The Jewish Dark Continent: Life and Death in the Russian by Nathaniel Deutsch

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By Nathaniel Deutsch

On the flip of the 20th century, over 40 percentage of the world’s Jews lived in the Russian Empire, just about all within the light of cost. From the Baltic to the Black Sea, the Jews of the light created a particular lifestyle little identified past its borders. This led the historian Simon Dubnow to label the territory a Jewish “Dark Continent.”Just earlier than global conflict I, a socialist progressive and aspiring ethnographer named An-sky pledged to discover the light. He dreamed of major an ethnographic excursion that will produce an archive—what he referred to as an Oral Torah of the typical humans instead of the rabbinic elite—which may guard Jewish traditions and rework them into the seeds of a contemporary Jewish tradition. among 1912 and 1914, An-sky and his group accrued jokes, recorded songs, took hundreds of thousands of images, and created a huge ethnographic questionnaire. together with 2,087 questions in Yiddish—exploring the gamut of Jewish people ideals and traditions, from daily actions to non secular workouts to marital intimacies—the Jewish Ethnographic software constitutes a useful portrait of japanese eu Jewish lifestyles close to destruction.Nathaniel Deutsch deals the 1st entire translation of the questionnaire, in addition to the riveting tale of An-sky’s nearly messianic efforts to create a Jewish ethnography in an period of progressive switch. An-sky’s undertaking used to be halted by way of global warfare I, and inside many years the light of cost could now not exist. those survey questions revive and demonstrate shtetl existence in all its ask yourself and complexity. (20111121)

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Additional info for The Jewish Dark Continent: Life and Death in the Russian Pale of Settlement

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35 Parallel to these developments, there also existed a decades-long tradition of Russian ethnography that influenced An-sky’s ethnographic method and sensibility. Soon after the Imperial Russian Geographical Society was established in 1845, members of its Ethnographic Division set about creating an extensive ethnographic questionnaire, focusing on 32 T H E J E W I S H DA R K C O N T I N E N T ethnic Russians, which was printed and distributed to local correspondents beginning in 1848. 37 In the coming years, ethnographic questionnaires would become a staple tool of Russian ethnographers in their efforts to study both ethnic Russian peasants and inorodtsy.

Yet she was a pious woman and, according to the Jewish legal principle known as kol isha (lit. voice of a woman), it would be improper for her to sing in front of men, especially complete strangers like the ones who had arrived in the shtetl of Kremenetz only a few days earlier. By the summer of 1913, when they encountered the recalcitrant matriarch of the Roykhel family in Kremenetz, An-sky and the other members of the Jewish Ethnographic Expedition had already faced numerous obstacles. Strapped for cash and limited to travel during warmer months when the roads were passable, An-sky and his team had also come under police surveillance during the expedition’s first season in 1912.

More than three decades later, during the Jewish Ethnographic Expedition, An-sky once again donned the “mask of piety” that he had earlier worn in Liozno. ” This time around, however, An-sky was more successful in his masquerade. Indeed, precisely those representatives of tradition who had previously excommunicated and exiled him now welcomed him warmly in shtetl after shtetl. 19 As Rekhtman later recalled: The synagogues and houses of study were the first places that we would visit. We would come to pray in a different house of prayer every day, introduce ourselves to the people praying, and after services An-sky would invite the old men to the inn where he was staying.

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