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The Zemach Zedek and the Haskalah Movement

Chapter 9
The Rebbe's Response to the Secularists

The community of Petersburg was aroused, and news of the resignations spread swiftly through the region. The Vaad widely publicized the story, and, encouraged by the centers, it became the topic of widespread conversation, evoking strong reactions among the people. The effects were soon felt by the provincial governments, who informed Petersburg of the feelings of the Jews concerning the conference.

At the suggestion of Mandelstam, Werbel, and Eichenbaum, the Ministers of Culture and the Interior had, previous to the conference, consulted leading Rabbis in regard to books that a special committee under the Bureau of Religions proposed, for the curriculum of Hebrew schools:

1)     Prayer book translated into German,

2)     excerpts of Tanach (Bible) appropriate for children,  excluding unsuitable or unnecessary portions,

3)     excerpts of Mishnah of the Orders of Agriculture, Festivals, Civil Law, and Sacrifices, omitting laws of ritual purity, etc.,

4)     excerpts of Rambam (Maimonides), including the enlightening laws on the relations between man and G­d, King, homeland, and his fellow-men.

At the time that Goldberg and Bashkovitch resigned from the conference, the replies from the interrogated Rabbis arrived. Practically all noted that the delegates to the current conference were not competent to judge the proposals, and that some of the delegates' interpretations were untrustworthy. As far as they (the Rabbis) knew, these questions had already been decided by Rabbinical authorities at the Commission of 1843, and the Rabbis indicated agreement with those decisions. Rabbi Menachem Mendel was not content with a general reply; he composed a pamphlet with a lengthy reply, to each of the proposals in turn: the Prayer-book, selections of Bible, selections of Mishnah, selections of Rambam, and the general principle of translation, particularly into the German. To this, he appended a short note:

"In reply to the query about my opinion regarding the books proposed for schools for Jewish children: the text of the prayers, selections of Bible, Mishnah, and Rambam, all these to be translated into German. I fail to understand the need for these books, especially the excerpts and German translation. At the Commission called by the Government in 1843, after discussion and investigation of the nature and character of children, we designed a program for the schools for our Jewish children. This program was approved by Government officials, and presented to His Majesty who was greatly pleased and ordered its immediate implementation. The program planned then should not be diminished or altered, since it is a program we found essential for the education of the young, and required by Torah and Talmud law, from which we cannot and dare not subtract."

The pamphlet in reply to the proposals follows:

PROPOSAL I: Formulating an orderly and standard text of prayers for all Jews, to be translated into German.

REPLY: There are only two prayer books prevalent among the Jews of Russia, i.e. the Ashkenazi (German) text which is not precisely that actually used in Germany, and the Sephardic (Spanish) text. Both have long been in use; both have been printed for many years under the supervision of the censor, with no comments on his part; the texts are in reality quite similar, differing slightly in sequence of prayers; many Jews are accustomed to one text, and just as many to the other. It would therefore be inadvisable to alter or confuse the accustomed texts. In regard to translating the texts into German, see Paragraph V of this reply.

PROPOSAL II: Excerpts of the Bible, to include portions suitable for expounding and teaching to youthful pupils, and omitting portions deemed superfluous or inappropriate for instruction for young students. Examples of the latter would be the account of Bilhah and Reuven (Gen. 3 5:22), and Yehuda and Tamar (Gen. 38) , there having been questions about their interpretation, even in Talmudic times.

REPLY: How dare we presume to omit portions of the Torah of Moshe, the servant of G-d, and declare with mortals' understanding that they are not "vital" or are not "proper" for the young? All the portions, sentences, and words were pronounced by the mouth of G-d to Moshe, who reiterated and recorded them. (See Baba Basra 15a. )

 He who asserts that even a sentence or word was not from the mouth of G-d, but originated with Moses, is considered a non-believer in "Torah from Heaven." Rambam, in his Commentary on Mishnah, Sanhedrin, "Chailek," Thirteen Principles #'8, says:

The Torah is from Heaven. We are to believe that this entire Torah given by Moshe was entirely from G-d, i.e. Moshe received it from the Almighty . . . He was like a scribe who hears dictation and writes . . . There is no difference between "The sons of Cham were Chush and Mitzrayim" (Genesis 10:6) , "The name of his wife was Mehitabel" (36:39) , "And Timna was a concubine (36:12) on the one hand, and "I am the L-rd your G-d" (Exodus 20:2) , and "Hear O Israel" (Deuteronomy 6:4) . It is all from the Omnipotent; it is all (part of) the "perfect Torah of G-d" (Psalm 19), pure and holy. Whoever says that certain of these passages and stories were told by Moshe of his own accord, is considered by our Sages and prophets as a heretic and worse, for he considers the Torah to contain heart and husk, and that certain historical accounts and narratives are not beneficial, having originated with Moshe. This is the concept of "Torah is not from Heaven" that our Sages have defined as even including the belief that the entire Torah is from G-d, except some specific passage that is not from G-d but from Moshe. This constitutes "For the word of G-d has he shamed" (Numbers 15:31) . Rather, every sentence in Torah contains wisdom and profundity for him who understands...

Hence, in view of the declarations of the Rambam on the unequivocal and unassailable sanctity of the entire Torah, how can we possibly omit any part of Torah, and fail to teach it to our children, to say nothing of compiling excerpts and changing the sequence as written by Moshe? This also applies to the rest of the Bible, the words of G-d through His servants the Prophets -- we dare not edit them. The adherence to sequence is evident, too, in the Talmud (Taanis 9a) concerning the child of Resh Lokish who studied the Bible in its order, since he remarked, "Had I reached this passage. . . "

There is no sentence, word, or even letter, that does not indicate profound wisdom unrevealed to us or to any sage. "No man knows its measure" (Job 28:3). Therefore our sages teach in Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) that he who learns from another a chapter . . . or one word, must honor him. We find, with the Sages of the Talmud and Mishnah, that they derived tremendous lessons, both legal and moral-ethical, from a single letter or word. Later scholars, too, composed brilliant works in a like manner.

Ralbag wrote that he frequently derived great lessons even from the stories in the Torah, as he often notes in his comments, "The first lesson is ethical . . . the second . . . the third ..." It is true of the overwhelming majority of the Torah's passages, that they contain moral-ethical lessons. Midrash Leviticus (19) on the passage "black as a raven" (sh'choros k'orev): certain portions of the Torah that are seemingly "black" and indecent for public discourse (e.g. laws of emission, disease, childbirth), still G-d says "They are sweet (arevos) to me, as it is written, 'sweet (v'orvo) shall be for G-d the offerings of Judah' (Malachi 3) ."

This is not to be compared to the Talmudic edict (Megillah 21a) that certain passages of the Torah are not to be translated, for instance the episode of Reuven and Bilhah. The Talmud discusses there the translations made during public synagogue reading of the Torah, when illiterates hear the words as a simple story, and our Sages were ever concerned for the honor of the Holy Patriarchs. (Rashi, ibid. 25a) There would be gross misunderstanding under such circumstances. But, in a school, the instructor would make necessary explanations according to the commentary of Rashi (which was chosen by the Commission of 1843 for teaching children), a respectful and proper commentary based on the teachings of the Sages (Shabbos 55a). Onkelos, in his faithful rendition, and other translators, translated these passages, though their works were primarily for simple folk, since, in orderly study processes it is certain that no omissions are to be made anywhere in the Torah.

If a child fails to study, say, the story of Reuven and Bilhah, when he later learns the words of censure which Jacob said to Reuven (Gen. 49, 3-4) , he would be entirely confused. It is especially harmful to omit part of a passage, since the Torah is interpreted by juxtaposition. The words of the Torah are eternal, true, and just. This must be impressed upon the minds and hearts of the pupils at the outset. (Yoreh Deah 245, 6: One is obliged to teach his son the Written Torah in its entirety . . . )

Even the curriculum recently issued for Government schools for Jews1 explicitly states that first grade children are to study the first books of the Pentateuch and the Mishnayos of the Tractate Shabbos. In the second grade they are to complete the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Psalms, Proverbs, Esther, Mishnayos Brochos and the Orders of Festivals, Civil Law, and Sacrifice, Talmud Tractates Be'a, Sukkah, Pesachim, and Shabbos, and many sections of the Shulchan Aruch (as planned in 1843 by the Commission). The curriculum stipulates all the books of the Bible, Mishnah, and Talmud, with no mention of omissions.

1 The Commission of 1843 had decided to establish Government schools for Jews, the curriculum formulated by the Commission as explained further in the text. The new schools would not prejudice, overtly that is, the continued existence of the cheder system. The new schools were to be maintained by a candle-tax levied on Jewish housewives. - Trans.

PROPOSAL III: Excerpts of the Mishnah to include Brochos and the Orders of Festivals, Civil Law, and Sacrifice, omitting laws pertinent only in the Holy Land, and laws of purity that were in force only during Temple days, since these laws are not overly urgent for young children in the general schools.

REPLY: The Mishnah is the source of law, providing principles for further amplifications of the law. Most Mishnaic laws are halachah l'Moshe m'Sinai (statutes given Moshe on Sinai). Payah II: Said Nachum the Librarian, "I received from R. Myasha, who received from Abba, who received from the `pairs; who received from the Prophets as a law given Moshe on Sinai that..." See also Rambam's introduction to his Commentary on Mishnah. Hence, all Mishnaic law can be divided into two categories: interpretations received by tradition from Moshe, based on Scriptural allusions, and laws given him on Sinai.

Kuzari IV, Chap. 65, describes the stature of the Mishnah Sages. Chap. 64: " . . . its succinctness of expression, its beauty of composition, its elegance of presentation, and the integration of circumstance and verdict -- there can be no doubt that an honest examiner will see that mortal man is incapable of such a production without Divine aid." See also Chap. 69.

The program as planned by the Commission for schools (as explained above in Paragraph II) is essential, and deletions should not be made. This applies equally to the first and second grades. It is clear that deletions within a tractate proper are out of the question, since even minor omissions would destroy. the harmonious structure, and make lucid understanding impossible. Besides, the Mishnah is interpreted in context, for circumstances equivalent to the first part, the latter part, etc. What might at first sight seem redundant, may enable an astute student to deduce proof or a principle for other more common and urgent cases. These are customary procedures as every Talmud student is well aware. Hence we find in Midrash (Lev. 21) , "Immerse yourself in Mishnah, for if you are mystified, the Mishnah will provide illumination." If omissions are made in the Mishnah, its study would be corrupted and it would cease to clarify and broaden understanding.

In consequence of the points discussed, it must be forcefully stated that we can consent to no excerpts whatsoever or omissions from the Mishnah. We dare not alter the system made by the holy Rabbi Yehuda the Prince, who compiled the lore of the Sages, receptors of an unbroken tradition, and whose ordination is traced directly to Moses. We shrink from such audacity. Even the Amoraim said, regarding Rabbi Yehuda and his colleagues, "If our predecessors were like angels, we are like men. If they were like men, we are like donkeys" (Shabbos 112b). Certainly, we in our day, who cannot be compared even to the Codifiers, can never tamper with the Mishnah.

The Gemara is beyond all discussion. It is the source of decision, utterly indispensable for fundamental understanding of Torah law (Baba Metzia 33a and b; Avoda Zara 19a) . There is already a section on this subject by the Commission, published by the Ministry, as noted above in Paragraph II.

PROPOSAL IV: Selections from Rambam, including laws most appropriate for advanced students, and relevant to the layman in his worship, his relations with his fellow-men, and his relations with monarch and country.

REPLY: It is impossible to understand Rambam without the Talmud background. Rosh's Responsa (Principle 31, article 9) , "Whoever reads (Rambam) and imagines he understands, understands nothing." If this holds true with mature scholars, it certainly applies to callow students. Maharshal (introduction to his Yam Shel Shlomo on Chulin) cautions, "Though Rambam's work is superior to those of his predecessors, it cannot be accepted through unassisted logic, since the origin of the law is not evident in the text." He explains further that study must begin with the source of the law -- Talmud -- and then, only, are the abridged laws comprehensible. See also S'mag, Introduction. Bais Yosef, in his Introduction to Tur Orach Chayim, observes, "Using a condensation, e.g. S'mak, Ogur, Kolbo, is truly a short but long route' " (Eruvin 35b). Ma'adanai Yom Tov, Introduction, wrote that Rambam himself intended that the law source be first studied exhaustively, and then his work be referred to for final verdicts.

Obviously then, Talmud is de rigueur, as the Commission stated, for any degree of comprehension. Even the Mishnah, the source of law and principle, is, without Gemara, inadequate for knowledge of the Torah. Sota 22a, "Verdicts may not be based on the Mishnah." It has been long accepted, that one untrained in his youth in the study of Gemara, though schooled in Mishnah and Rambam, is incapable of studying Gemara. If, in primary grades, youths fail to study Gemara competently, they will be unable to proceed to advanced studies in rabbinical seminaries.

There is no need, therefore, to introduce this novel study of Rambam, which has never been part of the Jewish curriculum. Verdicts are based on Shulchan Aruch, not on Rambam, whose views were frequently disputed by Rashi, the authors of Tosefos -- Rabbenu Tam and R'i -- as averred by S'mag, Introduction, and the authors of the Shulchan Aruch.

If Rambam is desirable for his moral-ethical teachings, the Commission curriculum already stipulates the study of other books on morals and ethics that are more extensive than Rambam, for example, Menoras Hamaor that is suitable even for children. This work discusses human attributes, e.g. 'Candle I' on envy, lust, and pride, 'Candle II' on levity, falsehood, slander, and flattery, 'Candle III' on mitzvah observance, prayer, honor of parents, and hospitality, 'Candle IV' on Torah study, 'Candle V' on penitence, 'Candle VI' on the paths of peace and love, 'Candle VII' on humility. There is no further need for selections from Rambam, especially since Menoras Hamaor has been universally recognized, whereas a new work would be unacceptable.

PROPOSAL V: Translation of the three compilations (Bible, Mishnah, Rambam) into a grammatically impeccable German.

REPLY: A translation of these works -- Bible, Mishnah, Rambam, and the prayer-book -- though we were not consulted as to the quality of the translation proper, is, in our considered opinion, not only of no use to teacher and pupils, but would be distinctly harmful and confusing. School children in our country are unfamiliar with pure German, since Yiddish is used in school and home. By reading a German translation, neither they, nor their seniors, would understand anything. It would be unwise to train an entire people, young and old, in a new language, German, in place of the language spoken for hundreds of years. Many sages discounted the feasibility of such a move. Ozar Nechmad on Kuzari I, 3, declares, "Would an entire nation alter their spirit and needlessly discard their accustomed tongue? Ralbag expressed similar sentiments." He refers to Ralbag, Milchamos Hashem VI, Ch. 15. "It is inconceivable that one nation among all, should unanimously agree to change their language. What could possibly impel them? It is demeaning that they abolish it. . . " Teaching a new language would be a time-consuming task and an unbearable burden, especially if the translation is to be in German characters. The scheme will impose an unwarranted and unjustified hardship on the students, who have not yet even mastered the German language. Facility in linguistics is not a trait common to all men. In any event, studying the translation would not lead to a clear understanding of the Torah and Mishnah.

To have instructors utilize the translation as a commentary to the text, would be a violation of the Commission's agreement in 1843 to use Rashi's work exclusively, since it has become a standard work over these past 700 years. The greatest scholars subsequent to Rashi underwrite his interpretations and accept him as the deciding authority. It would be wrong to utilize the German translation which often veers from Rashi's views, unless a new translation, in conformity with Rashi and acceptable to contemporary Torah scholars, is prepared, a formidable task indeed.

If the purpose of the translation is to make the Torah accessible to non-Jewish students, it would be advisable to render the translation in the language of His Majesty the Czar, Russian, the tongue common in our land and vital for all affairs.

As to a translation of the Mishnah and Rambam, in addition to previously stated objections, it is well nigh impossible to arrange a translation faithful to Talmudic interpretations. The brilliant scholar and peerless translator, R. Yehuda ibn Tibbon, in his own translation of Chovas Halvovos, castigates the majority of translators. "Often the scholars in different lands urged me to translate portions of Gaonic works from the Arabic into Hebrew, but I would not be swayed, because of the many pitfalls to avoid in this undertaking. In illustration: of all I have seen of translations from the Arabic into Hebrew there are, without exception, none that fail to destroy the beauty, alter the content, and lose the flavor (of the original). This loss is due to three factors: 1) some translators were insufficiently fluent in Arabic, 2) others were insufficiently fluent in Hebrew, 3) those perhaps fluent in both languages may not have understood the text as the author meant it, but translated according to their own ideas, in a manner quite different from the author's concepts. Perhaps there are translations by some who combined all these traits. It is obvious that any one factor could distort the subject..." His words were later emphasized by his eminent, scholarly son, Shmuel ibn Tibbon, in his Introduction to Moreh Nevuchim.

We of the Commission of 1843 were consulted on the quality of the German translation of the Pentateuch. We rejected it on the grounds of its divergence from Rashi. Please accept in good faith our demurral to the five proposals, as you well know the remark of the sage, "Love scholars, but love truth more." (End of Rabbi Menachem Mendel's reply.)

When the reply was received by the Bureau of Religions, it was given to Mandelstam for perusal and translation into Russian; the reply was to be on the agenda of a session of the current Conference. Mandelstam invited Stern and Pinsker to study the reply. They were dismayed to find that in the five years since the Commission of 1843, not only did the Lubavitcher Rabbi fail to modify his opinions or waver from his stand, but he was even more determined and outspoken than ever.

Mandelstam also invited Werbel, Eichenbaum, and Lifshitz to discuss the reply of the Rabbi, the one of the six consulted who replied at length and with explanations. There were three opinions expressed by the group: 1) report to the Minister that, of the six replies received from the Rabbis, none give substantial answers, and some reiterate their opinions expressed at the Commission of 1843, 2) translate the reply so as to be ineffective by omitting the conclusions, 3) translate the entire epistle, with conclusions, and add commentary but to translate it into sharp language, with a demanding tone concerning the defense of the glory of the Jewish faith and the superiority of Torah and mitzvos that separate Jews from other people, and elevate them over all else. This rendition would surely infuriate the haughty Count Uvarov and stimulate him to implement the Maskilim's proposals.

The Rabbi, meanwhile, sent copies of his reply to the Vaad in Petersburg, to Rabbi David Luria, and to the Governor-General of Vitebsk and Mogilev, Count Galitzin. Galitzin, a nephew of the Count Galitzin who was Minister of Culture under Czar Alexander I, was raised in a liberal atmosphere. While still a student, he heard much from his uncle about the great Jewish Rabbi (Rabbi Schneur Zalman) who was brought to Petersburg as a revolutionary. The elder Galitzin was lavish in his praise of the Rabbi and his outstandingly scholarly son (Rabbi Dov-Ber). Before young Galitzin left Petersburg for his post of Governor-General of Vitebsk and Mogilev, his uncle requested him to protect the Lubavitcher Rabbi from his foes and Jewish persecutors, the Maskilim. This request was based on experience, for three Vitebsk Jews, Mirkin, Zlotkin, and Briskin, often denounced the Rabbi or a member of his family. The accusations would be sent to the Bureau of Jewish Affairs or the Third Section in Petersburg.

Within a few months of assuming office, the young Count changed the personnel of his staff, and a new morale prevailed in all Government offices. His predecessor, Diakov, had been a bitter anti-Semite who especially persecuted observant Jews. Diakov was of royal descent (though not "legally"), a degenerate and alcoholic. He made frequent, prolonged visits to the large estates in his provinces, and left the conduct of his office in the hands of his adjutant, Petrov, a reckless, stupid man.

The Petersburg Vaad gave the epistle to the learned Yerachmiel Massayev to translate into Russian, German, and French.1 Massayev translated the letter into the three languages, and added notes from secular literature, to illuminate its contents and the citations from Talmud and rishonim -- all in a readily comprehensible, logical, and cultured manner. His translations were considered by scholars to be more than expert; they revealed the intellectual wealth of the original Hebrew, and were literature of the first rank. As a member of a group of young intellectuals, Massayev showed the reply to his comrades, who lauded the translation and his erudite notes. The group met to discuss the reply, and in discussion amplified it further. Massayev rewrote his translation incorporating the suggestions and comments of his friends. This copy he gave to his uncle, Chaim Massayev, a member of the Vaad.

1 Despite the decline of the popularity of French, the older intellectuals among the officials still esteemed the language.

Mandelstam and his group translated their copy for the Bureau of Religions as they had decided. While adding nothing to the Rabbi's words, they managed to give the reply an air of hauteur and insufferable conceit, emphasizing the superiority of the Jewish faith over the Christian. After discussion and additions and deletions, this draft was approved. A short review was added that, in the entire reply there was nothing substantial to serve as a clear reply to the proposals, with the exception of the allusions to the Commission of 1843. They also noted its condescending attitude toward Christianity.

In the first report Governor-General Galitzin sent to the Minister of the Interior -- July 10, 1846 -- on the state of the provinces under his jurisdiction, he appended a special report on Rabbi Schneersohn of Lubavitch and his conduct in communal activities. He stated that the Rabbi was deeply interested in his people's material welfare, and closely supervised their ethical conduct. On the basis of information gathered by police officers Kutchinski and Viatzek, the Honored Citizen Rabbi Mendel Shachnovitch Schneersohn could be suspected of no misdeeds, his conduct being faultless. This report was transmitted to the Chief Police Officer and the Bureau of Jewish Affairs. Straganov, the Minister of the Interior, was displeased with the report and irked by Galitzin's liberal views. The report had an even more unfavorable effect on Benkendorff, Chief of the Third Section, and Kisselev, head of the Bureau of Jewish Affairs.

Young Galitzin, in a letter to his uncle,1 who was then Honorary President of the Senate, praised the Rabbi, mentioning remarks by the nobles Glinka, Azmidov, and Shachavski, estate owners near Lubavitch. This letter was dated one week after the report. He also noted the stories told him by Count Shubalov and Dr. Heibenthal about Rabbi Schneuri. Young Galitzin declared that, on the strength of reports from the Secret Police keeping the Rabbi under observation, he would recommend, in September or October, the removal of the six year old surveillance over the Rabbi.

1 The senior Galitzin, when still close to the then Minister of Culture and to the Crown Prince (later Alexander I), was a member of the committee that investigated the charges against Rabbi Schneur Zalman in 1798. He also participated in the investigations of the Rabbi during both arrests in 1799 and. He was involved in the discussions with young Rabbi Moshe, son of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, in the nobles' homes at the time.

Straganov, though harsh, was in a decided measure quite sincere. Personally a devout Christian, he respected adherents of other faiths, and deep in his heart he felt respect for Jewish leaders. Ever since the purchase of the Schtzedrin estate in 1844, Straganov's attention was drawn to the Rabbi. Kisselev and Benkendorff, on the other hand, regarded Jewish leaders with open disfavor. The fact that for seven years --1836-1843 -- Lilienthal, Rotenberg, and Mandelstam had made all sorts of accusations against the Torah, its eminent scholars, the Chassidim and their leader, the Lubavitcher Rabbi, caused Kisselev and Benkendorff to suspect Torah scholars and the Rabbi, particularly, of subversion.

The Commission of 1843 and the Rabbi's strenuous efforts to defend Judaism, Kabala, and Chassidus1 had displeased Benkendorff and Kisselev. Benkendorff finally demanded that the Minister of the Interior order Diakov to impose a stricter surveillance over the Rabbi. Galitzin's report was naturally unpleasant for Benkendorff and Kisselev, and the two officials requested Straganov to call a special meeting to discuss "vital matters."

1 Chassidic teaching came under fire during the 1843 Commission.

After discussing routine Ministry business, the two officials expressed their misgivings about the liberal tendencies of Governor-General Galitzin, and their lack of confidence in his reports on the estate holders and political activities of the Jewish leaders, especially of Rabbi Schneersohn. They insisted that the Minister take proper measures to restrict Galitzin's liberalism, and maintain a more stringent watch over the Rabbi and the White Russian and Lithuanian communities under his influence.

As a result of this meeting, the Ministry informed Galitzin of the Minister's request ,for a comprehensive report, to be submitted within a few months, on the political state of affairs among the nobles of Vitebsk and Mogilev and the Jewish communities. Emphasis was to be placed on Rabbi Schneersohn, head of the Chabad Chassidim. On October 17, 1846, Galitizin submitted his report.

Benkendorff marked his copy of the report, I do not. believe in the political propriety of the Swedish and Polish-born nobles. The case of the Tzadik Schneersohn should be assigned to General Freigang, Head of the Fourth Division, Third Section, Secret Police."

Freigang assigned the Director of the Secret Police in Vilna to investigate the Rabbi, ascertain the number of his visitors, and determine the relationship between Galitzin and the Chassidim of White Russia and Lithuania, and especially with the Rabbi. Yurkovski, Director of the Minsk Secret Police, and considered by his colleagues to be a peerless spy, and Maslov, a spy using membership in the Minsk City Council to cloak his less publicized activities, arranged the investigations according to Freigang's orders. Shortly after this, Benkendorff was stricken with a fatal disease; one Orlov was, appointed his successor. Orlov, a devout Christian, was a conscientious, just, and kindly man who honored and admired the faithful of any religion.

After Orlov assumed office, Freigang's report on the findings of the Vilna Secret Police was received, verifying Galitzin's appraisal of October 17, 1846. Orlov became interested in the case and ordered the entire file on Rabbi Schneersohn for his personal inspection. He suspected that slander and hatred were the cause of injustice to the Rabbi, and suggested to the Minister that the Rabbi was a victim of libel. He proposed that, with the Minister's approval, Galitzin be consulted on whether to maintain surveillance over the Rabbi any longer. The Minister agreed with Orlov's analysis of the situation, and wrote Galitzin accordingly. Galitzin's reply, dated March 7, 1847, stated that, according to information received from provincial officials of Vitebsk-Mogilev, the Honored Citizen Rabbi Schneersohn of Lubavitch was deserving of freedom from observation. Orlov then asked Uvarov for his consent for this move; Uvarov agreed.1 On March 19, 1847, Orlov demanded that the responsible officials carry out the decision and recall the Police observation of the Rabbi. Straganov then notified Galitzin that a thorough investigation of the Rabbi showed him to be unassailable in his political activities. Thus, the police surveillance came to an end.

1 Uvarov was out of sorts. Since Lilienthal's sudden flight to the United States in 1845, and the accusations by his erstwhile colleagues, Mandelstam and Rotenberg, of criminal misappropriation of funds, the disillusioned Uvarov was disheartened.

Galitzin gleefully notified Dr. Heibenthal and Count Shubalov of these developments, and wrote a special letter to his uncle. Two weeks later he received a reply from the elder count, blessing him for his efforts on behalf of truth and justice. "But in my opinion," wrote the count, "Rabbi Schneersohn will now more than ever be in need of your protection. Heretofore he could refute any accusations by referring to his police observers. Now that he is free, who will testify for him and defend him from his enemies and persecutors?

"I remember," continued the letter, "the deluge of accusations that the enemies of Rabbi Baruchovitch -- grandfather of Rabbi Schneersohn -- rained upon him after his proper political conduct had been verified. He was finally summoned to Petersburg and held in the prison Taini Soviet and almost sentenced to life imprisonment in Petersburg. Thanks to some upright men in the Government, and above all, the refined and just heart of His Majesty, Czar Alexander, he was granted complete freedom. I have no doubt that the same will befall his grandson, that his Jewish enemies who consider themselves enlightened will slander and libel him. Remember, then, your duty to defend an honorable man battling his brethren who deny their Torah, the Torah of Moses."

His uncle's letter moved the young Governor. When he learned of the elections to the Conference called by the Minister of the Interior, and the Rabbi's inability to participate, Galitzin promptly forwarded Dr. Heibenthal's affidavit regarding the Rabbi's ill health. Galitzin received his copy of the Rabbi's reply to the Conference proposals. Being aware of the implacable opposition of the Maskilim to the Rabbi, he asked Eliezer Zipkin,1 a scholar of Russian, to translate it. Zipkin replied that, though he clearly understood the contents, he was unable, for lack of Russian equivalents for certain terms, to make a true translation. He suggested that the tutor engaged by Count Piotr Paskovitch for his son Jakob, the Academician Otto Schultz, a graduate of the Academy for Oriental Languages, would be capable of rendering a precise translation. Galitzin sent a Hebrew copy of the reply to the Governor of Mogilev requesting him to forward the copy with a letter from the Count (Galitzin) to the scholar Schultz, asking him to translate the reply into Russian.

1 Zipkin was a native of Schklov. His father lived in the village of Petrovka near Count Paskovitch's estate. A talented youth, Eliezer mastered French and Russian. Through his father-in-law, an intimate of the mayor, he was appointed official interpreter, to translate all notices for Jews relating to court business, etc.

Schultz translated the reply and cited from secular literature material pertinent to the topics discussed. He sent the translation to the Governor to forward to Count Galitzin.

Shortly afterward, Galitzin received a communication from the Third Section signed by Orlov, stating, "The Third Section, has received a copy of the note sent to the Governor-General of Vitebsk-Mogilev, regarding the pamphlet circulated by the Tzadik Schneersohn of Lubavitch, expounding rebellion against the wishes of the Czar, the note stating that the office of the Governor-General defends Rabbis Schneersohn. The note is signed by the Vitebsk citizens Shmuel Mirkin, Reuven Wolf Zlotkin, and Benjamin Briskin. The Governor-General is requested to 1) investigate this note, and 2) send to the offices of the Third Section a translation of the pamphlet."

Yerachmiel Massayev was a constant visitor in the home of the elder Count Galitzin. During one of. their conversations, when the Count related the events of the investigation of Rabbi Baruchovitch in 1801, and the Rabbinical Commission of 1843, Massayev told him about the reply he had translated. The Count studied the translation and praised Massayev and his young scholar collaborators for their comments. He sent a copy to his nephew in Vitebsk with a personal note. Meanwhile, young Galitzin received two more translations: Professor Schultz's, and a translation by the censor Tugenholtz from the Governor-General of Vilna.

Galitzin then replied to the Third Section that the pamphlet mentioned in the complaint of Mirkin, Zlotkin, and Briskin, was the same pamphlet he had received from the Honored Citizen Rabbi Mendel Shachnovitch Schneersohn of Lubavitch, written in Hebrew. He (Galitzin) had sent a copy to the Bureau of Religions, where a competent translation was no doubt made. Since the office of the Governor-General had in its possession three different translations from three different sources, the copies were being sent to the Third Section, without prejudice toward any version.

The Third Section then requested a copy of their translation from the Bureau of Religions, prepared by Mandelstam and his colleagues, making a total of four different versions of the reply in the files of the Third Section. Orlov was understandably bewildered. He had been making a study of the accusations against Chassidim during four periods: 1) against the Karliners1 in 1772, 2) the charges and imprisonment of Rabbi Schneur Zalman in 1798, 3) the accusations and imprisonment of Rabbi Dov Ber in 1826, and 4) the continuous accusations from 1838 till 1848, and the many imprisonments of Rabbi Menachem Mendel in 1843.

1 One of the early leaders of Chassidim was Rabbi Aaron of Karlin, known as "Rabbi Aaron the Great:"

Orlov prepared a statement on the general subject of the accusations, and suggested that the Ministers of Culture and the Interior appoint a special committee to investigate the origin of the charges. He declared that accusations based on fraud reflect unfavorably on those Government institutions that respect the perpetrators of the frauds. At a joint meeting of the Ministries, Straganov censured Uvarov for his extraordinary and indiscreet faith in the Maskilim. For years Uvarov had trusted Dr. Lilienthal, until his (Lilienthal's) misconduct with Government funds and subsequent flight. Since then Uvarov had conferred on all Jewish affairs with Mandelstam and Rotenberg, ignoring the Rabbinate entirely, a palpable indiscretion, in Straganov's view. At Uvarov's behest, Straganov charged, he had selected the six delegates to the current Conference, and was now informed by the Governors of Vitebsk, Mogilev, Minsk, Vilna, etc., that the Jews were incensed by the proceedings of the Conference, claiming that the goal of the Conference was their conversion.

Uvarov summoned Mandelstam, Rot and the four delegates, Eichenbaum, Werbel, Lifshitz, and Bernstein. He poured out all his accumulated wrath on their heads, raging at them with bitter contempt, "How dared Mandelstam advise the appointment of such men as delegates, public desecrators of Judaism, and the sole rabbi not really a rabbi, but merely an Instructor in the Vilna Seminary!" he demanded. In addition, he charged, their translation of the Lubavitcher Rabbi's reply was spurious. He announced that the Conference would shortly be terminated, to be considered as never having taken place, i.e. without recommendations. He dismissed the men, permitting them to leave Petersburg.

The four delegates had previously prepared voluminous background material, some going back to the days of Catherine II and Paul. Recommendations had been prepared on 1) prohibitions on importing Kabala and Chassidic literature, 2) substitution of an organized school system for the cheder, 3) expenses of these schools to be borne by the Jews through a special tax on Sabbath and holiday candles. The clique was confident of success, since they constituted a majority. Besides, their proposals were prepared by the leading pedagogue of the day, Hertz Humburg,1 the Supervisor of Jewish Schools in Bohemia. The plan was to obtain Government approval quietly, to avoid any possible opposition.

1 Humburg, a native of Prague, studied in a Yeshiva, and later in Berlin met pupils of Mendelssohn and became an assimilationist. In 1787 he was appointed by the Austrian government to open "modern" schools for Jews in Lvov. He persuaded the authorities to compel Jewish children to study secular subjects, even before they were introduced to religious learning. The government prohibited 1) acceptance of any child into cheder without a certificate of satisfactory completion of the curriculum in a regular German school, 2) marriage among Jews without presenting a certificate of achievement in German culture. In 1795 Humburg proposed that the government impose a tax on Shabbos and holiday candles. He had an "arrangement" with one Shlomo Kupler, who purchased the lucrative tax concession for 200,000 florins annually. In 1801 Humburg was forced to leave Lvov because of misappropriation of funds, and was discharged as Inspector of Schools.

Humburg composed several textbooks of a patriotic nature in German, and something titled, "Who is Culturally Fit for Marriage?" In 1810 an Imperial edict was issued: 1) to introduce Humburg's textbooks in all Jewish schools, 2) to grant marriage licenses to Galician and Bohemian Jews only after successful examination by the District Police Officer on Humburg's book.

Humburg proposed that the government 1) institute censorship over Jewish literature, 2) examine Jewish literature and expunge any statements opposing the government, the Catholic church, and humanity, e.g. superstitions, 3) forbid the publication of the following literature: new prayers (except those for the welfare of the monarch), Kabala, biographies of Rabbis and tales of wonder-workers, sermons with Talmudic casuistry and content, and new literature on Talmud and the Codes of Law, 4) convene an assembly of the Rabbis of Bohemia, Moravia, Hungary, and Galicia, to deliberate on expunging from Jewish literature -- Bible, Talmud, Codes of Law, and Prayer-books all those subjects, laws, statements, and verses that are derogatory of Gentiles.

Through his proposals Humburg favorably impressed Franz I and the ranking government officials. Franz appointed Humburg Inspector of Jewish Schools in Bohemia, where he served from 1814 until 1841. He succeeded in destroying the cheder schools of Bohemia, propagating secular studies and Haskalah, reinforced strongholds of Haskalah in Galicia, and was considered the elder statesman by Russian and Polish Maskilim.

The proper time to implement the scheme would be, they decided, at the close of the Conference, when Uvarov and his aides Satutski and Karpov, sympathizers of the Maskilim, would be most amenable. The one drawback was the presence of Bashkovitch and Goldberg, who would certainly oppose the recommendations. But those two had already resigned from the Conference, and after a three-week suspension of sessions, the Conference was resumed with two more meetings scheduled. The agenda of the closing session included 1) a reading of the Rabbi's reply, and a decision by the Conference, 2) discussion of implementation of decisions, and 3) adjournment.

The plans were, then, to submit the proposals at that time, and the Maskilim were confident that this ruse suggested by Humburg would successfully evoke official approval of their proposals. It was Humburg's strategy to act quietly and suddenly; Humburg was expert in deceit. Their ends would be quietly and efficiently fulfilled: customs officials would receive unobtrusive orders from the Chief of Revenues to return all Jewish books from abroad; a school system would be organized, and, at the proper time, an official proclamation would be issued announcing compulsory attendance and the abolition of the cheder; certain citizens in each community would lease the candle tax concession, and then Municipal Police would declare a monopoly on candle sales, and anyone violating the monopoly would be punished. Success was assured, since the task would be completed before opposition could be aroused and protests submitted. The Jews would be presented with a fait accompli; even minor changes would be time consuming, hence ineffective.

The one error in their calculations was the prejudiced translation of the Rabbi's reply. The storm raised by the discrepancies of their rendition vitiated all their careful plans. The efficient Petersburg Vaad discovered and widely publicized the details of the ignominious debacle, and the public clearly understood the reasons for the dissolution of the Conference, and the Government's declining to announce the proceedings and decisions of the Conference.

The infamous conduct of Mandelstam and his colleagues during the Conference, their overt contempt for Shabbos and kashrus, brought disgrace upon the Maskilim of Russia and Poland. But for the timely assistance of Maskilim from abroad, the notorious houses of apostasy, the seminaries of Vilna and Zhitomer, would have disintegrated. In all Jewish communities the Maskilim were rejected and discredited as forgers and prevaricators. Mandelstam himself, notwithstanding his official post as expert on Jewish affairs in the Ministries of Culture and the Interior, fell from grace in the Ministries he served, and his name became a by-word of mockery and calumny among the Jews of Russia.


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