Pale of Settlement

The Pale of Settlement (Russian: Черта́ осе́длости, chertá osédlosti, Yiddish: דער תּחום-המושבֿ‎, der tkhum-ha-moyshəv, Hebrew: תְּחוּם הַמּוֹשָב‎, tẖum hammosháv) was a western region of Imperial Russia with varying borders that existed from 1791 to 1917 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
The Pale of Settlement and Congress Poland, with the percentages of Jewish population c. 1905

The Pale of Settlement included all of Belarus, Lithuania and Moldova, much of Ukraine, parts of eastern Latvia, eastern Poland, and some parts of western Russia, roughly corresponding to the Kresy macroregion and modern western border of Russia. It extended from the eastern pale, or demarcation line, to the Russian border with the Kingdom of Prussia (later the German Empire) and the Austria-Hungary. Furthermore, it composed about 20% of the territory of European Russia and largely corresponded to historical lands of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Cossack Hetmanate, and the Ottoman Empire (with Crimean Khanate and Principality of Moldavia).

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 villages), and intellectual culture developed in the yeshiva (religious schools) and were also carried abroad.

The Russian Empire during the existence of the Pale was predominantly Orthodox Christian. The area included in the Pale, with its large Jewish, Roman Catholic and until mid-19th century Eastern Catholic population (although much of Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova is predominantly Eastern Orthodox), was acquired through a series of military conquests and diplomatic maneuvers between 1654 and 1815. 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 and then ultimately, the fall of the Russian Empire in the February and October Revolutions of 1917.


The territory that would become the Pale first began to enter Russian hands in 1772, with the First Partition of Poland. At the time, most Jews (and in fact most Russians) were restricted in their movements. The Pale came into being under the rule of Catherine the Great in 1791,[3] initially as a measure to speed colonization of newly acquired territory on the Black Sea. Jews were allowed to expand the territory available to them, but in exchange Jewish merchants could no longer do business in non-Pale Russia.[4]

The institution of the Pale became more significant following the Second Partition of Poland in 1793, since, until then, Russia's Jewish population had been rather limited.[5] The dramatic westward expansion of the Russian Empire through the annexation of Polish-Lithuanian territory substantially increased the Jewish population.[6] At its height, the Pale, including the new Polish and Lithuanian territories, had a Jewish population of over five million, and represented the largest component (40 percent) of the world Jewish population at that time.[citation needed] The freedom of movement of non-Jewish Russians was greatly increased, but the freedom of movement of Jews was greatly restricted and officially kept within the boundaries of the pale.[4]

The name "Pale of settlement" first arose under the rule of 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. In 1835 the provinces of Astrakhan and the northern Caucasus were removed from the Pale. Nicholas tried to remove all Jews from within 50 miles of the Austrian border in 1843. In practice, this was very difficult to enforce, and the restrictions were lessened in 1858.[4]

Alexander II, who ruled 1855 to 1881,[7] 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.[4] These hopes vanished when Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.[7] Rumors spread that he had been assassinated by Jews,[8][9] and in the aftermath anti-Jewish sentiment skyrocketed. Anti-Jewish pogroms rocked the country from 1881 through 1884. The reactionary Temporary Laws, also called the May Laws, 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 Russia.[4]

At times, 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.[10][better source needed] 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 Russia, and thus the Jewish population of the Pale continued to grow.[4]

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. By August 1915, the boundaries of the Pale were de facto unenforceable. 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 Provisional Government decree, On the abolition of religious and national restrictions.[11][4] The Second Polish Republic was reformed from much of the former territory of the Pale in the aftermath of World War I.[12] Subsequently, most of the Jewish population of the area would perish in the Holocaust one generation later.[4]

Jewish life in the PaleEdit

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: שטעטלעךshtetlekh "little towns") of the Pale of Settlement was hard and poverty-stricken.[13] 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 Tsar's 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.[14]

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.[15] These, along with the repressive May Laws, often devastated whole communities.[citation needed] Though attacks occurred throughout the existence of the Pale, particularly devastating anti-Jewish pogroms occurred from 1881–83 and from 1903–1906,[16] 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, 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.[17][4] 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.[3]

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 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.[3]

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]

Amidst 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 Sholom Aleichem, whose novel Tevye der Milchiger (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.[18]

Territories of the PaleEdit

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:

Congress Poland did not belong to the Pale of Settlement[10]

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

Final demographicsEdit

According to the 1897 census, the guberniyas had the following percentages of Jews:[19]

  1. Vilna Governorate [12.86%]
  2. Kovno Governorate [13.77%]
  3. Grodno Governorate [17.49%]
  4. Minsk Governorate [16.06%]
  5. Mogilev Governorate [12.09%]
  6. Vitebsk Governorate (some parts of it are in Pskov and Smolensk Oblasts now) [11.79%]
  1. Kyiv Governorate [12.19%]
  2. Volhynian Governorate [13.24%]
  3. Podolia Governorate [12.28%]
  1. Warsaw guberniya (Варшавская губерния (Мазовецкая губерния 1837–44)) [18.22%]
  2. Lublin guberniya (Люблинская губерния) [13.46%]
  3. Płock guberniya (Плоцкая губерния) [9.29%]
  4. Kalisz guberniya (Калишская губерния) [8.52%]
  5. Piotrkow guberniya (Пётроковская губерния) [15.85%]
  6. Kielce guberniya (Келецкая губерния (Краковская губерния 1837–44)) [10.92%]
  7. Radom guberniya (Радомская губерния) [13.78%]
  8. Siedlce guberniya (Седлецкая губерния (Подлясская губерния 1837–44)) [15.69%]
  9. Augustów guberniya (Августовская губерния, 1837–67), split into:
  1. Suwałki guberniya (Сувалкская губерния) [10.16%]
  2. Łomża guberniya (Ломжинская губерния) [15.77%]


  1. Chernigov Governorate (some parts of it are in Bryansk Oblast now) [4.98%]
  2. Poltava Governorate [3.99%]
  3. Taurida Governorate (Crimea) [Jewish 4.20% + Karaite 0.43%]
  4. Kherson Governorate [12.43%]
  5. Bessarabia Governorate [11.81%]
  6. Yekaterinoslav Governorate [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 cultureEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Черта оседлости. КЕЭ, том 9, кол. 1188–1198
  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. ^ a b c Spiro, Rabbi Ken. "History Crash Course #56: Pale of Settlement". aishcom. Retrieved 2019-08-23.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The Pale of Settlement". Retrieved 2019-08-23.
  5. ^ Kotkin, Stephen (2014). Stalin. USA: Penguin Books. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-59420-379-4.
  6. ^ Kotkin, Stephen (2014). Stalin. New York: Penguin. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-59420-379-4.
  7. ^ a b D.M.W. (1910). "ALexander II (1818–1881)". The Encyclopaedia Britannica; A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information. I (A to Andro) (11th ed.). Cambridge: University Press. pp. 559–61. Retrieved 28 December 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  8. ^ Jewish Chronicle, May 6, 1881, cited in Benjamin Blech, Eyewitness to Jewish History
  9. ^ Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti newspaper No.65, March 8 (20), 1881
  10. ^ a b Jankowski, Tomasz [attr.] (May 3, 2014). "Who could live outside the Pale of Settlement?" (blogpost). 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 bogpost 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.']
  11. ^ "«Об отмене вероисповедных и национальных ограничений». Постановление 20 марта 1917 г." 2004-11-30. Archived from the original on 2004-11-30. Retrieved 2019-08-23.
  12. ^ "Poland - Interwar Poland". Retrieved 2019-08-23.
  13. ^ "Shtetl". Encyclopaedia Judaica. Jewish Virtual Library, The Gale Group.
  14. ^ Rabbi Ken Spiro. "History Crash Course #56: Pale of Settlement". Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  15. ^ Montifiore, Simon Sebag. The Romanovs -- 1613 to 1918. pp. 463–464.
  16. ^ "Modern Jewish History: Pogroms". Encyclopaedia Judaica. Jewish Virtual Library, The Gale Group. 2008. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  17. ^ "Beyond the Pale: Life in the Pale of Settlement". Archived from the original on 2010-11-24. Retrieved 2019-08-23.
  18. ^ Ronnie S. Landau (1992) The Nazi Holocaust. IB Tauris, London and New York: 57
  19. ^ 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 readingEdit

  • Abramson, Henry, "Jewish Representation in the Independent Ukrainian Governments of 1917–1920", Slavic Review, 50#3 (1991), pp. 542–550.
  • Geraci, Robert. "Pragmatism and Prejudice: Revisiting the Origin of the Pale of Jewish Settlement and Its Historiography." Journal of Modern History 91.4 (2019): 776-814.

External linksEdit