Two Hundred Years Together, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Por • 21 jul, 2022 • Sección: sociologia

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Posted on 2017-01-25

Chapter 2

During the Reign of Alexander 1st

At the end of 1804, the Committee in charge of the Organisation of the Jews concluded its work by drafting a “Regulation on Jews” (known as the “Regulation of 1804”), the first collection of laws in Russia concerning Jews. The Committee explained that its aim was to improve the condition of the Jews, to direct them towards a useful activity “by opening this path exclusively for their own good… and by discarding anything that might divert them from it, without calling for coercive measures.”1 The Regulation established the principle of equal civil rights for Jews (Article 42): “All Jews who live in Russia, who have recently settled there, or who have come from foreign countries for their commercial affairs, are free and are under the strict protection of the laws in the same way other Russian subjects are.” (In the eyes of Professor Gradovsky, “We can not but see in this article the desire to assimilate this people to the whole population of Russia.”2)

The Regulation gave the Jews greater opportunities than Derzhavin’s original proposals; thus, in order to create textile or leather factories, or to move to agricultural economy on virgin lands, it proposed that a government subsidy be directly paid. Jews were given the right to acquire land without serfs, but with the possibility of hiring Christian workers. Jews who owned factories, merchants, and craftsmen had the right to leave the Pale of Settlement “for a time, for business purposes,” thus easing the borders of this newly established area. (All that was promised for the current of the coming year was the abrogation of double royalties*, but it soon disappeared.) All the rights of the Jews were reaffirmed: the inviolability of their property, individual liberty, the profession of their religion, their community organisation – in other words, the Kehalim system was left without significant changes (which, in fact, undermined the idea of a fusion of the Jewish world within the Russian state): the Kehalim retained their old right to collect royalties, which conferred on them a great authority, but without the ability of increasing them; Religious punishments and anathemas (Herem) were forbidden, which assured liberty to the Hassidim. In accordance with the wishes of the Kehalim, the project of establishing Jewish schools of general education was abandoned, but “all Jewish children are allowed to study with other children without discrimination in all schools, colleges, and all Russian universities,” and in these establishments no child “shall be under any pretext deviated from his religion or forced to study what might be contrary or opposed to him.” Jews “who, through their abilities, will attain a meritorious level in universities in medicine, surgery, physics, mathematics, and other disciplines, will be recognised as such and promoted to university degrees.” It was considered essential that the Jews learn the language of their region, change their external appearance and adopt family names. In conclusion, the Committee pointed out that in other countries “nowhere were used means so liberal, so measured, and so appropriate to the needs of the Jews.” J. Hessen agrees that the Regulation of 1804 imposed fewer restrictions on Jews than the Prussian Regulations of 1797. Especially since the Jews possessed and retained their individual liberty, which a mass of several million Russian peasants subjected to serfdom did not enjoy.3 “The Regulation of 1804 belongs to the number of acts imbued with the spirit of tolerance.”4

The Messenger of Europe, one of the most read journals of the times wrote: “Alexander knows that the vices we attribute to the Jewish nation are the inevitable consequences of oppression that has burdened it for many centuries. The goal of the new law is to give the State useful citizens, and to Jews a homeland.”5

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