belarus_sig.jpg (14193 bytes)
Home Navigation Get Started SIG Search Communities Record Sources Help

1804 Russian set of laws concerning Jews

by Vitaly Charny
with help from
Risa Heywood
Laura Benjaminson
Edward Rosenbaum

I would like people to change their impression that in Russia everything was the same all of the time.  The truth is that Russian laws were less constant than in the United States.  Regulations, laws and the political situation during the 19th and 20th centuries changed all of the time.  For example, in the laws that I translated below, there is nothing about military duty - Jews could not serve during that time (and for 22 years more) in Russian the Army even if they wished to. Many people think that Jews [only] always served in Russian Army, and for 25 years terms of service.

If some of the laws do not appear to be very clear, do not worry - they are not so clear to the modern Russian reader as well. I included some of my commentaries, marked with "[ -vc]".

-Vitaly Charny

Introduction by the Tzar Alexander I

December 9, 1804

Regulation on Settlement of Jews.   

Exact given to the Senate. Because of multiple complaints to Us and to the incoming Governing Senate on different abuses and troubles that have harmed agriculture and industry of the population in those Gubernias where Jews live, We considered it necessary by the Decree to the Governing Senate given in the 9th day of November 1802, to organize a special Committee to examine this related matter and to determine means to correct the present regulation of Jews.   

The Committee collected all data related to this matter, and after considering different ideas about the settlement of Jews that already existed, present to Us the newly written regulation for them, with an explanation in the special report of the reasoning it is based upon. 

After review of the regulation, We found the principle implemented by the Committee very just and all articles of the regulation reflected moderation and care about the genuine welfare of Jews, as well as being based on benefits to native residents of the Gubernias, where those people have permission to live.        

Approving the regulation, We forward it to the Governing Senate along with the report for exact fulfillment of all of the instructions it contains.

Statute Concerning the Organization of the Jews

I. About enlightenment.  

  1. All Jewish children may be accepted and taught, without any differences from other children, in all Russian public [elementary - vc] schools, gymnasias [high school - vc] and universities.
  2. Jewish children, while attending school, cannot be diverted from their religion under any circumstances, cannot be forced to learn that which is adverse to their religion and even could contradict their religion.
  3. Jewish children attending parochial or uyezd [district - vc] schools, may wear Jewish dress, but those attending gymnasiums must wear German or Polish [style] dress for the purpose of uniformity.
  4. Jewish children will be accepted to St. Petersburg Academy of Arts if they show talent and inclination. Then they must wear German dress.
  5. Those Jews who, by their ability, have reached certain levels of achievement in universities in Medicine, Surgery, Physics, Mathematics and other fields, will be acknowledged and promoted to university degrees on a level with all other Russian subjects.    
  6. In the case of Jews who, despite all these motivations, refuse to send their children to common public schools, then there will be established at their expense special schools for their children to study, and the necessary tax must be determined through government consideration.* Among the subjects taught must be one of these languages: Russian, Polish or German.
  7. After six years have expired since the publication of this regulation, all bookkeeping and other merchant’s documentation and correspondence between Jews must be written in one of these languages: Russian, Polish or German, or contain a translation on one side [of the page].
  8. All Jews who reside in the Russian Empire have the right to use their language in all matters related to their faith and in everyday life.  They must, beginning January 1, 1807, use Russian, Polish or German languages in all public documents, deeds, bills of exchange, bonds, obligations, etc.  Without this, no documents will be accepted.
  9. From the time of [publishing] this regulation, anyone who would like to be elected as a Member of Town Council from among the Jews in the Gubernias incorporated from Poland, for general order and uniformity, must wear Russian or Polish dress, if they do not like to wear German dress.  In the Russian Gubernias where Jews are permitted to live, Jews elected to Town Council must wear German dress.

Beginning in 1808, no Jew will be elected as a Member of Town Council who cannot read and write in one of these languages: Russian, German or Polish. 

  1. From the beginning of the year 1812, nobody can be elected or appointed to any position in Kahal or the Rabbinate without being literate in one of these designated languages.      

* Taxes will be collected from Jews to create public Jewish schools under government control. - vc

II. About different estates and trades of Jews and [their] rights.

  1.  All Jews are to be divided into four classes:

A)     Zemledeltsy (farmers; working on land)  

B)     Fabrikanty and remeslenniki (manufacturers and artisans)

C)    Kupechestvo (merchant estate)

D)    Meshchanstvo (burgher estate)

  A. Rights of farmers.

  1. Jewish farmers are freemen and may not, under any circumstances, be enslaved and cannot be given as property to anybody.
  2. Jewish farmers as well as manufacturers, artisans, merchants and burghers can buy unpopulated land*, sell it, give it as a gift or by will, make mortgage and inherit it in the Gubernias of Lithuania, Belarus, Malorossia [Eastern Ukraine – vc], Kievskaya, Minskaya, Volynskaya, Podolskaya, Astrakhanskaya, Kavkazskaya, Yekaterinoslavskaya, Khersonskaya I Tavricheskaya in all [designated by] December 12, 1802 decree areas [original Pale of Settlements – vc.)]

* Russians can buy populated land – along with serfs who lived there. Big part of population of Russia that time was serfs working on land - vc.    

  1. If they have the right to buy land, Jews can farm it using hired or contract workers.
  2. If a Jew buys unpopulated land and the land is then settled, by contracts and conditions, with not less than 30 houses or families of hired workers, then he may sell beer in the new settlement, if it is permitted by common rules in other settlements of the same Gubernia.
  3. Jews can rent land from landlords, make agreements with them, and those agreements shall be written in the Administrative Offices, and be secure, sacred, and unbreakable. However, they are prohibited from selling wine under any circumstances. Jews who settle on landlords’ land voluntarily will be freed from government taxation after 5 years*. This benefit applies only on Jews settled by their own settlement. 
  4. Those Jews who have no possibility of buying their own land or renting land from landlords, can relocate to crown land in Gubernias: Lituanian, Minskaya, Volynskaya, Podolskaya, Astrakhanskaya, Kavkazskaya, Yekaterinoslavskaya, Khersonskaya and Tavricheskaya. In some of these Gubernias up to 30, 000 desyatins [about 81,000 acres] of land could be set apart for the first time [land owner].
  5. No Jews will be forced to relocate, but those who do so, will be freed from any taxation for 10 years, besides local tax and will receive a loan for settlement that they have to repay based on the same rules as apply to similar loans for foreign colonists.
  6. Jews, who settle on the land of landlords and on state land in the Gubernias mentioned above, will pay all taxes along with other subjects [of Empire] of the same estate, after completion of the tax exemption years. In Gubernias where Jews already live, those of them who will turn to farming on the land, will be freed of double state taxation*.

*Jewish communities (kahals) were obligated to pay double (in comparison with gentiles of the same estates) taxes to Russian crown – vc.      


  B. Rights manufacturers and artisans.

  1. Jews may establish all kinds of factories in Gubernias where they are permitted to live, on the same basis and with the same liberty, as all other Russian subjects.  
  2. In the case of the organization of the most important factories, which are cloth, linen or leather making, and similar kinds, the Government, by necessary documents, could provide to Jews special acclamations, like assigning of necessary land and passing them monetary loans.   

For this matter in every Gubernia added from Poland, there will be up to 20,000 Rubles designated yearly to finance loans for Jews who organize the most important and necessary factories.  The loans will be given without mortgage (security) only by guaranty of other reliable Jews through Gubernator’s [Governor’s - vc] opinion after consulting with the Interior Ministry.

 In order to encourage Jews to establish factories, those who have been involved in factorial works, after collecting proper data in every town, will pay regular tax from that time. [Not double tax as it was for Jews - vc]

It is permitted for Jews to establish factories on their landlord’s land if there is a voluntary agreement between them.  Establishing factories on land belonging to landlords is permitted for Jews, if there is a voluntary agreement between them and their landlord.  .

  1. Landlords, who provide land for factories in which Jews will maintain hiring [people] by agreements, also will receive monetary loans under security with beneficial conditions and other different encouragements after the situation and real worth are examined.  
  2. For Jewish artisans in named Gubernia, it is permitted for them to be involved in any trades that are not banned by law. And, no artisans or guild board can bar them under any circumstances.  Indeed they are free to enroll in a guild if there is not a law specifically against it in that town.
  3. Jewish artisans will be relieved from double taxation on the same basis, as described above (# 21) for manufacturers.
  4. If artisans do not find, in any of these Gubernias, work opportunities to provide for a living, they should make a request to the Gubernator (Governor), who will report to the Minster of Interior. Because of this, it is designated for them to establish profitable craftsmanship in less populated Gubernias as Yekaterinoslavskaya, Khersonskaya, Tavricheskaya, Astrakhanskaya and Kazanskaya.


  C. and D. Rights of Merchants and Burghers.  

  1. Any kind of domestic or foreign trade is permitted for Jews in Gubernias listed above as described in  “Gorodovoe Polozhenie” [Town Statute - vc] and the following regulations.
  2. All kind of enterprises and merchandising including alcohol, retail, as well as, wholesale with restrictions listed below (39.), are permitted for Jews on the same basis in those Gubernias.
  3. Manufacturers, artisans, artist and merchants will be permitted to visit other Gubernias and even capitals due to business purposes for a specified period of time, but only by a Gubernator issued passports, about which [Governers] in their turn have to send monthly reports to the Minister of Interior [on passport issuing].

Jews (including their wives and children) temporarily traveling outside of the Pale, have to wear German [style] dress no different than that of others. If they wear traditional dress, they shall be sent back [to the Pale] by the Police.

  1. When all Jews show permanent devotion and diligence in agriculture, manufacturing and merchandising, then the Government will take steps to equalize them in taxation with all other subjects [of Russian Empire].  


III. Obligation of Jews regarding above-mentioned estates.  

  1. All Jews in Russia must be enlisted with an estate.  Any Jews who cannot provide the required written document will be treated as a vagabond with all severity of the law.
  2. During the census [revision, enlistment to an estate - vc] every Jew shall have or accept a known inherited family name or surname/nickname, that shall be used in all documents and lists without any change, with the addition of a name given by faith or at birth. This measure is necessary for a better establishment of their Citizenship conditions, for better protection of their property and for reviewing litigation between them.  
  3. It is obvious that enlistment in one estate can’t restrict a switch to another estate, but such a move has to be done with the permission of local Authorities and must be based on general rules.
  4. Beginning in January 1, 1807, no Jew in the big or small villages of the Gubernias of  Astarkhanskaya Kavakazskaya Malorossia and Novorossia, nor in the other gubernias beginning in January 1, 1808, can keep any leases, taverns, or inns under their own or somebody else’s name nor sell their alcohol nor even live there.
  5. This restriction applies as well to all ale-houses, taverns, inns and other highway located shops without regard to ownership type: private or communal.
  6. Any landlord who lets a Jew in his village hold a lease, tavern, alehouse or other shop selling alcohol after the above agreement is over will be fined.  For the first offense to the Lower District Court, the landlord after being found guilty will have to pay the fine to the Department of Public Welfare and to the informer divided by half (50/50); first time 5 Rubles from each house in his village, second time – twice and after third conviction his estate will be taken to the crown guardianship [under government management – vc] for 10 years. 
  7. A Jew convicted in such a sale will pay first time – 100 Rubles, second time – 200 Rubles and in third time will be exiled to Siberia.
  8. All contracts and agreements, regarding the sale of alcohol in villages, that are made after the regulation takes place will be considered null [void - vc] and will have no power.   
  9. All debts that peasants and other people owe in taverns, etc. kept by Jews, are void without compensation.
  10. Local sheriffs in the crown villages are expected to inform on their own about these violations. If they do not, the first two times they will be fined and the third time they will lose their position forever.  If the local Administrative Chambers are convicted in the corruption, a fine will be collected from Vice-Governor and members of the Chamber.    
  11. Under this strict and necessary ban of the sale of alcohol by Jews and any contracts about it in villages, it is permitted for them to do it in gubernatorial and district towns and crown mestechki [shtetles - vc], by common regulations, and in privately owned mestechki, if it is the will of their landlords to let them sell alcohol and make contracts about it. However nobody can, under penalties mentioned above, give mestechki rights to villages or create new mestechki without consultation with higher authorities.  “Mestechki” are defined here as only those existing in Gubernias annexed from Poland. 
  12. In the towns and mestechki Jews have never been allowed to sell alcohol on credit to local people, and any of their debts in this matter are void. Any official or office that will accept debt claims and suit for it will be sent to court and penalized.  

 IV. On the civil rights of Jews.

  1. All Jews in Russia who dwell, are newly resettled, or have arrived from other countries for commercial matters, are free and live under the precise patronage of laws given on the level with all other Russian subjects.
  2. Those Jews who are outstanding because of their knowledge or are important to the state will be awarded with merits and will be proportionally accredited and rewarded.
  3. No one has the right to appropriate the property of Jews, utilize their labor, or bind them personally [as serfs – vc]. No one can oppress, disturb them in observation of their faith and in general private life neither by word nor by matter. Their complaints about offences, whatever kind they were, will be accepted in Public Offices and will be prosecuted to the full extent of the laws established for all Russian subjects.
  4. The legal and permissible contracts, concluded between them and the landowners, on the land of which they wish to live, must be preserved, not violated.
  5. When Jews relocate from one place to another, they are obligated to present evidence from the landowners, on the land of which they had a residence, that they satisfied all obligations for which they were responsible; at the same time they must provide the Zemstvo [local, county – vc] Court with a tax paying certificate from their Kagal. According to the certificate the Zemstvo Court will issue a passport to the place where they wish to relocate. The police will take into custody Passportless [Jews] and send them into steppe land [Novorossia - Southern Ukraine – vc]
  6. Since they are on their landowner’s land by contract, they will be regularly overseen by the Zemstvo Police, who will take care of their complaints according to their contracts.
  7. In the province and county cities, Jews will be overseen by the town Police Department and especially by the Gorodnichiy [town head – vc] and the Magistrate [town council – vc].
  8. Since the law court must be common for all citizens in the state, Jews in all their lawsuits on property issues, in matters of promissory note and criminal cases have to be judged by a court of law in the usual official places; it follows from this:

A)     Those landowners, on the land on which they live, have no additional rights of the Law Court either in property matters or in criminal ones.

B)     ? For property matters, the Arbitration Law Court can treat Jews on general base at all extend of laws is granted to this Court.

  1. In province and county cities they have the right to select one rabbi and several Kagal'nye [kahal council members – vc], who are presented to the Province Administration and on its assertion assume the post, and every three years are changed, if they are not reelected. In the places of landowners, the Jews also can select rabbis and Kagal'nye, without the interference of landowners, to whom tax collecting is forbidden in the name of the Rabbinate.

V. The position of rabbis.

  1. The position of rabbis is to oversee the rites of faith and to judge all disputes relating to the religion; but during the judgment they are only permitted to use exhortation and persuasion as solutions.  It is forbidden to inflict any other punishment, except revelation and pronunciations inside the synagogues; Rabbis and other spiritual leaders who dare go against this rule and inflict public punishment, of whatever kind: fine by the prohibitions of Paskha brashna [Pesah brohot – vc] and kosher meat, and even by condemnation and denunciation will be punished over the penalty for proceeding from the incantations losses, the first time by 50 Rubles fine, in second time - 100 Rubles, in favor of the Department of Public Welfare, and in the case of third time [guilt] revealing they will be sent away to Siberia for settlement, and in any case their pardon request and taking an oath will make no difference.
  2. Since the Rabbinate is just an honorable post, but not an income, it is strictly forbidden to apply requisitions for a rabbi, or to require compensations, whatever kind it would be: the salary specified from the society must satisfy them.
  3. If in any place there arises a separation of sects and a split occurs in which one group does not want to be in a synagogue with the other group, then it is possible one of them to build its own synagogue and to select its rabbis; but in any town there must only be one kagal.

 VI. The position of the Kagal.

  1. Kagals, until they stay in their present position, must properly handle the fiscal collections properly and in full amount. They must keep the monies entrusted to them from the community sums in order, providing their report to community and presenting the same report in the Russian or Polish language, in the cities to Gorodnichiy, in the crown [state owned – vc] settlements to Ispravniks [district police officers – vc], in the landowner's places to landowners. In all these cases kagals are subject to the court of law and will be punished to the full extent of the law if the reports, given by them to authorities, are, in any way, not similar to the authentic reports given to their community. However, they must not under any pretext, without consent of the authorities, assign new taxes, under the fear not only of the penalty personally from them for entire collected amount, but also the legal law court and punishment.


Национальная политика в императорской России под ред. Ю.И. Семенов, Москва 1997
в книге ссылка:
Печатается по изданию: Полное собрание законов Российской империи. Собрание первое. Том 28.
1804-1805. СПб., 1830. С. 731-737.

(“National policy in Imperial Russia” edited by Yu.I. Semenov, Moscow 1997 in the book the reference:

It is printed by the publication [Meaning that the new book refers to part of the text in the old book from where from it is taken as it was - vc]


© 2001 Belarus SIG