Confessions of the Shtetl
Converts from Judaism in Imperial Russia, 1817-1906
Ellie R. Schainker



Converts and Confessions

One day early in December 1874, on the outskirts of Vilna a sixteen-year-old Jewish wife knocked on her parents’ door, just months after disappearing from home to convert to Russian Orthodoxy. Pera Girsenovich, or Ita Pera according to her father’s deposition to the police, came home to pick up some of her belongings, but she wanted to avoid conversation with her mother, who had tried for months to visit her at the Mariinskii Convent and had even petitioned Tsar Alexander II for permission to speak with her daughter. Church and state authorities had given Pera’s Jewish husband, Ovsei Rubinson, the option to stay married to his baptized wife as long as he promised not to lure her back to Judaism or thwart the baptism of their future children. But when the police tracked him down a month or so after his wife’s baptism, he chose to opt out of the mixed marriage.

Aside from Pera’s Jewish parents and husband, who interacted with state and ecclesiastic personnel over her conversion, the Vilna kahal, or local governing body of the Jewish community, was required to verify Pera’s identity, as it was the confession, or religious corporation, legally empowered to maintain her vital statistics. In a short note to the Vilna police, Jewish communal leaders Isaac and Dovid testified that there was no record in their community of Pera. This was a common tactic to forestall conversions, but in this case, it failed since Pera’s parents unwittingly confirmed her parentage and Vilna domicile in their attempt to reclaim her from the hands of the church.

In addition to the web of Jewish family and community brought into Pera’s conversion, a variety of local Christians figured prominently in her religious journey as well. A Catholic woman, the wife of a senior clerk in the Vilna provincial administration, guided Pera to the Vilna Convent. The clerk’s wife, together with some other women, repeatedly attempted to visit Pera, but the convent’s personnel, wary of “Latin” influences on the Russian Orthodox neophyte, rebuffed them. Pera’s Catholic mentor was also concerned since she witnessed several Jews entering the convent whom she feared were attempting to derail Pera’s conversion. The mother superior of the convent allayed the Lithuanian Consistory’s concerns over this report when she explained that the Jews were simply domestic workers arriving for their daily job.1

The story of Pera’s conversion is an illustrative case for the multiple ways converts from Judaism in imperial Russia functioned both in Jewish life and in the confessionally, or religiously, diverse life of the imperial Russian western provinces, which included Catholics, Lutherans, Old Believers, and Uniates. The term “confession” (ispovedanie) employed throughout this book conveys how contemporary Russians understood religion since all non-Russian-Orthodox groups were dubbed “foreign confessions” (inostrannyia ispovedaniia). Confession constituted a key body of law that the state could use to govern and discipline its subjects. The terminology of confession emphasizes the communal rules and formal doctrines of religious groups, thus conceiving of religion as a set of laws or practices rather than individual belief.2 Rather than just an act that excised an individual from Jewish society, conversion from Judaism in the imperial Russian provinces was—by virtue of place and process—a family and communal affair. While it may have spiritually marked the “death” of the apostate in the Jewish collective, as symbolically enacted in the traditional Jewish mourning ritual for apostates—think Fiddler on the Roof and Tevye’s bereavement over his daughter Chava—conversion by no means ended the convert’s engagement with family and community members. The story of Pera and the complex negotiation of her individual will versus family and communal expectations compels us to broaden the historical narrative of where and how Jews in the famed shtetls of imperial Russia crossed religious borders while subject to the disciplining gaze of Jewish society.

Confessions of the Shtetl analyzes Jewish conversions, like that of Pera, to a variety of Christian confessions in imperial Russia, the heartland of nineteenth-century East European Jewry. According to published and archival data, every year nearly every province in the Pale of Jewish Settlement on the empire’s western borderlands produced Jewish converts to Russian Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Lutheranism. Over the course of the nineteenth century, an estimated 69,400 Jews were baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church, and at least 15,000 converted to the tolerated, foreign confessions in the empire.3 Three quarters were civilian, “voluntary” conversions, as opposed to coerced baptisms of young military conscripts, with women constituting a majority of converts in the second half of the nineteenth century. In the pages that follow, we will examine the religious climate and the social and institutional means that enabled Jews in tsarist Russia to cross religious borders. What made conversion possible within communities long thought of as culturally isolated and politically alienated? How did Jewish communities view converts, and how do the dynamics of conversion change our understanding of these communities? The setting of the book—alternatively configured as the multiconfessional western borderlands of the Russian Empire and the mythic shtetls of Eastern Europe—presents a rich area for exploring how Jews, and Jewish women in particular, found the contacts, daring, and space to move between cultures and communal allegiances. By considering the question of conversion, we can shed new light on several aspects of the Russian Jewish experience: the profound religious and ethnic diversity of the shtetl—both internally among Jews and externally among other ethno-religious groups in the western borderlands; the fluidity and permeability of boundaries between Jewish and non-Jewish worlds; and the relationship between ethno-religious groups and the state, which tolerated and even sponsored religious diversity.

We will examine several interrelated themes. First, the role of the Russian government in managing religious diversity and toleration, and thus the relationship between mission and empire with regard to the Jews. Second, the day-to-day world of converts from Judaism in imperial Russia, including the social, geographic, religious, and economic links among converts, Christians, and Jews. And finally, the challenges of constructing, transgressing, and maintaining ethno-confessional boundaries, since the convert violated the seemingly clear borders of community and national identity.4 Through the lens of conversion, the Jewish encounter with imperial Russia emerges as a profoundly religious drama in which a diverse, alluring, and at times aggressive Christianity—as spiritual confession and social order—attracted many Jews, threatened Jewish communal cohesion, and shaped the defensive behavior and thus identity of Russian Jewry as a whole.

Scholarship on conversions from Judaism and relapsed converts in the Russian Empire has evolved from early twentieth-century biographical sketches of famous converts to recent archive-driven articles on aspects of conversion and monographs on the army, with a focus on conversions among Jewish cantonists, or underage recruits.5 In synthesizing and adding to this growing body of scholarship, I reframe the narrative of Russian Jewish conversion beyond the chronological markers of 1827 and 1881—the former, the date of the beginning of Jewish conscription into the Russian army and young Jewish boys into cantonist units; the latter, the year of Tsar Alexander II’s assassination by revolutionaries, a wave of pogroms in the Pale of Jewish Settlement, and discriminatory legislation, including academic quotas, against Jews.6 Although restrictive tsarist legislation undeniably affected conversion rates, it does not illuminate the sociocultural factors promoting apostasy or how converts continued to function in Jewish society even after baptism.7 The decision to convert was tied not only to economic and political factors but also to subjective factors such as love, desperation, loneliness, and spirituality, which are often overlooked in the metanarratives of minority integration in the modern era. Here, I will present conversions from Judaism in imperial Russia as part of a larger story of religious diversity, toleration, and empire. Thus, the book begins in 1817 with the legal introduction of confessional choice for converts from Judaism and ends in 1906 with the legalization of relapse among converts to the tolerated confessions, part of the liberal concessions granted by the tsar after the failed 1905 revolution. This chronology sheds light on how Russian Jews, though politically unemancipated, experienced religious choice and the modern exploration of Jewish identity, not just through army conscription and the pursuit of higher education and mass politics, but through religious encounters in the context of empire. Drawing on previously untapped or seldom-used archives, newspapers and journals, memoirs, and novels, Confessions of the Shtetl shows that baptism did not constitute a total break with Jewishness or the Jewish community and that conversion marked the start of a complicated experiment with new forms of identity and belonging.

Religious Diversity and Toleration in the Russian Empire

The image and reality of the East European shtetl has received enormous attention in recent years, leading many scholars to avoid altogether the term “shtetl,” which they argue serves more as a cultural construction than a historical reality.8 For many, we live in a post-shtetl age, when the unchanging, unfailingly traditional, insular Jewish everytown no longer serves as “the foundation myth of Ashkenazi culture.”9 This study of social and cultural encounters between Jews and Christians in the imperial Russian provinces highlights the multiconfessional backdrop of Russian Jewish life and the ways that small market towns and villages of Eastern Europe must be read as interreligious zones, not just zones of economic encounter.10 In this light, while there has been much recent scholarly attention to the diverse religious landscape of Christianity within the empire and the diversity of ethno-confessional groups in the empire’s east, there has been less attention to the diverse landscape of Jewish life in the western provinces—both within Judaism and among Jews and the plethora of other religious and ethnic minorities in this borderland region.11

The Russian Empire in the nineteenth century operated as a “confessional state,” committed to supporting multiple confessional orthodoxies and their respective clerics as a means of governing a diverse and large empire.12 As such, tsarist confessional policies were less repressive than one might assume of an exclusively Russian Orthodox state; instead, the state tried to create a harmonious relationship between the preeminent church and the tolerated confessions.13 Evidence of this can be seen in Jewish society through the institutions of the crown rabbinate, the Rabbinic Commission, and the informal alliance between the state and maskilim (followers of the Jewish enlightenment) that formed under the reign of Tsar Nicholas I and served to integrate Jews linguistically, educationally, and professionally into Russian society.14 While scholars of Russian history have emphasized the bureaucratic view of the confessional state—focused on state cooptation of indigenous elites and clerics for metrical record keeping and centralized religious and communal management—I wish to highlight the impact of the confessional state on converts from Judaism in the form of confessional choice and communal empowerment.15 In line with recent studies of conversion that move beyond religious conflict to explore cultural contact and constructions of difference, I investigate, on the one hand, how church and state managed confessional difference, and, on the other, how individuals lived and functioned within these differences.16

Recent scholarly interest in lived religion and the politics of confessional diversity in imperial Russia has produced new reflections on the nature and development of tsarist religious tolerance (veroterpimost’).17 Though toleration in the autocratic tsarist regime continued to function more as political expediency than as a rights-based principle, it is significant for understanding the primacy ascribed to religious law and to the functioning of religious communities until the end of the old regime. Rather than a dead letter to be ignored out of hand, imperial Russian religious toleration not only helps to explain the longevity of tsarist rule, but it also helps to frame the currency of religion as an essential marker of difference in the nineteenth century and the ways conversion was bound up in a multiplicity of legal regimes.18 By understanding the confessionalization of Judaism in the Russian Empire and imperial support for Jewish life, we can better frame official and lay missionary interest in Jews. In addition, state patronage of Judaism for administrative control ironically created avenues for Jewish contestation of out-conversions through the community’s power to identify and conscript its members.

Everyday Converts

In modern European history, Jewish conversion has traditionally been cast as a phenomenon of upwardly mobile, urban, middle-class Jews striving for political and civic emancipation. Increased educational and professional prospects, paired with an increasingly open social encounter with non-Jews in cities, have been seen as conditions that made Jews amenable and receptive to baptism.19 Considering that the majority of conversions from Judaism in nineteenth-century Russia were voluntary and that converts were increasingly female (the percentage of women started to surpass men in the 1860s), thus outside the orbit of military coercion and considerations of career advancement, it is worth evaluating what conversions can teach us about Jewish-Christian sociability, accessibility, and intimacy in regions that depart from the teleology of modern conversions in the West.20 The dominant narrative of modern Jewish conversions as urban, bourgeois, strategic ancestral abandonment overlooks the many provincial Jews who converted under the gaze of their community, for whom the social aspects of conversion were perhaps more important than issues of civic inclusion or profession.

We know much about the aspirations and cultural explorations of a certain cohort of upwardly mobile, city-bound converts in the modern period, but much less about their provincial city, small town, and rural contemporaries for whom Christianity was less a model of civilization and inclusion and more a face-to-face encounter with the people and institutions of other religions. While contemporary Russian Jews humorously referred to careerist converts from Judaism as having “baptized passports” rather than having undergone a true, individually transformative baptism, this emphasis on motivation and sincerity in the scholarly literature has led analyses of conversion far from the people or practices of religion. In contrast to the radical assimilation model of conversion—as an instrumental and insincere flight from Jewishness—Confessions of the Shtetl analyzes conversion as a form of cultural mobility fostered by personal encounters. Beyond analyzing motivation, we will scrutinize the social and cultural contacts that enabled converts to move between confessional communities. Drawing lessons from scholarship on conversion petitions and autobiographies as crafted texts, often in a missionary or anti-missionary vein, I treat the published and unpublished conversion records presented here as narratives of self-fashioning subject to generic constraints and employing particular rhetoric to effect desired outcomes.21 Thus, I use these sources to draw contextual information on people and place and the contestations surrounding conversions rather than to elicit individual motivation.

In asking questions about motivation and sincerity, conversion studies have unwittingly adopted Enlightenment discourses separating toleration and religious choice from political subjecthood, such that the less one stood to gain from conversion the more “sincere” the conversion.22 Yet, for all of the modern investment in the separation of private and public spheres, and the Protestant-inflected view of the interiority of faith and religious conscience, faith historically incorporated the social and political concerns of believers whereby conversion often entailed turning to God and king.23 In the imperial Russian ancien régime, faith was by no means a private commitment in the eyes of the empire. Religion along with social estate (soslovie) defined the duties and privileges of group standing in the era before individual rights, and thus conversion cannot be plotted as a private act divorced from community.24 A modern, rarefied notion of religion as interior faith commitment independent of ethnicity or community does little to convey how confession in imperial Russia continued to be conceived of as a marker of community and religious law. In this way, the social context and communal dynamics of conversion become more significant for understanding Jewish conversion than the quest for individual motivation.

Complementing recent scholarship on the concept of empire and the supraethnic space it afforded Jewish civic engagement in Russia, we will explore social diversity and its effects on interfaith sociability and conversion, considering a broader range of sites of Jewish imperial encounters beyond big cities and imperial institutions.25 We will treat the actual encounters between Jews and Christians in small towns and villages. What did conversion look like in places where the parish church, village clerk, and tavern patron were the faces of Christianity, where a Jewish father and Christian godfather lived close by each other, and where any Jew could enter a police station or church and apply for conversion?26 This exploration of daily life focuses on everyday relations of trust and attraction between Jews and their neighbors in the imperial Russian borderlands.

Thinking with Converts: Constructing and Challenging Jewish Borders

Conversion and intermarriage in the Russian Empire fascinated and alarmed the contemporary Jewish community. The number of Jewish conversions in the east exceeded those in the west, but the numbers relative to population size in the east were still low.27 Nonetheless, conversions—real and threatened—left an outsized cultural imprint on the self-understanding and experience of Russian Jews of various religious ideologies, political persuasions, socioeconomic origins, and regional backgrounds. Jews in imperial Russia used converts and the fear of apostasy to think about the margins of Jewish community and construct the boundaries of modern Jewish nationhood.

Aside from actual baptisms, the very threat of conversion functioned as a historical force in Russian Jewish society.28 As in other times and places in Jewish history, individuals or marginalized groups used the ever-present possibility of baptism (or not fulfilling Jewish law—especially the laws of ritual purity for women) to force rabbis to act in their favor, to coerce recalcitrant husbands into issuing a get (Jewish bill of divorce), or to effect some communal reform.29 In his autobiography, Kniga zhizni (Book of Life, 1934–1940), the Russian Jewish historian Simon Dubnov recalls the story of a Jew from his hometown of Mstislavl’ who had converted to Russian Orthodoxy and entered a nearby monastery in the village of Pustynki. This conversion became a paradigm for the local Jews, who were known to threaten hostile family members or employers with the ever-present option to run away to “Pustynki to be baptized.”30 In her memoirs, the Zionist feminist activist Puah Rakovsky (1865–1955) extracted a Jewish divorce from her traditionalist first husband after sending him a letter saying, “if you won’t release me and send me a divorce immediately, I will convert with both of the children.”31

Conversions also functioned discursively to vilify threatening behavior and practices. When Puah Rakovsky had previously informed her first husband that she was moving to St. Petersburg to study midwifery and gain economic independence to assist the family’s finances, the husband retorted, “‘What! You’ll study to be a midwife? Well then, go and convert instead—as far as I’m concerned, it’s the same thing!’32 In Eastern Europe, books (especially in the vernacular) and secular education were often represented as conduits or even fronts for heresy. Jewish communities in Eastern Europe were among the least interested in non-Jewish learning from the early modern period, and the spread of Hasidism in the late eighteenth century only strengthened this.33 The extreme boundary crossing of conversion was evoked to stigmatize undesirable, threatening behavior that crossed other kinds of boundaries, including those of gender and education.

Though the exaggerated conversion language in East European Jewish society implied that actual apostasy was unconscionable and inconceivable, this hopeful naïveté should not blind scholars to the phenomenon of conversions nor to the variety of ways families and communities responded to the shock and trauma of religious abandonment. Reactions to converts were sometimes extreme, as, for example, in the ritual mourning, depicted by Sholem Aleichem, of Tevye and his wife over the “loss” of their daughter through conversion, but in reality conversion did not necessarily cut converts off from Jewish society nor preclude the family from attempting to bring back the apostate. Even rabbinic law was conflicted on the negative Jewish theological stance on conversions versus the legal concept of an eternal Jewishness that marked converts as Jews in family law, business relations, and as repentant apostates.34 By asking how converts functioned in Jewish society, I hope to sidestep the emotional, literary rendering of apostates as dead to their Jewish kin, and account for the overwhelming archival evidence of ongoing social, religious, and economic ties between converts and Jews in imperial Russia. In this vein, my work on converts is as much about a minority of radical boundary crossers as it is about the majority of their former, traditionalist coreligionists who tried to defend cultural and communal boundaries in the face of conversion.

By Jews invoking conversions—both real and imagined—to construct communal boundaries, we see a society trying to manage the rise of religious choice. Religious choice was not just a product of nineteenth-century Central European religious reforms, nor of the exceptional case of American Jewry, whose religious life was entirely voluntary by political design. Making religion an individual choice rather than a birthright, including detaching Orthodoxy from Russianness, took place in Russia as well as in the West.35

To fully understand converts and the confessional world they traveled, we will explore the structure of their world from above and below. Part I charts the institutionalization of confessional difference in the Russian Empire as it related to Jews, from Tsar Alexander I and the genesis of confessional choice for the empire’s Jews in 1817, to freedom of conscience measures instituted by Tsar Nicholas II in the wake of the revolution of 1905, which allowed Jewish converts to all tolerated confessions to legally reclaim their ancestral faith. The Russian Jewish experience unfolded within an empire that, despite attempts to alternatively encourage and forcibly integrate its various minority groups, ruled with a policy of religious tolerance and relied on confessional communities to help govern and unify a diverse imperial polity. In this section, Chapters 1 and 2 look at institutional missions and individual missionaries to Jews alongside imperial support for the confession of Judaism.

Part II explores the social dynamics of religious tolerance and the confessional state from below by examining the spaces of Jewish conversion. It analyzes daily social interactions among Jewish and neighboring Polish, Lithuanian, Belorussian, and Ukrainian communities, and how these encounters nurtured intimate knowledge of other confessional lifestyles, facilitated interfaith relationships, and provided access to the personnel and institutions of other faiths. In this section, Chapter 3 presents a range of conversion cases that locate interfaith encounters at the local tavern as the springboard for migrating to a different confessional community. Chapter 4 analyzes narratives of Jewish violence against converts as another aspect of the social threads of conversion. Here, the local spaces of conversion are important not just for cultural encounters with non-Jews, but for proximity of baptisms to the controlling gaze of family and community. By taking a geographical approach, I present the western provincial towns and villages of imperial Russia as interreligious zones where conversion was predicated on interconfessional networks, sociability, and a personal familiarity with Christianity via its adherents.

Part III analyzes the intricate connections between physical and cultural mobility and confessional migration. Chapter 5 explores narratives of relapsed converts and their multiple cultural fluencies using legal cases of converts suspected of relapsing to Judaism. Chapter 6 charts the proliferation of Jewish Christian sects in southern Russia in the 1880s and the confessional journeys of their leaders and adherents, which reflected the porousness of confessional boundaries and the possibilities of crossing cultural borders. These sects provided a forum for a cross-cultural conversation in the public press on Jewish and Russian fears of cultural hybridity, religious reforms and unorthodox religion, and the impossibility of absolute confessional separation. In the Epilogue, I summarize how the phenomenon of Russian Jewish conversion, though marginal in the sense that the number of converts was never large, left an outsized imprint on the cultural map of East European Jews, who grappled with questions of Jewish identity and the role of religion in the increasingly powerful Jewish secular nationalist ideologies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Finally, the Epilogue looks ahead to the inter-revolutionary period (1906–1917) and the Soviet era when conversions from Judaism accelerated, accompanied by a growing ethnic conception of Jewish identity whereby national Jewishness found harmony with Christianity.


1. YIVO RG 46, Box III:76, Conversion of Vilna Jewish townswoman Pera Girsenovich, 1874.

2. On the terminology of “confession” in state institutions, see Paul W. Werth, The Tsar’s Foreign Faiths: Toleration and the Fate of Religious Freedom in Imperial Russia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 53–57. On Russian legal conceptions of religion as a body of law rather than faith in the pre-reform era (before 1855), see Paul W. Werth, At the Margins of Orthodoxy: Mission, Governance, and Confessional Politics in Russia’s Volga-Kama Region, 1827–1905 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002), 140–45. The language of “confession” in imperial Russian religious politics recalls the confessional politics of early modern Europe and scholarly debates over the relationship between state consolidation and confessionalization, or denominational consolidation. The terminological parallel is fruitful insofar as confessional politics in the Russian Empire were directly related to Russian state-building and the empire’s instrumentalization (and formalization) of confessional difference for administrative order and control.

3. Aggregate statistics from the Governing Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church and German missionaries conservatively estimate Jewish conversions to various Christian denominations in nineteenth-century imperial Russia at 84,500. The annual Synod reports, which were published for the years 1836–1914, are entitled Vsepoddanneishii otchet ober-prokurora Sv. Sinoda za . . . god (Petersburg), and the combined data from the reports are used in two collective statistical analyses of conversions: Ivan Preobrazhenskii, Otechestvennaia tserkov’ po statisticheskim dannym s 1840–41 po 1890–91 gg., reprint, 1897 (Petersburg, 1901), esp. 46, 53; and J. F. A. de le Roi, Judentaufen im 19. Jahrhundert (Leipzig, 1899), 42–45. For statistics on non-Orthodox conversions, see de le Roi, Judentaufen, 31–32, 40–41.

4. Gauri Viswanathan, Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity, and Belief (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), 16.

5. Saul M. Ginsburg, Meshumodim in tsarishn Russland (New York: “CYCO” Bicher Farlag, 1946); Shmuel Leib Tsitron, Meshumodim: tipn un silueten funm noenten over, 4 vols. (Warsaw: Verlag Tsentral, 1923–1928); Ezriel Nathan Frenk, Meshumodim in Poyln in 19-tn yor-hundert (Warsaw: M.Y. Fried, 1923). Tsitron’s series was titled Meshumodim, but volumes 3 and 4 were titled Avek fun folk. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the following groundbreaking articles on conversions from Judaism were published, based on either published sources or small deposits of archival materials preserved in Western libraries: Mikhail Agursky, “Conversions of Jews to Christianity in Russia,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 20, no. 2–3 (1990): 69–84; Michael Stanislawski, “Jewish Apostasy in Russia: A Tentative Typology,” in Jewish Apostasy in the Modern World, ed. Todd M. Endelman (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1987), 189–205; Steven J. Zipperstein, “Heresy, Apostasy and the Transformation of Joseph Rabinovich,” in Jewish Apostasy in the Modern World, ed. Endelman, 206–31. More recently, conversion has been the subject of several important studies on Jews in imperial Russia: John Klier, “State Policies and the Conversion of Jews in Imperial Russia,” in Of Religion and Empire: Missions, Conversion, and Tolerance in Tsarist Russia, ed. Robert P. Geraci and Michael Khodarkovsky (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), 92–112; Eugene M. Avrutin, Jews and the Imperial State: Identification Politics in Tsarist Russia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010); Todd M. Endelman, “Jewish Converts in Nineteenth-Century Warsaw: A Quantitative Analysis,” Jewish Social Studies 4, no. 1 (Fall 1997): 28–59; ChaeRan Freeze, “When Chava Left Home: Gender, Conversion, and the Jewish Family in Tsarist Russia,” Polin 18 (2005): 153–88; Eugene M. Avrutin, “Returning to Judaism after the 1905 Law on Religious Freedom in Tsarist Russia,” Slavic Review 65, no. 1 (Spring 2006): 90–110; Olga Litvak, Conscription and the Search for Modern Russian Jewry (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006); Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, Jews in the Russian Army, 1827–1917: Drafted into Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). In addition to this literature, there are several complementary studies on conversions from Judaism in eighteenth-century imperial Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as well as studies on Jewish missions and convert missionaries in nineteenth-century imperial Russia, especially Congress Poland. See Viktoria Aleksandrovna Gerasimova, “Kreshchenye evrei v Rossii v XVIII v.: Osobennosti sotsiokul’turnoi adaptatsii” (PhD diss., Russian State University for Humanities, Moscow, 2013); Adam Kaźmierczyk, Rodziłem się Żydem . . . Konwersje Żydów w Rzeczypospolitej XVII–XVIII wieku (Kraków: Księgarnia Akademicka, 2015); Raymond Lillevik, Apostates, Hybrids, or True Jews? Jewish Christians and Jewish Identity in Eastern Europe, 1860–1914 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2014); Agnieszka Jagodzińska, “Christian Missionaries and Jewish Spaces: British Missions in the Kingdom of Poland in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century,” in Space and Conversion in Global Perspective, ed. Giuseppe Marcocci et al. (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 103–26.

6. Of the conservative estimate of 84,500 Russian Jews who converted to Christianity over the course of the nineteenth century, roughly one quarter can be characterized as coerced and underage. For an estimate of 25,000 cantonist conversions, see Stanislawski, “Jewish Apostasy in Russia,” 193–94. For a more recent estimate of 20,000, see Avrutin, “Returning to Judaism,” 95.

7. For a correlation of Synod statistics on Jewish conversion to shifts in tsarist regimes and politics, see I. Cherikover, “Obrashchenie v khristianstvo,” Evreiskaia entsiklopediia: Svod znanii o evreistve i ego kul’ture v proshlom i nastoiashchem (St. Petersburg: Brokgauz-Efron, 1906–1913), XI: cols. 884–95; Stanislawski, “Jewish Apostasy in Russia,” 190–91.

8. On the shtetl as idea and history, see Antony Polonsky, ed., “The Shtetl: Myth and Reality,” Polin 17 (2004); Gennady Estraikh and Mikhail Krutikov, eds., The Shtetl: Image and Reality (Oxford: Legenda, 2000); Steven T. Katz, The Shtetl: New Evaluations (New York: New York University Press, 2007); Dan Miron, The Image of the Shtetl and Other Studies of Modern Jewish Literary Imagination (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000); Jeffrey Shandler, Shtetl: A Vernacular Intellectual History (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2014).

9. Jeffrey Veidlinger, “From Shtetl to Society: Jews in 19th-Century Russia,” Kritika 2, no. 4 (Fall 2001): 823–24.

10. Michał Galas, “Inter-religious Contacts in the Shtetl: Proposals for Future Research,” Polin 17 (2004): 41–50.

11. On the heterogeneity of confessional life in imperial Russia and lived religion, see Heather Coleman, Russian Baptists and Spiritual Revolution, 1905–1929 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005); Laura Engelstein, Castration and the Heavenly Kingdom: A Russian Folktale (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999); Nadieszda Kizenko, A Prodigal Saint: Father John of Kronstadt and the Russian People (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000); Sergei I. Zhuk, Russia’s Lost Reformation: Peasants, Millennialism, and Radical Sects in Southern Russia and Ukraine, 1830–1917 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004); Nicholas B. Breyfogle, Heretics and Colonizers: Forging Russia’s Empire in the South Caucasus (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005); Werth, At the Margins of Orthodoxy; Gregory L. Freeze, “The Rechristianization of Russia: The Church and Popular Religion, 1750–1850,” Studia Slavica Findlandensia 7 (1990), 101–36; Vera Shevzov, Russian Orthodoxy on the Eve of Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Robert P. Geraci and Michael Khodarkovsky, eds., Of Religion and Empire: Missions, Conversion, and Tolerance in Tsarist Russia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001). For a recent work on religious encounters between Judaism and various forms of Christianity in early modern and modern Eastern Europe, see Glenn Dynner, ed., Holy Dissent: Jewish and Christian Mystics in Eastern Europe (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2011).

12. Robert Crews, “Empire and the Confessional State: Islam and Religious Politics in Nineteenth-Century Russia,” American Historical Review 108, no. 1 (February 2003): 50–83.

13. Robert D. Crews, For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006). Mikhail Dolbilov has modified Crews’ thesis by positing that there was a tension in confessional politics between state patronage of the tolerated confessions and state attempts to discredit the foreign faiths. See Mikhail Dolbilov, Russkii krai, chuzhaia vera: Etnokonfessional’naia politika imperii v Litve i Belorussii pri Aleksandre II (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2010). Paul Werth’s recent synthetic survey of religious toleration in the Russian Empire employs both of these theses to analyze Russia’s “multiconfessional establishment.” See Werth, The Tsar’s Foreign Faiths.

14. On these institutions and the maskil-state alliance, see Azriel Shochat, Mosad ‘Ha-Rabanut Mi-Ta’am’ Be-Rusyah (Haifa: University of Haifa, 1975); Michael Stanislawski, Tsar Nicholas I and the Jews: The Transformation of Jewish Society in Russia, 1825–1855 (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1983); ChaeRan Y. Freeze, Jewish Marriage and Divorce in Imperial Russia (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2002); Eli Lederhendler, The Road to Modern Jewish Politics: Political Tradition and Political Reconstruction in the Jewish Community of Tsarist Russia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989); Vasily Shchedrin, “Jewish Bureaucracy in Late Imperial Russia: The Phenomenon of Expert Jews, 1850–1917” (PhD diss., Brandeis University, 2010).

15. On metrical record keeping, see Chapter 1.

16. Duane J. Corpis, Crossing the Boundaries of Belief: Geographies of Religious Conversion in Southern Germany, 1646–1800 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014), 13. On new trends in conversions studies, see Anthony Grafton and Anthony Mills, eds., Conversion: Old Worlds and New (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2003), introduction; Natalie Zemon Davis, Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth-Century Muslim between Worlds (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007), 11–12.

17. Paul Werth, “Lived Orthodoxy and Confessional Diversity: The Last Decade on Religion in Modern Russia,” Kritika 12, no. 4 (Fall 2011): 849–65; G. M. Hamburg, “Religious Toleration in Russian Thought, 1520–1825,” Kritika 13, no. 3 (Summer 2012): 515–59; Randall A. Poole, “Religious Toleration, Freedom of Conscience, and Russian Liberalism,” Kritika 13, no. 3 (Summer 2012): 611–34. On new trends in the study of religion in Russia, especially Russian Orthodoxy as lived experience, see Valerie A. Kivelson and Ronald H. Greene, “Introduction: Orthodox Russia,” in Orthodox Russia: Belief and Practice under the Tsars, ed. Valerie A. Kivelson and Ronald H. Greene (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003), 1–19.

18. For historical scholarship in the late-imperial and Soviet periods, which dismissed Russian pretensions to toleration and generally read imperial Jewish policies as fronts for baptizing Russian Jewry, see I. G. Orshanskii, Russkoe zakonodatel’stvo o evreiakh: Ocherki i issledovaniia (St. Petersburg, 1877), 26–59; Saul M. Ginsburg, Historische Werk, 3 vols. (New York: S.M. Ginsburg Testimonial Committee, 1937), II:235–38, III:59; Louis Greenberg, The Jews in Russia: The Struggle for Emancipation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1944).

19. For a recent synthetic treatment, see Todd M. Endelman, Leaving the Jewish Fold: Conversion and Radical Assimilation in Modern Jewish History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015). Endelman pairs conversion as strategy with prior Jewish disaffection; others have paired it with weak Jewish education. See Franz Rosenzweig, “Renaissance of Jewish Learning and Living,” in Franz Rosenzweig: His Life and Thought, ed. Nahum N. Glatzer (New York: Schocken, 1961), 218; Paula Hyman, Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History: The Roles and Representations of Women (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 21.

20. Stanislawski, “Jewish Apostasy in Russia,” 200.

21. Elisheva Carlebach, Divided Souls: Converts from Judaism in Germany, 1500–1750 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001); Marcus Moseley, Being for Myself Alone: The Origins of Jewish Autobiography (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005); Freeze, “When Chava Left Home.”

22. Peter van der Veer, Introduction to Conversion to Modernities: The Globalization of Christianity, ed. Peter van der Veer (New York: Routledge, 1996), 10–11.

23. Keith P. Luria, “The Politics of Protestant Conversion to Catholicism,” in Conversion to Modernities, 25–26, 28–29. For the classic Protestant-inflected theories of conversion, see William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Longmans, Green, 1902); A. D. Nock, Conversion: The Old and New in Religion from Alexander the Great to Augustine of Hippo (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933). For more recent works that attempt to broaden the conversion experience beyond the highly ideologized narrative of Paul’s individual, internal, and spiritual conversion, and which acknowledge the sociocultural components of conversion and view it as a gradual process, see Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire (A.D. 100–400) (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984), 1–9; Lewis Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993).

24. For a discussion of Jewish conversions to minority faiths in the Russian Empire that complicates the narrative of instrumental baptisms in modern Jewish history, see Ellie R. Schainker, “Jewish Conversion in an Imperial Context: Confessional Choice and Multiple Baptisms in Nineteenth-Century Russia,” Jewish Social Studies n.s. 20, no. 1 (Fall 2013): 1–31.

25. Kenneth B. Moss, “At Home in Late Imperial Russian Modernity—Except When They Weren’t: New Histories of Russian and East European Jews, 1881–1914,” Journal of Modern History 84 (June 2012): 449–50. On the Subbotnik story as an example of everyday, rural encounters between Jews and Christians, see Nicholas Breyfogle, “The Religious World of Russian Sabbatarians (Subbotniks),” in Holy Dissent: Jewish and Christian Mystics in Eastern Europe, ed. Glenn Dynner (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2011), 383–84.

26. This approach builds on conversion studies that have emphasized place and sociability in analyzing confessional migrations. See, for example, Agursky, “Conversions of Jews”; Rachel Manekin, “The Lost Generation: Education and Female Conversion in Fin-de-Siècle Kraków,” Polin 18 (2005): 189–219.

27. Mordechai Altshuler, Soviet Jewry on the Eve of the Holocaust: A Social and Demographic Profile (Jerusalem: Ahva Press, 1998), 69–76. Compare to statistics on Jewish conversions in Prussia and the surrounding provinces, where 380,000 Jews lived by the end of the century and 13,128 Jews converted over the course of the nineteenth century (de le Roi, Judentaufen im 19. Jahrhundert, 8, 15–16).

28. On the threat of conversion as a historical force, see Grafton and Mills, Conversion, ix–xvii.

29. Carlebach, Divided Souls, 30–31; Avraham Grossman, Hasidot u-mordot: Nashim Yehudiyot be-Eropah be-yeme-ha-benayim (Jerusalem: Merkaz Zalman Shazar, 2001).

30. Simon Dubnov, The Book of Life: Memoirs and Reflections, trans. by Dianne Sattinger, edited by Benjamin Nathans and Viktor Kel’ner (forthcoming, University of Wisconsin Press), chap. 7.

31. Puah Rakovsky, My Life as a Radical Jewish Woman: Memoirs of a Zionist Feminist in Poland, edited and introduced by Paula E. Hyman (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 51.

32. Ibid., 38.

33. Benjamin Nathans, Beyond the Pale: The Jewish Encounter with Late Imperial Russia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 206.

34. On the Talmudic dictum “although he has sinned, he remains a Jew” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin: 44a), and its evolution as a principle in Jewish law positing the eternal Jewishness of apostates in the medieval period and beyond, see Jacob Katz, Halakhah ve-Kabalah (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1984), 261–69. On the status of apostates in rabbinic law in the medieval and early modern periods, see Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, “The Inquisition and the Jews of France in the Time of Bernard Gui,” Harvard Theological Review 63 (1970): 317–76; Jacob Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), 67–81; Ephraim Kanarfogel, “Changing Attitudes toward Apostates in Tosafist Literature, Late Twelfth–Early Thirteenth Centuries,” in New Perspectives on Jewish-Christian Relations, ed. Elisheva Carlebach and Jacob J. Shachter (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 297–328; Edward Fram, “Perception and Reception of Repentant Apostates in Medieval Ashkenaz and Premodern Poland,” AJS Review 21, no. 2 (1996): 299–339.

35. Coleman, Russian Baptists; Laura Engelstein, “Holy Russia in Modern Times: An Essay on Orthodoxy and Cultural Change,” Past and Present, no. 173 (November 2001): 129–56.