Families, Rabbis and Education

Traditional Jewish Society in Nineteenth-Century Eastern Europe

By Shaul Stampfer

The essays collected in this book look at the past through the prism of the lives of ordinary people, with results that are sometimes surprising and always stimulating. The topics they treat are varied, but common to all of them is the concern to explain what lay behind the visible realities of family and community for east European Jews of the period: how children grew up and how they studied; how people married; and how they later negotiated such challenges as divorce, bereavement, remarriage, and caring for elderly parents. These areas of community life are always evolving, but in the nineteenth century the pace of change was exceptionally rapid. Shaul Stampfer deals with these social realities objectively and analytically. Some of the essays presented here are classics that have been widely acclaimed, earning him a well-deserved reputation for authoritative research; all have been comprehensively revised for this book. They avoid sentimental descriptions and judgmental attitudes, and the result is a picture that is both honest and comprehensive. The essays on education range across different age groups and both sexes, and distinguish between study among the well-off and learned (not surprisingly, the two went together) and study among the poorer masses. A number of essays look particularly at the education of the elite. Here, too, the reconstruction of the past is revealing, showing the remarkable creativity of what is often mistakenly considered a highly conservative element of society. Several essays deal with aspects of marriage, an institution that was central to the life of the Jewish community. Professor Stampfer identifies and documents characteristics of both first and subsequent marriages, and highlights and explains trends that have hitherto been misunderstood. The challenge of caring for aged parents and the changing nature of the nuclear family are also considered. The attempt to understand the rabbinate in its social and historical context is equally enlightening. The realities of rabbinical life - the problems of getting appointments, job security and insecurity, and changing responsibilities, and the difficulties of dealing with fragmented and modernizing communities - are presented in a way that explains the complex relations between rabbis and their communities, and how these were influenced by changing ideologies and by modernization. *** "This riveting collection of essays covers a breathtaking scope, the amount of research is impressive, and the level of analysis is as refreshing as it is innovative. It is hard to name any other work that covers such a diverse range of fascinating questions in Jewish history in such a learned and professional manner. The author has an uncanny ability to synthesize a diverse range of material with interpretations and analyses that are as brilliant as they are straightforward. This collection will make an excellent companion to extant English and Hebrew language works on modern Jewish history. It will also make for interesting reading in undergraduate classes and graduate seminars on social history, east European history, and Jewish history. In short, this is a gem of a book, the kind that you will want to read, the kind that students will love to read, the kind that scholars as well will not be able to put down." Scott Ury, Religious Studies Review, Vol. 38, No. 1, March 2012. [Subject: History, Jewish Studies, European Studies, Education]

428 pages

Publication Date: 2/18/2010
Format: Cloth
ISBN: 9781874774853

Available in other formats