• The Subbotniks (literally, Sabbatarians) are a Russian sect, categorized as either Jews or Judaizing Christians, that became particularly branded by strict Shabbat observance.

    Subbotnik, Russia

  • Subbotniks (RussianСубботники, literally, Sabbatarians) are one of the Russian religious bodies known under the general name of “Judaizing Christian sects“. On the whole, the Subbotniks originally differed probably very little from other Judaizing societies. They first appeared during the reign of Catherine II, toward the end of the eighteenth century. According to official reports of the Imperial Russiangovernment, most of the sect’s followers kept brit milah, believed in absolute monotheism rather than the Christian Trinity, accepted only theJewish Bible, and observed Sabbath on Saturday instead of on Sunday. According to the same source, however, some of them, as, for instance, the Subbotniks of Moscow, did not circumcise and believed in Jesus, regarding him as a saint and prophet rather than as God the Son. Other groups reportedly awaited the coming of the Messiah as king of the earth, in line with Judaism‘s view. Some reportedly revered theChristian Gospels, while others placed it on a lower level than the Jewish Bible.
  • Russian official sources from the period, however, can not be trusted implicitly, since the Subbotniks, like other Judaizing sects, carefully concealed their religious beliefs and rites from the surrounding Christians. They did not act so guardedly toward the Jews, however, with some communities referring to themselves as “Jews“. Over the course of the 19th century, some communities became indistinguishable from the Russian Ashkenazi communities, with whom they eventually intermarried. The Russian government carefully isolated the Subbotniks from the followers of either religion, but whenever the opportunity offered itself, the Subbotniks sought out Hebrew religious texts from the Jews. Apart from circumcision, they also slaughtered their food animals according to the laws of shechita wherever they were able to learn the necessary rules. Moreover, they clandestinely used tefillintzitzit, and mezuzot, and prayed in almost the same manner as the Jews; namely, in private houses of prayer, with covered heads, reciting their prayers from Jewish prayer-books with Russian translation. The cantorread the prayers aloud, the congregants then prayed silently; during prayers a solemn silence was observed throughout the house. On Saturdays, readings were also done from the Torah. Of all the Jewish rites and traditions, the Subbotniks observed Sabbath most zealously, whence their name. They were careful on that day to avoid work altogether; and they endeavored not to discuss worldly affairs.According to the testimony, private and official, of all those who studied their mode of life in czarist times, the Subbotniks were remarkably industrious; reading and writing, hospitable, not given to drunkenness, poverty, or prostitution. Up to 1820 the Subbotniks lived for the most part in the governments of VoronezhOryolMoscowTula, and Saratov. After that year, the government deported those who openly acknowledged their membership in the sect to the foothills of the Caucasus, to Transcaucasia, and to the governments of IrkutskTobolsk, and Yeniseisk, in Siberia.