Russian Jewry under the Czars 1881-1914



The aftermath of the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881 was a watershed time period in Russian Jewish history. A reactionary phase led to the passing of the infamous May Laws which restricted Jewish life, and reversed many of the previous reforms. A series of violent pogroms broke out primarily in Ukraine and southern Russia in 1881-1884. There was a mass expulsion of Jews from Moscow and its environs in 1892, ostensibly because they were residing there illegally outside the Pale of Settlement. Further restrictions were promulgated by the reactionary government of Czar Alexander III concerning Jewish trade and commerce within the Pale.
The autocratic reign of Czar Nicholas II during the years 1894-1917 were a time of upheaval for the Russian Empire as a whole, and a dark time for the Jews of Russia in particular. The Kishinev Pogrom in 1903 along with the government’s weak response in its prevention, strengthened antisemitic sentiment among the Russian people and government officials. Although Russian Jewry enjoyed limited reforms as a result of the failed Russian revolution of 1905, the bloody pogroms which accompanied it, caused a tremendous loss of life and property damage across the Pale. Jews participated in the electoral process of the newly established Duma, but the Czar and his government ministers continued to curtail any reform and issued further draconian restrictions on Jewish subjects. This culminated in the infamous Beilis Trial in 1913. Russian Jewry on the eve of World War I was battered and beaten, and seemed further away from emancipation than ever before.
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