Sunday, October 14, 2012

On Litvaks

Here's a couple of interesting excerpts from the Jewish Chronicle - of Newark, New Jersey - from Nov. 16, 1928. The article was called "Lithuanian Jews Have Rich Culture As Their Heritage."

It also points out that "Lithuania, it is important to remember, is the only country in Europe where that are no assimilationists, so that it is no wonder that Zionism should have a stronghold there. . . . Today, despite enormous economic handicaps, Lithuanian Jewry retains its intellectual morale. It is the only country in the world where 95 per cent of the Jewish children are educated in Jewish schools, where they receive not only a Jewish but a general education as well." It also points out that 800 boys and girls study in Kovno University.


  1. You cut it off right when we were going to hear from Harry Wolfson!

  2. Nah, it just mentions him. It ends with "Wolfson!"

  3. S., really? That would be a sentence fragment, then: "The distinguished professor of Jewish literature and philosophy at Harvard University, Harry A. Wolfson!"

  4. Wow, good point.

    Really I just wanted to censor this article and control information.

  5. (For the record, it simply says that he studied in Slabodka.)

  6. S. committing censorship? Now all of the readers are going to try to find the rest of the article on their own. :-p

  7. Rebbetzin Wolbe's grew up in Slobodka (IIRC her father was mashgiach in the yeshiva). In her autobiography, she writes how her family would board by a couple in a country village in the summers. The husband was illiterate, but very pious. He had a beard and payes and would go to shul daily to answer amen. Rebbetzin Wolbe writes that most Jews in the villages in Litta were like that.

    I guess in 1924 they also viewed the old country with rose colored glasses.

  8. Of course that's true, but I'm sure there were also ethnic German Jews who couldn't make it on time and had wrinkles in their shirts. Rose colored, to be sure, but national stereotypes generally have some basis.

  9. In response to the comment of JS above -

    "Rebbetzin Wolbe writes that most Jews in the villages in Litta were like that."

    You have to keep in mind that people in a country village - sounds like what was called a dorf - or an even smaller settlement - were typically less educated - Jewishly and generally - than their brethren in larger settlements, whether shtetlech, towns, cities. Also, the village husband that she described was likely from an older generation, which had less education.

    During this whole period there was a great process of increased urbanization- migration to cities, modernization, and increased education taking place, which must be taken into consideration before jumping to conclusions about literacy among Litvaks.

    P.S. Can you give more info on the autobiography? Rebbetzin Wolbe's father was Rav Avrohom Grodzensky HY"D, Slabodka Yeshiva Mashgiach.

  10. Faith in the Night by Rivka Wolbe

    I found it fascinating. From what I remember, it was typical of books of this genre (life before the during the after the war), but then I generally find those books fascinating.

  11. Prof Ezra Mendelssohn of the Hebrew U wrote many years ago - No country in Eastern Europe was more Jewish and less religious than Lithuania
    With all due respect to Rebbetzin Wolbo there were in fact Jews who could not read in Lithuania but those were hardly the norm. My parents and many of their friends lived there until 1939 and 1941 and even without benefit of a rabbinic pedigree their reports were different. Most Jews were not lomdim , but not illiterate.
    Frankly the only Jews I met who are illiterate were a few Polish and Hungarian jews and millions of American jews who know not a word of Hebrew.

  12. The joys of research...
    I found the book. The village was called "Kruki". I searched here and there are a few places in Lithuania this could be.

    I think the one she was referring to is Kriūkai (23 miles from Kovno/Slabodka), based on the description here: "On the left bank of the Nieman across from Srednik clings a shtetele [very small shtetl] called Kruki, with a young pine forest where dachnikes [renters of a dacha, Russian for “country house”], who cannot afford the luxury of a train or coach, come every summer to refresh themselves." There are 2 pictures of her family at Kruki in the book, one in a forest, and one on the banks of a river.

    It wasn't that small, with 30 Jewish families plus another 100 across the river in Srednik.

  13. Could the bulk of Litvak Jewry originate from Karaite settlers?
    Could many of these communities be far more ancient than previously though?

    I am basing myself largely on the monograph written by Yaffa Eliach:
    where she mentions many karaite-type customs practiced by the shtetl's residents.



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