Jump to content

Pale of Settlement

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Pale of Settlement
Черта осѣдлости

Pale of Settlement map, showing the percentage of the Jewish population in 1884
Historical era124 years: From the late 18th to early 20th centuries
• Established
• Disestablished
Today part of7 countries: Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, Ukraine, Poland, Latvia and Russia

The Pale of Settlement[a] was a western region of the Russian Empire with varying borders that existed from 1791 to 1917 (de facto until 1915) in which permanent residency by Jews was allowed and beyond which Jewish residency, permanent or temporary,[1] was mostly forbidden. Most Jews were still excluded from residency in a number of cities within the Pale as well. A few Jews were allowed to live outside the area, including those with university education, the ennobled, members of the most affluent of the merchant guilds and particular artisans, some military personnel and some services associated with them, including their families, and sometimes their servants. The archaic English term pale is derived from the Latin word palus, a stake, extended to mean the area enclosed by a fence or boundary.[2]

The Pale of Settlement included all of modern-day Belarus and Moldova, much of Lithuania, Ukraine and east-central Poland, and relatively small parts of Latvia and what is now the western Russian Federation. It extended from the eastern pale, or demarcation line inside the country, westwards to the Imperial Russian border with the Kingdom of Prussia (later the German Empire) and Austria-Hungary. Furthermore, it comprised about 20% of the territory of European Russia and largely corresponded to historical lands of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Cossack Hetmanate, the Ottoman Empire (with Yedisan), Crimean Khanate, and eastern Principality of Moldavia (Bessarabia).

Life in the Pale for many was economically bleak. Most people relied on small service or artisan work that could not support the number of inhabitants, which resulted in emigration, especially in the late 19th century. Even so, Jewish culture, especially in Yiddish, developed in the shtetls (small towns), and intellectual culture developed in the yeshivot (religious schools) and was also carried abroad.

The Russian Empire during the existence of the Pale was predominantly Orthodox Christian, in contrast to the area included in the Pale with its large minorities of Jewish, Roman Catholic and until mid-19th century Eastern Catholic population (although much of modern Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova are predominantly Eastern Orthodox). While the religious nature of the edicts creating the Pale is clear (conversion to Russian Orthodoxy, the state religion, released individuals from the strictures), historians argue that the motivations for its creation and maintenance were primarily economic and nationalist in nature.

The end of the enforcement and formal demarcation of the Pale coincided with the beginning of World War I in 1914, when large numbers of Jews fled into the Russian interior to escape the invading German army, and then ultimately in 1917 with the end of the Russian Empire as a result of the February Revolution.[3][4]


See 'pale', English: Etymology 2.6. on Wiktionary.


The territory that would become the Pale first began to enter Imperial Russian hands in 1772, with the First Partition of Poland. At the time, most Jews (and in fact most imperial subjects) were restricted in their movements. The Pale came into being under the rule of Catherine the Great in 1791,[5] initially as a measure to speed colonization of territory on the Black Sea recently acquired from the Ottoman Empire. Jews were allowed to expand the territory available to them, but in exchange Jewish merchants could no longer do business in non-Pale Russia.[6]

The institution of the Pale became more significant following the Second Partition of Poland in 1793, since, until then, the empire's (former Muscovy's) Jewish population had been rather limited.[7] The dramatic westward expansion of the Russian Empire through the annexation of Polish–Lithuanian territory substantially increased the Jewish population.[8] At its height, the Pale had a Jewish population of over five million, and represented the largest component (40 percent) of the world's Jewish population at that time.[9] The freedom of movement of non-Jewish imperial subjects was greatly increased, but the freedom of movement of Jews was greatly restricted and officially kept within the boundaries of the pale.[6]

The name "Pale of Settlement" first arose under the rule of Tsar Nicholas I. Under his rule (1825 to 1855), the Pale gradually shrank and became more restrictive. In 1827, Jews living in Kyiv were severely restricted by imperial decree. In 1835 the provinces of Astrakhan and the North Caucasus were removed from the Pale. Nicholas tried to remove all Jews from within 50 miles of the Austrian Empire's border in 1843. In practice, this was very difficult to enforce, and the restrictions were lessened in 1858.[6]

Tsar Alexander II, who ruled 1855 to 1881,[10] expanded the rights of rich and educated Jews to leave and live beyond the Pale, which led many Jews to believe that the Pale might soon be abolished.[6] These hopes vanished when Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.[10] Rumors spread that he had been assassinated by Jews,[11][12] and in the aftermath anti-Jewish sentiment skyrocketed. Anti-Jewish pogroms rocked the country from 1881 through 1884. The reactionary Temporary regulations regarding the Jews of 1881 prohibited any new Jewish settlement outside of the Pale. The laws also granted peasants the right to demand the expulsion of Jews in their towns. The laws were anything but temporary, and would be in full effect until at least 1903. In 1910, Jewish members of the State Duma proposed the abolition of the Pale, but the power dynamic of Duma meant that the bill never had a realistic chance to pass. Far-right political elements in the Duma responded by proposing that all Jews be expelled from the Russian Empire.[6]

At times, by imperial decree Jews were forbidden to live in agricultural communities, or certain cities, (as in Kyiv, Sevastopol and Yalta), and were forced to move to small provincial towns, thus fostering the rise of the shtetls.[citation needed] Jewish merchants of the First Guild (купцы первой гильдии, the wealthiest sosloviye of merchants in the Russian Empire), people with higher or special education, university students, artisans, army tailors, ennobled Jews, soldiers (drafted in accordance with the Recruit Charter of 1810), and their families had the right to live outside the Pale of Settlement.[13] In some periods, special dispensations were given for Jews to live in the major imperial cities, but these were tenuous, and several thousand Jews were expelled to the Pale from Moscow as late as 1891. The extremely restrictive decrees and recurrent pogroms led to much emigration from the Pale, mainly to the United States and Western Europe. However, emigration could not keep up with birth rates and expulsion of Jews from other parts of the Russian Empire, and thus the Jewish population of the Pale continued to grow.[6]

During World War I, the Pale lost its rigid hold on the Jewish population when large numbers of Jews fled into the Russian interior to escape the invading German army. The Pale of Settlement de facto ceased to exist on August 19, 1915, when the administrator of the Ministry of Internal Affairs allowed, in view of the emergency circumstances of wartime, the residence of Jews in urban settlements outside the Pale of Settlement, with the exception of capitals and localities under the jurisdiction of the ministers of the imperial court and the military (that is, palace suburbs of Petrograd and the frontline).[14][15] The Pale formally came to an end soon after the abdication of Nicholas II, and as revolution gripped Russia. On March 20 (April 2 N.S.), 1917, the Pale was abolished by the Russian Provisional Government decree, On the abolition of religious and national restrictions.[16][6] The Second Polish Republic was reconstituted from much of the former territory of the Pale in the aftermath of World War I.[17] Subsequently, most of the Jewish population of the area would perish in the Holocaust one generation later.[6]

Jewish life in the Pale[edit]

Geographic distribution of Jewish languages (such as Yiddish) in the Russian Empire according to 1897 census. The Pale of Settlement can be seen in the west, top left.
A melamed (Jewish teacher) in 19th century Podolia

Jewish life in the shtetls (Yiddish: שטעטלעך shtetlekh "little towns") of the Pale of Settlement was hard and poverty-stricken.[18] Following the Jewish religious tradition of tzedakah (charity), a sophisticated system of volunteer Jewish social welfare organizations developed to meet the needs of the population. Various organizations supplied clothes to poor students, provided kosher food to Jewish soldiers conscripted into the Imperial Russian Army, dispensed free medical treatment for the poor, offered dowries and household gifts to destitute brides, and arranged for technical education for orphans. According to historian Martin Gilbert's Atlas of Jewish History, no province in the Pale had less than 14% of Jews on relief; Lithuanian and Ukrainian Jews supported as much as 22% of their poor populations.[19]

The concentration of Jews in the Pale, coupled with Tsar Alexander III's "fierce hatred of the Jews", and the rumors that Jews had been involved in the assassination of his father Tsar Alexander II, made them easy targets for pogroms and anti-Jewish riots by the majority population.[20] These, along with the repressive May Laws, often devastated whole communities.[citation needed] Though attacks occurred throughout the existence of the Pale, particularly devastating Russian pogroms occurred from 1881 to 1883 and from 1903 to 1906,[21] targeting hundreds of communities, assaulting thousands of Jews, and causing considerable property damage.[citation needed]

Most Jews could not engage in agriculture due to the nature of the Pale[vague], and were thus predominantly merchants, artisans, and shopkeepers. This made poverty a serious issue among the Jews. However, a robust Jewish community welfare system arose; by the end of the 19th century nearly 1 in 3 Jews in the Pale were being supported by Jewish welfare organizations.[22][6] This Jewish support system included, but was not limited to, providing free medicine to the poor, giving dowries to poor brides, kosher food to Jewish soldiers, and education to orphans.[5]

One outgrowth of the concentration of Jews in a circumscribed area was the development of the modern yeshiva system. Prior to the Pale, schools to study the Talmud were a luxury. This began to change when the rabbi Chaim of Volozhin began a sort of national-level yeshiva. In 1803, he founded the Volozhin Yeshiva and began to attract large number of students from around the Pale. The Tsarist authorities were not pleased with the school and sought to make it more secular, eventually closing it in 1879. The authorities re-opened it in 1881, but required all teachers to have diplomas from Russian institutions and to teach Russian language and culture. This requirement was not only untenable to the Jews, but essentially impossible, and the school closed for the last time in 1892. Regardless, the school had great impact: its students went on to form many new yeshivas in the Pale, and reignited the study of the Talmud in Russia.[5]

After 1886, the Jewish quota was applied to education, with the percentage of Jewish students limited to no more than 10% within the Pale, 5% outside the Pale and 3% in the capitals of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Kyiv.[citation needed] The quotas in the capitals, however, were increased slightly in 1908 and 1915.[citation needed]

Amid the difficult conditions in which the Jewish population lived and worked, the courts of Hasidic dynasties flourished in the Pale.[citation needed] Thousands of followers of rebbes such as the Gerrer Rebbe Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (known as the Sfas Emes), the Chernobyler Rebbe, and the Vizhnitzer Rebbe flocked to their towns for the Jewish holidays and followed their rebbes' minhagim (Hebrew: מנהגים, Jewish practices) in their own homes.[citation needed]

The tribulations of Jewish life in the Pale of Settlement were immortalized in the writings of Yiddish authors such as humorist Sholem Aleichem, whose novel Tevye der Milkhiger (Yiddish: טבֿיה דער מילכיקער, Tevye the Milkman, in the form of the narration of Tevye from a fictional shtetl of Anatevka to the author) forms the basis of the theatrical (and subsequent film) production Fiddler on the Roof. Because of the harsh conditions of day-to-day life in the Pale, some two million Jews emigrated from there between 1881 and 1914, mainly to the United States.[23]

Territories of the Pale[edit]

The Pale of Settlement included the following areas.


The ukase of Catherine the Great of December 23, 1791 limited the Pale to:


After the Second Partition of Poland, the ukase of June 23, 1794, the following areas were added:


After the Third Partition of Poland, the following areas were added:


After 1805 the Pale gradually shrank, and became limited to the following areas:

Rural areas for 50 versts (53 km) from the western border were closed for new settlement of the Jews.

After 1836[edit]

In 1917 Congress Poland did not belong to the Pale of Settlement but Jews were allowed to settle there.[13]

Final demographics[edit]

The Pale of Settlement and Congress Poland, with the percentages of Jewish population c. 1905

According to the 1897 census, the governates or guberniyas had the following percentages of Jews:[24]

Region %
Northwestern Krai (whole Lithuania, Belarus)
Vilna 12.86%
Kovno 13.77%
Grodno 17.49%
Minsk 16.06%
Mogilyov 12.09%
Vitebsk 11.79%
Southwestern Krai (North & Central Ukraine)
Kiev 12.19%
Volhynia 13.24%
Podolia 12.28%
Congress Poland
Warsaw 18.22%
Lublin 13.46%
Płock 9.29%
Kalisz 8.52%
Piotrków 15.85%
Kielce 10.92%
Radom 13.78%
Siedlce 15.69%
Suwałki 10.16%
Łomża 15.77%
Chernigov 4.98%
Poltava 3.99%
Taurida (Crimea) 4.20% + Karaite 0.43%
Kherson 12.43%
Bessarabia 11.81%
Yekaterinoslav 4.78%

In 1882 it was forbidden for Jews to settle in rural areas.

The following cities within the Pale were excluded from it:

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Russian: Черта оседлости, romanized: cherta osedlosti (pre-1918 spelling: Черта осѣдлости); Yiddish: דער תּחום-המושבֿ, romanizedder tkhum hamóyshev; Hebrew: תְּחוּם הַמּוֹשָב, romanizedt'ẖum hammosháv


  1. ^ Черта оседлости. (tr. "Settlement line") KEE, volume 9, col. 1188–1198 eleven.co.il
  2. ^ "pale, n.1." OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2016. Retrieved October 24, 2016. The Pale was the part of medieval Ireland controlled by the English government.
  3. ^ Сборник важнейших законоположений и распоряжений, действующих с 1 июля 1914 по 1 января 1916 года, вызванных обстоятельствами военного времени. Пг. 1916. p. 73. ISBN 978-5-4460-6984-2.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  4. ^ Аронсон Г. Я. В борьбе за гражданские и национальные права: Общественные течения в русском еврействе // КРЕ-1. — С. 232.
  5. ^ a b c Spiro, Rabbi Ken (9 May 2009). "History Crash Course #56: Pale of Settlement". aish.com. Retrieved 2019-08-23.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The Pale of Settlement". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-08-23.
  7. ^ Kotkin, Stephen (2014). Stalin. USA: Penguin Books. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-59420-379-4.
  8. ^ Kotkin, Stephen (2014). Stalin. New York: Penguin. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-59420-379-4.
  9. ^ "Anniversary of the pale settlement decree".
  10. ^ a b Wallace, Donald Mackenzie (1911). "Alexander II. (tsar)" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 01 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 559–561.
  11. ^ Jewish Chronicle, May 6, 1881, cited in Benjamin Blech, Eyewitness to Jewish History
  12. ^ Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti newspaper No.65, March 8 (20), 1881
  13. ^ a b Jankowski, Tomasz [attr.] (May 3, 2014). "Who could live outside the Pale of Settlement?" (blogpost). JewishFamilySearch.com. Retrieved September 29, 2016. Presents 14 groups of Jews to whom permission might be granted to live outside of the Pale, indicating additional conditions, and presenting three reasons for temporary permissions to leave, for the 13 governates of the Russian Empire; the blogpost is by an academic historian, and states: 'These rules was regulated by the Law on Social Estates and the Law on Passports printed in vol. 9 and 14 of Свод законов Российской империи.'
  14. ^ Сборник важнейших законоположений и распоряжений, действующих с 1 июля 1914 по 1 января 1916 года, вызванных обстоятельствами военного времени. Пг. 1916. p. 73. ISBN 978-5-4460-6984-2.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  15. ^ Аронсон Г. Я. В борьбе за гражданские и национальные права: Общественные течения в русском еврействе // КРЕ-1. — С. 232.
  16. ^ ""Об отмене вероисповедных и национальных ограничений". Постановление 20 марта 1917 г." ["On the abolition of religious and national restrictions." Decree 20 March 1917]. 2004-11-30. Archived from the original on 2004-11-30. Retrieved 2019-08-23.
  17. ^ "Poland - Interwar Poland". countrystudies.us. Retrieved 2019-08-23.
  18. ^ "Shtetl". Encyclopaedia Judaica. Jewish Virtual Library, The Gale Group.
  19. ^ Rabbi Ken Spiro (9 May 2009). "History Crash Course #56: Pale of Settlement". aish.com. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  20. ^ Montefiore, Simon Sebag. The Romanovs -- 1613 to 1918. pp. 463–464.
  21. ^ "Modern Jewish History: Pogroms". Encyclopaedia Judaica. Jewish Virtual Library, The Gale Group. 2008. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  22. ^ "Beyond the Pale: Life in the Pale of Settlement". www.friends-partners.org. Archived from the original on 2010-11-24. Retrieved 2019-08-23.
  23. ^ Ronnie S. Landau (1992) The Nazi Holocaust. IB Tauris, London and New York: 57
  24. ^ Первая всеобщая перепись населения Российской Империи 1897 г.: Распределение населения по вероисповеданиям и регионам [The first general census of the population of the Russian Empire in 1897: Population by religions and regions]. Демоскоп Weekly (in Russian). Retrieved 30 September 2013.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]