Academic journal article Shofar

Jewish Renaissance in the Russian Revolution

Academic journal article Shofar

Jewish Renaissance in the Russian Revolution

Article excerpt

Jewish Renaissance in the Russian Revolution, by Kenneth B. Moss. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010. 384 pp. $39.95.

Kenneth Moss has written an erudite and fascinating account of how the collapse of the Romanov dynasty and the establishment of Bolshevik rule in the Russian Empire provided a brief window of opportunity for the Jewish intelligentsia (culturists in Moss's terminology) to renovate Jewish culture. Between 1917 and 1921 Jewish writers and intellectuals in Ukraine and Russia, in the midst of war, social turmoil, and economic collapse, sought to carve out ajewish niche in the world of modern culture. Along with mobilizing for political campaigns committed to liberalism, socialism, autonomism, and Zionism, the Jewish intelligentsia dedicated itself to the reconstruction of Jewish culture that would be rooted in secularism, individualism, and cosmopolitanism, and yet would represent the national aspirations of Jewish society by expressing Jewish culture in one of two languages, Hebrew and Yiddish. According to Moss, the culturists were "cultural nationalists" intent on creating a modern Jewish nation that was not necessarily defined "by some essential Jewishness." They drew upon pre-World War I ideological and aesthetic trends and "dreamed of a Hebrew- or Yiddish-language culture characterized by universality of theme and individuality of expression" (p. 5). While many culturists were politically engaged and committed to a variety of political agendas and parties, they insisted that organized politics and culture belong to separate and autonomous realms of endeavor.

Jewish Renaissance in the Russian Revolution explores the meaning of modernity and nationalism for East European Jewry, the largest Jewish community in the world at the beginning of the twentieth century. Unlike the Jewish intelligentsia in the rest of Europe and the Ottoman Empire, who embraced the emancipatory bargain of acculturation and integration predicated on the attenuation of Jewish identity on both a collective and individual basis, Jewish culturists in the Russian Empire, conditioned by political circumstances specific to Eastern Europe, redoubled efforts to find a path to modernity devoted to the development of a particularly Jewish culture and identity that drew sustenance from prevailing aesthetic, intellectual, and artistic trends in non-Jewish society. …

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