The Russian Empire

: Japanese Fairy Tales

There have always been plenty of laws in Russia, the chief difficulty

being not with the quantity but the quality. Another perplexing feature of

Muscovite laws is the uncertainty of this patchwork of royal decrees,

undefined traditions, changing customs and priestly superstitions.

If Peter the Great had lived long enough he would probably have given

Russia a regular code such as Napoleon bequeathed to France, but he w

too busy during his career with wars, travels and social reforms.

The Emperor Nicholas I. is entitled to the credit of being the first

Russian sovereign to direct the compilation of anything approaching a

classified legal code, and under his authority the jurist Speransky

collected together some forty volumes. This code, as revised from time to

time, is the best exposition obtainable of the law of the Empire. Its

first article, however, qualifies the entire code by recognizing the

Tsar's privilege of altering or setting aside any law of the realm at


Until recently the first lesson for the Russian law student to learn was

expressed in the doctrine: Quod principi placuit, legis habet vigorem.

"The sovereign's pleasure has the force of law."

Many reforms have of late years been worked in Russian law and judicial

procedure, but in these matters Russia is still a long way off from

justifying the belief expressed by Count Mouravieff, that this country has

a civilizing mission such as no other nation of the world, not only in

Asia, but also in Europe.

Such benefits as can be derived from the law are still more for the

privileged classes than for the great body of the people, and the point

has not yet been reached of substituting judicial trials for

ecclesiastical in matrimonial causes.

The regulations concerning marriage and divorce fall within the province

of the clergy and the ecclesiastical courts, except that the civil

tribunals have jurisdiction over annulment and divorce for the

Raskolniken, or "Old Believers," and for the Baptists and some other

dissenters from the State Church of Russia.

With the exceptions noted, the regulations of each form of religious

belief, including Mohammedanism and other non-Christian beliefs, are

endorsed by the State as the law for the adherents of that belief. The

civil courts, however, have jurisdiction over the civil effects of

marriage and divorce, and the State law contains certain provisions

binding on the adherents of all religious confessions.

The regulations governing the Roman Catholics are, in general, those of

the canon law and those governing the German Lutherans are those of the

old Protestant common law of Germany.

We shall consider the special regulations affecting the Jews in a separate

division of this chapter.

MARRIAGE.--A man reaches marriageable age upon the completion of his

eighteenth year and a woman upon the completion of her sixteenth year;

natives of Transcaucasia, however, may marry at the completion of the

fifteenth and thirteenth years, respectively.

A marriage cannot take place without the free and mutual consent of the

principals. The exercise of any kind of compulsion is forbidden to

parents or guardians.

Without regard to their age children require the consent of their parents.

In most parts of Russia there is no appeal in case a parent withholds

consent. Marriage without parental consent is not invalid, but the guilty

person is liable to a penalty of from four to eight months' imprisonment,

on petition of the parent, and to the loss of his right of inheritance in

the property of the parent.

Persons who are under guardianship or curatorship require the consent of

their guardian or curator.

CONSANGUINITY AND AFFINITY.--The prohibited degrees of consanguinity are

determined according to the principles of the religious body to which the

parties belong. Marriage is, however, universally prohibited between

persons who are related in the first or second degree.

DIFFERENCE OF RELIGION.--Marriage between Christians and non-Christians is

prohibited, except between Lutherans, adherents of the Reformed Church,

and other Protestants on the one hand, and Jews and Mohammedans on the


INSANITY.--Marriage is absolutely prohibited to insane persons.

OFFICIAL PERMISSION.--Civil officials require the consent of their

superiors in order to marry.

HOLY ORDERS.--Marriage is prohibited to the clergy of the State Church,

but if a secular priest is already married before ordination he may

continue in that relation. The practice is for the majority of men who

intend to enter the secular priesthood to marry before ordination.

ADVANCED AGE.--Persons who have attained the age of eighty years may not


FOURTH MARRIAGE.--The contracting of a fourth marriage is unconditionally


PRELIMINARY FORMALITIES.--A male member of the Russian Church, or an "Old

Believer," who intends marriage, must, from one to three weeks before the

date of celebration, announce the fact to the clergyman in whose parish he

resides, and bring to him the certificates of baptism of himself and his

intended bride, certificates of their social status, proofs of identity

and a certificate that both parties have been to confession and received

holy communion. With these documents and proofs at hand the clergyman

announces the names of the betrothed parties on three successive Sundays

or feast days. The marriage cannot be concluded without a certificate

showing that all the formalities have been complied with.

CELEBRATION.--A marriage may be solemnized in accordance with the rules of

the religious sect of the parties, before one of its clergymen, with the

personal participation of the contracting parties and in the presence of

competent witnesses. For members of the Russian Church the solemn

betrothal, which formerly took place some time previous to the marriage,

now introduces the wedding ceremony. The latter must follow the prescribed

ritual exactly. The wedding must take place in church, during the daytime,

before adult witnesses, and the contracting parties must be actually


ILLEGITIMATE CHILDREN.--The subsequent marriage of the parents does not in

itself legitimatize such offspring. After their marriage the parents must

petition the court for an order of legitimacy.

ANNULMENT OF MARRIAGE.--Any marriage is null that was not solemnized by a

clergyman of the religious sect of which one of the contracting parties is

an adherent, except those solemnized before a priest of the Russian

Church, because of the absence of a clergyman of the proper religious

sect. A marriage is also null in case of bigamy, difference of religion

and violation of the rules concerning consanguinity and affinity.

DIVORCE.--It is impossible for an adherent of the Russian Church or for an

"Old Believer" to obtain a decree of absolute divorce.

The grounds for an absolute divorce for other persons except Jews are:

1. Adultery.

2. Bigamy.

3. Impotence existing at time of marriage.

4. Absence without news for five years.

5. Condemnation to the loss of all civil rights.

6. Banishment to Siberia with the loss of all special rights. Either party

may petition for divorce on this ground.

7. Entrance of both spouses into a religious order, provided they have no

children who need their support and care.

8. Conversion of a non-Christian to the Russian Church, provided he or his

consort desires such divorcement.

PROCEDURE.--In the case of a Christian who is not an "Old Believer" or a

member of the Russian Church, the petition for divorce is filed in the

ecclesiastical court. After this the bishop designates a clergyman, who is

to make an attempt to reconcile the parties. Not until this attempt has

failed is notice served on the defendant and the day set for a hearing of

the cause. If the court decides in favour of a divorce, the decree must be

submitted to the Synod for revision. In case of condemnation to the loss

of civil rights, a divorce is granted immediately.

If the ground relied on is the conversion of a non-Christian to the

Russian Church, the divorce is granted merely on the formal declaration

of one of the spouses that he or she does not wish to continue the


EFFECTS OF DIVORCE.--The adjustment of the personal and property rights

and the custody of the children are matters entirely for the discretion of

the tribunal.

LAW FOR LUTHERANS.--Members of the Lutheran Church outside of Finland are

governed by special regulations concerning the grounds for divorce. These

grounds are:

1. Adultery.

2. Unlawful relation with a third party before the marriage, though in the

case of the husband only such relations subsequent to the betrothal are


3. Wilful refusal of one party to live with the other.

4. Unjustified absence for two years without news.

5. Absence for five years.

6. Unjustified refusal to perform the marital duty for at least one year.

7. Wilful prevention of conception.

8. Impotence existing at time of marriage.

9. Incurable or loathsome disease existing at time of marriage and

concealed from the other party.

10. Incurable insanity.

11. Vicious conduct.

12. Cruel and abusive treatment.

13. Design of one spouse to bring dishonour on the other.

14. Infamous crime.

FINLAND.--In this country marriage between Christian and non-Christian,

and the marriage of a Lutheran who has not yet been admitted to the rite

of holy communion, are prohibited.

In case of seduction marriage is prohibited unless the consent of the

parents or of the court is obtained.

Divorce is permitted in Finland for the following causes:

1. Adultery.

2. Illicit intercourse with a third party after betrothal.

3. Malicious desertion for one year.

By petition to the Department of Justice of the Imperial Senate a Finn can

obtain, for sufficient cause, a divorce on other grounds.

RIGHTS OF MARRIED WOMEN.--When we come to consider the rights, or rather,

the lack of rights, of married women in the Muscovite Empire we must

remember that Russia is only geographically in Europe, and only nominally

a Christian State. It is a country standing alone on the map of the world,

five centuries behind in civilization what is really Europe.

Although among the so-called higher classes woman is often treated

socially--not legally--as the equal of her husband, among the great bulk

of the population she has little more status than that of a domestic


There is no other country on earth pretending to be civilized where a

woman, single or married, has so few rights recognized by the State or the

national church.

A married woman in Russia owns nothing. It is all her husband's. She is,

however, allowed the privilege of saving up a little hoard of her own on

the flax or wool out of which she makes the clothing for her husband and

children. This little hoard is called her korobka, and upon her death it

goes to her children. If she dies childless it goes to her mother, and if

her mother is also dead it goes to her single sisters.

Such a korobka, when accumulated by a single woman from her earnings, is

considered as a dowry upon marriage, and it is generally applied by the

bridegroom to pay the wedding expenses.

Count Mouravieff could not have been thinking of woman's place in his

native land when he said: "We Russians bear upon our shoulders the New

Age; we come to relieve the tired men." It is our opinion that the nation

which is most likely to bear upon the shoulders of its people the New Age

is the country which treats its womankind the best.

SPECIAL LAWS FOR JEWS.--The law of marriage and divorce which governs the

Jews of Russia differs in many particulars from the rules applicable to

adherents of other sects. This special set of regulations comes from the

people of Israel themselves and is an outgrowth of the ancient Mosaic code

of jurisprudence. In thus permitting the Jews to have a body of rules

founded on the ancient precedents of their race and in agreement with

their consciences we find at least one attitude of wise tolerance for

which the Russian Empire is entitled to credit.

BETROTHAL.--A Jewish betrothal must take place in the presence of two

competent witnesses. The consent of the parents of either party is not

required. Like marriage the betrothal can be dissolved only by death or by

divorce. It obligates the parties to marry within thirty days from the

date on which either demands marriage.

A betrothal may be dissolved on the following grounds:

A. Evil conduct.

B. Change of religion.

C. Insanity.

D. Unchastity of either party or of one of his or her near relatives.

E. By the man entering a dishonest occupation.

IMPEDIMENTS.--Besides the impediments which prevent certain people of

other sects from lawfully concluding marriage there are other impediments

specially applicable to Jewish people. Briefly enumerated they are as


1. A woman guilty of adultery, or even of secret association, with a man

against her husband's will cannot marry her accomplice.

2. A marriage between a Jew and an idolator is forbidden.

3. If a woman's husband has died childless, and is survived by a brother,

she can marry no one else than this brother until the latter has declined

marriage with her in the prescribed form.

4. After the death of near relatives a marriage may not take place within

thirty days.

5. A widow or divorced woman may not contract a new marriage within ninety

days from the dissolution of her earlier marriage.

6. A pregnant woman may not marry before her delivery.

7. A widower may not marry before three feast days have passed since the

death of his wife, but in case he is childless or his children require a

mother's care he may marry after seven days.

DIVORCE.--The Jewish law makes no distinction between divorce and

annulment. The grounds for divorce are as follows:

1. Bigamy.

2. Difference of religion.

3. Relationship in the first degree in the direct line, by blood or

marriage. No legal action is necessary for these three causes.

4. Adultery.

5. Leprosy of the husband.

6. Mutual consent of the parties.

7. Such conduct on the part of the wife as raises a reasonable suspicion

of her adultery.

8. The cursing by the wife of her father-in-law in her husband's presence.

9. Wife's desertion of husband.

10. Wife's refusal for one year to perform marital duty.

11. Husband's cruelty to wife.

12. Husband's apostasy from the Jewish religion.

13. When the husband is a fugitive from justice.

14. Neglect of husband to support his wife.

15. Persistent vicious and disorderly manner of life on part of the


16. Husband's admission that he is incurably impotent.

17. The contraction by the husband of a loathsome disease.

18. The adoption by the husband of a dishonest or disgusting occupation.

19. Such conduct on the part of the wife as causes her husband, without

deliberation, to violate the ritualistic requirements of the Jewish


PROCEDURE.--The rabbi is the judge in the first instance of a divorce

petition. Appeal from his decision lies to the civil authorities.

In the ordinary divorce case the first action by the rabbi is an attempt

to reconcile the parties. A confession of the guilty party is competent


The divorce becomes effective by the man delivering to the wife, after the

rabbinical decision, a bill of divorcement. This is done even if the wife

is the successful suitor. The husband can be compelled to make such a


EFFECTS OF DIVORCE.--The dowry (Nedunya), which was settled on the wife

at the time of the marriage, must be returned to her if she is the

innocent party. The woman retains the name of her divorced husband. Both

parties are free to marry again.