From the beginning of the nineteenth century, the social structure of many east European Jewish communities began a steady and continuous process of transformation. This transformation was mainly apparent in the upper social stratum, the local elite. The traditional and established elite families, who had governed the communities for generations were gradually to be replaced by a new elite. This new elite comprised of young and ambitious entrepreneurs, many of whom were born to poor and underprivileged families. They ascended the social ladder mainly by taking advantage of the new political and economic conditions. Modeling themselves on the image of the 'self-made-man', they availed themselves of every possible economic and commercial opportunity instead of focusing on just one or two more traditional 'Jewish' professions. In the course of a relatively short period of time, they managed to acquire sufficient wealth to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle and acquire substantial property. At the same time they sought to translate this economic strength into social and political status. They became members of the Kahal, the governing body of the local Jewish community, and also acted as mediators between the community and the local authorities. By focusing on one typical, but rather colorful, member of this new elite, Judah Opatow of Vilnius, this paper hopes to shed light on the process described above. We follow the story of his life from his early childhood in a family that had moved to Vilnius from a nearby Shtetl, through his first steps as a successful young entrepreneur, until he became the richest Jew in the city. His biography is uncovered through the use of a variety of sources, including newly discovered archival material, contemporary literature, literature of a folkloristic quality, and numerous memoirs.
|Translated title of the contribution||Judah Opatow and the Emergence of a New Jewish Oligarchy in Mid-Nineteenth Century Vilnius|
|Number of pages||32|
|Journal||ציון: רבעון לחקר תולדות ישראל|
|State||Published - 2006|