Hebrew writer Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik (center) surrounded by Jewish teachers and children during his visit to Kaunas, 1932. (YIVO)

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Hebrew Literature


The tradition of Hebrew belles lettres in Eastern Europe began with anti-Hasidic satires by Galician maskilim in the 1820s and ended with desperate attempts to preserve the remnants of Hebrew literary activity in Poland on the eve of World War II. The intervening period witnessed 120 years of intense creative activity, during which modern Hebrew literature flourished in various geographic centers as a highly stratified and ramified system that laid the foundations of its canon.

Hebrew literary activity reached its peak at the beginning of the twentieth century. It went into a decline following World War I, paralleling the rise of Palestine as the major center for Hebrew literary writing. Despite the many changes and developments between the beginnings of Haskalah and the triumph of modernism—including generational conflict, varying sources of influence and inspiration, and modifications in the field of poetics—Hebrew literature during this period may still be thought of as centering on a single historical, nationalist, and spiritual problematic: the complex dilemma facing Jews, who found themselves at the crossroads between a religious or traditional lifestyle that had been practiced for generations and the multiple possibilities and opportunities of modernity.

The Galician Haskalah

At the beginning of the nineteenth century while Prussia’s central position in the Hebrew literary world was on the wane, maskilic activities were intensifying in the Habsburg Empire in general—and in Vienna in particular. A good example of this transfer is evident in the career of Shalom ha-Kohen (1771–1845), an active member of the Berlin Haskalah who in 1820 relocated to Vienna, where he founded the annual Bikure ha-‘itim (1820–1831) with the goal of providing a platform for Hebrew maskilic literature. This publication replaced the recently defunct Berlin-based Me’asef. It was also in Vienna that ha-Kohen published his principal poetic work, Nir David (The Field of David; 1834), a historical epic based on the life of King David that follows the form of Naftali Herts Wessely’s Shire tif’eret (Songs of Praise; 1789–1802).

Inspired by the Austrian Haskalah, in 1815 a circle of Hebrew maskilim was established in eastern Galicia. Its most prominent members included the philosopher and thinker Naḥman Krochmal, author of Moreh nevukhe ha-zeman (The Guide of the Perplexed of the Time; 1851) and the scholar and rabbi Shelomoh Yehudah Rapoport, whose home in Lwów served as the headquarters of the Galician maskilim.

Besides contributing to research and philosophy, Galicia was also the site where Hebrew belles lettres first blossomed. Poetic examples include the lyrical nature verse of Aryeh Leib Kinderfreind and Ya‘akov Eichenbaum. However, the most important poet of that time was Me’ir Letteris. A student of Krochmal, he tried his hand at various poetic genres but excelled in historical ballads, the first ever written in Hebrew. He also translated poems (including works of Schiller and Byron) and plays (his free—and inaccurate—translation of the first part of Goethe’s Faust was highly controversial).

The most important works of the Galician Haskalah, however, were prose compositions. The product of the bitter feud with Hasidism, they took the form of caustic satires that caricatured the Hasidic world. The most sophisticated example of this genre is Megaleh temirin (Revealer of the Secrets; 1819), by Yosef Perl, an author known for his uncompromising battle against the Hasidim. The book purports to record the correspondence of various Hasidim, who discuss their livelihoods, current events, and the wonderful deeds of their rebbes. The flimsy plot centers on a convoluted attempt by the Hasidim to lay their hands on a German book that denounces them to the authorities.

Megaleh temirin is in all probability intended to refer to Perl’s own Über das Wesen der Sekte Chassidim (On the Essence of the Hasidic Sect; 1816), which set forth an elaborate bill of charges against Hasidim and was indeed sent to the Austrian authorities. The detailed portrayal of the Hasidic lifestyle and the perfect imitation of their Hebrew style led some Hasidim into believing that this was an authentic Hasidic work instead of a venomous parody of their movement. Owing to the book’s sophisticated structural and linguistic features—it is written in the form of a European epistolary novel—some critics regard it as Hebrew literature’s first novel. The work itself and the ensuing tempest that erupted in its wake became one of the main subjects in Perl’s second satirical work, Boḥen tsadik (Investigating a Righteous Man; 1838).

The other prominent Galician satirist was Yitsḥak Erter, who in 1822 took aim at the various strands of Orthodoxy in the form of a series of acerbic allegorical tales. Following his death, the tales were collected and published as Ha-Tsofeh le-vet Yisra’el (The Watchman of the House of Israel; 1858). His most popular work, “Gilgul nefesh” (Transmigration of the Soul; 1845), describes the successive reincarnations of a soul; each of its 19 embodiments (among them, cantor, arendar, kabbalist, gravedigger, Hasidic master) represents a different dimension of the dark panorama of contemporary traditional Jewish life.

In addition to satiric prose, the Galician Haskalah engaged in other literary activities, including translations or adaptations of original German fiction, the short story (for example, by Naftali Keller), as well as historical adventure stories involving intrepid travelers and explorers (by such writers as Menaḥem Mendel Lefin and Avraham Mendel Mohr).

The Russian and Lithuanian Haskalah

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Russian Empire replaced Galicia as the center of maskilic activity. This was mainly due to the prolific writing of Yitsḥak Ber Levinzon (Ribal), a close associate of the Galician (Jewish) intelligentsia, who was supported by the tsarist authorities.

Within the Russian Empire, the first true center of Hebrew maskilic literature was in Lithuania, as reflected in the publication of the journal Pirḥe tsafon, whose two editions appeared in Vilna in 1841 and 1844, respectively. The most important poet of this period was Avraham Dov Lebensohn (Adam ha-Kohen), whose poetry collection Shire sefat kodesh (Poems in the Holy Tongue) was reprinted many times beginning in 1842. In these poems, as well as in his dramatic allegorical work Emet ve-emunah (Truth and Faith; 1867), Lebensohn succeeds in representing the Haskalah’s value system and the literary sensibilities of his time and place. His works reveal a belief in the force of divine wisdom that governs the world, reflected in depictions of light overcoming darkness; a contempt for the superstitions of traditional Jewish society; a preference for the neoclassical, harmonizing literary form somewhat removed from concrete reality and tending toward a more generalized observation of nature and man; and a commitment to the exaltation of the Hebrew language as the holy tongue with strict adherence to the usages of biblical Hebrew.

Ya‘akov Rabinowitz, Volkovysk, Russia (now in Belarus), ca. 1900. Photograph by Davidovitsh. (Asher Barash Gnazim Institute, Tel Aviv)

In every respect, the poetry of Adam ha-Kohen’s son Mikhah Yosef Lebensohn (known as Mikhal) signifies a dramatic departure from his father’s rational, abstract, didactic world into an unabashedly romantic world. Mikhal’s lyrical and biblical poems are characterized by extraordinarily tangible representations of space and time on the part of their narrator, as well as the autobiographical feelings of the author, who alternates between his passion for life and his fear of death. His premature death in 1852 at age 24 marked the end of this innovative approach, which was neither adopted nor integrated into contemporary Hebrew poetry (at that point in time it may not have been ready for such a move).

Indeed, Mikhah Lebensohn’s close friend Yehudah Leib Gordon (Yalag) basically ignored the advances made by his colleague, choosing instead to “go backward in time.” Gordon began his career by focusing on the genre of the biblical epic, which was the hallmark of the Hebrew Haskalah movement from its inception. He used this genre in his series of books on the life of King David (including the first book, Ahavat David u-Mikhal [The Love of David and Michal]; 1856). However, after completing this series he turned to the genre of parables, both original works and translations of other works, such as Mishle Yehudah (Fables of Judah; 1859). The combination of the sheer breadth of epic poems with the epigrammatic wit of parables prepared the groundwork for his historic and realistic narrative poems, by far his most important and most sophisticated genre. The best of these poems appeared in the 1860s and 1870s, sterling examples of which include “Ben shine arayot” (Between the Teeth of the Lions; 1868) and “Kotso shel yod” (The Tip of the Yud [Hebrew letter]; 1878). However, by this time narrative fiction had replaced poetry as the characteristic form of Hebrew literature—the result of a development that had also begun in the Lithuanian center of literary activity.

In 1853, Avraham Mapu’s novel Ahavat Tsiyon (The Love of Zion) was published in Vilna. Its chaste language, descriptions of the Land of Israel’s natural environment, and especially its romantic plot set during biblical times enchanted generations of readers and marked a significant turning point in Hebrew prose. Its appearance served as a catalyst for the protracted debate about the place of the novel in Hebrew literature—a polemic that eventually determined the centrality of the novel as a “mirror of reality,” assuring its place as the natural heir to the traditional biblical epic.

Hebrew writer and editor Asher Barash, Drohobycz (now Drohobych, Ukr.), 1908. Photograph by W. Russ. (Asher Barash Gnazim Institute, Tel Aviv)

In the course of this polemic, Hebrew literary criticism also matured. Two of its earliest and most eloquent representatives were Avraham Uri Kovner and Avraham Ya‘akov Paperna, both of whom later wrote in Russian. Aside from Mapu’s books, Eugène Sue’s novel Les Mystères de Paris (The Mysteries of Paris; 1842–1843), a tense and complex melodrama first translated into Hebrew by Kalman Shulman in 1857, entertained its readership and suggested the possibilities of novelistic expression in Hebrew. With the publication in 1857 of ‘Ayit tsavu‘a (The Hypocrite), Mapu himself quickly changed course, turning from biblical themes to criticism of contemporary Jewish existence in Lithuania, thereby leading the way for a long list of writers. Indeed, the ideological realistic novel typical of the 1860s and 1870s centered on the struggle of maskilic “sons of light” to bring enlightenment to the Jewish environment, which was depicted as dark and fanatical. Prominent examples include Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh’s (Mendele Moykher-Sforim’s) Limdu hetev (Learn Well [1862]; expanded and developed as Ha-Avot veha-banim [The Fathers and the Sons; 1868]), Perets Smolenskin’s Kevurat ḥamor (A Donkey’s Burial; 1873 [published in book form 1874]), and Re’uven Asher Braudes’s Ha-Dat veha-ḥayim (Religion and Life; 1876–1878).

Aside from the novel, other genres of Hebrew prose also came to the fore. Yehudah Leib Gordon and Mordekhai David Brandstetter developed the short story and the novella. Mordekhai Aharon Gintsburg cultivated the documentary autobiography, expertly portraying the sufferings and struggles of maskilim in Avi‘ezer (1863), as did Mosheh Leib Lilienblum in Hat’ot ne‘urim (Sins of Youth, 1876). The popular feuilletons that regularly appeared in maskilic weeklies were largely the creation of Gordon. Indeed, with the appearance of the first Hebrew weekly, Ha-Magid (founded in 1856), it was possible to speak of genuine Hebrew journalism. This medium continued to flourish, as evidenced by the appearance in the 1860s of such other Hebrew weeklies as Ha-Melits (Odessa, 1860), Ha-Karmel (Vilna, 1860), and Ha-Tsefirah (Warsaw, 1862). Together with the maskilic journals—mainly Smolenskin’s Ha-Shaḥar (1868–1884) and Avraham Ber Gottlober’s Ha-Boker or (1876–1886), some published in Eastern Europe and others imported from Austria and Prussia—this press served as a practical and lively platform for works of verse and prose, most of which bore the mark of ideological tendentiousness. Nonetheless, it must be emphasized that maskilic Hebrew literature was nurtured in a very closed and narrow environment, its readership barely exceeding a few thousand out of a total population of millions of East European Jews.

The Generation of Transition (1880–1900)

The upheavals experienced by East European Jewry at the beginning of the 1880s (pogroms in southern Russia, an accelerated rate of mass emigration, the emergence of the Ḥibat Tsiyon [Love of Zion] movement) caused the Hebrew maskilic literati to reconsider their beliefs and reassess the Haskalah. Some rethought the norms espoused by the latter, while others advocated a revision of maskilic ideology, which had previously called for cultural integration, in favor of a Jewish nationalist approach. Several prominent maskilic writers were almost at the ends of their careers (Gordon, Smolenskin, and Braudes), while others underwent a radical revolution in their way of thinking and writing (e.g., Lilienblum, Aleksander Ziskind Rabinovitz, Mendele Moykher-Sforim, and Brandstetter). Maskilic journals ceased publication. The last of the maskilic novels were published in the late 1880s, with Hebrew novels not appearing until after World War I. The novel was replaced by shorter fiction—mainly the short story and the novella—which gradually gained in sophistication, reaching a peak in the first decade of the twentieth century.

Hebrew poet Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik (left) and poet and translator Sha’ul Tchernichowsky, Odessa, 1907. (Asher Barash Gnazim Institute, Tel Aviv)

As for Hebrew poetry, innovative inroads were being made by a new group that was referred to collectively as Ḥibat Tsiyon poets. Their work was marked by nationalistic themes and sentimentality. This group’s most prominent members included Mordekhai Tsevi Mane, Konstantin Abba Shapiro, Menaḥem Mendel Dolitzki, Naftali Herz Imber, Yehudah Leib Levin, Yitsḥak Kaminer, and Meshulam Zalman Goldbaum. Their poetry served as a bridge between maskilic and modern Hebrew forms. During the 1890s, they influenced young writers who became the great poets of the next generation, including Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik and Sha’ul Tchernichowsky.

This period also witnessed the emergence of Ben-Avigdor’s (Avraham Leib Shalkovich’s) New Way school of fictional writing, which consciously cultivated a realistic-naturalistic poetics in its short stories and novellas, culled from life experience, such as the Sifre Agorah (Penny Books) series (1891–1893). Approximately 20 writers were involved in this enterprise, including Yesha‘yahu Bershadsky, author of Be-En matarah (Without a Goal; 1899), the first modern Hebrew psychological novel. Despite its awkward, sentimental, simplistic style, this school served as a model for representing psychologically based characters, for depicting the lower echelons of Jewish society, and for utilizing a colloquial form of Hebrew. In general, it laid the groundwork for a later, more refined, more sophisticated type of Hebrew fiction that appeared at the turn of the twentieth century.

After Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher-Sforim) had completed most of his Yiddish literary masterpieces and had returned to the Hebrew short story in 1886, the Nusaḥ (Standardized Style) made its appearance in his writing. It naturally blended different strata of the Hebrew language to create a compact, flexible, multiassociational, intertextual synthetic style that left a deep imprint on the Hebrew prose of the twentieth century. At first, Mendele tried his hand at short stories depicting contemporary existence, but from 1896 he turned to the creation of Hebrew versions of his principal Yiddish novels, which revealed a complex, critical-empathetic, realistic approach to life in the Russian Jewish town of the nineteenth century. Typical are his works Be-‘Emek ha-bakha’ (The Vale of Tears), Sefer ha-kabtsanim (The Book of Beggars), Masa‘ot Binyamin ha-shelishi (The Voyages of Benjamin the Third), Susati (My Mare), and the autobiographical Ba-Yamim ha-hem (In Bygone Days); these were collected for the first time in Mendele’s jubilee edition (Kol kitve Mendele Mokher Sefarim; 3 vols., 1909–1912).

David Frishman (right) with Hebrew poets (left) Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik and (center) Zusman Segalovitsh. Postcard published by Verlag Jehudia, Warsaw. (YIVO)

The last decade of the nineteenth century also saw a tendency on the part of Hebrew literature to reflect the influence of contemporary schools of European aesthetics (e.g., neoromanticism, symbolism, decadence). This was primarily the result of contact with Russian and German literature. Among the writers who, to varying degrees, absorbed these external trends into their writings were Bialik, Tchernichowsky, Mikhah Yosef Berdyczewski, Mordekhai Ze’ev Feierberg, David Frishman, and Y. L. Peretz.

This period was also characterized by significant changes in Hebrew analytical and expository writing in the areas of philosophy, current affairs, and literary criticism. Abstruse, flowery writing (melitsah) was abandoned in favor of transparent, logical expression. At the same time, a modern Hebrew expository lexicon was being developed—though Hebrew had not yet become a spoken language. In addition to Ahad Ha-Am, the foremost representative of this change, other literary critics, essayists, and philosophers included Re’uven Brainin, Mordekhai Ehrenpreis, David Frishman, Naḥum Sokolow, S. Y. Ish Horovitz, Shim‘on Bernfeld, and Yosef Klausner. Brainin and Frishman, who were more attuned to the contemporary European cultural arena, helped to consolidate an aesthetic, universalistic approach to Hebrew literary criticism that acted as a counterweight to the nationalistic approach characteristic of Ahad Ha-Am.

Ha-Yom, the first Hebrew daily, appeared in 1886, followed a few months later by Ha-Melits and Ha-Tsefirah, which changed from weeklies to dailies. Beginning in the mid-1880s, hefty annual anthologies (e.g., Ha-Asif, Otsar ha-sifrut, Keneset Yisra’el, Keneset ha-gedolah) with readerships in the thousands were published alongside dailies. This phenomenon provided proof of the changing demands of the growing Hebrew reading public. At the same time, modern journals and literary anthologies based on European models served as an outlet for the quiet revolution that had been taking place in Hebrew literature. Prominent among these journals were Kaveret (1890), Pardes (1892), Luaḥ Aḥi’asaf (1893), Mi-Mizraḥ umi-ma‘arav (1894), and Ha-Shiloaḥ (1896).

The founding of the Aḥi’asaf publishing company in 1893 signified the modernization of Hebrew publishing. Three years later, the Tushiyah publishing house was founded in Warsaw. For the next 15 years, it was to serve as the central platform and generating force behind Hebrew literature in all its forms. Among the guiding principles of Aḥi’asaf, and of Tushiyah—while under the management of Ben-Avigdor—were the following: selecting manuscripts; paying writer’s salaries, developing subscription book series; promoting young writers; and monitoring advertising and distribution. Formulated from a farsighted national and cultural perspective, these principles signaled the birth of commercial Hebrew publishing.

“Hebrew Book Fair.” Hebrew poster. Printed by Technograf, Warsaw, 1924. The event also commemorates the tenth anniversary of Tarbut, the Hebrew educational organization. (YIVO)

The period also witnessed the expansion of Hebrew children’s literature, a direct result of the activities and vision of the Ḥibat Tsiyon movement and its effort to nurture future generations of readers of Hebrew literature. Aside from anthologies and textbooks, there were also children’s newspapers, such as ‘Olam katan and Gan sha‘ashu‘im.

The principal centers of Hebrew literature within the Russian Empire were Odessa (home to Mendele, Ahad Ha-Am, Yehoshu‘a Ḥana Ravnitski, E. L. Lewinsky, and Bialik) and Warsaw (home to Frishman, Sokolow, Ben-Avigdor, and Peretz). Warsaw was the location of the dynamic literary market—including printers, publishing companies, and newspaper editorial staffs. In addition to these two main centers, there was some literary activity in other European cities (Vilna, Lwów, Vienna, Berlin, and London) and overseas (mainly the United States and Palestine), with a rich network linking main centers to their satellites.

The dynamic vitality that characterized the final decades of the nineteenth century—especially in the 1890s—resulted in a series of literary and ideological polemics from which emerged the concept of secular Hebrew culture as an offshoot and objective of the Zionist revolution. These included debates over the literary realism of the New Way; the objectives of a national culture stimulated by the founding of the monthly Ha-Shiloaḥ; and the role of culture—all topics that dominated the first Zionist congresses. These illustrative examples of the dynamics of literary debates being conducted in Eastern Europe set the tone for modernism’s emergence in Hebrew literature at the turn of the twentieth century.

The Early Twentieth Century

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, Hebrew literature in Eastern Europe produced its best examples of poetry, fiction, essays, and literary criticism. The combination of great writers, an increasingly sophisticated means of expression, a greater attentiveness to the trends of European literature, a wide array of publishing options, and a stable reading public that turned to Hebrew literature for spiritual nourishment resulted in the establishment of a genuine Hebrew literary system. However, this growth in literary activity was interrupted by two major crises—the first Russian Revolution (1905–1907), and World War I (1914–1918)—that permanently halted most Hebrew publishing. Although the Second Aliyah (1904–1914) attracted many writers to Palestine, holding out the prospect of a Hebrew literary center in the land of Israel, it remained largely dependent upon the production and distribution systems of Russia and Poland, with the majority of readers still based in Eastern Europe.

Prose fiction of this period was dominated by realism, although one could also detect satiric and grotesque tendencies as well as symbolism. Two diametrically opposed trends existed. The first was based on the highly influential Nusaḥ (also called the Odessa Nusaḥ) of Mendele Moykher-Sforim. Writers who adopted and perfected this style included Bialik, S. Ben-Zion (Simḥah Alter Gutmann), Aharon Avraham Kabak, and Asher Barash.

Frontispiece of the first issue of Keneset Yisra’el. Warsaw, 1887. (Gross Family Collection)

An opposing form was the literary trend based upon the school founded by Mikhah Yosef Berdyczewski. The latter presented the forceful drama occurring within the consciousness of a young Jew who, having separated himself from the world of his forebears, tries to find his way in modern society. This psychic drama, expressed with psychological subtlety and through an array of complex literary styles, departs from the normative stability found in Mendele’s Nusaḥ, which until then had been regarded as the universally accepted standard for Hebrew literary writing. Prominent representatives of this trend include Yosef Ḥayim Brenner, Uri Nisan Gnessin, Gershom Shofman, and Ya‘akov Steinberg.

Such a schematic division—pitting conservative social realists against innovative psychological writers and Nusaḥ style versus its opposite—reflects only a part of this rich literary arena. For example, although the young writer Yitsḥak Dov Berkowitz refined and improved the Mendele Nusaḥ from a purely stylistic and descriptive perspective, in his choice of themes he belonged more to the second camp. His story “Talush” (Uprooted; 1904), about a lonely Jewish youth who is uprooted from his familiar surroundings, gave its name to this literary phenomenon. Another distinctive writer was Devorah Baron, the only major female writer in Hebrew of her time, who created a semimythical portrait of a Jewish Lithuanian town, paying special attention to society’s deprived and rejected members. However, she accomplished this by employing minimalist, ascetic language based upon a biblical idiom. Although all of these writers also contributed to Yiddish literature in varying degrees—especially when they were first starting out—most of their mature works were written in Hebrew.

Poetry during this period was dominated by the overwhelming presence and influence of Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik. After nearly a decade of tentative starts, during which he struggled with the sentimental norms of Ḥibat Tsiyon poetry, Bialik’s poetry came to maturity following his relocation to Odessa (1900), where he subsequently published his first collection (1901). Bialik was an innovator in several areas, the most important of which was his emphasis on personal experience anchored in the individual’s private mythology, which he placed at the center of literary expression. Bialik created and perfected a number of poetic genres (the musical Lied; the narrative poem; the prophetic song of wrath; the long, lyrical, meditative poem; and the artistic “folk” song). He enhanced poetic language, transforming it into a flexible, sensitive musical instrument capable of engaging in an intertextual, multifaceted dialogue across generations of Jewish literature; and developed a syllabic meter that he eventually converted into an innovative and bold biblical free-verse rhythm.

Above all, Bialik’s poetry expresses the struggles of the tormented soul, haunted by sad memories of childhood and afflicted by unrealized erotic yearnings, all of which is coupled with feelings of guilt at having severed ties with the world of Jewish tradition. Aside from holding the title of national poet, Bialik also championed Hebrew culture in his multifarious roles as editor, publisher, educator, essayist, translator, collector and editor of legends, cultivator of Hebrew children’s literature, and proponent of a grand compilation scheme to preserve and revitalize the best spiritual Jewish writing produced down through the generations.

Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik (2nd from left) and others, including Mojżesz Schorr (2nd from right), Marienbad, Czechoslovakia, ca. 1930s. (YIVO)

Bialik’s peer and contemporary was Sha’ul Tchernichowsky. From the beginning of the twentieth century, critics pitted these two towering figures against each other. Bialik was viewed as a son of the shtetl and spokesman for the inner plight of the modern Jew, who grappled with the world of the bet midrash. Tchernichowsky, by contrast, was a son of the countryside who championed the creative life and unmediated contact with nature, beauty, and pagan sensual-aesthetic culture. The oversimplification of this schematic representation notwithstanding, it would appear that it fulfilled an authentic cultural need. Indeed, Tchernichowsky willingly accepted his position as representative of European culture in Hebrew poetry. His unique legacy rests on the revival and perfection of various poetic genres, including the idyll, the ballad, and the sonnet; his adaptations of and allusions to ancient myths in his own works; and his prolific activities as translator of such classical works of literature as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

Working under the long shadow cast by Bialik and Tchernichowsky, a group of young poets arose who internalized a romantic poetics of experience and nurtured it in their own unique fashion: the rhetorical pathetic and grandiose style (Zalman Shneour); melancholy, impressionistic lyrics (Ya‘akov Fichmann); somber, meditative poetry employing a complex idiom (Ya‘akov Steinberg); elegant, musical landscape poetry (Ya‘akov Cahan); lighthearted, mischievous parody (Yitsḥak Katzenelson); grim, monotone laments (Ya‘akov Lerner); and morose, romantic tragedies (David Shimonovitz). Bialik himself welcomed their contributions in his essay “Shiratenu ha-tse‘irah” (Our Juvenile Poetry; 1906), noting the intense energy of their works, the result of a casting aside of the burden of Jewish history and a confident embrace of the wider world.

The map of Jewish periodicals was also redrawn at the beginning of the twentieth century. Alongside well-established vehicles (Ha-Shiloaḥ, Luaḥ Aḥi’asaf), young writers increasingly made their presence felt in newer journals, which provided a forum for the critical polemics between the “seniors” and the “juniors.” Their publications also functioned as a conduit for communication among members of the Hebrew literary republic, who were scattered across Eastern Europe and beyond. Among these journals were Ha-Dor, Reshafim, and Sifrut, edited by David Frishman, the sharpest critic of his generation; the literary journal Ha-Zeman, edited by Bentsiyon Katz; and the literary vehicles founded by Yosef Ḥayim Brenner (Ha-Me‘orer, Revivim), Gershom Shofman (Shalekhet), and Fishel Lachower (Netivot).

The Interwar Years

The founding in 1918 of the quarterly Ha-Tekufah by publisher Avraham Yosef Stybel and editor David Frishman signaled the recovery of Hebrew literature following years of turmoil during World War I and the Russian Revolution. The hefty volumes, which appeared first in Moscow and then in Warsaw, facilitated the renewed activities of such famous veteran Hebrew writers as Berdyczewski, Tchernichowsky, and Frishman. However, they also provided a platform for a younger generation that had entered the field of Hebrew literature at the end of the 1910s. These writers included Shemu’el Yosef Agnon, Ḥayim Hazaz, David Vogel, Eli‘ezer Steinman, Uri Tsevi Grinberg, Shim‘on Halkin, and Yokheved Bat-Miriam. Although their careers began in Eastern Europe, they composed their principal works elsewhere—in Palestine but also Western Europe or the United States, where an active center of Hebrew literary activity existed during the interwar years.

During this period, Eastern Europe gradually relinquished its dominant position as the center for Hebrew literary production. This fact was given symbolic expression in June 1921, when 12 Hebrew writers, headed by Bialik and Tchernichowsky, left Odessa with their families as a group and traveled to Western Europe and Palestine. The curtain had suddenly fallen on Hebrew Odessa. The Soviet Union then was left with just a smattering of Hebrew literary activity, whose expression became increasingly dangerous in the 1920s and 1930s, as the government tightened restrictions against the dissemination of Hebrew language and culture. For years, a group of young writers tried to maintain their dual loyalty to Hebrew culture (sometimes even to Zionism), on the one hand, and to the ideals of the Communist revolution, on the other.

Be-Re'shit (In the Beginning). Hebrew literary anthology, 1926/27. Printed in Berlin with a Moscow and Leningrad imprint. Cover illustration by B. Shubin. (YIVO)

In 1923 a modest literary anthology titled Tsiltsele shama‘ (Resounding Cymbals) made its appearance in the city of Kharkov. It was characterized by an avant-garde, expressionistic, rebellious spirit that echoed the revolutionary Russian poetry of the period. Contributors included Gershon Hanovitch, Yitsḥak Borovitch, and Yosef Sa‘aroni (Ma’tov). A similar spirit pervaded the second important publication of this group, the comprehensive anthology Be-Re’shit (Genesis), which appeared in Moscow and Leningrad in 1926. Conceived and produced by Mosheh Ḥiyog, other participants were Avraham Kariv, Shim‘on Ha-Boneh-Tarbokov, Yosef Leib Tsfatman, as well as two female poets, Yokheved Bat-Miriam, and Malkah Schechtman (Bat-Ḥama).

The minimal Hebrew literary activity that remained was conducted in isolation, at a much slower pace, and under a veil of partial or complete secrecy. Most of the Hebrew writers who remained in the Soviet Union either died in the Stalinist forced labor camps in the 1930s or 1940s (e.g., the fine poet Ḥayim Lenski) or pursued underground literary activity following World War II, mainly dedicated to documenting life in detention camps. The last remaining Hebrew writers in the Soviet Union were the poet Elisha‘ Rodin and the storytellers Mosheh Ḥiyog and Tsevi Preigerzon.

By contrast, Hebrew literary activity in Poland and in Lithuania was reborn immediately after World War I. Its unhindered growth and wide scope is evidenced by the many Hebrew journals founded or revived in Warsaw in 1919. In addition to Ha-Tekufah—which, following its relocation to Warsaw in 1922, had passed over into the capable hands of its new editors Ya‘akov Cahan and Fishel Lachower—Poland’s capital also supported a long list of journals, some of which were published on a regular basis while others appeared only once. These journals, which served as outlets for ambitious editors seeking to nurture an authentic literary community, included Luaḥ Aḥi’asaf (edited by Yehoshu‘a Thon), Kolot (Eli‘ezer Steinman), ‘Alim (Yehudah Warshaviak et al.), Seneh (Ya‘akov Cahan), Vilna-based Galim (Me’ir Tschudner), Re’shit (Malki’el Lusternik and Tsevi Zevulun Weinberg), ‘Amudim (Yehudah Warshaviak), and the weekly Ba-Derekh (Avraham Aryeh Leib Akavia), which attempted to fill the void following the demise of the daily Ha-Tsefirah in 1931.

These publications, among others, attempted to consolidate what remained of the Hebrew literary camp, whose disintegration was the result of the immigration to Palestine of some of its most important members. In both their pronouncements and actions, the writers who remained behind expressed a dual inferiority when comparing themselves to the thriving literary center in Palestine, on the one hand, and to the flourishing, self-confident Yiddish literary scene, on the other.

The unresolved crisis of Hebrew writers stranded in Poland—caught between identifying with the Zionist cause in Palestine and having to justify, on both a practical and an ideological level, remaining in the Diaspora—became a central theme in fictional works written during the interwar years. Prominent examples include the novels Ge’ulah (Redemption), by Leib Ḥazan (1930); Bayit u-reḥov (A Home and a Street), by Tsevi Zevulun Weinberg (1931); Orot me-ofel (Lights from the Darkness), by Yehudah Warszawiak (1931); as well as short stories by Yakir Warshavsky, Re’uven Fahn, Naḥman Miplev, and others.

Portrait of Uri Tsevi Grinberg. Henryk Berlewi, Warsaw, 1922. The drawing appeared in Grinberg’s book of poetry, Mefisto (Warsaw: Farlag “Literatur-fond” baym Fareyn fun Yidishe literatn un zshurnalistn in Varshe, 1922). (Joe Fishstein Yiddish Poetry Collection, Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University Library)

In contrast to this trend in fictional writing, which experienced a decline beginning in the 1930s, a new generation of young, Polish-educated poets began issuing their first collections during this period. Although most of these poets, who were born around 1910, were killed in the Holocaust (e.g., Yitsḥak Aryeh Berger, Avraham Dov Werbner, Mosheh Winniar, Natan Stockhammer, Malki’el Lusternik, and Me’ir Tschudner), a few managed to escape to Poland (e.g., Mosheh Basok, Aharon [Arn] Zeitlin, and Ya‘akov Netan’eli-Rotmann). While their poetry betrays a certain affinity for the neosymbolist modernist school, which was expanding at a steady pace in Palestine under the leadership of Avraham Shlonsky, these writers were even more influenced by the contemporary Polish poetic school, which championed the realistic, direct experiences of mundane urban lifestyle, with its physical distresses and its dreary existential atmosphere. As the 1930s drew to a close, Hebrew poetry became more vociferous in its anguished expression of unease and terror with regard to the future of Polish Jewry. Heartrending, prophetic verses of many of these poems reflect the eerie sense of imminent disaster.

Within this group, three important poets should be mentioned. Matityahu Shoham wrote symbolist poems and biblical dramas distinguished by compelling poetic pathos, the most famous example of which is Tsor vi-Yerushalayim (Tyre and Jerusalem). Berl Pomerantz was the most profound and original of the modernist Hebrew poets in Poland. His anthology Ḥalon ba-ya‘ar (A Window in the Forest) appeared in 1939, just before the war began. Lastly, Yitsḥak Katzenelson was the only member of the Bialik circle of poets who remained in Eastern Europe at the outbreak of World War II. The tragic sense of living on the eve of destruction that resonates in Katzenelson’s poetry of the 1930s becomes, following the outbreak of war, a bitter lament not only in his poetry but also in his documentary prose and plays, which deal with the annihilation of the Jewish nation. His final works—written in the Warsaw ghetto and in the Vittel camp in France prior to his deportation to Auschwitz—form a final tragic yet sublime link in the chain of Hebrew literary creativity in Eastern Europe.


[The following list identifies and briefly describes Hebrew writers who are not the subject of an independent biographical entry.]

Akavia, Avraham Aryeh Leib

(Śniadowo, Pol., 1882–Tel Aviv, 1964), writer, journalist, and translator into Yiddish and Hebrew. Akavia lived in Warsaw beginning in 1899 and was a coeditor of the newspapers Ha-Tsefirah and Ba-Derekh until 1935, when he immigrated to Palestine.

Alfes, Bentsiyon

(Vilna, 1850–Jerusalem, 1940), writer. Alfes lived in Vilna until 1924, at which point he relocated to Palestine. He published approximately 60 books in Yiddish and Hebrew, mostly novels and short stories written in a pious and traditional spirit.

Atlas, El‘azar

(Beisagola, Kovno district, 1851–Białystok, 1904), essayist, Jewish historian, and editor of the literary anthology Ha-Kerem (1888). Atlas lived in Warsaw from 1884 and moved to Białystok in 1895. He was a severe critic of political Zionism.

Barukh (Barukhovits), Yitsḥak Leib

(Tavrogen, Lith., 1874–Tel Aviv, 1953), poet, essayist, editor, and prolific translator. He taught from 1907 in the Hebrew gymnasiums of Vilna and Kovno, and, beginning in 1926, in Palestine. Barukh also wrote in Yiddish; he translated poems of Bialik, Sholem Aleichem, Asch, and M. A. Gintsburg from Hebrew into English.

Bat-Ḥama, M.

(Malka Schechtmann; fl. 1920s), poet active in Soviet Russia. Several of her poems appeared in Hebrew journals in Palestine and the United States in the 1920s.

Beilin, Asher

(Kiev, 1881–Tel Aviv, 1948), storyteller and Hebrew and Yiddish critic. Beilin lived in London from 1906 and moved to Jerusalem in 1933. He served as Sholem Aleichem’s secretary in Kiev and published informative memoirs about him.

Ben-Avram, Ḥayim Shalom

(Liady, Ukr., 1893–Tel Aviv, 1965), writer and translator. Ben-Avram (originally surnamed Abramson and the brother of Mosheh Ḥiyog [see below]) wandered across Eastern Europe and settled in Palestine in 1935. He wrote poems, short stories, and a play, and translated works from several languages.

Ben-David, Yehudah Leib

(Vilna, 1855–Odessa, 1898), active member of a group of Hebrew socialists. Ben-David (Davidovits) was founder of the first association of Hebrew speakers in Odessa; he published articles in the Hebrew and Jewish Russian press.

Ben-Eli‘ezer, Mosheh

(Shchuchin, Vilna region [now Belarus], 1882–Tel Aviv, 1944), storyteller, critic, essayist, editor, and translator. Ben-Eli‘ezer (Glembotski; Yiddish pseudonym M. Lazarev) was very active in the field of Hebrew literature and children’s newspapers, which he edited in Warsaw and Moscow; he lived in Palestine from 1925. He also edited and contributed to Yiddish periodicals in a number of cities and translated works from Yiddish into Hebrew.

Ben-Or, Aharon

(Ukraine, 1890–Tel Aviv, 1972), teacher and writer. Ben-Or (Urinovski) taught at various Hebrew educational institutions in Vilna, Białystok (where he also contributed to the Yiddish press), and, from 1933, Palestine. His works include the five-volume Toldot ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ha-ḥadashah (History of the New Hebrew Literature; 1946–1955).

Benshalom, Bentsion

(Sanok, Galicia, 1907–Tel Aviv, 1968), Hebrew instructor at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Benshalom (Kats) published studies on Hebrew literature and translated Greek and Persian classics. He immigrated to Palestine in 1940.

Ben-Ya‘akov, Yitsḥak Isaac

(Vilna, 1801–Vilna, 1863), pioneer of the Hebrew Haskalah in Lithuania. His major work, Otsar ha-sefarim (Book Treasury; 1877–1880)—a comprehensive bibliography of the Hebrew book since its origins, about 17,000 books and manuscripts in various Jewish languages written with Hebrew letters—was published by his son.

Berger, Yitsḥak Aryeh

(Ohanov, Galicia, 1907–Holocaust years), poet. Berger taught in various towns of Galicia and published poetry in the Hebrew press. His sole poetry collection is Tevel gova‘at (A Dying Universe; 1934).

Berman, Shelomoh

(Chernigov region, Rus., 1857–Gomel, 1927), author of popular history books, biographies, and textbooks. His most popular book, Mi-Gibore ha-umah (From the Nation’s Heroes; 1898–1911), is a series of biographical studies of great figures in Jewish history.

Bernstein, Yisra’el

(Stolbtsy, Minsk region, 1848–Bobruisk, 1912), prominent maskilic essayist. His satirical articles against rabbis and yeshiva education (published in the monthly Ha-Shaḥar) made a strong impression on his readers.

Bisko, Aharon Leib

(Saint Petersburg, 1859–Dolinov, Vilna region, 1929), author of textbooks, dictionaries, and study guides. Bisko wrote frequently about Hebrew education and language. He also translated works from Russian into Yiddish and published a Yiddish–Hebrew dictionary (1913). He lived in England between 1902 and 1927.

Blank, Shemu’el Leib

(Dunaevstsy, Ukr., 1891–Philadelphia, 1962), fiction writer. Blank lived in Bessarabia from 1909 and moved to the United States in 1923. He published short stories and novels based on rural Jewish life in Bessarabia and that of Jewish immigrants in the United States.

Bloch, Shimshon Ha-Levi

(Kalikow, Galicia, 1784–Kalikow, 1845), one of the first Galician maskilim. His masterpiece, Shevile ‘olam (Pathways of the World; 1822) represented the first attempt to impart geographical knowledge to the Hebrew reader.

Bosak, Me’ir

(Kraków, 1912–Tel Aviv, 1992), writer and poet. Beginning in 1929, Bosak published Polish and Hebrew review essays, short stories, and poems as well as studies on the history of Polish Jewry. He lived in Israel from 1949.

Bunin, Ḥayim Yitsḥak

(Gomel, 1875–Treblinka, 1943), belles lettrist. Bunin lived in Warsaw and Łódź from 1910, where he also wrote for the Yiddish press; he was a prolific researcher of Ḥabad Lubavitch Hasidism, about which he wrote many published articles. From 1916 to 1939, he was a teacher in a Jewish high school in Łódź.

Dykman, Shelomoh

(Warsaw, 1917–Tel Aviv, 1965), skilled translator of Greek and Roman classics into Hebrew and Hebrew poetry into Polish. Incarcerated in Siberia from 1944 to 1957 for engaging in Zionist activities, Dykman moved to Israel in 1960.

Eichenbaum, Ya‘akov

(Krystynopol, Galicia, 1796–Kiev, 1861), early poet of the Russian Haskalah period. His first book was Kol zimrah (The Voice of Song; 1836). Eichenbaum was also famous as a mathematician. His grandson, Boris, was a prominent Russian formalist critic.

Feigenberg, Raḥel.

See listing under “Feygenberg, Rokhl” in appendix to Yiddish Literature, article on Yiddish Literature after 1800.

Fernhoff, Yitsḥak

(Buczacz, Galicia, 1868–Stanisławów, 1919), Galician Hebrew literature activist. Fernhoff edited the series Sifre sha‘ashu‘im (Leisure Books; 1896–1899) as well as other anthologies. He wrote short stories depicting Misnaged culture. Fernhoff also contributed to various Yiddish and Hebrew periodicals in Galicia. His son, Mosheh (b. Buczacz, 1889), was a prolific Yiddish poet, writer and journalist; he died during the Holocaust.

Foner, Me’ir

(Brańsk, Grodno region, 1854–Łódź, 1936), playwright. Foner was involved in pedagogic activities in Białystok and Łódź. His main literary works consist of seven plays on ancient Jewish history. He also contributed to the Yiddish press in Łódź and championed avant-garde Yiddish poetry.

Foner, Sarah Meinkin

(Zager, Lith., 1855–Pittsburgh, 1937), wife of Me’ir Foner and one of the first female Hebrew writers. Beginning in 1881, Sarah (Sheyne Feyge) Foner wrote adventure books and historical fiction for children and adults in both Hebrew and Yiddish. She also wrote memoirs of her childhood in Dvinsk, which she translated into Yiddish.

Frank, Avraham

(Mariampol, Lith., 1884–Holocaust years), children’s author. Frank lived in Warsaw from 1909, working as a pharmacist. His main works consist of short stories and poems for children in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Polish. His numerous works appeared in the Hebrew and Yiddish press as well as in Jewish periodicals in Russian, Polish, and English. He served as chair of the Association of Jewish Writers and Journalists in Poland in the 1930s.

Fuchs, Ya‘akov Shemu’el

(Białystok, 1867–Southampton, Eng., 1938), editor. Fuks edited the Ha-Magid weekly in Kraków beginning in 1890 until it ceased publication in 1903, making this newspaper the central literary organ for Galician writers and intellectuals.

Ginzig, ‘Azri’el

(Kraków, 1868–Antwerp, 1931), figure committed and devoted to Hebrew literature and to Hebrew literary and publishing enterprises in Galicia. The thrust of Ginzig’s literary activities consisted of seven scholarly-literary anthologies published in Kraków under the title Ha-Eshkol (The Cluster; 1898–1913). He also contributed to Yiddish periodicals in Lwów, Warsaw, Paris, and Antwerp and published a number of books in German.

Goldberg, Avraham

(Rawa Ruska, Galicia, ca. 1790–Lwów, ca. 1850), Galician maskil. Goldberg was known for his bitter satires against both the Hasidim and the Misnagdim, especially against the Belzer rebbe.

Goldberg, Yesha‘yahu Nisan ha-Kohen

(Minsk region, Belorussia, 1858–Minsk, 1927), short-story writer. In the late nineteenth century, Goldberg published approximately 500 stories in Hebrew, dealing with the Russian Jewish way of life. He lived in Minsk from 1891.

Gordon, David

(Podmerecz, Vilna region, 1831–Lyck, Germany, 1886), editor. Gordon edited the Ha-Magid weekly from 1858 until his death, making it the mouthpiece for the Ḥibat Tsiyon (Love of Zion) movement and one of the most important Hebrew newspapers in Eastern Europe.

Goren, Natan

(Vidzy, Kovno region, 1887–Tel Aviv, 1956), prominent Hebrew educator in Lithuania and an active participant in its Hebrew cultural life. Goren (Greenblatt) published fiction and literary criticism. His first works were published in the Russian press in Odessa; later he switched to Hebrew and Yiddish, contributing to numerous Yiddish periodicals in Russia, Lithuania, and Poland. He lived in Palestine from 1935.

Gräber, She’alti’el Ayzik

(Jarosław, Galicia, 1856–?), Hebrew maskil. Gräber is famous primarily as an editor and publisher active in the Hebrew press at the end of the nineteenth century. His principal undertaking was the annual Otsar ha-sifrut (The Literary Treasury; 1887–1902).

Handelsaltz, Yisra’el Eliyahu

(Shershev, Belorussia, 1879–Warsaw, 1942), children’s writer. Handelsaltz was active in Hebrew children’s literature primarily as a translator and adaptor of world literature and editor of children’s newspapers. Beginning in the early twentieth century, he lived in Warsaw, where he also contributed to the Yiddish press.

Ḥazan, Leib

(Białystok, 1891–Reḥovot, Israel, 1969), Hebrew educator and participant in the Hebrew press in Kowel and Białystok (where he contributed to the Yiddish press as well). Ḥazan’s novel Ge’ulah (Redemption; 1931) depicts factory work in Białystok; he lived in Palestine from 1935.

Ḥiyog, Mosheh

(Liady, Mogilev region, 1895–Moscow, 1968), short-story writer. Active in the Russian Revolution, Ḥiyog (M. D. Abramson) was incarcerated for several years. His affinity for Hebrew literature led him to write short stories about his experiences in detention camps.

Horowitz, Ḥayim Dov

(Gorki, Mogilev region, 1865–Moscow, 1933), writer on economics. Horowitz (Hurvits) studied political economy in Berlin, where he became involved in the Yiddish literary circle of Dovid Pinski. He was the first person to publish articles and surveys in the Hebrew press on economic issues and their effect on Jewish way of life. His pioneering book on this subject, Ha-Mamon (Money), appeared in 1900. He also contributed to Yiddish periodicals in Warsaw, Kraków, Vilna, and London as well as to the Russian press; he was an active contributor to and coeditor (1903–1906) of the Saint Petersburg–based Fraynd on economic issues; and he published theoretical works and practical manuals on economics in Yiddish. In the 1920s Horowitz worked for Soviet economic institutions. He published his memoirs in the Moscow-based Emes.

Horowitz, Menaḥem Mendel

(Lubavitch, Mogilev region, 1881–died in Warsaw ghetto, 1943), writer of poems and short stories in Yiddish and Hebrew. Horowitz (Hurvits) lived in Warsaw from 1900; no collection of his works exists. He also translated poetry from Polish, Russian, and German.

Katzenellenbogen, Ya‘akov Shalom

(Sverzhen, near Stolbtsy, Minsk region, 1877–Zurich, 1904), short-story writer. Beginning early in the twentieth century, Katzenellenbogen published stories in the press and recorded impressions of life in the shtetl and the lives of young rootless Jews. His writings were collected and published in 2003.

Keller, Naftali

(Tarnów, Galicia, 1834–Rozano, Moravia, 1865), Galician maskil. Keller published poems, articles, epigrams, and feuilletons in the Hebrew press. He was a pioneer of the short-story form in Hebrew literature.

Kinderfreind, Aryeh Leib

(Zamość, Pol., 1788–Brody, Galicia, 1837), maskilic poet associated with Josef Perl’s circle. Kinderfreind collected poetry published under the title Shirim shonim (Various Poems; 1834). He was involved in researching the Hebrew language.

Lazar, Shim‘on Menaḥem

(Przemyśl, Galicia, 1864–Kraków, 1932), essayist and biblical researcher. In 1904 Lazar founded Ha-Mitspeh weekly, which became the central organ of Hebrew literature and Zionism in Galicia. It ceased publication in 1922.

Levin, Tuviah

(d. Holocaust years), Hebrew teacher in Rafałówka, Poland. Levin published poems in the Polish Hebrew press. He lived in Palestine but returned to Poland.

Levin, Yehudah Tsevi

(Ianov, near Pinsk, 1852–New York, 1934), pioneer of Hebrew children’s literature. Levin also explored philosophy and mathematics, publishing widely in those fields as well as children’s literature. He lived in the United States from 1906.

Levinsohn, Avraham

(Łódź, 1889/91–Tel Aviv, 1955), Zionist leader in Poland. Levinsohn wrote in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Polish and translated Yiddish poetry into Hebrew; his books written in Hebrew deal with the Zionist and Hebrew movements as well as the history of Warsaw Jewry. He lived in Palestine from 1936.

Levner, Yisra’el Binyamin

(Trudoliubovka, Ekaterinoslav region, 1862–Lugansk, Ukr., 1916), writer of children’s literature in Hebrew. Levner edited the children’s newspapers Ha-Ḥayim ve-ha-teva‘ and Ha-Peraḥim as well as the anthology Kol agadot Yisra’el (All the Legends of Israel; 1900–1912).

Lubetzky, Yitsḥak

(Turets, Minsk region, 1872–Vienna, 1921), writer, critic, musician, and Zionist activist. Lubetzky’s critical reviews were published in the Hebrew and Yiddish press at the turn of the twentieth century.

Luboshitzky, Aharon

(Ruzhany, Grodno region, 1874–died in Warsaw ghetto, 1942), poet, educator, author of textbooks, and Zionist campaigner. He was also involved in children’s literature and newspapers.

Markel-Mosessohn, Miryam

(Suwałki, Pol., 1837–Grajewo, Pol., 1920), maskil and translator. Markel-Mosessohn was involved with the Ha-Melits newspaper and corresponded with Yehudah Leib Gordon and Mosheh Leib Lilienblum.

Meidanik, Eliyahu

(Kiev region, 1882–Odessa, 1904), short-story writer. Meidanik’s work was first published in the Russian journal Voskhod when he was only 13; he also wrote a few stories in Yiddish. His Hebrew stories were published mainly in the Ha-Shiloaḥ monthly (receiving glowing reviews from Ahad Ha-Am and Bialik). Following his suicide as a reaction to the Kishinev pogrom, his works were collected and published in 1908.

Meitus, Eliyahu

(Kishinev, 1892–Israel, 1977), poet. Beginning in 1910, Meitus published poems, poetry anthologies, and recorded impressions; he also translated works from Russian, French, Romanian, and Yiddish into Hebrew. He contributed to Yiddish periodicals in Kishinev, Czernowitz, New York, and Tel Aviv, living in Bessarabia and Romania from 1921 and moving to Palestine in 1935.

Meltzer, Shimshon

(Tłuste, Galicia, 1909–Tel Aviv, 2000), poet and translator. Early in his career, Meltzer was active in the Hebrew press in Poland. He translated into Hebrew Y. L. Peretz’s Yiddish writing, published in a 20-volume edition, as well as numerous works of Yiddish literature, folklore, and criticism. He lived in Palestine from 1933.

Mezah, Yehoshu‘a

(Shat, Kovno region, 1834–Vilna, 1917), prolific Hebrew journalist and essayist in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Mezah wrote more than 600 booklets in Yiddish, mostly translations and adaptations of popular stories from Russian and Hebrew.

Mohr, Avraham Mendel

(Lwów, 1815–Lwów, 1868), Galician maskil. Mohr published numerous popular history and geography books, both original and in translation. A champion of the Yiddish language, he translated works from Hebrew into Yiddish and published Yiddish newspapers in Lwów.

Neimanowitz, Naftali Herts Yehudah

(Józefów, Lublin region, 1843–Warsaw, 1898), journalist and writer. He is known mainly for his extremely humorous feuilletons, which, beginning in 1866, regularly appeared in the newspaper Ha-Tsefirah under the alias Ha-Nets (The Hawk). He also contributed to the Warsaw Yiddish press and wrote several books in Yiddish.

Netan’eli-Rotmann, Ya‘akov

(Brody, 1892–Tel Aviv, 1962), educator and Zionist activist. Netan’eli-Rotmann wrote poetry and recorded his impressions of education and culture. He was editor of Ha-Solel, a monthly published in Lwów (1933–1934) before moving to Palestine in 1935.

Nevachovich, Yehudah Leib

(Letichev, Podolia region, 1776–Saint Petersburg, 1831), among the first Russian maskilim. Nevachovich wrote (originally in Russian) the pioneering work Kol shav‘at bat Yehudah (The Crying Voice of the Daughter of Judah; 1804), dealing with Russian antisemitism. He became a Lutheran about 1809.

Pines, Noaḥ

(Shklov, Mogilev region, 1871–Tel Aviv, 1939), poet and educator. Pines began his career at the end of the nineteenth century as a Hebrew poet. Later he was involved in innovative pedagogic activities, including writing textbooks and editing anthologies. He lived in Russia and moved to Palestine in 1919.

Piurko, Avraham Mordekhai

(Łomża, 1853–Grajewa, Pol., 1933), teacher and writer of children’s literature. Piurko founded the weekly Gan sha‘ashu‘im (1899), the first Hebrew-language children’s newspaper outside Palestine. He contributed to Yiddish periodicals in Odessa, St. Petersburg, and Warsaw and published memoirs about Yiddish and Hebrew writers in the Warsaw journal Haynt.

Rabinowitz, Leon

(Berestovitz, Grodno region, 1862–Leningrad, 1938), Hebrew and Yiddish journalist and editor, researcher, inventor, and Zionist activist. Rabinowitz was the last editor (1893–1904) of Ha-Melits (The Advocate); he also edited and contributed to a number of Yiddish periodicals in St. Petersburg, Vilna, Warsaw, and New York.

Rall, Yisra’el

(Brody, 1830–Lwów, 1893), translator and publisher. Rall was among the first to translate Roman literature (e.g., Ovid, Lucretius, Horace) into Hebrew during the Haskalah period. He also published the Lwów-based journal Shem ve-Yafet (1887–1888).

Rodin, Elisha‘

(Mstislavl, Mogilev region, 1888–Moscow, 1946), poet. Rodin began as a Yiddish poet but at the end of the 1920s switched to Hebrew, as a result of which he was imprisoned for a number of years. He was the last Hebrew poet in Soviet Russia.

Rozenfeld, Aharon

(Berestechko, Volhynia region, 1846–Bachmut, Ukraine, 1916), poet and short-story writer. He helped edit Ha-Yom, the first Hebrew daily (1886), and was author of the pioneer children’s reader Gan sha‘ashu‘im (Playground; 1880 and onward).

Rubin, Shelomoh

(Dolina, Galicia, 1823–Kraków, 1910), Galician maskil. Prolific writer in diverse fields of Jewish studies. Rubin researched folklore, popular literature, mysticism, Hebrew language, and Jewish philosophy.

Sadan, Dov

(Brody, 1902–Jerusalem, 1989), writer, critic, journalist, translator, and researcher of literature, language, and folklore. Living in Palestine from 1925, Sadan (Shtock) chaired the Yiddish Department at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. One of the greatest experts and scholars of Jewish studies, he cultivated the rich East European Jewish heritage in all its variety.

Samuely, Natan Note

(Stryj, Galicia, 1843–Baden, near Vienna, 1921), writer and Zionist activist. Samuely wrote poems and short stories based on Jewish experiences in Galicia; he lived mostly in Lwów.

Shapira, Sarah

(dates unknown), one of the few Hebrew female poets of the nineteenth century. Daughter of a rabbinical family from Czortków (Chortkiv), Shapira corresponded with Yehudah Leib Gordon. She is known primarily for her Zionist poem Al tal ve-al matar (No Dew Nor Rain; 1888).

Sirkis, Yisra’el Yosef

(Borschev, Podolia region, 1860–Kishinev, 1928), short-story writer and playwright. Beginning in the 1880s Sirkis wrote about the Jewish experience. Later he studied philosophy and undertook biblical research.

Slutski, Dov Ber.

See listing in appendix to Yiddish Literature, article on Yiddish Literature after 1800.

Stockhammer, Natan Note

(Jezupol, Galicia, 1895–Holocaust years), poet. Stockhammer was active in the Torah va-‘Avodah (Torah and Labor) movement of Religious Zionism; from 1925 he lived in Stanisławów. His poetry, both Hebrew and Yiddish, was published in various journals; the only collection of his poems is Ḥazon yamim (A Vision of Days; 1933). Stockhammer also edited a local Yiddish paper in Stanisławów.

Suwalski, Yitsḥak

(Kolno, Łomża region, 1863–London, 1913), essayist, publisher, and editor. Suwalski belonged to the religious Zionist camp. He published essays in the Hebrew press and founded and edited an annual, Keneset ha-gedolah (Warsaw, 1890–1891), and the Hebrew weekly Ha-Yehudi (London, 1897–1913). He lived in London from 1896.

Tawiow, Yisra’el Ḥayim

(Druya, Vitebsk region, 1858–Riga, 1920), writer of short stories, plays, essays, and textbooks; also a translator. Tawiow was an initiator of the Hebrew feuilleton. He founded the daily children’s newspaper He-Ḥaver in 1908. Despite his low regard for Yiddish, he occasionally contributed to the Yiddish press.

Triwosch, Yosef Eliyahu

(Vilna, 1855–Vilna, 1940), one of Vilna’s maskilim. Triwosch published short stories, impressions, and feuilletons in the Hebrew and Yiddish press. He composed a commentary to the Bible and translated many foreign literary works.

Tschudner, Me’ir

(Lutsk, Volhynia region, 1888–Warsaw ghetto, 1943), writer and editor. Tschudner’s poems, short stories, and articles were published in the Polish Hebrew and Yiddish press. He edited the Vilna biweekly Galim (1929–1930) and the Warsaw weekly Ba-Derekh.

Warszawiak, Yehudah

(Kalisz, Pol., 1903/07?–Warsaw ghetto, 1942), short-story writer and essayist. Warszawiak was active in the Hebrew literary life of Poland during the interwar years. In addition to his own writing, he edited anthologies and children’s newspapers.

Warszavski, Yakir.

See listing under “Varshavski, Yakir” in appendix to Yiddish Literature, article on Yiddish Literature after 1800.

Werbner, Avraham Dov

(Stoyanów near Lwów, 1910–Holocaust years), one of the last Hebrew poets in Poland. Werbner’s only Hebrew poetry collection is Zeva‘ot (Terrors; 1934). He also published poetry, short stories, and a novel in the Lwów Yiddish press; a collection of Yiddish poetry was published in 1939. He wrote in Polish as well.

Winniar, Mosheh

(Siemiatycze, Pol., 1919–Holocaust years), one of the last Hebrew poets in Poland. Winniar had some poetry published in the Hebrew press during the 1930s. His poetry collection is titled Maḥarozet (String; 1939).

Zagorodski, Yisra’el Ḥayim

(Pogost, Minsk region, 1864–Warsaw, 1931), writer of many biographies and monographs. From 1885, Zagorodski lived in Warsaw, where he assisted Naḥum Sokolow in editing Ha-Tsefirah. He also wrote in Yiddish, his first publication in that language appearing in Sholem Aleichem’s Di yidishe folks-bibliotek (1888). He then regularly contributed to all the major Yiddish periodicals in Russia and Poland on a variety of themes and translated world literature into Yiddish.

Zussman, Ezra

(Odessa, 1900–Tel Aviv, 1973), poet. Zussman began his career as a Russian poet in Odessa, where he published an anthology. He became a prominent modernist poet after moving to Palestine in 1922.

Suggested Reading

Robert Alter, The Invention of Hebrew Prose: Modern Fiction and the Language of Realism (Seattle, 1988); Arnold J. Band, “The Beginnings of Modern Hebrew Literature: Perspectives on ‘Modernity,’” AJS Review 13.1–2 (Spring–Fall 1988): 1–26; Nurith Govrin, Alienation and Regeneration, trans. John Glucker (Tel Aviv, 1989); Simon Halkin, Modern Hebrew Literature: From the Enlightenment to the Birth of the State of Israel; Trends and Values (New York, 1970); Joseph Klausner, A History of Modern Hebrew Literature, 1785–1930, trans. Herbert Danby, ed. Leon Simon (Westport, Conn., 1972); Alan Mintz, “Banished from Their Father’s Table”: Loss of Faith and Hebrew Autobiography (Bloomington, Ind., 1989); Dan Miron, The Image of the Shtetl and Other Studies of Modern Jewish Literary Imagination (Syracuse, N.Y., 2000); David Patterson, The Hebrew Novel in Czarist Russia (Edinburgh, 1964); Gershon Shaked, Modern Hebrew Fiction, trans. Yael Lotan, ed. Emily Miller Budick (Bloomington, Ind., 2000); David Weinfeld, Ha-Shirah ha-‘ivrit be-Polin ben shete milḥamot ha-‘olam (Jerusalem, 1997); Israel Zinberg, A History of Jewish Literature, 12 vols., trans. and ed. Bernard Martin (Cleveland and Cincinnati, 1972–1978).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler