- The Jewish faith has a long history in Russia, dating back to at least the 4th century. Casimir the Great’s invitation to Ashkenazi Jews to settle in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth made the religion an important minority faith across medieval Eastern Europe. While Jews were generally free to practice their faith under the Romanovs, they faced institutionalized discrimination and the almost constant threat of violence from the Slavic Orthodox Christian population.During the Soviet period, vigorous antireligion campaigns during Joseph Stalin’s reign resulted in the shuttering of most of the country’s synagogues (as well as churches and mosques). The Holocaust further weakened the status of Judaism in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Under glasnost, a revival movement among Russian Jews began to grow, though many believers sought to immigrate to Israel or the United States rather than rebuild Judaic traditions in Russia. Cultural organizations established in the late 1980s such as Va’ad (Confederation of Jewish Communities and Organizations) attempted to reintroduce the celebration of Jewish holidays, offered instruction in Hebrew, and established contacts with Jewish religious organizations abroad.In the post-Soviet period, rediscovery of Jewish identity has become common, and many young Russian Jews are embracing the faith of their ancestors. New synagogues have been built and old ones reopened, often with the financial support of Jewish oligarchs. Today, yeshivas for religious instruction operate in St. Petersburg and Moscow, and Jewish summer camps have become popular in recent years. Judaism is protected by the Constitution of the Russian Federation as a native or local religion, alongside Orthodoxy, Islam, and Buddhism. However, in 2009, two Hassidic rabbis from North America were deported for visa violations in a move that worried Jewish communities bereft of religious leaders after decades of state-sponsored atheism. Major Jewish groups in the Russian Federation include the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations under Adolf Shayevich, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, and the Russian Jewish Congress.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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