In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Russian Jewish Culture

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Anthologies of Primary Sources and Literature Collections
  • Single-Author Anthologies
  • Translations of Single Works
  • General Historical Studies
  • Anthologies of Scholarship
  • Soviet Jewish Culture
  • Education
  • Theater
  • Music
  • Painting and Sculpture
  • Photography and Graphic Arts
  • Film
  • Regional Studies

Jewish Studies Russian Jewish Culture
Jeffrey Veidlinger
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 September 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0138


Russian Jewish culture has historically been expressed in a variety of languages, most notably Russian, Hebrew, and Yiddish. In the pre-revolutionary period, most Jewish cultural expression took place within a predominantly religious milieu. The gradual secularization of Jewish culture in the Russian Empire brought about the rapid growth of new forms of public cultural expression through literature, the performing arts, and the visual arts. The consolidation of Bolshevik control in the Soviet Union accelerated the secularization of Jewish culture and, while promoting Yiddish culture as the expression of the Jewish masses, discriminated against Hebrew culture. The early years of the Soviet Union saw innovative experimentation in Yiddish culture under the support of the state. Taking advantage of the new opportunities afforded them in the Soviet Union, many Jewish cultural producers also turned to Russian-language culture, playing important roles in the formation of a pan-national Soviet culture. After World War II, the Soviet state turned against Jewish culture, and many leading Yiddish cultural activists were executed. Jewish culture was largely forced underground, only to reemerge, primarily in emigration, with the fall of the Soviet Union. This article includes works on Jewish cultural arts—literary arts, performing arts, and visual arts—in Russia and the Pale of Jewish Settlement. This region includes parts of what are today Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Moldova, but excludes the territory of Poland, which was under Russian imperial control from 1772 to 1917 but never was fully incorporated into the Russian Empire. It also excludes the extensive cultural contributions of Russian Jews produced abroad, in the Americas, Europe, and Israel.

Reference Works

Hundert 2008 is the definitive reference work for eastern European Jewish studies and includes many entries on cultural aspects. Katzenelson, et al. 1991 remains useful over one hundred years after its first publication. Beider 2011 is a useful lexicon for those interested in Yiddish literature in the Soviet Union.

  • Beider, Chaim. Leksikon fun yidishe shrayber in Ratn-farband / Biographical Dictionary of Yiddish Writers in the Soviet Union. Edited by Gennady Estraikh and Boris Sandler. New York: Congress for Jewish Culture, 2011.

    Biographies and bibliographies of Yiddish writers in the Soviet Union.

  • Hundert, Gershon David, ed. The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. 2 vols. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

    This two-volume masterpiece includes contributions from hundreds of scholars. The authoritative source for everything related to Jews in Russia and eastern Europe, with particular attention to cultural matters. Available online.

  • Katzenelson, Yehudah Leyb, Simon Dubnow, David Günzburg, and Albert Harkavy, eds. Evreiskaia entsiklopedia: Svod znanii o evreistvie I ego kul’ture v proshlom i nastoiashchem. 16 vols. Moscow: Terra, 1991.

    Originally published between 1906 and 1913 and edited by a team that included Dubnow, Israel Zinberg, and Katzenelson, this Russian-language Jewish encyclopedia remains an excellent resource for pre-revolutionary Russian Jewish culture. Some of the material was copied from the English-Language Jewish Encyclopedia, published 1901–1906, but the entries dealing with Russia were often original.

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