Western vs. Eastern European Jews
Western vs. Eastern European Jews
In this essay I will be discussing the second question on the sheet. This question asks to compare and contrast what Jewish life was like in Eastern Europe compared to the Jewish lifestyle in Western Europe. To understand what lead to the differences seen between Jews in these two regions, it is important to see how they ended up where they did and the history that came with them. The Jewish people came to Europe with the Romans, and had settled in many places throughout Europe. Because they originally lived under strict Christian rule, many of their rights and freedoms were limited.
They were even told where they could move to and did not have the freedom to settle where ever they wanted. Sometimes they were not allowed to buy property or homes when they came to a new state. The Jewish work force was dictated as well, allowing them access to only a few professions. In the early 1800’s when Jews went to Russia they were looked upon as a threat and were limited to how many students could study in school. That is why many went to Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The Jewish people became tired of the restrictions they experienced in many countries and many left for the United States.
Once Though legally, the rights for the Jewish people looked brighter, the social acceptance and true equality did not exist. Higher positions in education and business were reserved for non Jewish people. In 1933 the largest Jewish population was on the eastern side of Europe, in countries like Poland, the Soviet Union, Hungry and Romania. In Eastern Europe the Jewish people actually adhered strictly to their own with culture, and did not adopt many of the host countries’ traditions. There were large groups of them who were able to support each other and sustain the life they wanted separate from the rest of the country.
They never gave up their life style for any one; they existed as their own community. They bought all Jewish goods and helped out their own economy by doing so. Eastern Jews lived together in little villages shtetls. If you think about it they were already in their own ghettoes minding their own business not hurting anyone or any one else’s economy. The main language they spoke was Yiddish which is a combination of the German language and their native language, Hebrew.
They had a whole community of segregated Jewish people; they attended Yiddish theatre, Yiddish movies and read Yiddish books. Even when the younger Jews started dressing more modern they still had an old fashioned way of dressing. The men wore hats and most commonly, women covered their hair with wigs. Overall the in eastern part of Europe where the greatest concentration of Jewish people could be found, they lived with their old traditions and as a separate community. Unfortunately, they were not as prosperous and were not able to move forward as their Western counterparts. They remained traders and craftsmen and did not make many advances. They did not like the changes they saw in the Jewish culture in the west and resisted even more any changes in their lifestyle or religion.
Now if we talk about the western side of Europe such as Germany, Italy or France we see that the Jews in this area were more spread out. In bigger cities where the Jewish population might be larger, some stuck with their tradition or culture but for the most part, the Jews in Western Europe blended more with the native people. They started to accept German culture and tried to be accepted in the community by speaking German going to see German plays and doing business with German shops and banks. They lived very much like a typical German trying to be part of the community they were in.
It would be difficult to identify a Jewish person apart from anyone in else in the country. They were loyal to Germany and did not want to embrace anything different that could risk being accepted completely. They were advancing in business and other professions, and entering the middle class. They did not want to jeopardize progress they had made. Especially in Berlin, Jews began to advance in many areas, journalism, and science among them. While life for Jews in Western Europe seemed be changing for the better, the Eastern Jews had a different experience, especially those in Russia.
When Russia became the Soviet Union, Jews were supposed to become more equal, but they were forced to change all that they knew of their culture and religion. A lot of them lost their jobs in trade also because everything became socialized and they could no longer deal in private. In the end, the Jews were forced to completely melt into the population and were no longer allowed anything that had been a part of their culture and tradition. Many intermarried and in time it became hard to distinguish them from others.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 10 January 2017
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