Re: Residence Rules in Russian Empire #bessarabia

Judith Singer

The set of residence rules for Jews in the Russian Empire is complex
and self-contradictory. They changed several times over the course of
Russian rule.

The set of laws concerning Jews issued by Tsar Alexander I in 1804
required that all Jews be registered and adopt a surname. Any Jew who
could not provide written proof of their registration would be treated
as a vagabond. Although Jews were allowed to relocate, they first had
to provide evidence >from their landowner of their residence [nearly
all land in the Pale and in Russia in general was owned by nobles,
even the large towns] that they had satisfied all their financial and
other obligations and provide the local court with a tax-paying
certificate >from their kahal. The local court would then issue a
passport to the place where the Jew wished to relocate. Jews without a
passport would be arrested by police and sent into the steppe lands.
See "1804 Russian set of laws concerning Jews" by Vitaly Charny
( ) for further

Under Tsar Alexander II, however, the laws regarding residence were
relaxed and it was easier for veterans, professionals, artisans and
merchants of the first guild to obtain permission to reside elsewhere,
even outside the Pale. At one point, approximately 5% of the Jews of
Russia were living outside the Pale.

When Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 and the virulently
anti-Semitic Nicholas I became Tsar, a new set of laws was promulgated
in May 1882 and additional laws every year thereafter restricting the
rights of Jews in every respect, including residence. For example,
thousands of Jews who had been living lawfully in Moscow were abruptly
expelled in 1891.

The laws are too complex and changed too often to set forth here. For
details as of 1890, see "On Personal Status and Right of Settlement
and Movement", part of "1890 Summary of Laws Relating to the Jews in
Russia (Excerpts >from the Foster Commission Report)" at . For
laws between 1890 and 1912, see "Legal Restrictions Imposed upon the
Jews since 1882" at

As if that were not complex enough, it should be borne in mind that
laws were not always enforced as written. Sometimes the enforcement
was lax or spotty, sometimes the local officials chose to interpret
the laws more harshly than written, and sometimes the laws could be
circumvented with bribery, which became a necessary part of life for
Jews in Russia.

Lastly, the place of birth is so often different >from the place of
residence that, though I have not seen scholarly commentary on this,
it appears to me that women often returned temporarily to their
mothers' homes when it was time to give birth.

You will see if you look at the records >from the 1897 Census of Russia
that there are different entries for place of birth, place of
registration, and place of residence, so it was accepted by the
officials even during a time of oppressive restrictions that Jews might
live in a place other than where registered.

Judith Singer

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