JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen re: Questions about Identity - my summary #general

Judith Romney Wegner

At 3:40 AM -0700 9/21/06, Celia Male wrote:
3: After saying that the birth records in the Habsburg Empire were very good
and went back aeons, I asked rhetorically: <Can we therefore conclude that in
the Habsburg Empire, birthdates [constantly demanded and required for
form-filling] played a much more important role than in Russia, Poland or
Lithuania? I am sure German Jews also knew their birth dates>.

No one has really answered this rhetorical question and I would not dare to
offer my opinion in an area I do not know about.
I don't know anything in detail about that either, but I am pretty
sure that West European Jews in the 19th century were far more aware
of the secular date than was the case in Eastern Europe.

This conclusion is based on the general observation that beginning
shortly after 1800, the European Enlightenment led to Jewish
emancipation in various west European countries at various dates. At
that point Jews could for the first time go to regular schools with
gentiles, learn the language of the country properly, and generally
interact more with the surrounding population. No doubt that was
when knowing the secular date of one's birth or any other event
became a practical possibility for most Jews.

But the Enlightenment never took widespread root in Eastern Europe
until the early 20th century (and even then to a far lesser extent
than in the West) -- which surely accounts for a great deal, >from
the persistence of a higher level of illiteracy and superstition
among East European Jews to the anti-semitism that kept Jews
residing mostly in their own Yiddish-speaking enclaves and therefore
no doubt contributed to their imperfect knowledge of or interest in
the secular date.

Judith Romney Wegner

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