During the first months of the reign of Alexander II, Evzel Gunzburg, a major purveyor for the Russian army and a hereditary freeman, submitted to the Emperor a memorandum arguing for a mitigation of restrictions for some categories of Jews. This idea was in line with the general liberal policies of the new Emperor. As a result retired soldiers, merchants of the 1st guild, holders of academic degrees and, later all graduates and some categories of handicraftsmen were allowed to live with their families and a specified number of salesmen and servants outside the Pale, including St. Petersburg.
The lawful Jewish residents of the capital had the right to invite rabbis from other cities for their spiritual needs. The Jewish community was rapidly growing. Many new prayer houses were established in addition to those of the soldiers. The community was changing not only numerically but qualitatively. The new elite of St. Petersburg's Jewry consisted of Jewish bankers and businessmen. The intellectual professions included doctors and translators. As of 1868, 72% of the Jewish males in St. Petersburg were literate as against only 54% among the Orthodox population. Such a community needed new educated rabbis.
The first St. Petersburg rabbi with a higher secular education was Abram Isaiah Neiman, a graduate of the Philosophy Department of Wendtsburg University. He was confirmed in office in 1864 by recommendation of the Petersburg military governor Count Suvorov.
Many members of the St. Petersburg Jewish community did not welcome a rabbi with a European education. Several months after his installation some parishioners of the houses of prayer complained to the authorities that they did not understand the sermons which the new rabbi preached in Russian or Hebrew and requested reinstatement of the old rabbis who preached in Yiddish. However, the language problem was only a pretext. The roots of opposition to the new rabbi lay much deeper: a new group of people was gaining leadership in the community.
The new leaders of the community pursued specific political aims. The consolidation of the Jewish community in the capital aroused hopes for the emancipation of Jews in Russia. A real community was inconceivable without a number of institutions: schools, charities, synagogues. On February 12th, 1865 the Emperor approved a resolution of the Committee of Ministers, according to which a committee in charge of the property of the St. Petersburg prayer houses, but without spiritual authority status, was to be set up.
On September 19, 1869 the Committee of Ministers allowed the Jews to build a synagogue in St. Petersburg on condition that all other houses of prayer would be closed.
Handicraftsman´s certificate. This certificate qualified a Jew for living outside the Pale