In the course of the implementation of the project, it is planned to prepare an academic edition of Semyon Zeichenstein’s memoir titled "The Autobiography of a Russian Orthodox Jew".
Semyon Zeichenstein was born in 1829 in Warsaw into a religious Jewish family and received a traditional Jewish upbringing and education. At the age of 16, he met an Anglican missionary who presented him with a New Testament. According to Zeichenstein's memoir, after the book was discovered by his family, the young man's relationship with his parents sharply deteriorated. In 1846, Zeichenstein was conscripted into the army and sent to Astrakhan; the rest of his life was connected with that city.
After retiring in the early 1870s, he made attempts to describe his life in Warsaw, in order to tell to a Russian reader about Jewish traditions and customs. However, his poor command of written Russian prevented the implementation of this idea for a long time. It was only at the end of the 1880s that the manuscript acquired its more or less final form.
"The Autobiography of a Russian Orthodox Jew" presents interest for three reasons. First, it is a rare, detailed description of various aspects of the life of Jewish Warsaw in the 1830s and 1840s. Secondly, it is a unique testament of the self-awareness of a Jewish outcast who broke with his environment but was not fully accepted by his new co-religionists. Thirdly, in the second half of the 1890s, the Zeichenstein’s manuscript fell into the hands of Vasily Rozanov and greatly influenced his early works on the Jewish question, including the famous "Judaism" (1903). Rozanov attempted to get Zeichenstein's manuscript published and edited it, but it never went into print.
In addition to the text of "The Autobiography...", the present edition will include Rozanov's notes, a contemporary commentary on Zeichenstein's work, and a number of accompanying articles.
Project Leader: Dr. Mikhail Edelstein, Moscow State University