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Shtetl

Shtetl

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The shtetl, Yiddish for small town (plural shtetlekh ), was the archetypal eastern European Jewish community for over half a millennium. Moreover, it emerged during the twentieth century as a social paradigm of Jewish communal life and became the subject of extensive Jewish memory practices in the wake of the Holocaust. As early as the thirteenth century, Jews settled in small towns in Poland, where they played a central role in the local economy as merchants, artisans, and managers of property owned by the aristocracy. Eventually these towns, in which Jews sometimes comprised the majority population, stretched the length and breadth of eastern Europe. Here the Jewish population surged during the eighteenth century, making shtetlekh home to the majority of world Jewry for over a century.

Jewish shtetl life received little analysis until Jews began leaving these towns in large numbers during the latter half of the nineteenth century as a result of urbanization and immigration. The shtetl figured centrally in early works of modern Yiddish literaturemost famously by Sholem Aleichem (Sholem Rabinovitsh, 1859-1916)many of which offered astute critiques of traditional Jewish mores and provincial society through satire. The early twentieth century witnessed a new interest in traditional eastern European Jewish life among modernizing Jews, prompting early ethnographic efforts to collect folklore in both the shtetl and the rural village (Yiddish: dorf ). The most famous early example was the 19121914 expedition in Ukraine led by S. Ansky (Solomon Rappoport, 1863-1920), who subsequently drew on the materials collected to write The Dybbuk from 1912 to 1917, the best known work of modern Yiddish drama.

During the interwar years, scholarly efforts to study shtetl life were organized by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in Vilna, Poland (now Vilnius, Lithuania), and researchers in state-supported institutes in the Soviet Union. These undertakings included grassroots projects, such as a pamphlet published in Minsk in 1928, which exhorted amateur folklorists, Forsht ayer shtetl (Research your town). Individual ethnographies, memoirs, literary works, and journalistic accounts of shtetl life also appeared during this period in Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, Russian, German, and other languages.

Following the genocide of European Jewry during World War II (1939-1945), many former residents of shtetlekh initiated efforts to memorialize their own local histories, customs, and murdered townsfolk, most notably by compiling yisker-bikher (communal memorial books). At the same time, American anthropologists undertook a major project to write a composite study of prewar eastern European Jewish life based on research from a pioneering wartime anthropology-at-a-distance project overseen by Margaret Mead (1901-1978) and Ruth Benedict (18871948). The resulting book, Life Is With People (1952), quickly became the standard work in English on shtetl life. As folklorist Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has observed, this books approach offers an idealized, paradigmatic vision of the shtetltimeless, uniform, insularthat is as problematic as it was appealing in the aftermath of the Holocaust. The impact of Life Is With People has been extensive, influencing, among other works, Number Our Days (1978), anthropologist Barbara Myerhoffs (1935-1985) study of elderly American Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe. More recently, return travel to shtetlekh has been the subject of ethnographic films (e.g., Marian Marzynskis Shtetl [1996]) and studies of Jewish memory practices.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Kugelmass, Jack, and Jonathan Boyarin, eds. and trans. 1998. From a Ruined Garden: The Memorial Books of Polish Jewry. 2nd ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Myerhoff, Barbara. 1978. Number Our Days. New York: Dutton.

Zborowski, Mark, and Elizabeth Herzog. [1952] 1995. Life Is With People: The Culture of the Shtetl. New York: Schocken.

Jeffrey Shandler

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"Shtetl." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Shtetl

Shtetl (Yid., ‘small town’). Jewish communities in E. Europe, 16th-early 20th cents. The life of the Jewish community centred round home, synagogue (shul), and market. The values of Yiddishkeyt (‘Jewishness’) and menshlikhkeyt (‘humanness’) were all-important. Life in the shtetl is now well-known in the West through the paintings of Marc Chagall and the stories of Sholom Aleichem. The pattern of life was eroded in the 20th cent. through pogroms, economic depression, emigration, and ultimately the Holocaust.

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"Shtetl." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Shtetl." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 14, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/shtetl

"Shtetl." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved December 14, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/shtetl