Nationalism, Zionism and Ethnic Mobilization of the Jews in 1900 and Beyond

By Michael Berkowitz | Go to book overview

THE RUSSIAN JEWISH INTELLIGENTSIA AND
MODERN YIDDISH CULTURE*

Delphine Bechtel
Université Paris IV

At the end of the nineteenth century, the emergence of a secular, politically active and culturally-aware Jewish intelligentsia in Tsarist Russia is a phenomenon that has been addressed mainly in respect to the history of the Bund (the General Jewish Workers' Union) and Zionism. Little is known about a wide array of political parties and thinkers beyond these two blocks, notably, the multi-faceted Yiddish political-cultural realm—as only fragments of it have been accorded scholarly attention. However, Russian Jewish intellectuals debated intensely about Jewish identity and politics, trying to define and to envision a future Jewish diaspora culture. Their theoretical discussions concerning the possibility of the emergence of a modern, secular, democratic culture centered on three major issues: first, the role of language in their conception of a Jewish national future; second, the opposition between religion and secular culture; and third, the project of Jewish autonomy and the modernization of the Jewish community (kehilah).


Research into the past: establishing the “yikhes” of a nation
and its language

The first question Jewish diaspora nationalists had to face in respect to Jewish culture in Russia was that of its language, namely Yiddish. The Czech historian Miroslav Hroch divides the national revival of smaller nations in Eastern Europe into three successive stages: a) the awakening of a scientific interest in the culture among intellectuals and scholars; b) a patriotic wave of agitation calling for the recognition

____________________
*
This article was written with the support of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah, Paris

-213-

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