Pale of Settlement

Pale of Settlement (смуга осілості; smuha osilosti; Russian: черта оседлости; cherta osedlosti; derived from the Latin palus, or stake, indicating a fixed territory or district under a particular jurisdiction). The term applied to the area within the Russian Empire to which Jewish settlement was restricted. The region was established as part of the imperial Russian structure after the introduction of a large number of Jews into the realm as a result of territorial acquisitions following the three partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, 1795). Earlier attempts to regulate Jewish settlements in Ukrainian territories included the Treaty of Zboriv (1649), which barred Jews and Jesuits from Kyiv voivodeship, Bratslav voivodeship, and Chernihiv voivodeship, and a series of early 18th-century ukases (1721, 1727, 1738, 1740, 1742) that prohibited Jews from living in Left-Bank Ukraine.

The Pale covered an area from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and included much of Ukraine, Bessarabia, Belarus, and Lithuania. According to the census of 1897 it encompassed 4,899,300 Jews (94 percent of the total Jewish population of the Russian Empire), representing 11.6 percent of the general population of that area. Although they were a minority in every province, 82 percent of Jews lived in the towns and hamlets (shtetls) of the Pale and made up 36.9 percent of the urban population of the region. Just prior to the First World War the Pale included 15 gubernias: Bessarabia, Chernihiv gubernia, Hrodna gubernia, Katerynoslav gubernia, Kaunas gubernia, Kherson gubernia, Kyiv gubernia, Mahiliou gubernia, Minsk gubernia, Podilia gubernia, Poltava gubernia, Tavriia gubernia, Vilnius gubernia, Vitsebsk gubernia, and Volhynia gubernia.

In 1764 and 1783 commercial rights were granted the Jews in the territories of New Russia gubernia, which had been annexed from Turkey. In 1785 the Jews were granted equal rights with other inhabitants of the region. Subsequently those areas were included in the Pale.

In 1791 it was decided to permit the presence of the Jews in their former regions of residence. In 1794 the earlier decree was also applied to the regions which had been annexed with the second partition of Poland, namely, Minsk, Volhynia, and Podilia, as well as lands east of the Dnieper River in the Chernihiv region and Poltava region. In 1795, with the third partition of Poland, the law was extended to the provinces of Vilnius and Hrodna.

Occasionally, various territories or districts were closed to Jews, including Courland (1829), Astrakhan and northern Caucasia, Sevastopol, Mykolaiv, and Kyiv (1835), some villages in Mahiliou and Vitsebsk gubernias, and crown lands and Cossack villages in Chernihiv gubernia and Poltava gubernia (1835). As a result of further restriction (‘Temporary Laws’ in 1881, of Alexander III), Rostov-na-Donu and Tahanrih (1887), the city and province of Moscow (from which thousands of Jewish craftsmen and their families were expelled in 1891–2), and Yalta (1893) were closed to Jews. The laws of 1881 also prohibited any new settlement by Jews outside towns and shtetls in the Pale, with the exception of the 10 Polish provinces (the Vistula River region). Those Jews who lived in villages prior to 1881 were allowed to reside in them, although the local peasantry was granted the right of demanding expulsion of the Jews who lived among them. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries the Jews of the Pale experienced widespread and bloody pogroms.

The Pale of Settlement was abolished by the Provisional Government by the law of 2 April 1917, ‘On the Abolition of Religious and National Restrictions.’

Bikerman, I. Cherta evreiskoi osedlosti (Saint Petersburg 1911)
Pipes, Richard. ‘Catherine II and the Jews: The Origins of the Pale of Settlement,’ Soviet Jewish Affairs, 5, no. 2 (1975)

Peter Potichnyj

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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