Professor Natan Meir's book, "Stepchildren of the Shtetl..." released on July 14, 2020.
Author: Judaic Studies
Posted: July 14, 2020


Professor Natan Meir's long-awaited book was released today, July 14, 2020:

Stepchildren of the Shtetl, The Destitute, Disabled, and Mad of Jewish Eastern Europe, 1800-1939 


Stepchildren of the Shtetl book cover

"Natan M. Meir tackles an elusive topic with analytic skill, keen sensitivity, and clear, accessible prose."

- Steven J. Zipperstein, author of Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History.


About the book:

Memoirs of Jewish life in the east European shtetl often recall the hekdesh (town poorhouse) and its residents: beggars, madmen and madwomen, disabled people, and poor orphans. Stepchildren of the Shtetl tells the story of these marginalized figures from the dawn of modernity to the eve of the Holocaust.

Combining archival research with analysis of literary, cultural, and religious texts, Natan M. Meir recovers the lived experience of Jewish society's outcasts and reveals the central role that they came to play in the drama of modernization. Those on the margins were often made to bear the burden of the nation as a whole, whether as scapegoats in moments of crisis or as symbols of degeneration, ripe for transformation by reformers, philanthropists, and nationalists. Shining a light into the darkest corners of Jewish society in eastern Europe―from the often squalid poorhouse of the shtetl to the slums and insane asylums of Warsaw and Odessa, from the conscription of poor orphans during the reign of Nicholas I to the cholera wedding, a magical ritual in which an epidemic was halted by marrying outcasts to each other in the town cemetery―Stepchildren of the Shtetl reconsiders the place of the lowliest members of an already stigmatized minority. The book is available in hardcover, paperback or digital formats.

Published by Stanford University Press, the title is part of the series "STANFORD STUDIES IN JEWISH HISTORY AND CULTURE"

This series features novel approaches to examining the Jewish past in the form of innovative work that brings the field into productive dialogue with the newest scholarly concepts and methods. Open to a range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches, from history to cultural studies, this series publishes exceptional scholarship balanced by an accessible tone, illustrating histories of difference and addressing issues of current urgency. Books in this list push the boundaries of Jewish Studies and speak compellingly to a wide audience of scholars and students.

About the author, Natan M. Meir

From his groundbreaking research on the Jews of Kiev to his work as a consultant for Moscow's Jewish Museum, Natan M. Meir, the Lorry I. Lokey Professor of Judaic Studies at Portland State University, has earned an international reputation as a scholar of Jewish social, cultural, and religious history. Jerusalem-born Meir is a New Jersey native, a New Yorker by temperament and education, and (for the last decade) a resident of Portland, Oregon. His latest book, Stepchildren of the Shtetl, recovers the histories of Jewish Eastern Europe's social outcasts: the disabled, the mentally ill, orphans, and beggars. His previous work was on urban Jewish history in the Russian Empire (Kiev, Jewish Metropolis: A History, 1859-1914) and anti-Jewish violence (Anti-Jewish Violence: Rethinking the Pogrom in East European History). Learn more and connect with Meir at: