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Reviewed by:
  • Crisis, Revolution, and Russian Jews
  • Robert Weinberg
Crisis, Revolution, and Russian Jews, by Jonathan Frankel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 324 pp. $85.00.

This collection of essays by Jonathan Frankel, written over a span of twenty-five years, is fitting testament to a man whose recent passing deprives us of one of the guiding lights in the field of modern European and Russian Jewish history and politics. This reviewer met Professor Frankel only once, in 2004 on the occasion of a conference held in honor of his retirement from Hebrew University, where he had taught since the mid-1960s. Devoted to the impact of the Russian Revolution of 1905 on Jews in the Russian Empire, the conference celebrated not only Frankel's scholarship but also the high regard and respect that students and colleagues from the United States, Europe, and Russia had for him. A mentor to all who had the good fortune of meeting him, Frankel shared his vast encyclopedic knowledge of modern Jewish history with all colleagues, from beginning graduate students to well-established academics, who sought out his advice and guidance.

Most students of modern Jewish history need no introduction to Frankel's work. From his first book on the formative years of Russian Social Democracy Vladimir Akimov on the Dilemmas of Russian Marxism, 1895–1903 (1969) to his 1981 magisterial Prophecy and Politics: Socialism, Nationalism, and the Russian Jews, 1862–1917 and his more recent The Damascus Affair: "Ritual Murder," Politics, and the Jews in 1840 (1997), Frankel ably demonstrated his superlative skills as a historian who combined detailed and exhaustive research with nuanced and perceptive analysis. Along with Steven Zipperstein of Stanford University, Frankel edited the volume Assimilation and Community: The Jews in Nineteenth-Century Europe (1985) that has served as an excellent introduction to newer approaches to the study of Jewish modernity. He also was one of the editors of Studies in Contemporary Jewry, an annual publication that is essential reading for anyone interested in keeping up with the latest scholarship on the social, political, cultural, and intellectual history of Jews since the French Revolution. [End Page 176]

In addition to these well-received books, Frankel also published a large number of articles, many of which appear in this volume, that deal with such diverse topics as the Second Aliya, the writings of S. An-sky and Simon Dubnow, or the confrontation between Bundists and Zionists in Europe and the United States. In these essays Frankel explores the explosion of political mobilization among the Jewish youth of late Imperial Russia and seeks to uncover the dynamics and patterns of radicalization that gave rise to the major expressions of modern Jewish politics in the twentieth century: nationalism, socialism, and a multitude of hybrid ideologies and movements. While the essays tend to retain a geographic focus on Europe and Russia, they also touch upon the impact of continental developments on Jewish politics in the United States and Palestine. Frankel was at his best when he explained ideological trends and political movements from life-experiences of the participants themselves. He was a master of sketching human portraits that highlight the intersection of culture, politics, and biography.

In an introduction written for the collection, Frankel summarizes the key themes that the reader encounters in the essays. For Frankel, modern Jewish politics as practiced in the Russian Empire distinguished itself from its counterpart in Western and Central Europe in terms of its revolutionary approach to the problems confronting Jews living in the late nineteenth century. Rather than work for the attainment of civil rights through piecemeal reforms, Jews in the Pale of Settlement and Congress Poland embraced revolutionary strategies that found expression not only in Zionism and Bundism but also in Russian Social Democracy that sought the overthrow of tsarism and capitalism. According to Frankel, the messianism of Judaism underwent a secular transformation as young Jewish intellectuals and activists drew up blueprints for a future society that combined liberty, equality, and national self-determination. Examination of the role of the Jewish intelligentsia in the creation of modern Jewish politics is at the heart of Frankel's scholarship. In addition, Frankel asserts that periods of disjuncture...


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