Jews in Yelets, Lipetsk region, Russia
Yelets is the center of the eponymous district of the Lipetsk region of Russia. It has been mentioned in sources since the XII century. In the 18th century, it received the status of a city. From the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century, it was the district town of the Oryol Governorate.
Yelets was outside the Pale of Settlement. Jews began to settle in the city from the 19th century. From archival materials, it is known about the contacts of Jews with local subbotniks. An investigative case on the fact of the conversion of the merchants’ brothers Boris and Ivan Yakovlev and members of their families to the Jewish sect, dated 1814, has survived.
The investigation found out that Boris Yakovlev circumcised his son on the eighth day after birth. The merchant himself stated that he eats meat, only animals slaughtered by skilled Jews. The statement can serve as an indirect confirmation of the presence in Yelets or in the vicinity of the shoichet.
The interrogators found out that the merchants received instructions from visiting Jews. The persons with whom the Yakovlevs contacted were found. The case gives an idea of how the Jews appeared in Yelets. So, one of the defendants turned out to be a distiller, a bourgeoisie from Vitebsk, Yankel Levin. He had a passport that gave him the right to free movement of the Penza, Saratov and Pskov governorates. According to Levin, curiosity led him to Yelets. He heard that people of the "Jewish faith" live in the city. Having been acquainted with the Yakovlevs, he told them about the basics of Judaism and pointed out the shortcomings in religious practices, including the practice of “self-circumcision”.
Two more Jews were included in the documents in the case: Leiba Yakovlev and Moisey Nesterovich, who worked as distillers at local factories.
The data of 1885 make it possible to clarify how the Jews got to Yelets, which was beyond the Pale of Settlement. According to the census, Yelets Jews were ranked among merchants, artisans and soldiers, i.e. they entered the city through service, work or trade.
In the 1860s, the first railway technical school for Jews in the empire was opened in the city. In 1900, the community received permission to build a synagogue, and 10 years later - to found a separate Jewish cemetery. By the end of the 19th century, over 700 Jews lived in Yelets.
In the 1910s, a little more than 1,000 Jews lived in the city. With the outbreak of the First World War, their number increased by 0.5 thousand due to refugees from Polish lands. The community suffered from the pogrom organized in 1919 by the Cossacks of General K. Mamontov.
By 1939, the Jewish population had dropped to 460. In the 1970s, fewer than 200 Jews lived in the city.