The revolutions that swept through Europe in 1848–49 aroused great excitement amidst many Jews in the Habsburg Empire and led to changes (albeit ephemeral) in the Jews’ status and rights. Motivated by the revolutions and the opportunity they offered, one Galician maskil, Avraham Menachem Mendel Mohr, founded a weekly Yiddish newspaper in Lemberg, the Tsaytung , in which he encouraged his readers to welcome this new age and adapt to it. In particular, he discussed extensively relations between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors, expressing his hope that a new era had dawned in Christian-Jewish relations and advising his readers on how to improve themselves within this context. Yet Mohr remained aware that the deep-rooted animosity towards the Jews would be difficult to dispel. Indeed, the editions of the Tsaytung reveal that as the revolutionary fervor faded he became increasingly pessimistic regarding the likelihood of changing Christian attitudes towards the Jews.
The paper seeks to expand the area of modern Yiddish culture beyond literary fiction. It explores the rise of modern Yiddish theatre, press, poetry, and political literature in Imperial Russia in the 1880s. The essay argues that these forms of Yiddish cultural expression first became significant and widespread phenomena in the 1880s. It also highlights the emergence of a diverse Yiddish readership and audience, with different levels of Jewish and European cultural background, in order to counter the common dichotomy that Yiddish was for the masses, whereas Hebrew and Russian were used by the Jewish elites. Finally, the article places the rise of Modern Yiddish culture within the context of major social and economic transformations in East European Jewry: urbanization, population growth, and downward economic mobility. Overall, the article refines and revises certain conclusions offered in the author’s book The Rise of Modern Yiddish Culture (2005).