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The earliest Jewish settlers in Russia were probably merchants from Byzantium, who arrived sometime during the 6th century C.E. In the course of the 8th century Jews arrived from the land of the Khazars, south of Russia, where Judaism had become the national religion. Jewish fugitives from the Crusades sought haven in Russia during the 12th century. Most of these immigrants hoped to reach Kiev, a large trading center that linked the Black Sea zone and Asia with western Europe. In the 13th century the Tatars conquered Russia, stunting the growth of its Jewish communities.

Since Christianity did not take hold of the Russian people until late in the history of Europe (about the 10th century), the clergy and the ruling classes remained highly suspicious of Jews and classed them with unbelievers and considered them a threat to the young Church. At the end of the 15th century, a strong movement of conversion to Judaism arose in Novgorod, from where it spread to some of the nobility in Moscow. This movement was ruthlessly suppressed in 1504. Thereafter, Jews became an even greater object of suspicion among the people of Russia, who saw them as enemies of Christianity.

From the time of Ivan the Terrible (1553-1584) the Tsars were in general fanatically antisemitic and either limited or prohibited the Jews’ right to live in Russia (See Pale of Settlement). Toward the end of the 17th century, there were many Jews in Muscovy who practiced their religion in secret.

With the first partition of Poland during the reign of Catherine II (r. 1762-1796), 100,000 Jews from Poland and what is now White Russia came under Russian rule. Their numbers and importance in commerce necessitated a revision of the official policy. When Alexander I (r. 1801-1825) came to the throne, the Jewish community, or Kahal, had received official recognition. However, Jews were still subject to much discrimination, including excessive taxation and restricted living areas. During the Napoleonic wars, Jews gained in prestige by their opposition to Napoleon, whom they regarded as an enemy of religion.

With the accession to the throne of Nicholas I (r. 1825-1855), a reaction set in. He was responsible for the ordinance under which Jewish children were recruited for the army, sent to the most-distant regions of Russia, and forcibly converted to Christianity in the course of their military training (See Cantonists). This form of persecution ended with the rule of the new Tsar, the liberal Alexander II (r. 1855-1881), when the condition of the Jews generally improved. Together with the rest of the Russian population, they prospered culturally and economically, gained new privileges, and witnessed the abolition of abuses such as serfdom.

However, a new wave of anti-Jewish antagonism and suspicion developed during the end of the 19th century. One of numerous ritual murder trials on record in Russian-Jewish history occurred in 1878 (See Blood Accusation). In 1881, Alexander II was assassinated, and the highly antisemitic Alexander III came to the throne. He encouraged the popular notion that Jews had been responsible for his predecessor’s death. A long series of pogroms began, fostered by court circles to divert the people from the developing revolutionary movement. In the winter of 1891, all Jews were expelled from Moscow. Numerous new discriminatory regulations were passed.

In 1906, as a result of a revolution in 1905, the Tsar convened the first Duma, or representative assembly, in Russian history. Jewish delegates were present, and Jewish problems discussed, but on the whole, the Duma was dominated by reactionary, antisemitic groups. The Russian government continued to follow a policy of social and economic restrictions against Jews. Continued persecution caused an increase in Jewish emigration. Close to one million Jews left Russia during the decade preceding World War I, most of them heading for the U.S. Despite its hardships, the Russian Jewish community before World War I was the most active and numerous in the world. In the 18th and 19th centuries, such highly important movements in Jewish history as Hasidism, Haskalah, and Zionism, and Jewish socialist bodies took root and flourished in Russia. World-renowned yeshivot existed in many towns. Russia was the center of Hebrew and Yiddish literary activity. Mendele Mocher Sefarim, Sholom Aleichem, Peretz, Ahad Ha-am, Bialik, and Tschernichowsky are a few of the great writers of the pre-Revolutionary period.

The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 was followed by the most terrible pogroms since the Cossack uprising of 1648. Various opponents of the Bolsheviks

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