Editor's Note: This is the infamous "cantonist" law, requiring Jews from 12 to 25 to serve in the Czar's army, with
Jewish minors going first to Cantonist units. Though the law stipulated the minimum age of 12, many sources suggest
that boys much younger than 12 were taken as well. More broadly, this law required virtually all Jewish males
12 to 25 to be eligible to serve in the Army for a 25-year term, except the l'gotniks (the privileged),
and others granted exemptions for various reasons. The purpose of the law was to remove Jews from
their communities, and try to convert them to Christianity. This law, but not conscription of Jews, was repealed
exactly 29 years later by Nicholas I's son, Czar Alexander II, upon his innauguration August 26, 1856 (see
One of the interesting aspects of this decree is section V on Call-up books. Ocherednyi Knigi, literally 'next-in-turn books' were the books in which the families registered for their male children to be called up to serve in a particular order. In this translation, I have used the terms 'Call-up Books', and 'called-up family' to indicate the next family in line to give a recruit.
The text of the decree also contains the format
of the registration form in the Call-up book. Columns 1-7 (from left to right) are:
Report of the Administration of the Ministry of Interior Affairs, and Chiefs of Staff to His Imperial Majesty.
Resolved. Carry it out.
I. On General Laws Extending to the Jewish People
II. On Means by which Jews Fulfill their Recruit Obligations
§ 5. Jews must fulfill recruit obligations in person.
§ 6. Provided, in announcing a recruit levy, it will be permitted to submit, in place of the recruit, a certain sum of money; than this permission can be extended to Jews only in the following cases: a) when the community is not in any arrears in payments of Crown taxes, or local duties; b) when the community doesn't have any debt of its own to places or private persons.
§ 8. Jews presented by the community for military service should be from 12 to 25 years of age.
§ 9. Those younger than 12 and older than 25 years of age do not have to present themselves or be available for recruitment.
§ 11. Jews from 18 to 25 years of age must provide evidence of good health and other qualities on general rules.
§ 12. In such cases when a lack of required information creates doubts about ages, the opinion of the Recruitment Office will resolve it.
III. On Enumerating Jews for Recruit Conscription
§ 13. The Jews in each gubernia must fulfill their recruit quota in each individual community, and
independently of the Christian population.
§ 14. The Jewish community in this case is considered to be all Jews registered in the same uezd from any gorod or mestechko.
IV. On Community Responsibilities
§ 24. Charge of and responsiblity for the precise and correct fulfillment of recruit conscription
rests on the Jewish communities themselves, on the demand of appropriate pronouncements of
V. On Callup Order and Call-up Books
§ 36. In general, Jews fulfill recruit obligations by call-up, for this reason [illegible text]
§ 37. In each Jewish community, there shall be a Call-up book, in which all of its families' members are registered on the given form.
§ 38. Call-up books are produced every 3 years, to get a true count of Jews registered in communities who are subject to recruit conscription.
§ 39. The community, during the course of 3 years, records in its Call-up book any increase or decrease in the true count of such Jews.
Note. Here, increase or decrease means arising from registration of Jews for legal reasons, in communities in other uezds or gubernias, or from conversion from petty townsmen to merchant estate and from merchant to petty townsmen estate.
§ 40. Every 3 years, communities must present one copy of the Call-up book to the Provincial Revenue Department.
§ 41. The Provincial Revenue Department, upon receiving the communities' Call-up books, will verify them against revision lists and files, but if there are errors, then they will immediately take measures so that these will be corrected.
§ 42. In the same manner, the books should be monitored, during the course of the 3 years, so that faithful notes will be produced on the increases and decreases.
VI. On Personal Responsibilities of Jews
§ 48. The called-up family, having an able recruit, is permitted to present, in place of him, an able volunteer from another Jewish family, only in such cases: a) when this volunteer presents a signed statement that he truly goes of his own free will. b) when this volunteer belongs to a community from the same uezd. c) when the family of this volunteer has fulfilled its own call-up; but if it hasn't fulfilled it, to have another able recruit available for fulfilling it.
§ 49. Provided it happens, that in a community obliged to give a single recruit, the call-up is to a family with an even number of souls, than the fulfillment is determined by drawing lots between them.
§ 50. Provided the called-up family does not have an able recruit, the call-up, it goes without saying, transfers to the following family in the Call-up book.
§ 51. The called-up family, spared in this case from its recruit obligations, must give to the family supplying a recruit for it, such compensation as will be determined by community verdict.
VII. On Tickets
§ 54. Jews may not at any time, nor in any case acquire recruit tickets from Christians,
nor present recruit tickets acquired from them.
VIII. On Jews Spared from Recruit Obligations
§ 58. Over and above merchants, freed from recruit obligations by general laws, similarly the
right to freedom from this duty is given to rabbis, provided they have proper certification
of their profession to present as evidence.
§ 59. This privilege belongs to each rabbi personally, and does not extend to his family.
§ 60. No other profession in the Jewish religion is exempt from recruit obligations.
§ 61. If Jews, according to the directed rules, are enrolled in general grade, middle, or high schools, and completed all their studies with distinction (except religion); then if a proper certificate is submitted of distinguished work and good behavior, they also are personally freed forever from recruit obligations.
§ 62. Jewish youths, enrolled not less than three years in general schools, and making good progress, and workmen apprenticed to Christian master artisans are personally dismissed from recruit conscription while their studies proceed.
§ 63. Jews presently occupied as factory hands, with a proper certificate of it, and training in mechanized work in Jewish factories, as directed by this rule, are also personally dismissed from recruit conscription.
§ 65. Jews and their children living on farms in small communities, with a proper certificate of real success in their work, are dismissed from recruit conscription until the age of 25.
IX. On Oaths
§ 70. Jewish minors, i.e. under 18 years, join up without oaths, and are to give it, at
the first opportunity, upon actually entering military service.
§ 71. Jews from 18 to 25 years, i.e. designated for actual military service, bring the oath of their loyalty on an instructions form from the rabbi, witnessed for their part by the authorities and the Jewish community.
X. On Assigning Jews Taking up Military Service
§ 74. Jewish minors, i.e. under age 18, shall be sent to preparatory institutions for military training.
§ 75. Jews from the age of 18 shall be assigned to active military service on the orders of military commanders, based on their abilities.
XI. On Duties of Jews During the Time of Service
XII. On Jewish Fugitives
§ 80. If a Jew flees, in disregard of the military authority whose strict supervision he is under, and then
becomes a fugitive in the community, when he is caught after recruitment, then [?]
§ 81. Upon orders to expose such fugitives, the community, should not wait for his capture, but is responsible for producing him in the course of another three days.
§ 85. Irrespective of the individual penalty to the Jewish perpetrator in the foregoing §, the Jewish community in which this fugitive from the military was concealed will be punished 1000 rubles for each.
§ 87. Whoever exposes those who harbour Jews escaping the military draft will receive 100 rubles from the Treasury.
XIII. On Advantages Given to Jews in Military Service
(V.P.S.Z. Vol. II, No. 1,330)