Synopses & Reviews
This chronological survey of Jews in Poland and Russia progressesfrom the Polish-Lithuanian historical background through WWII, the collapse of the communist system, and the situation of Jews inEastern Europe and Russia since the end of communism. The book was first published in three volumes in 2010 and 2012. This one-volumeedition seeks to be accessible to a wider audience of students and includes material that has become available since the firstpublication. To increase accessibility, the number of annotations has been limited, footnotes have been changed to endnotes, and anextensive glossary has been added. This edition also offers a special focus on Jewish literary activity in Hebrew, Yiddish,Russian, Polish, and German, showing how writers reacted to changing conditions on Jewish society. The book includes 23 b&w maps. Distributed in the US by ISBS.Annotation ©2014 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The glorious history of the Jews of Andalusian Spain came to an abrupt end in 1147-48 with the Almohade invasion and upheaval. Many old and renowned Jewish communities, among them Cordoba, Granada, Seville, and Lucena, were wiped out. Thousands of Jews fled north to Christian Spain where they found a new home and sought to revive the rich communal life they and their ancestors had enjoyed for centuries in. Some thirteen years after the calamity and now based in Toledo, Abraham ibn Daud wrote a historical epitaph to the golden age that had produced such courtiers, rabbis, and poets as Hisdai ibn Sharput, Samuel the Nagid, Isaac al-Fasi, and Judah ha-Levi. While Ibn Daud has gained distinction as the first Jewish Aristotelian on the Iberian peninsula, he is no less famous as the first chronicler of Andalusian Jewry. Part of a historical trilogy, Sefer ha-Qabbalah (The Book of Tradition) is formally structured as a history of the Jews and Judaism from ancient times to 1161.
Writing in an age of deep communal anguish, Ibn Daud lent his support to the efforts to revive the historic community of Spain by attempting to prove that the only legitimate form of Jewish life and the only rightful spokesman of that tradition were rabbinism and the rabbinic leadership. The avowed stimulus for this motivation was the threat posed by the small sectarian Jewish community of Karaites, who had long since found a home in Christian Spain and had succeeded in gaining considerable influence there. Ibn Daud's work is thus a basic introduction to the way of life, tensions, and achievements of the rabbinic civilization that flowered under the protection and stimulus of Muslim domination. Gerson D. Cohen's edition of this historical classic, first published in 1967, provides a critical text of the original along with translation, commentary, and analysis.
For many centuries Poland and Russia formed the heartland of the Jewish world: right up to the Second World War the area was home to over 40 per cent of the world's Jews. Nearly three and a half million Jews lived in Poland alone, with nearly three million more in the Soviet Union. Yet although the majority of the Jews of Europe and the United States, and a large proportion of the Jews of Israel, originate from these lands, and many of the major movements that have characterized the Jewish world in recent times have their origins there, the history of their Jewish communities is not well known. Rather, it is the subject of mythologizing that fails both to bring out the specific features of the Jewish civilization that emerged there and to illustrate what was lost in its destruction: Jewish life in these parts, though often poor materially, was marked by a high degree of spiritual and ideological intensity and creativity.
Antony Polonsky re-creates this lost world - brutally cut down by the Holocaust and seriously damaged by the Soviet attempt to destroy Jewish culture - in a study that avoids both sentimentalism and the simplification of the east European Jewish experience into a story of persecution and martyrdom. It is an important story whose relevance reaches far beyond the Jewish world or the bounds of east-central Europe, and Professor Polonsky succeeds in providing a comprehensive overview that highlights the realities of Jewish life while also setting them in the context of the political, economic, and social realities of the time. He describes not only the towns and shtetls where the Jews lived, the institutions they developed, and their participation in the economy, but also their vibrant religious and intellectual life, including the emergence of hasidism and the growth of opposition to it from within the Jewish world.
By the late eighteenth century other factors had come into play: with the onset of modernization there were government attempts to integrate and transform the Jews, and the stirrings of Enlightenment led to the growth of the Haskalah movement that was to revolutionize the Jewish world. Polonsky looks at developments in each area in turn: the problems of emancipation, acculturation, and assimilation in Prussian and Austrian Poland; the politics of integration in the Kingdom of Poland; and the failure of forced integration in the tsarist empire. He then shows how the deterioration in the position of the Jews between 1881 and 1914 encouraged a range of new movements - Zionism, socialism, and autonomism - as well as the emergence of modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature. He also examines Jewish urbanization and the rise of Jewish mass culture. The final part of the volume deals with the twentieth century. Starting from the First World War and the establishment of the Soviet Union, it looks in turn at Poland, Lithuania, and the Soviet Union up to the Second World War. It then reviews Polish - Jewish relations during the war and examines the Soviet record in relation to the Holocaust.
The final chapters deal with the Jews in the Soviet Union and in Poland since 1945, concluding with an epilogue on the Jews in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia since the collapse of communism. This is an abridged version of a three-volume hardback edition which won the 2011 Kulczycki Book Prize for Polish Studies (awarded by the American Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies) and also the Pro Historia Polonorum Prize for the best book on the history of Poland published in a foreign language between 2007 and 2011 (a prize established by the Polish Senate and awarded by the Polish Historical Association).