Universal Access to the Civilization of East European Jews
Tue, 05/03/2011
YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, Gershon Hundert, ed. Yale University Press, 2008
YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, Gershon Hundert, ed. Yale University Press, 2008

Yale University Press published the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe (2 vols.) in 2008. Since June 2010, the full encyclopedia, enhanced by more illustrations (more than 1200), interactive maps, as well as film clips and sound recordings drawn largely from YIVO’s holdings, has been on internet available without charge to anyone interested at www.yivoencyclopedia.org.

The encyclopedia treats the whole of East European Jewish civilization from the beginnings of settlement to the end of the twentieth century in the regions east of the German-speaking realm, north of the Balkans and west of the Ural Mountains. Our fundamental goal was to mediate and reflect the entire civilization of East European Jewry. For this reason the encyclopedia seeks to reflect all aspects of Jewish life in its variety and multiplicity. The fundamental test for inclusion was historical and cultural significance. The YIVO Encyclopedia is intended to be an ecumenical work: nondenominational, nonideological and nonconfessional. Nothing Jewish is considered foreign. Here is a single work of reference in which one can find, for example, biographical entries on Ludwik Fleck – a pioneer in the sociology of knowledge who anticipated and substantially influenced the work of Thomas Kuhn; Marcel Iancu – an avant-garde artist and illustrator of the first volume of the Dada; Rózsika Schwimmer — the first woman ambassador ever; Moshe Isserles — sixteenth-century rabbi and codifier of Jewish law; Lev Shestov — existentialist religious philosopher; and Sholem Aleichem, probably the most famous Yiddish writer.

The goal of the YIVO Encyclopedia is not to celebrate or eulogize but to recover and represent; it seeks to present East European Jewish civilization without bias and without nostalgia but as comprehensively and as objectively as possible.

The YIVO Encyclopedia is the fruit of more than seven years’ labor with contributions from 450 scholars in 19 countries, and reflects the most advanced and up-to-date research in every field. The reviewer in the Los Angeles Times said the work is “fiendishly comprehensive” and reflects a civilization “so unexpectedly multifaceted that it’s best viewed as a Yiddish-speaking Atlantis, a lost world...” Although the Holocaust is addressed in the work, the main focus is on the life of Jews, not their murder or their murderers.

There are more than 1800 entries and there is no hope of providing even an overview here of the treatment of languages and literatures, the visual and performing arts, rabbis and rabbinic literature, politics and history. Still, as Editor in Chief of the Encyclopedia, I am particularly proud of the attention to everyday life, which includes dozens of entries among them: Angels, Birth and Birthing, Childhood, Food and Drink, Love, Marriage, Dress, Pilgrimage, Badkhonim (jesters), Beggars, Cartoons, Chess, Christmas, Cookbooks, Crime and Criminals, Dogs, Galitsianer, Litvak, Humor, Landkentenish, Money, Pigs, Sport, Yikhes (lineage) and four entries on different kinds of Talk. Have a look, - you won’t be sorry: www.yivoencyclopedia.org