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It Had Its History

The Jews of Russia

Despite the generally low level of Jewish culture in that period in Kiev, the Jews there succeeded in producing several publications, including a commentary on the Torah composed in 1124, and a translation into Russian of passages from the Hebrew-language Book of Yossipon.

During the early medieval times, few Jews lived in Russia. It was Russian expansion southward and eastward between the 16th and 18th centuries that led to the incorporation of large numbers of Jews under Russian rule. As a result of Russian expansion more than 1,200,000 Jews were incorporated under Russian rule. By 1600, the towns of Polotsk, Vitebsk, Minsk, Pink, Lublin Kishinev, and Kiev had large, thriving Jewish communities.

During the two centuries that the Principality of Moscow was under Mongol rule, from the thirteenth to the fifteenth, only individual Jews seemed to have arrived there. Hatred of the Jews by Ivan the Terrible (1533-84) became murder when he ordered every Jew who refused to convert to Christianity to be thrown into the river and drowned, together with his whole family. This apparently took place in other areas.

There was increased anti-Jewish feeling based on religious fanaticism and deep rooted prejudice, which continued during the reign of Peter the Great (1682-1725), however, due to his ambition to modernize the country, Jewish bankers were granted permits to settle in Moscow, and the settlement of Jews in the border regions was permitted. This easing of restrictions was short-lived and ceased after the death of Peter the Great, when Catherine I issued a decree banishing Jews (1727). The policy of expulsion of the Jews reached its peak during the reign of Elizabeth (1741-62) who was a religious fanatic.

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