Invent­ing the Jew: Anti­semet­ic Stereo­types in Roman­ian and Oth­er Cen­tral-East Euro­pean Cultures

Andrei Ois­teanu; Mirela Adas­calitei, trans.; Moshe Idel, fwd.
  • Review
By – October 28, 2011

This is an appalling, yet fas­ci­nat­ing book com­mis­sioned by an Israeli insti­tu­tion, but authored by a Roman­ian cul­tur­al anthro­pol­o­gist who spe­cial­izes in eth­nic imagol­o­gy,” the study of how diverse eth­nic groups imag­ine out­siders or strangers, even if they have dwelled in the same coun­try for cen­turies. The focus is on the gen­er­al­ly neg­a­tive and hos­tile stereo­types about Jews in the var­i­ous regions of Roma­nia and oth­er Cen­tral-East Euro­pean lands. The breadth of sources and cul­tur­al evi­dence cit­ed is impres­sive, extend­ing from sur­veys of his­tor­i­cal chron­i­cles and anthro­po­log­i­cal research, to folk sto­ries, songs, super­sti­tions, and fic­tion in Roma­nia and neigh­bor­ing countries. 

The evi­dence cit­ed extends back to ear­ly Chris­t­ian his­to­ry and up to the present. It is dis­tress­ing to note how medieval anti-Jew­ish myths, like the blood libel and the libel of well-poi­son­ing, have stub­born­ly sur­vived into the present day among some major seg­ments of Roman­ian and oth­er Cen­tral and East­ern Euro­pean soci­eties. Any­one inter­est­ed in the seri­ous study of stereo­typ­ing and prej­u­dice in the Euro­pean con­text should read this book, although it is marred by care­less proof­read­ing that over­looked numer­ous errors in syn­tax, gram­mar, and spelling. While sources are cit­ed in exten­sive notes, the book lacks a bib­li­og­ra­phy. Index, notes.

Robert Moses Shapiro teach­es mod­ern Jew­ish his­to­ry, Holo­caust stud­ies, and Yid­dish lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture at Brook­lyn Col­lege of the City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. His most recent book is The War­saw Ghet­to Oyneg Shabes-Ringel­blum Archive: Cat­a­log and Guide (Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty Press in asso­ci­a­tion with the U.S. Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al Library and the Jew­ish His­tor­i­cal Insti­tute in War­saw, 2009). He is cur­rent­ly engaged in trans­lat­ing Pol­ish and Yid­dish diaries from the Łódź ghet­to and the Yid­dish Son­derkom­man­do doc­u­ments found buried in the ash pits at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Discussion Questions