The Czarist government implemented a policy of censorship of all published material in the empire, whether it was imported or printed locally. Though this was a general policy, there were unique particularities regarding the censorship of Jewish works. In the early years following the partitions of Poland, there wasn’t an effective mechanism of censoring in place, and it was only in 1826 when censorship for Jewish works was implemented in a systematic fashion. The government utilized the tool of censorship in order to assist in solving what they termed ‘the Jewish question’. Censorship of religious texts, especially those relating to Chassidic thought, mysticism and Kabbalah, was thought to distance them from sectarianism, integrate the Jews into Russian society, ‘improve’ them and make them more ‘productive’.

An outsized role was played by the censors themselves, who were generally prominent maskilim or even apostates. Later in the century, the government shifted away from censorship of religious works, and focused on secular literature and the emerging media of newspapers and periodicals in Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish. These were considered a greater threat from the Czarist perspective as they encouraged Jewish nationalism, socialism, aspirations of emancipation and revolutionary activity.

 

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