Jewish Philanthropy and Enlightenment in Late-Tsarist Russia

Brian J. Horowitz

  • Published: 2009
  • Subject Listing: Jewish Studies; History
  • Bibliographic information: 360 pp., 17 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Series: Samuel and Althea Stroum Books
  • Contents

The Society for the Promotion of Enlightenment among the Jews of Russia (OPE) was a philanthropic organization, the oldest Jewish organization in Russia. Founded by a few wealthy Jews in St. Petersburg who wanted to improve opportunities for Jewish people in Russia by increasing their access to education and modern values, OPE was secular and nonprofit. The group emphasized the importance of the unity of Jewish culture to help Jews integrate themselves into Russian society by opening, supporting, and subsidizing schools throughout the country.

While reaching out to Jews across Russia, OPE encountered opposition on all fronts. It was hobbled by the bureaucracy and sometimes outright hostility of the Russian government, which imposed strict regulations on all aspects of Jewish lives. The OPE was also limited by the many disparate voices within the Jewish community itself. Debates about the best type of schools (secular or religious, co-educational or single-sex, traditional or "modern") were constant. Even the choice of language for the schools was hotly debated.

Jewish Philanthropy and Enlightenment in Late-Tsarist Russia offers a model of individuals and institutions struggling with the concern so central to contemporary Jews in America and around the world: how to retain a strong Jewish identity, while fully integrating into modern society.
Brian Horowitz is Sizeler Family Chair of Jewish Studies and director of the German and Slavic Studies Department, Tulane University. He is the author of The Myth of A. S. Pushkin in Russia's Silver Age.

"A wonderful and important book, based on unprecedented archival research that transforms the historical debate by bringing to light sources once unavailable."
-Blair Ruble, director of the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

"Horowitz provides the most complete account to date of one of the most important organizations in the history of Russian Jewry, setting a confused and in many respects incorrect record straight."
-James West, University of Washington

A Note on Transliteration

Part 1: Integration Schemes
1 The Gintsburg Family and the Emergence of a Jewish Enlightenment Society
2 Forging a Mission
3 The Odessa Branch and Radical Russification

Part 2: Confrontations with Reality
4 Confrontation with Anti-Semites
5 Pogroms and the Shtadlanut
6 Generational Change and New Agendas

Part 3: An OPE School Network
7 Designing an Ideal Jewish School
8 Developing Educational Networks
9 Envisioning New Leaders: Modern Teachers and Reform Rabbis
10 Struggles with the Orthodox Elite: Schools versus Heders

Part 4: Nationalism
11 Diaspora Nationalism
12 Militancy in 1905
13 Building Institutions between the Revolutions
14 The OPE in War and Revolution


"Horowitz successfully challenges this judgment [OPE symbolic of Jews' powerlessness] in an intellectual history of an ideologically inclusive philanthropic agenda that attempted to carve out a viable space in the public sphere for Russia's Jews while protecting communal identity. . ."
-Kevin C. Cramer, Canadian Journal of History, 2011

"This is a thoroughly researched and thought-provoking study of one of the central Jewish organizations in imperial Russia, the Society for the Promotion of Enlightenment among the Jews of Russia (OPE). . . . Horowitz's challenge to the liberalism-nationalism dichotomy in the study (and construction) of East European Jewry represents one of the book's most important contributions. Horowitz skillfully integrates a large amount of new archival materials with literature from a variety of fields to create a well-crafted, convincing study of educational reform, political resistance, and cultural renewal in the final decades of imperial rule."
-Religious Studies Review

"Horowitz's book makes an important contribution to the historiography of Russian Jewry and to the history of modern Jewry more generally. . . . The book is well written, well organized, and quite informative. It will remain an indispensable resource for anyone interested in the modern history of Russian Jewry."
-Slavic Review

"I recommend one to read the book, Jewish Philanthropy and Enlightenment in Late-Tsarist Russia. . . . The core concerns the enlightenment society that played a substantial role in Russian-Jewish life. . . . More important is Horowitz's description of the return to Yiddish that was characteristic of the activities from the enlightenment society at the beginning of the twentieth century. . ."
-Yiddish Forward

"This study is a welcome addition to the literature on the formation of the Russian-Jewish community and the development of its modern leadership in the second half of the nineteenth century."
-Russian Review

"The subject matter is thoroughly researched, with abundant archival material. Turbulent eras in both Russian and Jewish history converge during this span of approximately 50 years, from the period of the liberal policies of Tsar Alexander II to the 1917 revolution . . . . This book belongs in libraries with Jewish studies collections."
-Association of Jewish Libraries

"This volume offers a model for individuals and institutions trying to retain a strong Jewish identity while fully integrating into modern society."