Returning to Judaism after the 1905 Law on Religious Freedom in Tsarist Russia

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<ul><li><p>Returning to Judaism after the 1905 Law on Religious Freedom in Tsarist RussiaAuthor(s): Eugene M. AvrutinSource: Slavic Review, Vol. 65, No. 1 (Spring, 2006), pp. 90-110Published by:Stable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 05:34</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p><p> .</p><p>Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserveand extend access to Slavic Review.</p><p> </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 05:34:44 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>Returning to Judaism after the 1905 Law on Religious Freedom in Tsarist Russia </p><p>Eugene M. Avrutin </p><p>Shortly after the appearance of the 17 April 1905 law on religious free- dom, Mikhail Vyrobnikov (formerly known as Khaim Abramov before his conversion to Russian Orthodoxy in 1897) petitioned to return to Ju- daism. "Around seven or eight years ago," he wrote, "I met a Russian girl (Anastasiia Mironovna) in the town Elets (Orlov province). My brother Il'ia Iazvin forbade me to work in his shop the moment he found out about my feelings for her. My sister Ol'ga Abramovna Iazvina kicked me out of their apartment. As I was a young fellow of nineteen or twenty then, I decided to marry Anastasiia. So I converted. But things only got worse. </p><p>My sister and the rest of my family suddenly abandoned me, and the girl refused to marry me. She declared, 'I can't marry you. It was too easy for </p><p>you to change religions. You didn't pay any attention to the sufferings of </p><p>your old mother, sister, or brothers.'" Like many baptized Jews in the Rus- sian empire, Vyrobnikov's reason for converting was strategic.' "Since my conversion," he wrote, "I haven't practiced the faith." In fact, he did not even declare his confessional status in the petition, since his knowledge of "either religion was rather poor" (ia odnu i druguiu very ochen'plokho znaiu). In light of his guilty conscience, however, Vyrobnikov chose to return to </p><p>Judaism to walk in the religious footsteps of his mother and deceased father.2 </p><p>Vyrobnikov was among hundreds of baptized Jews who petitioned to return to Judaism between 1905 and 1912. Although this number pales in comparison to the 250,000 men and women who returned to Catholi- cism and to the 50,000 individuals who transferred to Islam, the rejection of Orthodoxy in favor of Judaism-a highly stigmatized, yet tolerated, religion-played an important role in helping challenge the place of Or- </p><p>thodoxy as the privileged religion in Russian state and society.: In the late </p><p>I would like to thank the friends and colleagues who read and critiqued various versions of this article: Heather Coleman, Robert H. Greene, Paul Josephson, Natan Meir, Paul Werth, and the two anonymous referees for Slavic Review. Research for this article was made possible by grants from the International Research and Exchanges Board, the Uni- versity of Michigan, and the Social Science Research Council. </p><p>1. On strategies of conversion, see Michael Stanislawski, 'Jewish Apostasy in Russia: A Tentative Typology," in Todd M. Endelman, ed.,Jewish Apostasy in the Modern World (New York, 1987); and Todd M. Endelman, 'Jewish Converts in Nineteenth-Century Warsaw: A Quantitative Analysis,"Jewish Social Studies 4, no. 1 (1997): 28-59. </p><p>2. Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi istoricheskii arkhiv (RGIA), f. 796, op. 186, d. 5897, 11. 2-2ob. (individual petition, 1905). </p><p>3. On the position of Russian Orthodoxy in Russian politics and society, see, for ex- ample, Gregory L. Freeze, The Parish Clergy in Nineteenth-Century Russia: Crisis, Reform, Counter-Reform (Princeton, 1983); Vera Shevzov, Russian Orthodoxy on the Eve of Revolution </p><p>(Oxford, 2004); J. S. Curtiss, Church and State in Russia: The Last Years of the Empire (New York, 1940), 35-36; Peter Waldron, "Religious Reform after 1905: Old Believers and the Orthodox Church," Oxford Slavonic Papers 20 (1987): 110-11; and Richard S. Wortman, </p><p>Slavic Review 65, no. 1 (Spring 2006) </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 05:34:44 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>Returning toJudaism 91 </p><p>imperial period, questions of religious freedom, individual liberty, and the role of government in the lives of the empire's population were de- bated in administrative, scholarly, and intellectual circles.4 Throughout the "long" nineteenth century, the state continued to play an important role in managing the religious and institutional affairs of Christian as well as non-Christian confessions, but, by the beginning of the twentieth cen- </p><p>tury, moderate liberals as well as the more conservative officials in the Ministry of the Interior recognized that the regulation of religious status needed to be reconsidered.5 On 26 February 1903, the imperial adminis- tration issued an edict that upheld the favorable status of the Orthodox Church, while at the same time guaranteeing the right of non-Orthodox </p><p>subjects to practice their beliefs and worship according to their own ritu- als.6 A year later, on 12 December 1904, the state elaborated on this man- ifesto by promising to remove the constraints and prejudices that regu- lated minority groups in the empire.' These debates and early proposals led to the decree of 17 April 1905, which legalized the transfer from one Christian faith to another, officially recognized Old Believers by allowing them to establish parishes and schools, and permitted Christians to con- vert to non-Christian confessions." </p><p>When Nicholas II was forced to grant a number of political conces- sions that guaranteed "real personal inviolability, freedom of conscience, </p><p>Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy, 2 vols. (Princeton, 1995 and 2000), 2:239-44, 525-26. </p><p>4. On these issues, see, for example, Laura Engelstein, The Keys to Happiness: Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-Sircle Russia (Ithaca, 1992); Olga Crisp and Linda Ed- </p><p>mondson, eds., Civil Rights in Imperial Russia (Oxford, 1989); and V. Ia. Grusul, Russkoe obshchestvo XVIII-XIX vekov: Traditsii i novatsii (Moscow, 2003), 263-497. </p><p>5. On the imperial administration's management of its non-Orthodox populations, see, for example, Paul W. Werth, At the Margins of Orthodoxy: Mission, Governance, and Con- </p><p>fessional Politics in Russia's Volga-Kama Region, 1827-1905 (Ithaca, 2002); Robert P. Geraci and Michael Khodarkovsky, eds., Of Religion and Empire: Missions, Conversions, and Tolerance in Tsarist Russia (Ithaca, 2001); Robert Crews, "Empire and the Confessional State: Islam and Religious Politics in Nineteenth-Century Russia," American Historical Review 108, no. 1 (2003): 50-83; Leonid Gorizontov, Paradoksy imperskoi politiki: Poliaki v Rossii i russkie v Pol'she (Moscow, 1999); Benjamin Nathans, Beyond the Pale: TheJewish Encounter with Late Im- </p><p>perial Russia (Berkeley, 2002); John Klier, Russia Gathers Her Jews: The Origins of the 'Jewish Question" in Russia, 1772-1825 (DeKalb, 1986); and Michael Stanislawski, Tsar Nicholas I and the Jews: The Transformation of Jewish Society in Russia, 1825-1855 (Philadelphia, 1983). </p><p>6. Polnoe sobranie zakonov Rossiiskoi imperii (PSZRI), series 3, vol. 23, no. 22581 (26 Feb- </p><p>ruary 1903). 7. PSZRI, series 3, vol. 24, no. 25495 (12 December 1904). 8. PSZRI, series 3, vol. 25, no. 26126 (17 April 1905); "Ob izmenenii zakonopolo- </p><p>zhenii, kasaiushchikhsia perekhoda iz odnogo ispovedaniia v drugoe," RGIA, f. 821, op. 150, d. 12, 11. 1-18ob.; and RGIA, f. 826, op. 3, d. 127, 11. 70-86ob., published in Mis- sionerskoe obozrenie, no. 1 (1908): 176-207; and reprinted in Marian Radvan, ed., Katoliche- skaia Tserkov' nakanune revoliutsii 1917 goda: Sbornik dokumentov (Liublin, 2003), 136- 65. See also the discussion in Peter Waldron, "Religious Toleration in Late Imperial Russia," in Crisp and Edmondson, eds., Civil Rights in Imperial Russia, 107-12; Werth, At the Margins of Orthodoxy, 245-54; and Werth, "Arbiters of the Free Conscience: State, Religion, and the Problem of Confessional Transfer after 1905," in Heather Coleman and Mark D. Steinberg, eds., Sacred Stories: Religion and Spirituality in Modern Russia (Bloomington, forthcoming). </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 05:34:44 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>92 Slavic Review </p><p>speech, assembly, and union" in the October Manifesto, the government broadened the foundations of religious liberties made in the April decree by substituting "freedom of conscience" (svoboda sovesti) for "religious tol- eration" (veroterpimost'). This shift in vocabulary promised non-Orthodox confessions the elimination of restrictions on social organization and re- ligious life, the recognition of faith as a matter of private concern, and the establishment of freedom of worship. As a number of historians have pointed out, the principles articulated in the "freedom of conscience" manifesto were not complete and would continue to be conditioned by the April decree until the Duma enacted further legislation.9 However, Petr Arkad'evich Stolypin, the prime minister and architect of the legisla- tion on religious freedom, continued to encounter fierce opposition from the extreme right and the Orthodox Church between 1906 and 1910, and no new legislation was ever passed.'0 The principles outlined in the April decree therefore continued to regulate the administration of confessional politics for the non-Orthodox population, even as new bills for religious reform were debated in the Duma. </p><p>While the law on religious freedom paralleled the liberalization of at- titudes and values regarding religious differences that occurred in Euro- pean societies between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries, the reform also helped destabilize traditional social boundaries and religious identi- ties in the empire." Until 1905, in order to uphold the privileged status of Russian Orthodoxy and delineate firmer boundaries among the empire's population, apostasy from Russian Orthodoxy to any other religion was forbidden and subject to punishment under the criminal law code. As a result of increased population movements, urbanization, the emergence of sectarian communities, and religious reforms, however, the imperial landscape became more fluid, complex, and ultimately more difficult to govern. Although the state continued to rely on the categories of social es- tate and religious confession (veroispovedanie) to classify the body politic, in the post-1905 period these categories no longer documented individ- ual identities as accurately or precisely as administrators had hoped. Eth- nicity (narodnost' or natsional'nost') began to supplement religion and so- cial estate and serve as an important marker by which the imperial population could be categorized and documented.12 </p><p>9. Werth, "Arbiters of the Free Conscience"; Waldron, "Religious Toleration in Late Imperial Russia." </p><p>10. Abraham Ascher, R A. Stolypin: The Search for Stability in Late Imperial Russia (Stan- ford, 2001), 299-302; see also Simon Dixon, "Sergii (Stragorodskii) in the Russian Or- thodox Diocese of Finland: Apostasy and Mixed Marriages, 1905-1917," Slavonic and East European Review 82, no. 1 (2004): 50-73. </p><p>11. On the problem of religious toleration in the Russian empire, see Robert P. Geraci and Michael Khodarkovsky, "Introduction," in Geraci and Khodarkovsky, eds., Of Religion and Empire, 6-7. For a recent analysis of toleration in western Europe, see Perez Zagorin, How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West (Princeton, 2003). </p><p>12. On the importance of the category of ethnicity in the late tsarist period, see Charles Steinwedel, "To Make a Difference: The Category of Ethnicity in Late Imperial Russian Politics, 1861-1917," in David L. Hoffmann and Yanni Kotsonis, eds., Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices (New York, 2000), chap. 4; Mark von Hagen, "The Mobilization of Ethnicity," in Barnett R. Rubin andJack Snyder, eds., Post-Soviet Political Or- </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 05:34:44 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>Returning toJudaism 93 </p><p>On one level, this article examines the conflicts and problems author- ities faced in categorizing a Jewish population that continually resisted conventional assumptions. Throughout the imperial period, the state </p><p>passed hundreds of laws to make Jews (and baptized Jews) more visible and recognizable in the imperial landscape. In the context of rapid popu- lation movements, political and religious reforms, and increased accul- turation, the significance of what it meant to be 'Jewish" was being re- defined, and imperial administrators needed to establish an acceptable criterion by which Jews and individuals of Jewish origins could be classi- fied. On another level, this article draws on individual petitions and </p><p>government correspondence to analyze the personal choices and social dilemmas baptized Jews faced when they attempted to return to their for- mer religion. Who chose to return, and why did the state affirm some re- </p><p>quests and reject others? What personal, political, and economic reasons motivated baptized Jews to return to Judaism? Did conversion to Chris- </p><p>tianity alleviate the burdens ofJewishness? </p><p>The Regulation of Jewish-Christian Contact before 1905 </p><p>Fears of unhealthyJewish influences and contamination of the peasantry appeared and reappeared in government reports, circulars, and edicts </p><p>throughout the "long" nineteenth century. Russian officials saw Jews "as the chief source of peasant poverty, drunkenness and turbulence," and </p><p>during the reign of Alexander I, peasants were prohibited from employ- ing Jews and the nobility was restricted from entrusting Jews to manage their villages.'3 If this legislation was influenced by economic motives, by the belief that Jews "exploited" Christian servitude, then the prohibition against Christian domestic employment by Jews had a religious dimen- sion.14 Prince Aleksandr Golitsyn argued that in Kherson province Chris- tian women followed Jewish rites and rituals after working for Jews on the sabbath and warned that Jews "seek to convert [peasants]...</p></li></ul>


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