New Jewish studies. St. Petersburg school
Studies in Jewish history were a form of spiritual resistance by the Jewish intelligentsia to increasing anti-semitism. A generation of Jewish scholars successfully applied the methods and achievements of contemporary European science to the study of Jewish history. Publications on Jewish history occupied an important place in "Yevreyskaya Biblioteka" and "Voskhod". These publications had not only academic significance. Jewish authors of studies on the ancient, medieval and contemporary history of their people contributed to the revival of national consciousness, refuted numerous myths and falsifications in the literature on Jews, and all in all, provided food for thought on the past and future of Russian Jewry.
Lawyer and historian Ilya Orshansky was a pioneer of Jewish studies in Russia. Born in Yekaterinoslav, he graduated from the Department of Law of Kharkov University in 1868, but gave up an academic career which would have required him to adopt Christianity and combined legal practice with historical studies. Having moved to Petersburg, he published the fundamental monographs "Jews in Russia" and "Russian legislation on Jews", as well as articles and studies on Russian law. Orshansky's legal and historical works were highly valued by his contemporaries.
Studies in Jewish history were pioneered by a group of lawyers formed in 1890 under the guidance of Alexander Passover and later by Maksim Vinaver. The group proceeded from studying the history of legislation on Jews to collecting materials on Russian-Jewish history. Its activities were influenced by the program outlined in Semion Dubnov's articles "On studies in the history of Russian Jews and the foundation of the Russian-Jewish historical society" and "On the materials available for collection regarding the history of Russian Jews", published in "Voskhod". In a little more than a year the group was transformed into OPE's Historical and Ethnographic Commission, headed by Vinaver, Mikhail Kulisher, and Berman.
Russian historian Sergey Bershadsky took an active part in the work of the Commission. His collection of documents published in 1882 under the title "Russian-Jewish Archive" served as a model for the subsequent works of Jewish historians. The materials left after his death were transferred to the Commission's archive and published. In addition to searching for, publishing and studying archival documents, the Commission held public lectures on Jewish history. These lectures contributed to the growth of interest on the part of Jewish intellectuals of St. Petersburg in the history of the Jewish people. The Commission gradually attained a high level of professionalism.