The Jews of Eastern Europe, 1772-1881

The Jews of Eastern Europe, 1772-1881

The Jews of Eastern Europe, 1772-1881

The Jews of Eastern Europe, 1772-1881

Synopsis

In the nineteenth century, the largest Jewish community the modern world had known lived in hundreds of towns and shtetls in the territory between the Prussian border of Poland and the Ukrainian coast of the Black Sea. The period had started with the partition of Poland and the absorption of its territories into the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires; it would end with the first large-scale outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence and the imposition in Russia of strong anti-Semitic legislation. In the years between, a traditional society accustomed to an autonomous way of life would be transformed into one much more open to its surrounding cultures, yet much more confident of its own nationalist identity. In The Jews of Eastern Europe, Israel Bartal traces this transformation and finds in it the roots of Jewish modernity.

Israel Bartal is Avraham Harman Chair in Jewish History at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among his books are The Records of the Council of the Four Lands, Volume 1: 1580-1792, Exile in the Homeland, and Poles and Jews: A Failed Brotherhood (with Magdalena Opalski).

Excerpt

This book relates the history of Eastern European Jewry from the time of the Polish partitions at the end of the eighteenth century to the pogroms that broke out in the southern regions of the Russian empire in the early 1880s. in the summer of 1772, the three neighbors of the Polish state tore off large chunks of its territory, embarking on a process that, in less than two decades, led to Poland’s demise as an independent political entity. the first partition of Poland was also the beginning of the triple encounter of the Jews of the Polish Commonwealth with the Austrian bureaucracy (in Galicia), the Russian officialdom (in White Russia [Belorussia]), and the Prussian administration (in western Prussia). This encounter, between a populous Jewish community (with an age-old cultural tradition) and the apparatus of the centralized state, was for the Polish Jew the commencement of the modern era. Because the Jews residing in the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom formed an absolute majority of European Jewry, the first partition of Poland can actually be viewed as the commencement of the modern era in Jewish history. Thereafter began a mass immigration movement that greatly increased the number of Polish Jews in other parts of Europe.

In 1772, a complex and multifaceted process of integration and acculturation began in the regions severed from the Polish state. the PolishLithuanian Jew became a “Russian Jew,” a “German Jew,” or an“Austrian Jew.” This process was not rapid. Most Jews in the areas annexed from Poland to the neighboring states continued to maintain their old way of life for decades after they were no longer subjects of the Polish king. They regarded themselves as “Polish Jews,” and that is how they were seen by German, Austrian, and Russian writers and bureaucrats. As far back as the 1860s, the Yiddish writer Isaac Joel Linetzky called his antiHasidic satire Dos poylishe yingl (The Polish lad), although he depicted the protagonist as a Jew living in the Ukraine, deep inside the territory of the Russian empire. Jewish socialists in London published a Yiddish newspaper intended for the masses of poor immigrants from the Russian empire and called it (in 1884) Der poylisher yidl (The Polish yid). According to one of its editors, this name was chosen to voice the immigrants’ protest against the disdainful attitude adopted toward them by . . .

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