Hebrew newspaper. Ha-Tsefirah (The Morning or The Dawn) was the first Hebrew newspaper in Poland, founded in Warsaw and issued between 1862 and 1931. Ḥayim Zelig Słonimski established the paper as a weekly whose primary purpose was to report news concerning Jews and to provide popular articles about natural sciences and the latest inventions.
The intended audience of Ha-Tsefirah was Polish Jewry’s conservative Hasidic community, and for that reason its editor emphasized a lack of contradiction between religious belief and scientific knowledge. He also avoided involvement in maskilic battles for religious reforms and controversial political matters. With the departure of its editor for Zhitomir and production difficulties associated with the Polish rebellion of 1863, Ha-Tsefirah was shut down after six months, and it took another 12 years and numerous failed attempts before it was fully relaunched. From 1874 to 1886, it appeared weekly and continued to reflect the policies of its founder.
Bookmark-shaped postcard with portrait of Ḥayim Zelig Słonimski. The card is decorated with traditional symbols of scholarship. Printed by Société Libanon, Warsaw, ca. 1900. (YIVO)
At first, Ha-Tsefirah boasted some of the finest maskilic writers of the day (including Yehudah Leib Gordon, Re’uven Asher Braudes, Mendele Moykher-Sforim, and Mosheh Leib Lilienblum). However, the paper’s de facto editor, Naḥum Sokolow, soon dismissed most of the contributors, including Słonimski himself. Sokolow had come to Ha-Tsefirah in 1876 at the age of 17, and during the early 1880s he carved out a powerful niche for himself, writing almost every section of the newspaper. Those years saw the rise of the Ḥibat Tsiyon movement, and Ha-Tsefirah contributed to lively discussions about the nature and goals of Zionism. In effect, Sokolow adopted a qualified position on the chances of settling the Land of Israel, offering moderate support blended with some suspicion and doubt.
In 1886, Ha-Tsefirah became a daily and continued uninterrupted in this format for 20 years. It was during this period, more than any other in its 70-year history, that it enjoyed its most brilliant successes. Sokolow expanded the paper in different directions and added innovations. The latter included sections on chess, medicine, commerce and labor, law and justice, humor, and even a short-lived section for children (1889). The news sections, under his editorship, became more topical, varied, and focused, providing international political information, news items from Diaspora communities, and an in-depth analysis of events in Warsaw itself. On contemporary issues such as the Jewish settlement enterprise in Argentina, the status of Yiddish literature, or policies relating to Hebrew translations, the paper allowed opposing parties to air their views on its pages.
At the same time, Sokolow bolstered the literary and feuilleton departments, which had barely existed during Słonimski’s era. While publishing pieces from better-known writers (including Yisra’el Ḥayim Tawiów, Elḥanan Leib Lewinsky, Y. L. Peretz, and Sholem Aleichem), he also invited younger authors to contribute (among them, Mikhah Yosef Berdyczewski, Mordekhai Ze’ev Feierberg, and Yosef Klausner). The crowning achievement of the newspaper, however, was its series of weekly feuilletons penned by Sokolow himself under the title Mi-Shabat le-shabat (From Sabbath to Sabbath), which for many years were passionately devoured by the reading public. Beginning in 1884, Sokolow also published Ha-Asif (The Compilation), an annual distributed by the thousands, proving that a readership numbering in the tens of thousands existed for secular Hebrew literature.
Ha-Tsefirah enjoyed a checkered association with Zionism. The restrained caution that the newspaper displayed toward Ḥibat Tsiyon activities was replicated in its reaction to Herzl’s Judenstaat and the preparations for the First Zionist Congress (1897). After participating at that Congress as a journalist, however, Sokolow was moved by what he witnessed, becoming an enthusiastic supporter of Herzl and political Zionism. He changed his editorial policy to reflect his new standpoint and sought in particular to spread Zionism among religious circles, writing a series of highly influential articles under the title Le-Maranan ve-rabanan (To Our Masters and Our Sages; 1899–1901) and transforming Ha-Tsefirah into an ardent vehicle for Herzlian Zionism. In later years he even supported Herzl’s position in the debate over the Uganda plan (1903), and when Herzl died in 1904, he devoted much space to articles, eulogies, and reminiscences in his honor.
Early in the first decade of the twentieth century, both the circulation numbers and the journalistic quality of Ha-Tsefirah peaked. As a result of the decline of Ha-Melits, Ha-Tsefirah became the main Hebrew newspaper of the Russian Empire and beyond. Its base in Warsaw enabled it to attract many of the younger writers trying to find their way in the literary environment of that city (including Uri Nisan Gnessin, Yehudah Steinberg, Lipman Levin, David Shimonovitz, Zalman Shneour, Devorah Baron, Ya‘akov Fichmann, and Sholem Asch). In 1904, Ha-Tsefirah published a separate weekly literary supplement that featured high-quality original and translated fictional works. This momentum was lost, however, in February 1906 when the paper was shut down by the censors. It resumed publication in October 1910, this time under the management of a stock-holding company, and under the de facto editorship of David Frishman and Shemu’el Tchernowitz. Sokolow, who had in the interim devoted himself to Zionist activities and to editing the movement’s weekly Ha-‘Olam, became only a guest contributor, though his name continued to appear as the paper’s editor in chief.
Ha-Tsefirah marked its fiftieth anniversary in 1912 with the publication of a festive jubilee book, and the newspaper was transformed as young writers and literary critics became its contributors (among them were Shemu’el Yosef Agnon, Uri Tsevi Grinberg, and Fishel Lachower). Its revival was only temporary, however, and with the outbreak of World War I, it faced financial difficulties and began to appear just intermittently. In 1917, the Polish Zionist Organization, which had become its sponsor, was forced to make it a weekly, which nevertheless ceased publication in 1919. Postwar attempts to revive Ha-Tsefirah failed more than once, and it was closed permanently in 1931.
Menuḥah Gilbo‘a, “Ha-Tsefirah,” in Leksikon ha-‘itonut ha-‘ivrit ba-me’ot ha-shemoneh ‘esreh veha-tesha‘ ‘esreh, pp. 167–181 (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1992); Getzel Kressel, “Ha-Tsefirah,” in Yahadut Polin, ed. Dov Sadan, vol. 1, pp. 31–42 (Tel Aviv, 1962), vol. 2, pp. 23–39 (Tel Aviv, 1965), the article is also in Yiddish following its Hebrew counterpart in both volumes; Samuel Werses (Shemu’el Verses), “Ha-‘Itonut ha-‘ivrit ve-kore’ah be-Polin ben shete milḥamot ‘olam,” in Ben shete milḥamot ‘olam: Perakim me-ḥaye ha-tarbut shel yehude Polin li-leshonotehem, ed. Chone Shmeruk and Samuel Werses, pp. 73–95 (Jerusalem, 1997).
Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler