Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue

Article excerpt

Sascha L. Goluboff. Jewish Russians: Upheavals in a Moscow Synagogue. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. 199 pp. Map. Glossary. Works Cited. Index. $19.95, paper.

Sascha Goluboff combines two themes that have received tremendous scholarly attention since the fall of the USSR: the role of religion and ethnicity in self-definition and the interrelation between these two factors. By analyzing the everyday workings of life in the multinational Central Synagogue of Moscow, Goluboff illustrates how individual believers balance their own interpretations of themselves as practising Jews and as Russians, Georgians, and Caucasians or Mountain Jews living in Moscow.

This ethnography details many of the dynamics that shift allegiances either to a national or religious group and the effect this has on the overall solidarity of or strains within this synagogue community. Importantly, the book considers how the new moral economy of consumption and emerging class differences affect social bonds. The author also considers the influence of Western religious leaders, such as the French head rabbi, who, against the wishes of many older, long-standing members, places a premium on competing for believers by engaging in outreach to young secular Jews. Finally, by contrasting the values and worship practices of elderly, Russian believers with younger members who are of mixed nationality, the author is able to reveal the values, beliefs and social bonds the Soviet system engendered and alienation between generations.

One of the most original aspects of this ethnography is a reversal of the typical way gender plays out. Usually, community studies of religious groups that embrace traditional gender roles and a strict separation of the sexes inevitably lead to women scholars studying the views and practices of the women members. Although GolubofPs selected community reflects traditional gender divisions, she nonetheless studied the men of the community. Indeed, we learn very little about the women participants in this community. Goluboff s persistence to "observe" morning services by sitting in the corridor behind a half-closed door and her willingness to endure the constant debates as to whether she should cover her head or not (she did with a hat) or whether she had a right as a woman to be present in some shadow form at all or not, truly add a unique dimension that distinguishes this study from other ethnographies of religious communities. …


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