Sunday, January 20, 2013

On cutting off peyos to comply with a Czarist edict, 1845

This story from a Dublin newspaper, the Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertise (July 4, 1845) concerns the Tsarist edicts regarding traditional Jewish dress. According to this story, in Berdichev some Jews complied, and showed up in shul with their peyos cut off. They were then attacked by Chassidim. The men explained that they were only complying with the law, and the reply was that the Tsar has no authority in religious law. Interestingly, the article states that they said that the Tsar "might be the God of the Javanim" but not theirs. It explains, correctly but without comprehension, that "so the Jews call the Russians, as properly the Greeks." First time I've seen this noted in such an old source, in English no less. In any case, the article continues to report a rumor that two of the young men were killed! It should perhaps be pointed out that this is exceedingly unlikely, simply because if so then as far as I can tell no one has ever heard of this before (you know, the time Chassidim killed two young men who cut their peyos), and that would be unlikely. The correspondent reports that 15 Chassidim were sent to Siberia, and ironically would have been forced to "change their national dress" with their peyos the first to go.


17 comments:

  1. If nobody expired under the hand of the chasidim, why then were fifteen of them exiled to Siberia?

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    1. For rioting or causing a disturbance. I don't think killing was punished with exile in 1845 in Russia.

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  2. Yvan is a common Yiddish epithet for Gentile or 'Gentile' behavior. It is more likely just a take-off on the common Russian name, Ivan (Russian for John), rather than a reference to a biblical name for Greeks (or Ionia).

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    1. It may be both. The Russians were Greek Orthodox, and were identified as Yavan in Jewish writings. See, for example, my post here where I highlight a siddur (an important one, no less) which changes the stanza in Maoz Tzur from Yevanim to Yehirim to avoid censorship and/or causing offense to the Russians. In any case, there is no doubt that the Russians themselves perceived "Yavan" - Greece - as used by the Jews in referring to them, and there is no reason why the pun can't be two-fold, as good puns often are.

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  3. Are you sure that Berdichev is the place mentioned in the article? It seems to say Bordiozew (?), maybe a smaller town than Berdichev.

    Also, would you like to speculate, or do we have any way of knowing, what kind of peyos were involved here? It does say long locks, but peyos have different forms, some Hassidim have them curled one way, others a different way, some have them uncurled, some have them under their yarmulke most of the time, some have them longer, some shorter, some behind ears....

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    1. Pretty sure, but if this piece was intended for a published article I would dig a little deeper and actually check rather than assume. In these kinds of sources the transliterations are botched as the rule rather than the exception. Additionally, in Eugene Avrutin's doctoral dissertation "A Legible People: Identification Politics and Jewish Accommodation in Tsarist Russia" he makes reference to 166 people who were known to have complied with the legislation in Berdichev (from archival sources). I would say this is probably Berdichev but, again, a second and third look would not be inappropriate to be more certain. For example, I highly doubt that this newspaper from Dublin is the single source for this story. On the contrary, I am sure at least a dozen other European newspapers carried the story, and it likely originated in a major newspaper.

      As for the peyos, literally every single depiction of "Polish Jews" with peyos that I have seen prior to the late 19th century are very similar to the peyos most closely identified with Chassidim today, twisted (in varying degrees of kemptness, of course). I wouldn't pay much heed to the direction, because you don't necessarily find such careful attention to detail in these kinds of illustrations.

      I don't know how carefully this has been confirmed, but people believe that the various styles, putting behind the ear, making it look smaller, etc. were basically strategies that arose out of these edicts, to make them less conspicuous.

      In case you are interested, this book (link), creepy though it is, is full of photographs of Jews from around 1911, its date of publication. This is much later than the period we were talking about, but it has many men from different European countries, and you can see the ways they wore their peyos, including Lithuanian men on page 69. It should be borne in mind that the way these Litvaks wore them are almost certainly not the way they were worn 70 years earlier, i.e., they were likely much longer.

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  4. "Bordiosew" does not turn up on Google, but this could easily be a slight misprint for "Berdicsew," which is a plausible variant for "Berditchev." The other misprint in the article is "Nolhynia" for "Volhynia." Berditchev was in fact located in the region called Volhynia, so as far as I'm concerned, the mystery (such as it is) is solved.

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    1. It's not as if they didn't write "melancholy journey" which probably should have been "melancholic journey", so unless I'm mistaken there's another error.

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    2. You gotta understand. They typeset these things. In like 8 pt font. Every single day. And this wasn't the Times of London.

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  5. יון מצולה by nathan hanover was written in reference to the ukrainian orthodox cossacks..

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  6. That's a neat bok you linked. You dont see these types of books today, because of political correctness. Whether that's good or bad is, I think, highly debateable, but it's a debate that in current connditions will never publicly be held.

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    1. I don't think you see them much since the rise and fall of National Socialism.

      The photos are interesting, and glad such books exist for us to see them, but the content? Come on, it's phrenology. Glad those books exist too.

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  7. Chasidic tradition posits that the variations of wearing peyos stem from this decree.

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    1. Litvish tradition too (re peyos behind the ear). Do you have any sources?

      In any case, as I said, this would seem to be borne out if you look at depictions of Jews from before this period. Chassidish, Misnagdish - they wore 'em and they wore 'em long and curled. In Central and Western Europe, of course, they trimmed.

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    2. I wonder what kind of variation might be made to MBP because of the terrible decree against it?

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