Abstinence (conscription)

The Abstinence (Hebrew: הִסתַגְפוּת, Ashkenazi pronunciation: Histagfus) tactic of draft evasion was a type of hunger strike (or other forms of self-harm, such as sleep deprivation, tending to cause tachycardia, or self-inflicted wound), employed by young men in the Russian Empire's Jewish Pale of Settlement (and in neighboring Austria-Hungary's Galician community), in order to be found unfit for military service by the Imperial authorities.

Russian Empire

The "Abstension" resistance by self-harm was most extreme in the Russian Empire under the Cantonist system implemented for Jews from 1827 - 1856,[1] though self-harm actions continued afterward. An 1835 secret report by the chief of the Special Corps of Gendarmes in Vilnius expressed the government's difficulty in preventing self-mutilations.[2]

The phenomenon was covered in the Russian Hebrew press, and Ha-Melitz warned against the practice as violating Jewish law as well as Russian law.[3] The phenomenon of self-induced hernia received attention in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1891.[4]

Just before World War I, the Jewish author and folklorist S. Ansky conducted an ethnographic survey of Russian Empire regions of Volhynia and Podolia, devoting a section of his large questionnaire to conscription-related cultural practices.[5]

Austro-Hungarian Empire

Concription among Jews in Galicia was introduced by Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor in 1788.

In some Galician communities (e.g. Tlumach,[6] Liuboml,[7] Kalush[8]), deprivation efforts among young men became a rite of passage, when fasting during the day was followed by communal all-night sessions of excessive caffeine, excessive exercise, chain smoking, and sometimes taking on a pranking Mischief Night character.

Further reading




See also


  1. Dubnow, Simon. "Chapter XVII. The Last Years of Nicholas I, 3. New Consciption Horrors". History of the Jews in Russia and Poland. Volume II.
  2. Freeze, ChaeRan Y.; Harris, Jay M., eds. (2013). "Self-Mutilation to Avoid Military Service". Everyday Jewish Life in Imperial Russia: Select Documents, 1772-1914. Brandies University Press. pp. 520–521.
  3. Penslar, Derek (2013). Jews and the Military: A History. Princeton University Press. pp. 31, 48–49.
  4. "Medical Items: Hernia Among Russian Army Recruits". Journal of the American Medical Association. XVI: 560. 18 April 1891. doi:10.1001/jama.1891.02410680018007.
  5. Deutsch, Nathaniel (2011). "O. Military Conscription". The Jewish Dark Continent: Life and Death in the Russian Pale of Settlement. Harvard University Press. pp. 191–194.
  6. Blond, Shelomoh (1976). "The Abstinence (English translation)". Tlumacz: sefer ʻedut ṿe-zikaron (in Hebrew). Tel Aviv: Yotsʼe Ṭlumats be-Yiśraʼel. pp. 67–68.
  7. Kalusz: Amusing Memories

External links

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