NEXT MEETING: June 14, 2015 - 2 PM
Topic: "Jews, Liquor, and Life in Eastern Europe"
Speaker: Glenn Dynner, PhD
In pre-modern Eastern Europe, the Jewish-run tavern was often the center of leisure, hospitality, business, and even religious festivities. This unusual situation came about because the nobles who owned taverns believed that only Jews were sober enough to run taverns profitably, a belief so ingrained as to endure even the rise of Hasidism's robust drinking culture. As liquor became the region's boom industry, Jewish tavernkeepers became integral to both local economies and local social life, presiding over Christian celebrations and dispensing advice, medical remedies and loans. Nevertheless, reformers and government officials, blaming Jewish tavernkeepers for epidemic peasant drunkenness, sought to drive Jews out of the liquor trade.
Historians have assumed that this spelled the end of the Polish Jewish liquor trade. However, newly discovered archival sources demonstrate that nobles often helped their Jewish tavernkeepers evade fees, bans and expulsions by installing Christians as “fronts” for their taverns. The result—a vast underground Jewish liquor trade—reflects an impressive level of local Polish-Jewish co-existence that contrasts with the more familiar story of anti-Semitism and violence.
Glenn Dynner is Professor of Judaic Studies and Chair of Humanities at Sarah Lawrence College. He has been the Senior NEH Scholar at the Center for Jewish History and is a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. He is author of “Men of Silk”: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewish Society (Oxford University Press, 2006), and Yankel’s Tavern: Jews, Liquor & Life in the Kingdom of Poland (Oxford University Press, 2013). He is editor of Holy Dissent:
Jewish and Christian Mystics in Eastern Europe (Wayne State University Press, 2011); co-editor of Polin 27; and co-editor of Warsaw. The Jewish Metropolis: Essays in Honor of the 75th Birthday of Professor Antony Polonsky (Brill, 2015).
Location: Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues), Manhattan.
Admission: JGS members are free, guests pay $5 at the door
The Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute at CJH will be open before the meeting at 11:00 a.m. for access to research materials and computers and networking with other researchers.