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Bloshteyn, Oyzer

(1840–1898), Yiddish author. Born in the Latgale region of Latvia in the Russian Empire to a working-class family, Oyzer Bloshteyn spent his early teenage years studying at a yeshiva. At 15, he was attracted to Enlightenment ideas and began studying German and Russian; after briefly becoming a teacher, he subsequently devoted himself to a career as a writer. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Bloshteyn was among the most prolific and popular authors of popular Yiddish works in Eastern Europe, publishing more than 50 novels and short stories, generally with the Matz publishing house in Vilna. Although Bloshteyn died in Warsaw in 1898, his work was read widely by Yiddish readers well into the interwar period, particularly in Galicia.

The vast majority of Bloshteyn’s works focus on romance, in the tradition of many nineteenth-century popular writings that were disparaged by literary critics as shund or “trash” literature. Some of his works—including “Di tsvey-vaybernik” (The Bigamist; n.d.), “Dos kesele gold oder di oytserdike kale” (The Little Pot of Gold or the Treasure-Filled Bride; 1895), “Di vaybl vil a meydl vern oder vi geshpilt azoy getanst” (The Young Wife Wants to Be a Maid, or You Made Your Bed, Now Lie in It; n.d.) and “Di hundert toyznt rubldike kale, oder der shidekh oys libe” (The Hundred Thousand Ruble Bride, or the Love Match; n.d.)—spotlight horrific aspects of the traditional matchmaking system. Others—including Der naymodisher khosn (The Newfangled Bridegroom; 1884), Der zun als shadkhen (The Son as Matchmaker; 1893), and Der luekh fun hayntmodishe libe (The Almanac of Modern Day Love; 1892)—focus on the uneasy transition between traditional and modern romantic and marital systems. Bloshteyn occasionally also touched on other topics, most notably mass immigration to America, in works such as Der pedler in Amerike un di amerikanishe glikn (The Peddler in America and American Fortune; 1896), “Vikhne Dvoshe fort nokh Amerike” (Vikhne Dvoshe Goes to America; n.d.), and Vikhne Dvoshe fort tsurik funAmerike (Vikhne Dvoshe Returns from America; 1895).

Later Yiddish critics, particularly Zalmen Reyzen, attacked Bloshteyn’s work for more than simply its themes and popularity. They condemned his language for accepting too many terms from German, particularly in stilted dialogue; found his ideas about Enlightenment to be naive; and thought that his sense of novelistic structure was underdeveloped. Nonetheless, they also grudgingly acknowledged his public support of the Yiddish language: in the introduction to his novel The Peddler in America, Bloshteyn insisted that Yiddish has a “logic and a grammar like all languages” and that “whoever writes Yiddish must write it purely and correctly,” following Yiddish grammatical rules as much as possible, rules that Bloshteyn claimed required a thorough comprehension of German. Bloshteyn even suggested that “whoever doesn’t understand German must not dare to write Yiddish; his language will come out a mishmash of words, gibberish . . . without German, there can be no Yiddish literature.” He also strongly criticized the practice of referring to Yiddish as jargon, advocating his position in 1896 in several articles published in the Hebrew newspaper Ha-Tsefirah.

Bloshteyn’s support of his own ideas transcended the merely polemical: he also wrote a Yiddish grammar, which remained unpublished. He did, however, publish a number of nonfiction works: a Russian–Yiddish dictionary; a Russian grammar with a Yiddish translation (1882); a Russian translation of the prayer book, the High Holiday liturgy, and the Haggadah; a Hebrew instruction book; and a cookbook (1896). He also edited a Yiddish newspaper that appeared in London in 1890.

Suggested Reading

Samuel Niger and Jacob Shatzky, eds., “Bloshteyn, Oyzer,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 1, cols. 319–320 (New York, 1956); Zalman Reisen (Rejzen), “Bloshteyn Oyzer,” in Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur, prese, un filologye, vol. 1, cols. 294–299 (Vilnius, 1926); Avraham Vieviorka, Revizye (Kharkov and Kiev, 1931), pp. 215–244.