the New-York Daily Tribune, August 16, 1903
Russian Jewish Women Barred From It as Well
as Social Life.
"It is impossible
to understand the lower East Side," said Dr. David Blaustein, head
of the Educational Alliance, speaking apropos of his recent
statistical investigations of conditions in that section, "or the
attitude of the people there toward American institutions, without
knowing the conditions from which these people came in Eastern
Europe. For instance, the average Russian Jew of the lower East Side
will declare that there is more religious liberty in Russia than in
America. He cannot understand the State interfering with marriage
and divorce, which in Russia are left entirely to the rabbi. He is
specially puzzled by the State's attitude toward divorce. There are
more divorces on the lower East Side in proportion to the population
than in any other part of the city; and far more than among the
Jewish population of any other country on the globe.
"The reason is
not far to seek. The man comes to this country first. Five years
later, during which time he has lived as a single man, he sends for
his wife. He finds her not five years behind him, but two centuries.
He has acquired a new language, new clothes and customs, and a new
country. He finds the union insupportable. In the old country all
that was necessary was for the couple to go before the rabbi with a
declaration of mutual consent, and he would divorce them. Some
rabbis on the East Side continued to grant these divorces until
recently, and a great deal of trouble was caused. Here in America,
therefore, the immigrant finds the State interfering, according to
his notion, with his private affairs, and he will claim there is no
religious liberty in America.
"As a matter of
fact, there is perfect liberty in Russia so far as the exercise of
his religion is concerned. The Jew is never interfered with in his
religious observances. He simply loses, on account of them, all
civic and economic rights. He pays for his religious liberty with
the latter. His church has infinitely greater power and importance
than in America. The rabbi keeps all the vital statistics. The rabbi
marries and divorces. The rabbi has charge of all education. He also
acts as a court in both civil and criminal cases. Formerly Jewish
contestants were compelled by law to take their cases to the rabbi.
In certain classes of cases they may now go before a general court,
but if they agree to take the case to the rabbi they are required by
law to abide by his decision.
"At every turn of
the road the Jew's religion is recognized. He is taxed as a Jew,
enlisted as a Jew. No matter how many Jews there may be in a city,
or how many synagogues they may have, representing as many different
shades of religious opinion, they are all lumped together as one
congregation. One man represents this congregation to the
government. He is responsible to the government for their taxes. The
government will support him in any attitude he may take toward any
individual in the matter of taxation. He is responsible for the
number of soldiers required, fifty or one hundred, as the case may
be. He can decide what young men shall be chosen.
representative to the government is elected by the Jews of the city.
Their choice may be rejected by the government, but once it is
confirmed, the people cannot change their representative. One can
easily see in this method a fertile opportunity for tyranny and
oppression. But nevertheless it is a distinct and permanent
recognition of the Jewish church.
"In fact, in
Russia a man is first of all required to be a member of a church,
and next a citizen of Russia. The very passports so describe him.
They begin 'The Jew so-and-so is hereby authorized to travel,' or
'The Christian so-and-so is hereby authorized to travel.' And 'the
Christian' signifies a Greek Catholic. If he belongs to any other
denomination it is so specified by 'The Lutheran,' or 'The Roman
Catholic' and so on. In theory no man in Russia can be an atheist.
In theory no man is a freethinker. He should be a Greek Catholic,
and if he is born a Greek Catholic he cannot change. There is
imprisonment and often Siberia for life for a Greek Catholic who
changes his religion. But if he is born a Jew he is regarded
strictly as a Jew and protected in the observance of his religion.
Only, because he is not a Greek Catholic, he has no civil or
AMERICA CONFUSES THE JEW.
"You can imagine
the confusion in the immigrant's mind when he reaches America. He
finds his church of no account whatever. No one cares what church he
belongs to, or whether he belongs to any church or not. The State
delegates no rights or powers to the church. All that is asked is
whether he is an American or not, and whether he is loyal to his
adopted country. No one cares anything about his loyalty to his
church, or regards his religious belief as a matter of any
anyone but himself. In place of finding the congregation
all-powerful and all embracing, he finds when he joins a
congregation that he has simply joined a liberal society.
"There are 332 of
these little congregations east of Broadway and south of
Houston St. They are founded not on differing shades of
belief, but merely on the fact that the members came from different
towns or villages in Eastern Europe. Each congregation is a mutual
benefit society. It has a sick benefit, and in many cases free
medical treatment. The rooms
serve as a clubroom, where the men meet to talk over old
times, read letters from home, discuss politics and current events,
or to study the Talmud and other religious writings. And religious
services are also held, one of their number, not necessarily an
ordained rabbi, acting as leader.
"This is the
puzzling and bewildering metamorphosis which the Jewish immigrant
finds in America. The results are far reaching. In Eastern Europe,
both educational and social life
center in the church. We have at the Educational Alliance one
of the largest religious schools in America – thirty-two hundred
pupils. Of these thirty-two hundred only 15 per cent are boys. To
understand this it is necessary to understand the position of woman
in the church of Eastern Europe. The Jewish woman of Eastern Europe
has no religious life. All that I have told you applies to men
alone. All the parochial schools there are for boys alone. Woman is
disregarded so entirely that she is not even expected to attend
religious services unless she chooses. Boys are confirmed, girls are
not. Boys are called on to perform certain religious rites in the
home; girls are not. When a boy reaches the age of thirteen it is
possible for him to occupy a position to which his mother can never
aspire. The position of woman is such that when she ventures to
offer an opinion in the presence of man—if she ever dares to do
so—she will begin with an apology: 'Although I am a woman, yet it
seems to me,' and so on. Even a mother addressing her little boy
will do this, because her womanly understanding is not supposed to
be capable of grasping an idea as he would.
which we teach at the Educational Alliance, a religion without
superstition or bigotry, is simply regarded by the people about us
as no religion at all; therefore, it is good enough for the girls.
Our school is free, but the people will not send their boys to it.
They prefer to pay $5 a month to send them to the rabbinical
schools. There are 279 such schools flourishing on the lower East
"The change in
social life is as peculiar and puzzling to the immigrant as that in
the religious life. In Eastern Europe the social life centers in the
church and the home, and is pervaded by a devotional atmosphere. It
is spontaneous. It
comes from natural occasions. The social life to which we are
accustomed—balls, receptions, banquets, class reunions—is not
spontaneous; it is organized. All these affairs are arranged.
"For instance, it
is the custom in the Jewish Church to celebrate the eighth day after
the birth of a son. This festival in Europe is always an occasion of
much rejoicing. But here, suppose
that the day falls on a weekday, when there is work at the
shop, the man goes to the shop, and the celebration is postponed
until the following Sunday. Then the host knows, and his guests
know, that it is not the right day. Their consciences smite
then, and the occasion is one of secret sadness rather than
rejoicing. They fall to mourning over the economic conditions which
will not permit them to observe the old customs, rather than
the immigrant had room in which to entertain his friends. In the
crowded condition of the quarter where he now lives he cannot do
this. The wedding is the pinnacle of Jewish social life. But on the
lower East Side the wedding must take place in a hall. The guest
must pay at the door for his hat and coat check, and this at the
very start takes away all the old feeling of openhanded hospitality.
The hall wedding is a cold and comfortless function.
conditions prevent him from enjoying himself in his home, with his
family and his religion, in the old way. If he seeks social
enjoyment he finds he must accommodate his time to that of others. A
ball is to be held at a certain time. There is no especial reason
for it at that time, but the date has been fixed
on by a committee of arrangements, and he is asked to
purchase a ticket. But, remembering his good times in the old
country, he goes, hoping to enjoy himself once more. He finds
himself in a sea of strangers, with nothing as he has been used to
it. He goes away weary and disheartened. It is the same in summer,
when he buys a ticket for one of the mammoth picnics. When he
compares such a picnic with the harvest festival at home, a thing as
happy and spontaneous as the play of children, his heart is sick.
Often he says that America is no good, and he would rather be back
in the old country.
"As the woman in
Eastern Europe has no religious life, so she has no social life. If
you call at a house you are received by the man of the house, not
the woman. There are certain social feasts and celebrations of the
church, but the men participate in them, not the women. If
invitations are sent out to a wedding they are sent to the males of
a family, not to the women; and at the wedding, the highest social
function of Judaism, there are five men present to one woman.
"The woman is
also a minor. She belongs to her father before her marriage, to her
husband after. She cannot own property in her own name. Her
testimony is not received in the ecclesiastical courts, although in
the civil courts it has recently been admitted.
"Can you imagine
what all this means to the immigrant? He goes to church and finds
women in the majority. He goes to the schools and finds women
teaching most of them. He finds them behind every counter, beside
him in every shop. What is the result? The result is that he loses
all his respect for women."
paused to let this declaration sink in, and then went on to explain.
"You may think,"
he said, "that from what I have said of the position of woman among
the Jews of Eastern Europe, that she is despised. On the contrary,
she is an idolized being. She is adored. She is the queen of the
home. The theory upon which she is excluded from all the things I
have mentioned is not that she is not entitled to them, but that
being busy with her household duties she is excused from them. She
is excused from religious duties, because something at home may
require her attention. She is excused from education, because more
important duties await her. She is excused from looking after her
own property. The men of her family will do that for her and protect
all her rights. She is even excused from social duties," concluded
Dr. Blaustein gravely.
AMERICAN WOMEN A PUZZLE.
sees woman in America excused from nothing. She bears the heat and
burden of the day at his side. She has become his equal, and he
supposes she is to be treated as an equal. He loses all respect for
women, and acts accordingly. Then he goes out into the American
world, and finds to his astonishment that women have privileges in
America. He finds that there is a rule, 'ladies first.' It surprises
him very much. He can't understand the apparent contradiction of
things. It requires another mental readjustment.
"There is nothing
that disturbs the Jew so much as to see his boy, and still more his
girl, taking part in the athletics of the schools. The rage for
athletics, both outdoor and indoor, in America is something
incomprehensible to him. He has cultivated his mind so long at the
expense of his body that the American maxim 'a sound mind in a sound
body' is something he cannot understand. Physical weakness has
become a sort of an ideal to him. This is one of the features of our
educational system which add most to his bewilderment.
"All these things
may explain to a slight degree the puzzled condition of the
immigrant's mind; the difficulty he has in assimilating and
adjusting himself to new conditions; his heavy heartedness
often-times; his frequent estrangement from his own