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Judaism: Judaism in Northern and Eastern Europe since 1500


As a result of a series of Jewish expulsions and of Poland's increasing economic attractiveness, in the sixteenth-century Ashkenazic world Poland was widely recognized as the most promising of the European communities.

Poland and Lithuania

The expulsion of Jews from numerous German cities and secular principalities and from much of Bohemia and Moravia, coupled with the final division of Hungary (previously relatively hospitable to Jews) into Habsburg, Ottoman, and Transylvanian sections, encouraged Jews to look eastward. Poland's rapid commercial expansion, the relative weakness until the late sixteenth century of its craft and trade guilds, and the religious toleration that characterized crown policy reinforced these migratory trends. Jewish adjustment to the new surroundings was eased because of German influences in the cities, which (despite the rapid polonization of the German immigrants) may have encouraged the retention by Jews of Yiddish. Greater occupational diversity was possible here than in Germany. Most Polish Jews worked in domestic trade, moneylending, and artisanry but some Jews also captured important roles in the trade between Constantinople and western and central Europe and in the export of Polish textiles, grains, and cattle. Others acquired the leases over minting and other crucial fiscal and administrative functions.

The increasing impact and militancy of the Roman Catholic Church in the wake of the Counter-Reformation and the rising antagonism of burghers toward Jews led to the partial expulsion of Jews from about fifty Polish cities by the end of the sixteenth century. Rarely were they completely barred; most often they were forced to move to suburban enclaves or to the jurydyki within the municipal boundaries but under the jurisdiction of the nobility. Jews continued to live in the same neighborhoods with Catholics in the cities where they were freely permitted to reside. However, the introduction of clauses permitting non tolerandis Judaeis and the effective unification of Poland and Lithuania with the Union of Lublin in 1569 encouraged Jewish migration to the southeastern Ukrainian expanses of Lithuania.

The pacta conventa of 1573, which confirmed the gentry's accumulation of considerable power at the expense of the crown, cemented close relations between the upper szlachta ("the magnates") and the Jews. The magnates frequently favored Jews as their commercial agents and lessees. Commerce, artisanry, and, in the southeastern regions, leaseholding (often tied to trade in agricultural goods) became the most common Jewish occupations. By the middle of the seventeenth centurywhen the Jewish community of Poland and Lithuania numbered, according to varying estimates, somewhere between 250,000 and 450,000nearly 40 percent of the Jews lived, according to Samuel Ettinger, in the Ukrainian area.

Jewish participation in the Polish nobility's colonization of the Ukraine involved Jews in a system of pledges where Jewish lenders received a part of the income from estates pending the repayment of loans. What evolved was a more direct system of leaseholding, called the arenda, in which Jews leased agricultural properties from the nobility, generally for a period of three years, at a designated price. Profits would be extracted from taxes and fees on the local peasantry. The acquisition of a lease frequently constituted the beginning of a new Jewish community, since lessees would encourage other Jews to settle with them to run inns, flour mills, and so forth. Poland's rapidly growing population required ever-increasing supplies of agricultural and meat products, and the colonization of the Ukrainein which Jews played an important and visible roleensured a steady supply to domestic (and foreign) markets.

Jewish communal autonomy in Poland

A highly ramified system of Polish-Jewish autonomy with a centralized consultative council was created as Jews settled in Poland in large numbers. It was the product of several factors, including the Jewish community's wide geographic dispersion, the example of Jewish communal institutions in Bohemia and Moravia, pressures from the crown for a centralized Jewish leadership, and the diminishing power of the king, which motivated many sectors of Polish society to claim a measure of self-government. On the bottom tier of Jewry's system were the qehalim, or Jewish communal councils, which functioned alongside and were structured similar to the municipal councils of Polish cities. Above them were the district councils composed of representatives from the qehalim. At the uppermost tier were the supercouncils, which met, beginning in 1569 and perhaps even earlier, at the fairs of Lublin and less frequently at Jaroslaw. Representatives from all parts of Poland and Lithuania participated in these meetings of the Council of the Lands of Poland (until a separate Lithuanian council was established, for fiscal reasons, in 1623), where taqqanot ("regulations") were issued, individual and communal grievances were aired, and protests against qehalim were reviewed. The council deliberated on halakhic matters and, perhaps most important, intervened on behalf of the community before the authorities. From the vantage point of the state, the Polish Council was a tax-farming body but even the state recognized, at least tacitly, the council's more extensive functions.

Talmudic study in Poland and Lithuania

At the same time, the challenge posed by the distinguished Talmudist Mosheh Isserles of Cracow (15201572) in numerous works, particularly his Darkhei Mosheh to the Sephardic codification of Jewish law, the Beit Yosef of Yosef Karo, consolidated Poland's standing as the preeminent center of Ashkenazic learning. Isserles promoted the legitimacy of Polish-Jewish customs along with a rationalist-mystical understanding of mitsvot. The rich rabbinical literature of the periodwhich, in addition to Isserles, was represented by Shelomoh Luria, Yom ov Lippman Heller, and many other Talmudic masterswas efficiently disseminated by the rapid expansion of printing in the sixteenth century.

Pilpul, a casuistic method based, in Poland, on the application of principles of logical differentiation to reconcile apparent Talmudic contradictions, was the focus of much of the yeshivah curriculum. This method was increasingly criticized beginning in the fifteenth century for its alleged obfuscation of the plain meaning of the texts. But it only declined in importance and was supplanted by an alternative pedagogical system in the early nineteenth century. Polish Jewry's wealth helped promote the spread of yeshivah study, but Polish-Jewish moralists, preeminently the late-sixteenth-century preacher Efrayim Luntshitz, argued that wealth was a certain sign of corruption and hypocrisy. By the seventeenth century the study of Torah was widely disseminated in Poland and Lithuaniathough the Ukraine still provided fewer opportunities for serious study than more settled regions of eastern Europe.

The Khmelʾnitskii uprising

Religious, economic, and ethnic tensions in the Ukraine erupted in 1648, and for the next twelve years the Polish state was faced with a series of Cossack uprisings (initially with Tartar support) and with invasions from Sweden and Muscovy. The Cossacks, led by Bogdan Khmelʾnitskii, massacred rural and urban Jewish communities on both sides of the Dnieper river. Hatred of Jewswhich had little influence in sparking the Deluge (as both Polish and Jewish accounts refer to it)resulted nonetheless in the killing of large numbers of Ukrainian Jews and in the evacuation of nearly all the remainder. The Jews of Ukraine quickly rebuilt their communities after the uprising was put down, but it left its mark on the increasingly deleterious fiscal standing of the qehalim and the councils.

Movement Westward

A westward trend in Jewish migratory patterns was now apparent. In particular, Jews from areas of Poland devastated by the Swedish invasion moved in large numbers to Silesia, Moravia, and elsewhere in central Europe. (To be sure, Germany had retained Jewish communities in the intervening period, despite the widespread expulsions, particularly in areas under imperial and ecclesiastical protection and in the central and southern parts of the Holy Roman Empire.) Small numbers of Polish Jews also found their way in this period to Amsterdam and London. Some joined the growing ranks of the central European Betteljuden or Schnorrjuden (Jewish beggars), but most were absorbed, if only marginally, into the economic life of the Empire, which offered greater opportunities for Jews after the Thirty Years' War.

The skill of Jewish agents and contractors during the war and the rise of absolutist and mercantilist tendencies in government policy helped improve the economic and even the social standing of German Jewry. Jews moved into new localities (especially noteworthy were the Sephardic settlement in Hamburg and the Ashkenazic enclave in suburban Altona) and, with the support of rulers, were permitted to participate in an increasingly wide range of occupations, particularly commerce. German princes, concerned about competition from Atlantic ports better able to trade with the New World, saw wealthy Jews as useful commercial allies. Central European armies had benefited from Jewish contacts with Poland during the Thirty Years' War, and the experience (and wealth) gained by some Jews in this period helped contribute to the eventual emergence of court Jews who served local princes.

Humanist appreciation for Hebrew and the gradual laicization of European culture that accompanied the appearance of humanism in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries set the stage for some cultural collaboration between Jews and Christians. In the Ashkenazic world, the influence of humanist trends was most clearly reflected in a moderation of anti-Jewish sentiment in certain small but influential intellectual circles. In Johannes Reuchlin's (14551522) defense of the Jews against the anti-Talmudic charges of Johannes Pfefferkorn, for instance, he referred to Jews and Christians as "fellow citizens of the same Roman Empire [who] live on the basis of the same law of citizenship and internal peace." The religious wars, which culminated in treaties which acknowledged that religious tolerationat least toward other Christianswas essential if only to save Europe from ceaseless strife, led to arguments for tolerance. More important in this regard, however, were the Protestant sects, most of them marginal, which began to question the connection between religious truth and political rule and showed an often intense interest in the biblical constitution and an attachment to the people and language of the Bible. Such trends were most apparent in Cromwellian England, where the impact of the Judaizers, the growing appreciation for Hebrew, the spread of millenarianist sentiment, and the renewed search for the Ten Lost Tribes with the discovery of the New World created a suitable cultural climate for a receptiveness to Menasseh ben Israel's mission to promote Jewish readmission to England.

Around the time of the Whitehall conference of 1655, which considered the readmission of Jews to England but left the matter undecided, small numbers of New Christians as well as Ashkenazic Jews settled in England, mostly in London. This small community came from Amsterdam, where an increasingly sizable and economically prominent Jewish community had lived since the unification of the northern provinces of the Netherlands and their declaration that the new state would be free from religious persecution.

Within the Ashkenazic sphere, Jewish thought remained largely indifferent to indications (however uneven and contradictory) of changes in Christian attitudes toward Jews. Indeed, a renewed sense of cultural segregation, as Jacob Katz (1961) has characterized it, was apparent in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as reflected in a complete lack of Jewish interest in anti-Christian polemics and in the formation of a set of Jewish attitudes toward non-Jews that saw differences between the two as inherent rather than doctrinal. This case was argued most coherently by Yehudah Löw ben Betsalʾel (c. 15251609). Yet the same period saw the promulgation of important halakhic decisions that permitted Jews to trade in Gentile wine and even in rosaries (in contrast to earlier rabbinic prohibitions against such trade) on the grounds that the Talmudic prohibitions against trade with idol worshipers were not relevant to Christians, who, at least for practical purposes, did not fall under this category.

A stratum of well-placed Jews had, since the religious wars, played a significant role in the centralizing administrations of the absolutist German states. Jewish moneylenders, minters, and agents were selected to perform important administrative, fiscal, and even diplomatic functions because their loyalty to the princes was unaffected by guild attachments or local enmities. Close links were forged between Polish-Jewish agricultural exporters and wealthy Jewish importers in Leipzig, Frankfurt, and Hamburg. Court Jews, as some of these magnates were called, emerged as a group relatively free from Jewish communal and rabbinical control and with independent access to the Gentile authorities.

The wealth of the court Jews, their relatively easy access to the Christian elite, and the example of the acculturated Sephardim of Hamburg and elsewhere in central and western Europe encouraged some Ashkenazim to imitate Sephardic and even non-Jewish social patterns. In certain well-to-do German-Jewish circles in the early eighteenth century, dance lessons, the study of French, and even the cutting of beards was common. In the same circles, Polish Jews were frequently characterized as superstitious and culturally inferior.

However, until the late eighteenth century and the spread of the Enlightenment and emancipatory movements, distinctions between German and Polish Jews remained fluid. This essential fluidity was reflected, for instance, in the careers of Yaʿaqov Emden and Yonatan Eibeschutz, the eminent rabbinic figures at the center of the most vociferous Jewish polemical battle of the eighteenth century, which spanned the major Jewish communities of eastern and central Europe. Cultural unity was also apparent in the response of Ashkenazic Jewry in the 1660s to the news of Shabbetai Tsevi, whose claim to be the Messiah was received with the greatest enthusiasm by Sephardim but who was supported, according to Gershom Scholem, by most of European Jewry.

Shabbetai Tsevi's conversion to Islam in 1666 led to the disintegration of the movement and to its rebirth, on a much smaller scale, as a secret network of sects. In Podolia, where the Frankist movement arose out of this Shabbatean network in the second half of the eighteenth century, it attracted the support of only small numbers of Jews, and its leader, Jacob Frank (17261791), along with about six hundred followers, eventually converted under some duress to Catholicism. The teachings of Frank, which combined an eclectic reliance on Qabbalah and an intense fascination with worldly power, had a limited impact outside Poland when Frank moved to Brno, Offenbach, and elsewhere in central Europe in the last years of his life. The sect served as a syncretistic pathway for some poor as well as rich Jews to a less insular, larger world.


In contrast to Frankism, the Hasidic movement, which also arose in Podolia, gradually spread beyond the Ukraine after the death of its founder Yisraʾel ben Eliʿezer (17001760), known as the Besht, and won widespread support in Poland, Belorussia, and, to a more limited extent, Lithuania. Completely devoid of the Christological tendencies that would attract some acculturated Jews to Frankism, Hasidism embraced qabbalistic concepts and built on Jewish spiritual yearnings stirred by the heretical mystical movements. At the same time, it effectively neutralized the potentially subversive elements of Lurianic Qabbalah.

The concept of devequt (cleaving to God), for instance, was shorn by Hasidism of its cosmic and elitist features and placed within a mundane framework. Hasidism promoted a strategy whereby Jews might focus on the prosaic and even the patently profane in order to transform and elevate them. Cosmic elements in Lurianic Qabbalah were transformed into individualized landmarks in the psychology of faith and repentance.

Hasidism's moderation helped it eventually gain the acceptance of rabbis sympathetic to mysticism. Its halakhic innovations were minor: the introduction of a sharper knife for ritual slaughter (perhaps to capture Hasidic control over a crucial communal sphere) and some liturgical changes, such as use of the Lurianic liturgy and a less punctilious attitude toward the traditionally designated times for prayer. Moreover, though Hasidism has come to represent for some modern interpreters a democratized form of Judaism, it promoted no concrete social program and, indeed, did not attract the support of the urban artisans who constituted at the time the severest critics of Jewish communal authority. Among its most ardent and earliest supporters were rural Jews, particularly arendators, who were unhappy with the inability of the qehalim to defend their traditional right of azaqah (protection from competition) and whose interests were frequently protected by the asidim. In this respect communal decline helped to fuel the movement, and it is unlikely that it would have spread as quickly or widelyby 1800 close to one-half of the Jews of east Europe flocked to its bannerhad the Polish and Lithuanian councils not been abolished by the state in 1764. When challenged, for instance, by a charismatic spokesman of the communal elite, as in Lithuania by Eliyyahu ben Shelomoh Zalman, known as the Gaon of Vilna (17201797), Hasidism's momentum was temporarily checked.

Rather than introducing a new egalitarian note into Jewish religious life, Hasidism's most influential innovation was the promotion of a new elite that differed from both the traditional rabbinic scholars and the qabbalistic ascetics. The Hasidic tsaddiq forged a link between the qabbalistic master and the Jewish masses by emphasizing his communal responsibilities (in contradistinction to the asceticism of the qabbalist). The eighteenth century witnessed a marked decline in rabbinical stature. Jewish popular sentiment, rather than feeling alienated from the rabbis because of their self-imposed scholastic isolation, criticized them for their inability to live up to their own austere and still widely accepted standards.


The German-speaking lands produced at the same time a westernized, acculturated elite. It was shaped by the emphasis of enlightened absolutists on the state as a secular rather than a Christian polity; the compulsory education system introduced (briefly) into Austria; the Enlightenment's vision of a neutral society where religious distinctions were rendered irrelevant or, at least, subordinate to other considerations; and the French Revolution, which emancipated the Jews of France in 1791. Most central European Jews, particularly after the Polish partitions (17721795) when Galicia was absorbed by Austria and east Poznan was added to Prussia, were Yiddish-speaking and religiously traditional and remained so until the mid-nineteenth century. But the self-consciously "enlightened" elite that emerged emphasized the sensualist rather than the divine source of knowledge, the ultimate importance of earthly existence, and a revised understanding of the relationship between religion and state. As the leading German-Jewish Enlightenment figure, Moses Mendelssohn (17291786) argued that Judaism was able (better than Christianity) to fit into a new order constructed on the basis of natural truth, rationalism, and a clear distinction between the functions and tools of church and state.

Russian Jewry

The Prussian state did not repudiate Jewish autonomy as anticipated by Mendelssohn, but in Austria, France, and even, if somewhat ambiguously, in Russia, the unity of Jewish society had to be maintained despite the lack of support and even the hostility of the government. Russia had prohibited Jewish settlement before the Polish partitions but it absorbed in the late eighteenth century approximately eight hundred thousand Jews. The regime was unwilling, and perhaps unable, to integrate Jews into the existing estates, disinclined to believe that Jewish assimilation was possible, and suspicious of the potentially deleterious impact that the Jews might have on the Russian peasantry. The result was the creation of a large area in which Jews were permitted to live, called the Pale of Settlement, in the fifteen provinces of Lithuania, Belorussia, the Ukraine, and so-called New Russia (on the northern littoral of the Black and Azov seas). Jews were also allowed to live in the ten provinces of central Poland, although these were formally excluded from the Pale. Jews constitued an average of 12 percent of the total population in this area of west and southwestern Russia (and often the majority of the urban population) by the late nineteenth century. The classification of Jews as inorodtsy (in 1835), the legal category created for the semi-autonomous primitive and nomadic tribes at the periphery of the empire, highlighted their essentially anomalous status in Russian law, since the regime abolished the qehalim soon afterward, in 1844. Indeed, despite intermittent governmental attempts to assimilate Russia's Jews, the regime continued to share an abiding preoccupation (sometimes more and sometimes less acute) with their irredeemable separateness.

There was little intervention by the Russian state into the communal life of the Jews until the 1840s. Even after the qahal was abolished, a separate Jewish judiciary continued to function and many of the duties of the qahal were subsumed by other representative Jewish bodies (though Jewish autonomy was now checked by municipal supervision). The Russian Jewish community grew rapidly over the course of the century and by 1880 numbered four million; it increased in size to more than five million in 1897 despite the mass migration to the west in the same period. Rapid demographic increase, the legal discrimination suffered by Russian Jewry, and the sluggishness of those sectors of the Russian economy in which most Jews were employed contributed to the eventual politicization of the community and to its migratory trends in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At the turn of the twentieth century, more than 40 percent of the world's fourteen million Jews lived in the Russian empire; 7.5 million Jews lived in eastern Europe as a whole, including Galicia and east Prussia.

Rapid urbanization and economic change in the nineteenth century challenged the foundations of Russian Jewish social and economic life. Repeated expulsions from villages, moves against rural Jewish innkeepers, and the concentration of the liquor trade (which employed about 30 percent of prepartition Polish Jewry) in the hands of a small number of wealthy contractors contributed to the community's urbanization. Petty trade, on the other hand, was undermined by the decline of fairs, the rise of permanent markets, and the government's war on smuggling. Eventually the construction of railway lines destabilized previously crucial commercial and banking centers which were bypassed by the railroad. The decline of the commercial sector led to an overcrowding in others, such as artisanry, where Jews tended to concentrate in the garment trade and in shoemaking.

At the same time, improved transportation, renewed efforts at the exploitation of the agriculturally rich Ukrainian steppe, and the construction of major grain exporting ports (the most important being Odessa) where Jews played prominent economic roles all produced a stratum of successful Jewish entrepreneurs and merchants. Jews made substantial contributions to industrial manufacturing (particularly in Bialystok and Lódź), to the sugar trade (where Jews revolutionized marketing techniques), and the construction of railways. By 1851, 20 percent of the members of Russia's wealthiest merchant guild were Jews, though they constituted only about 2 or 3 percent of the total Russian population.

Jewish communal authority

In the absence of a state-recognized body that represented Russian Jewry (except for the infrequent, government-convened delegations of Jewish deputies and later the tepid rabbinical commissions), considerable pressure and responsibility was placed in the hands of qehalim and private associations. The authority of the qehalim was undermined by the 1827 statute which instituted the conscription of Jews and which placed responsibility for the draft in the hands of local qahal officials. This led to widespread abuse: the exemption of the rich, the forced conscription of the poor, the drafting of boys of twelve and younger who were subjected, once they were drafted and handed over to the military, to intense pressure to convert to Russian Orthodoxy. Protests by Jews against the qahal oligarchy erupted in Podolia, Minsk, Mogilev, and elsewhere, and the rabbinical elitewhose yeshivah students were protected by communal officials from the draftmostly remained silent in the face of these abuses, which further eroded their popular stature.

Russian Haskalah

Nineteenth-century Russian Jewry nonetheless retained a traditional profile. There was little scope in Russia for acculturation; the multiethnic character of the empire mitigated assimilation and anti-Jewish sentiment remained pervasive among liberals and conservatives alike. Yet the introduction by the state in the 1840s and 1850s of a network of schools where secular as well as Jewish subjects were taught, the liberalization of government policy (and the emancipation of the serfs) under Alexander II (18551881) which excited Jewish hopes, and the example of an acculturating western and central European Jewry helped create a Russian Haskalah, or Jewish enlightenment movement. Haskalah stressed those aspects of Jewish life that non-Jews presumably considered positive: the purity of biblical Hebrew, the stability of Jewish family life, the Jews' financial aptitude, their agricultural past, and Judaism's philosophical legacy. On the other hand, the movement denounced aspects of contemporary Jewish life at variance with the beliefs of the larger society (and presumably with the true character of Judaism), such as mystical speculation, disdain for secular study, and ignorance of the vernacular.

In contrast to the exponents of the German-Jewish enlightenment in the decades after Moses Mendelssohn's death, Russian maskilim (Jews who subscribed to the goals of the Haskalah) hoped to see Jewry rendered acceptable to its neighbors without relinquishing its distinctive social or religious character. In their view, Judaism was to be purified but not entirely stripped of its idiosyncratic tendencies. The Haskalah movement gave rise to efforts to promote a secular Hebrew literature and periodical press and new types of philanthropic and self-help institutions, and it later had a decisive impact on Jewish nationalist and socialist movements. Its promotion of secular study also helped contribute (especially after the 1870s) to the precipitous rise in the number of Jews enrolled in Russian and secular Jewish schools.


The Musar movement was one response to modernizing trends within the traditional camp. It stressed self-discipline (an echo of the highly influential system of Eliyyahu ben Shelomoh Zalman, which saw the prodigious study of Torah as taking precedence even over the performance of mitsvot ) but Musar's founder, Yisraʾel Salanter (18101883), promoted a pedagogical system in which communal meditation and introspection were integrated into the traditional Talmudic curriculum. At the same time, a series of relatively well-funded and prestigious yeshivot were established in Lithuania to counter the inroads made by the Haskalah and secular education. Charismatic rabbinic figures, perhaps most prominently Yisraʾel Meʾir Kagan (known as the afets ayyim, 18381933), continued to represent the community's highest ideals in their personal piety, humility, and devotion to learning.

Integration and Emancipation

Nineteenth-century German and Austrian Jewrywith the major exception of the Jews of Galiciaeventually entered the middle class, discarded Yiddish for German, and produced ideologies of Reform and Neoorthodoxy which minimized or rejected aspects of Judaism considered as sacrosanct in the east. Joseph II's Toleranzpatent (1782) attempted to legislate against Jewish separatism while opening up new economic and educational options for some Jews. The long and contentious debate in Germany over the feasibility of Jewish emancipation made its small Jewish community (which constituted about 1.75 percent of the total population in 1871 when emancipation was finally granted) highly visible and particularly sensitive to the vagaries of public opinion. In Prussia, 58,000 of its 124,000 Jews were in fact emancipated by 1815; elsewhere in Germany restrictions on employment in the public and private sectors and limitations on Jewish residence were abolished, or at least substantially modified, by the 1850s. To be sure, the 1848 uprisings were followed by new restrictions in Austria and Bavaria, and they were also accompanied by a new anti-Semitic argument which identified Jews with the most disruptive and oppressive features of modern society.

In Galicia, where over 800,000 of Austria's 1.2 million Jews lived in 1900, 85 percent of the Jewish population, according to one report, subsisted at substandard conditions and worked as petty moneylenders, agents, and innkeepers. Yet the majority of Germany's Jews, who were concentrated until the mid-nineteenth century in petty trade, small retailing establishments, and artisanry had by 1871 entered the middle and upper-middle classes. The most telling indication of their social mobility was the disappearance of the Betteljuden (many of whom immigrated to the United States), who had, together with day laborers and domestic servants, made up 15 to 20 percent of the German-Jewish population in the late 1830s. German Jews continued to be concentrated in a cluster of occupations, but now these were wholesale trade, commerce, the money market, the professions, and journalism.

Emergence of reform

Attempts at integration by German Jews produced ideologies of religious reform that accepted the diminution of the national traits of Judaism as espoused by the larger society and emphasized those aspects of Judaism most conducive to cultural symbiosis. Abraham Geiger (18101874), Germany's major Reform exponent, saw Judaism as having evolved historically and asserted that every generation had to determine for itself what religious practices and concepts retained a contemporary relevance. Geiger identified monotheism and the teachings of the prophets as the quintessential message that had characterized Judaism throughout the ages and that constituted the basis for its ethical system. In a radical departure from the traditional understanding of galut, Geiger saw the Jewish dispersion as a positive condition, since it helped Jews promote the universalistic teachings of their faith. This emphasis on mission served to justify continued Jewish peculiarity and helped to reinforce, albeit within a substantially modified context, traditional assumptions of Jewish specialness and chosenness. The fundamental principles of Reform were elaborated in a series of rabbinical conferences held in the 1840s, and these assemblies constituted the culmination of a long period in which Reform promoted a substantially modified Jewish educational curriculum and alterations in synagogue service and decorum.

Emergence of Orthodoxy

The response of Pressburg's (modern Bratislava) influential Mosheh Sofer (atam Sofer, 17621839) to the emergence of Reform was summarized in his pithy "adash asur min ha-torah" ("everything new is forbidden by the Torah"), which denounced all change as undermining Judaism. The call for traditional Jews to segregate themselves from the increasingly Reform-dominated communities of Germany was promoted by many Orthodox rabbis, most prominently by Samson Raphael Hirsch (18081888), who argued for the universalizing of Judaism and, at the same time, for an uncompromising affirmation of its traditional commitment to mitsvot. Traditional Judaism in Germany, and elsewhere in Europe, began to employ the toolsand in Hirsch's case also the terminologyof the larger, secularizing world in order to combat Reform, and this led to the creation of Orthodox newspapers and political parties. The first such party was established in Hungary in 1867.

Acculturation and Responses to Anti-Semitism

European Jewry's acculturation led, to be sure, to a diminution of the importance that Jewish concerns played in the lives of many Jews, but it also provided an increasingly westernized Jewry with new and sophisticated tools with which to promote Jewish interests. Jewish liberals and a small number of political radicals played a prominent role in the 1848 revolutions, in contrast to the political passivity of the Jews of France in 1789; another indication of the tendency of westernized Jews to employ new and innovative means to promote Jewish causes was the creation of a highly diversified Jewish press mostly published in European languages.

Jewish assimilation, whose goal was the fusion of Jewry into the majority culture, was most feasible in settings were Jews formed a small percentage of the population in large urban areas; where acculturation was widespread but anti-Semitism prevalent, the promotion of social integration was thwarted. A precipitous rise in anti-Semitism in societies where Jews had experienced substantial acculturation often contributed to an increase in the incidence of conversion. On average, 145 Jews converted annually in Prussia between 1880 and 1884 while, in the wake of the anti-Semitic agitation of the last decade of the century, the number doubled to 349 between 1895 and 1899.

Of the smaller Jewish communities of western and northern Europe, about 35,000 Jews lived in England in the 1850s, 80,000 in France, about 52,000 in Holland (in the 1840s), 64,000 in Belgium, and fewer than 1,000 in Sweden. In France and England, Jews were concentrated in the largest cities (a process that had begun earlier in England than in France). In both societies, despite the emancipation of French Jewry more than half a century before the Jews of England were admitted into the House of Commons in 1858, acculturation preceded the complete abrogation of Jewish restrictions. An absence of denominationalism was another feature common to both English and French Jewish life, and in the two communities Reform tendencies were absorbed or neutralized by the dominant religious institutions and they did not precipitate the sectarianism characteristic of German Judaism. The absorption into the middle class of most English and French Jews by the late nineteenth century helped encourage a privatization of Jewish identity, which was eventually challenged by the east European migration. Between 1881 and 1914 the English Jewish population increased, mostly as a result of the immigration of Russian Jews, from sixty-five thousand to three hundred thousand. Thirty thousand immigrants settled in Paris in the same period (arriving in particularly large numbers after 1905), and they introduced into the western urban Jewish milieu an ethnic dimension previously unknown. Indeed, between 1881 and 1924, about 2.5 million east European Jews (mostly from Russia) migrated to the West; two-thirds of them left their homes between 1903 and 1914 and the vast majority of immigrants moved to the United States. About 1015 percent settled in western and central Europe. Russian Jews in particular emigrated in large numbers because of the oppressive tsarist legislation of the 1880s and 1890s, shrinking economic prospects, and often exaggerated rumors of economic prospects in the West.

East European Jewish immigrants became a special focus of attack by the anti-Semitic movement that erupted in western and central Europe in the late nineteenth century. This movement was the product of a general antiliberal reaction which promoted romantic conservatism over constitutionalism, a free market economy, and freedom of speech and assembly. Anti-Semitism (the term was coined in the 1870s) provided a seemingly plausible target for a wide range of social and economic frustrations. Its literature drew on secular (and often scientific) rather than religious terminology and sometimes, as in Edouard Adolphe Drumont's La France juive (1886), it drew on left-wing ideology in its case for the illegitimacy of Jewish wealth and position. Influential anti-Semitic parties appeared in Germany and Austria. Anti-Semitism became a cultural code, in Shulamit Volkov's characterization, for a wide range of groups that stressed militant nationalism, imperial expansion, racism, anticolonialism, antisocialism, and respect for authoritarian government.

The rise and resilience of the anti-Semitic movement compelled some European Jewish leaders to reassess their communal and political strategies. In Germany this gave birth in 1893 to the Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glauben, which departed from the classical Mendelssohnian stance both in its promotion of a conspicuously Jewish (as opposed to philo-Semitic, liberal, and Gentile-led) response to anti-Semitism and in its insistence that the Jewish case be aired and vindicated in courts of law. In Russia, as in the West, before the 1880s Jewish politics was seen as predicated entirely on the goodwill of Gentiles and its goal was the encouragement of Jewish emancipation. A new understanding took hold after the 18811882 pogroms, best encapsulated in the title of Odessa physician Leon Pinsker's Auto-Emancipation (1882), which called upon the Jews to cease their efforts to adapt themselves to the larger environment and to create instead a new one outside of Russia. A new type of Russian Jewish leader emerged in the same period: young, russianized (or partially so), who came to compete with the communal magnates of St. Petersburg and the rabbinical elite.


Two major ideological currents emerged: Zionism and Jewish socialism. Zionism drew its constituency and vitality from eastern Europe but the Austrian journalist, Theodor Herzl (18601904), gave the small and Russian-based movement a measure of stature and international recognition in the 1890s and early twentieth century. Herzl's most important Zionist adversary was the Odessa intellectual Asher Ginzberg (better known as Aad ha-ʿAm, 18561927), who provided Zionism with influential ideological underpinnings very different from those of Herzl. From Herzl's perspective, the promotion by Zionism of a Jewish homeland would undercut the growth of anti-Semitism, restore Jewish economic productivity, and provide Jews throughout the world (as well as the threatened liberal order) with renewed stability. Ginzberg, on the other hand, saw Zionism as a framework that could allow Jewry to absorb Western values without having them submerge Jewish identity. He stressed the cultural benefits of the rebuilding of a Palestinian Jewish homeland and minimized its immediate economic impact.

Jewish socialism

A second Jewish political movement emphasized the need to transform Russia itselfa goal Russian Zionists also eventually adopted in their Helsinki platform of 1906and the Jewish Socialist Labor Bund, established in 1897, charted a course between the two poles of nationalism and Marxism. Jewish socialism's following, not surprisingly, expanded in moments of revolutionary turmoil and contracted with rapidity in times of relative quiescence. But the heroism of the Jewish revolutionaries, their organization of self-defense groups during the pogroms, their participation in widespread philanthropic endeavors, and even their conspiratorial form of internal organization came to infuse them with an almost legendary respect in the Pale of Settlement.

World War I and Its Aftermath

The war seemed at first to present a singularly unfavorable scenario for Jewish political activity but was, ironically, followed by a series of outstanding victories for Jewish leaders in the diplomatic sphere and by a new and apparently more encouraging political order. The Russian Revolution of 1917 brought down the imperial regime and emancipated Russia's Jews; the Balfour Declaration, issued by the British the same year, was Zionism's first concrete diplomatic achievement and it would serve, until the State of Israel was established in 1948, as a central focus of the movement's strategy. Moreover, the adoption of international guarantees for the observance of national minority rights in the new states of east central Europe (along with prewar Romania) was largely the product of the maneuvering of British and American Jewish leaders. The mass evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Galician and Russian Jews in 19141915 (the Russian ones evacuated under particularly degrading conditions) lent Jews a special visibility, which was reinforced by the fact that much of the war was conducted in regions heavily populated by Jews. Misperceptions of the strength and dimensions of Jewish influence (suppositions which gained worldwide notoriety after World War I with the dissemination of the anti-Semitic tract Protocols of the Elders of Zion ) helped Jews wrest major political concessions for themselves. The Balfour Declaration, in which the British declared sympathy for Zionist aspirations in Palestine, resulted partly from the Allies' belief that Russian (and American) Jewish support was crucial in bolstering the war effort. The Russian liberalization of Jewish residence restrictions in 1915 was the product of a misperception that Jewish-controlled Western loans would be denied to Russia if it continued to be seen as brutally anti-Semitic. Western support for national minority rights in east central Europe was given special impetus in the wake of the Ukrainian pogroms of 19181919 in which more than five hundred Jewish communities were attacked and about seventy thousand Jews were killed. The effort of the Bolshevikswho in November 1917 had overthrown the liberal anti-tsarist government that had been in power in Russia since the fall of the Romanovs earlier that yearto put down the anti-Jewish disturbances and to pacify the Ukrainian separatist movement won widespread (if somewhat equivocal) support for them among Russia's Jews.

The new Soviet government associated anti-Semitism with tsarist reaction and fought it vigorously, but Bolshevism also denied Jewish demands for national recognition on the basis of its authoritative statement on minority nationalism, Marxism and the National Question (1913). Nonetheless, Jewry's distinctive cultural and, implicitly, also its national needs were acknowledged by the regime, which was interested in consolidating Jewish support. Secular cultural activity in Yiddish was encouraged; Hebrew was barred as bourgeois and religious institutions and functionaries were harassed. By the early 1930s even Yiddish-language publishing, research, and pedagogical activity were restricted. At the same time, the Soviet Jewish population as a wholewhich numbered about three million in 1926benefited from the expanding economy, became urbanized (it was eventually concentrated in Moscow, Leningrad, and a few other large cities), and was absorbed, despite the existence of a residual popular as well as institutional anti-Semitism, into the industrial working class, the bureaucracy, the professions, and the sciences.

The Jews of interwar Poland (who numbered just under 2.9 million in 1921, 10.5 percent of the total population) underwent a process of acculturation different from that of Soviet Jewry. Ravaged as Poland was by the war and separated from its natural markets and sources of energy by the boundaries of the new Polish state, its postwar economic development was sluggish before 1929 and singularly depressed in the 1930s. Poland's depressed economic state reinforced a widespread integral nationalism that persuaded many Poles that the Jews, as members of a faith inimical to Christianity, had no place in Poland. Particularly after 1936, nationalist xenophobia, church-sponsored anti-Semitism, and economic decline combined to persuade Poles of varied political persuasions that anti-Jewish policies were a necessary cruelty. About one-third of Poland's Jews retained a largely traditional religious profile and promoted Orthodox interests with tenacity and some sophistication. Jewish acculturation was also vividly reflected in the growth of secular Jewish culture and widely diversified socialist and Zionist political activities, which took on different forms in various regions of Poland, Galicia, central Poland, and Lithuania-Belorussia.

The Holocaust

The vast majority of Germany's approximately 600,000 Jews (constituting about one percent of the population in the early 1920s) were solidly based in the middle class, though one-fifth of the Jewish population were foreign-born and maintained a less prosperous occupational profile. Anti-Semitic sentimentwhich reached ferocious levels in the immediate postWorld War I period when wide segments of the population associated the sudden loss of the war with the treachery of the Jewswas marginalized during the economic prosperity of 19231929. Anti-Semitism regained a mass following with the onset of the worldwide depression. Once Hitler was appointed chancellor in 1933, German Jewry was gradually segregated from the larger population, denied employment, and those who did not emigrate by 1939 were eventually deported and either worked to death or gassed in labor and death camps. Germany's invasion of Poland led to the effective segregation of its large Jewish community, and Jews elsewhere in Nazi-occupied or Nazi-dominated western and east central Europe were placed in ghettos where they too were starved, brutalized, and, in the end, sent to death camps. More than one million Soviet Jews were killed by Nazi mobile killing units during the German invasion of 1941; the introduction in 1942 of highly efficient means for mass extermination led to the construction of a series of death camps designed expressly for the extermination of European Jewry. Over the course of World War II during the Nazi Holocaust about 6 million Jews were killed: 4.5 million in Poland and the Soviet Union; 125,000 German Jews, 277,000 Czechs, 402,000 Hungarians, 24,000 Belgians, 102,000 Dutch, 40,000 Romanians, 60,000 Yugoslavs, 85,000 French, and tens of thousands in Greece and Italy.

Post-Holocaust Jewish Community

The resilience of postwar anti-Semitism in Poland encouraged most Holocaust survivors to emigrate, and the Polish Jewish community, numbering about 30,000 in the late 1950s, was further decimated following the migration of large numbers of Jews in the wake of the 1968 anti-Semitic governmental campaign. Germany's 25,000 Jews in the late 1960s experienced a high rate of intermarriage (72.5 percent among males in the years 19511958) and a death rate that far exceeded its birthrate. The most culturally vibrant Jewish community of east central Europe was Hungary, where between 80,000 and 90,000 Jews in the 1960s maintained, eventually with government support, a wide range of religious and philanthropic institutions, including a rabbinical seminary. The post-1967 resurgence of Jewish nationalist sentiment among Soviet Jews led to a revival of (largely clandestine) cultural activity and helped precipitate a large migration of Jews to Israel and the United States. The centers of European Jewish cultural life in the postwar period were England and France. The French Jewish community, in particular, has demonstrated a marked vitality, encouraged by the migration of North African Jews, primarily from Algeria, in the 1960s.

See Also

Agudat Yisraʾel; Hasidism, overview article; Holocaust, The, article on History; Messianism, article on Jewish Messianism; Musar Movement; Orthodox Judaism; Reform Judaism; Shabbetai Tsevi; Yeshivah; Zionism.


Early Modern Period

The most authoritative work in English on the Jews of Poland and Lithuania in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is volume 16 of Salo W. Baron's A Social and Religious History of the Jews, 2d ed., rev. and enl. (Philadelphia, 1976). For a sociological analysis of Jewish communal autonomy in eastern and central Europe, see Jacob Katz's Tradition and Crisis (New York, 1961). On Jews in the late medieval Germanic empire, see Selma Stern's Josel of Rosheim (Philadelphia, 1965). Useful methodological questions are raised in an article by Gershon David Hundert, "On the Jewish Community in Poland during the Seventeenth Century: Some Comparative Perspectives," Revue des études juives 142 (JulyDecember 1983): 349372. On the seventeenth century, there is interesting material in Jonathan I. Israel's "Central European Jewry during the Thirty Years' War," Central European History (March 1983): 330. The best treatment of Polish-Jewish cultural life in the same period is H. H. Ben-Sasson's Hagut ve-hanhagah (Jerusalem, 1959). Jewish migratory trends in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are studied in Moses A. Shulvass's From East to West (Detroit, 1971). On the readmission of English Jewry, see David S. Katz's Philo-Semitism and the Readmission of the Jews to England, 16031655 (Oxford, 1982).

Modern Period

An incisive analysis of the social features of Hasidism may be found in Samuel Ettinger's "The Hassidic Movement: Reality and Ideals," in Jewish Society through the Ages, edited by H. H. Ben-Sasson and Samuel Ettinger (London, 1971), pp. 251266. For a discussion of French Jewish identity, see Phyllis Cohen Albert's "Nonorthodox Attitudes in Nineteenth-Century French Judaism," in Essays in Modern Jewish History: A Tribute to Ben Halpern, edited by Frances Malino and Phyllis Cohen Albert (Rutherford, N.J., 1982), pp. 121141. Michael Stanislawski's Tsar Nicholas I and the Jews (Philadelphia, 1983), and Hans Rogger's "Russian Ministers and the Jewish Question, 18811917," California Slavic Studies 8 (1975): 1576, study imperial Jewish policy. The essays in Revolution and Evolution: 1848 in German-Jewish History, edited by Werner E. Mosse, Arnold Paucker, and Reinhard Rürup (Tübingen, 1981), examine nineteenth century German Jewry, with particular emphasis on the community's socioeconomic transformation. Todd M. Endelman's The Jews of Georgian England, 17141830 (Philadelphia, 1979) is a skillful social history. The political responses of east European Jews are studied in Jonathan Frankel's Prophecy and Politics: Socialism, Nationalism and the Russian Jews, 18621917 (Cambridge, U.K., 1981). Ezra Mendelsohn reviews the interwar period in The Jews of East Central Europe between the World Wars (Bloomington, Ind., 1983). The best study of Soviet Jewry is Zvi Y. Gitelman's Jewish Nationality and Soviet Politics (Princeton, 1972). A particularly insightful essay in Yehuda Bauer's The Holocaust in Historical Perspective (Seattle, 1978) is his "Against Mystification: The Holocaust as a Historical Phenomenon."

New Sources

Gitelman, Zvi, ed. The Emergence of Modern Jewish Politics: Bundism and Zionism in Eastern Europe. Pitt Series in Russian and East European Studies. Pittsburgh, 2003.

Gruber, Ruth Ellen. Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe. Berkeley, 2002.

Israel, Jonathan Irvine. European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism, 15501750. Oxford, 1998.

Sutcliffe, Adam. Judaism and Enlightenment. New York, 2003.

Wasserstein, Bernard. Vanishing Diaspora: The Jews in Europe since 1945. Cambridge, Mass., 1996.

Steven J. Zipperstein (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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