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I am trying to learn about the culture of Jewish ancestors in eastern Europe and wonder what elements of Slavic culture would have been present or distinct from Jewish culture in the area. Specifically, would Jews in Ukraine have worn embroidered shirts, using Slavic symbolism of red and white and various symbols?

Ukrainian embroidery dates back to ancient times, noted in 500BC. Jews have been in Ukraine since at least the 11th century. That is a lot of time to overlap and share customs. On the other hand, mainstream Slavic culture has clashed with and committed genocide against Jews at various points of time, especially in the 16th century and later in the 19-20th centuries. Also, Slavic symbolism could be associated with pagan folk traditions, which are distinctly separate from Jewish folk traditions.

Given the longevity of Jews in Ukraine, would Jewish peoples there have worn vyshyvankas (embroidered shirts) and created or displayed other symbolic embroidery? Is there any record for or against that notion, of Ukrainian embroidery being part of the cultural heritage of historic Ukrainian Jews?

Here is an example of the type of embroidery: Ukrainian embroidery

Note that this question is not related to current war in Ukraine. Wishing peace be upon the people there. This is about Jewish history in that region.

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    Given very strict Jewish religious prohibitions of following any gentile customs (especially, as you note yourself, possibly religiously colored), I very much doubt that Jews wore these.
    – sds
    Mar 16, 2022 at 17:13
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    I find anachronistic to consider the ethnic groups of Ukraine 1500 (or even 300) years ago as a single, continuously existing Slavic group. Also the Jews are most probably much more longer in the region, than 1000 years, being one of the main slave traders of Slavs in the region, and also many Khazars being Jewish. That being said cultural exchange between Jewish and Slavic population existed everywhere, good example the traditional orthodox Jews attire you still see nowadays, which is the copy of Polish (another Slavic group of the area) lower nobility’s cloths.
    – Greg
    Mar 17, 2022 at 3:33
  • @Greg I agree with your point. Also worth noting how many different Jewish groups there were in Eastern Europe. I am wondering if any of them specifically embraced this cloth art decoration.
    – cr0
    Mar 17, 2022 at 20:13
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    @MCW I asked on Mi Yodeya first but they closed the question saying it is a history question not a Judaism question.
    – cr0
    Mar 17, 2022 at 20:14
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    @cr0 It is true that there were many different (not necessarily separated) groups in the area. However both local lawmakers and Jewish law generally pushed for distinct clothing and segregation (independent from pogroms), so it must have been a constant push and pull when it is about cultural exchange.
    – Greg
    Mar 18, 2022 at 15:50

1 Answer 1

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Not at all. The picture below is pretty much what they would wear in 1800s. And prior to 1800s there wasn't much cultural mixing either. Historically, Jews in Ukraine and Russia lived in their own towns or city sections. In Russian Empire (that included Ukraine too) the government decreed which areas Jews could live in and in what kinds of settlements. Besides that, there was a substantial amount of violent antisemitism which limited cultural exchange. Jews of Eastern Europe became assimilated only in the 20th century, after the Bolshevik revolution, and by then the vyshivankas were rarely worn by anybody. Vyshivanka resurgence followed Ukraine's independence from Russia in 1990s.

ukrainian jews 1800s

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  • Yes. Also, one might google "shtetl" to see the separation of populations... Mar 16, 2022 at 18:30
  • Important (for their large Jewish population) were also areas that were in the Austrian Empire (Galizia) and the Kingdom of Hungary (Subcarpathia). Mar 17, 2022 at 10:36
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    "And prior to 1800s, there wasn't much cultural mixing either." I guess you know that the clothes the people wearing in the photo are not Middle Eastern (what would be, if there were no cultural exchange of the region), but was born as an imitation of the Polish nobility. Also, a significant part of the local population were German/Yiddish speakers indicating a strong cultural exchange - only wth another group.
    – Greg
    Mar 17, 2022 at 15:02
  • @Greg, you are right. Indeed, Yiddish has much German and Slavic influence. Not sure about the origin of the clothing: it's not Middle Eastern, but I don't see Polish nobility in that either. Googled "polish nobility clothes" and saw something quite different, with more fur and colors.
    – Michael
    Mar 17, 2022 at 15:58
  • @Michael se eg. yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/dress, or less detailed but on the point "Jews of Eastern Europe came to adopt fashions of the early modern Polish nobility, such as the black robe (caftan) and the fur hat (shtreimel), which are still worn by various groups of ultra-Orthodox Jews." from myjewishlearning.com/article/jewish-clothing These are pretty well known even nowadays in Jewish communities. You don't see many Shtreimel in the desert.
    – Greg
    Mar 17, 2022 at 18:41

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