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Jews and the MilitaryA History$
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Derek J. Penslar

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780691138879

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691138879.001.0001

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The Jewish Soldier between Memory and Reality

The Jewish Soldier between Memory and Reality

Chapter:
(p.17) Chapter One The Jewish Soldier between Memory and Reality
Source:
Jews and the Military
Author(s):

Derek J. Penslar

Publisher:
Princeton University Press
DOI:10.23943/princeton/9780691138879.003.0002

This chapter explores the Jews' historic self-image as a people that shuns what the Hebrew writer S.Y. Agnon called “the craft of Esau, the waging of war.” The notion of Jews as wards of divine and state authority derives from both rabbinic tradition and the specific conditions of Jewish life in medieval Christian and Muslim civilizations. Committed to maintaining their faith and community, Jews had little reason to cross social boundaries or endanger their lives through military service. The historical memory of Russian and Polish Jewry is replete with images of harsh military service and tales of fleeing the country in order to avoid it. Like all historical memory, this narrative blends fact with fiction. Eastern European Jews engaged in a variety of paramilitary activities long before conscription into the tsar's army, and once the draft was implemented in the nineteenth century, their experiences were not uniformly miserable.

Keywords:   Jewish life, military service, Russian Jewry, Polish Jewry, paramilitary activities

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