“I Knew that Messiah Had to Come”: Jewish Festive Rituals in a Soviet City

Keywords: Soviet Jews, Judaism, calendar rituals, synagogue, oral history, Sverdlovsk


The ethnic mobilisation that has unfolded throughout post-Soviet territory cannot be understood without a thorough examination of the preservation and transmission of ethnic identity in Soviet times. Despite the vast historiography devoted to studying various aspects of Jewish identity during the Soviet period, religiosity has rarely been an object of research. The purpose of this study is to identify religious practices that continued to exist among the Jewish population of Sverdlovsk until 1961, when the synagogue was closed. The authors refer to reports of the commissioners for Religious Affairs and data obtained during field research. They try to find out the extent and form of preserved calendar rituals, and what went missing from the daily life of the Sverdlovsk Jews. The research demonstrates that the religious community in the 1950s reached 500 people, or about 3 % of the entire Jewish population in the city. In the synagogue, a larger number of parishioners gathered during Passover, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and Sukkot. Fewer believers attended Hanukkah, and Purim generally went unnoticed by the commissioner for Religious Affairs. The recollections of the informants about holidays (mainly Passover and Purim) are peculiarly and uniformly associated with the description of meals. This is due to the post-war hunger and the age of the informants; they were all children, for whom delicious food was the most important component of any holiday. The results obtained make it possible to assert that the festive rituals of Sverdlovsk Jews continued to be preserved even in non-religious families, albeit in a limited form, throughout the 1940s and 1950s, thus reinforcing their identity.

Author Biographies

Elena Glavatskaya

Dr. Hab. (History), Chief Researcher, Institute of History and Archaeology, Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Professor, Ural Federal University named after the first President of Russia B. N. Yeltsin.

16, S. Kovalevskaya Str., 620990, Yekaterinburg, Russia.

19, Mira Str., 620002, Yekaterinburg, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0001-7013-5013


Elizaveta Zabolotnykh

Research Fellow, Institute of History and Archaeology, Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

16, S. Kovalevskaya Str., 620990, Yekaterinburg, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-1002-8723



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How to Cite
Glavatskaya, E., & Zabolotnykh, E. (2021). “I Knew that Messiah Had to Come”: Jewish Festive Rituals in a Soviet City. Quaestio Rossica, 9(4), 1169–1186. https://doi.org/10.15826/qr.2021.4.633
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