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What Russia comprises has changed over time from the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation—and ethnic Russia (see video below). Until the 1720’s, there were few Jews in the Russian Empire while Christian hostility saw them forbidden from settling in the interior. Only in the early eighteenth century with westwards expansion, did Jews began to move into the Russian Empire, though not into Russia proper. Especially after Catherine the Great took part in the division of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1772, 1793, 1795) did the Russian Empire gradually include the largest Jewish population in the world which applied until after World War I.

In this century and a half most Jews lived not in ethnic Russia itself but in the Lithuanian, Belorussian, and Ukrainian provinces of the Russian Empire and Poland. Throughout the nineteenth century Jews settled legally and illegally in Saint Petersburg, Moscow and other Russian cities.

In the Soviet period, at first hundreds of thousands and then millions of Jews migrated to the interior provinces of Russia.  This continued in the post-Soviet period.

The Russian Pale was the largest ghetto in the world. It came into existence after the Partition of Poland in the 18th century to allow people, who were  banned from Russia, to stay where they were . At the end of 19th century almost 5,00,000 lived there. Antisemitism saw high emigration to other countries including what was then Ottoman Palestine and was the start of the Zionist movement.

In 1803, the Russian government under Alexander I issued its first complete compilation of laws relating to Jews, known as the Polozhenie (Regulations) of 1803. Nicholas I (1825-55) government rescinded the laws exempting Jewish males from serving—like male townspeople—in the army, and required Jewish communities to select and present for 25-year military service a stipulated number of males in every draft levy.  Jewish communal leaders faced the option of sending young children to the army instead of their fathers  Many believed children and adult soldiers would be converted to Christianity and lost to Judaism and their families. (See  The Cantonists and  Military Service in the Russian Empire.)  He also abolished the Kahal, the executive agency of the autonomous Jewish community, placing Jews under the formal control of local state authorities  

Alexander II (1855–1881), expanded Jewish integration into the state and outlawed child conscription. Residence outside of the Pale of Settlement was expanded, and economic and educational restrictions lifted. Their pace slowed in the latter part of his reign and reversed, after his assassination in 1881   His son, Alexander III (1881–1892) attempted to turn Imperial Russia effectively into a police state by reversing his father’s liberal policies including those toward the Jews.  Jews were increasingly blamed and penalized for the economic difficulties of the Russian state, and most importantly, for the rise of the revolutionary movement.  These problems and the 1881-2 Ukraine pogroms saw increased emigration to the West and the birth of modern Jewish nationalism.

Restrictions against Jews were retained and in some cases, intensified the first 13 years of the last tsar, Nicholas II (1892–1917) rule. During Passover 1903, a major pogrom occurred against the Kishinev Jews.  This was an enormous shock to the emancipation belief held by most Russian Jews and led to the organization of Jewish self-defense organizations, and likely accelerated emigration.  This was reinforced in 1897 by Herzl with Zionism

The early 20th century saw pogroms and anti-semitism led by the Black Hundred.  The Revolution of 1905 forced the Tsar to grant some constitutional liberty for example Jews were permitted to vote in elections to the new parliament and form political parties. So they gained political rights before they were legally emancipated

Kiev from 1911 to 1913 saw probably the most famous blood-libel case in modern history, alleging a Kievan Jew had slaughtered a young Christian child for ritual murder. Though covered by the world press the Russian government campaigned for his conviction. He was acquitted by a jury of non-Jews. The case was seen as both proof of the enormity of Russian anti-Semitism and the strength of the anti-tsarist forces in Russian society.

Contradictions intensified in the last years of Nicholas II’s rule. While regulations governing elections limited the franchise of Jews; the Russian government was forced to abolish the Pale of Settlement in 1916. The Romanov dynasty disintegrated in February–March 1917. The new Provisional Government abolished all laws discriminating against any Russian citizens on the basis of religion or nationality; thus, the Jews were emancipated.

Pogroms were unleashed throughout the Russian Civil War, perpetrated by virtually every competing faction, from Polish and Ukrainian nationalists to the Red and White Armies.

The Soviet authorities considered the use of Hebrew language "reactionary" since it was associated with both Judaism and Zionism, and the teaching of Hebrew at primary and secondary schools was officially banned   Yiddish, rather than Hebrew, would be the national language, and proletarian socialist literature and arts would replace Judaism as the quintessence of culture.

The Soviet authorities considered the use of Hebrew language "reactionary" since it was associated with both Judaism and Zionism, and the teaching of Hebrew at primary and secondary schools was officially banned by the Narkompros (Commissariat of Education) as early as 1919, as part of an overall agenda aiming to secularize education.

In 1928 an alternative to Israel was established called the Jewish Autonomoblast with its center in Birobidzhan in the Russian Far East was to become a ‘Soviet Zion’.  Yiddish, rather than Hebrew, would be the national language, and proletarian socialist literature and arts would replace Judaism as the quintessence of culture. Despite a massive domestic and international state propaganda campaign, the Jewish population in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast never reached 30% (in 2003 it was only about 1.2%). The experiment ground to a halt in the mid-1930’s, during Stalin's first campaign of purges. Jewish leaders were arrested and executed and Yiddish schools were shut down.  

In 1947 Russia voted for the creation of Israel by the UN.   Soon after Soviet anti-Zionism became a propaganda doctrine during the Cold War and intensified after the 1967 Six Day War.  It alleged Zionism was a form of racism and argued that Zionists were similar to Nazis

The word "Jew" was avoided by the media when criticising Israel, which the Soviets often accused of racism, chauvinism etc. Instead the word ‘Israeli’ was used almost exclusively, so as to paint its harsh criticism not as antisemitism but anti-Zionism.

Many of the increasing numbers of Soviet Jews applying to emigrate to Israel after the 1967 Six Day War, were refused permission to leave. A typical excuse was that they had information vital to Soviet national security and so could not be allowed to leave the country.

In 1970, following local events, strong international condemnations caused the Soviet authorities to increase their emigration quota. From 1960 to 1970, only 4,000 left the USSR. In 1914 there were more than 5,250,000 Jews in the Russian Empire. By 2000 this had been reduced to 460,000.


The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

To understand the complex history of Jews in Russia, one must begin with a fundamental distinction, often effaced in the historiography and popular memory, between Russia as a state—the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and since 1991, the Russian Federation—and the geographically much smaller entity of ethnic Russia. Until the 1720’s, there were essentially no Jews in the Russian Empire except for travellers and migrant merchants, and the Russian state forbade Jews from settling in its interior, out of traditional Christian hostility. It was only in the early decades of the eighteenth century, when the rulers of the Russian Empire started to expand westward, after more than a century of eastward inroads and annexation (into territories in which Jews did not live), that Jews began to move into areas of the Russian Empire—not Russia proper. Thus, after Peter the Great conquered the areas connecting Muscovy and the Baltic Sea, and especially after Catherine the Great colluded with Prussia and Austria to divide and annex the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1772, 1793, 1795), the Russian Empire gradually included the largest Jewish population in the world—a reality that persisted until the division of this territory in the aftermath of World War I. In this century and a half, however, the vast majority of Jews did not live in ethnic Russia itself but in the Lithuanian, Belorussian, and Ukrainian provinces of the Russian Empire, and in the Kingdom of Poland, a region controlled by the tsars but not formally annexed to the empire. Throughout the nineteenth century, and especially in its latter half, Jews with special privileges settled legally in Saint Petersburg, Moscow, and other Russian cities, where they were joined by larger numbers of Jews living there illegally. In the Soviet period, at first hundreds of thousands and then millions of Jews migrated to the interior provinces of Russia, particularly to the capital cities of Moscow and Leningrad. The substantial presence of Jews in these cities (with Leningrad reverting to its imperial name of Saint Petersburg) and in other parts of Russia continued in the post-Soviet period.


Scholarly literature has described the history of the relationship between Jews and the Russian state in two fundamentally opposing ways. The traditional school, founded by the historian Simon Dubnow in the late nineteenth century, saw Jews as the preeminent victims of tsarist autocracy, whose treatment of the Jews was marked and defined by governmental antisemitism. Dubnow deemed the areas of the empire in which Jews were permitted to live—the so-called Pale of Settlement—the largest ghetto in the world, and considered all tsarist legislation regarding Jews as motivated by prejudice and hatred, culminating in pogroms that broke out against Jews in the late imperial period ostensibly orchestrated by the Russian government itself. This view entered into the popular consciousness and has shaped the way in which the descendants of Russian Jews have viewed their own history for over a century.

In sharp contrast, a new school of Russian Jewish history writing emerged in the 1970’s and 1980’s, first in the United States, then in Israel and finally in post-Soviet Russia itself. This school views the Russian state‘s treatment of Jews comparatively, as part of the overall nationalities policy of the empire, a policy always marked by contradiction and bureaucratic ineptitude. In this view, antisemitism was not the motivating force of the government’s treatment of Jews, which in general was consistent with, or in some cases milder than, its treatment of other groups. Jews were largely permitted to continue their traditional way of life and education of their young, as opposed to other minorities whose native languages and school systems were outlawed by the state. Perhaps most controversially, the new school of Russian Jewish historiography argues that pogroms against Jews were not orchestrated or even approved of by the state, but were rather spontaneous and unplanned outbreaks of urban violence caused by social and economic forces beyond the control of the Russian army or police.

Most broadly, Russian government policy toward Jews can be understood as the product of an unresolved tension between integration and segregation—a tension that resulted in contradictory laws and regulations, persisting from the days of Catherine the Great (r. 1762–1796) to the fall of the Romanov dynasty in the winter of 1917. Catherine’s legislation regarding Jews at one and the same time fostered their segregation from the rest of the population by ratifying their communal autonomy and religious institutions and encouraged their integration into the new administrative institutions that she was creating—merchant guilds, urban government, and legally defined artisan associations. The new classification of the Russian population did not define Jews as an independent estate (called a soslovie in Russian), but included them in urban estates: either in the townspeople estate (meshchantstvo) or, if they were wealthy enough, in the merchant guilds (kupechestvo). However, the fact that in many areas, and particularly in the Ukraine, Jews lived overwhelmingly in villages and rural settlements contradicted Catherine’s policies from their inception because rural residence was forbidden to members of the meshchantstvo estate. Thus, Jews were implicitly exempted from a basic prohibition incumbent upon most members of their estate. Periodically, this exception was lifted and Jews were banned from the countryside and forced to move to towns and cities; these actions (never terribly successful) were regarded by the Jews (and by some later historians) as discriminatory and oppressive.

In general, the basic rules regarding Jewish residence constituted an inchoate mixture of integrationist and segregationist intentions and realities: in a state and legal system in which no one enjoyed the natural right to live anywhere and where residence was regarded as a privilege extended by the state, Jews were permitted to reside in the areas of the empire in which they had lived at the time of annexation; legislation soon formalized these areas into the Pale of Jewish Settlement.

Applications of individual Jews to live outside the Pale were almost always denied, but as the empire expanded, particularly into the area known as New Russia (southern Ukraine), Jews were permitted, and to some extent encouraged, to move into this new terrain, which included the city of Odessa, soon to be one of the major Jewish centers of the world. [See Pale of Settlement; Odessa.]

The tension between integration and segregation in Catherine’s legislation on Jews was only exacerbated in the latter years of her reign, when in response to the French Revolution she retreated from Enlightenment-based policies of reform and toleration. The brief reigns of Peter III (1796) and Paul I (1796–1801) had little effect on Jewish policy, and the same held true for the reign of Alexander I (1801–1825), during which Jews basically retained the legal status they had held under Polish rule. Alexander I announced a new policy of offering Jews free land to work as farmers if they converted to Russian Orthodoxy, but this offer was not popular. Still, despite the lack of governmental initiative regarding Jews in these decades, the reality that they were living in a state vastly different from that of the destroyed Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth slowly began to become clear to the Jews. In 1803, the Russian government under Alexander I issued its first complete compilation of laws relating to Jews, known as the Polozhenie (Regulations) of 1803, but these had little practical effect on the Jewish community. More substantive was the invasion of the territory of the Pale of Settlement by Napoleon I in 1812, which resulted in legal changes in the Polish parts of the empire. But with the defeat of Napoleon, the situation returned to the status before the invasion.

That new reality became abundantly clear in the reign of Nicholas I (1825–1855) during which the tension between segregation and integration tilted to the latter pole, but—in sharp contrast to the experience of the Jews in the West—resulted in policies and realities deemed by most Jews to be formal persecution rather than an opportunity for liberation. Most crucially, Nicholas’s government rescinded the laws exempting Jewish males from serving—like male townspeople—in the army, and required Jewish communities to select and present for 25-year military service a stipulated number of males in every draft levy. In addition, the cantonist battalions first established by Peter the Great for the training of male children of soldiers (who belonged to the army from birth) were opened to Jews. Now Jewish communal leaders faced the option of sending young children off to the army in place of their fathers—a gruesome choice restrospectively redolent of the horrific dilemmas facing the Jewish Councils in World War II. A majority of Jews believed that most of the drafted children, and many of the adult soldiers as well, would be converted to Christianity, and would be lost to Judaism and their families. [See  The Cantonists and  Military Service in the Russian Empire.]

The divisiveness and social dislocation that resulted from the conscription policy of Nicholas I left a permanent blight on the internal leadership of Russian Jewry, who were perceived to have favored their own sons, and those of the wealthy, learned, and socially connected. Communal leaders stood accused of persecuting the poor and politically weak segments of Jewish society. In another integrationist move with unexpected consequences, the Russian state in 1844 established special schools for Jewish children, meant to teach them Russian and basic secular subjects. Maskilim, the adherents of the Jewish Enlightenment movement, hailed these schools and administered them, but the traditionalist majority feared and hated them. Finally, that same year the government of Nicholas I formally abolished the kahal, the executive agency of the autonomous Jewish community, placing Jews under the formal control of local state authorities; at the same time, though, Jews were permitted to run their own affairs when these activities were considered aspects of Jewish religious practice. The distinction between religious and secular affairs, however, was never clearly defined, and continues to bedevil historians sorting through the surviving records of Russian Jewish communities in order to establish how they were run after the abolition of the kahal. [See Kahal.]

The reign of Alexander II (1855–1881), the Tsar Liberator, retained and expanded the policy of integration of the Jews into the Russian body politic, but under a far more liberal guise than that of his predecessor: conscription of children was outlawed, Jewish residence outside of the Pale of Settlement was expanded, and economic and educational restrictions against the Jews were lifted. Many Jewish intellectuals expected an imminent emancipation of the Jews as part of the Great Reforms that had remade Russian society and governance. But such emancipation was never forthcoming, and indeed, the pace of reform slowed substantially in the latter years of Alexander II’s reign. Moreover, all of these efforts were reversed, after his assassination in 1881 by revolutionary terrorists, and the assumption to the throne of his son, Alexander III (1881–1892). Attempting to turn Imperial Russia effectively into a police state, the new emperor committed himself to stemming the tide of revolutionary sentiment in the country by reversing his father’s liberal policies in all areas of life, including toward the Jews.

The pendulum of integration versus segregation now swung back: new restrictions limited the number of Jews permitted in Russian educational institutions and in the professions, most especially the bar; Jews were increasingly blamed and penalized for the economic difficulties of the Russian state, and most importantly, for the rise of the revolutionary movement. Although, as mentioned above, current scholarship believes that the pogroms that broke out against Jews in Ukraine in 1881–1882 were not planned nor even approved of by the government, the anti-Jewish legislation of the state contributed to the nearly universal perception that these attacks were either contrived by or at least condoned by the tsarist regime. In 1882, the government issued laws aimed at reducing Jewish presence in the villages of the Pale of Settlement; these were known as the May Laws. Though frequently misinterpreted as prohibiting all Jewish settlement in villages, they in fact pertained only to new Jewish settlement outside towns and cities. After the issuance of these laws, the tsarist regime established a number of committees to investigate the status of the Jews in the Empire, the most noted and long lived of which was the Pahlen Report, which lasted from 1883 to 1886 and recommended even more restrictions on the status of the Jews in the Empire.

Similarly, the perception began to grow that both the growing emigration of Jews from the Russian Empire to the West and the beginnings of modern Jewish nationalism—movements that actually predated the outbreak of the pogroms—were caused directly and unilaterally by the antisemitic policies of Alexander III. This perception—transmuted into a virtual historical truism by Simon Dubnow and his followers, as well as by the adherents of the new nationalist movements—shaped the image of the Russian state’s relationship to Jews for decades to come.

The reign of the last tsar, Nicholas II (1892–1917) was marked by a radical and highly complex swing from policies favoring segregation to those favoring integration of Jews. For the first 13 years of Nicholas II’s rule, restrictions against Jews were retained and in some cases, intensified. During Passover of 1903, a major pogrom occurred against the Jews of Kishinev, then the capital of Bessarabia (now Moldova). Dozens of Jews were murdered and an unknown number raped. Although contemporaries at the time universally believed that the Russian government was either responsible for or sympathetic to this pogrom, recent research has argued that neither of these were the case; more causal was the low number and incompetence of Russian army forces and local militia in the area. But the pogrom was an enormous shock to the belief in the emancipation of the Jews in Russia then held by most Russian Jews, led to the organization of Jewish self-defense organizations, and likely accelerated emigration.

After the Revolution of 1905, however, in the wake of which the tsar was forced to grant a measure of constitutional liberty to his subjects, many restrictive laws limiting Jewish participation in Russian civic life were eliminated. Jews were permitted to vote in elections to the new parliament and to form legal political parties. Thus, again in sharp contrast to the experience of Jews in the West, Jews in the Russian Empire effectively gained political rights before they were legally emancipated—perhaps the most glaring example of the persistent tension between integration and segregation.

In Kiev from 1911 to 1913 there took place perhaps the most famous blood-libel case in modern history, alleging that a Kievan Jew, Mendel Beilis, had slaughtered a young Christian child for reasons of ritual murder. This led to a trial that was covered by the world press, and although the Russian government steadfastly campaigned for a conviction of Beilis, he was ultimately acquitted by a jury of non-Jews. Some of the outstanding Russian and Russian Jewish lawyers of the period participated in his defense, which was interpreted ideologically as both proof of the enormity of Russian anti-Semitism and the strength of the anti-tsarist forces in Russian society.

Contradictions intensified in the last years of Nicholas II’s rule. On the one hand, regulations governing elections increasingly limited the franchise of Jews; on the other hand, as Russia entered the World War and the regions in which the largest Jewish population in the world were engulfed in battle, the Russian government was forced to abolish the Pale of Settlement in the summer of 1916, as a temporary measure aimed at dealing with the hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing the battlefront and flooding the interior of Russia. At the same time, more than half a million Jews served proudly and bravely in the Russian army, even as their coreligionists faced charges of disloyalty and even treachery by the High Command. Thus, to the very last days of the existence of the Russian Empire, the tensions and contradictions between integration and segregation of Jews were manifested, until the Romanov dynasty itself disintegrated in February–March 1917. In one of its first acts, the new Provisional Government abolished all laws discriminating against any Russian citizens on the basis of religion or nationality; thus, the Jews were emancipated.


Pale , (from Latin palus, “stake”), district separated from the surrounding country by defined boundaries or distinguished by a different administrative and legal system. It is this definition of pale from which the phrase “beyond the pale” is derived.

In imperial Russia, what came to be called the Pale of Settlement (Cherta Osedlosti) came into being as a result of the introduction of large numbers of Jews into the Russian sphere after the three partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, 1795). Adjusting to a population often banned from Russia altogether was a problem that Russian leadership solved by allowing Jews to remain in their current areas of residence and by permitting their settlement in areas of the Black Sea littoral annexed from Turkey, where they could serve as colonists. In three decrees, or ukases, issued in 1783, 1791, and 1794, Catherine II the Great restricted the commercial rights of Jews to those areas newly annexed. In ensuing years, this area became a strictly defined pale, as legal restrictions increasingly proscribed Jewish settlement elsewhere in Russia.

During the 1860s a few exceptions were made to the increasing restriction of Jews to settlement only in the pale—which by the 19th century included all of Russian Poland, Lithuania, Belarus (Belorussia), most of Ukraine, the Crimean Peninsula, and Bessarabia. Some merchants and artisans, those with higher educations, and those who had completed their military service could settle anywhere but in Finland. In the 1880s, however, the pendulum swung back toward restriction. A period of reaction arrived with the ascension of Tsar Alexander III in 1881. That year, the new tsar promulgated the “Temporary Laws,” which, among many regressive measures, prohibited further Jewish settlements outside the pale; and Christians within the pale were allowed to expel Jews from their areas. Occasionally, new areas were proscribed, such as the city and province of Moscow in 1891. Nevertheless, the census of 1897 indicated that most Jews remained confined to the pale. Almost 5,000,000 lived within it; only about 200,000 lived elsewhere in European Russia. The pale ceased to exist during World War I, when Jews in great numbers fled to the interior to escape the invading Germans. The Provisional Government formally abolished it in April 1917.


As a consequence of both the incompetence of the tsarist bureaucracy and the Jews’ desire to avoid being counted for fiscal purposes, we have no accurate statistics about Jewish life in the Russian Empire prior to 1897, when the first the all-empire census was mounted. The best estimates propose that the Jewish population at the time of the Polish Partitions was approximately 1 million, and this figure would increase fivefold by the end of the nineteenth century—the official (if still imprecise) figure in the 1897 census was 5,198,401 Jews living in the Russian Empire, including Congress Poland—a little more than 4 percent of the entire population. This number must be augmented by the nearly 3 million Jews who emigrated from the Russian Empire to the West from the 1870s to 1917. Thus, between 1772 and 1917 the Jewish population of this territory grew over eight times—an enormous increase, far greater than that of the non-Jewish population of the empire. Scholars have attributed this massive growth to a sharp diminution of the infant mortality rate—but, as yet, no one has successfully explained why the Jewish infant mortality rate dropped so precipitously over this period.

In any event, this demographic reality of Russian Jewry, compounded by the political reality that compelled most Jews to live within the economically restricted area of the Pale of Settlement, had far-reaching social and economic implications. First, as the number of Jews living in their traditional areas of settlement expanded exponentially, substantial numbers of Jews began to migrate to other parts of the Russian Empire open to them—at first, mostly to the southwest, and especially to Odessa. At the same time, as the autonomy of the Polish Kingdom diminished until it was virtually eliminated in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, and hence the former Congress Poland was all but formally included into the Pale of Settlement, hundreds of thousands of Jews moved to the more economically advanced former Polish provinces as part of the so-called “invasion of the Litvaks.” Jews in large numbers also attempted to settle outside the Pale of Settlement, whether legally or not.

All of these migratory movements were part of an overcharging urbanization process, as hundreds of thousands and then millions of Jews moved from villages to towns, from towns to cities, and then to larger and larger cities. This migration reflected not only demographic growth and the need for jobs, but also economic changes in the Russian Empire and particularly its western borderlands. There, the emancipation of the serfs, the introduction of railroads, and the fleeting attempts at government sponsored industrialization gradually displaced and all but eliminated traditional market economies. Thus, the vast numbers of Jews whose livelihoods had been based for centuries on serving as providers of goods and services to the peasantry at town markets, were now increasingly forced to seek alternate sources of income. Large numbers of Jews, including young women, began to work in small factories and workshops, while the owners of these factories and workshops joined the growing number of Russian Jews taking up white-collar professions and occupations.

By the end of the imperial period, then, the social stratification of Jews in the Russian Empire had changed dramatically: while the vast majority of Jews were still in what can be deemed the lower middle classes, they were more and more impoverished; some Jews entered the industrial working class (though the extent of large-scale industrialization remained very small), and significant numbers entered into the prosperous middle classes and even into the upper middle classes. A tiny number of extraordinarily wealthy Jews became nobles. Their patents of nobility were almost always issued by German principalities and ratified by the Russian state.

The tiny Jewish upper class and the larger but still relatively small middle classes were largely uninvolved in the last, if most famous, migratory movement of Russian Jewry—emigration to the West, and particularly to the United States. Although popular imagination continues to link this emigration exclusively to the pogroms against Jews in 1881–1882, demographic and economic historians have argued for decades that the emigration movement both preceded the pogroms and reflected—like all massive migration movements—social and economic, rather than political factors. The Jewish demographic explosion was exacerbated by a series of crop failures, famines, and downward cycles of the Russian economy that led millions of other—non-Jewish— residents of the empire to seek a solution to their economic problems outside of Russia. Technically, emigration was illegal in Russian law, but the government largely closed its eyes and at times encouraged emigration, which began slowly in the late 1860s, gained substantial momentum in the 1870s, and then reached massive proportions in 1880 and early 1881, before the outbreak of the first pogroms that spring.

Undoubtedly, the pogroms provided an impetus to the emigration fever, and over the course of the next 33 years, approximately 3 million Jews would leave the Russian empire, mostly for America but also to England, France, and other parts of the West—as well as a tiny number for Palestine, connected to the Zionist movement. Demographers and historians are still trying to sort through the massive data relating to these emigrants, to determine their geographic, economic, social, and religious profiles. According to current research, the earliest waves of the Russian Jewish emigrants to the West seem to have come disproportionately from the northern provinces of the Pale (those, not incidentally, not directly affected by the pogroms that were concentrated in the south) and to have been males of working age; many seem to have first moved internally from areas of smaller to larger, habitation, and to have chosen emigration after that option did not work out. Since the rabbinical leaders of Russian Jewry emphatically inveighed against emigration either to America or to Palestine, the emigrants seem also to have been less devoted to traditional Judaism.

All of these characteristics would change over the course of the decades, as this mass migration, like all mass migrations, snowballed from its original core group to larger and larger circles of Russian Jews. What seems true is that unlike other emigrants from the Russian Empire, greater percentages of women, children, and the elderly eventually joined the emigration, whose purpose was permanent relocation. The most crucial if little noted element of the story of Russian Jewish mass emigration is that it only accounted for one-third of the Jewish population of the empire—in other words, two-thirds of Russian Jews stayed home.


Legal, demographic, social, and economic changes in the lives of Russian Jews went hand in hand with religious and cultural revolution in the nineteenth century and the first years of the twentieth century. Most Russian Jews to the end of the imperial period remained traditional in their daily life and praxis, but Russian Judaism was hardly static or immune—if in complex and often contradictory ways—to the influence of creeping modernity. In the 50 years between the Polish Partitions and the reign of Nicholas I, Hasidism spread like wildfire through most of East European Jewry, capturing the minds and hearts of the majority of Jews in Ukraine and Congress Poland, where the courts of Hasidic rebbes flourished, amassing great spiritual, political, and even economic influence.

Only in Lithuania and Belorussia (strongholds of opposition to Hasidism and lumped together by the Jews as the term Lite) did Hasidism not win over the majority of the Jews, though even here important inroads were made by such groups as the Karlin Hasidim in the Pinsk region and the Habad movement, based in the small towns of Liubavich (Lubavitch) and Liady. The rabbinic and intellectual leadership of Lithuanian–Belorussian Jews—now called misnagdim or opponents of Hasidism (a paradoxical mark of the ascendancy of the latter!)—countered the appeal of Hasidism both ideationally and institutionally. Misnagdic leaders such as Rabbi Hayim ben Yitshak of Volozhin developed a new, more spiritualized theology that partook of Hasidic insights while remaining steadfastly committed to Talmudic intellectualism as the pinnacle and summum bonum of Jewish life. They also founded new types of highly intensive yeshivas that attracted students from all parts of Eastern Europe (and tiny numbers from the West as well). Such academies and their intellectual mentors attempted to stem the tide of secularization in Russian Jewish life, but some yeshivas— especially the most prestigious, the Volozhin yeshiva—ironically also served as the breeding ground for Haskalah among its students..

Another approach was founded by Rabbi Yisra’el Salanter (Lipkin), founder of the Musar movement. Salanter believed that increased attention to moral and ethical teachings, as well as an intensive disciplinary system that would inculcate these values, would protect traditionalist Jews from both the dangers of Hasidism and of secularisation. A tiny modernist Orthodox movement developed at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries that sought to synthesize traditional Judaism and modern education. An even smaller number of Jews, drawn almost exclusively from the upper middle classes and living in large cities, embraced a Russian version of Liberal or Reform Judaism. [See Lubavitch Hasidism; Musar; Volozhin, Yeshiva of; and the biographies of Hayim ben Yitshak of Volozhin and Lipkin.]

Over the course of the Imperial period, more and more Jews began to abandon traditional Judaism. While the ideals of the Haskalah, the Jewish enlightenment, were propounded only by small numbers of Jewish intellectuals—who eventually largely turned to the more radical movements of Zionism and socialism and their various intersections—the real lives of growing numbers of Russian Jews began to conform more and more to the goals of the enlightener's: first and foremost, millions of Jews in the Russian Empire began to speak Russian and to become consumers of Russian culture, even as they retained Yiddish as their mother tongue. More and more Jews began to attend Russian-language primary and secondary schools, and then universities as well. Just as in every other modern Jewish community, linguistic acculturation rigorously paralleled socioeconomic upward mobility and gender divides. This process of russification intensified in the Soviet period, when Russian rapidly became the primary tongue of most Russian Jews. In the Polish provinces of the empire, a similar process of polonization took hold among Jews. Acculturation was frequently accompanied by politicization.

Of enormous importance was the rise of the new political movements in Russian Jewry. The first stirrings of modern Jewish nationalism appeared in the late 1860’s and the 1870s, as small numbers of Russian Jewish intellectuals applied the principles of modern European nationalism to the case of Jews. Figures such as Perets Smolenskin, Mosheh Leib Lilienblum, and Lev Pinsker at first believed that Jewish nationalism could be successful on Russian soil, though Eliezer Perlmann, later known as Eliezer Ben Yehudah, argued by the late 1870’s that Jewish nationalism could only be based in the Land of Israel, in a Hebrew-speaking Jewish commonwealth. This argument gained many adherents in the aftermath of the pogroms of 1881–1882, and a movement known as Hibat Tsiyon—Love of Zion—was established, committed both to spreading these ideas in Eastern Europe and to founding agricultural colonies in Palestine. (See Hibat Tsiyon and the biographies of the principal figures mentioned above.)

Although Hibat Tsiyon attracted a good number of Jewish intellectuals, it failed to make major inroads among the masses and appeared to be dying out in the 1890’s, until it was ineluctably transformed by the creation of the Zionist movement in the West by Theodor Herzl.  Hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews became adherents of the new Zionist movement, especially under the aegis of Herzl’s opponent, the cultural Zionist thinker Ahad Ha-Am, but Zionism of any variety was vociferously opposed by the vast majority of East European rabbi’s, both Hasidic and misnagdic, who viewed the movement as heretical. They viewed with no less antipathy Jews attracted to the growing socialist movement. Socialism began to attract adherents among Russian Jews in the 1860’s and 1870’s and grew substantially in the aftermath of 1881–1882, and especially in the wake of the industrialization and proletarianization of hundreds of thousands of Jewish workers at the turn of the century.

Thus in 1897, the same year in which Theodore Herzl founded the Zionist party in Basel, Switzerland, the Jewish Workers Party, known in Yiddish as the Bund, was founded in Vilna. This party came eventually to seek a synthesis of socialism and Jewish nationalism, of a distinctly antiZionist bent. The Bund came into early conflict with the Russian Social Democratic Party, which demanded full control over socialist agitation among all workers in the empire, including Jews—resulting in the temporary departure of the Bund from the all-empire party, an act that left Vladimir Lenin and his sympathizers in the majority of the Social Democratic Party (hence the term Bolsheviks, Russian for majority), as opposed to the Mensheviks (the minority), whose brand of socialism was actually far closer to that of most of the Bund ideologues. [See Bund; Zionism and Zionist Parties; and the biography of Ahad Ha-Am.]

Soon, moreover, various groups emerged that attempted to forge a synthesis between Zionism and socialism, as well as a far smaller group that sought an amalgam between Zionism and Orthodox Judaism. An even smaller group of Jews, who viewed their Jewishness as entirely superseded by their commitment to socialism, joined—and sometimes achieved leadership positions—in the Bolshevik Party, just as a significant group of Jewish intellectuals and professionals joined the Russian liberal party, the Constitutional Democrats, known as the Kadets.

The new nationalist intelligentsia, whether Zionist or socialist, found sources of expression in four new literary cultures created for and by Jews in the Russian Empire. First, the Haskalah movement engendered an enormously creative Hebrew literary renaissance, based especially in Vilna, Odessa, and Saint Petersburg, that numbered in its ranks scores of extraordinarily talented poets, essayists, novelists, and journalists. Though the scope of this culture was limited to those—mostly men, but also some women—who could read Hebrew, the success of this literary flowering can be gauged by the fact that in the late 1880’s and early 1890’s, there were two daily Hebrew newspapers in the Russian capital alone. By the 1890’s the literature included the works of the greatest Hebrew poet of the modern period, Hayim Nahman Bialik.

A far larger audience was available for the nascent Yiddish literary movement, which also had its roots in the Haskalah but especially found support among a small group of intellectuals attracted by nationalist and populist thought. Particularly crucial to the success of modern literary culture in Yiddish were its three founding fathers—Mendele Moikher Seforim (Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh), Sholem Aleichem (Sholem Rabinowitz), and Y. L. Peretz. At the same time, as hundreds of thousands, and then millions of Jews were learning to read, write, and think in Russian (and smaller numbers in Polish), there emerged a fascinating Russian Jewish and Polish Jewish culture that fulfilled the needs of a growing number of Jewish youth who had a waning knowledge of Yiddish, and often no Hebrew training at all. These two cultures often appealed to Jews drawn to Russian and Polish liberal movements, which eschewed a Jewish separation while fighting for the emancipation of Jews (and all other minorities) within the Russian Empire.

Between the Polish Partitions and the Russian Revolution, then, the largest Jewish community in the world had changed dramatically in every aspect of its existence. Russian Jewry was six times larger than it had been a century and a half earlier, and thus faced exceptional difficult economic and social challenges. It was rich and dynamic in cultural, religious, political, and literary creativity, but also more and more divided, and often bitterly, along new ideological and religious lines. Its legal and political status and relationship with a changing state and its institutions bore little resemblance to that of the early years of its entry into the Russian Empire. In sum, Russian Jewry in 1917 was both an extraordinary creative and a deeply troubled society, in ways no one could have anticipated and which scholars are still attempting to chronicle and analyze.


The Black Hundred was another significant reactionary movement in tsarist Russia . Made up of dozens of smaller groups, less organised and more socially based than the Okhrana or political parties, the Black Hundred was fiercely conservative and pro-tsarist. In many respects it supported and attempted to enforce the Russification policy introduced by Alexander III in the 1880s. Composition of the movement was quite diverse: it was made up of aristocrats, businessmen, storekeepers, priests, petty bourgeoisie and large numbers of loyal peasants. The Black Hundred’s choice of motto, adopted from the tsar’s own slogan, reflects the basis of the movement’s ideology: samoderzhavie, pravoslavie, narodnost (‘autocracy, orthodoxy and nationalism’). Their symbols reflected their ideas: the Christian cross and the Romanov double-eagle (see the picture at right, of a Black Hundred procession). They called for and in some cases demanded devotion and loyalty to the tsar, the aristocracy and the Russian Orthodox church. More militant factions declared war on suspected revolutionaries and dissident groups, often physically through a thuggish sub-group called the Yellow Shirts.

It is not surprising that Black Hundred groups received moral and financial support from the tsarist regime itself. It is ironic, however, that these groups were at their strongest while tsarism was most under threat: during the 1905 revolution and the years immediately following. Several new reactionary groups emerged in 1905, the best-known being the Union of Russian People; between 1905 and 1907 this umbrella organisation had offices in more than 900 cities, towns and villages to recruit, organise and propagandise. A breakaway group, the Union of Russian Men, was less patient and demanded action against anyone it perceived to be anti-Russian or critical of the tsarist regime. The Jews, a small but visible minority, were the easiest targets – so between September 1905 and the following spring, bands of these so-called ‘Russian men’ patrolled the countryside, killing and expelling Jews wherever they could be found (more than 21,000 were killed in the Ukraine alone). This and other Black Hundred groups also engaged in assassinations of leaders and writers who were liberal or advocated change; it has been speculated that Stolypin himself may have been the victim of the Black Hundred, who perceived his economic policies to be reformist.  - See more at:

By David North, 17 April 1997

The bloody pogroms that occurred in Russia were a direct response by the czarist regime to the growing revolutionary movement of the working class. The government sponsored the formation of right-wing paramilitary squads, known as the Black Hundreds, to terrorize the working class.

"As with the Fascist movements of inter-war Europe," writes the historian Orlando Figes, "most of their support came from those embittered lumpen elements who had lost—or were afraid of losing—their petty status in the social hierarchy as a result of modernization and reform: uprooted peasants forced into the towns as casual laborers; small shopkeepers and artisans squeezed by competition from big business; low-ranking officials and policemen ... and pub patriots of all kinds disturbed by the sight of 'upstart' workers, students and Jews challenging the God-given power of the tsar."

The regime of Czar Nicholas II responded to the revolutionary movement of 1905 by unleashing a wave of terror, of which Jews were a principal target. In the two weeks that followed the issuing of the czar's Manifesto of October 1905, which pledged to support the establishment of democratic institutions, 690 pogroms occurred. Three thousand Jews were murdered during this period. A pogrom in Odessa cost the lives of 800 Jews. Five hundred were wounded and more than 100,000 were made homeless. It was soon established that the pogroms had been organized with the direct assistance of the government. The political mechanics of the pogroms were described in a socialist newspaper of the time:

"The old familiar picture! The police organises the pogrom beforehand. The police instigates it: leaflets are printed in government printing offices calling for a massacre of the Jews. When the pogrom begins, the police is inactive. The troops quietly look on at the exploits of the Black Hundreds. But later this very police go through the farce of prosecution and trial of the pogromists. The investigations and trials of pogromists conducted by the officials always end in the same way: the cases drag on, none of the pogromists are found guilty. Sometimes even the battered and mutilated Jews and intellectuals are dragged before the court, months pass—and the old, but ever new story is forgotten, until the next pogrom."

The author of this article, written in June 1906, was Lenin.

Rather than permit his thesis of the uniqueness of German anti-Semitism to be disturbed by the intrusion of historical facts, Goldhagen simply avoids any reference to the worst outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence in Europe prior to the establishment of the Third Reich.



Pogroms were unleashed throughout the Russian Civil War, perpetrated by virtually every competing faction, from Polish and Ukrainian nationalists to the Red and White Armies. 31,071 civilian Jews were killed during documented pogroms throughout the former Russian Empire; the number of Jewish orphans exceeded 300,000. Majority of pogroms in Ukraine during 1918–1920 were perpetrated by the Ukrainian nationalists, miscellaneous bands and anti-Communist forces.


(Click here for videos) The Soviet authorities considered the use of Hebrew language "reactionary" since it was associated with both Judaism and Zionism, and the teaching of Hebrew at primary and secondary schools was officially banned by the Narkompros (Commissariat of Education) as early as 1919, as part of an overall agenda aiming to secularize education. Hebrew books and periodicals ceased to be published and were seized from the libraries, although liturgical texts were still published until the 1930’s. Despite numerous protests in the West, teachers and students who attempted to study the Hebrew language were pilloried and sentenced for "counter revolutionary" and later for "anti-Soviet" activities.

To offset the growing Jewish national and religious aspirations of Zionism and to successfully categorize Soviet Jews under Stalin's definition of nationality, an alternative to Israel was established with the help of Komzet and OZET in 1928. The Jewish Autonomoblast with its center in Birobidzhan.  Located in the Russian Far East it was to become a ‘Soviet Zion’.  Yiddish, rather than Hebrew, would be the national language, and proletarian socialist literature and arts would replace Judaism as the quintessence of culture. Despite a massive domestic and international state propaganda campaign, the Jewish population in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast never reached 30% (in 2003 it had fallen to about 1.2%). The experiment ground to a halt in the mid-1930’s, during Stalin's first purge campaign. Jewish leaders were arrested and executed and Yiddish schools were shut down.  (See  Official Site of the Jewish Autonomous Region,  Russia's Forgotten Jewish Land, BBC Mon, 8 July, 2002)   Birobidzhan - Jewish Autonomous Region)


The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact—the 1939 non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany—created further suspicion regarding the Soviet Union's position toward Jews. According to the pact Poland, the nation with the world's largest Jewish population, was divided between Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939. While the pact had no basis in ideological sympathy (as evidenced by Nazi propaganda about "Jewish Bolshevism"), Germany's occupation of Western Poland was a disaster for Eastern European Jews. Evidence suggests that some, at least, of the Jews in the Eastern Soviet zone of occupation welcomed the Russians as having a more liberated policy towards their civil rights than the preceding antisemitic Polish regime. Jews in areas annexed by Soviet Union were deported Eastward in great waves; as these areas would soon be invaded by Nazi Germany, this forced migration, deplored by many of its victims, paradoxically also saved the lives of a few hundred thousand Jewish deportees.


See also Holocaust

Over two million Soviet Jews are believed to have died during the Holocaust, second only to the number of Polish Jews to have fallen victims to Hitler. Among some of the larger massacres in 1941 were: 33,771 Jews of Kiev shot in ditches at Babi Yar; 100,000 Jews and Poles of Vilnius killed in the forests of Ponary, 20,000 Jews killed in Kharkiv at Drobnitzky Yar, 36,000 Jews machine-gunned in Odessa, 25,000 Jews of Riga killed in the woods at Rumbula, and 10,000 Jews slaughtered in Simferopol in the Crimea.[citation needed] Though mass shootings continued through 1942, most notably 16,000 Jews shot at Pinsk, Jews were increasingly shipped to concentration camps in German Nazi-occupied Poland.

Local residents of German-occupied areas, especially Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and Latvians, sometimes played key roles in the genocide of other Latvians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Slavs, Gypsies, homosexuals and Jews alike. Under the Nazi occupation, some members of the Ukrainian and Latvian Nazi police carried out deportations in the Warsaw Ghetto, and Lithuanians marched Jews to their death at Ponary. Even as some assisted the Germans, a significant number of individuals in the territories under German control also helped Jews escape death (see Righteous Among the Nations). In Latvia, particularly, the number of Nazi-collaborators was only slightly more than that of Jewish saviours. It is estimated that up to 1.4 million Jews fought in Allied armies; 40% of them in the Red Army.[53] In total, at least 142,500 Soviet soldiers of Jewish nationality lost their lives fighting against the German invaders and their allies[54]

The typical Soviet policy regarding the Holocaust was to present it as atrocities against Soviet citizens, not emphasizing the genocide of the Jews. For example, after the liberation of Kiev from the Nazi occupation, the Extraordinary State Commission (Чрезвычайная Государственная Комиссия) was set out to investigate Nazi crimes. The description of the Babi Yar massacre was officially censored as follows:

 December 25, 1943

"The Hitlerist bandits committed mass murder of the Jewish population. They announced that on September 29, 1941, all the Jews were required to arrive to the corner of Melnikov and Dokterev streets and bring their documents, money and valuables. The butchers marched them to Babi Yar, took away their belongings, then shot them."


Censored version - February 1944

"The Hitlerist bandits brought thousands of civilians to the corner of Melnikov and Dokterev streets. The butchers marched them to Babi Yar, took away their belongings, then shot them."

STALIN AND ANTISEMITISM and Antisemitism in the Soviet Union

Though communist leaders including Joseph Stalin publicly denounced antisemitism, instances of antisemitism on Stalin's part have been witnessed by contemporaries and documented by historical sources.

The 1917 Russian Revolution overthrew a centuries-old regime of official antisemitism in the Russian Empire. The success of the Soviet Union in dealing with this previous legacy of antisemitism, as well as the extent that the Soviet government fought against this prejudice, is a topic of some debate. Although officially forbidden as a form of ethnic and racial chauvinism, antisemitism was commonly used as an instrument for personal conflicts in the Soviet Union, starting from conflict between Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky and continuing through numerous conspiracy theories spread by official propaganda. Antisemitism in the Soviet Union reached new heights after 1948 during the campaign against the "rootless cosmopolitan", in which numerous Yiddish-writing poets, writers, painters and sculptors were killed or arrested This culminated in the so-called Doctors' Plot, in which a group of doctors (some of whom were Jewish) had allegedly conspired to murder Stalin.

Soviet Union and the Arab–Israeli Conflict

The Soviet Union played a significant role in the Arab-Israeli conflict as the conflict was a major part of the Cold War. For related developments after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991

Soviet Anti-Zionism

Soviet anti-Zionism was a propaganda doctrine promulgated in the Soviet Union during the course of the Cold War and intensified after the 1967 Six Day War. It was officially sponsored by the Department of Propaganda of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and by the KGB. It alleged that Zionism was a form of racism and argued that Zionists were similar to Nazis. The Soviet Union framed its anti-Zionist propaganda in terms of the ideological doctrine of Zionology, in the guise of a study of modern Zionism.  Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public  was a body formed in 1983 in the Soviet Union as an anti-Zionist propaganda tool.

The word "Jew" was also avoided in the media when criticising undertakings by Israel, which the Soviets often accused of racism, chauvinism etc. Instead of Jew, the word Israeli was used almost exclusively, so as to paint its harsh criticism not as antisemitism but anti-Zionism. More controversially, the Soviet media, when depicting political events, sometimes used the term 'fascism' to characterise Israeli nationalism (e.g. calling Jabotinsky a 'fascist', and claiming 'new fascist organisations were emerging in Israel in the 1970s' etc.).


Jewish Aliyah (Emigration  to Israel) From Russia

A mass emigration was politically undesirable for the Soviet regime. As increasing numbers of Soviet Jews applied to emigrate to Israel in the period following the 1967 Six Day War, many were formally refused permission to leave. A typical excuse given by the OVIR (ОВиР), the MVD department responsible for the provisioning of exit visas, was that persons who had been given access at some point in their careers to information vital to Soviet national security could not be allowed to leave the country.

After the Dymshits-Kuznetsov hijacking affair in 1970 and the crackdown that followed, strong international condemnations caused the Soviet authorities to increase the emigration quota. From 1960 to 1970, only 4,000 people left the USSR; in the following decade, the number rose to 250,000.[60]

In 1972 the USSR imposed the so-called "diploma tax" on would-be emigrants who received higher education in the USSR. In some cases, the fee was as high as twenty annual salaries. This measure was possibly designed to combat the brain drain caused by the growing emigration of Soviet Jews and other members of the intelligentsia to the West. Though Jews now made up less than 1% of the population, some surveys have suggested that around one-third of the emigranting Jews had achieved some form of higher education. Furthermore, Jews holding positions requiring specialized training tended to be highly concentrated in a small set of specialties, including medicine, mathematics, biology and music.  Following international protests, the Kremlin soon revoked the tax, but continued to sporadically impose various limitations.

At first almost all of those who managed to get exit visas to Israel actually made aliyah, but after the mid-1970s, most of those allowed to leave for Israel actually chose other destinations, most notably the United States.

Glasnost and End of the USSR

In 1989 a record 71,000 Soviet Jews were granted exodus from the USSR, of whom only 12,117 immigrated to Israel. At first, American policy treated Soviet Jews were refugees and allowed unlimited numbers to emigrate, but this policy eventually came to an end. As a result, more Jews began moving to Israel, as it was the only country willing to take them unconditionally.

In the 1980s, the liberal government of Mikhail Gorbachev allowed unlimited Jewish emigration, and the Soviet Union itself collapsed in 1991. As a result, a mass emigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union took place. Since the 1970’s, over 1.1 million Russians of Jewish origin immigrated to Israel, of whom 100,000 emigrated to third countries such as the United States and Canada soon afterward and 240,000 were not considered Jewish under Halakha (Jewish law), but were eligible under the Law of Return due to Jewish ancestry or marriage. Since the adoption of the Jackson–Vanik amendment, over 600,000 Soviet Jews have emigrated.

Russia Today

(In 1914 there were more than 5,250,000 Jews in the Russian Empire.  In 2000 as a result of mass emigration, natural population decline, and assimilation this was reduced to 460,000.  In 2002 there were 2,327 (1.22%) in the  Jewish Autonomous Oblast of the Russian Far East.  see also Aliyah)

Jews make up about 0.16% of the total population of Russia, according to the 2002 census. Most Russian Jews are secular and identify themselves as Jews via ethnicity rather than religion, although interest about Jewish identity as well as practice of Jewish tradition amongst Russian Jews is growing. The Lubavitch has been active in this sector, setting up synagogues and Jewish kindergartens in Russian cities with Jewish populations. In addition, most Russian Jews have relatives in Israel.

Since the dissolution of the USSR, democratization in the former USSR has brought with it a good deal of tragic irony for the country's minorities, especially the Jewish population. The absence of Soviet-era repression exposed the remaining Jews to a resurgence of antisemitism in the former Soviet Union. However, there has not been a return to mass antisemitic incidents in Russia or anywhere else throughout the former Soviet Union.

There are several major Jewish organizations in the territories of the former USSR. The central Jewish organization is the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS under the leadership of Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar.

A linguistic distinction remains to this day in the Russian language where there are two distinct terms that correspond to the word Jew in English. The word еврей ("yevrey" - Hebrew) typically denotes a Jewish ethnicity, as "Hebrew" did in English up until the early 20th century. The word иудей ("iudey" - Judean, etymologically related to the English Jew) is reserved for denoting a follower of the Jewish religion, whether ethnically Jewish or not; this term has largely fallen out of use in favor of the equivalent term иудаист. For example, according to a 2012 Russian survey, евреи account for only 32.2% of иудаисты in Russia, with nearly half (49.8%) being ethnic Russians (русские),[63] although many of these ethnic Russians could be Subbotniks of entirely non-Jewish background. An ethnic slur, жид (borrowed from the Polish Żyd, Jew), also remains in widespread use in Russia.

A History of the Jews, Paul Johnson 1988 pp568-

American Jewry formed the mirror-image of RUSSIAN Jewry. In America a Jew helped to own his country; in Russia he was owned by it.  The Soviet Jew was possessed, a property of the state, as he had been in the Middle Ages. One of the lessons we learn from studying Jewish history is that anti-Semitism corrupts the people and the societies possessed by it. It corrupted a Dominican friar as effectively as it corrupted a greedy king. It turned the Nazi state into a heaving mass of corruption. But nowhere were its corrosive effects more apparent than in Russia. The ubiquitous petty corruption engendered by the Tsarist laws against the Jews has already been noted. More important in the long run was its moral corruption of state authority. For in harassing the Jews, the Tsarist Russian state became habituated to a close, oppressive and highly bureaucratic system of control. It controlled internal movements and residence of the Jews, their right to go to school or university and what they studied there, to enter professions or institutes, to sell their labour, to start businesses or form companies, in worship, to belong to organizations and to engage in an endless list of other activities. This system exercised monstrous, all-pervading control of the lives of an unpopular and underprivileged minority and a ruthless invasion of their homes and families. As such, it became a bureaucratic model, and when the Tsars were replaced first by Lenin, and then by Stalin, the control of the Jews was extended to the control of the entire population, and the model became the whole. In this system, in which all were harried and all underprivileged, the Jews were further depressed to form a sump or sub-class in which the degree of state control was deliberately intense.

Stalin’s use of anti-Semitism in the leadership struggles of the 1920s and the purges of the 1930s was characteristic of him. His wartime creation of

the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and publication of the Yiddish magazine Aynikayt (‘Unity’) were merely tactical moves, Stalin's daughter Svetlana has described his personal connections with Jews. He had some Jews in his household, including the foreign ministry official Solomon Lozowsky. When Svetlana, then seventeen, fell in love with a Jewish scriptwriter, Stalin had him deported. Later she succeeded in marrying a Jew, Gregory Morozov. Her father accused him of evading military service: ‘People are getting shot and look at him - he’s sitting it out at home.’ Stalin’s oldest son Yakov also married a Jewish wife and, when he was taken prisoner, Stalin claimed she had betrayed him. ‘He never liked Jews,’ Svetlana wrote, ‘though in those days he wasn’t yet as blatant about expressing his hatred for them as he was after the war.’81

There was really no pause in Soviet anti-Semitism, even during the war. It was very marked in the Red Army. ‘Anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union’, a former army captain stated, ‘is rampant to an extent that is impossible for anyone never having lived in that accursed country to imagine.’82 Towards the end of the war, some government departments notably the Foreign Ministry, were largely cleared of Jews and no more Jews were accepted as trainees. The post-war attack, which the murder of Mikhoels in January 1948 was a foretaste, began the same year in September. It was signalled by an Ilya Ehrenburg article in Pravda — Stalin often made Non-Jewish Jews the agents of his anti-Semitism, rather as the SS used the Sonderskommandos denouncing Israel as a bourgeois tool of American capitalism.  The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee was disbanded, Aynikayt closed and the Yiddish schools shut down. Then began a systematic attack on Jews, especially writers, painters, musicians and intellectuals of all kinds, using terms of abuse (‘rootless cosmopolitanism’) identical with Nazi demonology. Thousands of Jewish intellectuals, including the Yiddish writers Perez Markish, Itzik Fefer and David Bergelson, were murdered, as was any Jew who happened to catch Stalin’s eye, such as Lozowsky. The campaign was extended to Czechoslovakia, where on 20 November 1952 Rudolf Slansky, the Czech party general secretary and thirteen other leading Communist bosses, eleven of them Jews were accused of a Troskyite—Titoist—Zionist conspiracy, convicted and executed. Supplying arms to Israel in 1948 (actually on Stalin's own orders) formed an important element in the ‘proof’.83 The climax came early in 1953 when nine doctors, six of them Jews, were accused of seeking to poison Stalin in conjunction with British, US and Zionist agents. This show-trial was to have been a prelude to the mass deportation of Jews to Siberia, as part of a Stalinist ‘Final Solution’,

Stalin died before the doctors came to trial and the proceedings were quashed by his successors. The plan for a mass deportation came to  nothing. But it was significant that anti-Semitism was not one of the aspects of Stalin’s behaviour Nikita Khrushchev denounced in his famous Secret Session speech. As first secretary in the Ukraine he shared the endemic anti-Semitism there and, immediately after the war, had stopped returning Jewish refugees from claiming their old homes. ‘It is not in our interests’, he stated, ‘that the Ukrainians should associate the return of Soviet power with the return of the Jews. Indeed there were several post-war Ukrainian pogroms under Khrushchev’s rule. Once in power, he switched the thrust of anti- Jewish propaganda from spying to ‘economic criminality’, large numbers of Jews, their names prominently displayed, being convicted and sentenced to death in nine show-trials. He closed down many synagogues, their total falling during his rule from 450 to sixty. He permitted the publication, by the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, of the notorious anti-Semitic tract, Judaism Without Embellishment, by the Communist Rosenberg, Trofim Kychko.  The Khrushchev era witnessed an outbreak of blood libels, anti-Semitic riots and synagogue burning.

There was a brief respite for Soviet Jewry after Khrushchev’s fall in 1964.  But, following the Six Day War in 1967, the campaign was openly resumed and intensified. In some respects Soviet anti-Semitism was very traditional. The Soviet rulers, like early medieval societies, like the Spaniards until the late fourteenth century, employed Jews in the economy until sufficient non-Jews had acquired the skills to replace them. The top Jewish Bolsheviks were nearly all murdered in the 1920s and 1930s. Thereafter Jews remained over-represented in the bureaucratic elites but never at the top political level: like the court Jews, they were allowed to help but never to rule. Even in the 1970s a few occasionally got as far as the Party Congress — there were four in 1971 and five in 1976 - and it was not unknown for a Jew to be on the Central Committee. But such men had to earn their jobs by violent anti- Zionism. In 1966 Jews accounted for 7.8 per cent of academics, 4.7 per cent of doctors, 8.5 per cent of writers and journalists, 10.4 per cent of judges and lawyers and 7.7 per cent of actors, musicians and artists. But in every case the percentage was being pushed down by party and bureaucratic action. Thus Jews provided 18 per cent of Soviet scientific workers in 1947, only 7 per cent by 1970. As under the Tsars, the squeeze was applied particularly at the university level. The number of Jewish students declined in absolute terms, from 111,900 in 1968 - 9 to 66,900 in 1975 - 6, and still more heavily relative to the population as a whole. In 1977 - 8 not a single Jew was admitted to Moscow University.86

Soviet anti-Jewish policy, like Tsarist - and even Nazi policy in the 1930s - showed some confusions and contradictions. There were conflicting desires to use and exploit the Jews, to keep them prisoners, and also to expel them, the common factor in both cases being an anxiety to humiliate. Thus in 1971 Brezhnev decided to open the gates, and during the next decade 250,000 Jews were allowed to escape. But with every increase in emigration there was a sharp rise in trials of Jews, and the actual exit visa procedure itself was made as complex, difficult and shameful as possible. The need for a character-reference from the applicant’s place of work often led to a sort of show-trial there, in which the Jew was publicly discussed, condemned and then dismissed. So he was often jobless, penniless and liable to be gaoled for 'parasitism’ long before the visa was granted.87

The exit procedures became more onerous in the 1980s, recalling the labyrinthine complexities of Tsarist legislation. Fewer visas were granted and it became common for a family to wait five or even by years for permission to leave. The procedure could be summarized as follows. The applicant had first to get a visov, a legally attested invitation from a near-relative living in Israel, with an Israeli government guarantee to issue an entry visa. The visov entitled him to go to the Emigration Office and be issued with two questionnaires for each adult member of the family. The applicant filled these in, then added the following: an autobiography, six photographs, copies of university versity or other diplomas, a birth certificate for each member of its family, a marriage certificate if married, and, where parents, wife or husband were dead, the appropriate death certificates; a certificate showing possession of a legal residence; an officially certificated letter from any member of the family being left behind; a certificate from their place of work or, if not working, from the House Management Office of their place of residence; and a fee of 40 roubles (about $60 When all these had been handed in, the decision whether or not to grant a visa took several months. If a visa were granted (but not yet issued), the applicant had then to resign from work (if not already dismissed); get an official estimate of the cost of repairing his flat; pay the estimate; pay 500 roubles a head ($750) as a penalty for giving up Soviet citizenship; surrender his passport, Army Registration Card, employment record book and his flat-clearance certificate; and pay a further 200 roubles ($300) for the visa itself. Applicants refused a visa had the right to apply again at six-month intervals.88

The Soviet campaign against the Jews, after 1967 a permanent feature of the system, was itself conducted under the code-name of anti-Zionism, which became a cover for every variety of antisemitism Soviet anti-Zionism, a product of internal divisions within the east European Jewish left, was in turn grafted on to Leninist anti- imperialism. At this point we need to retrace our steps a little, in order to show that the Leninist theory of imperialism, like Marx’s theory of capitalism, had its roots in anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

The theory arose from the development of SOUTH AFRICA from the 1860s onwards, the outstanding example of the application of large scale capital to transform a primitive into a modern economy. South Africa had been a rural backwater until the discovery of the diamond fields of Kimberley in the 1860s, followed by the goldfields of the Rand twenty years later, opened up its interior and mineral wealth. What made South Africa different was the use of a new institution, the mining finance house, to concentrate claims and to raise and deploy enormous capital sums in high-technology deep mining. The institution itself was invented by an Englishman, Cecil Rhodes. But Jews had always been involved in precious stones (especially diamonds) and bullion, and they played a notable part both in the South African deep level mines and in the financial system which raised the capital to sink them.89 Such men as Alfred Beit, Barney Barnato, Louis Cohen, Lionel Phillips, Julius Wehrner, Solly Joel, Adolf Goertz, George Albu and Abe Bailey turned South Africa into the world’s largest and richest mining economy. A second generation of mining financiers, led by Ernest Oppenheimer, consolidated and expanded the achievement.90 The rapid fortunes made (and sometimes lost) on the Rand by Jews aroused great jealousy and resentment. Among their critics was the left-wing polemicist J. A. Hobson, who went out to South Africa to cover the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899 for the Manchester Guardian.. Hobson regarded the Jew as ‘almost devoid of social morality possessing a ‘superior calculating intellect, which is a national heritage’ allowing him ‘to take advantage of every weakness, folly and vice of the society in which he lives’.91 In South Africa he was shocked and angered by what he saw as the ubiquitous activity of Jews. The official figures, he wrote, stated there were only 7,000 Jews in Johannesburg but ‘The shop fronts and business houses, the market place, the saloons, the “stoops” of the smart suburban houses are sufficient to convince one of the large presence of the chosen people.’ He was particularly disgusted to find that the stock exchange was closed on the Day of Atonement. In 1900 he published a book, The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Effects, which blamed the war on a small group of international financiers, chiefly German in origin and Jewish by race’. British troops were fighting and dying ‘in order to place a small international oligarchy of mine-owners and speculators in power in Pretoria’. ‘Not Hamburg,’ he wrote in disgust, ‘not Vienna, not Frankfurt but Johannesburg is the new Jerusalem.’92

Hobson’s explanation of the origin of the war was false. The lighting, as was foreseeable, was disastrous for the mine-owners. As lor the Jews, the whole of modern history proved them strongly pacific by inclination and interest, especially in their capacity as financiers. But Hobson, like other conspiracy theorists, was not interested in facts hut in the beauty of his concept. Two years later he expanded his theory into a famous book, Imperialism: A Study, which revealed international finance capital as the chief force behind colonies and wars. His chapter, ‘Economic Parasites of Imperialism’, the heart of his theory, contained this key passage:

'’Those great businesses — banking, brokering, bill discounting, loan floating, company promoting — form the central ganglion of international capitalism. United by the strongest bonds of organization, always in cclose and quickest touch with one another, situated in the very heart of the business capital of every state, controlled, so far as Europe is concerned, chiefly by men of a single and peculiar race, who have behind them many centuries financial experience, they are in a unique position to control the policy nations. No great quick direction of capital is possible save by their consent and through their agency. Does anyone seriously suppose that a great war could be undertaken by any European state, or a great state loan subscribed if the house of Rothschild and its connections set their face against it?'

From Wikipedia

The Subbotniks (Russian: Субботники meaning literally Sabbatarians) are a Judaizing Christian sect originating in Russia categorized by Velvl Chernin into Talmudist-Subbotniks (Gers) and Karaite-Subbotniks which split from other Sabbatarian Christians in the 19th century. This article deals mainly with the Talmudist Subbotniks.

On the whole, the Subbotniks probably differed little from other Judaizing societies in their early years. They first appeared toward the end of the 18th century during the reign of Catherine II. According to official reports of the Imperial Russian government, most of the sect's followers circumcised their boys, believed in a unitary God rather than in the Christian Trinity, accepted only the Jewish Bible (Old Testament), and observed Sabbath on Saturday rather than on Sunday as in Christian practice. (Some were called sabbatarians for that practice.) There were variations among their beliefs in relation to Jesus Christ, the Second Coming, and other elements of Orthodox Christian doctrine.

Prior to the First Partition of Poland in 1772, few Jews had settled in the Russian Empire. The Subbotniks were originally Christian peasants of the Russian Orthodox Church. During the reign of Catherine the Great (1729-1796), they adopted elements of Mosaic law of the Old Testament and were known as sabbatarians, part of the Spiritual Christianity movement.

Subbotnik communities were among the earliest to adopt Zionism; a significant number settled in Ottoman Palestine in the 1880s as part of the First Aliyah in order to escape oppression in the Russian Empire. Their descendants included Israeli Jews such as Alexander Zaid, Rafael Eitan and Major-General Alik Ron. A 1912 census in Russia recorded 8,412 Subbotniks who "had fallen away from Orthodoxy"; 12,305 "Judaizing Talmudists"; and 4,092 "Russian Karaites".  The Subbotnik Information Exchange

Jewish? No, We’re Subbotniks. Welcome to Our Synagogue. Maxim Edwards< Forward July 13, 2014

Subbotnik Jews - Shavei Israel

The Subbotniks  by V Chernin



Karaite Judaism (sometimes referred to as Karaism) is a Jewish heretical movement that recognizes only the Bible as a source for legal authority, as opposed to mainstream Judaism, which considers the Oral Torah (as codified in the Talmud) as authoritative in decisions regarding Jewish Law. Historians believe that Karaite Judaism began in Baghdad in the 8th century CE. Its founder, Anan Ben-David, was bitter at having been passed over for a leadership position in the Jewish community, so he broke away and formed his own sect which eventually came to be known as the Karaites. At its height, the movement may have commanded a not-insignificant percentage of world Jewry. But the number of adherents dwindled significantly over time, and there are now just an estimated 30,000–50,000 Karaites left, most living in Israel, with smaller communities in Turkey, Europe and the United States.

Karaite Judaism  Wikipedia

Ask the Karaite: Karaite FAQ


The origin of the European Jewish population, January 16, 2013, Oxford University Press by Dr Eran Elhaik

Russian-Jewish Emmigration to America by Rachel MacDonald

Museum of the Jewish History in Russia

Jewish History of the Russian Federation (Ancient Times Until the Second World War)

Simon Dubnow, History of the Jews in Russia and Poland (Philadelphia, 1916–1920); ChaeRan Y. Freeze, Jewish Marriage and Divorce in Imperial Russia (Hanover, N.H., 2002);
Edward Judge, Easter in Kishinev: Anatomy of a Pogrom (New York, 1992);
Eli Lederhendler, Road to Modern Jewish Politics: Political Tradition and Political Reconstruction in the Jewish Community of Tsarist Russia (New York, 1989);
Michael Stanislawski, Tsar Nicholas I and the Jews: The Transformation of Jewish Society in Russia, 1825–1855 (Philadelphia, 1983);
Steven Zipperstein, The Jews of Odessa: A Cultural History

The pogroms led to emigration fever, and over the next 33 years approximately 3 million Jews left the Russian empire,




Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, p364-365

The first modern Russian pogrom came in 1871 in Odessa. Ii was instigated chiefly by Greek merchants. There was an ethnic elememt in most of the disturbances of the 1870s, Slav nationalists being particularly violent in their anti-Semitism. But after the murder of Alexander ii in 1881, the state took over, and the ‘kicks in the behind’ followed In rapid succession. The major pogroms which began on 29 April 1881 were incited, condoned or organized by the Minister of the Interior Ignatiev, an enthusiastic Slavophile. They spread over one hundred centres, lasted nearly a year, and in some cases involved huge mobs.  Not only the government but the police and innumerable ethnic groups were involved. The far left joined in. The revolutionary Narodnaya Volya party incited the Ukrainians to kill the Jews mi August 1881 under the slogan: ‘Rise against the Tsar of the pans (nobles) and the zhidsz [Jews].’117 Great liberal writers like Turgenev and Tolstoi remained silent. The pogroms were followed by a mass of anti-Semitic legislation, known as the May Laws. Indeed, the pogrom, were used to justify the legislation, the argument running: mob attacks on the Jews, while deplorable in themselves, indicate the extent of popular indignation against this anti-social minority; therefore its, activities must be restricted. Of course the government inspired and permitted the mob action in the first place, and the whole aim of the regime was to bolster its crumbling popularity by attacking an easy target. The Nazis were to use exactly the same technique of violence and legislation. . Hence the thirty years 1881-1911 were a long calendar of anti Jewish actions: 1882, May Laws; 1886-9, restrictions of Jewish entry to the professions and reduction of the Pale area; 1891 over 10,000 Jews expelled from Moscow; 1893-5, huge expulsions from non-Pale areas 1894-6, introduction of the spirits monopoly, an economic catastrophe for the Jews; from 1903, a series of vicious pogroms in which Jews were not merely robbed but killed. At Kishinev in 1905 fifty Jews were murdered and 500 injured. In Odessa, a four-day pogrom in 1905 killed more than 400 Jews. In Bialystok, the police and the army joined in the pogroms of 1906. From 1908 to 1911 there were more large-scale expulsions.

Hence from 1881, this vicious, mounting and cumulatively over­whelming pressure on Russian Jewry produced the inevitable consequence- a panic flight of Jews from Russia westwards. Thus 1881 was the most important year in Jewish history since 1648, indeed since the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Its consequences were so wide and fundamental, that it must be judged a key year in world history too. The first big rush to get out came in 1881—2. Thereafter Jews left at an average of 50,000—60,000 a year. With the Moscow expulsions, 110,000 Russian Jews left in 1891 and 137,000 in 1892.

In the pogrom year 1905—6, over 200,000 Jews left. The exodus was by no means confined to Russia. Between 1881 and 1914 more than 350,000 Jews left Austrian Galicia. More Jews emigrated from Lithuania, where they were also under pressure. The net result was not to reduce the Jewish population of eastern Europe. In 1914 there were still five and a half million Jews in Russia and two and a half million in the Austrian empire. What the movement did was to take the natural population increase, some two and a half million, and transfer it elsewhere. Therein lay momentous effects, both for the Jews and for the world.  We must now examine them in turn.

Of these emigrants, more than two million went to the United States alone, and the most obvious and visible consequence, therefore, was the creation of a mass American urban Jewry. This was a completely new phenomenon, which in time changed the whole balance of Jewish power and influence in the world, and it came quite suddenly. The original Jewish settlement in America was small and slow to expand. As late as 1820 there were only about 4,000 Jews in the United States, and only seven of the original thirteen states recognized them politically.  The slow growth of the community is hard to understand


The 1990s post-Soviet aliyah began en masse in late 1980s when the government of Mikhail Gorbachev opened the borders of the USSR and allowed Jews to leave the country for Israel.

Between 1989 and 2006, about 1.6 million Soviet Jews and their non-Jewish relatives and spouses, as defined by the Law of Return, emigrated from the former Soviet Union.[1] About 979,000, or 61%, migrated to Israel. Another 325,000 migrated to the United States, and 219,000 migrated to Germany.[2][3] According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, 26% of the immigrants who arrived in Israel were not considered Jewish by Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law (which only recognizes matrilineal descent), but were eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return due to patrilineal Jewish descent or marriage to a Jew.[4] The majority of the immigrant wave were Ashkenazi Jews; however, a significant proportion were Mizrahi groups such as the Mountain Jews, Georgian Jews, and Bukharan Jews – with each ethnic group bringing its own distinctive culture to Israel. The group successfully integrated economically into Israel: in 2012, the average salary of FSU (Former Soviet Union) immigrants was comparable to that of native-born Israeli Jews.[5]

At first the reaction of Israeli society to the Jewish Soviet Union immigration wave was very positive, and the common phrase "with every immigrant, our strength rises" was used amongst the locals. This positive attitude changed with time as a result of fears in parts of Israeli society to the effects the massive immigration wave would have. The two central reasons for the fear which were related to this immigration wave were the fear of that there may be a percentage of religious and cultural non-Jews amongst the immigrants, and the apprehension that the new immigrants would take jobs away from the veteran population.

Since that time, the immigrants have succeeded in blending into Israeli society in different fields, and contribute greatly to Israel. In 2009, Science Minister Daniel Hershkowitz said the immigration wave helped the Israeli universities, where one of every four staff members is now a Russian-speaker.[37] At the same time, prime minister Netanyahu said the Soviet Jews have now "integrated into the life of the country and have become a principal and important element in all aspects of life". At the same speech, he called the Russian aliyah "one of the greatest miracles that happened to the state"




Panic Flight

1990s post-Soviet Aliyah (emigration)
to Israel



Black Hundred

World War 1

Soviet Antisemitism





Pale of Settlement
% of Jewish Population
(from Wikipedia)

Pale of Settlement