Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Jewish Century

The Jewish Century

Yuri Slezkine
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 344
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Jewish Century
    Book Description:

    This masterwork of interpretative history begins with a bold declaration: The Modern Age is the Jewish Age--and we are all, to varying degrees, Jews.

    The assertion is, of course, metaphorical. But it underscores Yuri Slezkine's provocative thesis. Not only have Jews adapted better than many other groups to living in the modern world, they have become the premiere symbol and standard of modern life everywhere.

    Slezkine argues that the Jews were, in effect, among the world's first free agents. They traditionally belonged to a social and anthropological category known as "service nomads," an outsider group specializing in the delivery of goods and services. Their role, Slezkine argues, was part of a broader division of human labor between what he calls Mercurians-entrepreneurial minorities--and Apollonians--food-producing majorities.

    Since the dawning of the Modern Age, Mercurians have taken center stage. In fact, Slezkine argues, modernity is all about Apollonians becoming Mercurians--urban, mobile, literate, articulate, intellectually intricate, physically fastidious, and occupationally flexible. Since no group has been more adept at Mercurianism than the Jews, he contends, these exemplary ancients are now model moderns.

    The book concentrates on the drama of the Russian Jews, including émigrés and their offspring in America, Palestine, and the Soviet Union. But Slezkine has as much to say about the many faces of modernity--nationalism, socialism, capitalism, and liberalism--as he does about Jewry. Marxism and Freudianism, for example, sprang largely from the Jewish predicament, Slezkine notes, and both Soviet Bolshevism and American liberalism were affected in fundamental ways by the Jewish exodus from the Pale of Settlement.

    Rich in its insight, sweeping in its chronology, and fearless in its analysis, this sure-to-be-controversial work is an important contribution not only to Jewish and Russian history but to the history of Europe and America as well.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2855-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-3)

    The Modern Age is the Jewish Age, and the twentieth century, in particular, is the Jewish Century. Modernization is about everyone becoming urban, mobile, literate, articulate, intellectually intricate, physically fastidious, and occupationally flexible. It is about learning how to cultivate people and symbols, not fields or herds. It is about pursuing wealth for the sake of learning, learning for the sake of wealth, and both wealth and learning for their own sake. It is about transforming peasants and princes into merchants and priests, replacing inherited privilege with acquired prestige, and dismantling social estates for the benefit of individuals, nuclear families,...

    (pp. 4-39)

    There was nothing particularly unusual about the social and economic position of the Jews in medieval and early modern Europe. Many agrarian and pastoral societies contained groups of permanent strangers who performed tasks that the natives were unable or unwilling to perform. Death, trade, magic, wilderness, money, disease, and internal violence were often handled by people who claimed—or were assigned to—different gods, tongues, and origins. Such specialized foreigners could be procured sporadically as individual slaves, scribes, merchants, or mercenaries, or they could be permanently available as demographically complete endogamous descent groups. They might have been allowed or forced...

    (pp. 40-104)

    The postexilic Jews were the Inadan of Europe, the Armenians of the North, the Parsis of the Christian world. They were quintessential, extraordinarily accomplished Mercurians because they practiced service nomadism for a long time and over a large territory, produced an elaborate ideological justification of the Mercurian way of life and its ultimate transcendence, and specialized in an extremely wide range of traditional service occupations from peddling and smithing to medicine and finance. They were internal strangers for all seasons, proven antipodes of all things Apollonian and Dionysian, practiced purveyors of “cleverness” in a great variety of forms and in...

    (pp. 105-203)

    At the turn of the twentieth century, most of Europe’s Jews (5.2 out of about 8.7 million) lived in the Russian Empire, where they constituted about 4 percent of the total population. Most of Russia’s Jews (about 90 percent) resided in the Pale of Settlement, to which they were legally restricted. Most of the Jews in the Pale of Settlement (all but about 4 percent, who were farmers and factory workers) continued to pursue traditional service occupations as middlemen between the overwhelmingly agricultural Christian population and various urban markets. Most of the Jewish middlemen bought, shipped, and resold local produce;...

    (pp. 204-372)

    Tevye the Milkman had five daughters. (He mentions seven in one place and six in another, but we meet only five, so five it will have to be.) Tsaytl rejected a wealthy suitor to marry a poor tailor, who died of consumption. Hodl followed her revolutionary husband, Perchik, into Siberian exile. Shprintze was abandoned by her empty-headed groom and drowned herself. Beilke married a crooked war contractor and fled with him to America. Chava eloped with a non-Jewish autodidact (“a second Gorky”) and was mourned as dead, only to return, repentant, at the end of Sholem Aleichem’s book.

    Chava’s story...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 373-412)
  11. Index
    (pp. 413-438)