Jew, Russian in Russia

Jew, Russian
Photo Source:  Copyrighted © 2023
Dimaris - Shutterstock  All rights reserved.  Used with permission
Map Source:  People Group location: Rosstat-Russian Census 2021, Map geography: ESRI / GMI. Map design: Joshua Project.
People Name: Jew, Russian
Country: Russia
10/40 Window: No
Population: 146,000
World Population: 1,638,700
Primary Language: Russian
Primary Religion: Ethnic Religions
Christian Adherents: 2.00 %
Evangelicals: 1.80 %
Scripture: Complete Bible
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: Yes
Audio Recordings: Yes
People Cluster: Jews
Affinity Bloc: Jews
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

To understand the Russian Jewish people and to pray for them accurately, it is important to know their history up to the present time. Migrating northward from the areas around the Black Sea, the Jewish people established a presence in the region of Kiev (Ukraine-Russia) in the 10th century and in the Crimea in the 13th. Starting in 1772 and continuing to 1793 Russia gained lands from Poland. The areas they gained were occupied by large Jewish communities. This became known as, "Russia's enigmatic acquisition" and in the span of several decades Russia found itself governing a Jewish population estimated to be up to 800,000 making this the largest community of Jewish people in the world at the time.
In 1791, Catherine the Great took measures aimed at restricting the Jews freedom of movement and preventing them from settling in other regions of the empire. These measures, reaffirmed by successive monarchs between 1804 and 1825, gave birth to what was called the "residential zone" inside which Jews were forced to live; it stretched across the entire western edge of the empire, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, in what is present-day Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine. Forbidden from working the land, Jews survived as merchants and artisans concentrated in small rural towns (shtetlach) In addition, certain large cities, like Kiev, Moscow and Saint Petersburg were off limits to Jews. In the mid-nineteenth century, permission to live beyond the "residential zone" was granted to affluent and educated Jews starting in 1859. By the late nineteenth century, the affluent Jewish people had left the shtetlach and moved to Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Successive czars tried different solutions to the "problem" of the Russian Jews. Liberal policies sought to assimilate the Jews and absorb them into the social and political culture of Russia. Under extensive pressure and repression many of the Jewish people gave up their spiritual identity to avoid persecution.
A critical turning point for Russian Jews occurred on March 1, 1881 when Czar Alexander II, the emancipator of millions of serfs (slaves), was assassinated by young revolutionaries who regarded him as a tyrant. One of the members of this revolutionary group was a young Jewish woman who was captured. The death of the czar was blamed on the Jewish people. From 1881 to 1884, there were more than 200 anti-Jewish events (known as pogroms) that occurred in the Russian Empire. The May Laws of 1882 confined the Jews to an area known as the Pale of Settlement; a region located from the Baltic to Ukraine. They were led into mass poverty and thousands died. In the decades that followed the May Laws, Russian Jews found themselves forced to make choices between permanent helplessness or revolution. It was during these oppressive years that the Russian Jewish people grew stronger and developed their own culture related to literature, theater, music and politics. One group known as the Bundist started to demand that Russia give Jews their own territory in Russia. It was also the decline of Russian Judaism as most of the people became more secular and no longer practiced their Jewish traditions. It was not until 1917 that the "residential zone" was abolished, and large communities of Jewish intellectuals and artists began to live in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The Jewish State Theater was founded and applauded by the Russian people. The Russian Bolsheviks encouraged the opening of Jewish schools, especially for teaching drama, music, and Yiddish. By 1930 there were over 1100 Jewish schools in Russia and the political air of Russia started again to demonstrate antireligious policies compounded by the height of Stalinist oppression between 1937 -1939. In 1939 there was more than 3 million Jews living in the Soviet Union. This number increased to 5 million when Russia annexed eastern Poland to the USSR. On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany surged across the Soviet Union and exterminated the Jewish population in the occupied territories. They probably murdered a million Russian Jewish people in one of the most horrible massacres in human history. Beginning in 1948, anti-Semitism remained a policy of Russia. All remaining active synagogues, Jewish theaters, libraries, and Yiddish presses were shut down. Jews who held high positions were dismissed. From Israel's establishment in 1948 to the Six-Day War in 1967, Soviet Aliyah (immigration of Jewish people to Israel) remained minimal. By the end of the 1960s, the majority of Soviet Jews were assimilated into communist Russia and were non-religious due to persecution. Many Jewish people tried to hide their identity, but some changed their names. The exodus of Russian Jews official started in 1968 and in the following decade the number rose to 250,000. Between 1988 and 2010, over 1. 6 million Jews have left Russia. Over one million of these settled in Israel and most of the others migrated to the United States, Canada, Australia, and amazingly to Germany. Some of these Russian Jews were messianic Jewish believers who openly shared their faith with the Jewish people in Germany.

What Are Their Lives Like?

Today's Russian Jewish community is overwhelmingly urban. Over half of Russian Jews live in and around Moscow, and about 20% call the St. Petersburg area home; the remaining Jewish population live in other big cities. Intermarriage and assimilation have emerged as major challenges to Russia's Jews. Political uncertainty is a major challenge in Russia today. Freedom House, a non-governmental organization, characterizes Russia as "not free," citing crackdowns on civil society, suppressing opposition movements and parties, saturating the media with nationalist propaganda, and restricting the media. Regardless of being given more freedom, political uncertainty and the gradual increase of anti-Semitism is causing more Russian Jews to prepare to leave Russia and live in Israel. The people do enjoy many parts of their Russia culture found in the theater arts, music and literature.

What Are Their Beliefs?

 Their past has definitely affected the lives of Russian Jewish people. Most of them do not adhere to their spiritual inheritance and have no knowledge of God's word in the Torah, the Hebrew Scriptures or Tanakh. Despite the fact that Russian rabbis have opened a few synagogues and Jewish schools to promote Judaic studies, they are basically attended by older Russian Jews. The younger Jewish Russians are not interested and often hide their Jewish heritage. A new Jewish Museum and Center of Tolerance has opened in Moscow. The museum aims to demonstrate Jewish cultural traditions and customs and also shows the history of Russia through the lives of the Jewish people.

What Are Their Needs?

There are many challenges to reaching the Russian Jewish people in Russia. One of the greatest needs is related to Christians in Russia who need to be willing to show the Jewish people they care about them and ask them to forgive what happened to the Jews in Russia in the past. Unfortunately, most Christians in Russia are nominal and have no interest in reaching out to these Jewish people. Some Messianic Eastern Jewish believers have been able to reach a few of the Russian Jews with God's grace in Jesus.

Prayer Points

Pray that Bible-believing Christians and Messianic Jewish believers will reach out to the Russian Jewish people, helping them to begin their own Disciple Making Movement in Russia.
Pray that God will turn the hearts of Russian anti-Semites into hearts filled with caring and kindness toward the Russian Jews.
Pray that the political tensions and problems in Russia will be brought under control and not add to further oppression of the Russian Jews.
Pray that Russian rabbis and Jewish leaders will be reached by believers who can show them the way of the cross.

Text Source:   Joshua Project