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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Russian territory in northern Asia, extending from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, and from the Arctic Sea to the Chinese frontier, with a total population (1902) of 6,276,226, including 31,380 Jews. As a place of banishment for Russian prisoners Siberia acquired its first Jewish settlers in the seventeenth century in those banished thither as criminals, among whom there were many whose only crime consisted in their being Jews. When steps were taken in 1829 to diminish the number of Jews in Courland and Livonia, it was proposed among other measures to deport to Siberia those Jews who failed to register in some community by a specified time (see COURLAND). The Jews thus deported were followed by their families and friends, and the authorities did not apparently object to the latter's establishing themselves in Siberia. In the course of time, however, the Jewish question was brought forward there also. In the early thirties of the nineteenth century a question was raised in the Senate, in the case of Berkowitz and Kamener, for the purpose of ascertaining whether Jews deported to Siberia, and their children who accompanied them, were entitled to avail themselves of the gild privileges. The committee of ministers to whom the case was referred resolved that it waslegal for Berkowitz and Kamener to register in the merchant gild; but "in order to prevent too great an increase of Jewish merchants to the injury of the natives," it was resolved that the case of every Jew wishing to secure a trade license be presented to the minister of finance for decision at his discretion. This resolution was approved by the czar, March 3, 1834 ("Vtoroye Polnoye Sobraniye Zakonov," , No. 6875).

Ukase of Jan. 5, 1837.

On the other hand, Nicholas I. intended to establish Jewish agricultural colonies in Siberia; and he even issued an order calling for the assignment of land for this purpose in the governments of Tobolsk and Omsk (1836). The Jews, especially those from Courland, were quite eager to settle in Siberia, but the plan was suddenly abandoned, and by a ukase dated Jan. 5, 1837, the czar ordered that the settlement of Jews there should be discontinued. The issuing of this ukase was largely due to the influence of the adjutant-general, Count Benkendorf, and of the minister of the interior, Count Bludov; the latter, though he had officially advocated the establishment of Jews in Siberia, had privately opposed the measure. Nicholas I. came to the conclusion that the settlement of a large number of Jews in Siberia would result in economic injury to the native population, and he suggested, as the most effective remedy, "the enrolment among the military cantonists of all the children of Jews deported for settlement in Siberia." Inquiries made at that time showed that in the governments of Tobolsk, Tomsk, and Yeniseisk there were eighteen Jewish merchants and 659 Jewish artisans, while there were thirteen Jewish settlers in the territory of Omsk. The regulations finally adopted by Bludov specified, among other provisions, that the transfer of Jewish settlers to Siberia should be positively and permanently prohibited; that the lands assigned for new Jewish colonies in the government of Tobolsk and in the territory of Omsk should be used for other purposes; that prospective Jewish settlers already on their way to Siberia should be sent elsewhere; that Jews liable to banishment to Siberia were, if under thirty-five, to be pressed into military service, if between thirty-five and forty to be sent to the workhouse, and if over forty to be deported to special settlements in the remote regions of Siberia, namely, in the territories of Yakutsk and Transbaikalia. The Jews sentenced to hard labor in the mines were to be settled in the same regions at the expiration of their terms. Jews who had come to Siberia in order to join their relatives were to be given the alternative of returning to their former homes or of joining their coreligionists in the new Russian colonies. On their refusal to accept either, they were to be deported to the remote parts of Siberia. Male children under eighteen of Jewish settlers were to be registered among the military CANTONISTS ("Vtoroye Polnoye Sobraniye Zakonov," , No. 10,242).

Status of Siberian Jews.

Meanwhile thirty-six Jewish settlers from the governments of Moghilef and Byelostok arrived in the territory of Omsk, and their status became the subject of much official correspondence. Bludov reported the matter to Nicholas I., who decided that it would be "unjust to transfer these Jews again," and ordered that they be given the choice of removal to the government of Kherson or of remaining in Siberia under the regulations adopted for the Jews already established there. From a document of subsequent date it appears that thirty-two of these Jews preferred to remain in Siberia, while four asked to be sent back to their old homes. After this, and until the death of Nicholas I., the government endeavored in various ways to discourage the settlement of Jews in the territory.

During the reign of Alexander II. several Jews, not convicts, were given permission to settle in Siberia, but notwithstanding this permission those who established themselves there were subjected to much oppression by the local administrators, who interpreted the law according to their own desires. Thus Jewish artisans, to whom the law of the empire permitted unrestricted residence while they were actively engaged in the pursuit of their trades, were frequently compelled to remain in the Siberian settlements where they happened to be registered, and were not allowed to leave even when unable to earn a livelihood there (see "Khronika Voskhoda," 1889, No. 9).

Anomalous Position.

"A general review of the government enactments concerning the Jews naturally leads to the question," says Mysh in 1889, "why the honest Jew who is not a member of the privileged classes is forbidden to breathe the air of Siberia, while various criminals and their descendants, although Jews, may not only live in Siberia while serving their terms, but may settle there permanently, and enjoy full civic rights, even though forbidden to engage in the liquor trade. At the same time, thanks to the laws concerning the PALE OF SETTLEMENT, any Jew within the Pale who, on account of overcrowding and the fierce competition of his coreligionists, suffers from poverty, and who wishes to escape from his unfortunate position, and to remove with his family beyond the Pale, will find only one way open to him, namely, to commit some crime. It will then become possible for him to remove with his family to Siberia at the government's expense, and become there a full-fledged member of the local population."

Under Alexander III. and Nicholas II. official discrimination against the Jews of Siberia became more pronounced. Thus the council of the government of Tobolsk decided that the domicil of a Jew registered in a Siberian community is not Siberia at large, but only the place of his registration, and hence such a Jew, if not a registered artisan, has not the right to move from one Siberian government to another, nor even to transfer his residence from one settlement to another in the same government. The Siberian administrations were supported in this ruling by the imperial Senate, and thereby many Siberian Jews have been placed in the position of serfs practically attached to the locality where they happen to reside; in many instances they have been deprived of the means of gaining a livelihood.

Regulations of a similar nature were adopted in 1899 by the governor-general of Transbaikalia. According to these, "all Jews are forbidden to reside in the boundary-zone adjoining the Chinese frontier. Only those Jews who lived there prior to the ukase of June 12, 1860, are permitted to remain in the place of their registration. The banished Jews and their descendants have no right to move freely from place to place in Siberia, but may apply to the governor-general for permission to do so" ("Khronika Voskhoda," 1900, No. 2, p. 10). These regulations are everywhere enforced with great severity and arbitrariness by the local administrations, much suffering being inflicted upon the Jewish residents of Siberia (ib. Nos. 42, 70; "Die Welt," 1902, No. 48).

According to the census of 1897, the Jews in Siberia numbered 34,477 (18,483 males, and 15,994 females), distributed as follows:

Districts.Number of Jews.Percentage of Jews to Total Population.
  • Voskhod, 1887,;
  • ib. 1889,;
  • Voskhod, Nedyelnaya Khronika Voskhoda, 1887. No. 40;
  • Mysh, Rukovodstvo K Zakonam o Yevreyakh, 2d ed.
J. G. L.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Irkutsk'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​i/irkutsk.html. 1901.
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