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Joshua Rothenberg, "Demythologizing the Shtetl" in Midstream (March, 1981): 25-31


1) What was a "shtetl"? How did it compare to a small village or, alternatively, larger town?

2) Rothenberg's argument is that shtetl life remained vibrant until its physical destruction during World War II. What were some of the examples he gave to support this view?

3) The author asserts that Jews have historically displayed a preference for living in large towns or cities. How did the shtetl, therefore, come to assume such importance in Jewish literature?

4) Why does the author describe the term "shtetl culture" as a misnomer?

5) Were there characteristics common to all East European shtetl? What were some of the dissimilarities between these settlements?

6) With the arrival of more "modern" forms of civil administration, education, and political organization (such as secular political parties), did traditional shtetl life "decline?"

7) Rothenberg suggested that "traditional" typically means that which is characterized by religious practice and tradition. Using the evolution of the shtetl as an example, did the arrival of "modernity" enhance, detract, or leave unaffected Jewish "identity"?

8) What were some of the powers and administrative structures which Jews used to govern their own affairs in Poland and the Baltic states after World War I?

9) How did the kehilah evolve over time, according to the author?

10) Why did many Jewish writers have a stake in relegating the shtetl to the status of a quaint (if not embarrassing) anachronism following World War II? Did the motives of these writers differ from one another?