Shtetlech (Yiddish: שטעטל, shtetl (singular), שטעטלעך, Shtetlech (plural)) were small towns with large Jewish populations which existed in Central and Eastern Europe before the Holocaust. Shtetlech were mainly found in the areas which constituted the 19th century Pale of Settlement in the Russian Empire, the Congress Kingdom of Poland, Galicia and Romania. In Yiddish, a larger city, like Lwów (Lviv) or Czernowice (Chernivtsi), was called a shtot (Yiddish: שטאָט, German: Stadt); a village was called a dorf (דאָרף). Non Jews referred to the shtetl as Mestechko (Russian местечко, Polish miasteczko).
Shtetl is defined by Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern as "an East European market town in private possession of a Polish magnate, inhabited mostly but not exclusively by Jews"` and from the 1790s onward and until 1915 the Shtetl was also "subject to Russian bureacracy"  (because the Russian Empire had annexed, and was administering, the area of Jewish settlement). The concept of shtetl culture describes the traditional way of life of Eastern European Jews. Shtetls are portrayed as pious communities following Orthodox Judaism, socially stable and unchanging despite outside influence or attacks.
The decline of the shtetl started from about the 1840s. A contributing factor was poverty as a result of changes in economic climate including industrialisation which hurt the traditional Jewish artisan and the movement of trade to the larger towns, fires that destroyed wooden home and over population. Also the anti-Semitism of the Russian Imperial administrators and the Polish landlords, and later, from the 1880s Russian pogroms made life difficult for Jews in the shtetl. From the 1880s until 1915 up to 2 million Jews left Eastern Europe which at the time about three quarters of its Jewish population lived in a shtetl. The Holocaust resulted in the total extermination of shtetls. It was not uncommon for the entire Jewish population of a shtetl to be rounded up and murdered in a nearby forest or taken to the various concentration camps. Some shtetl inhabitants did emigrate before and after the Holocaust, mostly to Israel and the United States, where some of the traditions were carried on. But, the shtetl as a phenomenon of Ashkenazi Jews in Eastern Europe was eradicated by the Nazis.
The history of the oldest Eastern European shtetls began about the year 1200 and saw long periods of relative tolerance and prosperity as well as times of extreme poverty, hardships, including pogroms in the 19th century Russian Empire.
The attitudes and thought habits characteristic of the learning tradition are as evident in the street and market place as the yeshiva. The popular picture of the Jew in Eastern Europe, held by Jew and Gentile alike, is true to the Talmudic tradition. The picture includes the tendency to examine, analyze and re-analyze, to seek meanings behind meanings and for implications and secondary consequences. It includes also a dependence on deductive logic as a basis for practical conclusions and actions. In life, as in the Torah, it is assumed that everything has deeper and secondary meanings, which must be probed. All subjects have implications and ramifications. Moreover, the person who makes a statement must have a reason, and this too must be probed. Often a comment will evoke an answer to the assumed reason behind it or to the meaning believed to lie beneath it, or to the remote consequences to which it leads. The process that produces such a response—often with lightning speed—is a modest reproduction of the pilpul process.
The May Laws introduced by Tsar Alexander III of Russia in 1882 banned Jews from rural areas and towns of fewer than ten thousand people. In the 20th century revolutions, civil wars, industrialization and the Holocaust destroyed traditional shtetl existence.
Not only did the Jews of the shtetl speak a unique language (Yiddish), but they also had a unique rhetorical style, rooted in traditions of Talmudic learning:
In keeping with his own conception of contradictory reality, the man of the shtetl is noted both for volubility and for laconic, allusive speech. Both pictures are true, and both are characteristic of the yeshiva as well as the market places. When the scholar converses with his intellectual peers, incomplete sentences, a hint, a gesture, may replace a whole paragraph. The listener is expected to understand the full meaning on the basis of a word or even a sound... Such a conversation, prolonged and animated, may be as incomprehensible to the uninitiated as if the excited discussants were talking in tongues. The same verbal economy may be found in domestic or business circles.
The shtetl operates on a communal spirit where giving to the needy is not only admired, but expected and essential:
The problems of those who need help are accepted as a responsibility both of the community and of the individual. They will be met either by the community acting as a group, or by the community acting through an individual who identifies the collective responsibility as his own... The rewards for benefaction are manifold and are to be reaped both in this life and in the life to come. On earth, the prestige value of good deeds is second only to that of learning. It is chiefly through the benefactions it makes possible that money can "buy" status and esteem.
On three things the world stands. On Torah, On service [of God], And on acts of human kindness.
Tzedaka (charity) is a key element of Jewish culture, both secular and religious, to this day. It exists not only as a material tradition (e.g. tzedaka boxes), but also immaterially, as an ethos of compassion and activism for those in need.
Material things were neither disdained nor extremely praised in the shtetl. Learning and education were the ultimate measures of worth in the eyes of the community, while money was secondary to status. Menial labor was generally looked down upon as prost, or prole. Even the poorer classes in the shtetl tended to work in jobs that required the use of skills, such as shoe-making or tailoring of clothes. The shtetl had a consistent work ethic which valued hard work and frowned upon laziness. Studying, of course, was considered the most valuable and hardest work of all. Learned yeshiva men who did not provide bread and relied on their wives for money were not frowned upon but praised as ideal Jews.
There is a belief found in historical and literary writings that the shtetl disintegrated before it was destroyed during World War II; however, this alleged cultural break-up is never clearly defined.[who?]
Artistic depictions of shtetl
The Shtetl was "invented twice, once in the eighteenth century by administrative decree, which gave it corporeal being, and again the twentieth century, to serve as a consolation to American Jews." Chełm figures prominently in the Jewish humor as the legendary town of fools. Kasrilevke, the setting of many of Sholem Aleichem's stories, and Anatevka, the setting of the musical Fiddler on the Roof (based on other stories of Sholem Aleichem) are other notable fictional shtetls.
Devorah Baron emigrated to Palestine in 1910 after a pogrom destroyed her shtetl near Minsk. But she continued writing about shtetl life long after she had settled in Palestine.
The 1992 children's book Something from Nothing, written and illustrated by Phoebe Gilman, is an adaptation of a traditional Jewish folk tale set in a fictional shtetl.
Harry Turtledove's 2011 short story "Shtetl Days", which can be read on-line, begins in a typical shtetl reminiscent of the works of Alecheim, Roth, et al, but soon reveals a plot twist which subverts the genre.
Shtetl in painting
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (June 2013)|
Many Jewish artists in Eastern Europe (Poland in particular) dedicated much of their artistic careers to depictions of the shtetl. These include Marc Chagall, Chaim Goldberg, and Mane Katz. Their contribution is in making a permanent record in color of the life that is described in literature—the klezmers, the weddings, the marketplaces, and the religious aspects of the culture.
- History of the Jews in Bessarabia
- History of the Jews in Carpathian Ruthenia
- History of the Jews in Poland
- History of the Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union
- Jewish diaspora
- List of Hasidic dynasties
- List of shtetls and shtots
- Note: Shtetl Yiddish: שטעטל is a diminutive form of Yiddish shtot שטאָט, "town", similar to the South German diminutive "Städtel/Städtle", "little town".
- "History of Shtetl", Jewish guide and genealogy in Poland.
- |last=Petrovsky-Shtern|first=Yohanan |authorlink=Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern |date=2014 |title=The Golden Age Shtetl |publisher=Princeton University Press
- Life is With People: The Culture of the Shtetl by Mark Zborowski and Elizabeth Herzog. 1962 edition.
- Excerpt from Pirke Avot from aish.com.
- Joshua Rothenberg (March 1981). "Demythologizing the Shtetl". Midstream. pp. 25–31. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
- Ray 1984, p. 329.
- "Reactions to Shtetl." PBS. Retrieved on 15 December 2009.
- Bauer, Yehuda (2010). The Death of the Shtetl. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-15209-8.
- Gay, Ruth (1984). "Inventing the Shtetl". The American Scholar 53 (3): 329–349. JSTOR 41211052.
- Hoffmann, Eva (1997). Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 978-0-395-82295-1.
- Petrovsky-Shtern, Yohanan (2014). The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-16074-0.
- Shandler, Jeffrey (2014). Shtetl: A Vernacular Intellectual History. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-813-56273-5.
|Look up shtetl or שטעטל in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Shtetl.|
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- Jewish guide and genealogy in Poland. HISTORY OF SHTETL.
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