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Jews in Poland and Russia: 1881-1914 v. 2$
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Antony Polonsky

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9781904113836

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: February 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781904113836.001.0001

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Jewish Religious Life from the Mid-Eighteenth Century to 1914

Jewish Religious Life from the Mid-Eighteenth Century to 1914

(p.275) Eight Jewish Religious Life from the Mid-Eighteenth Century to 1914
Jews in Poland and Russia: 1881-1914 v. 2

Antony Polonsky

Liverpool University Press

This chapter explores how most of the Jews of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth remained observant in the traditional sense throughout the nineteenth century. This period saw important developments in Jewish religious life. Hasidism emerged as a major force, but as it expanded it began to modify itself and to shed its more extreme character in an attempt to win over its Orthodox opponents. In its initial form it aroused strong opposition from those who feared its messianic and antinomian character. These ‘mitnagedim’ (‘opponents’, i.e. of hasidism) also changed significantly in the course of the nineteenth century. While maintaining their stress on halakhah (Jewish law) and talmudic study, they now also began to emphasize the importance of ethical principles and meditation. The two groups were united in their opposition to the maskilim and their reforms, and to the corrosive effect of secularization on normative Jewish observance, particularly as ‘reformed’ versions of Jewish religious practice began to obtain a degree of support among the integrationist minority. This led not only to a significant reduction in the level of conflict between the two groups, but also to the creation of an Orthodox religious culture.

Keywords:   Jews, Jewish religious life, hasidism, mitnagedim, halakhah, Jewish law, talmudic study, maskilim, normative Jewish observance, Jewish religious practice

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