Eastern and Western European Jewry Term Paper

Pages: 12 (3632 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: History - Israel

European Jewry

In the history of the Jewish people there are many transitory themes. The reasons for this follow the trend of the relative liquidity of place for the entire culture. Jews have spent much of their time on the move, changing locations with the perceived or real advantages of the region which they chose to settle within. Though they were always set apart the cultures changed and altered as the need's and standard's of the majority culture where they chose to settle demanded the change of the individual and community of the Jews.

There never were any physical obstacles to travelling on the great plain that stretches from the Ural Mountains to the North Sea. There are neither mountains nor deserts, only some wide rivers to cross -- and these serve as much as highways of transportation as obstacles to travel. National borders and their guards are no barrier, for the guards can be evaded or bribed, something that has happened to border guards of all nationalities and times of history. It is not surprising that Jews, as well as other groups, travelled across this plain. Sometimes the Jews travelled in small caravans of traders, at other times as massive waves of immigrants several million strong. (Cohn ix)

Within the years just preceding the French revolution beginning in 1789, and the beginning of the 19th century there were many cultural and societal changes for the Jews in both eastern and western European communities.

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The outlook for Jews in Western Europe was improving as the outlook in the East deteriorated. The Thirty Years' War ended in 1648. Although it had begun as a religious controversy, religious enthusiasm in Europe was pretty much exhausted during this conflict. Once again Jews were permitted to settle where they had once been banned.

Cohn 7)

Term Paper on Eastern and Western European Jewry Assignment

Yet, things were often as fluid as the generational movement of the Jewish people during their famed diaspora. Up to this point it was clear in both regions (east and west) that the level of tolerance for the ethnic and religious differences of the Jews was under considerable analysis by the majority cultures and just as these regions were gaining personal independence for themselves the Jews were losing rights and privileges and suffering the effects of renewed anti-Semitic values by these cultures. Europe was in a sense returning to much earlier days but in this case it was traveling toward legislative and legal sanctions that infringed on the rights and movements of the Jews.

The Jews as historical and current representatives or more precisely agents of the hated leaders of the past many Europeans spread their hatred toward the agents as thickly as they waged it against their former leaders. Each nation then determined the fate of the Jewish population and the laws which had been devisive and restrictive lifted in some places while they were strengthened in others. The Eastern group of countries began to offer concessions to long standing Jewish settlers but the history of their position as corporations or business entities, largely protected and supportive of the old regimes did not become forgotten.

With the dying out of the Jagellon dynasty and the change of the crown of Poland to an elective office, the position of king of Poland had become a prize to be won by bribery for the candidates of the tsar, the princes of Saxony, and by interference from all the other nations of Europe. Finally Poland's three neighbors, Russia, Prussia, and Austria, decided to divide up Poland between themselves. There were partitions of Poland in 1773, 1779, and 1793. The attempt by the Poles to resist the Russians led by Kosziusko, who had served in the American Revolution under Washington, was unavailing. The Jews, understanding well that their future was also at stake, had supported the Polish freedom movement. When the royal robbers divided up the spoil, Prussia, under Frederick the Great, got the province of Silesia, including Wroclaw (Breslau) and Poznanz (Posen). The Jews in those provinces were now considered German Jews. The Austrians, under Maria Theresa, the patron of the young Mozart, took Galicia, including the cities of Lodz (Lemberg, Litzmannstadt) and the trading town of Brody. When final adjustments were made after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, Russia ended up with the lion's share, including what today is Lithuania, Byelarus, the Ukraine, and the central part of Poland including Warsaw. (Cohn 8)

The alterations in ruling entities always leaves those most vulnerable, minorities and poor with little or not recourse for redress from wrongs waged against them, and this did not change with the changing landscapes of the national borders in Europe.

The Jewish communities survived the change of rulers as best they could and in many ways, especially in language and customs, maintained a unity of culture in Eastern Europe despite the new borders.

All of the new rulers still treated the Jews as a corporate entity, not as individuals and citizens. Catherine II, the German princess

Cohn 8) who had become tsarina of Russia, limited her new Jewish subjects to a Pale of Settlement in which they could live, a territory confined to the old Polish provinces. When Tsar Nicholas I wanted to draft Jews into his conscript army in 1827, he left it to the leaders of the kahillas to choose which unfortunate boys were to put on a uniform and to swear them into the tsar's service with solemn religious oaths and ceremonies. Taxes were levied on the Jewish community at large, and it was left to the elders to apportion the burden. It was not until 1859 that individual rich merchants, doctors, lawyers, and other university graduates were allowed to leave the Pale of Settlement and move to St. Petersburg, Moscow, and other cities. Of course they were still prohibited from becoming government officials or rising as officers in the army. (Cohn 9-10)

The Jewish communities, lived on much as they had in the past, and reformation came slowly to them, as the secularization of eastern European Jews was slow to come, due to the historical regional control the church had over the people.

The kahillas and rabbis continued to control the ghettos, their schools, and their markets. The few attempts to establish for Jews in Russian Poland government schools with a more modern curriculum and Russian language instruction failed, as did a similar effort to establish such schools in the Austrian Galicia. (Cohn 10)

In Galcia, the situation was much the same as in other politically altered nations in Eastern Europe.

The situation of the Jews in Galicia was just as oppressed as in tsarist Russia. The Edict of Toleration published by the emperor, Joseph II, in 1789 meant what it said, bare toleration rather than any equality of Jews and Christians. Jews were prohibited from living in villages in Galicia unless they were engaged in either agriculture or handicrafts. They were prohibited from engaging in trade, operating taverns, leasing mills, or collecting tolls. This edict was not always enforced, but the threat of enforcement always hung over every Jew living in a Galician village. (Cohn 10)

In Austria there were certain changes that made life a bit more bearable for the Jew, or at least allowed them more say in their future as entities of the nation, in which they lived, yet clearly many of the old standards of oppression, taxes and restrictions were still very much a part of the social map.

The Austrian government did recognize Jews as individuals or as households rather than as part of a corporate community when it came to paying taxes. Ritually slaughtered meat was heavily taxed, and there was a tax on sabbath candles. Each married Jewish woman had to pay taxes on two sabbath candles a week, whether she had money to buy candles or not. The tax was enforced under the threat of forfeiture of all household goods. Leaders of the kahilla were forced to prove that they had paid taxes on six or eight sabbath candles rather than just two before they could assume office, a regulation that ensured that only wealthy Jews could be elected to community leadership. At the same time, restrictions on residence outside legally defined ghettos were introduced in major cities, and Jews were not allowed to live in some towns at all. Very rich Jews or those possessing university degrees were exempt from these residence restrictions, here as in Russia. (Cohn 9-10)

Among the most revolutionary of the nations in this new political landscape was Prussia, who granted full citizenship to Prussian Jews, yet clearly the old standards of the regions still plagued the Prussian Jews as new settlement still indicated that the Jew was in need of sanction.

Prussia proved to be the most liberal of the gainers from the partition of Poland. As part of the reforms instituted in Prussia to oppose Napoleon, an edict was issued on March 11, 1812, that gave full citizenship to Jews in Prussia together with the formal… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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