THE JEWISH DARK CONTINENT

THE JEWISH DARK CONTINENT

NATHANIEL DEUTSCH
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 384
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24hjhr
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  • Book Info
    THE JEWISH DARK CONTINENT
    Book Description:

    The Jews of the Pale of Settlement created a distinctive way of life little known beyond its borders. Just before World War I, a socialist revolutionary named An-sky and his team collected jokes, recorded songs, took thousands of photographs, and created a revealing questionnaire in Yiddish, translated here in its entirety for the first time.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06264-1
    Subjects: History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-16)

    In 1912, some three decades after the journalist Henry Morton Stanley published Through the Dark Continent, an account of his adventures—or, more accurately, misadventures—in equatorial Africa, the intrepid hero of our story set out on another kind of expedition.¹ Between 1912 and 1914, Shloyme Zanvil Rapoport, the writer, revolutionary, and ethnographer better known to the world by his pseudonym An-sky, led the Jewish Ethnographic Expedition into the Pale of Settlement, the territory between the Black and Baltic Seas to which a majority of Russia’s Jews had been legally restricted since the time of Catherine the Great. By the...

  4. I
    • 1 EXPLORING THE JEWISH DARK CONTINENT
      (pp. 19-39)

      Despite their best efforts, the distinguished old woman politely but firmly refused to sing for the ragtag group of visitors from Saint Petersburg, the faraway capital. Their forlorn leader, a tall, slope-shouldered man with the long black kapote (coat) of a Hasid but the manners of an assimilated Russian Jewish intellectual, was crestfallen at her silence. Yet she was a pious woman and, according to the Jewish legal principle known as kol isha (lit. voice of a woman), it would be improper for her to sing in front of men, especially complete strangers like the ones who had arrived in...

    • 2 THE REBBE AS ETHNOGRAPHER/THE ETHNOGRAPHER AS REBBE
      (pp. 40-53)

      As a young man in Vitebsk, a town within the orbit of the Chabad-Lubavitch branch of the Hasidic movement, An-sky had dismissed Hasidism as anachronistic at best and reactionary at worst. By the time he embarked on the Jewish Ethnographic Expedition, however, An-sky had become convinced that the Hasidic movement had both inspired and preserved many of the Jewish folk traditions that he was now most interested in collecting. Hasidic culture was not only important as a living repository for these traditions but also, as An-sky argued at a board meeting of the expedition, “Hasidic tales and legends were the...

    • 3 A TOTAL ACCOUNT: WRITING DOWN THE PEOPLE’S TORAH
      (pp. 54-71)

      This enigmatic tale appears in Shivhei ha-Besht, the earliest hagiographical collection devoted to the life of the Baal Shem Tov, or Besht, the eighteenth-century founder of Hasidism.¹ Like a Zen koan, it confronts the reader—here slyly represented by a demon “holding a book in his hand”—with a paradox. On the one hand, the tale purports to be a written account of what the Besht did and said, employing the term “Torah” (or toyre) to refer to his oral teachings, a common Hasidic practice. On the other hand, the Hasidic tale portrays the Besht as denying that these teachings...

    • 4 THE BOOK OF MAN
      (pp. 72-92)

      The first volume of The Jewish Ethnographic Program, entitled Der Mentsch (“The Person”), was published in Saint Petersburg in 1914 but never distributed due to the outbreak of World War I. While not quite “on the scale of God’s,” The Jewish Ethnographic Program (hereafter, The Program) is nevertheless a monumental work, consisting of 2,087 questions, many of them rich in ethnographic detail rather than open-ended in their formulation. However, even those questions that are open-ended gesture evocatively to a way of life that is no more. This book of man—and woman, as a substantial number of questions concern girls...

  5. II
    • PREFACE TO THE ANNOTATED TRANSLATION
      (pp. 95-102)

      I began translating The Jewish Ethnographic Program when my wife, Miriam, was pregnant with our oldest daughter, Simi. Every night I would translate at least twenty questions from my dog-eared copy of the Yiddish text before going to sleep. While Miriam’s belly got bigger and bigger, the stack of pages that remained to be translated—a stack that had seemed dauntingly thick at first—got smaller and smaller. By the time I found myself driving Miriam in the middle of the night to the hospital, where, hours later, she would deliver our first child, I had completed a rough draft...

    • THE JEWISH ETHNOGRAPHIC PROGRAM
      (pp. 103-314)

      With good reason the Jewish people have earned the highest title to which a nation can aspire, the honor of being called The People of the Book [Am ha-seyfer]. “Der Seyfer,” the book, has always been and remains today the most important foundation of Jewish life.

      Yet on a par with the book, with the great Written Torah [Toyre shebiksav¹] that we have received as an inheritance from hundreds of generations of the chosen—pious sages and great scholars, thinkers and spiritual guides—we possess yet another Torah, an Oral Torah [Toyre shebalpe], which the people themselves, and especially the...

    • AFTERWORD
      (pp. 315-324)

      The Pale of Settlement ceased to exist following the Russian Revolution of 1917. But the Jewish communities that survived within its former borders, as well as those located elsewhere in Eastern Europe, remained the subject of intense ethnographic study throughout the 1920s and 1930s. At the vanguard of this research was the Historic-Ethnographic Society in Vilna, founded by An-sky during his 1919 sojourn in the city, and its younger rival, the Yiddish Scientific Institute, or YIVO, which was established in the same city in 1925 and quickly distinguished itself as the most important center for the study of Eastern European...

  6. NOTES
    (pp. 327-352)
  7. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 353-354)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 355-374)