Baptism of Adepts of Judaism in the Turkestan Krai in the Second Half of the 19th - Early 20th Century: Scope and Motivation

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The author considers the study of the issue of the Jewish population conversion to Christianity in the Turkestan Krai. The article reveals the religious situation in tsarist Russia related to the problems of Jews’ conversion, provides reliable facts of the conversion with regard to the most important Islamic outskirts of the empire - Turkestan, where the overwhelming majority of the population belonged to Islam - over 95%. The author examines the reasons for the conversion of regional Jews to Christianity and the real consequences of this process. The peculiarity of Turkestan made a significant impact on the spiritual life of Jews, on the nature and motives for the adoption of Christianity. In the Central Asian region, Jews were not a homogeneous group; they often had different features of culture and traditions. There were several Jewish communities there: the so-called “European” Jews (who arrived from Russia) led by their own chief rabbi; besides, in Central Asia there lived “native” Jews who got the status of Russian citizens and had their own rabbi. In this regard, it seems interesting to trace the conditions of the conversion of these different groups of Jews to Christianity, their motives and the attitude of official authorities towards them. It is important to note that the Jews of the Turkestan Krai converted not only to Orthodoxy, but also Catholicism, Lutheranism, Armenian-Gregorianism, and other faiths. However, the tsarist authorities believed that the conversion of Jews to non-Orthodox confessions was not enough to free them from the imposed legislative restrictions. In general, the example of the situation in Turkestan allows us to see that the features of the adoption of Christianity and the change in the legal status of Jews often depended on the region in which they were baptized. In addition, it was the factor of belonging to a certain Jewish community that played an important role.

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Pavel V. Litvinenko


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