Glenn Dynner, "Jews, Liquor, and Life in Eastern Europe"

Waks Family Fund in Yiddish and Jewish East European History and Culture

In Eastern Europe much of the economy was based on vodka. The nobles who owned most of the region’s distilleries and taverns preferred to lease them to Jews, whom they believed to be more sober than the rest of the population. The Jewish-run tavern became the center of leisure, hospitality, business, and even religious festivities, while Jewish tavernkeepers became integral to both local economies and local social life, presiding over Christian celebrations and dispensing advice, medical remedies and loans. Nevertheless, as peasant drunkenness reached epidemic proportions, reformers and government officials sought to drive Jews out of the liquor trade. Historians have assumed that this spelled the end of the Polish Jewish liquor trade and the noble-Jewish symbiosis. Yet new archival discoveries demonstrate that nobles tended to simply install Christians as “fronts” for their taverns and retain their Jewish lessees. The result—a vast underground Jewish liquor trade—reflects an impressive level of local co-existence that contrasts with the more familiar story of anti-Semitism and violence.

Glenn Dynner is Professor of Judaic Studies and Chair of Humanities at Sarah Lawrence College. He is a Member of the Institute for Advance Studies at Princeton University, and has been both a Fulbright Scholar and the Senior NEH Scholar at the Center for Jewish History and. He is 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, 2013). He is also of 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).

This event is free and open to the public. No registration required. Limited seating.

Presented by the University of Toronto Journal of Jewish Thought and the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies

Date & Time
Monday, February 22, 2016 - 4:00pm

Jackman Humanities Building, Room 100, 170 St. George Street