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Russian Jews
היהודים הרוסיים / יהדות רוסיה
Русские Евреи
Total population
Ca. 4 million
Regions with significant populations
 USA 2,000,000
 Israel 1,150,000
 Russia 500,000
 Germany 200,000
 Canada 50,000
 Australia 20,000

Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish.



Related ethnic groups

Ashkenazi, Jews, Russians

The vast territories of the Russian Empire at one time hosted the largest Jewish population in the world.[citation needed] Within these territories the Jewish community flourished and developed many of modern Judaism's most distinctive theological and cultural traditions, while also facing periods of intense antisemitic discriminatory policies and persecutions. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, many Soviet Jews took advantage of liberalized emigration policies, with over half their population leaving, most for Israel, the United States and Germany. Despite this emigration, the Jews residing in Russia and the nations of the former Soviet Union still constitute one of the larger Jewish populations in Europe.


Early history

Tradition places Jews in contemporary southern Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, and Georgia since the Babylonian captivity, and records exist from the 4th century showing that there were Armenian cities possessing Jewish populations ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 along with substantial Jewish settlements in the Crimea.[citation needed] Under the influence of these Jewish communities, Bulan, the Khagan Bek of the Khazars, and the ruling classes of Khazaria (located in what is now Ukraine, Southern Russia and Kazakhstan), adopted Judaism at some point in the mid-to-late 8th or early 9th centuries. After the overthrow of the Khazarian kingdom by Sviatoslav I of Kiev (969), Khazar Jews may have fled in large numbers to the Crimea, the Caucasus, and the Russian principality of Kiev which was formerly a part of the Khazar territory. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Jews appear to have occupied a separate quarter in Kiev, known as the Jewish town (Old Russian Жидове, Zhidove, i.e. ‘The Jews’), the gates probably leading to which were known as the Jewish gates (Old Russian Жидовская ворота, Zhidovskaya vorota). The Kievan community was oriented towards Byzantium (the Romaniotes), Babylonia and Palestine in the tenth and eleventh centuries, but appears to have been increasingly open to the European Ashkenazim from the twelfth century on. Few products of Kievan Jewish intellectual activity are extant, however. Other communities, or groups of individuals, are known from Chernigov and, probably, Volodymyr-Volynskyi. At that time Jews are probably found also in northeastern Russia, in the domains of Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky (1169–1174), although it is uncertain to which degree they would have been living there permanently.[1]

Though northeastern Russia had few Jews, countries just to its west had rapidly growing Jewish populations, as waves of anti-Jewish pogroms and expulsions from the countries of Western Europe marked the last centuries of the Middle Ages, a sizable portion of the Jewish populations there moved to the more tolerant countries of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the Middle East.

Expelled en masse from England, France, Spain and most other Western European countries at various times, and persecuted in Germany in the 14th century, many Western European Jews naturally accepted Polish ruler Casimir III's invitation to settle in Polish-controlled areas of Eastern Europe as a third estate, performing commercial, middleman services in an agricultural society for the Polish king and nobility between 1330 and 1370, during Casimir the Great's reign. Approximately 85 percent of the Jews in Poland during the 14th century were involved in estate management, tax and toll collecting, moneylending or trade.[citation needed]

After settling in Poland (later Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) and Hungary (later Austria-Hungary), the population expanded into the lightly populated areas of Ukraine and Lithuania, which were to become part of the expanding Russian empire. In 1495 Alexander the Jagiellonian expelled the Jews from Grand Duchy of Lithuania but reversed his decision in 1503.

In the shtetls populated almost entirely by Jews, or in the middle-sized town where Jews constituted a significant part of population, Jewish communities traditionally ruled themselves according to halakha, and were limited by the privileges granted them by local rulers. (See also Shtadlan). These Jews were not assimilated into the larger eastern European societies, and identified as an ethnic group with a unique set of religious beliefs and practices, as well as an ethnically unique economic role.

Modern times

Documentary evidence as to the presence of Jews in Muscovite Russia is first found in the chronicles of 1471. The relatively small population of Jews were generally free of major persecution: although there were laws against them during this period, they do not appear to be strictly enforced.

In the 1480s the principality of Muscovy became the religious equivalent of the Caliphate or Holy Roman Empire[citation needed]. Based on the theory of the Third Rome, it was believed that the Tsar ruled the only rightful, practically independent Orthodox state, surrounded by Muslim and Roman Catholic states. According to prophecy, there were to be only three Romes, that is, centers of rightful religious faith. The first two, ancient Rome and Constantinople, have already fallen, leaving the only hope on earth with Moscow. The religious zeal of such a theory reasoned for the ultimate measures against the "enemies of the faith", including the Jews.

Muscovite treatment of the Jews became harsher in the reign of Ivan IV, The Terrible (1533–84). For example, in his conquest of Polotsk in February 1563, some 300 local Jews who declined to convert to Christianity were, according to legend, drowned in the Dvina[citation needed].

Jews were not tolerated in the area of Muscovy; from 1721 the official doctrine of Imperial Russia was openly antisemitic[citation needed]. Even if Jews were tolerated for some modest time, eventually they were expelled. These things made a lot of people famous.

19th century

Map of the Pale of Settlement

The traditional measures of keeping Russia free of Jews failed when the main territory of Poland was annexed during the partitions. During the second (1793) and the third (1795) partitions, large populations of Jews were taken over by Russia, and the Tsar established a Pale of Settlement that included Poland and Crimea. Jews were supposed to remain in the Pale and required special permission to move to Russia proper, while Russian officials pursued alternating policies designed to encourage assimilation (such as opening public schools to Jews) and destroy independent Jewish life (such as forbidding Jews to live in certain towns).

Rebellions beginning with the Decembrist Revolt of 1825, followed by the struggle of Russia's intelligentsia, and the rise of nihilism, liberalism, socialism, syndicalism, and finally Communism threatened the old tsarist order. It may be noted that Pavel Pestel, one of the leaders of the unsuccessful Decembrist revolt, proposed to remove all Jews from Russia to some territory in Asia Minor, especially acquired for this purpose, where they would be able to establish independent state.[2]

In 1844 civil authority of the Jewish Councils of Elders (Kehilla) was officially and finally abolished.[citation needed]

Alexander II, known as the "Tsar liberator" for the 1861 abolition of serfdom in Russia, was also known for his suppression of national minorities. Under his rule Jews could not commission Christian servants, could not own land, and were restricted to where they could and couldn't travel.[3] During his reign the cultural and habitual isolation of the Jews gradually began to be relaxed. An ever-increasing number of Jews adopted Russian language and customs.


Alexander III was a staunch reactionary and an anti-semite[4] (influenced by Pobedonostsev [5]) who strictly adhered to the old doctrine of Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality. His escalation of anti-Jewish policies sought to popularize "folk antisemitism," which portrayed the Jews as "Christ-killers" and the oppressors of the Slavic, Christian victims.

The victims of a 1905 pogrom in Yekaterinoslav

A large-scale wave of anti-Jewish pogroms swept southwestern Russia in 1881, after Jews were wrongly blamed for the assassination of Alexander II. In the 1881 outbreak, there were pogroms in 166 Russian towns, thousands of Jewish homes were destroyed, many families reduced to extremes of poverty;[citation needed] large numbers of men, women, and children were injured and some killed. Disorders in the south once again recalled the government attention to the Jewish question. A conference was convened at the Ministry of Interior and on May 15, 1882 so-called Temporary Regulations were introduced ("Временные правила") that stayed in effect for more than thirty years and came to be known as the May Laws.

Torah scrolls presented by the Jewish community of Kishinev to Nicholas II, 1914.

The repressive legislation was repeatedly revised. Many historians noted the concurrence of these state-enforced antisemitic policies with waves of pogroms[6] that continued until 1884, with at least tacit government knowledge and in some cases policemen were seen inciting or joining the mob.

Joseph Trumpeldor, the most decorated Jewish soldier in the Russian Army for his bravery in the Russo-Japanese War

The systematic policy of discrimination banned Jews from rural areas and towns of fewer than ten thousand people, even within the Pale, assuring the slow death of many shtetls. In 1887, the quotas placed on the number of Jews allowed into secondary and higher education were tightened down to 10% within the Pale, 5% outside the Pale, except Moscow and Saint Petersburg, held at 3%. Strict restrictions prohibited Jews from practicing many professions. In 1886, an Edict of Expulsion was enforced on Jews of Kiev. In 1891, most Jews were expelled from Moscow (except few deemed useful) and a newly built synagogue was closed by the city's authorities headed by the Tsar's brother. Tsar Alexander III refused to curtail repressive practices and reportedly noted: "But we must never forget that the Jews have crucified our Master and have shed his precious blood."[7] The restrictions placed on education, traditionally highly valued in Jewish communities, resulted in ambition to excel over the peers and increased emigration rates.

Victim of fanaticism. Painting by Nikolay Pimonenko. 1899.

In 1892, new measures banned Jewish participation in local elections despite their large numbers in many towns of the Pale. "The Town Regulations prohibited Jews from the right to elect or be elected to town Dumas. Only a small number of Jews were allowed to be a town Dumas members, through appointment by special committees.

In 1897, according to Russian census of 1897 total Jewish population of Russia was 5,189,401 persons of both sexes (4,13% of total population). Of this total 93,9% lived in the 25 provinces of the Pale of Settlement. The total population of the Pale of Settlement amounted to 42,338,367 - of these 4,805,354 (11,5%) were Jews.

NOTE: The painting on the right does not depict a pogrom, but actually documents an event in Ukraine, that the artist read about: a Jewish woman was attacked by members of her (Jewish) community for falling in love with a Christian convert. The townspeople are raising sticks and objects, and her parents are shown to the right, denouncing her.

Mass emigration

Political Cartoon, Russian Tsar-Stop your cruel oppression of the Jews! (1904)
Jewish emigration from Russia, 1880-1928[8]
Destination Number
Australia 5,000
Canada 70,000
Europe 240,000
Israel 45,000
South Africa 45,000
South America 111,000
USA 1,749,000

Even though the persecutions provided the impetus for mass emigration there were other relevant factors that can account for the Jews' migration. Recent studies have demonstrated how the Russian Jews' emigration was highly correlated with negative Russian economic performance and the high employment rate in the U.S. during those years.[citation needed] Moreover, after the first years of large emigration from Russia, positive feedback from the former Jews in the U.S. accounts itself for why so many Russian Jews expatriated to the U.S. Indeed more than two million of them fled Russia between 1880 and 1920. While a vast majority emigrated to the United States, some turned to Zionism. In 1882, members of Bilu and Hovevei Zion made what came to be known the First Aliyah to Israel, then a part of the Ottoman Empire.

The Tsarist government sporadically encouraged Jewish emigration. In 1890, it approved the establishment of "The Society for the Support of Jewish Farmers and Artisans in Syria and Eretz Israel," (known as the "Odessa Committee" headed by Leon Pinsker) dedicated to practical aspects in establishing agricultural Jewish settlements in the Land of Israel.

A larger wave of pogroms broke out in 1903-1906, leaving an estimated 1,000 Jews dead, and between 7,000 and 8,000 wounded.[citation needed]

Jewish members of the Duma

In total, there were at least twelve Jewish deputies in the First Duma (1906–1907), falling to three or four in the Second Duma (February 1907 to June 1907), two in the Third Duma (1907–1912) and again three in the fourth, elected in 1912. Converts to Christianity like Mikhail Herzenstein and Ossip Pergament were still considered as Jews by the public (and antisemitic) opinion and are most of the time included in these figures.

At the 1906 elections, the Jewish Labour Bund had made an electoral agreement with the Lithuanian Labourers' Party (Trudoviks), which resulted in the election to the Duma of two (non-Bundist) candidates in the Lithuanian provinces: Dr. Shmaryahu Levin for the Vilnius province and Leon Bramson for the Kaunas province.[9]

Among the other Jewish deputies were Maxim Vinaver, chairman of the League for the Attainment of Equal Rights for the Jewish People in Russia (Folksgrupe) and cofounder of the Constitutional Democratic Party (Kadets), Dr. Nissan Katzenelson (Courland province, Zionist, Kadet), Dr. Moisei Yakovlevich Ostrogorsky (Grodno province), attorney Simon Yakovlevich Rosenbaum (Minsk province, Zionist, Kadet), Mikhail Isaakovich Sheftel (Ekaterinoslav province, Kadet), Dr. Grigory Bruk, Dr. Benyamin Yakubson, Zakhar Frenkel, Solomon Frenkel, Meilakh Chervonenkis.[10] There was also a Crimean Karaim deputy, Salomon Krym.[11]

Three of the Jewish deputies, Bramson, Chervonenkis and Yakubson, joined the Labour faction, nine other joined the Kadet fraction.[10] According to Rufus Learsi, five of them were Zionists, including Dr. Shmaryahu Levin, Dr. Victor Jacobson and Simon Yakovlevich Rosenbaum.[12]

Two of them, Grigori Borisovich Iollos (Poltava province) and Mikhail Herzenstein (b. 1859, d. 1906 in Terijoki), both from the Constitutional Democratic Party, were assassinated by the Black Hundreds antisemite terrorist group.[13]

The Second Duma included seven Jewish deputies: Shakho Abramson, Iosif Gessen, Vladimir Matveevich Gessen, Lazar Rabinovich, Yakov Shapiro (all of them Kadets) and Victor Mandelberg (Siberia Social Democrat)[14], plus a convert to Christianity, the attorney Ossip Pergament (Odessa).[15]

The two Jewish members of the Third Duma were the Judge Leopold Nikolayevich (or Lazar) Nisselovich (Courland province, Kadet) and Naftali Markovich Friedman (Kaunas province, Kadet). Ossip Pergament was reelected and died before the end of his mandate.[16]

Friedman was the only one reelected to the Fourth Duma in 1912, joined by two new deputies, Meer Bomash, and Dr. Ezekiel Gurevich.[14]

Jews in the revolutionary movement

The founder of Hovevei Zion Leon Pinsker

Many Jews were prominent in Russian revolutionary parties. The idea of overthrowing the Tsarist regime was attractive to many members of the Jewish semi-intelligentsia because of the oppression of non-Russian nations and non-Orthodox Christians within the Russian Empire. For much the same reason, many non-Russians, notably Latvians or Poles, were disproportionately represented in the party leaderships.

In 1897 General Jewish Labour Bund (The Bund), was formed. Many Jews joined the ranks of two principal revolutionary parties: Socialist-Revolutionary Party and Russian Social Democratic Labour Party - both Bolshevik and Menshevik factions. A notable number of Bolshevik party members were ethnically Jewish, especially in the leadership of the party, and the percentage of Jewish party members among the rival Mensheviks was even higher. Both the founders and leaders of Menshevik faction, Julius Martov and Pavel Axelrod were Jewish.

Because some of the leading Bolsheviks were ethnic Jews, and Bolshevism supports a policy of promoting international proletarian revolution— most notably in the case of Leon Trotsky— many enemies of Bolshevism, as well as contemporary anti-semites, draw a picture of Communism as a political slur at Jews and accuse Jews of pursuing Bolshevism to benefit Jewish interests, reflected in the terms "Jewish Bolshevism" or "Judeo-Bolshevism" [source/citation needed]. The original atheistic and internationalistic ideology of the Bolsheviks (See proletarian internationalism, bourgeois nationalism) was incompatible with Jewish traditionalism.

Soon after seizing power, the Bolsheviks established the Yevsektsiya, the Jewish section of the Communist party in order to destroy the rival Bund and Zionist parties, suppress Judaism and replace traditional Jewish culture with "proletarian culture".

About 450,000 Jewish soldiers served in the Russian army during the World War I.[17], and fought side by side with their Christian fellow-citizens. When hundreds of thousands of refugees from Poland and Lithuania, and among them innumerable Jews, fled in terror before enemy invasion and spread over interior of Russia, Pale of Settlement de facto ceased to exist. Most of the education restrictions on the Jews were removed with appointment of count Pavel Ignatiev as minister of education.

2nd Congress of Soviets of the Nothern region presidium. In the front row: Moisei Uritsky, Leon Trotsky, Yakov Sverdlov, Grigory Zinoviev, Mikhail Lashevich. 1918.

In March 1919, Lenin delivered a speech "On Anti-Jewish Pogroms"[18] on a gramophone disc. Lenin sought to explain the phenomenon of antisemitism in Marxist terms. According to Lenin, antisemitism was an "attempt to divert the hatred of the workers and peasants from the exploiters toward the Jews." Linking antisemitism to class struggle, he argued that it was merely a political technique used by the tsar to exploit religious fanaticism, popularize the despotic, unpopular regime, and divert popular anger toward a scapegoat. The Soviet Union also officially maintained this Marxist-Leninist interpretation under Stalin, who expounded Lenin's critique of antisemitism. However, this did not prevent the widely publicized repressions of Jewish intellectuals during 19481953 (see After World War II) when Stalin increasingly associated Jews with "cosmopolitanism" and pro-Americanism.

Such actions, along with extensive Jewish participation among the Bolsheviks, plagued the Communists during the Russian Civil War against the Whites with a reputation of being "a gang of marauding Jews"; Jews comprised a majority in the Communist Central Committee, outnumbering even ethnic Russians. At the same time, the vast majority of Russia's Jews, much like their non-Jewish Russian neighbors, were not in any political party.

Jews were prominent in the Russian Constitutional Democrat Party, Social Democrat Party (Mensheviks) and Socialist-Revolutionary Party. The Russian Anarchist movement also included many prominent Jewish revolutionaries. In Ukraine, Makhnovist anarchist leaders also included several Jews.[19]

The attempts of the socialist Bund to be the sole representative of the Jewish worker in Russia had always conflicted with Lenin's idea of a universal coalition of workers of all nationalities. Like some other socialist parties in Russia, the Bund was initially opposed to the Bolsheviks' seizing of power in 1917 and to the dissolution of the Russian Constituent Assembly. Consequently, the Bund suffered repressions in the first months of the Soviet regime[citation needed]. However, the antisemitism of many Whites during the Russian Civil War caused many if not most Bund members to readily join the Bolsheviks, and most of the factions eventually merged with the Communist Party. The movement did split in three; the Bundist identity survived in interwar Poland, while many Bundists joined the Mensheviks.

In August 1919 Jewish properties, including synagogues, were seized and many Jewish communities were dissolved. The anti-religious laws against all expressions of religion and religious education were being taken out on the Jewish population, just like on other religious groups. Many Rabbis and other religious officials were forced to resign from their posts under the threat of violent persecution. This type of persecution continued on into the 1920s.[20]

In 1921, a large number of Jews opted for Poland, as they were entitled by peace treaty in Riga to choose the country they preferred. Several hundred thousand joined the already numerous Jewish population of Poland.

The chaotic years of World War I, the February and October Revolutions, and the Civil War were fertile ground for the antisemitism that was endemic to tsarist Russia. During the World War, Jews were often accused of sympathizing with Germany and often persecuted.

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[21]. An estimated 70,000 to 150,000 civilian Jews were killed in atrocities throughout the former Russian Empire; the number of Jewish orphans exceeded 300,000. Out of an estimated 887 mass pogroms in Ukraine during 1917-1918, about 40% were perpetrated by the Ukrainian forces led by Symon Petliura, 25% by the Green Army and various warlords, 17% by the White Army (especially by the forces of Anton Denikin), and 8.5% by the Red Army.[22]

Continuing the policy of the Bolsheviks before the Revolution, Lenin and the Bolshevik Party strongly condemned the pogroms, including official denunciations in 1918 by the Council of People's Commissars. Opposition to the pogroms and to manifestations of Russian antisemitism in this era were complicated by both the official Bolshevik policy of assimilationism towards all national and religious minorities, and concerns about overemphasizing Jewish concerns for fear of exacerbating popular antisemitism, as the White forces were openly identifying the Bolshevik regime with Jews.[23][24][25]

Lenin was intrigued with technology and in 1919 recorded eight of his speeches on gramophone records. Only seven of these were later re-recorded and put on sale. The one suppressed in the Khrushchev era recorded Lenin’s feelings on antisemitism.[26]:

The Tsarist police, in alliance with the landowners and the capitalists, organized pogroms against the Jews. The landowners and capitalists tried to divert the hatred of the workers and peasants who were tortured by want against the Jews. … Only the most ignorant and downtrodden people can believe the lies and slander that are spread about the Jews. … It is not the Jews who are the enemies of the working people. The enemies of the workers are the capitalists of all countries. Among the Jews there are working people, and they form the majority. They are our brothers, who, like us, are oppressed by capital; they are our comrades in the struggle for socialism. Among the Jews there are kulaks, exploiters and capitalists, just as there are among the Russians, and among people of all nations… Rich Jews, like rich Russians, and the rich in all countries, are in alliance to oppress, crush, rob and disunite the workers… Shame on accursed Tsarism which tortured and persecuted the Jews. Shame on those who foment hatred towards the Jews, who foment hatred towards other nations.[27]

Lenin was supported by the Labor Zionist (Poale Zion) movement, then under the leadership of Marxist theorist Ber Borochov, which was fighting for the creation of a Jewish workers' state in Palestine and also participated in the October Revolution (and in the Soviet political scene afterwards until being banned by Stalin in 1928). While Lenin remained opposed to outward forms of antisemitism (and all forms of racism), allowing Jewish people to rise to the highest offices in both party and state, certain historians such as Dmitri Volkogonov argue that the record of his government in this regard was highly uneven. A former official Soviet historian (turned staunch anti-communist), Volkogonov claims that Lenin was aware of pogroms carried out by units of the Red Army during the war with Poland, particularly those carried out by Semyon Budyonny's troops [28], though the whole issue was effectively ignored. Volkogonov writes that "While condemning anti-Semitism in general, Lenin was unable to analyze, let alone eradicate, its prevalence in Soviet society".[29] Likewise, the hostility of the Soviet regime towards all religion made no exception for Judaism, and the 1921 campaign against religion saw the seizure of many synagogues (whether this should be regarded as antisemitism is a matter of definition – since Orthodox churches received the same treatment).

Yet, according to Jewish historian Zvi Gitelman: "Never before in Russian history — and never subsequently has a government made such an effort to uproot and stamp out antisemitism".[30]

At the same time, the economic position of the Jewish population in USSR was not good. Soviet laws offered hardly any economic independence to artisans, and none whatever to traders. For many Jewish artisans and tradesmen, Soviet policies led to loss of their property and trade. On the other hand, thousands of Jewish semi-intellectuals and social failures have tested unlimited, uncensored power by joining the communist party and soviet bureaucracy.

According to the census of 1926, total number of Jews in USSR was 2,672,398 – of whom 59% lived in Ukrainian SSR, 15,2% in Byelorussian SSR, 22% in Russian SFSR and 3,8% in other Soviet republics.

Soviet Union before World War II

Poet Osip Madelstam after his first arrest by Stalin
Poet Boris Pasternak (foreground) was spared persecution by Stalin
Jewish Autonomous Oblast on the map of Russia

Russian Jews were long considered a non-native Semitic ethnicity within a Slavic Russia, and such categorization was solidified when ethnic minorities in the Soviet Union were categorized according to ethnicity (национальность). In his 1913 theoretical work Marxism and the National Question Stalin described Jews as "not a living and active nation, but something mystical, intangible and supernatural. For, I repeat, what sort of nation, for instance, is a Jewish nation which consists of Georgian, Daghestanian, Russian, American and other Jews, the members of which do not understand each other (since they speak different languages), inhabit different parts of the globe, will never see each other, and will never act together, whether in time of peace or in time of war?!"[31] According to Stalin, who became the People's Commissar for Nationalities Affairs after the revolution, to qualify as a nation, a minority was required to have a culture, a language, and a homeland.

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 the Land of Israel was established with the help of Komzet and OZET in 1928. The Jewish Autonomous Oblast with the center in Birobidzhan in the Russian Far East was to become a "Soviet Zion".[32]

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.[33] Hebrew books and periodicals ceased to be published and were seized from the libraries, although liturgical texts were still published until the 1930s. Despite numerous protests in the West,[34] teachers and students who attempted to study the Hebrew language were pilloried and sentenced for "counter revolutionary" and later for "anti-Soviet" activities.

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 there never reached 30% (as of 2003 it was only about 1.2%[35]). The experiment ground to a halt in the mid-1930s, during Stalin's first campaign of purges. Jewish leaders were arrested and executed, and Yiddish schools were shut down.

In his January 12, 1931 letter "Antisemitism: Reply to an Inquiry of the Jewish News Agency in the United States" Stalin officially condemned antisemitism:

In answer to your inquiry: National and racial chauvinism is a vestige of the misanthropic customs characteristic of the period of cannibalism. Antisemitism, as an extreme form of racial chauvinism, is the most dangerous vestige of cannibalism. Antisemitism is of advantage to the exploiters as a lightning conductor that deflects the blows aimed by the working people at capitalism. Antisemitism is dangerous for the working people as being a false path that leads them off the right road and lands them in the jungle. Hence Communists, as consistent internationalists, cannot but be irreconcilable, sworn enemies of antisemitism. In the U.S.S.R. antisemitism is punishable with the utmost severity of the law as a phenomenon deeply hostile to the Soviet system. Under U.S.S.R. law active antisemites are liable to the death penalty.[36]

In 1936 Pravda, the party's newspaper and main propaganda organ, printed a beneficial explanation of the vile nature of antisemitism. It stated that "national and racial chauvinism is a survival of the barbarous practices of the cannibalistic period... it served the exploiters... to protect capitalism from the attack of the working class; antisemitism, a phenomenon profoundly hostile to the Soviet Union, is repressed in the USSR."

The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact—the 1939 non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany—created further suspicion regarding the Soviet Union's position toward Jews. The pact, arguably allowed Adolf Hitler to freely enter Poland, the nation with the world's largest Jewish population, but it was neither an acceptance of Nazism nor instigated by anti-Jewish objectives. This was a disaster for Eastern Europe's Jews, but that was a side effect rather than a motivation. According to the pact Poland was divided between Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939. 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[citation needed] Polish regime.[37]

Many Jews fell victim to the The Great Purges, although there is no evidence that Jews were specifically targeted by Stalin. A number of the most prominent victims of the Purges—Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Kamenev, to name a few—were ethnic Jews, but Stalin was just as brutal when acting against his real or imagined enemies who were not Jewish—e.g., Bukharin, Tukhachevsky, Kirov, and Ordzhonikidze.

Some Stalinists survived notwithstanding their Jewish heritage. Stalin did not purge Lazar Kaganovich, a loyal supporter who came to Stalin's attention in the 1920s as a successful bureaucrat in Tashkent who participated in brutal purges in the 1930s. Kaganovich's loyalty endured even after Stalin's death, when he and Molotov were expelled from the party ranks in 1957 due to their opposition to destalinization.

Beyond longstanding controversies, ranging from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact to anti-Zionism, the Soviet Union did grant official "equality of all citizens regardless of status, sex, race, religion, and nationality." The years before the Holocaust were an era of rapid change for Soviet Jews, leaving behind the dreadful poverty of the Pale of Settlement. Forty percent of the population in the former Pale left for large cities within the USSR.

Emphasis on education and movement from countryside shtetls to newly industrialized cities allowed many Soviet Jews to enjoy overall advances under Stalin and to become one of the most educated population groups in the world.

Because of Stalinist emphasis on its urban population, interwar migration inadvertently rescued countless Soviet Jews; Nazi Germany penetrated the entire former Jewish Pale—but were kilometers short of Leningrad and Moscow. The great wave of deportations from the areas annexed by Soviet Union according to the Nazi-Soviet pact, often seen by victims as genocide, paradoxically also saved lives of a few hundred thousand Jewish deportees. However horrible their conditions, the Jews deported east within the Soviet Union experienced a fate less horrible than that of the Jews who had remained within the Pale of Settlement. The migration of many Jews farther East from the Jewish Pale, which would become occupied by Nazi Germany, saved at least 40 percent of the Pale's original Jewish population.

The 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.[38] In total, at least 142 500 Soviet soldiers of Jewish nationality lost their lives fighting against the German invaders and their allies[39]

1946. The official response to an inquiry by JAC about the military decorations of Jews during the war (1.8% of the total number). Some antisemites attempted to accuse Jews of lack of patriotism and of hiding from military service

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:[40]

Draft report (December 25, 1943) Censored version (February 1944)

"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."

"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."

Stalinist antisemitic campaigns

Solomon Mikhoels

In January 1948 Solomon Mikhoels, a popular actor-director of the Moscow State Jewish Theater and the chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, was killed in a suspicious car accident.[41] Mass arrests of prominent Jewish intellectuals and suppression of Jewish culture followed under the banners of campaign against "rootless cosmopolitans" and anti-Zionism. On August 12, 1952, in the event known as the Night of the Murdered Poets, thirteen most prominent Yiddish writers, poets, actors and other intellectuals were executed on the orders of Joseph Stalin, among them Peretz Markish, Leib Kvitko, David Hofstein, Itzik Feffer and David Bergelson.[42] In the 1955 UN Assembly's session a high Soviet official still denied the "rumors" about their disappearance.

The Doctors' plot allegation in 1953 was a deliberately antisemitic policy: Stalin targeted "corrupt Jewish bourgeois nationalists," eschewing the usual code words like "cosmopolitans." Stalin died, however, before this next wave of arrests and executions could be launched in earnest. A number of historians claim that the Doctors' plot was intended as the opening of a campaign that would have resulted in the mass deportation of Soviet Jews had Stalin not died on March 5, 1953. Days after Stalin's death the plot was declared a hoax by the Soviet government.

These cases may have reflected Stalin's paranoia, rather than state ideology — a distinction that made no practical difference as long as Stalin was alive, but which became salient on his death.

In April 1956, the Warsaw Yiddish language Jewish newspaper Folkshtimme published sensational long lists of Soviet Jews who had perished before and after the Holocaust. The world press began demanding answers from Soviet leaders, as well as inquire about current condition of Jewish education system and culture. The same autumn, a group of leading Jewish world figures publicly requested the heads of Soviet state to clarify the situation. Since no cohesive answer was received, their concern was only heightened. The fate of Soviet Jews emerged as a major human rights issue in the West.

The Soviet Union and Zionism

Marxist anti-nationalism and anti-clericalism had a mixed effect on Soviet Jews. Jews were the immediate benefactors, but long-term victims, of the Marxist notion that any manifestation of nationalism is "socially retrogressive." On one hand, Jews were liberated from the religious persecution of the Tsarist years of "Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality." On the other, this notion was threatening to Jewish cultural institutions, the Bund, Jewish autonomy, Judaism and Zionism.

Political Zionism was officially stamped out for the entire history of the Soviet Union as a form of bourgeois nationalism. Although Leninism emphasizes "self-determination," this did not make the state more accepting of Zionism. Leninism defines self-determination by territory, not culture, which allowed Soviet minorities to have separate oblasts, autonomous regions, or republics, which were nonetheless symbolic until its later years. Jews, however, did not fit such a theoretical model; Jews in the Diaspora did not even have an agricultural base, as Stalin often asserted when attempting to deny the existence of a Jewish nation, and certainly no territorial unit. Marxian notions even denied a Jewish identity beyond religion and caste; Marx defined Jews as a "chimerical nation."

Lenin, claiming to be deeply committed to egalitarian ideals and universality of all humanity, rejected Zionism as a reactionary movement, "bourgeois nationalism", "socially retrogressive", and a backward force that deprecates class divisions among Jews. Moreover, Zionism entailed contact between Soviet citizens and westerners, which was dangerous in a closed society. Soviet authorities were likewise fearful of any mass-movement independent of monopolistic Communist Party, and not tied to the state or the ideology of Marxism-Leninism.

Without changing its official anti-Zionist stance, from late 1944 until 1948 Stalin had adopted a de facto pro-Zionist foreign policy, apparently believing that the new country would be socialist and would speed the decline of British influence in the Middle East.[43]

The USSR briefly supported the establishment of Israel in a 1947 speech that was not published in the Soviet media. It came during the 1947 UN Partition Plan debate on May 14, 1947, when the Soviet ambassador Andrei Gromyko announced:

"As we know, the aspirations of a considerable part of the Jewish people are linked with the problem of Palestine and of its future administration. This fact scarcely requires proof... During the last war, the Jewish people underwent exceptional sorrow and suffering...
The United Nations cannot and must not regard this situation with indifference, since this would be incompatible with the high principles proclaimed in its Charter...
The fact that no Western European State has been able to ensure the defence of the elementary rights of the Jewish people and to safeguard it against the violence of the fascist executioners explains the aspirations of the Jews to establish their own State. It would be unjust not to take this into consideration and to deny the right of the Jewish people to realize this aspiration."[44]

Soviet approval in the United Nations Security Council was critical to the UN partitioning of the British Mandate of Palestine, which led to the founding of the State of Israel. Three days after Israel declared independence, the Soviet Union legally recognized it de jure. In addition, the USSR allowed Czechoslovakia to continue supplying arms to the Jewish forces during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, even though this conflict took place after the Soviet-supported Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948. At the time the U.S. maintained an arms embargo on both sides in the conflict. See Arms shipments from Czechoslovakia to Israel 1947-1949.

By the end of 1948 the USSR switched sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict and throughout the course of the Cold War unequivocally supported various Arab regimes against Israel. The official position of the Soviet Union and its satellite states and agencies was that Zionism was a tool used by the Jews and Americans for "racist imperialism".

A Soviet birth certificate from 1972 where the nationality is "Jewish"; the practice of indicating the nationality in documents has been discontinued.

As Israel was emerging as a close Western ally, the specter of Zionism raised fears of internal dissent and opposition. During the later parts of the Cold War, Soviet Jews were suspected of being possible traitors, Western sympathisers, or a security liability. The Communist leadership closed down various Jewish organizations and declared Zionism an ideological enemy. Synagogues were often placed under police surveillance, both openly and through the use of informers.[citation needed]

As a result of the persecution, both state-sponsored and unofficial, antisemitism became deeply ingrained in the society and remained a fact for years: ordinary Soviet Jews often suffered hardships, epitomized by often not being allowed to enlist in universities, work in certain professions, or participate in government. However, it should be mentioned that this was not always the case and this kind of persecution varied depending on the region. Still many Jews felt compelled to hide their identities by changing their names.

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 1970s' etc).

See also rootless cosmopolitan, Doctors' plot, Soviet Anti-Zionism and Anti-Zionist committee of the Soviet public

Emigration to Israel

A mass emigration was politically undesirable for the Soviet regime. As increasing number 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.

January 10, 1973. A demonstration of Jewish refuseniks in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the right to emigrate to Israel

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. In the years 1960-1970, only 4,000 people left the USSR; in the following decade, the number rose to 250,000.[45]

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 apparently designed to combat the brain drain caused by the growing emigration of Soviet Jews and other members of the intelligentsia to the West. 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, many of those allowed to leave for Israel actually chose other destinations, most notably the United States. In 1989 a record 71,000 Soviet Jews were granted exodus from the USSR, of whom only 12,117 immigrated to Israel. Since the adoption of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, over one million Soviet Jews have immigrated to Israel.

Additional research is required into the discrimination experienced by Russian Jews in Israel. National anti-racism campaigns in Israel at the late 20th and early 21st centuries could be used as reference points.

Russia today

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. Lubavitch has been a catalyst 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.

Renovations in the Nizhny Novgorod Synagogue

Russian Jews are well represented in the fields of medicine, law, science and education. Henri Reznik, the head of Moscow Bar Association, as well as three out of five wealthiest oligarchs in Russia, are Jewish: Roman Abramovich tops the list, Mikhail Fridman is in the third position and Viktor Vekselberg in fifth. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon and outspoken critic of president Vladimir Putin who has been jailed on tax evasion charges, is also Jewish. Exiled oligarchs Boris Berezovsky, fugitive Leonid Nevzlin and Vladimir Gusinsky are likewise Jewish (although Berezovsky converted to Christianity).

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.

Perhaps stemming from the now obsolete Soviet nationality policy, a linguistic distinction remains to this day in the Russian language where there are two terms for "Jew". The word Еврей ("Yevrey" - Hebrew) typically denotes a Jewish ethnicity, while the world Иудей ("Iudey" - Judean) is reserved for denoting a follower of the Jewish religion, although the latter term has mostly fallen out of use.

A demonstration in Russia. The antisemitic slogans cite Henry Ford and Empress Elizabeth

Antisemitism is one of the most common expressions of xenophobia in Russia in recent years, even among some groups of politicians [2]. Despite stipulations against fomenting hatred based on ethnic or religious grounds (Article 282 of Russian Federation Penal Code),[46] antisemitic pronouncements, speeches and articles are not uncommon in Russia, and there are a large number of antisemitic neo-Nazi groups in the republics of the former Soviet Union, leading Pravda to declare in 2002 that "Anti-Semitism is booming in Russia".[47] Over the past few years there have also been bombs attached to antisemitic signs, apparently aimed at Jews, and other violent incidents, including stabbings, have been recorded.

The government of Vladimir Putin takes an official stand against antisemitism, while some movements parties and groups are explicitly antisemitic. In January 2005, a group of 15 Duma members demanded that Judaism and Jewish organizations be banned from Russia.[48] In June, 500 prominent Russians, including some 20 members of the nationalist Rodina party, demanded that the state prosecutor investigate ancient Jewish texts as "anti-Russian" and ban Judaism. An investigation was in fact launched, but halted after an international outcry.[49][50]

In Russia, both historical and contemporary antisemitic materials are frequently published. For example a set (called Library of a Russian Patriot) consisting of twenty five antisemitic titles was recently published, including Mein Kampf translated to Russian (2002), The Myth of Holocaust by Jürgen Graf, a title by Douglas Reed, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and others.

Antisemitic incidents have ranged from random acts of violence against Jews to the detonation of explosives in Jewish communities, to high-profile cases such as the stabbing of eight Russian Jews in a Moscow synagogue on January 11, 2006 by a man with neo-Nazi ties. See also: Pamyat, Neo-Nazism in Russia.

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast continues to be an autonomous oblast of the Russian state. [3] The Chief Rabbi of Birobidzhan, Mordechai Scheiner, says there are 4,000 Jews in the capital city. [4] Governor Nikolay Mikhaylovich Volkov has stated that he intends to, "support every valuable initiative maintained by our local Jewish organizations." [5] The Birobidzhan Synagogue opened in 2004 on the 70th anniversary of the regions founding in 1934. [6]


Assimilation trends

In the Tsarist Russia, assimilation, russification and conversion to the state religion of Orthodox Christianity were official policies. After coming to power and dealing severe blows to all religions, the Bolsheviks undertook efforts to form a new nation of the Soviet people (Советский народ).

The Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union, one of the world's most ethnically diverse nations, with hundreds of distinct nationalities, was also home to a Jewish population of about two million before its disintegration in 1991, making Jews the eleventh largest Soviet nationality (the USSR classified Jews as a nationality). Despite such diversity, Jews were a unique minority in the ideological state. Before and after the Bolshevik Revolution many of the Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Baltic Jews embraced secular education and culture, thereby becoming a minority that had adopted the Russian language and culture.

Jews, in that sense, were not "foreigners" within Soviet Russia but instead a distinct, cohesive group bounded by a common value system, Yiddish language, exclusive cultural institutions, synagogues, and Zionist nationalism, despite the absence of a territorial unit or a single locale. This existence is thus alien to Marxism-Leninism as espoused by the Soviet state, which viewed Jewish cohesiveness as resulting from class struggle, binding proletariat Jews to Jews in oppressor classes. Marxist egalitarianism and universality suggested that it would be ideal to see the assimilation of Jews and the renunciation of Judaism, in a sense contradicting the elements that allowed Jews to be distinct members of society. All Soviet ethnic groups, such as Russians, Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Tatars, were encouraged to look at class over nationality, but did not face assimilation and cultural annihilation because of their individual locales and common languages. While Jews had been bound together in the past by Yiddish, most by the end of the Stalinist era had already adopted the Russian language and culture, and tended to live alongside Slavic gentiles.

Certain Marxists predicted such a sociological trend, but miscalculated the extent to which this trend would erode the cohesiveness of the Jewish community. Karl Marx and some later Marxists assumed that the Jewish identity would cease to exist after the demise of capitalism since man can only be free when he transcended the confines of individuality and locality and recognized a shared humanity, "a universal existence", free of antagonism and divisiveness, which, he believed, only existed due to class struggle. Although the Jewish community went from being one of the most isolated in Europe to one of its most assimilated from the time of the Bolshevik Revolution to the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, the identity has not faded away.

Law throughout Soviet history, however, listed Jews as one of the Union's "basic nations", with their own language (Yiddish), and their own autonomous region, a failed, inhospitable settlement in the Russian Far East that was nonetheless symbolic. The word "Еврей" (Yevrei, "Jew") was also listed in the "национальность" ("nationality") section (the infamous "Пятая графа" (pyataya grafa, "the fifth record") of the obligatory internal passport document, which stated the ethnic or national background of all Soviet citizens. Such treatment of Jews as a nationality is somewhat alien to Jewish law, but reminiscent of Zionism. In May 1976, the Soviet journal Party Life prominently displayed Jews as a distinct "nationality."

While Soviet socialism clearly did not destroy the Jewish identity, it nevertheless weakened a degree of cultural cohesiveness. Hebrew and Yiddish languages, Jewish theaters, Jewish schools, religion and Zionism bounded the Soviet Jewish population together despite the absence of a common locale; but these were the very elements restricted by a Soviet Union promoting secularism among all its citizens. The closings of synagogues and other important Jewish cultural institutions, such as theaters, schools and periodicals, were conducted under this ideological context of egalitarianism. While threatening to Judaism and the Jewish culture, the regime enforced the same policies on other religions, leading to the development of a modern, secular state. However, after the end of the Second World War, the restrictions against Christians and Muslims were gradually reduced, while the persecution of Judaism remained in force. The rise of Jewish secularism thus paralleled social trends among Soviet non-Jews, but had threatening overtones to Jewish existence. Soviet secularism, the discouragement of Yiddish, and the restriction of other elements that forged an exclusive, Jewish identity, caused assimilation to be a foreboding threat to Jewish existence. Soviet rule can be characterized by a rise in intermarriages and abandonment of Jewish identities by those who were eager to prove their loyalty to the Communist Party's atheism and proletarian internationalism, and committed to stamp out any sign of "Jewish cultural particularism", such as Leon Trotsky, Maxim Litvinov or Lazar Kaganovich.

Assimilated Jews significantly contributed to Russian and Soviet multi-ethnic culture, science and technology. Russian art included Isaac Levitan and Léon Bakst; Russian literatureIsaac Babel, Osip Mandelstam and Boris Pasternak; Russian balletIda Rubinstein and Maya Plisetskaya; Soviet cinematographyDziga Vertov, Mikhail Romm, Grigori Chukhrai; Russian and Soviet music—Anton Rubinstein and Isaak Dunayevsky, David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan; comedy—Faina Ranevskaya, Arkady Raikin and Mikhail Zhvanetsky; science—Lev Landau, Abram Ioffe and Yakov Zel'dovich; defense industryBoris Vannikov, Mikhail Gurevich (of MiG) and Semyon Lavochkin.

Demographic data

Year Jewish population, millions Note
1914 More than 5.25 Russian Empire
1926 [51] 2.67 First All-Union Census of the Soviet Union

A result of border change (secession of Poland and union of Bessarabia with Romania), emigration and assimilation.

1939[52] 3.0 A result of natural growth, emigration, assimilation and repressions
Early 1941 5.4 A result of the annexation of Western Ukraine and Belarus, Baltic republics, and inflow of Jewish refugees from Poland
1959 2.26 See the Holocaust
1970 2.15  
1979 1.81  
1989 1.45 Soviet Census (1989). Final census in the entire Soviet Union
End of 1993 Less than 0.4 Russian Federation only.
2002 [53] 0.265 Russian Federation only. A result of mass emigration and assimilation.

The Jewish population in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast of the Russian Far East as of 2002 is 2,327 (1.22%).

The Bukharan Jews, self-designating as Yahudi, Isroel or Banei Isroel, live mainly in Uzbek cities. The number of Central Asian Jews was around 20,800 in 1959. Before mass emigration, they spoke a dialect of the Tajik language. [7]

The Georgian Jews numbered about 35,700 in 1964, most of them living in Georgia. [8]

The Caucasian Mountain Jews, also known as Tats or Dagchufuts, live mostly in Israel and the USA, with a scattered population in Dagestan and Azerbaijan. In 1959, they numbered around 15,000 in Dagestan and 10,000 in Azerbaijan. Their Tat language is a dialect of Middle Persian. [9]

The Crimean Jews, self-designating as Krymchaks, traditionally lived in the Crimea, numbering around 5,700 in 1897. Due to a famine, a number emigrated to Turkey and the USA in the 1920. The remaining population was virtually annihilated in the Holocaust during the Nazi occupation of the Crimea, but Krymchaks re-settled the Crimea after the war, and in 1959, between 1,000 and 1,800 had returned. [10]

Russian Jewish Diaspora


Year TFR
2000 1.544
1999 1.612
1998 1.632
1997 1.723
1996 1.743
1995 1.731
1994 1.756
1993 1.707
1992 1.604
1991 1.398
1990 1.390

The largest number of Russian Jews now live in Israel, not in Russia. Israel is home to a core Russian-Jewish population of 825,000 and an enlarged population of 1,150,000 (including halachically non-Jewish members of Jewish households, but excluding 70,000 of them who reside in Israel illegally).[citation needed] The Aliyah in 1990s accounts for 85-90% of this population. The population growth rate for FSU immigrants were among the lowest for any Israeli groups, with a Fertility rate of 1.70 and natural increase of just +0.5% per year.[54] The increase in Jewish birth rate in Israel during the 2000-2007 period was partly due to the increasing birth rate among the FSU immigrants, who now form 20% of the Jewish population of Israel.[55][56] 96.5% of the enlarged Russian Jewish population in Israel is either Jewish or non-religious, while 3.5% (35,000) belongs to other religions (mostly Christians) and about 10,000 messianic Jews.[57]

The Total Fertility Rate for FSU immigrants in Israel is given in the table below. The TFR increased with time, peaking in 1997, then slightly decreased after that and then again increased after 2000.[54]

As of 1999, about 1,037,000 FSU immigrants lived in Israel, of whom about 738,900 immigrated after 1989.[58][59] The second largest ethnic group (Moroccans) numbered just 501,000. In 2000-2006 period 142,638 FSU immigrants moved to Israel. While 70,000 of them emigrated from Israel to countries like USA and Canada, bringing the total population to 1,150,000 by 2007 January (Excluding illegals).[60] The natural increase was around 0.3% in late 90s. For example 2,456 in 1996 (7,463 births to 5,007 deaths), 2,819 in 1997 (8,214 to 5,395), 2,959 in 1998 (8,926 to 5,967) and 2,970 in 1999 (9,282 to 6,312). In 1999, the natural growth was +0.385%. (Figures only for FSU immigrants moved in after 1989).[61]

Notable recent immigrants from FSU include Natasha Mozgovaya, Lev Leviev, Avigdor Lieberman, Roman Dzindzichashvili, Akiva Megrelashvili, Haim Megrelashvili, Victor Mikhalevski, Evgeny Postny, Maxim Rodshtein, Tatiana Zatulovskaya, Maria Gorokhovskaya, Katia Pisetsky, Aleksandr Averbukh, Jan Talesnikov, Vadim Alexeev, Michael Kolganov, Alexander Danilov, Evgenia Linetskaya, Marina Kravchenko, David Kazhdan, Leonid Nevzlin, Vadim Akolzin, Roman Bronfman, Michael Cherney, Arcadi Gaydamak, Sergei Sakhnovski, Natan Sharansky, Roman Zaretski, Alexandra Zaretski, Larisa Trembovler, Boris Tsirelson and Margarita Levieva.


Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google

The second largest population is in the USA. According to RINA, there is a core Russian-Jewish population of 350,000 in USA. The enlarged Russian Jewish population in USA is estimated to be 700,000. [11]. Most noticeable FSU Jews in USA are Leonard Blavatnik, Dmitry Salita, Sergey Brin, Alexei Alexeyevich Abrikosov, Regina Spektor, Michael Weiner, Anthony Fedorov and Gregory Kaidanov. Bukharan Jews alone number close to 50,000 in USA, mostly in New York City (Queens), Fair Lawn(NJ) and Phoenix (AZ). [12]. Other large pockets of Russian-Jewish Communities include Brooklyn, New York, specifically Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay, and in the Sunny Isles Beach neighborhood of South Florida.

The other large pocket of Russian Jewish residence is Northeast Philadelphia and surrounding Bucks and Montgomery Counties, as well as Northern New Jersey.


The fourth largest Russian-Jewish community exists in Germany with a core Russian-Jewish population of 110,000 and an enlarged population of 200,000.[62][63][64]

In 1991-2006 period, approximately 230,000 ethnic Jews from FSU immigrated to Germany. In the beginning of 2006, Germany tightened the immigration program. A survey conducted among the approximately 215,000 enlarged Russian Jewish population (taking natural decrease into consideration) indicated that about 81% of the enlarged population was Jewish or Atheist by religion, while about 18.5% identified as Christians. That gives a core Russian Jewish population of 111,800 (religion Jewish, 52%) or 174,150 (religion Jewish or Atheist).[65][66]

Notable Russian Jews in Germany include Valery Belenky, Lev Kopelev.


The fifth largest Russian Jewish community is in Canada. The core Russian Jewish population in Canada numbers 30,000 and the enlarged Russian Jewish population numbered 50,000+, mostly in Montreal and Toronto. [13] Notable Russian Jewish residents includes Mark Berger.


Small number of FSU Jews exist in Australia (Core population of 10,000 constituting 33% of all Russian born and 25% of all Ukrainian born citizens in 1996 Census. Enlarged population around 20,000) [14]. Some Jewish organizations claim that there are up to 50,000 Russian Jews in Australia.


Hundreds of Russian Jews have moved to Finland since 1990 and have helped to stem the negative population growth of the Jewish community there. [15] The total number of Jews in Finland have grown from 800 in 1980 to 1,200 in 2006. Of all the schoolgoing Jewish children, 75% have at least one Russian born parent.

Other Countries

Russian Ballerina Maya Plisetskaya has been a Spanish citizen since 1993.

The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Finland, Belgium, New Zealand, Italy, Austria and Switzerland. The addition of Russian Jews have neutralized the negative Jewish population trends in some European countries like The Netherlands and Austria. There is a considerable number of Russian Jews living in Great Britain, the most well-known being Roman Abramovich, Boris Berezovsky, and Selig Brodetsky. Notable Russian Jews in France include Anatoly Vaisser, Leon Poliakov, Alexandre Koyré, and Lev Shestov. Some other important Russian Jews are Gennadi Sosonko (Netherlands), Anna Smashnova (Italy), Viktor Korchnoi (Switzerland), and Maya Plisetskaya (Spain).

See also


  1. ^ A.I. Pereswetoff-Morath, A Grin without a Cat, vol. 2: Jews and Christians in Medieval Russia – Assessing the Sources (Lund Slavonic Monographs, 5), Lund 2002
  2. ^ A History of East European Jews. Heiko Haumann. p. 85
  3. ^ Duffy, James P., Vincent L. Ricci, Czars: Russia's Rulers for Over One Thousand Years, p. 324
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ A History of Russia by Nicholas Riasanovsky, p.395
  7. ^ But Were They Good for the Jews? by Elliot Rosenberg, p.183
  8. ^ Jewish Emigration from Russia: 1880 - 1928 (Beyond the Pale)
  9. ^ Levin, Dov (2000). The Litvaks: a short history of the Jews in Lithuania. Berghahn Books. pp. 283. ISBN 9781571812643. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  10. ^ a b Frumkin, Jacob G.; Gregor Aronson, Alekseĭ Aleksandrovich Golʹdenveĭzer (1966). Russian Jewry: 1860-1917. New York City: T. Yoseloff. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  11. ^ Fisher, Alan W. (1978). The Crimean Tatars. Hoover Press. pp. 264. ISBN 9780817966621. 
  12. ^ Learsi, Rufus (2007). Fulfillment - The Epic Story of Zionism: The Authoritative History of the Zionist Movement from the Earliest Days to the Present Time. Read Books. pp. 444. ISBN 9781406707298. 
  13. ^ "The Russkoe Znamya declares openly that "Real Russians" assassinated Herzenstein and Iollos with knowledge of officials, and expresses regret that only two Jews perished in crusade against revolutionaries." American Jewish Yearbook (1910-1911). 
  14. ^ a b Slutsky, Yehuda. "Duma". Encyclopaedia Judaica. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  15. ^ Schechtman, Joseph B. (1986). The Life and Times of Vladimir Jabotinsky: Rebel and statesman. SP Books. pp. 467. ISBN 9780935437188. 
  16. ^ "Ossip. Y. Pergament dead. Leader of Jews and Duma Member, He Was Under Indictment". New York Times. May 30, 1909. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  17. ^ The Jewish Agency for Israel Timeline
  18. ^ Lenin's March 1919 speech On Anti-Jewish Pogroms («О погромной травле евреев»: text, About this sound audio )
  19. ^ "The Makhnovists on The National and Jewish Questions", History of The Makhnovist Movement by Peter Arshinov, Freedom Press
  20. ^ "Russia". Encyclopaedia Judaica. 17. Keter Publishing House Ltd.. pp. 531–553. 
  21. ^ "Pogromy". Electronic Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2009-10-06. 
  22. ^ "Еврейские погромы" (in Russian). 23 July 2001. Retrieved 2009-10-09. 
  23. ^ Benjamin Pinkus. The Jews of the Soviet Union: The History of a National Minority. Cambridge University Press, 1988.
  24. ^ Naomi Blank. Redefining the Jewish Question from Lenin to Gorbachev: Terminology or Ideology. In: Yaacov Ro'i, editor. Jews and Jewish Life in Russia and the Soviet Union.Routledge, 1995.
  25. ^ William Korey. Russian Anti-semitism, Pamyat, and the Demonology of Zionism. Routledge, 1995.
  26. ^ Ronald Clark (1988) Lenin: The Man Behind the Mask: 456
  27. ^ Lenin, Vladimir (1919). "Anti-Jewish Pogroms". Speeches On Gramophone Records. 
  28. ^ Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War
  29. ^ Dmitrij Volkogonov: Lenin. Počátek teroru. Dialog, Liberec 1996, p. 173.
  30. ^ Gutelman, Zvi; Curtis, M. (ed.) (1986). Antisemitism in the Contemporary World. Westview Press. pp. 189–190. ISBN 0-8133-0157-2. 
  31. ^ Stalin, Joseph (1913): Marxism and the National Question
  32. ^ OZET lottery posters and tickets featured in Swarthmore College's online exhibition "Stalin's Forgotten Zion: Birobidzhan and the Making of a Soviet Jewish Homeland."
  33. ^ (Russian) ЕВРЕЙСКАЯ СОВЕТСКАЯ КУЛЬТУРА БЫЛА ПРИГОВОРЕНА К УНИЧТОЖЕНИЮ В 1930-Е ГОДЫ (The Jewish Soviet Culture Was Doomed Since 1930s) by Nosonovski, Michael
  34. ^ Protest against the suppression of Hebrew in the Soviet Union 1930-1931 signed by Albert Einstein, among others
  35. ^ Mark Tolts: The Post-Soviet Jewish Population in Russia and the World. Published in: Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe, 2004, No. 1 (52). p.51
  36. ^ Joseph Stalin. Works, Vol. 13, July 1930-January 1934, Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1955, p. 30
  37. ^ Saul Friedlander (2008) The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945. London, Phoenix: 43-8
  38. ^ Lador-Lederer, Joseph. World War II: Jews as Prisoners of War, Israel Yearbook on Human Rights, vol.10, Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, 1980, pp. 70-89, p. 75, footnote 15. [1]
  39. ^
  40. ^ Draft report by the Commission for Crimes Committed by the Nazis in Kiev from February 1944. The page 14 shows changes made by G. F. Aleksandrov, head of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
  41. ^ According to historian Gennady Kostyrchenko, recently opened Soviet archives contain evidence that the assassination was organized by L.M. Tsanava and S. Ogoltsov of the MVD
  42. ^ Stalin's Secret Pogrom: The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (introduction) by Joshua Rubenstein
  43. ^ A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson, London, 1987, p.527
  44. ^ UN Debate Regarding the Special Committee on Palestine: Gromyko Statement. 14 May 1947 77th Plenary Meeting Document A/2/PV.77
  45. ^ History of Dissident Movement in the USSR by Ludmila Alekseyeva. Vilnius, 1992 (in Russian)
  46. ^ International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Russian Federation. 28/07/97. CERD/C/299/Add.15
  47. ^ Explosion of anti-Semitism in Russia Pravda, 2002-07-30, retrieved 17 October 2005.
  48. ^ Deputies Urge Ban on Jewish Organizations, Then Retract - Bigotry Monitor. Volume 5, Number 4. January 28, 2005. Published by UCSJ. Editor: Charles Fenyvesi
  49. ^ Prosecutor Drops Charges of Antisemitism Against Duma Deputies - Bigotry Monitor. Volume 5, Number 24. June 17, 2005. Published by UCSJ. Editor: Charles Fenyvesi
  50. ^ Russia to Drop Probe of Jewish Law Code Accused of Stoking Ethnic Hatred - Bigotry Monitor. Volume 5, Number 26. July 1, 2005. Published by UCSJ. Editor: Charles Fenyvesi
  51. ^ Всесоюзная перепись населения 1926 года.
  52. ^ Всесоюзная перепись населения 1939 года.
  53. ^ Национальный состав населения России в 2002 году
  54. ^ a b Fertility behaviour of recent immigrants to Israel: A comparative analysis of immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union
  55. ^
  56. ^
  57. ^ Monthly Bulletin of Statistics
  58. ^
  59. ^
  60. ^ Monthly Bulletin of Statistics
  61. ^ Mmigrant Population From The Former Ussr
  62. ^ Sergio DellaPergola, "World Jewish Population 2002", American Jewish Year Book, 102, New York, 2002
  63. ^ Central Council of Jews in Germany
  64. ^ Foreigners in Wonderland: Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union by Judith Kessler
  65. ^ (Russian) В Германии началась депопуляция еврейских общин (In Germany, Depopulation of Jewish Community Has Begun) by Pavel Polian. Demoscope
  66. ^ (Russian) Новое о еврейских иммигрантах из б. СССР в Германию. Результаты государственного обследования (New About Jewish Immigrants from FSU to Germany.) by Pavel Polyan. Demoscope

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