A History of Jews in the Russian East: Periphery and Center

Brian Horowitz, Germanic and Slavic Studies, Jewish Studies, SLA

William Brumfield, Germanic and Slavic Studies, SLA

This project examines the question of the history and contemporary condition of Jewish settlement in Russia's Eastern periphery, i.e. Siberia and the Volga region primarily. The goal is to chronicle these settlements investigate their religious houses, welfare and educational institutions in order to understand how and why Jews came to these areas. Connected with that research question are others: how were Jews a typical and atypical minority, what motivates Jewish emigration, and were Jews really--as Werner Sombart argues--agents of capitalism and modernity?

Our claim is that Jews were motivated by economic opportunity to move to the periphery and acted in predictable ways in developing Jewish institutions on the Eastern periphery. But what makes this topic fascinating is the way these select and few Jews contrasted themselves with the millions who lived in the Pale of Settlement in the Western borderlands. Basing their communities not on religious discipline, these individuals became a model of acculturation that became widespread throughout Russia later in the Soviet Union. Finally, we will investigate what has happened to these communities today, gauging the way some are thriving, while others are shrinking.

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