In 18th and 19th century Eastern Europe, much of the economy was based on vodka, and Jews were believed to be the only group sober enough to be entrusted with its production and sale. The Jewish-run tavern, leased from the Polish nobleman (poritz), became the center of leisure, hospitality, business, and other aspects of local life. However, as peasant drunkenness reached epidemic proportions, reformers and government officials sought to drive Jews out of the liquor trade. New archival discoveries demonstrate that rather than abandon the lucrative liquor trade, most Jews simply installed Christians as “fronts” and retained their tavern leases. The result—a vast underground Jewish liquor trade that continued down to the end of the 19th century—reflects an impressive level of Jewish-Christian coexistence that contrasts with the more familiar story of anti-Semitism and violence.
Professor Glenn Dynner will present “Jews, Liquor, and Life in Eastern Europe” on Thursday, October 20, 2016, at 12:30pm in the Class of ’47 Room at the Homer Babbidge Library as part of the Faculty Colloquium series sponsored by the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life. The series is a forum for the presentation of faculty research. All are invited to attend. A kosher lunch will be provided.
Glenn Dynner is Professor of Religion and Chair of Humanities at Sarah Lawrence College. He is the author of “Men of Silk”: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewish Society (Oxford University Press, 2006) and Yankel’s Tavern: Jews, Liquor & Life in the Kingdom of Poland (Oxford University Press, 2014). He is also editor of Holy Dissent: Jewish and Christian Mystics in Eastern Europe (Wayne State University Press, 2011); co-editor of Polin 27; and co-editor of Warsaw. The Jewish Metropolis: Essays in Honor of the 75th Birthday of Professor Antony Polonsky (Brill, 2015). He is a member of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University and has been both a Fulbright scholar and the Senior NEH scholar at the Center for Jewish History.