The YIVO Ency­clo­pe­dia of Jews in East­ern Europe

Ger­shon David Hun­dert, ed.

  • Review
By – January 30, 2012

This ency­clo­pe­dia, which chron­i­cles and seeks to recov­er and rep­re­sent the rich his­to­ry and cul­ture of East Euro­pean Jew­ry, is tru­ly a trea­sure of infor­ma­tion. It presents the life of this van­ished cul­ture, as dis­pas­sion­ate­ly and as accu­rate­ly as pos­si­ble, with­out nos­tal­gia and with­out undue cel­e­brat­ing. The 450 con­trib­u­tors, from six­teen coun­tries, rep­re­sent the lead­ing schol­ars of the var­i­ous spe­cial­ties of East Euro­pean Jew­ish stud­ies. To give just a few exam­ples: Jan Gross wrote the entry on the mas­sacre at Jed­wab­ne, Cha­va Weissler on tkhines, James Young on mon­u­ments and memo­ri­als, Antony Polon­sky on Brody, J. Hober­man on cin­e­ma, Joseph Dan on Has­sidic thought, Ruth Wisse on Y.L. Peretz, Eli­she­va Car­lebach on mes­sian­ism, and Paula Hyman on gen­der. The edi­tors, in fact, were con­scious of the need to redress the tra­di­tion­al imbal­ance in the cov­er­age of women. All con­trib­u­tors were instruct­ed to address gen­der in their entries and to use it as a cat­e­go­ry of analy­sis when appro­pri­ate. This result­ed in some inter­est­ing and nov­el mate­r­i­al, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the areas devot­ed to dai­ly life, eco­nom­ic life, and cul­tur­al and artis­tic expres­sion, not usu­al­ly found in ref­er­ence texts of this type. The geo­graph­i­cal lim­its defined by the edi­tors con­formed rough­ly to today’s Czech Repub­lic, Slo­va­kia, Hun­gary, Roma­nia, Poland, the Baltic states and Fin­land, Ukraine, Belarus, and Rus­sia. Chrono­log­i­cal­ly, the ency­clo­pe­dia extends from the ear­li­est pres­ence of Jews in East­ern Europe over a thou­sand years ago, to the end of the 20th cen­tu­ry. The focus is on Jews and events in East­ern Europe. It does not treat, for exam­ple, peo­ple who have roots in East­ern Europe but who did most of their cre­ative work out­side of the region. So, for exam­ple, there is no entry on jour­nal­ist and nov­el­ist Abra­ham Cahan on Yid­dish cul­ture in America.

The YIVO Ency­clo­pe­dia is an invalu­able resource for any­one inter­est­ed in the his­to­ry and cul­ture of Jews in East­ern Europe. The entries are acces­si­ble, writ­ten so that non­spe­cial­ists can ben­e­fit. Ten years in the mak­ing, it is the defin­i­tive work of its kind, care­ful­ly con­ceived and edit­ed and a most reli­able por­tal into the rich land­scapes of Jew­ish life and loss in East­ern Europe.

Michael N. Dobkows­ki is a pro­fes­sor of reli­gious stud­ies at Hobart and William Smith Col­leges. He is co-edi­tor of Geno­cide and the Mod­ern Age and On the Edge of Scarci­ty (Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty Press); author of The Tar­nished Dream: The Basis of Amer­i­can Anti-Semi­tism; and co-author of The Nuclear Predicament.

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