Pale of Settlement

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The Pale of Settlement (Russian: Черта оседлости - cherta osedlosti) was the border region of Imperial Russia in which permanent residence of Jews was allowed, extending from the pale or demarcation line, to the border with eastern/central Europe. Consisting of a vast swathe of territory, the Pale included much of present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, Ukraine, and parts of western Russia. In addition, a number of cities within the pale were excluded from it. A limited number of categories of Jews were allowed to live outside the pale.



The Pale was first created by Catherine the Great in 1791, after several failed attempts by her predecessors, notably the Empress Elizabeth, to remove Jews from Russia entirely unless they converted to Russian Orthodoxy. The reasons for its creation were primarily economic and nationalist: while Russian society had traditionally been divided mainly into nobles, serfs and Church, industrial progress led to the emergence of a middle class, which was rapidly being filled by Jews, who did not belong to either sector. By limiting their area of residence, the imperial powers were ensuring the growth of a native Russian middle class. Catherine can be said to have established the Pale as a compromise between those members of government who continued advocating the complete expulsion of the Jews, her own liberal tendencies, and the interests of the local population of the provinces, who suffered economically from the lack of a mercantile class of Jews.

The institution of the Pale became especially important to the Russian authorities following the Second Partition of Poland in 1793. While Russia's Jewish population had, until then, been rather limited, the annexation of Polish territory increased the Jewish population substantially, so that at its heyday, the Pale, which included the new Polish territories, had a Jewish population of over 4 million and constituted the largest concentration of Jews in the world.

Between 1791 and 1917, when the Pale officially ceased to exist, there were various reconfigurations of its boundaries, so that certain areas were open or shut to Jewish settlement, such as the Caucasus. Similarly, Jews were forbidden to live in agricultural communities (as well as in Kiev, Sevastopol and Yalta), and forced to move to small provincial towns, fostering the rise of the shtetls (literally, "little cities," from the German stadt). Jewish merchants of the 1st guild, people with higher or special education, artisans, soldiers, drafted in accordance with the Recruit Charter of 1810, and their descendants had the right to live outside the Pale of Settlement. 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 Saint Petersburg and Moscow as late as 1891.

The tribulations of Jewish life in the Pale of Settlement were immortalized in the writings of Yiddish authors such as the humorist Sholom Aleichem, whose stories of Tevye der milchiger (Tevye the Milkman) in the fictional shtetl of Anatevka form the basis of Fiddler on the Roof. Because of the harsh conditions of day-to-day life in the Pale, some 2 million Jews emigrated from there in the late-nineteenth-early twentieth century, mainly to the United States.

On March 20 (April 2), 1917, the Pale of Settlement was abolished by the Provisional Government decree On abolition of confessional and national restrictions (Об отмене вероисповедных и национальных ограничений).

Territories of the Pale

The Pale of Settlement included the following areas.


Ukase of Catherine II, December 23, 1791


After the Second partition of Poland, the ukase of June 23, 1794 added more areas.


After the Third Partition of Poland, the following areas have been added


The pale gradually shrinks.

Rural areas for 50 verst from the Western border closed for new settling.


The following cities within the Pale were excluded from it:

See also

External links


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