(Pseudonym of Nokhem Meyer Shaykevitch; 1849?–1905), Yiddish author and dramatist. Born in Nesvizh, Lithuania, to a wealthy family, Nokhem Meyer Shaykevitch was traditionally educated. However, he also read secular literature, including Kalman Schulman’s Hebrew translation of Eugene Sue’s Mystères de Paris and Hebrew novels by Avraham Mapu. Teaching himself German from Moses Mendelssohn’s famous Bible translation, he also explored German and Russian literature. His pseudonym comes from the last letters of each of his three names.
Shomer married at about age 20, and went to live with his father-in-law Mikhl Bertshinski in Pinsk. Shaykevitch befriended the local circle of enlightened Jews, and though he had already written a Hebrew novel and book of poetry, his debut in print occurred in the summer of 1869 in the Hebrew journal Ha-Melits. There, for the next three years, he published translations of articles on popular science and reports on events in Pinsk. After exhausting his savings and failing in a lumber business, he moved to Vilna in 1876 to stay with a prosperous uncle.
The Vilna publisher Shemu’el Yosef Fuenn had read a Hebrew novel by Shomer and asked him to write a mayse-bikhl (chapbook) in Yiddish. The next day, Shomer brought him the story “A toyter beoylem haze” (A Dead Man in This World), featuring for the first time his pseudonym. He then wrote nine chapbooks in nine days, which Fuenn bought for the then-substantial price of three rubles each. For a brief time, Shomer worked with his uncle, first as a military contractor, then serving as a butter and dairy provider for the Russian army in Romania during the Russo-Turkish war. Soon, however, Shaykevitch’s literary popularity allowed him to devote himself to writing full-time. He signed a contract with Romm, the leading press in Vilna, to provide them with novels, but also wrote for the Matz publishing house as well as publishers in Warsaw, Odessa, and other cities.
While in Romania, Shomer had met Avrom Goldfadn, the founder of the Yiddish theater, and when a similar theater opened in Odessa, Shomer began to write plays; first for the troupe of Y. Y. Lerner, then for a troupe that he himself organized to tour through cities in southern Russia and Bessarabia. In 1882, he opened a Yiddish theater in Odessa in partnership with Goldfadn and Lerner; in 1885, he moved to Warsaw, where his plays were being performed. He briefly returned to Pinsk in 1888 before moving to America in 1889 at the invitation of Yiddish actors, where Shomer’s plays, many of which were based on his prose writings, were enthusiastically received.
Shomer’s immigration to New York, however, coincided with growing criticism of his work by the newly created but vocal Yiddish literary establishment, including the publisher Aleksander Zederbaum, the writer David Frishman, the critic and historian Simon Dubnow, and most notably Sholem Aleichem. In Shomers mishpet (Shomer’s Trial), an 1888 pamphlet, Sholem Aleichem attacked Shaykevitch’s works for being ignorantly composed, poorly constructed, highly repetitious, morally bankrupt, and plagiarized from foreign sources. Shomer was accused of failing to provide true portraits of Jewish life. His writing was known thereafter as the epitome of shund (“trash” literature). Shomer’s responses to his critics—that the most vitriolic attacks seemed to be composed without the attackers actually having read his work, that earlier critics such as Zederbaum had recanted their critiques when they did read it, that Shomers mishpet had misquoted his work to present it in the worst possible light—were largely ignored in intellectual circles.
These critiques, however, failed to dissuade Shomer’s readers, whose appetite for his work was matched only by the author’s almost miraculously prolific output. Shomer published more than 200 novels and stories and more than 50 plays in Yiddish, as well as 15 Hebrew novels. He also edited numerous magazines and festival publications, many of which he filled with his own work. Rival publishers and authors, seeking to capitalize on his appeal, attempted to convince readers that their works were written by Shomer, through, among other means, adoption of similar-sounding pseudonyms such as Shamir.
Shomer remained in New York until his death in November 1905. Though many of the classic Yiddish critics of the first part of the twentieth century followed Sholem Aleichem’s lead in dismissing Shomer’s oeuvre as “primitive, cheap, foolish, and tasteless” (Shmuel Niger), while others damned him with faint praise by crediting him only with the encouragement and creation of a mass Yiddish reading audience (Yankev Glatshteyn, though the historicity of this claim may be questioned), in the decades following his death Shomer’s sensational tales of murderers, princesses, historical figures, ghosts, and wonder workers have been seen more sympathetically by critics, including Avrom Vevyorke. Certain of his short stories have been held up as both remarkable examples of Lithuanian Yiddish and, contra Sholem Aleichem, as containing telling representations of traditional Jewish life.
Rose Shomer Bachelis and Miriam Shomer Zunzer, Undzer foter Shomer (New York, 1950); Sophie Grace-Pollack, “Re’shito shel Shomer be-yidish,” Ḥulyot 2 (1994): 69–87; Dan Miron, A Traveler Disguised (New York, 1973); Avraham Vieviorka, Revizye (Kharkov and Kiev, 1931), pp. 7–96.