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Preface This volume comprises an anthology of texts by and about representative individuals and cultural groups in Jewish Lithuania – particularly Vilnius and its environs – over the course of the last four centuries. In the early twenty-first century such a topic might at first glance seem insignificant, but, from the necessarily historical perspective of cultural studies, it is anything but obscure or trivial. The broad and deep cultural significance of a city that some might deem culturally unimportant in the twenty-first century needs some further elaboration in order to reveal its ongoing relevance in Jewish culture and Jewish studies. Jewish Lithuania – ‫ליטע‬/‫ליטא‬ Lite in Hebrew and Yiddish – was not nationally but culturally conceived and included not only present-day Lithuania, but also Latvia, northeastern Poland, and most of Belarus. Lithuanian Jews and their culture are termed Litvak(s) in Yiddish (and in Jewish English). Litvak culture was marked by a distinct dialect of Yiddish, a distinct religious practice (in general a traditional but anti-Hasidic Judaism, termed ‫מתנגדות‬ misnagdes in Yiddish), a kind of intellectualism that permeated society, and often even a slight cultural snobbery vis-à-vis the rest of European Jewry. Until the arrival in Lithuania of the German army in 1942, which of course irrevocably changed everything forever, Vilnius (Vilne in Yiddish) was known as ‫ד'ליטא‬ ‫ירושלים‬ Yerusholayim d’Lita ‘Jerusalem of Lithuania,’ the veritable center of Jewish intellectual culture on the planet: rabbis’ sons from Berlin and London and Warsaw and even New York and Jerusalem were sent to yeshivahs in and around Vilne for advanced Talmudic study. But the bustling city was also the hub of a broad range of secular culture. Whatever was going on in Jewish literature, journalism, politics, theater, labor organizing, etc., was going on in Vilne. The most famous collection of tales ever published in Yiddish, the Mayse-bukh (1602) was compiled by a Litvak, Jacob b. Abraham of Mezhirech, while one of the earliest historical poems in Yiddish was written and published (ca. 1656) about the infamous Chmelnitski massacres throughout the Ukraine, Poland, and reaching all the way north to Vilne. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Hasidism (the origin, for instance, of all Chabad Houses on U.S. university campuses) came from northeastern Belarus – a Litvak. His anti-Hasidic arch-enemy, the Vilne Gaon, the most important and most famous modern commentator on the Bible and the Talmud anywhere in the world – lived his entire life in Vilne. Solomon Maimon, the Kantian philosopher (who – Kant himself claimed – was the only one of his contemporaries who truly understood his work), was born and educated near Mir in Litvak Belarus. While passing through Vilne toward his date with history in Moscow, Napoleon took a tour of Vilne’s grand synagogue, the ‫אט־שול‬ ָ‫שט‬ shtot-shul, and characterized it as one of the great triumphs of European architecture. The three founders of modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature, S.A. Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher Sforim), Sholem Aleykhem, and Y.L. Peretz are generally associated with Polish or Ukrainian Yiddish culture, but Abramovitsh was born and spent his formative years in Litvak territory, which supplied him with literary themes for his entire life. Sholem Alekhkem and Peretz, on the other hand, were not Litvaks, but they wrote extensively and significantly about Litvak themes and culture. The inventor of Esperanto, Dr. L.L. Zamenhof lived for many years in Kovne (Lithuanian: Kaunus), the sister city down-river from Vilne. One of the most prolific exponents of journalistico-literary didacticism, Isaac Meier Dik, lived and worked in Vilne, where he published some 300 individually issued novelettes over the course of his career. Among the most important exponents of Yiddish literary modernism were the Litvaks Chaim Grade, H. Leivik, and Peretz Hirshbeyn. The legendary jokester of Yiddish folklore, Motke Chabad, was an actual historical Vilne-ite, about whom there are scores of anecdotes still in circulation, some probably of his own composition, written for his local patrons. The Jewish Bund labor movement was founded in Vilne, and the first and most important home of YIVO (the Yiddish Scientific Institute, now in New York and Buenos Aires) was there, where its early star scholars, Max Weinreich, Yudl Mark, and Ber Borochov also lived and worked. For a time Vilne was the ‘big ix city’ for Marc Chagall, who was born and grew up in nearby Vitebsk, as did his wife, author and memoirist, Bela Rosenfeld-Chagall. The painter Chaim Soutine was born near Minsk in Belarus – a Litvak – and studied in the academy...


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