Kenneth B. Moss
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Between 1917 and 1921, as revolution convulsed Russia, Jewish intellectuals and writers across the crumbling empire threw themselves into the pursuit of a "Jewish renaissance." Here is a brilliant, revisionist argument about the nature of cultural nationalism, the relationship between nationalism and socialism as ideological systems, and culture itself, the axis around which the encounter between Jews and European modernity has pivoted over the past century.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-05431-8
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Note on Transliteration and Translation
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    The February Revolution brought down Russia’s sclerotic autocracy and unleashed an extraordinary wave of public celebration among the diverse subjects-turned-citizens of the war-ravaged empire. It also unleashed numerous wildly ambitious visions of societal transformation, many of which proved wholly irreconcilable. Over the course of 1917, these conflicting visions, coupled with a welter of social crises, dragged the fragile revolutionary society toward open conflict. On July 3 and 4, the streets of Petrograd were convulsed by violent confrontation between masses of armed radical demonstrators and forces loyal to Russia’s rickety coalition government of statist liberals and more moderate socialists. In the...

  5. 1 The Time for Words Has Passed
    (pp. 23-59)

    In the immediate wake of the February Revolution, the Hebraist patron Hillel Zlatopolsky and his daughter Shoshana Persits summoned Russia’s leading Hebrew writers, pedagogues, and publicists to gather in Moscow: “The recent revolution in Russia reveals before us a wide perspective for cultural-national-Hebraist work [avodah tarbutit-le’umit-‘ivrit]. Now all the external obstacles on the path of our work have been cleared away; now we can gather all our powers and organize them.”¹

    As the letter’s language of obstacles cleared and paths reopened suggests, these two Hebraists experienced February not as a rupture but as a consummation. The magnate Zlatopolsky had long...

  6. 2 The Constitution of Culture
    (pp. 60-100)

    In an age when many writers and artists gave full rein to fantasies of political and psychic transformation, a few Jewish culturists, too, indulged in the dangerous pleasures of utopian writing. Viewing the revolutionary events of 1917 from Kharkov, to which he had been driven from Kovne (Kaunas) during the war, the Yiddish writer and publisher Kalman Zingman was moved to writeIn der tsukunft-shtotEdeniya” (In the City of the Future Edeniya), which improbably reimagined the grubby southern industrial city as a high-tech utopia of ethnic harmony and national efflorescence. In Edeniya, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians, and Poles live harmonious...

  7. 3 Unfettering Hebrew and Yiddish Culture
    (pp. 101-141)

    By the time Dovid Hofshteyn began his rapid ascent in Kiev’s Yiddish literary sphere, he bore little resemblance to the dreamy rural wanderer who inhabited much of his lyric poetry. He had completed a Russian gymnasium education in Kiev (“with Greek,” as he noted), served in the Russian army in Armenia, traveled through the Caucasus in Pushkin’s footsteps, and studied briefly in Petersburg’s Psychoneurological Institute. He had also married for love and become a father, and the material demands of this situation brought him back to Kiev to study at the local Commercial Institute. A born poet, however—at various...

  8. 4 To Make Our Masses Intellectual
    (pp. 142-172)

    The year 1918 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Yosef Klausner’s debut in Hebrew letters and the fifteenth anniversary of his accession to the editorship of Ha-Shiloah, Russia’s leading journal of Hebrew literature and Hebraist and Zionist thought. Among his letters of congratulations was one from the executive committee of the Tarbut branch in the small Ukrainian town of Zvinihorodke. The committee expressed the hope that Klausner’s journal—“which was and is the school of the Hebrew intelligentsia”—and its editor would soon have “the merit to ascend to the Land of Israel . . . and from there to spread...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. 5 The Liberation of the Jewish Individual
    (pp. 173-216)

    In 1916, as tsarist repressions imposed an almost total silence on Hebrew and Yiddish culture, audiences in Odessa and Moscow flocked to hear a public lecture by the living symbol of Jewish letters, Haim Nahman Bialik. The lecture, which Bialik was compelled to deliver in Russian translation before publishing the original Hebrew text in spring 1917, bore the innocuous title “Halakhah and Aggadah.” These were familiar categories of rabbinic hermeneutics designating respectively the realm of law and a diverse body of creative narratives and “lore” interwoven with legal discussions in classical rabbinic texts. Listeners familiar with Bialik’s prewar views no...

  11. 6 The Imperatives of Revolution
    (pp. 217-252)

    The Yiddish literary critic Shmuel Niger was a political and cultural moderate. Though he had played a leading role in a Jewish socialist-nationalist party during the 1905 Revolution, by 1917 he had joined the nonsocialist Folkist camp. A champion of new literary trends, Niger nevertheless had no patience for notions of total cultural rupture. He was a firm secularist who nevertheless remained convinced of the lasting importance of Jewish tradition for the new Jewish culture-in-the-making. An early champion of Yiddishism, Niger never ceased to acknowledge Hebrew’s cultural importance; he even wrote in Hebrew on occasion and maintained friendly relations with...

  12. 7 Making Jewish Culture Bolshevik
    (pp. 253-279)

    In August 1918, the first Soviet Yiddish journal,Kultur un bildung, opened with a position statement by one Sh. Genrikh. Genrikh, apparently a pedagogue, rebuked his fellow Yiddishists for having devoted so much effort to articulating the merits of their position to the Jewish public and for debating the countervailing views of the “hern hebreistn,” the “Hebraist sirs.” Not merely a de rigueur invocation of the era’s pervasive suspicion of intelligentsia “moderation,” Genrikh’s article illustrates how the Revolution offered a powerful and seductive reconceptualization of the relationships among social structure, authority, power, and persuasion in cultural life. In Genrikh’s view,...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 280-296)

    Between 1917 and 1919, in the midst of chaos, hunger, war, and revolution, numerous Russian-Jewish nationalist intellectuals, writers, artists, and activists devoted their best energies to what they called “Jewish” creativity in literature, music, and the plastic arts; to the creation of literary journals, theater companies, and publishing houses pledged to “Jewish renaissance”; and to the organization, institutionalization, and dissemination of what they called “the new Jewish culture.” This book is the first attempt to explore these efforts in a single history, with a special focus on Hebrew and Yiddish culture—and to analyze this diverse body of creativity in...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 299-357)
  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 358-360)
  16. Index
    (pp. 361-384)