By Shelley S. Hebert.
Just over 100 years ago when the Russian activist and writer known as S. An-sky set out to undertake a Jewish ethnographic study in the Pale of Settlement, he used the best available technology of the era—including some of the earliest audio recording equipment developed by American inventor Thomas Edison. Now the tools of the 21st century are being used to further An-sky’s vision. They may also tell us whether and where the vibrant Jewish culture that existed in the Pale survives today.
The Minhag Project: A Digital Archive of Hasidic Customs is being developed as a crowd-sourced online research project of the innovative Digital Jewish Studies Initiative at the University of California Santa Cruz. Its creator is Professor Nathaniel Deutsch, who first translated An-sky’s original (and exhaustive) 2,087 survey questions from Yiddish into English. The word minhag is Hebrew for “custom.” It comes from nahag, which means “to lead,” an apt description for this intriguing endeavor.
To learn more, explore Nathaniel Deutsch’s book, The Jewish Dark Continent: Life and Death in the Russian Pale of Settlement