Nu? What's New?
The E-zine of Jewish Genealogy From Avotaynu

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 9, Number 13 | May 25, 2008

Special Edition
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Announcing A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire: Revised Edition
In 1993, Avotaynu published A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire by an unknown author, Alexander Beider. Beider, at that time, was a 29-year-old Russian expatriate living in Paris who had a doctoral degree in applied mathematics from the University of Moscow. His interest in Jewish surnames was as a hobbyist.

Today, at the age of 44, Dr. Beider is recognized as the leading authority on Jewish names from Eastern Europe by virtue of his authorship of four major works:
    A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire (Avotaynu, 1993)
    A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Kingdom of Poland (Avotaynu, 1996)
    A Dictionary of Ashkenazic Given Names (Avotaynu, 2001)
    A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from Galicia (Avotaynu, 2004)

In 2001, Dr. Beider received a second doctorate from the Department of History at the Sorbonne in Paris. The introductory portion of A Dictionary of Ashkenazic Given Names is based on his thesis. When he went to defend his thesis, the lead professor of the committee said at the beginning of the proceedings—referring to the group of professors attending to challenge the thesis—"What we need here are five Alexander Beiders.”

Now Dr. Beider is about to publish his fifth major work, the Revised Edition of A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire. It will be the definitive work on this subject for decades to come. How does it differ from the original work? It could be said that the difference is between a book written by a brilliant 29-year-old hobbyist and a 44-year-old scholar with two doctorates and an additional 15 years of research and analysis to study the subject.

The Revised Edition has:
    * more than 20,000 additional surnames or variants—74,000 in total
    * a 200-page introductory portion that is the definitive work on the origin and evolution of Jewish surnames in Eastern Europe
    * an index to the more than 5,000 Russian Jewish surnames referenced in the introductory portion of the book. Their description in this portion gives greater insight into the particular surname
    * references in the Dictionary portion to the other works by Beider when the surname likely migrated from other portions of Eastern Europe to the Russian Empire
This is in addition to the contents that existed in the original work:
    * the etymology (origin) of nearly all of the 74,000 surnames
    * in which districts in Czarist Russia the surname was found (expanded based on additional research)
    * within the description of a root surname, a list of all other surnames derived from the root name

Compare the Two Editions
We have placed at the Avotaynu site the first page of the original edition as well as the first page of the Revised Edition. Retrieve them, print them out and compare the two. The difference will be startling. They are located at and

Note that the entry for the surname Aaronov now gives its etymology. The surnames Aaronovich and Ab have additional districts where the name was found. There is a much larger description of the surname Abarbanel. The surname Abel had only seven variants in the 1993 edition; it now has twelve. The surname Abend cites two other works by Dr. Beider.

Avotaynu Brings Back Prenumerantn Lists - Again
In the 19th-early 20th centuries, authors of scholarly works often solicited advanced subscribers as a means of financing the publication of their work. In consideration of becoming an advanced subscriber, the person's name and town of residence was listed in the book. These lists were known as prenumerantn (Yiddish) or subscription lists. They are a genealogical resource, because they place an individual in a specific place at a specific time.

Avotaynu brought back the tradition of prenumerantn when we published Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy. More than 500 people were listed as advanced subscribers when we published the book in 2004. This is Avotaynu's new offer to you. Pre-subscribe to A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire: Revised Edition, and we will include your name and town of residence in the book as an advanced subscriber. Perhaps 150 years from now one of your descendants, lacking sufficient information about your presence in the early 21st century, will find your name as an advanced subscriber to A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire: Revised Edition.

Become a part of Jewish history. Pre-subscribe to A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire: Revised Edition by June 15 and have your name listed in the book as a pre-subscriber.

Specifications of the Book
The book will be published in two volumes. This is because the total number of pages will exceed 1,200. Volume 1, which will be hardcover and 1,048 pages, is the heart of the book. It includes the 200-page introductory portion and the dictionary itself. The complete Table of Contents for volume 1 can be seen at Volume 2, which will be softcover, will be the index to the 74,000 surnames indexed by the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex System (as was the original edition). It is Avotaynu’s plan to place the entire index on the Internet at the time of publication with a search engine using the D-M Soundex System. Therefore, it could be argued it is not necessary to purchase volume 2.

Ordering Information and Pre-publication Discount Offer Good Until June 15, 2008
The cost of the two-volume work is:
    * Both volumes - $118.00
    * Volume 1 only - $99.00
    * Volume 2 only - $20.00

If you subscribe to AVOTAYNU, our quarterly journal and you order by June 15, 2008, you will receive a 15% discount. The discounted prices are:
    * Both volumes - $99.00
    * Volume 1 only - $84.00
    * Volume 2 only - $17.00

[Note: Subscribing only to Nu? What’s New? does not entitle you to the discount; you must subscribe to AVOTAYNU, our quarterly journal. If you do not subscribe already, you can do so at]

If you are an AVOTAYNU subscriber, there is a special web site where you can order the book at the discount. It is located at Otherwise, order the book at If you do not like to order online, phone in your order to our office. The number is 1-800-AVOTAYNU (1-800-286-8296). In either case you will be included in the prenumerantn.

The Revised Edition of A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire is in its final phases of production and will go to the printer in June and be available in early August. You will not be charged until the book is shipped.

An Interesting Story: How I Came to Know Alexander Beider
In 1991, I received an unsolicited letter from Paris from a man named Alexander Beider. He claimed he had compiled a list of more than 40,000 Jewish surnames from the Russian Empire, had identified where in the Russian Empire the names existed, and had determined the etymology (origin) of most of the surnames. I was suspicious. About nine months earlier, I had received an unsolicited letter from a man who claimed he was the world’s authority on Jewish surnames from Eastern Europe. For only $18, he would provide the etymology of any surname. At that time, the origin of my mother’s father’s surname was unknown to me. My grandfather said his name was Taratotsky. I had asked the late Rabbi Shmuel Gorr and Batya Unterschatz what might be the origin of the name, and they could not come up with an answer. So I paid my $18 and got a response I knew was wrong based on my research and discussions with Rabbi Gorr and Batya, so I wrote back to the person and asked his source. I received my letter back and scrawled over it was the statement: “Just a wild guess.”

Now, nine months later, someone named Alexander Beider claimed he had the etymology of more than 40,000 Jewish surnames. I replied to Beider that “yes” Avotaynu might be interested in publishing the book, but I had a personal problem. I could not determine the etymology of my grandfather’s surname: Taratotsky. The reply I received from Dr. Beider endeared me to him from that point on. He answer was, “I don’t know.” I concluded that any scholar who could admit he didn’t know was my kind of scholar.

But I was still suspicious. The president of the Jewish Genealogical Society (New York) at that time, Marsha Dennis, mentioned to me that she was going to Paris on personal business. I asked Marsha to check Beider out. Marsha returned some weeks later all smiles and bubbly. She told me he was a very charming person that reminded her of her son. “Her son?”, I queried. “Well, he is only 27 years old!” she replied. I was dumbfounded. I had assumed that anyone who compiled a list of 40,000 names had to be at least 80 years old, because clearly such a project took a lifetime of effort.

So we published Dr. Beider’s book and the rest is history.

Act now! The deadline is June 15, 2008, to become a pre-subscriber to the book.

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