The Military and Society in Russia: 1450-1917

By Eric Lohr; Marshall Poe | Go to book overview

“THE GUARDIANS OF FAITH”
JEWISH TRADITIONAL SOCIETIES IN THE RUSSIAN
ARMY: THE CASE OF THE 35TH BRIANSK REGIMENT1
Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern

This paper will explore the encounter between Russian Jews and the Russian army, focusing on the historical fate, activities, and policies of the group of non-baptized Jewish Russian Army soldiers who named themselves “The Guardians of Faith” Society.2 The society was established during the reign of Nicholas I, and operated through the end of the nineteenth century. During the society's half century of existence (1843–circa 1893), its members tended to adhere to their Jewish identity while serving full term in the Russian Army. Relying on the newly discovered Hebrew manuscript of the pinkas (minutebook ), written and kept by the society, as well as on Russian military and governmental documents, this paper will revise the commonly accepted lachrymose (Salo Baron) outlook on the fate of the Jew in the Russian army. It will recontextualize the relations of the Russian army and the national minorities, in our case, the Jews. It will deemphasize the issue of apparently incipient Russian army antisemitism and will reconsider the impact of the Jewish-military encounter in a broader historical perspective. But first one would like to turn to the society itself.


Jewish Soldiers and their Statutes

Paradoxically, the society Shomrei Emunah (“The Guardians of Faith”) was created in an attempt to reconcile traditional Jewish customs and ways with the rigid military regulations and army routine. The

____________________
1
I would like to express my gratitude to Eric Lohr and to an anonymous reviewer, whose valuable remarks and suggestions helped me considerably to improve this paper.
2
The Hebrew manuscript of the Pinkas shel hevrah shomrei emunah shel brianski polk (the Minute Book of the Guardians of Faith Society of the Briansk Regiment) has only recently come to light. Currently, the manuscript is at the Russian State Museum of Ethnography in St. Petersburg, S. Ansky collection, f. 2, op. 5, d. 52 (hereafter—Pinkas Shomrei Emunah). I am indebted to the custodian of the collection, Liudmila Borisovna Uritskaia, for inviting me to identify this manuscript and use it for my research.

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