Why Karaism: Debating Dan Ross Part 4

For the purpose of this part of the debate we will shift our focus to Russia. Only because Dan Ross spends a lot of time in Acts of Faith, discussing the Russian influence on Karaism. And since my family was Galicz or residing in Galicia, that means that the Russian sphere directly affected us. Ross provides a brief history of the Russian experience, beginning with Catherine the Great,whom as he mentions was quite tolerant of the Jews within her Empire, though she did confine them to the Pale Settlement and made Jewish merchants pay a double taxation. So I guess it's how you define tolerance and Dan Ross's definition might be slightly different than mine. I would think of her more as a lesser evil. Then surprisingly in 1795 she exempted the Karaties whom lived predominantly around the Black Sea, permitting them to have ownership of their own land and not requiring them to pay the double tax. Her justification was that the Karaites around the Black Sea didn't resemble the Jews of the motherland. They were taller, resembled the Tartars and many even spoke a Tartar dialect. This exemption proved to be one of the major sore points between the Rabbanites and Karaites in Russia. The Rabbanites resented the relaxed proscriptions against the Karaites and in their own minds convinced themselves that this unexpected leniency extended to the Karaites was an act of betrayal by the Karaites towards their fellow Jews. Like two brothers, where one enjoys good fortune and the other is in a meaningless, exhausting job in a constant downard spiral, the level of resentment and jealousy by the one brother whom considers himself disadvantaged knows no bounds and even though illogical, the one holds the other responsible for all the hardships he's encountered. Though Ross never directly places the blame for the rift on the Rabbanites, the fact is that his description of the events of the time period he certainly points in that direction. In 1827 and 1828, all the Karaites in the Empire were exempted from the draft. It was the start of many privileges to follow such as free land, independent religion status, the right to hold government positions, and equal status to the Russian Muslims. It was too much for the Rabbanites to bear and it was all the Karaite's fault!

Abraham Firkovitch
Abraham Firkovitch

The Year was 1839

Ross identifies 1839 as the year when the rift became irreparable. He blames it all on one man, Abraham Firkovitch. True, Firkovitch was a bit radical in his approach, and even as a Karaite I will say that he was mistaken in a lot of his assumptions, but right or wrong Abraham Firkovitch brought Karaism back into the limelight and gave new life to a religious body that was in desperate need of resuccitation. But 1839 was a strange year for all concerned. And it was the result of several men, not just Firkovitch.

According to Ross, Firkovitch was described as a scholar, archeologist and forger. The latter because of documents that Rabbanite scholars refused to accept as genuine. But recently, it has been shown that some of these documents they doubted are the genuine article. A Polish Jew from Lutsk, Firkovitch was hired by the Russian government to take a teaching job in Odessa's Jewish Community. One might think it strange that a Karaite was hired to teach in the Rabbanite School system but it must be remembered the only Jews that could hold government appointed positions at the time were Karaite Jews. A policy that would directly involve my third great grandfather Jakob Goldenthal as I will later explain. While in Odessa, Firkovitch became involved with the Odessa Historical Society and asked to assemble a dossier on Karaite history. He quickly obtained all the necessary passports and authorizations to travel through Russia and the Middle East, gatthering Karaite books and tombstone rubbings, most of which is now located in the Russian National Museum in Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Firkovitch was obsessed with proving that the Karaites were descendants of the Khazars (http://hubpages.com/hub/Khazar) and as mistaken as this belief was, since Karaites predated the Khazars, though as my hub suggests may have had a direct influence on these Tartar warriors, he tampered with dates and names on the documents he found in order to support his claims. His adaptations did warrant the accusation of tampering but forgery would imply the entire document was a fabrication and they were not; these were genuine documents and therefore their remaining content should be appreciated as such. And of course, as my hubs on the Khazars suggest, Firkovitch didn't have to commit forgery, had he done his investigations deeper he would have seen that there was existing material to sugget that the Khazars were indoctrincated by Karaites originally and only after their dispersal several hundred years later became part of Rabbanite Judaism, along with Christianity, Islam and Crimean Karaites. Ross makes a statement that the Khazars must have been Rabbanites in origin since a document was uncovered in the Cairo Geniza that is in both Hebrew and Khazar ruins and since the synagogue was Rabbanite, therefore the document must be so as well. Had Ross given the full story, he would have revealed that a wealth of not only Karaite documents but early Judeo-Christian document copies were uncovered in the Genizah. I presume he had a reason for not revealing this well known fact.

But 1839 had more significance than just the advent of Firkovtch. Russia had instituted a policy of 'Russianizing' all its Jews, attempting to make the Rabbanites more like their Karaite brethren and therefore valued citizens of the motherland. Czar Nicholas I considered that it was the system of education of Jewish children with its distinct religious and quasi-national (Jewish nation) programmes which discouraged intimate relations between Jews and Christians and kept the Jews both separate and feared by most Russians. Czar Nicholas felt that in exchange for 'Russianizing' his Jewish citizens he would improve their social condition. He therefore consented to the initiation of school reforms to achieve this goal, but his changes were seen by the Rabbaniet Jews as an attempt by the Czar to converst of them to Christianity. This is in spite of the fact that they merely had to look at their Karaite brethren whom had benefitted greatly from this give-and-take relationship with the Russian authorities and were not pressured at all to covert to Christianity. So instead of embracing this opportunity the Rabbanites begrudgingly had the school reform forced upon them with the view that it was anti-Jewish reformation. Nicholas still tried to obtain the cooperation of the Rabbanites, appointing Count Uvarov to head the process, knowing that the Count was seen as a true friend of the Jews. The Czar did have one stipulatin though and that was that the Jews be taught agricultural pursuits so that they could become farmers as well as tradesmen and intellectuals. There is no doubt that this would have been a wise undertaking as farmers were granted numerous privileges in the payment of taxes, and they and their descendants were freed from military service for a period of fifty years. Unfortunately, what should have been a good thing was perceived by the Rabbis as another attempt to eliminate the Jew from society. Farming was a seven day a week profession, requiring constant attention and therefore the new generation would not have time to perform their Talmudic studies nor sit for one day a week in the synagogue where the rabbis felt they belonged. And besides, the Jews were forbidden to hire Christians to work for them and this was an obvious attempt by the government to force them onto the land on the Sabbath and prevent them from attending the synagogue. As far as the rabbis were concerned this was an obvious trap and they were determined to resist it.

Count Uvarov's first success was in Odessa which was already established and recognised as a liberal Jewish community a fact that might have been influenced by its substantial Karaite population. In fact, even before Uvarov's reformist changes, there already existed a modern Jewish school established in 1826. It originally contained four classes; Jewish subjects, mathematics, calligraphy, Russian and German. And even though the school was under the management of a director and school board whose appointment had to be sanctioned by the governor-general of Russia it was not seen as a government attempt to convert the Jews of Odessa. With only one exception the instructors were all Jews, either Austrian or German, and the text-books used were all German. The expenses of the school were provided for by an initial appropriation of 9,000 rubles and an annual appropriation of 7,600 rubles for maintenance. It was considered a huge success and the model that Uvarov would use to convince the Jews of other cities to attend. There were still problems, even in Odessa, with its enlightened Jewish community, as the Orthodox Rabbanites declared it a menace to Orthodox Judaism and tried to have it shut down, petitioning the governor Count Pahlen that it was an unnecessary institution and that their self-run Hebrew schools were sufficient for Jewish subjects, and that German and Russian could be acquired elsewhere. Count Pahlen, who's only goal was to help the community grew tired of the rabbis' constant attempt to undermine the process and threatened them to desist or bear the consequences. They did, having no other choice and the school proved a great success. A decade later, following the example of Odessa the Jewish community of Kishinev established a school, which it placed under the direction of Dr. JakobGoldenthal. And in 1838 a similar school was founded in Riga under the direction of Dr. Max Lilienthal. The curriculum of the Riga school as outlined by its founders included, among other subjects, reading, penmanship, grammar, and history (Russian). The principal, according to the program, was to be an alien of Jewish faith, "educated in the spirit of true learning." According to an official report of July 18, 1840, the school had prospered. And thus, 1839 became the great turning point not only because of Firkovtich but with the arrival of Goldenthal and Lilienthal as well.

Dr. Max Lilienthal
Dr. Max Lilienthal

Goldenthal and Lilienthal

Two more dissimilar men you couldn't find to be principals of Government operated Jewish schools. In fact, though well acquainted with one another, neither would ever talk about the other, having possibly viewed one another as adversaires rather than colleagues. It is never commented upon but how two individuals of such prominence could work practically side by side and never make a single reference to the other for the remainder of their lives is a testimony to their mutual resentment. Goldenthal, as one would assume, shared many of the beliefs I currently hold. After all, the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree. Lilienthal, on the other hand, was a reformer, but still Talmudic in his training. There was a calculated logic to Count Uvarov's selection event though at first it would appear entirely illogical. As recorded, Lilienthal was considered an alien of the Jewish faith, committed to the true spirit of learning, wheras Goldenthal was considered to be a true citizen of mother Russia, though Brody was an independent city that did not belong to Russia at the time. But more importantly, unlike the spirit of true learning of his counterpart, he was considered the pragmatist and most of all a hybrid of the Karaite and Rabbanite worlds.

Max Lilienthal was a German Jew; a rabbinically trained German Jew at that. Jakob Goldenthal was a classically trained Galicz Jew, the son of a line of prominent rabbis, who took the public purse designated to send him to rabbinical school in Leipzig and instead enrolled himself in the secular University of Leipzig where he studied Oriental and Romance languages and literature. The price on his head for absconding with the public coffers from the Brody Jewish community meant that he could never go back and to Lilienthal he would have viewed him as a traitor to his people. It is of interest that there is some confusion with the dates concerning the school in Kishinev. Whereas the accounts by Uvarov say the school was established around 1839, most archival records on Goldenthal say that he was still in Leipzig that year and didn't go to Kishenev unti 1843, long after Lilienthal was principal in Riga. There are some problems with this chronology. Firstly, if the archival records on Goldenthal were correct it would have meant that he spent eight years in Leipzig, which would be an excessively long time in the first half of the 19th century for someone to obtain their doctorate. But the archival record is based on his publishing record and just because he published articles and books through his Leipzig editor during that period did not necessarily mean he lived there. Because as we also know he had books published in Paris, France those same years and he certainly did not live in France. Further indications that Goldenthal preceded Lilienthal was the policies in place in Kishenev that Lilienthal insisted had to be abolished if he was to take the Principal position in Riga.

Under Goldenthal, instruction in the Talmud was not part of the school curriculum in Kishinev. The argument being that the Talmud fostered numerous evils and anti-Christian sentiment, to which Goldenthal with his Karaite origins would have entirely been in agreement with. Lilienthal objected to this policy due to his Rabbanite training and he managed to get a conciliation from Uvarov that Talmudic teaching would be included, but it was to be nominal only, and it would be ultimately discontinued if during the Government audits it was found that anti-Christian polemics in the Talmud were still being taught. Uvarov also conceded to Lilienthatl that two rabbincial schools, one in Wilna and another in Jitomir for the training of rabbis wouldestablished but the schools would be operated by Christian principals. Though Uvarov hoped his policies with the Rabbanite communities would achive the same success that had been achieved within the Karaite communities he was confronted by a solid wall of distrust and anxiety in the minds of the rabbinical Jews, who always suspected that there were ulterior motives and that they were not being told the true government's intentions. Uvarov was actually dismayed. Though Goldenthal was a logical choice having governmental approval due to his Karaite standing, and his modernistic approach to life, he knew that he would be resented by the Rabbanites and for that reason Lilienthal was hired in order to be a counterbalance. Progressive, reform and therefore modern in his thinking, Uvarov saw the German Jew as the perfect foil for Goldenthal and as a Rabbanite, someone that would be readily accepted by the Jewish community. Moreover, certain laws were enacted simultaneously with the opening of the schools, and also later, that likewise awakened fear among the Jews. Furthermore, he failed to understand that the forbidding of certain observances that were nothing more than habits and customs made sacred only by traditions that had no religous ordination and therefore were unimportant in themselves would cause the rabbis to practically rebel in their refusal to abandon their instruction. Most of these had to do with clothes and attire that Goldenthal expressed were not dictated at any time in the Torah and were merely the imposed habits of these rabbis over time. To Uvarov none of this made sense as he felt blending in would have been a major advancement to reducing anti-Jewish sentiment and because it had no religious basis to appear different, he had assumed the Jews would welcome the opportunity. Matters did not improve between the Russian government and the Jewish populations when in 1843 the Jews were ordered removed from living on the borders with Prussia and Austria, two countries that had become openly hostile to the Russian Empire. The justification was that the Jewish communities in these areas were supplying both enemy countries with food and materials an accusation that most likelyh was true since Jews in these areas favoured unification with the German empires over that of Russia. Furthermore, many of those Jews that were removed suffered economic ruin which also suggested that much of their trade was being engaged with the Germans rather than with Russian clientelle. .

What both Goldenthal and Lilienthal found they had to deal with was the dilemma of the Jewish population of the Northwestern provinces insisting on strict interpretation of the Talmud and close adherence to religious dogma, while the Jews in the South-western provinces leaned toward a liberal interpretation of the religious laws. Then there were those small parties of Jews of which Goldenthal was a leading voice that advocated European education. Those within the Rabbanite community that were eager to receive this European education found it necessary to hide their inclinations, perusing non-Jewish books in cellars or attics to escape detection by their families and friends.

Examined outside this prejudicial atmosphere, Count Uvarov's intentions were admirable and in his report to the Czar he expressed his view that "radical reforms are imperative for the education of the growing generation of Russian Jews." He complained that repressive measures against the Jews had failed to achieve any beneficial results, and then pointed out the excellent effects humanitarian measures such as those extended to the Karaites and other minorities had achieved. The suggestions in the report were all approved whole heartedly by Nicholas, who wrote on the margin of the report, "These deductions are correct." Czar Nicholas went as far as requesting that his ministers all acquaint themselves with the condition of the Jews in order to make possible the enactment of proper laws. Having concerns that the reaction to Dr. Goldenthal amongst the Rabbanite communites might be hostile, Uvarov commissioned Dr. Lilienthal to visit the various centers of Jewish settlement in the Pale in order to determine their attitude toward the proposed measures, and allay existing suspicion as to the intentions of the government. From the circular letter issued by Count Uvarov it was already evident that the Jewish rabbis and their congregations regarded with animosity the establishment of the Jewish schools in Odessa, Kishinev, and Riga, and believed that the principals of these schools, such as Goldenthal, intended to lead the Jewish youth away from Judaism. It only reaffirmed Uvarov's choice to send Lilienthal to the communities as offical government representative, a move which would have likely been met with some resentment by Goldenthal and further fostering the animosity between the two primary personalities responsible for carrying out Uvarov's plan.

Exactly what Count Uvarov's plan entailed was as follows: The schools would be divided into two classes—higherand lower. The higher classes would be established in the cities and would contain the equivalent of the first four or five grades of a classical gymnasium. The lower schools would be established in district towns and would ultimately replace the Jewish private schools. Uvarov proposed a committee of rabbis and scholars to preside over these schools and they were to be known as the "Commission for the Education of the Jews of Russia." Czar Nicholas approved of the plan but added in his own handwriting, "I approve of it on condition that the commission shall consist of no more than four rabbis, one from each of the provinces in which Jews are permitted to reside." Though a Rabbanite himself, Lilienthal found that Goldenthal was not without his reason for trying to limit Talmudic education in the government schools. When visiting Wilna, Lilienthal found that the Jews of that city were "familiar with Talmudic and rabbinical lore, but very ignorant of other learning and without much knowledge of the modern branches of science; full of prejudice and narrow-mindedness, and steeped in wild, absurd Ḥasidism which passes all understanding" which he recorded for posterity. With much effort he was able to convince the leaders of the community that the school would not be a menace to their religion and that when they agreed there would be an annual stipend of 5,100 rubles paid by the government toward the support of the institution. Lilienthal then traveled to Minsk where he was met by a very determined opposition by the Rabbis. Lilienthal then returned to Wilna but found in his absence that the opposition there had gained strength and the community withdrew its promise and expressed that they would do whatever it took to discredit Lilienthal's efforts elsewhere. The minority in favor of modern education made matters worse by its belligerent attitude. Lilienthal left Wilna and was sent by Uvarov to the Baltic where his efforts were more successful but most likely due to the strong presence of Karaites there which would have served as an example to their Rabbanite neighbours.

By now the reader should realize that the schools established according to Uvarov's plans did not meet with the intended success. Lilienthal blamed it all on the scarcity of competent instructors and insisted that it was the fault of foreign Jews, meaning Germans like himself, not being appointed as instructors. This was likely a direct slap at Goldenthal whom by now he considered an obstacle to the process. Lilienthal actively engaged about 200 foreign Jewish teachers but he did this without the authority or approval of the governemtn. Whether the result of Jakob Goldenthal insisting that qualified Jewish teachers could be found in Russia itself, or Goldenthal's fear that any foreign teachers would definitely be rabbinic and therefore fully immersed in the Talmud, the government authorities demanded that Lilienthal only employ Russian natives, parroting Goldenthal that enough Jewish instructors could be found in Russia itself. Beside these obvious differnces of opinion amongst the designated leaders of the Jewish schools, there also was the issue of a growing animosity of the Jewish population, which regarded the Principals and their instructors as traitors to their religion, and, fearing them as representatives of the government. The fact that Goldenthal still had an outstanding warrant from the city of Brody for his absconding with the community purse did not help the matter and the rabbis were always ready to express their enmity towards him. The jewish community also resented the fact that the Principals and teachers along with their children were not subject to military service. The situation grew worse when the Jews began accusing the Principals of extending their privilege to more distant family members and demanding that they be charged with obstruction of the conscription process. The situation was only to grow worse.

The Escape Clause

As the situation worsened, both between the government and the Jewish communities as well as between the two Principals, Goldenthal and Lilienthal, it became apparent that something had to change. Which would break first became the issue between these two stalwarts of Jewish education? It turned out that Lilienthal was first to throw in the towel. When the opportunity became available for a new rabbi to lead the congregation in Odessa, Max Lilienthal saw this as an opportunity to return to his rabbinical roots. Having seen Odessa as progressive and modernistic, embracing the new educational system unlike the other communities, he thought his appointment would be without incident. But what he found instead was his association with Uvarov and Goldenthal had left him tainted. It was one thing to be a government official promoting educational reform but to try and be the head rabbi of an established congregation was completely another matter all together. How could someone that was a government stooge be relgious enough to be the community's rabbi. Openly venting their hostility, Lilienthal resigned in the face of growing resentment from the congregation and shortly after arrived in America where he became a reform Rabbi at two separate New York temples.

The records go fairly quiet on Dr. Jakob Goldenthal. There is the official statement that in 1843 he became the Principal for all the Jewish Districts of the Ukraine Pale, which would have been expected following the resignation of Lilienthal, but unlike Lilienthal's travel records and biographical notes, there are none detailing what Goldenthal did for the next three years. It can be assumed that he pushed hard towards having Count Uvarov's initial plan imposed which meant that Talmudic learning was being removed from any formal programs, as well as the introduction of Russian Christian teachers for the non-religious subjects, as both of these are registered as complaints during the time period by leaders of the Jewish communities. But even more so, there was growing evidence that the entire plan of Jewish government shools was meeting with failure. The situation only grew worse when Goldenthal, seeing himself faced with the near impossibility of rectifying the situation applied and obtained the postion of professor at the University of Vienna in 1846. Count Uvarov and his plan would have to carry on without him.

So of the three major personalities affecting the Jews of Russia during this five year period, only one remained, that being Abraham Firkovitch. So contrary to Dan Ross's assertion that the entire schism between these two religious sects was the result of alienation of the Karaites under the instruction of Firkovitch and the extension of special privileges to the Karaites by the government that were not similarly extended to the Rabbanites the truth of the matter is that one sect seized the opportunity when it was presented to them and the other did nothing but place obstacles in the way of those that were specifically trying to help them. Though the accusation was made that Goldenthal was not representing their interests and that Lilienthal was nothing more than a traitor to his rabbinical roots, the fact remained that had the communities attempted to cooperate, their impoverished and 'alien' situation would have in most likelihood improved dramatically and the history following that point would have been very different indeed!

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