From the time of the first partition of Poland in 1772, until the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Czarist Russian Empire was host to the largest Jewish population in the world. The generally antisemitic Romanov dynasty early on formulated solutions to what they referred to as the ‘Jewish question’. Based on the twin themes of subjugating the Jewish populace with a series of discriminatory and restrictive measures, while also attempting to integrate the Jews into the general population, the Czarist government fluctuated between the proverbial carrot and stick throughout the 19th century.

Russian Jews were restricted to an area known as the Pale of Settlement, and under the reign of Czar Nicholas I the Jews were included in the 25 year military draft with many young Jewish children being drafted as cantonists. During the great reforms of Czar Alexander II following Imperial Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War, a practice of selective integration was implemented in an attempt to incentivize the acculturation of Jews into Russian society. The czarist policy was generally consistent in this regard until 1881.


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