Peretz, Abraham

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PERETZ, ABRAHAM (1771–1833), one of the first maskilim in Russia and a leader of the Jewish community. Son of the rabbi of Lubartow, Peretz married the daughter of wealthy Joshua *Zeitlin of Shklov. He was a fellow-student of J.L. *Nevakhovich, and at the end of the 18th century he settled in St. Petersburg, where he became the protégé of Prince Potëmkin. He made his fortune in commerce and shipbuilding and earned the title of commercial adviser from Czar Paul i. Making connections with the Russian upper classes, he was on familiar terms with Minister Speranski. Peretz maintained contact with the Berlin maskilim and was among the subscribers of Ha-Me'assef. He also took part in the work of the Committee for the Drafting of Jewish Legislation (1802), presenting various memoranda to the committee. He assisted Jewish shtadlanim who came to the capital and encouraged Nevakhovich to write his Russian pamphlet Vopl dshcheri yudeyskoy. He lost his fortune as a result of unsuccessful contracts with the army during the Napoleonic invasion of Russia (1812). In 1813 he divorced his wife, converting to Christianity along with his son Gregory (Hirsch), and married a German woman.

Peretz's son gregory (1788–1855) received his early education in the house of his grandfather Joshua Zeitlin. In 1803 he rejoined his father in St. Petersburg and received an important position in government administration. From 1820 to 1822 he was a member of a secret society which sought to introduce reforms into the Russian government. Among other projects he also conceived of the establishment of a "Society for the Liberation of the Jews Dispersed in Russia, and even in Europe, and their Settlement in Crimea, or even in the Orient, as a Unified Nation." After the revolt of the *Decembrists (1825) he was imprisoned and banished to northern Russia. Twenty years later (1845) he received authorization to leave for Odessa. Of Abraham's other sons, mention should be made of alexander, a mining engineer who played an important role in the industrial development of the Ural Mountains. Another son, yegor, was a member of the National Council; his diary (publ. 1927) contains important material on the discussions of the Jewish problem in the council during the early 1800s. A great-grandson of Gregory, vladimir (1870–1936), was a historian of Russian and Ukrainian literature and theater and a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Together with his brother lev, Peretz wrote a monograph entitled Dekabrist Grigori Abramovich Peretz (1926).


S.L. Zitron, Shtadlonim (Yid., 1927), 53–67; S. Ginsburg, Meshumodim in Tsarishn Rusland, 9 (1946), 34–53.

[Yehuda Slutsky]