Family? Jewish Homes for the Aged
in Eastern Europe
(the hebrew university)
On Sunday, May 17, 1846, Moses Montefiore spent a day in Warsaw en route to England after a meeting with Czar Nicholas in St. Petersburg. What sights of the city did the local Jewish leadership choose to show him? According to Louis Loewe, who later published a summary of Montefiore's journals, “in order to show how desirous the Jews here are, under the most unfavorable circumstances, to promote the welfare of their poorer brethren, Sir Moses gives a long description of the hospital … and of Mr. Matthias Rosen's Aged Needy Asylum and speaks in terms of the highest praise of all the arrangements. ” 1 Montefiore was clearly impressed by what was considered at the time to be a most innovative institution: a home for the needy Jewish aged. In fact, the old-age home in Warsaw had been founded only a few years earlier—at the time of Montefiore's visit, it was probably the only such Jewish facility in all of Eastern Europe. In the course of time, however, more and more such institutions were founded until the old-age home became a standard component of Jewish communal organization and even a stock institution in Yiddish literature. 2 In tracing its historical development, we hope to clarify the place of the elderly in the Jewish family, along with broader issues of communal organization.
of East European Jewry
In traditional East European Jewish society before the mid-nineteenth century, the elderly neither lived with their children nor resided in institutions. They lived on their own; contrary to common belief, the typical Jewish household consisted solely of a husband, wife and minor children. 3 When children were old enough to support themselves, they usually married and went off to live on their own, whereas their parents remained an independent economic unit. This pattern, which had been typical for many generations, was one that distinguished East European Jews from the predominantly agricultural populations among whom they lived. 4