Russian Jews and the Revolution of 1905

Many of the factors that led to the Russian Revolution of 1905 were nationalistic issues. As Russia expanded in the 19th century, it became even more of a multiethnic empire. However, there was a hierarchy of religions in Russian society. Jewish people, especially, had always been subject to discrimination, but as the 20th century began, the government imposed new, harsher laws against them. As a result, many people were left dead. This led to growing unrest and resentment. Some Russian Jews saw better opportunities and more safety elsewhere. More than two million Jews fled and went to either Europe or the U.S. Among these people were my own family. Others would eventually begin to join the resistance movement and take part in the Revolution of 1905.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           The Russian government had long considered Jewish people as “enemies of Christianity” and a threat to the status quo. Many were confined to an area called the “Pale of the Settlement.” Jews were also (incorrectly) blamed for the death of Alexander II. Near the end of the 19th century, the government began to impose more anti-Jewish pogroms. The “May Laws” were created. A list of these laws can be found below:

“1: As a temporary measure, and until a general revision is made of their legal status, it is decreed that the Jews be forbidden to settle anew outside, of towns and boroughs.

2: Temporarily forbidden are the issuing of mortgages and other deeds to Jews, as well as the registration of Jews as lessees of real property situated outside of towns and boroughs; and also the issuing to Jews of powers of attorney to manage and dispose of such real property.

3: Jews are forbidden to transact business on Sundays and on the principal Christian holy days.”

In addition to the May Laws, more pogroms were imposed. Pogroms led to riots, which led to more pogroms. As the 20th century began, these only grew bloodier and bloodier, especially in the Pale of Settlement. Around this time, Jews were also forcibly deported from Kiev and Moscow. Many homes were destroyed and families killed.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Many Jewish people were becoming resentful with their treatment by the government. In addition, they took issue with “Russification”, the practice of banning ethnic minorities from having equal treatment in Russian society. Russian Jews were forbidden from striking or forming unions, denied voting rights, and could not buy rural land or join the military. Their participation in schools was also limited. However, the smaller number of university-educated Jews helped to spread radical ideas among the population. The concept of revolution was beginning to appeal to many Jewish people. There were many important Jewish figures in the Russian Revolutionary movement, such as the Russian Social Democrat Labor Party and the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, of the Jewish-formed General Jewish Labor Bund. They could be found in either the Bolshevik or Menshevik factions. Many Jews took part in the 1905 revolution, such as Leon Trotsky, Julius Martov, and Pavel Axelrod.


Gregory Freeze: Russia, a History.

5 thoughts on “Russian Jews and the Revolution of 1905

  1. This is such a fascinating topic! I am actually in a course called the Arab-Israeli Dispute right now and we talked briefly about Jews in Russia last week. I am really interested about how Jews were involved in the assassination of Alexander II. Why were they blamed? Were there other reasons that they were discriminated against in Russia?


  2. Several of your classmates have also posted about this topic so I encourage you to check theirs out! ( (

    If you have further interest in these atrocities, the Jewish Virtual Library has a ton of great articles on these pogroms and the Pale of Settlement. Great analysis of this horrible period in Russian history.


  3. I find Jewish history in the Russian empire really interesting, especially how they reacted to the laws and pogroms. Over time, it seems that the tensions grow and grow until they exploded and then moved to violence to pursue their needs. I think it was important to provide the actual laws from the time so the rhetoric can be analyzed to understand what it may have been like for a Jew in the time period. Good job!


  4. This post very clearly highlights the hardships faced by Jewish Russians. I like that you included the “May Laws” and related that to the “Russification” of the land. You end the post very well by including Jewish figures who took part in the Revolution which is important to remember when we look at all the minorities and groups who banned together against the common threat. Thanks for posting about this interesting topic!


  5. Brought up some great points about the state-sponsored antisemitism in the Russian Empire. This was one of the problems that the Russians faced with the rise of nationalism and the various ethnic groups wanting independence. It also shows the limits of the Russification programs and the tension that these programs were creating in the society.


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