Jewish theatre – the theater created by Jews in Hebrew and Yiddish as a form of secular culture. It developed in the second half of the 19th century; that late development resulted from the prohibition in Judaism concerning the iconographic presentation of people, which comprised theater as well. The celebration of the joyful Purim holiday, on which scenes from the Book of Esther were played were later transformed into Purim performances (the so-called purimshpil), when scenes from the Bible were staged. (Jacob and his sons, Joseph in Egypt); from the 17th century, they were also presented in Poland (before 1870, the performances of the so-called Israeli Theater in Warsaw and Łódź). In the 19th century, there were professional teams of singers who performed comic sketches interlaced with songs in restaurants and dance halls (in the second half of the 19th century, Di Broder Zinger — Broder singers became famous — the first Jewish professional actors came from that group).
The beginnings of the modern J.T. are connected with the staging of Serkele by S. Ettinger in the Jewish theological seminary in Żytomierz (1862) and the activity of the professional group of A. Goldfaden, which began its activity by staging his play The Grandmother and the Granddaughter in Jassy (1875). Goldfaden’s group performed, among others, in Poland and Russia and its founder was the author of many comedies, farces and operattas which were in the repertoire of all Jewish stages. Itinerant professional troupes were gradually transformed into permanent theaters with their own stages. In the second half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, J.t. centres were situated in Romania, Hungary, Poland and Russia. In Russia (and in the Polish territory under the Russian occupation) in the years 1883–1905, the performances of professional J.t. were prohibited; at that time, many artists emigrated to the USA, whilst in Europe, the routes of itinerant troupes moved to the west — to Austria and Germany. As the Jewish artists played in the Yiddish language, they could perform freely before the audience in many countries.
The subjects of Jewish plays derived from historical and biblical sources or concerned daily life and habits (generational conflicts, revolt against tradition, norms of family life). A form particularly popular with the Jewish audience was the operetta, to which national themes (the so-called historical operetta) and own musical motifs were introduced. In the interwar period, the J.t. was active in the USSR (the Moscow Jewish Theater, Habima group playing in Hebrew), in Poland (Warsaw, Cracow, Łódź), Austria (Vienna), Germany (Berlin), France (mainly in Paris), Great Britain (mostly in London) and in the USA. In the 1920s, Jewish artists tried to introduce current social and customary issues to their repertoire, they aimed at creating the theatre of high artistic ambitions. The most renowned artists, famous in many countries were, among others: Kamińska (“Jewish Eleonora Duse”), her daughter — I. Kamińska, A. Granach, M. Schwarz, S. Michoels, M. Picon, B. Tomaszewski, Z. Turkow, M. Weichert, A. Morewski, M. Arnsztejn and J. Rotbaum.
In Poland from the beginning of the 20th century to World War II, the Jewish theater was active in Warsaw (Jewish theatrical groups whose director was A.I. Kamiński; The Warsaw Jewish Artistic Theater (WIKT) managed by I. Kamińska and Turkow; Theater of the Young led by Weichert; Theater for Youth established by K. Segałowicz), in Łódź (among others, the Ararat Theater managed by M. Broderson), Lublin, Cracow (the Cracow Jewish Theater), Vilnius (the Vilnius Troupe whose director was M. Mazo, performing, among others, in Warsaw, Vienna, Berlin, the USA; the Majdim puppet theater) and in Lviv. Performances in Yiddish and Polish were also organized in the ghettos in Warsaw(1940–42) and Łódź (1940–43). After World War II, there were Jewish theaters in Wrocław and Łódź led by I. Kamińska; later, they were combined to establish the E. R. Kamińska Jewish Theater in Warsaw. Nowadays, the Jewish theater develops in the USA, Argentina (mainly in Buenos Aires), Poland, Romania (the Jewish Theater in Bukareszt) and in Israel. See also Israel (Theater).
“Pamiętnik Teatralny” [Theatrical Memoir] 1922, vol. 1–4 (monographical volume Teatr żydowski w Polsce do 1939 [Jewish Theater in Poland until 1939]);
Państwowy Teatr Żydowski im. Ester Rachel Kamińskiej [Ester Rachel Kamińska State Jewish Theater], Sz. Gąssowski (ed.), Warsaw 1995;
Teatr żydowski w Polsce [Jewish Theater in Poland], A. Kuligowska-Korzeniewska, M. Leyko (eds), Łódź 1998.
N. Sandrow Vagabond Stars. A World History of Yiddish Theater, New York–Philadelphia 1977;
B. Dalinger Verloschene Sterne. Geschichte des jüdischen Theaters in Wien, Wien 1988.
The content of this entry has been prepared on the basis of the source materials provided by the Polish Scientific Publishers (PWN)