My dissertation describes the social and economic history of Jews in Kiev from the tenth century to the February 1917 Revolution. At the turn of the twentieth century the Kiev Jewish community was one of the largest and wealthiest in the Russian Empire. According to the all-Russian census of 1897 Jews were the third largest nationality in Kiev, after Russians and Ukrainians. In 1913 over 80 thousand Jews lived in Kiev.
Kiev was the third most important city of Imperial Russia, after Moscow and St. Petersburg. The authorities gave a special meaning and status to the city due to its holiness to all Russian Orthodox believers; in 988 Prince Vladimir converted the local population to Christianity. Kiev was the capital of the old Slavic state Kievan Rus' and the Russian population always had a special sentiment toward their ancient capital.
Unfortunately the special meaning and holiness of Kiev for the Russian people, as well as the dramatic and turbulent history of the city, had a negative impact on the status of Jews who lived there. The history of the Jewish community was interrupted several times due to religious intolerance and the Judeophobia of various Kiev authorities. In the periods when Jews where tolerated in Kiev, their conditions of life in the city were harsher than in many other places in Imperial Russia.
But the city was always attractive for Jews in spite of the hostility of the authorities and many Christian residents. Kiev was a commercial hub, educational and cultural center and the only large city in the Southwest region. It had a reputation as a city where it was easy to make money. So none of the restrictions and bans by the authorities could completely “protect” Kiev from the Jews, many of whom lived illegally in the city. The authorities repeatedly expelled Jews from Kiev, but Jews always came back and despite all the restrictive measures the Jewish population of Kiev grew steadily from 1861 to 1917. While Judeophobes complained that Kiev had become a Jewish city, Jews saw this city as one of most hostile to them in the Russian Empire, Yehupets (Egypt) as it was called by Sholom Aleichem.
The increase of the Kiev Jewish population benefited the Jews themselves, who found in Kiev better conditions of life than in the overcrowded shtetls. All residents of the city also profited as Jewish entrepreneurs contributed greatly to its economic development.
In the Kiev Jewish population at the turn of the twentieth century there was a huge financial and social differentiation: there were a number of Jewish magnates who occupied the key positions in the Jewish community, while at the same time twenty percent of Kiev Jews lived below the poverty level. A number of Jewish philanthropic organizations and institutions provided aid to poor Jews in Kiev. However restrictions in residence in Kiev and education for the Jewish population created a cycle of poverty, which was very difficult to break.
The dissertation focuses on the Jewish urban, social and economic history, the everyday life of Jews in Kiev, the social status of the Jewish population, development of Jewish enterprises and the contribution of the Jewish population in the development of the city. The history of the Kiev Jewish community, one of the oldest Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, illuminates many important processes and problems in Modern Jewish history.