When did the Jews arrive to Finland? Where did they come from?
The territory which is now Finland was for more than half a millennium – until 1809 – part of the Swedish Kingdom. Under Swedish law, Jews of that period were allowed to settle only in three major towns in the Kingdom, none of them being situated in the territory of Finland.
The injunction did not cover visits and therefore the first known reference of Jews in Finland is from 1782, when "Portuguese singers" Josef Lazarus, Meijer Isaac and Pimo Zelig as well as conjurer Michel Marcus received from the city administrative court of Helsinki the right to perform their skills in Helsinki. In this context beeing Portuguese refers to Jewish communities of Hamburg area or Holland, whose founders were driven away from Portugal nearly 300 years earlier.
In 1809, as a consequence of the defeat of Sweden in the Russian-Swedish war of 1808-9, part of the Napoleonic Wars, Sweden lost control of Finland and an autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland was established within the Russian Empire. The Swedish constitution and legal system was, however, maintained in the Grand Duchy, and the prohibition on Jewish settlement in Finland thus continued.
Finnish Jewish history effectively began in the first half of the 19th century when Jewish soldiers (so-called cantonists), who served in the Russian Army in Finland, were permitted to stay in Finland by the Russian military authorities following the soldiers' discharge.
Sources of information:
The Jewish Community of Helsinki
Juutalainen kulttuuri (ed. Tapani Harviainen, Karl-Johan Illman)
Helsingissä : Otava, 1998