Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mother Russia and its Jews Quiz

What happened to Poland at the end of the eighteenth century and how did this affect Jews? (3 pts.)

How and why did Russian attitudes towards Jews differ from those found within western Christianity? (3 pts.)

How did the Russian government propose to deal with its Jewish problem? (Either give several examples or one in great detail) (4 pts.)

Bonus: Where is the city of Odessa located and why is it relevant to its role in the Russian Haskalah? (2 pts.)

  1. Poland is divided up in a series of three partitions at the hands of Russia, Prussia and Austria, culminating in 1795 with the elimination of Poland. This resulted in Russia, completely by accident, finding itself as the host of the world's largest Jewish population, something they never intended nor desired.
  2. Russia, as part of the Eastern Orthodox Church, did not have St. Augustine, the Latin church father par excellence, as part of their theological canon. This means no witness doctrine. As such Russia never had any reason to tolerate Jews to begin with. They never desired Jews nor did they ever invite Jews in. The Western Catholic Church could produce a Bernard of Clairvaux, who could preach a Crusade against Muslims while actively protecting Jews. Russian Orthodoxy, with the rare exception of a Leo Tolstoy, never produced any tradition of philo-Semitism at all.
  3. The Russian government created the Pale Settlement, essentially saying that Jews could live where they were already, but nowhere else. Even in the Pale Settlement there were limits as to where Jews could live. Czar Nicholas I created the Cantonist decrees, probably one of the most fiendishly clever devices to destroy Jewish life. Jews were to now be subject to the Russian draft instead of paying a tax. (The Russian draft was for twenty-five years. Imagine what the Vietnam War protests would have been like if we were drafting people for twenty-five years.) All groups in Russia could be drafted. Jews though were subject to a special "pre-draft" to get children ready for actual service. Thus the Russian government started grabbing children twelve and even younger to train them for service when they turned eighteen. The Jewish community itself would have to decide which kids went, ensuring that the establishment would protect their own children at the expense of those less fortunate, thus undermining the Jewish community. 

Bonus: Odessa is a port city in the South of Russia on the Black Sea. Contrary to the usual stereotype of Russia as being cold and insular, Odessa is warm and quite cosmopolitan. It is not a coincidence therefore that Odessa would become a major center for the Russian Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment).
One student wrote: "Claire was relevant because she is a main figure in the 'superhero' Enlightenment. Without her, there would be no cheerleader to save and furthermore, no world." Claire Bennett, from the show Heroes, comes from Odessa, TX. This was actually from a good student who was kind enough to indulge my sense of humor. I am a fan of the show, but still no bonus points though, just a smiley face.

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