A History of Jews in the Russian East: Periphery and Center

Brian Horowitz, Germanic and Slavic Studies, Jewish Studies, SLA

William Brumfield, Germanic and Slavic Studies, SLA


The Jewish population in towns outside the Pale of Settlement (the 15 Western provinces where the vast majority of Jews were prohibited from leaving) appeared almost simultaneously with the appearance of Jews in the Russian empire. The juridical definition of the Pale of Settlement only changed its legal status. Until the reforms of the 1860s, the life of the Jewish communities was defined by various administrative acts and Jewish traditions. An enormous significance lay in relations with local administration, the degree of its religious tolerance, and financial interests.
The government’s reforms of the 1860s and 70s fundamentally changed the life of the Jewish urban population beyond the Pale of Settlement. Moreover, in the course of twenty to thirty years the composition of these communities was transformed and the material, professional, and cultural level of urban Jewry grew immeasurably. There appeared in urban areas an entire network of national and religious educational, medical, cultural and charitable organizations. By the end of the nineteenth century a significant part of the Jewish population represented a new formation—the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia. In the beginning of the twentieth century the urban population began to play a significant role in the social life of Russian Jewry. Precisely in cities there now appeared guiding organs of national political parties and groups as well as the publication of periodicals and broader publishing activities. The urban Jewish population acquired a large electoral significance in 1905 and thereafter.
For our project we intend to examine the following issues: power and Jews in the cities of the Russian Empire—life de facto verus life de jure.

  • The phenomenon of Siberian Jewry.
  • The urban population as the “legacy” of Nicholas’ Jewish soldiers (cantonists).
  • The Jewish passport and legal liabilities.
  • Jewish deputies and magnates in the defense of urban Jewry.
  • The life of Jewish students.
  • The functioning and support for a system of national education in major cities.
  • Problems of relationships with the larger urban population.
  • Relations to Jews living in the Pale of Settlement.


A short list of towns outside of the Pale of Settlement in which there was a relatively strong Jewish presence include Rostov on the Don, Taganrog, Samara, Nizhnyi Novgorod, Sibirsk, Perm, Cheliabinsk, Voronezh, as well as northern and western Siberia. We intend to examine and analyze the Jewish communities in these cities to gauge the Jewish contributions to Russian society outside the Pale of Settlement. Our work will include photographic documentation and studies of the economic, political, social, and religious histories of these cities and of Jews in the cities of Russia generally. As Jews moved, legally or illegally, outside the Pale into Russia, they founded institutions of Jewish life, including cemeteries, houses of prayer, and welfare organizations. The study of the life of these communities and the identities formed by Jews present the central issues of our study.
Principal Contributors:
Brian Horowitz
is a major scholar of Russian Jewry. He has three books, including a new monograph on the Jews of Russia outside the Pale of Settlement and a book of articles on figures in Russian-Jewish culture, politics, and scholarly life. He heads a book series on East European Jewry at Slavica Publishers and is on a variety of editorial boards in the field of Jewish Studies.
William Brumfield
is a leading expert on architecture in the Russian Empire, author and photographer of over two dozen books, and primary participant in the Library of Congress program, “Meeting of Frontiers".  He has extensive experience with documentary fieldwork related to synagogues outside the Pale of Settlement. He has produced photographic documentation of Jewish communities in Tomsk, Cheliabinsk, Voronezh, Omsk and Irkusk and others.