Deputies of the Jewish People

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DEPUTIES OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE , representatives of Jewish communities in Russia to the government during the reign of *Alexander i (1801–25). After parts of *Poland-Lithuania had been annexed by Russia, the large communities sent shtadlanim to the court at St. Petersburg to represent them and defend their rights. Most of the shtadlanim were merchants or contractors who visited the city on business. When a committee was set up to frame a "Jewish constitution" in 1802–04 it was joined by several government-appointed Jewish advisers (N.N. *Notkin, A. *Peretz, and J.L. *Nevakhovich). The government also requested some important communities to send representatives to the committee. Together they tried to influence the committee in favor of Jewish rights. In 1807 the government appointed a "Jewish committee" to implement the inimical "Jewish constitution" of 1804 and proposed that the communities elect deputies to represent the Jews before the provincial governors. The memoranda of these deputies were referred to the "Jewish committee" in St. Petersburg and were influential in obtaining a temporary halt to the expulsion of Jews from the villages. It was also proposed to abolish the prohibition on the lease and sale of alcohol by Jews. During the invasion by Napoleon two "deputies of the Jewish people," Zundel Sonnenberg and Eliezer Dillon, accompanied Alexander's military headquarters in 1812–13, and acted as liaison between the czar and the large Jewish population in the combat area. They regularly presented memoranda and petitions concerning Jewish affairs to the court and transmitted its instructions to the Jewish communities. After the war an attempt was made to convert the committee of deputies into a permanent institution. The Jewish communities were requested to send representatives to St. Petersburg to maintain permanent contact with the ministries of religious affairs and popular education. On August 19, 1818, electors from the 12 districts (gubernia) of the *Pale of Settlement convened and elected three deputies, Zundel Sonnenberg, Beinush Lapkovski, and Michael Eisenstadt, and three deputy representatives. In order to raise funds to cover their expenses, which probably also included furnishing bribes, the assembly resolved that every Jew was to donate the silver headpiece of his prayer shawl. The change in Alexander's policy toward the Jews at the end of his reign reduced the importance and status of the deputies. Sonnenberg was dismissed because of "impudence toward the authorities." In 1825 the Jewish deputation was officially suspended "until the need arises for a new deputation," and the institution was thereby abolished and not renewed. However, the government continued to make use of Jewish representatives. In 1840 consultative committees, chosen from among "enlightened" Jews, were created and attached to governors in Kiev and five other towns. In 1844 the function of "Learned Jew" (uchoni yevrei) was created, meaning an expertand consultant in Jewish religious affairs attached to the district governers and responsible for education and interior affairs.


J.I. Hessen (Gessen), Yevrei v Rossii (1906), 421–32; idem, in: Yevreyskaya starina, 2 (1909), 17–29, 196–206; S. Pen, in: Voskhod, nos. 1–3 (1905).

[Yehuda Slutsky /

Shmuel Spector (2nd ed.)]