Varda Books

 View book pages:
 Buy this book:

History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. 2: From the Death of Alexander I until the Death of Alexander III. (1825–1894)

by Simon M. Dubnow

Bibliographic information

TitleHistory of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. 2: From the Death of Alexander I until the Death of Alexander III. (1825–1894)
AuthorSimon M. Dubnow
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2001



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 second volume treats of the history of Russian Jewry from the death of Alexander I (1825) until the death of Alexander III (1894).

About the Author 

Simon M. Dubnow ---

Dubnow is one of the greatest Jewish historians of the 20th century. Self-educated, he settled after extensive travels in St. Petersburg, where he taught Jewish history. He was one of the founders and directors of the Jewish Historico-Ethnographical Society there (1909–1918) and was asked to prepare several publications by the Bolshevik government, none of which was ever published. In 1922 he moved to Berlin. When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, Dubnow went to Riga, Latvia, where he remained at work until killed by the Nazis in December 1941. Among Dubnow’s numerous works are History of the Jews in Russia and Poland (3 vol., 1916–1920) and History of the Jews (10 vol., 1925–1929; tr. 5 vol., 1967–1973), in which he maintained that Jewish survival had resulted from the communal and spiritual independence of Jews in the Diaspora.





The Russian school and literature pushed the Jewish college youth head over heels into the intellectual currents of progressive Russian society. Naturally enough a portion of the Jewish youth was also drawn into the revolutionary movement of the seventies, a movement which, in spite of the theoretic “materialism” of its adepts, was of an essentially idealistic tendency. In joining the ranks of the revolutionaries, the young Jews were less actuated by resentment against the continued, though somewhat mitigated, rightlessness of their own people than by discontent with the general political reaction in Russia, that discontent which found expresión in the movement of “Populism,”1 of “Going to the People,”2 and similar currents then in vogue. Jewish students, attending the rabbinical and teachers' institutes of the Government, or autodidacts from among former heder and yeshibah pupils, also began to “go to the people”—the Russian people, to be sure, not the Jewish. They carried on a revolutionary propaganda, both by direct and indirect means, among the Russian peasants and workingmen, known to them only from books. It was taken for granted at that time that the realization of the ideals of Russian democracy would carry with it the solution of the Jewish as well as of all other sectional problems of Russian life, so that these problems might for the moment be safely set aside.

As far as the Jewish youth was concerned, the whole movement was doubly academic, for the only points of contact of that youth with younger Russia was not living reality but the book, problems of the intellect, the search for new ways, the attempt to work out a Weltanschauung. The fundamental article of faith of the Jewish socialists was cosmopolitanism, and they failed to discern in Russian “Populism” the underlying elements of a Russian national movement. Jewry was not believed to be a nation, and as a religious entity it was looked upon as a relic of the past, which was doomed to disappearance.

One attempt of coupling socialism with Judaism ought not to be passed over in silence. In the beginning of the seventies there existed in Vilna a Jewish revolutionary circle made up principally of the pupils of the rabbinical school and of the teachers' institute of the same city. In 1875, the police tracked the members of the circle. Some were arrested, others escaped. One of the refugees, A. Lieberman, managed to reach London where he associated with the circle of Lavrov and the editors of the revolutionary journal Vperyod (“Forwards”).

In the following year, Lieberman founded in London the “League of Jewish Socialists” for the purpose of carrying on a propaganda among the Jewish masses. It was a small society of students and workingmen which busied itself with arranging lectures and debates, and penning Hebrew appeals on the need of organizing the proletariat. The society was soon dissolved, and Lieberman emigrated to Vienna, where, under the name of Freeman, he started in 1877 a socialistic magazine in Hebrew under the name ha-Emet (“The Truth”). The first two issues of ha-Emet were admitted into Russia, but the third was confiscated by the censor. The magazine had to be discontinued. It yielded its place to a paper called Asefat Hakamim (” The Assembly of Wise Men”), published in Koenigsberg in 1878 by M. Winchevski as a supplement to the paper ha-Kol (“The Voice”), which was issued there by Rodkinson. Soon this whole species of socialistic literature was put out of existence. In 1879, Lieberman in Vienna and his comrades in Berlin and Koenigsberg were arrested and expelled from the borders of Austria and Prussia. They emigrated to England and America, and lost touch with Russia.

In Russia itself the Jewish revolutionaries were heart and soul devoted to the cause. The children of the ghetto displayed considerable heroism and self-sacrifice in the revolutionary upheaval of the seventies. Jews figured in all important political trials and public manifestations; they languished in the gaols, and suffered as exiles in Siberia. But this idealistic fight for general freedom lacked a Jewish note, the endeavor to free their own nation which lived in greater thraldom than any other. And no one at that time ever dreamt that after all these sacrifices the Jews of Russia would be visited by still greater misfortunes, by pogroms and increased disabilities.


With all deflections from the course of normal development, such as are unavoidable in times of violent mental disturbances, the main line of the whole cultural movement, the resultant of the various forces within it, was headed towards the healthy progress of Judaism. The most substantial product of this movement was the Neo-Hebraic literary renaissance which had already appeared in faint outlines on the sombre background of external oppression and internal obscurantism during the preceding period. The Haskalah, formerly anathematized, was now able to unfold all its creative powers. What in the time of Isaac Baer Levinsohn had been accomplished stealthily by a few isolated conspirators of enlightenment in some petty society in Vilna or in some out-of-the-way town like Kamenetz-Podolsk was now done in the full light of the day. Instead of a few stray writers, the harbingers of the new literature, there now appeared this literature itself, new both in form and content. The restoration of the Hebrew language to its biblical purity and the removal of the linguistic excrescences of the later rabbinic idiom became for some writers an end in itself, for others a weapon in the fight for enlightenment. Melitzah, a conventionalized style, which, moving strictly within the confines of the biblical diction, endeavored to adapt the form of an ancient language to the content of a modern life, became the fashion of the day.

In point of content rejuvenated Hebrew literature was of necessity elementary. Mental restlessness and naiveness of thought were not conducive to the development of that “science of Judaism” which had attained to such luxurious growth in Germany. The Hebrew writers of Russia during that period had no means of propagating their ideas, except through the medium of poetry, fiction, or journalism. The results of historic research were squeezed into the mould of a poem or novel, or it furnished the material for a press article, in which the Jewish past was considered from the point of view of the present. Objective scientific investigation could find no place, and the little that was accomplished in that direction did not bear the character of a living account of the past, but was rather in the nature of crude archaeological material. At the same time, as the crest of the social progress was rising, the border-line between poetry and fiction, on the one hand, and topical journalism, on the other, was gradually obliterated. The poet or novelist was often turned into a fighter, who attacked the old order of things and defended the new.

Even before the first blush of dawn, when every one in Russia was yet groaning under the strokes of an autocratic tyranny, which the presentiment of its speedy end had driven into madness, the bewitching strains of the new Hebrew lyre resounded through Lithuania. They came from Micah Joseph Lebensohn, the son of “Adam” Lebensohn, author of high-flown Hebrew odes1—a contemplative Jewish youth, suffering from tuberculosis and Weltschmerz. He began his poetic career in 1840 by a Hebrew adaptation of the second book of Virgil's Aeneid, but soon turned to Jewish motifs. In the musical rhymes of the “Songs of the Daughter of Zion” (Shire bat Zion, Vilna, 1851), the author poured forth the anguish of his suffering soul, which was torn between faith and science, weighed down by the oppression from without and stirred to its depth by the tragedy of his homeless nation. A cruel disease cut short the poet's life in 1852, at the age of twenty-four. A small collection of lyrical poems, published after his death under the title Kinnor bat Zion (“The Harp of the Daughter of Zion”), exhibited even more brilliantly the wealth of creative energy which was hidden in the soul of this prematurely cut-off youth, who on the brink of the grave sang so touchingly of love, beauty, and the pure joys of life.

A year after the death of our poet, in 1853, there appeared in the same capital of Lithuania the historic novel Ahabat Zion (“Love of Zion”). Its author, Abraham Mapu of Kovno (1808– 1867), was a poor melammed who had by his own endeavors and without the help of a teacher raised himself to the level of a modern Hebrew pedagogue. He lived in two worlds, in the valley of tears, such as the ghetto presented during the reign of Nicholas, and in the radiant recollections of the faroff biblical past. The inspired dreamer, while strolling on the banks of the Niemen, among the hills which skirt the city of Kovno, was picturing to himself the luminous dawn of the Jewish nation. He published these radiant descriptions of ancient Judaea in the dismal year of the “captured recruits.”1 The youths of the ghetto, who had been poring over talmudic folios, fell eagerly upon this little book which breathed the perfumes of Sharon and Carmel. They read it in secret—to read a novel openly was not a safe thing in those days—, and their hearts expanded with rapture over the enchanting idyls of the time of King Hezekiah, the portrayal of tumultuous Jerusalem and peaceful Beth-lehem. They sighed over the fate of the lovers Amnon and Tamar, and in their flight of imagination were carried far away from painful reality. The naive literary construction of the plot was of no consequence to the reader who tasted a novel for the first time in his life. The naivete of the plot was in keeping with the naive, artificially reproduced language of the prophet Isaiah and the biblical annals, which intensified the illusion of antiquity.

Several years after the publication of his “Love of Zion,” when social currents had begun to stir Russian Jewry, Mapu began his five volume novel of contemporary life, under the title ‘Ayit Tzabua', “The Speckled Bird,” or “The Hypocrite” (1857–1869). In his naive diction, which is curiously out of harmony with the complex plot in sensational French style, the author pictures the life of an obscure Lithuanian townlet: the Kahal bosses who hide their misdeeds beneath the cloak of piety; the fanatical rabbis, the Tartuffes of the Pale of Settlement, who persecute the champions of enlightenment. As an offset against these shadows of the past, Mapu lovingly paints the barely visible shoots of the new life, the Maskil, who strives to reconcile religion and science, the misty figure of the Jewish youth who goes to the Russian school in the hope of serving his people, the profiles of the Russian Jewish intellectuals, and the captains of industry from among the rising Jewish plutocracy.

Toward the end of his life Mapu returned to the historical novel, and in the “Transgression of Samaria” (Ashmat Shomron, 1865) he attempted to draw a picture of ancient Hebrew life during the declining years of the Northern Kingdom. But this novel, appearing as it did at the height of the cultural movement, failed to produce the powerful effect of his Ahabat Zion, although its charming biblical diction enraptured the lovers of Melitzah.

The noise of the new Jewish life, with its constantly growing problems, invaded the precincts of literature, and even the poets were impelled to take sides in the burning questions of the day. The most important poet of that era, Judah Leib Gordon (1830–1892), who began by composing biblical epics and moralistic fables, soon entered the field of “intellectual poetry,” and became the champion of enlightenment and a trenchant critic of old-fashioned Jewish life. As far back as 1863, while active as a teacher at a Crown school2 in Lithuania, he composed his “Marseillaise of Enlightenment” (Hakitzah ‘ammi, “Awake, My People”). In it he sang of the sun shedding its rays over the “Land of Eden,” where the neck of the enslaved was freed from the yoke and where the modern Jew was welcomed with a brotherly embrace. The poet calls upon his people to join the ranks of their fellow-countrymen, the hosts of cultured Russian citizens who speak the language of the land, and offers his Jewish contemporaries the brief formula: “Be a man on the street and a Jew in the house,” i. e., be a Russian in public and a Jew in private life.

Gordon himself defined his function in the work of Jewish regeneration to be that of exposing the inner ills of the people, of fighting rabbinical orthodoxy and the tyranny of ceremonialism. This carping tendency, which implies a condemnation of the whole historic structure of Judaism, manifested itself as early as 1868 in his “Songs of Judah” (Shire Yehudah), in strophes radiant with the beauty of their Hebrew diction:

To live by soulless rites hast thou been taught,

To swim against life, and the lifeless letter to keep;

To be dead upon earth, and in heaven alive,

To dream while awake, and to speak while asleep.

During the seventies, Gordon joined the ranks of the official agents of enlightenment. He removed to St. Petersburg, and became secretary of the Society for the Diffusion of Enlightenment. The new Hebrew periodical ha-Shahar published several of his “contemporary epics” in which he vented his wrath against petrified Rabbinism. He portrays the misery of a Jewish woman who is condemned to enter married life at the bidding of the marriage-broker, without love and without happiness, or he describes the tragedy of another woman whose future is wrecked by a “Dot over the i.” He lashes furiously the orthodox spiders, the official leaders of the community, who catch the young pioneers of enlightenment in the meshes of Kahal authority, backed by police force. Climbing higher upon the ladder of history, the poet registers his protest against the predominance of the spiritual over the worldly element in the whole evolution of Judaism. He assails the prophet Jeremiah who in beleaguered Jerusalem preaches submission to the Babylonians and strict obedience to the Law: the prophet, dressed up in the garb of a contemporary orthodox rabbi, was to be exhibited as a terrifying incarnation of the soulless formula “Law above Life.”

Other related titles: eBookshuk

History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. 3: From the Accession of Nicholas II until 1916. Bibliography and Index.History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. 3: From the Accession of Nicholas II until 1916. Bibliography and Index.

 Other related titles:
History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. 3: From the Accession of Nicholas II until 1916. Bibliography and Index.History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. 3: From the Accession of Nicholas II until 1916. Bibliography and Index.

 Already viewed books:
History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. 2: From the Death of Alexander I until the Death of Alexander III. (1825–1894)History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. 2: From the Death of Alexander I until the Death of Alexander III. (1825–1894)