Russian Jewry’s Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991

Course Description: 


Course description

This course introduces students to the history of Soviet Jewry between World War One and the fall of the Soviet Union, with a particular emphasis on the Jewish experience of the World War One and the Russian Civil War. The Jews of Tsarist Russia – the largest Jewish community at the time – were subject to mandatory draft, deportations, violence and pogroms throughout the tumultuous years of World War One and the Russian Civil War. At the same time, Zionist political hopes were boosted by the British government’s promise to establish a “national home” in Palestine, Jewish Communists rose to some of the most prominent roles in the fledgling Soviet state, and the slogans of Jewish political and cultural autonomism carried the day. The emancipation of Jews in 1917 brought about an unprecedented flurry of Jewish political, literary, and social activity, while Soviet Jewish authorities attempted to define an idiosyncratic course of development for the Jews of the Soviet state. From the persecution of Judaism and Zionism, through the development of Yiddish culture and education, to postwar official antisemitism we get a glimpse into the flourishment and tribulations of Jewish life in the Soviet Union. Through primary sources and secondary works, this course will examine the tectonic changes Russian Jewry underwent during the years of crisis in 1914-1921, and in the following seven decades. The course will also serve to introduce students to the history nationalities question of the multiethnic Soviet state, and the vexed relationship between internationalism and Jewishness.

Learning Outcomes: 

Learning Outcomes

The course provides a thorough overview of Soviet Jewish history. Along with primary sources such as literary works, memoirs, and historical documents students are expected to read a number of scholarly works. By the end of the course, students will be able to identify principal themes, organizations, and figures of Soviet Jewish history, and will have a sense of the major periods of Soviet history. Using the “Jewish question” as a test case, we will contemplate how the modern state engaged in categorizing, transferring, and transforming her population. The course will also engage with other broader themes such as minority politics and policies, national rights, multiethnic states, genocide, and migration, and the interaction between nationalism and Communism, thereby providing students with an outline of concepts and questions applicable to other geographic areas and historical periods. Students will be able to interpret primary documents, relate them to scholarly works, and critically assess historiographies. A mandatory research paper will develop an ability to find, select, and evaluate sources, and formulate historical arguments.




-          Regular, informed participation (20%)

-          Weekly response papers: not more than one single-spaced page addressing a topic of particular interest in the readings, due by 5PM on the day before the class, to be pre-circulated (20%)

-          Book review: write a review (750-1000 words) of a book on the syllabus or one that is related to the class (10%)

-          Presentation: form pairs and prepare a 15-minute introduction for a class discussion based on the readings (10%)

-          One research paper (12-15 pp.), using primary sources, with an abstract due on Week 8 (10% + 30%)

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