During the second half of the 19th century in Russia the acceptance or rejection of Darwinism was seen as a kind of measuring-rod of modernity. Thus, the Jewish reception of Darwinism may serve as an indicator of the extent to which the Jews in Russia were part of the modernization of Russian society. But the Darwinian concept of evolution, that is, the gradual evolvement and extinction of biological species, through the mechanisms of natural and sexual selection, is generally considered to be incompatible with a teleological worldview, according to which there is a God-given plan for all of creation. This thesis addresses a twofold problem, implicit in the title. The first problem concerns the expected difficulties of reconciling Darwinism with Judaism and its traditional insistence on the presence of a God-given purpose in creation. The other problem is that of explaining the possible motives of the Jewish intellectuals for using Darwinian concepts such as the ‘struggle for existence’ in journal articles of the emerging Russian-Jewish press.

The thesis examines the driving forces behind the possible Jewish reception of Darwinism in the Russian empire. This study employs discourse analysis, enhanced with the concept of isomorphism from institutional theory, for the examination of key concepts, citations, implied readers and purposes of a selection of journal articles from the Russian Jewish press of the period 1860-1900. Contrasting with the extensive and lively general Russian debate on Darwinism, described in a background chapter, the results show that the Jews in Russia were rather reluctant about discussing Darwinism in the Russian-Jewish press.

Censorship considerations, other constraints and imminent problems facing the Jews such as defence against growing anti-Semitism are indicated as possible causes of the little evidence of a Jewish reception of Darwinism that was found. It was only to the extent that Darwinian concepts such as the ‘struggle for existence’ could be employed to address these more pressing issues that they were found useful in a Jewish context. Another result of this study implies that the integration between Russian and Jewish intellectuals during this period was weak, as reflected by the insignificant number of references to Russian sources in the selection of Jewish journal articles that were examined.