The East European shtetl and its place in Jewish history

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The article is an attempt to evaluate the place of the East European shtetl in Jewish history. The small town, as it existed mainly in the Pale of Settlement of the Russian Empire, was introduced to Jewish discourse in the Nineteenth century by its literature. It became in the narrative of the Jewish people one of the more lasting symbols of life in the Diaspora. Yet the real shtetl, mainly that of the Pale, was almost completely absent as a subject of Jewish historiography and research. The shtetl was home of a numerically significant part of the Jewish people in modern times. It was characterized by the demographic preponderance of the Jewish population, imparting a distinct ethnic character on several hundred small urban centers and forming a world apart from the surrounding Slavic peasant environment. The density of the network of hundreds of small towns, between the Baltic and the Black seas, as well as their distinct existence for a long period justifies its designation as the Shtetl Formation or Shtetlland. The culture and mentality and attitudes of a large proportion of the modern Jewish people for a rather long period was affected by the small town sociology and mentality of the shtetl.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-212
Number of pages26
JournalRevue des Etudes Juives
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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