Carl Joubert.

Russia as it really is online

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The Procurator, M. Pobyedonostseff, the first
adviser to the Tsar, at whose instigation hapless
Jews have been done to death and Poles and Finns
persecuted and destroyed, has on several occasions
written letters of reprimand to Tolstoi ; but he has
never dared to go beyond reprimand. On the other
hand, Tolstoi has frequently written to ministers in
St. Petersburg taunting them with the egregious
barbarity of the administration of justice.

On one occasion he demanded to know why a
certain lady who had circulated works of his own
was kept in prison and tortured to the verge of
madness, whilst he, the author of the prohibited
books, was allowed to go free. But the challenge
was not accepted, and Tolstoi remains at liberty.




I DEVOTED a great deal of time whilst I was in
Russia to the study of the Jews, and the problems
which surround their existence as subjects of the
Tsar. And that I might thoroughly acquaint
myself with their nature, habits, and modes of
thought, I lived among them and with them for a
considerable period.

Every grade and every class came under my
notice, from the richest to the poorest ; from the
Rabbi to the renegade. Their language, the Yid-
dish, I acquired whilst living amongst them. Their
religion and laws I already knew when I went to
them, having studied the Talmud for three years in
Jerusalem, though I am not myself a Jew.

The Russian Jew of the present day is a survival
of the bygone times of the Sanhedrin, or of the
days of Philo, the Jew philosopher of Grecian fame.
Their religion, laws, and customs are unchanged to
this day. The Sanhedrin was dissolved when the


Temple at Jerusalem was destroyed. But the law
is still administered by the Rabbinates in the various
towns throughout the length and breadth of Russia
where the Jews are to be found.

Among the Rabbis of Russia there have been, and
are to this day, many men of great wisdom and
learning, whose fame has reached to every country
of the earth. In the city of Kovno there was a
great Rabbi, Isaac Elchonon, whose name is known
and reverenced throughout all Jewry. He wrote
many books on the law and philosophy ; and it was
for him that Alexander II. sent on several occasions,
when he wanted information about the Jews. Rabbi
Elchonon was always the first to raise his voice
against the persecution of the Jews, without fear of
the Tsar. So zealous was he in the defence of his
people that he undermined his health and died work-
ing in their cause.

Rabbi Elchonon left several sons, great in learn-
ing ; but none of them have attained to the lustre
and prominence of their father. One became Rabbi
in Mitau, and is now chief Rabbi in Kovno, in his
father's place. Another great Rabbi, whom I knew,
was Ellinka Leeder. He was Rabbi in Sagory, and
his fame was great even amongst the Lithuanians,
Letts, and Poles. Unlike Rabbi Elchonon of Kovno,
he never cared to travel or to leave his place. His
devotion to his people was infinite, and places him,
in that respect, on a line with Moses. He was
always to be found either in the synagogue or in
his own house ; and he would accept honours from
no one. In the streets of the town one day a


Lithuanian fell on his knees and began to worship
Rabbi Leeder. The godly man was horrified ; and
from that day he seldom left his house except to go
to the synagogue.

I called on him once at his house in Sagory, and
was admitted without ceremony. I found him in a
large room, simply furnished with a sofa and a few
chairs, and a large table covered with a green cloth ;
and there were books everywhere. He spoke to me
kindly, and asked from what country I had come.
I told him that I had lately arrived in Russia from

" And how do they treat the Jews in America ? "
he asked. I noticed that there were tears in his
eyes and that he seemed much affected when he
spoke of his own people.

I replied that Christian or Jew made no difference
to a man's treatment in America ; and that the
highest offices were open to both alike.

When I had finished speaking, perhaps with a
little pride, of the free institutions of the Anglo-
Saxon races, he went to the table and handed me a
newspaper in Hebrew.

"Alas! that I should live to see this day," he
cried pointing to a paragraph in the paper. " Our
children are taken from their mothers, and the babes
from their mother's breasts, and dashed to pieces
before their eyes. Our sisters are polluted, and our
homes are consumed with fire."

I looked at the newspaper. It contained an
account of the massacre of the Jews in Kiev a few
days before, when hundreds had been ruthlessly


slain by the Christian population, who spared neither
women nor children ; whilst the police looked on at
the scene of carnao-e unmoved.


Then Rabbi Leeder raised his voice to heaven, and
implored Almighty God to let him die and see no
more the affliction of his people, I stood by with
bowed head and shame in my heart — for was not I
a Christian ? And this thing had been done in
the sacred name of Christ and of the mother of

I left his house dazed and ashamed. In the face
of the atrocious outrage which had been perpetrated
on his people, I could find no defence to oiFer to
Rabbi Leeder for the Church of Christ. I could only
meditate on the Infinite disparity between the
teaching of Christ and the dogmas of the Church
which calls Itself His. It was no consolation to
remember that for the last nineteen hundred years
more than half the wars and massacres and murders
that have been waged and committed were waged
and committed In His Name.

Rabbi Leeder was a second Jeremiah, day and
night his eyes were wet with tears for the persecu-
tion of the Jews in Russia. His lamentations were
unceasing and absolutely honest. He was offered a
very large salary to go to Odessa as Rabbi ; and a
certain synagogue In New York made him a still
more advantageous offer ; but he would never leave
his poor congregation In Sagory, from whom he
received not a kopek of money, his salary consisting
of rations of bread and meat and a humble house to
live in. If he received any money as a present he


would have it sent at once for the reHef of his
persecuted brethren in Russia or Koumania ; but he
never handled money himself.

He died whilst I was still in Russia, and the
mournino; for him there was indescribable. Hes-
paidim made (bewailing prayers) were said for him
in all the large cities of the world.

No Jew will live even in the smallest towns in
Russia unless there is a Rabbi there. There is a
village called Pockroi, with a population of only
some two hundred families, mostly Jews, and even
this small community has its Rabbi. In the event
of the Rabbi dying, or leaving the town, the Elders
immediately communicate with the chief Rabbi in
their Guhernii, who sends them a Rabbi on approval,
and changes him until the Elders intimate that they
have elected a Rabbi.

The members of the synagogue vote for their
Rabbi in the synagogue. Should there be more
than one synagogue, the votes of all the synagogues
are counted together, and submitted to the president
and vice-president of the synagogue, who declare
finally the name of the elected Rabbi. His salary
is fixed by the votes of the congregation before the
election takes place. The president and vice-presi-
dent and the treasurer of the synagogue are elected
annually. As soon as the Rabbi has been elected,
the Elders call upon him and acquaint him with the
fact. If he is not resident in the town, a letter is
drafted in the Holy Script and sent to him. When
the new Rabbi enters the town the Elders go out
to meet him, greet him with rejoicings, and conduct


him to his house. In the evening all the members
of the congregation call and congratulate him, and
he gives them his blessing.

Then the women of the congregation call upon
the wife of the Rabbi. The ladies are great gossips,
and the Rabbi's wife is at once posted in all the
tittle-tattle of the community. More especially is
she told of any short-comings on the part of the
married ladies with regard to the " shaitel." Now
the "shaitel" is a wig, and when a Jewess is
married she is required to cut oif her hair and wear
a " shaitel." It may be made from her own hair if
she likes, but she must wear a " shaitel " of some
sort. " There's the rub"; for the girl with beautiful,
glossy, black hair has a strong objection to cutting-
it off — and no wonder ! So she does not. Her
sisters, who were only too thankful to shear off their
meagre wisps of dusky filaments and don a full-
bloomed wig when they were married, look askance
at her, and tell the Rabbi's wife.

But more serious than the " shaitel" is the gossip
of the " mikva," for that may affect the legitimacy
of their- children. The "mikva" is a certain bath
which all girls must enter on marriage, and even
after marriage at stated periods, according to the
law of Moses, which is to this day scrupulously
observed by the devout and faithful all over the

The wife of the Rabbi is a tactful little lady.
She listens to the gossip with a charitable ear, and
straightens out the difficulties and misunderstand-
ings with a smooth hand.


It Is the duty of the Rabbi to see that his people
observe the law according to Poskim, which Is a
decision above the Talmud, and all the lesser cere-
monies of the common law. He must affix his seal
to all meat to be sold to the Jews by Christian
butchers. All disputes, whether between husband
and wife, or master and servant, or merchant and
merchant, are brought to the Rabbi for decision,
and he judges according to the law of Moses, from
which there Is no appeal ; and all abide by his

It Is for the Rabbi to decide whether meat that
has been accidentally sprinkled with any milky
substance may be eaten by the household ; or, ' if a
knife that Is used for butter should, Inadvertently,
be also used for meat, whether the meat may be
eaten ; and many other "jots and tittles " of the law.

He lectures In the synagogue to his congregation
at stated Intervals. At marriages he Is present, and
gives his blessing and a lecture to the contracting
parties. He zealously upholds the fourth Command-
ment, and reasons sternly with the Sabbath-breakers.
He attends at the bedside of the sick and dying
and offers consolation ; nor does he exact fees for
his services as the pojDes of the Holy Church of
Russia do on such occasions, but he would rather
rebuke the offerer of money. When he attends a
funeral it Is a mark of special respect to the deceased.
In fact, from circumcision to to the grave the Rabbi
Is the Law and the Prophets to his congregation.

I used to know a Rabbi In Minsk who was called
" the Shirtless Rabbi." He earned the nickname


from the fact that he was unable to keep a shirt on
his back. The truth of the matter is that this
particular shirtless Rabbi never had any money — I
don't think he had ever seen a rouble in his life ;
but he was of a very charitable disposition. When
a beggar approached him in the street and asked
alms, the Babbi would say : " My brother, I have
no money ; but come with me." The beggar would
follow him to a side street, and there the Rabbi
would divest himself of his shirt and give it to the
beggar, saying, " Take this, brother, you will be able
to get something for it."

Then he would put on his coat again and turn up
the collar and return quietly to his house, endeavour-
ing if possible to escape the observation of his wife.
In an hour he had forgotten all about his shirt, and
was quite prepared to give away another, if he had
it. It was his wife who used to remind him of his
missing shirts. She strongly disapproved of this
form of charity ; but it was useless for her to
expostulate, the shirts continued to disappear in
spite of her protests.

When I had been in Minsk about a fortnight, I
heard the story of " the Shirtless Rabbi " ; and there
was another story about him going the rounds at the
time. It was to the effect that he had oflSciated at
the marriage of a rich couple ; and that the bride-
groom, knowing that the Rabbi would not accept
money for his services, had slipped an envelope con-
taining a note for fifty roubles into the Rabbi's coat
pocket. The Rabbi had gone home in ignorance of
his good fortune ; but his wife had quickly discovered


it, and took possession of the bank-note, knowing
full well that her husband was not to be trusted
with it. The next day she went into the town and
purchased a new shirt for the Kabbi at a cost of two
and a half roubles, which he still wore.

Now the story of "the Shirtless Kabbi" amused
me immensely. " To give the shirt off one's back"
has become a common metaphorical phrase in our
own country, but I could not believe that it was a
form of benevolence that was actually practised. I
determined, however, to test the accuracy of the
phrase for myself, and, if possible, to become the
possessor of that two and a half rouble shirt. I dis-
guised myself as a beggar, with the help of an old
suit of clothes, and a " hittelle " on my head, and for
five nights I waited outside the house of " the
Shirtless Rabbi."

On the sixth night the Rabbi emerged from his
house in company with another man. The presence
of the stranger frustrated my plans, for it was not
likely that the Rabbi would part with his shirt in
the presence of a third party. So I waited patiently,
hoping that he would return alone.

Whilst I was walking up and down a gorodovoy
came up to me.

" You dog's son and pickpocket move on ! " he

I moved ; but I swore vengeance on that gorodovoy.
May no one be a pickpocket but the police ?

Presently I saw the Rabbi returning alone. But
his coat-collar was turned up, and I feared that some
other scoundrel had been before me, and secured that


expensive shirt. However, I followed him, and
poured into his ear a tale of starvation and woe. A
moment later I regretted it. For the good Eabbi
turned upon me a look of genuine compassion and
sadness. I could see in his eyes the weary expression
of pain of one who suffers with his fellows, and is
therefore always suffering ; and I felt ashamed of

" Oi, 01 ! " he said gently, " follow me, brother."

There was nothing to be done but follow him,
though my conscience accused me of cowardice.

He stopped suddenly at a dark corner of the
street, and, throwing off his coat, divested himself of
his shirt, and, rolling it into a bundle, came towards
me with his face wreathed in smiles. He thrust it
into my hands saying, '* May God bless you — but
that is all I have."

Then he looked at me narrowly, and I suppose the
contrition that I felt was apparent in my face, for he
went on : "I like thy face, my son, come and see me

He left me, and for some minutes I stood still with
the shirt in my hands, and a voice in my ears crying,
" Shame ! Shame ! "

Then a violent desire seized me to go in search
of the gorodovoy who had called me a dog's son
and a pickpocket, and to wring his neck. I be-
lieve at that moment I was capable of any crime,
and it is as well that I failed to come across him

I went back to my hotel, and to bed ; but I could
not sleep. The compassionate eyes of" the Shirtless


Habbi " haunted me, and the voices in my ears still
cried, " Shame ! Shame ! "

The next morning, before ten o'clock, I had already
bouofht half a dozen embroidered flannel shirts of the
best make in the town, and was on my way to the
Kabbi's house.

The Rabbi's wife admitted me — she was a
shrewish little woman — and after she had shown
me into the library, I could hear her calling to
husband impatiently, " Nu ! Nu ! Why don't you
come ? The Orel (uncircumcised) is waiting for

And then the old Rabbi came in bowing to me ;
and his wife stood outside the open door, rubbing her
nose in her apron, and looking suspiciously at me as
though she feared to leave me alone with her

I asked her whether she would not come in and
sit down and hear what I had come to say. She
muttered something about being busy brewing mead
for the Passover ; but curiosity got the better of her
sense of duty, and she left the hops and honey to
listen to my story.

I confessed all to the Rabbi, and substantiated my
story by the production of the shirt, which I begged
permission to keep. Then I handed to his wife the
parcel containing the six new shirts and a fifty
rouble note as a fine for my offence.

The old Rabbi was very unwilling to receive the
money ; but I would not take it back ; and finally
his wife took possession of it. As I left the house I
heard her say to her husband :


" What a piece of luck, Mendel ! You will be able
to give away your shirt six times now."

The old Rabbi forgave me frankly for the trick I
had played on him. I made several calls upon them
during my stay in Minsk, and became quite a
favourite with the old lady. In fact, I was invited to
their house for the feast of the Passover, and was
thus enabled to find out many things that I did not
know before.

The shirt of " the Shirtless Rabbi " I retain to this
day. It is amongst the most treasured relics of my



In a former chapter on education in Russia I pointed
out the disabiHties under which the Jews are placed
with regard to the national educational establish-
ments of the country, and I mentioned that, in spite
of the stringent regulations in force to keep them in
ignorance, the Jews receive a sound education in
their own communities, which raises them above the
level of their Russian neighbours in this respect.

I propose here to deal briefly with the system of
education in use among the Jews in Russia, and to
endeavour to show the dangers to which Russia
is exposing herself by the suppression of education
among the Jews and other nationalities who are
unwilling subjects of her rule.

Education among the Jews in Russia is not com-
pulsory and it is not free. Nevertheless, nearly
every Jewish child in Russia is sent to the "Chedar"
to be instructed. If the parents are too poor to be
able to pay the fees for their children, some one will
always be found to meet the expense, for education
is regarded as an absolute essential among the Jews;
besides, there is Talmud-torah (free school).

A boy is sent to the "Chedar" when he is between
five and six years old. His father will cover him up


in a " talith " (a striped shawl with fringes), envelop-
ing him completely in its folds, and carry him to the
" Chedar," where he is to be taught.

The Rebbe (the teacher) of the "Chedar" comes
forward to receive his new pupil, and makes him sit
down at a table amongst the other children. A
black-board is placed before the future Philo covered
with the letters of the alphabet in large print, and
the Rebbe begins his instruction. He points out
each letter to the child, and tells him the name of
it. " This is called Aleph (i

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Online LibraryCarl JoubertRussia as it really is → online text (page 6 of 18)