Sunday, June 10, 2018

The religio-political role
of military service
at czaric Russia /

Ο θρησκευτικός & πολιτικός ρόλος
της στρατιωτικής υπηρεσίας
στην τσαρική Ρωσία

A bitter joke: St. Putin's cult

Nicholas I, advised by his minister of finance Egor Kankrin, never believed in the utilitarian effect of any kind of reform but bureaucratic and never trusted any form of education but military. Moreover, in Russia beginning with Peter the Great, modernization routinely implied militarization. Since in Nicholas’s eyes the army was the only genuinely educational institution, he held that Jews should be made soldiers: in the military they would learn not only Russian but also useful skills and crafts, and eventually they would become his loyal subjects. Unlike Joseph, who modernized Jews through civil integration and acculturation, Nicholas attempted to modernize them primarily through conscription.


All recruits, including Jews, had to serve 25 years in the army, and, if they married, their offspring, as children of Russian soldiers, became the patrimony of the military and were destined to attend schools for soldiers’ children entitled kantonistskie uchebnye zavedenia (cantonists’ institutions). Jews were legally entitled to religious freedom, including the right to celebrate most of the important religious holidays, if their observances did not interfere with their training schedules.

Jewish soldiers from Ostrołęka, at a Sabbath meal, Łomża (now in Poland), 1905. The Hebrew inscription reads: “Soldiers eating kosher food.” Marked with an x: J. Stolin, who later immigrated to America. (YIVO)

Yet some differences between Jews and non-Jews applied: most significantly, Jews were required to provide conscripts between the ages of 12 and 25, whereas for others the conscripts were between 18 and 35. This system betrayed the utilitarian agenda of the law; to make Jews productive, the military had to draft those still susceptible to external influence. In addition to enduring legal complexities, Jews encountered a significant and ubiquitous discrepancy between the letter of the law and its implementation, characteristic of the Russian state administration.

* Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, "Military Service in Russia,"
in The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe.

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