Brafman, Jacob

views updated


BRAFMAN, JACOB (c. 1825–1879), Russian apostate and antisemitic author. Orphaned at an early age, Brafman fled from his native city of Kletsk to evade being forced into military service by the agents of the community (see *Cantonists). He became embittered by his experiences, and conceived a hatred for the Jewish community and its institutions. At the age of 34 he joined the Greek Orthodox Church and was appointed Hebrew teacher at the government theological seminary in Minsk. He later served as censor of Hebrew and Yiddish books in Vilna and St. Petersburg. Brafman attacked the Jewish communal organization (kahal) in Russian periodicals, describing the *Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews in Russia and the *Alliance Israélite Universelle, as "a state within a state." He alleged that they formed part of an international Jewish conspiracy. In 1869, Brafman published with official support and at government expense Kniga Kagala ("The Book of the Kahal"), a translation into Russian of the minutes (Pinkas) of the kehillah of Minsk. A second, enlarged two-volume edition was published in 1875; the first volume, containing essays on Jews and Jewish customs, was published posthumously with an introduction by Brafman's son (1882). The book, translated into French, Polish, and German, created a stir among Jews and Russians. It was presumed by Russian readers to give information about the "secret" customs of the Jews by which they allegedly acquired power over gentiles; antisemitic authors used it to justify anti-Jewish outrages. Although Brafman was accused of forgery, in fact his book was a fairly accurate translation of the documents. It has served a number of scholars as a historical source for knowledge of the inner life of Russian Jewry in the 19th century. The impression made by his book is evidence of the extent to which autonomous Jewish community life was alien to modern centralistic political ideas, ideals, and modes of relationship between individuals and the state. The Russian poet V.F. Khodasevich (1886–1940) was Brafman's grandson.


S.L. Zitron, Meshumodim (1923), 7–31; Levitats, in: Zion, 3 (1938), 170–8; S. Ginsburg, Meshumodim in Tsarishn Rusland (1946), 65–79; S.W. Baron, Russian Jew under Tsars and Soviets (1964), 49.