Jews of Europe Syllabus

Questions for Week 9

Vital, A People Apart, Chapters 4-6

Chapter 4

What is a pogrom, and why were the pogroms in Russia in 1881-82 so significant? 

How does Vital explain the great violence of these pogroms?  How does he explain their causes? 

Does Vital agree with the "older generation" of historians, who interpreted these pogroms as part of a deliberate Russian government conspiracy, or does he agree with the "newer generation" of historians, who argue that the government was simply inept?  Explain.

Did Tsar Alexander III approve of the pogroms?  Explain.  Was he sympathetic towards Jews?

Explain the Tsarist government's Jewish policies after 1881.  Who did the government blame for the pogroms, what was the aim of government policy, what kinds of restrictions were placed on Jews, and what were the consequences?  What message did these policies send to Russia's Jews?

Why did Jews migrate from Russia in such great numbers after 1881, and where did they go?

Were Jews only leaving Russia?  Explain.

What were some of the common characteristics of the Jews who migrated?

Explain the economic conditions in which Jews lived in Russia.

In what ways did the Russian Jewish migration differ from other European migrations during this era?

In sum, how does Vital explain the forces driving Russian Jewish migration in this era?

How was migration changing the characteristics of the Jewish communities in Western Europe?

Use the German Jewish community as an example.  What were the main demographic dynamics affecting the German Jewish community at this time (include also factors like changes in birth and marriage patterns).

What evidence do we have of the psychological state of Western European Jews in the late 1800s?

How did western Jews respond to the waves of Eastern migrants?  Explain and give examples.

What kinds of issues regarding the migration did the western Jewish communities have to face up to?  And why were they so unsettled by the presence of the new migrants?

Did all prominent Jews turn their backs on the migrants?  Explain.

What did philanthropic organizations try to do to help the migrants? Give examples.

How was migration affecting internal relations and politics within Jewish communities in the west?  And how was migration affecting the religious make-up of Jewish communities?

According to Vital, what was the psychological cost of these internal conflicts?

Why was the entire issue of getting governments to intervene with Russia (to pressure Russia to change its Jewish policy) so complicated?

Did the major Jewish organizations, like the Alliance Israelite, do much to pressure their governments to intercede with the Russians?  Explain.  Were British Jewish leaders more successful in such efforts?  Explain.


Chapter 5 

(The title of this chapter is a play on the title of Y. Pinsker's famous book Auto-Emancipation, in which he argued that Jews could no longer remain "passive" and had to take steps to emancipate themselves.)

What does Vital mean when he says on p. 346 that Europe's Jews were "now divided"?

How did Russia's Jewish oligarch's (like Baron Guenzburg) try to respond to the crisis begun by the 1881 pogroms?  Was there an Empire-wide Jewish organization that they could use to appeal to the Tsar?  Explain.

Could Jews create Empire-wide relief organizations to help pogrom victims?   Explain.

Could Russia's Jewish press even discuss the pogroms?  Explain.

So how could the community try to influence the government?  How did the west get news of the pogroms?  And were western Jews able to do anything effective on behalf of Russia's Jews?  Explain.

On a whole, were Russian and Polish rabbis openly critical of the Tsar's government?   Explain.  Did rabbis still exercise great authority?  Explain.  Why had the state been able to cooperate with Traditional Jewish leaders?  And in what sense could the Traditionalists claim that the pogroms had proven them right and the maskilim wrong?

How did "modernist" Jews respond to the 1881-82 pogroms and why? 

How did most "common" Jews respond?  Did all Jewish leaders oppose mass emigration?

What criticisms did Jewish professionals and intellectuals in Russia level against the Jewish oligarchs?

Was the Russian government or the Russian "educated public" opposed to Jewish emigration?  Explain.

Besides leaving Russia, how else did many Jews respond to the failure of their traditional leadership to protect them from persecution?  In other words, what new political responses came out of the pogroms?

Explain Vital's point about Jews' attachment to the idea of Zion.  Did most Traditional Jews favor "returning" to "The Promised Land"?   Explain. 

Explain the arguments of those Jews who did favor settlement in Palestine.   Explain the aims of the "Biluim" group.  Does Vital consider such ventures as political?

What obstacles faced Jewish migrants to Palestine?

Why didn't most Jewish oligarchs favor settlement in Palestine?

Where was there the most support for the idea of resettlement in Palestine in the early 1880s?  Explain.

Who was Y. L. Pinsker, what were his basic beliefs before 1881, and how did the pogroms change his views?

Explain Pinsker's five-part argument in favor of Jewish nationalism.

Why did most maskilim reject Pinsker's argument?

What was the main point of Pinsker's "Auto-Emancipation"?

Did Pinsker say that Jews had to resettle in Palestine?  Explain.

Was Pinsker eager to lead a Jewish nationalist movement?  Explain.

What was the purpose of the organization Hibbat Zion?  How did most Jewish intellectuals respond to the organization?  What about Orthodox rabbis?

What does Vital see as Hibbat Zion's major weakness?

What big social and ideological divides existed among Jews by the 1880s?

How does Vital explain Jewish sympathy for leftist movements?  (Be sure to read the footnotes!)

Why did some Jews participate in the Russian Populist movement in the 1870s and 1880s?   Were the Populists interested in supporting Jewish rights?  What position did they take on the pogroms?  Why did they support peasants' hostility towards Jews, and why didn't they condemn pogroms?

Were Jewish members of the Russian Populist movement supporters of Jewish nationalism?   Explain.  Would they have been welcome in the movement if they were Jewish nationalists?

Why did A. S. Liberman think that Jews were potential supporters of socialism who should be encouraged?  According to Vital, was there potential for mass Jewish support of the revolutionary movement in Russia in the late 1800s?  Explain.

Why was it so difficult for socialists in general to justify recognizing the validity of including Jews as a category of oppressed people to be drawn into the evolutionary movement?

What was the Bund?  Was this Marxist party hostile to the idea of defending Jewish interests?  Explain.

Did the Bund support the unity of all Jews?  Explain.  Why did it encourage use of Yiddish?

Describe social conditions for Jews in Russian-Poland in the late 1800s.  was there a Jewish working class?  Did Jews often work for Christians?  Did they form their own labor organizations? Did they strike? Why are these things important to understand?

How did Jews {like Iulii Martov) who helped create the Bund differ from the Jews who had joined the Populists?

In what sense was Marxism "easier" for Jews to support than Populism had been?  

How did Martov initially justify creating an independent Jewish workers' organization?   Did he later change his view on this?  Explain.

What was the big difference between the Bund and other Russian Marxist (SD) groups?   Why did Lenin, Martov, and others all oppose the Bund's call for Jewish cultural and organizational autonomy?

Why had the Socialist International in 1891 refused to even declare sympathy for persecuted Russian Jews?

Did the Bund argue that class struggle was its one and only cause?  Explain.   How did this compare with the other main Russian  Marxist groups?

Why in 1903 (at the second congress of the RSDWP) did Martov, Lenin, and Trotsky all oppose the Bund's call for an autonomous Jewish workers' party?  How did the Bund respond?

According to Vital,what was the single most influential Jewish social movement of the late 1800s?

Who was Theodor Herzl?  What turned him into a Jewish nationalist?

Did Herzl carefully study Jewish social conditions, or the ideas of Pinsker?   Explain.

Explain Herzl's basic program in The Jewish State.  How did Herzl's arguments differ from Pinsker's?

How did Herzl want to actually organize the mass migration of Jews to Palestine (e.g., what organizations did he want to set up and why?)?

What was the big difference between Herzl' approach and that of Hibbat Zion?

What was the Basel Program of 1897, and how did it differ from Herzl's original ideas?

How was Herzl's approach "foreign" to the traditional Jewish approach to politics and political power?

Was Herzl a "passive" figure in the Zionist leadership?  Explain.

Had Herzl tried to organize efforts to get the Ottoman Empire to recognize mass Jewish settlement in Palestine?  Explain.  Why did these plans depend so heavily on support from leaders of other governments?  Why did the Ottomans refuse to agree to Herzl's proposals?  Could Herzl really count on the European governments for support in dealing with the Ottomans (e.g., could he count on Germany?)?  Explain.

Why did Herzl begin looking to England for help in 1900?  Why would British officials be at all interested in helping Herzl establish a Jewish settlement somewhere in the British Empire?  What territories did British officials propose for such a venture?  What became of the idea of a Jewish settlement in the Sinai?  

Why did British officials (E.g., J. Chamberlain) consider settling Jews in East Africa (Kenya) in 1903?  Was this idea greatly popular among Zionist activists?   Explain.

The 1903 debate over this so-called "Uganda Scheme" became mixed up with Herzl's efforts to influence and gain support from the Russian government.  Had the Russian government been tolerant of Zionism previous to 1903?  Did its policy change in 1903?  And was Herzl able to convince the Russian government to show tolerance of Zionism in 1903?  Why was all of this so controversial among Zionist activists?

Did Herzl and other Zionist activists have one, generally agreed upon, idea of who a Jewish state should be internally organized and governed?  Explain.

What became of the "Uganda/East Africa Scheme" after Herzl's death in 1904?

What was the ITO?  The WZO?  What was the difference between the organizations?

In sum (and thinking about the epigram that began this book), what was Herzl's impact on the Zionist movement?


Chapter 6

What does Vital mean (p. 476) by the "rule of mutual assistance"?

In the 1880s, Jewish philanthropic/aid organizations were beginning to replace "individual" aid.  Explain why kind of organizations these were and why their role was growing more important than that of private aid.  For instance, what was the AIU?  The AJA?  How were they organized?  And why does Vital describe them as basically "conservative"?

What kind of aid were such organizations providing in North Africa and the Middle East?   And in what sense were these aid organizations "national" (not Jewish national, but German, French, etc., national)?  How were their activities dependent upon diplomatic support from the Great Powers?

Were these "diplomatic initiatives" particularly useful in helping the Jews of Russia?  Explain.

Given all of the political and diplomatic complications discussed here, how did Jewish philanthropists find it best to "go about their business"?  And what political risk did they run if they were seen as identifying too closely with "foreign" Jews?

Assignments for the remainder of the chapter (pp. 487-640):  I will assign each of you to a "small" group for sections II-XI of this chapter.  Each group will be responsible for presenting "its" section of the chapter.   That means that you have to determine what is most important in "your" section, then find a way to present that information to the class as clearly as possible.

Jews of Europe Syllabus