The Jews of East­ern Europe, 1772 – 1881

Israel Bar­tal; Chaya Naor, trans.
  • Review
By – October 24, 2011

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.

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