NUMERUS CLAUSUS ("closed number"), amount fixed as maximal number in the admission of persons (or certain groups of persons) to specific professions (in particular the liberal professions), institutions of higher learning, professional associations, positions of public office, etc.; frequently applied to Jews. The numerus clausus on the admission of Jews to institutions of higher learning was applied in the 19th century, and extended in the 20th century, in particular in the countries of Eastern Europe, but also in others. It assumed its most characteristic form in czarist Russia (see below) as the protsentnaya norma where the restrictions and limitations on the admission of Jews were established by special legislation. In countries such as Poland and Romania (see below) the numerus clausus was introduced as a quasi-legal means, or was applied in practice, as part of an antisemitic policy. However, in democratic countries the numerus clausus was also tacitly applied, at least in some institutions of higher learning, for social or prestige reasons. A numerus clausus of this type was applied not only to students but also (sometimes principally) to teaching staff in the universities or in admission to the civil or public services where higher professional qualifications were required. It was also applied in admission to positions which carried a special status, as in the higher ranks of the civil service, the diplomatic service, army, etc.
In Czarist Russia
During the first half of the 19th century, the policy of the Russian government toward the Jews, as formulated in the statutes concerning the Jews ("polozheniya") of 1804, 1835, and 1844, was to attract the Jewish youth to Russian schools. This ambition encountered strong opposition from the Jewish masses who regarded education in these schools as a step toward the alienation of Jewish youth from its people and its religion. They also viewed the network of Jewish state schools established by the government to promote general education among the Jews with suspicion. In 1853 there were 159 Jewish pupils in all the secondary schools of Russia (1.3% of the total student roll), while in the universities there were a few dozen. On the other hand, the maskilim advocated education in the Russian schools as a means of rapprochement with the Russian people.
During the reign of Alexander ii, a radical change occurred in the attitude of the Jews, especially those of the middle and upper classes, toward the Russian schools. This was due to the privileges granted to educated Jews (extension of the right of residence in 1865; important concessions with regard to military service in 1874). In 1880 the number of Jewish pupils in the secondary schools rose to 8,000 (11.5% of the total) and in the universities to 556 (6.8% of the total). These numbers increased yearly. In the educational region of Odessa (which included southern Russia) the proportion of Jewish students rose to 35.2%, and in the region of Vilna (Lithuania) to 26.7%. A Russian-Jewish stratum of intelligentsia rapidly became prominent. As service in the government and administration was closed to them, this intelligentsia concentrated in the liberal professions–medicine, law, and journalism. The members of these professions soon became aware of growing competition from Jews. A propaganda campaign was instigated against the admission of Jews into the class of the intelligentsia; this was sparked off in 1880 by a letter to the editor entitled Zhid Idyot ("The Jew Is Coming") which was published in the widely influential newspaper Novoye Vremya.
Of their own initiative, higher and secondary schools in various parts of the country began to restrict the admission of Jews within their precincts. This coincided with the general policy of the government of Alexander iii which sought to prevent the admission of children of the poorer classes into the higher and secondary schools. It was claimed that the Jewish students introduced a spirit of rebellion and revolution into the schools and thus had a deleterious influence over their Christian fellow students. In July 1887 the Ministry of Education decided that the proportion of Jews in all secondary schools and higher institutions subject to its jurisdiction was not to surpass 10% in the towns of the *Pale of Settlement, 5% in the towns outside it, and only 3% in the capitals of St. Petersburg and Moscow. Many schools were completely closed to Jews. In time, this regulation also spread to schools which were under the supervision of other government ministries (ministry of communications, ministry of finance, etc.). There were individual cases, after the Revolution of 1905, where the restrictions and admission prohibitions were also applied to converted Jews.
These restrictions were introduced during a period when masses of Jewish youth were besieging the Russian schools, and had severe repercussions on Jewish life. Only those who had obtained the highest marks and distinctions were likely to be admitted to Russian secondary and high schools. There were naturally instances of bribery and corruption, or parents who baptized their children so that they could enter the schools. Secondary school graduates began to convert for this end, and during the years 1907 to 1914 this became commonplace. The Lutheran clergyman Piro of Finland became known for selling baptismal certificates at a low price to all those who desired them ("pirovtsy"). The Jewish national and Zionist movements fought this phenomenon. These regulations also resulted in the emigration of thousands of Jewish youths to study at the universities of Western Europe (Switzerland, Germany, France, etc.). Jewish students formed the majority of the "Russian" colonies in the university towns of the West. In 1892 the number of Jewish pupils in the secondary schools had decreased to 5,394 (7% of the pupils).
Jewish youths took advantage of the possibility of completing their studies by means of external examinations. In Jewish society, the "extern" studied under the guidance of private teachers and then sat for the state examinations. The antisemitic examiners were severe and failed many of them. In 1911 it was decided that the numerus clausus would also apply to external students, and since the number of non-Jewish external students was very limited this system was brought to an end. During the period of the Russian Revolution of 1905, when autonomy was granted to the institutions of higher learning, the numerus clausus was abolished, but immediately upon the repression of the Revolution the practice was restored. The proportion, however, was increased (to 15% in the Pale of Settlement, 10% beyond it, and 5% in the capital cities). Accordingly, the number of Jewish pupils in the secondary schools rose to 17,538 (9.1% of the pupils), and of Jewish students at the universities to 3,602 (9.4%). In the overwhelming majority of secondary schools for girls, the numerus clausus was not introduced. In 1911 about 35,000 Jewish girls studied at Russian secondary schools (13.5% of the pupils). In the educational region of Vilna (Lithuania) the proportion of Jewish girl pupils rose to 49%, in the region of Warsaw to 42.7% and in the regions of Kiev and Odessa to 33.3% (these four educational regions encompassed the whole of the Pale of Settlement). The numerus clausus served as an impetus for the establishment of private Jewish secondary schools, several of which evolved the beginnings of a national Jewish education.
All restrictions on the admission of Jews to the secondary schools and institutions of higher learning were abolished with the Revolution of February 1917. In 1919, during the brief period when the armies of *Denikin (the "White Army") gained control of large regions of southern Russia, the numerus clausus was temporarily reinstated in many towns under their control.
In the Soviet Union
There are no indications of any official or unofficial numerus clausus existing in the Soviet Union until the last "Black Years" of Stalin's rule (1948–53). Even then discrimination against Jews seeking admission to Soviet universities seems to have been related to the general atmosphere of distrust and enmity, engendered by the anti-Jewish trend of official policy, rather than the result of a regulated system of limited percentages. Though legally and openly there has never been a numerus clausus for Jews in the U.S.S.R., young Jews seeking admission to certain prestige universities, or to studies leading to positions entailing use of classified information or representative status in the state or on its behalf, increasingly encountered unexpected artificial difficulties in the 1950s and 1960s. Many young Jews complained of having been rejected despite brilliant achievements in the entrance examinations in favor of non-Jews with fewer scholastic qualifications. A number of statements were made by Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev (for instance to a French socialist delegation in 1957; see Réalités, May 1957) or by the minister of culture, Yekaterina Furtseva (to a correspondent of the pro-Communist American magazine, National Guardian, June 25, 1956) confirming the existence of a general policy to regulate cadres according to nationality–particularly and explicitly by reducing the proportion of Jews in the intelligentsia and in government departments. These statements seemed to validate the assumption of many Soviet citizens as well as of scholars abroad that, as W. Korey affirms in his study on the legal position of Soviet Jewry (1970), "unpublished governmental regulations appear to have been issued, whether in written or oral form, which establish quotas limiting educational or employment opportunities for Jews." In 1959 the minister for higher education, U.P. Yelyutin, vehemently denied the existence of such quotas, and in 1962 the U.S.S.R. ratified the unesco Convention against Discrimination in Education. However, some evidence to the contrary was found in 1963 in Soviet journals such as Kommunist and, particularly, the "Bulletin of Higher Education," which acknowledged the existence of "annually planned preferential admission quotas." An American specialist on Soviet education, N. de Witt, reached the conclusion in 1961 that a quota system existed "to the severe disadvantage of the Jewish population." According to de Witt the principle applied makes "the representation of any national or ethnic grouping in overall higher education enrolment" proportional to its size in the total Soviet population. He presented statistical data which showed that between 1935 and 1958 "the index of representation (in higher education) rose for most nationalities, but fell for Georgians and all national minorities, with a very drastic decline for the Jews."
The official statistics on the number of Jewish students, which apparently contradicted this assertion, were misleading (as some scholars, like Alec Nove and J.A. Newth, have found after a meticulous analysis, published in 1970), mainly because these overall numbers included not only students in every kind of "institute" and field of study, but also external (i.e., correspondence) students. The question whether Jews were "able to get into universities of their choice on equal terms with competitors of other nationalities" remained open. The percentage of Jewish students (including evening and correspondence students) fell from 14.4% in 1928–29 to 3.2% in 1960–61. Though the official percentage of Jews in the total population was in 1960–61 approximately 1.1% and in the urban population 2.2%, the above-mentioned percentage of Jewish students should be considered, according to A. Nove and J.A. Newth, to be proportionately low.
The majority of the Jewish proletariat perished during the German invasion in World War ii, and there seems to be no doubt that, as a purely urban element consisting of white-collar workers, professional men, engineers, scientists, and people occupied in retail trade "a much larger proportion of Jews than of other nationalities endeavors to obtain higher education. It is this fact that may well give rise to discrimination. Some officials may feel that it is wrong for Jews to be so overwhelmingly non-proletarian in their composition. Others, particularly in the national republics, are concerned to provide special educational advantages for the relatively backward peoples of their own nationality." This conclusion of A. Nove and J.A. Newth seems to be borne out by a large number of case histories related by Soviet Jews themselves.
The numerus clausus was one of the manifestations of the widespread antisemitism in Poland between the two world wars. The Polish government made use of the numerus clausus as a quasi-legal means to limit the number of Jewish students in the institutions of higher education to the minimum. The total number of students in Poland increased continuously between 1920 and 1935. From 34,266 students in 1921–22, it rose to 47,200 in 1935–36. In the same period both the number of Jewish students and their proportion in the total declined. In 1920–21 there were 8,526 Jewish students in Poland; in 1923–24 their number reached its peak figure of 9,579; but in 1935–36 their number dropped to 6,200, i.e., a decrease of about 35%. The proportion of Jewish students in the total number of students was 24.6% in 1921–22, 20% in 1928–29, and only 13.2% in 1935–36.
The results of the numerus clausus are especially instructive if the fluctuations in the number of Jewish students in the various faculties are noted. The most striking instance is the faculty of medicine. In 1923–24 there were still 1,402 Jewish medical students, forming 30.2% of the total. In 1926–27 their number dropped to 698 (18.6%), and in 1935–36 Jewish medical students formed only 13.8% of the total number. In the faculty of law their percentage in 1923–24 was 24.6%, while in 1935–36 it was only 12.5%. In the humanities the numbers for the corresponding years were 35.4% and 18.3%, and in the faculty of chemistry 25% and 12%. This tendency to a continuous decrease in the number of Jewish students in all faculties, especially in the professions of medicine, law, and engineering, was an outcome of the numerus clausus policy. It hindered the admission of Jewish students to the institutions of higher education, although the number of Jewish applicants increased in Poland and a growing number of Jewish youths wished to enter academic professions.
In Poland up to World War ii there were 14 state institutions of higher education, and nine nongovernmental (e.g., the Catholic University in Lublin; commercial colleges in Warsaw, Cracow, Lvov, Lodz, etc.). Almost all of these institutions applied the numerus clausus as the leading criterion in admitting new students, though some applied it more strictly than others. In the University of Lvov, for instance, the Jewish students comprised 46.6% of the total number of students in 1921–22, while in 1930–31 (there are no statistical data for later years) they comprised only 31.9%; in the University of Warsaw the figures for the corresponding years were 31.4% and 23.8%; in the Warsaw Polytechnic 15.5% and 10.2%; in the Veterinary College in Lvov 13% and 5.4%; and in the institute of Dentistry, 70.4% and 19.7%.
The proportion of females among Jewish students throughout this period was higher than that among non-Jewish students. The percentage of Jewish females was 33.3% in 1923–24 and 39% in 1930–31, while the numbers among non-Jews for these years were 15% and 26%. The authorities of the academic institutions were more willing to admit Jewish female students than Jewish males, since many left the universities before graduating. Another reason for not strictly applying the numerus clausus toward Jewish women was that the majority studied in the faculty of humanities (philosophy, history, literature), instead of the more demanding professions. Thus, for instance, in 1930–31, 50% of the male students studied law; 11% medicine; 16.4% philosophy; and 14.6% sciences, while 11% of the female students studied law; 3.4% medicine; 63.2% philosophy; and 1.7% sciences. In the last few years preceding World War ii the authorities took even stronger discriminatory measures against the Jewish students. They introduced the system of "Jewish benches," which allocated special benches at the back of the auditoriums and classrooms to be used only by Jews. The Jewish students revolted against these regulations and refused to sit there. This frequently led to serious clashes in the universities, resulting in bloodshed and tragedy.
In Romania in 1922 a numerus clausus of the admission of Jewish students was advocated by Romanian students in the University of *Cluj. These were members of the Association of Christian Students, founded by adherents of A.C. *Cuza in Jassy earlier that year. It was adopted also by the students in the universities of Jassy, Bucharest, and Cernauti (Chernovtsy). December 10, the day of its announcement by the students in Cluj, was declared a holiday throughout Romania by the students, who every year took the opportunity to attack Jewish students on that day. The numerus clausus in Romania was not introduced by law. However, in practice the Christian students, by using force, prevented the Jewish students from regular studies. The position of the science and medical students was especially serious since they were prevented from using the laboratories, taking part in autopsies, etc. In the late 1920s Jewish students in this sphere were forced to go abroad, especially to France and Italy, in order to complete their studies.
At first the majority of teachers in the universities were opposed to the students' antisemitic activities, but with the rise of National Socialism in Germany many professors supported the numerus clausus movement. In 1933 special entrance examinations were introduced and Jewish candidates were deliberately failed. The few who were accepted were prevented by the Christian students from taking part in the studies, and in some faculties there were no Jewish students at all. Thus the numerus clausus became a numerus nullus. The Association of Christian Students was subsidized by all ministers of the interior throughout this period.
In 1935 the Romanian statesmen A. Vaida-Voevod declared a "numerus valahicus" (a "Walachian numerus"), a disguised form of the numerus clausus. The head of the Orthodox Church in Romania, the patriarch Miron Cristea, declared his support of the numerus valahicus in the Romanian senate.
A law on the employment of Romanian employees was passed in 1934, which fixed a proportion of 80% for Romanian workers in every place of employment, and 50% for Romanians in their management. This law was felt especially in the textile industry, banking, and commerce, where a large number of Jews was employed. Professional and trade unions, such as the lawyers', accountants', clerical workers', etc., began to evict the Jews from their membership and refused to accept new Jewish members.
At the beginning of the pro-Nazi regime of Ion Antonescu in 1940, all Jewish students were officially expelled from the schools and universities. This was also the fate of the Jewish workers in the private economic sector.
Restrictions affecting the admission of Jewish students into the institutions of higher learning in Hungary were passed as a law in 1920. This laid down that no new students should be accepted in the universities unless they were "loyal from the national and moral standpoint," and that "the proportion of members of the various ethnic and national groups in the total number of students should amount to the proportion of such ethnic and national groups in the total population." According to the official ground for this enactment, the law was intended to prevent a surplus of persons in the liberal professions, which the dismembered country was unable to integrate. But it was clear that the law was directed against the Jews only.
The leaders of the *Neologists in Hungarian Jewry who considered the law a severe blow to Jewish equal rights, as well as the liberal opposition and especially its Jewish representatives, attempted to combat the law, but without success. Jewish students who were not admitted to institutions of higher learning were forced to go abroad to study in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Italy, France, and Belgium. The Jewish students who were admitted despite the restrictions were often insulted and sometimes beaten up by the non-Jewish students, whose "ideal" was to achieve a "numerus nullus."
Outside Hungary a number of Jewish organizations initiated a struggle against the law on the international level in 1921, basing their claims on the peace treaty of Trianon, in which Hungary had guaranteed that all its citizens should "be equal before the law … without distinction of race, language, or religion." The Jewish organizations sent a petition based on these lines to the *League of Nations. However, the official leadership of Hungarian Jewry refrained from cooperating with these Jewish organizations. Nevertheless the international Jewish organizations received support from Jews in Hungary as well as from the Hungarian Jewish students studying abroad.
The Hungarian government, when asked by the League of Nations to supply information concerning this question, avoided the issue by providing statistical data showing that the Jews were not discriminated against by this law. In 1925 the Joint Foreign Committee and the Alliance Israélite Universelle, fearing that other countries would adopt the numerus clausus, appealed to the Permanent Court of International Justice. This time Hungary was compelled to give a relevant answer. The Hungarian minister of education claimed in 1927 that the law was merely temporary, arising from Hungary's difficult situation, and undertook that the law would shortly be amended. When the amendment was not forthcoming Hungary was asked to hasten the procedure, and in 1928 the bill was submitted to the Hungarian parliament. According to this amendment racial criteria in admitting new students were removed and replaced by social criteria. Five categories were set up: civil servants, war veterans and army officers, small landowners and artisans, industrialists, and the merchant classes. The result was much the same. According to the new socioeconomic criteria the Jews had approximately the same status as before. The theoretically nonracial character of the amended law was a temptation to convert to Christianity. Indeed many Jews did so, like their predecessors of an earlier period, for the sake of office. The numerus clausus remained in force despite the protests of Jews and liberals.
By the second anti-Jewish law passed in 1939 the admission of new students was again put on a racial and not a confessional basis. Students of the rabbinical seminary were exempted from the law's application, since according to the government regulations of this institution its students required a doctorate in philosophy in order to obtain their rabbinical diploma, and were restricted in their choice of subject to Oriental studies and philosophy. The Hungarian constituent national assembly which convened in Debrecen in December 1944 abolished the numerus clausus among the rest of the discriminatory racial legislation.
In the United States
In the United States mass immigration after 1881 resulted in the partial exclusion of Jews from many of the professions. There were very few Jews in the teaching profession before 1930. In 1920 there were 214 Jewish students in the medical schools of the State of New York; by 1940 there were only 108 in the same schools. In its Annual Report in 1932, the American Jewish Committee was willing to accept the proposition that this exclusion was not entirely due to antisemitism but that there was "overcrowding in an already overcrowded profession" and that Jews needed to be redirected to other pursuits. This was a vain hope in an era when the opportunities for Jews in the professions were constantly decreasing, so that, for example, the proportion of Jews in veterinary medicine decreased from almost 12% to less than 2% between 1935 and 1946. The situation was somewhat better in dentistry, where by the mid-1930s about one-fifth of the students in the dental schools were Jews, but even here the leaders of the profession tried to keep Jews out.
This trend of exclusion during most of the first half of the 20th century reached down into the undergraduate schools. There was a famous incident in 1923 when President Lowell of Harvard advised that the enrollment of Jews should be limited at his school, in order to preserve the representative character of the leading academic institution of the United States. The committee that he appointed at Harvard was unanimous in opposing him and in insisting that places be given to applicants solely on the basis of merit. Lowell was denounced by the American Federation of Labor, the Boston city council, and the legislature of the State of Massachusetts, which body threatened to remove the tax exemptions that Harvard enjoyed if a discriminatory policy were followed. Despite the storm an unofficial numerus clausus continued until after World War ii in most of the major American colleges and universities. In 1931 Rutgers College admitted that it was limiting the number of Jews in order "to equalize the proportion" and to prevent the university from becoming denominational. In the spring of the following year the college authorities withdrew from this position, which had been vehemently attacked by local and national Jewish agencies. Nonetheless, at the end of a generation of struggle a B'nai B'rith survey in 1946 found that Jews indeed formed about 9% of a U.S. college population that was then slightly over two million, but that they were concentrated (77%) in 50 of the largest schools, and the best smaller schools were still discriminating against them. The proportion of Jews in the professional schools was only 7%, thus indicating that discrimination was still high.
The turning point came that year. Rabbi Stephen S. *Wise mounted an attack on Columbia University for practicing unofficial discrimination against Jews by petitioning the city council of the City of New York to withdraw its tax exemption. Columbia had no choice but to announce that the question of religion would no longer figure on any of its application forms. For the flood of soldiers returning from World War ii the national government was providing the funds with which to complete their education and the colleges and universities boomed in the next decade. Discrimination against Jews was hard to practice in an era when the educational institutions were seeking the maximum of government funds. In the post–World War ii era, faculties were doubling and redoubling, and place was therefore available for Jews. The new postwar industries, especially electronics, required a whole new corps of technicians, and these jobs were staffed without regard to earlier exclusions. By 1968 some opinions were being expressed that the marked presence of Jews everywhere in the professions and the academic world was "arousing some resentment, envy, and discontent among less successful non-Jewish faculty members."
It was estimated that by 1971 Jews formed at least 10% of the faculties of all American institutions of higher learning, and that the more highly regarded a school the more nearly likely would it have a Jewish proportion in its faculty reaching 25–50%, the Harvard faculty being probably one third Jewish. Attacks on Jews in academic life and in the professions were mounted largely from within the black community, which was demanding place for itself consonant with its proportion in the total population (about 10%), regardless of the results of tests or other screening devices. In this demand blacks have come into conflict with Jews who have found what contemporary sociologists have called the "meritocracy" useful and convenient. Blacks have succeeded in obtaining a quota of their own, perhaps to some extent at the expense of Jews, in many of the best colleges.
czarist russia: Dubnow, Hist Russ, index; L. Greenberg, Jews in Russia: The Struggle for Emancipation (1965); S. Baron, Russian Jews under Tsars and Soviets (1964); J. Kreppel, Juden und Judentum von heute (1925), para. 77, 501–4. soviet union: W. Korey, in: L. Kochan (ed.), The Jews in Soviet Russia since 1917 (1970), 90, 94–95; A. Nove and J.A. Newth, ibid., 145, 154–6. poland: S. Langnas, Żydzi a studja akademickie w Polsce (1933); M. Mirkin, in: Yidishe Ekonomik, 2 (1938), 272–6; Polscki Rocznik statystyczny (1921–38). hungary: N. Katzburg, in: Sefer ha-Shanah shel Universitat Bar Ilan, 4–5 (1956–65), 270–88 (with an English summary); The Jewish Minority in Hungary. Report by the Secretary and Special Delegate of the Joint Foreign Committee… (1926). united states: ajyb, passim; O. and M.F. Handlin, in: ajyb (1955), 75–77.
"Numerus Clausus." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 22, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/numerus-clausus
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