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August 30: Hebrew Banned in Revolutionary Russia

August 30, 2013

LeninThe Evsektsiia, or Jewish Section of the Soviet Communist Party, proclaimed Hebrew a “reactionary language” on this date in 1919 as part of an anti-religion campaign that led to the banning of Hebrew language instruction, the arrest or suppression of many rabbis, and government confiscation of synagogues and other Jewish communal properties (properties of the Orthodox Church and other religious groupings got the same treatment). Yet earlier in the year, Vladimir Lenin, as head of the revolutionary government, had recorded on gramophone disk a speech against anti-Semitism. “The Tsarist police, in alliance with the landowners and the capitalists, organized pogroms against the Jews,” Lenin said. “The landowners and capitalists tried to divert the hatred of the workers and peasants who were tortured by want against the Jews. . . . Only the most ignorant and downtrodden people can believe the lies and slander that are spread about the Jews . . .” This ideological treatment of Jewish life — opposition to Zionism (and its language, Hebrew) and to religious Jewish life, linked with encouragement of Yiddish culture and national minority status for Jews — exemplified the schizophrenia of Soviet Jewish policy in the early years of the revolution. The Evsektsiia was abolished in 1929 and its chair, Semen Dimanstein, was executed by Stalin in 1938. To see and hear Lenin speaking about anti-Semitism, look below.

“Shame on accursed Tsarism which tortured and persecuted the Jews. Shame on those who foment hatred towards the Jews, who foment hatred towards other nations.” —Vladimir Lenin