Monday, June 14, 2010

1846 depictions of Polish and Lithuanian Jews.

There's a good chance you've seen the following image, reprinted and captioned "Ḥassid and Wife of the Early Nineteenth Century" in the Jewish Encyclopedia:

But perhaps you haven't seen all the other images printed in the same book, Léon Hollaenderski's 1846 book Les Israélites de Pologne. Be sure to click the last one to see it enlarged for detail:


  1. Them's got some mean hats!

  2. Thank you!!! I was looking for these for some time.

    The Vilna Stock Exchange pic is priceless.

  3. Fred, that is really something. What kind of a stock market was it? Was it so utterly dominated by Jews, and religious Jews at that, as the picture suggests? Any perspective? I plead ignorance.


  4. My not-so-educated guess is that it was a regular old stock market (if indeed that is what is meant), and is not entirely true to life, but also not entirely not true. Let's put it this way: it doesn't show Jews engaged in, say, mining. It shows them involved in something they did. In terms of religious Jews, this was 1846. This is what Jews still mostly looked like in Lithuania in 1846. You can already see a modern looking guy on the left. I'm not offering any kind of conjecture as to how many are "religious," whatever that means, Jews there are but these aren't roshei yeshiva, which is not to say that none of them happened to be rabbis. Similarly, you shouldn't look at a street scene in Kabul and see all the traditional dress and assume you're looking at pious Muslims.

  5. I remember reading in a biography of Sholem Aleichem (by his daughter) that he was heavily involved in the Kiev stock market in the 1890s-- at one point, it was his primary means of supporting his family (a reversal of fortune which lost their life savings was partially responsible for his turning to writing full-time).

    Though the image of traditional Jews involved in something as "cosmopolitan" as a stock exchange seems bizarre, my guess is there are a number of factors going on: first, as you said, Fred, most Jews of this period dressed traditionally, and we shouldn't necessarily make assumptions about their backgrounds based merely on beards and hats.

    Second, the bigger the stock exchange, the bigger the city, and in a city you were more likely to have Jews engaged in a variety of occupations. Additionally, there's the fact that though the concept of a stock market does not necessarily connote "Jewish", in terms of finance and commerce, it's not that far off.

    I would suspect that in smaller towns, you probably had a similar version of this scene going on, though perhaps more focused on practical goods/crops, etc, as opposed to just stocks. Matters of education and experience aside, the regional stock market was probably just seen as an extension of the commercial fair that many Jews regularly participated in all over Eastern Europe.



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