
Chapter 4. In The Age Of Reforms
Posted on August 23, 2011 by 200yearstogether
At the moment of the ascension of Alexander II to the throne, the Peasant Question in Russia had been overripe for a century and demanded immediate resolution. Then suddenly, the Jewish Question surfaced and demanded a no less urgent solution as well. In Russia, the Jewish Question was not as ancient as the deep-rooted and barbaric institution of serfdom and up to this time it did not seem to loom so large in the country. Yet henceforth, for the rest of 19th century, and right to the very year of 1917 in the State Duma, the Jewish and the Peasant questions would cross over and over again; they would contend with each other and thus become intertwined in their competing destiny.
Alexander II had taken the throne during the difficult impasse of the Crimean War against a united Europe. This situation demanded a difficult decision, whether to hold out or to surrender.
Upon his ascension, “voices were immediately raised in defense of the Jewish population.”— After several weeks, His Majesty gave orders “to make the Jews equal with the rest of population in respect to military duty, and to end acceptance of underage recruits.” (Soon after, the “skill-category” draft of Jewish philistines was cancelled; this meant that “all classes of the Jewish population were made equal with respect to compulsory military service.”) This decision was confirmed in the Coronation Manifesto of 1856: “Jewish recruits of the same age and qualities which are defined for recruits from other population groups are to be admitted while acceptance of underage Jewish recruits was to be abolished.” Right then the institution of military cantonists was also completely abolished; Jewish cantonists who were younger than 20 years of age were returned to their parents even if they already had been turned into soldiers. [Cantonists were the sons of Russian conscripts who, from 1721, were educated in special "canton (garrison) schools" for future military service].
The lower ranks who had served out their full term (and their descendents) received the right to live anywhere on the territory of the Russian Empire. (They usually settled where they terminated their service. They could settle permanently and had often become the founders of new Jewish communities. In a twist of fate and as a historical punishment, Russia and the Romanov Dynasty got Yakov Sverdlov from the descendents of one such cantonist settler.)
By the same manifesto the Jewish population “was forgiven all [considerable] back taxes” from previous years. (“Yet already in the course of the next five years new tax liabilities accumulated amounting to 22% of the total expected tax sum.)
More broadly, Alexander II expressed his intention to resolve the Jewish Question — and in the most favorable manner. For this, the approach to the question was changed drastically. If during the reign of Nicholas I the government saw its task as first reforming the Jewish inner life, gradually clearing it out through productive work and education with consequent removal of administrative restrictions, then during the reign of Alexander II the policy was the opposite: to begin “with the intention of integrating this population with the native inhabitants of the country” as stated in the Imperial Decree of 1856. So the government had began quick removal of external constraints and restrictions not looking for possible inner causes of Jewish seclusion and morbidity; it thereby hoped that all the remaining problems would then solve themselves.
To this end, still another Committee for Arranging the Jewish Way of Life was established in 1856. (This was already the seventh committee on Jewish affairs, but by no means the last). Its chairman, the above-mentioned Count Kiselyov, reported to His Majesty that “the goal of integrating Jews with the general population” “is hindered by various temporary restrictions, which, when considered in the context of general laws, contain many contradictions and beget bewilderment.” In response, His Majesty ordered “a revision of all existing statutes on Jews to harmonize them with the general strategy directed toward integration of this people with the native inhabitants, to the extent afforded by the moral condition of Jews”; that is, “the fanaticism and economic harmfulness ascribed to them.”
No, not for nothing had Herzen struggled with his Kolokol, or Belinsky and Granovsky, or Gogol! (For although not having such goals, the latter acted in the same direction as the former three did.) Under the shell of the austere reign of Nicholas I, the demand for decisive reforms and the will for them and the people to implement them were building up, and, astonishingly, new projects were taken by the educated high governmental dignitaries more enthusiastically than by educated public in general. And this immediately impacted the Jewish Question. Time after time, the ministers of Internal Affairs (first Lanskoi and then Valuev) and the Governors General of the Western and Southwestern Krais [administrative divisions of Tsarist Russia] shared their suggestions with His Majesty who was quite interested in them. “Partial improvements in the legal situation of the Jews were enacted by the government on its own initiative, yet under direct supervision by His Majesty.” These changes went along with the general liberating reforms which affected Jews as well as the rest of population.
In 1858, Novorossiysk Governor General Stroganov suggested immediate, instant, and complete equalization of the Jews in all rights — but the Committee, now under the chairmanship of Bludov, stopped short, finding itself unprepared for such a measure. In 1859 it pointed out, for comparison, that “while the Western-European Jews began sending their children to public schools at the first invitation of the government, more or less turning themselves to useful occupations, the Russian government has to wrestle with Jewish prejudices and fanaticism”; therefore, “making Jews equal in rights with the native inhabitants cannot happen in any other way than a gradual change, following the spread of true enlightenment among them, changes in their inner life, and turning their activity toward useful occupations.”
The Committee also developed arguments against equal rights. It suggested that the question being considered was not so much a Jewish question, as it was a Russian one; that it would be precipitous to grant equal rights to Jews before raising the educational and cultural level of Russian population whose dark masses would not be able to defend themselves in the face of the economic pressure of Jewish solidarity; that the Jews hardly aspire toward integration with the rest of the citizens of the country, that they strive toward achieving all civil rights while retaining their isolation and cohesion which Russians do not possess among themselves.
However, these voices did not attain influence. One after another, restrictions had been removed. In 1859 the Prohibition of 1835 was removed: it had forbidden the Jews to take a lease or manage populated landowner’s lands. (And thus, the right to rule over the peasants; though that prohibition was “in some cases … secretly violated.” Although after 1861 lands remaining in the property of landowners were not formally “populated.”) The new changes were aimed “to make it easier for landowners to turn for help to Jews if necessary” in case of deterioration of in the manorial economy, but also “in order to somewhat widen the restricted field of economic activity of the Jews.” Now the Jews could lease these lands and settle on them though they could not buy them. Meanwhile in the Southwestern Krai “capital that could be turned to the purchase of land was concentrated in the hands of some Jews … yet the Jews refused to credit landowners against security of the estate because estates could not be purchased by Jews.” Soon afterwards Jews were granted the right to buy land from landowners inside the Pale of Settlement.
With development of railroads and steamships, Jewish businesses such as keeping of inns and postal stations had declined. In addition, because of new liberal customs tariffs introduced in1857 and 1868, which lowered customs duties on goods imported into Russia, “profits on contraband trade” had immediately and sharply decreased.
In 1861 the prohibition on Jews to acquire exclusive rights to some sources of revenue from estates was abolished. In the same year the systems of tax farming and ‘wine farming’ [translator’s note: concessions from the state to private entrepreneurs to sell vodka to the populace in particular regions] were abolished. This was a huge blow to a major Jewish enterprise. “Among Jews, ‘tax collector’ and ‘contractor’ were synonyms for wealth”; now Orshansky writes, they could just dream about “the time of the Crimean War, when contractors made millions, thanks to the flexible conscience and peculiar view of the Treasury in certain circles”; “thousands of Jews lived and got rich under the beneficial wing of tax farming.” Now the interests of the state had begun to be enforced and contracts had become much less profitable. And “trading in spirits” had become “far less profitable than … under … the tax farming system.” However, as the excise was introduced in the wine industry in place of the wine farming system, no special restrictions were laid on Jews and so now they could sell and rent distillation factories on a common basis in the Pale of Settlement provinces. And they had so successfully exercised this right to rent and purchase over next two decades that by the 1880s between 32 % and 76 % of all distillation factories in the Jewish Pale of Settlement belonged to Jews, and almost all of them fell under category of a ‘major enterprise’. By 1872, 89 % of distillation factories in the Southwestern Krai were rented by Jews. From 1863 Jews were permitted to run distillation in Western and Eastern Siberia (for “the most remarkable specialists in the distillation industry almost exclusively came from among the Jews”), and from 1865 the Jewish distillers were permitted to reside everywhere.
Regarding the spirits trade in the villages, about one-third of the whole Jewish population of the Pale lived in villages at the start of 1880s, with two or three families in each village, as remnants of the korchemstvo [from “tavern” — the state-regulated business of retail spirits sale]. An official government report of 1870 stated that “the drinking business in the Western Krai is almost exclusively concentrated in the hands of Jews, and the abuses encountered in these institutions exceed any bounds of tolerance.” Thus it was demanded of Jews to carry on the drinking business only from their own homes. The logic of this demand was explained by G. B. Sliozberg: in the villages of Little Russia [Ukraine], that is, outside of the legal limits of the Polish autonomy, the landowners did not have the right to carry on trade in spirits — and this meant that the Jews could not buy spirits from landowners for resale. Yet at the same time the Jews might not buy even a small plot of peasant land; therefore, the Jews rented peasant homes and conducted the drinking business from them. When such trade was also prohibited — the prohibition was often evaded by using a ‘front’ business: a dummy patent on a spirits business was issued to a Christian to which a Jew supposedly only served as an ‘attendant.’
Also, the ‘punitive clause’ (as it is worded in the Jewish Encyclopedia), that is, a punishment accompanying the prohibition against Jews hiring a Christian as a personal servant, was repealed in 1865 as “incompatible with the general spirit of the official policy of tolerance.” And so “from the end of the 1860s many Jewish families began to hire Christian servants.”
Unfortunately, it is so typical for many scholars studying the history of Jewry in Russia to disregard hard-won victories: if yesterday all strength and attention were focused on the fight for some civil right and today that right is attained — then very quickly afterwards that victory is considered a trifle. There was so much said about the “double tax” on the Jews as though it existed for centuries and not for very few short years, and even then it was never really enforced in practice. The law of 1835, which was at the time greeted by Jews with a sense of relief, was, at the threshold of 20th century dubbed by S. Dubnov as a ‘Charter of Arbitrariness.’ To the future revolutionary Leo Deutsch, who in the 1860s was a young and still faithful subject, it looked like the administration “did not strictly [enforce] some essential … restrictions on … the rights” of Jews, “they turned a blind eye to … violations”; “in general, the life of Jews in Russia in the sixties was not bad…. Among my Jewish peers I did not see anyone suffering from depression, despondence, or estrangement as a result of oppression” by their Christian mates. But then he suddenly recollects his revolutionary duty and calls everything given to the Jews during the reign of Alexander I as, “in essence, insignificant alleviations” and, without losing a beat, mentions “the crimes of Alexander II”— although, in his opinion, the Tsar shouldn’t have been killed. And from the middle of the 20th century it already looks like for the whole of 19th century that various committees and commissions were being created for review of Jewish legal restrictions “and they came to the conclusion that the existing legal restrictions did not achieve their aims and should be … abolished…. Yet not a single one of the projects worked out by the Committees … was implemented.”
It’s rid of, forgotten, and no toasts made.
After the first Jewish reforms by Alexander II, the existence of the Pale of Settlement had become the most painful issue. “Once a hope about a possibility of future state reforms had emerged, and first harbingers of expected renewal of public life had barely appeared, the Jewish intelligentsia began contemplating the daring step of raising the question of abolishing the Jewish Pale of Settlement altogether.” Yet still fresh in the Jewish memory was the idea of ‘selectivity’: to impose additional obligations on not-permanently-settled and unproductive Jews. And so in 1856 an idea to petition His Majesty appeared in the social strata of “Jewish merchants, citizens of St. Petersburg, and out-of-towners,” who “by their social standing and by the nature of their activity, more closely interacted with the central authorities.” The petition asked His Majesty “not to give privileges to the whole Jewish population, but only to certain categories,” to the young generation “raised in the spirit and under the supervision of the government,” “to the upper merchant class,” and “to the good craftsmen, who earn their bread by sweat of their brow”; so that they would be “distinguished by the government with more rights than those who still exhibited nothing special about their good intentions, usefulness, and industriousness…. Our petition is so that the Merciful Monarch, distinguishing wheat from chaff, would be kindly disposed to grant several, however modest privileges to the worthy and cultivated among us, thus encouraging good and praiseworthy actions.” (Even in all their excited hopes they could not even imagine how quickly the changes in the position of the Jews would be implemented in practice —already in 1862 some of the authors of this petition would ask “about extending equal rights to all who graduate from secondary educational institutions,” for the grammar school graduates “of course, must be considered people with a European education.”
And yes, “in principle, the Tsar did not mind violations of the laws concerning the Jewish Pale of Settlement in favor of individual groups of the Jewish population.” In 1859 Jewish merchants of the 1st Guild were granted the right of residency in all of Russia (and the 2nd Guild in Kiev from 1861; and also for all three guilds in Nikolayev, Sevastopol, and Yalta) with the right of arranging manufacturing businesses, contracts, and acquiring real estate. Earlier, doctors and holders of masters degrees in science had already enjoyed the right of universal residency (including the right to occupy posts in government service; here we should note a professor of medicine G.A. Zakharyin, who in the future would pronounce the fatal judgment about the illness of Alexander III). From 1861 this right was granted to “candidates of universities,” that is, simply to university graduates, and also “to persons of free professions.” The Pale of Settlement restrictions were now lifted even from the “persons, desiring to obtain higher education … namely to persons, entering medical academies, universities, and technical institutes.” Then, as a result of petitions from individual ministers, governors, and influential Jewish merchants (e.g., Evzel Ginzburg), from 1865 the whole territory of Russia including St. Petersburg was opened to Jewish artisans, though only for the period of actual professional activity. (The notion of artisans was then widened to include all kinds of technicians such as typesetters and typographic workers.)
Here it is worth keeping in mind that merchants relocated with their clerks, office workers, various assistants, and Jewish service personnel, craftsmen, and also with apprentices and pupils. Taken altogether, this already made up a notable stream. Thus, a Jew with a right of residency outside of the Pale was free to move from the Pale, and not only with his family.
Yet new relaxations were outpaced by new petitions. In 1861, immediately after granting privileges for the “candidates of universities,” the Governor General of the Southwestern Krai had asked to allow exit from the Pale to those who completed state professional schools for the Jews, that is, incomplete high school-level establishments. He had vividly described the condition of such graduates: “Young people graduating from such schools find themselves completely cut off from Jewish society…. If they do not find occupations according to their qualifications within their own circles, they get accustomed to idleness and thus, by being unworthy representatives of their profession, they often discredit the prestige of education in the eyes of people they live among.”
In that same year, the Ministers of Internal Affairs and Education declared in unison “that a paramount cause of the disastrous condition of Jews is hidden in the abnormal share of Jews occupied in commerce and industry versus the rest engaged in agriculture”; and because of this “the peasant is unavoidably preyed upon by Jews as if he is obligated to surrender a part of his income to their maintenance.” Yet the internal competition between the Jews creates a “nearly impossible situation of providing for themselves by legal means.” And therefore, it is necessary to “grant the right of universal residence to merchants” of the 2nd and 3rd Guilds, and also to graduates of high or equivalent schools.
In 1862 the Novorossiysk Governor General again called for “complete abolition of the Jewish Pale of Settlement” by asking “to grant the right of universal residency to the entire [Jewish] people.”
Targeted permissions for universal residency of certain Jewish groups were being issued at a slower but constant rate. From 1865 acceptance of Jews as military doctors was permitted, and right after that (1866-1867), Jewish doctors were allowed to work in the ministries of Education and Interior. From 1879 they were permitted to serve as pharmacists and veterinarians; permission was also granted “to those preparing for the corresponding type of activity,” and also to midwives and feldshers, and “those desiring to study medical assistant arts.”
Finally, a decree by the Minister of Internal Affairs Makov was issued allowing residence outside the Pale to all those Jews who had already illegally settled there.
Here it is appropriate to add that in the 1860s “Jewish lawyers … in the absence of the official Bar College during that period were able to get jobs in government service without any difficulties.”
Relaxations had also affected the Jews living in border regions. In 1856, when, according to the Treaty of Paris, the Russian state boundary retreated close to Kishinev and Akkerman, the Jews were not forced out of this newly-formed frontier zone. And in 1858 “the decrees of Nicholas I, which directed Jews to abandon the fifty versts [an obsolete Russian measure, a verst is slightly more than a kilometer] boundary zone, were conclusively repealed.” And from 1868 movement of Jews between the western provinces of Russia and Polish Kingdom was allowed (where previously it was formally prohibited).
Alongside official relaxations to the legal restrictions, there were also exceptions and loopholes in regulations. For example, in the capital city of St. Petersburg “despite … prohibitions, the Jews all the same settled in for extended times”; and “with the ascension of Alexander II … the number of Jews in St. Petersburg began to grow quickly. Jewish capitalists emerged who began dedicating significant attention to the organization of the Jewish community” there; “Baron Goratsy Ginzburg, for example … L. Rozental, A Varshavsky, and others.” Toward the end of Alexander II’s reign, E. A. Peretz (the son of the tax farmer Abram Peretz) became the Russian Secretary of State. In the 1860s “St. Petersburg started to attract quite a few members of the commercial, industrial and intellectual [circles] of Jewry.”
According to the data of the Commission for Arranging the Jewish Way of Life, in 1880-81, 6,290 Jews were officially registered in St. Petersburg, while according to other official figures, 8,993; and according to a local census from 1881, there were 16,826 Jews in St. Petersburg, i.e., around 2% of the total city population.
In Moscow in 1856 the obligation of arriving Jewish merchants to exclusively reside in the Glebovsky Quarter was repealed; “the Jews were allowed to stay in any part of the city. During the reign of Alexander II … the Jewish population of Moscow grew quickly”; by 1880 it was around 16,000.”
It was a similar situation in Kiev. After 1861, “a quick growth of the Jewish population of Kiev had began” (from 1,500 in 1862, to 81,000 by 1913). From the 1880s there was an influx of Jews to Kiev. “Despite frequent police round-ups, which Kiev was famous for, the numbers of Jews there considerably exceeded the official figures…. By the end of the 19th century, the Jews accounted for 44% of Kiev merchants.”
Yu. I. Hessen calls “the granting of the right of universal residency (1865) to artisans” most important. Yet Jews apparently did not hurry to move out of the Pale. Well, if it was so overcrowded in there, so constraining, and so deprived with respect to markets and earnings, why then did they make “almost no use of the right to leave the Pale of Settlement?” By 1881, in thirty-one of the interior provinces, Jewish artisans numbered 28,000 altogether (and Jews in general numbered 34,000). Hessen explains this paradox in the following way: prosperous artisans did not need to seek new places while the destitute did not have the means for the move, and the middle group, “which somehow managed from day to day without enduring any particular poverty,” feared that after their departure the elders of their community would refuse to extend an annual passport to them for tax considerations, or even “demand that the outgoing parties return home.”
But one can strongly doubt all this statistics. We have just read that in St. Petersburg alone there were at least twice as many Jews than according to official data. Could the slow Russian state apparatus really account for the mercury-quick Jewish population within a definite time and in all places?
And the growth of Jewish population of Russia was rapid and confident. In 1864 it amounted to 1,500,000 without counting Jews in Poland. And together with Poland in 1850 it was 2,350,000; and in 1860 it was already 3,980,000. From the initial population of around 1,000,000 at the time of the first partitions of Poland, to 5,175,000 by the census of 1897 — that is, after a century, it grew more than five times. (At the start of the 19th century Russian Jewry amounted to 30% of the world’s Jewish population, while in 1880 it was already 51%).
This was a major historical event. At the time, its significance was grasped neither by Russian society, nor by Russian administration.
This fast numerical growth alone, without all other peculiarities of the Jewish Question, had already put a huge state problem for Russia. And here it is necessary, as always in any question, to try to understand both points of view. With such an enormous growth of Russian Jewry, two national needs were clashing ever more strongly. On one hand was the need of Jews (and a distinct feature of their dynamic 3,000-year existence) to spread and settle as wide as possible among non-Jews, so that a greater number of Jews would be able to engage in manufacturing, commerce, and serve as intermediaries (and to get involved into the culture of the surrounding population). On the other was the need of Russians, as the government understood it, to have control over their economic (and then cultural) life, and develop it themselves at their own pace.
Let’s not forget that simultaneously with all these relief measures for the Jews, the universal liberating reforms of Alexander II were implemented one after another, and so benefiting Jews as well as all other peoples of Russia. For example, in 1863 the capitation [i.e., poll or head] tax from the urban population was repealed, which meant the tax relief for the main part of Jewish masses; only land taxes remained after that, which were paid from the collected kosher tax.
Yet precisely the most important of these Alexandrian reforms, the most historically significant turning point in the Russian history — the liberation of peasants and the abolition of the Serfdom in 1861 — turned out to be highly unprofitable for Russian Jews, and indeed ruinous for many. “The general social and economic changes resulting from the abolition of peasant servitude … had significantly worsened the material situation of broad Jewish masses during that transitional period.” The social change was such that the multi-million disenfranchised and immobile peasant class ceased to exist, reducing the relative advantage of Jewish personal freedom. And the economic change was such that “the peasant, liberated from the servitude, … was less in the need of services by the Jew”; that is, the peasant was now at liberty from the strict prohibition against trading his products and purchasing goods himself — that is, through anyone other than a pre-assigned middleman (in the western provinces, almost always a Jew). And now, as the landowners were deprived of free serf labor, in order not to be ruined, “they were compelled to get personally engaged in the economy of their estates — an occupation where earlier Jews played a conspicuous role as renters and middlemen in all kinds of commercial and manufacturing deals.”
It’s noteworthy that the land credit introduced in those years was displacing the Jew “as the financial manager of the manorial economy." The development of consumer and credit associations led to “the liberation of people from the tyranny of usury.”
An intelligent contemporary conveys to us the Jewish mood of the time. Although access to government service and free professions was open to the Jews and although “the industrial rights of the Jews were broadened” and there were “more opportunities for education” and “on every … corner” the “rapprochement between the Jewish and Christian populations was visible” and although the remaining “restrictions … were far from being strictly enforced” and “the officials now treated the Jewish population with far more respect than before,” yet the situation of Jews in Russia “at the present time … is very dismal.” “Not without reason,” Jews “express regret … for good old times.” Everywhere in the Pale of Settlement one could hear “the Jewish lamentations about the past.” For under serfdom an “extraordinary development of mediation” took place; the lazy landowner could not take a step without the “Jewish trader or agent,” and the browbeaten peasant also could not manage without him; he could only sell the harvest through him, and borrowed from him also. Before, the Jewish business class “derived enormous benefit from the helplessness, wastefulness, and impracticality of landowners,” but now the landowner had to do everything himself. Also, the peasant became “less pliant and timid”; now he often establishes contacts with wholesale traders himself and he drinks less; and this “naturally has a harmful effect on the trade in spirits, which an enormous number of Jews lives on.” The author concludes with the wish that the Jews, as happened in Europe, “would side with the productive classes and would not become redundant in the national economy.”
Now Jews had begun renting and purchasing land. The Novorossiysk Governor General (1869) requested in a staff report to forbid Jews in his region to buy land as was already prohibited in nine western provinces. Then in 1872 there was a memorandum by the Governor General of the Southwestern Krai stating that “Jews rent land not for agricultural occupations but only for industrial aims; they hand over the rented land to peasants, not for money but for a certain amount of work, which exceeds the value of the usual rent on that land, and thereby they “establish a sort of their own form of servitude.” And though “they undoubtedly reinvigorate the countryside with their capital and commerce,” the Governor General “considered concentration of manufacture and agriculture in the same hands un-conducive, since only under free competition can peasant farms and businesses avoid the “burdensome subordination of their work and land to Jewish capital, which is tantamount to their inevitable and impending material and moral perdition.” However, thinking to limit the renting of land to Jews in his Krai, he proposed to “give the Jews an opportunity to settle in all of the Greater Russian provinces.”
The memorandum was put forward to the just-created Commission for Arranging the Jewish Way of Life (the eighth of the ‘Jewish Commissions’, according to count), which was then highly sympathetic to the situation of the Jews. It received a negative review which was later confirmed by the government: to forbid the Jewish rent of land would be “a complete violation of rights” of … landowners. Moreover, the interests of the major Jewish renter “merge completely with those of other landowners…. Well, it is true, that the Jewish proletarians group around the major [Jewish] renters and live off the work and means of the rural population. But the same also happens in the estates managed by the landowners themselves who to this time cannot manage without the help of the Jews.”
However, in the areas inhabited by the Don Cossacks, the energetic economic advancement of the Jews was restricted by the prohibition of 1880 to own or rent the real estate. The provincial government found that “in view of the exclusive situation of the Don Province, the Cossack population which is obligated to military service to a man, [this] is the only reliable way to save the Cossack economy from ruin, to secure the nascent manufacturing and commerce in the area.” For “a too hasty exploitation of a region’s wealth and quick development of industry … are usually accompanied by an extremely uneven distribution of capital, and the swift enrichment of some and the impoverishment of others. Meanwhile, the Cossacks must prosper, since they carry out their military service on their own horses and with their own equipment.” And thus they had prevented a possible Cossack explosion.
So what happened with the conscription of Jews into military service after all those Alexandrian relief measures of 1856? For the 1860s, this was the picture: “When Jews manage to find out about the impending Imperial Manifest about recruit enrollment before it is officially published … all members of Jewish families fit for military service flee from their homes in all directions….” Because of the peculiarities of their faith and “lack of comradeship and the perpetual isolation of the Jewish soldier … the military service for the Jews was the most threatening, the most ruinous, and the most burdensome of duties.” Although from 1860 the Jewish service in the Guards was permitted, and from 1861promotions to petty officer ranks and service as clerks, there was still no access to officer ranks.
I. G. Orshansky, a witness to the 1860s, certifies: “It is true, there is much data supporting the opinion that in the recent years the Jews in fact had not fulfilled their conscription obligations number-wise. They purchase old recruit discharges and present them to the authorities”; peasants sometimes keep them without knowing their value as far back as from 1812; so now Jewish resourcefulness puts them to use. Or, they “hire volunteers” in place of themselves and “pay a certain sum to the treasury.” “Also they try to divide their families into smaller units,” and by this each family claims the privilege of “the only son,” (the only son was exempt from the military service). Yet, he notes “all the tricks for avoiding recruitment … are similarly encountered among the ‘pure-blooded’ Russians” and provides comparative figures for Ekaterinoslav Guberniya. I. G. Orshansky had even expressed surprise that Russian peasants prefer “to return to the favorite occupation of the Russian people, farming,” instead of wanting to remain in the highly-paid military service.
In 1874 a unified regulation about universal military service had replaced the old recruit conscription obligation giving the Jews a “significant relief.” “The text of the regulation did not contain any articles that discriminated against Jews.” However, now Jews were not permitted to remain in residence in the interior provinces after completion of military service. Also, special regulations aimed “to specify the figure of male Jewish population” were introduced, for to that day it largely remained undetermined and unaccounted.” Information about abuses of law by Jews wishing to evade military service” was circulated to governors. In 1876 the first “measures for ensuring the proper fulfillment of military duty by Jews” were adopted. The Jewish Encyclopedia saw “a heavy net of repressive measures” in them. “Regulations were issued about the registration of Jews at conscription districts and about the replacement of Jews not fit for service by Jews who were fit”; and about verification of the validity of exemptions for family conditions: for violation of these regulations “conscription … of only sons was permitted.”
A contemporary and then influential St. Petersburg newspaper, Golos [The Voice] cites quite amazing figures from the official governmental “Report on the Results of Conscription in 1880…. For all [of the Russian Empire] the shortfall of recruits was 3,309; out of this, the shortfall of Jews was 3,054, which amounts to 92%.”
Shmakov, a prominent attorney, not well-disposed toward Jews, cites such statistics from the reference, Pravitelstvenniy Vestnik [The Government Bulletin]: for the period 1876-1883: “out of 282,466 Jews subject to conscription, 89,105 — that is, 31.6% — did not show up.” (The general shortfall for the whole Empire was 0.19%.) The Administration could not help but notice this, and a number of “steps toward the elimination of such abuse” were introduced. This had an effect, but only short-term. In 1889 46,190 Jews were subjected to call-up, and 4,255 did not appear, that is 9.2%. But in 1891 “from a general number of 51,248 Jews recorded on the draft list, 7,658, or 14.94%, failed to report; at that time the percentage of Christians not reporting was barely 2.67%. In 1892, 16.38% of Jews failed to report as compared with 3.18% of Christians. In 1894 6,289 Jews did not report for the draft, that is, 13.6%. Compare this to the Russian average of 2.6%.
However, the same document on the 1894 draft states that “in total, 873,143 Christians, 45,801 Jews, 27,424 Mohammedans, and 1,311 Pagans” were to be drafted. These are striking figures — in Russia, there were 8.7% Muslims (according to the 1870 count) but their share in the draft was only 2.9%! The Jews were in an unfavorable position not only in comparison with the Mohammedans but with the general population too: their share of the draft was assigned 4.8% though they constituted only 3.2% of Russian population (in 1870). (The Christian share in the draft was 92% (87% of Russian population).
From everything said here one should not conclude that at the time of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, Jewish soldiers did not display courage and resourcefulness during combat. In the journal Russkiy Evrei [The Russian Jew] we can find convincing examples of both virtues. Yet during that war much irritation against Jews arose in the army, mainly because of dishonest contractor-quartermasters — and “such were almost exclusively Jews, starting with the main contractors of the Horovits, Greger, and Kagan Company.” The quartermasters supplied (undoubtedly under protection of higher circles) overpriced poor-quality equipment including the famous “cardboard soles”, due to which the feet of Russian soldiers fighting in the Shipka Pass were frostbitten.
In the Age of Alexander II, the half-century-old official drive to accustom the Jews to agriculture was ending in failure.
After the repeal of disproportionate Jewish recruitment, farming had “immediately lost all its appeal” for Jews, or, in words of one government official, a “false interpretation of the Manifest by them” had occurred, “according to which they now considered themselves free of the obligation to engage in farming,” and that they could now migrate freely. “The petitions from the Jews about resettling with the intent to work in agriculture had ended almost completely.”
Conditions in the existing colonies remained the same if not worse: “fields … were plowed and sowed pathetically, just for a laugh, or for appearance’s sake only.” For instance, in 1859 “the grain yield in several colonies was even smaller than the amount sown.” In the new ‘paradigmatic’ colonies, not only barns were lacking, there was even no overhangs or pens for livestock. The Jewish colonists leased most of their land to others, to local peasants or German colonists. Many asked permission to hire Christians as workers, otherwise threatening to cut back on sowing even further — and they were granted such a right, regardless of the size of the actual crop.
Of course, there were affluent Jewish farmers among the colonists. Arrival of German colonists was very helpful too as their experience could now be adopted by Jews. And the young generation born there was already more accepting toward agriculture and German experience; they were more “convinced in the advantageousness of farming in comparison to their previous life in the congestion and exasperating competition of shtetls and towns.”
Yet the incomparably larger majority was trying to get away from agriculture. Gradually, inspectors’ reports became invariably monotonic: “What strikes most is the general Jewish dislike for farm work and their regrets about their former artisan occupations, trade, and business”; they displayed “tireless zeal in any business opportunity,” for example, “at the very high point of field work … they could leave the fields if they discovered that they could profitably buy or sell a horse, an ox, or something else, in the vicinity.” [They had] a predilection for penny-wise trade,” demanding, according to their “conviction, less work and giving more means for living.” “Making money was easier for Jews in nearby German, Russian, or Greek villages, where the Jewish colonist would engage in tavern-keeping and small trade.” Yet more damaging for the arable land were long absences of the workers who left the area for distant places, leaving only one or two family members at home in the colonies, while the rest went to earn money in brokerages. In the 1860s (a half-century after the founding of colonies) such departure was permitted for the entire families or many family members simultaneously; in the colonies quite a few people were listed who had never lived there. After leaving the colonies, they often evaded registering with their trade guild in the new place, and “many stayed there for several consecutive years, with family, unregistered to any guild, and thus not subject to any kind of tax or obligation.” And in the colonies, the houses built for them stood empty, and fell into disrepair. In 1861, Jews were permitted to maintain drinking houses in the colonies.
Finally, the situation regarding Jewish agriculture had dawned on the St. Petersburg authorities in all its stark and dismal reality. Back taxes (forgiven on numerous occasions, such as an imperial marriage) grew, and each amnesty had encouraged Jews not to pay taxes or repay loans from now on. (In 1857, when the ten years granted to collect past due taxes had expired, five additional years were added. But even in 1863 the debt was still not collected.) So what was all that resettling, privileges and loans for? On the one hand, the whole 60-year epic project had temporarily provided Jews with means “of avoiding their duties before the state” while at the same time failing to instill love for agriculture among the colonists.” “The ends were not worthy of the means.” On the other hand, “simply a permission to live outside of the Pale, even without any privileges, attracted a huge number of Jewish farmers” who stopped at nothing to get there.
If in 1858 there were officially 64,000 Jewish colonists, that is, eight to ten thousand families, then by 1880 the Ministry had found only 14,000, that is, less than two thousand families. For example, in the whole Southwestern Krai in 1872 the commission responsible for verifying whether or not the land is in use or lay unattended had found fewer than 800 families of Jewish colonists.
Russian authorities had clearly seen now that the entire affair of turning Jews into farmers had failed. They no longer believed that “their cherished hope for the prosperity of colonies could be realized.” It was particularly difficult for the Minister Kiselyov to part with this dream, but he retired in 1856. Official documents admitted failure, one after another: “resettlement of the Jews for agricultural occupation ‘has not been accompanied by favorable results’.” Meanwhile “enormous areas of rich productive black topsoil remain in the hands of the Jews unexploited.” After all, the best soil was selected and reserved for Jewish colonization. That portion, which was temporarily rented to those willing, gave a large income (Jewish colonies lived off it) as the population in the South grew and everyone asked for land. And now even the worst land from the reserve, beyond that allotted for Jewish colonization, had also quickly risen in value. The Novorossiysk Krai had already absorbed many active settlers and “no longer needed any state-promoted colonization.”
So the Jewish colonization had become irrelevant for state purposes.
And in 1866 Alexander II had ordered and end to the enforcement of several laws aimed at turning Jews into farmers. Now the task was to equalize Jewish farmers with the rest of the farmers of the Empire. Everywhere, Jewish colonies turned out to be incapable of independent existence in the new free situation. So now it was necessary to provide legal means for Jews to abandon agriculture, even individually and not in whole families (1868), so they could become artisans and merchants. They had been permitted to redeem their parcels of land; and so they redeemed and resold their land at a profit.
However, in the dispute over various projects in the Ministry of State Property, the question about the reform of Jewish colonies dragged out and even stopped altogether by 1880. In the meantime with a new recruit statute of 1874, Jews were stripped of their recruiting privileges, and with that any vestiges of their interest in farming were conclusively lost. By 1881 “in the colonies ‘there was a preponderance of farmsteads with only one apartment house, around which there were no signs of settlement; that is, no fence, no housing for livestock, no farm buildings, no beds for vegetables, nor even a single tree or shrub; there were very few exceptions.’”
The state councilor Ivashintsev, an official with 40 years experience in agriculture, was sent in 1880 to investigate the situation with the colonies. He had reported that in all of Russia “no other peasant community enjoyed such generous benefits as had been given [to Jews]” and “these benefits were not a secret from other peasants, and could not help but arouse hostile feelings in them.” Peasants adjacent to the Jewish colonies “‘were indignant … because due to a shortage of land they had to rent the land from Jews for an expensive price, the land which was given cheaply to the Jews by the state in amounts in fact exceeding the actual Jewish needs.’ It was namely this circumstance which in part explained … ‘the hostility of peasants toward Jewish farmers, which manifested itself in the destruction of several Jewish settlements’” (in 1881-82).
In those years, there were commissions allotting land to peasants from the excess land of the Jewish settlements. Unused or neglected sectors were taken back by the government. “In Volynsk, Podolsk, and Kiev guberniyas, out of 39,000 desyatins [one desyatin = 2.7 acres] only 4,082 remained [under Jewish cultivation]." Yet several quite extensive Jewish farming settlements remained: Yakshitsa in the Minsk Guberniya, not known for its rich land, had 740 desyatins for 46 [Jewish] families; that is, an average of 16 desyatins per family, something you will rarely find among peasants in Central Russia; in 1848 in Annengof of Mogilyov Guberniya, also not vast in land, twenty Jewish families received 20 desyatins of state land each, but by 1872 it was discovered that there were only ten families remaining, and a large part of the land was not cultivated and was choked with weeds. In Vishenki of Mogilyov Guberniya, they had 16 desyatins per family; and in Ordynovshchina of Grodno Guberniya 12 desyatins per [Jewish] family. In the more spacious southern guberniyas in the original settlements there remained: 17 desyatins per [Jewish] family in Bolshoi Nagartav; 16 desyatins per [Jewish] family in Seidemenukh; and 17 desyatins per family in Novo-Berislav. In the settlement of Roskoshnaya in Ekaterinoslav Guberniya they had 15 desyatins per family, but if total colony land is considered, then 42 desyatins per family. In Veselaya (by 1897) there were 28 desyatins per family. In Sagaidak, there were 9 desyatins, which was considered a small allotment. And in Kiev Province’s Elyuvka, there were 6 Jewish families with 400 desyatins among them, or 67 desyatins per family! And land was rented to the Germans. ” [xcii]
Yet from a Soviet author of the 1920s we read a categorical statement that “Tsarism had almost completely forbidden the Jews to engage in agriculture.” [xciii]
On the pages which summarize his painstaking work, the researcher of Jewish agriculture V. N. Nikitin concludes: “The reproaches against the Jews for having poor diligence in farming, for leaving without official permission for the cities to engage in commercial and artisan occupations, are entirely justified ….We by no means deny the Jewish responsibility for such a small number of them actually working in agriculture after the last 80 years.” Yet he puts forward several excuses for them: “[The authorities] had no faith in Jews; the rules of the colonization were changed repeatedly”; sometimes “officials who knew nothing about agriculture or who were completely indifferent to Jews were sent to regulate their lives…. Jews who used to be independent city dwellers were transformed into villagers without any preparation for life in the country.”
At around the same time, in 1884, N. S. Leskov, in a memorandum intended for yet another governmental commission on Jewish affairs headed by Palen, had suggested that the Jewish “lack of habituation to agricultural living had developed over generations” and that it is “so strong, that it is equal to the loss of ability in farming,” and that the Jew would not become a plowman again unless the habit is revived gradually.
(Lev Tolstoy had allegedly pondered: who are those “confining the entire nation to the squeeze of city life, and not giving it a chance to settle on the land and begin to do the only natural man’s occupation, farming. After all, it’s the same as not to give the people air to breathe. … What’s wrong with … Jews settling in villages and starting to live a pure working life, which, probably, this ancient, intelligent, and wonderful people has already yearned for?…” — On what planet was he living? What did he know about the 80 years of practical experience with [Jewish] agricultural colonization?)
And yet the experience of the development of Palestine where the Jewish settlers felt themselves at home had showed their excellent ability to work the land; moreover, they did it in conditions much more unfavorable than in Novorossiya. Still, all the attempts to persuade or compel the Jews toward arable farming in Russia (and afterwards in the USSR) had failed (and from that came the degrading legend that the Jews in general are incapable of farming).
And thus, after 80 years of effort by the Russian government it turned out that all that agricultural colonization was a grandiose but empty affair; all the effort, all the massive expenditures, the delay of the development of Novorossiya — all were for nothing. The resulting experience shows that it shouldn’t have been undertaken at all.
Generally examining Jewish commercial and industrial entrepreneurship, I. G. Orshansky justly wrote at the start of the 1870s that the question about Jewish business activity is “the essence of the Jewish Question,” on which “fate of Jewish people in any country depends.” “[An entrepreneur] from the quick, mercantile, resourceful Jewish tribe” turns over a ruble five times “while a Russian turns it two times.” There is stagnation, drowsiness, and monopoly among the Russian merchants. (For example, after the expulsion of the Jews from Kiev, life there had become more expensive). The strong side of Jewish participation in commercial life lies in the acceleration of capital turnover, even of the most insignificant working capital. Debunking the opinion, that so-called Jewish corporate spirit gives them a crucial advantage in any competition, that “Jewish [merchants] always support each other, having their bankers, contractors, and carriers,” Orshansky attributed the Jewish corporate spirit only to social and religious matters, and not to commerce, where, he claimed, Jews fiercely compete against each other (which is in contradiction with the Hazaka prescribing separation of spheres of activity, which, according to him, “had gradually disappeared following the change in legal standing of Jews”). He had also contested the opinion that any Jewish trade does not enrich the country, that “it exclusively consists of exploitation of the productive and working classes,” and that “the profit of the Jews is a pure loss for the nation.” He disagreed, suggesting that Jews constantly look for and find new sales markets and thereby “open new sources of earnings for the poor Christian population as well.”
Jewish commercial and industrial entrepreneurship in Russia had quickly recovered from the two noticeable blows of 1861, the abolition of serfdom and the abolition of wine farming. “The financial role of Jews had become particularly significant by the 1860s, when previous activities amassed capital in their hands, while liberation of peasants and the associated impoverishment of landowners created a huge demand for money on the part of landowners statewide. Jewish capitalists played a prominent role in organization of land banks.” The whole economic life of the country quickly changed in many directions and the invariable Jewish determination, inventiveness, and capital were keeping pace with the changes and were even ahead of them. Jewish capital flowed, for example, to the sugar industry of the Southwest (so that in 1872 one fourth of all sugar factories had a Jewish owner, as well as one third of joint-stock sugar companies), and to the flour-milling and other factory industries both in the Pale of Settlement and outside. After the Crimean War “an intensive construction of railroads” was underway; “all kinds of industrial and commercial enterprises, joint stock companies and banks arose” and “many Jews … found wide application for their strengths and talents in those undertakings … with a few of them getting very rich incredibly fast.”
“Jews were involved in the grain business for a long time but their role had become particularly significant after the peasant liberation and from the beginning of large-scale railroad construction.” “Already in 1878, 60% of grain export was in the hands of Jews and afterwards it was almost completely controlled by Jews.” And “thanks to Jewish industrialists, lumber had become the second most important article of Russian export (after grain).” Woodcutting contracts and the acquisition of forest estates by Jews were not prohibited since 1835. “The lumber industry and timber trade were developed by Jews. Also, Jews had established timber export.” “The timber trade is a major aspect of Jewish commerce, and, at the same time, a major area of concentration of capital…. Intensive growth of the Jewish timber trade began in the 1860-1870s, when as a result of the abolition of serfdom, landowners unloaded a great number of estates and forests on the market.” “The 1870s were the years of the first massive surge of Jews into industries” such as manufacturing, flax, foodstuff, leather, cabinetry, and furniture industries, while “tobacco industry had long since been concentrated in the hands of Jews.”
In the words of Jewish authors: “In the epoch of Alexander II, the wealthy Jewish bourgeoisie was … completely loyal … to the monarchy. The great wealth of the Gintsburgs, the Polyakovs, the Brodskys, the Zaitsevs, the Balakhovskys, and the Ashkenazis was amassed exactly at that time.” As already mentioned, “the tax-farmer Evzel Gintsburg had founded his own bank in St. Petersburg.” Samuil Polyakov had built six railroad lines; the three Polyakov brothers were granted hereditary nobility titles. “Thanks to railroad construction, which was guaranteed and to a large extent subsidized by the government, the prominent capital of the Polyakovs, I. Bliokh, A. Varshavsky and others were created.” Needless to say, many more smaller fortunes were made as well, such as that of A. I. Zaks, the former assistant to E. Gintsburg in tax-farming, who had moved to St. Petersburg and created the Savings and Loan Bank there; “he arranged jobs for his and his wife’s many relatives at the enterprises he was in charge of.”
Not just the economy, the entire public life had been transformed in the course of Alexandrian reforms, opening new opportunities for mercurial Jewry. “In the government resolutions permitting certain groups of Jews with higher education to enter government service, there was no restriction in regard to movement up the job ladder. With the attainment of the Full State Advisor rank, a Jew could be elevated to the status of hereditary nobility on common grounds.”#_edn105"> [cv]
In 1864 the land reform began. It “affected all social classes and strata. Its statute … did not in any way restrict the eligibility of Jews to vote in country administrative elections or occupy elected country offices. In the course of twenty-six years of the statute being in effect, Jews could be seen in many places among town councilors and in the municipal executive councils.”
Similarly, the judicial statutes of 1864 stipulated no restrictions for Jews. As a result of the judicial reform, an independent judicial authority was created, and in place of private mediators the legal bar guild was established as an independent class with a special corporate structure (and notably, even with the un-appealable right to refuse legal assistance to an applicant “on the basis of moral evaluation of his person,” including evaluation of his political views). And there were no restrictions on Jews entering this class. Gessen wrote: “Apart from the legal profession, in which Jews had come to prominence, we begin noticing them in court registries among investigative officials and in the ranks of public prosecutors; in some places we already see Jews in the magistrate and district court offices”; they also served as jurors” without any quota restrictions (during the first decades after the reform). (Remarkably, during civil trials the Jews were taking conventional juror’s oath without any provision made for the Jewish religion).
At the same time municipal reform was being implemented. Initially it was proposed to restrict Jewish representation among town councilors and in the municipal executive councils by fifty percent, but because of objections by the Minister of Internal Affairs, the City Statute of 1870 had reduced the maximal share to one third; further, Jews were forbidden from occupying the post of mayor. It was feared “that otherwise Jewish internal cohesion and self-segregation would allow them to obtain a leading role in town institutions and give them an advantage in resolution of public issues.” On the other hand, Jews were equalized in electoral rights (earlier they could vote only as a faction), which led to “the increased influence of Jews in all city governing matters (though in the free city of Odessa these rules were in place from the very beginning; later, it was adopted in Kishinev too. “Generally speaking, in the south of Russia the social atmosphere was not permeated by contempt toward Jews, unlike in Poland where it was diligently cultivated.”
Thus “perhaps … the best period in Russian history for Jews” went on. “An access to civil service was opened for Jews…. The easing of legal restrictions and the general atmosphere of ‘the Age of Great Reforms’ had affected the spirit of the Jewish people beneficially.” It appeared that under the influence of the Age of Great Reforms “the traditional daily life of the Jewish populace had turned toward the surrounding world” and that Jewry “had begun participating as far as possible in the struggle for rights and liberty…. There was not a single area in the economic, public and spiritual life of Russia unaffected by the creative energies of Russian Jews.”
And remember that from the beginning of the century the doors of Russian general education were opened wide for Jews, though it took a long time for the unwilling Jews to enter.
Later, a well-known lawyer and public figure, Ya. L. Teytel thus recalled the Mozyr grammar school of the 1860s: “The director of the school … often … appealed to the Jews of Mozyr, telling them about the benefits of education and about the desire of government to see more Jews in grammar schools. Unfortunately, such pleas had fallen on deaf ears.” So they were not enthusiastic to enroll during the first years after the reform, even when they were offered free education paid for by state and when school charters (1864) declared that schools are open to everyone regardless confession. “The Ministry of National Education … tried to make admission of Jews into general education institutions easier”; it exhibited “benevolence toward young Jewish students.” (Here L. Deutsch had particularly distinguished the famous surgeon N. I. Pirogov, then a trustee of the Novorossiysk school district, suggesting that he had “strongly contributed to the alleviation of hostility among my tribesmen toward ‘goyish’ schools and sciences.”) Soon after the ascension of Alexander II, the Minister of Education thus formulated the government plan: “It is necessary to spread, by any means, the teaching of subjects of general education, while avoiding interference with the religious education of children, allowing parents to take care of it without any restrictions or hindrances on the part of government.” Education in state public schools was made mandatory for children of Jewish merchants and honorary citizens.
Yet all these measures, privileges and invitations, did not lead to a drastic increase in Jewish admissions. By 1863 the share of Jewish students in Russian schools reached 3.2%, that is, equal to their percentage in the population of the empire. Apart from the rejection of Russian education by the Jewry, there was a certain influence from Jewish public leaders who now saw their task differently: “With the advent of the Age of Great Reforms, ‘the friends of enlightenment’ had merged the question of mass education with the question of the legal situation of Jews,” that is, they began struggling for the immediate removal of all remaining restrictions. After the shock of the Crimean War, such a liberal possibility seemed quite realistic.
But after 1874, following enactment of the new military statute which “granted military service privileges to educated individuals,” almost a magical change happened with Jewish education. Jews began entering public schools in mass. “After the military reform of 1874, even Orthodox Jewish families started sending their sons into high schools and institutions of higher learning to reduce their term of military service.” Among these privileges were not only draft deferral and easement of service but also, according to the recollections of Mark Aldanov, the possibility of taking the officer’s examination “and receiving officer rank.” “Sometimes they attained titles of nobility.”
In the 1870s “an enormous increase in the number of Jewish students in public education institutions” occurred, leading to creation of numerous degreed Jewish intelligentsia.” In 1881 Jews composed around 9% of all university students; by 1887, their share increased to 13.5%, i.e., one out of every seven students. In some universities Jewish representation was much higher: in the Department of Medicine of Kharkov University Jews comprised 42% of student body; in the Department of Medicine of Odessa University — 31%, and in the School of Law — 41%. In all schools of the country, the percentage of Jews doubled to 12% from 1870 to 1880 (and compared to 1865, it had quadrupled). In the Odessa school district it reached 32% by 1886, and in some schools it was 75% and even more. (When D. A. Tolstoy, the Minister of Education from 1866, had begun school reforms in 1871 by introducing the Classical education standard with emphasis on antiquity, the ethnic Russian intelligentsia boiled over, while Jews did not mind).
However, for a while, these educational developments affected only “the Jewish bourgeoisie and intelligentsia. The wide masses remained faithful … to their cheders and yeshivas,” as the Russian elementary school offered nothing in the way of privileges.” “The Jewish masses remained in isolation as before due to specific conditions of their internal and outside life.” Propagation of modern universal culture was extremely slow and new things took root with great difficulty among the masses of people living in shtetls and towns of the Pale of Settlement in the atmosphere of very strict religious traditions and discipline.” “Concentrated within the Pale of Settlement, the Jewish masses felt no need for the Russian language in their daily lives…. As before, the masses were still confined to the familiar hold of the primitive cheder education.” And whoever had just learned how to read had to immediately proceed to reading the Bible in Hebrew.
From the government’s point of view, opening up general education to Jews rendered state Jewish schools unnecessary. From 1862 Jews were permitted to take posts of senior supervisors in such schools and so “the personnel in these schools was being gradually replenished with committed Jewish pedagogues, who, acting in the spirit of the time, worked to improve mastery of Russian language and reduce teaching of specifically Jewish subjects.” In 1873 these specialized schools were partially abolished and partially transformed, some into primary specialized Jewish schools of general standard, with 3 or 6 years study courses, and two specialized rabbinical schools in Vilna and Zhitomir were transformed into teacher training colleges. The government … sought to overcome Jewish alienation through integrated education; however, the Commission for Arranging the Jewish Way of Life was receiving reports both from Jewish advocates, often high-ranked, and from the opponents of reform who insisted that “Jews must never be treated … in the same way as other ethnic groups of the Empire, that they should not be permitted unrestricted residence all over the country; it might be allowed only after all possible measures were tried to turn Jews into useful productive citizens in the places where they live now and when these measures would prove their success beyond any doubt.”
Meanwhile, through the shock of ongoing reforms, especially of the abolition of the burdensome recruiting obligation in 1856 (and through it the negation of the corresponding power of Jewish leaders over their communities), and then of the repeal of the associated special taxation in 1863, “the administrative power of the community leaders was significantly weakened in comparison to their almost unrestricted authority in the past” inherited from the Qahal (abolished in 1844), that omnipotent arbiter of the Jewish life.
It was then, at the end of 1850s and during the 1860s, when the baptized Jew, Yakov Brafman, appeared before the government and later came out publicly in an energetic attempt at radical reformation of the Jewish way of life. He had petitioned the Tsar with a memorandum and was summoned to St. Petersburg for consultations in the Synod. He set about exposing and explaining the Qahal system (though a little bit late, since the Qahal had already been abolished). For that purpose he had translated into Russian the resolutions of the Minsk Qahal issued in the period between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries. Initially he published the documents in parts and later (in 1869 and 1875) as a compilation, The Book of Qahal, which revealed the all-encompassing absoluteness of the personal and material powerlessness of the community member. The book “had acquired exceptional weight in the eyes of the authorities and was accepted as an official guidebook; it won recognition (often by hearsay) in wide circles of Russian society”; it was referred to as the “Brafman’s triumph” and lauded as an “extraordinary success.” (Later the book was translated into French, German, and Polish.) The Book of Qahal managed to instill in a great number of individuals a fanatical hatred toward Jews as the ‘worldwide enemy of Christians’; it had succeeded in spreading misconceptions about Jewish way of life.”
The ‘mission’ of Brafman, the collection and translation of the acts issued by the Qahal had “alarmed the Jewish community”; At their demand, a government commission which included the participation of Jewish community representatives was created to verify Brahman's work. Some “Jewish writers were quick to come forward with evidence that Brafman distorted some of the Qahal documents and wrongly interpreted others”; one detractor had even had doubts about their authenticity.” (A century later in 1976, The Short Jewish Encyclopedia confirmed the authenticity of Brahman's documents and the good quality of his translation but blamed him for false interpretation.#_edn139"> The Russian Jewish Encyclopedia (1994) pointed out that “the documents published by Brafman are a valuable source for studying the history of Jews in Russia at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries.” (Apropos, the poet Khodasevich was the grand-nephew of Brafman).
Brafman claimed “that governmental laws cannot destroy the malicious force lurking in the Jewish self-administration … According to him, Jewish self-rule is not limited to Qahals … but allegedly involves the entire Jewish people all over the world … and because of that the Christian peoples cannot get rid of Jewish exploitation until everything that enables Jewish self-segregation is eliminated.” Further, Brafman “view[ed] the Talmud not as a national and religious code but as a ‘civil and political code’ going ‘against the political and moral development of Christian nations’” and creating a ‘Talmudic republic’. He insisted that “Jews form a nation within a nation”; that they “do not consider themselves subject to national laws”; that one of the main goals of the Jewish community is to confuse the Christians to turn the latter into no more than fictitious owners of their property.” On a larger scale, he “accused the Society for the Advancement of Enlightenment among the Jews of Russia and the Alliance Israélite Universelle for their role in the ‘Jewish world conspiracy’.” According to Yu. Gessen’s opinion, “the only demand of The Book of Qahal … was the radical extermination of Jewish self-governance” regardless of all their civil powerlessness.
The State Council, “having mitigated the uncompromised style of The Book of Qahal, declared that even if administrative measures would succeed in erasing the outward differences between Jews and the rest of population, “it will not in the least eliminate the attitudes of seclusion and nearly the outright hostility toward Christians which thrive in Jewish communities. This Jewish separation, harmful for the country, can be destroyed, on one hand, through the weakening of social connections between the Jews and reduction of the abusive power of Jewish elders to the extent possible, and, on the other hand, through spreading of education among Jews, which is actually more important.”
And precisely the latter process — education — was already underway in the Jewish community. A previous Jewish Enlightenment, the Haskalah Movement of the 1840s, was predominantly based on German culture; they were completely ignorant of Russian culture (they were familiar with Goethe and Schiller but did not know Pushkin and Lermontov). “Until the mid-19th century, even educated Jews, with rare exceptions, having mastered the German language, at the same time did not know the Russian language and literature.” However, as those Maskilim sought self-enlightenment and not the mass education of the Jewish people, the movement died out by the 1860s. “In the 1860s, Russian influences burst into the Jewish society. Until then Jews were not living but rather residing in Russia, perceiving their problems as completely unconnected to the surrounding Russian life. Before the Crimean War the Jewish intelligentsia in Russia acknowledged German culture exclusively but after the reforms it began gravitating toward Russian culture. Mastery of the Russian language “increases … self-esteem.” From now on the Jewish Enlightenment developed under the strong influence of the Russian culture. “The best … Russian Jewish intellectuals abandoned their people no longer”; they did not depart into the “area of exclusively personal interests”, but cared “about making their people’s lot easier.” Well, after all, Russian literature taught that the strong should devote themselves to the weak.
However, this new enlightenment of the Jewish masses was greatly complicated by the strong religiosity of said masses, which in the eyes of progressives was doubtlessly a regressive factor, whereas the emerging Jewish Enlightenment movement was quite secular for that time. Secularization of the Jewish public consciousness “was particularly difficult because of the exceptional role religion played in the Diaspora as the foundation of Jewish national consciousness over the course of the many centuries.” And so “the wide development of secular Jewish national consciousness” began, in essence, only at the end of the century. “It was not because of inertia but due to a completely deliberate stance as the Jew did not want risking separation from his God.”
So the Russian Jewish intelligentsia met the Russian culture at the moment of birth. Moreover, it happened at the time when the Russian intelligentsia was also developing expansively and at the time when Western culture gushed into Russian life (Buckle, Hegel, Heine, Hugo, Comte, and Spencer). It was pointed out that several prominent figures of the first generation of Russian Jewish intelligentsia (S. Dubnov, M. Krol, G. Sliozberg, O. Gruzenberg, and Saul Ginzburg) were born in that period, 1860-1866#_edn156">[clvi] (though their equally distinguished Jewish revolutionary peers — M. Gots, G. Gershuni, F. Dan, Azef, and L. Akselrod — were also born during those years and many other Jewish revolutionaries, such as P. Akselrod and L. Deych, were born still earlier, in the 1850s).
In St. Petersburg in 1863 the authorities permitted establishment of the Society for the Spreading of Enlightenment among the Jews in Russia (SSE) supported by the wealthy Evzel Gintsburg and A. M. Brodsky. Initially, during the first decade of its existence, its membership and activities were limited; the Society was preoccupied with publishing activities and not with school education; yet still its activities caused a violent reaction on the part of Jewish conservatives (who also protested against publication of the Pentateuch in Russian as a blasphemous encroachment on the holiness of the Torah). From the 1870s, the SSE provided financial support to Jewish schools. Their cultural work was conducted in Russian, with a concession for Hebrew, but not Yiddish, which was then universally recognized as a ‘jargon’. In the opinion of Osip Rabinovich, a belletrist, the “‘spoiled jargon’ used by Jews in Russia cannot ‘facilitate enlightenment, because it is not only impossible to express abstract notions in it, but one cannot even express a decent thought with it’.” “Instead of mastering the wonderful Russian language, we Jews in Russia stick to our spoiled, cacophonous, erratic, and poor jargon. (In their day, the German Maskilim ridiculed the jargon even more sharply.)
And so “a new social force arose in Russian Jewry, which did not hesitate entering the struggle against the union … of capital and synagogue”, as expressed by the liberal Yu. I. Gessen. That force, nascent and for the time being weak, was the Jewish periodical press in the Russian language.
Its first-born was the Odessa magazine Rassvet [Dawn], published for two years from 1859 to 1861 by the above-mentioned O. Rabinovich. The magazine was positioned to serve “as a medium for dissemination of ‘useful knowledge, true religiousness, rules of communal life and morality’; it was supposed to predispose Jews to learn the Russian language and to ‘become friends with the national scholarship’” Rassvet also reported on politics, expressing “love for the Fatherland” and the intention to promote “the government’s views” with the goal “of communal living with other peoples, participating in their education and sharing their successes, while at the same time preserving, developing, and perfecting our distinct national heritage.” The leading Rassvetpublicist, L. Levanda, defined the goal of the magazine as twofold: “to act defensively and offensively: defensively against attacks from the outside, when our human rights and confessional (religious) interests must be defended, and offensively against our internal enemy: obscurantism, everydayness, social life troubles, and our tribal vices and weaknesses.”
This last direction, “to reveal the ill places of the inner Jewish life,” aroused a fear in Jewish circles that it “might lead to new legislative repressions.” So the existing Jewish newspapers (in Yiddish) “saw the Rassvet’s direction as extremely radical.” Yet these same moderate newspapers by their mere appearance had already shaken “‘the patriarchal structure’ of [Jewish] community life maintained by the silence of the people.” Needless to say, the struggle between the rabbinate and Hasidic Judaism went on unabated during that period and this new 1860s’ struggle of the leading publicists against the stagnant foundations of daily life had added to it. Gessen noted that “in the 1860s, the system of repressive measures against ideological opponents did not seem offensive even for the conscience of intelligent people.” For example, publicist A. Kovner, ‘the Jewish Pisarev’ [a radical Russian writer and social critic], could not refrain from tipping off a Jewish newspaper to the Governor General of Novorossiysk. [clxvii] (In the 1870s Pisarev “was extremely popular among Jewish intellectuals.”)
M. Aldanov thinks that Jewish participation in Russian cultural and political life had effectively begun at the end of the 1870s (and possibly a decade earlier in the revolutionary movement).
In the 1870s new Jewish publicists (L. Levanda, the critic S. Vengerov, the poet N. Minsky) began working with the general Russian press. (According to G. Aronson, Minsky expressed his desire to go to the Russo-Turkish War to fight for his brothers Slavs). The Minister of Education Count Ignatiev then expressed his faith in Jewish loyalty to Russia. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, rumors about major auspicious reforms began circulating among the Jews. In the meantime, the center of Jewish intellectual life shifted from Odessa to St. Petersburg, where new writers and attorneys gained prominence as leaders of public opinion. In that hopeful atmosphere, publication of Rassvet was resumed in St. Petersburg in 1879. In the opening editorial, M. I. Kulisher wrote: “Our mission is to be an organ of expression of the necessities of Russian Jews … for promoting the awakening of the huge mass of Russian Jews from mental hibernation … it is also in the interests of Russia…. In that goal the Russian Jewish intelligentsia does not separate itself from the rest of Russian citizens.”
Alongside the development of the Jewish press, Jewish literature could not help but advance —first in Hebrew, then in Yiddish, and then in Russian, inspired by the best of Russian literature. Under Alexander II, “there were quite a few Jewish authors who persuaded their co-religionists to study the Russian language and look at Russia as their homeland.”
Naturally, in the conditions of the 1860s-1870s, the Jewish educators, still few in numbers and immersed in Russian culture, could not avoid moving toward assimilation, in the same direction “which under analogous conditions led the intelligent Jews of Western Europe to unilateral assimilation with the dominant people.” However, there was a difference: in Europe the general cultural level of the native peoples was consistently higher and so in Russia these Jews could not assimilate with the Russian people, still weakly touched by culture, nor with the Russian ruling class (who rejected them); they could only assimilate with the Russian intelligentsia, which was then very small in number but already completely secular, rejecting, among other things, their God. Now Jewish educators also tore away from Jewish religiosity and, “being unable to find an alternative bond with their people, they were becoming completely estranged from them and spiritually considered themselves solely as Russian citizens.”
“A worldly rapprochement between the Russian and Jewish intelligentsias” was developing. It was facilitated by the general revitalization of Jewish life with several categories of Jews now allowed to live outside the Pale of Settlement. Development of railroad communications and possibilities of travel abroad — “all this contributed to a closer contact of the Jewish ghetto with the surrounding world.”#_edn176"> [clxxvi] Moreover, by the 1860s “up to one-third … of Odessa’s Jews could speak Russian.” The population there grew quickly, “because of massive resettlement to Odessa of both Russian and foreign Jews, the latter primarily from Germany and Galicia.” The blossoming of Odessa by the middle of the 19th century presaged the prosperity of all Russian Jewry toward the end of the 19th – to the beginning of 20th century. Free Odessa developed according to its own special laws, differing from the All-Russian statutes since the beginning of the 19th century. It used to be a free port and was even open to Turkish ships during the war with Turkey. “The main occupation of Odessa’s Jews in this period was the grain trade. Many Jews were small traders and middlemen (mainly between the landowners and the exporters), as well as agents of prominent foreign and local (mainly Greek) wheat trading companies. At the grain exchange, Jews worked as stockbrokers, appraisers, cashiers, scalers, and loaders”; “the Jews were in a dominant position in grain commerce: by 1870 most of grain export was in their hands. In 1910 … 89.2% of grain exports was under their control.” In comparison with other cities in the Pale of Settlement, more Jews of the independent professions lived in Odessa and they had better relations with educated Russian circles, and were favorably looked upon and protected by the high administration of the city…. N. Pirogov [a prominent Russian scientist and surgeon], the Trustee of the Odessa School District from 1856-1858, particularly patronized the Jews.” A contemporary observer had vividly described this Odessa’s clutter with fierce competition between Jewish and Greek merchants, where “in some years half the city, from the major bread bigwigs, to the thrift store owners, lived off the sale of grain products.” In Odessa, with her non-stop business commotion bonded by the Russian language, “it was impossible to draw a line, to separate clearly a ‘wheat’ merchant or a banker from a man of an intellectual profession.”
Thus in general “among the educated Jews … the process of adopting all things Russian … had accelerated.” “European education and knowledge of the Russian language had become necessities”; “everyone hurried to learn the Russian language and Russian literature; they thought only about hastening integration and complete blending with their social surroundings”; they aspired not only for the mastery of the Russian language but for “for the complete Russification and adoption of ‘the Russian spirit’, so that “the Jew would not differ from the rest of citizens in anything but religion.” The contemporary observer M. G. Morgulis wrote: “Everybody had begun thinking of themselves as citizens of their homeland; everybody now had a new Fatherland.” “Members of the Jewish intelligentsia believed that ‘for the state and public good they had to get rid of their ethnic traits and … to merge with the dominant nationality.’ A contemporary Jewish progressive wrote, that ‘Jews, as a nation, do not exist’, that they ‘consider themselves Russians of the Mosaic faith…’‘Jews recognize that their salvation lies in the merging with the Russian people’.”
It is perhaps worth naming here Veniamin Portugalov, a doctor and publicist. In his youth he harbored revolutionary sentiments and because of that he even spent some time as a prisoner in the Peter and Paul Fortress. From 1871 he lived in Samara. He “played a prominent role in development of rural health service and public health science. He was one of the pioneers of therapy for alcoholism and the struggle against alcohol abuse in Russia.” He also organized public lectures. “From a young age he shared the ideas of Narodniks [a segment of the Ruslsian [ sic ] intelligentsia, who left the cities and went to the people (‘narod’) in the villages, preaching on the moral right to revolt against the established order] about the pernicious role of Jews in the economic life of the Russian peasantry. These ideas laid the foundation for the dogmas of the Judeo-Christian movement of the 1880s” (The Spiritual Biblical Brotherhood). Portugalov deemed it necessary to free Jewish life from ritualism, and believed that “Jewry could exist and develop a culture and civilization only after being dissolved in European peoples” (he had meant the Russian [people]).
A substantial reduction in the number of Jewish conversions to Christianity was observed during the reign of Alexander II as it became unnecessary after the abolishment of the institution of military cantonists and the widening of Jewish rights. And from now on the sect of Skhariya the Jew began to be professed openly too.
Such an attitude on the part of affluent Jews, especially those living outside the Pale of Settlement and those with Russian education, toward Russia as undeniably a homeland is noteworthy. And so it had to be noticed and was. “In view of the great reforms, all responsible Russian Jews were, without exaggeration, patriots and monarchists and adored Alexander II. M. N. Muravyov, then Governor General of the Northwest Krai famous for his ruthlessness toward the Poles [who rebelled in 1863], patronized Jews in the pursuit of the sound objective of winning the loyalty of a significant portion of the Jewish population to the Russian state.” Though during the Polish uprising of 1863 Polish Jewry was mainly on the side of the Poles; “a healthy national instinct prompted” the Jews of the Vilnius, Kaunas, and Grodno Guberniyas “to side with Russia because they expected more justice and humane treatment from Russians than from the Poles, who, though historically tolerating the Jews, had always treated them as a lower race.” (This is how Ya. Teitel described it: “The Polish Jews were always detached from the Russian Jews”; they looked at Russian Jews from the Polish perspective. On the other hand, the Poles in private shared their opinion on the Russian Jews in Poland: “The best of these Jews are our real enemy. Russian Jews, who had infested Warsaw, Lodz, and other major centers of Poland, brought with them Russian culture, which we do not like.”)
In those years, the Russification of Jews on its territory was “highly desirable” for the Tsarist government. Russian authorities recognized “socialization with Russian youth … as a sure method of re-education of the Jewish youth to eradicate their ‘hostility toward Christians’.”
Still, this newborn Russian patriotism among Jews had clear limits. The lawyer and publicist I. G. Orshansky specified that to accelerate the process “it was necessary to create conditions for the Jews such that they could consider themselves as free citizens of a free civilized country.” The above-mentioned Lev Levanda, ‘a Jewish scholar’ living under the jurisdiction of the Governor of Vilnius, then wrote: “I will become a Russian patriot only when the Jewish Question is resolved conclusively and satisfactory.” A modern Jewish author who experienced the long and bitter 20th century and then had finally emigrated to Israel, replied to him looking back across the chasm of a century: “Levanda does not notice that one cannot lay down conditions to Motherland. She must be loved unconditionally, without conditions or pre-conditions; she is loved simply because she is the Mother. This stipulation — love under conditions — was extremely consistently maintained by the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia for one hundred years, though in all other respects they were ideal Russians"
And yet in the described period “only small and isolated groups of Jewry became integrated into ‘Russian civil society; moreover, it was happening in the larger commercial and industrial centers … leading to the appearance of an exaggerated notion about victorious advance of the Russian language deep into Jewish life,” all the while “the wide Jewish masses were untouched by the new trends … isolated not only from the Russian society but from the Jewish intelligentsia as well.” In the 1860s and 1870s, the Jewish people en masse were still unaffected by assimilation, and the danger of the Jewish intelligentsia breaking away from the Jewish masses was real. (In Germany, Jewish assimilation went smoother as there were no “Jewish popular masses” there — the Jews were better off socially and did not historically live in such crowded enclaves).
However, as early as the end of the 1860s, some members of the Jewish intelligentsia began voicing opposition to such a conversion of Jewish intellectuals into simple Russian patriots. Perets Smolensky was the first to speak of this in 1868: that assimilation with the Russian character is fraught with ‘national danger’ for the Jews; that although education should not be feared, it is necessary to hold on to the Jewish historical past; that acceptance of the surrounding national culture still requires preservation of the Jewish national character; and that the Jews are not a religious sect, but a nation.”#_edn199"> [cxcix] So if the Jewish intelligentsia withdraws from its people, the latter would never liberate itself from administrative oppression and spiritual stupor. (The poet I. Gordon had put it this way: “Be a man on the street and a Jew at home.”)
The St. Petersburg journals Rassvet (1879-1882) and Russkiy Evrei [Russian Jew] had already followed this direction. They successfully promoted the study of Jewish history and contemporary life among Jewish youth. At the end of the 1870s and the beginning of the 1880s, cosmopolitan and national directions in Russian Jewry became distinct. “In essence, the owners of Rassvet had already abandoned the belief in the truth of assimilation…. Rassvet unconsciously went by the path … of the awakening of ethnic identity … it was clearly expressing a Jewish national bias…. The illusions of Russification … were disappearing.”
The general European situation of the latter half of the 19th century facilitated development of national identity. There was a violent Polish uprising, the war for the unification of Italy, and then of Germany, and later of the Balkan Slavs. The national idea blazed and triumphed everywhere. Obviously, these developments would continue among the Jewish intelligentsia even without the events of 1881-1882.
Meanwhile, in the 1870s, the generally favorable attitudes of Russians toward Jews, which had developed during the Alexandrian reforms, began to change. Russian society was concerned with Brahman's publications, which were taken quite seriously.
All this coincided with the loud creation of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in Paris in 1860; its goal was “to defend the interests of Jewry” all over the world; its Central Committee was headed by Adolphe Cremieux. “Insufficiently well-informed … about the situation of Jews in Russia,” the Alliance “took interest in Russian Jewry” and soon “began consistently working on behalf of Russian Jews.” The Alliance did not have Russian branches and did not function within Russia. Apart from charitable and educational work, the Alliance, in defending Russian Jews, several times addressed Russian government directly, though often inappropriately. (For example, in 1866 the Alliance appealed to prevent the execution of Itska Borodai who was convicted of politically motivated arson. However, he was not sentenced to death at all, and other Jews implicated in the affair were acquitted even without the petition. In another case, Cremieux protested against the resettlement of Jews to the Caucasus and the Amur region — although there was no such Russian government plan whatsoever. In 1869 he again protested, this time against the nonexistent persecution of Jews in St. Petersburg. Cremieux had also complained to the President of the United States about similarly nonexistent persecutions against the Jewish religion by the Russian government). Nevertheless, according to the report of the Russian ambassador in Paris, the newly-formed Alliance (with the Mosaic Tablets over the Earth on its emblem) had already enjoyed “extraordinary influence on Jewish societies in all countries.” All this alarmed the Russian government as well as Russian public. Yakov Brafman actively campaigned against the Universal Jewish Alliance. He claimed that the Alliance, “like all Jewish societies, is double-faced (its official documents proclaim one thing while the secret ones say another)” and that the task of the Alliance is “to shield the Jewry from the perilous influence of Christian civilization.” As a result, the Society for the Spreading of Enlightenment among the Jews in Russia was also accused of having a mission “to achieve and foster universal Jewish solidarity and caste-like seclusion.”)
Fears of the Alliance were also nurtured by the very emotional opening proclamation of its founders “to the Jews of all nations” and by the dissemination of false Alliance documents. Regarding Jewish unity the proclamation contained the following wording: “Jews! … If you believe that the Alliance is good for you, that while being the parts of different nations you nevertheless can have common feelings, desires, and hopes … if you think that your disparate efforts, good aspirations and individual ambitions could become a major force when united and moving in one direction and toward one goal … then please support us with your sympathy and assistance.”
Later in France a document surfaced containing an alleged proclamation “To Jews of the Universe” by Adolphe Cremieux himself. It was very likely a forgery. Perhaps it was one of the drafts of the opening proclamation not accepted by the Alliance founders. However it had resonated well with Brahman's accusations of the Alliance having hidden goals: “We live in alien lands and we cannot take an interest in the variable concerns of those nations until our own moral and material interests are endangered … the Jewish teachings must fill the entire world….” Heated arguments were exchanged in this regard in Russian press. I. S. Aksakov concluded in his newspaper Rus that “the question of the document under discussion being … a falsehood is rather irrelevant in this case because of veracity of the expressed herein Jewish views and aspirations.”
The pre-revolutionary Jewish Encyclopedia writes that from the 1870s “fewer voices were heard in defense of Jews” in the Russian press. “The notion of Jews allegedly united under the aegis of a powerful political organization administered by the Alliance Israélite Universelle was taking root in Russian society.”#_edn209"> [ccix] Thus the foundation of the Alliance produced in Russia (and possibly not only in Russia) a reaction counterproductive to the goals that the Alliance had specified.
If the founders of the Alliance could have foreseen the sheer scale of condemnations against the idea of worldwide Jewish solidarity and even the accusations of conspiracy which had erupted after the creation of the organization, they might have refrained from following that route, especially considering that the Alliance did not alter the course of Jewish history.
After 1874, when a new military charter introducing the universal military service obligation in Russia came into force, “numerous news article on draft evasion by Jews began fueling resentment against the Jews in the Russian society .”#_edn210"> [ccx] The Alliance Israélite Universelle was accused of intending “to care about young Jews leaving Russia to escape conscription enforced by the new law” so that “using support from abroad, the Jews would have more opportunities than other subjects to move out of the country.” (This question would arise once again precisely a century later in the 1970s.) Cremieux replied that the mission of the Alliance was “the struggle against religious persecution” and that the Alliance had decided “henceforth not to assist Jews trying to evade military obligation in Russia.” Rather it would issue “an appeal to our co-religionists in Russia in order to motivate them to comply with all the requirements of the new law.”#_edn211"> [ccxi]
Besides crossing the border, another way to evade military service was self-mutilation. General Denikin (who was quite a liberal before and even during the revolution) described hundreds of bitter cases of the self-mutilation he personally saw during several years of service at the military medical examination board in Volyn Guberniya. Such numerous and desperate self-injuries are all the more striking considering that it was already the beginning of the 20th century.#_edn212"> [ccxii]
As previously mentioned, the influx of Jews into public schools, professional schools and institutions of higher learning had sharply increased after 1874 when a new military charter stipulating educational privileges came into force. This increase was dramatic. While calls to restrict Jewish enrollment in public education institutions were heard from the Northwestern Krai even before, in 1875, the Ministry of Public Education informed the government that it was impossible to admit all Jews trying to enter public educational institutions without constraining the Christian population.”#_edn213"> [ccxiii]
It is worth mentioning here the G. Aronson’s regretful note that even D. Mendeleev of St. Petersburg University “showed anti-Semitism.”#_edn214"> [ccxiv] The Jewish Encyclopedia summarizes all of the 1870s period as “a turnaround in the attitudes of a part of Russian intelligentsia … which rejected the ideals of the previous decade especially in regard to … the Jewish Question.”#_edn215"> [ccxv]
An interesting feature of that time was that it was the press (the rightist one, of course) and not governmental circles that was highly skeptical (and in no way hostile) towards the project of full legal emancipation of the Jews. The following quotes are typical. How can “all the citizenship rights be granted to this … stubbornly fanatical tribe, allowing them to occupy the highest administrative posts? … Only education … and social progress can truly bring together Jews and Christians…. Introduce them into the universal family of civilization, and we will be the first to say words of love and reconciliation to them.” “ Civilization will generally benefit from such a rapprochement as the intelligent and energetic tribe will contribute much to it. The Jews … will realize that time is ripe to throw off the yoke of intolerance which originates in the overly strict interpretations of the Talmud.” “Until education brings the Jews to the thought that it is necessary to live not only at the expense of Russian society but also for the good of this society, no discussion could be held about granting them more rights than those they have now.” “Even if it is possible to grant the Jews all civil rights, then in any case they cannot be allowed into any official positions ‘where Christians would be subject to their authority and where they could have influence on the administration and legislation of a Christian country.’”#_edn216"> [ccxvi]
The attitude of the Russian press of that time is well reflected in the words of the prominent St. Petersburg newspaper Golos: “Russian Jews have no right to complain that the Russian press is biased against their interests. Most Russian periodicals favor equal civil rights for Jews;” it is understandable “that Jews strive to expand their rights toward equality with the rest of Russian citizens”; yet … ”some dark forces drive Jewish youth into the craziness of political agitation. Why is that only a few political trials do not list Jews among defendants, and, importantly, among the most prominent defendants? … That and the common Jewish practice of evading military service are counterproductive for the cause of expanding the civil rights of Jews”; “one aspiring to achieve rights must prove beforehand his ability to fulfill the duties which come with those rights” and “avoid putting himself into an extremely unfavorable and dismal position with respect to the interests of state and society.”#_edn217"> [ccxvii]
Yet, the Encyclopedia notes, “despite all this propaganda, bureaucratic circles were dominated by the idea that the Jewish Question could only be resolved through emancipation. For instance, in March 1881 a majority of the members of the Commission for Arranging the Jewish Way of Life tended to think that it was necessary to equalize the Jews in rights with the rest of the population.”#_edn218"> [ccxviii] Raised during the two decades of Alexandrian reforms, the bureaucrats of that period were in many respects taken by the reforms’ triumphant advances. And so proposals quite radical and favorable to Jews were put forward on several occasions by Governors General of the regions constituting the Pale of Settlement.
Let’s not overlook the new initiatives of the influential Sir Moses Montefiore, who paid another visit to Russia in 1872; and the pressure of both [ the Jew ] Benjamin Disraeli and Bismarck on Russian State Chancellor Gorchakov at the Berlin Congress of 1878. Gorchakov had to uneasily explain that Russia was not in the least against religious freedom and did grant it fully, but “religious freedom should not be confused with Jews having equal political and civil rights.”#_edn219"> [ccxix]
Yet the situation in Russia developed toward emancipation. And when in 1880 the Count Loris-Melikov was made the Minister of the Interior with exceptional powers, the hopes of Russian Jews for emancipation had become really great and well-founded. Emancipation seemed impending and inevitable.
And at this very moment the members of Narodnaya Volya assassinated Alexander II, thus destroying in the bud many liberal developments in Russia, among them the hopes for full Jewish civil equality.
Sliozberg noted that the Tsar was killed on the eve of Purim. After a series of attempts, the Jews were not surprised at this coincidence, but they became restless about the future.#_edn220"> [ccxx]
[KM1]The quote at the end needs one somewhere at the beginning to balance it.