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DECEMBRISTS (Dekabrists ), group of revolutionaries in Russia. Drawn from the aristocracy and younger army officers, from 1816 it developed as a secret society and sought to abolish the despotic regime. After the death of Czar *Alexander i, the group attempted to foment a rebellion against his successor, *Nicholas i. The rebellion, which began on Dec. 26, 1825 (hence the name Decembrists), was unsuccessful and its participants were severely punished. It is assumed that most of the interest of the Decembrists in the Jewish problem was awakened by Grigori Peretz – a converted Jew among them. He was arrested and sentenced to exile. He spoke at length on the necessity of founding a society for the settlement of the Jews in Crimea or the Orient, where they would live as an autonomous nation. On his suggestion his group adopted the Hebrew word "Ḥerut" (freedom) as their motto. In his work Russian Justice, Pavel Pestel, one of the Decembrist leaders, devoted a paragraph to the Jewish problem. He negated the right of Jews to be citizens of the Russian state because "they are united by an excessive and incomparable solidarity" and "are unable to become integrated within any nation of the world." They are subjected to the rule of their rabbis and "await the arrival of the Messiah who will return them to their country." Pestel saw two ways of solving the Jewish problem: the first, "to destroy the unity among the Jews, which is harmful to the Russians" and to impose a strict supervision over them; the second, "to assist the Jews in establishing a special state somewhere in Asia Minor." For this purpose, Pestel suggested that all the Jews of Russia and Poland should be concentrated in one place and that an army be raised from their midst which would conquer a territory in Asiatic Turkey and establish a Jewish state. Another leader of the Decembrists, Nikita Muraviov, included full equality for the Jews in his proposed constitution.


Dubnow, Hist Russ, 1 (1916), 409–13; S.M. Ginsburg, Meshumodim in Tsarishn Russland (1946), 48–50.

[Yehuda Slutsky]