Jews in Poland-Lithuania in the Eighteenth Century: A Genealogy of Modernity
Missing from most accounts of the modern history of Jews in Europe is the experience of what was once the largest Jewish community in the world—an oversight that Gershon David Hundert corrects in this history of Eastern European Jews in the eighteenth century.
The experience of eighteenth-century Jews in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth did not fit the pattern of integration and universalization—in short, of westernization—that historians tend to place at the origins of Jewish modernity. Hundert puts this experience, that of the majority of the Jewish people, at the center of his history. He focuses on the relations of Jews with the state and their role in the economy, and on more "internal" developments such as the popularization of the Kabbalah and the rise of Hasidism. Thus he describes the elements of Jewish experience that became the basis for a "core Jewish identity"—an identity that accompanied the majority of Jews into modernity.
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Page 19 - ... much influence that nothing can be bought or sold without the intervention of a Jew. Our never-failing informant was particularly struck with the number and usefulness of the Jews in Lithuania when he visited that part of the Polish Republic in 1781 — If you ask for an interpreter, they bring you a Jew; if you want posthorses, a Jew procures them and a Jew drives them ; if you wish to purchase, a Jew is your agent...
Page 19 - ... the number and usefulness of the Jews in Lithuania when he visited that part of the Polish Republic in 1781— If you ask for an interpreter, they bring you a Jew; if you want post-horses, a Jew procures them and a Jew drives them; if you wish to purchase, a Jew is your agent; and this perhaps is the only country in Europe where Jews cultivate the ground; in passing through Lithuania, we frequently saw them engaged in sowing, reaping, mowing, and other works of husbandry.