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May Laws

Temporary regulations regarding the Jews (also known as May Laws) were proposed by minister of internal affairs Nikolai Ignatyev and enacted on 15 May (3 May O.S.), 1882, by the Emperor Alexander III of Russia. Originally, regulations of May 1882 were intended only as temporary measures until the revision of the laws concerning the Jews, but remained in effect for more than thirty years.


  • Regulations 1
  • Subsequent legislation 2
  • Revisionist views of Solzhenitsyn 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


They read as follows:[1]

  1. "As a temporary measure, and until a general revision is made of their legal status, it is decreed that the Jews be forbidden to settle anew outside of towns and boroughs, exceptions being admitted only in the case of existing Jewish agricultural colonies."
  2. "Temporarily forbidden are the issuing of mortgages and other deeds to Jews, as well as the registration of Jews as lessees of real property situated outside of towns and boroughs; and also the issuing to Jews of powers of attorney to manage and dispose of such real property."
  3. "Jews are forbidden to transact business on Sundays and on the principal Christian holy days; the existing regulations concerning the closing of places of business belonging to Christians on such days to apply to Jews also."
  4. "The measures laid down in paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 shall apply only to the governments within the Pale of Jewish Settlement."

Subsequent legislation

In subsequent years, other repressive laws were enacted. Quotas were enacted limiting the number of Jews admitted to high schools and universities to their percentage of the general population.

The repressive legislation was repeatedly revised. In 1887, the educational quotas were tightened down to 10% within the Pale, 5% outside the Pale, except Moscow and St. Petersburg which were held at 3%. For many towns in the Pale with significant Jewish population, this resulted in half-empty schools and a number of potential students forbidden to enroll. Many students were unable to complete their education on the soil of their birth.

The proportion of Jewish doctors working in the army was not allowed to exceed 5%, while any Jewish lawyer who wished to become a barrister needed the express consent of the Minister of Justice.

At the end of the reign the right of Jews to sell alcohol was revoked.

In the spring of 1891, most Jews were deported from Moscow (except a few deemed useful) and a newly built synagogue was closed by the city's authorities headed by governor-general Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, the tsar's brother. About 20,000 were expelled, causing international condemnations.

In his 9 December 1891 speech to the United States Congress, the President Benjamin Harrison said:

"This government had found occasion to express in a friendly spirit, but with much earnestness, to the government of the tsar its serious concern because of harsh measures being enforced against the Hebrews." [2]

In 1892, new measures banned Jewish participation in local elections despite their large numbers in many towns of the Pale. "The Town Regulations ("Городовое положение") of 1892 prohibited Jews from the right to elect or be elected to town Dumas... That way, reverse proportional representation was achieved: the majority of town's taxpayers had to be subjugated to minority governing the town against Jewish interests." [3]

The next year, the Law Concerning the Names ("Об именах") imposed criminal punishment on those Jews who tried to "adopt Christian names" and dictated that Jews must use their birth names ("какими они означены в метрических книгах") in business, writings, advertisements, nametags, etc.[3]

The laws remained in effect until 1917 and provided the impetus for mass emigration. In the period from 1881 to 1920, more than two million Jews left the Russian Empire. Most Russian Jewish emigrants settled in the United States or Argentina, though some made aliyah to Palestine, then a province of the Ottoman Empire.

Revisionist views of Solzhenitsyn

An alternative and controversial view was offered by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his book Two Hundred Years Together ,[4] drawing accusations of antisemitism.[5][6] Solzhenitsyn, while not attempting to justify all the repressive aspects of the May Laws and other Jewish legislation, claims that they might have been motivated by a desire for social stability, rather than religious or racist anti-Semitism, and that they were not as repressive as they might have been. For example, he shows that the edict forbidding rural settlement only applied to new Jewish settlers, and claims that many villages were exempt. The edict itself was advocated by Count Nikolay Pavlovich Ignatyev not only on the grounds that "the inhabitants of the countryside may know the government is protecting them from the Jews", but also because "governmental power is unable to defend [the Jews] against pogroms which might occur in scattered villages." So, according to Solzhenitsyn, the May Laws may be interpreted also as a measure to protect Jews, rather than oppress them.

See also


  1. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia. May Laws.
  2. ^ Elliot Rosenberg. But Were They Good for the Jews? Over 150 Historical Figures Viewed from a Jewish Perspective. p. 184. 
  3. ^ a b  
  4. ^ Александр Солженицын (т. 1: 2001, т. 2: 2002). Двести лет вместе. Москва, Русский путь.  
    (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (vol. 1: 2001, vol. 2: 2002). Two Hundred Years Together (in Russian). Russkiy Put', Moscow. ) 
  5. ^ Gimpelevich, Zinaida (2 June 2009). "Dimensional Spaces in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Two Hundred Years Together | Canadian Slavonic Papers | Find Articles at BNET". Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  6. ^ Cathy Young from the May 2004 issue. "Traditional Prejudices: The anti-Semitism of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. – Reason Magazine". Retrieved 14 February 2010. 

Further reading

  • Nicholas Riasanovsky. A History of Russia. p. 395
  • Tim Chapman. Imperial Russia, 1801-1905. p. 128

External links

  • Beyond the Pale. May Laws: page 1 and page 2
  • Escape from the Pogroms at JVL
  • Russia at Institute for Jewish Policy Research
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