Tuesday, 12 July 2011



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 1720s, there
were essentially no Jews in the Russian Empire except for travelers and
migrant merchants, and the Russian state forbade Jews from settling in its
interior, out of
Christian hostility. 
A group of Jewish soldiers in the tsarist army,
Troitskossovsk, 1887. (YIVO Archives)
It was only
in the early
decades of the
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. .........

The Russian State and the Jews. 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 1970s and 1980s, 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
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 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
to1886 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. [See Kishinev;
Pogroms.] 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. [See Russian Revolution of 1905.]
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 antiSemitism and the strength of the anti-tsarist forces in Russian society. [See
the biography of Beilis.]

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.
Demographic, Social, and Economic History. 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 governmentsponsored 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 disproportionally 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.  Religious and Cultural Changes. 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 secularization. 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 enlighteners: 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
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 1860s 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 BenYehudah, argued by the late 1870s 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 1890s, 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 rabbis, 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 1860s and 1870s 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 Theodor 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 1880s and early 1890s, there were two
daily Hebrew newspapers in the Russian capital alone. By the 1890s 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 MoikherSeforim (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.
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, Tsa
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, 1794–1881 (Stanford, Calif., 1986)

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