Jewish Philanthropy and Enlightenment in Late-Tsarist Russia
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: University of Washington Press
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A Note on Transliteration
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On January 29, 1906, with Russia still reeling from the revolution of the year before, the Society for the Promotion of Enlightenment among the Jews of Russia, known by its Russian acronym OPE (Obshchestvo dlia rasprostraneniia prosveshcheniia mezhdu evreiami...
Part 1 - Integration Schemes
1. The Gintsburg Family and the Emergence of a Jewish Enlightenment Society
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The prehistory of the OPE reflects the emergence of the "Jewish notables" as the center of power in Jewish politics in Russia. Coming to the forefront during the reign of Nicholas I, the notables took a leadership role in large part because the government and the Jewish...
2. Forging a Mission
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The Russian government, encouraging the notables to take Jewish reform into their own hands, approved the petition of Evzel Gintsburg and A. M. Brodsky to open the Society for the Promotion of Enlightenment in December 1863. Since the government already had a system for organizing its relations with the Jews...
3. The Odessa Branch and Radical Russification
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In 1866, the St. Petersburg board received a request from the financier A. M. Brodsky to open an affiliate branch in Odessa. Odessa's "state" rabbi, Shimon Aryeh Schwabacher, joined Brodsky in this request.1 However, control of the branch quickly passed from the city's religious and...
Part 2 - Confrontations with Reality
4. Confrontation with Anti-Semites
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Following the liberation of the serfs, the government was trying to set a clear and pragmatic course for reform. But officials feared devolving too much authority and unduly empowering "society." Some Jews benefited greatly from the reforms, while others remained unaffected or...
5. Pogroms and the Shtadlanut
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The outbreak of pogroms in April 1881, their continuation throughout the summer, and the renewed pogroms the next year underscored the deep divide between rich and poor, the few who lived outside the Pale and the many who lived within. The fact that at this point...
6. Generational Change and New Agendas
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Although the OPE had not achieved much in its first two decades of existence, the society was not prepared to admit defeat. On December 29, 1888, St. Petersburg's OPE members gathered to recall the achievements of the first quarter century.1 From 175 members...
Part 3 - An Ope School Network
7. Designing an Ideal Jewish School
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The Odessa branch acted as a catalyst for change in St. Petersburg, where attempts to facilitate integration did not bring the results that the leaders had hoped. Attempts to create a Jewish elite from university graduates did not bear fruit, especially since those who became...
8. Developing Educational Networks
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Subsidies and growth were important, but in a sense they were meaningless on their own. The OPE had to have a vision of what it hoped to achieve. The leaders proclaimed their intention of becoming the catalyst for a unified, empire-wide Jewish school program...
9. Envisioning New Leaders: Modern Teachers and Reform Rabbis
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Since the OPE's dream to create a vital and broad nationwide school program turned out to be unrealizable, at least immediately, the school commission focused on teacher preparation and the training of rabbis. These two professions, members maintained, could act as the...
10. Struggles with the Orthodox Elite: Schools versus Heders
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The entire school program seemed to be held hostage by opposition from religious authorities and parents who repeatedly showed their allegiance to the heder and children who wanted to go directly to Russian schools. The members of the school commission realized that...
Part 4 - Nationalism
11. Diaspora Nationalism
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Stymied by obstacles to integration, OPE members in St. Petersburg slowly gravitated to nationalism. But the path was not as clear-cut as it was for Simon Dubnov, for instance, who clearly responded to social frustration, or even Ahad Ha'am, whose Zionism reflected the expression of a powerful...
12. Militancy in 1905
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The revolution of 1905 awakened dreams of political transformation, democracy, and freedom. Striving for political rights, OPE members hitched their aspirations to the general struggle to overthrow the tsarist government. Jewish liberals and socialists enthusiastically...
13. Building Institutions between the Revolutions
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It is not difficult to imagine the hopes that were inspired by the tsar's concession to establish a state Duma and the freedoms, albeit circumscribed, of political assembly and expression.1 With increased freedom, opportunities for the OPE to expand its operations grew. At the same...
14. The OPE in War and Revolution
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The OPE rose to the challenges of World War I, turning into the kind of organization it wished it could have become in peacetime. The networks it had developed in the pre-war years and its natural role as a facilitator between the government...
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The OPE played a critical role as a catalyst for the transformation of Russian Jewry. Beginning as a quasi-arm of the government, it ended by helping the provinces help themselves. In fact, the influence passed both ways. Just as the St. Petersburg center facilitated change...
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Publication Year: 2009