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Jewish Quarterly Review

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Until recently, studies of Jewish religious practices in Imperial Russia have focused on major movements such as Hasidism and mitnagdism as well as the challenges that Haskalah presented to traditional Judaism. Few scholars have scrutinized transformations in everyday religious practices such as the observance of Sabbath and other holidays, synagogue attendance, and liturgical practices. However, new political, social, and economic realities had generated subtle changes in religious practices even in earlier periods and it comes as no surprise, therefore, that religious practices among Jews during the tsarist period, especially in Kiev, were neither monolithic nor static. This article provides a new perspective on this topic by analyzing patterns of religious practice among Jews in one city – examining personal observance, communal practice, synagogue rites and attendance, and religious education – while providing a broader context of reform in Russia. In large urban centers like Kiev, the pressures and temptations of modern life, big-city anonymity, and the vitality and diversity of Jewish community often led to a transformation of prior belief and behavior among new arrivals. The author concludes that despite the absence of a movement for religious reform in the Russian Empire, we can nonetheless observe innovations and changes in religious life emerging out of the attempt to make observance compatible with modern urban life and a nascent Russian-Jewish identity.


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