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Jews in the Russian Empire

Life in the Pale of Settlement, cont.


A wedding in Polonnoye..



A melamed (teacher)...



The synagogue of Vilna...



Moyshe Tolpin...



Simeon Bellison...



Front page of a minutes or records book...


Although Jews are allowed to enter general schools, not many do because instructions are given in either Polish, Russian or German - not in Yiddish, which is by far the most widely spoken.

From 1844 onward, special schools for Jews are established with the purpose of bringing them "nearer to the Christians and to uproot their harmful believes which are influenced by the Talmud." A special tax on candles is imposed to pay for them.

Jewish parents regard these schools with suspicion and continue to send their children to the traditional kheyder. There, the melamed (teacher) instructs the children in the Hebrew language. As the Hebrew alphabet is also used for Yiddish, the children are able to read and write in their mother tongue as well.

The number of students attending the Jewish state schools is very small: about 6000 in 1864. Some enter the mainstream of the Russian intelligentsia, and in this respect the schools fulfill their purpose. A number of these students later join the protest movement against the oppressive Czarist regime.

In spite of the difficult circumstances, Jewish cultural life develops and flourishes in the Pale. From the Pale emerges a group of writers who can be considered the founding fathers of modern secular Hebrew and Yiddish literature, and many of them become world famous.


Table: Literacy of the total Russian population and of the Jewish population in percentage in 1897


Poor boys in Szereszów...



Rabbi Isaac Reins...



The father of Yiddish literature...



The writer Sholem Aleichem...


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