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Pale of Settlement

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Map showing percentage of Jews in the Pale of Settlement and Congress Poland, c. 1905

Map of the Pale of Settlement

The Pale of Settlement (Russian: Черта́ осе́длости, cherta osedlosti) was the term given to a region of Imperial Russia, along its western border, in which permanent residence of Jews was allowed, and beyond which Jewish residence was generally prohibited. It extended from the pale or demarcation line to the Russian border with Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Though comprising only 20% of the territory of European Russia, the Pale corresponded to historical borders of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and included much of present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, Bessarabia, Ukraine, and parts of western Russia. Additionally, a number of cities within the pale were excluded from it. A limited number of categories of Jews were allowed to live outside the pale.

The word pale derives ultimately from the Latin word palus, meaning stake (palisade is derived from the same root). From this derivation came the figurative meaning of "boundary", and the concept of a pale as an area within which local laws were valid.

The "pale", with the Jewish and Christian population, was acquired by the Russian Empire in a series of military conquests and diplomatic maneuvers.


For more information about life in the Pale, see: History of the Jews in Poland and History of the Jews in Russia

The Pale was first created by Catherine the Great in 1791, after several failed attempts by her predecessors, notably the Empress Elizabeth, to remove Jews from Russia entirely unless they converted to Russian Orthodoxy. The reasons for its creation were primarily economic and nationalist. While Russian society had traditionally been divided mainly into nobles, serfs, and clergy, industrial progress led to the emergence of a middle class, which was rapidly being filled by Jews, who did not belong to any sector. By limiting their area of residence, the imperial powers attempted to ensure the growth of a non-Jewish middle class.

The institution of the Pale became especially important to the Russian authorities following the Second Partition of Poland in 1793. While Russia's Jewish population had, until then, been rather limited, the annexation of Polish-Lithuanian territory increased the Jewish population substantially. At its heyday, the Pale, which included the new Polish and Lithuanian territories, had a Jewish population of over 5 million, which represented the largest concentration (40 percent) of world Jewry at that time.

Between 1791 and 1917, when the Pale officially ceased to exist, there were various reconfigurations of its boundaries, so that certain areas were open or shut to Jewish settlement, such as the Caucasus. Similarly, Jews were forbidden to live in agricultural communities (as well as in Kiev, Sevastopol and Yalta), and forced to move to small provincial towns, fostering the rise of the shtetls (from Yiddish שטעטל shtetl "little village"). Jewish merchants of the 1st guild, people with higher or special education, artisans, soldiers, drafted in accordance with the Recruit Charter of 1810, and their descendants had the right to live outside the Pale of Settlement. In some periods, special dispensations were given for Jews to live in the major imperial cities, but these were tenuous, and several thousand Jews were expelled to the Pale from Saint Petersburg and Moscow as late as 1891.

During the Second World War, the whole area of the former Pale found itself within the furthest extent of Nazi German control on the Eastern front, resulting in many mass killing sites by the Einsatzgruppen in one of the Nazis' largest planned systematic operations of Jewish extermination, as part of the Holocaust. This led to the virtual disappearance of Jewish life in what was once the area of its greatest concentration.

Life in the Pale

Life in the shtetls (Yiddish שטעטלעך shtetlekh "little towns") of the Pale of Settlement was hard and stricken by poverty. A sophisticated system of volunteer Jewish social welfare organizations developed to meet the needs of the population, following the time-honored Jewish tradition of tzedakah (charity). Various organizations supplied clothes to poor students, provided kosher food to Jewish soldiers conscripted into the Czar's army, dispensed free medical treatment for the poor, offered dowries and household gifts to destitute brides, and arranged for technical education for orphans. According to historian Martin Gilbert's Atlas of Jewish History, no province in the Pale had less than 14% of Jews on relief; Lithuanian and Ukrainian Jews supported as much as 22% of their poor populations[1].

The concentration of Jews in the Pale made them an easy target for pogroms and massive, anti-Jewish riots. These, along with the repressive May Laws, often devastated whole communities. Though pogroms were staged throughout the existence of the Pale, particularly devastating attacks occurred from 1881–1883 and from 1903–1906, targeting hundreds of communities, killing thousands of Jews, and causing tens of thousands of rubles in property damage. Anti-Russian riots also occurred, for example in Gomel.

Pale teacher

A Jewish father in 19th-century Podolia.

A positive outgrowth of the concentration of Jews in a circumscribed area was the development of the modern yeshiva system. Until the beginning of the 19th century, each town supported its own advanced students who learned in the local synagogue with the rabbinical head of the community. Each student would eat his meals in a different home each day, a system known as "essen teg" ("eating days").

The Jewish quota existed for education: after 1886, the percentage of Jewish students could be no more than 10% within the Pale, 5% outside the Pale and 3% in the capitals (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev). The quotas in the capitals were slightly increased in 1908 and 1915.

Despite the difficult conditions under which the Jewish population lived and worked, the courts of Hasidic dynasties flourished in the Pale. Thousands of followers of rebbes such as the Gerrer Rebbe Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (known as the Sfas Emes), the Chernobyler Rebbe and the Vizhnitzer Rebbe flocked to their towns for the Jewish holidays and followed their rebbes' minhagim (Jewish practices) in their own homes.

The tribulations of Jewish life in the Pale of Settlement were immortalized in the writings of Yiddish authors such as humorist Sholom Aleichem, whose stories of Tevye der Milchiger (Tevye the Milkman) in the fictional shtetl of Anatevka form the basis of Fiddler on the Roof. Because of the harsh conditions of day-to-day life in the Pale, some 2 million Jews emigrated from there between 1881 and 1914, mainly to the United States (see History of the Jews in the United States). However, this exodus did not affect the stability of the Jewish population of the Pale, which remained at 5 million people due to the high birthrate.

During World War I, the Pale lost its rigid hold on the Jewish population when large numbers of Jews fled into the Russian interior to escape the invading German army. On March 20 (April 2), 1917, the Pale was abolished by the Provisional Government decree, On abolition of confessional and national restrictions (Об отмене вероисповедных и национальных ограничений). A large portion of the Pale, together with its Jewish population, became part of Poland (see History of the Jews in Poland). The Bolshevik Revolution and the wars of 1918–1920 also resulted in many pogroms and military excesses—over 1,236 of them in the Ukraine alone during which, conservatively, 31,000 Jews were killed (Abramson, Henry).

Territories of the Pale

The Pale of Settlement included the following areas.


The Ukase of Catherine II of December 23, 1791 limited the Pale to:


After the Second partition of Poland, the ukase of June 23, 1794, the following areas were added:


After the Third Partition of Poland , the following areas were added:


After 1805 the Pale gradually shrinks, by the exclusion of the following areas:

Rural areas for 50 verst (kilometers) from the western border were closed from new settlement.


  1. Vilna guberniya
  2. Kovno guberniya
  3. Grodno guberniya
  4. Minsk guberniya
  5. Mogilev guberniya
  6. Vitebsk guberniya (some parts of it are in Pskov Oblast and Smolensk Oblast now)
  1. Kiev guberniya
  2. Volhynia guberniya
  3. Podolia guberniya
  1. Warsaw guberniya (Варшавская губерния (Мазовецкая губерния 1837-1844))
  2. Lublin guberniya (Люблинская губерния)
  3. Płock guberniya (Плоцкая губерния)
  4. Kalisz guberniya (Калишская губерния)
  5. Piotrkow guberniya (Петроковская губерния)
  6. Kielce guberniya (Келецкая губерния (Краковская губерния 1837-1844))
  7. Radom guberniya (Радомская губерния)
  8. Siedlce guberniya (Седлецкая губерния (Подлясская губерния 1837-1844))
  9. Augustow guberniya (Августовская губерния 1837–1867), split into:
  1. Suwałki guberniya (Сувалкская губерния)
  2. Łomża guberniya (Ломжинская губерния)


  1. Chernigov guberniya (some parts of it are in Bryansk Oblast now)
  2. Poltava guberniya
  3. Tavrida guberniya (Crimea)
  4. Kherson guberniya
  5. Bessarabia guberniya
  6. Ekaterinoslav guberniya

In 1882 it was forbidden for Jews to settle in rural areas.

The following cities within the Pale were excluded from it:

See also


  • Abramson, Henry, "Jewish Representation in the Independent Ukrainian Governments of 1917-1920", Slavic Review, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Autumn 1991), pp. 542-550.

External links

cy:Pâl gwladychiadeo:Setliĝa zonolv:Nometinājuma joslann:Pale of settlementru:Черта оседлости uk:Смуга осілості

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