Authored and edited (in Hebrew) by Tzvi Livneh-Lieberman
Translated by Moshe Kutten
Edited by Rafael Manory
|And there would come a day
when a great-grandchild and a grandchild will read
the arduous and bitter tale of your torments
and the road you soaked ceaselessly with your tears,
the road you walked bent.
He or she will drape and adorn it with swards and flowers -
The Jews during the Partitions of Poland
To understand the historical background and the factors that led to the wondrous phenomena of the agricultural settlement by the Jews in Southern Russia in the beginning of the 19th century, we first need to grasp the situation of the Polish Jews during the period of Partitions of Poland in the late18th century.
The Polish nobility owned most of the old Polish lands. The peasant-farmers were enslaved to their estates and plantations. The population as a whole was hungry and poor. The representatives to the Polish Sejm, were also nobles and landowners. These representatives while looking for ways to solve the difficult state of the masses of the peasants, did not really dare to uncover the actual root-cause of the problem and thus found the Jews as the scapegoats and described them as the main cause for the disasters and calamities that the peasants were exposed to.
During that period, the Jewish population in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine amounted to about a million people. About a third resided in the cities and towns and worked in small trade business, peddling, bartendering, money lending and working in crafts. The rest of the Jews were scattered in villages, most leased taverns, flour mills and inns. The high leasing costs were a major source of income for the nobility. The Jews served also in management roles of the Paritsim [noblemen] plantations, as intermediaries for the nobility's crop sales, and for their purchases, shopping etc. Apart from jobs that were dependent on the village masters, the Jew were also small shopkeepers to provide the meager needs of the peasant population.
According to the statistical data of those days, 25% of Podolia's Jews made a living as bartenders, whereas in other Ukrainian cities and its villages the percentage of bartenders among the Jews was as high as 39%. The peasants considered these Jewish lessees as blood-sucking parasites while the masters, who were the people that leased the taverns, considered the Jewish lessees as despicable people. The nobles used to abuse them and even evict them from their source of income.
The representatives of the people to the Sejm, most of whom were from the aristocratic class, also considered the Jews as exploiters
and the root cause for the people's anger. However, any objective researcher of the state of the Polish Jews during that period, should surely note, first and foremost, their poverty, degradation, and lack of confidence, as well as the high leasing costs, the exaggerated government taxes, the need to bribe all officials and the bad-debts of drunken customers, who ruined and destroyed property in their drunken rampages all these were blows that significantly hurt the standard of living of the Jewish masses.
The degraded state of the Jews, who had been subjects of Poland for hundreds of years, did not trouble the state leaders. Their main concern was how to divert the public opinion from the real economic status of the nation's Christian masses, and direct the anger of these masses away from the authorities and towards the imaginary enemy.
According to a decision passed in the Polish House of Representatives in 1768, it was forbidden for Jews, who did not have special rights, to deal in the trade of alcoholic beverages and in leasing or ownership of taverns. This decision resulted in disastrous results for the Jews. Many of the estate owners replaced their Jewish lessees with Christian ones and the dispossessed Jews were left without a source of income. The competition from the Christian tradesmen, who enjoyed a direct and indirect support from the state, was also intensifying. However, the decision by the Sejm was not easy to implement. Taking away the trade profession from the Jews could have led to an economic crisis. The state treasury was very sensitive to the surge in bankruptcies among the dispossessed tradesmen and thereby to reduction in taxes. The regime witnessed a worsening of the state of the dispossessed and impoverished Jews, and for the first time, liberal public figures started to propose converting the Jews to agricultural work.
However, in the meantime, with the partitions of Poland among its neighbors, the Jewish problem was shifted along with the conquered areas to the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires.
In 1775, a constitution concerning the province of Lithuania, which was still part of Poland at that time, passed in the Polish Sejm. This constitution bestowed the right to acquire lands and hold it permanently to the subjects of this province. A bone was thrown to the Jewish residents as well. They were allowed to lease lands and work them, although only in uninhabited and infertile areas. In order to encourage them to settle in these deserted areas, they were relieved from paying taxes for six years. The result: only 14 Jewish families settled.
Joseph the 2nd , Emperor of Austria, who was considered by the people of his generation as a reformist and liberal, abolished the system of leasing of the taverns and inns, and thereby destroyed the livelihood of the Jews in Galicia proper. He tried to solve the sustenance problem of these Jews and heal their economy by transferring them to work the land. This was the intention behind the royal decree, which he published on 19 June (1785) to establish Jewish agricultural colonies. A year after the decree was published (1786), one Jewish colony was indeed established; however, the implementation of Joseph the 2nd's plans encountered difficulties. Vacant land areas available for settlement were not found, as it was also necessary to settle landless Christians.
The Jews themselves were not enthusiastic about the idea of the transition to agricultural-life. In 1789, the authorities handed the handling of recruiting Jews for settlement to the communities' administrations. These administrations didn't prove their ability and talent for this role, and some considered it a nuisance by a troublesome king and treated it negatively and with contempt.
There were no real results to the plan of the liberal king; however, the very fact that there has been an attempt to solve the Jewish problem by settling them on the land caused several Polish leaders to bother the Sejm with proposals to solve the Jewish problem in Poland similar to the Austrian emperor's plan.
One of these leaders was the Sejm representative from Pinsk, Mateusz Butrymowicz. He published a pamphlet signed by an unnamed person, which appeared in 1782 (with a second edition to follow in 1785). In 1789, the same pamphlet was published under a new title: A Way of Transforming the Jews into Useful Citizens of the Country. The essence of this remedy proposal was to instill the art of working the land among the Jews and to distance them from the occupations of tavern-keepers and innkeepers. In looking for ways to enable them more equality and lesser their self-segregation from the rest of the population, the representative Mateusz Butrymowicz, followed the Western European view. He proposed narrowing the autonomy of the communities, replacing the jargon language with the Polish language in schools and businesses, prohibiting special traditional Jewish attire, and placing an embargo on the import of Hebrew books from outside of the country.
This proposal, which appeared in print, and the words of the representative in the Sejm, roused a sharp controversy. Numerous pamphlets and booklets that discussed the solution of the Jewish issue in a positive way were published, and many harsh and unfavorable critical articles appeared in the newspapers against this proposal.
In this sharp controversy between the liberals and the anti-Semites, the voice of the Jews themselves could hardly be heard. Many of the Jews would have certainly agreed to replace their despicable and hopeless occupation with working the land, however, the proposal to narrow the autonomy of the community, replacing the spoken language with the Polish language and the prohibition on the traditional attire, instilled among them fear of assimilation that may also lead to religious conversion.
A few voices among the Jews were heard nevertheless. Rabbi Tzvi [Herszel] Jozefowicz of Chelm, published a pamphlet in Polish, in which he praised the appealing intention of Representative Butrymowicz. However, he rose against the other sections of the proposal that in his opinion offended the religious and traditional affairs of Jewish life.
Against the sole outcry of the pious Rabbi, another view was aired. Avraham Hirszowicz, who wasmost probablya financier (a Royal pimp), submitted to the King Stanisław II Augustus a plan similar to the one by Butrymowicz. The main idea behind the plan was to divert the Jews towards crafts and working the land in the prairies of Southern Ukraine, where most of the lands were uncultivated. The plan contained additional sections:
prohibition on marriage at young age, prohibition on silk, atlas and velvet clothing as well as prohibition on wearing pearls and precious stones jewelry, since the chase after clothing and luxury jewelry impoverishes the middle class. According to Hirszowicz, it was necessary to nominate Rabbis only in big cities but not in small towns, where most of the Rabbis purchase their post from the land-owners and burden their congregation by imposing taxes. One paragraph, which stated that the changes must be implemented by the government, is particularly fascinating. The author stated that the reason for that is because the Jews themselves, due to the differences of opinions among them, would not be able to impose proper orders, so they should yield to the government in order to uproot their distorted views and false concepts of this stray people.
As mentioned above, Butrymowicz was not alone in his fight to find a humane solution to the Jewish issue. His friend to the fight and view was the famous publicist and historian Tadeusz Czacki, who was also the head of the Sejm finance commission. There were some differences between the proposal of the latter and Butrimowycz's plan, however, essentially the two plans were identical.
Because of the pressure by the liberal Sejm representatives, and under the influence of the riots of Warsaw Christian craftsmen against the Jewish craftsmen, who came to the capital from other towns, the Sejm concluded that it was not possible to postpone the discussion about the Jewish issue any longer. On the 22nd of June 1790, the General Sejm [the bicameral parliament. MK] established a committee to discuss a plan of reforms to remedy the state of the Jews. The committee was instructed to process and submit proposals.
Among the members of the committee: Butrymowicz, Czacki, Jezierski and others. Jezierski was elected to head the committee. He was considered to be, more than anybody else, the most knowledgeable on the economic problems of the Jews in the country. The committee submitted its proposals to the Sejm at the beginning 1791. It was based on the plans of Butrymowicz, Czacki and Jezierski. However, when the proposal was placed on the Sejm's agenda, one of the committee members, Representative Hołowiński submitted a counter-proposal of his own and the Sejm postponed the discussion. At the end, the Sejm accepted the committee's plan, however, the committee was asked to amend it and generate a final version. There was also the problem of the debt of the Jewish communities to the Polish government and the issue had to be discussed in the finance committee. In the meantime, a war broke out, which brought the second Polish partition (1793) and the plan was shelved.
At the second Poland partition, the following regions were transferred to Russia: Vohlyn Podolia and Minsk provinces, as well as part of the Kiev province. The following districts were transferred to Prussia: Kalisz, Plock , Danzig and Toruń.
Two years later (1795), the third and last partition of Poland took place. Russia annexed Lithuania (the provinces of Vilna and Grodno) and with it, masses of Jews in these provinces came under the rule and regime of the Czar. The Sejm's decisions and all the plans for the remedy of the state of the Jews became null and void.
From the Bad to Worse
Instead of the capital Warsaw, people now had to contact Petersburg. Instead of the Polish King Stanisław August Poniatowski the ruler was now the Queen Ekaterina the 2nd. However, only the upper regime notables have changed. The rest of the regime remained, as it wasthe nobility and its wasteful lifestyle. The enslavement of the peasants, the illiteracy of the masses and the corruption of the officials remained the same as well. Even the Jews continued with their regular lifestyle, despised and hated, and vulnerable to the caprices of the insolent Paritz's [nobles].
No significant changes have resulted from the transfer of the huge areas from one regime to another. Moshka the tavern barman pours, Ivan the peasant consumes the content of the cup and both are miserable. The rights of the Polish grafs and dukes, the masters of the estates, were honored by the Russian authorities and were not harmed at all. With respect to the Jewish issue, the seismographs showed signed of hypersensitivity. As part of the maze of problems generated by the big Polish inheritance, the Jewish thorn protruded and irritated, from time to time. People called it The Jewish Issue. In practice, the meaning of the Jewish Issue for the people who inherited Poland, were decrees and laws that were meant to lessen the rights of the Jewish citizens, and to prevent them from the alleged domination over the country. Even before Russia swallowed all of the Polish provinces (during the latest partitions), Ekaterina issued an order that denied the Jews the right to register among the merchants in inner towns and port cities. Only in Belarus they could enjoy the rights of citizens and town-people.
This was the first step in establishing a Pale of Settlement for the Jews. The tax decree of 1794 stated that the Jews must pay twice the municipal taxes than the citizens and the Christian merchants. Jews who refused to remain in the cities under these conditions were ordered to leave the Russian Empire and pay a penalty amounting to double the tax for three years. One additional step was taken in 1795 when the provinces' ministers were ordered to register all the Jews who reside in villages on municipal lists. They were also ordered to try to move the Jews to the provincial cities.
A harsh drought took place in the province of Minsk in 1797. A directive was issued from Petersburg to Karniov, the province-minister of Minsk, to solicit from the Marshals (the head of the province nobility [ Marszałek Szlachty in Polish. MK] their opinion about the reasons for the arduous state of the peasants and also proposals to improve it. The heads of the nobility, who gathered in Minsk emphasized in their speeches that the Jewish tavernkeepers are the ones who cause the peasants to get drunk, thus causing the situation where the peasants are unable to manage their affairs. They proposed that only the estate owners would be allowed to make alcoholic beverages, and only alcoholic beverages produced by the estate owners would be allowed to be traded by the Jews. The Czar Pavel [Paul the 1st] issued a decree on 28th July 1797, based on these recommendations aimed to limit the rights of the Jews who impoverish the peasants. The province minister of Minsk was ordered to make an effort to move all the Jews to the provincial cities, in order
to prevent these people from wandering around and causing damage to the public. In short, the decree stated that Jews should be expelled from the villages.
In 1798, the nobles of Vohlyn were also requested to provide their opinions about the state of the people. In their gathering in Kamenetz, decisions similar to those of the Minsk's nobilities were reached. First, a monopoly of the nobility and estate-owners in the alcoholic beverages industry was established. As for the Jewsit was decided that some would continue as the nobles' servants in selling the nobles' products abroad, some would serve at the taverns of the estate owners, and a few would become workers of the land and craftsmen.
A similar council of the nobles in Lithuania was held in 1800. Only three of the participants offered to leave the Jews in the existing state. The other sixteen heads of provinces decided on a more extreme plan than the one ones of the councils in other provinces. Without a doubt, they were influenced by Prizel, the Province- Minister of Vilna, a liberal noble of German ancestry, who was considered an expert on the Jewish Issue. His objective was to convert the tribe of these illiterate isolationists, who subscribe to superstitions, into useful and productive citizens.
Following the decision about the monopoly of estate owners on the alcoholic beverages industry, the Lithuanian council of nobles established a clause prohibiting the Jews to sell alcoholic beverages in the taverns in the villages. Following that clause, a long line of additional clauses was laid out in details about the handling of the education and culture of the Jew. For example: prohibition on wearing the unique Jewish wear, the duty of education in state schools, duty of using the state or Polish language in business documentation (bills, letters etc.), prohibition of marriage below the age of twenty, elimination and prohibition of the Jewish religious classes and limitations on the autonomic rights of the Jewish communities. In addition, the clauses enforce the division of the Jews into three classesmerchants, craftsmen and people who work the land, to enable their inclusion in the class regime of the state, thereby eliminating the need for the involvement of community administration in tax collection.
The abovementioned plan was submitted to the high authorities in the name of Lithuania's nobles, with additional clarifications by the Province Minister Prizel. This was the most extreme and severe plan among the plans for the remedy of the state of the Jews. Despite its negative aspects, in contrast to other plans by the provisional councils, there was one positive aspect, and perhaps a genuine will, to solve the problem of the expelled Jews, who were left without means of subsistence, by allowing them to work the land.
The Russian authorities were not really worried about the one million Jews that were added to them by the partition of Poland. However, there were a few people who tried to find a positive solution to the Jewish issue, albite by disallowing them to be hold despised occupations and also by rejecting the way of life imposed on them as a result of their social and economic anomaly. The Jew Neteh Notkin, who was also called Shkolever (after his native town of Shklov) joined these few people. He was a rich merchant, and an army contractor and had connections with people in the regime and the nobility.
The Mission of the Senator Dyezhavin
According to the decisions by the Polish and the Russian councils of nobles, Czar Pavel, gave instructions to the province ministers to expel the [Jewish] alcoholic beverages sellers and innkeepers from the villages. Whether due to his soft style, or to the apathy of the province ministers, the instructions were not fully implemented, and a catastrophic situation was avoided. If the instructions would have been fully followed, the number of the expelled Jews from the villages would have reached 300,000 people. They would have wandered to the near cities, without a roof on their head, hungry for a piece of bread, infected with infectious diseases, would have competed with the small businesses of the local city population and would have caused the lowering of the wages. This would have force the authorities to solve the problem of these miserable people urgently.
It is logical to assume that during those days, as during the whole Czarist period, the bribes and the corruption by the officials determined the ways the regime operated. The provincial ministers, would get orders and instructions, and would pass them along to the district ministers for execution. These ministers, in turn, would transfer them to lower-rank officials and these officials would proceed to expel the villages' Jews and their families, cruelly and with rudeness.
However, during the execution of the expulsion order, the Jew would hurry and approach the province minister and soften him up with a personable gift worthy of its name. The province minister the Isperavnik, considered the additional income more valuable than proving his patriotism in expelling some measly Jews from the villages of his province. Even for the Pristav (the head of the regional police) and the Lauriandnik (the local officer), the expulsion order was a source of inexhaustible income There were times when a Jewish villager would encounter a miracle when the estate owner would not find a Christian who could be extorted to pay the exuberant leasing fee, and would hint to the Pristav to postpone, for the time being, the expulsion of Yankale.
However, because doing nothing was not acceptable, many of the Jews were expelled from the villages to near-by cities, due to the fact that either, the Pristav was an anti-Semite and gave up on the side-income, or because the village farmers insisted on the expulsion.
The expelled, who became a burden on their relatives in the city, were supported a tad by the community. Under difficult conditions, without a roof on their heads, infected with disease, they ran around trying to earn a meager penny for their living. A few succeeded, with the help of a bribe, to sneak back into the villages and continued to live in perpetual fear of expulsion. Despite all of that, these partial expulsions did not cause a catastrophe as of yet, which could have shaken the complacency of the authorities.
In 1800, The Czar has not yet seen the need to take any steps toward the solution of the Jewish-issue, according to either Prizel's or Notkin's style or, for that matter, any other style. In contrast, the feelings of compassion by the fatherly Czar awoke because of Belarus's cry for help in light of the hunger that took hold there, and the harsh treatment of some of the nobles towards their peasants. On 16th July 1800, the Czar nominated Senator Dyerzhavin to visit Belarus and investigate. In his nomination letter, given to him by the Czar it was said:
There are some estate owners who leave their peasants with no help and no bread and send their crops abroad or to the liquor distillers. The role of Dyerzhavin was to discover the guilty nobles, confiscate their estates and nominate guardians who would distribute the crops to the hungry peasants.
There was not even one word, in this royal directive, hinting about the state of the Jews. However, in an addendum directive, given to Dyerzhavin by the attorney general of the senate, Ovolyanov, as if in the name of the Czar, an additional comment was inserted. The comment stated: Since it is known, that the Jews are a factor in the impoverishment of the peasants in Belarus, by negotiating the money out of them, it is the Czar's utmost will, that Your Excellency would pay a special review and attention to the occupations of the Jews and submit your opinion as to how to prevent this evil from being done to the public. This was a clear hint to Senator Dyerzhavin, in what direction he needs to search and where to find the solution for the problem.
Dyerzhavin ended his mission in a very short time. He was quick to discover the flawed treatment of the Polish Duke Ogi ński towards his peasants. He nominated a guardian to his estate, closed down a Jewish liquor distillery in the nearby town of Liozna [Liozno. MK] and made some remarks about the behavior of some other particular nobles. On the issue of the hunger and the state of the peasants, he investigated and questioned some people he knew to be reliable: townspeople, Christian merchants, and priests, teachers in Jesuit schools, officials and obviously nobles.
In autumn 1800, Dyerzhavin gave a detailed lecture in Vitebsk, the name of which attests to its content: Senator Dyerzhavin's opinion concerning the eradication of hunger in Belarus by the restraining and correcting the occupations of greedy Jews, and related matters.
It is clear that the addendum by Prokuror [Procurator- Chief Prosecutor] Ovolyanov and the memorandum by the Jew Neteh Notkin, were before his eyes when he prepared his lecture. His language is distinctively anti-Semitic. The kheder [Jewish religious school. MK] is a nest of illiteracy and superstitions The Jews do not have any moral feelings Love of people and good deeds are far from their heart All they want is to extort the wealth out of their neighbors They are infected with pleasures of the flesh They dream about rebuilding King Solomon's Temple .
Following his presentation of the Jewish people in this light, he submitted his proposal containing 88 clauses, for the remedy of the state of the Jews. First and foremost, he requested to deny the Jews the permit to sell alcoholic beverages. He also demanded the division the Jews according to four classes: merchants, townsmen, villagers and people who work the land. He proposed to abolish the communities' administrations, and appoint commissions of Rabbis and scholars instead, to handle religious matters. Similar to [the proposals by] Russian, Polish and Lithuanian nobles, he suggested to replace the Jewish wear with the wear customary in the country. He offered to force the Jews to write all of their documents in Russian, Polish or German, disallow studying in the kheders and enforce compulsory education in public school beyond the age of 12, forbid Jews from being elected to municipal councils, and prohibit Jews from keeping Christian servants. The only positive clause in Dyerzhavin's plan was his proposal
to attract Jews towards agriculture. [Emphasis in the source]. Like Neteh Notkin, he proposed to establish Jewish agricultural colonies on the prairies of Novorussiya [the Southern Ukraine areas taken from the Ottomans] (Kherson and Ekaterinoslav). He emphasized, in that clause, that the Jewish farmers would be independent rather than vassals, namely not dependent on estate owners. However, he added that they would need to be under supervision to prevent them from selling alcoholic beverages in Christian villages.
He concluded his lecture with an appeal to the Czar:
Through these corrections, the intractable and rebellious Jewish people would be regenerated, and the Emperor Pavel the 1st who would implement these corrections would gain reputation and fame, following what we have been ordered: Love your enemies and do good to your haters [Mathews 5:44. MK].
The Committee for Remedying the State of the Jews and 1804 Regulations
Czar Pavel the 1st was murdered in 1801 and Alexander the 1st ascended to the throne. Many people put their hopes in his progressive and liberal views. During the first few years of his rein, there were indeed some changes in the governing system and following these changes, the issue of the Jews was also on the agenda. In 1802, a Special Committee for Remedying the State of the Jews was formed on behalf of the Czar and was named in short, the Jewish Committee. The following members were elected to serve in the committee: The Interior MinisterBaron Kochubey, Justice Minister, Dyerzhavin, General V.A. Zubov and two Polish nobles Adam Czartoryski (Deputy Foreign Minister) and Senator Sivirin-Potoczky.
The rumor about the royal committee, of which Dyerzhavin was a member participating as an expert on Jewish Affairs, caused panic in the Jewish public, and many communities sent appeals and requests that the ministers should not install new regulations. Dyerzhavin was indeed removed from the committee, for a different reason. However, to calm down the Jewish public, Minister Kochubey found it necessary to announce to the Jews that there is no intention to constrain the Jews but to do quite the opposite: To advance their remedy and tranquility. In the beginning of 1803 the representatives of the Jewish communities were invited to Petersburg to for consultations about the regulations. Not all the communities could afford the expense of sending a delegation to the capital. Only the representatives of Minsk, Mohilev (or Mogilev), Podolia and Kiev arrived at the capital that summer. In the capital, some Jewish activists, residents of the capital that had good connections with high-ranking regime officials, helped the communities' representatives. The principal activists were: Neteh Notkin from Shklov, the owner of the plans for productivization [the concept of engaging in productive work. MK], the rich contractor Avraham Peretz, the scholar Leon Alkon and the writer Leib Nivokhowitz. In the course of the activity of the so called Jewish Committee, it was leaked to the communities' representatives the fact that the committee intends to propose the expulsion of the Jews from the villages. Due to the impossibility for a direct action for elimination of that proposal, the communities' representatives tried to reject the conclusions of the so called Jewish Committee by using the excuse that they need to consult with the people who have sent them. However,
the Jewish Committee did not agree to postpone issuing the conclusions, and the proposed regulations were submitted to the Czar Alexander in October 1804.
Speransky was the only member in the Jewish Committee who proposed and demanded to recognize the civil rights of the Jews, to curtail the prohibitions, and increase their freedom. However, he was alone in his position. The reactionary view triumphed. There was only one positive clause aiming to attract Jews to working the land and the proposal to allocate land and budgets for that purpose. The rest of the regulations introduced more prohibitions, ordinances, enslavement and humiliation for the Jews such as prohibition to live and work in the inner parts of the country and obliging the Jews to pay double taxes. The cruelest clause was clause number 34, which stated that It will be forbidden for Jews residing in the provinces of Astrakhan, Kaukaz, Little Russia [Modern day north and central Ukraine], and Novorussiya [modern day southern Ukraine] starting January 1st, 1807, and in the rest of the provinces starting January 1st, 1808, to lease an inn, under their own or in any other name. The clause also prohibited Jews from selling wines in these inns or reside in them except as a temporary shelter. The meaning of this clause was the expulsion of about 60 thousand families, or about 300 hundred thousand people from the villages of their residence and the elimination of the source of their sustenance and thereby condemning them to a life of hunger and poverty.
As our topic is the Jewish settlement in Russia, we would not expand on all of the regulations' clauses, and would only detail the positive clause, which opened the door for the Jews, albite for just a tad, for the possibility to replace their various occupations with working of the land. It is logical to assume that this positive clause was not a result of excess love for the Jews, or due to an historical feeling of guilt towards them. In our opinion, the reason for this clause comes from three major factors:
Regardless of the factors and despite the fact that the regime had doubts as to whether the Jews would be successful in working the land like farmers who were born to do so, for the Jews this regulation opened a new page in their history in Russia.
These were the clauses of this particular regulation:
In order to secure a positive attitude by the Jews towards this regulation, it was determined that the government would not force those who do not want it to work in agriculture, to do so, and that the Jewish farmers would enjoy the same rights as the other country's citizens. To those who would excel in working the land, prizes and grants will be granted. The Jews would enjoy the same assistance provided to settlers who were foreign subject.
The regulations were approved and published as The Law about the Jews, by the Czar, on 9 December 1804.
The Atmosphere and Notables
Before we turn to the history of the Jewish settlement in Russia, we will devote here a chapter to describe the atmosphere that surrounded the notables of the Jewish public and the higher echelons of the regime, during the initial period of the rein of Alexander the 1st. That was the period when the lines were drawn for the adverse regulations, which laid the foundation for the restrictions on the Jews' rights and to the discriminatory decrees against Russia's Judaism. It started at the beginning of the 19th century and lasted until the fall of the Czarist regime. It would be interesting to mention the notables who acted, for better or worse, in reference to these regulations. We opened with Dyerzhavin and his famous plan for Remedying the State of the Jews and we mentioned the multiclause plan by the province minister Prizel. It certainly looks like the two plans were developed in coordination with each other, particularly with respect to the abolishment of the autonomy of the Jewish communities.
The autonomy regime of the Jewish communities, which crystallized over hundreds of years, started in the German communities, and expanded later to Poland, was very convenient for the authorities, because all the state taxes owed by the Jews, were collected through the community administration and thus freed the authorities from
handling the problems specific to the Jews. In this way, the community concentrated all of its affairs according to its own points of view, responsibility and administration. The range of its activities included education, internal justice, Rabbis' administration, slaughtering, synagogues and public baths, as well as all social activities such as hospitals and poor houses. The disputes between one Jew to another in court were handled by rabbis and dayanim [religious judges]. Even approval of state official identity cards was under the jurisdiction of the community. Obviously, the community collected special taxes from its members for its administration and enterprises. Additional funds were secured through selling of meat, Shabbat candles etc.
From a democratic point of view, there were certainly flaws and cases of injustice on the part of the community leaders towards the poor classes. However, the authorities did not excel in their democratic and justice values and in treating of its citizen either. From a national point of view, the autonomy was certainly of a significant value. The authorities did not intervene in the Jewish internal affairs. During any public event, the representatives of the local communities and the provincial communities would appear in front of the authorities and conduct the negotiations.
Both Dyerzhavin and Prizel, united as one with their corresponding plans, assaulted the autonomy rights of the Jews and proposed to abolish them altogether. They proposed to divide the Jews according to the various classes (merchants, artisans and farmers) and to have them join the Christian civil associations so that their government taxes, court cases, social activities etc. could be handled by the economy organizations. Both demanded an absolute prohibition on the sale of alcoholic beverages by the Jews. They also dictated that all businesses owned by Jews would be conducted in the state language or at least using the Polish or German languages. There was also a long list of other clauses meant to remedy the state of the Jews including the compulsory education in state school and the prohibition of wearing traditional Jewish clothing.
In authoring the clauses of their plans, they meant to implement a comprehensive and revolutionary reform of the Jewish economical, religious-moral and civil-political way of life. Despite of the similarities between their proposals, there was a fundamental difference in their attitude towards the Jews and in their final objective. While Prizel wished to convert the Jews to become citizens with equal rights, Dyerzhavin sought to weaken the bad influence of these state enemies on its citizens.
Prizel, in his proposal to abolish the Jewish autonomy and replace it with the inclusion of the Jews according their status and occupation in the appropriate class of the general population, proposed to grant the Jews all the rights of their corresponding class. He would have allowed them to elect and be elected to municipal and judicial institutions, credit unions etc. Dyerzhavin, on the other hand, limited the Jews in their new status. We can cite here from his speech, which hints to his attitude towards the Jews: It should be forbidden to send any Jewish criminal and his family to Siberia due to the possibility that they would multiply there and spread their corruption onto the local Christian citizens.
We prolonged our treatment of these two notables as their plans concerning the Jews were exceptionally extreme and both had been submitted to the king, the senate, state ministers and
influential notables. Due the lack of any other material, these two plans served as the foundation for the discussion at the Jewish Committee, which was appointed by the Czar and the senate.
Two liberal friends of the Czar, interior minister Graf Kochubey, and deputy foreign minister, Prince Chartorinsky were also appointed members of the Jewish Committee. However, the same committee included Dyerzhavin, who was the Justice Minister who became famous as the expert in Jewish affairs.
An active role was assigned to Speransky, although he was not a a member of the committee. However, he participated in all of the meetings as the manager of the interior ministry office. He was the only one who dared to propose far-reaching corrections in favor of Jew's rights. He had friendly relationships with the rich contractor, Avraham Peretz. However, according to the historian Julius Gessen, this friendship was not a factor in his daring plan that advocated equal rights for the Jews. Speransky was simply imbued in humanistic conscious and feelings of friendships towards the Jews.
During the initial meetings of the committee, a liberal atmosphere and good will prevailed. The negative influence of Dyerzhavin was not very apparent despite of his high status as the justice minister and his expertise concerning the Jewish issue. It is reasonable to assume that this liberal spirit was not created only because of the general liberal atmosphere, but thanks to the activity by the Jewish lobbyists.
An indication of the positive attitude was the committee decision to invite representatives of the Jews from throughout Russia, in order to hear from them about their requirements. This was the first time in the history of Russia, that representatives of the Jews were invited to voice their concerns and to be consulted about their fate. The following statement appeared in the journal of the Jewish community of Petersburg on 16 Tammuz, 5563 (6 July, 1803]; We memorize the fact that in this year, representatives of the Jews, from all the provinces, arrived here to cooperate with the Committee to Remedy of the State of the Jews which was established by the order of his majesty the King Alexander the 1st.
Another confirmation about the positive atmosphere that existed within the committee was the fact that on 21st January 1803, the interior minister Graf B. P. Kochubey sent to some province ministers a circular in which he urged them to take steps to calm the fear among the Jews. He stated that they (the province ministers) should explain to the communities that there is no intention to further burden them or to reduce their rights by the establishment of the Committee to Remedy the State of the Jews. On the contrary, the committee was established to pursue a remedy for their state and their tranquility.
This circular, and the invitation of the Jewish representatives promoted the view among the Jewish public that the committee is standing on the verge of an important decision [in their favor], and urged the Jewish lobbyists in Petersburg to intensify their effort.
Despite the fact that there was a total prohibition on Jews to reside in the capital citya few managed to penetrate it due to their engagement with the government, or due to personal relationships with the nobles. One of them was Avraham Peretz. A son of a Rabbi, he excelled with his talents, in his youth, and his teachers predicted great things for him as a student and a scholar of the Torah. He married the daughter of R'Yehoshua Tzeitlin, the manager of the estates of the Prince Potyomkin. That family was famous
for its wealth and wisdom in Lithuania and White Russia [Belerus]. Peretz, probably, did not find happiness in his marriage, and followed Potyomkin's advice and recommendations to move to Petersburg. In the capital, he acquired fame as a big contractor of shipbuilding, lesee of salt mines in Crimea and other large businesses. He became famous among the government circles as a wise and educated man and he had personal relationships with high- ranking people at the topmost level of the regime.
Another Jew who penetrated the high society circles in Petersburg was Leib Nivokhovitz (Yehuda-Leib son of Noakh, 1767-1831). He was an author and a journalist who gained fame with his book Kol Shva'at Beit-Yehuda [The Cry of the Jews]. Due to his friendship with Peretz, and also because he was an author and intellectual he was likable among high ranking circles in the capital.
Peretz and Nivokhovitz were each preoccupied with their own affairs and were bothered to be involved in Jewish affairs. It is probable that they did not even have any connections with the few Jews that live in the capital. However, when the government brought up the Jewish issue and established the Committee to Remedy to the State of the Jews, and following the action by Notkin, the two started to cooperate in the fight. They participated in the consultations / discussions with the Jewish representatives who came to Petersburg, and applied their connections with the members of the committee and other influential notables.
Eventually, after the cruel blow of the regulations by the committee (1804) against the Jews, when the liberal atmosphere evaporated some, and the treatment of the Jews continued to worsen, these two leaders felt uncomfortable belonging to the camp of the disadvantaged, and converted their religion. As part of the Christian society, they achieved full rights and greater honor. However, during the period of operation of the committee, its inquiries and discussions, the two, along with Notkin were active in Jewish affairs.
It is appropriate to discuss Natan Notkin (Shklover) separately. He did not come close to the status of Avraham Peretz in terms of his wealth and the extent of his businesses. His education was not as extensive as that of Nivokhovitz's. However, in his fortitude and love for his people, and particularly in his daring plan to make the Jewish peddlers, innkeepers and sellers of alcoholic beverages, productive citizens, he bested them both. He was a man of vision and feat. Peretz, Nivokhovitz and the Jewish representatives who were invited to the capital, struggled and fought to achieve equal rights for the Jews, or at least expand their civil rights by as much as possible. On the other hand, while Notkin was also one of the people who acted in that direction, he was not satisfied with only achieving rights for the Jews. He aspired to change the ways of life of his people, to mend their economy and make them into a working nation.
A researcher of that period in the history of Russian Jews, the historian Julius Gessen, refers to this marvelous notable with great respect. He provided details that were kept in the memory by his family members. His grandchild or his great-grandchild, Dr. Neteh Sheptelovnitz described to him the nice attitude of the Czar and high rank notables towards his grandfather. A story was circulated about the gift that Notkin received from Czar as an appreciation for his outstanding actions in behalf of the army. Another known story describes the visit by the Czar in Norkin's home in Shklov while he was he was laying in his deathbed. These stories are a testimony to the accomplishment of the man
in the fields of trade and economy of Russia in his days. However, in this chapter we are interested to particularly emphasize his actions on behalf of his people. As mentioned, he submitted, as early as 1797, the famous memorandum concerning the transfer of the Jews to working the land. In 1800, he lobbied again with Dyerzhavin by submitting to him a plan on that subject. On 9th December, Dyerzhavin turned to him on behalf of the Committee to Amend the State of the Jews and proposed to him to make himself available as the representative of the Jews and as an assistant to the committee in their inquiries on various issues.
There is no doubt that the circular sent by the interior ministerGraf Kochubey to the province ministers was because of Notkin's influence. Notkin found the need to thank the interior minister for that act.
At the same time that the so called Jewish Committee dealt with discussion about the Jewish issue, the authorities in Smolensk province decided to order an expulsion of Jews. Notkin contacted the authorities with a request to abort this expulsion. In his letter to the interior minister Kochubey, in May 1803 he writes: This negative event, deepens the depression of the Jews and creates a most gloomy impression about their future fate. Your excellency the Graf, have mercy on this miserable nation, with all of your generosityplease strengthen and add courage to this oppressed nation's heart.
In the same year1803, Notkin submitted to the Jewish Committee a more detailed memorandum in writing.
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