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Conscription and the Search for Modern Russian Jewry

Olga Litvak

Publication Year: 2006

"Olga Litvak has written a book of astonishing originality and intellectual force.... In vivid prose, she takes the reader on a journey through the Russian-Jewish literary imagination." -- Benjamin Nathans

Russian Jews were first conscripted into the Imperial Russian army during the reign of Nicholas I in an effort to integrate them into the population of the Russian Empire. Conscripted minors were to serve, in practical terms, for life. Although this system was abandoned by his successor, the conscription experience remained traumatic in the popular memory and gave rise to a large and continuing literature that often depicted Jewish soldiers as heroes. This imaginative and intellectually ambitious book traces the conscription theme in novels and stories by some of the best-known Russian Jewish writers such as Osip Rabinovich, Judah-Leib Gordon, and Mendele Mokher Seforim, as well as by relatively unknown writers.

Published with the generous support of the Koret Foundation.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: The Modern Jewish Experience


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pp. ix

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A note on transliteration

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pp. xi

In transliterating Hebrew and Russian, I have followed the Library of Congress rules, except that I have eliminated most diacritical marks. Yiddish terms are generally romanized according to the standards of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. All translations from Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian are my own, except where indicated. ...

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pp. xiii-xv

This book initially emerged at Columbia University’s Department of History. I owe the most profound debt to my teachers there, especially to Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, whose patient, clear-eyed guidance and near-prophetic wisdom steered me toward a career as a historian of Eastern European Jewry. ...

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Introduction: The Literary Response to Conscription and the Persistence of Enlightenment in Russian-Jewish Culture

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pp. 1-12

The image of Russia’s first Jewish soldiers, drafted into the army of Nicholas I between 1827 and 1855, has entered contemporary culture as one of the preeminent examples of Jewish hardship under the tsars. Descendants of Russian-Jewish immigrants in such diverse places as Dublin and New York continue to invoke fear of conscription ...

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1. Stepchildren of the Tsar: Jewish Cantonists and the Official Origins of Russian Jewry

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pp. 13-41

In the second half of the nineteenth century Russian-Jewish writers raised the figure of the Nicholaevan recruit to the status of an icon, the cultural signifier of the difficult origins of Russian Jewish Enlightenment. Through their imaginative mediation, the story of Jewish conscription into the army of Nicholas ...

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2. Great Expectations: The Beginnings of Cantonist Literature and the Emancipation of Russian-Jewish Consciousness

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pp. 42-72

The singular experiences of Russia’s first Jewish soldiers in the army of Nicholas I emblematized the immediate difficulties facing Russia’s Jewish enlighteners as they made the transition into the era of the Great Reforms. The distance of former cantonists like Katsman and Itskovich ...

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3. The Romance of Enlightenment: Gender and the Critique of Embourgeoisement in the Recruitment Novels of I. M. Dik, Grigorii Bogrov, and J. L. Gordon

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pp. 73-101

During the 1870s Russian Jewry’s conscription past emerged as a key theme in the expanding repertoire of maskilic literature, written in Russian, Hebrew, and Yiddish, and aimed at an increasing number of Russian Jews eager to claim the fruits of economic and educational opportunities afforded by the policy of ‘‘selective integration’’ ...

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4. Return of the Native: The Nicholaevan Universe of Sh. J.Abramovich and the Enlightenment Origins of Russian-Jewish Populism

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pp. 102-139

The conscription theme formed a cornerstone of the maskilic narrative of resistance to the historical realities of emancipation. While the ‘‘selective integration’’ policy stalled in the last years of the reign of Alexander II and into the reign of his son, Alexander III, ...

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5. Dead Children of the Hebrew Renaissance: The Conscription Story as Nationalist Myth

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pp. 140-170

Written between the mid-1880s and the revolution of 1905, the conscription stories that appeared in the work of authors associated with the Hebrew Renaissance anticipated the moment of national rebirth. The contemporary mood of apocalyptic expectation projected back onto the Nicholaevan period ...

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6. The Writing of Conscription History and the Making of the Russian-Jewish Diaspora

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pp. 171-203

Between the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the end of the First World War, roughly 1.6 million Russian Jews (a little more than a quarter of the total population of 5 million) emancipated themselves—with their feet.1 Viewed within the context of the rapid and unprecedented urbanization and concentration ...

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pp. 204-208

Driven by the tension between emancipation and enlightenment, history and story offered two distinct ways of integrating the Russian-Jewish present into the longue dur


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pp. 209-252


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pp. 253-270


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pp. 271-273

E-ISBN-13: 9780253000774
E-ISBN-10: 0253000777
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253348081

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: The Modern Jewish Experience