"Jewish Space" in Fin-De-Siècle Vienna and St. Petersburg: Residential, Occupational and Religious Patterns

Essay, 2010

10 Pages, Grade: A-



(Pavel Vasilyev)

At first glance, the historical Jews do not seem to have been a group that was determining the architectural, visual and spatial outlook of cities – in Europe or overseas alike. In fact, as Rudolf Klein put it, “the Jews were seldom in a position – save in ancient and modern Israel – to impose architecture on others”; partially because they “moved so many times in history that they lacked the preconditions for a continuous architectural evolution”.[1] Moreover, architecture has always been considered a Jewish 'specialty' much less then, say, literature, medicine or business (at least until recently, as now we have such architecture stars of Jewish descent as Daniel Liebeskind). However, in the pages which follow I will show that a closer look at the connections between the Jews and the urban space is an important and promising enterprise that tells us a lot about the Jews, the city – and also about Gentiles.

The focus of this paper is on the fin-de-siècle period (late 19th – early 20th centuries) and on the two capital cities of Vienna and St. Petersburg – and for some reasons. Both cities were capitals of the empires (Austria-Hungary and the Russian Empire, respectively), that were powerful enough to be a major military and financial competitors, but still technologically and economically backward. The transition to modernity in both capitals was late and problematic, and the Jewish communities have faced a long and persistent anti-Semitism. In both contexts, however, the Jews were especially successful and over-represented in the most modern professions – and also more visible in the rapidly changing modern urban space. Thus, this paper also compliments to the perspective that analyzes “Jewish space” in fin-de-siècle capitals[2] – and brings a comparative element into the picture.

Of course, there are some important limitations to our research that we should recognize. First, residential restrictions in Russia greatly hindered Jewish migration outside of the Pale of Settlement. This led to the fact that the Viennese Jewish community outnumbered the St. Petersburg one by more than 10 times. Additionally, the nature of political regimes in both countries was different: officially liberal monarchy that emancipated its Jews vs. autocratic and deeply anti-Semitic empire. However, I still believe that the analysis and comparison of “Jewish space” in Vienna and St. Petersburg will be a fruitful enterprise.

Accordingly, in this paper I will look at the Jewish experiences in turn-of-the-century Vienna and St. Petersburg to compare the visions, images and representations of the “Jewish space” in the two imperial capitals that were struggling through modernity. I am particularly interested in residential, occupational and religious aspects of the “Jewish space” as these were the factors that determined the everyday life cycle of particular Jews. Additionally, I want to trace the potential influence that the Jewish patterns of space organization may have exercised upon Gentile ones around turn of the century. In doing so, I plan to rely on such comprehensive volumes that deal with the Jews of fin-de-siècle Vienna and St. Petersburg as (respectively) Marsha L. Rozenblit's “The Jews of Vienna, 1867-1914”[3] and Benjamin Nathans' “Beyond the Pale”[4] – as well as some articles by Rudolf Klein[5], Ivan Davidson Kalmar[6] and Ivar Oxaal and Walter R. Weitzmann.[7]

Residential aspect: Jewish homes

We should start our discussion of “Jewish space” in fin-de-siècle Vienna and St. Petersburg with a rather paradoxical cautionary note that there was no one “Jewish space”, but rather several areas that could have been recognized as 'Jewish' in one or another way. Neither city had a classical ghetto, which integrated Jewish homes, Jewish businesses, and Jewish synagogues (even though some districts both in Habsburg and Romanov capitals came very close to be named at least quasi-ghettos). As the Jews themselves were not a homogenous group, the differences of class, age and gender greatly influenced the choice of any particular location and its final outlook. In Austrian context, place of origin (Hungary, Galicia, Bohemia, native-born...) was an especially important factor.


[1] Rudolf Klein, “Secession: un goût juif ? Art Nouveau Buildings and the Jews in some Habsburg Lands,” Jewish Studies at the CEU 5 (2008): 92, 95.

[2] For a study on another empire and its capital, Berlin, see Steven M. Lowenstein, “Jewish Residential Concentration in Post-Emancipation Germany,” Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 28 (1983): 471-495.

[3] Marsha L. Rozenblit, The Jews of Vienna, 1867-1914: Assimilation and Identity (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983).

[4] Benjamin Nathans, Beyond the Pale: The Jewish Encounter with Late Imperial Russia (Berkeley:University of California Press, 2002).

[5] Rudolf Klein, “Secession: un goût juif ? Art Nouveau Building and the Jews in some Habsburg Lands,” Jewish Studies at the CEU 5 (2008): 91-124.

[6] Ivan Davidson Kalmar, “Moorish Style: Orientalism, the Jews, and Synagogue Architecture,” Jewish Social Studies 7, no. 3 (2001): 68-100.

[7] Ivar Oxaal and Walter R. Weitzmann, “The Jews of Pre-1914 Vienna: An Exploration of Basic Sociological Dimensions,” Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 30 (1985): 395-432.

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"Jewish Space" in Fin-De-Siècle Vienna and St. Petersburg: Residential, Occupational and Religious Patterns
University CEU San Pablo Madrid
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Jewish, Space, Fin-De-Siècle, Vienna, Petersburg, Residential, Occupational, Religious, Patterns
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Pavel Vasilyev (Author), 2010, "Jewish Space" in Fin-De-Siècle Vienna and St. Petersburg: Residential, Occupational and Religious Patterns, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/163780


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