The Russian-Jewish Tradition (Book Review)

Pamir Dietrich, Ayşe
As mentioned in Horowitz’s Introduction, Russian society frequently delegitimized the Jewish presence and the Jews’ role in Russia; discrimination and anti-Semitic attitudes against the Jewish community began very early in Russia’s history and continued till the end of the Soviet Union. This book is about the Jewish intellectuals, historians, the revolutionaries who played a significant role in nineteenth and early twentieth century socialist movements in Russia and in the educational institutions. The book The Russian-Jewish Tradition, Intellectuals, Historians, Revolutionaries is comprised of three sections. The first section includes five chapters, second section includes six chapters and the final section contains two chapters. In the first section, “The Russian-Jewish Historians and Historiography”, the author discusses the role of institutions like the Cheder, an elementary school teaching the basics of Judaism and the Hebrew language during the modernization of the Jewish educational system in Tsarist Russia. The author provides the different approaches and discussions of historians about the Cheder schools in the 1960s in Israeli and American universities. While the Cheder was the object of study by activists who transformed the Cheder, around 1900 it began to reflect current political views and cultural aspects. The author asserts that the history of the Cheder in the Russian Empire was closely linked with struggles between the religiously orthodox and the maskilim (supporters of the Haskalah – Jewish Enlightenment), and explains why very few parents would permit male children to attend secular schools and why study at a Cheder conveyed prestige. The author also talks about the reasons for longevity and reliability of the Cheders. This part of the book also gives information about the alternatives to the Cheder provided by the Russian government to educate young Jews to facilitate their integration into Russian society, and the efforts that the Russian government made to convince parents to send their children there. It continues with an examination of the activities of the School Commission of the Society for the Promotion of Enlightenment among the Jews (OPE) to promote good education. Finally, the Bolsheviks’ attitude against the Cheders and the abolition of the Cheders are also discussed. Regarding the historiography of the Jews, Horowitz compares the historiography of European states and Russia and notes that Russian Jewish historiography in the nineteenth century lacked academic standards. Only in the 1860s the Russian government begin to collect information about the structure and characteristics of Jewish communities; in the 1870s historical research was directed towards the examination of the conditions of Jews in Russia and the possibility of change. The chapter also introduces the Russo-Jewish periodicals, such as the journal Evreiskaia starina which played a central role in early twenteeth century Jewish historiography. The author argues that being neither religious nor assimilated, the Jewish intelligentsia offered portrayals of identities that were in unity with the character of the city as a whole, and provides information about the nature of the Jewish intelligentsia in Odessa during the late Tsarist period, and the struggle between Zionists and integrationists. The author discusses two Jewish historians, Semyon Dubnov and Saul Borovoi who lived in Odessa during the Soviets and his valuable monographs and memoirs about the Jewish intelligentsia. It examines the image of Odessa before and during the Soviet, the pogroms, and the Jews under the new Soviet system. the section continues with the reasons why Semyon Dubnov emigrated and remained in Europe, and discusses his ideas on Jewish nationalism and the Yishuv in pre-state Palestine. In the second section of the book, “Russian-Jewish Intelligentsia’s Cultural Vibrancy”, the author talks about the writings of the folklorist Semyon An-sky, the ‘dialogic’ character of his fiction, his depiction of Jews and their multiplicity, and the ‘other’ among the Jews themselves. The section continues with examinations of the pogroms, Russian-Jewish intelligentsia and the pogrom of 1880-1914. In the disscussion about the historian Mikhail Gershenzon the author examines his mental transformation, his new approach to religion, the origins of civilizations, his reaction to the revolution of 1917, and the reasons why he stopped writing. This is followed by a disccusion of the critic Boris Eikhenbaum’s struggle for his self-definition as a Jew in Russian society, and the image of Jew in the Soviet life. Horowitz also dedicates one of his chapters to the Revisionist Zionist and writer Vladimir Jabotinsky and describes his political view on Jews, the Arab problem, the Jewish state, Palestine, his extreme form of nationalism, and the image of violence and aggression as an essential part of his ideology and the practice of his movement. The third section of the book, “Jewish Heritage in Russian Perception”, talks about the studies of two Russians, Vladimir Solov’ev, his tolerance, defence of Judaism and Jewish people, his rejection of the Enlightenment because of its emphasis on rationalism and his criticism of Christian attitudes towards Jews. Next comes a discussion on Vasily Rozanov and the idea of what the Jews symbolize for him in the constuction of a Russian idea. This book is a comprehensive analysis of Russian-Jewish tradition, Jewish intellectuals, historians, writers and educational institutions in the late nineteenth and and early twentieth centuries. It is a well-written reference book for specialists and academics on Russian-Jewish history.
International Journal of Russian Studies


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Citation Formats
A. Pamir Dietrich, “The Russian-Jewish Tradition (Book Review),” International Journal of Russian Studies, vol. 7, no. 7/1 2018, pp. 90–92, 2018, Accessed: 00, 2023. [Online]. Available: