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Sketches of Jewish Life in Russia:
A General Survey of the Condition of the Jews in Russia.

By the Chief Rabbi Dr. Lilienthal,

(Continued from page 446.)

No. II.

The second class are the mechanics. For a long time the Jews were accused in Russia also, as elsewhere, that they would not occupy themselves with mechanical pursuits. This prejudice came from Germany, where the old laws did not grant us permission to learn or to exercise them. But how agreeably was I astonished during my travels in Russia, to find the Jews in all places exercising mechanical trades. The city of Wilna alone numbers over one thousand tailors, and over an equal number of shoemakers. Some object to them that they do not understand how to do fine work, after the Parisian fashions; but in the first place their Jewish brethren are their only customers, and the Shubetz* has not been subject to alteration for several centuries; and if they should have to work for other customers, it would be impossible for them to get their trade perfect, as a sojourn at St. Petersburg and Moscow is prohibited to them, and in their native towns they have no opportunity of acquiring a greater knowledge of their trade than they have already. And in the cities of Riga and Mitau, where the German is spoken, the Jews <<492>>are subject to severe restrictions as mechanics; since in the former a Jew can only become the apprentice of or work as a journeyman with another Jew; and in the latter only father and children can work together. It is no wonder that such restrictive laws press hard upon the Jewish mechanic, who even without them can scarcely hope to rise in the world, on account of the active competition he has to meet with. Notwithstanding this, the Jews have not confined themselves to the common trades; but in the South, where poverty is not so general as in the North, they have established many manufactories. I enumerate the manufactories established in Podolia, as I have the memoranda to enable me to do so. Broadcloths are made in Dunajowey, Ladishin, Kaljuss, Kamionka, Minkowey, Nemeroff, Teplik; shawls and Tallethim, which excel the Turkish ones in fineness of quality, are made in Bershady; dress-shawls, which are worked after Turkish patterns, are made at Mohilev; there is also a manufactory of paper at Minkowey, and one of pins at Miendshiboshe; besides manufactories of heavy linen oznaburgs, and those of soap and candles, in great quantities. There were also formerly a great many stationers and publishers, till the law of 1835 prohibited them that branch of business in all places, with the sole exceptions of Wilna and Kiev.—The distilleries gave employment to hundreds of families; in the first place to the wholesale dealers, who kept large warehouses; secondly, to the brokers, who often made successful speculations by the difference of prices existing in the produce of the distilleries in different places, besides their usual commissions in buying and selling; and thirdly, to the retail dealers and shopkeepers. It is certain that thirty thousand people obtained their livelihood from this one branch of business.

* This is the name given to the long coat which the men use, or to speak more correctly (since Nicholas has enforced the European costume), were in the habit of wearing throughout Poland and Russia.

We now come to the mail contractors, who in Russia are obliged to keep a certain number of horses, according to the route, and these receive, in addition to the usual travelling fees obtained from passengers, a certain stipulated sum from government. In all provinces where the Jews are permitted to settle, they have the mail contracts, and generally earn thereby a comfortable maintenance.

Another class consists of ministers of religion and teachers. The  number of the first is very considerable, since there is <<493>>hardly a village which has not its Rabbi, and if possible a Maggid (preacher) likewise. In the more considerable towns, where there are several Synagogues, each one has its own preacher and Dayanim (judges); and in the large cities, such as Wilna, they have, in addition to the Beth-Din; ten or twelve Rabbis, among whom are divided for adjudication different portions of the Shulchan-Aruch (the compendium of Jewish laws), and who are presided over by the chief Rabbi. It must not be lost sight of, that the Russian Jews live strictly in accordance with our received laws: and they are sufficiently learned in them to know that the many cases of conscience which are of constant occurrence, cannot be decided understandingly by any one who may claim a superficial knowledge of the Talmud and the decisions of the latter doctors of the law; but that it requires the study of an entire lifetime to become thoroughly acquainted with those stupendous monuments of learning and deep research in the great concerns of life. Hence the Russian congregations would not feel at ease in their conscience, if they did not have a Rabbi to preside over their religious affairs; and as the number of the communities is large, we can easily account for the great number of those who obtain their support as Rabbis, and why so many students crowd their colleges to prepare themselves for the high and holy office of teachers of religion.—Next to them is the class of Melammedim, or schoolmasters, of whom there are at least twenty thousand in Russia. As every Jewish child goes to the Hebrew school, and as the poorest families exert themselves to the utmost to have their children partake of the education there afforded, it is easy to understand that the persons engaged in teaching must form a large mass in the aggregate. The three cities of Kaminiec, Balta, and Mohilev, in Podolia, alone give employment, according to strictly authentic records, to one hundred  and twenty-six Melammedim, who teach over sixteen hundred children, at an annual expense of 10,392 silver rubles. The most populous cities, such as Wilna and Berditshev, employ each over two hundred Melammedim. And, although the money spent annually by the Russian Jews for the education of their children reaches the enormous sum of between two and three millions of silver rubles, still every individual teacher obtains barely more than eighty rubles salary, wherewith he has to support his often <<494>>numerous family. It is only astonishing that so many embrace every year this pursuit, wherein they labour with a fidelity, a perseverance, and an energy, of which  the teachers of modern schools have neither knowledge nor conception.

From the meagre sketch given above, of the manner in which the greater portion of the Russian Jews obtain their living, it will be evident that they are not given so much to laziness as their accusers charge them with. The only charges which could in reality be brought against them, in the reign of Nicholas, are, that they were not farmers, and that they did not devote their time to secular studies, but that they generally embraced a mercantile life. To give a more perfect view of the ways and means of their living, we will anticipate the order in which the Russian laws were promulgated, and treat of the above accusations. They are in the main the very same which are brought forward in Germany, only with this difference, that the Russian Jews cannot be accused of a neglect of the mechanical arts. That they did not occupy their time with agriculture, was owing to the position assigned to them in society being that of traders, and because the fear of becoming reduced to a state of slavery, like the Russian serfs, prevented them from engaging in farm labours. The law of 1835, which was intended to encourage agriculture among the Jews, promised to every one who would engage in tilling the earth an exemption from all military duty for five-and-twenty years; and to the wealthy Israelites, who would establish Jewish colonies, the personal and hereditary right of honorary citizenship.

It is a fact well known, that whole masses of Jews were ready to emigrate to Siberia, to establish there agricultural colonies; that the old minister of finance, Count Cankrim, gave the project his whole support, and recommended it strongly to the Emperor; but that he ordered, in 1837, to let the whole matter drop, because Siberia was a land too good and inviting to be settled by Jews. Even Jewish criminals, after their time of punishment has expired, and even if they should desire to remain there, are forced to bend their steps to their former homes, though they have not the least prospect to earn there an honest support. A case in point occurred at the time when the hereditary prince visited Siberia, and pardoned all the criminals whose term of punishment was near expiring. The Jews, who <<495>>felt at home in their place of exile, begged for permission to remain there; but the governor-general had to execute the law, and their prayers were refused.—The government some time after assigned the level country of Cherson to the Jews, as the land where they could settle themselves. More than fifteen hundred Jews from the single province of Courland, applied immediately to be sent thither; and sold all their landed property in order to emigrate. But their petitions remained unanswered; till at length the Czar and his son were passing in one of their journeys through Mitau, when a Jewish tailoress boldly approached the carriage of the Emperor, and applied to him, taking him for a person attached to the imperial court, not knowing that it was the Czar himself she was addressing, to intercede with the Emperor in their behalf An order soon followed, appropriating a large sum of money to defray the expenses of the transportation of the emigrants, promising them also houses, cattle, agricultural implements, and seed for the first year.

I happened to be at Mitau when the intended settlers began their journey; and I delivered an oration at the festival which the Congregation had made, in order to prove their gratitude for the imperial boon. It was a day of general joy, for a new era seemed to dawn for the so long oppressed Israelites. But how speedily was that voice of joy silenced again; for soon the afflicting news came, that one third of the emigrants had died through the neglect of the officers who conducted the removal; that they had found Cherson to be a dreary country, where, from the absence of forests, rain was scarce; that they had found neither houses nor anything else provided for them on their arrival; that they were indebted for their preservation thus far solely to the munificence of a Jewish commissary, Salomon-Raffalowitch; and that, in brief, their cup of misery was full to overflowing. This dreadful deception of all their fond anticipations, did not only bring heart-rending misery on these emigrants, but it roused the indignation of all Jews in Russia, and produced a settled aversion to agriculture; for they began to look upon it as a new bait to lure them to destruction. Of all colonies commenced under the law of 1835, only those in Volhynia and Witebsk—the latter being founded by the hereditary honorary citizen Rappoport—have met with success; for they are located on good land, and in the neighbourhood of cities, as <<496>>also of their Jewish brethren, who give them their patronage and support.—This accurate statement of facts proves clearly, that the charge of the Jews being averse to agriculture, has been without foundation, at least ever since 1835; and that if they are now cautious and distrustful, the fault lies somewhere else than in themselves; for they may justly aver, that after such dearly bought experience, they can only then be willing to go to farming en masse, if they could obtain land in those provinces where they are already settled, and near their former homesteads.

The other charge, that the Jews are averse to secular studies, rests upon an equally erroneous foundation. For in Germany, even Jewish parents have at length found out, that it is absolutely  folly to let their sons devote themselves to the study of the law, since they never can hope of obtaining the least office: and since many a one, after the lost years of his youth are passed, tired of waiting, and fearful of not having in old age any means of support, finds in the baptismal font the last anchor of his shattered hopes. How much more must this consideration have weight in Russia? Nicholas, instead of encouraging the Jews to study, ordered, on the contrary, that all such of them as held offices and insignia of distinction under Alexander, should either resign them or become apostates. I know myself several collegiate counsellors and men attached to the court, who went to the Synagogue on the Day of Atonement, with the insignia of the order of St. Anna around their neck, and prayed there with devotion and fervour, who still were forced into apostacy. Such instances are not calculated to encourage Jewish parents to let their children study; and it is but too true, that many whose inclination led them to study, were carried thereby into the bosom of the Christian church.