Book Talk: Hasidism in Poland on the Eve of the Holocaust

By Sara Martone - March 14, 2024

Please join us in celebrating the publication of Prof. Glenn Dynner’s book The Light of Learning: Hasidism in Poland on the Eve of the Holocaust (Oxford University Press, 2024) in conversation with Prof. Eli Stern.

Time: 4 PM on April 9, 2024
Place: Luce Hall Room 202, Macmillan Center

The event is open to the public and will be accompanied with nigunim by accordion artist Christina Crowder.

The Light of Learning tells the story of an unexpected Hasidic revival in Poland on the eve of the Holocaust. In the aftermath of World War I, the Jewish mystical movement appeared to be in shambles. Hasidic leaders had dispersed, Hasidic courts lay in ruins, and the youth seemed swept up in secularist trends as a result of mandatory public schooling and new Jewish movements like Zionism and Socialism. Author Glenn Dynner shows that in response to this, Hasidic leaders reinvented themselves as educators devoted to rescuing the youth by means of thriving networks of heders (primary schools), Bais Yaakov schools for girls and women, and world-renowned yeshivas.

During the ensuing pedagogical revolution, Hasidic yeshivas soon overshadowed courts, and Hasidic leaders became known more for scholarship than miracle-working. By mobilizing Torah study, Hasidic leaders were able to subvert the "civilizing" projects of the Polish state, successfully rival Zionists and Socialists, and create clandestine yeshiva bunkers in ghettos during the Holocaust. Torah study was thus not only a spiritual-intellectual endeavor but a political practice that fueled a formidable culture of resistance. The Light of Learning belies notions of late Hasidic decadence and decline and transforms our understanding of Polish Jewry during its final hour.

The Speakers:

Prof. Glenn Dynner is the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Professor of Judaic Studies at Fairfield University, editor of the journal Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies, and a recent Guggenheim Fellow. He is author of Men of Silk: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewish Society (OUP, 2006), and Yankel's Tavern: Jews, Liquor, and Life in the Kingdom of Poland (OUP, 2013).

Prof. Eli Stern is Professor of Modern Jewish Intellectual and Cultural History in the Departments of Religious Studies and History at Yale. Previously, he was Junior William Golding Fellow in the Humanities at Brasenose College and the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford. He is the author of the award-winning, The Genius: Elijah of Vilna and the Making of Modern Judaism (Yale University Press in 2012). His second monograph Jewish Materialism: The Intellectual Revolution of the 1870s (Yale University Press, 2018) details the ideological background to Jews’ involvement in Zionism, Capitalism, and Communism.

Christina Crowder has been performing and researching Jewish music for thirty years, beginning in Budapest, Hungary in 1993 as a founding member of Di Naye Kapelye, and continuing with a Fulbright grant to Romania to document Jewish music in 1999, and since 2002 with an active research, teaching, and performing career in the US. She is Executive Director of the Klezmer Institute, which has been awarded three NEH Grants for Institute projects (2021-2025). Christina lives in New Haven, Connecticut, and performs with the Zamlers Trio.