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MAY LAWS:

Temporary regulations concerning the Jews of Russia, proposed by Count Ignatiev, and sanctioned by the czar May 3 (15), 1882. They read as follows:

  • " (1) As a temporary measure, and until a general revision is made of their legal status, it is decreed that the Jews be forbidden to settle anew outside, of towns and boroughs, exceptions being admitted only in the case of existing Jewish agricultural colonies.
  • " (2) Temporarily forbidden are the issuing of mortgages and other deeds to Jews, as well as the registration of Jews as lessees of real property situated outside of towns and boroughs; and also the issuing to Jews of powers of attorney to manage and dispose of such real property.
  • " (3) Jews are forbidden to transact business on Sundays and on the principal Christian holy days; the existing regulations concerning the closing of places of business belonging to Christians on such days to apply to Jews also.
  • " (4) The measures laid down in paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 shall apply only to the governments within the Pale of Jewish Settlement [that is, they shall not apply to the ten governments of Poland]."

These regulations, as is apparent from their phraseology, were intended only as temporary measures; and the government itself when it issued them was aware of the fact that such legislation would not suffice for the permanent adjustment of the legal status of the Russian Jews. But public excitement due to the riots in South Russia ran high; there was no time to weigh the practical consequences of the new regulations either to the Jews themselves or to their non-Jewish neighbors. The regulations were to remain in force until the final revision of the laws concerning the Jews. This revision was assigned to a special commission, under the chairmanship of Count Pahlen, which soon afterward completed its task; but no further action has been taken in the matter, and the "temporary" regulations are still in force with no immediate prospect of their repeal.

Ostensible and Real Motives.

The official motives for the enactments were statedas follows: "These laws are called into being by the effort of the government to improve the relations between the Jews and the native population in the Pale of Settlement, and to protect the former from the hostility of the latter, which has manifested itself in outbursts against the person and property of the Jews; also to lessen the economic dependence of the native population upon the Jews." In a resolution of the Senate (Nov. 28, 1888) the government admitted that "the existing relations between the Jews of the Pale and the native Russians can not be considered normal, and the determination of the legal status of the Jews in our country urgently calls for a decisive and early settlement, which, owing to its extent and complexity, and because of the importance of the interests involved, can be made only by a thorough revision of the entire existing legislation concerning the Jews." The enactments, while not changing essentially and permanently the existing laws concerning the Jews, were intended to remove the main motives for a conflict between the Jews and the native population ("Ryesheniya Obsch. Sobran. Senata," 1888, No. 25).

Such were ostensibly the reasons which led the government to pass the temporary regulations. As a matter of fact they were merely the outcome of the Panslavist policy for the repression of the Jews. The views of the Ultra-Conservatives have not been realized; nevertheless it is certain that the May Laws have resulted in great injury to the economic and political life of Russia.

Applications.

The temporary regulations have from the beginning given rise to different interpretations and endless misunderstandings and complaints. For instance, the phrase "to settle anew outside of towns and boroughs" has been a prolific source of official abuse. Some governments informed their officials that by this phrase must be understood not only change of residence by a Jew from one settlement to another, but also from one house to another in the same settlement. The Senate decided against this interpretation; but in the meantime it had become a source of much annoyance to the Jews. As to the removal from one settlement to another, it appears that every Jew became interned in the village in which he happened to be living at the time of the enactment. Thus, while he was still accorded the right to remove from village to city within the Pale, he lost the right to remove from village to village. In this wise petty officials acquired the power to annoy the Jews and to resort to extortion. Appeals to the Senate have usually resulted in decisions favorable to the Jews; but the expenditure of time and money involved in them detract considerably from their effectiveness.

A few examples will suffice to show to what lengths local officials have gone in the interpretation of the May Laws. If one who had the right to reside in a village left it temporarily, he encountered trouble on returning (see the decision of the Senate in the case of Engelmann, May 12, 1895, No. 5120). Jews who had served in the army encountered difficulties, at the expiration of their terms of service, in resettling in the villages in which they had dwelt (idem, May 23, 1884; case of Reznikov, Jan. 13, 1885). Similar difficulties were experienced by Jews living in villages and employed in cities, whither they went daily, sometimes remaining there for a few days (idem, case of Feigin, Jan. 30, 1895, No. 1253), and by Jews privileged to live anywhere in the empire (idem, case of Elkin, Oct. 2, 1885). Misunderstandings occurred in the case of Jews living in the suburbs of cities also (idem, 1888, No. 18). Difficulties arose through conflicting decisions of the Senate as to what constituted a townlet (idem, July 27, 1887, No. 8849). A frequent source of annoyance was the illegal change by local administrations, without the permission of the minister of the interior, of townlets to villages (idem, March 22, 1894; Feb. 13, 1896, No. 1591; July 3, 1896, No. 6557; and many others). There are also numerous cases on record where local officials refused permission to Jews to visit villages temporarily for business purposes, although the law expressly states that Jews are only forbidden to "settle anew" (idem, 1895, No. 4025). A further limitation created by the May Laws is that Jews possessing the right of residence in villages have not the right to execute leases or contracts to purchase, the absurd condition being thus created of compelling the Jews to live under the open sky. This absurdity was finally removed by the Senate, which decided that Jews having such right of residence might rent rooms or might build houses of their own on land leased for the purpose (idem, Sept. 28, 1892, No. 11702). The Senate likewise decreed that Jews might rent for grazing purposes lands belonging to cities and located within the city limits (idem, Oct. 10, 1890). On the other hand, it has been decreed by the Senate department of appeals that even Jews who are privileged to reside anywhere in the empire have not the right to lease lands situated outside of cities and townlets (idem, 1889, No. 24).

Relation to Stock Companies.

The May Laws also limit the rights of Jews to become shareholders in stock companies, or directors, managers, or superintendents of real property belonging to corporations and situated outside of towns or townlets in the Pale. Jews may be admitted as members by a majority vote of the stockholders, but they may not hold appointments as officers of such companies. Only a certain proportion of Jews, moreover, may be admitted, the number being limited to one-tenth of the total number of shareholders (Collection of Laws, May 20, 1897, No. 51, p. 674).

The administration of the May Laws by petty officials who were very often ignorant of their meaning intensified abuses. The Senate had to instruct the officials in the most simple principles of law; for instance, that a law is in force only from the day of its publication. The attempts to define the phrase "new settlement" led to the taking of censuses of the Jewish residents, sometimes by semi-illiterate police officials; and grievous blunders resulted. Jews were registered as living in a certain village when they really lived in another, while the names of actual residents were omitted altogether. For instance, because he was not included in the registrylist, Gdaliya Zeigermacher was expelled from the village of Puzheikovo, although it was proved that he had lived there for sixteen years. One Bondarchick was improperly registered as residing in the village of Baksha, and was therefore expelled from the village of Kapustyanka, where he had lived for twenty years. The misspelling of names, a very frequent occurrence, led to annoyance and expulsion; e.g., "Gruzman" was entered as "Ruzman"; "Garvich" as "Gurovich"; and "Shmerka Dorfman" as "Shlyoma." A slight error made by a petty official, not to speak of various evil motives, sufficed to bring about the expulsion of the unfortunate Jew from his home and to bring terror and despair upon him.

Bibliography:
  • Gessen, in Yevreiskaya Biblioteka, 1903, x. 318;
  • Sbornik, Budushchnosti, i. 76;
  • Voskhod, Jan.-Feb., 1883, p. 57;
  • 1901, No. 78, Mysh, Rukovodstvo k Russkim Zakonam o Yevreyakh, St. Petersburg, 1898: The Persecutions of the Jews in Russia, issued by the Russo-Jewish Committee, London, 1890, contains a summary of the special and restrictive laws.
H. R.
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