Jewish Russian Heritage Term Paper

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Jewish-Russian heritage. The writer details the emergence of the Jewish faith in Russia, the radical actions taken to stop its growth and existence and the more recent developments that have created it to begin a resurgence. The writer used ten sources to complete this paper.

Jewish-Russian heritage

In the past two decades the former Soviet Union has gone through many different changes, with the biggest one being the dismantling of its very existence and government and the slow process of rebuilding it from the ground up. In the former Soviet Union there were many strict rules and the heavy arm of Communism was felt throughout the state. One of the things that was heavily mandated was the freedom of religion. The Jewish faith had encountered severe opposition in the Soviet Union for many years and all but the most stubborn Jews had been driven out of the land many years ago. With the dismantling of the Soviet Union the question of religious freedom has again raised its head and the Russian Jewish heritage is again taking a turn in the road. After a century of being attacked, ignored, oppressed and punished it is beginning to come alive and be recognized as a growing and active faith among the Russian residents who are Jewish.

Currently it is estimated that there are about 2 million Jewish followers living in the former Soviet Union. "Wearing yarmulkes and prayer shawls, they approach people at metro stations near synagogues with pamphlets emblazoned with Stars of David. They hold Sabbath services in churches, rent concert halls or movie theaters, where they recite Hebrew prayers and bring out a Torah." For four generations the Jewish followers were denied any open and free education or following of their faith and the new ability to practice without fear is spreading like wildfire (Messianic Jews gaining ground in Russia By Alexandra Alter (

Synagogues and Jewish schools have reopened over the last decade as well as kosher meat markets -- the signs of a sure religious revival in the former Soviet Union. But Russia's Jewish community remains deeply scarred by the official repression of religion under the Soviet regime. For decades, those who dared attend synagogue had to do so in secret; most did not. Cut off from their religious heritage, the Jews of Russia mostly disappeared into a cultural void in large and small ways (Messianic Jews gaining ground in Russia By Alexandra Alter ("

The Jewish were so oppressed in those years that even the cooking of Kosher food could get someone arrested and sent to prison. Today, it is completely different and the freedom is enjoyed though the older Jews remember and are ever mindful of the ability of past administrations to make them go into hiding.

Ninety-nine percent of Russian Jews have no religious education (Messianic Jews gaining ground in Russia By Alexandra Alter ("

This has made many Jews in Russia an easy target for a group called Jews for Jesus who want to convert Russian Jews to Christianity. As the long struggle for freedom comes to an end, the Jewish are coming out of hiding and learning things about their faith that they never knew before. The road to this current freedom has been long and hard with many sacrifices along the way.


The heritage of the Russian Jewish population dates back to the 8th century according to records. Religious persecution caused many Jews to flee from Greek colonies and settle in Russia. "The kingdom of the Jewish Khazars is referred to in ancient Russian literature as the "Land of the Jews," and warriors of the Russian epic poetry wage war against the Jewish warrior, the "zhidovin." According to one tradition Prince Vladimir of Kiev conversed with Jews on religion before accepting Orthodox Christianity. At the same time there were Jews living in Kiev. Ancient Russian sources mention the "Gate of the Jews" in Kiev. The Jews lived in the town under the protection of the prince, and when the inhabitants of the town rebelled against Prince Vladimir II Monomachus (Jewish History with the Russian Federation I). "

Jews were constantly being persecuted in Russia and in the area of Moscow they simply were not tolerated. The attitude in Russia against foreigners was harsh and un-accepting. That attitude carried over to include the Jewish residents who had resided there for many centuries. The Jews were not tolerated in any way during this time in Russian history and were considered enemies of the state as well as heretics. Jews were often accused of stirring up trouble with other enemies of the state. It was believed many times that problems with detractors were supported by the Jews whether or not this was the case (Jewish History with the Russian Federation I).

By the 15th century there was an active movement to seek out and convert Jews to the religion of Christianity in Russia (Jewish heritage in Russian children's literature Olga Maeots Russia (

This was also a time when being Jewish was considered and declared illegal and Jewish immigrants had to sneak into the country illegally and hide out with family and friends who had also not yet been outted as Jews.

When Czar Ivan IV Vasilievich ("the Terrible"; 1530-84) temporarily annexed the town of Pskov to his territory, he ordered that all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity should be drowned in the river (Jewish History with the Russian Federation I)." For the next two centuries Jews were afraid to come publicly forth with their religious beliefs and continued to sneak illegally into the country and lay as low as possible to avoid capture and prosecution.

The Russian government began to try and "smoke" out the Jews with several economic mandates. The government at the time ruled it illegal for Jewish merchants to exist (Jewish History with the Russian Federation I). The government also began to prosecute anyone suspected of doing business with any Jewish merchant regardless of the type of business or the business location. This meant that if someone went outside of Russia to the border towns that Jewish were setting up in and conducted any type of business with a Jewish merchant, that they too could be persecuted when they came back into Russia. Russia's strong armed tactics were successful in many economic areas of Jewish life and many of them lost their businesses and abilities to support their families.

Small Jewish communities existed during the early 19th century in the region of Smolensk. In 1738 the Jew, Baruch b. Leib, was arrested and accused of having converted the officer Alexander Voznitsyn to Judaism. Both were burned at the stake in St. Petersburg. In 1742 Czarina Elizabeth Petrovna ordered the expulsion of the few Jews living in her kingdom (Jewish History with the Russian Federation I)."

When Catherine II took over power the entry of Jews for trading purposes was again brought to the forefront. It was considered benefiting at the hands of or pleasure of enemies of Christ to do business with a Jewish merchant and that was the basis by which it was outlawed.

Catherine was leaning in the direction of allowing the Jewish to enter the area for the purpose of trade. She reasoned that they were not only merchants who could bring goods and services to her people but they were also consumers by which her people could profit. This idea was met with so much public opposition that she reversed her decision and Jews were once again banned from Russia (Jewish History with the Russian Federation I).

Some Jews nevertheless penetrated into Russia during this period, while the authorities did not disturb those living in the territories conquered from Turkey in 1768 (Crimea and the Black Sea shore) and even unofficially encouraged the settlement of additional Jews in these territories. The question of the presence of Jews within the borders of the empire was however decided by historical circumstances, when at the close of the 18th century hundreds of thousands of Jews were placed under the dominion of the czars as a result of the three partitions of Poland (1772; 1793; 1795) (Jewish History with the Russian Federation I)."

The Jews continued to settle in these hidden and unbothered areas and as the numbers grew the poverty became widespread among their population. The Jewish societies were struggling to maintain lives within the boundaries of these small areas, without the ability to get public jobs or earn money in the public eye. In addition there were many merchants who refused to trade or do business with them and considered them enemies of not only Christ but their own land. All of these things caused the Jewish to become very poor in Russia.

When they came under Russian rule, many of the communities had become heavily in debt. Economic difficulties, the burden of taxes -- in particular the meat tax -- and social tensions drove many Jews to…[continue]

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