This compact book is an engrossing and sophisticated examination of what made Eastern European Jewry socially and culturally unique. Israel Bartal is a prolific scholar who has illuminated many facets of modern Eastern European Jewish history. In this volume, originally published in Hebrew on the basis of lectures broadcast on Israel Defense Forces Radio, Bartal presents a fresh and fascinating survey of the history of Eastern European Jewry during the century from the start of the partitions of Poland in 1772 until the pogroms and mass emigration of the 1880s. The story is told on the basis of an array of recently published research.
The book describes the transformation of the pre-modern autonomous corporate Jewish community that performed specific social and economic functions in the multiethnic Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Formerly Polish Jews subsequently found themselves mostly in Tsarist Russia and Austria-Hungary, where attempts were made to form the Jews into centralized societies. Nevertheless, Jews became both more acculturated and more aware of themselves as a separate nation living within crumbling multi-national empires whose borders did not prevent Jews from feeling a sense of Jewish national solidarity. This is a highly recommended introduction to the rise of the various trends and streams that comprised modern Jewish history, including the Zionist thread that culminated in the foundation of the State of Israel. Bibliography, index, maps, notes.