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Catherine II

(1762 - 1796)

Catherine II was the empress of Russia (1762–1796). While Catherine leaned to the theories of the Enlightenment and its savants, the effect this may have had on her policies was lessened, since, because of her foreign origins, she had to depend on the support of the nobility and take the church and magnates into consideration. It was during Catherine's reign that Russia encountered the "Jewish problem." Her appreciation of the commercial role played by the Jews before 1772 led her to admit unofficially Jewish merchants and men of means into Riga and St. Petersburg. In 1772 the vast tracts of *Belorussia , where tens of thousands of Jews were living, came under Russian rule with the first partition of Poland. In the "Placard" issued on August 11, 1772, Catherine affirmed that the "Jewish communities residing in the cities and territories now incorporated in the Russian Empire shall be left in the enjoyment of all those liberties with regard to their religion and property which they at present possess." In 1791 Catherine gave way to the pressure of the merchants in the administrative provinces of Moscow and Smolensk and prohibited the admission of Jews to the mercantile estate in the provinces of inner Russia and thus laid the foundation for the *Pale of Settlement as well as "New Russia" – the areas on the shores of the Black Sea captured from Turkey – which thus came to be included within the Pale. In 1780 Jews were admitted to the mercantile estate, and in 1783 all Jews living in townships where their residence was authorized were admitted to the burgher estate and permitted to participate in the municipal leadership. In fact, however, the Jewish community organization remained responsible for paying taxes and implementing the directives of the state in the Jewish sphere. With the further partitions of Poland in 1792 and 1795, the same laws and regulations were applied to the Jewish population of the new territories. In 1794 the area of permissible Jewish settlement was extended to three provinces in the Ukraine east of the River Dnieper. Russian policy toward the Jews took an ominous direction with the issue of the ukase of 1794, which required them to pay double the taxes levied on Christians.


Dubnow, Hist Russ, 1 (1916), 306–20; I. Levitats, Jewish Community in Russia (1943), 22–27, 198–200; J.I. Hessen (Gessen), Istoriya yevreyskogo naroda v Rossii, 1 (1925), 18–21, 47–66, 77–80; R. Mahler, Divrei Yemei Yisrael, Dorot Aḥaronim, 1 pt. 3 (1960), 95–116.

[Yehuda Slutsky]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

Photo: Dmitry Grigorievich Levitzky, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.