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The Shtetl: An Incubator of Jewish Culture PDF Version
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A traditional Klezmer band from the western Polish city of Przymysl.
Source: Klezmer Pioneers (a CD)
Beginning in the sixteenth century, when the Polish nobility invited Jews to settle their private lands, the shtetl became an incubator of Jewish culture in Eastern Europe. With life orbiting around the central marketplace, it was a place where devotion to Judaism, education, and community were dominant. During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, much of Jewish life in Eastern Europe was confined to shtetls, and while the Jews shared some economic ties with their Christian neighbors, they had their own institutions, religious beliefs and practices. Nostalgia for shtetl culture, such as music and food, has continued to permeate modern Jewish life. This lesson looks at the various elements of shtetl culture while examining the political and economic roots behind the shtetl's formation.

Grade Level:
Middle School, High School

Subjects Covered:
Jewish History, Geography, World History, Social Studies

Students will understand migration patterns of Eastern European Jews and how they relate to the formation of the shtetl. Students will know what is meant by the terms "shtetl" and "Pale of Settlement," and will understand the nature of the world of the shtetl. They will investigate the rich Jewish culture that developed within the shtetl in addition to the economics of shtetl life.

Learning Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  • explain the reasons behind the formation of the shtetl;
  • describe cultural components unique to the shtetl;
  • define the terms "Pale of Settlement" and "shtetl";
  • describe the kinds of professions Jews were engaged in the shtetl;
  • understand the basic structure of shtetl life, including the role of the rabbi, Jewish ritual, and scholarship;
  • locate the Pale of Settlement on a world map.

Suggested Time Frame:
Two to three 45-minute class sessions.

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