"Remeberings" by Pauline Wengeroff: Jewish Enlightenment in Russia.

Essay by biytsUniversity, Bachelor'sB, November 2002

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In Pauline Wengeroff's memoir, Rememberings, we see the effects of the Jewish Enlightenment on Russian culture. In each region that was a home to Jews in the early nineteenth century, Enlightenment took hold amongst portions of the Jewish population. One of the goals of the Enlightenment was to make Jews more cultured and to be more like their neighbors. Although many Christian habits were adopted, the root of these activities came from each specific local culture. The results of the more enlightened Jew differed in each area. The German enlightenment was different from the Russian enlightenment but the core ideas were the same. The Jews wished to be entirely accepted by the country they lived in and cease to be foreigners, so they began speaking Russian, attending the theatre, and pursuing a secular education. Wengeroff respects the broader education aspects of the enlightenment, but mourns the loss of key Jewish traditions, such as the Sabbath, and Talmud-study.

Wengeroff describes a clear picture of her upbringing in her devoutly religious home. Every detail of religious law was meticulously obeyed, and the commandments of the Torah were practiced with great joy. Sabbath was a time of holiness where thoughts of Torah were discussed, and weekday matters did not permeate the sacred atmosphere. What might seem to the reader as a burden, Wengeroff sees as a joyous expression of Jewish identity. All Jews were bound together in a community observing God's laws and taking the pleasures granted to them; they didn't need to go out and participate in the secular culture. Jewish life was enjoyable just observing the Sabbath and all the holidays. There were Jewish holidays that were specifically set aside for merriment and inebriation. All the culture that a Jew could need was found within each individual community. The original...