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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Lithuania 01: Czarist rule

Discrimination of the Jews under czarist rule - cultural and spiritual life and Jewish schooling - racist Zionism and Jewish socialism - emigration movement

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971):
                            Lithuania, vol. 11, col. 365-366, photo 05:
                            Wooden synagogue in Jurbarkas, built 1790,
                            destroyed in 1941
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania, vol. 11, col. 365-366, photo 05: Wooden synagogue in Jurbarkas, built 1790, destroyed in 1941
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971):
                            Lithuania, vol. 11, col. 365-366, photo 03:
                            Bimah in the Jubarkas wooden synagogue
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania, vol. 11, col. 365-366, photo 03: Bimah in the Jubarkas wooden synagogue

from: Lithuania; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 11

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

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[The name of "Lithuania"]

<LITHUANIA (Lithuanian Lietuva; Pol. Litwa; Rus. Litva; Heb. Lita; Yid. Lite), southernmost of Baltic states of N.E. Europe; from 1940 Lithuanian S.S.R. (for early period, see *Poland-Lithuania).

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania, vol. 11,
                  col. 371-372, photo 01: Carved wood Ark of the Law in
                  the 16th-century synagogue in Vezaitiai, Utena
                  district
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania, vol. 11, col. 371-372, photo 01: Carved wood Ark of the Law
in the 16th-century synagogue in Vezaitiai, Utena district


[Lithuania under czarist Russian rule: discrimination of the Jews]

With the partition of Poland at the close of the 18th century the territories of Lithuania passed to Russia. Subsequently, for over 120 years, Lithuania ceased to exist as a political or administrative unit. It was divided up into six or seven provinces in which the history of the Jews was similar to that of the Jews throughout *Russia. Lithuanian Jewry nevertheless retained its specific character, and its influence on Russian Jewry - and on world Jewry in general - extended beyond the boundaries of historic Lithuania. (col. 361)

[[...]]

Character and influence on the Diaspora.

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971):
                Lithuania, vol. 11, col. 365-366: a corner of the
                cemetery of Gruzdziai (Gruzd¾iai)
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania, vol. 11, col. 365-366:
a corner of the cemetery of Gruzdziai (Gruzd¾iai)

The notion of "Lithuanian" ("Litvak" in Yiddish) to be found in speech, folklore, and Jewish literature in all its languages applies to the Jewish community which developed within the boundaries of historic Lithuania, the region which formed part of the greater Polish kingdom during the 16th to 18th centuries.

From the close of the 18th century until World War I this area came under the rule of czarist Russia and included the provinces of Kovno, *Vilna, Grodno, and northern Suwalki, which were essentially of Lithuanian-Polish character, and of *Vitebsk, *Minsk, and *Mogilev, which were Belorussian-Russian in character. A distinction is sometimes made between Lithuanian Jews in a restricted sense (from the provinces of Vilna, Kovno, and the northern parts of the provinces of Suwalki and Grodno) and the Belorussian Jews ("province of Russia").

At the close of 19th century, about 1,500,000 Jews lived in this region; they constituted more than one-eighth of the total population. The Jews were mainly concentrated in the (col. 361)

towns and villages, where in the main they were in the majority. There were over 300 communities in Lithuania with over 1,000 persons, including 12 large communities each numbering over 20,000 persons: Vilna, Minsk, *Bialystok, Vitebsk, Dvinsk (*Daugavpils), *Brest-Litovsk, Kovno, Grodno, Mogilev, *Pinsk, *Bobruisk, and *Gomel; but even the smaller settlements with only some dozens of Jewish families had a vibrant and full Jewish life.

Both economic and historical factors were responsible for the unique character of Lithuanian Jewry. Lithuania was a poor country, and the mass of its inhabitants, consisting of Lithuanian and Belorussian peasants, formed a low social stratum whose national culture was undeveloped. The Jews who had contacts with them as contractors, merchants, shopkeepers, innkeepers, craftsmen, etc. regarded themselves as their superior in every respect.

Lithuanian Jewry was relatively less affected by the *Chmielnicki massacres that devastated the Jews of Ukraine in 1648-49, and those perpetrated by the *Haidamacks during the 18th century. Even when the wave of pogroms swept Russia during the last decades of czarist rule, there were only isolated manifestations of anti-Jewish violence in Lithuania (Gomel, Bialystok). These circumstances gave the Lithuanian Jews a feeling of stability and security, as a result of which they developed no desire to adopt the language and culture of the surrounding peoples.

[Cultural life of the Jews in Lithuania]

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania,
                          vol. 11, col. 371-372, photo 03: The
                          shoemakers' synagogue, in the northern
                          Lithuanian town of Birzai (Bir¾ai)
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania, vol. 11, col. 371-372, photo 03: The shoemakers' synagogue, in the northern Lithuanian town of Birzai (Bir¾ai)
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania,
                          vol. 11, col. 365-366, photo 04: the synagogue
                          of the small Karaite community of Panevézys
                          (Panevé¾ys)
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania, vol. 11, col. 365-366, photo 04: the synagogue of the small Karaite community of Panevézys (Panevé¾ys)

The Jews of Lithuania maintained their own way of life. They spoke a special dialect of Yiddish-Lithuanian Yiddish - which differed from the Yiddish spoken in Poland and Volhynia mainly in the pronunciation of the vowels (and in certain districts in the pronunciation of the shin as sin or samekh. The world outlook and way of life of Lithuanian Jewry were based on the Written Law and the Oral Law.

The Shulhan Arukh and its commentaries guided them in their everyday life. Torah learning florished among wide circles, and love of Torah and esteem for its study was widespread among the masses of Jews. The Jews who lived in the region bordering Lithuania, the "Poles" in the west and the "Volhynians" in the south, associated specific characteristics with the Lithuanian Jews: a certain emotional dryness, the superiority of the intellect over emotion, mental alertness, sharp-wittedness, and pungency [[accuracy]]. Their piety was also questioned (hence the popular derogatory appellation for the Lithuanian Jews, "tseylem-kop"). It was also a feature of Lithuanian Jewry that *Hasidism (Ḥasidism) did not strike roots in northern Lithuania, while in the provinces of Belorussia it assumed a different nature and content the Habad (Ḥabad) trend - from the original Hasidism (Ḥasidism) of Ukraine and Poland (see below). Lithuanian Jews were considered the "prototype" of the *Mitnaggedim [["opponents"]].

Spiritual Trends and Leaders. [Torah and other teaching]

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania, vol. 11,
                  col. 371-372, photo 02: Jewish soldiers as seder
                  guests of a Utena family
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania, vol. 11, col. 371-372, photo 02:
Jewish soldiers as seder  guests of a Utena family

Until the 16th century the Jews of Lithuania were on the outer fringe of European Jewry. During the 16th and 17th centuries, they were influenced by Polish Jewry, and adopted its organizational methods (Lithuanian Council; see *Councils of the Lands), its educational system, and its mode of learning.

The first prominent rabbis who were called upon to officiate in the large Lithuanian communities, such as Mordecai b. Abraham *Jaffe, author of the Levushim, and Joel *Sirkes, author of Bavit Hadash (Bavit Ḥadas) (the "Bah", "Baḥ"), came from outside Lithuania. Solomon b. Jehiel *Luria (the Maharshal), who was of Lithuanian origin and promoted Torah learning there for a number of years, acquired most of his education and was mainly active beyond the borders of that country.

It was only during the 17th century that leading Torah scholars emerged from the yeshivot [[religious Torah schools]] of Lithuania. Among them were the commentators on the Shulhan Arukh (Shulḥan Arukh), *Shabbetai b. Meir ha-Kohen (the Shakh), and Moses b. Naphtali Hirsch *Rivkes, author of Be'er ha-Golah. (col. 362)

However, the personality which symbolized the supremacy of Torah learning within Lithuanian Jewry and determined its character for several generations was that of Gaon of Vilna, *Elijah b. Solomon Zalman, who lived during the second half of the 18th century. He established his own method of study. Its main features were abstention from casuistic methods, close examination of the Talmudic text and accuracy in its interpretation, a comprehensive knowledge of all the sources, and the study of grammar and the sciences which were essential for profound understanding of the teachings of the Torah.

R. Elijah appeared on the Lithuanian scene when winds of change were beginning to blow across that country. In the south, Hasidism (Ḥasidism) blazed a trail, and the disciples of *Dov Baer the Maggid of Mezhirech arrived in *Shklov, Vitebsk, Vilna, and other communities, winning over a large following. From the West came the ideas of the *Haskalah; these at first were moderate in character and sought to adapt themselves to the old school (like the scholars of Shlov, R. Baruch b. Jacob *Schick, or Phinehas Elijah *Hurwitz, author of Sefer ha-Berit), but their revolutionary nature was rapidly revealed. R. Elijah's circle of disciples consolidated against these new forces, they regarded Torah study as a guarantee for the continued existence of the nation in its traditional form and converted religious learning into a popular movement, in which the great central yeshivot played a leading role. the first of these was the yeshivah established by Hayyim *Voloshiner (Ḥayyim Voloshiner) in 1803 in the townlet of Volozhin. In its wake, both large and small yeshivot were founded in many towns and villages, as well as kolelim [[advanced Talmud and rabbinic literature institutes for men]] and kibbuzim ("groups") for young men and perushim ("abstinents"), whose students prepared themselves for the rabbinate through self-instruction (the kibbuz (kibbuẓ) of Eisiskes (Eishishok), near Vilna, was well known).

During the 19th century, large yeshivot were established in *Mir, Telz (*Telsiai), *Slobodka (near Kovno), and other townlets. The personality of *Israel Meir ha-Kohen (the Hafez Hayyim (Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim) left its imprint on his yeshivah in the little town of Radun, where Torah learning was combined with the study of musar (ethical literature) [[literature of medieval Jewish moralistic and ethical teachings]].

An attempt to adapt (col. 367)

these studies to the spirit of the modern era was made by Isaac Jacob *Reines, a founder of the *Mizrachi organization, who in 1904 established a yeshivah in *Lida where secular studies were taught and modern Hebrew literature was studied.

During the middle of the 19th century, the *Musar movement emerged from within the ranks of Orthodox Jewry. Initiated by R. Israel (Salanter) *Lipkin, it endeavored to strengthen traditional Judaism against the dangers of the modern era by fostering the study of ethics. The "Musarniks" established several yeshivot (Keneset Yisrael in Slobodka; the yeshivah of *Novogrudok where an extremist, fanatical, and ascetic wing of the movement emerged). Their attempt to introduce this trend into other yeshivot gave rise to sharp polemics from their opponents, who feared that the study of musar would result in a neglect of Torah study.

[Lithuanian Jewish schooling institutions attracting Jews from abroad - Hasisidm - Hebrew press in Lithuania]

Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania, vol. 11,
                  col. 365-366, photo 01: Purim party at the
                  kindergarten in Kedainiai
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania, vol. 11, col. 365-366, photo 01: Purim party at the kindergarten in Kedainiai

The yeshivot of Lithuania attracted young men throughout Russia. They trained rabbis and religious communal workers for Jewish communities all over the world. Many who later abandoned traditional Judaism, including H. N. *Bialik and M.J. *Berdyczewski, were also educated in them. Over the last century, the rabbis of Lithuania became known throughout the Jewish world. They included Isaac Elhanan *Spektor of Kovno, Joseph Baer *Soloveichik of Brest, *Meir Simhah ha-Kohen (Meir Simḥah ha-Kohen) and Joseph *Rozin of Dvinsk, Hayyim (Ḥayyim) Ozer *Grodzenski of Vilna, Jeruham Judah Leib *Perelmann ("Ha-Gadol mi-Minsk"), Isser Zalman *Melzer of Slutsk, Abraham Isaiah *Karelitz (the Hazon Ish (Ḥazon Ish), and many others.

Hasidism (Ḥasidism) did not spread through Lithuania to the same extent as in the other parts of eastern Europe. Only one branch, Habad Hasidism (Ḥabad Ḥasidism), struck roots in Belorussia. The descendants and disciples of its leader, *Shneur Zalman of Lyady, scattered in many towns and townlets and formed an energetic organization of Hasidism (Ḥasidism) whose influence spread beyond the borders of Lithuania. Their headquarters were in the townlet of *Lubavich. This trend in Hasidism (Ḥasidism) was of a scholarly, philosophical nature. It considered Torah study to be one of the fundamentals of (col. 368)

Hasidism (Ḥasidism), to be combined with the study of ethical and hasidic (ḥasidic) works. At the close of the 19th century, the Habad (Ḥabad) movement established its own network of yeshivot (Tomekhei Temimim). A more popular branch of Hasidism (Ḥasidism) which developed in the region situated between Lithuania and Volhynia was centered around the zaddikim (ẓaddikim) of the *Karlin-*Stolin dynasty.

An important cultural factor in Lithuania from the close of the 18th century was the Hebrew press. The first printing presses were founded in Shklov (1783) and Grodno (1788). During the 19th century Vilna became one of the world's leading centers for the printing of Hebrew books (of the *Romm family and other presses). It was here that the famous Vilna Talmud was printed, as well as a multitude of religious and ethical works, and Haskalah and popular literature in Hebrew and Yiddish.

[Haskalah, racist Zionism, and Jewish Socialism in Lithuania]

Although Lithuania played an important role in the preservation of traditional Judaism, it also contributed largely to the movements which shook the Jewish world in recent generations and brought many changes in it. These were Haskalah, the Zionist movement, and the Jewish Socialist movement.

Haskalah.

From neighboring Prussia Haskalah penetrated Lithuania, first to the small border towns and the cities of Vilna and Minsk, and from there to other localities. In Lithuania Haskalah assumed a particular character. The manifestations of national disavowal [[not-acknowledgment]] and *assimilation to other cultures which left their imprint on Haskalah in western Europe, as well as in Poland and southern Russia, were absent in Lithuania. Circles of maskilim [[followers of the Haskalah, enlightenment Jews, secularists]] who adhered to their people and its language formed. A Hebrew literature which spread Haskalah and its ideas developed. This literature was not confined to Jewish studies (Wissenschaft) but encompassed [[comprised]] every aspect of life. Its exponents were poets such as Abraham Dov (Adam ha-kohen) *Lebensohn, and J.L. *Gordon, novelists such as Abraham *Mapu and Perez *Smolenskin, publicists and critics such as A.U. *Kovner, A.J. *Paperna, M.L. *Lilienblum, and J.M. *Pines, scholars in Jewish studies (Joshua *Steinberg), E. *Zweifel), authors of popular works on general history (col. 369)

and geography (M.A. *Guenzburg; K. *Schulman), and natural sciences (H.S. *Slonimski, Zevi *Rabinowitz, and S.J. Abramowicz, known as *Mendele Mokher Seforim). The maskilim assisted the Russian government in its efforts to spread Russian culture among the Jews and cooperated with it in the establishment of a network of Jewish state schools, at the center of which stood the government rabbinical seminary of Vilna. They laid the foundations of both the Russian-Jewish literature (L. *Levanda) and modern Yiddish literature (I.M. *Dick, *Shomer (N.M. Shaikevich), J. *Dineson, and Mendele Mokher Seforim). They also paved the way for the *Hibbat Zion (Ḥibbat Zion) and Zionism on the hand and the Jewish Socialist movement on the other.

Hibbat Zion (Ḥibbat Zion) and [racist] Zionism.

Lithuania was a fertile ground for the development of Hibbat Zion (Ḥibbat Zion) and Zionism. the Jews of Lithuania had been attached to Erez Israel (Ereẓ Israel) by powerful ties since the immigration there of the Hasidim (Ḥasidim) and the disciples of the Gaon of Vilna from the end of the 18th century. Natives of Lithuania such as D. *Gordon, in the periodical Ha-Maggid, P. Smolenskin, in Ha-Shahar (Ha-Shaḥar), J.M. Pines, and E. *Ben-Yehuda had already discussed Jewish nationalism and settlement in Erez Israel (Ereẓ Israel) in the 1870s.

With the inception of Hibbat Zion (Ḥibbat Zion), the movement spread to many towns and townlets, one of its centers being Bialystok, the residence of Samuel *Mohilever, one of the leaders of the movement. Natives of Lithuania were among the most prominent propagators of the Hibbat Zion (Ḥibbat Zion) ideology throughout Russia and beyond (S.P. *Rabinowicz, Hermann *Schapira, etc.).

In 1902 the second convention of Russian Zionists was held in Minsk. This was the only Zionist convention to be held openly and attended by the public in the czarist period. From 1905 to 1912 the center of Russian Zionism was Vilna. The [[racist]] Zionists headed the movement for the revival of the Hebrew language and the establishment of modern Hebrew schools (heder metukkan, "reformed heder") (ḥeder metukkan, "reformed ḥeder").

The first Diaspora institution for the training of Hebrew teachers was opened in 1908 in Grodno ("the Grodno courses"). The development of Hebrew literature in Lithuania and the activities of Hebrew authors (col. 370)

and poets such as Z. *Shneour, Yaakov *Cahan, and I.D. *Berkowitz were closely connected with [[racist]] Zionism.

[[The Arabs were never asked...]]

Jewish Socialist Movement. [combined enlightenment with socialist movement - the Bund]

Lithuania was the cradle [[the origin place]] of the Jewish Socialist movement. It was characteristic that the Jews of Lithuania found it necessary to publish a Socialist literature, at first in Hebrew (A.S. *Liebermann and his colleagues) and later in Yiddish. The background to this was the existence of the many thousands of poor and oppressed Jewish workers and craftsmen who did not know Russian or Polish; the maskilim [[followers of the Haskalah, enlightenment Jews, secularists]] and Socialists were therefore compelled to address them in their own language.

From the close of the 19th century, there rapidly developed an ideology in which revolutionary Socialism was allied to fragmentary and propitiatory [[for reconciliation]] nationalist formulae which in practice called for the fostering of a secular literature in Yiddish (Yiddishism) and Jewish cultural autonomy, centered on a secular community organization and Jewish schools giving instruction in the language of the masses (Ch. *Zhitlowsky).

In order to mobilize the Jewish workers for revolutionary activities the *Bund was organized. The Bund rapidly extended its activities into Poland and Ukraine but its influence was essentially felt in Lithuania. Its emissaries gained adherents among the poverty-stricken Jews of the towns and townlets, and created a sense of self-confidence in the Jewish apprentices and workers and mobilized them into the service of the revolution. The Bund played a major role in the destruction of traditional Judaism and in opposition to Hebrew culture and [[racist]] Zionism.

The influence of Lithuanian Jewry on Russian and world Jewry gained in impetus from the middle of the 19th century. The Lithuanian yeshivot attracted students from every part of Russia, as well as from abroad. Religious and secular books from Vilna were sold throughout the Diaspora. Rabbis of Lithuanian origin served many of the (col. 371)

world's communities and Lithuanian melammedim (teachers of elementary religious studies) were recognized as capable teachers in Poland and southern Russia.

[Emigration movements from impoverished Lithuania]

One of the causes of the spread of Lithuanian influence was the dire [[dreadful]] poverty in the country, which led to a constant stream of emigration toward southern Russia and Poland and later to the countries of western Europe and America. Wherever the Lithuanian Jews arrived, they brought with them their spiritual heritage and learning and thus contributed toward strengthening traditional Judaism and the forging of closer links among the Jewish people and its culture. They were also prominent among the Jewish populations of St. Petersburg and Moscow. Large numbers settled in Warsaw and Lodz. They streamed to America and formed a special concentration in South Africa [[a.o. the Jews got work in the diamond industry, see: Jews in South Africa]]. They also made an extensive contribution to the modern development of Erez Israel (Ereẓ Israel)> (col. 372)

[[with drying swamps and converting the desert into earth, and then racist Zionists used the movement for their purposes]].

[[...]]

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Sources
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania,
                          vol. 11, col. 361-362
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania, vol. 11, col. 361-362
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania,
                          vol. 11, col. 365-366, photos
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania, vol. 11, col. 365-366, photos
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania,
                          vol. 11, col. 367-368
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania, vol. 11, col. 367-368
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania,
                          vol. 11, col. 369-370
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania, vol. 11, col. 369-370
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania,
                          vol. 11, col. 371-372
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Lithuania, vol. 11, col. 371-372




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