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.