The Pale of Permanent Jewish Settlement: Introduction and Historical Context

An Historic Overview by Charles-David Lehrer



Map of the area in Imperial Russia where Jews were permitted to live. The section sandwiched between Prussia (Germany) and Austria-Hungary became known as Congress Poland. The larger land to its east is the actual Pale of Permanent Jewish Settlement where Jews had far fewer rights than those residing in Congress Poland. The section in the far south (Bessarabia, Kherson, and Crimea) became known as New Russia; part of it was taken by Imperial Russia from the Ottoman Empire during the Russo-Turkish War of  1787-1792. Jews living in the northern lands of the Pale were actively encouraged by the Imperial Russian government to emigrate to New Russia and create farms. And it was from New Russia that many Jewish families, having gained expertise in farming, emigrated to that historic land in the Ottoman Empire known as Palestine, where they eventually built their own country, modern Israel,  upon the ashes of their ancient homeland.

Although Jews had been living in Eastern Europe since the late 800s, there had always been restrictions as to where they could reside.  With few exceptions, Jews were expressly forbidden to reside anywhere in Imperial Russia, a Russian Orthodox stronghold. In the later part of the 18th century, the Russian Orthodox Church became threatened when the Imperial Russian government began to annex substantial sections of the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania which contained a huge number of Roman Catholics and the the largest settlement of Jews in all of Europe. Faced with peoples professing alien faiths, the government of Imperial Russia originated laws to control the movement of these ‘strangers’.  For the Jews, these restrictions were formalized in 1791 when the Empress Catherine the Great created the original Pale of Permanent Jewish Settlement. This area included the countries that are presently known as  Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania and Moldova.

During the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800’s, part of these extensive Russian acquisitions were lost to Imperial France whose government named the area: The Duchy of Warsaw. After Napoleon’s fall from power, the Congress of Vienna granted the Duchy of Warsaw imperial status as the Kingdom of Poland. But as fate would have it, the kings of Poland were related to the family of the Czars of Russia, so it was only a short period before Russia took control of  the area once more, at which time it became known as Congress Poland. Because of differences in laws, the Jews of Congress Poland had a slightly better life than their brothers and sisters in the Pale.

During this era, which was one of tremendous unrest, the Jews living in the Pale became strongly influenced by the Hassidic (Pietist) Movement which sought to give meaning to the unsettled and often impoverished lives of its followers. But in the lands to the north and west of Imperial Russia, where lay the areas of the Kingdom of Poland which had been annexed by the Prussian Empire, the liberal tenets of Haskalah (Enlightenment) influenced the Jews living there.

The Creation of the Pale in Context:

Civil Law, Education, and Religious-Belief Systems of the Jews of Eastern Europe

In the years following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE, learned men among the Jewish People sought to find a replacement for Temple worship and for the governance of their people. Gone were the priests who for centuries had fulfilled these roles, initially in conjunction with the Omriad and Davidic Aristocracies.

The new Judaism of the 1st and 2nd Centuries CE originated slowly through the efforts of scholars known collectively as The Rabbis. The first of these to make a major impact on Jewish law was Judah the Prince (Yehuda Hanasi), who lived in the Roman province of Galilee, ironically in the very place where Christianity places its origins.

Judah the Prince sought to systematize Jewish Law, both religious and secular, through his extraordinary collection known as the Mishna (189 CE), which is presented as an ongoing conversation among several sages.

Although the Mishna originated in Galilee (in modern Israel), the primary center of Jewish learning at the time was in Babylonia (now modern Iraq) one of the lands in the Sassanid Persian Empire (226-251). And it was there in the towns of Pumbeditha and Sura and eventually in Baghdad that the Mishna was expanded by way of elaboration, reaching its basic form in the Talmud by 499 CE. The Talmud contains the primary laws, both civil and religious, which would govern the lives of Jewish People for many years to come. It is composed partially in Aramaic (the language of Babylonia) and partially in Hebrew. In the centuries which followed, the art of glossing was applied to the Talmud by way of extensive commentaries, resulting in a rather complex page layout.


First page of the Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berachot, folio 2a; published in Vilna in the Pale of Permanent Jewish Settlement 1835.

The Ashkenazim Move to Eastern Europe

The year 1096 marks the beginning of the end for the majority of Jews residing in the northern lands of Medieval Western Europe. During the era of the Crusades these Jews, known as Ashkenazim (Germans), were murdered on a scale heretofore not seen in Europe.  By the latter 1300s when the Black Death (for which they were blamed) had receded, the Ashkenazim had fled or been expelled from one land after another.

And it was during these troubled times in Western Europe that the Ashkenazim found refuge in two lands to the east:  the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Joined in 1569 to form one huge country, the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania became a second homeland for the Jewish People. For the latter 500 years of their  800-year stay in these lands, the Jews constituted a separate feudal estate alongside those of the Crown, Catholic Clergy, Greater Szlachta (noble landed magnates), Lesser Szlachta (noble struggling squires), and Burghers (town guild members, primarily German).

As an estate, the professions of the Jews in the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania extended far beyond what they had been permitted to undertake in Western European kingdoms and principalities, where they were restricted to money-lending and petty trade. In the lands of Poland and Lithuania one could find Jews active in several areas of endeavor:

Urban Jewish Families

Working as the financial agents of the Kings of Poland-Lithuania

Retail trade


Collecting tolls, i.e. transit and customs duties

Money Lending

Holding land

Jewish Families on the Great Country Estates of the Nobility

Leasing and mortgaging of estates belonging to the Crown and Szlachta (nobility)

Liquor production and trade (managed taverns and inns on the great estates of the nobility)

Collecting excise taxes on alcoholic drinks

Exporting  farm production into the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe

Salt mining


Production and manufacture of essential goods

Farming (limited)



Locations of the most-extensive feudal estates in the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania

Feudal Estates (Folwarks) in Poland and Lithuania owned by the Greater  Szlachta,  such as the one above named Owieeczki, were administered by Jewish families, and worked by serfs. The actual male in charge was called an Arendar (Schenker in Yiddish), that is to say, he leased the Folwark from the owner who preferred to live apart from his land in a city. In addition, these same Jewish families were in charge of liquor distilling and in the actual operation of the tavern on the estate. A considerable number of these vast estates were on the land ceded to Imperial Russia after the Khmelnytsky Uprising (1648-1657).

Two Manor houses on Folwarks owned by the Radziwill Family



It must be said, though, that there was always strife in the realm of business between the Burghers (who were German) and the Jews of the cities who were in direct competition with one another. In addition, the Catholic clergy was forever harassing the Jews, particularly by way of the Jesuits who were in control of Polish and Lithuanian schools. As a result, charges of Blood Libel and desecration of the Eucharistic Host were common, and often led to the murder of innocent Jews. Fortunately, the Greater Szlachta fully supported and protected the Jews who were in charge of running their estates and who lived in villages attached to these aristocratic holdings.

With a few exceptions, the Kings of Poland-Lithuania made every effort to protect the Jewish population against the kinds of mob violence generated by the efforts of the Burghers and of the Catholic clergy to eliminate the Jews from the realm. To be sure, it was in the best interests of the nation that the kings quickly stifle such unrest and punish the offenders, since without the business generated by Jewish merchants in the realm, who through family connections operated internationally, the Polish-Lithuanian economy would have completely collapsed.

Kingdom of Poland Lithuania

The area comprising the Kingdom of Poland and the Duchy of Lithuania at its greatest extent during the 1420’s. Note that the city of Kiev (Kjow), now the capital of Ukraine,  was once located in the vast Duchy of Lithuania (red and pink areas).

During the long stay of the Ashkenazim in Poland-Lithuania, the Talmud gained much in the way of additional commentaries; in fact, many concepts in the text were expanded into separate tractates standing outside the Talmud itself. In essence, the Jews of the Poland-Lithuania were governed by their elders and rabbis who interpreted the Talmud and taught it to the young men in their towns and villages. It should be emphasized that these laws, because they were also civil, resulted in the Jews of the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania becoming a nation within a nation. Therefore, there were two sets of civil laws  which regulated the lives of the Jewish people: one from the Talmud, the other from the King and nobility. The Jewish People were given special protection by the kings and princes of Poland as they were integral players in the economy of the kingdom. For example, in the year 1264, Boleslav the Pious, Prince of Cracow issued a General Charter of Jewish Liberties. This charter was ratified by Casimir the Great in 1344 and extended to the entire Polish Realm. In 1388 a similar charter was issued by Grand Duke Vitovt of Lithuania for his realm.

The Kahals

The zenith of Jewish autonomy in the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania occurred during the Renaissance and Early Baroque Eras (c. 1501-1648).  Central to this was the 1551 Charter of Jewish Autonomy for Great Poland granted by King Sigismund Augustus. According to the Charter, the Jews of Great Poland  (Wielkopolska) were to be governed by a primary Kahal Board of Jewish Elders comprising the following offices appointed annually by a number of electors who, themselves, were chosen by lot:

Rashim (heads)

Tubim (optimates)

Dayyanim (judges)

Gabbaim (directors)

This hierarchical structure (which was spread to all of the provinces of Poland-Lithuania) was duplicated at each level of governance, beginning with the top group known as the Council of the Five Lands (later Four Lands, as Lithuania separated) which met at yearly conferences (Waads) held alternately in Lublin and Yaroslav, down to small districts comprising several villages. Among the many duties of the Kahals was the all-important matter of collecting the taxes on their constituents and presenting this revenue to the Royal Treasury. In addition, the Kahal Board sent a representative to lobby the Polish nobility for favors whenever the Polish Parliament was convened.

During the 1500s, the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania was divided into the following Jewish provinces (with their respective capital cities):

Wielkopolska (Great Poland): Posen

Malopolska (Little Poland): Crakow and Lublin

Rus (Red Russia): Lemburg (Lviv)

Volhynia : Ostrog & Kremetetz

Lithuania:  Brest & Grodno

In addition to the heads, optimates, judges, and directors, the Waads also included rabbis learned in Talmudic Law. The Kahals lasted well into the 19th Century, that is, as long as Imperial Russia operated as a feudal system. But when the serfs were freed in 1861 and feudalism ended, it was only a matter of time before the Kahals would outlive their established purpose, and this occurred in 1882.

The Education of Jewish Boys in the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania

The key to sustaining this form of government lay in the autonomous Jewish educational system for boys centered on preserving the laws, both civil and religious, contained in the Talmud and its commentaries. To that purpose, the following two types of schools for boys were set up (girls received no formal education):

1. Heder: elementary and secondary education (age 6 to 13) centered on the Tanach read in Hebrew and in proto-Yiddish (actually Jewish-German).  The easier treatises of the Talmud along with their commentaries were also included. The study of  basic arithmetic and Ancient Hebrew grammar was included in the curriculum of some schools. Yiddish, the language of all the Jews residing in Poland-Lithuania, apparently was not studied; in fact Yiddish grammar was not systematized until well into the 1800s. A teacher in a Heder was known as a Melammed.

2. Yeshivah: higher education centered on the study of civil and religious Jewish Law via the Talmud. There were no secular studies. Only talented boys could hope to obtain this education. There was but a single teacher in each Yeshiva, a Rabbi known as a Rosh-Yeshiva who, in essence, was a lawyer. Yeshiva students were known by the term: Bachur. Boys wishing to become physicians, left Poland-Lithuania to study at the Catholic University of Padua in northern Italy.

The Shulchan Aruch

In addition to the laws set down in the Talmud for religious observance, there was Joseph Caro’s volume, Shulchan Aruch (c. 1550), which regulated virtually every waking hour of the day. In the 1578 edition supplemented by Moses Isserles, the Shulchan Aruch became central to the life of the Jewish People residing in the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania. And, and  it is still in use by observant Jews till this very day. An example:

The Rituals to be Followed in Getting Dressed:

1) A man should not put on his under-garment from a sitting position, but he should take the garment and insert into it his head and arms while he is still lying down. With the result that when he gets up, he is already covered.

2) A man should not say to himself:  ‘Look, I am in my private room – who will see me?’, for as it is written in  Isaiah 6:3: The Holy One, Blessed be His glory, fills the whole earth.

3) A man should be particular to put on his under-garment the way it goes, so that it should not be inside out.

4) A man should put on his right shoe first and not fasten it, then after that put on the left and fasten it, and return and fasten the right one. And in the case of  shoes which do not have a fastening, a man should put on his right shoe first.

5) When a man takes off his shoes, he should take off the left one first.

6) It is forbidden to walk in an upright posture. Out of respect for the immanence of the Divine Presence, a man should not walk a distance of four amot with his head uncovered. A man should examine his bodily openings to ensure they are kept clean. He must cover all his body and not go barefoot. And he should accustom himself to relieve himself morning and evening so as to be alert and clean.


The opening page of the Shulchan Aruch

The Disintegration of the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania and the Rise of the Hassidic Movement

The beginning of the end of the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania was initiated in 1648 with the Khmelnytsky Uprising, a Cossack rebellion in the Ukraine [meaning: border lands], a part of the kingdom where the serfs were predominantly Greek Orthodox. Hundreds of Jews in the towns where they did business and on the estates they managed were murdered. This civil conflict which covered the years 1648–1657, became in essence a Ukrainian war of liberation. In 1649 a treaty ending the war was signed by the Polish Crown and Khmelnytsky. But the peace was not for long, for fighting broke out anew in 1651. Fortunately it ended quickly and the Jews of Ukraine, who had survived the years of onslaught, were finally permitted to return to their lands in the Ukraine, once again living among the hostile Greek Orthodox population. But  in 1654 war broke out again and this time the Ukraine [border] area of the Duchy of Lithuania was completely taken over by the Cossacks. Now known as the Ukrainian Cossack Hetmanate, it was almost immediately ceded to Imperial Russia, a land in which, heretofore,  Jews had not been permitted to live. To make matters worse,  later on in 1654 the armies of Imperial Russia and of the Kingdom of Sweden both invaded the weakened Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania. The Jewish arenders and their families living in the villages on the vast estates of Ukraine were murdered by the thousands.

And so it was that during this era of great despair  for the Jews of Ukraine, that the first of three fascinating Jewish sects came into being: the Sabbatians led by their Messiah, Sabbatai Zevi, appeared in 1648 the very year in which the Khmelnytsky Uprising had begun.


The Ukrainian Cossack Hetmanate

The years 1697-1763 mark the reigns in Poland-Lithuania of the two Saxon monarchs, Augustus II and his son Augustus III. By their indifference they would  further weaken the kingdom, a job which had been initiated by the Cossack Rebellion in 1648. Augustus II, also known as Augustus the Strong, is said to have fathered some 300 children, but only one was legitimate, Augustus III. The latter was the very man to whom J. S. Bach dedicated his fabulous Mass in B Minor. Specifically, The Kyrie and Gloria of the Mass were composed in 1733, the former as a lament for the decease of Elector Augustus the Strong (who had died on 1 February 1733) and the latter to celebrate the accession of his successor the Saxon Elector and later Polish King Augustus III of Poland, who converted to Catholicism in order to ascend the throne of Poland. Bach presented these as a Missa with a set of parts (Kyrie plus Gloria, BWV 232a) to Augustus with a note dated 27 July 1733, in the hope of obtaining the title, Electoral Saxon Court Composer.

By 1764 when Auguste III had died, the Kahals which were the actual governing bodies of the Jewish People in the kingdom, had lost most of their power to the Crown. In 1768 the southern part of the kingdom near Kiev [now in Imperial Russia] was wracked by the Uman Massacre, in which hundreds of Jews were killed. By century’s end, Poland-Lithuania had been completely annexed by the Prussian, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires, each taking a section (the so-called Partitions of Poland), thereby dissolving the great kingdom. The Kahals which had served the Jewish People so well, could see the handwriting on the wall: their feudal autonomy, now threatened by three centralized governments ruled by absolutist monarchs, would soon be an anachronism.


The Partitions of the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania: 1772, 1793, and 1795

And it was during the 1700s when the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania was disintegrating, that two additional religious sects arose among the Jews. The Frankist Sect, which appeared in the kingdom during 1755, was centered around its Messiah, Jacob Frank. The Hassidic (Pietist) Movement, was initiated c. 1740 by Israel Baal Shem Tov who lived in Medzhibozh, a town in Poland-Lithuania located in what is now modern Ukraine.  Israel’s ideas swept the eastern part of the kingdom, the very part which was to become the Pale of Permanent Jewish Settlement of Imperial Russia. Extraordinarily mystical works known as Kabbalah became central to Hassidic Judaism.

By the time the Pale was established (1791), Hassidism had become the major form of Judaism practiced there. The traditional clothing of the Hassidic rabbis and their followers varied from town to town in the Pale of Settlement, and these styles of regional dress are maintained till this day in Israel, in the United States, and elsewhere where this form of  Judaism has become popular (primarily through the efforts of the Chabad Movement). Practitioners wear less ‘colorful’ clothing than that of their rabbis, the men dressing primarily in black to emphasize their piety.

By the early 19th century, the Hassidic movement in the northeast of the Pale combined with Rabbinic (Orthodox) Judaism to produce the primary form known today in the Chabad Lubavitch movement. The town of Vitebsk, a stronghold of Orthodox Judaism located in the northeast of the Pale in Vitebsk province, became the center for this new version of Hasidism. In fact, at the end of the 18th century the actual founders of Lithuanian Hasidism, Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk and Shneur Zalman of Lyady (the 1st Lubavitscher Rebbe), were active in the city.  The rabbi of the city from 1803 to 1860 was Yizhak Isaac Behard, who was both kazyonny ravvin (government-appointed rabbi) and the choice of the admor (Hasidic rabbi). The dynasty of Rebbes founded by  Shneur Zalman of Liadi ended  in 1994 with the death of the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in New York City. Ironically, many of his followers, following the precedent set forth several centuries earlier in the messianic movements led by by Sabbatai Zevi and Jacob Frank, believed Menachem Mendel Schneerson to be the Messiah!

During the same period in which the Frankist and Hasidic sects appeared, the northern and western sections of Poland-Lithuania, which were eventually annexed by Prussia came under the influence of the Enlightenment: the specific expression in Judaism known as Haskalah was initiated by Moses Mendelssohn, the grandfather of the great Romantic composer, Felix Mendelssohn.  Needless to say, centrist Rabbinic Judaism became extraordinarily threatened by these two extremes: using today’s terms, the Hassisdic sect stood to the right of Rabbinic Judaism, while the liberal-minded Haskalah group was on the left. All three expressions of Judaism still exist in the present day in the US, as they were brought here during the great migrations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Hassidic Judism to the right, Orthodox Judaism in the center, and Reform Judaism to the left.

It was during the reign of  Catherine the Great (r. 1762-1796) that the part of Poland-Lithuania annexed by Russia became known as the Pale of Permanent Jewish Settlement, the only place at the time where Jews could legally live in Imperial Russia. There was an additional section: established later during the Napoleonic Wars and sustained by the Congress of Vienna, it was originally entitled the Duchy of Warsaw,  but after 1812 it became known as the Kingdom of Poland, or more properly, Congress Poland, and was politically attached to Imperial Russia.

Although Congress Poland was in the domain of Imperial Russia,  the Jews were permitted to continue residing there. Unlike the greater part of Russia, the serfs of Congress Poland had already been freed by Napoleon before 1812. Life for the Jews of Congress Poland was somewhat easier than it was for those living in the Pale.


Congress Poland (Kongresspolen)

Secular Education

Jewish men in Eastern Europe who wanted a secular education, had to travel to Western Europe to obtain it, since all that was available to them was the religious education of the heder and yeshiva,  that is, until 1835 when the Jews of Imperial Russia were given permission to attend the so-called ‘Russian Schools’. By 1841, three of these secular educational institutions had been established just for Jewish children: one in Riga in the north of Russia proper, another in Kishinev in New Russia located  in the southernmost part of the empire, and the third in Odessa, also in New Russia. At the same time, there were plans afoot by the Imperial government to establish Jewish Crown Schools throughout the Pale (and Congress Poland) in order that all Jewish children might be able to obtain a secular education. Although several of the latter were created, all were closed in 1873, because the majority of Jewish families  preferred their time-honored educational system wherein their boys (only) were sent to the heder and yeshiva.

In 1887, new laws curtailed the education of Jewish children in secular institutions above the primary grades, that is to say above age 13. As stringent quotas were set, very few Jewish children were able to attend high school (gymnazium) and university. Some children received their secondary education at home via private tutors; the very fortunate went abroad to study at a university after high school.

The Jewish Constitution of Imperial Russia: Clause 34

During the 19th century, the Imperial Russian government initiated a series of plans aimed at societal reorganization in order to facilitate the change from a feudal system into a nation resembling those in Western Europe. During this reorganization, the Imperial government issued a Jewish Constitution. Had the directives in clause 34 of this document been implemented, they would have deprived 50% of the Jews in the Pale of work in the traditional Eastern European professions which had been their mainstay for centuries. The renting and mortgaging of the estates of the nobility (Szlachta), and the maintaining of the taverns and inns on the great estates, not to mention the monopoly on the distilling of spirits which had been central to the livelihood of thousands of Jewish families, would now gone. The plan was to encourage Jews to become farmers, an occupation with which they had little to no experience in living memory:

“Beginning with January 1, 1807, in the Governments of Astrakhan and Causasia, also in those of Little Russia and New Russia, and, beginning with January 1, 1808, in the other Governments, no one among the Jew in any village or hamlet shall be permitted to hold any leases on land, to keep taverns, saloons, or inns, whether under his own name or under a foreign name, or to sell wine in them, or even to live in them under any pretext whatsoever, except when passing through.”

In fact, many Jewish families did leave the northern Pale to settle on the extensive lands bordering the Black Sea known as New Russia, and become farmers. Fortunately, the War of 1812, during which time Napoleon attacked Russia, postponed the full-scale implementation of Clause 34.


When the millions of Imperial Russia’s  serfs were freed in 1861, the expertise of those Jews who stood as middle men between the aristocracy and the serfs was no longer needed. In essence, the directives mentioned in Clause 34 which forbade the Jews of the Pale to lease land, and to keep taverns, saloons, or inns came about anyway, but under completely unforeseen circumstances. (Note that the serfs of Imperial Russia were freed two years before the African-Americans and other slaves were freed in the US.)

The Kahal system of governance, by which the Jews ruled themselves as a country within a country for several hundred years, fell apart.  The Imperial Russian government stripped the Kahals in the Pale of all of their judicial and legislative powers, with the exception of collecting taxes and obtaining Jewish recruits for the Imperial Army. In fact, there was great animosity among the Jews of Imperial Russia as regards the latter operation of  the Kahals, because in cooperating with the Czar by drafting young Jewish boys into the army, the Kahals inadvertently caused the breakup of families, since such a ‘career’ for Jewish men  lasted no less than 25 years. This situation persisted until 1856 when Alexander II was crowned czar. Nonetheless, the primary policy of drafting Jewish men into the army did not change with the accession of the new czar, since the overriding plan of the Imperial Russian government in taking Jewish recruits was to convert these men to the Russian Orthodox religion during the time they were in the service.

Towards the end of the 19th century, common Christians (clergy, town merchants, and former serfs and their descendants) began to rise up against the Jewish population. Although the actual reason for this had to do with Jewish competition in commerce, religion became the convenient subtext for forcing the Jews out of Imperial Russia.  Since the state religion of Imperial Russia was the Russian Orthodox Church, and the fact that both the Pale and Congress Poland included a huge number of other Christians, primarily members of the Roman Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, the Jews stood out as decidedly different.

In 1881, after  suffering a series of pogroms followed by additional repressive  restrictions laid upon the Jews by the Russian Imperial Government (which held that the Jews were actually responsible for inciting the pogroms!), Jews from the most affected areas of Imperial Russia (primarily in the south of the Pale) began emigrating to the US, Palestine, and other safer places. Outcries  of discrimination, couched in the most-diplomatic language from the governments of Great Britain and the United States, went unheeded by the Czar and his administration. Indeed, Czar Alexander III was of the Medieval opinion that since certain of the extant Gospels record that Jewish People were responsible for the death of  Jesus of Nazareth (an integral figure in the Godhead of the Russian Orthodox Church), the Jewish People as a whole had to suffer for all time.

The primary point of exit for this mounting Exodus from the Russian Pale was located at the border crossing near the town of Brody in Austria-Hungary (now in Ukraine) where trains could be boarded for Lemberg (now Lviv in Ukraine) and then from  there to the major cities of Western Europe. The great port at Hamburg in the German Empire was a magnet for those immigrants who were heading for the US, Canada, Argentina, and beyond. Those Jews who decided to move to Palestine, in the Ottoman Empire, left via the port of Odessa on the Black Sea in New Russia.

During the year 1891, Czar Alexander III began negotiations with the German-Jewish philanthropist,  Baron Maurice de Hirsch, to remove the entirety of the remaining Jewish population of Imperial Russia to Argentina. This plan, had it been undertaken, would have  amounted to the expulsion of some 3,000,250 persons.

In leaving Eastern Europe for America, many Jews no longer wished to live in the traditional way, governed by their elders and rabbis and sending their boys to study in heder and yeshiva. Since religion and civil law were combined in Talmudic Judaism, dropping one often meant dropping the other. So, in America, new forms of Judaism were bound to arise to deal with the new frontiers of  religious thought. The problem was how to maintain some semblance of the Talmudic laws of religion while conforming to the civil laws defined by the constitution of the new land. The fact that every Jewish child would be now receiving a secular education in the public schools of America, made all the difference.

In the United States a wide range of Jewish religious ideas began to develop. For many Jews working in the arts and in academe, those disciplines in themselves furnished a sense of spirituality. For the rabbis, especially those from dynasties whose families had emigrated from the shetls of the Pale, Hassidic Judaism, complete with traditional dress, was seen as the only viable way to be truly Jewish.


Traditional Eastern European clothing of Hassidic Rabbis. The members of Hassidic  sects are known as Haredim.

Between these two extremes lie the concepts of Orthodox (originally termed Rabbinic), Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform Judaism, all of which were strongly influenced in one way or another by democratic political thought and by the ideas of the European Enlightenment pioneered by René Descartes and Isaac Newton. Indeed, the members of extended Bonar Family cover the entire range of these belief systems. A number of persons the Bonar Family who were born in Eastern Europe lived out their lives in the US as purely Secular Jews without any definable religious belief systems at all.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: