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The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe

The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe


It is wonderful to see The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe, the latest book by Spertus Institute faculty member and friend Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, receiving rave reviews and being prominently featured in the "recommended reads" from the Jewish Book Council. Here are some excerpts of what's being said.



The Golden Age Shtetl"[The Golden Age Shtetl] is a colorful, exhaustively researched study of a period when Jews were fully at home in shtetl life." Publishers Weekly

"Petrovsky-Shtern turns some of the received knowledge about Jewish history on its head as he delves into rich, formerly classified primary sources delineating the evidence of Jewish economic power during the transition between the partitions of Poland by Russia (1772-1775) and the advent of the Russian military age, beginning in the 1840s, which brought xenophobia and nationalism. . . . Petrovsky-Shtern's book is lively and entertaining. A welcome study that is by turns picturesque and scholarly, startling and accessible." Kirkus

"Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern . . . has written a work that should be required reading for all those interested in, perplexed by or driven to madness by this subject. The produce of prodigious archival research, primary source materials and mastery of numerous languages, The Golden Age Shtetl tells a history that has rarely been transmitted in scholarly books, around the dinner table or even in Yiddish literature." Jonathan Brent, Moment Magazine


The shtetl was home to two-thirds of East Europe's Jews in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, yet it has long been one of the most neglected and misunderstood chapters of the Jewish experience. This book provides the first grassroots social, economic, and cultural history of the shtetl. Challenging popular misconceptions of the shtetl as an isolated, ramshackle Jewish village stricken by poverty and pogroms, Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern argues that, in its heyday from the 1790s to the 1840s, the shtetl was a thriving Jewish community as vibrant as any in Europe.

Petrovsky-Shtern brings this golden age to life, looking at dozens of shtetls and drawing on a wealth of never-before-used archival material. The shtetl, in essence, was a Polish private town belonging to a Catholic magnate, administratively run by the tsarist empire, yet economically driven by Jews. Petrovsky-Shtern shows how its success hinged on its unique position in this triangle of power as did its ultimate suppression. He reconstructs the rich social tapestry of these market towns, showing how Russian clerks put the shtetl on the empire's map, and chronicling how shtetl Jews traded widely, importing commodities from France, Austria, Prussia, and even the Ottoman Empire. Petrovsky-Shtern describes family life; dwellings, trading stalls, and taverns; books and religious life; and the bustling marketplace with its Polish gentry, Ukrainian peasants, and Russian policemen.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern

Dr. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern