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The Jewish World in the Modern Age is a highly readable account of Jewish life and history in Europe, America, and Israel since the 18th century. Adopting a somewhat unusual approach in a book for general readers, each chapter is amply provided with authentic documents from the period it covers that further the reader’s understanding and give a true sense of what Jewish life and thought were at the time.

Separate chapters recount events in Russia, Germany, Central Europe, France, and England, as well as in Israel, and in the United States and Canada. Unlike many general treatments of modern Jewish history, this volume gives as much attention to religious developments as to political and social patterns, focusing not merely on the rise of Zionism and of Reform and Conservative Judaism, but on the manifold ways in which Orthodox Judaism adjusted to the ideological, social, and philosophical challenges of life in the modern era.

Those who do not acquaint themselves with the Jewish past cannot pretend to understand the Jewish present. Anti-Semitism, for example, cannot be fully understood without an examination of its roots in history, its development over time, and the myths about Jews and Judaism that it has promoted. Zionism and the State of Israel cannot be understood without a study of their history, nor can the emergence of the present denominational forms of Judaism be appreciated without careful historical study.



About the Author:

Dr. Bloomberg received ordination from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University and a doctorate in medieval studies from Yale.   He is also the author of  The Jewish World in the Middle Ages.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780881258448
  • Publisher: KTAV Publishing House, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/15/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 281
  • Sales rank: 1,513,019
  • Product dimensions: 8.58 (w) x 11.36 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Jewish World in the Modern Age

By Jon Bloomberg

KTAV Publishing House

Copyright © 2004 Jon Bloomberg
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-88125-844-X

Chapter One

Politicos and Community in Eastern Europe


This chapter will examine the situation of Jews in Eastern Europe from the middle of the 18th century to the present day.

In the 18th century, there were major Jewish communities in Western Europe (England, France, and Germany), Central Europe (Austria-Hungary), and Eastern Europe (Poland and Russia). There were approximately 500,000 Jews in Western Europe, about 150,00 in Central Europe, and roughly 5 million in Poland.

The Jewish communities of Western Europe and Central Europe faced challenges that were both similar to and different from those confronted by the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe.

Throughout Europe most Jews were poor. Their poverty resulted from the heavy taxation imposed upon them by their local rulers. Jews also lacked the freedom to work where and in whatever capacity they desired, the right to participate in government through the vote, and freedom of movement. Any privileges they had were just that, and not rights they enjoyed as citizens, although, as we will see in Chapter 2, French Jews became citizens after the French Revolution of 1789. Jews experienced social isolation from Christians. While the Jews of Europe had some control over their own affairs, they were almost always isolated from the Christian society in which they lived.

There were, however, major differences between the Jewish experience in Western and Central Europe and in Eastern Europe. The Jews of Poland constituted an autonomous community, governed by a national federation known as the Council of the Four Lands-the four major provinces of the Kingdom of Poland. This federation enabled Jews to protect their own interests to some extent, serving as a middleman between the Jews and the Sejm (parliament). The Council apportioned and collected taxes, and governed the inner life of the various Jewish communities (kahals) by regulating their economic, judicial, cultural, and administrative activities.

Most Polish Jews lived in cities, towns, and villages. A 1764 census showed that about 70 percent lived in towns and cities, with less than one-third in villages (shtetls). More than two-thirds lived in the country's eastern provinces; that is, in Ukraine and Lithuania/White Russia. Agricultural workers lived in houses in the villages, while the fields lay beyond the dwelling area. A neighboring town served as administrative and shopping center.

In Germany and Italy, by contrast, the Jews lived in ghettos. Overcrowded and lacking in hygiene, ghettos were located in the worst sections of town. Jews lived in them because they had to, not because they wanted to. Jews in Western Europe, moreover, were restricted in occupations. They were banned from agriculture and commerce, and most other fields, and as a result were forced into such occupations as moneylending and petty trade. Jews in Poland were able to engage in a wider range of activities, although they too were subject to many occupational restrictions. Among other things they were permitted to be tradesmen, lumberjacks, farmers, and the like. Some served as estate managers and stewards for the Poland nobility. They did not have to engage in moneylending.

The Polish monarchy was weak, which made it easier for the Jewish communities, but on the other hand the Roman Catholic Church in Poland was very powerful, and the anti-Semitic teachings it disseminated aroused intense hatred. Much the same was true in Russia, where the Greek Orthodox Church prevailed. In 1762, for instance, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna of Russia ordered that

All Jews, male and female, of whatever occupation and standing, shall be immediately deported, together with all their property, from Our whole Empire. They shall henceforth not be admitted to Our Empire unless they be willing to accept Christianity of the Greek persuasion.

In Western Europe and in the Habsburg Empire, by contrast, the emergence of absolute monarchies had led to a corresponding decline in the influence of the church. Moreover, the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century had created more tolerance for different religious beliefs and traditions.

As one weighs the similarities and the differences in the mid-18th century, the similarities seem to outweigh the differences. All of Europe's Jewish communities were socially isolated from the world of the Christians, each governed itself for the most part, each was impoverished and barely surviving. Perhaps the greatest difference is that there were no ghettos in Central or Eastern Europe.


The latter part of the 18th century brought major changes to Eastern Europe. Both Prussia and Russia wanted Poland, as did the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They agreed to divide Poland among them. Prussia took the area called Great Poland. The Habsburg Empire took Galicia, and Russia took Lithuania and Ukraine. Thus most of Poland's territory, and with it most of its Jews, now became part of the Russian Empire. As a result, the policy of expelling Jews adopted by Elizabeth Petrovna was no longer applicable. Catherine II (Catherine the Great) was now the ruler of the world's largest Jewish community.

The Pale of Settlement

In 1794 Empress Catherine II created the Pale of Settlement, although its final contours were not set until 1812 by Alexander II (1777-1825). The Pale-the area in which Jews were permitted to reside-took in Russia's 25 westernmost provinces from the Baltic to the Black Sea. It included most of eastern Poland, Lithuania, White Russia (Byelorussia, now known as Belarus), Ukraine, the Crimea, and Bessarabia. Jews had no choice but to live within the Pale. They could not leave it without special permission from the government. An official census in 1897 showed that by then there were close to 5 million Jews living in this area of 386,100 square miles. They represented 11.6 percent of the total population of the Pale.

In 1802 Czar Alexander I ruled that Jews could not live or work in incorporated villages. Although the liquor trade was a traditional Jewish business in Europe, they were also forbidden to sell liquor to the local peasants. These regulations destroyed the livelihood of one-third of the Jews, since these unfortunates held village leases or ran villages inns; another third were in trade, and most of the rest were craftsmen. The Czar explained that he wanted the Jews to be involved in "productive labor"-farming and timber. There was little land available, however. The real aim was to bring the Jews to baptism or induce them to leave Russia. Neither choice was taken, and the Jew of the Pale became completely impoverished.

Nicholas I

The year 1825 brought the death of Alexander, who was succeeded by his younger brother, Nicholas I (1796-1855). Nicholas was a professional soldier who came to be known as the "Iron Czar." His agenda included nationalism, loyalty to Russian Orthodox teachings, and autocracy, or absolute government by the Czar. Nicholas saw the Jews as an alien people who must adapt themselves rapidly to the Russian Orthodox majority or suffer fearful consequences. The Jews were, in short, a threat to "Holy Mother Russia."

In 1827 Nicholas issued the Cantonist Decrees, which conscripted male Jews aged 12 to 25. Approximately 50,000 Jews were conscripted at this time. The 12-year-olds were to be trained and educated at the local canton (military depot), and at age 18 they were inducted into the Russian army for a term of 25 years. Based on published recruitment lists for the empire, about 70,000 Jews were conscripted between 1827 and 1854. Some 50,000 of the recruits were minors. Many of these young people died from malnutrition, beatings, disease, or loneliness. Some broke under the pressure and converted to the Russian Orthodox Church, but most remained Jewish under the difficult circumstances. Fewer than half of the cantonists ever returned home.

The quota of recruits was to be filled by the leadership of the Jewish communities. More fortunate families and better-connected families could buy their way out, so it was usually the children of the poor, the defenseless, and the downtrodden who were conscripted. In order to make their quotas, Jewish communities were forced to hire special agents, known as kidnappers (khappers), who roamed the streets looking for candidates, delivering them to the Russian army for a fee.

The Minister of Public Education under Nicholas was Count Sergei S. Uvarov. A man of great intellect, he was literate in French and German as well as in Russian. Uvarov had formulated the essential themes of the regime of Nicholas: Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationalism. He became the intellectual leader of Russian nationalism.

Uvarov concluded that Jews must be introduced to a curriculum of secular studies. The Talmud, he thought, was the text that kept Jews a separate people, for it taught them superstitions and prejudices about non-Jews. If they could be separated from the Talmud, they could be more easily exposed and attracted to the teachings of Christianity. The purpose of this new approach could be hidden from the Jews by implementing it in Jewish schools, not Russian schools. Students would be taught the Russian language, secular sciences, Hebrew, and "religion according to the Holy Writ."

The teachers would be Jews who could be relied upon to carry out the goals of the new crown schools. The principals of primary schools would be Christians. There would be three theological seminaries, in Vilna, Warsaw, and Zhitomir, whose purpose would be to train teachers and rabbis. The directors of the theological seminaries would be Jews.

It would be necessary, though, to find a capable Jewish educator to be placed in charge, one who was a "modern" enlightened Jew but would not look too closely into the government's ulterior motives. Uvarov's choice was Max Lilienthal. Lilienthal was a young German Jew, educated at the University of Munich. He was a rabbi, but also a doctor of philosophy. He had established, in the city of Riga in Lithuania, a modern secular school for the more prosperous Jews of the community, a school that had been remarkably successful.

When approached to be in charge, Lilienthal wondered why a literate people like Jews needed educational efforts more than the illiterate masses of Russian people. Uvarov's response was that secular education was indispensable if Jews sought emancipation. Lilienthal asked permission to consult with colleagues, which he was granted. Abraham Geiger, leader of Reform Judaism in Germany, Adolphe Crémieux, a distinguished French politician, and Sir Moses Montefiore, a wealthy English banker and stockbroker, agreed that secular education, no matter what the underlying motives, would be a great opportunity for the pious but unenlightened Jews of Russia. Lilienthal agreed to take on the challenge.

Lilienthal began with a public-relations campaign on behalf of the new schools. He decided to tour the communities in the Pale of Settlement in an effort to gain support. He visited Vilna, where Jews told him that the motives of the Russians were obvious, that they sought to bring Jews to Christianity. In Minsk, Jews refused to speak with him. In Berditchev and Odessa, where maskilim, or enlightened Jews, were more numerous, he was greeted like royalty. Support came as well from maskilim living outside Russia.

In 1844 Uvarov decided that the time had come to announce the establishment of the Jewish crown schools. Much ceremony was attached to the opening of these schools. They might have experienced more success were it not for a memorandum sent by Nicholas to Uvarov, reaffirming that the real goal was to make the Jews more like Christians and remove from them the prejudices against Christians emerging from the Talmud. Uvarov responded with his own memorandum, indicating that soon all the "Jewish" courses would be eliminated and displaced by instruction in the Orthodox faith. The Jews' skepticism had been justified all along.

Lilienthal himself had come to realize the government's intention, so in 1844 he left Russia for America. There he lived until 1882, occupying distinguished rabbinic positions in Cincinnati and New York.

by 1855 the Pale of Settlement was reduced to include only Lithuania, New Russia, Little Russia, and sections of Ukraine. New regulations were introduced. Traditional Jewish clothing was prohibited or taxed heavily. Jews could not employ non-Jews as domestics, nor could they marry before the age of 18. Jewish agricultural settlements were now prohibited. Jewish education was to be strictly supervised. The Jewish quota for the Russian army was tripled, and there were decrees against the study of Talmud. Jews were forbidden to practice many professions unless they first converted to Christianity. Jews were classified as "useful" (farmers, artisans, skilled workers, the "educated") or "useless" (teamsters, unskilled laborers, rabbis, teachers, unemployed, sick, orphans); the "useless" had a higher conscription quota for the army.

The Russian rabbinate suffered another compromise of its authority when the government required the Jews to have official rabbis. These rabbis were to be responsible for keeping track of births, deaths, marriages, and divorces, but official rabbis had to be literate in Russian and able to meet the government standards for clergymen. This meant that almost all traditional rabbis were excluded from official recognition. More important, they lost the basis of their salaries and whatever official powers they held. For the most part the official rabbis were ready to accept the authority of the unofficial but recognized rabbis, but many of the official rabbis were of low character and ignorant in Jewish law. Some were "'enlightened" Jews, whose loyalty to Jewish tradition and Torah observance was under question.

Alexander II

The Crimean War (1854-1856) pitted Russia against Turkey; England, France, and Sardinia came to Turkey's aid and helped defeat Russia. Supposedly this war related to protection of the holy places in Palestine; it brought disastrous military defeats to Russia. Many lives were lost, but, more important, Nicholas's major theme, military efficiency, was discredited. The year 1855 brought the death of Nicholas, however, and Russia looked for changes under the rule of his successor, Alexander II.

After his coronation, Alexander promised "education, equal justice, tolerance, and humaneness" to all Russians. He rescinded the decree of cantonism, the conscription of young Jews, and the Jewish community rejoiced. He abolished serfdom, granting Russia's 47 million serfs legal freedom. He introduced jury trials for the first time in Russia's history.


Excerpted from The Jewish World in the Modern Age by Jon Bloomberg Copyright © 2004 by Jon Bloomberg. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 9
1. Politics and Community in Eastern Europe 11
Introduction 11
Life Under the Czars 12
The Pale of Settlement 12
Nicholas I 13
Alexander II 15
The May Laws 16
The Bund: A Mass Jewish Socialist Movement 18
Nicholas II 20
Russian Revolution 22
Joseph Stalin 24
Nikita Khrushchev 26
Leonid Brezhnev and the Refuseniks 26
Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the Soviet Union 28
Boris Yeltsin 28
Vladimir Putin 28
Summary 29
2. Politics and Community in Western and Central Europe 39
Introduction 39
France 39
On the Eve of the Revolution 39
Jews on the Eve of the Revolution 40
The French Revolution 41
Emancipation of French Jews 42
The Reign of Terror 43
Assembly of Jewish Notables 43
The Great Sanhedrin 44
Napoleon's Decrees 44
Fall of Napoleon 45
Congress of Vienna 45
Germany 46
Habsburg Empire 47
Metternich 48
1848 Revolutions 49
Emancipation of the Jews 49
England 50
Summary 52
3. Cultural and Intellectual History 67
Introduction 67
Englightenment and the Jews: Western Europe 67
Englightenment and the Jews: Eastern Europe 69
Yiddish Literature 72
The Musar Movement 73
Talmud Study and the Yeshivot 75
Jewish Philosophy 78
Biblical Exegesis 78
Kabbalah and Jewish Ethics 79
Summary 79
4. Religious Reform 91
Introduction 91
Reform Judaism 91
Reform Judaism in America 93
Positive-Historical Judaism: Zechariah Frankel 96
Conservative Judaism 97
Reconstructionist Judaism 101
Neo-Orthodoxy: Samson Raphael Hirsch 102
Orthodox Judaism in America 105
Summary 107
5. Hasidism 121
Introduction 121
Turning Point in Poland 121
The Ba'al Shem Tov 121
Students of the Ba'al Shem Tov 122
The Zaddik 122
Devekut 123
Opposition to Hasidism 123
Hasidism in the 19th and 20th Centuries 124
Summary 128
6. Holocaust 133
The Weimar Republic 133
Hitler's Rise to Power 133
Boycott 135
Anti-Jewish Legislation 136
The Nuremberg Laws 137
Emigration 138
More Anti-Jewish Activity 139
Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") 140
Invasion of Poland 141
Ghettos 142
Judenrat 143
Death Camps 145
Summary 148
7. Zionism 161
Forerunners of Zionism 161
Theodor Herzl 162
First Zionist Congress 164
Labor Zionism 165
Religious Zionism 166
Balfour Declaration 166
Arab Nationalism 167
World War II 169
End of British Mandate 170
Summary 171
8. The State of Israel 183
Establishment of the State 183
Declaration of Independence 183
War of Independence 183
Formation of Government 184
The Arab-Israeli Conflict 186
Peace Treaties
Israel and Egypt 192
Israel and the PLO--the Oslo Accords 193
Israel and Jordan 194
Summary 195
9. The Jews in America 207
Early Settlement 207
Jews and the American Revolution 208
German Jewry in America 208
East European Immigration 210
World War I and the Russian Revolution 215
The Great Depression 218
President Roosevelt and the New Deal 218
Anti-Semitism in the Roosevelt Years 219
America and the Holocaust 219
Jews in America in the 1950s 220
Anti-Semitism in the 1950s 221
Jews in America in the 1960s 222
Jews and the Civil Rights Movement 223
Jews in America in the 1970s and 1980s 224
Jews in America From 1990 to 2003 225
Summary 227
10. The Jews in Canada 255
Early Settlement 255
Anti-Semitism before World War II 257
Canada and the Holocaust 257
Anti-Semitism after World War II 257
Synagogues 258
Jewish Education 259
Major Jewish Organizations 260
Jews in Canadian Politics 261
Jews in the Judiciary 262
Summary 262
Bibliography 271
Index 275
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