Imperial hybrids : Russian-Jewish converts in the nineteenth century / Ellie R. Schainker.

Schainker, Ellie R.
viii, 327 p. : 29 cm.
Local subjects:
Penn dissertations -- History.
History -- Penn dissertations.
Jewish apostasy in the modern era is often depicted as the most extreme form of assimilation. It is a story told on the margins of Western and Central European Jewish history as an attempt by Jews to achieve social integration alongside political emancipation. The historiography on Russian Jewry has not seriously dealt with the phenomenon of conversion for two reasons. First, Russian Jews in the nineteenth century were subjects of an autocratic state, still living in insular Jewish communities officially confined to the Pale of Jewish Settlement. Second, the narrative of coerced baptisms of young Jewish conscripts in the imperial army reduced any analysis of Jewish conversion to a byproduct of political repression.
My dissertation disentangles the study of conversion from an analysis of modern assimilation and political repression, thereby opening up new avenues of inquiry about the social history of Russian Jews. Whereas the standard inquiry begins and ends with convert motivation. I focus on the convert experience and use behavior rather than religious affiliation to analyze converts and their abiding concerns with Judaism. Instead of viewing the Pale as a space of Jewish social and cultural isolation, I explore the intimate nature of the Jewish-Christian encounter in the multiethnic and multiconfessional provinces of the western borderlands.
By analyzing conversion files kept in Russian state and church ministries and discussions about conversion in the public sphere, I discovered the surprising persistence of social and religious ties between converts and Jews and the proactive role that mostly former Jews played in missionizing to Jews, in contrast to the passivity of the state and Russian Orthodox Church. In addition, while Jewish residential restrictions and material inducements to convert might have made baptism attractive to Jews, the actual process of conversion was facilitated by local Jewish-Christian networks that introduced Jews to the personnel and practices of other faiths. Shtetl sociability and interfaith romance played a prominent role in civilian, especially female, conversions. Overall, I frame conversion in imperial Russia as an expression of religious choice and evolving notions of national versus religious forms of Jewish identity in the modern era.
Adviser: Benjamin Nathans.
Thesis (Ph.D. in History) -- University of Pennsylvania, 2010.
Includes bibliographical references.
Nathans, Benjamin, advisor.
University of Pennsylvania.
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