Towns of the Lublin Region – shtetl
A shtetl (Yiddish: small town) was a small, provincial Jewish community in prewar Eastern Europe (Russia, Poland, Lithuania, the eastern part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), a community with a peculiar social structure and mores.
The definition of a shtetl
Multicultural towns exist in areas where different cultures and religions interact with each other, e.g. in the Lublin Region where representatives of several (usually two, three or four) religious or ethnic groups coexist. Outwardly, they are characterized by the fact that places of worship and cemeteries of various religions and denominations exist within a single urban structure. Also typical is the intermingling of culture, art and custom. A Jewish shtetl is an example of a multicultural town.
Shtetl (Yiddish: small town)
A shtetl was a small, provincial Jewish community in prewar Eastern Europe (Russia, Poland, Lithuania, the eastern part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), a community with a peculiar social structure and mores.
Most Jews in the Pale of Settlement lived in shtetl-type towns or villages, often constituting the bulk of the population and, in some cases, the entire population. A shtetl in the 19th century was the central demographic center for Ashkenazi Jews, and its language was Yiddish, referred to by Jews as mame łoszn, "the mother tongue". For them, Judaism was the Yiddishkeit, a Jewish way of life centered around a small synagogue familiarly called a shul or shtibl.
A shtetl had its own cultural and intellectual elites commanding the respect of the local community. Such events as births, marriages and deaths were a joint concern of the entire community. Beggars and the sick were taken care of. All this ensured a sense of security on the one hand, but on the other, everyone’s life was subject to public scrutiny, and a need for privacy aroused suspicions. The life of a shtetl relied on an extended, multigenerational family, with many branches and numerous children. Social status could depend on education, but also on affluence. Families were proud of their outstanding ancestors. Boys were educated at cheders and, at the most advanced level, at a yeshiva.
Shtetls continued the tradition of the self-contained kahals that existed before the late-18th-century Partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Anyone wishing to settle in a shtetl, open a new workshop, or marry a newcomer, had to seek the permission of the kahal authorities. Those who refused or were unable to observe social norms met with various forms punishment, e.g. no entry into the synagogue, a pillory, or whipping. The most severe punishment was the cherem, i.e. exclusion from the community. Shtetls had various systems for supporting the needy. Donations for charity were collected from everybody. The local beggars (shnorrers) were an integral part of the community.
The Jewish inhabitants of small towns were bound by strong community ties, and the world "shtetl" acquired an emotionally charged meaning corresponding to the contemporary term "little homeland". Despite tensions between the Jewish and non-Jewish inhabitants of shtetls, both communities were linked in many ways, e.g. a Gentile could act as a Shabbes goy for his Jewish neighbors.
In the second half of the 19th century, traditional shtetls began to change, mainly as a result of reforms introduced by the states controlling the lands of the former Commonwealth, but also under the influence of emancipation and changes in morality.
Prepared by: Joanna Zętar