Sunday, February 18, 2018

Russia and the Jews

Nadene Goldfoot                                             
Tevia walking home to his shtetl 
Our history with Russia is tainted with horrible experiences.  In the late 15th century, Jewish traders from Lithuania, my grandparents' country, included a group who were proselytizing Judaism  in Novgorod and Moscow and this precipitated a terrible reaction.  To Russians, it was okay for Christians to go to people and try to persuade them to join their religion but not vice versa.  This is the reason Jews really haven't tried this since Christianity had begun.  I'm even surprised to read that someone tried it as late as the end of the 1400s.  Ivan III was ruler then.
In 1672, Peter the Great was the emperor.  
In 1563, 300 Jews were drowned at Polotsk and Vitebsk on refusing to accept baptism.
In 1667, Jews were expelled from Eastern Ukraine upon its annexation to Russia.  Treaties said in clauses that Jews could not visit the country.  This was signed by Russia with foreign powers in 1550 and 1678. 

 Jews were expulsed from Russia in 1727, 1738 and 1742.  In 1753, 35,000 Jews were driven out of Russia.
By 1762, Catherine II let all aliens live in Russia except the Jews.  Poland was partitioned off in 1772, 1793 and 1795 causing the great Jewish masses of White Russia, the Ukraine, Lithuania and Courland to become Russian subjects.  For more than a century, the great majority of the world's Jews were under the reactionary rule of the Czars.  In 1786, their homes were restricted to towns, laying the foundation of the PALE OF SETTLEMENT.. No Jew could live in "Russia" but were forced into the Pale.   It was like being put on a reservation, but they had to share it with people already living there who must have been put out.

 Jews really didn't go into Russia proper to live until 1772.
Only a sect of Judaism received any rights; the KARAITES in 1795.

A report came out about WHITE RUSSIA (Belorussia) .  This led to the creation of the Council for Jewish Affairs in 1802.  Two years later, it defined the Pale, restricted Jews in the villages (Shtetles in 1807-8) and limited the activities of the Kahal(Jewish community leaders knowing about rights, taxes, etc).  This was finally abolished forcefully and included areas of our religion, charity, and prohibited the traditional Jewish costume.  On the positive side, it promoted a measure about agriculture.

Jews remained loyal to Russia during Napoleon's 1812 invasion, and Alexander I who ruled from 1801 to 1825 was at first benevolent.  Later, he turned reactionary and expelled some 20,000 Jews from Vitebsk and Mohilev in 1824.  Those who got to remain were forbidden to live near the frontier.
Nicholas Ist reigned from 1825 to 1855 next and published about 600 oppressive enactments regarding Jews.  He regarded Jews as an injurious element.  By 1827 military service was brutally imposed on Jews.  Boys were taken into the army after Bar Mitzva at 13 and placed on the front lines, sure death for them.  Parents often cut off a child's finger to keep them out of the army.  The frontiers of the Pale were restricted in 1835 to Jews and this lasted till 1915, causing them to be caught in the Russian web.  They couldn't escape out.  1836 brought on the censorship of Jewish books, and then in 1844 the Kahal was abolished.
Emperor and Autocrat of all of Russia
Russian Orthodox Religion
Part of a reform movement

Alexander II( 1855-1881)  tried to Russify the Jews by education and a gradual relaxation of restrictions, but the judicial law of 1864 contained no anti-Jewish discrimination.  At the time, 65,000 Jews were working in agriculture.  Russian Jews soon became prominent in economics, culture, and left-wing politics.  Social anti-Semitism replaed or reinforced the former religious prejudices.  Then Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 at age 62 and the Jews became the main victims.  

Pogroms were then in full swing starting in the 1880's.    Jews were again viewed as a foreign element and were kept apart from the village population.  As a young girl, my grandmother was in one when they broke both her legs.   This brought on a mass migration to the USA and "Palestine."  This brought on the MAY LAWS, laws controlling Jews in the Pale of what they were no longer allowed to do.   Jews were expelled from Moscow in 1891 and many clauses were written into high schools and secondary schools, causing more and more Jews to turn to Zionism and Socialism with the Bund founded in 1897 as well as a revolutionary movement.  

By 1905, Jews were organized and wanting equal rights.  Nicholas II vetoed the Jewish legal position and conditions for them continued to deteriorate.  By now, my grandparents were getting married in Boise, Idaho, thank goodness, for many Russians were able to come to the USA.

Anti-Semitism reached its peak with the Beilis case, a blood libel, and people believed it because they were told to believe that Jews used Christian blood in their matzos.  

What were Jewish men mostly involved in?  Studying the Talmud.  THE PALE OF SETTLEMENT was the world's greatet center of talmudic studyl.  Odessa, a major city in the Ukraine-Pale of Settlement- was the focus of the Hebrew literary revival and many Zionists and writers came from here.  

WWI started and there were 5,600,000 Jews living in the empire of the Czars which included almost 2 million living in Poland, the heart of the study. Then, if they lived near the war zones, they were deported.  300,000 Jews were in the Russian army.  However, Jewish shtetles were the scapegoats of Russia's defeats.  Jews were expulsed from Kovno, Grono and Courland.  Jews could not print anything in Hebrew or Yiddish.  

After the war on April 2, 1917, Jews were in the Russian revolution.  Trotsky was a leader then.  By 1918, Jews were serving in different departments in the government.  In 1920, Joseph Stalin was in Power. Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was a Soviet revolutionary and politician of Georgian ethnicity. Governing the Soviet Union as its dictator from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953, he served as General. Vladimir Lenin was voted the Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR (Sovnarkom) on 30 December 1922 by the Congress of Soviets. Talk about horrible governments!  Americans don't know the half of it.  
Breznev in power in the 1960s

                                              President Mikhail Gorbachev 
In the 1970s, some 250,000 Jews left Russia.  At first, about 150,000 went to Israel.  They were learning to become Jewish again.  They were better Hebrew students than we Americans were because they were so used to studying other languages, and we weren't.  It was old hat for them.  
"Under the 1977 Constitution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the Chairman of the Council of Ministers was the head of government and the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was the head of state."

However, when I lived in Israel from 1980 to the end of 1985, my Hebrew teacher in 1980 was writing to a Jewish dissident because all religion was then forbidden in Russia.  He had been caught learning Hebrew and was put in prison!  It took a lot for Jews to become released and immigrate to Israel, but they were there as new immigrants when I was, also.   They brought with them Russians things they could trade with as they had little money, such as rugs, dolls, etc.  

In the last years of Gorbachev of the 1980's, they were again allowed widespread emigration.  The US had severely limited its intake of Soviet Jews.  They then went to Israel again which took in about 200,000 in 1990 alone. and they kept immigrating there in 1991.  Diplomatic relations with Israel was re-established in 1991, shortly before the liquidation of the USSR.  
Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is a Russian politician serving as President of the Russian Federation since 7 May 2012, previously holding the position from 2000 until 2008.  
He still has the job and it's 2018. 

According to Aish, Putin has had good experiences with Jews.
  Not so Israel today with Russians in Syria in kahoots with Iran.
  What happened to Jews of Ukraine?  
Anti Semitism is still strong in Russia.   There are thousands of Jews now living in refugee camps in Ukraine who have decided there is no reason to go back to their homes and some will now make the move to Israel.
Resource: The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia -Russia

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