Shalom Life | May 26, 2014

Shalom, Moscow: A Jewish Culture Guide

Until the mid-10th century when the Khazarian kingdom was invaded, this area was referred to as the “Land of the Jews”.

By: Sarah Bauder

Published: August 27th, 2013 in Culture » Society » News

And we’re off, to anywhere and everywhere, as we say ‘Shalom’ every week to different global travel destination. World cities, provincial towns, and even the most unassuming of suburbs are infused with Jewish history and culture, some of which is waiting to be discovered.

For the pious follower, the curious traveler, or the intrepid adventurer, we’ll unearth the best of what to do and where to go. Be it an emerging subculture, a historical landmark, or simply a triumph of art in any form, Jewish experiences are found around the world; and likely as well in your backyard.

It may be in the destination, the journey, or the company, but there is much to uncover and celebrate near and far, so hurry up and get going.

Shalom, Moscow


The lands that encompassed the sprawling Russian Empire, were once home to the largest Jewish population on Earth. Betwixt the 7th century and 14th centuries CE, Jews began immigrating to the Caucasus region and beyond. What for the influx and influence of Jews in the region during the 8th century, the Khazar nobility of the powerful Western steppe empire of Khazaria (present-day Ukraine, southern Russia, and Kazakhstan) converted to Judaism. Until the mid-10th century when the Khazarian kingdom was invaded, this area was referred to as the “Land of the Jews”.

Documented evidence of a Jewish presence in Moscow appears during the late 15th century. The population was small, and despite there being restrictive laws, Muscovite Jews lived with little enforced persecution. By the mid-19th century, Moscow had become one of the most important centers for Russian Jews. In 1865, the Moscow Jewish Religious Community was formed. By the late 1880’s, a number of Jewish charity institutions were formed, and in 1891, Moscow’s famed Choral Synagogue was established.

Moscow Choral Synagogue

Although this was a time of Jewish prosperity, unfortunately it was also a time of persecution and discrimination. For instance, in 1891 and 1892, an estimated 20,000 Jews were systematically expelled from Moscow, by order of the city’s governor-general. Persecution against Jews escalated throughout all of Russia, during the 1880’s and 1890’s. This systematic persecution and discrimination was one of the contributing factors to Jewish mass emigration from the country. Despite these trying times, the Jewish community still flourished. According to the Russian census of 1897, there were over 5 million Jews residing in the country.

By the ‘20’s and ‘30’s, Moscow was very much the social and cultural epicenter of Jewry in Russia. It was home to a myriad of artists, intellectuals, writers, and scientists, just to name a few. The city’s importance continued after World War II, when it became one of the only places in the then U.S.S.R., that Judaism could be practiced legally.

Find out more about contemporary Jewish culture in Moscow on page 2!

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