VLADIMIR SOLOVIEV AND THE JEWS IN RUSSIA
by Walter G. Moss
Before 1881 Vladimir Soloviev's interest in the Jews seems to have been limited to the Jewish mystical speculations embodied in the Kabala and to the Jewish thought revealed in the Old Testament. In 1875, having recently defended his Master's thesis, The Crisis of Western Philosophy, and being twenty-two years of age, he arrived in England. There, at the British Museum, he studied Kabalistic and other mystical writings. Several months later he decided to go to Egypt. He seems to have told at least two individuals that the reason for his trip was to seek out an Egyptian tribe which supposedly guarded Kabalistic secrets.  After his eventual return to Russia in 1876, Soloviev's interest in the Kabala seems to have declined somewhat; but his exposure to its theosophical and cosmogonic strands permanently influenced, at least in a minor way, his own speculations.  During the course of his Lectures on Godmanhood, delivered in 1878 and attended by such notables as his older friend Dostoevsky and the novelist Lev Tolstoy, Soloviev recognized the theological contributions of pre-Christian Judaism and especially praised the Old Testament prophets. 
In 1879 Soloviev met Rabbi F. Gets, who was to remain a lifelong friend. Until 1881, however, there is no evidence to indicate that he took any special interest in the plight of the Jews in Russia. 
It is perhaps no coincidence that Soloviev began speaking out on the Jewish question after 1881, for in that year the Jews were victimized by pogroms which, perhaps for the first time, dramatically brought the issue to the young philosopher's mind. Although the violence temporarily came to an end in May 1882, the Jewish agony was to continue. From 1882 until his death in 1900 Soloviev knew that additional sporadic pogroms took place and was aware of a number of new restrictions placed upon the Jews: for example, their rights of travel and domicile were further limited, and by means of quotas their educational opportunities were also severely restricted. 
In the 1880s Soloviev took issue with the ideological defenses of anti-Semitism which appeared in various conservative journals and newspapers. From 1881 to 1883 the pages of Rus bristled with the Judophobic writings of its editor, Ivan Aksakov. Since most of Soloviev's articles and the excellent poetry which he wrote during this period appeared in this journal, and since Aksakov was a friend of his, Soloviev was undoubtedly familiar with his editor's articles. Aksakov's anti-Semitism, like that of many of his educated contemporaries, was part of a Weltanschauung which in general professed the superiority of Russia and Orthodoxy and which regarded foreign elements such as Judaism, Catholicism, Western culture, and liberalism as serious threats. 
In his articles of 1881-83 Aksakov defended those who were responsible for the pogroms and said that their feelings were natural, considering the oppression and economic exploitation exercised by the Jews against the Christians. He believed that it was the Christians, not the Jews, who suffered most whenever the two came into contact. In general he criticized the Jews for their Jewish nationalism and for their desire to subdue Christians everywhere. From the religious point of view he blamed them for crucifying Christ and for proudly refusing to follow Him; he was especially critical of the Talmudists. 
K. E. Istomin, a member of the Kharkov Theological Seminary administration and a frequent contributor to the journal it published, Vera i Razum (Faith and Reason), took up in 1885 where Aksakov left off. His views also were undoubtedly known to Soloviev.  Istomin felt that although the pogroms might have taken an unjustifiable form, they reflected a just awakening of the national consciousness and the Christian spirit against an alien faith. In his view the Christians had risen against the cosmopolitan nationalism of Jews whose loyalty belonged not to the countries of residence, but to Judaism. The Jewish nationalism was accused of being marked by egoism, materialism, and a spirit of pride, all of which helped to explain its hostility towards Christianity. Like Aksakov, Istomin placed the principal blame on the Talmud, but he also had little sympathy for men like Jacob Priluker and his "New Israel" sect, founded in 1882, which rejected the Talmud and many Jewish customs and recognized only the teachings of Moses. To Istomin's mind such progressive Judaism smacked of the rationalism and cosmopolitanism which Russian conservative nationalists so often connected with all the other evils that they feared.  [LC-1]
Istomin's ideas on how to cope with this alien element within Russia are quite revealing. He was in favor of denying the Jews their rights in order to protect Christian society. He counselled Christians against further pogroms, but advised them to force the Jews out by avoiding them and not trading with them. He believed that eventually the problem could only be solved by the Jews' rejection of the Talmud and their acceptance of Christianity. He summed up his position by saying that the Jewish question was not one of greater or lesser rights for the Jews, but only of how to bring them to Christianity. 
Perhaps not all publicists shared the feelings of Aksakov and Istomin, but hardly anyone came forth in the 1880s to defend the Jews. The deep-seated prejudice against them which had infected Russian society, and an ignorance of their way of life on the part of most writers outside of the Pale prevented even writers of normally good will from adequately answering charges like those of Aksakov and Istomin. 
That Soloviev emerged in the early 1880s as the leading non-Jewish spokesman for their cause is not surprising. From his father Sergei, one of Russia's most prominent historians, he had inherited a universal outlook which freed him from the exclusive Great Russian nationalism of many of his contemporaries. He abhorred divisiveness to such an extent that the desire for unity, whether it be cosmological, international, national or religious, played a central role in all his speculations. Social justice was another of his life-long concerns, a concern which had revealed itself at the early age of thirteen when Soloviev had temporarily abandoned his Orthodox faith to embrace the ideas of radicals such as Pisarev, believing that they would lead to the perfection of society.  Nor was he afraid to speak his mind on controversial topics. In 1881, a few weeks after the assassination of Alexander II, he had pleaded in a speech for clemency on the part of the new Tsar for the assassins, arguing that a Christ-like act of forgiveness by Alexander III would lead toward a renewed commitment to truly Christian principles throughout Russia.  This public utterance aroused suspicion in government circles and was to result in a number of serious inconveniences for the philosopher. 
His attention having once been firmly riveted on the Jewish question, Soloviev began to apply himself to learning more about Judaism. He studied Hebrew under the tutelage of his friend Rabbi Gets, and by no later than 1886-87 he seems to have acquired an excellent reading knowledge of the language.  He studied Talmudic writings and became especially knowledgeable about the Old Testament and pre-Christian Judaic thought.  After 1881 he became acquainted with many other Jews besides Rabbi Gets. He was welcomed as one of them, made an honorary member in one of their most important organizations, "The Society for the Spread of Enlightenment among Jews in Russia," and eventually became very familiar with the personal lives and suffering of Russian Jewry. 
Consequently, Soloviev attempted to do all he could to aid the Jews. As early as 1882 he had spoken favorably of them in public.  But it was in 1884 that he first published a full length article on the subject: "The Jews and the Christian Question," the most famous of his writings on the Jews. In subsequent years other articles appeared: "New Testament Israel" (1885), "The Talmud and the Newest Polemical Literature about It in Austria and Germany" (1886), "The Jews, Their Religious Doctrine and Morality" (1891), and "When did the Jewish Prophets Live?" (1896). His History and Future of Theocracy (1887) also dealt at some length with the Jewish experience in this matter. In addition, Soloviev attempted to aid the Jews in numerous other practical ways. He tried, for example, to help Gets obtain permission to publish a journal for the Jews. In 1890 he drew up a petition against anti-Semitism for publication in the press. Unfortunately, however, after he had obtained the signatures of over one hundred prominent individuals, including Tolstoy, all Russian newspapers were ordered not to print it. In the early 1890s Soloviev aided the vast Jewish emigration effort. 
Examining Soloviev's writings,  one realizes that he could not, however, be considered a blind Judophile. In the first place, he shared the belief of many anti-Semites that the mission of the Jews had been to prepare the way for Christianity and that once Christ appeared, their refusal to follow Him was a betrayal of this mission.  Soloviev further agreed that in contrast to their ancestors, the majority of Jews during the time of Christ had failed to subject nationalistic and materialistic concerns to religious principles. As a result, they had not been able to understand the necessity of accepting the cross of Christ; i.e., the rejection of exclusive nationalism and of a disproportionate concern with material welfare. In addition, Soloviev felt that the Jews had failed to appreciate that salvation had to come, not only from the appearance of a Messiah, but also by the personal transformation of each individual. Concerning specific charges against the Jews of his day, especially in Russia, Soloviev did not reject them all. He admitted, for example, that a number of Jews might be guilty of exploiting the peasants. 
What distinguished Soloviev's attitude was that he did not dwell on the negative aspects of the Jews, but tried to see the positive side also. In general, Soloviev felt that the Jews had been much more successful than the Christians in bringing their lives into conformity with their religious tenets. 
Soloviev believed that because of three qualities in particular, the Jews had become God's chosen people. First, they were a deeply religious people. Secondly, they were a self-respecting people who in their adoration of God did not try to nullify their personal selves as members of other eastern religions did. Thirdly, they appreciated the material world: There was nothing gnostic about the Jews. Due to these last two attributes, the Jews did not neglect the human or the material elements; rather they tried to permeate them with the Divine principle -- thus, their theocratic ideal, and thus their ability to give birth to a Savior who affirmed the importance of the human and the material, one who wished to become all in all. If the Jews at times carried self-consciousness, in the national sense, and the appreciation of the material world to an extreme, this still did not negate the worth of these two national qualities. 
The Jewish qualities which led them to espouse the ideal of theocracy were the ones which Soloviev felt true Christians also possessed. In fact, in his "The Jews and the Christian Question," he expresses the idea that universal theocracy is the aim of both Christians and Jews and that it is only in a theocratic context that the "Jewish problem" could be solved.  The understanding of Soloviev's concept of theocracy is therefore important for an understanding of his position on the Jews at the time his major article on the subject was written.
Soloviev seemed to feel that it was God's will that man spiritualize matter, that he transform and prepare the whole world, man and nature, so that God would be willing to cooperate with man in inaugurating the millennium and the resurrection of the faithful foretold in the Apocalypse (20:4-5). The establishment of a universal, free theocracy was to be a means toward this end. The theocracy would contain three elements: 1) the priestly, 2) the kingly, and 3) the prophetic.  The first would be supplied by an ecumenical church reunited under the Catholic pope -- the Orthodox Russians had to be the first to reunite with their Catholic brethren. The second element would be furnished chiefly by the Russian Tsar, who would voluntarily exercise his authority in accordance with the principles of the spiritual power. The third element would be supplied by those moved by the Holy Spirit. It would be the task of the prophets to work in harmony with the other two powers and to point the way towards man's final goal. 
And where in this picture would the Jews fit? Once the Christians were reunited and had begun to put their Christianity into practice, Soloviev felt that the best Jews would enter the Christian theocracy. They would see that the universalism which the Christians contrasted with the religious nationalism of the Jews was not just a pious platitude. They would realize that the morality which the Christians preached could in fact be realized in the social order. 
Soloviev thought that upon entering the theocracy the Jews would have a most valuable contribution to make toward the economic reconstruction of society. Sounding very much like a European socialist, Soloviev severely criticized the economic systems of his day. He deplored the fact that in Western Europe and Russia man's relationship to other men and to nature was so heavily influenced by the drive for economic gain. He did not hold the Jews responsible for these economic practices, for even though they strove for money, they generally used it to do God's work on earth. Once they joined in the theocratic task, they would bring with them their ancient desire to spiritualize the material world, and they would contribute significantly to spiritualizing and humanizing man's economic relations, as well as his relationship to nature. Soloviev hoped that, along with the Polish landowning class, an unhampered Jewish business class could provide the social and economic leadership needed to prevent the further ruination of the Russian land and economy, a process due to backward agricultural methods, an urban population that exploited the countryside, and the lack of a strong and unified middle class in Russia. 
The above ideas were spelled out in 1884. By 1887-88 Soloviev was emphasizing less the possible Jewish contributions to theocracy and more the idea that Russia had to treat the Jews and other religious and ethnic minorities with justice before she could get on with her theocratic task. As his hopes for the establishment of a theocracy gradually began to fade after 1888, Soloviev stressed more and more Russia's obligation toward her minorities to fulfill the minimal demand of Christianity, i.e., justice. 
With the exception of the above shift from treating the "Jewish problem" within a theocratic context to that of dealing with it according to the demands of justice, Soloviev's position on the Jews remained fairly consistent from the early 1880s until his death.  He always differed from men like Aksakov and Istomin in the means by which he wished to lead the Jews to Christianity. He was thoroughly convinced that this would occur only after Christians began acting like Christians. This was why he stated that the Jewish problem was primarily a Christian problem. 
Soloviev's general attitude led him to refute the accusations frequently made by men like Aksakov and Istomin. The Jews crucified Christ! Some Jews did, Soloviev answered; but some, including the Apostles, followed Christ; and the gentile Romans were not without a hand in the crucifixion.  The Jews are an inferior people! But God selected them over all others to be his chosen people, and Christ was a Jew, Soloviev declared.  The Talmud prescribes the Jews to hate Christians: it must be rejected by the Jews! Although, according to Soloviev, it permits injustice toward Christians at times, it does not prescribe it; and, on the whole, various high moral principles are enunciated in it. To ask the Jews to reject the Talmud would be like asking Christians to reject the Church Fathers.  The Jews are guilty of both cosmopolitanism and nationalism! They have been open to foreign influence, said Soloviev, and at the same time they have guarded the identity of their nation. If they had been too cosmopolitan, they would have lost their national identity; and if they had been too nationalistic, they would not have been open to foreign influence. 
Soloviev considered himself a patriot in the true sense of the word, and his concern was as much for the future of the Russian Empire as for that of the Russian Jews. He felt that an end to the restrictions on the Jews, especially those concerning residence, would help all of Russia.  He prophesied the dangers to Russia if she did not cast aside her prejudices and recognize the basic rights of the Jews. He concluded his 1890 petition with the following words:
On his deathbed Soloviev prayed for the Jews,  and upon his passing away they, in turn, conducted many services and memorials in his behalf. Jewish publications throughout the world noted his death with sorrow. Rabbi Gets concluded his article written shortly after Soloviev's death by stating: "In general one can unmistakably maintain that since the death of Lessing, there has not been a Christian literary and learned figure who could exercise such an honorable fascination and who could enjoy such wide popularity and such sincere love among the Jews as VI. S. Soloviev." 
* This article is based on a paper read at the Duquesne University History Forum, November 2, 1968.
1. K. Mochulsky, Vladimir Soloviev: zhizn i uchenie, Paris, YMCA Press, 1951, pp. 65-66, 60. This distinguished biographer also, however, on pp. 69-71 quotes from Soloviev's poem "Tri svidaniia" in order to show that Soloviev's real reason for going to Egypt was because he hoped to again encounter the mystical Sophia (the Eternal Feminine, the Wisdom of God). Although it would seem that Mochulsky is correct about the primary cause for the trip, it is still possible that the search for Kabalistic secrets was a secondary factor, especially since Soloviev's concept of Sophia seems to have been influenced to some extent by Kabalistic teachings. See the prayer that he wrote about this time which is found in his Stikhotvoreniia i shutochnye piesy ("Slavische Propylaen", Munich, Wilhelm Fink, 1958), pp. 300-01. There is a partial Englislh translation of it in Soloviev's Lectures on Godmanhood, intr. and transl. by Peter Zouboff, London, Dennis Dobson Ltd., 1948, p. 12.
2. Cf., Soloviev's Russia and the Universal Church, trans. Herbert Rees, London, Geofrey Bles, 1948, pp. 147-83, with his article, "Kabbala," written for the Brokgauz and Efron Encyclopedia and reprinted, along with his other articles on the Jews, in an untitled collection published in Berlin by Zaria in 1925, pp. 113-18. Zdenek V. David in his "The Formation of the Religious and Social System of Vladimir Soloviev" (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1960), pp. 198-290, attempts to show that the most important influence on Soloviev's mystical thought was Jacob Bohme. It seems, however, that Bohme was also influenced by Kabalistic thought. See Friedrich Heer, The Medieval World, trans. Janet Sondheimer, New York, Mentor Books, 1963, p. 316.
3. Lectures on Godmanhood, pp. 120, 122-27.
4. F. Gets, "Ob otnoshenii Vl. S. Solovieva k evreiskomu voprosu," Voprosy Filosofii i Psikhologii, XII, January-February, 1901, pp. 162-63. This article is also reprinted on pp. 119-49 in the collection of Soloviev's articles on the Jewish question which was published in Berlin.
5. S. M. Dubnow, History of the Jews in Russia and Poland from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, Vol. II: From the Death of Alexander 1 until the Death of Alexander III (1825-1894), trans. I. Friedlaender, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1918, pp. 247-304, 312-13, 340-41, 350, 401-05; Louis Greenberg, The Jews in Russia: The Struggle for Emancipation, 2 vols. in I, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1965, II, 19-26, 49.
6. This Weltanschauung and Soloviev's opposition to it are examined in detail in my unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, "Vladimir Soloviev and the Russophiles" (Georgetown University, 1968). On other anti-Semites of importance, especially Archimandrite Antony (Khrapovitsky), who by the time of the 1917 Revolution was one of the leading Orthodox prelates, see pp. 129-30, 182 of the dissertation.
7. I. S. Aksakov, Sochineniia, 1860-1886, Moscow, M. G. Volchaninov, 1886-1887, Vol. III: Polskii vopros i zapadno-russkoe delo; evreiskii vopros, 1860-1886, PP. 12223,121; Stephen Lukashevich, Ivan Aksakov, 1832-1886, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1965, pp. 102, 105-08, 109. Lukashevich offers an excellent summary of the anti-Semitic ideas which Aksakov held both before and after 1881.
8. Istomin, who wrote under the pseudonyms of T. Stoianov; I.; I--n; I--n, K.; and K.I., criticized Soloviev's theological and philosophical views during this same period. Since Soloviev answered this criticism which appeared in Vera i Razum, it is most probable that he also read Istomin's articles on the Jews, especially since an Istomin article of 1888 criticized Soloviev for defending the Talmud. See pp. 30-33 of my "Vllldimir Soloviev and the Russophiles."
9. T. Stoianov [K. Istomino, "Obrazovannye evrei v svoikh otnosheniiakh k khristianstvu," Vera i Razum, I, No. 1 (January, 1886) pp. 41-43, 44, 46, 60.
10. Ibid., pp. 43, 43n., 62-64; T. Stoianov [K. Istomin], "Sovremennaiia apologiia Talmuda i talmudistov," Vera i Razum, I, Pt. 2 (1888), pp. 164, 344-45.
11. The novelist M. Saltykov-Shchedrin was one exception who expressed in print his sympathies with the Jews. On this whole question, see Greenberg, II, 57-58. Soloviev in his Sobranie sochinenii Vladimira Sergeevicha Solovieva, ed. S. M. Soloviev and E. L. Radlov (2d ed.; St. Petersburg, Prosveshchenie, 1911-1913), IV, pp. 138.39, notes that Bishop Nikanor of Kherson and Odessa also printed a tolerant speech on the Jews which he had earlier delivered.
12. Pisma Vladimira Sergeevicha Solovieva, ed. E. L. Radlov, St. Petersburg, Tovarishchestvo "Obshchestvennaiia Polza," 1908-1911, I, pp. 158-59; III, p. 73. Ct., L. Lopatin, "Filosofskoe mirosozertsanie V. S. Solovieva," Voprosy Filosofii i Psikhologii, XII (January-February 1901), pp. 47-50.
13. VI. Soloviev, Pisma, ed. E. L. Radlov, St. Petersburg, "Vremia," 1923, IV, pp. 149-50.
14. Konstantin P. Pobedonostsev, Konstantin P. Pobedonostsev i ego korrespondenty: pisma i zapiski, Moscow, Gosizdat, 1923, I, pp. 278-79.
15. Pisma . . . , II, 140, 144.
16. Gets, p. 166.
17. Ibid., pp. 168, 197.
18. Pobedonostsev, op. cit., I, 278; Soloviev, Sobranie ... , IV, p.138 n. 2.
19. Pisma ... , II, pp. 148, 159-62; Dubnow, II, PP. 386·87; Gets, pp. 160-62.
20. The following analysis of Soloviev's attitude toward the Jews will be based chiefly on "The Jews and the Christian Question," which is to be found in Sobranie . . . , IV, pp. 135-85; and "The Talmud and the Newest Polemical Literature about It in Austria and Germany," Ibid., VI, pp. 3-32. Soloviev's other works on the Jews either reiterate what is said in these two articles or go into areas, such as a discussion of when the Jewish prophets lived, which have little bearing on our general topic.
21. Vladimir Soloviev, Russkaia ideia, translated from the original French into Russian by G. A. Rachinsky (2d ed.; Brussels, "Zhizn s Bogom," 1964), pp. 11-12.
22. Sobranie ... , IV, 156-58, 183.
23. Ibid., VI. 10, 17.
24. Ibid., pp. 137, 142-45, 147, 148-49.
25 Ibid., pp. 138, 156.
26 Ibid., pp. 160-61, 168; in Russia and the Universal Church, pp. 196-97, Soloviev again states that the aim of these three elements is to prepare for the Kingdom of God, to transform the world into a society "in which men find themselves in direct relationship to Christ" and in which they will no longer have any need of the agencies which heretofore had been bearers of the theocratic elements. Like the Marxian state, the organized theocratic structure would wither away once the millennium had arrived. That many scholars writing on Soloviev have not acknowledged that his theocracy was primarily an instrument for the preparation of the millennium is not surprising. Soloviev himself is partly to blame. At times he uses the terms "theocracy" and "Kingdom of God" interchangeably; at other times the latter term is used to convey the idea of the millennium or some vague post-historical existence. On the complex relationship of theocracy, the Kingdom of God, and the millennium, both before and after 1894 when Soloviev finally abandoned his theocratic hopes, see my "Vladimir Soloviev and the Russophiles," pp. 85-87, 177.
27. Sobranie ... , IV, pp. 181-83; Russia and the Universal Church, pp. 31, 35, 203-10. By what means the Tsar would assume the political leadership in a universal theocracy is not clearly spelled out by Soloviev. And once again his lack of clarity helps us to understand how scholars such as E. Trubetskoi in his Mirosozertsanie Vl. S. Solovieva, Moscow, published by the author, 1913, I, pp. 504, 506, 508, could speak of Soloviev's implied imperialism. Nevertheless, in a number of passages Soloviev indicates he would oppose a forced theocracy. See, for example, Sobranie ... ,V, pp. 389-91.
28. Eventually, Soloviev thought that St. Paul's prediction (Rom. 11 :23-27) that all Jews would be saved would be fulfilled. Although Soloviev is here talking about all Jews, he is especially concerned with the Russian Jews. The unity of Catholic Poles and Orthodox Russians and the solution of the "Polish problem" which this would bring would be especially impressive to the Russian Jews, most of whom lived in areas where the Orthodox and Catholics continually came into conflict. Sobranie ... , IV, pp. 159, 183-84.
29. Ibid., pp. 137-38, 172, 174-80, 183-85.
30. Ibid., VI, p. 416; Russkaia ideia, p. 25; Pisma ... ,II, p. 161; IV, p. 184; Truhetskoi, I, p. 530 n.1.
31. For his feelings during the last .few years of his life, see Sobranie . . . , IX, pp. 69-70; and also X, p. 219, where in his "Short Story of Antichrist," the Jews at the end of time reject the antichrist.
32. Ibid., IV, pp. 159, 183, 184; Pisma ... , II, p. 163.
33. Sobranie ... , IV, pp. 140-41.
34. Ibid., pp. 140-142, 149.
35. Ibid., VI, pp. 3, 20-21, 25.
36. Ibid., pp. 18-19.
37. To bolster his contention that the Jews' economic ability would be an asset to any town or city in which they were allowed to settle, Soloviev cited statistics showing that Christians were better off financially in the Pale of Settlement than in largely non-Jewish areas of Russia. He did this in 1891 in a preface to a work by Gets which was subsequently confiscated by the censors. See Pisma ... II, pp. 164-66.
38. Ibid., p. 161.
39. S. N. Trubetskoi, "Smert V. S. Solovieva," Vestnik Evropy, XXXV (September, 1900), p. 415.
40. Gets, op. cit., p. 198. Paul Berlin in "Russian Religious Philosophers and the Jews," Jewish Social Studies, IX (October, 1947), p. 274, writes concerning Soloviev's writings on the Jews that "in all Russian literature it is hard to find anything more noble and more worthy of a Christian than these utterances."
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