Page 38 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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sands of books and has accumulated close to 50,000 entries fro
over one thousand volumes. His material covers nine thousan
communities, listing hundreds of thousands of individual names
Professor Abraham S. Halkin has rightly indicated that Mr
Kagan’s material “is a rich mine of information for scholars an
students of the period.” The pages that follow will attempt t
evaluate some of the precious historic ore that has been extracte
from that rich mine.
The first gain is in the demographic area. Among the thou
sands of listings are the names of settlements so obscure as no
to be found on general maps, nor do they appear in Jewish map
purposing to establish areas of Jewish residence. The names alon
are a treasure, for there is no work in Yiddish, Hebrew, or an
other language recording nine thousand places of Jewish settle
ment. Mr. Kagan gives not only the most recent names of al
these places, but also all the variations drawn from books a
different times. This could well be the basis for research abou
place-names in Europe, because of the Jewish tendency to revis
and alter the names of towns.
These lists are also a source of inestimable value for genealo
gical studies. A number of books list the names of thousands o
subscribers, and in some smaller towns from thirty to fifty percen
of the Jewish community are inscribed. In older volumes familie
can be traced in particular towns over periods from 100 to 15
years. Cultural zones also emerge in towns and villages wher
the authors tended to find potential buyers among like-minde
subscribers — a hasid among hasidim, a mitnaged among mit
nagdim, a maskil among maskilim. The study of Jewish famil
names, aided by Mr. Kagan’s material, is of crucial significanc
after the Holocaust. Many who bore these names were destroyed
and the adopted modern Jewish names have supplanted man
age-old East European names. Such lists are specially valuable i
biographical research about Jewish personalities, especially rab
bis. Sometimes such listings are the sole source, as was discovere
by Dr. J. Shatsky in his monumental work on the Jews of Warsaw
by I. Trunk in his study on the Jews of Vitebsk and by the edito
of the Suvalker Memorial Book in finding the name of the firs
rabbi of that community.
Subscribers were not only individuals, but also included socie
ties, funds, and synagogues. In many volumes the number o
inscribed synagogues is so great that it becomes a source of in
formation about Jewish religious life. For example, one volum
lists 48 different synagogues in the city of Minsk; in anothe
work, 52 synagogues are listed for Bialystok. The names of th
synagogues in themselves are a fascinating study, albeit less quain