How a Soviet Jewish Historian Survived Purges and Repression—and Discovered Jewish Cossacks

Born in Odessa in 1903, Saul Borovoi lived in the Soviet Union from its founding in 1917 until his death, two years before its collapse, in 1989. While the Communist regime strictly circumscribed any sort of explicitly Jewish activity, Borovoi managed to devote much of his life to Jewish historical scholarship. Brian Horowitz tells his story:

[Borovoi] protected himself by “meeting the needs” of the Soviet historical establishment, selectively interpreting the past, adopting aspects of the Soviet ideology from his time, and presenting Jews in ways that conformed to the political climate and demands of the Communist party. In fact, he became an accepted member of the intellectual elite, despite not becoming politically subservient in retaining his integrity as a serious scholar of Ukrainian and Russian-Jewish history.

In general, the Soviet intellectual milieu in the 1920s, [when Borovoi first entered academia], was characterized by contradictions. Judaism was condemned and its representatives—rabbis, communal leaders, and teachers-were repressed. Yet at the same time the government offered support for secular and pro-Communist Jewish culture. The Communist government frequently funded Jewish schools, museums, and scholarly institutions, [even as it] aimed to keep scholarly work within strict ideological bounds. In particular, the authorities prohibited mentioning Zionism or using Hebrew, while promoting Yiddish as the language of the Jewish working class.

From early in his career, Borovoi was interested in the relationship between Jews and Cossacks—the horse-riding warrior caste that sprung up in the wild border region where the Polish-Lithuanian, Russian, and Tatar empires met. During their great 17th-century revolt, Cossacks slaughtered hundreds if not thousands of Jews, and they remained perpetrators of anti-Jewish violence into the 20th century:

Borovoi made an unexpected discovery—that there existed Jewish Cossacks who aided the Ukrainians. In his view, two kinds of Jews lived among the Cossacks. One group consisted of Jews who converted to Russian Orthodoxy and joined as fighters (rarely) or as Christian clergy. For such Jews, membership in the 17th- and 18th-century Ukrainian Cossack state known as the “Hetmanate” offered escape from the fear of being captured and sold as slaves or for ransom.

But other Jews, as Borovoi documented, simply moved to the Hetmanate to serve as traders and commercial agents for Cossack landowners, as their coreligionists did for landowners in Poland.

Read more at The Librarians

More about: Cossacks, Jewish history, Soviet Jewry, Ukrainian Jews

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict