Евреи Петербурга. Три века истории


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The reign of Nicholas I was marked by new persecutions and restrictions for the whole of Russian Jewry. Jews were evicted from a number of towns and border areas, prohibited from entering government service and holding elective public office, and obtaining travel passports. Even a temporary stay outside the Pale was restricted. The wearing of traditional Jewish clothes was outlawed. The number of Jewish printing-offices was sharply reduced and the censorship of Jewish books was toughened. The kagals were abolished in 1844. Under Nicholas I the Jews were accused of ritual killings for the first time in Russia.A 17th century synagogue in Shklov, Byelorussia
In 1840, a Committee for Jewish question was formed including the highest dignitaries of the Empire and the Polish Kingdom, with P. Kiselev at its head. Its objective was to develop new restrictive measures towards Jews. One of its projects, which fortunately was not implemented, was the so-called "selection", i.e. separation of "useful" Jews (merchants, some categories of handicraftsmen, agriculturists, doctors and other intellectual professions) from the "useless" mass of Jews available for conscription. The Committee discussed ways of converting Jews to Christianity and having them take up agriculture and receive standard secular education. The Committee existed until 1865.Pavel Kiselev
Jews were conscripted into the Russian army after 1828. Unlike other peoples and classes, Jews were recruited at the age of twelve. In practice, even younger boys who only appeared to be twelve were often conscripted. The Jewish communities bore joint liability for conscription and if any of them failed to provide the prescribed number of recruits the others had to provide several times as many. Thousands of juvenile recruits died en route from hardships and diseases. The survivors were enrolled as cantonists.A guard of military engineers settlements
Persuasion and violence were often used in order to convert the Jewish cantonists to Christianity. Conversion opened military career opportunities, including promotion to the rank of officer. However, the most strong-willed remained loyal to the faith of their fathers. At the age of 16 they were enrolled in army regiments or various auxiliary units. It was officially prohibited to promote the soldiers of Jewish faith to the rank of warrant officers or award them the St. George's Cross for bravery. The memory of the "blood tax", which took tens of thousands of Jewish lives and caused even a greater number of Jewish youths to give up their faith, remained with the Russian Jews for a long time.
Meanwhile, the idea of disseminating European education among Jews was actively supported by such Jewish leaders as Isaak Ber Levinzon, Yakov Moiseyevich Eikhenbaum and others. They hoped to achieve emancipation and improve the life of Russian Jewry by rejection of "religious fanaticism", propagation of "useful occupations" (handicrafts, agriculture, intellectual professions), and rapprochement between Jews and the rest of the population through assimilation of the Russian language and secular knowledge. During this period, however, these secularists did not exert much influence on the Jewish masses since they were openly hostile to Chasidism and appealed to the government for support.
Yet, in new communities, for example, Odessa, the ideas of the enlightenment met with a positive response. In 1827, a Jewish school was established through the sponsorship of the community in which secular sciences were taught alongside traditional Jewish subjects.Isaak Ber Levinzon
In the early 1840s, the Jewish public school of Riga achieved considerable success under the guidance of Max Liliental (1815-1882), a Jewish educator invited from Germany. At the request of the government Liliental took part in preparing Jewish school reform but in 1844 he had to leave Russia having had no success in improving the life of Russian Jews. Starting in 1847, Jewish government schools were opened under Christian supervisors who also taught general subjects. Alongside "Moses' Law", the students of these schools learned the Russian language and a number of secular subjects. The majority of Jews disliked government schools because of their low level of education and the hostile attitude of most supervisors and also because they viewed these schools as a means of alienating their children from the faith of their fathers. At the same time, a few Jewish students graduated from Russian universities. The first was Lev Iosifovich Mandelshtam (1819-1889).Max Liliental
The city of Vilnius was one of the main centers of Jewish education and book-publishing. It had Russia's only Jewish printing office, belonging to Manes and Simmel, which operated from 1837 through 1847 (in 1845, another printing office was opened in Zhitomir), This printing-office published works of Mordekhai Ginsburg (1796-1846), a translator and author of numerous books on Jewish and general history, and of Abraham Lebenson (1794-1874) and his son Micha (1828-1852), the fathers of Hebrew poetry in Russia. The volume of Hebrew-language secular literature was growing. In 1847, the printing-office of Manes and Simmel issued elementary rules of Russian grammar for Jews, with comments in Yiddish. The same year, rabbinical schools were opened in Vilnius and Zhitomir.Near the Vilnius synagogue

A 17th century synagogue in Shklov, Byelorussia
Pavel Kiselev
A guard of military engineers settlements
Isaak Ber Levinzon
Max Liliental
Near the Vilnius synagogue

A 17th century synagogue in Shklov, Byelorussia