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December 23: Pale of Settlement

Lawrence Bush
December 23, 2009

Pale of SettlementOn this day in 1791, Empress Catherine II of Russia issued an edict creating the Jewish Pale of Settlement. The Pale consisted of about 20 percent of the territory of European Russia and ran along the western border with Germany and Austro-Hungary; Jews were required to live within its boundaries unless they had special permits. Their exclusion from cities, including cities within the Pale, led to the creation of many Jewish provincial towns, or shtetls. In 1793, Russia’s annexation of Polish and Lithuanian lands greatly increased the Jewish population living in the empire to nearly five million, or 40 percent of the world Jewish population at that time. This concentration of Jews along Germany’s border later made the Nazis’ extermination work easy. The Pale was not officially abolished until the revolutionary year of 1917.
krome Evreiev” — “except the Jews.” — Catherine II

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.