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Steinman, Eli‘ezer

(1892–1970), writer and essayist. Eli‘ezer Steinman was born in Uvoduvka, in the Podolian region of Russia (now Ukraine). He studied at a yeshiva in Kishinev and at age 15 received rabbinic ordination. Steinman began writing in Hebrew and Yiddish, and in 1909 published his first Hebrew story in the journal Reshafim, edited by David Frishman. That same year he moved to Odessa and joined the circle of Hebrew writers in that city. In 1912 he went to Warsaw, published stories and essays in Ha-Tsefirah, and translated works by Strindberg, Maeterlinck, and Dostoevsky.

After the Stybel Press founded its flagship journal Ha-Tekufah in 1918, Steinman worked as the assistant to Frishman, its editor. Steinman used this opportunity to serialize his unfinished novel based on the lives of the Warsaw Jewish intelligentia, Sehor, Sehor (Roundabout). In 1919 he returned to Odessa where, with Shelomoh Tsemaḥ, he produced the literary anthology Erets.

Steinman was also influenced by Communist ideology; in this vein, he wrote the pamphlet Ha-Komunistan ha-‘ivri (The Hebrew Communist; 1918), praising the Russian Revolution. It was not long, however, before reality jolted his enthusiasm, and in 1920 he left Russia. For the next four years he lived in Warsaw, where he wrote for the Yiddish journal Moment and released his first books: the novel Ester Ḥayes (1923); Sipurim (Stories; 1923); and Sefer ha-ma’amarim (The Book of Essays; 1924). He wrote Yiddish essays and stories about the pogroms in Ukraine, and between 1923 and 1924 published the monthly Kolot, which sought to reconcile Jewish and secular culture.

In 1924, Steinman immigrated to Palestine and settled in Tel Aviv. In 1926 he was appointed editor of the writers union publication, Ketuvim. A few months later he and his colleague, the poet Avraham Shlonsky, began a struggle against Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik and his followers, after Steinman attempted to introduce a new poetics into Hebrew literature.

Steinman was a very prolific writer. His goal was to set a new direction for Hebrew literature, one that would go beyond Bialik’s accomplishments in integrating modern European culture with Jewish tradition. Steinman was well aware of the importance of the Jewish cultural centers of Eastern Europe, and sought to strengthen literary developments in Palestine by establishing closer links with them. Beginning in 1919, his essays and reviews were highly critical of Hebrew literature, which, in his mind, had become too conservative. He rejected the rationalist maskilic literature that, he thought, placed undue emphasis on society, to the detriment of the individual. By contrast, he called attention to the contribution made by Hasidism and Jewish mysticism toward the enrichment of Jewish literature. Accordingly, his modernist novels Zugot (Couples; 1930), Duda’im (Mandrakes; 1931), and Sodot (Secrets; 1935) have story lines that radically depart from the accepted literary patterns. They describe the person who longs for a harmonious relationship, but is doomed to live a life of solitude. Beginning in the early 1940s, Steinman returned to his heritage, compiling anthologies of spiritual Jewish writings.

Suggested Reading

Hagit Halperin, “Torat ha-‘alilah shel E. Shtaynman u-mimushah be-sipurav,” Moznayim 43.1 (1976): 22–34; Binyamin Yitsḥak Michaly, “Eli‘ezer Shtaynman, Ḥelkat masah ketanah,” in Yalkut masot, by Eli‘ezer Shtaynman, pp. 7–32 (Tel Aviv, 1972); Nathan Shaham, Sefer ḥatum (Tel Aviv, 1988); Gershon Shaked, Ha-Sifrut ha-‘ivrit, 1880–1980, vol 3, pp. 25–32 (Tel Aviv, 1988).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler