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3.5.  PROJECT PERIOD (1795-1925)

The Project Period is included in the last half of the Age of Enlightenment.  In order to clarify the environment and status of Jews in this period, and how these affected the choices they made of given names, a brief description of the social, cultural, and economic factors pervading their regions of residence is given, and the general impact on the given names chosen during this period is presented.


In Western, Central, and Southern European countries, the societies were in general amicable, but layered, particularly in England, Germany, and Italy.  By "layered" is meant that each societal layer knew its place and agreed that by and large that was where it was meant to be.  While there were differences in social, cultural, and economic levels between all segments of society, never the less there was a general feeling of satisfaction with the status quo.  Emancipation had been proclaimed, the Age of Englightenment was everywhere seen, and while conditions were frequently bad, there was the expectation that the future would be much brighter than the past.  The levels of commerce, industry, and agriculture in these countries were high and among the most sophisticated in the world.

Anti-semitism existed and frequently expressed itself viciously, but between "sessions," it was contained, in comparison to the situation in Eastern Europe.

In Poland (in Central Europe), society was also layered, but life was more tense than in Western Europe.  The quality of life in social, cultural, and economic terms was good for the middle and upper classes, and less good for those at the bottom, where many Jews were.  Commerce, industry, and agriculture were on average more primitive than in Western Europe, with a higher emphasis on commerce and craft for Jews. Anti-semitism was obvious, open, and strong.

In Eastern Europe (Pale of Settlement), society was completely layered, and this layering was imposed by the Russian government;  everyone in the lower echelons of society knew that rising above their level would be extremely difficult if not impossible, and survival would be possible only by using "protektzia" with the powers that be.  The social, cultural, and economic advantages of the society, such as they were, pervaded very well the imperial and upper classes, but did not extend to the middle and lower classes.  Agriculture and commerce occupied major positions in each region, particularly in the lower classes, but was more primitive than in Western and Central Europe;  in the Kovno Province of Lithuania in 1900, Jewish craftsmen engaged in shoemaking, tailoring, and other similar crafts, but very few were allowed to be active in agriculture.  Anti-semitism was overt, with obvious hostility and frequent pogroms.

In Russian Europe, society was also completely layered, imposed by the Russian government.  The social, cultural, and economic advantages of the society, such as they were, pervaded only the imperial and upper classes. Agriculture and commerce were again major factors in Russian European regions.  Anti-semitism was overt, with a steady pressure for Jews to abandon Judaism and integrate into Russian society.  As a result of this pressure, most Russian Jews became secular and some converted;  for the secular Jews, nearly all knowledge of their religion faded away.  Russia attempted to exert similar pressure on the Jews of the Pale of Settlement, but with little success.

With the rise to power of Stalin in 1929, the Russian Jewish community was cut off from world Jewry, Hebrew and Jewish education were prohibited, the Zionist movement was outlawed, and obstacles were put in the way of Jews who wished to leave Russia for Palestine.

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In Western, West-Central, and Southern Europe, assimilation was strong among the Jews;  many Jews were either religiously observant or secular. There was a strong preference for local secular given names over secular names derived from other European countries (second choice), or over Yiddish names (third choice).  Accordingly, government documents in major local archives contain mainly local secular names, rather than foreign secular or Yiddish names.

In East-Central Europe, assimilation among Jews was moderate to small; Jews were split between religiously observant, culturally Jewish, or secular.  The given names chosen were a mixture of Yiddish, European, and local secular names.  Government documents therefore show a mixture of these name types.

In Eastern Europe (Pale of Settlement), assimilation was weak;  most Jews were either religiously observant or culturally Jewish (but later, secular.)  There was pride in Jewish religious and cultural life and a strong preference for Yiddish given names, with European secular names a second choice, and local secular names a third choice.  Government documents in archives reflect these preferences, with Yiddish names being most common, and foreign secular names being second.

In Russian Europe, assimilation was very strong, in response to the unremitting pressure from the Russian government for Jews to be absorbed into society;  most Jews were secular, with some being culturally Jewish. Jews exhibited a definite preference for local secular given names, with Yiddish names being a second choice.  There was little incentive to choose foreign secular names, and indeed this was opposed by the government. Government archival documents therefore contain mainly local secular names for Jews.  And the knowledge of their Jewish tradition and observance gradually decayed.

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