Preface to the Print Edition

by Gershon David Hundert

Dispassionate filiopietism is the term that best captures the motivation for this project, although it has perhaps too many syllables. Let me try to explain. The goal of The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe is to recover and represent the civilization of the ancestors of the majority of Jews in the world on the basis of the most up-to-date and objective scholarly research available. It is filiopietistic and dispassionate precisely in the sense that in describing the civilization of our forebears it seeks to present East European Jewish life in a dispassionate manner, as accurately and fully and precisely as possible— not to celebrate or eulogize but to recover and represent. That is, the piety—our obligation to our ancestors—is expressed in our determination to present East European Jewish civilization without bias and without nostalgia but as comprehensively and as objectively as possible. This encyclopedia seeks to reflect all aspects of Jewish life in its variety and multiplicity: religious and secular; male and female; urban and rural; Hasidic and Misnagdic; Yiddishist and Hebraist; Zionist and assimilationist; Russian and Polish; Romanian and Ukrainian; Lithuanian and Galician; even Karaite and Rabbinite. The fundamental test for inclusion has been historical and cultural significance. The YIVO Encyclopedia is intended to be an ecumenical work: nondenominational, nonideological, and nonconfessional. Nothing Jewish is considered foreign. One can see this encyclopedia as a massive work of translation. This is meant both simply—the language of that culture was chiefly Yiddish, together with Hebrew and vernacular tongues—but also in a more metaphorical way, making the culture comprehensible to our readers, most of whom live in quite different circumstances today. Moreover, The YIVO Encyclopedia highlights not only the achievements of high culture in its various forms but also the everyday lives of ordinary Jews and their cultural creations: costume, life-cycle events, reading culture, and folklore.

The encyclopedia presents the most accurate information available based on the most reliable and current scholarly research. The 450 contributors, living in 16 countries, have written on their own fields of expertise and collectively represent the leading experts in the various divisions of East European Jewish Studies. In this way, readers will find information that is trustworthy, and the scholars will reach an audience much broader than the readership of specialized academic publications, particularly those whose work is not normally published in English.

This project, because it is unprecedented, stirred great excitement in the field, which perhaps explains our ability to enlist virtually every major and senior scholar to write about their areas of expertise. To choose just a few examples almost at random: Jan Gross wrote the article on Jedwabne; Zvi Gitelman on communism; Jay Harris on Talmud study; David Roskies on memory; Ruth Wisse on Y. L. Peretz; Chava Weissler on tkhines; Todd Endelman on assimilation; Chava Turniansky on early Yiddish literature; James Young on monuments and memorials; James Hoberman on cinema; Dan Miron on Sholem Aleichem; ChaeRan Freeze on marriage; Elisheva Carlebach on messianism; and Jonathan Frankel on parties and ideologies. The standing of these and the hundreds of other scholars who contributed to The YIVO Encyclopedia lends the project great authority and should reassure readers of its reliability. To this end, each article has been reviewed, usually by the editor of the topical section; some were reviewed by one or several additional readers as appropriate. I then read every article, taking into account and reconciling the reviewers’ comments as needed. Every article is signed and includes suggestions for further reading (not comprehensive bibliographies), with preference given on these relatively short lists of books and articles to material in English.

Most Jews, including the vast majority of Jews in the United States and the Former Soviet Union together with about half of the Jewish population of the State of Israel, are descended from East European ancestors. As the twenty-first century commences, many seek to know more about their origins and the experience of their ancestors, but there exists no comprehensive, reliable resource that might act as a port of entry to the history and culture of East European Jewry. Moreover, the events of the last quarter century make it possible to create the first compendious, authoritative reference work on this subject ever attempted.

Some twenty years ago, a shadow was lifted from Eastern Europe. A vast segment of humanity achieved political, economic, cultural, and religious freedom. Scholars are now able to pursue most topics and issues without political and ideological constraints, and access to archives and libraries long closed to free inquiry has become widely (if not universally) available. Beginning most noticeably in the 1970s, even before the fall of communism, younger scholars in North America and Israel had begun to make great advances in the recovery of the history and culture of East European Jewry. More recently, scholars in those regions themselves have joined their colleagues abroad. As a result, a veritable explosion of new information, new understandings, and new interpretations has been appearing in scholarly monographs and journals. The time seemed right to collect the fruits of this new era into a comprehensive information source to be used by both the lay public and academics. Scholars now have new access not only to formerly closed archives and libraries, but also to populations in the former Soviet bloc, community records, cemeteries, and other building blocks of historical documentation. The preparation of the encyclopedia has been an opportunity to explore and to assess these changes as they affect the Jewish community.

Describing the ideal encyclopedia, H. G. Wells insisted that “it would not be a miscellany, but a concentration, a clarification and a synthesis.” Precisely because The YIVO Encyclopedia has no precedent, it not only concentrates, clarifies, and synthesizes knowledge on numerous topics for the first time, but we hope it will also serve, by its very existence, to create a field of inquiry for future generations. One by-product of our work has been the exposure of gaps in the existing body of knowledge. One of these gaps, for example, is in the area of economics and economic history. Adam Teller (the editor in charge of this area) has struggled to present a comprehensive picture in the absence of basic research on any number of essential questions. Another problem is the geographical unevenness of research on numerous topics. There has been, for example, considerable research on a variety of topics as they relate to Jews in Poland but not on the same topics as they relate to Romania or Hungary. The encyclopedia, where possible, attempts to redress this imbalance by devoting appropriate attention to regions outside of the Polish–Lithuanian heartland. An encyclopedia cannot commission new research. Nevertheless, we have attempted to reflect the state of scholarly study of those regions in as extensive a way as possible in light of the fact that their importance is substantially greater than the quantity of attention they receive in the scholarly literature.

From the beginning of the project the editors have been most conscious of the necessity to redress the imbalance in the attention devoted to the depiction of women who are often ignored in studies of the region. The decision taken in principle was not to “ghettoize” women but to instruct all contributors to address gender and use it as a category of analysis whenever possible and appropriate. In many cases, particularly in the section devoted to daily life, this has yielded interesting and novel material. There is also a general essay on gender by Paula Hyman. Nevertheless, among the biographical entries, of the 220 rabbis and other religious leaders to whom entries are devoted, only two are women. There is a similar, though not quite so dramatic, imbalance among the articles on writers. This unhappy state of affairs reflects the state of research at present, the patriarchal nature of Jewish society, and the necessity, despite our desire to do justice to women in the encyclopedia, to maintain the criteria of cultural importance that applied in general to inclusion in the encyclopedia. Within the limitations of space on the project (about two million words), it was necessary for the editors to choose on the basis of criteria of importance, influence, and/or excellence.

In a word, the encyclopedia, through the choices made for inclusion and exclusion, is unavoidably presenting a species of canon. This is, to say the least, not in fashion in the academy. One might justify the rather old-fashioned approach taken here—why, for example, are the evaluations of academic literary critics or, alternatively, of the mass market, more valid criteria for decisions on inclusion than others—on the basis of the late maturation of the field of East European Jewish Studies. The choices made by the editors of the various topic areas are mainly their own; in a few cases I intervened to include items not on the lists they prepared. Undoubtedly, the encyclopedia provides a basis for debate and discussion that will further enrich the field.


Speaking at Yale University in 1983, the scholar Gerson Cohen called attention to the fact that “the civilization of Eastern European Jewry was far more varied—and con flicted—than a sentimental vision of the shtetl would imply.” He stressed that “when we speak of the Jewish culture of Eastern Europe, we are not speaking of a monolith; we are speaking of a multifaceted people that produced a variety of cultures, lasting monuments to a variety of worldviews. It is time these cultures receive the attention and the study they merit” (Jewish History and Jewish Destiny, 1997, pp. 214, 227). The editors of the encyclopedia have made a concerted effort to reflect East European Jewish culture in all of its variety and heterogeneity. This book is about Jews in Eastern Europe. It is an attempt to mediate the entire historical experience of those Jews and significantly does not limit its focus to “high culture.” As many aspects of everyday life as could be treated on the basis of existing scholarship are addressed here. The editors have attempted to attend to the imagined experience of Jews in Eastern Europe through full consideration of literature, art, music, theater, architecture, and folklore. Moreover, the orientation is toward the Jewish experience and much less toward the Jewish “contribution” to one or another national culture or political or ideological movement.

Readers wishing to know how any subject is treated in TheYIVO Encyclopedia are urged to consult the Synoptic Outline in the end matter of the work. The outline presents the conceptual skeleton of the project. Each major topic includes an extensive principal entry and entries on specific subjects and issues related to the topic (usually shorter). These principal articles include entries on countries (Hungary, Poland, Russia, etc.) and on more conceptual subjects. Thus, the major essay “Parties and Ideologies” introduces more specific entries such as “Bund,” “Zionism and Zionist Parties,” and so forth, as well as still more specific items on particularly important figures, parties, and events. The composite (multi-article) entry “Relations between Jews and Non-Jews” leads to the entries “Antisemitic Parties and Movements” and “Conversion,” among others. Fairly often, specific articles are listed in the outline under more than one rubric. We have been content to ignore the taxonomist’s aversion to ambiguity and to try rather to serve the interests of our readers.

The matter of transliteration and the use of Hebrew or Yiddish terms and names has been vexing because we knew from the outset that consistency was not possible. The technicalities associated with this topic are explained in the Guide to Using The YIVO Encyclopedia that follows; I would emphasize only some principles here. Our goal has been to try to avoid anachronism in terminology and in nomenclature. Yiddish-speaking Jews who wrote primarily in Yiddish are identified in that language. Rabbis, however, who generally wrote in Hebrew, are identified not, as would be proper if we want to avoid anachronism, in Ashkenazic Hebrew but in Modern Hebrew versions of their names. In a number of cases, for what is best termed pedagogic reasons, the actual Ashkenazic Hebrew–Yiddish version of a term has been preserved. Two cases of this are the political movement Agudas Yisroel and the revolt in Ukraine in 1648–1649, which is identified as gzeyres takh vetat. Our goal in doing this is to remind the reader of the actual language and terminology of the time and place. Bibliographical entries, however, generally follow the spellings adopted by the Library of Congress—so that readers will be able to locate them—even though the spellings in those entries often diverge considerably from the practice in the body of the articles.


The YIVO Encyclopedia is a reference work and for that reason it is alphabetically arranged. Given the variations in the spelling of names and terms, however, the reader is urged to consult the index as well as the Synoptic Outline in the encyclopedia’s end matter. Although some blind entries are provided, for example, “Lemberg. See L’viv,” the inclusion of such cross-references for all possible variants would have overwhelmed the text; consequently we rely on our readers mainly to consult the index. Entry terms are generally in English: Christmas, not Nitl; Passover, not Peysakh. On the other hand we use Galitsianer, not Galician, which grates on the ear in this context and could suggest a province of Spain. Even now, I remain ambivalent about our use of Bet ha-Midrash (“House of Study” is not a real English analogue).We chose it over the less anachronistic term besmedresh because we thought readers would be more likely to look for the Hebrew version of the term.

Geographical Limits.
The geographical limits of Jewish Eastern Europe are understood to be the regions east of the German-speaking realm, north of the Balkans, and west of the Urals; that is, the borders of the region correspond roughly to today’s Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, the Baltic states and Finland, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. The very notion of “Eastern Europe” has fallen into disuse by historians who tend to prefer terms such as East Central Europe, Mitteleuropa, and, what’s more, seldom mean Russia by either designation. Nevertheless, the vague and general term suits the purposes of our encyclopedia, which treats mainly the eastern Ashkenazic experience.

The decision to define the geographical limits in this way seemed the best solution, simpler and less unwieldy than our original intention to treat the area corresponding to the cultural region of the Eastern dialect of Yiddish (see the map accompanying the article “Yiddish” within the entry “Language”). The western border of that region corresponds to no national border, not to mention the historical shifts in the borders of those states in which the line falls. Thus, although the cultural region would have been the most accurate in a pedantic way, most readers, we thought, would have been confused by the inclusion of only parts of several countries, and of some areas only during specific historical periods. For example, before the nineteenth century, the Jewish community of Prague should be included in the same cultural region as Jews living farther east. In the twentieth century, however, one does not usually think of a figure such as Franz Kafka as “East European.” He is, nevertheless, included here as a somewhat anomalous consequence of the simplifying decision on geographical limits that include Czech lands. Treating regions for some historical periods and not for others, we felt, would have created more problems than it would have solved. A set of maps providing an overview of the borders obtaining in the region at different historical periods is included in the end matter.

Chronological Limits.
The chronology of the encyclopedia extends from the earliest signs of the presence of Jews in Eastern Europe to the end of the twentieth century. The new situation created by the fall of communism partly explains the decision made to extend the chronological scope of The YIVO Encyclopedia to the end of the twentieth century. In the initial discussions regarding this subject, some maintained that the terminus ad quem ought to be 1939 because, it was argued, East European Jewish life, in all its complexities and variations, vanished during the Holocaust. And it is incontestable that WorldWar II marks a stark historical divide. Nevertheless, because Jews continued to live in these regions during the second half of the twentieth century and because their story has not been told in full, it was decided to attempt to cover the postwar period as well. The period of the khurbn, or Holocaust, itself presented a challenge. While the Holocaust is appropriately represented in this work, note should be taken of the existence of an enormous literature in English on this subject as well as the existence of several reference works, for example, The Holocaust Encyclopedia, edited by Walter Laqueur and Judith Tydor Baumel (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), and the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, edited by Israel Gutman (New York: Macmillan, 1990).

The period is treated mainly within the framework of the individual country and other geographical entries, in order to integrate it into a longer-term narrative. TheYIVO Encyclopedia pays particular attention to the Jewish experience and Jewish responses during the period of Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe. The main focus, however, is on the life of Jews and not their murder or their murderers.

The encyclopedia’s coverage of each region begins with the earliest evidence of Jewish settlement in that particular region. Thus, the beginning date varies from place to place, in some cases extending back to Roman times. Generally, more attention is given to recent centuries than to the periods of late antiquity and the Middle Ages.

Biographies. The focus on Jews in Eastern Europe means that there are no individual entries for non-Jews. To be sure, figures such as Stalin, Khmel’nyt’skyi, and Masaryk are mentioned in the appropriate contexts and their names appear in the index, but individual entries are devoted only to Jews. Whole libraries could be filled with writing devoted to the attempt to answer the question of the definition of Jew. In this encyclopedia we have used an expansive and elastic definition that allows for the inclusion of people who converted to other religions and others who, though born Jews, never identified themselves in this way. In the case of converts, an attempt has been made to include the date and circumstances of conversion. People with remote Jewish ancestry, however, are not included. This category, it turns out, even includes Lenin. More pertinent, perhaps, is the exclusion of the famous director Sergei Eisenstein, whose only connection to Jewishness was his father, who was born a Jew. Generally, our criterion is ontological; those who were considered Jews by others, and those who saw themselves as Jews, are included.

In the early discussions of this project one of the more vexing issues was what to do about individuals who were Jewish by birth but did not identify themselves as Jewish. The decision taken was to include them for the following reasons:

• They may have excelled or accomplished their achievements in spite of their Jewishness(in a society full of prejudice and obstacles for Jews).

• Their Jewishness, by birth, relates them specifically to the Eastern European experience.

• Their fame may have affected the Jewish community (either negatively or positively).

• They are famous and readers expect to find them in this book. Including them providesan opportunity to explain to such readers the figures’ attitudes toward theirJewishness.

• Since attempting to define Jewishness is a murky and complex issue, it is difficult touse a definition that is too rigid.

If people were of particular importance in their fields of endeavor, and they were Jews, they are included here. Examples that come to mind are some very prominent Soviet scientists and important Hungarian bankers.

With, I believe, only one or two exceptions, there are no entries on living persons. This decision is a bit paradoxical because this work is attempting to cover history up to 2000. Nevertheless, we felt that a life could not be represented properly in a reference work unless that life was over. In many cases, though, a good deal of attention is given to living persons in the context of thematic articles. Readers are again urged to consult the index.

The focus of this encyclopedia is on people and events in Eastern Europe. To include those people with roots in Eastern Europe but who made their “mark” outside of the encyclopedia’s definition of Eastern Europe would overwhelm the work. Thus, one of the guiding principles for inclusion is that the person must have done something of significance in Eastern Europe. For this reason, there are no entries on Jews with East European roots but who came to prominence elsewhere, such as many of the founders of the labor movement or the film industry in the United States or many of the most important figures in the Zionist movement and the history of the State of Israel. The editors have not been absolutely inflexible about this. Decisions were taken, for example, to include Perets Smolenskin, even though he edited his important journal in Vienna, and Joseph Roth, who wrote many of his stories about Galicia in Paris. These two figures, and a few others, are so closely linked to Eastern Europe that their inclusion seemed necessary. The articles on individuals who began to produce important creative work or made noteworthy achievements in Eastern Europe before moving elsewhere focus on what they did before they left the region.


The YIVO Encyclopedia is intended for anyone interested in the history and culture of Jews in Eastern Europe. The editors have insisted on texts that are accessible to any reader and that no article be written in a way that requires technical knowledge to be understood. When technical or foreign-language terms are used, they are explained. For additional assistance, a brief glossary is provided in the end matter. Among the audiences we had in mind are North American and Israeli Jews who want to know about the lives and cultures of their ancestors, the Jewish communities remaining in the countries of Eastern Europe, and anyone within or outside Eastern Europe who wishes to learn about this millennium in the experience of a heterogeneous and creative Jewry.