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Although the focus here is on antisemitism in Imperial Russia during the 18th and 19th centuries, the tradition of Russian anti-Jewish feeling dates back to the middle ages, being a legacy of the influx of Eastern Orthodox Christianity into the Muscovite Empire. Jews were in fact banned from entering the heartland of Muscovy (stretching from Kiev to Moscow). As a result, Jews did not have a significant presence in Muscovite controlled territories until the 15th century. The expulsion of Jews from several countries in western Europe drove large numbers of Jews eastward to places like the kingdoms of Poland and Lithuania, which were generally more open to Jewish settlement. However, as Russian Tsars pushed westward, conquering territory from Poland, Estonia, and Lithuania, the number of Jews which fell under Russian administration grew.
Consequently, Russian Tsars, like Ivan IV (the Terrible) increasingly turned their attention toward Jews, whom they considered the enemies of Christ. When Ivan's army occupied the Polish city of Polotzk in 1563, which had a large and prosperous Jewish community, all local Jews were ordered to convert to the Orthodox faith. Those who resisted were either drowned in the Dvina River or burned at the stake.
By the 18th century the Russian Empire had spread over Ukraine and eastern Poland and large numbers of Jews had been incorporated. Russian rulers responded to this by enacting laws which limited the areas in which Jews could live, the professions they could engage in, and the property they could own. Pogroms (popular attacks on Jewish communities) also became more common into the 19th century, sometimes with the encouragement of Tsarist authorities. The crisis that the imperial regime experienced in the closing decades of the 19th century also led authorities to exploit ethnic hatreds and antisemitism within the empire, all in an effort to redirect popular discontent with the autocracy. Accordingly, Tsarist plots to foment hatred of Jews resulted in antisemitic propaganda like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fictional master plan concocted by the Tsar's secret police that allegedly described the Jewish conspiracy for world domination.
Given the history of popular and official anti-Jewish opinion, by the time of the Revolution in 1917, the Russian Empire (particularly its western regions) was thus considered to be one of the most virulently antisemitic places in Europe.
The excerpts below provide a glimpse into the legal framework of Russian discrimination against Jews.
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Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev served as an adviser to Tsar Alexander III from 1881 to 1893. He was also lay head of the Russian Orthodox Church from 1890 to 1905. His formula for solving the Jewish problem was as follows:
"One-third was to emigrate, one-third was to die, and one-third to disappear (i.e. be converted)."
Source: Edward Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Anti-Semitism (New York: Macmillan Company, 1965), pp. 189-190.
This statute, issued by Tsar Alexander I in December 1804, regulates all aspects of Jewish life in Russia. It is a sweeping statement of discrimination against Russian Jewry.
THE TSAR'S INTRODUCTION
Regulation on Settlement of Jews.
After review of the regulation, We found the principle implemented by the
Committee very just and all articles of the regulation reflected moderation and
care about the genuine welfare of Jews, as well as being based on benefits to
native residents of the Gubernias, where those people have permission to
Read the complete Statute Concerning the Organization of the Jews
OWN PROPERTY (1807-1808)
These articles are excerpts from the "Law on the Settlement
and Migration of Jews in the Russia Empire",
which was decreed in 1791 by Catherine the Great. According to this law
Jews were prohibited from living in certain areas of the Russian Empire. The
region in which Jews were allowed to live later became known as the Pale of
Settlement, according to a decree by Tsar Nicholas I issued in April 1835. The
Pale of Settlement was abolished by the revolutionary government in 1917.
Article 3. A permanent residence is permitted to the Jews; (a) In the provinces: Grodno, Vilna, Volhynia, Podolia, Minsk, Ekaterinoslav. (b) In the districts: Bessarabia, Bialystok.
Article 4. In addition to the provinces and districts listed in the preceding section, a permanent residence is permitted to the Jews, with the following restrictions: (a) in Kiev province, with the exception of the provincial capital, Kiev; (b) in Kherson province, with the exception of the city of Nikolaev; (c) in Tavaria province, with the exception of the city of Sebatopol; (d) in the Mogilev and Vitebsk provinces, except in the villages; (e) in Chernigov and Poltava provinces, but not within the government and Cossack villages, where the expulsion of the Jews has already been completed; (f) in Courland province permanent residence is permitted only to those Jews who have been registered until the present date with their families in census lists. Entry for the purpose of settlement is forbidden to Jews from other provinces; (g) in Lithland province, in the city of Riga and the suburb Shlok, with the same restrictions as those applying in Courland province...
Article 11. Jews who have gone abroad without a legal exit-permit are deprived of Russian citizenship and not permitted to return to Russia.
Article 12. Within the general area of settlement and in every place where the Jews are permitted permanent residence, they are allowed not only to move from place to place and to settle in accordance with the general regulations, but also to acquire real estate of all kinds with the exception of inhabited estates, the ownership of which is strictly forbidden to Jews...
Article 23. Every Jew must be registered according to the law in one of the legal estates of the realm. Any Jew not complying with this regulation will be treated as a vagrant.
Pogroms exploded in Russia in 1881 and lasted for the next two years. Tsar Alexander III, following the policy of "isolation and assimilation," enacted the following anti-Jewish laws in May 1882.
Article 1. As a temporary measure and until the revision of the laws regulating their status, Jews are forbidden to settle hereafter outside of cities and towns. Exception is made with regard to Jewish villages already in existence where the Jews are engaged in agriculture.
Article 2. Until further order all contracts for the mortgaging or renting of real estate situated outside of cities and towns to a Jew, shall be of no effect. Equally void is any power of attorney granted to a Jew for the administration or disposition of property of the above-indicated nature.
Article 3. Jews are forbidden to do business on Sundays and Christian holidays; the laws compelling Christians to close their places of business on those days will be applied to Jewish places of business.
Article 4. The above measures are applicable only in the governments situated within the pale of settlement.
This is an excerpt from an official Russian government decree on Jews and education.
"The purpose of educating the Jews is to bring about their gradual merging
with the Christian nationalities, and to uproot those superstitions and harmful
prejudices which are instilled by the teachings of the Talmud. "
First, to limit the number of Jewish physicians...in the Military Department to five percent of the general number of medical men. Second, to stop appointing Jews on medical service in the military districts of Western Russia, and to transfer the surplus over and above five percent to the Eastern districts.
Third, to appoint Jewish physicians only in those contingents of the army in which the budget calls for at least two physicians, with the proviso that the second physician must be a Christian.
It is necessary to stop the constant growth of the number of physicians of the Mosaic persuasion in the Military Department, in view of their deficient conscientiousness in discharging their duties and their unfavorable influence upon the sanitary service in the army.
Appearing in 1897, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was one of the most widely distributed pieces of antisemitic propaganda ever created. Its authors were members of the Russian secret police (the Okhrana), who sought to strengthen the position of the Tsarist autocracy by claiming that Christian peoples were threatened by a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. The Protocols became public knowledge in 1905 following the abortive revolution in Russia that year. Russian reactionary groups, called "Black Hundreds" circulated the Protocols in an effort to blame the revolutionary upheaval on Jews. Over the next several decades, the Protocols were translated into multiple European languages and printed throughout Europe. Radical nationalist groups later cited the document as "proof" of the existence of a Jewish world conspiracy.
This chronology highlights anti-Jewish laws passed under Tsar Alexander III
and Nicholas II.
1882 The Governor-General of St. Petersburg orders fourteen Jewish apothecaries to shut down their businesses.
1886 A Senatorial decision sets forth that no Jew could be elected to a vacancy on the board of an orphan asylum.
1886 A circular of the Minister of Finance and a Senatorial decree introduced rigorous restrictions concerning Jews engaged in the liquor traffic, permitting them to sell liquor only from their own homes and owned property.
1887 A Senatorial resolution states that Jews who graduated from a university outside Russia do not belong to the privileged class possessing the universal right of residence by virtue of their diplomas, and therefore must not settle outside the Pale of Settlement.
1887 An Imperial sanction prohibits Jews from settling in Finland.
1889 Jews must obtain a special permit from the Minister of Justice to be elected to the Bar.
1891 An order forbids non-Christians from acquiring real estate in the provinces of Akmolinski, Semirietchensk, Uralsk and Turgai.
1892 In accordance with a proposal of the Imperial Council, the mining industry in Turkestan was closed to Jews.
1894 The Minister of the Interior decreed that Jews that have graduated from a veterinary college are no longer to be admitted to the service of the State.
1895 A Senatorial decision asserts that rabbis possess no right of residence beyond the Pale of Settlement.
1895 A circular of the Minister of War instructs the Cossack authorities in the Caucasus and the Don Territory that Jews visiting the Don, Kuban and Terek provinces for the sake of the medicinal waters are to be turned back.