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.
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 THREE Fair Trade 91 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
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"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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