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This Is How Haredi Soldiers Looked 110 Years Ago

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By Aryeh Savir

Tazpit News Agency


1JERUSALEM – A rich history of military service?  110 years ago, on February 8th, 1904, the Russo-Japanese war broke out, the war that marked the beginning of the revolutions in Russia and the downfall of the Tsar. Two lithographic illustrations which have recently arrived at Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem allow a special peek at a less known aspect of the war: the service of Haredi Jews in the Russian army and their losses.

Approximately 30,000 Jews that lived in the Russian empire participated in the Russo-Japanese war. Russia’s defeat in the war, as well as the heavy losses incurred by its army, left a real scar in the midst of the empire’s Jewish population, which followed the development of the war in the daily Jewish newspapers of that time. These two rare illustrations were made by the artist C. Laskov and printed in Vilna during the war.

The title of the first illustration (in Russian): ‘A Reservist Soldier Leaves for War’. The illustration portrays an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish soldier leaving his family after he receives a draft order. The draft officer stands behind the soldier with the order in his hand. In the illustration, the whole family can be seen sorrowfully bidding the soldier goodbye. His wife covers her face and weeps; his father blesses him with the priestly blessing. One of his sisters hugs him and the other hands him his tefillin.

2The second illustration, named ‘The Young Widow’, portrays the moment that the family is informed of the death of the soldier. A military officer holding a letter in his hand stands in the center. He places his second hand on the shoulder of the soldier’s mother who hides her face in her hands. The soldier’s wife and sisters are crying. Above the illustration is a Russian inscription: The Young Widow. Under that is another inscription, ‘A Friend Brings a Letter from the Hospital with the News that the Soldier has died’.

Collectors are showing a lot of interest in these illustrations, especially on the backdrop of the recent public upheaval regarding the draft of Haredi young men into the army. Meron Eren, owner of Kedem Auction House, one of the largest auction houses in the world in the area of Judaica explains the reason the Jewish soldier in the illustrations is bearded and wears a fur hat (shtreimel). Apparently, many of the inducted Jews at the time of the Russo-Japanese war were Ger Hasidim.

This fact is mentioned in the book “Hassidic Tales” written by Rabbi Shlomo Yossef Zevin: “During the last year that the Gerrer Rebbe was living… the Russo-Japanese war broke out and thousands of young men of draft age among his Hassidim were sent to the battlefields in the Far East. The Rebbe blessed his Hassidim before they left for the long journey and his fear for the safety of these soldiers was great. All the time that his Hassidim were at the front, he never slept in his bed but would sleep on the floor with only his bedclothes spread beneath his body which were soaking wet with the tears he poured over Jewish sorrows. “

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