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The Jews of Pinsk, 1506 to 1880

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The Jews of Pinsk, 1506 to 1880

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The Jews of Pinsk, 1506 to 1880
By Mordechai Nadav
Edited by Mark Jay Mirsky and Moshe Rosman
Translated by Moshe Rosman and Faigie Tropper
Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture
Stanford University Press, Stanford: 2008
ISBN 10: 0-8047-4159-X
ISBN 13: 978-0-8047-4159-0

Reviewed by Boris Segel - March 9, 2009

Written by Mordechai Nadav, a leading scholar of Eastern European Jewry, The Jews of Pinsk, 1506 to 1880 was originally published in Hebrew in 1973 as Toledot Kehillat Pinsk-Karlin: 1506-1880. Since then it has stood as one of the most significant works on Russian Jewry. Moshe Rosman's and Faigie Tropper's masterful translation of this invaluable resource into English has made this momentous work available to a new cadre of historians and scholars. The Jews of Pinsk, 1506 to 1880 is the first part of a two-volume study on the Jews of Pinks, and by extension, a study on Pinsk history, in general.

For more than four-hundred years, Pinsk, located in modern day Belarus, was home to a vibrant and diverse Jewish community which was extinguished during the dark days of the Holocaust. This history of the Jewish Pinsk grew out of Pinsk: A Book of Testimony and Memory for the Community of Pinsk-Karlin. This was one of the many sifrei zikaron (Yizkor or memorial books) that were compiled after the Holocaust to commemorate those murdered and to provide an account of the numerous communities that were destroyed or irrevocably altered. From this modest beginning has grown an academically rigorous, yet eminently readable history of the Jews of Pinsk. The second volume in this study, picks up where the first volume ends, covering the period from 1881-1941, and was written by Azriel Shohet and entitled The History of the Pinsk Community 1881-1941.

The Jews of Pinsk, 1506 to 1880 is more than just a communal 'memory' book. This book details the original of the Jewish community in Pinsk and its various manifestations as the community fell under the rule of various countries and rulers including the Poles, Russians, Lithuanians, and Swedes. Most important, this book chronicles the growth of the community and what daily life was like for the Jews of Pinsk during this period. Communal organizations, including educational, medical, and legal institutions are discussed in detail, as is the religious and cultural diversity of the community. This book also chronicles the relationship that the Jews of Pinsk had with their non-Jewish neighbors and the ruling authorities.

Pinsk was home to both traditional Jewish families, as well as Hasidic ones. It boasted some of the finest Yeshivahs in Eastern Europe and was the birthplace of the Jewish Labor movement. Like many Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, the Jews of Pinsk were subjected to pogroms and other forms of persecutions, and there were periods of relative peace and prosperity. Through it all, and despite their differences, the Jews of Pinsk maintained a sense of solidarity and purpose, traits which are manifested throughout this book!

The Jews of Pinsk, 1506 to 1880, contains a wealth of information within its 600 plus pages, information which is arranged into six chronologically organized chapters. In addition, extensive endnotes and a bibliography round-out this exceptional book. The Jews of Pinsk, 1506 to 1880 is an authoritative and detailed account of a small city that at one point had a Jewish majority! This book will prove invaluable to scholars interested in Eastern European and Jewish history, as well as general readers with an inquisitive mind or with a personal connection to this microcosm of Eastern European Jewry during this tumultuous and challenging period of history.


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