The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe

The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe

by Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern


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The shtetl was home to two-thirds of East Europe's Jews in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, yet it has long been one of the most neglected and misunderstood chapters of the Jewish experience. This book provides the first grassroots social, economic, and cultural history of the shtetl. Challenging popular misconceptions of the shtetl as an isolated, ramshackle Jewish village stricken by poverty and pogroms, Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern argues that, in its heyday from the 1790s to the 1840s, the shtetl was a thriving Jewish community as vibrant as any in Europe.

Petrovsky-Shtern brings this golden age to life, looking at dozens of shtetls and drawing on a wealth of never-before-used archival material. Illustrated throughout with rare archival photographs and artwork, this nuanced history casts the shtetl in an altogether new light, revealing how its golden age continues to shape the collective memory of the Jewish people today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691168517
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 08/25/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 874,179
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern is the Crown Family Professor of Jewish Studies at Northwestern University.

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION What’s in a Name? 1

CHAPTER ONE Russia Discovers Its Shtetl 29

CHAPTER TWO Lawless Freedom 57


CHAPTER FOUR The Right to Drink 121

CHAPTER FIVE A Violent Dignity 151

CHAPTER SIX Crime, Punishment, and a Promise of Justice 181

CHAPTER SEVEN Family Matters 213

CHAPTER EIGHT Open House 243

CHAPTER NINE If I Forget Thee 273

CHAPTER TEN The Books of the People 305

CONCLUSION The End of the Golden Age 341

Abbreviations 357

Notes 361

Acknowledgments 417

Index 421

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"The shtetl, home of most East European Jews for several centuries, has been the subject of endless romantic re-creations in the American Jewish corpus. Finally a serious historian of Russian Jewry gives us a well-documented but still lively and fascinating picture of this lost world. A must-read for anyone seeking to understand the immediate Jewish past."—Art Green, Brandeis University and Hebrew College

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