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eBook History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. 1: From the Beginning until the Death of Alexander I (1825)
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Publisher:  Varda Books
Original Publisher:  The Jewish Publication Society
Published:  2001
Language:  English
Pages:   415


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ISBN: 1-59045-154-6

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About the Book -- History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. 1: From the Beginning until the Death of Alexander I (1825)

FROM TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE

It is not my intention to expatiate in these prefatory remarks on the present work and its author. A History of the Jews in Russia and Poland from the pen of S. M. Dubnow needs neither justification nor recommendation. The want of a work of this kind has long been keenly felt by those interested in Jewish life or Jewish letters, never more keenly than to-day when the flare of the world conflagration has thrown into ghastly relief the tragic plight of the largest Jewry of the Diaspora. As for the author, his power of grasping and presenting the broad aspects of general Jewish history and his lifelong, painstaking labors in the particular field of Russian- Jewish history fit him in singular measure to cope with the task to which this work is dedicated.

In what follows I merely wish to render account of the English translation and of the form of the original which it has endeavored to reproduce.

The translation is based upon a work in Russian which was especially prepared by Mr. Dubnow for THE JEWISH PUBLICATION SOCIETY OF AMERICA. Those acquainted with modern Jewish literature in the Russian language know that the author of our book has treated the same subject in his general history of the Jewish people, in three volumes, and in a number of special studies published by him in the periodical Yevreyskaya Starina (“Jewish Antiquity”). Upon this material Mr. Dubnow has freely drawn for the present work, after subjecting it to a careful revision, and so supplementing and co-ordinating it that to all intents and purposes the book issued herewith is a new and independent publication. Moreover, the history of Russian Jewry after 1881, comprising the gruesome era of pogroms and expulsions, has been written by Mr. Dubnow entirely anew, and will appear for the first time as part of this work. The present publication may thus properly claim to give the first comprehensive and systematic account of the history of Russo-Polish Jewry.

The work is divided into thee volumes. The first volume contains the history of the Jews of Russia and Poland from its beginnings until the death of Alexander I., in 1825.



About the Book

Contents

  1. THE JEWISH DIASPORA IN EASTERN EUROPE

  2. THE JEWISH COLONIES IN POLAND AND LITHUANIA

  3. THE AUTONOMOUS CENTER IN POLAND AT ITS ZENITH (1501–1648)

  4. THE INNER LIFE OF POLISH JEWRY AT ITS ZENITH

  5. THE AUTONOMOUS CENTER IN POLAND DURING ITS DECLINE (1648–1772)

  6. THE INNER LIFE OF POLISH JEWRY DURING THE PERIOD OF DECLINE

  7. THE RUSSIAN QUARANTINE AGAINST JEWS (TILL 1772)

  8. POLISH JEWRY DURING THE PERIOD OF THE PARTITIONS

  9. THE BEGINNINGS OF THE RUSSIAN RÉGIME

  10. THE “ENLIGHTENED ABSOLUTISM” OF ALEXANDER I.

  11. THE INNER LIFE OF RUSSIAN JEWRY DURING THE PERIOD OF “ENLIGHTENED ABSOLUTISM”

  12. THE LAST YEARS OF ALEXANDER I.


An Excerpt from the Book -- History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. 1: From the Beginning until the Death of Alexander I (1825)

THE PATRIOTIC ATTITUDE OF RUSSIAN JEWRY DURING

THE WAR OF 1812

The part played by the Jews in the War of 1812 was not so insignificant as historians are generally disposed to assume, being misled by the fact that the Jews of Russia were not yet drafted into the army. It must be borne in mind that the great war was enacted in western Russia, more particularly in northwestern Russia, on territory inhabited by a compact Jewish population scattered all over the cities, townlets, and villages. The sympathy of this population with one or the other of the belligerents frequently decided the success or failure of the detachment situated in that locality. It is a wellknown fact that the Poles of the western region were mostly on the side of Napoleon, from whom they expected the restoration of the Polish kingdom.

As for the Russian Jews, their attitude towards the belligerent parties was of a more complicated character. The recent persecutions of the rural Jews were apt, on the one hand, to set their hearts against the Russian Government, and, had these persecutions continued, the French would have been hailed by the oppressed Jews as their saviors. But the expulsions from the villages had been stopped three years before the war, and the Jews anticipated the complete repeal of the cruel law, which had been so severely condemned in the official report of the Committee laid before the Tzar in the beginning of 1812. Moreover, the deputies of the Kahals, who had been summoned twice to share in the work of the Government (in 1803 and 1807), had an opportunity to convince themselves that Alexander I.'s Government was on the whole favorably disposed towards the Jews, and its mistakes were merely the outcome of the wrong system of state patronage, of the desire of the Government to make the Jews happy, according to its own lights, by employing compulsory and “correctional” measures.

On the other hand, Napoleon's halo had been considerably dimmed even in the eyes of the Jews of Western Europe, now that the results of his “Jewish Parliaments” had come to light. The Jews of Russia, who were all Orthodox, regarded Napoleon's reform schemes as fraught with danger, and looked upon the substitution of Kahal autonomy by a consistorial organization as subversive of Judaism. The Hasidic party, again, which was the most conservative, felt indebted to Alexander I., who, in a clause of the Statute of 1804, bearing on Jewish sects, had bestowed upon the Hasidim the right of segregating themselves in separate synagogues within the communities. The leader of the White Russian Hasidim, Rabbi Shneor Zalman, who at first had suffered from the suspiciousness of the Russian Government, but was afterwards declared to be politically “dependable,” voiced the sentiments of the influential Jewish circles towards the two belligerent sovereigns in the following prediction:

Should Bonaparte win, the wealth of the Jews will be increased, and their [civic] position will be raised. At the same time their hearts will be estranged from our Heavenly Father. Should how- ever our Tzar Alexander win, the Jewish hearts will draw nearer to our Heavenly Father, though the poverty of Israel may become greater and his position lower.

This was tantamount to saying that civic rightlessness was preferable to civic equality, inasmuch as the former bade fair to guarantee the inviolability of the religious life, while the latter threatened to bring about its disintegration. All these circumstances, coupled with the unconscious resentment of the masses against the invading enemy, brought about the result that the Jews of the Northwest everywhere gave tokens of their devotion to the interests of Russia, and frequently rendered substantial services to the Russian army in its commissary and reconnoitring branches. The wellknown Russian partisan1 Davidov relates that the frame of mind of the Polish inhabitants of Grodno was very unfavorable to us. The Jews living in Poland were, on the other hand, all so devoted to us that they refused to serve the enemy as scouts, and often gave us most valuable information concerning him.

As Polish officials could not be relied upon, it became necessary to intrust the whole police department of Grodno to the Jewish Kahal. The Governor of Vilna testified that “the Jewish people had shown particular devotion to the Russian Government during the presence of the enemy.”

The Poles were irritated by this pro-Russian attitude of the Jews. There were rumors afloat that the Poles had made ready to massacre all Jews and Russians in the Governments of Vilna and Minsk and in the province of Bialystok. There were numerous instances of self-sacrifice. It happened more than once that Jews who had sheltered Russian couriers with dispatches in their houses, or had escorted them to the Russian headquarters, or who had furnished information to the Russian commanders as to the position of the enemy's army, were caught by the French, and shot or hanged. Alexander I. was aware of these deeds. While on a visit to Kalish, he granted an audience to the members of the Kahal, and engaged in a lengthy conversation with them. Among the Jews of the district appeals written in the Jewish vernacular were circulated, in which the Jews were called upon to offer up prayers for the success of Alexander I., who would release the Jewish people from bondage. Altogether the wave of patriotism which swept over Russia engulfed the Jewish masses to a considerable extent.

The headquarters of the Russian army, which was now marching towards the West, harbored, during the years 1812– 1813, two Jewish deputies, Sundel Sonnenberg of Grodno and Leyser (Eliezer) Dillon of Neswizh. On the one hand they maintained connections with the leading Government officials, and conveyed to them the wishes of the Jewish communities. On the other hand they kept up relations with the Kahals, which they informed regularly of the intentions of the Government. Presumably these two public-spirited men played a twofold rôle at headquarters: that of large purveyors, who received orders directly from the Russian commissariat, and forwarded them to their local agents, and that of representatives of the Kahals, whose needs they communicated to the Tzar and the highest dignitaries of the crown. In those uneasy times the Government found it to its advantage to keep at its headquarters representatives of the Jewish population, who might sway the minds of their coreligionists, in accordance with the character of the political instructions issued by it. In June, 1814, during his stay abroad in Bruchsal (Germany), Alexander requested these deputies to assure “the Jewish Kahals of his most gracious favor,” and promised to issue shortly “an ordinance concerning their wishes and requests for the immediate amelioration of their present condition.” It seems that Alexander I., who was still under the spell of the accounts of Jewish patriotism, was inclined at that moment to improve their lot. But the general reaction which, after the Vienna Congress of 1815, fell like a blight upon Europe and Russia proved fatal also to the Russian Jews.


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