Course date

6 July - 24 July, 1998
Application deadline
15 February, 1998
Course Director(s): 

Michael Silber

Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Hillel Kieval

George Washington University, Washington, D.C., United States of America
Course Faculty: 

Israel Bartal

Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Immanuel Etkes

Melton Centre for Jewish Education, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Jonathan Frankel

Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Rashid Kaplanov

Jewish University in Moscow, Russian Federation

Andras Kovacs

Nationalism Studies, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

Ezra Mendelsohn

Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Michael Stanislawski

Columbia University in the City of New York, United States of America
As a dispersed minority, two basic issues confronted Jews in the modern era: achieving integration into their host societies and maintaining a meaningful and flourishing Jewish identity and culture. These two goals were often seen as part of a zero-sum game where universal principles underpinning integration were seen as eroding the particular Jewish identity and its cultural and political expressions. In the emancipating host societies and states in the West, integration was often coupled with demands for conformity, and the legitimacy of preserving a particularistic culture and identity was often called into question. But what of the eastern lands? 
 
During most of the modern period, the majority of world Jewry lived on the territories of the Russian and Habsburg empires and their successor states, a very heterogeneous region with great national and religious diversity, however, one that could not be characterized as very liberal. What implications did this have for both integration into the host societies as well as the preservation of Jewish distinctiveness and particular collective identity? 
 
To the predicament that Jews found themselves in there was no one solution. An impressive spectrum of ideologies sought to resolve the tensions between integration and distinctiveness. Above all, it was an arena where every solution was sharply challenged and contested, creating in practice a wide variety of Jewish identities in the different lands of eastern and east-central Europe. 
 
With these themes in mind, we will explore the history of the Jews in the Russian and Habsburg Empires, as well as the "nation-states" that succeeded them after World War I, up until the collapse of communism. At times the two empires posed an interesting contrast to each other as well as to the nation-states in the West. But at other times there were surprising convergences. 
 
This graduate level course seeks to present an up to date synthesis of the last few decades of scholarship in modern eastern european Jewish history by some of the outstanding authorities in the field. 
 
The course will be divided roughly into three parts, each a week long. The first part will introduce the setting, dealing with the most important religious, cultural and political developments in the Polish Kingdom and later in the Russian Empire, from enlightened absolutism up until 1880. The successes and failures of integration by the state, society and the nationalist movements, will be explored alongside the powerful polemics over these issues as well as the sharp fissures that made their appearance within the Jewish community, with the rise of the new Hasidic movement, its opponents (Mitnagdim), the Musar movement, and the Haskala (Jewish Enlightenment). 
 
The second week is devoted to the history of the Jews of the Habsburg empire from the enlightened absolutism of Joseph II to the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy at the end of World War I. Here the Kulturkampf between the Orthodox and the reformers over the desirability of integration and the limits of Jewish distinctiveness will be much sharper than in both eastern and western Europe. The role of nationalism as well as the rise of modern antisemitism will be central issues, as well as the explosion of Jewish creativity in the major urban centers of the empire.
 
The third week is devoted mainly to developments in the interwar and the postwar periods. Modern Jewish politics arose in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century when Jewish nationalism and socialism sprouted a bewildering array of political parties and ideologies each with its own peculiar solution to the twin problems of universal integration and particular distinctiveness. The first World War proved to be a crucial watershed in the history of the Jews both in the Soviet Union and in the new successor states of east-central Europe. The new conditions presented new opportunities and constraints to the perennial choices facing modern Jewry. The course concludes by bringing the narrative up to our very day.