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Russia Essay, Research Paper

To Russian Jews, the synagogue was the center of religion and religion was the

most important thing in their lives. The rabbi was their leader, they came to him with

every problem they had. Jews were poor, but they all gave tzedakah. It was said that

even the poorest Jews could find someone poorer to help and give money to. According

to the Jewish religion, tzedakah is one of the most important mitzvahs you can do. The

same could be said about the Jewish holidays. They were observed very strictly, but

Shabbat was the most welcomed. In order to teach the importance of Jewish law, they

started their own schools, their own courts of law, and their own burial societies. even

though there were pogroms, religious persecution forced the Jews to create stronger

communities and made them more united.

In the beginning of the 1800s, Alexander I ruled Russia. He promised the Jews

that they could become farmers, could live in two districts, and could buy unoccupied

land. Although Alexander was kind and helped the Jews, the tax they were forced to pay,

stayed. before he died in 1825, the Jewish situation became hard for them to bare. They

lived in poverty in small and crowded places and were oppressed.

For hundreds of years, Jews lived these ways in two communities – the ghetto and the

shtetl. To keep out thieves and rioters from coming in, they built walls around their

section of town. When they did this, the government and churches got an idea, they

would use the walls that the Jews built, to lock them in.

These walls were located near a foundry that made cannons, so they named it

?ghetto? which means ?foundry?. They would close the gates every night and the Jews

would be locked in until daybreak. The word of the ghettos quickly spread, soon there

were ghettos all over Europe. The Jews were all treated the same in every ghetto that was

in Europe, according the government and churches, the Jews had no rights. They were

no allowed to own land, join crafts guilds, or do any kind of work that Christians got to

do. In some ghettos, they were even forced to wear badges so anyone who saw them

would know they were Jewish. The badge was usually a Star of David. For many years,

the government took copies of the Talmud, and burnt them. Also the government forced

the Jews to listen to long Christian sermons. Even though all these terrible things took

place and the government was not good to the Jews, the ghettos seemed to be a better

place for most Jews than the outside. The rich helped the poor and even the poorest Jew

was treated with respect because of what the Jewish law said. Though their living

conditions were not the best, the Jews all worked, studied, celebrated, and prayed

together. They also tried to make life as worthwhile as possible.

During the period that ghettos were spreading and becoming more well-known,

shtetls, which mean ?little towns?, were beginning to take shape. Many of the Jews

settled outside the main cities, this is where they formed their shtetls. Unlike ghettos, the

shtetls were protected by the government because the Jews served the nobles as bankers,

tax collectors, and farm managers. Also, there were no walls surrounding it to keep out

thieves and rioters. In the center of the shtetl stood the synagogue, and at the center of

life of the synagogue, was the rabbi. Jews thought being rich was nice but being a good

student was better. Each shtetl contained a population of between 1,000 to 20,000 Jews.

The Jewish community in Russia extends back about ten centuries in history. Until the

middle of the 18th century, Russia did not have any Jews in it. At that time, the Jews

were granted a permission to their own council of four lands: Great Poland, Little Poland,

?Russia?, and Volhynia. They excised religious, economic, and political control over the

Jews. In1812, Napoleon invaded Russia and in 1827, the Czar said that the Jews had to

serve in the army for a term of 25 years. He hoped that in that period many of them

would change their religion. Very often, the poor were forced to starve while the rich

managed not to.

Around the middle of the 1800s, the Haskalah movement formed in Russia, it was

different from the enlightenment movement in the rest of Europe. It promoted

intellectual and social awareness of Russian Jewry. They used Hebrew and Yiddish

literature to reach the masses.

In 1881, Czar Alexander II was assassinated. Once this happened, Alexander III

took over the throne. That year in April, Anti-Jewish riots or pogroms broke out, it

involved looting, property damage, and personal injury. In 1882, under the May Laws,

Jews could no longer settle in rural villages. If they left their towns, they were not

allowed to come back in. They were forbidden to trade on Sundays and Christians

holidays, did not have access to universities, and they could not work in all professions.

The Jews were constantly harassed by the police and were forced to get out of their

homes. The czarist government made it clear that the Jews had no true home in Russia.

The pressure increased in each passing year. The expulsion of Moscow?s 35,000 Jews

began in 1891. This situation caused many young Russians to go to other countries for a

higher education. They developed their own Revolutionary ideas, it was called Zionism.

Jews who did not want to fight for the Czar and wanted to escape the pogroms

started to immigrate out of Russia. Each year between 1881 and 1899 nearly 23,000

Jews left Russia. Some came to the U.S, some remained in Europe, and some made the

journey to Palestine.

The economic condition in Russia under the Czar was very bad. At times, food

and money were scarce. Mobs would be invading ghettos and shtetls often, looting and

burning leaving the Jews with nothing. When one house caught on fire, it was not

unusual for the whole street to burn down since all of the homes were made of wood and

their houses were built very close together. This left the whole community without

shelter, food, or anymore clothing than they had on them at the time. They would have to

go to the forest and start to chop all new wood so they could rebuild their homes and start

all over again. When doing this, they were limited to whatever tools they had, which was

not much because they could not afford to buy a lot of tools. Meanwhile, There were

some basic economical and social changes in Europe, which forever changed the life of

all men. The Industrial Resolution started to take shape. Industry moved out of the

home and into the factories. Small towns grew in population to become big cities and

brought comforts and luxuries to the common man. Most of all, production increased

and the whole world became the manufacturer?s market. many people were eager to

invest their savings, including the Jews, in factories, mines, workshops, railroads, and

steamships. Thousands of daring investors became rich and they gained enormous

economic power. In this period, Jews found remarkable opportunities to improve their

lives. All factories and industries which needed investors and workers, did not check for

religion or a social background of those who could supply them with what they needed.

They did not stop to examine the racial background of those who were willing hands and

who could be of service. To them, profits were the most important thing. These

economic changes helped to bring equality to the Jews. Some Jewish families became

very powerful like the Rothchilds family. Usually when Jews obtain financial strength,

they turned to help other Jews who were not as fortunate. By 1875, Jewish political

equality had been won in most of Europe. All of these changes, however, in reality, did

not stop Anti-Semitism. In the early 20th century, Russia was still Anti-Jewish as they

were during the middle ages. At this period, the Zionist movement had been founded.

Many Jews decided to leave Russia while they could, seek a better life, and better

opportunities elsewhere.

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