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Kaminka, Aharon

(1866–1950), Hebrew poet, playwright, translator, and scholar. Aharon (Armand) Kaminka was born in Berdichev, Kiev province. In 1880, he was sent to Berlin to study at the rabbinical college founded by Esriel Hildesheimer. At the age of 17, in Hamburg, he founded a society called Ahavat Tsiyon (Love of Zion).


Kaminka’s debut in the field of Jewish studies occurred in 1887, when the annual publication Keneset Yisra’el, edited by Sha’ul Pinḥas Rabbinowitz, published two of his essays. One of these articles described a group who had immigrated to Palestine during the middle ages. The other essay, “Mavo le-shirat ha-Yevanim” (Introduction to [Ancient] Greek Poetry), marked Kaminka’s initial venture into his career as a translator. For the first time in the history of Hebrew literature, he provided scientific information about the prosody of Ancient Greek poetry.


In 1888, Kaminka traveled to Paris, where he continued his studies and published Asefat shirim (Poem Collection; 1888), an anthology that included a section of translated poems. After being ordained in 1893, he served congregations in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, Prague, and subsequently (between 1897 and 1900) Esseg (now Osijek, Croatia). In 1897, he attended the first Zionist Congress as a delegate, and delivered a Hebrew lecture on Jewish settlements in Palestine.


Kaminka distanced himself from public Zionist activity after quarreling with Theodor Herzl on the question of practical versus diplomatic approaches to the movement. In 1900, Kaminka moved to Vienna, where he served as secretary of the Austrian chapter of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. In this capacity, he assisted immigrants and refugees from Russia and Romania.


In 1909, Kaminka’s poetry book Tsohorayim (Noon) was published in Drogobych. In 1924, he founded Makhon Maimon [Maimonides] College for adult Jewish studies in Vienna. In 1927, he produced another poetry collection, Raze ‘olam (The World’s Secrets). His writings described personal experiences and addressed philosophical and public issues. Following the Nazi annexation of Austria, Kaminka managed to escape with his wife and, in 1938, settled in Palestine.


Kaminka’s studies of Judaism explored diverse fields, including the Bible, Apocrypha, Talmud, medieval literature, and the history of the Land of Israel. Some of his studies were assembled into collections, including the two-volume Meḥkarim ba-Mikra ve-Talmud uva-sifrut ha-rabanit (Studies of the Bible, Talmud, and Rabbinical Literature; 1938, 1951), and Kitve bikoret historit (Writings of Historical Criticism; 1944). He was the first scholar to translate Ancient Greek tragedies into Hebrew, including plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, as well as works by Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca. In 1942, he published an original play, Shever bet Aḥ’av (The Calamity of the House of Ahab).

Suggested Reading

Getzel Kressel, “Kaminka, Aharon,” in Leksikon ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ba-dorot ha-aḥaronim, vol. 2, cols. 777–778 (Merḥavyah, Isr., 1967); Avraham Sha’anan, Milon ha-sifrut ha-ḥadashah ha-‘ivrit veha-klalit (Tel Aviv, 1959), pp. 724–725; Chaim Weiner, “Dr. Aharon Kaminka,” in Pirke ḥayim ve-sifrut (Jerusalem, 1960), pp. 175–177.

Author

Translation

Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann