Culture Front

Culture Front: Representing Jews in Eastern Europe

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Culture Front
    Book Description:

    For most of the last four centuries, the broad expanse of territory between the Baltic and the Black Seas, known since the Enlightenment as "Eastern Europe," has been home to the world's largest Jewish population. The Jews of Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Galicia, Romania, and Ukraine were prodigious generators of modern Jewish culture. Their volatile blend of religious traditionalism and precocious quests for collective self-emancipation lies at the heart ofCulture Front.This volume brings together contributions by both historians and literary scholars to take readers on a journey across the cultural history of East European Jewry from the mid-seventeenth century to the present. The articles collected here explore how Jews and their Slavic neighbors produced and consumed imaginative representations of Jewish life in chronicles, plays, novels, poetry, memoirs, museums, and more.The book puts culture at the forefront of analysis, treating verbal artistry itself as a kind of frontier through which Jews and Slavs imagined, experienced, and negotiated with themselves and each other. The four sections investigate the distinctive themes of that frontier: violence and civility; popular culture; politics and aesthetics; and memory. The result is a fresh exploration of ideas and movements that helped change the landscape of modern Jewish history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9103-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    David B. Ruderman
  4. Introduction: A New Look at East European Jewish Culture
    (pp. 1-14)
    Benjamin Nathans and Gabriella Safran

    For most of the last four centuries, East European Jewry constituted the deep reservoir of Jewish civilization, the most important repository and generator of Jewish culture and the inspiration for the Russian Jewish historian Simon Dubnov’s influential theory of “hegemonic centers” in Jewish history. Among the Jews of Poland, Lithuania, Galicia, European Russia, Romania, and Ukraine—the broad swath of territory between the Baltic and the Black Seas, known since the Enlightenment as “Eastern Europe”—there developed many of the currents that transformed modern Jewish (and not only Jewish) life. From the ranks of East European Jewry emerged mass movements...

    • Chapter 1 Jewish Literary Responses to the Events of 1648–1649 and the Creation of a Polish-Jewish Consciousness
      (pp. 17-45)
      Adam Teller

      The massive attacks on the Jewish communities in the southeastern regions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that accompanied the Cossack rebellion of 1648 came as a terrible shock to the Jewish world.¹ Though the exact extent of the loss of life is still in question, a recent study has argued that some 30 percent of the Jews in Ukraine died in the uprising.² Jewish communities, both in the immediate vicinity and in distant countries, obviously needed to come to terms with and explain a tragedy of such proportions. This was done in various ways. On the most practical level, Jews organized...

    • Chapter 2 “Civil Christians”: Debates on the Reform of the Jews in Poland, 1789–1830
      (pp. 46-76)
      Marcin Wodziński

      Much has already been written in both Polish and Jewish historical literature about the efforts to reform the Jewish community on Polish lands at the end of the eighteenth century and in the early decades of the nineteenth century. However, as a rule, the treatment of this subject has not moved beyond the reconstruction of facts; only the reforms that took place during the period of the Four-Year Sejm (1788–92), and especially their political and social context, have been somewhat better researched. Moreover, the debates that took place during the Four-Year Sejm and the reforms that were undertaken later...

    • Chapter 3 The Botched Kiss and the Beginnings of the Yiddish Stage
      (pp. 79-102)
      Alyssa Quint

      Consider two remarkably similar moments in two of Avrom Goldfaden’s (1840–1909) earliest comedies. In act 3 of his dramaAunt Sosya(1869), a young shtetl woman named Khantshe and her distant cousin, the city-dwelling medical student Zilberzayd, meet for the first time in a romantic rendezvous organized by Khantshe’s sister Sosya.¹ It is not long before one senses Zilberzayd’s distaste for Khantshe as he, likewise, grows ridiculous in her eyes. Still, the characters’ brief exchange, slowed by misunderstanding and awkwardness, leads to Zilberzayd’s unpredictable request for a kiss. Laughing, either nervously or flirtatiously—the text does not let on...

    • Chapter 4 The Polish Popular Novel and Jewish Modernization at the End of the Nineteenth and Beginning of the Twentieth Centuries
      (pp. 103-118)
      Eugenia Prokop-Janiec

      In 1892, the Warsaw assimilatory weeklyIzraelitapublished a short piece by the chief editor of the magazine, Nahum Sokołów, discussing the problem of the “Jewish novel.”¹ Critics of the time applied the term “Jewish novel” to works that referred to Jewish life, but Sokołów’s article disputed the use of the term in this sense. In his opinion, a “Jewish novel” could and should refer only to works that show the Jewish world from an interior perspective, guaranteeing that it would render a true image, not one falsified from lack of knowledge or deliberate bias. “The inner Jewish life as...

    • Chapter 5 Cul-de-Sac: The “Inner Life of Jews” on the Fin-de-Siècle Polish Stage
      (pp. 119-142)
      Michael C. Steinlauf

      This chapter uses the vicissitudes of Polish popular theater in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a portal through which to explore Polish-Jewish relations at a key moment in the history of both peoples. The phenomenon of Polish-language theater aimed at a Jewish popular audience emerged as Poles and Jews encountered each other amid mass audiences in new urban settings. It was a product of the cultural interplay stimulated by urban life. But unlike in Western Europe and the United States, the potential of a unitary mass culture was undermined by growing currents of national cultural strife to...

    • Chapter 6 Yosef Haim Brenner, the “Half-Intelligentsia,” and Russian-Jewish Politics, 1898–1908
      (pp. 145-175)
      Jonathan Frankel

      Among modern Hebrew writers, Yosef Haim Brenner was ranked high from the moment that his early works of fiction were published in the Russian empire during the first years of the twentieth century. His subsequent entry into the fields of Hebrew-language journalism and literary criticism gradually added to his reputation: a writer and thinker who, in his own small sub-world, could not be ignored. And his death—he was killed while still a relatively young man during the Arab riots in Jaffa in 1921—provided him with a unique place in the collective memory of theyishuv(the Jewish community...

    • Chapter 7 Recreating Jewish Identity in Haim Nahman Bialik’s Poems: The Russian Context
      (pp. 176-195)
      Hamutal Bar-Yosef

      In his bookHaim Nahman Bialik and the Poetry of His Life(1950), Yosef Klausner (1874–1958), who after Ahad Ha’am was the most influential Hebrew thinker and literary critic, wrote:

      Haim Nahman Bialik was an extraordinary phenomenon in literature. Usually a poet who is of real talent finds at the beginning, together with admirers among his contemporaries, greatopponentswho attack his poetic works, denying his talent, and only after a long war he becomes respected by everyone.Bialik has no opponents…. In this respect he resembles RabbiYehuda Halevi. Like him Bialik dove into the Jewish nation’s soul...

    • Chapter 8 Not The Dybbuk but Don Quixote: Translation, Deparochialization, and Nationalism in Jewish Culture, 1917–1919
      (pp. 196-240)
      Kenneth B. Moss

      Writing in the weeks before the February Revolution in the Moscow newspaperHa-am, the Zionist-Hebraist publicist A. Litai called for the creation of an organized, publicly funded program to translate “the famous works of the great figures of the nations of the world” into Hebrew.¹ There was nothing remarkable about Litai’s interest in the translation of canonical foreign literary works per se. A concern for this sort of translation (as distinct from intentional adaptation, imitation, and other forms of literary importation) was by 1917 a normal feature of both the Hebrew and Yiddish literary spheres in Russia and beyond. In...

    • Chapter 9 Beyond the Purim-shpil: Reinventing the Scroll of Esther in Modern Yiddish Poems
      (pp. 241-266)
      Kathryn Hellerstein

      In interwar Poland, four Yiddish poets wrote poems that dramatized characters from the biblical Scroll of Esther. In choosing to retell a traditional story in modern Yiddish verse, these poets stepped outside the conventions of the poetry of their day, a poetry defined more by the contemporary political, national, and cultural conflicts of Jews in the larger world than by the sacred Hebrew texts that had anchored traditional Jewish life for over two thousand years. Although this movement back to the sources seemed unfashionable at the time, it served two purposes central to the construction of a modern Jewish culture....

    • Chapter 10 Revealing and Concealing the Soviet Jewish Self: The Desk-Drawer Memoirs of Meir Viner
      (pp. 269-287)
      Marcus Moseley

      In the preface to his 1903 autobiographical novel, or novelistic autobiography,Bahoref(In the winter), Yosef Haim Brenner writes, with shades of Dostoevsky’s underground man: “I write for myself and in secret.” For Brenner, this was a fiction—part and parcel of the larger rhetoric of authenticity that characterizes his oeuvre. Writing for oneself—and, it should be added, of oneself—and in secret was no fiction for Meir Viner and his literary confreres in the Soviet Union. In this chapter I focus on a text belonging to the unique and complex category of unpublished, or posthumously published, autobiographical writings...

    • Chapter 11 The Shtetl Subjunctive: Yaffa Eliach’s Living History Museum
      (pp. 288-306)
      Jeffrey Shandler

      The shtetl emerged as a quintessential symbolic locus of Jewish experience once Jews began leaving it.¹ They did so both ideologically—when the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) reached Eastern Europe at the turn of the nineteenth century—and, increasingly, geographically, through internal migration within the Russian and Habsburg empires toward major cities and external migration on a global scale. Over the course of the 1800s, Jews took stock of these journeys away from the shtetl primarily in narrative form, in works of belles lettres, autobiography, and journalism, as well as private correspondence.² By the final decades of the nineteenth century, the...

  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 307-310)
  10. Index
    (pp. 311-323)