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Numerus Clausus

NUMERUS CLAUSUS ("closed number"), amount fixed as maximal number in the admission of persons (or certain groups of persons) to specific professions (in particular the liberal professions), institutions of higher learning, professional associations, positions of public office, etc.; frequently applied to Jews. The numerus clausus on the admission of Jews to institutions of higher learning was applied in the 19th century, and extended in the 20th century, in particular in the countries of Eastern Europe, but also in others. It assumed its most characteristic form in czarist Russia (see below) as the protsentnaya norma where the restrictions and limitations on the admission of Jews were established by special legislation. In countries such as Poland and Romania (see below) the numerus clausus was introduced as a quasi-legal means, or was applied in practice, as part of an antisemitic policy. However, in democratic countries the numerus clausus was also tacitly applied, at least in some institutions of higher learning, for social or prestige reasons. A numerus clausus of this type was applied not only to students but also (sometimes principally) to teaching staff in the universities or in admission to the civil or public services where higher professional qualifications were required. It was also applied in admission to positions which carried a special status, as in the higher ranks of the civil service, the diplomatic service, army, etc.

In Czarist Russia

During the first half of the 19th century, the policy of the Russian government toward the Jews, as formulated in the statutes concerning the Jews ("polozheniya") of 1804, 1835, and 1844, was to attract the Jewish youth to Russian schools. This ambition encountered strong opposition from the Jewish masses who regarded education in these schools as a step toward the alienation of Jewish youth from its people and its religion. They also viewed the network of Jewish state schools established by the government to promote general education among the Jews with suspicion. In 1853 there were 159 Jewish pupils in all the secondary schools of Russia (1.3% of the total student roll), while in the universities there were a few dozen. On the other hand, the maskilim advocated education in the Russian schools as a means of rapprochement with the Russian people.

During the reign of Alexander II, a radical change occurred in the attitude of the Jews, especially those of the middle and upper classes, toward the Russian schools. This was due to the privileges granted to educated Jews (extension of the right of residence in 1865; important concessions with regard to military service in 1874). In 1880 the number of Jewish pupils in the secondary schools rose to 8,000 (11.5% of the total) and in the universities to 556 (6.8% of the total). These numbers increased yearly. In the educational region of Odessa (which included southern Russia) the proportion of Jewish students rose to 35.2%, and in the region of Vilna (Lithuania) to 26.7%. A Russian-Jewish stratum of intelligentsia rapidly became prominent. As service in the government and administration was closed to them, this intelligentsia concentrated in the liberal professions–medicine, law, and journalism. The members of these professions soon became aware of growing competition from Jews. A propaganda campaign was instigated against the admission of Jews into the class of the intelligentsia; this was sparked off in 1880 by a letter to the editor entitled Zhid Idyot ("The Jew Is Coming") which was published in the widely influential newspaper Novoye Vremya.

Of their own initiative, higher and secondary schools in various parts of the country began to restrict the admission of Jews within their precincts. This coincided with the general policy of the government of Alexander III which sought to prevent the admission of children of the poorer classes into the higher and secondary schools. It was claimed that the Jewish students introduced a spirit of rebellion and revolution into the schools and thus had a deleterious influence over their Christian fellow students. In July 1887 the Ministry of Education decided that the proportion of Jews in all secondary schools and higher institutions subject to its jurisdiction was not to surpass 10% in the towns of the *Pale of Settlement, 5% in the towns outside it, and only 3% in the capitals of St. Petersburg and Moscow. Many schools were completely closed to Jews. In time, this regulation also spread to schools which were under the supervision of other government ministries (ministry of communications, ministry of finance, etc.). There were individual cases, after the Revolution of 1905, where the restrictions and admission prohibitions were also applied to converted Jews.

These restrictions were introduced during a period when masses of Jewish youth were besieging the Russian schools, and had severe repercussions on Jewish life. Only those who had obtained the highest marks and distinctions were likely to be admitted to Russian secondary and high schools. There were naturally instances of bribery and corruption, or parents who baptized their children so that they could enter the schools. Secondary school graduates began to convert for this end, and during the years 1907 to 1914 this became commonplace. The Lutheran clergyman Piro of Finland became known for selling baptismal certificates at a low price to all those who desired them ("pirovtsy"). The Jewish national and Zionist movements fought this phenomenon. These regulations also resulted in the emigration of thousands of Jewish youths to study at the universities of Western Europe (Switzerland, Germany, France, etc.). Jewish students formed the majority of the "Russian" colonies in the university towns of the West. In 1892 the number of Jewish pupils in the secondary schools had decreased to 5,394 (7% of the pupils).

Jewish youths took advantage of the possibility of completing their studies by means of external examinations. In Jewish society, the "extern" studied under the guidance of private teachers and then sat for the state examinations. The antisemitic examiners were severe and failed many of them. In 1911 it was decided that the numerus clausus would also apply to external students, and since the number of non-Jewish external students was very limited this system was brought to an end. During the period of the Russian Revolution of 1905, when autonomy was granted to the institutions of higher learning, the numerus clausus was abolished, but immediately upon the repression of the Revolution the practice was restored. The proportion, however, was increased (to 15% in the Pale of Settlement, 10% beyond it, and 5% in the capital cities). Accordingly, the number of Jewish pupils in the secondary schools rose to 17,538 (9.1% of the pupils), and of Jewish students at the universities to 3,602 (9.4%). In the overwhelming majority of secondary schools for girls, the numerus clausus was not introduced. In 1911 about 35,000 Jewish girls studied at Russian secondary schools (13.5% of the pupils). In the educational region of Vilna (Lithuania) the proportion of Jewish girl pupils rose to 49%, in the region of Warsaw to 42.7% and in the regions of Kiev and Odessa to 33.3% (these four educational regions encompassed the whole of the Pale of Settlement). The numerus clausus served as an impetus for the establishment of private Jewish secondary schools, several of which evolved the beginnings of a national Jewish education.

All restrictions on the admission of Jews to the secondary schools and institutions of higher learning were abolished with the Revolution of February 1917. In 1919, during the brief period when the armies of *Denikin (the "White Army") gained control of large regions of southern Russia, the numerus clausus was temporarily reinstated in many towns under their control.


CZARIST RUSSIA: Dubnow, Hist Russ, index; L. Greenberg, Jews in Russia: The Struggle for Emancipation (1965); S. Baron, Russian Jews under Tsars and Soviets (1964); J. Kreppel, Juden und Judentum von heute (1925), para. 77, 501–4. SOVIET UNION: W. Korey, in: L. Kochan (ed.), The Jews in Soviet Russia since 1917 (1970), 90, 94–95; A. Nove and J.A. Newth, ibid., 145, 154–6. POLAND: S. Langnas, Żydzi a studja akademickie w Polsce (1933); M. Mirkin, in: Yidishe Ekonomik, 2 (1938), 272–6; Polscki Rocznik statystyczny (1921–38). HUNGARY: N. Katzburg, in: Sefer ha-Shanah shel Universitat Bar Ilan, 4–5 (1956–65), 270–88 (with an English summary); The Jewish Minority in Hungary. Report by the Secretary and Special Delegate of the Joint Foreign Committee… (1926). UNITED STATES: AJYB, passim; O. and M.F. Handlin, in: AJYB (1955), 75–77.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.