Emancipation of the Jews in modern times stands alongside such other emancipatory movements as those of the serfs, women, slaves in the United States, and Catholics in England. The term “emancipation” is derived from Latin (emancipatio), and originally meant in ancient Rome the liberation of a son from the authority of his father and his attainment of independent legal status. It has come to mean the liberation of individuals or groups from servitude, legal restrictions, and political and social disabilities. Jewish emancipation denotes the abolition of disabilities and inequities applied specially to Jews, the recognition of Jews as equal to other citizens, and the formal granting of the rights and duties of citizenship.
Essentially the legal act of emancipation should have been simply the expression of the diminution of social hostility and psychological aversion toward Jews in the host nation. Indeed, Jewish emancipation was related to the weakening of the general social antipathy toward Jews; but the antipathy was not obliterated, and constantly hampered the realization of equality even after it had been proclaimed by the state and included in the law.
Emancipation was achieved by ideological and social change and political and psychological strife. Before achieving full emancipation, the Jews in many countries passed through several transitional stages. They had to overcome the barriers of vested interests and such ancient prejudices as the hateful image of the Jew as alien, his religion odious, and his economics unscrupulous.
Ideologically, emancipation stemmed from the utopian political and social thought since the 18th century. Emancipation was, however, dependent on actual political and social conditions in each country and on the residential, cultural, and social characteristics of the Jewish population. Stages in the history of emancipation have been marked by the strength or weakness of egalitarian ideology and the corresponding interaction with existing laws, institutions, and relationships.
The first period, “heralding emancipation,” covered the 50 years preceding the French Revolution (1740–89). The second period, the 90 years from the French Revolution until the Congress of Berlin (1789–1878), comprised emancipation in Western and Central Europe. Finally, the third period extended from the Congress of Berlin to the Nazis’ rise to power (1878–1933) and saw in an atmosphere charged with newly inflamed hatred and racial animosity the achievement of Jewish emancipation in Eastern Europe, and the struggle in many countries to maintain civic equality and the right to national definition.
During the first period, demands for alleviating the lot of the Jews, with a view to their ultimate emancipation, were based on a theory of the “civic improvement of the Jews.” The proponents of this idea, men like John Toland, Christian Wilhelm von Dohm, Comte de Mirabeau, and their supporters, argued that existing legislation disabling the Jews was motivated primarily by religious intolerance, hence contrary to the enlightened “spirit of the times.” They pointed out, moreover, the economic advantages which would accrue to the state as a result of permitting Jews to function in society with the same rights and obligations as other groups.
Admitting the faults of the Jews pointed out by opponents, enlightened thinkers showed the defects to be the natural result of the degrading status in which Jews were compelled to live when all decent ways of life were closed to them. Such considerations were expressed in the deliberations on the Jewish question in pre-revolutionary France. Their influence is reflected in the announcement of an essay competition set by the Société Royale des Arts et Sciences in 1785 on the question: “Are there any ways of making the Jews of France happier and more useful?” and the entry of Abbé Henri Grégoire which gained the prize. New legislation ameliorating the status of Jews was inspired by this idea. Notable examples were the 1740 law enabling the Jews to become naturalized in the British colonies if they had lived there for at least seven years, and the law passed by the British Parliament in May 1753, according the Jews of England the right of naturalization. The British government, however, was compelled to revoke the latter law on Dec. 20, 1753, because of vigorous public opposition.
For the first time, Jews were also given the right in several places (Leghorn [Italy] and Belorussia) to elect representatives to municipalities and other institutions, like merchant and burgher organizations, although with some educational limitations. The Toleranz-Patent (1781–82) of Joseph II of Austria aimed at encouraging the integration of the Jews into Christian society, and is thereby a law “heralding emancipation,” as were the laws abolishing the “body tax” (see taxation) in Austria in 1781 and in the France of Louis XVI in 1784. The declarations and laws issued on freedom of conscience and religion at the time of the American Revolution were radical in their egalitarianism.
Among the Jewish initiatives toward obtaining civic liberation, the literary activity of Moses Mendelssohn is of historic importance, and the demands of Zalkind Hourwitz are worth noting. The petitions for equal rights and “equality in religious rights,” presented by U.S. Jews in 1784 and 1787, set an example which was later widely followed.
The second period opens with the principles and wars of the French Revolution and ends with the resolutions and tactics of the Congress of Berlin. In the intervening 90 years, Jewish emancipation became a political and legal fact in all European countries where revolution and liberalism were in the ascendancy: France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Austria-Hungary. The revolutionary peaks of 1789–91, 1830–31, 1848–49, and times of fundamental change in the structure of European states (e.g., unification of Germany and of Italy, and national independence in Hungary) were periods of progress in Jewish emancipation. Even where the emancipation evolved from legislation created within the permanent framework of the existing order (England and Scandinavia), or as the result of international circumstances (Switzerland), or international pressure (Serbia; Bulgaria), the relation between the new liberal political climate and the emancipation of the Jews was decisive.
The ideals of the Enlightenment were also evident in the numerous arguments and lengthy literary and political deliberations on Jewish emancipation which took place during this period. It was stressed that keeping the Jews in a politically limited and socially inferior status was incompatible with the principle of civic equality. Such deprivation would be a contradiction of the principle of “natural rights” of man, and, therefore, would undermine the civic equality of all who had attained it by revolution and the application of this principle. Emphasis was placed on the belief that “it is the objective of every political organization to protect the natural rights of man,” hence “all citizens have the right to all the liberties and advantages of citizens, without exception.”
As men, Jews should be guaranteed political rights in the countries in which they reside. Their ethnic origin and messianic hopes notwithstanding, the Jews had adopted the language and the culture of their environment; they were loyal to the state and identified themselves with the national feelings of their fellow countrymen. The activity of Jews in the struggle for their rights was bound up with their energetic participation in the general striving toward political liberty and egalitarianism as exemplified by Heinrich Heine, Ludwig Boerne, Johann Jacoby, Ignaz Kuranda; by the journalists and parliamentarians Gabriel Riesser, Berr Isaac Berr, Moritz Veit, Sir David Salomons, and Lionel Nathan Rothschild; and by the statesman Adolphe Crémieux who, in 1870, issued in the name of the French government the law which conferred French citizenship on the Jews of Algeria.
Jewish society fought for its emancipation not only through general institutions (the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Central Consistory of Paris, individual communities), but also through organizations specifically devoted to this aim. The Alliance Israélite Universelle worked energetically for its declared goal “of striving universally for the freedom of the Jews.”
The third period (1878–1933) witnessed a reaction to Jewish emancipation, and in Europe was marked with the prevalence of rabid anti-Semitism. Intense opposition brought many Jews to realize that the state’s legal recognition of Jewish civic and political equality does not automatically bring social recognition of this equality. The controversy over Jewish emancipation intensified and became embittered in almost every European country.
Racism and nationalism were the bases for anti-emancipation agitation. Opponents claimed that emancipation was granted under the false pretenses that Judaism is only a religion, and that emancipated Jews would give up all Jewish national identity and assimilate into the host nations. The “price of admittance” had not been paid by most Jews, who continued to form a separate national group. Even in the view of many liberals, the claim of Jews for participation in the government of the nation in which they were not an organic part was unjustified. Racists added that Jews should not be granted civil rights or become assimilated because their racial inferiority could only harm the “superior race.” Throughout its difficult and complex history, Jewish emancipation was a touchstone of freedom and social openness in European culture. Support came from those who cherished liberalism in life, thought, and politics, while bitter opposition came mostly from the reactionary camp. In Jewish life the fight for emancipation at first went hand in hand with a readiness to assimilate, and then, in the late 19th century, became associated with national Jewish loyalty and *autonomy.
The first country to emancipate the Jews was the United States. Jewish political inferiority during the colonial period before 1776, however, was not the result of a peculiar legal status. It derived rather from the Jews’ belonging to the non-Protestant portion of the population, or in some colonies their nonmembership in one privileged Protestant denomination. Before the period of the American Revolution, Jews living in the colonies were generally ineligible for public office, owing to a Protestant form of oath which operated to exclude Catholics as well. There are instances where Jews entered public life nevertheless, perhaps by disregarding such forms. Jews were not limited in the rights of domicile, economic activity, or the practice of Judaism. Their full enjoyment of civil rights, together with the newness, foreignness, and minuscule numbers of colonial Jews, probably did not encourage them to seek the full political rights which they lacked.
The American Revolution and the Federal Constitution brought emancipation in the political realm to Jews and other disadvantaged white minorities. Most of the newly enacted state constitutions abolished Christian oath formularies and separated church and state. The Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty, long promoted by Thomas Jefferson and enacted in 1786, not only guaranteed freedom of worship and prohibited public support of religious institutions, but provided that “religious opinions and beliefs shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect civil capacities.” This law influenced the Federal Constitution of 1787. The latter’s clause that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the United States” is the closest the United States ever came to a definitive act of religious emancipation, including Jews. The First Amendment, enacted in 1791 within the Bill of Rights, completed the process by disestablishing all religions.
Such Federal constitutional law did not, however, supersede the rights of individual states, although virtually all of them emulated the Federal model. The right of Jews to hold public office was actually sharply debated in Maryland between 1816 and the abolition of the Christian oath requirement in 1824. Vestigial oath clauses remained on the statute books of North Carolina until 1868 and New Hampshire until 1877, but they were generally disregarded. Both states had only a handful of Jews.
For emancipation in Latin America see Latin America.
Jewish emancipation in England came through the gradual change in the climate of social opinion rather than through revolution, although the ideas of the American and French revolutions, and the emancipation of English Catholics in 1829, were influential in changing English attitudes. Jews had participated with Catholic leaders in planning the strategy for achieving Catholic emancipation. Jewish emancipation in England was accomplished by laws specifically relating to the Jews. These laws were passed only after some social equality had become an accomplished fact and the state was required to give it legal expression.
Literature, as well as law, did much to shape and reflect public opinion. Byron, for example, expressed sympathy for the suffering Jew; Richard Cumberland in The Jew (1794) created a complimentary portrait of the Jew as a man.
In addition, there were English translations of the literature written in defense of the Jews by such men as Lessing, Mendelssohn, and Grégoire; publication of books and essays by various English authors calling for emancipation of Jews; and the defense of the rights of Jews in other countries by English diplomacy (e.g., at the Congresses of Vienna and Aix-la-Chapelle; support of Moses Montefiore’s interventions in the Damascus Affair; Morocco; Russia). The change in public attitude toward Jews was largely due to their civic and economic progress.
In practice, neither the right of the Jews to reside in England, nor their choice of profession or commercial opportunity were restricted after their return in the 17th century, the Jews being gradually allowed to improve their economic and social status to a great extent. Jewish civic and political inequality was bound up with the formula of the oath of loyalty, “according to the usages of the Anglican Church,” to be taken in order to hold any office. In the deliberations on the emancipation of the Catholics (1828), one of the bishops proposed the new formula, “on the true faith of a Christian,” which would then only discriminate against Jews. Thereafter, Jews and their public sympathizers and parliamentary supporters demanded the abolition of this formula for Jews.
An attempt in 1830 by a Liberal member, Sir Robert Grant, to change the oath, was carried at first by a majority of 18, but was defeated in second reading. In 1833 after the reform of the British Parliament, Grant proposed “that it is expedient to remove all civil disabilities at present affecting His Majesty’s subjects of the Jewish religion, with the like exceptions as are provided with reference to His Majesty’s subjects professing the Roman Catholic religion.” During the discussion following this motion, speeches were made which have become classics in the polemics of Jewish emancipation, including one by the English historian Macaulay (see Apologetics). The motion was finally carried by a great majority in all three readings. The House of Lords, however, rejected it, as it was to do again in 1834.
During this time, nevertheless, Jews were being elected to various honorary positions. After David Salomons, a banker and communal worker, was elected sheriff in 1835, the government passed a law in Parliament which enabled Jews to hold this position. Similarly, after Salomons was elected to the court of aldermen in 1841 and again in 1844, a law was passed in 1845 enabling a Jew elected to municipal office to substitute an oath which was acceptable to his conscience for the prejudicial declaration ordinarily demanded.
In 1835, a law was enacted which exempted voters from taking any oath. The Jews were enabled in 1837 to receive degrees from the University of London (a secular university) and, in 1841, the Jew Isaac Lyon Goldsmid was knighted.
Admission of Jews to Parliament and university was gradual, changes coming through compromises occasioned by the election of two Jews, Lionel Nathan Rothschild and David Salomons, to Parliament and their struggle to take their seats from 1841 to 1858; a compromise law of 1858; the deletion by law in 1866 of the Christological portion of the oath; and a further abolition of limitations for Jews in 1871.
The later development of the major countries of the British Commonwealth and their colonization by the English (and to a far lesser extent by Europeans) created a situation in which the problems of political emancipation did not present themselves either at all or to any great degree. This development became effective only toward the middle of the 19th century or later, and by this time the climate of opinion and political thinking was characterized by liberal concepts averse to legal discrimination for reasons of religion. Originally administered as colonies direct from London through a local representative of the central government, they achieved or were granted self-government when these liberal concepts were dominant. The social stratification of the settlers also had an influence in the same direction. These were frontier societies engaged in promoting and establishing themselves, in which there was no room for religious discrimination. And in that frontier society, Jews themselves occupied a prominent position and played an important role as entrepreneurs of various kinds. The generally superior educational attainment of Jews also helped. A further element was the very small percentage of the total European population that Jews constituted, in New Zealand never more than about a quarter percent and in Australia one-half percent. The problem confronting the Jews in these Commonwealth countries was not “legalized” religious discrimination and restrictions but the absence thereof and the prevalence of measures of social freedom which brought quite different problems manifested in a trend to intermarriage and complete assimilation.
Emancipation was not an acute problem in the Scandinavian countries in which Jewish settlements were comparatively recent (17th and 18th centuries) and few in number. There Jewish emancipation came as the legal expression of the quiet victory of a sociopolitical principle natural to civilized states, developing in a conservative mode.
On March 29, 1814, the king of Denmark authorized all “the believers in the Mosaic faith” born in Denmark, or living there legally, to engage in all professions, obliged them to keep their books in Danish or in German, and narrowed community autonomy. In 1837, Jews became eligible for municipal election and, in 1843, the special Jewish oath was abrogated. In the constitution of June 5, 1849, article 84 was tantamount to a grant of emancipation in refusing to recognize the inequality of “any person on the basis of religious grounds.”
In Sweden the government abolished discrimination against Jews by an administrative decree on June 30, 1838, but was compelled to rescind it under pressure of public opinion. Some disabilities were abolished by general laws on freedom in the choice of profession. In 1860 Jews were permitted to acquire real estate. Marriage between Jews and Christians was legalized in 1863, and in 1873 it was also permitted to give a Jewish education to children born of such marriages. In 1865, Jews were granted the active right to vote and in 1870, the passive right.
In Norway, the 1814 prohibition against the entrance of Jews was abrogated in 1851, after several unsuccessful previous attempts in 1842, 1845, and 1848. It was only in 1891 that the Jews were authorized to enter government service.
The emancipation of the Jews of France was linked to the French Revolution and its principles. Jewish equality was implied in the Declaration of the Rights of Man (Aug. 27, 1789), where it states that no man ought to be molested because of his opinions, including his religious opinions. Equality was gradually implemented through various national laws amid a continual, and sometimes fierce, discussion of the applicability of full equality to Jews, but full emancipation was granted on September 27, 1791.
Various features in the composition and distribution of the Jewish population, and in the traditional French attitude toward Jews, caused this acrimonious two-year struggle. During the debate in the National Assembly, Comte de Clermont-Tonnerre, an advocate of emancipation, explicitly formulated the assimilationist assumptions of the emancipation when he declared on December 23, 1789: “The Jews should be denied everything as a nation, but granted everything as individuals…” and that “it should not be tolerated that the Jews become a separate political formation or class in the country. Every one of them must individually become a citizen; if they do not want this, they must inform us and we shall then be compelled to expel them. The existence of a nation within a nation is unacceptable to our country.”
Indeed, Jews striving for emancipation abandoned all demands for autonomy, especially those of the Portuguese communities in the south of France (see Avignon and Bordeaux), who were emancipated somewhat earlier than the Ashkenazi Jews of Alsace. The law of September 1791 (ratified by the king on November 13) emancipating all Jews as a matter of principle was considered by Jews as an historic turn in their fate, “a tremendous revolution which heralded happiness,” and a victory of revolutionary principles, while the clergy and the royalists considered it a “further insult” to the Church and French historic tradition.
Every territory conquered by the French revolutionary armies, or placed under their rule, and where the laws of France were introduced, saw the proclamation of Jewish equality (e.g., Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, southern Germany). Jews in these countries considered the French “friends of the Jews,” and Napoleon Bonaparte was admired by most, even though he later (from 1806 publicly) restricted full emancipation (see French Sanhedrin).
Napoleon’s restrictions lapsed in 1818, and ironically were not renewed by the reinstituted reactionary Bourbon regime; civic equality of the Jews in France became an established fact. Jewish legal equality was renewed by the law of February 8, 1831 (passed in the French Parliament after numerous discussions), which recognized the Jewish religion as equal in rights to the Christian churches, and provided for the salaries of its religious officials to be paid by the state. In 1846 the *oath more Judaico was abolished by a decision of the court of appeal.
The French revolutionary conquest of the Netherlands precipitated Jewish emancipation. It was declared legally on September 2, 1796, by the Batavian National Assembly, which stated that “it is impossible to deprive any Jew of the rights and privileges which are attached to Batavian citizenship, if he wishes to employ them, on condition that the Jew answers to all the requirements and fulfills all the obligations to which every citizen is bound.” Both the basis of this law and the discussion about it centered on the definition of Jews and their aims. Neither party to the discussion was inimical to Jews.
The opponents of emancipation emphasized the political nature of the Jewish people, who, although deprived of a state, considered Eretz Israel to be its country and the Torah its law. One of the debaters, Van Hamelsveld, claimed that since the Jews anticipate a messiah, bringing political revival, to grant them political rights in Batavia would cause the Jews to deviate from their correct historic path, which was similar to that of the Greeks, who stood on the verge of a political revival. All Jews, the argument continued, should have civic rights, which are encompassed by human rights, while political rights should only be given to those who explicitly declare their wish to become Batavian citizens. This conception was supported by the majority of Dutch Jews and their communal leaders, both noted for loyalty to the monarchy (the princes of Orange) and the desire not to cooperate with the revolutionaries who relied on the French conquest.
The opponents of equality claimed that by their religion the Jews were monarchists and thus opposed to any republican regime. They argued, in addition, that Jews are opposed to the abolition of their autonomy and feared that active participation of the Jewish masses in the affairs of state would finally bring misfortune to the Jewish population. In practice, emancipation in the Netherlands did not encounter much difficulty, and the change of regime in the Netherlands did not change the law of equality. In the constitution, redrafted in 1848, the article on equality was even more clearly formulated: “The members of the various religions are to benefit from the same rights as the citizens of the state and the citizens of the communities, and they have an equal right to hold honorary, clerical, and public service positions.”
With the conquest of Belgium by the French armies, the laws of France were applied. Emancipation continued through the time of union with the Netherlands (1815–30), and was incorporated into the Belgian constitution of 1831, which proclaimed the equality of all citizens.
The beginnings of emancipation in Italy were also connected with the victories of the French revolutionary armies. Opening the gates of the ghetto and the destruction of their walls symbolized the new regime. The government of the Cisalpine Republic invited the Jews to send their delegates to its founding assembly, and declared in its first proclamation that “the Jews are citizens and society must recognize them as citizens.”
One of the first steps of the government of the Republic in Rome was to publish in February 1798 the following decree: “The Jews answering to all the conditions required for the obtention of the rights of Roman citizens shall become subject to the laws which have been decreed for all the citizens of the Republic. Therefore, from this day, all the special laws and decrees concerning the Jews are declared to be null and void.” The grounds for this decree were the “sanctified principles of the Constitution of the Roman Republic,” according to which “the laws must equally apply to every Roman citizen.”
Support of Italian patriotism, unification, and revolutionary aims became characteristic of traditional Jewish community leaders (rabbis, parnasim, etc.), as well as Italian Jewry in general during the 19th century.
The first emancipation in Italy was of short duration, being repealed with the return of the “ancient order.” The rhythm of repeal varied in the different Italian states. The renewed animation of the Italian liberation movement in the 1840s helped to bring about a considerable shift in public opinion in favor of the Jews.
During the Revolution of 1848, the equality of the Jews was proclaimed in almost all the states of Italy: the duchy of Tuscany in its founding constitution of February 17, 1848; Sardinia (which granted Jews civic rights on March 29, 1848) on July 8, 1848; and Rome at the beginning of 1849. The general reaction which followed the year of the Revolution especially affected the Jews of the Papal States, where the period of reaction was also of longer duration. Only with the unification of Italy in 1870 did emancipation also come to the Jews of Rome when all restrictions connected with religion were abolished by the decree of October 13, 1870, and by the parliamentary decision of December 15, 1870.
Liberation of parts of Italy during the process of unification also accomplished Jewish emancipation: in Modena, June 14, 1859; Lombardy, July 4, 1859; Romagna, August 10, 1859; Umbria, February 27, 1860; Sicily, February 12, 1861; Naples, February 16, 1861; and Venice, August 4, 1866. Jewish emancipation in Italy was an expression of both social reality and public opinion, until the conclusion of the alliance between Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.
Jewish emancipation in Germany prior to unification was related, as in Italy, to aspirations for the reform of the state along liberal and democratic lines, and to the desire for unifying the nation, as well as to the revolutionary movement. But, after 1848, Germany was controlled by conservative, “historic,” elements, which shaped the form of German unity and the nature of its political life. The process of emancipation in Germany was, therefore, a prolonged and bitter struggle, complicated by assimilation on the one hand, and the power of the German “tradition of hatred” of Jews on the other (see G.E. Lessing; Ch. W. von Dohm).
The struggle was to last from the 1780s until the passing of the law on Jewish equality in the North German Confederation on July 3, 1869, and its extension, with the ratification of the Constitution, to the whole of the German Empire on April 14, 1871. Emancipation in Germany also came first to those regions conquered by the French (see Westphalia; Frankfurt on the Main; Hamburg). In the German states which retained their independence, “improvements and concessions” in the situation of the Jews were introduced (e.g., the abolition of the body tax, etc.).
The most important initial law in the emancipation of German Jews during the French revolutionary period was the edict issued in Prussia on March 11, 1812, with its various modifications and limitations. It recognized all Jews already resident in Prussia by virtue of privileges and “special concessions” as citizens of Prussia, and abrogated all limitations on their rights of residence and commerce, all special taxes, and in general, all special laws relating to the Jews. It imposed on Jews all civic duties, including army service, and entitled them to serve in municipal and academic offices. However, it did not give them the right of appointment in the civil service and army, and did not regulate communal affairs and Jewish religious education.
After liberation of the “free cities” in Germany from French domination, stringent measures were taken to return the “ancient order,” i.e., they endeavored to deprive the Jews of their civic rights (Frankfurt; Hamburg) and even of their right of residence (Bremen; Luebeck). The Jews appealed to the Congress of Vienna for assistance, thus making Jewish emancipation in Germany an international question. A result of the German-Jewish conflict was the wording of article 16 of the credentials of the German Confederation (June 10, 1815), which stated that only rights granted Jews “by the states” will be continued and not rights granted “in the states,” thus eviscerating, through the change of one word, the rights granted under French dominion. The states did indeed use this opportunity to restrict the freedom of the Jews (see Bremen, Luebeck, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Mecklenburg).
Only during the 1830s was the movement for Jewish emancipation revived, a movement in which the literary and political activities of Gabriel Riesser played a central role. He succeeded in founding societies for the obtention of equality which influenced the governments and public opinion. Riesser considered himself a German nationalist, but he gave a distinctly Jewish communal character to the Jewish fight for their rights in Germany. The most prominent and talented members of the Jewish community aided Riesser in the battle, as did all of the Jewish communities in the German states. By the 1840s the results of this campaign were evident in public opinion in Prussia, expressed by the demands of the provincial assemblies (Landtage), and in the “law on the reform of the Jews” (July 23, 1847). The law resulted in a certain improvement in the organization of the Jewish communities, especially in southern Germany.
The Revolution of 1848 caused all the German states to proclaim emancipation. “The fundamental rights of the German people” (published on December 27, 1848), which were to serve as the norm for every constitution of the German states, declared that “civil and political rights are not conditioned by religion or restricted as a result of it” and that “religion must not diminish civic obligations.” This article was included, in one form or another, in the basic constitutions of most German states (Prussia, April 6, 1848, December 5, 1848; Wuerttemberg, December 21, 1848, January 14, 1849; Baden, Nov. 17, 1849) and was even preserved in the “constitutions” of the early reactionary period. Article 12 of the Prussian Constitution (Jan. 31, 1850) declared “freedom of religion and the freedom of organization of religious societies,” and, further, that “the use of civic and political rights is not dependent on religion,” nor does the “use of religious freedom impair civic and political obligations.” This article appeared to be a firm guarantee for the emancipation of Jews.
Serious attempts were made during the 1850s to challenge the emancipation as a matter of principle and to abolish it in fact. Friedrich Julius Stahl stressed the Christian character of the state and the resultant impossibility of granting equality to the Jews. In 1856, a motion was even introduced for the abolition of article 12 of the constitution. But the Jewish communities, led by Ludwig Philippson, raised a storm of protest and the motion was dismissed. However, through its interpretation of the “amended” constitution’s article 14, an article which dealt with the Christian religion, a means was found to bar Jews from government service. In other states, too (e.g., Bavaria) many discriminatory laws were revived or remained in force.
On Novembe 1, 1867, all restrictions on the Jews’ right of residence, acquisition of real estate, and choice of profession were abolished in the states of the North German Confederation. These restrictions were similarly abolished in the states of southern Germany (Bavaria in 1861; Wuerttemberg in 1862; Baden in 1864). The law of equality was passed by the Parliament of the North German Confederation on July 3, 1869. With the extension of this law to the states united within the German Empire (Bavaria, April 22, 1871), the struggle of Germany’s Jews for emancipation achieved success.
The first period of emancipation in Austria made no change in the status of the Jews. But on the basis of the general constitution of the empire (March 4, 1849), which contained an article on “civic and political rights” being “not dependent on religion,” all restrictions on Jews were abolished. With the abrogation of this constitution on December 31, 1851, however, the ancient disabilities were renewed in aspects of life ranging from the acquisition of real estate (October 20, 1853) to the employment of male and female Christian domestics. It was only during the 1860s that emancipatory laws were reinstituted. On December 21, 1867, emancipation was achieved in Austria with the promulgation of the new fundamental laws in which article 14 assured “complete freedom of religion and conscience for all” and that “the benefits derived from civic and political rights were not dependent on faith and religion.” “In any event,” the article continued, “religious faith should not collide with the fulfillment of civic obligations.”
In Hungary the townspeople tended to oppose granting rights to the Jews, whose numbers were constantly increasing. However, the lower aristocracy, whose economic progress was connected with the commercial activity of the Jews, and who were generally the standard-bearers of national liberalism, actively supported the Jews. As a result of their influence the demand “to give to the Jews all those rights from which the non-aristocratic population benefits” was included in the instructions of the provincial assemblies to their delegates in parliament. These instructions resulted in the law making the Jewish religion a “government-recognized religion,” abolishing the “tolerance-tax,” and declaring “the Jews equal in their civic rights to the other citizens who were not of the nobility.” Therefore, public and government offices, including positions in the war ministry, which were not reserved for the nobility, could be occupied by Jews (1840). The Upper House however did not ratify the law, and the king would not even agree to the abolition of the “tolerance-tax.” The Austrian government consented only to the extension of the right of residence to the Jews.
Magyarization was made a prerequisite for Hungarian Jewry before it could achieve emancipation. The Jews have “to speak the language of Hungary and to sing its songs” so as “to cleave to the fatherland, which we have acquired for ourselves.” But Orthodoxy, in the words of Moses Sofer, claimed that emancipation – i.e., “having all the same rights as the other inhabitants of our country” – proves that it is the Will of God to maintain His people in the Exile for a prolonged period, therefore the Jews should be roused to ask for mercy and pray for Redemption.
The assimilationists and reformers claimed that declarations of the Orthodox had “strengthened the opponents of equality” and had caused the Upper House in 1844 to deny even the abolition of the “tolerance-tax” (abolished two years later by the Austrian government, after exacting “compensation” from the Jews for losses anticipated as a result of the abolition). Direct negotiations conducted by the Jews with the Austrian government, without taking into consideration the national rule in Hungary, angered the Hungarian nationalists and brought about a deterioration in their relations with the Jews.
During the first days of the Revolution in 1848, the Hungarian Parliament deliberated on the issue of equality for the Jews. Even the Liberals, who in principle demanded it, were mostly of the opinion that such equality must be gradual and conditional to preliminary “reform” of the Jews. The Parliamentary Assembly, on March 14, 1848, decided to grant to the Jews the right to vote, but had to rescind this decision because of demonstrations and riots against Jews in several Hungarian towns (in most cases in connection with the admission of the Jews into the National Guard). The riots were not suppressed by the government, which even exerted pressure on the Jews to relinquish their rights “of their own free will.” The patriotic activity, however, of many Jews during Hungary’s war of independence created a bond between the Hungarian national cause and the Jews, strengthened by severe fines imposed on the Jewish communities by the victorious Austrians.
On July 28, 1849, the government presented a motion to the Founding Assembly in Szegedin (Szeged) stating that “every believer in the Mosaic faith born on the soil of Hungary, or who has settled on it legally, shall benefit from all those civic and political rights which the believers of other religions enjoy.” This emancipation turned out to be only a gesture because the rule of the Hungarian government was rapidly disintegrating. Jewish emancipation was to become legal only with the establishment of Austria-Hungary as a dual monarchy. The two Hungarian houses of parliament, on December 20/27, 1867, declared one of the fundamental laws of Hungary to be that “the Israelite inhabitants are equal to the Christian inhabitants in their civic and political rights” (art. 1) and that “all the laws, usages, and decrees which are in contradiction with these are hereby abrogated” (art. 2).
The struggle for emancipation in Switzerland was drawn out over more than 75 years. It developed from nine French demands imposed upon Switzerland (1797) to exempt French Jews visiting the country from special customs duties and taxes. The Helvetic Republic, established in 1798, passed general resolutions on emancipation. Special taxes on Jews were abrogated on July 1, 1798, as “a disgrace to the honor of mankind.” This problem only concerned Aargau, the one canton in which Jews were living legally. Full emancipation was rejected in 1799.
The constitution of 1848 declared the theoretical equality of all Swiss citizens (art. 4), but, in effect, reserved full rights of citizenship only for members of one of the recognized Christian churches (art. 41). In 1856 the National Council decided that Jews living in the cantons permanently were to benefit from civic and political rights in their places of residence, and guaranteed their right to move freely within Switzerland. These resolutions, however, met with strong opposition from both the public and the authorities of Aargau. Only on August 27, 1863, was the vote granted to the Jews of Canton Aargau.
The emancipation of Switzerland’s Jews concluded as it had begun by pressure from the outside. Many countries (France, the Netherlands, the U.S.A.) requested that Switzerland not discriminate against their Jewish citizens visiting there. Threats to cancel commercial treaties were made by France in 1835 and 1864, and the Netherlands in 1863, if the rights of their Jewish citizens were not guaranteed. Switzerland’s consent to such demands created the anomaly of giving preference to Jews of other countries over Jews of Swiss nationality, which strengthened the case of those who demanded full emancipation. On January 14, 1866, all restrictions concerning the right of Jews to establish residence were abolished, and on April 19, 1874, article 49 of the new constitution declared full emancipation in Switzerland.
In the Balkan countries (Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Romania), which gained their independence from the Ottoman Empire with the support of Russia, the question of the status of Jews was raised as soon as each country became independent. The Jews were generally loyal to Turkey. The Christian insurgents were imbued with religious fanaticism, and Russia’s hostility toward the Jews was notorious.
The question of Jewish emancipation became connected with the fate of Muslim minorities. From the time of establishment of the Balkan countries, these factors brought about the intervention of the great powers to help determine the status of minorities. In the protocol of the Conference of London (November 30, 1830), which recognized the independence of Greece, the powers agreed that “all the subjects of the new state, without distinction of religion, shall be eligible for appointment in public service, government, and honorary positions, and their treatment should be based on complete equality in all religious, civic and political matters.”
In the irade (a decree on governmental organization), which the sultan gave to Serbia on December 24, 1838, the obligation of the government to “protect the property, the freedom, and the honor” of all the inhabitants was emphasized. After the Crimean War, the protocol of the Council of Constantinople (February 11, 1856) declared that in the principalities of the Danube (Moldavia and Wallachia, which by their union formed the Kingdom of Romania) “freedom would be given to all the members of the various religions, and all of them, without distinction of religion, would be accorded the protection of the law, would be eligible for employment in the service of the public and society, and would be authorized to acquire lands and real estate.” The Treaty of Paris (August 19, 1858), however, stated in article 46 that “those belonging to the Christian Churches would benefit from political equality, while the extension of political rights to other elements of the population was the concern of the legislature.” Agreeing in principle with the non-equality practiced in Serbia and Romania, the article continued to be the source of discrimination and expulsions (in Serbia, 1856 and 1869; in Romania, 1867–70, etc.), and even riots (in Romania, 1866–68).
It was only in Greece that emancipation gradually materialized (1870–72) without any additional outside pressure. In the other Balkan countries, emancipation was guaranteed by the Congress of Berlin, where, as a result of the numerous intercessions of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, it was decided that special articles on equality in Bulgaria, Serbia, and Romania would be a condition for international recognition of their independence. The article on Bulgaria declared that “no person should be deprived of his civic or political rights because of his religious beliefs,” and that “all the inhabitants of the Bulgarian Principality, without distinction of religion or race, may be accepted into every public office, government service, and honorary position.” With respect to Serbia, the Congress decided to consent to Serbian independence on the condition that religious freedom be recognized. The kingdoms of Bulgaria and Serbia included the articles on emancipation in their constitutions.
The situation developed differently in Romania. Article 44, ratified at the Congress of Berlin, dealt with emancipation in Romania, and although not explicitly mentioning the Jews, reflected an understanding of their oppressed position in that country and was directed toward ameliorating it. The article declared “the differences between the religious faiths, or the credo of any person, cannot serve as a pretext for exclusion from the society which enjoys civic and political rights, or from certain professions, categories of crafts or industry, in any place.” “Freedom of worship,” the article continued, “shall be guaranteed to members of all religions in Romania, as well as to all foreigners, and no obstacles shall be laid in the way of the hierarchic organization of the various communities or their relations with their spiritual leaders. The treatment of the subjects of all the powers, businessmen, or others, when in Romania, shall be on the basis of complete equality.”
In actual practice, the Romanian government found a way to nullify this article. Although formally drafting the seventh article of its constitution according to the demands of the Congress of Berlin (the difference in religions and faiths in Romania shall not entail any limitations in the acquisition of civic and political rights), the Romanian authorities included articles on “aliens” which permitted civic rights to be given to only 885 Jews while enabling the government to withhold these rights from more than 250,000 Jews (1885) who were declared aliens and required to undergo naturalization.
The peace treaty concluded with Romania after World War I (December 9, 1919) included an article stating that “all those born in Romania, who are not subjects of another country by birth, shall become Romanian citizens on the strength of their birth in the country.” In addition, a special article (7) was drafted into the treaty according to which Romania “commits herself to recognize as Romanian citizens the Jews living on Romanian territory who do not have any other nationality, by the actual fact of their living in the country, without requiring any formal demands of them.” Another article (8) declared that “all Romanian subjects shall be equal before the law and shall benefit from the same civic rights without any distinction based on race, religion, or language.” However, the motion to include article 7 in the constitution of 1923 was rejected, and the Jews were again required to provide documents attesting their right of citizenship causing about 10% of the Jewish population to remain without rights.
Demands for Jewish emancipation in Poland were presented at the end of the 18th century, amid the social and spiritual agitation resulting from the collapse of the regime and the state. During the interim period between its second and third partition, Poland’s struggle for existence compelled it to seek ways of exploiting all available resources, including the increased economic resources which would accrue from “reform of the Jews.” Thus “reform” was proposed by Mateusz Butrymowicz, Tadeusz Czacki, Ko???taj, and others, mainly in the spirit of mercantilist exploitation of Jewish economic activity and their “improvement” through assimilation into Polish culture rather than as the natural result of a liberal regime in which Jews would be permitted civic equality and access to Polish cultural life.
The Jewish population in Poland, which was the largest and most specifically Jewish in the Diaspora, could not be considered a mere collectivity of individuals. Influenced by Western political liberalism, Polish theorists formulating the methods for Jewish “reform” believed that the state should be based on the principles of civic equality legislated systematically and implemented with persistence by the state. It was the conflict between the theoretical liberal and the practical mercantilist orientations which caused the complete failure of the projects to “reform the Jews.”
The constitution of May 3, 1791, did not mention the Jews, and the law on the municipalities was based on the principle that municipal citizenship could be granted only to Christians. After the dismemberment of Poland, Polish legislation concerning Jews was applied only within those territories which enjoyed intermittent independence: the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, 1807–13; Kingdom of Poland, 1815–30; and Republic of Kracow, 1815–46. Polish attitudes continued to influence the status of the Jews under alien rule, especially during the Polish uprisings, and in autonomous Galicia from 1848 to 1918.
The Grand Duchy of Warsaw tortuously followed Napoleon Bonaparte’s policy toward the Jews. On October 17, 1808, the duke decreed that “the inhabitants of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw of the Mosaic faith” could not make use of their political rights for a period of ten years, though “this law will not prevent us from authorizing individual members of this religion to benefit from political rights even before the lapse of the said period, should they be found meritorious and suitable.” However, all petitions presented by a group of individuals, who considered themselves deserving of full equality, were dismissed by the government which emphasized that “equality before the law does not transform the inhabitants of the country into citizens.” The government also took pains to issue special laws against the Jews, such as prohibiting the acquisition of estates, and restricting residence in Warsaw.
The Kingdom of Poland followed a similar but simpler course: it promised and did even less to emancipate Jews. In its draft constitution presented at the Congress of Vienna, an article promised that “all the civic rights, which are guaranteed in the present laws and regulations, shall also be reserved for Jewish people; special reforms should also be introduced in order to facilitate a larger Jewish participation in the rights of citizens.” During the same year (1815), however, the Jewish question was studied by a reforms commission, headed by Prince Adam Czartoryski, which endorsed the principle of emancipation only in theory, withholding it in practice until the Jews took up agriculture, abolished their community organization, acquired modern Polish education, and refrained from trading in and sale of alcoholic beverage (see Wine and Liquor Trade). The decree which abrogated the equality of the Jews was prolonged by the Sejm (parliament). All suggestions advanced by “progressive,” wealthy, or enlightened Jews (maskilim) to be considered “reformed” and separate from Jewish society as a whole and, therefore, worthy of civic rights brought no legal change in the condition of the Jews. An extensive polemical literature emerged, which was overwhelmingly and violently opposed to the Jews.
During the Polish uprising of 1830, there were those who favored the equality of the Jews, and there were some Jews, especially among the youth and the masses, who openly manifested their sympathy for the uprising and wished to participate in it. The leaders of the uprising and the Sejm generally adopted a negative attitude toward the desires of the Jews. A step toward Jewish emancipation was made later by Marquis Wielopolski who obtained from Czar Alexander II permission to grant the Jews “partial civic equality.” As a result, Jews were allowed to acquire land, and residence restrictions in several towns and regions were abolished, as were the Jewish oath and other limitations. But the use of Hebrew or Yiddish in bookkeeping or documents was forbidden on May 24, 1862. The national revolutionary government of 1863 addressed itself to “the Polish brothers of the Mosaic faith” in a special manifesto in which it promised that “the people’s government would not ask about religion and race, only the place of birth,” and that the Jews would be granted “all civic rights without restrictions.”
The Sejm in Galicia ratified on Dec. 21, 1867, the abolition of restrictions on Jews’ participation in municipal elections. The recognition of Jewish emancipation in principle was widespread among Polish progressives in the 1860s and 1870s. The belief was based on the assumption that after emancipation the Jews were bound to identify themselves nationally and politically with Poland and assimilate its culture. However, the increase in Jewish population and its social and cultural cohesiveness convinced the Poles that this assumption was illusory. The Poles argued that although the Jews fulfilled their civic obligations and were loyal to the state, they did not accept assimilation. Opposition to the Jews grew continually in intensity. It was encouraged by the Russian government’s policy of “divide and rule,” and by the Christian urban classes’ enmity toward the Jews as rivals in commerce and in the liberal professions.
At the beginning of the 20th century Jewish participation in revolutionary activity (1905), the development of their own press, public schools, and economic institutions, the rise of modern Jewish nationalism (Zionism, the Bund, etc.), and the weight of their increasing numbers in municipal and Duma elections sharpened Polish opposition to emancipation for the Jews. Only the Polish socialist movements demanded Jewish civic and political equality.
During the German conquest of Poland in World War I, many laws and regulations directed against the Jews were actually abolished, and the organization of the communities received a more democratic character. Between the two World Wars the Jewish fight for equality in independent Poland was influenced by these developments. Emancipation of the Jews in Poland had been guaranteed by the Treaty of Versailles (arts. 86 and 93), and, in particular, by the “additional Treaty of Versailles” (June 28, 1919) signed by Poland, which provided for minority rights in Poland. After numerous delays, the Polish government was compelled to sign the treaty. Although the Polish constitution of March 17, 1921, included the “additional Treaty of Versailles” and promised “complete equality in civic rights” (art. 9), there was also included an article stating that “in order to execute the constitution, the preparation of suitable legislation would be required.” In other words, until the publication of new laws, it was possible – perhaps even necessary – to apply the ancient laws and restrictions. It was only in 1931 that several of these laws and restrictions were abrogated.
In the new Polish constitution of April 23, 1935, the principle of equality was outlined in article 7 according to which “the rights of a citizen would not be restricted because of his origin, religion, sex, or nationality,” and that “the right of the citizen to determine the course of public affairs would be considered in respect to the value of his efforts in the service of public welfare.” Yet the violent opposition of Polish authorities and society to Jewish emancipation did not cease. The law of equality and the law concerning the rights of minorities were successfully emptied of their contents, remaining merely a political and judicial framework for Jewish complaints against the oppressive injustice and perverted laws under which they were compelled to live.
The beginnings of the struggle for emancipation in Russia took place after the first partition of Poland (1772), when Russia annexed Polish provinces which contained large Jewish populations (Belorussia). On May 7, 1780, Catherine II accepted the “requests of the Jews living in the districts of Mogilev and Polotsk to register among the merchants.” She ratified the rights of the Jews who had registered with the merchant class and who had been elected to public positions in the self-governing institutions of the burghers, ordering officials not to prevent the Jews from exercising this right (May 13, 1733).
This episode is the beginning of the difficult fight for Jewish emancipation in Russia. Emancipation conflicted with the ideology of the czarist regime, which was built on a system of special privileges in all areas of life, and on rigid social classes legally separated. Under such a regime, every attempt to attain Jewish civic equality was doomed to failure from the start. The promptings of theory and pretensions toward principle often resulted in decrees which were supposedly intended to “reform” the Jews in order to render them suitable “for admission into civil society.”
On December 23, 1791, the Pale of Settlement was set up for the Jews, with further discriminations and impositions following suit. The Commission for the Reform of the Jews, at first inclined toward the liberal opinion that “prohibitions should be reduced and liberties increased” (September 20, 1803), in the end issued the “Jewish Statute” of 1804 which determined the limits of the Pale of Settlement and imposed further domiciliary and economic disabilities. The commission, however, encouraged Jews to enter agriculture by recommending that the government allocate land and subsidies for their agricultural settlements. Also, Jews were to be permitted to attend general schools of all standards.
In 1847, Czar Nicholas I replied to Moses Montefiore’s plea for Jewish emancipation by saying that “such a thing is inconceivable, and as long as I live, such a thing shall not take place.” Yet Nicholas supposedly believed in the principle of “betterment of the Jews,” which meant that “if the experiment to direct the Jews toward useful work should succeed, time will gradually bring about automatically the abolition of those restrictions, which in the meantime are still indispensable.” The czar’s Cantonist decree was occasionally “explained” by reasons of “reform in order to achieve citizenship.”
During the reign of Alexander II, the situation remained basically unchanged. He ordered the appointment of a special commission to “examine all the existing regulations concerning the Jews in order to adapt them toward the general objective of the integration of this nation within the country, as far as the moral condition of the Jews renders them suitable for this” (March 31, 1856). The czar, however, shared with some members of the commission their opposition to Minister of the Interior Lanskoy’s belief that the civic equality of the Jews was a preliminary condition for their assimilation. Alexander II held the view that “the emancipation of the Jews of Russia must be graduated in accordance with their intellectual progress and their adaptation to useful occupations.” He only consented to the extension of the rights to certain classes in the Jewish population who had proven their usefulness to the state. He rejected any “far-reaching” suggestions, such as the abolition of the Pale of Settlement, or even less dramatic but immediate alleviation of the Jewish plight.
During the reign of Alexander III the Supreme Commission for the Study of the Current Laws Concerning the Jews was set up on February 4, 1883, under the presidency of Count K. von Pahlen. On May 24, 1888, a report was presented whose majority opinion suggested “changing the system of laws and restrictions for a system of graduated laws of freedom and equality,” because “from the governmental point of view, the Jew should benefit from all the rights available.” Alexander III, however, rejected the opinion of the majority, accepting the minority viewpoint which accentuated the policy of discrimination. Convinced that there was no hope for an improvement in their conditions within the framework of the existing political regime, many Jews became active participants in the revolutionary movement.
While previous generations of Jews had presented their demands for reform to the authorities through the intermediary of shtadlanim (Nathan Note Notkin, Lippman Selzer), deputies of the Jewish people, or delegations of the wealthy and intellectual (Baron Horace Guenzburg, Samuel Poliakoff, Alexander Passover, and others), the generation prior to the Russian Revolution expressed their demands for civic equality through increased numbers of Jewish political parties and movements (see Bund; Jewish Socialist Workers’ Party (“Sejmists”); Po’alei Zion). All of these parties approved of the “political struggle” within Russia in general and the struggle for the rights of the Jews in particular.
At the beginning of 1906, political activism within Russia was included in the program of the Zionist Organization, largely for the purpose of obtaining civic, political, and national rights for the Jews. With the rise of the revolutionary movement (1904–05), and the appointment of Prince Svjatopolk-Mirski as minister of the interior (succeeding V.K. Plehve who was assassinated by a revolutionary) to “appease” the public, many groups of Russian Jews presented demands for civic equality to the government.
In April 1905, the Society for the Attainment of Equal Rights for the Jewish People in Russia was established. As a protest against the 1892 law which deprived Jews of the right to vote in local elections, the league encouraged Jewish members of the municipalities appointed by the government to resign. It also organized a protest movement against the intention of the government to deprive Jews of the right to vote for members of the Duma.
Jewish revolutionary activities, especially participation in revolutionary parties and in the Bund, led the government to intensify its persecutions (see Pogroms; Minsk; Kishinev; Gomel; Zhitomir) and actually to declare “war on the Jews” to “protect the Russian state and people.” The czar’s decree issued on the eve of the first revolution, December 12, 1904, which was intended to appease the public, promised an “investigation into the laws which restrict the rights of aliens,” and that “the restrictions which are necessary for the welfare of the state and the Russian people are not to be abolished.” To the government manifesto of October 17, 1905, Count Witte appended a declaration which discriminated against Jews in the application of “civic freedom.” Dealing with the “civic equality of all citizens without distinction of religion and nationality,” the declaration stated, “this would be executed through the channels of ordinary legislation,” while the application of the other articles (freedom of the press and assembly) would be carried out immediately. And to article 76 in the basic laws issued on May 6, 1906, guaranteeing “to every Russian citizen the right to freely choose his place of residence,” the Russian government added that “the restrictions to these laws are to be defined in special laws.”
The first Duma did not deal specifically with the “Jewish question”; yet in answer to the opening speech of the czar it undertook to prepare “a law on the complete equality of rights of all citizens and to abolish all the restrictions and privileges which are conditioned on class, nationality, religion, or sex.” A motion to this effect was introduced and supported by 151 delegates. A special commission was appointed to draft the bill, but the first Duma was dissolved before the work was completed. The government introduced a motion in the second Duma for the abolition of all restrictions based on faith or religion, “with the exception of the restrictions concerning the Jews.” The Duma commission decided to delete this limitation, but it did not succeed in bringing the revised law to the plenum before the second Duma was also dissolved. In the third Duma, which was not a liberal one, the Jewish deputy L.N. Nisselovich introduced (May 31, 1910) a bill, supported by 166 deputies, for the abolition of the Pale of Settlement. The bill was transferred (February 9, 1911) to the commission on “personal liberties,” but it, too, failed to reach the plenum. The government removed the issue of Jewish equality from the agenda as a matter of principle. During World War I the partial abolition of the Pale of Settlement by a circular of the minister of the interior (August 1915) was actually forced by the pressure of Jewish refugees expelled by the Russian authorities from the front area.
After the overthrow of the czarist regime the decree of the Russian Provisional Government (March–October 1917), although not formulated only for Jews, was the most complete of all the laws of civic equality enacted with respect to the status of the Jews. In its preamble the decree stated that “according to our firm inner consciousness, in a free country, all citizens must be equal before the law, and the conscience of the nation cannot consent to the restriction of the rights of individual citizens because of their religion or race.” On the basis of this ideology the Provisional Government decreed that “all the restrictions in the rights of Russian citizens because of their attachment to any faith, religion, or nation – such restrictions as are in force according to existing laws – shall be abolished.” The first article of the decree enumerated in nine subsections the categories of restrictions to be abolished – both those in force throughout Russia and those limited to localities or regions. In six articles (2–7), the decree specified in great detail, giving dates of publication and numbers in the legal codes, all the numerous laws discriminating against Jews and members of other religions and nations. Article 8 declared invalid all prior administrative orders issued by civil or military authorities “which contained restrictions in rights because of affiliation with any faith, religion, or nation.” Inclusion of an itemization of anti-Jewish legislation in the equality decree, reflecting the extent of Russian discrimination and the struggle for emancipation, resulted from the initiative and counsel of the Jewish Political Committee (delegates of the Jewish parties and Jewish representatives in the Duma), which provided this material for the government.
The policy of the anti-Semitic czarist Russian government had compelled the Jews to act for themselves in every sphere of life: legal defense, self-defense against pogroms, founding schools and educating the masses, mutual credit, professional training, emigration arrangements, and political organization. The resulting “strengthening” of the Jews’ ability to solve the problems of everyday life, together with the widespread appeal of the Zionist movement, increased Jewish cohesion to the point where it became a powerful instrument in the fight for survival. A basic political demand of Jewish political parties was “national autonomy,” expressing the collective character of Russian Jewry’s struggle for emancipation.
Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which all became independent after World War I, included Jewish civic equality in their constitutions, because the League of Nations accepted them as members only after committing themselves to providing for minority rights.
On January 12, 1918, by granting emancipation in its constitution, Finland abolished the prohibition against Jewish settlement in force from 1806. This prohibition had been relaxed only for a few Jewish soldiers, whose other rights were nevertheless restricted, after their demobilization in 1865. The constitution permitted all Jews living in the country for at least five years prior to 1918 to become naturalized citizens.
Estonia’s constitution of 1919 promised the Jews full equality. The law concerning cultural autonomy (February 5, 1925) granted the Jews the right to elect a national council to administer their own schools, provide for their cultural needs, and supervise the communal organizations.
In Latvia civic equality was promised in its constitution. A special law on minorities (October 8, 1919) granted the Jews, among other minorities, extensive cultural autonomy. An official appointed by the minority group was placed at the head of its school network. With the abrogation of the constitution in May 1934, the autonomous institutions of minorities were also dissolved.
The leader of the Lithuanian Paris peace delegation, Prof. Voldemaras, informed the Comité des Délégations, in a letter of August 5, 1919, that Lithuania would now promise the Jews representation in the country’s legislative institutions, complete autonomy in their internal affairs, legal status for their autonomous institutions, recognition of the right to use their mother tongue, and the appointment of a special minister for Jewish affairs. The promises were ratified in the constitution of 1922 and, to a large extent, in the constitution of 1928, even though autonomous Jewish institutions in the meantime were dissolved. With the dissolution of the Jewish National Council and the Jewish Ministry in 1924, the Jewish community again became merely a religious community.
In the Islamic world there was no emancipation in the Western sense, neither as a public movement to which was linked the Jewish desire for civic equality and participation in the life of the state, nor as a reform movement holding civic equality to be a sign of a new order. To a certain extent, however, the civic equality granted to the Jews in the Ottoman Empire may be considered “emancipation.”
During the 19th century the sultan twice, in 1839 and 1856, proclaimed the civic equality of Jews and Christians, which represented a great change in the attitude of the Islamic countries toward “infidels.” The revolution incited by the Young Turks in 1908 resulted in the ratification of this equality. The number of Jews who participated in the organizations of the Young Turks, and in the political life of Turkey, was not inconsiderable.
After World I, Turkey signed a minorities treaty (1923), but, in the letter of the Jewish notables to Kemal Pasha of February 6, 1926, the Jews officially waived these rights for fear that they be accused of separatism. Yemen, which won its independence between the two World Wars, never granted legal emancipation to Jews. Other Arab states (Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) granted Jewish emancipation officially, but took it away in reality after the Israel War of Independence through restrictions, persecutions, and humiliations as Jew-hatred became part of the fight against Zionism and Israel.
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Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.