The history of Jews in Finland is a relatively recent development, as Jews were initially prohibited from settling in Finland, part of the Swedish Kingdom until 1809, under Swedish law. When Finland became a grand duchy of the Russian Empire, the prohibition of Jewish settlement (as well as the Swedish constitution and legal system) prevailed and there continued to be no Jews in the country.
Jewish settlement in Finland began sometime after the absorption of the country into the Russian Empire, as Jewish soldiers (“Cantonists”) who served in the Russian Army, were permitted to settle in the area with their families. An official decree in 1858 confirmed this policy. As a result, a small Jewish community was established in Finland and in 1872, Finland’s legislative assembly at the time, the Finnish Diet, began discussing the legal status of Jews settling in the country. There were a number of restrictions placed on the country’s initial Jewish settlers, including limited occupations available to Jews and limits on how long they could stay in the country (most were given temporary clearance to live in Finland).
The Jewish community continued to grow throughout the nineteenth century, and with the increase in population, came an increase in questions regarding the status of Jews in Finland. However, it was not until Finland achieved independence in 1917 that Jews in that country were granted full civil rights. This included full citizenship, and as a result of such a change in status, and the arrival of Jewish immigrants from Soviet Russia, the Jewish population reached its highest level ever – around 2,000 people – during the interwar period.
After the end of World War II, almost all Finnish Jews were integrated into Finnish society and there was a general acceptance of the Jewish community. The War of Independence for the State of Israel in 1948 saw Finnish Jewish volunteers participate at a rate proportionally greater than any other Diaspora community. Emigration – mainly to Israel – contributed to a decline in the Finnish Jewish community that continued throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. Max Jakobson served as the Finnish Ambassador to the UN from 1965 to 1971..
Today, the Finnish Jewish community is well integrated into general Finnish society and are able to freely and openly practice their religion without issue. Antisemitism has not been a large issue in Finland and Ben Zyskowicz, the first Finnish Jew elected to Parliament, has served since 1979.