- When the Iron Curtain Was Raised
Sefer, an organization whose offices are located in the Academy of Sciences building in Moscow, is one of several Jewish studies centers that have sprung up since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Sefer hosts conferences, publishes edited volumes, supports graduate-student research throughout the former Soviet Union, and is a source of academic support for scholars outside Russia who work in the field of Russian Jewish studies. It is one of many institutions that serve as the foundation for the renaissance in Jewish scholarship in Russia.
The word "renaissance" suggests that scholarship today is reconnecting to the Russian Jewish scholarly tradition of historians such as Simon Dubnov and Yulii Gessen and literary scholars such as Baal Makhshoves and David Frischmann. The obvious reason for the renaissance is the end of the Soviet Union, which affected scholars on both sides of the old Iron Curtain. The dissolution of the Soviet Union opened up access to archival material that allowed researchers to ask new questions about Russian Jewish studies and literature. It also created the intellectual atmosphere that has led many scholars in the former Soviet Union and around the world to pose these new questions.
Since the early 1990s, several research institutions have sprung up in Moscow and other cities in the former Soviet Union. In addition to Sefer at the Academy of Sciences, the Russian State Humanities University (RSHU) houses Project Judaica, a joint program of the RSHU, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York. Project Judaica has been training undergraduates and graduate students in Jewish studies since the early 1990s.
Many of the Jewish studies scholars associated with these institutions got their start as general literary scholars, linguists, philologists, or historians before launching into Jewish studies in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They now serve on the boards of Russian-language Jewish studies publications, teach in universities, and attend international conferences. The renaissance of Russian-language Jewish studies is also due to the mass emigration of Russian Jews to universities and research centers in the United States, Canada, England, Germany, Israel, and elsewhere. The Moscow-based Jewish studies institutions are now sending students [End Page 401] to graduate programs around the world and are also training their own doctoral students. This flourishing of Jewish higher education in Russia is all the more impressive given the general decline of the humanities in post-Soviet academia after the crumbling of state subsidies for academic research.
One of the crowning achievements of Moscow's new Jewish studies community, and the Jewish University of Moscow in particular, was the establishment of Vestnik evreiskogo universiteta v Moskve (The Journal of the Jewish University of Moscow). Originally established as a vehicle for scholars in Russia, the journal became a joint publication of the Jewish University of Moscow and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1998. In addition to Vestnik, there are several scholarly and semi-scholarly Russian-language Jewish studies journals, part of a trend that only seems to be increasing. Moscow is now home to several Jewish research libraries, and the most recent annual Moscow Book Festival featured three exclusively Jewish publishing houses, each with dozens of publications.
American Ashkenazi Jewish Scholars Study Themselves
The end of Soviet Communism created the political, intellectual, ideological, and even the...