ORSHANSKI, ILYA GRIGORYEVICH:
By: Herman Rosenthal
Russian jurist and author; born at Yekaterinoslav 1846; died there Sept. 5, 1875. He was descended from a family which produced a number of distinguished rabbis and communal workers. At the age of four Orshanski entered the "ḥeder," and at ten was well read in Hebrew theological and philosophical literature. While studying the Talmud under the guidance of an uncle he acquired also a fair knowledge of the Russian and other languages, at first by self-instruction and then with the help of a tutor. At the age of fifteen he studied the most difficult treatises of the Cabala under the guidance of the local rabbi. In 1863 Orshanski entered the University of Kharkov and studied law. In the same year he wrote his first treatise, on Alexander the Great in the Talmud, "Talmudicheskiya Skazaniya ob Aleksandrye Makedonskom," which appeared in a series of articles published by the Society for the Promotion of Culture Among the Jews of Russia (St. Petersburg, 1866). Another of his works written about this time was not passed by the Russian censor until 1878, when it appeared in the "Yevreiskaya Biblioteka" (vol. vi.) as "Istoria Vyklyuchki." This work, dealing with the history of a Jew exempted by the "ḳahal" from conscription, shows that scientific method of investigation which Orshanski afterward successfully employed in his larger works.Early Attempts.
In 1865 he published in the Hebrew periodical "Ha-Meliẓ" several popular articles, translated or original, on natural science. In that year, too, he accepted the position of tutor in the family of S. A. Trachtman of Odessa, and secured admission to the university in that city. At this time his bent for literature and juridical science expressed itself in two directions,—in the investigation of the Jewish question in Russia, and in researches in connection with problems of Russian life and law in general. His essays written at that time on the isolation of the Jews, "O Zamknutosti Yevreyev," and on Jewish folk-songs, "Prostonarodnyya Pyesni Russkikh Yevreyen," appeared in the Russian supplement of the Hebrew periodical "Ha-Karmel" (1866). During his stay in the university Orshanski also contributed to the periodicals "Odesski Vyestnik," "Novorosiski Telegraf," and "Ha-Meliẓ." In 1864 the Odessa section of the Society for the Promotion of Culture Among the Jews of Russia, as an expression of its gratitude for his services to Judaism, elected him a member of that society. He was in such reduced circumstances at this time that he was compelled to accept a clerkship in a district court at a very small salary. In 1868 Orshanski graduated bachelor of law. The university council offered him the privilege of remaining at the university to prepare himself for a professorship, provided he embraced Christianity; but he rejected the proposition. He then tried to practise law in Odessa; but his modesty and shyness were unsuited to such a career, and the courts often slighted the young lawyer. His views were sometimes startling, and the judges attributed them to a deficient knowledge of practical jurisprudence and to an imperfect comprehension of the given case. It is easy to imagine their astonishment when a few years later the eminent St. Petersburg attorney V. N. Gerard, in the course of a lawsuit, cited, in confirmation of his views, the works of Orshanski, whom he described as "the acknowledged authority on questions of civil law." Orshanski soon abandoned the practise of his profession to devote himself entirely to theoretical research.Contributions to "Den."
From 1869 to 1871 he contributed to the periodical "Den"; indeed, he was its most active collaborator, publishing a series of essays on the economic, social, and legal conditions which afterward formed the basis of his two principal works on the Jewish question. Of these, one is an investigation of Jewish economic and social life in Russia; the other treats of the legal position of the Jews and the motives which prompted the Russian restrictive legislation with regard to them.
In 1871 the "Den" was suppressed by the government, and in October of that year Orshanski went to St. Petersburg to write editorials for the "Novoe Vremya." His stay in the Russian capital, though short, was very prolific in scientific and literary activity. But the rigorous climate of St. Petersburg affected his health, and he went abroad, remaining three and a half years in Heidelberg, northern Italy, and the Tyrol. During this time he wrote a long series of treatises on Russian jurisprudence, concerning problems of traditional, hereditary, and family law. For profundity of thought and clearness of exposition many of them rank among the best productions of Russian juridical literature. Such are theessays: "Narodny Sud i Narodroe Pravo"; "Rost i Likhva"; "O Znachenii Predyelakh Sovbody Voli v Pravye"; "Rol Kazonnavo Interesa v Russkom Pravye"; "Dukhovny Sud i Brachnoe Pravo"; "Chastny Zakon i Obshchiya Pravila." These and many others contain valuable observations demonstrating the practical application of older laws to modern forms of life.
In the summer of 1875, his health having considerably improved, Orshanski returned to Russia and settled in Yekaterinoslav with his parents, intending to go to Odessa for the winter; but a second attack of hemoptysis resulted in his death.
The sentiments entertained by the Russian Jews for Orshanski are best demonstrated by the memorial modeled by M. Antokolski, and erected in 1890 on his grave in the Yekaterinoslav Jewish cemetery. This memorial represents an altar composed of a disorderly heap of books of various sizes; a large, half-open book on the top bears the following inscription in Hebrew, in red letters: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning" (Ps. cxxxvii. 5). A wreath of laurels encircles a pen and merges into the shield of David.
Orshanski represents the singular combination of a Jewish publicist fearlessly standing up for his oppressed and ill-treated brethren and a learned civilian investigating theoretical and practical problems of general law. His desire to treat the Jewish question independently of national sympathies, and from a historical standpoint, is acknowledged even by his adversaries. As a theorist he acquired a high reputation in the literature of Russian civil law. The chief service, however, that Orshanski rendered to jurisprudence and to the scientific investigation of Jewish conditions in Russia consisted in his application to Russian legislative enactments of principles deduced from the laws of western countries. He endeavored also to show that Russia must pass through the same phases of judicial development as western Europe. He made it his chief task to disentangle the contradictions and correct the misconceptions of Russian lawyers, resulting from a lack of understanding of the relationship between the Russian code and the laws of other countries. Orshanski skilfully compares various legal institutions and the elements of law and applies the resultant data to the analysis of decisions rendered by the courts, thus giving a practical sense to abstract scientific theses.
Other works published by Orshanski were: "Russkol Zakonodatelstvo o Yevreyakh," St. Petersburg, 1877; "Izslyedovaniya po Russkomu Pravu Semeinomu i Naslyedstvennomu," ib. 1877; "Izslyedovaniya po Russkomu Pravu Obychnomu i Brachnomu," ib. 1879; and "Izslyedovaniya po Russkomu Pravu," ib. 1892.
- I. Hessen, I. G. Orshanski, in Gallereya Yevreiskikh Dyeyatelei, St. Petersburg, 1898;
- Entziklopedicheski Slovar;
- Yevreiskaya Biblioteka, 1878, vi.;
- Keneset Yisrael, 1886, i. 855-867;
- I. G. Orshanski, Izslyedovaniya po Russkomu Pravu (has a biography of the author), St. Petersburg, 1892;
- Ha-Modia' la-Ḥadashim, New York, Feb., 1901.