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History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Volume 1 [of 3] / From the Beginning until the Death of Alexander I (1825)


It is not my intention to expatiate in these prefatory remarks on the present work and its author. A history of the Jews in Russia and Poland from the pen of S. M. Dubnow needs neither justification nor recommendation. The want of a work of this kind has long been keenly felt by those interested in Jewish life or Jewish letters, never more keenly than to-day when the flare of the world conflagration has thrown into ghastly relief the tragic plight of the largest Jewry of the Diaspora. As for the author, his power of grasping and presenting the broad aspects of general Jewish history and his lifelong, painstaking labors in the particular field of Russian-Jewish history fit him in singular measure to cope with the task to which this work is dedicated.

In what follows I merely wish to render account of the English translation and of the form of the original which it has endeavored to reproduce.

The translation is based upon a work in Russian which was especially prepared by Mr. Dubnow for The Jewish Publication Society of America. Those acquainted with modern Jewish literature in the Russian language know that the author of our book has treated the same subject in his general history of the Jewish people, in three volumes, and in a number of special studies published by him in the periodical Yevreyskaya Starina ("Jewish Antiquity"). Upon this material Mr. Dubnow has freely drawn for the present work, after subjecting it to a careful revision, and so supplementing and co-ordinating it that to all intents and purposes the book issued herewith is a new and independent publication. Moreover, the history of Russian Jewry after 1881, comprising the gruesome era of pogroms and expulsions, has been written by Mr. Dubnow entirely anew, and will appear for the first time as part of this work. The present publication may thus properly claim to give the first comprehensive and systematic account of the history of Russo-Polish Jewry.

The work is divided into two volumes. The first volume, now offered to the public, contains the history of the Jews of Russia and Poland from its beginnings until the death of Alexander I., in 1825. The second volume will continue the historic narrative up to the very threshold of the present. The book was originally scheduled to appear at a later date. The great events of our time, which have made the question of Russian Jewry a part of the world problem, suggested the importance of earlier publication. In order that there might be as little delay as possible in giving the book to the public, the maps and the bibliographical apparatus were reserved for the second volume. The same volume, which, it is hoped, will appear in the course of this year, will contain also the index to the whole work.

My task as translator has been considerably facilitated by the self-abnegation of the author, who gave me permission to act as editor and to adapt the original to the requirements of an English version. I have made frequent use of the privilege accorded to me, and have endeavored throughout to bridge the wide gap which stretches between the Russian and American reading public in matters of literary taste. This editorial activity includes a number of changes in the framework of the book, which was originally divided into sections of disproportionate length, and has now been arranged in a more uniform manner. In the course of this rearrangement, it became necessary to change the wording of some of the headings so as to bring them into greater conformity with English literary usage. It should be pointed out, however, that the changes made are of a stylistic nature, or relate only to the skeleton of the book. With the exception of a few passages, they leave the contents untouched, and the responsibility for the latter rests entirely with the author.

As translator I had resolved to keep myself in the background and act solely as the interpreter of the author. Much to my regret I found myself unable to maintain this attitude uniformly. The text was already in type when it was borne in upon me that the subject of the book, dealing as it does with the lands of Eastern Europe, was a terra incognita to the average American reader, and that many things in it must perforce be wholly or partly unintelligible to him if left without an explanation. There was nothing for me to do but to step into the breach and supply the deficiency. I did so by adding a number of footnotes, which, in distinction from those of the author, are placed in brackets. With very few exceptions these notes are not of a supplementary, but of an explanatory, nature. They are confined to such information as the reader may need to grasp the full bearing of the text. I trust that in some small measure these detached notes may serve instead of a systematic account of the general development of Eastern Europe, which, it was originally hoped, might be supplied by the authoritative pen of Mr. Dubnow himself, as a background for the history of Russo-Polish Jewry. An attempt in this direction, within a narrow compass and with no pretense to completeness, has been undertaken by the present writer in a recent publication of his own.1

A word must be said concerning the spelling of foreign names and terms, which are naturally numerous in a work like the present. After considerable deliberation I decided on the phonetic method, as being the most convenient from the point of view of the reader. I have consequently endeavored to reproduce, as far as possible, the original sounds of all foreign words in English characters. In conformity with this principle, I have adopted the spelling Tzar, instead of Czar. As far as I am aware, the only exception is the Russian word ukase, which reflects in its spelling the effect of French transmission, and is to be pronounced ookaz, with the accent on the last syllable. Needless to say I have had to resort to artificial contrivances to indicate those sounds which are unknown in English, but I have reduced these contrivances to a minimum. They are as follows: zh represents the Slavic sound which corresponds to French j; kh stands for the sound which is to be pronounced like hard German ch (as in lachen, not as in brechen); tz is the equivalent of a Slavic letter which is to be pronounced like German z. To avoid mispronunciation, g in all foreign words has been spelled gh before e and i. U in these words is to be pronounced like oo, and a like French and short German a. With every desire for uniformity, I have yet little doubt that inconsistencies will be found, particularly in the transliteration of Hebrew, which, as a Semitic idiom, is more difficult of phonetic reproduction than are even the Slavic languages. I hope that these inconsistencies are not numerous enough to be offensive.

The method of transliteration referred to in the foregoing presents a special difficulty in the case of Polish names, in view of the fact that the Polish language uses the general European alphabet, and that the Polish spelling of such names has found access to other languages. In some instances even the question of identity may arise. Thus, to quote but one example out of many, the name Chmielnicki, written in this form in Polish, differs considerably from the phonetic spelling Khmelnitzki, adopted in this volume. To meet this difficulty, the index to this work will give all Polish names and expressions both in their transliterated English forms and in their original Polish spelling.

In conclusion, it is my pleasant duty to record my appreciation of the help rendered me in my task. I am indebted to the Honorable Mayer Sulzberger for his great kindness in reading the proofs of this volume and in giving me the benefit of his subtle literary judgment. Professor Alexander Marx has assisted me by reading the proofs and making a number of suggestions. My thanks are finally due to Miss Henrietta Szold for her indefatigable and most valuable co-operation.

I. F.

New York, May 19, 1916.


1. The Jewish Settlements on the Shores of the Black Sea

From the point of view of antiquity the Jewish Diaspora in the east of Europe is the equal of that in the west, though vastly its inferior in geographic expansion and spiritual development. It is even possible that the settlement of Jews in the east of Europe antedates their settlement in the west. For Eastern Europe, beginning with Alexander the Great, received its immigrants from the ancient lands of Hellenized Asia, while the immigration into Western Europe proceeded in the main from the Roman Empire, the heir to the Hellenic dominion of the East.

Among the ancient Jewish settlements in Eastern Europe the colonies situated on the northern shores of the Black Sea, now forming a part of the Russian Empire, occupy a prominent place.

Far back in antiquity the Greeks of Asia Minor and the Ionian Islands gravitated towards the northern shores of the Pontus Euxinus, the fertile lands of Tauris – the present Crimea.2 Beginning with the sixth century B.C.E., they established their colonies in those parts, whence they exported corn to their homeland, Greece. When, after the conquests of Alexander the Great, Judea became a part of the Hellenistic Orient, and sent forth the "great Diaspora" into all the dominions of the Seleucids and Ptolemies, one of the branches of this Diaspora must have reached as far as distant Tauris. Following in the wake of the Greeks, the Jews wandered thither from Asia Minor, that conglomerate of countries and cities – Cilicia, Galatia, Miletus, Ephesus, Sardis, Tarsus – which harbored, at the beginning of the Christian era, important Jewish communities, the earliest nurseries of Christianity. In the first century of the Christian era, which marks the consolidation of the Roman power over the Hellenized East, we meet in the Greek colonies of Tauris with fully organized Jewish communities, which undoubtedly represent offshoots of a much older colonization.

During the same period there flourished in the Crimea and on the adjacent shores of the Black and Azov Seas, called by the Greeks Pontus and Maeotis, in the lands of the Scythians, Sarmatians, and Taurians, a number of diminutive Greek city-republics – Cimmerian Bosporus, or Panticapaeum (at present Kerch), Phanagoria (the Taman Peninsula), Olbia, Gorgippia (now Anapa), and others. The most active of these colonies was Bosporus-Panticapaeum, which was situated at the confluence of the Black and Azov Seas. The kings, or archonts, of Bosporus, of the Greek dynasty of the Rhescuporides, acknowledged the sovereignty of Rome. They styled themselves, in accordance with the customary formula, "friends of the Caesars and the Romans," and frequently added to their title the Roman dynastic appellation "Tiberius-Julius." The Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, in depicting the irresistible sway of the Roman world-power in his time, refers to this colony in the following terms: "Why need I speak of the Heniochi and Colchians and the nation of the Tauri, and those who inhabit the Bosporus and the nations about Pontus and Maeotis … who are now subject to three thousand armed men, and where forty long ships keep in peace the sea which before was unnavigable, and is very tempestuous?" (Bell. Jud. II. xvi. 4.) These words were written shortly after the downfall of Judea, about the year 80 of the Christian era.

Now from practically the same year (80-81) date the Greek inscriptions which were discovered on the soil of ancient Bosporus in Tauris, testifying to the existence there of a well-organized Jewish community, with a house of prayer. The following is the text of one of these inscriptions, engraved on a marble tablet which is kept in the Hermitage of Petrograd:

In the reign of King Tiberius Julius Rhescuporides, the pious friend of the Caesars and the Romans, in the year 377,3 on the twelfth day of the month of Peritios, I, Chresta, formerly the wife of Drusus, declare in the house of prayer (προσευχή) that my foster-son Heracles is free once [for all], in accordance with my vow, so that he may not be captured or annoyed by my heirs, and may move about wherever he chooses, without let or hindrance, except for [the obligation of visiting] the house of prayer for worship and constant attendance. [Done] with the approval of my heirs Iphicleides and Heliconias, and with the participation of the Synagogue of the Jews in the guardianship (συνεπιτροπευούσης δὲ καὶ τῆς συναγωγῆς τῶν Ἰουδαίων).

This inscription, paralleled by a similar document of the same period, was evidently meant to certify the act of liberating a slave, which, according to custom, was performed publicly, in the "house of prayer," with the participation of the representatives of the Jewish community.4

The contents of the inscriptions enable us to draw the following conclusions bearing on the history of the Jews during that period:

1. The Jewish community in Taurian Bosporus was made up of Hellenized Jews, who employed the Greek language in their religious and civil documents, and called themselves by Greek names (Chresta, Drusus, Heracles, Artemisia, etc.). 2. While assimilated to the Greeks in point of language, they were firmly united among themselves by the bond of religion, as is shown by the obligation, imposed even on the freedman, the libertinus, to visit the house of prayer for worship. 3. The Jewish community enjoyed a certain amount of civil autonomy, as shown in the case cited above, in which the community appears in the rôle of a juridical person, acting as the guardian of the liberated slaves.

It is to be assumed that similar communities of Hellenized Jews were found in the other Greek colonies of Tauris, their population being constantly swelled by the influx of immigrants from Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt, particularly from Judeo-Hellenistic Alexandria. Since these communities of the first Christian century appear to have been well-organized and to have possessed their own institutions, we are safe in assuming that they were preceded by a more primitive phase of communal Jewish life, in the shape of petty settlements and trading stations, which must have arisen in earlier centuries.

From the first centuries of the Christian era date a number of tombstones bearing representations of the holy candlestick, the Menorah. The religious influence of Judaism in Tauris and in the Azov region is attested by various other indications. The inscriptions contain several references to "those who fear God the Most High" (σεβόμενοι θεὸν ὕψιστον), a phrase applied in the Greco-Roman world to pagans who stand half-way between polytheism on the one hand and Judaism or primitive Christianity on the other.

The Judeo-Hellenistic Diaspora in Tauris, on the northern shores of the Black Sea, was, like its parent stock in Asia Minor, the center of a Christian propaganda. Towards the end of the third century we find in Chersonesus, near Sevastopol, Christian bishops wielding considerable power. The exercise of this power was evidently responsible for the pagan rebellion of which we read in the lives of the Christian martyrs Basil and Capiton. On the sixth of December of the year 300 the pagan inhabitants rose in revolt against these two bishops and their fellow-missionaries, and were joined by the Jews, whom, it would seem, the zealots of the new faith had endeavored equally to drag into the bosom of the Church.

The existence of a Jewish settlement in the Bosporan kingdom was also known to St. Jerome, the famous Church father, who lived at the end of the fourth century in far-off Palestine. On the authority of his Jewish teacher he applied verse 20 in Obadiah, "and the captivity of Jerusalem which is in Sepharad," to the Taurian Bosporus, the remotest corner of the Jewish Diaspora.5

With the division of the Roman Empire into two halves the Greco-Judean colonies on the Black Sea were naturally drawn into the sphere of influence of the eastern part, the Empire of Byzantium, the capital of which, Constantinople, was situated on the opposite coast of the Black Sea. Commercial relations brought the Taurian colony into ever closer contact with the metropolis of Byzantium, and the Jews vied with the Greeks in the promotion of trade. The persecutions of the militant Church of Byzantium under the Emperors Theodosius II., Zeno, and Justinian, during the fifth and sixth centuries, drove the Jews from the ancient provinces of the Empire into the Taurian colonies. In the eighth century the Jewish population of these colonies was so numerous that the Byzantine chronicler Theophanes places the Jews in the forefront of the various groups of the population. "In Phanagoria and the neighboring region," says Theophanes, "the Jews who live there are surrounded by many other tribes."

These colonies were frequently visited by Christian missionaries, who endeavored to convert the native population to their faith, and incidentally also to win over the Jews. The Patriarchs of Constantinople were then hopeful of drawing the people of the Old Testament into the fold of the New. The Patriarch Photius, of the ninth century, writes thus to the Bishop of Bosporus (Kerch): "Wert thou also to capture the Judeans there, securing their obedience unto Christ, I should welcome with my whole soul the fruits of such beautiful hopes." The "Judeans," however, not only did not take the bait of the missionaries, but even managed to spoil their propaganda among the pagans. The most illustrious of all Byzantine missionaries, Cyril and Methodius, had frequent occasion to quarrel with "the Judeans, who blaspheme the Christian faith," and the boastful ecclesiastic legend asserts that the holy brothers "by prayer and eloquence defeated the Judeans [in disputes] and put them to shame" (about 860).

The struggle between the Christian missionaries and the Jews during that period had for its object the Khazar nation, part of whom had embraced Judaism.

2. The Kingdom of the Khazars


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History of the Jews in Russia and Poland. Volume 1 of 3. From the Beginning until the Death of Alexander I (1825)

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