Jews in the Russian Empire

Publication date 25.04.2023
Prof. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern

This intensive 5-lecture mini-course (12 academic hours) introduces key broad themes that explore modernization and anti-modernization, urbanization and migration, secularization and acculturation and a new stratification of the Jewish society in East Europe. While it looks at the Russian empire and its western borderlands and Austrian Empire and its eastern borderlands, it focuses on Ukraine in its to-date geographical boundaries that include Galicia and Bukovina. The course does not have any prerequisites and provides broad contextualization of the selfimposed and empire-orchestrated reforms within the Jewish society against the backdrop of the Late Imperial Russia and the “long nineteenth century.”

This course was a part of Jewish History, Multiethnic Past, and Common Heritage: Urban Experience in Eastern Europe summer school.

Imperial integration: from the estates through conscription

Following the top-down enlightenment-inspired imperial attempts to reform the Jewish communities in France, Austria and Prussia, the Russian imperial authorities began their controversial reform of the newly acquired Polish Jews. They began with enrolling Jews into urban estates (sosloviia), legalizing their presence in the empire, institutionalizing the Pale of Jewish Settlement, and acculturating them through the military (rekrutchyna). This session explores the rationale behind the imperial reform of the Jews and compares acculturation patterns in Western and Eastern Europe, with a special focus on Polish and Ukrainian territories.


  • John Klier, Russia Gathers her Jews (Chapter 3, pp. 53-80);
  • YPS, Jews in the Russian Army (Chapter 1 and 2: pp. 24-89).

Traditional society on its path to Orthodoxy (I): Hasidism and its leadership

Traditional society on its path to Orthodoxy (II): Litvaks-misnagdim and the yeshivah (Talmudic academy) movement

The making of the Jewish intelligentsia: from the Rabbinic seminary to the literary classics

Jewish proletarians in the Russian revolution