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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - Two Hundred Years Together - Ch. 1

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - Two Hundred Years Together - Russo-Jewish History - Ch. 1

Interview with Solzhentisyn about "200 Years Together"

Moscow News -- January 1-7, 2003
With his Dvesti let vmeste, or 200 Years Together, a historical study of the relationship between Russians and Jews in Russia, Alexander Solzhenitsyn calls for a better understanding and mutual empathy between the two nationalities. The second volume of the book, spanning the period from the 1917 Revolution to the mid-1970s, is about to hit the bookstalls. Ahead of the publication the author was interviewed by Moskovskiye Novosti editor Viktor Loshak in his house at Troitse-Lykovo

Chukovskay: We had a meeting shortly before Book 1 came out, and it was clear that Book 2 was on the way and could have been brought out literally within weeks. Nonetheless, 18 months have passed since.
Why was the publication delayed for so long?
Solzhenitsyn: It was certainly going to take not weeks, but much longer. Also, Natalya Dmitrievna [the author's wife and the book's editor. - V.L.] decided to double-check all footnotes once again - in a broad context. It required the patience of Job because all source materials had to be checked out and many pages around each quotation read through carefully. That was how she worked. In all, there are 1,500 footnotes. A very large volume. Also, it was not our only work in the past year.
Chukovskay: You have been working on the book for 12 years in all?
Solzhenitsyn: I began in 1990. But there were long breaks. In the 1990s I wrote and published many other things.
Chukovskay: Before passing over to Book 2, I would like to say that our first interview (Burning Question, MN No.25 of June 26, 2001) triggered an extensive response. One typical comment in letters to the editor was this: The appearance of a book on the relationship between Russians and Jews merely fosters anti-Semitism.
Solzhenitsyn: I should say that, indeed, there was plenty of bitterness in early reviews- moreover, judging by the rate of their appearance, you might think that this bitterness was provoked, even before the book was read to the end, by the mere fact that I had taken up the issue at all.
Now, however, looking at the reviews in their entirety, including the latest commentaries, I have good reason to say that many of my readers consider the book useful and interesting. I have received words of gratitude from ordinary Jewish readers: "Thank you for your interesting book - we have learned so much from it." The latest reviews are more reasonable and balanced. Recently, I was happy to read a very profound article by Alexander Eterman, in Vremya iskat, a journal published in Israel.
It is in fact what I was dreaming about - that is to say, my call for mutual understanding was heeded and appreciated. A hand was held out. It isan extremely valuable article, a direct follow-up on my book.
Now, I rule out completely that my book could in any way have incited tension. Quite the contrary, tension has been left behind, and now it is time we calmly discussed the issue.
Chukovskay: In your book, you quote from Dostoevsky's diaries - "the final word on this great tribe has yet to be said." After you finished it, did you get an impression that you had now said this word?
Solzhenitsyn: No, that would be too presumptuous. I do not have this impression. I have said what I could, but the final word, if at all possible, has probably still to be said, not in our lifetime.
Chukovskay: Am I right to understand that in the first chapters of Book 2, devoted to the Revolution, you disclose the Russian noms de guerre of Jewish revolutionaries and count their number in the supreme Revolutionary bodies so as to show in the closing chapters, when talking about the need for nationwide repentance, that Jews have cause not only to resent Soviet power, but also to repent?
Solzhenitsyn: That's right, both.
Chukovskay: You use a specific word characterizing the revolutionary atmosphere at the time; you write that it is not only about the national factor - referring to the Bolsheviks of various nationalities and ethnic groups - but mainly about the non-national. What exactly does this word mean?
Solzhenitsyn: A lack of any national awareness. An international, cosmopolitan worldview.That was the rationale behind Bolshevism for a very long time. It is in fact the absence of any national sentiment. There is just none.
Chukovskay: You have addressed a subject wherein you yourself often invoke such concepts as "spirit," "consciousness," and "historical fate." Were these nebulous notions not an impediment to your well-researched work, based on solid facts?
Solzhenitsyn: Far from being an impediment, they were, to a very large extent, a part of my underlying concept. My book aims to go deep into Jewish thoughts, feelings, ideas, and mentality - that is to say, the realm of the spiritual. In this sense the objective of my book is not, in fact, scientific, but artistic. It is basically an artistic work. Except that there are not two or three characters, but a great many characters, with various, most diverse feelings and ideas. Facts alone are not enough to understand them. Generally speaking, I regard the spirit and consciousness the most substantial elements of history.
Chukovskay: I noticed that in Book 2, an impartial researcher at times gives way to a passionate writer. Say, you write about the Bolsheviks, Stalin, and you bring in plenty of color and hues.
Solzhenitsyn:Absolutely. As a matter of fact, I had to restrain a writer's passion all the time because otherwise I would have broken the rule of using a great number of quotations. My commentaries could not be colored patches: They had to be level, restrained. Language-wise, the book was not entirely free and easy for me, but then I reaped a bountiful psychological harvest.
Chukovskay: It seemed to me that you found the work on Part 2 more exciting.
Solzhenitsyn: More exciting, I agree. It was simply a sense of involvement: After all,this is my era. Book 1 is distant history to which I was not a party. But here I am a party.
Chukovskay: Your book comprises an extensive essay about Alexander Galich, with abundant quotations. Why does he touch you so: After all, Galich as a historical figure is out of proportion to the prominence that you gave him. The impression is that you had some personal dispute with Galich?
Solzhenitsyn: I took Galich as a typical proponent of a whole public trend. Again, this is easier to do not through a general description but through a specific person, a specific poet, with passages from him works. He was included in the book not as a specially selected personage, but as a representative, symbol, and mouthpiece of public sentiments. But of course once I touched on him, I could not but touch on his personal feelings, in particular repentance. As for a personal relationship, we had none.
Chukovskay: Your book left me wondering - in fact, it is the same question that you put to yourself: Can a people be judged as a whole? If a person was born Russian, Jewish, or Kazakh, is he obligated to answer for an entire nation for the rest of his life?
Solzhenitsyn: Although people do judge of nations on the practical level, there is not a sufficient base for this. Such judgment is wrong on a responsible, spiritual level. Nonetheless, people conveniently pass judgment on any categories: "Say, women are so and so." But how can you possibly judge of all women at once? Or: "Old people do this and that," or: "Britons are like that." People just make such judgments pragmatically, but they do not standup to strict, spiritual judgment.
Chukovskay: Book 2, however, left me with the impression that sometimes you are inclined to talk about a nation as a whole.
Solzhenitsyn: No, I do not pass judgment on a nation as a whole. I always distinguish between different social strata of Jews. You can observe this throughout Book 2. There are those who rushed headlong into the Revolution; others, quite the contrary, tried to hold back themselves and their young, and uphold the tradition. Still others were the work-horses of the enormous Soviet military-industrial complex - the plodders. I do not think that I pass judgment on a nation as a whole. I believe that it is not up to humans to make such judgments on a high spiritual level.
Chukovskay: And another thing. I have never before come across any information about a letter criticizing "Jewish bourgeois nationalists" that Stalin's Agitprop was forcing Jews prominent in science and culture to sign as soon as the"doctors' case" was opened. Furthermore, dozens of signatures, as you write, had already been gathered. These included Landau, Dunaevsky, Gilels, Oistrakh, and Marshak. But the leter was never published.
Solzhenitsyn: The letter to Pravda was never published because the doctors' case was going nowhere, and Beria sought to have his own way. It was not published until 1997 - in Istochnik, a bulletin of the RF Presidential Archive.
Chukovskay: You write with great warmth and respect about the seven people who went on Red Square in protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia. They got straight into the clutches of the KGB. Four of them were Jewish. Do you believe it was a coincidence, or perhaps those were the most humiliated people? On the other hand, you talk about a special Jewish sensitivity to problems.
Solzhenitsyn: Not a personal grudge, of course. Sensitivity to problems. Jews accounted for a substantial share of the dissident movement. The demonstration by those seven people was organized: They knew each other, and they planned their action in advance. Sensitivity to general problems and the specific situation within the dissident movement, where the demonstration was born, were factors here.
Chukovskay: Two hundred years together. The main premise of your wide-ranging work is this: The truth about the Russians' relationship with the Jews is morally vital. To whom? To history? To both nationalities?
Solzhenitsyn: Any truth is morally vital to a person. Any truth in principle. The Jewish issue had for a long time been off-limits here. Zhabotinsky ridiculed the attitude in a commentary on an article by Osorgin: It is commonly believed that the best service that our Russian friends can render us is not to talk about us at all. Soviet Jews had that feeling for a long time. But after restrictions on Jewish immigration in the Soviet Union or Russia were lifted and an exodus began, now is just the time when the issue can be discussed openly. I for one felt entirely free, unrestrained, and confident that I was not causing Jews any harm socially. So I was stunned by such a large number of harsh, bitter reviews at first.
Chukovskay: What I find amazing is that you read the reviews at all, and follow the general trend.
Solzhenitsyn: I remember the general drift, but not each review in particular, of course.
Chukovskay: A personal question if I may. What was your reaction when all sorts of KGB scum went around calling you "Solzhenitser," ascribing Jewishness to you,among other lies?
Solzhenitsyn: I never lost my cool whatever state police were doing, whatever side of the ideological divide they sought to bring up against me - be it "Solzhenitser" or, quite the contrary, anti-Semitism. I saw that they were simply seething with rage and just did not know what stone to grab to hurl at me.
Chukovskay: You have a formula: a "ring of resentment." Does it refer to a ring of mutual resentment that impedes an objective view of a situation?
Solzhenitsyn: A ring is where it is difficult to find the beginning and the end. A ring, in the sense that it is a closed-circuit line, making research difficult, obscuring the origin of a dispute and its subsequent course.
Chukovskay: After you drew a line at a certain year, the Internet began to spread like wildfire, also leading to a measure of assimilation and dissolution of national identity. New relationships are rapidly evolving in the world. You do not take it upon yourself to appraise them. But what are the main elements of new relationships? How do you see them?
Solzhenitsyn: It was not by accident that I stopped at the exodus through Jewish emigration. I write in concluding remarks that I did not immediately hit on that cut-off line: At first I was planning for my book to span a period from the second integration of Jews in Russia, in 1795, until the mid-1990s. But, first of all, the exodus convinced me that the 200 years had already come to pass, almost to the year: In 1772, the first 100,000 Jews were allowed to integrate into Russia, while the 1970s marked a breakthrough in Jewish emigration. I simply cannot take it up to the mid-1990s, above all, because it is impossible to be a historian of the modern area. Very many processes are occurring behind the scenes: Little or nothing is known about them in the public domain while details about them may not be released until 20 or maybe even 50 years from now. This makes writing seriously and responsibly altogether impossible.
Chukovskay: Impossible for you, or do you believe that it is in principle impossible to be a historian today?
Solzhenitsyn: It is impossible to be a historian of the present day. Also, it is impossible for me: I am nearing the end of my lifetime. Concerning the Internet, I will say frankly that I do not follow it: It is a global phenomenon that will have its consequences. As for assimilation, it is a cultural process. There is no way you can assimilate just by picking up an idea or developing it on the Internet. Assimilation has to be absorbed on the inner level - it is a very complex process. My impression is that thus far it is proceeding haltingly in the world. Nations are still important, have some weight in the world - and they have their own identity, distinct from each other. But internationalization is certainly an ongoing process.How it will evolve, I can no longer tell.
Chukovskay: There is an expectation that the world could become a melting pot, where all nations will assimilate, or else the opposite, the economic divide will lead to even greater isolation.
Solzhenitsyn: I do not think it will become a melting pot. There will be greater isolation, I agree, if only due to the inevitable, and now obvious, glaring gap between the rich and the poor. It so happens that there are two biological species living on Earth. As for nations resisting a fade-out, this is just as well. Mankind should be many-colored - not in the sense of skin color but in the sense of the color spectrum of perception, variegation of cultures. Otherwise it would be boring. If the melting potidea worked, life would become impossibly dull and boring.
Chukovskay: How do you view the intensity of interethnic problems in Russia?
Solzhenitsyn: You see, numerous bloody conflicts were all but preordained by the breakup of a centuries-old empire, especially after decades of ruthless Communist rule. Remember, in the early 1990s the fear of a "Yugoslav scenario" was overriding. With God's grace, it bypassed us. And now it has conveniently been forgotten what an inferno it could have meant. Yes, the Chechendisaster caught up with us, but its root causes lie not in interethnic strife - at any rate, not on the part of the Russians. Altogether different factors and driving forces were at work there. But any interethnic tension,wherever it exists, is of course very dangerous, and everything must bedone to avoid or lessen it.
Chukovskay: Much in your book centers around Israel. Yet you admit that it will never become a motherland for all Jews, neither will the majority of them ever live there. What is it - a tragedy of Israel or a tragedy of the nation?
Solzhenitsyn: In studying Jewish sentiments and views, I naturally also studied Russian Jews who had absorbed Russian culture but left for Israel. I followed them, I cited them, and their life in Israel interests me as a continuation of these Russian-Jewish relations. At the very beginning of the book I specified, though, that I was studying the issue only within the bounds of Russia. As for speculation on what choice the Jews will ultimately make, I believe that it has already been made: There are still Jews in all countries of the world; there are Jews in Russia, although they are not being forcibly held here; there are Jews in the United States, in especially large numbers, and of course there are and there will be Jews in Israel. The Jewish people has a difficult fate. It will never be easy.
Chukovskay: You have finished the book. What are you doing or going to do now that the last word has been written?
Solzhenitsyn: I have some loose ends that need tying up. There is plenty of work to bedone yet. There is something to publish. Some of the publications will, I think, be made after I am gone. I am not embarking on any new projects. I have an ongoing project called Literary Collection. Some of it has been published, and more is forthcoming. I can take it up or leave off at any moment. It does not have a final, definitive form: These are simply comments on particular authors or even particular books. It is just my personal opinion as a writer.
True, at this point Natalya Dmitrievna added that the work was unique inthat it was not just a writer's opinion, nor a critic's opinion, but the opinion of a reader who happens to be a writer. And it is a very frankopinion.
Chukovskay: So, you took a long time to work on the book, and now you have finished it. Do you feel relieved?
Solzhenitsyn: I do. Because it is such a great responsibility. There is responsibility in every page, every footnote, every passage. The thoughts and feelings of Jews, especially of those with Russian culture, especially of high-minded people - I went to them and felt an affinity with them, as one does with characters in a work of fiction. But had I known how much effort this would require, I would never have started it. I had no idea how much hard work it 
would involve.

Possibly no other book by Alexander Solzhenitsyn has provoked such scathing criticism as has his 200 Years Together. Avowed anti-Semites read Book 1 as being sympathetic to the Jews. Liberal critics lambasted the book as nationalistic and stirring jingoist passions.
Considering how high passions were running over Book 1, which chronologically ended with the 1917 Revolution, now that the writer has taken his historical study up to the mid-1970s, it is bound to come underfire from weapons of all calibers.
After two meetings, following publication of each book, with Alexander Isaevich and his wife, Natalya Dmitrievna, who greatly facilitates the author's historical quests, I would like to suggest that Solzhenitsyn's latest work should not be seen as a dry piece of deadwood thrown into the fire of the perennial Russian debate as to who is to blame for every trouble under the sun.
Solzhenitsyn's is a different, above-the-fray vantage point. His is a different objective, totally devoid of writer's vanity: Not really needing our approval, Solzhenitsyn seeks to act as a kind of referee in a protracted historical debate. He does not seem to care even whether thereis still anyone left in the ring or whether Russian Jews, having acquired the Russian language and culture, have fully assimilated. Meanwhile, anti-Semites, for want of something better to do with their narrow minds, will keep harping on their tune, even if not a single Jew, so hateful to them, remains on the planet.
With his book, comprising evaluations of tsars, Khrushchev, Beria, Galich,and Zhabotinsky, and quotations from Lenin to Stalin to Grigory Pomerantsto Lydia Korneevna Chukovskaya, Solzhenitsyn stepped into the minefield of the Jewish issue. And he walked across it confidently - maybe because therei s no longer a mine that could blow up his authority.
"Russian Jew. Jew. Russian. How much blood has been spilled, how many tears shed over this; what untold suffering there has been, and at the same time how much joy in spiritual and cultural growth. There were, and there still are, many Jews who bore this brunt - being a Russian Jew and Russian at the same time. Two loves, two passions, two struggles - isn't this too much for one heart?"
Lydia Chukovskaya --- Copyright 2003 Moscow News.

Chapter 1 : To End of 18th Century

From the Beginnings in Khazaria 

[G13] In this book the presence of the Jews in Russia prior to 1772 will not be discussed in detail. However, for a few pages we want to remember the older epochs.

One could begin, that the paths of Russians and Jews first crossed  in the wars between the Kiev Rus and the Khazars- but that isn't completely right, since only the upper class of the Khazars were of Hebraic descent, the tribe itself being a branch of the Turks that had accepted the Jewish faith.

If one follows the presentation of J. D. Bruzkus, respected Jewish author of the mid 20th century, a certain part of the Jews from Persia moved across the Derbent Pass to the lower Volga where Atil [west coast of Caspian on Volga delta], the capital city of the Khazarian Khanate rose up starting 724 AD. The tribal princes of the Turkish Khazars, at the time still idol-worshippers, did not want to accept either the Muslim faith - lest they should be subordinated to the caliph of Baghdad - nor to
Christianity - lest they come under vassalage to the Byzantine emperor; and so the clan went over to the Jewish faith in 732. But there was also a Jewish colony in the Bosporan Kingdom [on the Taman Peninsula at east end of the Crimea, separating the Black Sea from the Sea of Azov] to which Hadrian had Jewish captives brought in 137, after the victory over Bar-Kokhba. Later a Jewish settlement sustained itself without break under the Goths and Huns in the Crimea; especially Kaffa (Feodosia) remained Jewish. In 933 Prince Igor [912-945, Grand Prince of Kiev, successor of Oleg, regent after death of Riurik founder of the Kiev Kingdom in 862] temporarily possessed Kerch, and his son Sviatoslav [Grand Prince 960-972] [G14] wrested the Don region from the Khazars. The Kiev Rus already ruled the entire Volga region including Atil in 909, and Russian ships appeared at Samander [south of Atil on the west coast of the Caspian]. Descendents of the Khazars were the Kumyks in the Caucasus. In the Crimea, on the other hand, they combined with the Polovtsy [nomadic Turkish branch from central Asia, in the northern Black Sea area  and the Caucasus since the 10th century; called Cuman by  western historians; see second map, below] to form the Crimean Tatars. (But the Karaim [a Jewish sect that does not follow the Talmud] and Jewish residents of the Crimean did  not go  over to the Muslim Faith.) The Khazars were finally conquered [much later] by  Tamerlane [or Timur, the 14th century conqueror].

A few researchers  however hypothesize (exact proof is absent) that the Hebrews had wandered to some extent through the south Russian region in west and northwest direction. Thus the Orientalist and Semitist Abraham Harkavy for example writes that the Jewish congregation in the future Russia "emerged from Jews that  came from the Black Sea coast and from the Caucasus, where their ancestors had lived since the Assyrian and Babylonian captivity." J. D. Bruzkus also leans to this perspective. (Another opinion suggests it is the remnant of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.) This migration presumably ended after the conquest of
Tmutarakans [eastern shore of the Kerch straits, overlooking the eastern end of the Crimean Peninsula; the eastern flank of the old  Bosporan Kingdom] (1097) by  the Polovtsy. According to Harkavy's opinion the vernacular of these Jews at least since the ninth century was Slavic, and only in the 17th century, when the Ukrainian Jews fled from the pogroms  of Chmelnitzki [Bogdan Chmelnitzki, Ukrainian Cossack,1593-1657, led the successful Cossack rebellion against Poland with help from theCrimean Tatars], did  Yiddish become the language of Jews in Poland.

[G15] In various manners the Jews also came  to Kiev and settled there. Already under Igor, the lower part of the city was called "Kosary"; in 933 Igor brought  Jews that had been taken captive in Kerch. Then in 965 Jews taken  captive in the Crimea were brought there; in 969 Kosaren from Atil and Samander, in 989 from Cherson and in 1017 from Tmutarakan. In Kiev western Jews also emerged.  in connection with the caravan traffic from west to east, and starting at the end of the eleventh century, maybe on account of the persecution in Europe during the first Crusade.

Later researchers confirm likewise that  in the 11th century, the "Jewish element" in Kiev is to be derived from the Khazars. Still earlier, at the turn of the 10th century the presence of a "Khazar force and a Khazar garrison," was chronicled in Kiev. And already "in the first half of the 11th century the Jewish-Khazar element in Kiev played "a significant roll." In the 9th and 10th century, Kiev was multinational and tolerant.

At the end of the 10th century, in the time when Prince Vladimir [Vladimir I. Svyatoslavich 980-1015, the Saint, Grand Prince of Kiev] was choosing a new faith for the Russians, there  were not a few Jews in Kiev, and among them were found educated men that suggested taking on the Jewish faith. The choice fell out otherwise than it had 250 hears earlier in the Khazar Kingdom. Karamsin [1766-
1826, Russian historian] relates it like this   "After he (Vladimir) had listened to the Jews, he asked where their homeland was. 'In Jerusalem,' answered the delegates, 'but God  has chased  us in his anger and sent us into a foreign land.' 'And you, whom God  has punished, dare to teach others?' said Vladimir. 'We do  not want to lose our fatherland like you have.'" After the Christianization of the Rus, according to Bruzkus, a portion of the Khazar Jews in Kiev also went over to Christianity and
afterwards in Novgorod perhaps one of them - Luka Zhidyata - was even one of the first bishops and spiritual writers.

Christianity and Judaism being side-by-side in Kiev inevitably led to the learned zealously contrasting them. From that emerged the work significant to Russian literature, "Sermon on Law and Grace" ([by Hilarion, first Russian Metropolitan] middle 11th century), which contributed to the settling of a Christian consciousness for the Russians that lasted for centuries. [G16] "The polemic here is as fresh and lively as in the letters of the apostles." In any case, it was the first century of Christianity in Russia. For the Russian neophytes of that time, the Jews were interesting, especially in connection to their  religious presentation, and even in Kiev there were opportunities for contact with them. The interest was greater than later in the 18th century, when they again were physically close.

Then, for more than a century, the Jews took part in the expanded commerce of Kiev. "In the new city wall (completed in 1037) there was the Jews' Gate, which closed in the Jewish quarter." The Kiev Jews were not subjected to any limitations, and the princes did  not handle themselves hostilely, but rather indeed vouchsafed to them protection, especially Sviatopolk Iziaslavich [Prince of Novgorod 1078-
1087, Grand Prince of Kiev 1093-1113], since the trade and enterprising spirit of the Jews brought the princes financial advantage.

In 1113, Vladimir (later called "Monomakh"), out of qualms of conscience, even after the death of Sviatopolk, hesitated to ascend the Kiev Throne prior to one of the Svyatoslavich's, and "exploiting the anarchy, rioters plundered the house of the regimental commander Putiata and all Jews that  had stood under the special protection of the greedy Sviatopolk in the capital city. .. One reason for the Kiev revolt was apparently the usury of the Jews  probably, exploiting the shortage of money of the time, they enslaved the debtors with exorbitant interest." (For example there are indications in the "Statute" of Vladimir Monomakh that Kiev money-lenders received interest up to 50/  per annum.) Karamsin therein appeals to the Chronicles and an extrapolation by  Basil Tatistcheff [1686-1750; student of Peter the Great, first Russian historian]. In Tatistcheff we find moreover "Afterwards they clubbed down many Jews and plundered their houses, because they had brought about many sicknesses to Christians and commerce with them had brought about great damage. Many of them, who had gathered in their synagogue seeking protection, defended themselves, as well as they could, and redeemed time until Vladimir would arrive." But when he had come, "the Kievites pleaded with him for retribution toward the [G17] Jews, because they had taken all the trades from Christians and under Sviatopolk had had much freedom and power... They had also brought many over to their faith."

According to M. N. Pokrovski, the Kiev Pogrom of 1113 had social and not national character. (However the leaning of this "class-conscious" historian toward social interpretations is well-known.)

After he ascended to the Kiev throne, Vladimir answered the complainants, "Since many [Jews] everywhere have received access to the various princely courts and have migrated there, it is not appropriate for me, without the advice of the princes, and moreover contrary to right, to permit killing and plundering them. Hence I will without delay call the princes to assemble, to give counsel." In the Council a law limiting the interest was established, which Vladimir attached to Yaroslav's "Statute." Karamsin reports, appealing to Tatistcheff, that Vladimir "banned all Jews" upon the conclusion of the Council, "and from that  time forth there were none left in our fatherland." But at the same time he qualifies   "in the Chronicles in contrast it says that  in 1124 the Jews in Kiev died [in a great fire]; consequently, they had not been banned." (Bruzkus explains, that it "was a whole Quarter  in the best part of the city.. at the Jew's Gate next to the Golden Gate.")

At least one Jew enjoyed the trust of Andrei Bogoliubskii [or Andrey Bogolyubsky] in Vladimir. "Among the confidants of Andrei was a certain Ephraim Moisich, whose patronymic Moisich or Moisievich indicates his Jewish derivation," and who according to the words of the Chronicle was among the instigators of the treason by which Andrei was murdered. However there is also a notation that says that under Andrei Bogoliubskii "many Bulgarians and  Jews from the  Volga territory came and had themselves baptized" and that after the murder of Andrei his son Georgi fled to a Jewish Prince in Dagestan.

In any case the information on the Jews in the time of the Suzdal Rus is scanty, as their numbers were obviously small.

[G18] The "Jewish Encyclopaedia" notes  that  in the Russian heroic songs (Bylinen) the "Jewish Tsar" - e.g. the warrior Shidowin in the old  Bylina about Ilya and Dobrin'a - is "a favourite general moniker for an enemy of the Christian faith." At the same time it could also be a trace of memories of the struggle against the Khazars. Here, the religious basis of this hostility and exclusion is made clear. On this basis, the Jews were not permitted to settle in the Muscovy Rus.

The invasion of the Tatars portended the end of the lively commerce  of the Kiev Rus, and many Jews apparently went to Poland. (Also the  Jewish colonization into Volhynia and Galicia continued, where
they had scarcely suffered from the Tatar invasion.) The Encyclopaedia explains "During the invasion of the Tatars (1239) which destroyed Kiev, the Jews also suffered, but in the second half of the
13th century they were invited by  the Grand Princes to resettle in Kiev, which found itself under the domination of the Tatars. On account  of the special rights, which were also granted the Jews in other  possessions of the Tatars, envy was stirred up in the town residents against the Kiev Jews." Similar happened not only in Kiev, but also in the cities of North Russia, which "under the Tatar rule, were accessible for many [Moslem? see note 1] merchants from Khoresm or Khiva, who were long
since experienced in trade  and the tricks of profit-seeking. These people bought from the Tatars the principality's right to levy Tribute, they demanded excessive interest from poor people and, in case of their failure to pay, declared the debtors to be their slaves, and took away their freedom. The residents of Vladimir, Suzdal, and Rostov finally lost their patience and rose up together at the pealing of the
Bells against these usurers; a few were killed and the rest chased  off." A punitive expedition of the Khan against the mutineers was threatened, which however was hindered via the mediation of Alexander Nevsky. "In the documents of the 15th century, Kievite [G19] Jewish tax-leasers are mentioned, who possessed a significant fortune."

Note 1. The word "Moslem" is in the German but not French translation. I am researching the Russian original.

The Judaizing Heresy

[G19] "A migration of Jews from Poland to the East, including White Russia [Belarus], should also be noted  in the 15th  century   there  were lessers of tolls and other assessments in Minsk, Polotsk" and in Smolensk, although no settled congregations were formed there. After the short-lived banishment of Jews from Lithuania (1496) the "eastward movement went forth with particular energy at the beginning of the 16th century."

The number of Jews that migrated into the Muskovy Rus was insignificant although "influential Jews at that time had no difficulties going to Moscow." Toward the end of the 15th  century  in the very center  of the spiritual and administrative power of the Rus, a change took place that, though barely noticed, could have drawn an ominous unrest in its wake, and had far-reaching consequences in the spiritual domain. It had to do  with the "Judaizing Heresy." Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk [1439-1515]  who resisted it, observed  "Since the time of Olga and Vladimir, the God-fearing Russian world has never experienced such a seduction."

According to Kramsin it began thus  the Jew Zechariah, who in 1470 had arrived in Novgorod from Kiev, "figured out how to lead astray two spirituals, Dionis and Aleksei; he assured them, that only the Law of Moses was divine; the history of the Redeemer was invented; the Messiah was not yet born; one should not pray to icons, etc. Thus began the Judaizing heresy." Sergey Solovyov [1820-79; great Russian historian] expands on this, that Zechariah accomplished it "with the aid of five accomplices, who also were Jewish," and that this heresy "obviously was a mixture of Judaism and Christian rationalism that denied the mystery of the holy Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ." "The Orthodox Priest Aleksei called himself Abraham, his wife he called Sarah and along with Dionis corrupted many spirituals and lay.. But it is hard to understand how Zechariah was able so easily to increase the number of his Novgorod pupils, since his wisdom consisted entirely and only in the rejection of Christianity and the glorification of Judaism [G20]..Probably, Zechariah seduced the Russians with the Jewish cabbala, a teaching that captured curious ignoramuses and in the 15th  century  was well-known, when many educated men "sought in it the solution to all important riddles of the human spirit. The cabbalists extolled themselves .., they were able.. to discern all secrets of nature, explain dreams, prophecy the future, and conjure spirits."

J. Gessen, a Jewish historian of the 20th century represents in contrast the opinion "It is certain, that Jews participated neither in the introduction of the heresy.. nor its spread" (but with no indication of his sources). The Encyclopaedia of Brockhaus and Efron [1890-1906, Russian equivalent to the 1911 Britannica] explains "Apparently the genuinely Jewish element played no outstanding roll, limiting its contribution to a few rituals." The "Jewish Encyclopaedia," which appeared about the same time, writes on the other hand  "today, since the publication of the 'Psalter of the Judaizers' and other memorials, the contested question of the Jewish influence on the sects must.. be seen as settled in a positive sense."

"The Novgorod heretics respected an orderly exterior, appeared to fast humbly and zealously fulfilled all the duties of Piety," they "made themselves noticed by  the people and contributed to the rapid spreading of the heresy." When after the fall of Novgorod Ivan Vassilyevich III [1440-1505, English name would be "John son of Basil," Grand Prince of Moscoy, united the greater Russian territory under Moscow's rule] visited the city, he was impressed by  their Piety and took both of the first heretics, Aleksei and Dionis, to Moscow in 1480 and promoted them as high priests of the Assumption of Mary and  the  Archangel cathedrals of the Kremlin. "With them also the schism was brought over, the roots of which remained in Novgorod. Aleksei found special favor with the ruler and had free access to him, and with his Secret Teaching" enticed not only several high spirituals and officials, but moved the
Grand Prince to appoint the archimandrite [head abbot in Eastern Orthodoxy] Zossima as Metropolitan, that is, the head of the entire Russian church - a man from the very circle of the those he had enticed with the heresy. In addition, he enticed Helena to the heresy - daughter-in-law of the Grand Prince, widow of Ivan the [G21] Younger and mother of the heir to the throne, the "blessed nephew

The rapid success of this movement and the ease with which it spread is astonishing. This is obviously to be explained through mutual interests. "When the 'Psalter of the Judaizing' and other works - which could mislead the inexperienced Russian reader and were sometimes unambiguously antichristian - were translated from Hebrew into Russian, one could have assumed that only Jews and Judaism would have been interested in them."  But also "the Russian reader was.. interested in the translations of Jewish religious texts" - and this explains the "success, which the propaganda of the 'Judaizing' had in various classes of society." The sharpness and liveliness of this contact reminds of that  which had emerged in Kiev in the 11th century.

The Novgorod Archbishop Gennadi uncovered the heresy in 1487,  sent  irrefutable proofs of it to Moscow, hunted the heresy out and unmasked it, until in 1490 a church Council assembled to discuss the matter, under leadership of the just- promoted Metropolitan Sossima. "With horror they heard  the complaint of Gennadi, .. that these apostates insult Christ and the mother of God, spit on the cross, call the icons idolatrous images, bite on them with their teeth and throw them into impure places, believe in neither the kingdom of Heaven nor the resurrection of the dead, and entice the weak, while remaining  quiet in the presence of zealous Christians." "From the Judgment [of the Council] it is apparent, that the Judaizers did  not recognize Jesus Christ as the Son of God, that they taught, the Messiah is not yet appeared, that they observe the Old Testament Sabbath day rather than the Christian Sunday." It was suggested to the Council to execute the heretics but, in accordance with the will of Ivan III, they were sentenced instead to imprisonment and the heresy was anathematized. "In view of the coarseness of the
century and the seriousness of the moral corruption, such a punishment was [G22] extraordinarily mild." The historians unanimously explain this hesitation of Ivan in that the heresy had already spread widely under his own roof and was practiced by well-known, influential people," among whom was Feodor Kuritsyn, Ivan's plenipotentiary Secretary (so to speak the "Foreign Minister"), "famous on account of his education and his capabilities." "The noteworthy liberalism of Moscow flowed from the temporary 'Dictator of the heart' F. Kuritsyn. The magic of his secret salon was enjoyed even by  the Grand Prince and his daughter-in-law.. The heresy was by no means in abatement, but rather.. prospered magnificently and spread itself out. At the  Moscow court.. astrology and magic along with the attractions of a pseudo-scientific revision of the entire medieval worldview" were solidly propagated, which was "free-thinking, the appeal of enlightenment, and the power of fashion."

The Jewish Encyclopaedia sets forth moreover that Ivan III "out of political motivations did  not stand against the heresy. With Zechariah's help, he hoped to strengthen his influence in Lithuania," and besides that he wanted to secure the favour of influential Jews from the Crimea   "of  the princes and rulers of Taman Peninsula, Zacharias de Ghisolfi," and of the Jew Chozi Kokos, a confidant of the Khan Mengli Giray [or Girai].

After the Council of 1490 Sossima continued to sponsor a secret society for several years, but then was himself discovered, and in 1494 the Grand Prince commanded him to depose himself without process and to withdraw into a cloister, without throwing up dust and to all appearances willingly. "The heresy however did  not abate.  For a time (1498) its votaries in Moscow seized almost all the power, and their charge  Dmitrii, the Son of the Princess Helena, was coronated as Tsar." Soon Ivan III reconciled himself with his wife Sophia Palaiologos, and in 1502 his son Vassili inherited the throne. (Kurizyn by  this time was dead.) Of the heretics, after the Council of 1504, one part was burned, a second part thrown in prison, and a third fled to Lithuania, "where they formally adopted the Mosaic faith."

It must be added that the overcoming of the Judaizing Heresy gave the spiritual life of the Muscovy Rus at turn of the 16th century a new impetus, and contributed to recognizing the need for spiritual education, for schools for the Spiritual; and the name of Archbishop Gennadi is associated with the collecting and [G23] publication of the first church-Slavic Bible, of which there  had not to that point been a consolidated text corpus in the Christian East. The printing press was invented, and "after 80 years this Gennadi Bible.. was printed in Ostrog (1580/82) as the first church-Slavic Bible; with its appearance, it took over the entire orthodox East." Even academy member S. F. Platonov gives a generalizing judgment about the phenomenon   "The movement of Judaizing no doubt contained elements of the
West European rationalism.. The heresy was condemned; its advocates had to suffer, but the attitude of critique and skepticism produced by  them over against dogma and church order remained."

Today's Jewish Encyclopaedia remembers "the thesis that an extremely negative posture toward Judaism and the Jews was unknown in the Muskovy Rus up to the beginning of the 16th century," and derives it from this struggle against the Judaizers. Judging by  the spiritual and civil  measures of the circumstances, that is thoroughly probable. J. Gessen however contends  "it is significant, that such a specific coloring of the heresy as Judaizing did  not lessen the success of the sects and in no way led to the development of a hostile stance toward the Jews."

You're in; no, you're  out. Okay, you're  in

[G23] Judging by  its stable manner of life, it was in neighbouring Poland that the biggest Jewish community emerged, expanded and became strong from the 13th to the 18th century. It formed the basis of the future Russian Jewry, which became the most important part of World Jewry until the 20th century. Starting in the 16th century "a significant number of Polish and Czech Jews emigrated" into the Ukraine, White Russia and Lithuania. In the 15th century Jewish merchants traveled still unhindered from the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom to Moscow. But that changed under Ivan [IV] the Terrible   Jewish merchants were forbidden entry.  When in 1550 the Polish King Sigismund August desired to permit them free entry into Russia, this was denied by  Ivan with these words  "We absolutely do  not permit the entry of the Jew into my  lands, because we do  not wish to see evil in our lands, but rather may God  grant that the people in my  land may have rest from that irritation. And you, our brother, should not write us on account of the Jews again," for they had "alienated the Russians from [G24] Christianity, brought poisonous plants into our lands and done much evil to our lands."

According to a legend, Ivan IV [the Terrible], upon the annexation of Polotsk in 1563,  ordered  all Jews to be baptized in response to complaints of Russian residents "against evil things and bullying" by  Jews, leasers and others empowered by  Polish magnates. Those that refused, apparently about 300 persons, are supposed to have been drowned in his presence in the Dvina. But careful historians,
as e.g. J. I. Gessen, do  not confirm this version even in moderated form and do  not mention it once.

Instead of that, Gessen writes that under the False Dimitry I (1605/06) both Jews and other foreigners "in relatively large number" were baptized in Moscow. The story goes according to "In the Time of Troubles" [by Sergey Ivanov, regarding the 15-year period 1598-1613 of confusion following the failed Rurik Dynasty] that  the False Dimitry II (the  "Thief of Tushino") was "born a Jew." (The sources give contradictory information regarding the ancestry of "the Thief of Tushino.")

[Sozhenitsyn relates that after the "Time of Troubles," Jews, like Polish-Lithuanian folk  in general had restricted rights in Russia. [G25] There was prohibition of peddling in Moscow, or to travel beyond Moscow at all. But ordinances were contradictory.

[Mikhail Feodorovich (Michael son of Theodore; 1613 became first Romanov chosen as Tsar) did  not pursue  a principial policy against Jews.

[Alexis Michaelovitch (Alex son of Michael; Tsar 1645). No sign of discrimination against Jews in the law book; free access granted to all cities including Moscow. During the seizure of Lithuania, as well as later wars, treatment of Jews in captivity was not worse than other foreigners.

[After the ..(1667) (in which ...and the whole eastern bank of the  River remained Russian) Jews were invited to stay, and many did. Some converted to Christianity and some of these became heads of
noble families. A small number of baptized migrated to a Cossack village on the Don and a dozen Cossack families descended from them. Samuel Collins, an Englishman residing in Moscow at the  time, related that  "in a short time, the Jews have in a remarkable way spread through the city and court, helped by  the mediation of a Jewish surgeon."

[Feodor III, son of Alexis (Theodore, 1676 Tsar]. Jews not to be assessed toll on entry to Moscow, because they are not allowed in, whether with or without wares. But the practice did  not correspond to the theory.

[In the first year of Peter the Great, doors were opened to talented foreigners, but not Jews on account of their being "rogues and deceivers." Yet there is no evidence of limitations imposed on them, nor special laws. Indeed, Jews were found close to the Emperor

•  Vice-chancellor Baron Peter Shafirov
•  close confidant Abram Veselovsky, later accused of thieving
•  his brother, Isaac Veselovsky
•  Anton de Vieira, general police master of Petersburg
•  Viviere, head of secret police

and others. To A. Veselovsky, Peter wrote that what matters is competence and decency, not baptism or circumcision.

[Jewish houses in Germany inquired whether Russia would guarantee their commerce with Persia, but never received it.

[At start of 18th century there was increased Jewish trade activity in Little Russia (Ukraine), [G27] a year before Russian merchants got the right. Hetman (Ukrainian chief) Skoropadski gave order several times for their expulsion but this was not obeyed and Jewish presence actually increased.

[Catherine I (1724 Tsarina) decreed removal of Jews from Ukraine and Russian cities; but only lasted one year.

[Peter II (Tsar 1727) permitted Jews into Little Russia, first as "temporary visits" on the ground of their usefulness for trade, then, more and more reasons found to make it permanent. Under Anna (1730 Tsarina), this right was extended to Smolensk and Slobodsky. In 1734 permission was given to distil brandy,  and in 1736 it was permitted to import vodka from Poland into Russia.

[Baltic financier Levy Lipman probably bailed out the future Tsarina Anna financially while she was living in Courland. [G28] Later, he achieved a high rank in her court in financial administration, and received various monopoly rights.]

Elisabeth [1741 Tsarina] however issued a Ukase [imperial Russian decree] one year after taking the throne (Dec 1742) "Jews are forbidden to live anywhere in our realm; now it has been made known to us, that these jJws still find themselves in our realm and, under various pretexts, especially in Little Russia, they prolong their stay,  which is in no way beneficial; but as we must expect only great  injuries to our loyal subjects from such haters of the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ, [G29] we order   all Jews, male and female, along with their entire possession, to be sent without delay from our realm, over the border,  and in the future not allowed back in, unless it should be that one of them should
confess our Greek-Christian religion."

This was the same  religious intolerance that shook Europe for centuries. The way of thinking of that time was not unique in any special Russian way, nor was it an exclusively Jew-hostile attitude. Among
Christians the religious intolerance was not practiced with any less cruelty. Thus, the Old Believers, i.e. men of the same orthodox faith, were persecuted with fire and sword.

This Ukase of Elisabeth "was made known throughout the realm. But immediately attempts were made to move the Ruler to relent." The military chancellor reported to the Senate from the Ukraine that already 140 people were evicted, but that "the prohibition for Jews to bring goods in would lead to a reduction in state income." The Senate  reported  to the Tsarina that "trade had suffered great damage in Little Russia as well as the Baltic provinces by  the Ukase of the previous year to not allow Jews into the realm, and also the state burse would suffer by  the reduction of income from tolls." The Tsarina answered with the resolution   "I desire no profit from the enemies of Christ."

[Sozhenitsyn discusses contradictory sources as to the number of Jews that were actually evicted, ranging from almost none, to 35,000, the latter figure having questionable origins; [G30] strong resistance to the edict by  Jews, land proprietors and the state apparatuses meant it was enforced almost as little as previous attempts had been.

[(G31) Catherine II, Tsarin 1762 in consequence of a coup, and also being a neophyte  to Orthodoxy herself, was unwilling to start her reign opening things up for Jews, though the Senate advised for it. Jews pressed for it and had spokesmen in Petersburg, Riga, and Ukraine. [G32] She found a way around her own law in permitting their entry for colonization into "New Russia" [area between Crimea and Moldavia], which was still a wasteland. Was organized secretly from Riga, and the nationality of the Jews was kept more or less secret. Jews went there from Poland and Lithuania.

[In the first Partition of Poland, 1772, Russia reacquired White Russia (Belarus) along with her 100,000 Jews.]

After the 11th century more and more Jews came into Poland because princes and later, kings encouraged "all active, industrious people" from western Europe to settle there. Jews actually received special rights, e.g.  in 13th  c., from Boleslav the Pious; in 14th  c., from Kasimir the Great; in 16th  c., from Sigismund I and Stephan Bathony; though this sometimes alternated with repression, e.g.  in 15th c., by Vladislav Yagiello and Alexander, son of Kasimir   there were two pogroms in Krakow. In 16th c several ghettos were constructed partly to protect them. The Roman Catholic spirituals were the most continuous source of a hostile stance. Nevertheless on balance it must have been a favourable environment, since in first half of 16th c. [G33] the Jewish population increased substantially. There was a big role for Jews in the business activity of landlords in that  they became  leasers of the brandy distilling operations.

After the Tater devastation, Kiev in the 14th c. came under Lithuania and/or Poland, and in this arrangement "more and more Jews wandered from Podolia and Volhynia into the Ukraine," in the regions of Kiev, Poltava, and Chernigov. This process accelerated when a large part of Ukraine came directly under Poland in the Union of Lublin, 1569. The main population consisted of orthodox peasants,  who for a long time had had special rights and were free of tolls. Now  began an intensive colonization of the Ukraine by  the polish Szlachta (Polish nobility) with conjoint action by  the Jews. "The Cossacks were forced into immobility, and obligated to perform drudgery and pay taxes.. The Catholic lords burdened the orthodox peasants with various taxes and service duties, and in this exploitation the Jews also partly played a sad role." They leased from the lords the "propination," i.e. the right to distil vodka and sell it, as well as other trades. "The Jewish leasers, who represented the Polish lord, received - of course only to a certain degree - the power that the landholder had over the peasants; and since the Jewish leasers.. strove to wring from the peasants a maximum profit, the rage of the peasants rose not only against the Catholic landlords but also against the Jewish leasers. When from this situation a bloody uprising of the Cossacks arose  in 1648 under leadership of Chmelnitsky, Jews as well as Poles were the victims" - 10,000 Jews died.

The Jews were lured in by  the natural riches of the Ukraine and by  polish magnates that  were colonizing the land, and thus assumed an important economic role. Since they served the interests of the landlords and the regime.. the Jews brought on themselves the hatred of the residents." N. I. Kostomarov adds that the Jews leased not only various branches of the privileged industries but even the orthodox churches, gaining the right to levy a fee for baptisms.

After the uprising, the "Jews, on the basis of the Treaty of Belaia Tserkov (1651) were again given the right to resettle in the Ukraine.. The Jews were like before resident and leaser of the royal industries and the industries of the Szlachta, and so it was to remain."

"Going into the 18th  c. brandy distilling was practically the main profession of Jews." "This trade  often led to conflicts with the peasants, who sometimes were drawn into the taverns not so much because well-to-do, but on account of their poverty and misery."

Included among the restrictions placed on the Polish Jews in response to demands of the Catholic church was the prohibition against Jews having Christian house- servants.

[G34] Because of the recruitment coupled with the state tax increases in neighbouring Russia, not a few refugees came to Poland, where they had no rights. In the debates of Catherine's commission for reworking a new Law code (1767/68), one could hear that  in Poland "already a number of Russian refugees are servants to Jews."

The Kahal and Civil Rights

[G34] The jews of Poland maintained a vigorous economic relation to the surrounding population, yet in the five centuries that they lived there, did not permit any influence from outside themselves. One century after another rolled by in post-medieval European development, while the Polish jews remained confined to themselves, and were always an anachronistic appearance. They had a fixed order within themselves. (Here it is granted, that these conditions, which later remained intact also in Russia until the middle of the 19th century, were favorable for the religious and national preservation of the jews from the very beginning of their Diaspora.) The whole jewish life was guided by the Kahal, which had developed from the communal life of the jews, and the Rabbis. [The Kahal, pl. Kehilot was the autonomous organization of the leadership of the jewish congregations in Poland.]
[Solzhenitsyn relates that the Kahal was a buffer between polish authorities and jewish people; collected the taxes for example. Took care of the needy and also regulated jewish commerce, approved resales, purchases, and leases. Adjudicated disputes between jews, which could not be appealed to the secular legal system without incurring the ban (herem). What may have started as a democratic institution took on the qualities of an oligarchy bent on maintaining its own power. In turn, the rabbis and Kahal had a mutually exploitative relation, in that the rabbis were the executive enforcement arm of the Kahal, and the rabbis owed their position to appointment by the Kahal. Likewise, the Kahal owed the maintenance of its power more to the secular regime than to its own people.
[Toward end of 17th century and through 18th century, the country was torn by strife; the magnates’ arbitrariness increased further. Jews became poor and demoralized, and hardened in early Middle-age forms of life. [G35] “They became child-like or better: childish oldsters.”
[16th century jewish spiritual rulers were concentrated in German and Polish jewry. They put barriers up against contact with outsiders. The rabbinate held the jews in firm bondage to the past.]
The fact that the jewish people have held themselves together in their diaspora for 2,000 years inspires wonder and admiration. But when one examines certain periods more closely, as e.g. the Polish/Russian one in the 16th and into the middle of the 17th century, and how this unity was only won by means of methods of suppression exercised by the Kehilot, then one no longer knows if it can be evaluated merely as an aspect of religious tradition. If the slightest trace of such isolationism were detected amongst us Russians, we would be severely faulted.
When jewry came under the rule of the Russian state, this indigenous system remained, in which the hierarchy of the Kahal had a self-interest. According to J. I. Gessen, all the anger that enlightened jews felt against the ossifying Talmudic tradition became stronger in the middle of the 19th century: “The representatives of the ruling class of jewry staked everything on persuading the [Russian] administration of the necessity to maintain this centuries-old institution, which reflected the interests both of the Russian power and of the ruling jewish class”; “the Kahal in connection with the Rabbis held all the power and not seldom, abused it: it misappropriated public funds, trampled the rights of the poor, arbitrarily increased taxes and wreaked vengeance on personal enemies.” At the end of the 18thcentury the Governor of one the administrative regions attached to Russia wrote in his report: “The rabbis, [G36] the spiritual Council and the Kahal, ‘which are knitted closely together, hold all things in their hand and lord it over the conscience of the jews, and in complete isolation rule over them, without any relation to the civil order.’”
In 18th century Eastern European jewry two movements developed: the religious one of the Hassidim[or Hasidim, or Chasidim] and the enlightening one favoring secular culture, spearheaded by Moses Mendelsohn; but the Kehiloth suppressed both with all its might. In 1781 the Rabbinate of [Lithuanian]Vilna placed the ban over the Hassidim and in 1784 the Assembly of Rabbis in [White Russian]Mogilev declared them as “outlaws and their property as without owner. Thereafter mobs laid waste to the houses of Hassidim in several cities,” i.e. it was an intra-jewish pogrom. The Hassidim were persecuted in the most cruel and unfair manner; their rivals did not even feel embarrassed to denounce them before the Russian authorities with false political charges. In turn, the officials in 1799, based on the complaint of Hassidics, arrested members of the Kehilot of Vilna for embezzlement of tax money. The Hassidim movement expanded, being especially successful in certain provinces. The rabbis had hassidic books publicly burned and the Hassidim emerged as defenders of the people against abuses of the Kehilot. “It is apparent that in those times the religious war overshadowed other questions of religious life.”
belarusThe part of White Russia that fell to Russia in 1772 consisted of the Provinces of Polotsk (later Vitebsk) and Mogilev. In a communiqué to those governments in the name of Catherine it was explained that their residents “of whichever sex and standing they might be” would from now on have the right to public exercise of faith and to own property in addition to “all rights, freedoms and privileges which their subjects previously enjoyed.” The jews were thus legally set as equals to Christians, which had not been the case in Poland. As to the jews, it was added that their businesses “stay and remain intact with all those rights that they today…enjoy” – i.e. nothing would be taken away from Polish rights either. Through this, the previous power of the Kehilot survived: the jews with their Kahal system remained isolated from the rest of the population and were not immediately taken into the class of traders and [G37] businessmen that corresponded to their predominant occupations.
In the beginning, Catherine was on her guard not only against any hostile reaction of the Polish nobility, from whom power threatened to slip away, but also against giving an unfavorable impression to her Orthodox subjects. But she did extend wider rights to the jews, whom she wished well and promised herself of their economic utility to the nation. Already in 1778 the most recent general Russian regulation was extended to White Russia: those holding up to 500 Rubles belonged to the class of trade-plying townsmen; those with more capital, to the class of merchant, endowed into one of three guilds according to possession: both classes were free of the poll tax and paid 1% of their capital which was “declared according to conscience.”
This regulation was of particularly great significance: it set aside the national isolation of jews up to that time – Catherine wanted to end that. Further, she subverted the traditional Polish perspective on jews as an element standing outside the state. Moreover, she weakened the Kahal system, the capability of the Kahal to compel. “The process began of pressing jews into the civil organism… The jews availed themselves to a great extent of the right to be registered as merchants” – so that e.g. 10% of the jewish population in the Mogilev Province declared themselves as merchants (but only 5.5% of the Christians). The jewish merchants were now freed from the tax obligation to the Kahal and did not have to apply to the Kahal any more for permission to be temporarily absent – they had only to deal with the cognizant magistrate. (In 1780 the jews in Mogilev and Shklov greeted Catherine upon her arrival with odes.)
With this advance of jewish merchants the civil category “jew” ceased to exist. All other jews had now likewise to be assigned to a status, and obviously the only one left for them was “townsmen.” But at first, few wanted to be reclassified as such, since the annual poll tax for townsmen at that time was 60 kopecks but only 50 kopecks for “jews.” However, there was no other option. From 1783, neither the jewish townsmen [G38] nor merchants needed to pay their taxes to the Kahal, but instead, to the magistrate, each according to his class, and from him they also received their travel passes.
The new order had consequences for the cities, which only took status into consideration, not nationality. According to this arrangement, all townsmen (thus: also all jews) had the right to participate in the local class governance and occupy official posts. “Corresponding to the conditions of that time this meant that the jews became citizens with equal rights… The entry of jews as citizens with equal right into the merchant guilds and townsmen class was an event of great social significance,” it was supposed to “transform the jews into an economic power that would have to be reckoned with, and raise their morale.” It also made the practical protection of their life-interests easier.” At that time the classes of traders and tradesmen just like the municipal commonwealth had a broad self-determination…Thus, a certain administrative and judicial power was placed into the hands of jews just like Christians, through which the jewish population held a commercial and civil influence and significance.” Jews could now not only become mayors but also advisory delegates and judges. At first limitations were enacted in the larger cities to ensure that no more jews occupied electable positions than Christians. In 1786 however “Catherine sent… to the Governor General of White Russia a command written by her own hand: to actualize the equality of jews ‘in the municipal-class self-governance … unconditionally and without any hesitation’ and ‘to impose an appropriate penalty upon anyone that should hinder this equality.’”
It should be pointed out that the jews thus were given equal rights not only in contrast to Poland, but also earlier than in France or the German states. (Under Frederick the Great the jews suffered great limitations.) Indeed: the jews in Russia had from the beginning the personal freedom that the Russian peasants were only granted 80 years later. bottleParadoxically, the jews gained greater freedom than even the Russian merchants and tradesmen. The latter had to live exclusively in the cities, while in contrast the jewish population could “live in colonizations in the country and distill liquor.” “Although the jews dwelled in clusters [G39] not only in the city but also in the villages, they were accounted as part of the city contingent… inclusive of merchant and townsmen classes.” “According to the manner of their activity and surrounded by unfree peasantry they played an important economic roll. Rural trade was concentrated in their hands, and they leased various posts belonging to the landowners’ privilege – specifically, the sale of vodka in taverns – and therewith fostered “the expansion of drunkenness.” The White-Russian powers reported: “The presence of jews in the villages acts with harm upon the economic and moral condition of the rural population, because the jews… encourage drunkenness among the local population.” “In the stance taken by the powers-that-be, it was indicated among other things that the jews led the peasants astray with drunkenness, idleness and poverty, that they had given them vodka on credit etc. [reception of pledges for vodka].” But “the brandy operations were an attractive source of income” for both the Polish landowners and the jewish commissioners.
Granted, the gift of citizenship that the Jews received brought a danger with it: obviously the jews were also supposed to acquiesce to the general rule to cease the brandy business in the villages and move out. In 1783 the following was published: “The general rule requires every citizen to apply himself in a respectable trade and business, but not the distilling of schnapps as that is not a fitting business,’ and whenever the proprietor ‘permits the merchant, townsman or jew’ to distill vodka, he will be held as a law-breaker.” And thus it happened: “they began to transfer the jews from the villages to the cities to deflect them from their centuries-old occupation … the leasing of distilleries and taverns.”
Naturally, to the jews the threat of a complete removal from the villages naturally appeared not as a uniform civil measure, but rather as one that was set up specially to oppose their national religion. The jewish townsmen that were supposed to be resettled into the city and unambiguously were to be robbed of a very lucrative business in the country, fell into an inner-city and inner-jewish competition. Indignation grew among the jews, and in 1784 a commission of the Kehilot traveled to St Petersburg to seek [G40] the cancellation of these measures. (At the same time the Kehilot reasoned that they should, with the help of the administration, regain their lost power in its full extent over the jewish population.) But the answer of the czarina read: “As soon as the people yoked to the jewish law have … arrived at the condition of equality, the Order must be upheld in every case, so that each according to his rank and status enjoys the benefits and rights, without distinction of belief or national origin.
But the clenched power of the Polish proprietors also had to be reckoned with. Although the administration of White Russia forbad them in 1783 to lease the schnapps distilling “to unauthorized person, ‘especially jews’… the landlords continued to lease this industry to jews. That was their right,” an inheritance of centuries-old Polish custom.
The Senate did not venture to apply force against the landholders and in 1786 removed their jurisdiction to relocate jews into cities. For this a compromise was found: The jews would be regarded as people that had relocated to the cities, but would retain the right to temporary visits to the villages. That meant that those that were living in the villages continued to live there. The Senate permission of 1786 permitted the jews to live in villages and “jews were allowed to lease from the landholders the right to produce and sell alcoholic beverages, while Christian merchants and townsmen did not obtain these rights.”
Even the efforts of the delegation of Kehilot in St Petersburg was not wholly without success. They did not get what they came for – the establishment of a separate jewish court for all contentions between jews – but in 1786 a significant part of their supervisory right was given back: the supervision of jewish townsmen i.e. the majority of the jewish population. This included not only the division of public benefits but also the levying of poll tax and adjudicating the right to separate from the congregation. Thus, the administration recognized its interest in not weakening the power of the Kahal.
In all Russia, the status of traders and businessmen (merchants and townsmen) did not have the right to choose [G41] their residences. Their members were bound to that locality in which they were registered, in order that the financial position of their localities would not be weakened. However, the Senate made an exception in 1782 for White Russia: The merchants could move “as the case might be, as it was propitious for commerce” from one city to another. The ruling favored especially the jewish merchants.
However, they began to exploit this right in a greater extent than had been foreseen: “Jewish merchants began to be registered in Moscow and Smolensk.” “Jews began soon after the annexation of White Russia in 1882 to settle in Moscow…. By the end of the 18th century the number of jews in Moscow was considerable…. Some jews that had entered the ranks of the Moscow merchant class began to practice wholesaling… other jews in contrast sold foreign goods from their apartments or in the courts, or began peddling, though this was at the time forbidden.”
In 1790 the Moscow merchants submitted a complaint: “In Moscow has emerged ‘a not insignificant number of jews’ from foreign countries and from White Russian who as opportunity afforded joined the Moscow merchant guilds and then utilized forbidden methods of business, which brought about ‘very hurtful damage,’ and the cheapness of their goods indicated that it involved smuggling, but moreover as is well-known they cut coins: it is possible, that they will also do this in Moscow.” As amends to “their thoroughly cagey findings,” the Moscow merchants demanded their removal from Moscow. The jewish merchants appealed with “a counter-complaint… that they were not accepted into the Smolensk and Moscow merchant guilds.”
The “Council of her Majesty” heard the complaints. In accordance with the Unified Russian Order, she firmly established that the jews did not have the right “to be registered in the Russian trading towns and harbors,” but only in White Russia. “By no means is usefulness to be expected” from the migration of jews into Moscow . In December 1791 she promulgated a highest-order Ukase, which prohibited jews “to join the merchant guilds of the inner Provinces,” but permitted them “for a limited time for trade reasons to enter Moscow.” [G42] Jews were allowed to utilize the rights of the merchant guild and townsman class only in White Russia. The right to permanent residency and membership in the townsman class, Catherine continued, was granted in New Russia, now accessible in the viceregencies of Yekaterinoslav [“Glory of Catherine the Great”; much later, name changed to Dnepropetrovsk] and Taurida (shortly thereafter these became the Provinces of Yekaterinoslav, Taurida, and Cherson); that is, Catherine allowed jews to migrate into the new, expansive territories, into which Christian merchants and townsmen from the provinces of interior Russia generally were not permitted to emigrate. When in 1796 “it was made known that groups of jews [already] …. had immigrated into the Kiev, Chernigov and Novgorod-Syeversk Provinces,” it was likewise granted there “to utilize the right of the merchant guild and the townsman class.”
The pre-Revolution Jewish Encyclopedia writes: The Ukase of 1791 “laid the groundwork for setting up the pale of settlement, even if it wasn’t so intended. Under the conditions of the then-obtaining social and civic order in general, and of jewish life in particular, the administration could not consider bringing about a particularly onerous situation and conclude for them exceptional laws, which among other things would restrict the right of residency. In the context of its time, this Ukase did not contain that which in this respect would have brought the jews into a less favorable condition than the Christians… The Ukase of 1791 in no way limited the rights of jews in the choice of residency, created no special ‘borders,’ and ‘for jews the way was opened into new regions, into which in general people could not emigrate.’ The main point of the decree was not concerned with their jewishness, but that they were traders; the question was not considered from the national or religious point of view, but only from the viewpoint of usefulness.”
This Ukase of 1791, which actually privileged jewish merchants in comparison to Christian ones, was in the course of time the basis for the future “Pale of Settlement.,” which almost until the Revolution cast as it were a dark shadow over Russia.
BoruchBy itself however the Ukase of 1791 was not so oppressive in its outworking as to prevent “a small [jewish] colony from emerging in St Petersburg by the end of the reign of Catherine II.” [G43] Here lived “the famous tax-leaser Abram Peretz” and some of the merchants close to him, and also, “while the religious struggle was in full swing, the rabbi Avigdor Chaimovitch and his opponent, the famous hassidic Tzadik Zalman Boruchovitch.”
In 1793 and 1795 the second and third Partition of Poland took place, and the jewish population from Lithuania, Poldolia, and Volhynia, numbering almost a million, came under Russia’s jurisdiction. This increase in population was a very significant event, though for a long time not recognized as such. It later influenced the fate of both Russia and the jewry of East Europe.
“After centuries-long wandering [jewry] came under one roof, in a single great congregation.”
In the now vastly-expanded region of jewish settlement, the same questions came up as before. The jews obtained rights of Merchant guilds and townsmen, which they had not possessed in Poland, and they got the right to equal participation in the class-municipal self-government… then had to accept the restrictions of this status: they could not migrate into the cities of the inner-Russian provinces, and were liable to be moved out of the villages.
With the now huge extent of the jewish population, the Russian regime no longer had a way to veil the fact that the jews continued to live in the villages simply by modeling it as a “temporary visit.” “A burning question …. was whether the economic condition could tolerate so many tradesmen and traders living amongst the peasants.”
In order to defuse the problem, many Shtetl were made equal to cities. Thus, the legal possibility came about for jews to continue living there. But with the large number of jews in the country and the high population density in the cities, that was no solution.
[G43] Now it seemed to be a natural way out, that the jews would take advantage of the possibility offered by Catherine to settle in the huge, scarcely-occupied New Russia. The new settlers were offered inducements, but this “did not succeed in setting a colonization movement into motion. Even the freedom of the new settlers from taxes appeared not to be attractive enough” to induce such a migration.
Thus Catherine decided in 1794 to induce the jews to emigrate with contrary measures: the jews were relocated out of the villages. At the same time, she decided to assess the entire jewish population with a tax that was double that paid by the Christians. (Such a tax had already been paid for a long time by the Old Believers, but applied to the jews, this law proved to be neither effective nor of long duration.)
Those were the last regulations of Catherine. From the end of 1796 Paul I reigned. The Jewish Encyclopedia evaluates him in this way: “The time of the angry rule of Paul I passed well for the jews… All edicts of Paul I concerning the jews indicate that the monarch was tolerant and benevolent toward the jewish population.” “When the interest of jews conflicted with Christians, Paul I by no means automatically sided with the Christian.” Even when in 1797 he ordered “measures to reduce the power of the jews and the spirituals over the peasants,” that was “actually not set up against the jews: the point was the protection of the peasants.” Paul recognized also “the right of the Hassidim not to have to live in secrecy.” He extended the right of jews to belong to the merchant- and townsmen-class even to the Courland Province (which was no Polish inheritance, and later, it also did not belong to the “pale of settlement”). Consistent with that policy, he denied the respective petitions of the parishes of Kovno, Kamenez-Podolsk, Kiev and Vilna, to be permitted to move the jews out of their cities.
Paul had inherited the stubborn resistance of the Polish landholders against any changing of their rights; among these was the right over the jews and the right to hold court over them. They misused these rights often. Thus the Complaint of the jews of Berdychiv [Ukraine] against the princes of Radziwill stated: “in order to hold our [G45] religious services, we must first pay gold to those to whom the prince has leased our faith,” and against Catherine’s former favorite [Simon] Zorich: “one ought not to have to pay him for the air one breathes.” In Poland many Shtetl and cities were the possession of nobles, and the landowners assessed arbitrary and opportunistic levies that the residents had to pay.

Derzhavin and the Belarus famine

[G45] Since the start of the reign of Paul I there was a great famine in White Russia, especially in the province of Minsk. The poet Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin, then serving as Senator, was commissioned to go there and determine its cause and seek a solution — for which task he received no money to buy grain, but instead had the right to confiscate possessions of negligent landowners, sell their stockpile and distribute them.
Derzhavin was not just a great poet, but also an outstanding statesman who left behind unique proofs of his effectiveness which we want to delve into in the following.
derzThe famine, as Derzhavin confirmed, was unimaginable. He writes “when I arrived in White Russia, I personally convinced myself of the great scarcity of grain among the villagers. Due to the very serious hunger — virtually all nourished themselves from fermented grass, mixed with a tiny portion of meal or pearl barley –, “the peasants were malnourished and sallow like dead people. “In order to remedy this, I found out which of the rich landowners had grain in their storehouses,” took it to the town center and distributed it to the poor; and I commanded the goods of a Polish Count “in view of such pitiless greed” to be yielded to a trustee. “After the nobleman was made aware of the dire situation he awoke from his slumber or better, from his shocking indifference toward humanity: he used every means to feed the peasants by acquiring grain from neighboring provinces and when after two months the harvest time arrived… the famine ended.” When Derzhavin visited the provincial government, he so pursued the noble rulers and [G46] district police captains that the nobility “banded together together and sent the Czar a scurrilous complain against Derzhavin.”
Derzhavin discovered that the jewish schnapps distillers exploited the alcoholism of the peasants: “After I had discovered that the jews from profit-seeking use the lure of drink to beguile grain from the peasants, convert it into brandy and therewith cause a famine. I commanded that they should close their distilleries in the village Liosno.” “I informed myself from sensible inhabitants” as well as nobles, merchants, and villagers “about the manner of life of the jews, their occupations, their deceptions and all their pettifogging with which … they provide the poor dumb villages with hunger; and on the other hand, by what means one could protect them from the common pack and how to facilitate for them an honorable and respectable way out … to enable them to become useful citizens.
Afterwards, in the autumn months, Derzhavin described many evil practices of the Polish landlords and jewish leasers in his “Memorandum on the mitigation of famine in White Russia and on the lifestyles of the jews,” which he also made known to the czar and the highest officials of state. This Memorandumis a very comprehensive document that evaluates the conditions inherited from the Poles as well as the possibilities for overcoming the poverty of the peasants, describing the peculiarities of the jewish way of life of that time and includes a proposal for reform in comparison to Prussia and Austria. The very explicit practical presentation of the recommended measures makes this the first work of an enlightened Russian citizen concerning jewish life in Russia, in those first years in which Russia acquired jews in a large mass. That makes it a work of special interest.
The Memorandum consists of two parts: (1) on the residence of White Russian in general (in reviews of the Memorandum we usually find no mention of this important part) and (2) on the jews.
[1] Derzhavin begins by establishing that the agricultural economy was in shambles. The peasants there were “lazy on the job, not clever, they procrastinate every small task and are sluggish in [G47] field work.” Year in, year out “they eat unwinnowed corn: in the spring, Kolotucha or Bolotucha from [eggs and] rye meal,” in summer they content themselves with a mixture of a small amount of some grain or other with chopped and cooked grass. They are so weakened, that they stagger around.”
The local Polish landlords “are not good proprietors. They do not manage the property.. . themselves, but lease it out,” a Polish custom. But for the lease “there are no universal rules protecting the peasants from overbearing or to keep the business aspect from falling apart.” “Many greedy leasers… by imposing hard work and oppressive taxes bring the people into a bad way and transform them… into poor, homeless peasants.’’ This lease is all the worst for being short-term, made for 1-3 years at a time so that the leaser hastens “to get his advantage from it… without regard to the exhausting” of the estate.
The emaciation of the peasants was sometimes even worse: “several landlords that lease the traffic in spirits in their villages to the jews, sign stipulations that the peasants may only buy their necessities from these leasers [triple price]; likewise the peasants may not sell their product to anyone except the jewish lease holder… cheaper than the market price.” Thus “they plunge the villagers into misery, and especially when they distribute again their horded grain… they must finally give a double portion; whoever does not do it is punished… the villagers are robbed of every possibility to prosper and be full.”
Then he develops in more detail the problem of the liquor distilling. Schnapps was distilled by the landlords, the landed nobility [Szlachta] of the region, the priests, monks, and jews. Of the almost million jews, 2-3,000 live in the villages and live mainly from the liquor traffic. drunk3The peasants, “after bringing in the harvest, are sweaty and careless in what they spend; they drink, eat, enjoy themselves, pay the jews for their old debts and then, whatever they ask for drinks. For this reason the shortage is already manifest by winter… In every settlement there is at least one, and in several settlements quite a few taverns built by the landlords, where for their advantage [G48] and that of the jewish lease-holders, liquor is sold day and night… There the jews trick them out of not only the life-sustaining grain, but that which is sown in the field, field implements, household items, health and even their life.” And all that is sharpened by the mores of the “koleda… Jews travel especially during the harvest in autumn through the villages, and after they have made the farmer, along with his whole family, drunk, drive them into debt and take from them every last thing needed to survive…. In that they box the drunkard’s ears and plunder him, the villager is plunged into the deepest misery.” He lists also other reasons for the impoverishing of the peasants.
Doubtless, behind these fateful distilleries stand the Polish landlords. Proprietor and leaser act in behalf of the owner and attend to making a profit: “to this class” Gessen asserts “belonged not just jews but also Christians” especially priests. But the jews were an irreplaceable, active and very inventive link in the chain of exploitation of these illiterate emaciated peasants that had no rights of their own. If the White Russian settlement had not been injected with jewish tavern managers and leasers, then the wide-spread system of exploitation would not have functioned, and removing the jewish links in the chain would have ended it.
After this Derzhavin recommended energetic measures, as for example for the expurgation of these burdens of peasant life. The landlords would need to attend to this problem. Only they alone who are responsible for the peasants should be allowed to distill liquor “under their own… supervision and not from far-removed places,” and to see to it, that “every year a supply of grain for themselves and the peasants” would be on hand, and indeed as much as would be needed for good nutrition. “If the danger arises that this is not done, then the property is to be confiscated for the state coffers.” The schnapps distilling is to begin no sooner than the middle of September and end middle of April, i.e. the whole time of land cultivation is to be free of liquor consumption. drunk3In addition, the liquor is not to be sold during worship services or at night. The liquor stores should only be permitted “in the main streets, near the markets, mills and establishments where foreigners gather.” But all the superfluous and newly-built liquor stores, “whose number has greatly increased since the annexation of [White Russia]… are immediately to cease use for that purpose: the sale of liquor in them to be forbidden.” “In villages and out-of-the-way places there should not be any, that the peasant not sink into drunkenness.” Jews however should “not be permitted to sell liquor either by the glass or the keg… nor should they be the brew masters in the distilleries,” and “they should not be allowed to lease the liquor stores.” “Koledas” are also to be forbidden; as well as the short-term leasing of operations. By means of exacting stipulations “the leaser is to be prevented from working an operation into the ground.” Under threat of punishment is market abuse to be forbidden, by which the landlords “do not permit their peasants to buy what they need somewhere else,” or “to sell their surplus somewhere other than to their proprietor.” There were still other economic proposals: “in this manner the scarcity of food can in the future be prevented in the White Russian Province.”
[2] In the second part of the Memorandum, Derzhavin, going out from the task given by the Senate, submitted a suggestion for the transformation of the life of the jews in the Russian Kingdom– not in isolation, but rather in the context of the misery of White Russia and with the goal to improve the situation. But here he set himself the assignment to give a brief overview of jewish history, especially the Polish period in order to explain the current customs of the jews. Among others, he used his conversations with the Berlin-educated enlightened jew, physician Ilya Frank, who put his thoughts down in writing. “The jewish popular teachers mingle ‘mystic-talmudic’ pseudo-exegesis of the Bible with the true spirit of the teachings… They expound strict laws with the goal of isolating the jews from other peoples and to instill a deep hatred against every other religion… Instead of cultivating a universal virtue, they contrive… an empty ceremony of honoring God… The moral character of the jews has changed in the last century to their disadvantage, [G50] and in consequence they have become pernicious subjects… In order to renew the jews morally and politically, they have to be brought to the point of returning to the original purity of their religion… The jewish reform in Russia must begin with the foundation of public schools, in which the Russian, German and jewish languages would be taught.” What kind of prejudice is it to believe that the assimilation of secular knowledge is tantamount to a betrayal of religion and folk and that working the land is not suitable for a jew? Derzhavin declined in his Memorandum a suggestion by Nota Chaimovitsh Notkin, a major merchant from Shklov, whom he had also met. Although Notkin demurred from the most important conclusions and suggestions of Derzhavin that had to do with jews, he was at the same time in favor, if possible, of excluding the jews from the production of liquor; and saw it as needful for them to get an education and pursue a productive career, preferably working with their hands, whereby he also held out the possibility of emigration “into the fruitful steppe for the purpose of raising sheep and crops.”
Following the explanation of Frank who rejected the power of the Kehilot, Derzhavin proceeded from the same general consequences: “The original principles of pure worship and ethics” [of the jews] had been transformed into “false concepts,” by which the simple jewish people “is misled, and constantly isso led, so much so that between them and those of other faiths a wall has been built that cannot be broken through, which has been made firm, a wall that firmly binds [the jews] together and, surrounded by darkness, separates them from their fellow citizens.” Thus in raising their children “they pay plenty for Talmud instruction – and that without time limit… As long as the students continue in their current conditions, there is no prospect for a change in their ways…. They believe themselves to be the true worshippers of God, and despise everyone of a different faith… There the people are brought to a constant expectation of the Messiah… [They believe] that their Messiah, by overthrowing all earthlings will rule over them in flesh and blood and restore to them their former kingdom, fame and glory.” Of the youths he wrote: “they marry all too young, sometimes before they reach ten years old, and though nubile, they are [G51] not strong enough.” Regarding the Kahal system: the inner-jewish collection of levies provides “to the Kehilot every year an enviable sum of income that is incomparably higher than the state taxes that are raised from individuals in the census lists. The Kahal elders do not excuse anyone from the accounting. As a result, their poor masses find themselves in the condition of severe emaciation and great poverty, and there are many of them… In contrast, the members of the kahal are rich, and live in superfluity; by ruling over both levers of power, the spiritual and secular,… they have a great power over the people. In this way they hold.them … in great poverty and fear.” The Kehilot “issues to the people every possible command… which must be performed with such exactitude and speed, that one can only wonder.”
Derzhavin identified the nub of the problem thusly: “[the jews’] great numbers in White Russia … is itself a heavy burden for the land on account of the disproportion to that of the crop farmers… This disproportion is the outstanding one of several important reasons that produces here a shortage of grain and other edible stores… Not one of them was a crop farmer at that time, yet each possessed and gobbled up more grain than the peasant with his large family, who had harvested it by the sweat of his brow… Above all, in the villages they … are occupied in giving the peasant all their necessities on credit, at an extraordinary rate of interest; and thus the peasant, who at some time or other became a debtor to them, can no longer get free of it.” Arching over this are the “frivolous landlords that put their villages into jewish hands, not just temporarily but permanently.” The landowners however are happy to be able to shift everything on to the jews: “according to their own words, they regard the Jews as the sole reason for the wasting of the peasants” and the landlord only rarely acknowledges “that he, if they were removed from his holdings, would suffer no small loss, since he receives from them no small income from the lease.”
Thus Derzhavin did not neglect to examine the matter from a variety of angles: “In fairness to [the jews] we must point out [G52] also that during this grain shortage they have taken care to feed not a few hungry villagers—though everyone also knows that that came with a bill: upon the harvest being brought in, they will get it back 100-fold.” In a private report to the Attorney General, Derzhavin wrote, “It is hard not to err by putting all the blame on one side. The peasants booze away their grain with the jews and suffer under its shortage. The landholders cannot forbid drunkenness, for they owe almost all their income to the distilling of liquor. And all the blame cannot be placed even on the jews, that they take the last morsel of bread away from the peasant to earn their own life sustenance.”
To Ilya Frank, Derzhavin once said, “since the providence of this tiny scattered people has preserved them until the present, we too must take care for their protection.” And in his report he wrote with the uprightness of that time, “if the Most High Providence, to the end of some unknown purpose, leaves (on account of His purposes) this dangerous people to live on the earth, then governments under whose scepter they have sought protection must bear it… They are thus obligated extend their protection to the jews, so that they may be useful both to themselves and to the society in which they dwell.”
Because of all his observations in White Russia, and of his conclusion, and of all he wrote in theMemorandum, and especially because of all these lines, and probably also because he “praised the keen vision of the great Russian monarchs” “which forbade the immigration and travel of these clever robbers into their realm,” is Derzhavin spoken of as “a fanatical enemy of jews,” a great Anti-Semite. He is accused – though unjustly, as we have seen – of “imputing the drunkenness and poverty of the White Russian peasant exclusively to the jews,” and his “positive measures” were characterized as given without evidence, to serve his personal ambition.
But that he was in no wise prejudiced against the jews, is indicated in that (1) his whole Memorandumemerged in 1800 in response to the [G53] actual misery and hunger of the peasants, (2) the goal was to do well by both the White Russian peasant and the jews, (3) he distinguished them economically and (4) his desire was to orient the jews toward a real productive activity, of whom, as Catherine planned, a part first and foremost was supposed to have been relocated in territories that were not closed.
As a critical difficulty Derzhavin saw the instability and transientness of the jewish population, of which scarcely 1/6 was included in the census. “Without a special, extraordinary effort it is difficult to count them accurately, because, being in cities, shtetl, manor courts, villages, and taverns, they constantly move back and forth, they do not identify themselves as local residents, but as guests that are here from another district or colony.” Moreover, “they all look alike… and have the same name,” and have no surname; and “not only that, all wear the same black garments: one cannot distinguish them and misidentifies them when they are registered or identified, especially in connection with judicial complaints and investigations.” Therein the Kehilot takes care not “to disclose the real number, in order not unduly to burden their wealthy with taxes for the number registered.”
Derzhavin sought however a comprehensive solution “to reduce [the number of jews in the White Russian villages]… without causing damage to anyone and thus to ease the feeding of the original residents; yet at the same time, for those that should remain, to provide better and less degrading possibilities for earning their sustenance.” In addition, he probed how to “reduce their fanaticism and, without retreating in the slightest from the rule of toleration toward different religions, to lead them by a barely-noticed way to enlightenment; and after expunging their hatred of people of other faiths, above all to bring them to give up their besetting intention of stealing foreign goods.” The goal was to find a way to separate the freedom of religious conscience from freedom from punishment of evil deeds.
Thereafter he laid out by layers and explicitly the measures to be recommended, and in doing so gave proof of his economic and statesmanlike competence. First, “that [the jews] should have no occasion [G54] for any kind of irritation, to send them into flight or even to murmur quietly,” they are to be reassured of protection and favor by a manifest of the czar, in which should be strengthened the principle of tolerance toward their faith and the maintenance of the privileges granted by Catherine, “only with one small change to the previous principles.” (But those “that will not submit to these principles shall be given the freedom to emigrate” – a demand that far exceeded in point of freedom the 20th century Soviet Union). Immediately thereafter it states: after a specific time interval, after which all new credit is temporarily forbidden, all claims of debt between jews and Christians to be ordered, documented, and cleared “in order to restore the earlier relation of trust so that in the future not the slightest obstruction should be found for the transformation of the jews to a different way of life… for the relocation into other districts” or in the old places, “for the assignment of a new life conditions.” Free of debt, the jews are thus to be made as soon as possible into freemen for the Reforms.” From the vantage point of the publication of the Manifest are all dues assessed by jews “for the equalization of debt of poor people” is to applied to poor jews, to deflect the payment of Kahal debts or for the furnishings for migrants. From the one group, no tax is to be levied for three years — from the other, for six years—, and instead, that money is to be dedicated to the setting up of factories and work places for these jews. Landowners must abandon obligating jews in their shtetls to set up various factories and instead begin on their estates to cultivate grain, “in order that they may earn their bread with their own hands,” but “under no circumstance is liquor to be sold anywhere, secretly or openly,” or these landholders would themselves lose their rights to the production of liquor. It was also a non-negotiable to carry out a universal, exact census of the population under responsibility of the Kahal elders. For those that had no property to declare as merchant or townsman, two new classes were to be created with smaller income: village burghers and “colonist” (where “the denotation ‘krestyanin’ [farmer] would not be used because of its similarity to the word ‘Christian’”). The jewish settlers would have to be regarded as “free and not as serfs,” but “under no condition or pretext may they dare to take Christian man- or maid-servants, they may not own a single Christian peasant, nor to expand themselves into the domain of magistrates and town fathers, so that they not gain any special rights over Christians.” “After they have declared their wish to be enrolled in a particular status,” then must “the necessary number of young men” be sent to Petersburg, Moscow, or Riga – one group “to learn the keeping of merchant books,” second to learn a trade, the third to attend schools “for agriculture and land management.” Meanwhile “some energetic and precise jews should be selected as deputies… for all these areas where land is designated for colonization.” (There follows minutiae on the arrangements of plans, surveying the land, housing construction, the order to release different groups of settlers, their rights in transit, the grace-period in which they would remain tax-free – all these details that Derzhavin laid out so carefully we pass by.) On the inner ordering of the jewish congregation:: “in order to place the jews …under the secular authorities … just the same as everyone else, the Kehilot may not continue in any form.” Together with the abolishment of the Kehilot is “likewise abolished all previous profiteering assessments, which the Kehilot raised from the jewish people… and at the same time, the secular taxes are to be assessed… as with the other subjects” (i.e. not doubled), and “the schools and synagogues must be protected by laws.” “The males may not marry younger than 17 nor the females than 15 years.” Then there is a section on education and enlightenment of the jews. The jewish schools to the 12th year, and thereafter the general schools, are to become more like those of other religions; “those however that have achieved distinction in the high sciences are to be received in the academies and universities as honorary associates, doctors, professors” – but “they are not… to be taken into the rank of officers and staff officers,” because “although they may also be taken into the military service, they will e.g. “not take up arms against the enemy on Saturday, which in fact often does happen.” Presses for jewish books are to be constructed. Along with synagogues are to be constructed jewish hospitals, poor houses, and orphanages.
[G56]Thus Derzhavin concluded quite self-consciously: “thus, this cross-grained [scattered] people known as jews… in this its sad condition will observe an example of order.” Especially regarding enlightenment: “This first point will bear fruit — if not today and immediately, definitely in the coming times, or at worst after several generations, in unnoticed way,” and then the jews would become “genuine subjects of the Russian throne.”
While Derzhavin was composing his Memorandum, he also made it known what the Kehilot thought about it, and made it clear that he was by no means making himself their friend. In the official answers their rejection was formulated cautiously. It stated, “the jews are not competent for cultivating grain nor accustomed to it, and their faith is an obstacle… They see no other possibilities than their current occupations, which serve their sustenance, and they do not need such, but would like to remain in their current condition.” The Kehilot saw moreover, that the report entailed their own obsolescence, the end of their source of income, and so began, quietly, but stubbornly and tenaciously, to work against Derzhavin’s whole proposal.
This opposition expressed itself, according to Derzhavin, by means of a complaint filed by a jewess from Liosno to the Czar, in which she alleged that, in a liquor distillery, Derzhavin “horrifically beat her with a club, until she, being pregnant, gave birth to a dead infant.” The Senate launched an investigation. Derzhavin answered: “As I was a quarter hour long in this factory, I not only did not strike any jewess, but indeed did not even see one.” He sought a personal reception by the czar. “Let me be imprisoned, but I will reveal the idiocy of the man that has made such claims… How can your Highness… believe such a foolish and untrue complaint?” (The jew that had taken the lying complaint was condemned to one year in the penitentiary, but after 2 or 3 months Derzhavin “accomplished” his being set free, this being now under the reign of Alexander I.)
Paul, murdered in May 1801, was unable to come to any resolution in connection with Derzhavin’sMemorandum. “It led [G57] at the time to small practical results, as one could have expected, since Derzhavin lost his position in the change of court.”
Not until the end of 1802 was the “committee for the assimilation of the Jews” established, to examine Derzhavin’s Memorandum and prepare corresponding recommendations. The committee consisted of two Polish magnates close to Alexander I: Prince Adam [Jerzy] Czartoryski and Count (Graf)Severin Potocki as well as Count Valerian Subov. (Derzhavin observed regarding all three, that they too had great holdings in Poland, and would notice “a significant loss of income” if the jews were to be removed, and that “the private interests of the above-mentioned Worthies would outweigh those of the state.”) Also on the committee were Interior Minister Count Kotshubey and the already-mentioned Justice Minister – the first in Russian history – Derzhavin himself. Michael Speransky also worked with the committee. The committee was charged to invite jewish delegates form the Kehiloth of every province and these – mostly merchants of the First Guild – did come. “Besides that the committee members had the right to call enlightened and well-meaning jews of their acquaintance.” The already-known Nota Notkin, that had moved from White Russia to Moscow and then St Petersburg; the Petersburg tax-leaser Abram Perets, who was a close friend of Speransky; [Yehuda] Leib Nevachovich and Mendel Satanaver, — both friends of Perets – and others. Not all took part in the hearings, but they exercised a significant influence on the committee members. Worthy of mention: Abram Perets’ son Gregory was condemned in the Decembrist trial and exiled – probably only because he had discussed the Jewish Question with [Pavel] Pestel, but without suspecting anything of the Decembrist conspiracy – [G58] and because his grandson was the Russian Secretary of State, a very high position. Nevachovich, a humanist (but no cosmopolitan) who was deeply tied to Russian cultural life – then a rarity among jews – published in Russian “The Crying Voice of the Daughter of Judah” (1803) in which he urged Russian society to reflect on the restrictions of jewish rights, and admonished the Russians to regard jews as their countrymen, and thus that they should take the jews among them into Russian society.
The committee came to an overwhelmingly-supported resolution: “[The jews] are to be guided into the general civil life and education… To steer them toward productive work,” it should be made easier for them to become employed in trades and commerce, the constriction of the right of free mobility should be lessened; they must become accustomed to wearing ordinary apparel, for “the custom of wearing clothes that are despised strengthens the custom to be despised.” But the most acute problem was that jews, on account of the liquor trade, dwelled in the villages. Notkin “strove to win the committee to the view of letting the jews continue to live there, and only to take measures against possible abuses on their part.”
“The charter of the committee led to tumult in the Kehiloth,” Gessen wrote. A special convocation of their deputies in 1803 in Minsk resolved “to petition our czar, may his fame become still greater, that they (the Worthies) assume no innovations for us.” They decided to send certain delegates to Petersburg, explained, that an assembly had been held for that purpose, and even called for a three-day jewish fast – “unrest …gripped the whole pale of settlement. Quite apart from the threatening expulsion of jews from the villages, “the Kehiloth took a negative stance toward the cultural question…out of concern to preserve their own way of life.” As answer to the main points of the Recommendation “the Kehiloth explained that the Reform must in any case be postponed 15-20 years.”
Derzhavin wrote “there were from their side various rebuttals aimed to leave everything as it was. In addition, Gurko, a White Russian landowner sent Derzhavin a letter he had received: [G59] a jew in White Russia had written him regarding one of his plenipotentiaries in Petersburg. It said that they had, in the name of all Kehilot of the world, put the cherem ([or herem,] i.e. the ban) on Derzhavin as a Persecutor, and had gathered a million to be used as gifts for this situation and had forwarded it to St Petersburg. They appealed for all efforts to be applied to the removal of Derzhavin as Attorney General, and if that were not possible to seek his life… However the thing they wanted to achieve was not to be forbidden to sell liquor in the village taverns…. and in order to make it easier to advance this business,” they would put together opinions from foreign regions, from different places and peoples, on how the situation of the jews could be improved” – and in fact, such opinions, sometimes in French, sometimes, in German, began to be sent to the Committee.
Besides this, Nota Notkin became “the central figure that organized the little jewish congregation of Petersburg.” In 1803 “he submitted a brief to the Committee in which he sought to paralyze the effect of the proposal submitted by Derzhavin.” Derzhavin writes, “Notkin came to him one day and asked, with feigned well-wishing, that he, Derzhavin, should not take a stand all alone against his colleagues on the Committee, who all are on the side of the jews; whether he would not accept 100- or, if that is too little, 200,000 rubles, only so that he could be of one mind with all his colleagues on the committee.” Derzhavin “decided to disclose this attempt at bribery to the czar and prove it to him with Gurko’s letter.” He “thought such strong proofs prove effective and the czar would start to be wary of the people that surrounded him and protected the jews.” Speransky also informed the czar of it, but “Speransky was fully committed to the jews,” and – “from the first meeting of the Jewish Committee it became apparent that all members represented the view that the liquor distilling should … continue in the hands of jews as before.”
Derzhavin opposed it. Alexander bore himself ever more coldly toward him and dismissed his Justice Minister shortly thereafter (1803).
Beside this, Derzhavin’s papers indicate that he – whether in military or civil service – always came into disfavor and was hot-headed and everywhere soon took his leave.
[G60] One has to admit, that Derzhavin foresaw much that developed in the problematic Russo-Judaic relationship throughout the entire 19th century, even if not in the exact and unexpected form that it took in the event. He expressed himself coarsely, as was customary then, but he did not intend to oppress the jews; on the contrary, he wanted to open to the jews paths to a more free and productive life.
(end of chapter 1)