Jewish Public Culture in the Late Russian Empire

Jewish Public Culture in the Late Russian Empire

Jeffrey Veidlinger
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 04/14/2009
Format: Paperback 18 b&w photos, 1 map
ISBN: 978-0-253-22058-5
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Winner, 2010 Canadian Jewish Book Awards, Scholarship on a Jewish Subject categoryWinner, J.I. Segal Award

In the midst of the violent, revolutionary turmoil that accompanied the last decade of tsarist rule in the Russian Empire, many Jews came to reject what they regarded as the apocalyptic and utopian prophecies of political dreamers and religious fanatics, preferring instead to focus on the promotion of cultural development in the present. Jewish Public Culture in the Late Russian Empire examines the cultural identities that Jews were creating and disseminating through voluntary associations such as libraries, drama circles, literary clubs, historical societies, and even fire brigades. Jeffrey Veidlinger explores the venues in which prominent cultural figures—including Sholem Aleichem, Mendele Moykher Sforim, and Simon Dubnov—interacted with the general Jewish public, encouraging Jewish expression within Russia's multicultural society. By highlighting the cultural experiences shared by Jews of diverse social backgrounds—from seamstresses to parliamentarians—and in disparate geographic locales—from Ukrainian shtetls to Polish metropolises—the book revises traditional views of Jewish society in the late Russian Empire.

Author Bio

Jeffrey Veidlinger is Associate Professor of History, Alvin H. Rosenfeld Chair in Jewish Studies, and Associate Director of the Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University Bloomington. He is author of The Moscow State Yiddish Theater: Jewish Culture on the Soviet Stage (IUP, 2001) and co-director of the Archive of Historical and Ethnographic Yiddish Memories.


“By highlighting the cultural experiences shared by Jews of diverse social backgrounds through voluntary associations such as libraries, drama circles, literary clubs, and historical societies, Veidlinger revises traditional views of Jewish society in the late Russian Empire. ”

“This ambitious study offers a new perspective on the construction, ethos, and dynamics of a burgeoning Jewish public sphere following the Revolution of 1905.”
 — Chai-Ran Freeze, Brandeis University

“By posing questions that have never been debated previously about Jews in the Russian Empire, Professor Veidlinger has produced a book that transforms our perspective on Jewish civil society in the critical moments at the end of tsarism.September 2009”
 — Brian Horowitz, Tulane University

“This book provides a sense of the dynamism of Jewish cultural life, broadly defined, in what was the world’s largest Jewish community whose descendants established American Jewry.Winter 5770/2009”
 — Jewish Book World / Jewish Book Council

“Based on research in five languages ina wide range of published sources and on material located in four major archival collections, the book succeeds admirably in depicting the emergence into 'modernity' of the largest Jewish community in the world . . . Veidlinger is to be congratulated for having produced a compelling and important study on a cultural development that transformed East European Jewry and that has been crucial in the history of world Jewry over the past century.Vol. 115. 1 Feb. 2010”
 — Abraham Ascher, Graduate Center, City University of New York

“... a deeply engaging and insightful book ...Vol.70.2 Summer 2011”
 — Slavic Review

“... a fascinating and exhaustively researched account ... a major contribution to the rich and burgeoning scholarship on Jewish society in late imperial Russia.55.1 Spring 2011”
 — Slavic and East European Journal

“In all, Jewish Public Culture is rich, thoroughly researched, and engagingly written; it presents new data and compelling analysis to show how the new Jewish public culture flourished in the late tsarist Russia. The book is an important contribution to both Slavic and Jewish studies, and a welcome addition to the growing body of literature on Russian Jewish history and culture. ”
 — Russian Review

“In exploring how Jewish public culture was created and experienced throughout the Russian Empire, Veidlinger’s book breaks new ground in a number of ways. . . [H]e argues for the importance of performers, both professional and amateur, in a historical record that has typically favored intellectuals and political activists.1002.3 Summer 2012”
 — Jewish Quarterly Review

“This wonderful, thoroughly researched, and well-crafted study convincingly argues that fundamental changes in the ways that Jewish activists and intellectuals viewed the intersection between culture and community transformed the very experience of daily life and the nature of community for early twentieth-century Jews in the Russian Empire.”
 — Religious Studies Review

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Table of Contents

A Note on Transliteration
Introduction: Jewish Public Culture
1. The Jews of this World
2. Libraries: From the Study Hall to the Public Library
3. Reading: From Sacred Duty to Leisure Time
4. Literary Societies: The Culture of Language and the Language of Culture
5. Cultural Performance: The People of the Book and the Spoken Word
6. Theater: The Professionalization of Performance
7. Musical and Dramatic Societies: Amateur Performers and Audiences
8. The Jewish Historical and Ethnographic Society: Collecting the Jewish Past
9. Public History: Imagining Russian Jews
Conclusion: …and They Gathered