The Shtetl: New Evaluations

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Dating from the sixteenth century, there were hundreds of shtetls—Jewish settlements—in Eastern Europe that were home to a large and compact population that differed from their gentile, mostly peasant neighbors in religion, occupation, language, and culture. The shtetls were different in important respects from previous types of Jewish settlements in the Diaspora in that Jews had rarely formed a majority in the towns in which they lived. This was not true of the shtetl, where Jews sometimes comprised 80% or more of the population. While the shtetl began to decline during the course of the nineteenth century, it was the Holocaust which finally destroyed it.

During the last thirty years the shtetl has attracted a growing amount of scholarly attention, though gross generalizations and romanticized nostalgia continue to affect how the topic is treated. This volume takes a new look at this most important facet of East European Jewish life. It helps to correct the notion that the shtetl was an entirely Jewish world and shows the ways in which the Jews of the shtetl interacted both with their co-religionists and with their gentile neighbors. The volume includes chapters on the history of the shtetl, its myths and realities, politics, gender dynamics, how the shtetl has been (mis)represented in literature, and the changes brought about by World War I and the Holocaust, among others.

Contributors: Samuel Kassow, Gershon David Hundert, Immanuel Etkes, Nehemia Polen, Henry Abramson, Konrad Zielinski, Jeremy Dauber, Israel Bartel, Naomi Seidman, Mikhail Krutikov, Arnold J. Band, Katarzyna Wieclawska, Yehunda Bauer, and Elie Wiesel.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“The quality of the essays is uniformly good, and after reading them, readers will be fully acquainted with the elusive concept of the shtetl. The essays are well documented.”



“This important and comprehensive collection provides a fascinating re-evaluation of one of the main locations of Jewish life in Eastern Europe down to the Holocaust and beyond.”
-Antony Polonsky,Albert Abramson Professor of Holocaust Studiesat the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Brandeis University

“[A]nyone looking to really understand the Jewish past, not just the romanticized version of it, will find this book a perfect antidote.”
-The Reporter


“The book is a must-buy for all libraries.”
-AJL Newsletter


"Talk about stereotype busting! Not only are we forced to readjust our sights . . . but in the best moments of Katz’s collection we learn how to distinguish what is factually true from what is mythically imagined. Even more importantly, we begin to see . . . the world of the shtetlach that the fog and night of the Holocaust forever destroyed."
-New Jersey Jewish News


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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814748312
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven T. Katz is Slater Professor of Jewish and Holocaust Studies and former Director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies at Boston University. His many publications include The Holocaust in Historical Context.
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Table of Contents

Editor's Note Steven T. Katz vii

Introduction Samuel Kassow 1

1 The Importance of Demography and Patterns of Settlement for an Understanding of the Jewish Experience in East-Central Europe Gershon David Hundert 29

2 A Shtetl with a Yeshiva: The Case of Volozhin Immanuel Etkes 39

3 Rebbetzins, Wonder-Children, and the Emergence of the Dynastic Principle in Hasidism Nehemia Polen 53

4 Two Jews, Three Opinions: Politics in the Shtetl at the Turn of the Twentieth Century Henry Abramson 85

5 The Shtetl in Poland, 1914-1918 Konrad Zielinski 102

6 The Shtetl in Interwar Poland Samuel Kassow 121

7 Looking at the Yiddish Landscape: Representation in Nineteenth-Century Hasidic and Maskilic Literature Jeremy Dauber 140

8 Imagined Geography: The Shtetl, Myth, and Reality Israel Bartal 179

9 Gender and the Disintegration of the Shtetl in Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Literature Naomi Seidman 193

10 Rediscovering the Shtetl as a New Reality: David Bergelson and Itsik Kipnis Mikhail Krutikov 211

11 Agnon's Synthetic Shtetl Arnold J. Band 233

12 The Image of the Shtetl in Contemporary Polish Fiction Katarzyna Wiectawska 243

13 Sarny and Rokitno in the Holocaust: A Case Study of Two Townships in Wolyn (Volhynia) Yehuda Bauer 253

14 The World of the Shtetl Elie Wiesel 290

About the Contributors 307

Index 311

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