How and when did the Jews appear in Russia

Categories: History | Nations |

It is known that Jews have been living on the territory of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus since time immemorial. Surprisingly, the very first authentic document of Kievan Rus, found by scientists, was written not in Slavic languages, but in Hebrew. At the end of the 19th century, the census of the population of the Russian Empire found out that 5.5 million Jews live in the country, which was almost 80% of their total number in the world. How did the first Jews appear in Eastern Europe and why did they like it so much here?

How and when did the Jews appear in Russia

For almost two centuries, scientists have explained the appearance of Jews in Europe by the so-called Rhenish hypothesis. It stated that the Jews of Eastern Europe are the descendants of the Israeli-Canaanite tribes who left the Middle East in the 7th century due to Islamic expansion.

These Jews settled on the lands in the middle reaches of the Rhine, where their tribesmen had lived for several centuries, since the time of the Roman Empire. In the 15th century, a large group of Jews left the shores of the hospitable Rhine and went to the east, to Russia. In this regard, everyone was sure that all representatives of the Jewish people in Europe were descendants of immigrants from the early Middle Ages.

But more recently, Dr. Eran Elhaik from Johns Hopkins University, USA, conducted large-scale genetic studies and stated that the Jewish population of Europe is very heterogeneous, but the genes of not Rhenish migrants play a dominant role in it, but Southern European and Caucasian ancestral signatures with a relatively small admixture of Middle Eastern ones.

In 2013, the results of Dr. Elhaik's work were refined by the work of 17 scientists representing 12 organizations from different countries of the world. They studied more than 3.5 thousand mitochondrial DNA from Jews from Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East and determined that 82% of the representatives of this ancient people have, after all, European ancestors and only a few descended from immigrants from the Middle East or the Caucasus.

How and when did the Jews appear in Russia

A more interesting option was proposed by scientists from the British Center for the Study of Archaeogenetics at the University of Huddersfield. They believe that 2000 years ago a group of Jews migrated from Palestine to Europe. Geneticists believe that almost all of them were men — this is an important point, since Jewry, according to the canons, is transmitted only through the maternal line.

It is not for us to judge which of the researchers is right and who is wrong. But, most likely, the modern Jewish population of Eastern Europe is the descendants of migrants from different parts of the continent: from Palestine, the Khazar Khaganate and other regions. At the same time, there are very few Palestinians in the total mass.

Jews appeared on the territory of Russia, most likely, in the 1-2 centuries of our era and their first places of residence were Greek colonies on the shores of the Black Sea. This version is confirmed by a find on the Taman Peninsula — there archaeologists discovered the tombstone of a Jewish warrior who lived in the 1st century AD.

Numerous religious images found in different places of the coast belong to this period — menorahs, shofars, lulavs and etrogs are found during excavations from Odessa to Kuban. In the 7th century, the Taman peninsula was inhabited by a significant number of Jews. There is information about this in the works of the Byzantine chronicler Theophanes. An entry made by the chronicler in 671 in Greek reads:

How and when did the Jews appear in Russia

Ruins of the ancient city of Phanagoria on the Taman Peninsula

The historian Julius Brutskus, who has studied the history of the Jews of Eastern Europe for many years, believes that representatives of this ethnic group came to the lower Volga from Persia, using the Derbent passage. In the 8th century, the city of Itil appeared on the Volga, which was destined to become the capital of the terrible Khazar khaganate.

In the multinational and multi-confessional khaganate in the 8-9 centuries, most of the inhabitants professed Judaism. From Itil, Jewish merchants went to trade in Russia, supplying our ancestors with furs, weapons, silk and the main value of that era — spices.

As soon as Kievan Rus appeared on the map of Eastern Europe, Jews also appeared in it. Many authoritative sources of the 11th-13th centuries speak about their communities in Smolensk, Chernihiv, Przemysl and Vladimir-Volynsky. In Kiev there was an impressive colony of Khazar Jews engaged in trade and crafts. This was indicated by such Kiev names that have sunk into oblivion as the Zhidovsky Gate and the Zhidovsky Quarter, known to us from ancient documents.

How and when did the Jews appear in Russia

The first authentic written monument of Kievan Rus, which we talked about at the beginning — is a letter of recommendation issued in the 10th century to Yaakov ben Hanukkah by the Jewish community of Kiev. There are also other written evidences of the activity of Jews in Russia in The Middle Ages. The Greek monk Theodosius in 1156 wrote about the Kiev colony of Karaites.

Already in the 12th century, synagogues worked in Kiev, and the chief rabbi of the city, Moshe ben Ya'akov, conducted an active correspondence with co-religionists from France and even from distant Baghdad. In 1173, the Jewish merchant Benjamin from Tudely, visiting Kiev, called it "a great Jewish city".

Today, the pale of settlement for Jews is spoken only in a negative way and many perceive it as a border, a certain demarcation line. In fact, it was a fairly extensive territory with an area of 1,224,008 square kilometers, that is, more than Ukraine or Belarus. For comparison, the area of the state of Israel is only 22,072 square kilometers, so there is not even a smell of harassment here.

How and when did the Jews appear in Russia

Outside the pale of settlement, the authorities of the Russian Empire prohibited the permanent residence of Jews in the period from 1791 to 1915. This was a measure whose purpose was not only discrimination. First, Jews were divided not by nationality, but by faith, so the line of settlement was relevant only for Jews. Secondly, it was a good way to protect Jewish communities from attacks from outside.

Baptized Jews, merchants of the first guild, pharmacists, dentists, engineers and paramedics, people with higher education could ignore the pale of settlement and settle wherever they wanted. In general, the conditions were better than in many European countries, where Jews, at least, did not have any benefits, and sometimes even paid more than others.

How and when did the Jews appear in Russia

It is worth noting that the domestic Jews were quite patriotic. When Napoleon's troops entered the lands of the Russian Empire and the French tried to attract them to their side, promising money and privileges, only a few betrayed their small homeland and went to cooperate with the enemy. The majority perceived the French occupation as a misfortune and a threat to their traditions and faith. Jews even took part in the liberation war in the ranks of partisan detachments.

Most of the Jews turned out to be in The Russian Empire after the partitions of Poland, which took place in 1772-1794. Only in 1772 from Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in More than 200 thousand people who professed Judaism came to Russia. Jews were allowed to own property and perform religious rites. Catherine the Second was the first to begin to curtail the rights of Jews, but until the end of the 19th century there was no question of any pogroms.

By the end of the 19th century, Jews accounted for up to 50% of the population of the cities of Lithuania and Belarus. Approximately 30% of Jews lived in the major cities of Ukraine. In 1897, there were 7.5 million Jews worldwide, while 5.25 million of them were part of the population of the Russian Empire.

Keywords: East | Jews | Migrants | People | Russian Empire