Copyright © 2001 Michael Steinore Home
However, knowing the content of a decree is a start, not an end
to discussion. While a decree may have been implemented exactly as written, it may also have been:
Ignoring or evading a decree (ukase in Russian, gzeyreh in Yiddish) was often attempted by Jews who lived in the Pale of Settlement. The explicit intent of many Czarist laws, after all, was to marginalize Jewish existence, spiritually and financially, sometimes with fatal results. With the playing field tilted heavily against them, Jews would try to bypass the most repressive Czarist decrees if they could. Therefore, a cautious approach to judging the impact of some laws on an individual family is warranted.
This would be my idea of the ideal resource:
1. Begin with the entire collection of Czarist laws and legal statutes.
2. Review them one by one, extracting in chronological order those that affected Jews.
3. For each law extracted, excerpt the sections of it that concern Jews.
4. Create a detailed subject index to all of the material.
5. Publish it all in English.
Fortunately, with the exception of the fifth item, someone already did all this, not recently, but in the 1870s. His name was Vitaly Osipovich Levanda. His book, published in St. Petersburg in 1874, is titled "Polnyi khronologicheskii sbornik zakonov i polozhenii kasaiushchikhsia Evreev: ot Ulozheniia Tsaria Aleksieia Mikhailovicha do nastoiashchago vremeni, ot 1649-1873 g.". In English, "The complete chronological collection of laws and legal positions concerning the Jews: from the Legal Code of Czar Alexsei Mikailovich to the present time, 1649-1873". Czar Alexsei Mikhailovich (1645-1676) was known as the "quietest Czar". In 1649, he decreed the Ulozhenie, or Code of Law which established the principle of binding merchants and artisans to their land, among other things.
As far as an underlying reason why Levanda tackled the project, he doesn't say. The question of how completely he extracted the laws "concerning the Jews" is really the question of what his selection criteria were. Again, Levanda omits an explanation, but he described four:
1. Laws that specifically concerned Jews
2. Laws dictating the rights given to people practicing any of the Christian religions
3. Laws that concerned people of non-Christian religions
4. Laws specifying their validity upon all subjects regardless of their religious practices
Levanda did explain one point. Based on laws passed in the 1850's and 1860's, Jews in particular social classes were accorded the same rights of Russians in those social classes. These particular social classes were:
Because of the expansion of Jewish rights for these social classes, Levanda felt obligated for the sake of completeness to include laws addressed to these social classes knowing they therefore applied to Jews as well. For example, laws that applied to merchants would have applied to all Jews who were merchants. There was apparently a fifth selection criteria. Levanda included those legal statutes, which when applied to Jews called for a clarification in implementation from the governing Senate. For example, rules in certain schools and educational institutions, in which the admissions procedure requires certificates of birth and certificates of Baptism.
Complete or not, Levanda's book is a very substantial collection, containing 1,073 laws numbered sequentially from 1 to 1073 in chronological order of the law's date of passage. Each entry is the text of the law, either excerpted or in its entirety, depending on how much of it in Levanda's judgement pertained to Jews. An example: Law #598, in its original form from Levanda's book. Accuracy was important to Levanda. He notes that he did not wish to paraphrase the original text, "causing misunderstanding and malpractice of the laws." This is also the reason why Levanda retained the chronological order of sections of those laws that he edited. He also mentions that the abridgement of wording was done with an eye to minimizing the changes in form and meaning of the given laws. Because each law is followed by a citation to the original source law in PPSZ or VPSZ, the faithfulness and accuracy of Levanda's work to the original text and meaning of the law is probably very high. The quality of his work is also reflected in the fact that a number of scholarly works on the Jews in Czarist Russia like those by Klier, Rogger, Aronson, Lowe, etc. tend to include Levanda's work in their bibliographies. Though Levanda's collection covers the period 1649-1873, the vast majority of laws (from #56 on) were decreed in the 19th century because there was little need for the Czars to be concerned about Jews until after the three partitions of Poland, which increased the Jewish population of Russia by the hundreds of thousands.
Czarist laws enacted in the 19th century applied to all 15 Gubernias in the Russian Pale of Jewish Settlement, and usually to the 10 western Gubernias known as the Kingdom of Poland: Kalisz, Warsaw, Plock, Lomza, Suwalki, Svedlitz, Kielce, Radom, Piotrkow, Lublin. However, Jews in the Kingdom of Poland were treated differently under some laws, a fact that is not well known. The laws in Levanda's collection will generally state the different treatment in the text of the law, if applicable to Jews.
In addition to compiling the laws, Levanda created a cross-referenced subject index. This itself was a major advance because while PPSZ and VPSZ had subject indexes, they were not oriented towards Levanda's specialized theme. Though Levanda's subject index appears to be quite comprehensive, Levanda considered it a first effort and indicated he would have to postpone a more detailed index until a later time. He apparently never completed a subsequent effort.