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Background Of The Levanda Index

Copyright © 2001 Michael Steinore Home

In the few years I've been involved in Jewish genealogy, I've seen a need, based on my own family research and the inquiries of others, for more information on Czarist decrees that affected Jews. There are many recent historiographies from which one can glean Czarist laws that affected Jews, however they usually only summarize some of the laws. In the summer of 1999, I wrote "Genealogical Clues in Czarist Decrees" for the San Francisco Bay Area JGS' ZichronNote, a summary of some of the more important decrees and their effect on Jews. I utilized two good sources for that article, but they covered only the main points of some of the hundreds of Czarist laws and statutes that regulated Jewish life at any given time. One source, an 1872 letter written by the Charge d'Affaires of the US Legation in St. Petersburg, surveys the legal position of the Jews in 1872, and includes some perceptive analysis. More recently, I discovered an 1890 synopsis of Czarist laws affecting Jews, which provides an excellent, compact summary of laws, many from 1875-1890. However, I still sought a comprehensive, authoritative resource which would provide a complete, detailed set of Czarist laws affecting Jews. I think details are important because:

  • Czarist decrees were sometimes revised, revoked, or suspended. Partly this was because the level of repression that Jews faced varied as different Czars (and their influential advisers) came and went. Partly it was due to the Jews' attempts to find ways around the decrees. As a result, there were numerous laws created over time on the same subject. Without knowing the legal history in a given subject area, it's easy to make incorrect assumptions or pursue false leads in genealogy.
  • They provide good background information. You can learn alot about a people if you know the details of the laws under which they lived. This is particularly true for Jews in 19th century Russia, when seemingly every aspect of their civil and religious lives was regulated.

    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:

  • spottily enforced
  • more harshly enforced than written
  • modified by local variances
  • supplemented with secret implementation instructions from the Czar
  • ignored or circumvented with bribes, fines etc.

    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.

    How Levanda Compiled His Collection

    Levanda had access to a reference work called the "Complete Collection of Laws of the Russian Empire". It was published in three sets of volumes, though only the first and second sets (abbreviated P.P.S.Z. and V.P.S.Z. from their Russian transliterations) were published in Levanda's lifetime. Together, PPSZ and VPSZ filled 88 volumes, though most laws in Levanda's book come from VPSZ. What Levanda did was to extract a much smaller (and for Jewish genealogists, more interesting) subset of laws: those that concerned Jews. His purpose was to gather together in one volume what was distributed throughout the 88 volumes of PPSZ and VPSZ. He did this for three reasons:

  • The price of owning the 88 volumes was prohibitively high for most people.
  • They were not available in most regional archives and libraries.
  • Even if they were available, most ordinary people did not have permission to access them.

    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:

  • Jewish Merchants of the first Guild
  • University-educated Jews
  • Artisans (those who worked in a trade where they produced goods with their hands)

    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.