- Crisis, Revolution, and Russian Jews
There are two types of historical books. The first examines a given subject in its breadth, retracing its evolution over time. The second type focuses on a limited time and place to answer major questions through the scrutiny of exemplary cases. With his groundbreaking first monograph, Prophecy and Politics from 1981, Jonathan Frankel proved his mastery of the first genre. His two later volumes, The Damascus Affair from 1997, as well as the book reviewed here, are impressive examples of the second approach. All the articles it contains have already been published elsewhere, although not all of them in English, from 1982 to 2007. Given this time span, not every single text will appear as innovative to the present-day reader as it was at the time of its original publication; some of Frankel's points have provoked criticism in the meantime. Yet, it was Frankel's merit to initiate some of the discussions that have been engaging historians of Eastern European Jewry to the present day.
All the essays in Crisis, Revolution, and Russian Jews elaborate, from different perspectives, on a political history of Eastern European Jewry that is driven by a set of assumptions, characteristic for Frankel's oeuvre in general. The first point to be mentioned is his focus on the "new politics" in the Russian Empire, that is, Jewish nationalism and socialism. Furthermore, in contrast to many historians of his generation, Frankel did not conceptualize political history as a function of social change. Instead, he portrayed Jewish intellectuals as the driving force behind these different political movements, paving the way for a mass movement to follow their lead. His appreciation of the contingent vis-à-vis longue durée developments is reflected in his third thesis, as well: the eminent importance of short periods of crisis, when pathways were chosen that would then determine further developments in the long run. In his introduction to the present volume, Frankel dwells on the criticism that these theses have provoked and to his reasons to adhere to them. It was, as he concludes in a passage of remarkable self-reflection, Frankel's own experience of World War II and even more of the Six-Day War that sharpened his awareness of critical junctures. Life in a period determined by figures like Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, Hitler, and David Ben-Gurion rendered the relevance of leadership rather obvious. [End Page 501]
Before beginning the analysis of particular essays, this reviewer must concede that the book's scope extends his competence at a number of places. It is not difficult to admit this, as the different essays represent much of Frankel's extended area of study - and there will be few scholars to match his competence in all of them. For this reason, the current review will focus on the essays more closely related to the history of Russia and consider the others only where appropriate.
The first of the volume's essays is among Frankel's most famous ones: "Crisis as a Factor in Modern Jewish Politics," a comparison of the "Damascus Affair" of 1840 and the Russian pogrom crisis of the 1880s with regard to the political consciousness of world Jewry. It was under the pressure of persecution at the European peripheries that Jews developed a new quality of response. In 1840, an unprecedented scope of international solidarity was mobi-lized. Although the major actors had not yet departed from a "traditional way of life," their actions produced a new "emancipatory style of politics." Forty years later, the Jews falling victim to the pogroms in Russia could already benefit from a well-developed infrastructure of international Jewish organizations. Yet again, the crisis generated a new quality in Jewish politics: mass support for the emigration movement. Later scholars have tried to put the causal nexus of pogroms and emigration into perspective. Neither in quantitative nor in motivational terms can the pogroms be considered crucial for the emigration movement. The major incentive for Russian Jews to leave the country was poverty, not...