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Orshanski, Ilya (Elijah) Grigoryevich


ORSHANSKI, ILYA (Elijah ) GRIGORYEVICH (1846–1875), journalist, jurist, and historian in Russia. Orshanski, who was born in Yekaterinoslav (now Dnepropetrovsk), received both a traditional Jewish and a general education. He completed law studies at the University of Odessa in 1868 and was subsequently offered a professorship there on condition that he embrace Christianity, a condition which he unhesitatingly rejected. Orshanski's first literary endeavors appeared in the Hebrew newspapers *Ha-Meliẓ and *Ha-Karmel. From 1869 to 1871 he served as assistant editor of the Russian-Jewish newspaper Den, which was closed down in 1871 by government decree because of an article Orshanski wrote on the pogroms in Odessa of that year. In his article he openly accused the government of responsibility for the pogroms and urged the Jews to demand legal satisfaction and compensation for injuries sustained.

Before the newspaper was closed down, Orshanski published in it a series of articles on the legal status of the Russian Jews and their economic and social condition. These essays, among others, were published in two volumes entitled Yevreiv Rossii ("The Jews in Russia," 1872, 18772) and Russkoye zakonodatelstvo o yevreyakh ("Russian Legislation Affecting the Jews," 1877). Despite their contemporary propagandist objectives, these studies are among the most noteworthy contributions to the history of the Jews in Russia. When discussing the economic structure of the Jews in Russia, Orshanski was the first to refrain from indulging in the defense, apology, and criticism customarily leveled by authors of the Enlightenment (*Haskalah) at Russian Jewry. His impartial, scientific analysis clarified the economic foundations of Jewish life in Russia and enabled him to determine from a historical point of view the place of the Jew in the national economy, while his keen legal mind enabled him to examine the Russian legislation affecting Jews, to trace its origins and motivations, and to demonstrate its medieval character and spirit. His "Russian Legislation Affecting the Jews" not only contains a vast amount of legal information but is also a first attempt to describe systematically the historical development of Russian legislation.

Orshanski also wrote a comprehensive, if critical essay, "Mysli o khasidizme" ("Reflections on Hasidism," in his Yevrei v Rossii (18772), 311–46, and also in Yevreyskaya Biblioteka, vol. 1, 1871), examining the growth and development of Ḥasidism against the economic and social background of the Jews in Ukraine in the 18th century.

In the last years of his life, Orshanski devoted his time and his pen to research and writing on general Russian law. The resultant studies, published posthumously in three volumes, gained a high reputation in the field of Russian jurisprudence, and are still considered among the finest examples of Russian juridical literature of the time. Because of his failing health Orshanski went to Germany, where he spent several years before he returned to Russia in the spring of 1875.


M.G. Morgulis, Ilya Grigoryevich Orshanski i yego literaturnaya deyatelnost (1904); E.M. Morgulis, I. Orshanski, 18461875: Yego zhizn i literaturnaya deyatelnost (1898).

[Simha Katz]

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