List of Contributors:

Eliyana R. Adler, "Enlightened Self-Interest: The Men and Women Who Opened Schools for Jewish Girls in Late Imperial Russia"
Andrey Bredstein, "N.-M. Shaykevitsh: Another Classic of Yiddish Theater?"
Zev Garber, "Vision of the Other: Auschwitz Convent Controversy"
Avraham Greenbaum, "The Russian Rabbinate in the Years before World War I"
Brian Horowitz, "Jewish Stereotyping among the Russian Modernists: Anti-Semite Vasily Rozanov and the Jewish Menace"
John Klier, "What Exactly Was the Pale of Settlement?"
Howard Lupovitch, "Solomon Schechter's Day School: Romanian Jews between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Culture"
Harriet Murav, "New Jews: Literature from Birobidzhan"
Alina Orlov, "Against Blending-In: Natan Altman's Jewish Art of the 1910s"
Gary Rosenshield, "The Representation of the Jew in the Work of Nikolai Gogol"
Abraham P. Socher, "Aristotle and the Ostjuden: Philosophical Thought among the First Generation of Eastern European Maskilim"
Jeffrey Veidlinger, "Jewish Cultural Association in the Pale, 1905-1921"
Kati Vörös, "A Modern Blood Libel: Politics, Religion, and Violence in Hungary, 1882-1883"
Theodore R. Weeks, "The Transformation of Jewish Vilne, 1881-1939"
Steven Weiland, "Coming into Their Inheritance: Jewish-American Autobiographers Encounter Eastern Europe"
Seth L. Wolitz, "Moving to the Center of the Canvas: The Creation of Modern Jewish Art"

Enlightened Self-Interest: The Men and Women Who Opened Schools for Jewish Girls in Late Imperial Russia

Eliyana R. Adler

This paper seeks to explore the identities and motivations of a group of over one hundred individuals who opened modern private schools for Jewish girls in Russia over the course of the second half of the nineteenth century. Based chiefly on the files maintained by the Tsarist Ministry of Education, I have attempted to divide the educators into categories based on gender, religion, and education.

Additionally, as numbers never tell the whole story, I use the published writings and other extant materials from a few of the founding principals of schools for Jewish girls to shed light on questions of ideology. What were the factors that led to their decision to open modern girls’ schools? It becomes clear from this exploration that gender was a significant dividing factor. Both Jewish and non-Jewish educated women opened schools for Jewish girls because they had no other professional opportunities. Men were more likely to do so out of an articulated sense of purpose.

This research into the founders of schools for Jewish girls illuminates broader issues within the social history of Russian Jewry in the nineteenth century. The educational and professional paths and goals of this group of educators provide insight into the mechanisms of the spread of Haskalah and Russification. These men and women were both products of the transformations of Jewish society and agents of change.

To top

N.-M. Shaykevitsh: Another Classic of Yiddish Theater?

Andrey Bredstein

Modern Yiddish theater was created in Romania during the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War by Avrom Goldfaden, who is generally considered the “father” of Yiddish theater. When the war ended and the hundreds of Russian Jewish contractors who had been a captive audience returned to Russia, several troupes and playwrights followed their audiences. They quickly established themselves in Odessa, which was particularly hospitable because of its strong maskilic community and because small groups of Jewish actors had been performing there for some time already.

Although scholarship has tended to focus on Goldfaden’s activities, even a brief look at theater reviews in the Russian press of that time (1878 until the 1883 ban of performances in Yiddish) shows that he had quite a few competitors both in playwriting and directing, among whom Nokhem-Meyr Shaykevitsh (“Shomer”) was one of the most significant: a widely popular novelist, he started to devote himself entirely to playwriting and established several new theaters (alone or with partners) before he left for America. My study of these sources, accompanied by actors’ memoirs and contemporary criticism demonstrates that Shaykevitsh’s contribution toward establishing and developing the Yiddish theater was of a great importance; he was not only one of Goldfaden’s competitors, but also his brother-in-arms in creating the modern Yiddish theater.

To top

Vision of the Other: Auschwitz Convent Controversy

Zev Garber

This paper focuses on the dynamics of cultural bias as the motivation for prejudice and how prejudice is often a matter of perspective, depending on whether one sees oneself as an insider or outsider in a particular social setting. The controversy that developed and escalated between Jews and Poles over the desire of a group of Carmelite nuns to set up a convent on the grounds of Auschwitz is examined as the flash point for prejudice between traditional adversaries. This study then tracks how unconscious bias can lead to unintended but nonetheless virulently polarizing language and further shows how longstanding and little considered assumptions within contrasting, neighboring cultures can lead to alienation, despite the best intentions. This paper draws from, but it is not restricted to, the presenter’s published article (with Bruce Zuckerman), “The Führer Over the Auschwitz Convent: The Inside and Outside of the Language of Bias,” in B.R. Rubenstein and M. Berenbaum, eds., What Kind of God: Essays in Honor of Richard L. Rubenstein.

To top

The Russian Rabbinate in the Years before World War I

Avraham Greenbaum

The rabbinate of Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century was a very problematic institution. The Czarist government’s insistence, as part of its modernization drive for its Jews, that they be served by a secularly educated rabbinate led to a double rabbinate: the state rabbi, who was often little more than a clerk for vital statistics, and the so-called spiritual rabbi, a Talmudic scholar of the old type who was maintained by the community under various subterfuges, but sometimes had semi-official status.

This far from salutary situation had further ramifications. Small communities had difficulty paying their rabbi/s, which in turn reduced the rabbinate’s appeal as a career. The Yeshivot (Talmuldic academies) rapidly lost students as more and more Russian Jews saw salvation in productive and prestigious occupations. This trend was accelerated by the revolution of 1905, which raised Jewish hopes for integration and had a radicalizing influence on Jewish youth.

Among the attempted solutions, two are especially worth mentioning: 1) The first Yeshiva that included secular studies, not to satisfy government inspectors but as a measure to counter the trends that turned Jewish youth against Jewish studies. It was founded by Rabbi Jacob Reines in Lida about l906, after earlier attempts in that direction had foundered on the rocks of public opposition. 2) Also worth mentioning is the first biographical lexicon of the world’s rabbis (mainly those of Russia and Poland), which was published in 1912. Based on questionnaires, it was specifically intended to restore some of the lost glory of the rabbinate.

To top

Jewish Stereotyping among the Russian Modernists: Anti-Semite Vasily Rozanov and the Jewish Menace

Brian Horowitz

In this paper I seek to explain Rozanov’s attitude toward the Jews as a means of stereotyping, as first a projection of personal and, only later, culturally generated myths. Individuals characteristically exaggerate racial, religious, and ideological difference as a way of defining themselves. With Rozanov, we often witness such exaggerations. His Jews do not resemble the poor urban Jews in the Russian Pale of Settlement, but are transformed into lifeless ideological attributes that serve as one side of an opposition: subjectivism versus objectivism, adherents of a religion of the body in contrast to a religion of the spirit, advocates of military domination as opposed to Russian vulnerability. Throughout his career Rozanov uses the Jews in a consistent way. Jews serve as the intellectual foil for his views; they coincide with discussions about Christian doctrine, the Russian Church, the Russian character, and state power.

To top

What Exactly Was the Pale of Settlement?

John Klier

This paper is a companion piece to an article I recently published, “What Exactly Was a Shtetl?” Like the shtetl, the Pale is much mentioned and almost inevitably misunderstood. Of the scores of maps I have seen in scholarly texts purporting to show “The Pale,” about 99 percent are wrong; they show the provinces of the Pale as including the territories of the Kingdom of Poland. This is more than a mere oversight; the Kingdom of Poland was not part of the Pale: a different legal system applied to the Jews there, and various liabilities, such as the infamous May Laws, were not extended there.

My paper also explores the territories that did encompass the Pale and seek to answer a number of questions. Among the most important: How and why did the Pale come to be a symbol for Jewish poverty and degradation when it included some of the richest lands of the Russian Empire, was larger than France, and included areas where the most rapid pace of modernization took place? Additionally, I attempt to ascertain the process by which the term “Pale of Settlement,” which was originally applied to English settlements in northern Ireland, came to serve as a translation for the Russian cherta osedlosti [territory of settlement].

To top

Solomon Schechter’s Day School: Romanian Jews between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Culture

Howard Lupovitch

This paper examines the religious and social world of Solomon Schechter’s childhood home—Focsani, Romania—with the aim of understanding the interplay between tradition and innovation in the transformation of Romanian Jewry and in retrieving them from the periphery of Ashkenanzic history. Schechter is commonly portrayed as a latter-day Solomon Maimon—a westward journey from the Hasidic backwoods of Eastern Europe to the enlightened world of Germany, England, and America. What is absent from this portrayal is the role of Schechter’s Romanian Jewish roots in forming the religious mentality that helped him discover as an adult a workable balance between tradition and innovation. Like other Jewish communities in the southern reaches of Eastern Europe, Foscani was part of the Ottoman Empire and the Sephardic diaspora from the sixteenth century on and, into the twentieth century, had both an Ashkenazic and Sephardic community. The seamless interplay between traditional and secular culture characteristic of Sephardic culture infused Schechter and other traditional Ashkenazic Jews in Romania with a greater openness to secular learning and contemporary mores through Sephardic involvement in the communal school, communal events, and even in the synagogue. The heterogeneity of Romania, where Jews needed to speak four of five languages to accomplish the mundane tasks of daily life, reinforced the Sephardic openness to vernacular languages.

To top

New Jews: Literature from Birobidzhan

Harriet Murav

The paper explores the new type of Jew created in the literature of the so-called Jewish autonomous region in Siberia, tracing how the Socialist Realist positive hero, who is emphatically masculine, physically strong, and independent, is both reproduced and modified in the works of such authors as David Bergelson and Emmanuel Kazakevich. The paper also examines how the traditional structure of masculine filiation, traditional calendar cycles, and the religious trope of wounding and covenanting are reworked in the writings of authors associated with Birobidzhan in the mid-1930s.

To top

Against Blending-In: Natan Altman’s Jewish Art of the 1910s

Alina Orlov

In his 1922 monograph on the artist Natan Altman (1889-1970), the art critic Abram Efros wrote, “Altman has the uniquely national ability of a Jew to take on the color and appearance of his environment.” This description of Altman as a Jewish “chameleon” has been accepted by others, including the American critic Louis Lozowick in the 1920s and the Soviet writer Mark Etkind in the 1970s. Another set of Altman’s contemporary critics, including Boris Aronson, Maxim Syrkin, and Ilya Ginsburg, have understood Altman’s Jewish essence as manifest in his style. They championed him as a Jewish nationalist artist. And this label has been confirmed in recent surveys of the Russian- Jewish artistic renaissance in the beginning of the twentieth century.

My paper challenges both the critical notions that Altman was a “chameleon” and a “Jewish nationalist” artist. It argue that his graphic series Jewish Prints (1913) and the sculpture “Self-Portrait: Head of a Jewish Youth” (1915) engaged with and commented on modern artistic trends, including Primitivism and Cubism, in a radical way, and that the sculpture, in particular, problematized nationalist images of Jews. As sculptural of the artist’s “self” in Jewish attire, the piece assailed the very idea of a uniform typology of the Jewish appearance. This paper is part of a larger work on Altman’s relationship to the theory and practice of Jewish art in Russia in the 1910s.

To top

The Representation of the Jew in the Work of Nikolai Gogol

Gary Rosenshield

As a result of the three partitions of Poland in the last decades of the eighteenth century, the Russian empire came into possession of the largest population of the Jews in the world. Previously, the Russian state had wanted to be free of Jews and often expelled or executed them when they found them on Russian territory. In 1739 the Senate decreed the expulsion of all Jews from the recently annexed Ukrainian and White Russian territories. Similar decrees followed. The Empress Elizabeth, when presented with a request to permit some Jews to do business in the border areas for the benefit of Russia, wrote: “From the enemies of Christ I wish neither gain nor profit.” The Russian writers who had contact with Jews in the first half of the nineteenth century—and it was sporadic at best—were primarily of Ukranian origin, the most important of whom was the great humorist Nikolai Gogol.

The Jews in Gogol’s work bear little resemblance to Marlowe’s Barabas or to Shakespeare’s Shylock. Gogol’s Jews are based on the itinerant tradesman and innkeepers he chanced upon in his native Ukraine, who differed strikingly in language, dress, mannerisms, religion and culture from the native population.

In this presentation, I propose to analyze Gogol’s portrayal of Jews, showing in what way it differs from earlier Western European models and how he exploits the portrayal of the Jew in Taras Bulba (his Russian epic novel) to define Russian national identity. In Taras Bulba, Russianness is defined not only in terms of a positive ideal, the Cossack manly warrior, defending the Russian land and Orthodox Church. It is also defined apophatically, that is, in terms of what it is not, in terms of the Jew as a sort of antithesis in every way to the Russian ideal. Gogol’s portrait of the Jew had tremendous significance because in the absence of Jews, it came to shape the image of the Jew in real life as well as in literature and culture for well over a hundred and fifty years. In writing about Jews, every non-Jewish writer of the nineteenth century goes back to Gogol, either to find confirmation of the Jewish stereotype or to contest it. Every twentieth century Russian-Jewish writer has to struggle with the stereotype to find his or her place as a writer and a Russian in the Russian literary and cultural tradition—no easy task. In any case, to understand the Jewish cultural stereotype in Russia, one must return to Gogol, going beyond the received generalizations about his portrayal of Jews and Jewishness.

To top

Aristotle & the Ostjuden: Philosophical Thought Among the First Generation of Eastern European Maskilim

Abraham P. Socher

Solomon Maimon (1753-1800) was the best known of the philosophical Eastern European Maskilim of the first generation. However he was not the only one. Indeed, long-standing cultural and even historiographical prejudices notwithstanding, a strong argument can be made that the most significant efflourescence of Jewish philosophy in the late eighteenth century took place among Eastern European Jewish thinkers and that this philosophy had significant continuities, as well as breaks, with late medieval Hebrew Aristotelianism.

In this paper, I advance this case by examining Solomon Maimon’s thought, together with that of two of his Eastern European contemporaries, Isaac Satanov (1729-1804) and Mendel Lefin (1741-1819). In each case, we see an attempt to creatively appropriate the medieval Jewish tradition of philosophy, especially as represented in Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed and its later radical Aristotelian commentators (for example, R. Moses Narboni), and render it accessible and compelling for an eighteenth century Jewish audience.

To top

Jewish Cultural Association in the Pale, 1905-1921

Jeffrey Veidlinger

The period of 1905-1921 saw a proliferation of voluntary cultural associations as Jews throughout the Russian Empire turned toward organic work as a means of bringing about a cultural awakening. The cities, towns, and shtetls of the Pale of Settlement were by no means immune from this phenomenon. The inter-revolutionary era saw the emergence of amateur theaters, literature societies, reading rooms, and even fire brigades among the Jews of the Pale. These organizations formed the nucleus of a bourgeoning civil society in the region and functioned as important sites of contact between both Jews from different regions and Jews and Christians. These voluntary cultural associations also served as integral community institutions poised to supplement and even replace traditional rabbinical sources of authority.

To top

A Modern Blood Libel: Politics, Religion, and Violence in Hungary, 1882-1883

Kati Vörös

The paper discusses the (in)famous cause célèbre of 1882-83: the Tiszaeszlár ritual murder case, following the disappearance of a fifteen-year-old servant girl during the spring holiday season of Passover and Easter in a village in northeastern Hungary.

Based on rumors rooted in the popular imaginary of the countryside taken up by the local elite and anti-Semitic parliamentary representatives, the case became a national affair dominating politics, the press, and public opinion for a year and a half. The paper demonstrates that the affair can reveal much about Hungarian political culture, including the national-liberal government, emerging political anti-Semitism, and modern Jewish politics. The paper reconstructs the discourse and function of blood libel and its public effect. Based on memoirs, the proceedings of the court, extensive press coverage (liberal, oppositional, Jewish, and anti-Semitic), pamphlets, visual representations, documents of the ministry of interior and the ministry of justice, and correspondence of the defense attorneys from the Hungarian Jewish archives as its primary sources, the paper contends that the Tiszaeszlár blood libel case, while seemingly reinforcing the status quo of the liberal era, had a considerable impact on the Hungarian body politic and public opinion, anticipating the political culture of the interwar period.

The paper covers the whole sixteen months of the case and discusses how the seemingly anachronistic blood libel was appropriated and used by all political sides (the governing liberals, the opposition and the anti-Semites) for highly modern purposes to influence public opinion; how it brought about organized Jewish self-defense; how it resulted in the creation of the anti-Semitic press; how it contributed to an apparently modern system of press correspondence and news coverage from the court room of the small town of Nyíregyháza; and, finally, how and why--after the acquittal of the accused in August 1883—it resulted in the worst street violence of the pre-1918 period all over Hungary.

To top

The Transformation of Jewish Vilne 1881-1939

Theodore R. Weeks

In the two generations between the assassination of Tsar Alexander II and the Soviet occupation of Vilne (Wilno, Vil’na, Vilnius) in September 1939, the face of that city changed radically. Not only Jews, but Lithuanians, Poles, Belarusians, and Russians were affected by the momentous changes that swept the city in those years. In my paper I give an overview of some of the most important changes that the Jewish community in Vilne underwent in these years. The paper will be organized around four main questions or themes: 1) Modernization and “assimilation”; 2) Relations with Poles, Lithuanians, and Russians; 3) Jewish nationalist and socialist parties; 4) Jewish culture and scholarship in Vilne.

In the final decades of the nineteenth century, Jewish social and national movements (often intertwined) arose in the city of Vilne to challenge both the socio-cultural hegemony of the Poles and the political overlordship of the Russian Empire. Vilne was a center for Zionism, Bundism, and “assimilation” in its various forms. All of these movements were viewed with considerable suspicion by the tsarist authorities, who furthermore associated Jews—especially of the younger generation—with socialism and revolution. After World War I, under Polish rule Vilne’s Jews faced new challenges under Polish policies designed to nurture Polish culture in this ethnically diverse area. Despite all restrictions and growing anti-Semitism, Vilne’s Jews produced an amazing array of cultural and scholarly achievements in the interwar period. This paper is part of a larger research project titled “Vilnius-Vilne-Wilno: Biography of a Multicultural City, 1795-2000.”

To top

Coming into Their Inheritance: Jewish-American Autobiographers Encounter Eastern Europe

Steven Weiland

Dorothy Gallagher could have been speaking for other Jewish-American autobiographers when she named her recent memoir How I Came into My Inheritance (2001). Her book begins with the legal struggle over her aged and ailing father’s money, but its more durable subject is what personal qualities she inherited from her family, particularly those that can be associated with its history in the shtetls of Eastern Europe. Finding herself, after her parents’ death, in Romania looking over the border into Ukraine, she ponders the meaning of her family’s origins in this “odd and wracked corner of the world.” Similar thoughts shape autobiographical work by Julie Salamon (The Net of Dreams: A Family’s Search for its Rightful Place [1996; about her family’s origins in Czechoslovakia]) and Susan Rubin Suleiman (Budapest Diary: In Search of the Motherbook [1997; about her family’s origins in Hungary and Poland]).

This paper is in three parts. The first identifies several primary themes in recent Jewish-American autobiography, including memory of Eastern Europe. In the second part I consider the three texts named above and how they represent the encounter each autobiographer had with questions of origin, including the influence on their lives of the culture of the shtetl (and Yiddishkeit), the Holocaust and its aftermath, and the fall of Communism. Suleiman refers to the “responsibility” that comes with memory of Eastern European experience and what visiting one’s homeland adds to it. Salamon says, “Like every family, we had our own mythology, and I accepted it more or less . . . [but] I came to realize how little I knew of what [my parents] had been.” For all three writers autobiography is a medium for representing contemporary meanings of the Eastern European past and present for American Jews. In a brief conclusion I identify how differences among the texts and their authors’ experiences reveal the ambiguities of remembering and writing about such family history.

To top

Moving to the Center of the Canvas: The Creation of Modern Jewish Art

Seth L. Wolitz

My lecture examines the creation of modern Jewish art, a fascinating development that compliments my current work. I show how modern Jewish plastic art begins in Vitebsk and represents a projection of the Jewish gaze for the first time as Jews sought to represent themselves. But ideological elements entered into the fray: one school of art represented the ordinary Jews of Eastern Europe and Askenazic culture, while another became the Zionist school that moved to Jerusalem and continues to this day.

16th Annual Klutznick-Harris Symposium Home

Klutznick Chair Home

To top