Studies of the Simon Dubnow Institute

Volume 8

Selbstorganisation und Bürgerlichkeit

Jüdisches Vereinswesen in Odessa um 1900

Studies of the Dubnow Institute, Selbstorganisation und Bürgerlichkeit, 2007

The history of Odessa, which down to 1917 was politically part of the Russian empire, though in many respects in a special position culturally, offers the unique possibility of studying the clash between liberal and nationalist political currents within the Jewish world. Already shortly after the founding of the military colony there by Catherine II, this new social venue of the multiethnic city provided a space for an autonomous Jewish educational policy. However, that policy was aimed at a narrow elite, making use of German and later on especially of the Russian language. In the concluding decades of the nineteenth century, a growing group of nationally-minded intellectuals questioned both the goals and the accomplishments of this pragmatic ideology of Enlightenment. The narratives of the »Kulturkampf« (Simon Dubnow) which continued down to end of czarist Russia dominated the internal Jewish debate for almost a century, and were echoed in topical Israeli political arguments and disputes.

The study examines the secular Jewish organizations, from whose ranks most of the discussants at the turn of the century came, seeking to understand the rhetoric of this conflict and to embed the linguistic and supra-linguistic semantics in a specific context. New patterns of socialization, secular rituals and practices of sociability were all spurred by individuals joining together in common practice. Wherever  Odessa Jews went as representatives of a modern Judaism, they brought along with them this experienced practice as a kind of cultural hand baggage.

»Self-organization and Middle Class« (Selbstorganisation und Bürgerlichkeit) investigates in the main three associations with a majority of Jewish members: the »Self-Help Association of the Jewish Shop Assistants, Odessa« (OVP), the Odessa branch of the »Association for the propagation of Enlightenment Among the Jews in Russia « (OPE) and the »Relief Association for Support of Jewish Agriculturalists and Craftsmen in Syria and Palestine« (OVZ).  Persons from the upper and middle strata played a leading role in Odessa in the maintenance and growth of the Jewish associations. The difference between the traditional fellowship (chevra) and the secular association generated a social difference.

To illustrate the thesis, the struggle for nationalizing education within the OPE is described. Along with political fault lines, a further pattern is perceptible, namely the matrix of generation. The liberal position of the old guard of Jewish notables was questioned by a group of individuals who had matured in the period of the ever more reactionary czar Alexander III and Nicolai II. The membership in the sports club Maccabee , which was legally active after the February 1917 Revolution, reflects this clearly. The Zionist youth of the city gathered under the club’s umbrella, some 45% of which was female. Between 1917 and 1920, the Jewish schools and associations blossomed, thanks to the Revolution, and this despite the murderous Civil War that was raging. Here too one could discern the overarching patterns of socialization at work: secularization, democratization and cultural conflict between the generations. These patterns were not bound up with Jewish associations.

285 pp. with 14 illustrations and 23 scales, Hardcover with dust jacket

Göttingen: Vandenhock & Ruprecht, 2007  

ISBN: 978-3-525-36986-9
Price: 37,00 € (D)


Yvonne Kleinmann, in: Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 58 (2010), no. 1, 108–109.

Shaul Stampfer, in: The Russian Review 68 (2009), 155–156.

Ulrike von Hirschhausen, in: Neue Politische Literatur 53 (2008), 484–485.