Pale of Settlement

The Pale of Settlement outlined in red
Map showing percentage of Jews in the Pale of Settlement in the Russian Empire c. 1905

The Pale of Settlement (Russian: Черта́ осёдлости, chertá osyódlosti, Yiddish: דער תּחום-המושבֿ‎, der tkhum-ha-moyshəv, Hebrew: תְּחוּם הַמּוֹשָב‬, tẖum hammosháv) was a western region of Imperial Russia with varying borders that existed from 1791 to 1917, in which permanent residency by Jews was allowed and beyond which Jewish residency, permanent or temporary,[1] was mostly forbidden. Most Jews were still excluded from residency in a number of cities within the Pale as well. A limited number of Jews were allowed to live outside the area, including those with university education, the ennobled, members of the most affluent of the merchant guilds and particular artisans, some military personnel and some services associated with them, including their families, and sometimes the servants of these. The archaic English term pale is derived from the Latin word palus, a stake, extended to mean the area enclosed by a fence or boundary.[2]

The Pale of Settlement included all of Belarus, Lithuania and Moldova, much of present-day Ukraine, parts of eastern Latvia, eastern Poland, and some parts of western Russia, roughly corresponding to the Kresy macroregion and modern-day western border of Russia. It extended from the eastern pale, or demarcation line, to the Russian border with the Kingdom of Prussia (later the German Empire) and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Furthermore, it comprised about 20% of the territory of European Russia and largely corresponded to historical lands of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Cossack Hetmanate, and the Ottoman Empire (with Crimean Khanate).

The Russian Empire in the period of the existence of the Pale was predominantly Orthodox Christian. The area included in the Pale, with its large Jewish, Uniate and Catholic populations, was acquired through a series of military conquests and diplomatic maneuvers, between 1654 and 1815. While the religious nature of the edicts creating the Pale are clear (conversion to Russian Orthodoxy, the state religion, released individuals from the strictures), historians argue that the motivations for its creation and maintenance were primarily economic and nationalistic in nature.

The end of the enforcement and formal demarcation of the Pale coincided with the beginning of the First World War, and ultimately with the February and October Revolutions of 1917, i.e., the fall of the Russian Empire.


The Pale of Settlement and Congress Poland, with the percentages of Jewish population c. 1905

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,[3][better source needed] unless they converted to Russian Orthodoxy, the state religion.

The institution of the Pale became more significant following the Second Partition of Poland in 1793, since, until then, Russia's Jewish population had been rather limited;[citation needed] the dramatic westward expansion of the Russian Empire through the annexation of Polish-Lithuanian territory substantially increased the Jewish population.[citation needed] At its height, the Pale, including the new Polish and Lithuanian territories, had a Jewish population of over five million, and represented the largest component (40 percent) of the world Jewish population at that time.[citation needed]

From 1791 to 1835, and until 1917, there were differing reconfigurations of the boundaries of the Pale, such that certain areas were variously open or shut to Jewish residency, such as the Caucasus.[citation needed] At times, Jews were forbidden to live in agricultural communities, or certain cities, (as in Kiev, Sevastopol and Yalta), and were forced to move to small provincial towns, thus fostering the rise of the shtetls.[citation needed] Jewish merchants of the First Guild (купцы первой гильдии, the wealthiest sosloviye of merchants in the Russian Empire), people with higher or special education, University students, artisans, army tailors, ennobled Jews, soldiers (drafted in accordance with the Recruit Charter of 1810), and their families had the right to live outside the Pale of Settlement.[4][better source needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] On March 20 (April 2 N.S.), 1917, the Pale was abolished by the Provisional Government decree, On abolition of confessional and national restrictions (Russian: Об отмене вероисповедных и национальных ограничений).[citation needed] A large portion of the Pale, together with its Jewish population, became part of Poland.[citation needed] Subsequently, most of this population would perish in The Holocaust one generation later.

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