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Shchedrin - Russian laws and Jewish farming

by Vitaly Charny
with appreciation to Risa Heywood

The resources I used to gather the information below were Minsk gubernia official newspapers and the "Russian Jewish Encyclopedia" published in Russia in the beginning of the 20th century.

Before the 1860s in the Russian Empire, most of the land and the peasants working on the land belonged to the aristocrats  - Russia lived as a serfdom.   From 1800 - 1864, Jews, along with other people who were "meshchane" and "kuptsy," were allowed to buy unpopulated land, which was almost impossible to find in Belarus.  There were some official short-lived initiatives at that time, during which Jews organized many settlements in Southern Ukraine (Novorossia) and even in Siberia.  Several were founded in Belarus.  

By the Tsar's decree of June 10, 1864 in 9 Western gubernias (including Belarus) all Jews, without exception, were forbidden to buy land from "pomeshchiks"  - aristocrats-landowners as well as from gentile farmers. They could own land only in their  place of residence. This restriction after 1903 was applied to all provinces of the Russian Empire.  This was because in the early 1900's Jews were spreading out across the Russian Empire, so the goverment widened the anti-Jewish laws.  Of course, as always in Russia, there were ways around the law, but it cost a lot and was possible for only a few. 

Almost all the advertising about sales of land, estates, etc in Minsk gubernia, at the beginning of the 20th century, that I have read about in old newspapers is followed by the statement that participants in such auctions can only be Orthodox Christians.  It was a permanent greedy policy of the Russian government toward Jews.  On the one hand, they were afraid of the Jews' success in the trades and in business and told them that that they should work on the land like other subjects of the Empire.  At the same time, the Jews were given zero possibility of owning their own land to work on and this killed any hope of their success in farming. 

In 1897 in the Pale only 3.27% of Jews could work in agriculture - compared with 74.3% of the entire population of the Russian Empire.  It was difficult to find many other sources to provide for a living that time in that country.   However, Minsk Gubernia was in second place in the Empire for Jewish involvement in agriculture and the percentage of Jews working on the land was higher. At the same time, they had 1.5 time less land per person than local Belorussian farmers and they lived more poorly.

The land where these kind of Jewish communities or colonies - "zemledel'cheskie obshchestva" worked were almost 80% owned by the state.  The rest of the land was either owned or leased. 

Shchedrin was a "mestechko" - shtetl of Bobruisk uyezd, Minsk gubernia where the Jewish agricultural colony Seliba was founded on owned land in 1842.  In 1898, 274 Jewish families (1558 people) worked in the colony.  The population of Shchedrin at that time was 4234, among who were 4022 Jews.


2000 Belarus SIG