Russian Jewsby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
Describe how and why Jews came to live in Russia and how their treatment forced migration to Israel.
Although the Jewish people have been scattered and disproportionately persecuted over the centuries by Assyrians, Romans, Muslims, Spaniards, Germans and others, it was Russia that finally drove them to return to the land of Israel.
Jews have been persecuted in Russia well before Catherine the Great carved up Poland and well after the death of Stalin. In the mildest form, persecutions including limiting where they could and couldn’t live, what profession they could have, and what schools they could attend. In the extreme form, pogroms were conducted to exterminate the Jews from Russia.
In Genesis Chapter 12 God promises Abraham “…and to your descendants I will give this land.” Most of the promise land is eventually taken by Abraham’s descendants but they were removed from the land by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and the Romans. They slowly returned to some of their promise land and formally established the nation of Israel in 1948. Jews had been flung all over the world trying to stick together and ward off anti-Semitism.
One of the countries the Jews migrated to was Russia. Some say that originally the Jews (the Ten Lost Tribes) were forced by the Assyrians into the Russian area in 721 BC or because of the Babylonian Exile in 586 BC. The Jews lived somewhat peacefully with the people of the Russian land up until the rise of state enforced Christianity. Prince Vladimir II Monomachus welcomed Jews warmly into his city of Kiev and protected them. However in 1117 the people rebelled against Prince Vladimir and also directed their resentment by attacking Jewish homes. Not all the Russian rulers were as nice to Jews as Vladimir II. Tsar Ivan IV Vasilievich ordered that all the Jews who refused to convert to Christianity would be drowned in the river. Tsarina Elizabeth Petrovna demanded the expulsion of the Jews in her kingdom. “I do not want any benefit from the enemies of Christ,” she said when faced with the economic loss of expelling the Jewish traders.
Since, in the 7th century, Muslims had brutally took the Promised Land from the Jews and Christians that had been living there, and the Crusaders had been ultimately unsuccessful in reclaiming the lost territory, Jews spread across Europe rather than rebuilding their lives in the land that once flowed with milk and honey. The Jews continued to be pushed around through the years, even back into Russia. The Spanish Inquisition was one such pushing force. Starting in 1478 Ferdinand and Isabella, tried to unite their country by using a common religion, Catholicism. All other religions were persecuted, including the Jews. Trying to escape the reign of terror they were forced to flee to other countries. Jews were banned from inhabiting the newly discovered lands Spain claimed in 1492. This decree directed the Jews eastward. Unavoidably, this largely included Poland and Russia.
Russia under Catherine the Great’s rule was the “top of the slide” for the Jews of that time. When she ruled, she gave the Jewish people their first political rights. Unfortunately, this is one of the few positive aspects of their livelihood. After Russia acquired Poland in the mid 1700s, millions of Jews came into Russia. As a result, Catherine the Great, under pressure from the government, issued a law that only allowed Jews to reside in Pales, which were places that were partitioned from the rest of the country. The purposes of Pales were to keep the Jews out of good professions and the middle class, which they were filling at the time because of the growth of the industrial status. The Russian Government avoided assimilating the Jews by limiting what towns Jews were allowed in but tried to force them to assimilate by placing public schools in the Pales rather than the traditional Jewish school. One might think “how bad could that be? They were only relocated”, but life in the pales indeed was bad and involved more implications than just the location or the disregard for differences.
The Pales were extremely impoverished, greatly dependent on charity. According Martin Gilbert “no province in the pale had less than 14% of Jews on relief…” (Gilbert 1995) luckily, there were some organizations within the Pales to help relieve the poverty. Rabbi Ken Spiro describes some of these: “Among the charitable societies organized by Jews were those to supply poor students with clothes, soldiers with kosher food, the poor with free medical treatment, poor brides with dowries, and orphans with technical education. This was an incredibly sophisticated social welfare system. In times of great hardship, no Jew was abandoned.” (Spiro 2001)
At least the Pale provided some autonomy and thus a “mass exodus”of Jews living in countries neighboring Russia would travel into the villages of the Pale. Despite immigration limitations to prohibit Jews from entering, more Jewish emigrants slipped into Russia, and the Russian-Jewish population just kept growing. “The number of Jews in Russia which in 1850 had been estimated at 2,350,000 rose to over 5,000,000 at the close of the 19th century.” says Heritage Films.
After 1855, when Alexander II took the throne, the Jewish people faced more limitations. Under his rule, Jews could not own land, were restricted in where they could or couldn’t go, and could not posses Christian servants. As if it wasn’t bad enough, Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. Rumor said that the Jewish people were responsible because the investigation found one of the assassins was Jewish. The predecessor of Alexander II, Alexander III was even more anti-Semitic. His view was that of “folk anti-Semitism, which viewed the Jews as “Christ killers”” (Wikipedia 2008). He tightened his fist even more on restrictions, limiting where Jews could live within the Pales, and even limited the type of occupations they could have, although he did encourage immigration to the United States.
The assassination of Alexander II brought on “pogroms” as a reaction from Alexander III in 1881. A pogrom is defined on the dictionary.com website as “An organized, often officially encouraged massacre or persecution of a minority group, especially one conducted against Jews.” ( New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy 2005). Pogroms were not few in number and occurred in 166 Russian towns, which left thousands of Jewish homes in ruins, a lot of people extremely poor, and many injured and killed. According to the Manchester Media Library, if a Jew made a trip outside his area, he could be labeled a new settler, and not be allowed to return home. This also happened to Jewish soldiers returning from battle. (Manchester media library 2005) In 1881, the people of Russia rebelled against the government. The government conveniently used the Jews as a scapegoat, proclaiming that they were the cause of Russia’s problems. The rebels eagerly turned against the Jews, who had never been liked in the first place due to their distinctive religion. The pogroms were wave after wave of ethnic genocide. In 1905 “pogroms are staged in more than 300 towns and cities, leaving almost a thousand people dead and many thousands wounded” reveals a writer for Beyond the Pale. The pogroms were not as mild as depicted in the movie, "Fiddler on the Roof". They violently forced many Jews from Russia.
On through the early 20th century the Jews continued to be used as scapegoats, even if they weren’t involved. One description of baseless persecutions is a good picture of what the Jewish people had to deal with, from B.A. Robinson’s Overview of 2000 Years of Jewish Persecution:
1903: At Easter, government agents organized an anti-Jewish pogrom in Kishinev, Moldova, Russia. The local newspaper published a series of inflammatory articles. A Christian child was discovered murdered and a young Christian woman at the Jewish Hospital committed suicide. Jews were blamed for the deaths. Violence ensured. The 5,000 soldiers in the town did nothing. When the smoke cleared, 49 Jews had been killed, 500 were injured; 700 homes looted and destroyed, 600 businesses and shops looted, 2000 families left homeless. Later, it was discovered that the child had been murdered by its relatives and the suicide was unrelated to the Jews. (B.A.Robinson 2005)Sixteen years later, the new leader of Russia, Lenin, delivered a speech on anti-Semitism and pogroms. In this speech, he explained that persecuting Jews was “simply using them as scapegoats to divert popular anger.” (Wikipedia 2008) When Lenin was in power, he started the Bolshevik party. At first this was a great thing for the Jews, for Lenin completely tolerated Jews and let many Jews into this new party; in fact, this party was mostly Jewish people. Although this made a lot of Jews happy, the contras (the other party) did not like it. According to Frederick Gabrielsen…
…the ferocious White Guards - Russia's contras - from the start heaped all Jews together with the Bolsheviks, and when they came across Jewish settlements, slaughtered Jews, up to 1,000 a day in some places, inducing Russia's Jewish minority to seek Bolshevik protection and lending valuable assistance to Lenin's beleaguered regime in return. (Gabrielsen 1990) Although the Jewish Bolsheviks turned from theism to party atheism, and instigated atrocities against fellow Russians, most Jewish people kept their faith and became political and cultural scapegoats to be blamed and suffer violence.
After Lenin died in 1924, Stalin came into power. For the Jewish people, it was another bad time. Stalin’s first act was to purge all the Jews out of office, and then he wanted to cleanse Russia entirely of Jews and give them a homeland of their own so they would leave. Although it sounded like a good idea, the place chosen was not. The planned location for this “homeland” was somewhere in the Ukraine and Crimea. Then that plan changed and according to Michael Paullraj:
Soon an ingenious idea of carving out a Jewish homeland in the Far East in the southern Siberian swamps on the Chinese border was evolved, in order to keep the Jews away from the national mainstream. The Jewish Autonomous Region thus created in Birobidzhan near the Amur River in 1928 by a decree of the General Executive Committee of RSFSR was formally made into a Jewish Oblast (republic) within the Russian Federation in May 1934. The area was largely a swampland with harsh climatic conditions and Jews were forcibly transported to the region. (Paulraj 2007)
The rise of Zionism brought hope of a return to their Promise Land. The desolate land of Palestine, as it had been renamed by the Romans, had a few scattered Arab villages occupying a land devastated by centuries of warfare and neglect culminating in the WWI defeat of the Ottoman Empire. Jews had been fleeing from Russia and then, with the holocaust of WWII, Jews by the thousands attempted to migrate to British controlled Palestine. After Hitler was beaten, the world tried to compensated for the murder of 6 million Jews by helping to grant them an official state.
The Muslims as prophesied (Genesis 16:11-12), hated the Jews with a vengeance as bad as Hitler. The Jews used the the Balfour Declaration and the Promise of Abraham as their claim to the land. The Muslims had twisted the Torah to exchange Ismael for Isaac in their claim that the Koran made them descendents of the child of promise. Although the Koran never mentions Jerusalem, it is mentioned hundreds of times in the Jewish Old Testament. In 1948, on the verge of Israel becoming a state and tens of thousands of Jews migrating there, there were still difficulties. On May 14th, the declaration of independence was signed for Israel. Even though they now had their own state, more persecution occurred. According to Wikipedia, “The declaration was followed by an invasion of the new state by troops from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, starting the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, known in Israel as the War of Independence”. Although no war is good, this was not in vain, and it wasn’t constant war either. There was a truce on June 11, which ended on July 8 and the fighting stopped again 10 days later, then started again in mid October then ultimately stopped on July 24, 1949. As a result of the war, Israel kept its independence and actually acquired land equal to 50% of what they had been allotted by the UN.
The Jewish people were finally returning to their land. Today there remains a sprinkling of Jews throughout the world but nearly half of all Jews live in the state of Israel.
The pogroms and Hitler's final solution served to gather God's chosen people back to their promised land. God keeps his promises. Although Jews have suffered greatly, God says:
Come, let us return to the LORD.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us; he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
1. All these rulers deliberately persecuted the Jews in some way EXCEPT
A. Catherine the Great
B. Alexander III
2. The first home land for Jews was whose idea and what location?
A. Stalin, the swamps in the far east
B. Stalin, Ukraine and Crimea.
C. Alexander III, northern united states
D. Lenin, Russia
3. Pogroms were designed by and the reason for them was…
A. Catherine the Great, Jews had bad behavior
B. Alexander II, for the assassination of Alexander I that was planned by Jews
C. Stalin, for extreme anti-Semitic views.
D. Alexander III, for the assassination of Alexander II in which one Jew was involved.
4. Life in the Pale was…
A. Horrible, no one helped each other out, people were greedy.
B. Poverty stricken, most people lived on charity, people were gracious to each other.
C. Farming excellent, it started the Amish culture in America.
D. Livable, not good but not bad
"Ancient Times Until the Second World War" Jewish History of the Russian Federation, Oct. 24, 2003
"The Pogroms of 1903 - 1906" Beyond the Pale, Oct. 25, 2003
"The Spanish Inquisition" Web Chron, Oct. 24, 2003
New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. Dictionary.com. 2005. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pogrom.
B.A.Robinson. religioustolerance.org. October 9, 2005. http://www.religioustolerance.org/jud_pers2.htm.
Gabrielsen, Frederick. nytimes.com. Febuary 20, 1990. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE4DD143DF933A15751C0A966958260.
Gilbert, Martin. Atlas of Jewish History. 5th . Everyman Paperback Classics, 1995.
Manchester media library. 2005. www.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/medialibrary/llc/files/handoutsrussian/russ1024020300/jewishquestion.doc.
Paulraj, R. Michael. suite101.com. September 19, 2007. http://jewish-history.suite101.com/article.cfm/alternative_jewish_homelands.
Spiro, Rabbi Ken. Aish.com. December 16, 2001. http://www.aish.com/literacy/jewishhistory/Crash_Course_in_Jewish_History_Part_56_-_Pale_of_Settlement.asp.
Wikipedia. Wikipedia. October 21, 2008. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_Russia.
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