Skip to main content

Black History Month: Select Books 30% Off

Harvard University Press - home
Jewish Renaissance in the Russian Revolution

Jewish Renaissance in the Russian Revolution

Kenneth B. Moss

ISBN 9780674035102

Publication date: 10/30/2009

Request exam copy

Between 1917 and 1921, as revolution convulsed Russia, Jewish intellectuals and writers across the crumbling empire threw themselves into the pursuit of a “Jewish renaissance.” At the heart of their program lay a radically new vision of Jewish culture predicated not on religion but on art and secular individuality, national in scope yet cosmopolitan in content, framed by a fierce devotion to Hebrew or Yiddish yet obsessed with importing and participating in the shared culture of Europe and the world. These cultural warriors sought to recast themselves and other Jews not only as a modern nation but as a nation of moderns.

Kenneth Moss offers the first comprehensive look at this fascinating moment in Jewish and Russian history. He examines what these numerous would-be cultural revolutionaries, such as El Lissitzky and Haim Nahman Bialik, meant by a new Jewish culture, and details their fierce disagreements but also their shared assumptions about what culture was and why it was so important. In close readings of Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian texts, he traces how they sought to realize their ideals in practice as writers, artists, and thinkers in the burgeoning cultural centers of Moscow, Kiev, and Odessa. And he reveals what happened to them and their ideals as the Bolsheviks consolidated their hold over cultural life.

Here is a brilliant, revisionist argument about the nature of cultural nationalism, the relationship between nationalism and socialism as ideological systems, and culture itself, the axis around which the encounter between Jews and European modernity has pivoted over the past century.


  • A truly outstanding book. Kenneth Moss shows that Jewish writers, poets, and artists, building on new views of art already in place long before the Russian Revolution, argued that creativity was its own end and followed its own rules. They could best regenerate the nation and serve the people by producing great art and a high culture that would break out of the stifling boundaries of Jewish parochial concerns. This book will rank as a landmark study in the history of Jewish culture in Eastern Europe.

    —Samuel D. Kassow, author of Who Will Write Our History?


  • 2010, Winner of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature


  • Kenneth B. Moss is Harriet and Ulrich E. Meyer Professor of Jewish History and the College at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Jewish Renaissance in the Russian Revolution, which won the Sami Rohr Prize of the National Jewish Book Council. His work has appeared in Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, Russian, German, and Portuguese as well as English.

Book Details

  • 408 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

From this author