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zieds1mazs.gif (257 bytes)  Geographical Pale (Pale of Settlement)


In this Page the territorial restrictions on the settlement of Jews in the Russia Empire are discussed. It is supposed you have reached this Page from the Page that deals with all of the restrictions for Jews in the Empire and consists of the following parts:

Economical Pale
Educational Pale
Language Pale
Fashion Pale

Legal Pale

In this Page only the Pale of Settlement, or Geographical Pale is discussed.

Geographical Pale

General rules
Jews allowed to settle outside the Pale
Other people who could accompany privileged Jews
Problems for Empire officials
Obedience of Jews

General rules

The Tzarin Catherine II in 1791 accepted a special Law on the settlement and migration of Jews in the Russia Empire. Numerous regulations about the migration of all of the subjects of the Empire (except nobility) existed, but the Jews, who were incorporated in the Empire together with other Polish citizens in 1772, still did not fit in the existing system.

The Law established the regions where Jews were allowed to settle. These regions later were called the Pale of Settlement. The Pale included all regions of former Poland, Ukraine and others. The region of Latvia only partially belonged to the Pale. Vitebskas [Witebsk] province with Latgale was part of the Pale. Kurzeme [Kurland], however, did not belong to the Empire at this moment and, of course, was not mentioned in the Law. Later in 1795, when it was included in the Empire, its relatively numerous Jewish population continued living there by special permission of the Tzar.

Vidzeme [Livland] was left outside of the Pale and there, as well as in Riga city, the Jews could live only with special permissions. The rules concerning Kurzeme and Vidzeme provinces are reviewed in another Page of the Site.

You may ask - and what was with Siberia? According to the Criminal Law, one of the most serious punishment was the exile to Siberia. What to do now with Jewish criminals - how could they be exiled to Siberia that is far outside the Pale? Don't worry, Jews could be exiled to Siberia for punishment like all other subjects of the Empire.

Beginning of 1808 Jews were prohibited from settling in the rural areas of the Pale. This Law was not easy to implement, but the main idea was that the Jews were allowed to live in cities, towns and small towns or in Russian - v gorodach i mestečkah. A small town (mestečko) of the Pale, where a lot of Jews lived, is usually called shtetl or in Plural shtetls, or sometimes shtetlach following the Yiddish rules. It was also allowed to settle in great villages (poselenija in Russian). All these categories of the localities (gorod, mestečko, poselenije) expressed the legal status of a locality. In 1882 Tzar Alexander III prohibited Jews from settling in the great villages of the Pale - as a temporary measure, it was declared - but those who already lived there were not deported, though they were not allowed to move from one village to another. There also existed the list of the exceptional villages, where the Jews were tolerated. For the Latgale part of  Vitebskas province they were the following (in 1908):

Daugavpils apriņķis
Raipol (now Raipole)
Rēzeknes apriņķis
Režica (Rēzekne). Do not compound with the town Rēzekne.
Ludzas apriņķis
Korsovka (now Kārsava)
Rozenow (now Zilupe)
Bolovsk (now Balvi)

There were exceptions in this Law as well, and some categories of Jews were allowed to settle in the villages inside the Pale. In practice these categories coincided with those that were allowed to settle outside the Pale (see below).

Beginning of 1825 the Jews inside this Pale were prohibited from settling in the border zone of width 50 wersts (54 km), unless they owned a real estate there. They were accused of the smuggling of goods across the border. To my knowledge, the suspicions were well-grounded, but, it seems, these new rules did not destroy seriously the smuggling business. The real expelling of all Jews turned to be very difficult and in reality was never achieved, which follows from the regular repetitions of the appropriate decrees. To my understanding of the rule, it was applied to the Pale only (when it was), and so it had no force in Kurzeme [Kurland]. In any case, it is known that at that time Jews lived in Kurland's town Palanga [Polangen] that was a border town with Prussia (see, for example, the Page about a Case of Polangen Jews).


Jews allowed to settle outside the Pale

During the reign of Tzar Alexander II certain exceptions of the regime of settlement were introduced, that allowed some Jews to settle everywhere in the Empire except Finland and some other places where it was allowed only in rare cases.

  • In 1859 Jewish merchants, who were being registered as merchants of the 1st guild for 5 years inside the Pale, were allowed to settle outside the Pale.
  • In 1860 Jewish recruits were allowed to serve in Guards units of the Army and those who had terminated their service could settle everywhere in the Empire. It may be added that from 1834 the service period was 20 years, at least officially.
  • In 1861 this right was granted to the Jews with an academic grade. The graduates could apply for the estate of hereditary honorary citizens like all other subjects of the Empire. See more in the Page on estates.
  • In 1865 Jewish artisans (craftsmen) were allowed to settle outside the Pale, if in the new place their working force was needed. If the local administration found that a Jew worked badly or for any reasons he had interrupted temporary his trade, they had right to deport him back into the Pale. Easy to understand that this rule left a lot of place for injustice, biases and arbitrariness. However in this and in other cases an appropriate bribing tactic could be rather supportive and was assumed normal. And, by the way, it was not that easy to become a registered artisan.
  • In 1867 any Jewish recruit who had terminated their service in any unit of the Army. The word recruit here is very important. The soldiers who were drafted according to the compulsory service introduced in 1874 had not this privilege. See more on military service in the special Page. On the other hand, it is known that on August 11, 1904 a decree of the Tzar was issued that granted some facilitation of settlement to retired and reserve Jewish soldiers anywhere in the Empire except some specially mentioned places. Unfortunately, I have not seen this decree and can not comment on it.
  • In 1879 all Jews who graduated from the institutions of higher education. This people could apply for the estate of personal honorary citizens.
  • At the same time in 1879 the doctors, the midwives, the pharmacists including the assistants of the pharmacists were allowed to live outside the Pale.
  • The Jewish prostitutes were allowed to live and work outside the Pale. I do not know when the rule was adopted, but it could not happen prior to 1843, when the prostitution was not legally tolerated.
  • The Jewish students of higher education institutions could study outside the Pale. For more details visit the Page about educational Pale.

Perhaps it would be useful to stress that this kind of permission dealt with the right to settle only, not with the right to migrate. A Jew, who had the right to settle outside the Pale and really settled there, was obliged to live in the location of his settlement without legal rights to visit a town nearby.

Other people who could accompany privileged Jews

Of course, the members of the family could go with the Jew who was allowed to leave the Pale. I do not know exactly who were family members in the sense of these regulations. From general considerations I suppose that they were: the spouse, the unmarried daughters and the sons under the lawful age (21 year).

There were also some additional exceptions. According to the Laws of the Empire, a Jew was not allowed to hire a Christian for work at home - that is for duties that implied living of a Christian at Jewish home. Hiring of anybody was allowed without restrictions for businesses outside home. Analogously, the Christians were not allowed to apply for a job in a Jewish home.

As A.Solžeņicin /Solzhenicin/ informs, this rule was adopted in 1819. The list of groups of Jews that were allowed to visit Riga in 1822 (see the rules) clearly shows that the Law forbidding to hire Christians was observed at that time. On the other hand, an anti-Semitic brochure of V.Dal, Remarks on ritual murders (In Russian), initially printed in 1844 and reprinted in Moscow "Vitjazj" 2000, speaks about Jews in Veliža town of Vitebska province accused of a ritual murder in 1826. The Russian women-servants of the Jews were arrested for helping them in the presumed crime, and, as far as I understood, the women were home servants. (As you may know, the Jews finally were found not guilty in this widely known Veliža case). A.Solžeņicin in /Solzhenicin/ also asserts that this rule was abandoned in 1887, but in the book /Raksti/ printed in Riga in 1900 a review of legislation about labor contracts was published and it was mentioned that a Christian could not work at Jewish home according to the Laws of the Empire.

The lawmakers of the Empire understood quite well that a merchant of the 1st guild could not or even might not live without servants, without cooks, without wet-nurses for their babies, without home teachers for their children, without coachmen for their horses etc. But if he was Jewish and was allowed to go and really went outside the Pale, where he could got his home staff there? So in quite a logical way permission to live outside the Pale for some categories of Jews and their families necessitated similar permission for their home servants. The amount of the home staff, that a Jew was allowed to have, was limited, in 1893 the merchants of the 1st guild could have 4 home servants, the doctors and the holders of academic degrees only 2 ones. Without any doubt, the home staff were to be sent back into the Pale as soon as their contract expired, but I am not sure they always went back.

It should also be added that the merchants could take with them not only the home servants but also some Jewish staff for their shops and offices in the cities outside the Pale, though in 1893 only one person. Of course, if a merchant lost his estate of the merchant of the 1st guild he had to return into the Pale with the family and with all the home staff. He had to do this in term of two years. If the family had been living outside the Pale for more than 10 years, the return inside the Pale was not obligatory.

Here an additional possibility of by-passing the restrictions of the Geographical Pale could be mentioned. A group of Jews pooled their resources together and delegated one of their group to the estate of the merchants of the 1st guild. When all the necessary paperwork was done, the newborn merchant of the 1st guild hired other members (or only one member) of this group as his staff members and 5 years later this group could move almost to any place of the Empire and do their business there.


Problems for Empire officials

If even you could agree that the region inside the Pale was wide enough to guarantee normal living conditions for a particular Jew, it is quite clear that the regulations prohibiting Jews from free moving created pretty many problems for them and not only for Jews but also for the bureaucracy, because they were to keep the Jews inside the Pale and also to predict all possible needs for exclusions and to process these exclusions. An example about the Jewish servants was just discussed. Another example - the law about the Jews in Riga city that was adopted in 1822 allowed Jews to enter the city, if they participated in court procedures, which was quite obligatory if one wished to speak about any justice in the State.

Additional example of these problems and their solution was found in /Encyclopedia/. In 1848 in Polock, a town of Vitebska province (belonged to the Pale), a military school was situated and the graduates, that were taken to St. Petersburg, had problems with transportation, because all cabmen in the town were Jews, and were not allowed to go outside the Pale. Local military officials applied for exceptional permission for Jewish cabmen to transport the military school graduates to Pleskava [Pliskau, Pskov] that was about half way to St. Petersburg. Permission of Tzar Nikolaj I was got, but he by his own hand made an inscription - not to Pleskava but only to Ostrov - on the document with the decision. In this story I was surprised not so much by the economy in some 50 kilometers that the Tzar was so happy to gain, but by the fact the problem seemed so important that the Emperor put aside all other problems of the biggest Empire in the world and was not lazy to study the proposal thoroughly! Later, but I do not know when, the Jewish cabmen were allowed to leave the Pale with freight for the term up to 2 weeks.

Quite another example of this kind is from a booklet of F.Szoege von Manteuffel (1891), who was a Docent (associated professor) of Tartu [Dorpat] university and wrote the booklet to discuss both the problems of leprosy and the need to organize a leper hospital for the Baltic provinces. He wrote about one of his patients - a Jew Abram Meisel of 60 whose medical treatment seemed successful and who was sent back to his home. Some months later he returned to Tartu hospital, because he did not wish to infect his family. F.Szoege von Manteuffel wrote about the tragedy of a human, who, being alive, left his family for ever, and said nothing how could A.Meisel travel to the hospital in Tartu that was outside the Pale and, according to the general principles, a Jew was not permitted to get there without special permission. Presumably at this time for a Jew some possibility of going to a hospital outside the Pale for medical treatment existed in spite of the fact that all available sources say nothing about it. As it is clear from the booklet, there were no leper hospitals in the Baltic provinces (in 1891) and so A.Meisel was condemned to be on the tramp begging for charity like other lepers that again was not allowed for him outside the Pale, but I do not think the Police was happy to chase any lepers. By the way, the Jewish name Meisel was quite popular in Riga - the leader of the Bund party was Nohums Maizels, a physician, and the TD for 1940 informs about 18 Maizels (the Latvian spelling for Meisel) in Riga with telephones.

A lot of problems created permission for Jewish craftsmen to settle and work outside the Pale. Who could be recognized as a craftsman? Who could certificate a person as a craftsman? These and a lot of other problems were solved in various bureaucratic institutions including the highest one - the Senat. For example, the Senat investigated the applications of certain Jewish craftsmen and decided that butchers were not the craftsmen, who could be allowed to settle outside the Pale (1893), the same was decided for typographers (1893) and wood sorters (1894).


Obedience of Jews

In the real Empire not all clerks was well informed about the rights and restrictions of Jews. So sometimes it was necessary to seek for justice in the court institutions, which was done and sometimes with success. There are no reasons to imagine that all Jews of the Empire were very good boys and were happy to obey the rules they were prescribed to. At the contrary, the ways were searched for circumvention of the specific Jewish Laws and sometimes also of the general legislation. As criminal deeds in the Empire could cause some migration of the offenders to Siberia or to other regions, the criminal experience of Jews (as well as of other etnicities, of course) should be considered in the investigations of the migration routes. However, there were not so many criminal Jews in the Baltic provinces. The criminal statistics for the Kurzeme [Kurland] province 1863 inform /SJGK1863/ that in that year 20 Jews were sentenced  from totally sentenced 337 persons. Though I have no population statistics for Kurzeme 1863, and so I can not calculate if the share of Jews among criminals (5.9%) was greater than among the total population, but I estimate that it was approximately the same. In any case, the number of sentenced Jews - 20 does not seem very large and definitely does not fit for any statistical reasoning.

Another problem that could be interesting for the investigators of Jewish family histories is the origin of some Jewish names influenced by the migration regulations of the Empire. I personally recall by names my two former Jewish colleagues Ņeizvestnyj and Ņepomnjaščij. These names mean in Russian - the unknown and the one-who-does-not-remember. If the Police of the Russia Empire caught anybody (no matter a Jew or a Christian) who lived somewhere without relevant documents or without any documents at all, the Police was obliged at best case to deport him to his permanent living place. The duty became quite difficult, if the captured person declared that he did not know who he was or that he did not remember his name and registration place. People sometimes lose their memory in Police offices, you know. To process the prosecution of the captured people, they should have been filed by a name and for this purpose the Police officers in Russia provinces used the above mentioned or similar fantasy names; much later when the person was set free - at the end of the 19th century the vagrancy was punished by 4 years imprisonment and afterwards the exile to Siberia - he received official documents under this name. It is clear, however, that the Jews without documents remembered their religion quite well, otherwise it would have been much simpler for them to convert to Orthodox Church and to have less problems with migration.

Another evidence of the Jewish attitude to these rules is a linguistic one. Even now at the end of the 20th century, in Russian criminal argot the word ksiva is used for a document of obscure or disputable origin. The word stems from Hebrew and means - a written message, a letter.

The newspapers of the 19th century also inform about Jewish criminals who have opened secret trade with faked passports. A passport was obligatory for everybody wishing to move outside his place of settlement. The fellow Jews could also buy passports here, because passports for Jews were written on the standard form. Evidently it was not awfully difficult to buy blank forms in a municipality. It can happen that the fantasy names written in these home made passports are still hold by somebody.



© Bruno Martuzāns. 1995-2002