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Lilientalowa, Regina

(1877–1924), ethnographer, folklorist, and writer. Born in Zawichost near Sandomierz, Regina Lilientalowa settled in Warsaw after her marriage. She was at first self-taught, but completed her education by taking clandestine academic courses at the so-called “Flying University.” Influenced by her teacher, sociologist Ludwik Krzywicki, Lilientalowa developed a particular interest in Jewish folklore and published her early studies in Poland’s leading anthropological journals Wisła (Vistula) and Lud (Folk) from 1898 until 1905. She never held an academic position.

Based on extensive fieldwork and rigorous methodology, Lilientalowa’s works included “Przesady żydowskie” (Jewish Superstitions; 1898 and 1900), “Zaręczyny i wesele żydowskie” (Jewish Betrothal and Wedding; 1900), “Wierzenia, przesady i praktyki ludu żydowskiego” (Beliefs, Superstitions and Practices of the Jews; 1904–1905), “Życie pozagrobowe i świat przyszły w wyobrazeniu ludu żydowskiego” (Afterlife and the World to Come in Jewish Beliefs; 1902), “Legendy żydowskie o wyjściu Żydów z Egiptu” (Jewish Legends on the Exodus from Egypt; 1903), and “Zjawiska przyrody w wybrażeniach i praktyce ludu żydowskiego” (Natural Phenomena in the Perceptions and Practices of the Jews; 1905).

Acquiring a working knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic helped Lilientalowa to improve her grasp of biblical and Talmudic tradition, allowing her to go beyond the registration of contemporary facts to achieve broader historical syntheses. Her efforts produced two works, impressive in their scope and richness of sources: Dziecko żydowskie (The Jewish Child; 1904; German translation, 1908; with an extended second edition in 1927), followed by Święta żydowskie w przeszłości i terazniejszości (Jewish Holidays, in the Past and Present), three parts of which appeared in 1909, 1913, and 1918. Majer Bałaban, who reviewed the latter, challenged some of Lilientalowa’s historical contentions but praised her “flawless” interpretation of folklore. Despite poor health and financial difficulties, Lilientalowa managed, before her death in 1924, to publish several smaller studies on subjects such as the evil eye, legends of Moses’ life, and the cults of water and heavenly bodies among ancient Hebrews. She also left several ready-to-publish manuscripts examining beliefs related to demons, dreams, and menstruation; a history of the Jews; and the remaining two parts of her groundbreaking study of Jewish holidays.

A shared passion for Jewish folklore brought Lilientalowa in contact with Y. L. Peretz, for whom she produced the first Polish translation of his stories, published in Izraelita and Życie Żydowskie (Jewish Life) between 1906 and 1910. Lilientalowa also translated Jewish folklore material, and wrote on education, childrearing, customs, and the “Jewish question” for Jewish and non-Jewish audiences alike. Lilientalowa comes across in these writings as a modern and secular figure, with socialist leanings and few illusions about assimilation.

Suggested Reading

Majer Bałaban, “R. L.,” Nowe życie (Warsaw) 1.2 (1924): 441–443; Wiesław Bieńkowski, “Lilientalowa z Eigerów Regina,” in Polski słownik biograficzny, vol. 17, pp. 334–335 (Wrocław, Warsaw, and Kraków, Pol., 1972); G. Fraenklowa, “Blg. R. L.,” Lud 26 (1927): 119–121.