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There had been a small Jewish presence in Muscovy until the early sixteenth century when the Jews were expelled following a crisis in the Orthodox Church, the 'Judaising heresy'. Solzhenitsyn tells the story as follows:

'According to Karamzin (very highly respected Russian historian - PB) it began thus: the Jew Zechariah, who in 1470 had arrived in Novgorod from Kiev, "figured out how to lead astray two spirituals, Dionis and Aleksei; he assured them that only the Law of Moses was divine; the history of the Redeemer was invented; he was not yet born; one should not pray to icons, etc. Thus began the Judaizing heresy." [...]

'After the fall of Novgorod, when Ivan Vassilyevich III [1440-1505, the Grand Prince of Muscovy who united Russia under Moscow's rule, not to be confused with Ivan IV, 'The Terrible'] visited the city, he was impressed by their piety and took both of the first heretics, Aleksei and Dionis, to Moscow in 1480 and promoted them as high priests of the Assumption of Mary and the Archangel Cathedrals of the Kremlin. [...]

'The Novgorod Archbishop Gennadi uncovered the heresy in 1487, sent irrefutable proofs of it to Moscow, hunted the heresy out and unmasked it, until in 1490 a church council assembled to discuss the matter, under the leadership of the just-promoted Metropolitan Sossima. [...]

'"The noteworthy liberalism of Moscow flowed from the temporary 'Dictator of the heart' F. Kuritsyn. [Feodor Kuritsyn, Ivan's plenipotentiary Secretary - so to speak the "Foreign Minister", "famous on account of his education and his capabilities."]The magic of his secret salon was enjoyed even by the Grand Prince and his daughter-in-law ...  The heresy was by no means in abatement, but rather ...  prospered magnificently and spread itself out. At the Moscow court ...  astrology and magic along with the attractions of a pseudo-scientific revision of the entire medieval worldview" were solidly propagated, which was "free-thinking, the appeal of enlightenment, and the power of fashion." [...]

'Soon Ivan III reconciled himself with his wife Sophia Palaiologos [as so often in these matters the religious question was bound up with rivalry between different factions for the succession to Ivan - PB], and in 1502 his son Vassili inherited the throne. (Kuritsyn by this time was dead.) Of the heretics, after the Council of 1504, one part was burned, a second part thrown in prison, and a third fled to Lithuania, "where they formally adopted the Mosaic faith."' (4)

(4)  Although Two centuries Together has not been officially published in an English translation several large extracts are available on the Internet, largely on sites that could be called 'anti-semitic'. There is also a Kindle version, with extracts from Vol 1 and most of Vol 2, which I have used for this account of the Judaising heresy - locs 151 - 206 (pp.21-2 of the French translation). It is available online at

Jews came back into Russia with the Polish invasion, known as the Time of Troubles, 1598-1613. Solzhenitsyn says that after Russian sovereignty was restored in 1613 with the beginning of the Romanov dynasty, they were able to remain, albeit in small numbers.