Encyclopedia of Jewish History and Culture Online

Get access Subject: Jewish Studies

Editor-in-Chief: Dan Diner

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From Europe to America to the Middle East, North Africa and other non-European Jewish settlement areas the Encyclopedia of Jewish History and Culture covers the recent history of the Jews from 1750 until the 1950s.

More information: Brill.com


(3,882 words)

Author(s): Lamdan, Ruth
After the Ottoman conquest of Syria and Palestine in the 16th century, Safed, in the highlands of Galilee (ca. 840 meters above sea level), enjoyed significant economic and demographic growth. Sephardic Jews in particular settled in the city, which soon occupied a leading position in wool and textile manufacture. Due to the presence of eminent Jewish scholars, Safed became the religious center of the Jewish Diaspora. In the 17th century, political instability and the decline of wool production l…
Date: 2022-09-30


(3,306 words)

Author(s): Bilski, Emily D.
Regular private gatherings of scholars and artists in the form of so-called salons became established in Europe from the 17th century onward. These salons brought together people from different social classes, religions, and nationalities based on their shared artistic, musical, literary, and political interests, practicing a new culture of social exchange and not infrequently encouraging social dynamics. In the wake of the Enlightenment and in an atmosphere promising tolerance and emancipation,…
Date: 2022-09-30


(3,579 words)

Author(s): Naar, Devin
Port city in northern Greece (Ladino: Salonika, Turk.: Selanik, Gr.: Thessaloniki); between the late 15th and early 20th centuries home to a multi-ethnic population of Turks, Greeks, and Jews. The Jews living in Salonika grew to form the majority of the population under Ottoman rule; in the wake of Ottoman reforms and European influence their economic importance grew further in the 19th century. After Salonika had been incorporated into the Greek nation state as a result of the Balkan Wars (1912…
Date: 2022-09-30


(3,193 words)

Author(s): Gillerman, Sharon
The biblical hero Samson, who overcame the hostile Philistines due to his superhuman strength and finally caused his own downfall with his acts of revenge, has been part of Jewish imagination since antiquity. Competing interpretations of central issues of Jewish existence have been linked to him, such as the contrast between action and passivity, power and impotence, individual action and simple survival. Especially in the modern age, Samson became a powerful symbol for the Jews to express self-…
Date: 2022-09-30


(3,199 words)

Author(s): Birnbaum, Pierre
In 1806 and 1807, Emperor Napoleon convened two great assemblies of Jewish dignitaries from the territories under his rule in Paris, with the objective of determining the degree to which the Jews conformed to the new ideal of the French citizen or were willing to conform to it. Napoleon submitted a catalog of twelve questions to this assembly of notables consisting of laymen and rabbis. As he doubted the validity of its resolutions, he then convened another assembly of 71 Jewish representatives,…
Date: 2022-09-30


(2,876 words)

Author(s): Werb, Bret
Title of a 1938 Yiddish song by the Polish-Jewish poet and musician Mordechai Gebirtig (1877–1942). “S’brent,” which calls for resistance against the extermination of the Jews, is emblematic of the music performed in the ghettos and camps under National Socialist rule. In spite of all adversity, musical performances – from simple songs describing everyday life to opera – held great and varied importance there. Appearances by professional soloists in the ghetto contrasted with the camp bands who …
Date: 2022-09-30


(3,926 words)

Author(s): Saß, Anne-Christin
Quarter in Berlin not far from Alexanderplatz, which became a center for Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe during the German Empire and the Weimar Republic. Often perceived as an “Eastern Jewish ghetto”) by the German public, the poverty-ridden neighborhood with its disproportionately high percentage of Jewish inhabitants became a space on which to project the widespread fear of social decline and foreign influences after the First World War, and a target for antisemitic propaganda. In Novem…
Date: 2022-09-30


(3,857 words)

Author(s): DeKoven, Sidra
The schlemiel is a versatile figure who became widely known during the 20th century as the embodiment of Yiddish and, by association, diasporic Jewish (Diaspora) existence par excellence. Typical traits of the schlemiel are naivety as well as the versatility that allows him to alleviate his suffering. The schlemiel type can be traced back to sources from antiquity; during the early modern age he was combined with other characters from popular culture such as the wandering Jew (Ahasver) and the Purim fool. In the 19th cent…
Date: 2022-09-30

Schocken Bücherei

(3,563 words)

Author(s): Hambrock, Matthias
Book series of more than 80 titles constituting the literary and aesthetic core of the program of the Schocken Verlag founded in Berlin in 1931. Among the Jewish publishing houses that were able to continue production under difficult conditions in Germany after 1933 (Publishing), Schocken was the most high-profile one. Through its books, not least the volumes of the Schocken Bücherei, it provided moral and intellectual support for the embattled Jews in the early years of the National Socialist d…
Date: 2022-09-30

Schwarzbard Trial

(3,345 words)

Author(s): Engel, David
Trial in Paris in October 1927 concerning the assassination of the former president of the Ukrainian People’s Republic Symon Petliura by the Jewish watchmaker Shalom Schwarzbard. While the defendant Schwarzbard confessed to having shot Petliura in May 1926, the jury deemed the act to have been justifiable revenge, as they were in silent agreement with Schwarzbard that the Ukrainian politician had been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews. The attack led to an increase in polit…
Date: 2022-09-30


(1,353 words)

Author(s): Cohen, Raya
The Schwarzbuch, published in January 1934, documents the disenfranchisement of the German Jews since Hitler’s seizure of power a year earlier. The volume was edited by the Paris-based Comité des délégations juives with the aim of refuting the argument put forward by German propaganda that the National Socialist laws targeting Jews served only to maintain law and order. The material collected in the Schwarzbuch was intended to prove that it was precisely those laws and decrees that had turned the NSDAP’s antisemitic program into a raison d’état, and that fu…
Date: 2022-09-30


(3,918 words)

Author(s): Freudenthal, Gad
Science denotes the rationalistic description and explanation of nature, which originated in Ancient Greece and was developed further in the Islamic and Christian civilizations of the Middle Ages. Jewish cultures came in contact with it in different ways, with an inherent tension emerging: while science relies on the independent human intellect alone as its highest authority, Judaism is based on a series of canonical texts such as the Bible (Tanakh), Mishnah, Talmud, and Midrashim, whose legitim…
Date: 2022-09-30


(3,321 words)

Author(s): McCormick, Rick
Screwball (colloquial for eccentric, odd character; in baseball a ball thrown with reverse spin) refers to a form of romantic comedy in US filmmaking that had its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s and was shaped to a large degree by Ernst Lubitsch (1892–1947). In the context of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the slapstick interludes, fast pace, humorous dialogue, and eccentric protagonists of screwball comedies catered to the audiences’ escapist needs. Usually an unequal couple find each other i…
Date: 2022-09-30

Second Avenue

(3,831 words)

Author(s): Warnke, Nina
In the 1920s and 1930s, the area surrounding Second Avenue in Lower Manhattan was the center of Yiddish theatre in New York. Audiences of Eastern European immigrants and their descendants could enjoy melodrama, musical comedy, and literary theatre. The most successful stars of Second Avenue were the director of the Yiddish Art Theatre Maurice Schwartz (1889–1960) and actress Molly Picon (1898–1992). As Jewish immigrants became increasingly integrated into the surrounding American society, Yiddis…
Date: 2022-09-30


(4,307 words)

Author(s): Weidner, Daniel
Secularization, one of the most important and most controversial concepts of the modern era, simultaneously denotes both a historical process and an interpretive paradigm of the course of history. The term describes the cultural, political, and social decline in the relevance of religion during the modern era as well as the “transformation” or “reassignment” of the stock of religious traditions. As a term describing a process, it makes it possible to establish a genealogy of the modern era that …
Date: 2022-09-30

Sefer Ḥeshbon ha-Nefesh

(1,563 words)

Author(s): Sinkoff, Nancy
In 1808 the Polish-Jewish Enlightenment scholar Menaḥem Mendel Lefin (1749–1826) published the ethical code of practice Sefer Ḥeshbon ha-Nefesh (Book on the Accountability of the Soul) in Lemberg in Austrian Galicia. Lefin’s work was dedicated to changing human behavior, based on Benjamin Franklin’s “Rules of Conduct.” The author’s aim was to disseminate Enlightenment ideas of the individual spiritual life among traditionally educated Jewish young men and at the same time counteract the Hasidic methods of moral renewal.Mendel Lefin was born in 1749 in the town of Satanó…
Date: 2022-09-30


(3,958 words)

Author(s): Steffen, Katrin
The Lower House and legislative chamber of the Polish Parliament. In the Sejm of the Second Republic of Poland (Sejm Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej) from 1918 to 1939, many Jewish deputies defended the interests of Polish Jewry, which was heterogeneous and included some three million inhabitants. Basically loyal to the Polish state, they stood up for equal rights and protested against antisemitic discrimination. However, their marginalization and their internecine quarrels limited the influence of th…
Date: 2022-09-30


(3,236 words)

Author(s): Reitter, Paul
The concept of “Jewish self-hatred” was coined by the Jewish-Austrian journalist and pamphleteer Anton Kuh (1890–1941), who distinguished it from the discourse of “Jewish antisemitism,” which he rejected. Without advertising the fact, the German-Jewish philosopher Theodor Lessing (1872–1933) followed Kuh in his study  Der jüdische Selbsthass (1930; “Jewish Self-hatred,” 2021), thereby making a decisive contribution to the popularization of the term. Despite its ambivalence, the reception of the term long remained determined by negative c…
Date: 2022-09-30


(2,754 words)

Author(s): Jaehner, Inge
Selbstbildnis mit Judenpass (Self-Portrait with Jewish Identity Card) is the title of the best-known painting by the German-Jewish painter Felix Nussbaum (1904–1944). In the picture, which originated in a Belgian hideaway in 1943, the artist reveals himself with a “Judenstern” and stamped alien’s passport as a Jew, thus addressing the danger, ever-present for all Jews, of being detected and deported. Among the broad public, the image was primarily interpreted as a depiction of Jewish victimhood wi…
Date: 2022-09-30

Semitic Studies

(3,698 words)

Author(s): Johnston, Elizabeth Eva
Modern Semitics took its starting point in the exegesis of the Bible carried out by Christian Orientalists of the 19th century. Its tales gave rise to controversial notions about the people of the Semites, their origin, development, and language. The historicization of the Bible (Bible Criticism) and the establishment of Sanskrit philology in Europe were accompanied by an increasing difference of opinion between Semitic and Indo-European studies. With the addition of the classification “Aryan” t…
Date: 2022-09-30
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