Reviews

Emancipation and Its Discontents


Rabbis and Revolution: The Jews of Moravia in the Age of Emancipation
by Michael Laurence Miller
Stanford University Press, 480 pp., $60

My great-grandfather Michael Wiener was born in 1831 in Trebitsch (present-day Třebíč) in Moravia, then one of the Crown Lands of the Habsburg Empire, now part of the Czech Republic. His surname did not derive from his move—after the 1848 Revolutions—to Vienna, but from an ancestor who was among the Jews expelled from that city in 1670 and who subsequently settled in neighboring Moravia, where the moniker “Wiener” was attached to their names. This ancestor, identified as “Rabbi David me-Wien” in Pinkas Kehilat Trebitsch, had been a ritual slaughterer in Vienna, but when he settled in Trebitsch he apparently became the local rabbi. So I approached Miller’s book in a spirit of filial piety, with just a touch of historical interest. This interest grew, however, as I made my way through his fascinating account of a small, marginal community of Jews grappling with the challenges modernization and secularization brought to European Jewry.

The twenty thousand to forty thousand Jews of Moravia have typically been treated as a mere appendage to the neighboring, more significant Prague-centered community in Bohemia. Miller, an American historian who teaches in the Jewish studies program at the Central European University in Budapest, demonstrates how wrong it is to do so. While about half of Bohemia’s Jews lived in Prague, Moravian Jews, despite their relatively small numbers, were spread among fifty-two communities based in market towns and villages. Barred from residing in the Moravian Royal Cities from the 16th century until the middle of the 19th, Moravian Jews found refuge in the smaller towns owned by the nobility.

Moravia’s fifty-two Jewish communities, 1798-1848. (Adapted from Hugo Gold, ed., Die Juden und  Judengemeinden Mährens in Vergangeheit und Gegenwart (Brünn: Judischer Buch-und Kunstverlag, 1929.)

Moravia’s fifty-two Jewish communities, 1798-1848. (Adapted from Hugo Gold, ed., Die Juden und
Judengemeinden Mährens in Vergangeheit und Gegenwart (Brünn: Judischer Buch-und Kunstverlag, 1929.)

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About the Author

Shlomo Avineri teaches political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is the author of Herzl: An Intellectual Biography (Shazar; English version forthcoming). Recently he delivered the inaugural lecture for the newly founded Theodor Herzl Chair at Masaryk University in Brno.

Comments

trputnam9 on June 30, 2013 at 7:50 pm
This sentence may be misleading: "Many more moved to the imperial capital of Vienna, including the ancestors of Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Stefan Zweig, Bruno Kreisky, and countless other well-known figures." Regarding Mahler, he was born in July 1860 in Bohemia near the Moravian border, but grew up across the border in Moravia, in Iglau (which is one of the fifty-two Jewish communities on your map), his family having moved there in December of 1860.

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