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.
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.
In the 1480s the principality of Muscovy became the religious equivalent of the Caliphate or Holy Roman Empire. 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.
Jews were not tolerated in the area of Muscovy, from 1721 the official doctrine of Imperial Russia was openly antisemitic. Even if Jews were tolerated for some modest time, eventually they were expelled, as when the captured part of Ukraine was cleared of Jews in the year 1727. These policies made Muscovite Russia a very hostile environment for Jewish people.
See also Chmielnicki Uprising
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. Assuming that many radicals were of Jewish extraction, tsarist officials increasingly resorted to popularizing religious and nationalistic fanaticism.
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. Nevertheless, he approved the policy of Polish politician Alexander Wielopolski in the Kingdom of Poland that gave Jews equal rights to other citizens (the prior status of Jews was different; it is questionable whether this distinct status was more or less beneficial). Alexander III was a staunch reactionary who strictly adhered to the old maxim "Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Nationalism." 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.
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; large numbers of men, women, and children were injured and some killed. The new czar, Alexander III, blamed the Jews for the riots and on May 15, 1882 introduced the so-called Temporary Regulations ("Временные правила") that stayed in effect for more than thirty years and came to be known as the May Laws.
The Chief Procurator of the Holy Synod and the tsar's mentor, friend, and adviser Konstantin Pobedonostsev was reported as saying that one-third of Russia's Jews was expected to emigrate, one-third to accept baptism, and one-third to starve. The repressive legislation was repeatedly revised. Many historians noted the concurrence of these state-enforced antisemitic policies with waves of pogroms that continued until 1884, with at least tacit government knowledge and in some cases policemen were seen inciting or joining the mob.
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, Moscow was cleansed of its Jews (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. The restrictions placed on education, traditionally highly valued in Jewish communities, resulted in ambition to excel over the peers and increased emigration rates.
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… That way, reverse proportional representation was achieved: the majority of town's taxpayers had to be subjugated to minority governing the town against Jewish interests.
Through an application processes Russian Jews were allowed to join their families in Israel. During the Cold War, these options were out of the question due to specific holding laws not allowing Russian citizens to travel abroad. It was considered the chance to explore the world and/or discover yourself. Because it was a great opportunity, Russian authority made the application process extremely difficult. In order to be considered for this application, the individual had to quit their job. This took place because the organizations of the period did not want record of an employee disloyal to the regime.
This was an extremely stressful process due to the uncertainty of the future for the emigrants. After the individual had already lost their job, they were not equipped with the information pertaining to how long the wait for the decision would be and what would occur after the decision to go was made. Therefore, these emigrants lost their source of income and were now, on top of all the other stressful issues, also financially unstable.
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. 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 Palestine, 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. At least some of the pogroms are believed to have been organized or supported by the Tsarist Russian secret police, the Okhrana.
Even more pogroms accompanied the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing Russian Civil War, when an estimated 70,000 to 250,000 civilian Jews were killed in atrocities throughout the former Russian Empire; the number of Jewish orphans exceeded 300,000. Out of 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 nationalist and anarchist gangs, 17% by the White Army, especially forces of Anton Denikin, and 8.5% by the Red Army.
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. The idea of overthrowing the Tsarist regime was attractive to many members of the Jewish 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 leadership. This fact was abused by the Tsarist secret police, the Okhrana, which used antisemitism and xenophobia as a weapon against the Russian revolutionary movement and promulgated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to explain Russian revolutionism as a part of a powerful world conspiracy. 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 antisemites, 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". In Nazi Germany, the regime of Adolf Hitler used this theory as a rallying cry to paint a picture of a supposed "Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy". Even today, many anti-semites continue to claim a link between the Jews and Communism. The original atheistic and internationalistic ideology of the Bolsheviks (See proletarian internationalism, bourgeois nationalism) was incompatible with Jewish traditionalism and the later covert tendencies towards Russian nationalism and (especially after World War II) antisemitism in the Soviet regime placed many secular Jews in conflict with the regime.
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".
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 ethnic Russian neighbours, were not in any political party.
The attempts of the socialist Jewish Labor 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 dissolving of the Russian Constituent Assembly. Consequently, the Bund suffered repressions in the first months of the Soviet regime . 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 under Rafael Abramovich, while many Bundists joined the Mensheviks.
In August of 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.
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 war, Jews were accused of sympathizing with Germany and often persecuted. Russian anti-semitism continued even after the lifting of official anti-Jewish restrictions by the February regime and the Bolsheviks. Pogroms were unleashed throughout the Civil War, perpetrated by virtually every competing faction, from anarchists, to Polish and Ukrainian nationalists to the Red and White Armies. 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 anti-semitism 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 anti-semitism, as the White forces were openly identifying the Bolshevik regime with Jews.
Lenin was intrigued with technology and in 1919 recorded eight of his speeches on gramophone records. Seven were later re-recorded and put on sale in the Khrushchev era. Significantly, the one which was suppressed outlined Lenin’s feelings on anti-Semitism:
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.
However, 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 anti-Semitism”.
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".
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. 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, 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%). 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.
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.
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. The number of prominent Jewish Old Bolsheviks killed in the purges reflects the fact that Jews were the largest group in the Central Committee after the Russians and that Jews had a high participation among the Bolsheviks.
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.
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.
Due to 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 fate of Jews in Nazi Germany was much worse. The migration of many Jews deeper East from the part of the Jewish Pale that would become occupied by Germany saved at least forty percent of this area's Jewish population.
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 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. In total, at least 142 500 Soviet soldiers of Jewish nationality lost their lives fighting against the German invadors and their allies
The typical Soviet policy regarding the Holocaust was to present it as atrocity 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:
|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."
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. 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. 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.
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 "autocracy, nationalism, and Orthodoxy." 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.
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:
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 Soviet-dominated government of Czechoslovakia was a major arms supplier to Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War at a time when the U.S. maintained an arms embargo on both sides in the conflict. See Arms shipments from Czechoslovakia to Israel 1947-1949.
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.
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).
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.
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.
See also Russian aliyah in Israel.
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, similar to secular Jews in America and other Western countries, 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.
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, fugutive 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.
Anti-Semitism is one of the most common expressions of xenophobia in Russia in recent years, even among some groups of politicians Despite stipulations against fomenting hatred based on ethnic or religious grounds (Article 282 of Russian Federation Penal Code), 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". 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. 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.
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. The Chief Rabbi of Birobidzhan, Mordechai Scheiner, says there are 4,000 Jews in the capital city. Governor Nikolay Mikhaylovich Volkov has stated that he intends to, "support every valuable initiative maintained by our local Jewish organizations." The Birobidzhan Synagogue opened in 2004 on the 70th anniversary of the regions founding in 1934.
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 adapted 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 adapted 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. It is hard to imagine Russian art without Isaac Levitan and Léon Bakst; Russian literature—Isaac Babel, Osip Mandelstam and Boris Pasternak; Russian ballet—Ida Rubinstein and Maya Plisetskaya; Soviet cinematography— Dziga Vertov, Mikhail Romm, Grigori Chukhrai; Russian and Soviet music—Anton Rubinstein and Isaak Dunayevsky; comedy—Faina Ranevskaya, Arkady Raikin and Mikhail Zhvanetsky; science—Lev Landau, Abram Ioffe and Yakov Zel'dovich; defense industry—Boris Vannikov, Mikhail Gurevich (of MiG) and Semyon Lavochkin.
|Year||Jewish population, millions||Note|
|1914||More than 5.25||Russian Empire|
|1939||3||A result of border change, 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 Shoah (Holocaust)|
|End of 1993||Less than 0.4||A result of mass emigration and assimilation. Militaryov calls this number "especially funny". By his estimate, the real number should be 2-3 million. See also Jewish Virtual Library|
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.
The Caucasian Mountain Jews, also known as Tats or Dagchufuts, live mostly in Dagestan, with a scattered population in Azerbaijan. In 1959, they numbered around 15,000 in Dagestan and 10,000 in Azerbaijan. Their Tat language is a dialect of Persian.
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.
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). 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. 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. 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.
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.
As of 1999, about 1,037,000 FSU immigrants lived in Israel, of whom about 738,900 immigrated after 1989. 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). 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).
Notable recent immigrants from FSU include 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 and Boris Tsirelson.
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. Most noticeable FSU Jews in USA are Dmitry Salita, Sergey Brin, Alexei Alexeyevich Abrikosov, Regina Spektor, Anthony Fedorov and Gregory Kaidanov. Bukharan Jews alone number close to 50,000 in USA, mostly in Queens and Phoenix.
The number of Russian Jews remaining in FSU is dwindling. The number of core Russian-Jews was estimated at 435,000 in 2002 and the enlarged Jewish population estimated at 800,000. (At 1.9 ratio given in JAFI) The core Russian Jewish population for FSU was estimated at 366,000 in 2006. The enlarged Russian Jewish population stands at 700,000.
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.
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).
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. 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 Ukranian born citizens in 1996 Census. Enlarged population around 20,000) 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. 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.
The Netherlands, England, Finland, Belgium, New Zealand, Italy, Austria and Switzerland. The addition of Russian Jews have neutrilized the negative Jewish natural increase in some European countries like The Netherlands and Austria. There are a considerable number of Russian Jews living in England, most noticeable ones being Roman Abramovich, Boris Berezovsky and Selig Brodetsky. Notable ones in France include Anatoly Vaisser, Leon Poliakov and Lev Shestov. Some other important Russian Jews are Gennadi Sosonko (Netherlands), Anna Smashnova (Italy), Viktor Korchnoi (Switzerland) and Maya Plisetskaya (Spain).