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בס"ד

The Prospect.

 

We continue from our No. 42.—Whether it be practicable or not to induce a large number of Israelites to embrace an agricultural life, is a matter which can only be established by time. To all appearance there are at present many obstacles to such a transition from former habits, not the least of which is the great poverty existing in many thickly settled Jewish communities, superinduced by the oppression of European and Asiatic governments. Exactions of every sort have from time immemorial been laid upon our people, and it appeared as if they merely laboured for the aggrandizement of their enemies. Hence the spirit of enterprise has become broken, by the extinguishment of the means necessary to follow out a new line of business or labour. Persons born in England, France, America, or countries blessed with similar institutions to those which govern them, can form no idea of the crushing effect of governmental interference in every act of life, an interference which extends to food, to clothing, to industry, and at last to thought. You cannot eat without a tax; you cannot dress yourself according to your taste, because the emperor wants you to adopt his fashions; you cannot enter into a walk of life which suits your mental capacity and natural bias, because the ruling powers have decreed that that particular branch belongs to the favoured classes, the members of the Christian state; and your thoughts,—they must be moulded as the law directs; you may not perhaps be able to think as your rulers do; but never mind, you must keep all such things to yourself, not breathe them aloud in your private meetings even, much less give them tongue through means of the public press, an instrument which the enemies of light and reason dread more than any thing else, since it is to them a monitor that they too will be held accountable, equally with the meanest labourer, for their doings and omissions at the bar of public judgment, a tribunal which, however derided at first, will at some time assert its all-powerful influence. To give our readers some idea of the nature of the yoke which weighs down our spirit, we will give a few extracts from the Jewish Intelligence of October, now before us. First as to Russia:—

Jewish Schools In Russia. Petersburgh, August 1.—The measures proposed by Government in the year 1843, for the purpose of remodelling the system of instructing the Jewish population in the Imperial States of Russia, are now unremittingly brought to a close by the Minister of Public Instruction. In order to ascertain the exact number of all Jewish Schools and their respective teachers throughout the Empire, which, according to the new order of things, are under the superintendence of that minister: temporary offices, and commissioners for the district schools, are already appointed by him, furnished by the ministry with the desired instructions. There are now in the western provinces, and in the districts of Odessa generally, ninety-seven such school commissions, which have already supplied nearly ten thousand teachers with certificates, confirmed by the ministry, uninterruptedly to pursue their instruction to the Hebrew youths. For the maintenance of the Hebrew schools, government calculates upon the light or candle-tax, which is very considerable, and produces a large annual revenue, as well as upon the sum paid for the lease of Hebrew printing-offices. Of these printing-offices, there is at present only one, that in Wilna, carrying on business, and even this one is ordered to complete the printing of their manuscripts, just commenced, within three years hence.”—Deutsche Allg. Zeitung.

Now here are lights and shadows beautifully, though not harmoniously, mingled, and both mark stronger than any thing we could exhibit, the nature of the government to which the immense masses of Jews in Russia are subject. We have no question that there are defects in the system of education as conducted in the rabbinical schools in Poland and Russia; doubtlessly too little scientific instruction has been afforded to our youth, and too little attention has been paid to the language of the country. It may be, but we do not wish to speak with too much confidence of a subject with which we have not data enough to become familiar, that some of the enlightened, scientific Israelites have made complaints to government about these defects. There may be accordingly some show of reason for the interference of the state in matters, which in the relations the rulers bear to the people in Russia, are altogether governmental affairs. But who would have dreamed to carry on an apparent benefit to the people, by yet enhancing their already too heavy burdens? “Straw shall not be given you, but the usual number of bricks shall ye furnish nevertheless.” They are taxed for the support of the state; for the support of schools; for the pay of officers who rule over them; but instead of others aiding them as they aid others, they are to be additionally taxed to support their schools. It is well, however, that even this boon is guaranteed to them, that their children may be educated by persons of their own faith, that the Hebrew language may yet be perpetuated to them as the language of their religion. But how long is this to continue, if the train of measures now pursued is to be carried out as now they threaten to be? A part of the taxes arise from the light or candle-exactions, no doubt, as in Austria, (of which more anon,) for the privilege of having light in our dwellings on the eve of the blessed Sabbath and festivals; but who knows, who can assure us that the exactions thus unjustly levied, may not, will not find their way into the imperial treasury for other and far different purposes than the education of Jews as Jews? Our readers must understand that all the acts of tyranny which our people have suffered of late years in the dominions of the Czar, are not mere accidental decrees, adopted without thought or on immature reflection; on the contrary, the emperor and his advisers have proposed to themselves a system, which only can become known abroad through its effects. No more is made public at any one time than suits the convenience of the rulers; and when one blow has been well felt, when one step of the policy has been well defined, then follows a new blow, then a new step is taken. So now with the new school system, which as yet is only known through through its new tax and new prohibition. The government, by the enumeration of the Hebrew teachers, knows to a man how many of these there are in the country; consequently they become a species of troops in the imperial pay scattered in every town or hamlet where there are a few Israelites. It must not be supposed that the branches of education will be left to the option of parents or teachers to determine; oh no! that would be a boon too great to be bestowed upon the abject Jews; and thus before long, it is to be dreaded, that the branches to be taught by governmental authority will be such as must tend to denationalize the Jews, or that gentile, nay perhaps apostate, teachers will be appointed to instil into the youthful mind ideas totally at variance with Judaism. But admitting that the government is more honest, and aims only to improve the Jews by enlarging their intellect, and giving them a scientific training; still the deadly blow aimed at Jewish literature is a sign which cannot be lightly regarded or passed over with indifference. First, the printing-offices are to be taxed, in other words books are to be enhanced in price, and this to a people who are too poor now to purchase the necessaries of life; and for fear that under all circurnstances and hardships the Israelites would still encourage their own literature, the printing of new works is to cease at the only press at their command, in the course of three years. How are the men of mind among these unfortunates to make known their thoughts, reflections, and labours to the people? Will they even be permitted to make transcripts by the slow process of the pen, for the circulation of their works among their friends? We doubt it greatly; and sure we are, that if they were printed abroad, the vigilant police on the frontiers would not permit them to enter the well-guarded limits of the empire. There is, therefore, under the guise of establishing Hebrew schools, a frightful danger hanging over the Russian Jews, nothing less than the extinguishing of Jewish education on orthodox principles, and the substitution therefor of what the enemies of Judaism may permit to be inculcated. The Emperor will not probably order a wholesale conversion of Jews, as this was formerly done in Spain, and France, and other countries; he knows full well that our brothers would sooner perish by thousands than submit to such a fate; but he hopes to undermine gradually the stronghold of the faith, by tincturing the spirit of the young, first, with a dislike for their ancient teachers, and then probably by engrafting, through hired instructers, anti-Jewish doctrines.

We know that we shall be met with the objection, that we are needlessly alarmed; that the objects of the government are truly and solely the improvement of the Jewish part of the community, and that confessedly there is room for improvement. We sincerely hope that this may be so, and that the dark shadows which now envelope the future, may give place to an unclouded and resplendent light. But the march of events of late has given us no favourable opinion of the good intention of Russia towards any other idea of government and religion than autocracy, in which the chief of the state is all in all, the first in the council of the government, the sole director of the civil and military affairs, and the only authority in ecclesiastical matters. Russia is a pure despotism; no one is permitted to raise his voice against the will of the Emperor; even in his own household he is the absolute sovereign. And can it then be expected that the presence of a population of near two millions, with more than ten thousand active teachers “who all obey not the statutes of the king,”' is not a flat contradiction to the undisputed sway of the latter? And in addition, can it be supposed that efforts will not be attempted at least, to amalgamate this mass with the other portions of the state, so that there may be but one will in the whole empire, and this the pleasure of the irresponsible sovereign who wields the sceptre at the distant St. Petersburgh, but whose whisper is repeated thence over a great portion of Europe, Asia, and America? It is then this being consistent, which is so much in character with the present emperor, which we dread; and our only hope is that the One who so often has stood our defence in the rage of the gentiles, may at the present time also stretch out his arm to snatch the brand from the fire, which otherwise threatens to destroy both the dried branches with the green and vigorous boughs. It is, however, no idle expression of fanaticism or cant on our part, that we despair of human interposition.

We, with others, indeed hailed the mission of the good Sir Moses Montefiore, to plead our cause before the tribunal of an earthly king. But from the first we entertained a distrust of his success; and since his return we have waited in vain for any indication of the least good result in the public papers. It was a noble thing in this worthy Israelite to hasten forward now as on a former occasion, to speak in behalf of the oppressed, and those who only looked on the hardships we had to endure in both instances, imagined that equal success would attend both cases. But we repeat, that those who thought so, do not know the temper of the Russians. You might as well ask a tiger to let go his prey, when his tongue is licking the warm blood issuing out of the wound he has just inflicted; you might stop an infuriated elephant by striking him with a willow wand, or command the anaconda to let go her hold when she has entwined herself around the helpless deer, as to beg for mercy of the imperial Russian, when he purposes to inflict a severe blow. One who knows something of his manner, but whom we cannot now name, told us that if you were to tell him that such a measure was inflicting a terrible injury upon any one, he would answer, that he knew it, and had therefore issued the very decree, the relaxation of which you pray for. With such a man it is useless to reason, it would be worse than folly to entreat him to be kind to the oppressed. And as to fearing the voice of public opinion, though it be re-echoed from the Chambers of France, the Parliament of England, or the Congress of the United States, he is indifferent to this as to idle wind. Only look how Poland has been despoiled, how her people have been slaughtered, how her best sons have been driven into exile or banished to Siberia; and then reflect the immense amount of public sympathy uselessly spent, and the high-sounding speeches uttered by men of the greatest influence; and what has Nicholas cared? He laughs at the weakness of the friends of humanity, and he still deems himself “the great monster who lies securely in his river,” heedless of the impotent threats of those who only gaze at him from afar. But different was it with Turkey. The very dissensions in that country render it, so to say, a play-ball in the hands of European cabinets; both the Sultan and Mehemet Ali are compelled to listen to the advice of other potentates; a mission therefore of high-minded Israelites, backed by the intervention of European consuls, obtained a favourable reception; and the horrors of the Damascus persecution were soon terminated by the orders of the Egyptian Pacha. Still, after all, great as was the universal feeling of horror excited by the barbarities exhibited at Damascus, it was but an isolated act of oppression which had to be checked; and both the rulers of the land, and those who interfered, could soon come to a perfect understanding of the subject in question. Yet how different is the case of the Jews in Russia at the present moment! It is not one town or a few individuals whom the danger threatens, but a great and numerous people; it is not an impotent and timorous government that means to do evil, but the most powerful state the sun ever shone upon; and are we not then right to ask aid of Him who alone is able to save? As far as human foresight goes, we see only one means of extricating our brothers from the snare, and that is to ask of the Emperor to let all, who can establish themselves elsewhere, leave the country. Perhaps this boon also may be refused; perhaps he may wish to retain them within his grasp, on account of their importance to the greatness of the state. Still it is worth trying to do something for the oppressed. Those who felt so deeply and keenly when a false accusation caused innocent blood to flow at Damascus, ought surely to be active now, when not one town but many hundreds are threatened with evil. Let it not be said that then life was at stake, but now no such bodily harm is threatened. But are we so apathetic that we regard as nothing the danger to our religion which is so imminent? Is it nothing, that many thousands are prospectively threatened with a compulsory apostacy, or the alternative, death—perhaps from starvation? Or are we only to be aroused when the danger is so evident that even the enemies of the Jews will cry out “Shame!” against the persecutors?

We repeat, then, that now some effort should be made to provide a home for our northern brothers; not alone by the Jews of America, but also by those in England and the Continent of Europe; and we call upon those who have the means to enable them to assist the needy, and those who have influence in the community, to form committees of relief and correspondence, for

the purpose of establishing emigration on a large scale, and to settle the emigrants upon some of the fertile lands indicated before, either in America, Palestine, or even Australia. We do not mean a more alms-giving to individual poor who may come away from Russia; but to act upon the masses, so that these may be enabled to help themselves, and aid those of their friends who are yet left behind. In this manner only can relief be possible, and to this plan of amelioration alone will Nicholas under any circumstances, if we may judge from the past, give his consent. It is, let it be understood, possible enough that a prejudice may exist against the Jews in Russia, from one cause or the other. We cannot therefore expect that their situation at home can become tolerable at all by any favours from the ruling powers; but the case must evidently be different if they could emigrate; for in that case these persons themselves, would not alone be enabled to improve their condition, but their absence would enable those left behind to obtain a better livelihood, should the over-crowded pursuits of industry to which Jews are confined have less competitors than before. As we said in the beginning of this article, the great poverty of the great numbers, is the chief cause of the low state of industry among them; but when a new field of labour and exertion be opened to many it leaves the others more room for a development of an industrial character, restricted as they are as to branches which they may pursue.

We hope that our words may find an entrance into the heart of those whose talents, means, and influence enable them to be effective in accomplishing good. We at least discharge a duty in calling public attention to the sorrows of Israelites abroad; and having said thus much at present, we are compelled to break off in the midst of our subject, but with a promise to resume it soon, with a detail of other oppressions to which we are liable in other countries besides Russia, though this is the greatest, both for the acts of government and the numbers that are suffering. We trust that American and English Israelites who are themselves free, will not therefore feel the less for their brothers in other lands; but declare to all by their acts and words, that every wound inflicted on one portion of Israel is felt by sympathy in every land where we are scattered.