Infomotions, Inc.The Renascence of Hebrew Literature (1743-1885) / Slouschz, Nahum

Author: Slouschz, Nahum
Title: The Renascence of Hebrew Literature (1743-1885)
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Title: The Renascence of Hebrew Literature (1743-1885)

Author: Nahum Slouschz

Release Date: February, 2005 [EBook #7530]
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[This file was first posted on May 14, 2003]

Edition: 10

Language: English

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_Translated from the French_

       *       *       *       *       *


The modern chapter in the history of Hebrew literature herewith
presented to English readers was written by Dr. Nahum Slouschz as his
thesis for the doctorate at the University of Paris, and published in
book form in 1902. A few years later (1906-1907), the author himself put
his Essay into Hebrew, and it was brought out as a publication of the
_Tushiyah_, under the title _Korot ha-Safrut ha-'Ibrit ha-
Hadashah_. The Hebrew is not, however, a mere translation of the
French book. The material in the latter was revised and extended, and
the presentation was considerably changed, in view of the different
attitude toward the subject naturally taken by Hebrew readers, as
compared with a Western public, Jewish or non-Jewish.

The present English translation, which has had the benefit of the
author's revision, purports to be a rendition from the French. But the
Hebrew recasting of the book has been consulted at almost every point,
and the Hebrew works quoted by Dr. Slouschz were resorted to directly,
though, as far as seemed practicable, the translator paid regard to the
author's conception and Occidentalization of the Hebrew passages
revealed in his translation of them into French.


       *       *       *       *       *



  In Italy--Moses Hayyim Luzzatto

  In Germany--The Meassefim

  In Poland and Austria--The Galician School

  In Lithuania--Humanism in Russia

  The Romantic Movement--Abraham Mapu

  The Emancipation Movement--The Realists

  The Conflict with Rabbinism--Judah Leon Gordon

  Reformers and Conservatives--The Two Extremes

  The National Progressive Movement--Perez Smolenskin

  The Contributors to _Ha-Shahar_

  The Novels of Smolenskin

  Contemporaneous Literature



       *       *       *       *       *


It was long believed that Hebrew had no place among the modern languages
as a literary vehicle. The circumstance that the Jews of Western
countries had given up the use of their national language outside of the
synagogue was not calculated to discredit the belief. The Hebrew, it was
generally held, had once been alive, but now it belonged among the dead
languages, in the same sense as the Greek and the Latin. And when from
time to time some new work in Hebrew, or even a periodical publication,
reached a library, the cataloguer classified it with theologic and
Rabbinic treatises, without taking the trouble to obtain information as
to the subject of the book or the purpose of the journal. In point of
fact, in the large majority of cases they were far enough removed from
Rabbinic controversy.

Sometimes it happened that one or another Hebraist was overcome with
astonishment at the sight of a Hebrew translation of a modern author.
And he stopped at that. He never went so far as to enable himself to
pass judgment upon it from the critical or the literary point of view.
To what purpose? he would ask himself. Hebrew has been dead these many
centuries, and to use it is an anachronism. He considered it only a
curiosity of literature, literary sleight of hand, nothing more.

The bare possibility of the existence of a modern literature in Hebrew
seemed so strange, so improbable, that the best-informed circles refused
to entertain the notion seriously--perhaps not without some semblance of
a reason for their incredulity.

The history of the development of modern Hebrew literature, its
character, the extraordinary conditions fostering it, its very
existence, are of a sort to surprise one who has not kept in touch with
the internal struggles, the intellectual currents that have agitated the
Judaism of Eastern Europe in the course of the past century.

So far from deserving a reputation for casuistry, modern Hebrew
literature is, if anything, distinctly rationalistic in character. It is
anti-dogmatic and anti-Rabbinic. Its avowed aim is to enlighten the
Jewish masses that have remained faithful to religious tradition, and to
interpenetrate the Jewish communities with the conceptions of modern

Since the French Revolution the ghetto has produced valiant champions of
every good cause, politicians, legislators, poets, who have taken part
in all the movements of their day. But it has also given birth to a
legion of men of action sprung from the people and remaining with the
people, who, in the name of liberty of conscience and in the name of
science, fought the same battles upon the field of traditional Judaism
that the others were fighting outside.

A whole school of literary humanists undertook the work of emancipating
the Jewish masses, and pursued it for several generations with admirable
zeal. Hebrew became an excellent instrument of propaganda in their
hands. Thanks to their efforts, the language of the prophets,
inarticulate for nearly two thousand years, was developed to a striking
degree of perfection. It was shown to be a flexible medium, varied
enough to serve as the vehicle for any modern idea.

The great wonder is that this modern literature in Hebrew made itself
without teachers, without patrons, without academies and literary
_salons_, without encouragement in any shape or form. Nor is that
all. It was impeded by inconceivable obstacles, ranging from the
fraudulence of an absurd censorship to the persecution of fanatics. In
such circumstances, only the purest idealism, and the most
disinterested, could have ventured to enter the lists, and could have
come off the victor.

While the emancipated Jew of the Occident replaced Hebrew by the
vernacular of his adopted country; while the Rabbis were distrustful of
whatever is not religion; and rich patrons refused to support a
literature that had not the _entree_ of good society,--while these
held aloof, the _Maskil_ ("the intellectual") of the small
provincial town, the Polish vagabond _Mehabber_ ("author"),
despised and unknown, often a martyr to his conviction, who devoted
himself heart, soul, and might to maintaining honorably the literary
traditions of Hebrew,--he alone remained faithful to what has been the
true mission of the Bible language since its beginnings.

It is a renewal of the ancient literary impulse of the humble, the
disinherited, whence first sprang the Bible. It is a repetition of the
phenomenon of the popular prophet-orators, reappearing in modern Hebrew

The return to the language and the ideas of an eventful past marks a
decisive stage in the perturbed career of the Jewish people. It
indicates the re-awakening of national feeling.

The history of modern Hebrew literature thus forms an extremely
instructive page in the history of the Jewish people. It is especially
interesting from the point of view of social psychology, furnishing, as
it does, valuable documents upon the course taken by new ideas in
impregnating surroundings that are characteristically obdurate toward
intellectual suggestions from without. The century-long struggle between
free-thinking and blind faith, between common sense and absurdity
consecrated by age and exalted by suffering, reveals an intense social
life, a continual clashing of ideas and sentiments.

It is a literature that offers us the grievous spectacle of poets and
writers who are constantly expressing their anxiety lest it disappear
with them, and yet devote themselves unremittingly to its cultivation,
with all the ardor of despair. At their side, however, we see optimistic
dreamers, worthy disciples of the prophets. In the midst of the ruin of
all that made the past glorious, and in the face of the downfall of
cherished hopes, they lose not an iota of their faith in the future of
their people, in its speedy regeneration.

What we have before us is the issue of the supreme internal struggle
that engaged the great masses of the Jews torn from their moorings by
the disquietude of modern existence. A fervent desire for a better
social life took possession of all minds. The conviction that the
eternal people cannot disappear seems to have regained ground and to
have been stronger than ever, and the current again set in the direction
of auto-emancipation.

It is the true literature of the Jewish people that we are called upon
to examine, the product of the ghetto, the reflex of its psychic states,
the expression of its misery, its suffering, and also its hope. The
people of the Bible is not dead, and in its very own language we must
seek the true Jewish spirit, the national soul.

Let not the reader expect to find perfection of form, pure art, in its
often monotonous lyric poetry, or its prolix, didactic novels. The
authors of the ghetto felt too much, suffered too much, were too much
under the dominance of a life of misery, a semi-Asiatic, semi-mediaeval
_regime_, to have had heart for the cultivation of mere form. Does
the Song of Songs fall short of being a literary document of the first
order because it does not equal the dramas of Euripides in artistic
completeness? It is conceded that the proper aim of the artist is art,
finished and perfect art, but to the philosopher, the social
investigator, the important thing is the advance of ideas.

       *       *       *       *       *

The object of the writer in presenting this essay to the public was not
to presume to give a detailed exposition of the development of modern
Hebrew literature, accomplishing itself under the most complex of social
and political conditions and in a social _milieu_ totally unknown
to the public at large. That would have led too far. It was not even
possible to give an adequate idea of all the authors requiring mention
within the limited frame adopted perforce. Besides, nothing or almost
nothing existed in the way of monographs that might have facilitated the
task. [Footnote: In point of fact, all that can be cited are the
following: the admirable biographical essays on Mapu, Smolenskin, etc.,
by Reuben Brainin; those of S. Bernfeld on Rapoport, etc., these two
critics writing in Hebrew; and the sketch of our subject by M. Klausner,
in the Russian language. Besides, mention may be made of an article in
the _Revue des Revues_, by M. Ludvipol, of Paris. In spite of the
diversity of schools and the conditions giving rise to them, which are
here to be treated for the first time from the point of view of a modern
history of literature, the reader will readily convince himself that the
subject lacks neither coherence nor unity. It is superfluous to say that
in this first attempt at a history of modern Hebrew literature, the
grouping of movements and schools borrowed from the Occidental
literatures is bound to have only relative value.]

The aim set up by the present writer is merely to follow up the various
stages through which modern Hebrew literature has passed, to deduce and
specify the general principles that have moulded it, and analyze the
literary and social value of the works produced by the representative
writers of the epoch embraced.

In a word, the object is to show how Hebrew poetry was emancipated from
the tradition of the Middle Ages under the influence of the Italian
humanists, how it underwent a process of modernization, and served as
the model for a literary renascence in Germany and Austria. [Footnote:
Especially Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, in his "Glory to the Righteous",
published in 1743, which has been made the point of departure in the
present inquiry.] In these two countries Hebrew letters were enriched
and perfected from the point of view of form as well as content.
Finally, due to favorable circumstances, the Hebrew language captured
its place as the literary and national language among the Jews of
Poland, and particularly of Lithuania.

In this progress eastward, Hebrew literature has never been faithless to
its mission. Two currents of ideas, more or less distinct, characterize
it. On the one hand is the intellectual emancipation of the Jewish
masses, which had fallen into ignorance, and, as a consequence, the
conflict with prejudice and Rabbinic dogmatism; and, on the other hand,
the awakening of national sentiment and Jewish solidarity. These two
currents of ideas finally flow together in contemporaneous literature,
in the creation of the national Jewish movement in its various
modifications. During a period of about twenty years, since 1882, the
course of events has forced the national emancipation of the Jewish
masses upon their educated leaders. By the same token, Hebrew has been
assigned a dominating position in all vital questions agitating Judaism,
and there has been brought about a literary development that is truly

       *       *       *       *       *




In its precise sense, the term Renascence cannot be applied to the
movement that asserted itself in Hebrew literature at the end of the
fifteenth century, as little as the term Decadence can be applied to the
epoch preceding it.

Long before Dante and Boccaccio, as far back as the eleventh century,
Hebrew literature, particularly in Spain, and to a certain extent also
in the Provence, had reached a degree of development unknown in European
languages during the Middle Ages.

Though the persecutions toward the end of the fourteenth and the
fifteenth century crushed the Jewish communities in Spain and in the
Provence, they yet did not succeed in annihilating completely the
intellectual traditions of the Spanish and French Jews. Remnants of
Jewish science and Jewish literature were carried by the refugees into
the countries of their adoption, and in the Netherlands, in Turkey, even
in Palestine, schools were founded after a short interval.

But a literary revival was possible only in Italy. Elsewhere, in the
backward countries of the North and the East, the Jews, smarting from
blows recently inflicted, withdrew within themselves. They took refuge
in the most sombre of mysticisms, or, at least, in dogmatism of the
narrowest kind. The Italian Jewish communities, thanks to the more
bearable conditions prevailing around them, were in a position to carry
on the literary traditions of Jewish Spain. In Italy thinkers arose, and
writers, and poets. There was Azariah dei Rossi, the father of
historical criticism; Messer Leon, the subtle philosopher; Elijah
Levita, the grammarian; Leon of Modena, the keen-witted rationalist;
Joseph Delmedigo, of encyclopedic mind; the Frances brothers, both
poets, who combated mysticism; and many others too numerous to mention.
[Footnote: For the greater part of these writers, see Gustav Karpeles,
_Geschichte der judischen Literatur_, 2 vols., Berlin, 1886.]
These, together with a few stray writers in Turkey and the Netherlands,
imparted a certain degree of distinction to the Hebrew literature of the
sixteenth and the seventeenth century. Heirs to the Spanish traditions,
they nevertheless were inclined to oppose the spirit and particularly
the rules of Arabic prosody, which had put manacles upon Hebrew poetry.
Their efforts were directed to the end of introducing new literary forms
and new concepts into Hebrew literature.

They did not meet with notable success. The greater number of Jewish men
of letters, whose knowledge of foreign literatures was meagre, were
destined to remain in the thrall of the Middle Ages until a much later
time. As to the unlettered, they preferred to make use of the
vernacular, which presented fewer difficulties than the Hebrew.

The task of tearing asunder the chains that hampered the evolution of
Hebrew in a modern sense devolved upon an Italian Jew of amazing talent.
He became the true, the sovereign inaugurator of the Hebrew Renascence.

Moses Hayyim Luzzatto was born at Padua, in 1707. He was descended from
a family celebrated for the Rabbinic scholars and the writers it had
given to Judaism, a celebrity which it has continued to earn for itself
down to our own day.

His education was strictly Rabbinic, consisting chiefly of the study of
the Talmud, under the direction of a Polish teacher, for the Polish
Rabbis had attained to a position of great esteem as early as Luzzatto's
day. He lost little time in initiating his pupil into the mysteries of
the Kabbalah, and so the early childhood years of our poet were a sad
time spent in the stifling atmosphere of the ghetto. Happily for him, it
was an Italian ghetto, whence secular learning had not been banished

While pursuing his religious studies, the child became acquainted with
the Hebrew poetry of the Middle Ages and with the Italian literature of
his own time. In the latter accomplishment lies his superiority to the
Hebrew scholars of other countries, who were shut off from every outside
influence, and held fast to obsolete forms and ideas.

From early youth Luzzatto showed remarkable aptitude for poetry. At the
age of seventeen he composed a drama in verse entitled "Samson and
Delilah". A little later he published a work on prosody, _Leshon
Limmudim_ ("The Language of Learners", Mantua, 1727), and dedicated
it to his Polish teacher. The young man then decided to break with the
poetry of the Middle Ages, which hampered the development of the Hebrew
language. His allegorical drama, _Migdal 'Oz_ ("The Tower of
Victory"), inspired by the _Pastor fido_ of Guarini, was the first
token of this reform. Its style is marked by an elegance and vividness
not attained since the close of the Bible. [Footnote: Though it was
widely circulated in manuscript, _Migdal 'Oz_ did not appear in
print until 1837, at Leipsic, edited by M. H. Letteris.] In spite of its
prolixity and the absence of all dramatic action, it continues to this
day to make its appeal to the fancy of the literary. A poetic breath
animates it, and it is characterized by the artistic taste that is one
of the distinctions of its author.

It was a new world that _Migdal 'Oz_, by its laudation of rural
life, disclosed to the votaries of a literature the most enlightened
representatives of which refused to see in the Song of Songs anything
but religious symbolism, so far had their appreciation of reality and
nature degenerated.

In imitation of the pastorals of his time, though it may be with more
genuine feeling, Luzzatto sings the praises of the shepherd's life:

  "How beautiful, how sweet, is the lot of the young shepherd of
  flocks! Between the folds he leads his sheep, now walking, now
  running hither and thither. Poor though he is, he is full of joy.
  His countenance reflects the gladness of his heart. In the shade
  of trees he reposes, and apprehends no danger. Poor though he is,
  yet he is happy....

  "The maiden who charms his eyes, and attracts his desire, in whom
  his heart has pleasure, returns his affection with responsive
  gladness. They know naught but delight--neither separation nor
  obstacle affrights them. They sport together, they enjoy their
  happiness, with none to disturb. When weariness steals over him,
  he forgets his toil on her bosom; the light of her countenance
  swiftly banishes all thought of his travail. Poor though he is,
  yet he is happy!" (Act III, scene I.)

Alas, this call to a more natural life, after centuries of physical
degeneration and suppression of all feeling for nature, could not be
understood, nor even taken seriously, in surroundings in which air,
sunlight, the very right to live, had been refused or measured out
penuriously. The drama remained in manuscript, and did not become known
to the public at large.

It was Luzzatto's chief work that exercised decisive influence on the
development of Hebrew literature. _La-Yesharim Tehillah_ ("Glory to
the Righteous"), another allegorical drama, which appeared in 1743, is
considered a model of its kind until this day. It introduced a new
epoch, the modern epoch, in the history of Hebrew literature. The master
stands revealed by every touch. Everything betrays his skill--the style,
at once elegant, significant, and precise, recalling the pure style of
the Bible, the fresh and glowing figures of speech, the original poetic
inspiration, and the thought, which bears the imprint of a profound
philosophy and a high moral sense, and is free from all trace of
mystical exaggeration.

From the point of view of dramatic art, the piece is not of the highest
interest. The subject, purely moral and didactic, gives no opportunity
for a serious study of character, and, as in all allegorical pieces, the
dramatic action is weak.

The theme was not new. Even in Hebrew and before Luzzatto, it had been
treated several times. It is the struggle between Justice and Injustice,
between Truth and Falsehood. The allegorical personages who take part in
the action are, arrayed on one side, Yosher (Righteousness) aided by
Sekel (Reason) and Mishpat (Justice), and, on the other side, Sheker
(Falsehood) and her auxiliaries, Tarmit (Deceit), Dimyon (Imagination),
and Taawah (Passion). The two hostile camps strive together for the
favor of the beautiful maiden Tehillah (Glory), the daughter of Hamon
(the Crowd). The struggle is unequal. Imagination and Passion carry the
day in the face of Truth and Righteousness. Then the inevitable _deus
ex machina_, in this case God Himself, intervenes, and Justice is
again enthroned.

This simple and not strikingly original frame encloses beautiful
descriptions of nature and, above all, sublime thoughts, which make the
piece one of the gems of Hebrew poetry. The predominant idea of the book
is to glorify God and admire the "innumerable wonders of the Creator."

  "All who seek will find them, in every living being, in every
  plant, in every lifeless object, in all things on earth and in
  the sea, in whatsoever the human eye rests upon. Happy he who
  hath found knowledge and wisdom, happy he if their speech hath
  fallen upon an attentive ear!" (Act II, scene I.)

But the Creator is not capricious. Reason and Truth are His attributes,
and they appear in all His acts. Humanity is a mob, and two opposing
forces contend for the mastery over it: Truth with Righteousness on one
side, Falsehood and her ilk on the other. Each of these two forces seeks
to rule the crowd and prevail in triumph.

The Reason personified by the poet has nothing in common with the
positive Reason of the rationalists, which takes the world to be
directed by mechanical and immutable laws. It is supreme Reason, obeying
moral laws too sublimated for our powers of appreciation. How could it
be otherwise? Are we not the continual plaything of our senses, which
are incapable of grasping absolute truths, and deceive us even about the
appearance of things?

  "Truly, our eyes are deluded, for eyes of flesh they are.
  Therefore they change truth into falsehood, darkness they make
  light, and light darkness. Lo, a small chance, a mere accident,
  suffices to distort our view of tangible things; how much more do
  we stray from the truth with things beyond the reach of our
  senses? See the oars in the water. They seem crooked and twisted.
  Yet we know them to be straight....

  "Verily, man's heart is like the ocean ceaselessly agitated by
  the battling winds. As the waves roll forward and backward in
  perpetual motion, so our hearts are stirred by never-ending pain
  and trouble, and as our emotions sway our will, so our senses
  suffer change within us. We see only what we desire to see, hear
  only what we long to hear, what our imagination conjures up."
  (Act II, scene i.)

This philosophy of externalism and of the impotence of the human mind
threw the poet, believer and devotee of the Kabbalah, into a most
dangerous mysticism. He continued to write for some time: an imitation
of the Psalms; a treatise on logic, _Ha-Higgayon_, not without
value; another treatise on ethics, _Mesilat Yesharim_ ("The Path of
the Righteous"); and a large number of poetic pieces and Kabbalistic
compositions, the greater part of which were never published; and this
enumeration does not exhaust the tale of his literary achievements.
[Footnote: The greater part of Luzzatto's works have never been
published.] Then his powers were used up, the tension of his mind
increased to the last degree; he lost his moral equilibrium. The day
came when he strayed so far afield as to believe himself called to play
the role of the Messiah. The Rabbis, alarmed at the gloomy prospect of a
repetition of the pseudo-Messianic movements which time and again had
shaken the Jewish world to its foundations, launched the ban against
him. His fate was sealed by his ingenious imitation of the Zohar,
written in Aramaic, of which only fragments have been preserved. Obliged
to leave Italy, Luzzatto wandered through Germany, and took up his abode
at Amsterdam. He enjoyed the gratification of being welcomed there by
literary men among his people as a veritable master. At Amsterdam he
wrote his last works. But he did not remain there long. He went to seek
Divine inspiration at Safed in Palestine, the far-famed centre of the
Kabbalah. There he died, cut off by the plague at the age of forty.

Such was the sad life of the poet, a victim of the abnormal surroundings
in which he lived. Under more favorable conditions, he might have
achieved that which would have won him universal recognition. His main
distinction is that he released the Hebrew language forever from the
forms and ideas of the Middle Ages, and connected it with the circle of
modern literatures. He bequeathed to posterity a model of classic
poetry, which ushered in Hebrew humanism, the return to the style and
the manner of the Bible, in the same way as the general humanistic
movement led the European mind back upon its own steps along the paths
marked out by the classic languages. No sooner did his work become known
in the north countries and in the Orient than it raised up imitators.
Mendes and Wessely, leaders of literary revivals, the one at Amsterdam,
the other in Germany, are but the disciples and successors of the
Italian poet.

       *       *       *       *       *




The intellectual emancipation of the Jews in Germany anticipated their
political and social emancipation. That is a truth generally
acknowledged. Long secluded from all foreign ideas, confined within
religious and dogmatic bounds, German Judaism was a sharer in the
physical and social misery of the Judaism of Slavic countries. The
philosophic and tolerant ideas in vogue at the end of the eighteenth
century startled it somewhat out of its torpor. In the measure in which
those ideas gained a foothold in the communities, conditions, at least
in the larger centres, took on a comfortable aspect, with more or less
assurance of permanent well-being. The first contact of the ghetto with
the enlightened circles of the day gave the impetus to a marked movement
toward an inner emancipation. Associations of _Maskilim_
("intellectuals") were formed at Berlin, Hamburg, and Breslau. "The
Seekers of the Good and the Noble" (_Shohare ha-Tob weha-Tushiyah_)
should be mentioned particularly. They were composed of educated men
familiar with Occidental culture, and animated by the desire to make the
light of that culture penetrate to the heart of the provincial
communities. These "intellectuals" entered the lists against religious
fanaticism and casuistic methods, seeking to replace them by liberal
ideas and scientific research. Two schools, headed respectively by the
philosopher Mendelssohn and the poet Wessely, had their origin in this
movement--the school of the _Biurists_, deriving their name from
the _Biur_, a commentary on the Bible, and the school of the
_Meassefim_, from _Meassef_, "Collector." [Footnote: A
specimen of the _Biur_ appeared at Amsterdam, in 1778, under the
title _'Alim le-Terufah_.] The former defended Judaism against the
enemies from without, and combated the prejudices and the ignorance of
the Jews themselves. The Meassefim took as their sphere of activity the
reform of the education of the young and the revival of the Hebrew
language. The two schools agreed that to elevate the moral and social
status of the Jews, it was necessary to remove first the external
peculiarities separating them from their fellow-citizens. A new
translation of the Bible into literary German, undertaken by
Mendelssohn, was to deal the death blow to the Jewish-German
(_judisch-deutsch_) jargon, and the _Biur_, the commentary on
the Bible mentioned above, produced by the co-operation of a galaxy of
scholars and men of culture, was expected to sweep aside all mystic and
allegoric interpretations of the Scriptures and introduce the rational
and scientific method.

The results achieved by the Biurists tended beyond a doubt toward the
elevation of the mass of the Jews. One of these results was, as had been
hoped for, the dislodgment of the Jewish-German by the spread of the
pure German. The influence wielded by the Biurists, so far from stopping
with the German Jews, extended to the Jewish communities of Eastern

       *       *       *       *       *

In 1784-5, two Hebrew writers, Isaac Euchel and Mendel Bresslau,
undertook to publish a magazine, entitled _Ha-Meassef_ ("The
Collector"), whence the name Meassefim. The enterprise was under the
auspices of Mendelssohn and Wessely. A double aim was to be served. The
periodical was to promote the spread of knowledge and modern ideas in
the Hebrew language, the only language available for the Jews of the
ghetto; and at the same time it was to promote the purification of
Hebrew, which had degenerated in the Rabbinical schools. Its readers
were to be familiarized with the social and aesthetic demands of modern
life, and induced to rid themselves of ingrained peculiarities. Besides
its success in these directions, it must be set to the credit of _Ha-
Meassef_, that it was the first agency to gather under one banner all
the champions of the _Haskalah_ in the several countries of Europe.
It supplied the link connecting them with one another. [Footnote:
Properly speaking, the term Haskalah includes the notion at once of
humanism and humanitarianism.]

From the literary point of view _Ha-Meassef_ is of subordinate
interest. Its contributors were devoid of taste. They offered their
readers mainly questionable imitations of the works of the German
romantic school. The periodical brought no new talent truly worthy of
the description into notice. Whatever reputation its principal writers
enjoyed had been won before the appearance of _Ha-Meassef_. They
owed their fame primarily to the favor acquired for Hebrew letters
through the efforts of Luzzatto's disciples. [Footnote: Since the
appearance of _La-Yesharim Tehillah_ by Luzzatto, imitations of it
without number have been published, and for the eighteenth century alone
allegorical dramas by the dozen might be enumerated.] Of the poems
published in _Ha-Meassef_ but a few deserve notice, and even they
are nothing more than mediocre imitations of didactic pieces in the
style of the day, or odes celebrating the splendor of contemporary kings
and princes. A poem by Wessely forms a rare exception. It extols the
residents of Basle, who, in 1789, welcomed Jewish refugees from Alsace.
And if we turn from its poetry to its historical contributions, we find
that the biographies, as of Abarbanel and Joseph Delmedigo, are hardly
scientific; they occupy themselves with external facts to the neglect of
underlying ideas. On the whole, _Ha-Meassef_ was an engine of
propaganda and polemics rather than a literary production, though the
campaign carried on in its pages against strait-laced orthodoxy and the
Rabbis did not reach the degree of bitterness which was to characterize
later periods--moderation that was due to its most prominent
contributors. Wessely exhorted the editors not to attack religiousness
nor ridicule the Rabbis, and Mendelssohn devoted his articles to minor
points of Rabbinic practice, such as the permissibility of vaccination
under the Jewish law.

The French Revolution precipitated events in an unexpected way. The tone
of _Ha-Meassef_ changed. It held that knowledge and liberty alone
could save the Jews. More aggressive toward the Rabbis than before, it
attacked fanaticism, and gave space to trite poems, glorifying a life,
for instance, in which women and wine played the prominent part (1790).
Six years after its first issue, _Ha-Meassef_ ceased to appear, not
without having materially advanced the intellectual emancipation of the
German Jews and the revival of Hebrew as a secular language. [Footnote:
The first series of _Ha-Meassef_ ran from 1784-1786 (Konigsberg),
and from 1788-1790 (Konigsberg and Berlin). An additional volume began
to appear in 1794, at Berlin and Breslau, under the editorship of Lowe
and Wolfsohn, and was completed in 1797. The second series ran from 1809
to 1811 at Berlin, Altona, and Dessau, under Shalom Hacohen. [Trl.] ] So
important was this first co-operative enterprise in Hebrew letters, that
it imposed its name on the whole of the literary movement of the second
half of the eighteenth century, the epoch of the Meassefim.

Two poets and five or six prose writers more or less worthy of the name
of author dominated the period.

Naphtali Hartwig Wessely (born at Hamburg in 1725; died there in 1805)
is considered the prince of the poets of the time. Belonging to a rather
intelligent family in easy circumstances, he received a modern
education. Though his mind was open to all the new influences, he
nevertheless remained a loyal adherent of his faith, and occupied
strictly religious ground until the end. He devoted himself with success
to the cultivation of poetry, and completed the work of reform begun by
the Italian Luzzatto, to whom, however, he was inferior in depth and

Wessely's poetic masterpiece was _Shire Tiferet_ ("Songs of
Glory"), or the Epic of Moses (Berlin, 1789), in five volumes. This poem
of the Exodus is on the model of the pseudo-classic productions of the
Germany of his day; the influence of Klopstock's _Messias_, for
instance, is striking.

Depth of thought, feeling for art, and original poetic imagination are
lacking in _Shire Tiferet_. Practically it is nothing more than an
oratorical paraphrase of the Biblical recital. The shortcomings of his
main work are characteristic of all the poetry by Wessely. On the other
hand, his oratorical manner is unusually attractive, and his Hebrew is
elegant and chaste. The somewhat labored precision of his style, taken
together with the absence of the poetic temperament, makes of him the
Malherbe of modern Hebrew poetry. He enjoyed the love and admiration of
his contemporaries to an extraordinary degree, and his chief poem
underwent a large number of editions, becoming in course of time a
popular book, and regarded with kindly favor even by the most orthodox--
testimony at once to the poet's personal influence upon his co-
religionists and the growing importance of the Hebrew language.

Wessely wrote also several important works on questions in Hebrew
grammar and philology. The chief of them is _Lebanon_, two parts of
which appeared, each separately, under the title _Gan Na'ul_ ("The
Locked Garden", Berlin, 1765); the other parts never appeared in print.
They bear witness to their author's solid scientific attainments, and it
is regrettable that their value is obscured by his style, diffuse to the
point of prolixity. Besides, Wessely contributed to the German
translation of the Bible, and to the commentary on the Bible, both, as
mentioned before, works presided over by Mendelssohn, to whom he was
attached by the tie of admiring friendship.

Wessely's chief distinction, however, was his firm character and his
love of truth. His high ethical qualities were revealed notably in his
pamphlet _Dibre Shalom wa-Emet_ ("Words of Peace and Truth,"
Berlin, 1781), elicited by the edict of Emperor Joseph II ordering a
reform of Jewish education and the establishment of modern schools for
Jews. Though well on in years, he yet did not shrink from the risk of
incurring the anger of the fanatics. He openly declared himself in favor
of pedagogic innovations. With sage-like modesty and mildness, the poet
stated the pressing need for adopting new educational methods, and
showed them to be by no means in opposition to the Mosaic and Rabbinic
conception of the Jewish faith. In the name of _Torat ha-Adam_, the
law for man as such, he set forth urgent reforms which would raise the
prestige of the Law as well as of the Jews. He hoped for civil liberty,
the liberty the Jews were enjoying in England and in the Netherlands.
However, this courageous course gained for him the ban of the fanatics,
the effect of which was mitigated by the intervention of the Italian
Rabbis in favor of Wessely. On the other hand, it made him the most
prominent member of the Meassefim circle; he was regarded as the master
of the Maskilim.

Among the most distinguished of the contributors to _Ha-Meassef_ is
the second writer acclaimed poet by popular consent. David Franco Mendes
(1713-1792) was born at Amsterdam, of a family escaped from the
Inquisition. Like most Jews of Spanish origin, his family clung to the
Spanish language. He was the friend and disciple, and likewise the
imitator, of Moses Hayyim Luzzatto. What was true of Eastern Europe,
that the Hebrew language prevailed in the ghetto, and had to be resorted
to by all who would reach the Jewish masses, did not apply to the
countries of the Romance languages. Here Hebrew had little by little
been supplanted by the vernacular. Mendes, who paid veritable worship to
Hebrew literature, was distressed to see the object of his devotion
scorned by his co-religionists and the productions of the classic age of
France preferred to it. In the preface to his tragedy, "Athaliah's
Recompense" (_Gemul Athaliah_, Amsterdam, 1770), he set himself the
task of demonstrating the superiority of the sacred language to the
profane languages. Yet this very tragedy, in spite of its author's
protestations, is nothing more than a _rifacimento_ of Racine's
drama, and rather infelicitous at that, though it must be admitted that
Mendes' style is of classic purity, and some of his scenes are in a
measure characterized by vivacity of action. His other drama, "Judith",
also published at Amsterdam, has no greater merit than "Athaliah's
Recompense." Besides these dramas, Mendes wrote several biographical
sketches of the learned men of the Middle Ages for _Ha-Meassef_.

It were far from the truth to say that Mendes succeeded in rivalling the
French and Italian authors whom he set up as models for himself.
Nevertheless he was endorsed and admired by the literary men of his time
as the heir of Luzzatto.

       *       *       *       *       *

An enumeration of all the writers and all the scholars who, directly or
indirectly, contributed to the work of _Ha-Meassef_, would be
wearisome. Only those who are distinguished by some degree of
originality will be set down by name.

Rabbi Solomon Pappenheim (1776-1814), of Breslau, was the author of a
sentimental elegy, _Arba' Kosot_ ("The Four Cups", Berlin, 1790).
The poem, inspired by Young's "Night Thoughts," is remarkable for its
personal note. In his plaints recalling Job's, this Hebrew Werther
mourns the loss, not of his mistress--that would not have been in
consonance with the spirit of the ghetto--but of his wife and his three
children. The elegy came near being a popular poem. Its vapid
sentimentality and its affected and exaggerated style were to exercise a
baneful influence upon the following generations. It is the tribute paid
by Hebrew literature to the diseased spirit of the age. Pappenheim
wrote, besides, on Hebrew philology. His work, _Yeri'ot Shelomoh_
("The Curtains of Solomon"), is an important contribution to the

Shalom Hacohen, the editor of a second series of _Ha-Meassef_,
published in 1809-1811 (Berlin, Altona, and Dessau), deserves mention.
He won considerable fame by his poems and articles, which appeared in
the second series of _Ha-Meassef_ and in _Bikkure ha-'Ittim_ ("The
First Fruits of the Times"), and especially through his historical
drama, "Amal and Tirzah" (Rodelheim, 1812). The last, a naively
conceived piece of work, is well fitted into its Biblical frame. Hacohen
is one of the intermediaries between the German Meassefim and their
successors in Poland. [Footnote: Another writer of the epoch, Hartwig
Derenburg, whose son and grandson have brilliantly carried on, in
France, the literary and scientific traditions of the family, was the
author of a widely-read allegorical drama, _Yoshebe Tebel_ ("The
Inhabitants of the World", Offenbach, 1789).]

Mendelssohn, the master admired and respected by all, contributed, as
was mentioned before, only minor controversial articles to _Ha-
Meassef_. His preface to the _Biur_ and his commentary on
Maimonides' treatise on logic are in good style. His philosophical
works, "Jerusalem" and "Phaedon," translated into Hebrew by his
disciples, were largely instrumental in giving prevalence to the idea
that the Jewish people is a religious community rather than a nation.
This circumstance explains the banishment of Hebrew from the synagogue
by his less religious followers, such as David Friedlander, and the
attacks of Herz Homberg on traditional Judaism in his pamphlet "To the
Shepherds of Israel" (_El Ro'e Yisrael_).

The chief editor of _Ha-Meassef_, Isaac Euchel (1756-1804), became
known for his polemic articles against the superstitions and
obscurantism of the fanatics of the ghetto. Euchel wrote also a
biographical sketch of Mendelssohn, which was published at Vienna in

There were also scientific writers among the Meassefim. Baruch Lindau
wrote a treatise on the natural sciences, _Reshit Limmudim_ ("The
Elements of the Sciences", Brunn, 1788), and Mordecai Gumpel Levisohn,
the learned professor at the University of Upsala, was the author of a
series of scientific essays in _Ha-Meassef_, which contributed
greatly to its success.

Up to the time we are speaking of, Poland had supplied the Jewish people
with Rabbis and Talmudists, and when the German Jews became imbued with
the new spirit, their Polish brethren did not lag behind. Polish authors
are to be found among the Meassefim, and several of them deserve special

Kant's brilliant disciple, the profound thinker Solomon Maimon,
published only his exegetical works and his ingenious commentary on
Maimonides in Hebrew. Another Polish writer, Solomon Dubno (1735-1813),
one of the first to co-operate with Mendelssohn in his _Biur_, was
a remarkable grammarian and stylist. Among other things he wrote an
allegorical drama and a number of poetic satires. Of the latter, the
"Hymn to Hypocrisy", published in _Bikkure To'elet_, is a finished

Judah Ben-Zeeb (1764-1811) published in Berlin a Manual of the Hebrew
Language (_Talmud Leshon 'Ibri_), planned on modern lines, a work
contributing greatly toward spreading a knowledge of philology and
rhetoric among the Jews. His Hebrew-German Dictionary and his Hebrew
version of Ben Sira are well known to Hebraists.

Isaac Satanow (1732-1804), a Pole residing at Berlin, was a curious
personage, interesting alike for the variety of his productions and the
oddity of his mental make-up. He possessed a surprising capacity for
assimilation. It was this that enabled him to excel, whether he imitated
the style of the Bible or the style of mediaeval authors. Hebrew and
Aramaic he handled with the same ingenious skill. All his works he
attributed to some ancient author. His collection of Proverbs, bearing
the name of the Psalmist Asaph (_Mishle Asaph_, Berlin, 1789 and
1792, in three books), would cut a respectable figure in any literature.

A few specimens of his _Mishle_, or maxims, follow:

  "Truth springs from research, justice from intelligence. The
  beginning of research is curiosity, its essence is discernment,
  and its goal truth and justice" (7: 5, 6).

  "On the day of thy birth thou didst weep, and those about thee
  were glad. On the day of thy death thou wilt laugh, and those
  about thee will sigh. Know then, thou wilt one day be born anew
  to rejoice in God, and matter will no longer hinder thee" (15: 5,
  6). [Footnote: A play upon words: _Geshem_ in Hebrew means
  both "matter" and "rain."]

  "Rule thy spirit lest others rule thy body" (24:2).

  "Pincers are made by means of pincers; work is helped on by work,
  and science by science" (34:23).

  "Think not what is sweet to thy palate is sweet to thy neighbor's
  palate. Not so; for many are the beautiful wives that are hated
  by their husbands, and many the ill-featured wives that are
  beloved" (43:6,7).

  "Every living being leaves off reproducing itself in its old age;
  but falsehood plays the harlot even in her decrepitude. The older
  she grows, the deeper she strikes root in the ground, the more
  numerous becomes her lying progeny, the further does it spread
  abroad. Her lovers multiply, and those who pay respect to the old
  adhere to her, that her name be not wiped from the face of the
  earth" (42:29-31).

Satanow pleaded for the language of the Mishnah as forming part of the
Hebrew linguistic stock, but the moment was not propitious to the reform
of the prevailing literary style suggested by him.

On the whole, as was intimated before, the literary movement called
forth by the Meassefim produced nothing, or almost nothing, of permanent
value. The writers of this school acted the part of pioneers and
heralds. Being primarily iconoclasts and reformers, they disappeared,
with but few exceptions, as soon as their task was completed and the
emancipation of the Jews was an accomplished fact in Western Europe.
They survived long enough, however, to see the movement with which they
were identified sweep away, along with the traditions of the past, also
the Hebrew language, the only relic dear to them, the only Jewish thing
capable of awakening a responsive thrill in their hearts.

Passionate humanists, and not very clear-sighted, they permitted
themselves to be dazzled by modernity and promises of light and liberty,
and forswore the ideal of the re-nationalization of Israel, so placing
themselves outside the fellowship bond that united, by a common hope,
the great masses of the Jews who were still attached to their faith and
to their people.

Writers of no consequence in many cases, and of no originality
whatsoever, failing to recognize the grandeur of Israel's past, the
Meassefim despised their Jewish surroundings too heartily to seek
inspiration in them. For the most part they were shallow imitators,
second-rate translators of Schiller and Racine. The language of the
Jewish soul they could not speak, and they could not formulate a new
ideal to take the place of the tottering traditions of the past and the
faltering hope of a Messianic time. An entire generation was to pass
before historical Judaism came into its own again, through the creation
of a pure "Science of Judaism" and the conception of the mission of the
Jewish people.

Nevertheless the movement called into being by the Meassefim caused
considerable stir. For the first time the Rabbinic tradition, petrified
by age and ignorance, was assailed, in the sacred language at that, and
the attack was launched in the name of science and life. For the first
time the _Haskalah_, Hebrew humanism, declared war on whatever in
the past trammelled the modern evolution of Judaism. In vain the
Meassefim, save the exceptional few, refrained scrupulously from violent
declamation against primary dogmatic principles. In vain their master
Mendelssohn, contravening good sense and historical Judaism, went so far
as to proclaim these principles sacrosanct. The secularization of Jewish
literature and Jewish life had made a breach in the ghetto wall.
Thereafter nothing could oppose the march of new ideas. The Rabbis of
the period saw it clearly; hence the stubbornness of their opposition.

Beginning with this time a new class appeared among the Jews of the
ghetto, the class of the _Maskilim_, or men of lay learning and
letters, a class with which the Rabbis have since had to reckon, with
which, indeed, they have had to share their authority over the people.

So far as the Hebrew language is concerned, the Meassefim succeeded in
purifying it and restoring it to its Biblical form. Wessely and Mendes
obliterated the last vestiges of the Middle Ages, and many of the
litterateurs of the period bequeathed models of the classic style to
posterity. But the return to the manner of the Bible had its
disadvantages. It went to extremes, and led to the creation of a
pompous, affected style, the _Melizah_, which has left indelible
traces in neo-Hebrew literature. In the effort to guard the Biblical
style against the Rabbinisms which had impaired the elegance of the
Hebrew language, the purists had gone beyond the bounds of moderation.
To express the most prosaic thought, the simplest ideas, they drew upon
the metaphors and the elevated diction of the Bible. This rage for
academic correctness is responsible for the reputation, not merited by
Hebrew literature, that it lacks originality, that it is no more than a
_jeu d'esprit_, a jumble of quibbling conceits.

Italian men of letters also took part in the literary movement of the
end of the eighteenth century. Two of them are worthy of mention by
name. The first is the poet Ephraim Luzzatto (1727-1792), whose love
sonnets, written in a sprightly style, sound a lyric note. The other is
Samuel Romanelli, the author of a melodrama, much admired by his
contemporaries, and of a "Journey to Arabia."

In France, also, especially in Alsace, there were collaborators of the
German Meassefim, the best known among them Ensheim. Besides, France
harbored the only poet of the period who can lay claim to originality,
but he was not of the school of the Meassefim. Elie Half an Halevy
(1760-1822), of Paris, the grandfather of Ludovic Halevy, by far
surpasses the other poets of his day in poetic temperament and fertility
of imagination. Unluckily, we do not possess all the poems written by
Halevy, who, moreover, was not a very prolific author. In what has come
down to us his talent is abundantly proved by the charm of his
individual style and the wealth of his images. The reader feels that the
breath of the Revolution has blown through his pages. His "Hymn to
Peace" (_Shir ha-Shalom_), published at Paris in 1804, is the
apotheosis of Napoleon, whom the poet hails as "liberty rescued" and
"beautiful France", the home of liberty. This unique poem is
characterized by unbounded love for France and the French, the beautiful
country, the free, high-mettled people, bearing love of country in its
heart and in its hand the avenging sword, and cherishing hatred against
"tyranny on the throne, which had changed a terrestrial Paradise into a
charnel house." The poet extols the dictator not only because he is a
"friend of victory", but because he is at the same time and still more a
"friend of science." He salutes the victorious armies. Although they
bring destruction and misery in their wake, they bear before them the
standard of science, civilization, and progress.

The cry of liberty wakened a loud echo in the ghettos of even the most
backward countries. Hebrew literature contains a number of curious
mementos, tokens of the ardent hopes which the French Revolution and the
Napoleonic conquests evoked in the breast of the Jews, whose character
has little enough affinity with the rule of despotism. In numerous
Hebrew hymns and songs they welcomed the armies of Napoleon as of the
savior Messiah. [Footnote: To name but a few among the many: an ode by
the celebrated Rabbi Jacob Meir in Alsace, an ancestor of the family of
the Grand-Rabbin Zadoc Kahn; another ode composed at Vienna by the
Polish grammarian Ben-Zeeb; and the hymns sung in the synagogue at
Frankfort (1807), at Hamburg (1811), etc. The Revolutionary Code
published at Amsterdam in 1795 is also worthy of mention.] Before the
first flush of joy died away, the reaction set in, and their hopes were
blighted. The Jews relapsed into their olden social misery.
Nevertheless, the clash between received notions and the new conceptions
had contributed not a little to produce a ferment of ideas and create
new tendencies in the ghetto, at last aroused from its millennial

       *       *       *       *       *




The Polish scholars domiciled in Germany entered, as we have seen, into
the work of the Meassefim. Presently it will appear that the movement
itself was transferred to Poland, where it produced a much more lasting
effect than elsewhere.

In the West of Europe Hebrew was destined to vanish little by little,
and make room for the languages of the various countries. In the Slavic
East, on the other hand, the neo-Hebrew gained and spread until it was
the predominating language used by writers. By and by a profane
literature grew up in it, which extends to our day without a break.

From the sixteenth century on, the Jewry of Poland, isolated in destiny
and in political constitution, comprised the greater part of the Jewish
people. The agglomerations of Jews in Poland, originating in many
different countries, and fused into one mass, enjoyed a large measure of
autonomy. Their fortunes were governed and their life regulated by a
political and religious organization administered by the Rabbis and the
representatives of the _Kahal_, the "community." This organization
formed a sort of theocratic state known as "The Synod of the Four
Countries" (Poland, Little Poland, Little Russia, and, later, Lithuania,
with its autonomous synod). Constituting almost the whole of the Third
Estate of a country three times the size of France, the Jews were not
only merchants, but also, and more particularly, artisans, workingmen,
and even farmers. They were a people apart, distinct from the others.
The restricted ghettos and small communities of the Occident widened
out, in Poland, into provinces with cities and towns peopled by Jews.
The Thirty Years' War, which had cast a large number of German Jews into
Poland, produced the effect of giving a definite constitution to this
social organism. The new-comers quickly attained to controlling
influence in the Jewish communities, and succeeded in foisting their
German idiom upon the older settlers. One of their distinguishing traits
was that they pushed the study of the Law to the utmost. The Talmud
schools in Poland and the Polish Rabbis soon acquired a reputation
unassailed in the whole of the Diaspora. Despised and maltreated by the
Polish magnates, condemned, by reason of a never-ceasing stream of
immigration and the meagre resources of the country, to a bitter
struggle for existence, the Jews of Poland centred all their ambition in
the study of the Law, and consoled themselves with the Messianic hope.
Empty casuistry and dry dogmatism sufficed for the intellectual needs of
the most enlightened. A piety without limit, the rigorous and minute
observance of Rabbinical prescriptions, and a cult compounded of
traditional and superstitious practices accumulated during many
centuries, filled the void left in their minds by the wretched life of
the masses. To satisfy the cravings of the heart, they had the homilies
of the _Maggidim_ ("preachers"), a sort of popular instruction
based on sacred texts, tricked out with Talmudic narratives, mystic
allusions, and a variety of superstitions.

By the dreadful insurrection of the Cossacks in the Ukraine, half a
million of Jews lost their lives. The terror that followed the uprising
during the latter part of the seventeenth and the first half of the
eighteenth century threw the Jewish population of the southern provinces
into sad confusion. At that moment the _Hasidim_ [1] with their
Oriental fatalism, and their worship of the _Zaddik_ ("Saint"),
whom they revered as a wonder-worker, appeared upon the scene and won
the Jews of a large part of Poland to their standard. Then there ensued
a period of moral and intellectual degradation, which coincided
precisely with the epoch in which the civilizing influence of the
Meassefim was uppermost in Germany. [Footnote 1: Literally, the "pious."
A sect founded in Wolhynia in the second half of the eighteenth century,
the adherents of which, though they remained faithful to the Rabbinic
law, placed piety, mystic exaltation, and a worship of holy men in
opposition to the study of the Talmud and the dogmatism of the Rabbis.]

The reforms of Emperor Joseph II planned for the Jews in the part of
Poland annexed by Austria, especially the extension of compulsory
military service to them, were looked upon by the ignorant masses as a
dire misfortune. They rebelled against every change, and placed no
belief in the promises made by the authorities to better their
condition. They were terrorized by the severity of the measures taken
against them, and, impotent to carry on a struggle against authority,
they threw themselves into the arms of Hasidism, which preached the
merging of self in a mystic solidarity. This meant the cessation of all
growth, social as well as religious. Superstition established itself as
sovereign mistress, and the end was the utter degeneration of the
Austrian-Polish section of Jews.

In order to guard against the danger with which the spread of the new
sect was fraught, and enlighten at least the more intelligent of the
people, the intellectual Jews of Poland took up the work of the
Meassefim, and constituted themselves the champions of the
_Haskalah_, the liberal movement. They became thus the lieutenants
of the Austrian government. By and by their activity assumed importance,
and in time modern schools were established and literary circles were
formed in the greater part of the villages of Galicia.

Even into Russian Poland the campaign against obscurantism was carried,
by men like Tobias Feder and David Samoscz; the former the author of an
incisive pamphlet against Hasidism, as well as numerous philological and
poetical publications; the latter a prolific writer, the author of a
collection of poems entitled _Resise ha-Melizah_ ("Drops of
Poetry", 1798).

The movement was aided and abetted by rich and influential Jews. Joseph
Perl, the founder of a modern school and several other educational
institutions, is a typical representative of these friends and patrons
of progress. [Footnote: Perl was the author of a parody on Hasidism,
published anonymously under the title _Megalle Temirin_ ("The
Revealer of Mysteries"). A monograph upon parodies, a literary form
widely cultivated in Hebrew, which was long a desideratum has recently
been written by Dr. Israel Davidson ("Parody in Jewish Literature", New
York, Columbia University Press, 1908). The Hebrew parody is
distinguished particularly for its adaptation of the Talmudic language
to modern customs and questions. It was made the vehicle of polemics and
of ridicule, as in the case of Perl's pamphlet, or of satire on social
conditions, as in the "Treatise of Commercial Men", which appeared at
Warsaw, and the "Treatise America", published at New York, etc.
Frequently it was meant merely to divert and amuse, as, for instance,
_Hakundus_, Wilna, 1827, and numerous editions of the "Treatise

_Ha-Meassef_ was succeeded by a progeny of periodical literature,
scientific and literary. After the _Bikkure ha-'Ittim_ ("The First
Fruits of the Times"), edited by Shalom Hacohen, Vienna, 1820-1831, came
the _Kerem Hemed_ ("The Delicious Vineyard"), edited by Goldenberg,
at Tarnopol, 1833-1842; the _Ozar Nehmad_ ("The Delightful
Treasure"), edited by Blumenfeld; _He-Haluz_ ("The Pioneer"),
founded in 1853 by Erter, together with Schorr, the witty writer and
bold reformer; _Kokebe Yizhak_ ("The Stars of Isaac"), edited by I.
Stern, at Vienna, 1850-1863; _Bikkure ha-Shanah_ ("The First Fruits
of the Year", 1844); _Peri To'elet_ ("Successful Labor", 1821-
1825); "Jerusalem", 1845; "Zion", 1842; _Ha-Zefirah_ ("The
Morningstar"), 1824; _Yeshurun_. 1847, etc. These collections of
essays are of a much more serious character than ever _Ha-Meassef_
attained to. As a rule they display more originality and more scientific

To attract the intelligent among the Polish Jews, permeated as they were
with deep knowledge of Rabbinic literature, more was needed than witty
sallies and childish conceits in an affected style. The appeal had to be
made to their reason, to their convictions, their constant longing for
intellectual occupation. Their minds could be turned away from a most
absurd mysticism only by setting a new ideal before them, calculated to
engage feelings and attract hearts yearning for consolation, and left
unsatisfied by the pursuit of the Law, the nourishment given to all who
thought and studied in the ghetto.

Two men, the most eminent of the Jewish humanists in Austrian Poland,
succeeded in meeting the spiritual needs of their compatriots. The Rabbi
Solomon Jehudah Rapoport, one of the founders of the Science of Judaism,
the pursuit that was to replace Rabbinic scholasticism, and the
philosopher Nahman Krochmal, the promoter of the idea of the "mission of
the Jewish people", a substitute for the mystic, religious ideal--they
were the two who transformed the literary movement inaugurated in
Germany into a permanent influence.

       *       *       *       *       *

Solomon Jehudah Rapoport (1790-1867), called "the father of the Science
of Judaism", was born at Lemberg of a family of Rabbis. His studies were
purely Rabbinic, but his alert mind grasped every opportunity of
acquiring other knowledge, and in this incidental way he became familiar
first with French and then with German. The influence of the philosopher
Krochmal, with whom he came in close personal contact, shaped his career
as a writer and a scholar. In 1814, at Lemberg, he wrote, in Hebrew, a
description of the city of Paris and the Isle of Elba, to satisfy the
curiosity which the events of the time had aroused in the Polish ghetto.
In imitation of Mendes, whose writings exercised some influence upon
him, he later published a translation of Racine's "Esther" (_Bikkure
ha-'Ittim_, 1827), and of a number of Schiller's poems. But he did
not stop at that. His profound study of the Jewish scholars and poets of
the Middle Ages turned his mind to historical investigations. In the
_Bikkure ha-'Ittim_ and the _Kerem Hemed_ he published a
series of biographical and literary studies, in which he shows himself
to be possessed of large critical sense and keen judgment. In its
sobriety and precision his style has not been excelled. These studies of
his gave new direction to the eager minds of the age. As a result, Jost,
Zunz, and Samuel David Luzzatto devoted themselves to the thorough
examination of the Judaism of the Middle Ages. The outcome was a new
science, the Science of Judaism.

Rapoport published also a pamphlet against the Hasidim and their wonder-
working Rabbis, and various articles on the necessity of promoting
knowledge and civilization among the Jews. In this way he brought upon
himself the hatred of the fanatics. Appointed Rabbi at Tarnopol at the
instigation of Perl, the patron of Jewish science, he was forced to
leave the city by the intrigues of the Hasidim. He went to Prague, to
become Rabbi in that important community, and there he ended his days.

The disciple and successor of the German Meassefim, Rapoport inherited
from them the conviction which characterized the Jewish _Maskil_,
that science alone and modern civilization can raise the intellectual
level and improve the political situation of his co-religionists. All
his life he fought for the Haskalah. He loved knowledge with
disinterested devotion, and not merely because it was an instrument to
promote the political emancipation of the Jews. The work of assimilation
set on foot in the Occident, he realized, was not applicable in the East
of Europe, and would even be useless there. No vain illusions on the
subject possessed him. He was very much wrought up against such
religious reforms in Judaism as, he believed, would inevitably split the
people into sects, and sow the seed of disunion and indifference to
national institutions. This appears strikingly in his campaign against
Schorr, the editor of _He-Haluz_, and Judah Mises, and especially
in his pamphlet _Tokohat Megullah_ ("Public Reproach"), which
appeared in Frankfort in 1846. To those who faltered, having lost faith
in the future of Judaism, Rapoport addresses himself in several of his
writings, especially in the introduction to "Esther", holding up his own
ideals before them. Love of my nation, he says in effect, is the
cornerstone of my existence. This love alone has the power to confirm my
faith, for the national sentiment of the Jew and his religion are
closely linked with each other. And not only this national sentiment and
this religion are inconceivable the one without the other, but a third
factor is joined with them so intimately as to be indispensable--it is
the Holy Land.

The desire to explain rationally the Jew's love for his ancient land
suggested to Rapoport, long before Buckle and Lazarus, the theory of the
influence of climate on the psychology of nations. In his sketch of
Rabbi Hananel (_Bikkure ha-'Ittim_, 1832), he explains the
psychologic traits of the Jewish people by the fact that they resided in
a temperate climate and in a country situated between Asia and Africa.
Thence was derived the tendency to maintain equilibrium between feeling
and reason which characterizes the Jew. Under favorable conditions, and
if the Roman conquest had not intervened, the Jews would have reached
the highest degree of this equilibrium, and become a model nation. That
is why Palestine is the political and spiritual fatherland of the Jew,
the only country in which his genius can develop untrammelled; that is
why Palestine is so indissolubly attached to the destinies of Israel,
and is so dear to every Jewish heart. But even in the exile, "in the
darkness of the Middle Ages, the Jews were the sole bearers of light and
knowledge". This is what Rapoport strove to demonstrate in his works on
the scholars of the Middle Ages, and in his Talmudic encyclopedia,
_'Erek Millin_ (Prague, 1852), which, unfortunately, was not

In this fashion Rapoport, who did not hesitate to write on Bible
criticism in Hebrew, the first to use the ancient language for the
purpose, endeavored to reconcile the reason of a modern mind with the
faith and the Messianic hope of an orthodox Rabbi.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is a significant phenomenon that the Science of Judaism, the ideal
meant to replace the dry study of the Law, and fill the void left in the
Jewish mind by the course of recent developments, took firm hold upon
the Polish Jews, the very bodyguard of Rabbinism, of which, in point of
fact, it is but a modern and rational transformation.

Yet this new science, founded on the study of Israel's glorious past,
and warmly welcomed by the intellectual and the cultivated in Western
Europe, could not entirely satisfy the intelligent in Polish Jewry. In
an environment wholly Jewish, having no reason to nurse illusive hopes
of imminent assimilation with their neighbors, from whom they were
divided by every possible circumstance, beginning with moral notions and
ending with political fortune, the Polish Jews resigned themselves to a
sort of Messianic mysticism. But the mystic's explanation of the
phenomenon of the existence of Judaism also failed to satisfy their
yearnings. What they sought was a warrant in reason itself justifying
the permanence of Judaism and its future. The arguments set forth by
Maimonides and Jehudah Halevi contained no appeal for the modern soul. A
philosopher was needed, one who should solve the problem of the
existence of the Jewish people and its proper sphere from the vantage-
ground of authoritative knowledge. Such a philosopher arose in Galicia

Nahman Krochmal (1785-1840), the originator of the idea of the "mission
of the Jewish people", was born at Brody. His chief work, published
posthumously through the efforts of Zunz, the _Moreh Nebuke ha-
Zeman_ ("The Guide of the Perplexed of Modern Times"), is the most
original piece of philosophic writing in modern Hebrew. Krochmal led the
sad life of the Polish-Jewish scholar--void of pleasures and filled to
overflowing with privation and suffering. His whole time was consecrated
to Jewish science. He led a retired life, and while he lived nothing of
his was published. On account of the precarious state of his health, he
never left the small town in which he was born. However, his house
became the foregathering place of the votaries of Jewish science.
Especially young men eager to learn came from everywhere to sit at the
feet of the master. The influence which he thus exerted during his life
was reinforced and perpetuated after his death by the publication of the
"Guide of the Perplexed of Modern Times", in 1851, at Lemberg.

The studies contained in this work, for the most part unfinished
sketches, form a curious collection. Limitations of space forbid more
than a summary of its contents, and an analysis of its chief principles.

The need of finding a philosophic explanation of Divine existence forced
Hegel to formulate the axiom, that reason alone constitutes the reality
of things, and absolute truth is to be found in the union of the
subjective and the objective--the subjective corresponding to the
concrete state of every being, that is, matter, which forms his actual
reason, and the objective corresponding to his abstract state, that is,
the idea, which forms his absolute reason.

On this Hegelian axiom of actual reason and absolute reason, Krochmal
builds up his ingenious system of the philosophy of Jewish history. He
is the first Jewish scholar who views Judaism, not as a distinct and
independent entity, but as a part of the whole of civilization. At the
same time, while it is attached to the civilized world, it is
distinguished by qualities peculiar to itself. It leads the independent
existence of a national organism similar to all others, but it also
aspires to an absolute, spiritual expression, consequently to
universalism. The result of this double aspect is that while Jewish
_nationality_ forms the element peculiar to the Jewish people, its
civilization, its intellect are _universal_, and detach themselves
from its peculiar national life. Hence it comes that Jewish culture is
essentially spiritual, ideal, and tends to promote the perfection of the
human kind. Krochmal in this way arrives at the following three

1. The Jewish nation is like the phoenix, constantly arising to new life
from its ashes. It comprises within itself the three elements of Hegel's
triad: the idea, the object, and the intelligence. The successive
resurrections of the Jewish people follow an ascendant progression,
which tends toward the spiritually absolute. Starting as a political
organism, it soon developed into a dogmatically religious sect, only to
be transformed into a spiritual entity. Krochmal--though he does not say
it explicitly--sees in religion only a passing phenomenon in the history
of the Jewish people, exactly as its political existence was but a
temporary phase.

2. The Jewish people presents a double aspect to the observer. It is
national in its particularism, or its concrete aspect, and universal in
its spiritualism. The national genius of all other peoples of antiquity
was narrowly particularistic. That is why they were submerged. Only the
Jewish prophets conceived of the absolutely and universally spiritual
and of moral truth, and therein lies the secret of the continued
existence of the Jewish people.

3. With Hegel Krochmal admits that the resultants from the historical
development of a people form the quintessence of its existence.
[Footnote: See chapters IX, XVI, and others; also M. Bernfeld, _Da'at
Elohim_ ("The Knowledge of God"); and M. Landau, _Die Bibel und der
Hegelianismus_ (Dissertation).] But what he does not believe is that
the essential element in the existence of a people is the resultant. The
process of historical evolution is in itself an adequate reason for its
existence. More rational than Hegel himself, Krochmal thus avoids the
contradiction which follows from the mystical definition of existence in
the Hegelian system.

For the German metaphysician, existence is the interval between not
being and being, that is, the period of _becoming_. Krochmal simply
eliminates this more or less materialistic notion of the
_interval_. He substitutes the moral effects produced incidentally
to the course of historic action, for the idea of effects posterior to
the same action, the effects called the resultants. The more or less
materialistic manner in which historic action develops replaces with him
the idea of the transition period, the period of becoming, as a
mysterious intermediary between actual reason and absolute reason.

Proceeding from these axioms, Krochmal, at a time in which
_Volkerpsychologie_ and sociology were embryonic sciences, explains
the phenomena of Jewish history as well as the phenomena of the
religious and spiritual evolution of mankind, and does it with
remarkable originality and profundity.

Krochmal's ideas produced an effect not to be exaggerated upon the
intelligent among the Polish Jews, who had thrown off the trammels of
dogmatism and mystic hope, but were in a hesitating state of mind,
casting about for the reason of their very existence as Jews. His book
offered them an explanation, based on modern science and yet in accord
with their Jewish essence as revealed by history and therefore
satisfying to their national pride.

Thus Krochmal opened up a way for the seekers after enlightenment in
future generations. On the ideas of the master, his successors built up
their conceptions of the Jewish people. Abraham Mapu, the father of the
historical novel in Hebrew, drew his inspiration from the "Guide", and
in our days the well-known essayist Ahad ha-'Am has seized upon certain
of Krochmal's principles, notably the importance to be attached to the
spiritual element in the life of the Jewish people. [Footnote: R.
Brainin, in his biography of Mapu, p. 64, Warsaw, 1900.]

These two leaders, Rapoport and Krochmal, stimulated a whole school of
writers, whose works established the fortune of the Hebrew language in
Galicia. With more or less originality, all departments of literature
and science were cultivated.

Very soon, however, the times ceased to be propitious to serene thinking
and investigation of the past. Hasidism, triumphant, having conquered
the whole of Russian-Poland, threatened to crush all thought and reason
at the very time in which the _Kulturkampf_ was battering at the
gates of the Polish ghetto. Rapoport, we have seen, contended with
Hasidism in a witty pamphlet. After him, there appeared a satirist of
great talent, who waged pitiless war with its partisans and with all the
powers of darkness.

Isaac Erter, of Przemysl (1792-1841), was the friend and disciple of
Krochmal. An infant prodigy, he spent all the years of his early
childhood in the exclusive study of the Law. When he was thirteen years
old, his father married him to a girl of eighteen, whom he had not set
eyes upon before the day of their marriage. She did not live long. Erter
went on with his Rabbinic studies, and married a second time. A lucky
chance brought him in contact with a Maskil who led him to the study of
Hebrew grammar, and he became a devotee of the Haskalah. Encouraged by
Rapoport and Krochmal, with whom he had entered into relations, he
published his first satire on Hasidism. It evoked considerable comment.
Persecuted by the fanatics on account of it, he could not continue to
follow his vocation as teacher of Hebrew. He was obliged to quit his
native city, and he went to Brody, where the circle of Maskilim welcomed
him with delight. Otherwise his life at Brody was full of hardships. His
wife, as courageous as she was intelligent, urged him to equip himself
for some serious profession. Accordingly, at the age of thirty-three, he
went to Buda-Pesth to study medicine, and five years later he returned
to Brody fortified with his diploma as a physician. Thereafter he
occupied an independent position, and he could dare wage uncompromising
warfare with obscurantism and the mystics. He published numerous
articles in the periodicals of the day. After his death, they were
collected by the poet Letteris in one volume bearing the title _Ha-
Zofeh le-Bet Yisrael_ ("The Watchman for the House of Israel").

Erter as satirist and critic of morals is a writer of the first order.
For vivacity, his style, at once incisive and elegant, may be compared
with that of his contemporaries Heine and Borne. He possesses not a few
traits in common with these two writers. More serious and positive than
Heine, he pursues a steady aim in his satires. Tears mingle with his
laugh, and if he castigates, it is in order to chasten. More original
and more poetic than Borne, he thinks clearly and to the point, and the
effect of his thought is in no way impaired by his stilted mannerisms.
Without bias or passion, and with fine irony, he rallies the Hasidim on
their baneful superstitions, their worship of angels and demons. He
criticises the ignorance and narrow-mindedness of the Rabbis, and
scourges the shabby vanity of the communal representatives.

Animated by the desire to spread truth and culture among his co-
religionists, he does not direct his attacks against the fanatics alone.
He is equally bold in driving home the truth with the "moderns" of the
ghetto, the "intellectuals", boastful of their diplomas, who seek their
own profit, and do nothing to further the welfare of the people in
general. Corresponding to the number of articles he wrote is the number
of arrows shot into the very heart of the backward system imposed upon
the Jews of his country. He is the first Hebrew poet who dared expose
the social evils honeycombing the curious surroundings, full of
contrasts and _naivete_, amid which his people lived. This he did
in a series of startling descriptions. After the fashion of Cervantes,
he employs ridicule to kill off the Rabbi and murder the mystic.

Erter deserves a place in the first rank of the champions of
civilization among the Jews.

Galicia gave birth also to a lyric poet of some distinction. Meir Halevi
Letteris (1815-1871) was a learned philologist, but his chief literary
excellencies he displayed as a poet. Like Rapoport's, his maiden effort
was a translation of the Biblical dramas of Racine. His workmanship was
exact and beautiful. He was a productive writer, and his activity
expressed itself in every sort of literary form. He left upward of
thirty volumes in prose and verse. [Footnote: His poetry was collected
in one volume, and published at Vienna, under the title _Tofes Kinnor
we-'Ugab_ ("Master of the Lyre and the Cithern").] His Hebrew version
of _Faust_, published at Vienna, is a masterpiece in point of
style, and it gained him conspicuous renown. He ventured upon a bold
departure from Goethe's work. Desiring to transfer the dramatic action
to soil wholly Jewish, he substituted for Faust a Gnostic Rabbi of the
Talmud, Elisha ben Abuyah, surnamed _Aher_ ("Another"). This change
necessitated a number of others, which were far from being advantageous
to the Hebrew version.

The prose of Letteris is heavy. It lacks grace and naturalness,
qualities possessed by the greater number of his contemporaries in
Russia. It should, however, be set down to his credit that, unlike many
others, he never showed any inclination to sacrifice clearness of
thought to elegance of style.

By way of compensation, his poetry, from the point of view of style and
versification, is raised beyond adverse criticism. It merits the
description classic. His numerous translations from modern poets prove
the facility with which the ancient language can be handled by a master.
But, having acknowledged the superiority of his style, the literary
critic has said all there is to be said in praise of his work. The
breath of poesy, the tone of personal inspiration, the gift of fancy,
are on the whole lacking. His most original poems are nothing more than
an echo of the romantic school.

Nevertheless, there is a certain simple charm diffused through some of
his verses, especially those in which he pours out his sorrowful Jewish
heart. His Zionist poems are perfect expressions of the national spirit.
One of them, the very best his muse has produced, has been almost
universally accepted as the national hymn. It Is called _Yonah
Homiah_ ("The Plaintive Dove"). The dove is the symbol for Israel
used by the prophetical writers of the Bible. Her mournful cooing voices
the grief of the Jewish people driven forth from its native land and
forsaken by its God.

  "'Alas for my affliction! I must roam about abandoned since I
  left the shelter in the cleft of my rock. Around me rages the
  storm, alone and forsaken I fly to the forest to seek safety in
  its thickets. My Friend has abandoned me! His anger was kindled,
  because faithless to Him I permitted the stranger to seduce me,
  and now my enemies harry me without respite. Since my Friend
  deserted me, my eyes have been overflowing with tears. Without
  Thee, O my Glory, what care I for life? Better to dwell in the
  shadow of death than wander o'er the wide world. For the
  oppressed death is as a brother in adversity.

  "'Yonder two birds are billing and cooing, and tasting of the
  sweets of love. They live at ease ensconced in the branches of
  the trees, nestling amid green olive vines and garlands of
  flowers. I, only I, am exiled! Where shall I find a refuge? My
  rock-shelter is hedged about with prickly thorns and thistles....
  E'en the wild birds of prey mate happily, only I, poor mourning
  dove, alone among all beings alive, dwell apart. E'en those who
  gorge themselves with innocent blood live tranquil in their home
  eyries. Alas! only the righteous must weep, only the poor are
  stripped of all hope!...

  "'Return, then, my Life, my Breath! Return, my Comforter! Hear my
  bitter wail of woe, lead me back to my home. Have pity on my
  loneliness! Restore Thy love to me, bring me once again
  to the cleft of my rock, and let me hide myself in the shadow of
  Thy wings.'

  "Such moaning and dull wailing, my ear caught in the night, when
  the fields and the woods were bathed in Divine peace; and hearing
  the plaintive voice of the mourning dove, my soul knew it to be
  the voice of the bitter woe of the daughter of my people!"

Other writers and translators in large numbers added to the lustre of
Galicia as a centre of Hebrew literature. The most important among them
is Samson Bloch, the author of a geography of the world, including a
sentimental description of Palestine, written in oratorical style.
Joseph Efrati (1820) wrote an historical drama, _Meluhat Shaul_
("The Royalty of Saul"), which deserves mention for its fine conception.
And Judah Mises, in his two works, _Tekunat ha-Rabbanim_
("Characterization of the Rabbis"), and _Kinat ha-Emet_ ("The Zeal
for Truth"), opposed Rabbinic tradition and the authorities of the
Middle Ages. His antiquated rationalism called forth the severe
reproaches of Rapoport. Nevertheless he stirred up a grave controversy,
which gave rise to a series of consequences extending down to the
literary warfare begun by the collection _Ha-Roeh u-Mebakker_ ("The
Seer and the Searcher"), published by Bodek and Fischmann, in which the
works of Zunz, S. D. Luzzatto, and Jost are criticised.

At this point ceases the dominance of the litterateurs of Austrian
Poland. The centre of literary activity was thereafter transferred to
Russia permanently. Hasidism was about to take complete possession of
Galicia, and Hebrew literature, confined to a few small circles, was
never again to reach there the heights which it had occupied in the days
of Rapoport and Krochmal.

Though the centre of the Hebrew literary movement during the earlier
half of the nineteenth century lay in Galicia, yet the Jews elsewhere
had a share in it. In almost all the Slav countries as well as in the
Occident, in Germany, in Holland, and especially in Italy, Hebrew was
cultivated both by scholars and literary men. Some of the works of Zunz,
Geiger, Jellinek, and Frankel, for instance, were published in Hebrew.

At Amsterdam, out of a whole school of litterateurs, but one name can be
selected for special mention, that of the poet and scholar Samuel Mulder
(1789-1862). Besides being active as the editor of several collections
of essays, and writing remarkable historical studies, he was the
composer of poems very much admired by his contemporaries. Most of them
appeared in the _Bikkure To'elet_ ("Useful First Fruits"), which he
published at Amsterdam, in 1820, under the auspices of the Maskilim
society _To'elet_. The Talmudic narrative about the seduction of
the celebrated wife of Rabbi Meir, forms the subject of an excellent
poem, entitled "Beruriah", on the fickleness of women.

In Germany it was chiefly the discussion evoked by the movement for
religious reforms (1840-1860) that created a literature in Hebrew. To
cite an instance, there was the fiery pamphlet _Or Nogah_ ("The
Bright Light"), by E. Lieberman, a masterpiece in point of style and as
a satire upon the orthodox party, together with the replies of the
Rabbis and the men of letters. It is curious to read pleas, in Hebrew,
for the abolition of the Hebrew language, and against the maintenance of
Jewish nationality. Abraham Geiger sided with the extreme reformers,
while Frankel and Zunz insisted upon the necessity of retaining Hebrew
as the language of worship. Another remarkable pamphlet directed against
religious reforms in Judaism must be singled out for mention, that
written by Meir Israel Bresselau, entitled _Hereb Nokemet Nekam
Berit_ ("The Avenging Sword of the Covenant").

Moses Mendelsohn, of Hamburg, a German Harizi both in the character of
his work and by reason of his position as a straggler of the Meassefim,
was a disciple and imitator of Wessely. His Makamat _Pene Tebel_
("The Face of the World", Amsterdam, 1870) contain literary

Among the contributors to the periodical literature published in
Galicia, Judah Jeiteles, of Prague (1773-1838), should be mentioned as a
writer of epigrams, models of their kind. [Footnote: _Bene ha-
Ne'urim_ ("Youth"), Prague, 1821.]

The following one is addressed to Tirzah:

  "She is as beautiful as the moon, radiant as the sun; her whole
  being resembles the two heavenly luminaries. The maiden lavishes
  her gifts upon the whole world, and like the two orbs she rules
  both day and night."

Jeiteles also carried on a sharp pamphlet war against Hasidism.
[Footnote: Like the Vienna and the Brody of that day, Prague also had
its literary centres. Among its Hebrew men of letters was Gabriel
Sudfeld, the father of the celebrated author Max Nordau, and himself the
author of a drama and of an exegetical work, which appeared in 1850.]

Hungary, whose Jews had the same customs and characteristics as the Jews
of Poland, gave birth to one poet of real merit. Solomon Levinsohn, of
Moor (1789-1822), was brought up in orthodox surroundings, and had to
contend against all sorts of obstacles, spiritual and material. He
triumphed over them, and became a scholar of serious attainments and a
poet of distinction. Besides his historical studies, in German, he wrote
an excellent geography of Palestine, in Hebrew, under the title
_Mehkere Erez_ ("Investigations of the Land"), published at Vienna
in 1819. His poetical treatise _Melizat Yeshurun_ (a Hebrew
rhetoric), also published at Vienna, in 1846, is a master work, both as
a treatise on rhetoric and as poetic literature. The introductory poem,
on "Poetic Eloquence", an apotheosis of poetry and _belles
lettres_, is one of the finest ever written in Hebrew. The poet
displays a rich imagination, his figures of speech are clear-cut and
telling, and his style is remarkable for its classic quality. An unhappy
love affair terminated his days before his genius reached the period of
full flowering. [Footnote: Simon Bacher, the father of the scholar
Wilhelm Bacher, also won a name as an eloquent poet.]

       *       *       *       *       *

The literary movement of the first half of the nineteenth century did
not succeed in making itself felt among the masses. It failed to call
forth a national literature of even a slight degree of originality. The
Maskilim of Galicia fell into the same mistake as their predecessors in
Germany. In constituting themselves the champions of humanism in Poland,
in a community thoroughly religious, and affected by modern conceptions
only superficially, they should not have attached the undue importance
they did to arguments addressed to reason. Their appeal should have been
directed to the feelings of their co-religionists. They labored under
the delusion that positive reasoning could carry conviction to a people
immersed in mystical speculation, crushed by the double yoke of
ceremonialism and an inferior social position, and sustained only by the
Messianic hope of a glorious future. If Galician humanism never spread
beyond the small circles of the literary, it was only what might have
been expected. It could not become a popular movement. Neither the depth
of thinkers like Rapoport and Krochmal, nor the biting satire of an
Erter, nor the Zionistic lyricism of a Letteris, had force enough to cry
a halt to the Hasidim and impede their dark work. In point of fact, the
newer ideas all but failed to make an impression on the most independent
of the young Rabbis. They were affrighted by the religious decadence in
evidence in Germany, and they took a rather determined stand in
opposition to the spread of a secular literature in Hebrew. [Footnote:
Cases might be cited besides that of the learned friend of Rapoport,
Jacob Samuel Bick, referred to by Bernfeld in his biography of Rapoport,
p. 13. He deserted from the humanist camp, in which his Jewish feeling
was left unsatisfied, and took refuge in Hasidism.] As a result, we
shall see a steady decline in the position of the Hebrew litterateur in
Poland, and a decrease in the number of Hebrew publications. The
_Mehabber_ makes his appearance as a type--the vagabond author who
offers his own writings for sale, fairly forcing them on unwilling
purchasers. No more eloquent index is needed to the state of a
struggling literature.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is questionable whether the work of the Galician Maskilim would not
have been doomed to perpetual sterility, with no hope of ever making an
impression on the Jewish masses, if an Italian writer had not appeared
on the scene, who possessed the Jewish feeling that was lacking in his
predecessors. In Samuel David Luzzatto general culture and genuine
breadth of mind were united with Jewish loyalty raised to the highest
pitch. He succeeded in discovering the formula by which modern culture
can be brought to the religious without wounding their Jewish
sensibilities. The life and work of so remarkable a personage deserve
more than passing mention.

After a rather long period of inactivity in Hebrew letters in Italy, a
new literary and scientific school sprang into being during the first
half of the nineteenth century. It participated with notable success in
the movement of the north. The celebrated critic, Isaac Samuel Reggio
(1784-1854), an independent thinker, exercised enormous influence upon
his contemporaries by his publications in the history of literature and
his bold articles on religious reform. His chief work, "The Law and
Philosophy", which appeared in Vienna in 1827, is an attempt at
harmonizing the Jewish Law with science.

The best known of the poets were Joseph Almanzi (1790-1860) and Rachel
Morpurgo. [Footnote: The reader is referred to the anthology of the
Italian poets of the period, published by Abraham Baruch Piperno, under
the title _Kol Ugab_ ("The Voice of the Harp", Leghorn, 1846).]
Almanzi's poems were published in two collections, one entitled
_Higgayon be-Kinnor_ ("The Lyric Harp"), and _Nezem Zahab_
("Ornament of Gold").

Rachel Morpurgo (1790-1860), a kinswoman of the Luzzatto family, left a
collection of poems on various subjects, entitled _'Ugab Rahel_
("The Harp of Rachel"), a carefully prepared edition of which was
published by the scholar Vittorio Castiglioni. It is a curious document
in the history of Hebrew literature. The language of the poetess is
essentially Biblical, her style sprightly and original, and her thought
is dominated by a fine serenity of soul and unwavering faith in the
Messianic future of Israel.

The following sonnet was inspired by the democratic revolution of 1848,
which shook modern society to its very foundations, and in which the
Jews were largely and deeply interested:

  "He who bringeth low the proud, hath brought low all the kings of
  the earth.... He hath sent disaster and ruin into the fortified
  cities, and sated with blood their cringing defenders.

  "All, both young and old, gird on the sword, greedier for prey
  than the beasts of the forest; they all cry for liberty, the wise
  and the boors; the fury of the battle rages like the billows of
  the stormy sea....

  "Not thus the servants of God, the valiant of His host. They do
  battle day and night with their evil inclinations. Patiently they
  bear the yoke of their Rock, and increase cometh to their
  strength. My Friend is like a hart, like a sportive gazelle.

  "He will sound the great trumpet to summon the Deliverer;
  the righteous Sprout shall grow forth from the earth. Their Rock
  will soothe their pain, He will repair every breach. The Lord
  reigneth, and the earth rejoiceth aloud."

Rachel's finest poem is without a doubt the one named _'Emek 'Akor_
("The Dark Valley") in which she affirms her steadfast faith in the
truths and consolations of religion:

  "O dark valley, covered with night and mist, how long wilt thou
  keep me bound with thy chains? Better to die and abide under the
  shadow of the Almighty, than sit desolate in the seething

  "I discern them from afar, the hills of eternity, their ever-
  enduring summits clothed with garlands of bloom. O that I might
  rise on wings like the eagle, fly upward with my eyes, and raise
  my countenance and gaze into the heart of the sun!

  "O Heaven, how beautiful are thy paths, they lead to where
  liberty reigneth ever. How gentle the zephyrs wafted over thy
  heights, who hath words to tell?"

The same mystic note struck by Rachel Morpurgo recurs in the works of
other Italian writers of the time. It distinguishes them strikingly from
their contemporaries in Galicia and Russia, who proclaim themselves
almost without exception the followers of a relentless rationalism.

       *       *       *       *       *

Unquestionably the most original of all these writers, and the one who
occupied the most prominent and influential place, is Samuel David
Luzzatto (1800-1865). He was born at Triest, the son of a carpenter, a
poor man, but none the less educated and respected. The childhood years
of Luzzatto were passed in poverty and study. He emerged a conqueror
from the struggle for life and knowledge. As early as 1829 he was
appointed rector of the Rabbinical Seminary at Padua. Thereafter he
could devote himself without hindrance to science and the education of
disciples, many of whom became celebrated.

Luzzatto's learning was vast in extent and as thorough. Besides, he
possessed literary taste and modern culture. In his southern
temperament, feeling had the upper hand of reason. He was an
indefatigable worker, his mind was always actively alert. Versed alike
in philology, archaeology, poetry, and philosophy, he was productive in
each of these departments, without ever laying himself open to the
charge of mediocrity. He was the creator of the Science of Judaism in
the Italian language, but above all he was a Hebrew writer.

He published excellent editions of the Hebrew masters of the Middle
Ages, for the first time bringing to the doors of readers, scholarly
readers as well as others, the works of such poets as Jehudah Halevi
(Prague, 1840). The notes in these editions of his are ingenious and
scientific. His own verses and poems are wholly devoid of inspiration
and fancy, but in form and style they are irreproachable. [Footnote:
_Kinnor Na'im_ ("The Sweet Lyre"), Vienna, 1835, and others.] His
prose is vigorous and precise, at the same time preserving some of the
Oriental charm native to the Hebrew.

His chief distinction is that he was a romantic Jew. His patriotic heart
was chilled by the attacks upon the Jewish religion and upon Jewish
nationalism by the German and Galician humanists. He was hostile to
rationalism, and opposed it all his life. In his sight, science, the
importance of which he in no degree denied, was yet not equal in value
to religious feeling. This alone, he held, is able to establish morality
in a position of supremacy.

S. Bernfeld, in his sketch of Rapoport, considers it a surprising
anachronism that this romanticist, this Jewish Chateaubriand, should
have appeared on the scene at the very moment of the triumph of
rationalism in Hebrew letters everywhere. [Footnote: Warsaw and Berlin,
1899] Luzzatto was the first among Hebrew humanists to claim the right
of existence not only for Jewish nationality, but also for the Jewish
religion in its integrity.

  "A people in possession of a land of its own can maintain itself,
  even without a religion of its own. But the Jewish people,
  dispersed in all four corners of the earth, can maintain itself
  only by virtue, of its attachment to its faith. And if, heaven
  forbid, it should cease to believe in revelation, it must
  inevitably be assimilated with the other peoples.... The science
  of Judaism, with which some scholars are at present occupying
  themselves in Germany, cannot preserve Judaism. [1] It is not an
  object in itself to them. When all is said, Goethe and Schiller
  are more important to these gentlemen, and much dearer to them,
  than all the prophets and all the Rabbis of the Talmud. They
  pursue the Science of Judaism pretty much as others study
  Egyptology or Assyriology, or the lore of Persia. They are
  inspired by a love of science, by the desire for personal renown,
  or, at best, by the intention to attach glory to the name of
  Israel, and they extol certain old works for the purpose of
  hastening the first redemption, that is, the political
  emancipation of the Jews. But this Science of Judaism has no
  stability. It cannot survive the emancipation of the Jews, or the
  death of those who studied the Torah and believed in God and
  Moses before they took lessons of Eichhorn and his disciples."

  "The true Science of Judaism, the science which will last as long
  as time itself, is that which is founded on the faith; which
  endeavors to understand the Bible as a Divine work, and the
  history of a peculiar people whose lot has been peculiar; which,
  finally, dwells upon those moments in the various epochs of
  Jewish history when the innate genius of Judaism wages a conflict
  with the genius of humanity in general, as it lies in wait
  without, and how the Divine spirit of Judaism mastered the spirit
  of humanity throughout all the centuries. For the day on which
  the positions shall be reversed, and the spirit of humanity shall
  remain in possession of the field, that day will be the last in
  the life of the people of Israel."

[Footnote 1: Jost, in his "History of the Jewish People", etc.]

This conception of the providential role assigned to Israel is the point
at which the Italian romanticist meets Krochmal, wide apart though their
starting-places are. At bottom both do but interpret the ancient notion
of the Divine selection of Israel and of a "chosen people". But while
Krochmal regards religion as a fleeting phase in the existence of the
nation, for Luzzatto religion is an essential element in Judaism, a view
not unlike Bossuet's. However, it does not lead him astray. He still
tries to harmonize faith with the demands of the modern spirit. The
Jewish religion is in his opinion the moral doctrine _par
excellence_. Like Heine he takes the world to be dominated by two
opposite forces, Hellenism and Hebraism. Justice, truth, the good, and
self-abnegation, whatever appertains to these is Jewish. The beautiful,
the rational, the sensuous, is Attic. Luzzatto does not hesitate to
criticise the masters of the Middle Ages rather sharply, chief among
them Maimonides, who attempted the impossible when he endeavored to
harmonize science and faith, reason and feeling, Moses and Aristotle.
These are the irreconcilable oppositions in human life.

  "Science does not make us happy; the highest morality alone is
  capable of conferring true happiness upon us, and spiritual
  peace. And this morality is to be found not with Aristotle, but
  only with the prophets of Israel.

  "The happiness of the Jewish people, the people of morality, does
  not depend upon its political emancipation, but upon its faith
  and its morality. The French and German Rabbis of the Middle
  Ages, simple-minded and uncultured, but pious and sincere, are
  preferable to the speculative minds of Spain, whose arguing and
  rhetoric warped their judgment."

Such ideas as these involved Luzzatto in discussions and polemics with
the greater number of his friends, the German Jewish scholars, whose
views were far removed from his. He defied his contemporaries, as he
attacked the masters of the Middle Ages. In one of his letters he goes
to the length of asserting, that while Jost and his colleagues were
engaged in what they believed to be the useful work of defending Judaism
against its enemies, they were in reality doing it more harm than these
same enemies. The latter tended to preserve the Jewish people as a
nation apart, while the rationalistic criticism of the former, directed
against the Jewish religion, burst the bonds that hold the nation
together, and hasten its dissolution.

  "When, my dear German scholars", he cries out vehemently, "when
  will the Lord open your eyes? How long will you fail to
  understand that, carried away by the general current, you are
  permitting national feeling to become extinct and the language of
  our ancestors to fall into desuetude, and are thus preparing the
  way for the triumphant invasion of Atticism.... So long as you do
  not teach that the Good is not that which is visible to the eyes,
  but that which is felt within the heart, and that the prosperity
  of our people is not dependent upon civil emancipation, but upon
  the love of a man for his neighbor, ... their hearts will not be
  possessed with zeal for God." [Footnote: Letters, I, No. 267, p.

Luzzatto has no fondness for dry dogmatism, nor for detailed
prohibitions and Rabbinic controversies. He is too modern for that, too
much of a poet. What he loves is the poetry of religion. He is attracted
by its moral elevation. Like Jehudah Halevi, the sentimental philosopher
whose successor he is, Luzzatto feels and thinks in the peculiar fashion
that distinguishes the intuitive minds among the Jews. He loves his
native country, and this love appears clearly in his writings, yet, at
the same time, they all, whether in prose, as in his Letters, or in
verse, as in the _Kinnor Na'im_, sound a Zionistic note.

       *       *       *       *       *

Luzzatto became the founder of a school. Writers of our own day, like
Vittorio Castiglioni, Eude Lolli, and others, draw upon the works of the
master as a source, and they acknowledge it openly. His philological and
linguistic works, the _Bet ha-Ozar_ among others, have inestimable
value, and his Letters, published by Graber in five volumes, the edition
from which most of the passages cited have been taken, abundantly prove
his influence on his contemporaries.

He was a master and a prophet, a gracious and brilliant exponent of the
Renascence of Hebrew literature, which had been inaugurated by one of
his ancestors, another Luzzatto.

A century of efforts and uninterrupted labor had wrought the
resurrection of the Hebrew language. After it had been transformed into
a modern tongue, in touch with all departments of thought, the sole
remaining task was to make it acceptable to the masses of the orthodox
Jews, and use it as an effective instrument of social and religious
emancipation. This task became easy of accomplishment because Luzzatto
knew how to direct the mind of his contemporaries. He found the key to
the heart of the masses.

A message in verse addressed to him by a young Lithuanian poet, in 1857,
gives an eloquent interpretation of the sentiment felt for the Italian
_maestro_ by the devotees of a budding school of literature:

  "From the icy north country, where the flowers and the sun endure
  but a few short moons, these halting lines speed with their
  greeting away from the hoar frost, to the eloquent sage in the
  southland, enthroned among the wise and extolled by the pious--to
  the gentle guide whose heart burns, like the sun of his own fair
  land, with love for the people whence he was hewn, and for the
  tongue of the Jews." [Footnote: Poems, by J. L. Gordon, St.
  Petersburg, 1884, I, p. 125.]

The "icy north country" was Lithuania, in which the literary movement
had just effected a triumphal entry, bringing with it the light of
science, and the young poet was Judah Leon Gordon, destined to become
the greatest Jewish poet of the nineteenth century.

       *       *       *       *       *

Here we arrive at the end of the first part of our essay, devoted in
particular to Hebrew literature in Western Europe. For its future we
must look to the East.

       *       *       *       *       *




We are in the Jewish country, perhaps the only Jewish country in the
world. [Footnote: See Slouschz, _Massa' be-Lita_ ("Journey through
Lithuania"), Jerusalem, 1899.]

The last to participate in the intellectual movement of European
Judaism, the Lithuanian Jews start into view, in the second half of the
seventeenth century, as a peculiar social organism, clearly marked as
such from its first appearance. The Rabbis and scholars of Lithuania
acquired fame without a struggle, and its Rabbinical schools quickly
became the busy centres of Talmudic research.

The destinies of the Jewish population of Lithuania, so different in
character from that of Poland proper, were ruled absolutely by the
"Synod of the Four Countries", with Brest, and afterwards Wilna, as

The revolutions and upheavals to which is due the social and religious
decadence of the Polish Jews during the eighteenth century, barely
touched this forsaken corner of the earth. Even the Cossack invasion
dealt leniently with Lithuania, if the city of Wilna is excepted, and
its early annexation by Russia saved the province from the anarchy and
excitement which agitated Poland during its latter days.

Left to their fate, neglected by the authorities, and forming almost the
whole of the urban population, the Jews of Lithuania, in the full glare
of the eighteenth century, were in all essentials an autonomous
community with Jewish national and theocratic features. The Talmud did
service as their civil and religious code. The court of final appeal was
a Rabbinical expert, supported by the central synod and the local
_Kahal_, and exercising absolute authority over the moral and
material interests of those subordinated to his jurisdiction. The study
of the Law was carried to the extreme of devotion. To have an
illiterate, an _'Am ha-Arez_, a "rustic", in one's family, was
considered a pitiable fate.

Lithuania, in fine, was the promised land of Rabbinism, in which
everything favored the development of a national Jewish centre.

The natural poverty of the country, its barren soil, dense forests, and
lack of populous centres of civilization, all tended to keep the Polish
lords aloof. Poland offered them a more inviting sojourn. There was
nothing to hinder the pious scholars who had escaped from religious
persecution in the countries of Europe, especially France and Germany,
from devoting themselves, with all their heart and energy, to the study
of the Talmud and the ceremonials of their religion. No infusion of
aliens disturbed them. The inhospitable skies, the absence of
diversions, little troubled the refugees of the ghetto, for whom the
Book and the dead letter were all-sufficing. They were not affected,
their dignity was hardly wounded, by the haughty and arbitrary treatment
which the nobleman accorded to the Jewish "factor" and steward, and by
the many humiliations which were the price paid in return for the right
to live, for without the protection of the lords they would not have
been able to hold out against the wretched orthodox peasants. In
morality and in race, however, they considered themselves the superior
of the "Poriz", the Polish nobleman, with his extravagance and folly.

In the villages, the Jews had the upper hand, either as the actual
owners of the estates, or as the overseers, and in the rude cities with
their wooden buildings, they constituted the bulk of the merchants, the
middlemen, the artisans, even the workmen. They all led a sordid life.
Mere existence required a bitter struggle. Destitute of all pleasures
save the intimate joys of family life, fostering no ambition except such
as was connected with the study of the Law, disciplined by religious
authority, and chastened by austere and rigid principles of morality,
the Jewish masses had a peculiar stamp impressed upon their character by
their life of subjection and misery. The mind was constantly kept alert
by the dialectics of the Talmud and the ingenious efforts needed to
secure one's daily bread. Even the Messianic dreams, inspired by a
belief in Divine justice and in the moral and religious superiority of
Israel, rather than by a mystic conception of life, gave but a faint
touch of beauty and glamour to an existence so mournful, so abjectly

Such was, and such in part is still, the manner in which they live--a
sober, energetic, melancholy, and subtle people, the mass of the two
millions of Jews who reside in Lithuania and White Russia, and send
forth, to the great capitals of Europe and to the countries beyond seas,
a stream of industrious immigrants, resourceful intellectually and

In the second half of the eighteenth century, thanks to the peace with
which Lithuania was blessed after its subjection by Russia, Rabbinical
studies reached their zenith. The high schools, the _Yeshibot_,
became the centres of attraction for the best of the young men. The
number of writers and scholars increased considerably, and the Hebrew
printing presses were kept in full blast. The ideal of every Lithuanian
Jew was, if not to marry his daughter to a scholar, at least to have a
_Bahur_ at his table, a student of the Talmud, a prospective Rabbi.
"The Torah is the best _Sehorah_" ("merchandise"), every Lithuanian
mother croons at the cradle of her child.

In those days a Rabbinic authority arose like unto whom none had been
known among Jews in the later centuries, and his earnest, independent
genius, as well as his moral grandeur, conferred a consecration upon the
peculiar spiritual tendencies prevailing in Lithuanian Judaism, which he
personified at its loftiest. Elijah of Wilna, surnamed "the Gaon", "his
Excellency", succeeded in resisting the assaults of Hasidism, which
threatened to overwhelm, if not the learned among them, certainly the
Lithuanian masses. To parry the dangers of mysticism, which exercised so
powerful an attraction that the dry and subtle casuistry of Rabbinic
learning could not damp its ardor, he broke with scholastic methods, and
took up a comparatively rational interpretation of texts and the laws.
He went to the extreme of asserting the value of profane and practical
knowledge, the pursuit of which could not but bring advantage to the
study of the Law--a position unheard of at his day, and excusable only
in so popular a man as he was. He himself wrote a treatise on
mathematics, and philologic research was a favorite occupation with him.
His pupils followed his example; they translated several scientific
works into Hebrew, and founded schools and centres of puritanism, not
only in Lithuania, but also as far away as Palestine. From this time on
the _Yeshibah_ of Wolosin became the chief seat of traditional
Talmud study and Rabbinic rationalism.

One of the contemporaries of "the Gaon" was the physician Judah Hurwitz,
of Wilna, who opposed Hasidism in his pamphlet _Megillat Sedarim_
("A Book of Essays"), and in his ethical work _Ammude Bet-Yehudah_
("The Pillars of the House of Judah ", Prague, 1793), he pleads the
cause of internationalism and the equality of men and races!

It would be rash to suppose that an echo of the studies of the
Encyclopedists had reached a province double-barred and double-locked by
politics and religion. The European languages were unknown in the
Lithuanian Jewries of the Gaon's day, and his pupils sought their mental
pabulum in the writings of the Jewish scholars of the Middle Ages,
Maimonides, and Albo, and their compeers. The result was an odd,
whimsical science. False, antiquated notions and theories were
introduced through the medium of the Hebrew, and they attained no slight
vogue. At the end of the eighteenth century, a certain Elias, a Rabbi,
also of Wilna, undertook to gather all the facts of science into one
collection. He compiled a curious encyclopedia, the _Sefer ha-
Berit_ ("The Book of the Covenant"). By the side of geographic
details of the most fantastic sort, he set down chemical discoveries and
physical laws in the form of magical formulas. This book, by no means
the only one of its kind, was reprinted many a time, and in our own day
it still affords delight to orthodox readers.

A long time passed before the Russian government took note of the
intellectual condition of its Jewish subjects, who, in turn, asked
nothing better than to be left undisturbed. Nevertheless, the treatment
accorded them by the government was not calculated to inspire them with
great confidence in it. As for a Russification of the Jewish masses,
there could be no question of that, at a time when Russian civilization
and language were themselves in an embryonic state.

It was only when the first Alexander came to the throne that the reforms
planned by the government began to make an impression upon the distant
ghetto. A special commission was instituted for the purpose of studying
the conditions under which the Jews were living, and how to ameliorate
them materially and intellectually. The first close contact between Jews
and Russians took place in the little town of Shklow, inhabited almost
entirely by Jews. It was an important station on the route from the
capital to Western Europe, and the Jews were afforded an opportunity of
entering into relations with men of mark, both Russians and strangers,
who passed through on their way to St. Petersburg. [Footnote: As early
as 1780 a Hebrew ode was published on the occasion of Empress Catherine
II's passing through Shklow. A printing press was set up there about
1777, and it was at Shklow that a litterateur, N. H. Schulmann, made the
first attempt to found a weekly political journal in Hebrew, announcing
it in his edition of the _Zeker Rab_.] A circle of literary men
under the influence of the Meassefim was founded there, and a curious
literary document issued thence testifies to the hopes aroused by the
reform projects planned in the reign of Alexander I for the improvement
of the condition of the Jews. It is a pamphlet bearing the title _Kol
Shaw'at Bat-Yehudah_, or _Sinat ha-Dat_ ("The Loud Voice of the
Daughter of Judah", or "Religious Hatred"), and published, in Shklow in
1803, in Hebrew and Russian. The author, whose name was Lob Nevakhovich,
protests energetically, in behalf of truth and humanity, against the
contemptuous treatment accorded the Jews. [Footnote: Grandfather of the
well-known scholar E. Metchnikoff, of the Pasteur Institute.]

  "Ah, ye Christians, men of the newer faith, who vaunt your mercy
  and lovingkindness! Exercise your mercy upon us, turn your loving
  hearts toward us. Why do you scorn the Jew? If he forsakes his
  faith, how doth it profit you? Have you not heard the voice of
  Moses Mendelssohn, the celebrated writer of our people, who asked
  your co-religionists, 'Of what avail that you should continue to
  attach men lacking faith and religion to yourselves'? Can you
  not understand that the Jew, too, loves righteousness and justice
  like unto yourselves? Why do you constantly scrutinize the
  _man_ to find the _Jew_ in him? Seek but the man in the
  Jew, and you will surely find him!"

Like so many that have followed, this first appeal awakened no answering
echo in Russian hearts. A century has passed since then, and Russia
still fails to find the man in the unconverted Jew!

The hopes aroused in the Jews of Lithuania by the Napoleonic wars were
disappointed. An iron hand held them down, and they continued to
vegetate miserably in their gloomy, abandoned corner.

       *       *       *       *       *

The story goes that when Napoleon at the head of the _grande armee_
entered Wilna, the exclamation was forced from him, "Why, this is the
Jerusalem of Lithuania!" Whether the story is true or not, it is a fact
that no other city was more deserving of the epithet. The residence of
the Gaon was a Jewish metropolis as early as the eighteenth century, and
during the whole of the nineteenth century Wilna was the Jewish city
_par excellence_, a distinction to which it was helped by several
facts--by the systematic and intentional elimination of the Polish
element, especially since the insurrection of 1831, by the prohibition
of the Polish language, the closing of the university, and the absence
of a Lithuanian population. The dethroned capital of a people betrayed
by its nobility became, after its abandonment by the native inhabitants,
the centre of a Jewry independent of its surroundings and undisturbed in
its internal development. Without in the least deviating from Rabbinic
traditions, its constitutional platform, Jewish society in Wilna was
gradually penetrated by modern ideas.

The humanism of the German Jews, the Haskalah, met with no effective
resistance in a comparatively enlightened world, prepared for it by the
school of the Gaon. The Rabbinical students themselves were the first
representatives of humanism in Lithuania. They became as ambitious in
cultivating the Hebrew language and studying the secular sciences
presented in it, as in searching out and examining the Talmud. Sprung
from the people, living its life and sharing in its miseries, separated
from Christian society by a barrier of prescriptions that seemed
insuperable to them, the earliest of the Lithuanian litterateurs
vitalized their young love for science and Hebrew letters with the
disinterested devotion that characterizes the idealists of the ghetto in

A literary circle, known as the "Berliners", was formed in Wilna, about
1830. It was the pattern after which a large number were modelled a
little later, all of them pursuing Hebrew literature with zeal and

Two writers of worth, both from Wilna, the one a poet, the other a prose
writer, headed the literary procession in Lithuania.

Abraham Bar Lebensohn (Adam ha-Kohen, 1794-1880), surnamed the "father
of poetry", was born at Wilna. He spent a sad childhood. Left motherless
early, he was deprived of the love and the care that are the only
consolations known to a child of the ghetto. At the age of three, he was
sent to the _Heder_, at seven he was a student of the Talmud, then
casuistry occupied his mind, and, finally, the Kabbalah. The last had
but feeble attractions for the future poet. His mental mould was
determined by his thorough study of the Bible and Hebrew grammar, which
was good form in Wilna as early as his day, and the works of Wessely,
for whom he always professed warm admiration, had a decided influence
upon his poetic bias.

In his first attempts at poetry, Lebensohn did not depart greatly from
the achievements of the many Rabbinical students whose favorite pastime
was to discuss the events of the day in Hebrew verse. An elegy to the
memory of a Rabbi, an ode celebrating the equivocal glory of a Polish
nobleman, and similar subjects, were the natural choice of the muse of
the era, and the early flights of our author were not different. There
was nothing in them to betray the future poet of merit. A little later
he took up the study of German, but his knowledge of the language was
never more than superficial. Haunted by the fame of Schiller, he devoted
himself to poetry, and imitated the German poets, or tried to imitate
them, for he never succeeded in grasping the true meaning of German
poetry, nor in understanding erotic literature. To the Rabbinical
student, with his puritanic spirit and austere manners, it was a
collocation of poetic figures of speech and symbolic expressions.

His life differed in no wise from that of the poor Jews of the ghetto.
Given in marriage early by his father, he suddenly found himself deep in
the bitter struggle for existence, before he had known the transport of
living, or youth, or the passions, or love, or the inner doubts and
beliefs that contend with one another in the heart of man. Feeling for
nature, aesthetic delights, were strange provinces to this son of the
ghetto. A conception of art that is destitute of a moral aim would have
passed his understanding and his puritanic horizon. Too much of a free-
thinker to follow the Rabbinical profession, he taught Hebrew to
children--an unremunerative occupation, and little respected in a
society in which the most ignorant are not uninstructed, and in which,
the choice of vocations being restricted, the unsuccessful and the
unskilled naturally drop into teaching. Ten years of it, daily from
eight in the morning until nine at night, undermined his health. He fell
sick, and was compelled to give up his hap-hazard calling, to the great
gain of Hebrew poetry. He went into the brokerage business, and his
small leisure he devoted to his muse. Harassed by petty, sordid cares,
this broker was yet a genuine idealist, though it cannot be maintained
that Lebensohn was of the stuff of which dreamers are made and great
poets. But in his mind, rationalistic and logical to the point of
dryness, there was a secluded recess pervaded with melancholy and real
feeling. The Hebrew language he cherished with ardent and exalted love.
Is it not a beautiful language and admirable? Is it not the last relic
saved from the shipwreck in which all the national possessions of our
people were lost? And is not he, Lebensohn himself, the heir to the
prophets, the poet laureate and high priest to the holy language? With
what pride he unveils the state of his soul to us:

  "I am seated at the table of God, and with my hand I guide His
  pen; and my hand writes the language holy unto Him, the language
  of His Law, the language of His people, Selah! O God, arouse,
  awake my spirit, for is it not Thy holy language wherein I sing
  unto Thee?" [Footnote: _Shire Sefat Kodesh_, II, i.]

A creature of his surroundings, and a disciple of the Rabbis, as he was,
the dialectics of a logician were in him joined to native simplicity of
spirit, yet he never reached the point of understanding the inner world
of struggles and passions that agitate the individual lives of men. For
a love song or a poem in praise of nature, he thought it necessary only
to copy the German authors and link together a series of pointed verses.
The poem "David and Bath-sheba" is a failure. His descriptions of nature
are dry and artificial. He was never able to account for what was
happening under his eyes and around him. Events produced an effect upon
him out of all proportion to their importance. The military and civic
reforms of Nicholas I, he celebrated in an ode, in which he applied the
enthusiastic praise "Henceforth Israel will see only good!" to
regulations that were wholly prejudicial to Jewish interests. When some
Jewish banker or other was appointed consul-general in the Orient, he
welcomed the occurrence in dithyrambic verses, dedicated to the poor
fellow in the name of the Jews of Lithuania and White Russia. But
whenever the heart of our poet beats in unison with the sentiments of
his Jewish brethren, whenever he surrenders himself to the sadness, the
peculiar melancholy, that pervades Jewish relations, then he attains to
moral heights and lyric vigor unsurpassed. In his three volumes of
poetry, by the side of numerous worthless pieces, we meet many gems of
style and thought. The distressed cry of humanity against the
wretchedness under which it staggers, the sorrowful protest man makes
against the lack of compassion he encounters in his fellow, his
obstinate refusal to understand the implacable cruelty of nature when
she snatches his dearest from him, and his impotence in the presence of
death--these are the subjects that have inspired Lebensohn's best
efforts. He insists constantly, Is not pity the daughter of heaven? Do
we not find her among beasts even, and among reptiles? Man alone is a
stranger to her, and he makes himself the tyrant of his neighbor.

But it is not man alone who refuses to know this daughter of heaven,
Nature denies pity, too, and shows herself relentless:

  "O world! House of mourning, valley of weeping! Thy rivers are
  tears, and thy soil ashes. Upon thy surface thou bearest men that
  mourn, and in thy bowels the corpses of the dead.... From out of
  the mountains covered with snow and ice comes forth a chariot
  with none to guide. Within sits man and the wife of his bosom,
  beautiful as a flower, and at their knees play sweet children.
  Alas! a caravan of the dead simulating life! They journey on, and
  they go astray, and perish on the icy fields."

Distress round about, and all hopes collapsed, death hovers apart, yet
near, remorseless, threatening, and in the end victorious.

In another poem, entitled "The Weeping Woman", his subject is pity
again. He cries out:

  "Thy enemy [cruelty] is stronger than thou. If thou art a burning
  fire, she is a current of icy water!... Alas for thee, O pity!
  Where is he that will have pity upon thee?"

With a few vigorous strokes, the Hebrew poet describes the nothingness
of man in the face of the vast world. The lot of the Hamlets and of the
Renes is more enviable than that of the "Mourner" of the ghetto. They at
least taste of life before becoming a prey to melancholy and delivering
themselves up to pessimism. They know the charms of living and its
vexations. The disappointed son of the ghetto lays no stress on
gratifications and pleasures. In the name of the supreme moral law he
sets himself up for a pessimistic philosopher.

  "Our life is a breath, light as a floating bark. The grave is at
  the very threshold of life, it awaits us not far from the womb of
  our mother....

  "Since the beginnings of the earth, we have been here, and she
  changes us like the grass of her soil. She stands firm, unshaken.
  We alone are changeable, and help there is none for us, no
  refuge, nor may we decline to come hither. Like an angler of
  fish, the world brings us up on a hook. Before it has finished
  devouring one generation, the next is ready for its fate. One is
  swallowed up, the other snatched away. Whence cometh our help?"

To this general destruction, this wildness of the elements, which the
"Mourner" fails to comprehend, permeated as he is with belief in Divine
justice, is superadded the malice of man.

  "And thou also, thou becomest a scourge unto thy brother! The
  heavenly host is joined by thy fellow-man. From the wrath of man,
  O man, thou wilt never escape. His jealousy of thee will last for
  aye, until thou art no more!"

And with all this, does life offer aught substantial, aught that is

  "Where are they, the forgotten generations? Their very name and
  memory have disappeared. And in the generation to come, we, too,
  shall be forgotten. And who escapes his lot? Not a single one of
  us all. None is secure from death. Wealth, wisdom, strength,
  beauty, all are nothing, nothing...."

In a burst of revolt, our poet exclaims:

  "If I knew that my voice with its reverberations sufficed to
  destroy the earth and the fulness thereof, and all the hosts of
  heaven, I would cry with a thundering noise: Cease! Myself I
  would return to nothing with the rest of mankind. Know not the
  living that the grave will swallow them up after a life of
  sadness and cruel misery? See they not that the whole of human
  life is like the flash that goes before the fatal thunderbolt?"

The same train of thought is not met with again until we come down to
our own time, and Maupassant himself does not present it with greater
vigor in _Sur l'eau_.

And the end of the matter is that "man has nothing but the consciousness
of sorrow; he is naked and starved, feeble and without energy. His soul
desires all that he has not, and so he longs and languishes day and

The uncertainty caused by the certainty of death, the terror inspired by
the fatal end, the aching regrets over the parting with dear ones, these
feelings, which possess even the devoutest Jew, are expressed in one of
Lebensohn's most beautiful poems, "The Death Agony", and in "Knowledge
and Death" the skepticism of the Maskil prevails over the optimism of
the Jew.

Sometimes he permits himself to sing of the misery of his people as
such. In "The Wail of the Daughter of Judah" (_Naakat Bat-
Yehudah_), it would not be too much to say that there is an echo of
the best of the Psalms. The weakest of his verses are, nevertheless,
those in which he expresses longing for Jerusalem.

A great misfortune befell Lebensohn. The premature death of his son, the
young poet Micah Joseph, the centre of many and legitimate hopes,
extorted cries of distress and despair from him.

  "Who, alas! hath driven my bird from my nest? Who is it that hath
  banished my lyre from my abode? Who hath shattered my heart, and
  brought me lamentation?... Who hath with one blow blasted my

There is enough in his writings to make the fortune of a great poet, in
spite of their ballast of mediocre and tiresome verses, which the reader
should disregard as he goes along. Between him and his contemporary, the
haughty recluse Alfred de Vigny, there is not a little resemblance.
Needless to say that Lebensohn had no acquaintance whatsoever with the
works of the French poet.

Lebensohn's poems, published at Wilna, in 1852, under the title "Poems
in the Holy Language" (_Shire Sefat Kodesh_), were greeted with
enthusiasm. The author was hailed as the "father of poetry". Besides, he
published several works treating of grammar and exegesis.

When the celebrated philanthropist Montefiore went to Russia, in 1848,
to induce the Czar's government to ameliorate the civil condition of the
Jews and grant reforms in the conduct of the schools, Lebensohn ranged
himself publicly on the side of the reformers. According to him, the
degradation of the Jews was due to three main causes:

1. Absence of Haskalah, that is, a rational education, founded upon
instruction in the language of the land, the ordinary branches of
knowledge, and a handicraft.

2. The ignorance of the Rabbis and preachers on all subjects outside of

3. Indulgence in luxuries, especially of the table and of dress.

If the first two causes are more or less just, the third displays a
ludicrously naive conception of life. Lebensohn was speaking of a
famished people, the majority of whom ate meat only once a week, on the
Sabbath, and he reproaches them with gastronomic excesses and
extravagance in dress. We shall see that his simple outlook was shared
by most of the Russian Maskilim.

In 1867, at the time when the struggle for the emancipation of the Jews
and internal reforms in general was at its highest point, Lebensohn
published his drama "Truth and Faith" (_Emet we-Emunah_, Wilna),
which he had written all of twenty years earlier. It is a purely
didactic work, blameless of any trace of poetic ardor. It must be
conceded that the style is clear and fluent, and the ethical problem is
stated with precision. But it lacks every attempt at analysis of
character, and is destitute of all psychologic motivation. These being
of the very essence of dramatic composition, his drama reduces itself to
a moral treatise, wearisome at once and worthless. The plan is simple
enough. Sheker (Falsehood) seeks to seduce and win over Hamon (the
Crowd). He offers to give him his daughter Emunah (Faith) in marriage,
but she is wooed by two lovers, Emet (Truth) and Sekel (Reason).

The influence of Moses Hayyim Luzzatto is direct and manifest. Like the
older author, Lebensohn, skeptic though he is, does not go to the length
of casting doubt upon faith. He rises up against falsehood, hypocrisy,
and mock piety, the piety that persecutes others, and steeps its
votaries in ignorance. "Pure reason is not opposed to a pure religion",
was the device adopted by the Wilna school.

Belief in God being set aside as a basic principle, the reason invoked
by the dramatist is positive reason, the reason of science, of justice,
of rational logic. In verbose monologues, he combats the superstitions
and fanaticism of the orthodox. The whole force of the Maskil's hatred
against obscurantism is expressed through the character named Zibeon,
Jewish hypocrite and chief adjutant in the camp of Sheker (Falsehood).
This Jewish Tartufe is very different in his complexity from the
character created by Moliere. Zibeon is a wonderworking Rabbi, a subtle
sophist, a crafty dialectician. The waves of the Talmud, the casuistry
of more than a millennium of scholasticism, have left their traces in
his mind and personality. In his hatred of the adversaries of the
Haskalah, Lebensohn depicts him, besides, as a hypocrite, a lover of the
good things of this world, and given to lewdness, which are not the
usual traits of these Rabbis. The alleged Tartufe of the ghetto cannot
be called a hypocrite. He is a believer, and hence sincere. What leads
him to commit the worst excesses, is his fanaticism, his blind piety.

On the other hand, the dramatist is full of admiration for Sekel
(Reason), Hokmah (Knowledge), Emet (Truth), and even Emunah (Faith).

On the background of the prosiness of this work by Lebensohn, there
stands out one passage of remarkable beauty, the prayer of Sekel
beseeching God to liberate Emet. The triumph of Truth closes the drama.

One characteristic feature should be pointed out: Neither Regesh
(Sentiment), a prominent Jewish quality, nor Taawah (Passion), appears
in this gallery of allegorical characters personifying the moral
attributes. For Lebensohn, as for the whole school of the humanists of
his time, the only thing that mattered was reason, and reason had to be
shown all-sufficing to ensure the triumph of truth.

In its day Lebensohn's drama excited the wrath of the orthodox. A Rabbi
with literary pretensions, Malbim (Meir Lob ben Jehiel Michael),
considered it his duty to intervene, and to the accusations launched by
Lebensohn he replied in another drama, called _Mashal u-Melizah_
("Allegory and Interpretation"), wherein he undertakes the defense of
the orthodox against the charges of ill-disposed Maskilim.

       *       *       *       *       *

If Abraham Bar Lebensohn is considered the father of poetry, his no less
celebrated contemporary and compatriot, Mordecai Aaron Ginzburg, has an
equally good claim to be called the foremost master of modern Hebrew
prose. Ginzburg is the creator of a realistic Hebrew prose style, though
he was permeated to the end with the style and the spirit of the Bible.
Whenever the Biblical style can render modern thoughts only by torturing
and twisting it, or by resorting to cumbersome circumlocutions, Ginzburg
does not hesitate to levy contributions from Talmudic literature and
even the modern languages. These linguistic additions made by him are
always excellent, and in no way prejudicial to the elegance of Hebrew
style. For it should be reiterated, in season and out of season, that it
is a mistake to believe the neo-Hebrew to be essentially different from
the language of the Bible, analogous to the difference between the
modern and the classic Greek. The modern Hebrew is nothing more than an
adaptation of the ancient Hebrew, conformable to the modern spirit and
new ideas. The extreme innovators, who at best are few in number, cannot
but confirm this statement of the case.

Ginzburg was a fertile writer; he has left us fifteen volumes, and more,
on various subjects. Endowed with good common sense, and equipped with a
more solid modern education than the majority of the writers of the
time, he exercised a very great influence upon his readers and upon the
development of Hebrew literature. His "Abiezer", a sort of
autobiography, very realistic, presents a striking picture of the
defective education and backward ways of the ghetto, which the critic
denounces, with remarkable subtlety, in the name of civilization and
progress. Besides, he published two volumes on the Napoleonic wars; one
volume, under the title _Hamat Damesek_ (1840), on the ritual
murder accusation at Damascus; a history of Russia; a translation of the
Alexandrian Philo's account of his mission to Rome; and a treatise on
style (_Debir_). He was very successful with his works, and all of
them were published during his lifetime, at Wilna, Prague, and Leipsic,
and have been republished since. One of his achievements is that he
helped to create a public of Hebrew readers. It must be admitted that
the great mass of the people were at first somewhat repelled by his
realism and by his terse and accurate way of writing. Their taste was
not sufficiently refined to appreciate these qualities, and their
primitive sensibilities could not derive pleasure from a description of
things as they actually are. This is the difficulty which the second
generation of Lithuanian writers took account of, and overcame, when
they introduced romanticism into Hebrew literature.

Though it was the first, Wilna was not the only centre of Hebrew
literature in Russia. In the south, and quite independent of the Wilna
school, literary circles were formed under the influence of the Galician
writers and workers.

At Odessa, a European window opening on the Empire of the Czar, we see
the first enlightened Jewish community come into existence. The educated
flocked thither from all parts, especially from Galicia. Simhah Pinsker
and B. Stern are the representatives of the Science of Judaism in
Russia, and the contributions of the Karaite Abraham Firkovich in the
same field were most valuable, while Eichenbaum, Gottlober, and others
distinguished themselves as poets and writers.

Isaac Eichenbaum (1796-1861) was a graceful poet. Besides his prose
writings and his remarkable treatise on the game of chess, we have a
collection in verse by him, entitled _Kol Zimrah_ ("The Voice of
Song", Leipsic, 1836). His sweetness and tenderness, his elegant and
clear style, often recall Heine. The following quotation is from his
poem "The Four Seasons".

  "Winter has passed, the cold has fled, the ice melts under the
  fiery darts of the sun. A stream of melted snow sends its limpid
  waters flowing down the declivity of the rock. My beloved alone
  is unmoved, and all the fires of my love cannot melt her icy

  "The hills are clothed with festive mirth, the face of the
  valleys smiles joyously. The cedar beams, the vine is jubilant,
  and the pine tree finds a nest in the recesses of the jagged
  mountain. But in me sighs increase, they bring me low--my friend
  will not yet hearken unto me.

  "All sings that lives in the woodland. The beasts of the earth
  rejoice, and in the branches of the trees the winged creatures
  warble, each to his mate. My well-beloved alone turns her steps
  away from me, and under the shadow of my roof I am left in

  "The plants spring from the soil, the grass glitters in the
  splendor of the sun, and the earth is covered with verdure. Upon
  the meadows, the lilies and the roses bloom. Thus my hopes
  blossom, too, and I am filled with joyous expectation--my friend
  will come back and in her arms enfold me."

The acknowledged master of the humanists in southern Russia was Isaac
Bar Levinsohn, of Kremenetz, in Wolhynia (1788-1860). His proper place
is in a history of the emancipation of the Russian Jews, rather than in
a history of literature. Levinsohn was born in the country of Hasidism.
A happy chance carried him to Brody when he was very young. He attached
himself there to the humanist circle, and made the acquaintance of the
Galician masters. On his return to his own country, he was actuated by
the desire to work for the emancipation and promote the culture of the
Russian Jews.

Like Wessely, Levinsohn remained on strictly orthodox ground in his
writings, and in the name of traditional religion itself he attacks
superstition, and urges the obligatory study of the Hebrew language, the
pursuit of the various branches of knowledge, and the learning of
trades. His profound scholarship, the gentleness and sincerity of his
writings, earned for him the respect of even the most orthodox. His
_Bet-Yehudah_ ("The House of Judah") and _Te'udah be-Yisrael_
("Testimony in Israel") are pleas in favor of modern schooling. In
"Zerubbabel" he treats of questions of Hebrew philology, and with the
help of documents he annihilates the legend of the ritual murder in his
_Efes-Dammim_ ("No Blood!"). _Ahijah ha-Shiloni_ is a defense
of Talmudic Judaism against its Christian detractors. Besides, Levinsohn
wrote a number of other things, epigrams, articles, and essays.
[Footnote: We owe a new edition of all his works to Nathansohn, Warsaw,

The contemporaries of Levinsohn exaggerated the importance of the
literary part of his work. Not much of it, outside of his philologic
studies, deserves to be called literary, and even they often fall below
the mark on account of the simplicity of his views, and especially on
account of his prolixity and his awkward diction and style. Also the
direct influence which he has exerted upon Jews is less considerable
than once was thought. Upon Hasidism he made no impression whatsoever.
In Lithuania, to be sure, his works were widely read by the Jews, but in
that home of the Hebrew language the subject-matter and arguments of an
author play but little part in giving vogue to what is written in the
Biblical language.

By his self-abnegation and his wretched fortunes, his isolated life in a
remote town, weak in body yet working for the elevation of his co-
religionists, he won the admiration of his contemporaries without

The fame of the solitary idealist of Kremenetz spread until it reached
government circles. Levinsohn was the first of the Jewish humanists who
maintained direct relations with the Russian authorities. Czar Nicholas
I gave him a personal audience, and several times sought his advice on
problems connected with the endeavor to ameliorate the social condition
of the Jews. The founding of Jewish elementary schools, the opening of
two Rabbinical seminaries, one at Wilna and one at Zhitomir, the
establishment of numerous agricultural colonies, the improvements
effected in the political condition of the Jews and in the censorship of
Hebrew books--all these progressive measures are in great part, if not
entirely, due to the influence of Levinsohn. And the educated men of his
time paid the tribute of veneration to a compeer who enjoyed the esteem
of the governing classes to so high a degree.

       *       *       *       *       *




The political reaction following upon the Polish revolution of 1831 made
itself felt in Lithuania particularly. The hand of the government
weighed heavy upon the people of this province. The University of Wilna
was closed, and all traces of civilization were effaced.

From the arbitrariness of the Polish nobles, the Jews were rescued only
to fall into the tender mercies of unscrupulous officials. As it was,
since 1823 the most rigorous measures had been devised against them.
They were exposed to expulsions from the villages, and their commercial
and other privileges had been considerably curtailed. Besides, a new
scourge was inflicted upon them, compulsory service in the army, unknown
until then, a frightful service, with an active period of twenty-five
years. Children were torn from their families and their faith, and the
whole life of a man was swallowed up. They struggled against this new
incubus with all the weapons at the disposal of a feeble population.
Bribery, premature marriage, wholesale evasion, voluntary or forced
substitution, were the means employed by the well-to-do to save their
progeny from military service.

In order to ensure the regular recruiting of soldiers among the Jews,
Czar Nicholas I, while abolishing the central synod organization,
maintained the local _Kahal_ everywhere, and made it responsible
for the military conscription. The wealthy, the learned, the heads of
the communities profited greatly by this official recognition of the
Kahal. It enabled them to free the members of their families from
enrollment in the army. In their hands, it became an instrument for the
oppression and exploitation of the poor. "The devil take the hindmost!"
expresses the state of mind of the Russian Jews in the middle of the
nineteenth century, during the whole of the period called the
_Behalah_ ("Terror").

The reforms projected by Alexander I for the benefit of the Jews, the
hopes cherished by the Lithuanian humanists, proved abortive.
Reactionary tendencies made themselves felt everywhere cruelly, but
chiefly they injured the Jews, forever persecuted, downtrodden, and
humiliated. The profound pessimism of Lebensohn's poetry is eloquent
testimony to the feelings of educated Jews. And yet, these votaries of
knowledge, of civilization, the daughter of heaven, clung to their
illusions. They continued to insist that only thoroughgoing reforms can
solve the Jewish question. The people at large did not side with them,
and even among the educated their view of the situation was not shared
by the younger men. In this moral disorder, the masses of the people
permitted themselves to be carried along unresistingly by the current of
Hasidic views, which had long been waiting to capture the last fortress
of rational Judaism. The Rabbis stood by alarmed, unable to do anything
to arrest the growing encroachments of the mystic movement. Yet there
was an adversary ready and equipped. In the young neo-Hebrew literature,
mysticism found a foeman far more powerful than ever logic and
rationalism had been.

The Hebrew language was cultivated with zeal by the educated classes,
and even by the young Rabbis. It was the epoch of the _Melizah_,
and the _Melizah_ was to supplement the jejuneness of Rabbinism and
oppose the Hasidim with good results. Hebrew was in the ascendant, not
only for poetry, but for general purposes as well. In the sunshine of
the nineteenth century, it became the language of commerce, of
jurisprudence, of friendly intercourse. Folklore itself, in the very
teeth of the now despised jargon, knew no other tongue. The period
produced a large quantity of popular poems, which to this day are sung
by the Jews of Lithuania. The dominant note is the national plaint of
the Jewish people, its dreams, and its Messianic hopes. They are
essentially Zionistic.

In polished and tender Hebrew, with lofty expressions and despairful
cries worthy of Byron, a poet of the people mourns the misfortunes of

  "Zion, Zion, city of our God! How awful is thy breach! Who will
  heal thee!... Every nation, every country, sees its splendor grow
  from day to day. Thou alone and thy people, ye fall from depth to
  awful depth....

  "Holy land, O Zion and Jerusalem! How dare the stranger trample
  on thy soil with haughty foot? How, O Heaven, can the son of the
  stranger stand upon the spot whence Thy command banishes him?"

But hope is not entirely blasted:

  "In the name of all thy people, in all their dwelling-places,
  have we sworn unto thee, O Zion, with scorching tears, that thou
  shalt always rest upon our hearts as a seal. Not by night and not
  by day shalt thou be forgotten by us."

Another popular poem, anonymous like the last, entitled "The Rose", is
still more dolorous and despairful in tone. Stepped upon by every
passerby, the rose supplicates incessantly, "O man, have pity on me,
restore me to my home!"

Besides these and others with the same underlying ideas, the lyrics of
Lebensohn and "The Mourning Dove" by Letteris constituted the repertory
of the people. But soon romanticism on the part of the litterateurs
began to respond to the romanticism of the masses, asserting itself as a
national Jewish need.

A translation of _Les Mysteres de Paris_, published in Wilna in
1847-8, introduced the romantic movement among the Jews, and at the same
time the novel into the Hebrew language. This translation, or, rather,
adaptation, of Sue's work, executed in a stilted Biblical style, won
great renown for its young author, Kalman Schulman of Wilna (1826-1900).

From the literary point of view, Schulman's achievement is interesting
because of the kind of literature it was the first to offer to readers
of Hebrew--pastime literature, fiction in place of the serious writings
of the humanists. The enormous success obtained by this first work of
the translator, the repeated editions which it underwent, testify to the
existence of a public that craved light literature. Thenceforth,
romanticism was to occupy the first place, and the _Melizah_ style
was appropriated for the purposes of fiction, to the delight of the
friends of the Bible language.

In spite of his small originality, it happened that Kalman Schulman
contributed more than any other writer to the achievement of securing a
place for Hebrew in the hearts of the people. For the length of a half-
century, he was regarded popularly as the master of Hebrew style.
Romantic and conservative in religion, enthusiastic for whatsoever the
Jewish genius produced, naive in his conception of life, he let his
activity play upon all the fields of literature. He published a History
of the World in ten volumes; a geography, likewise in ten volumes; four
volumes of biographical and literary essays on the Jewish writers of the
Middle Ages; a national romance dealing with the time of Bar Kokbah (a
composite made up of a number of translations); and curious Biblical and
Talmudic essays. [Footnote: These works, first published at Wilna, have
been republished again and again.]

His language is the Hebrew of Isaiah. The artificialities and the undue
emphasis of his style, his childlike views, his romantic sentimentality
in all that touches Jews and Judaism, which appealed directly to the
hearts of the simple, ignorant readers who constituted his public,
explain the success of this writer, well merited even though he lacked
originality. His books were spread broadcast, by the millions of copies,
and they fostered love of Hebrew, of science, and knowledge in general
among the people. By this token, Schulman was a civilizing agent of the
first rank. His work is the portal through which the Maskil had to pass,
and sometimes passes to this day, on the path of development toward
modern civilization.

Schulman became the head of a school. His poetic and inflated style long
imposed itself upon all subjects, and hindered the natural development
of Hebrew prose, inaugurated by Mordecai A. Ginzburg.

More creative writers were not long in making their appearance. Among
the poets of the romantic school, a prominent place belongs to Micah
Joseph Lebensohn, briefly called Mikal (1828-1852), the son of Abraham
Bar Lebensohn.

Gentle and gracious in the same measure in which his father was hard and
unyielding, Micah Joseph Lebensohn was the only writer of the time to
enjoy the advantage of a complete modern education, and the only one of
his generation to escape cruel want and the struggle for personal
freedom. He knew German literature thoroughly, and he had taken a course
in philosophy at Berlin, under Schelling. Along with these attainments,
he was master of Hebrew as a living language. It was the vehicle for his
most intimate thoughts and the subtlest shades of feeling.

His rich poetic imagination, his harmonious style, warm figures of
speech, consummate lyric quality, unmarred by the blatant, crude
exaggerations of his predecessors, constitute Mikal the first artist of
his day in Hebrew poetry.

He made his appearance in the world of letters, in 1851, with a
translation of Schiller's "Destruction of Troy", finished in style and
in poetic polish. He was the first to apply the rules of modern prosody
strictly to Hebrew poetry. His collection of poems, _Shire Bat-
Ziyyon_ ("The Songs of the Daughter of Zion"), is a masterpiece. It
contains six historical poems, admirable in thought, form, and
inspiration. In "Solomon and Kohelet", his most ambitious poem, he
brings the youth of King Solomon before our eyes. [Footnote: Wilna,
1852. German translation by J. Steinberg, Wilna, 1859.] It was the first
time the love of Solomon for the Shulammite was celebrated--a sublime,
exalted love sung in marvellous fashion. The joy of life trembles in all
the fibres of the poet's heart.... Then, the old age of Ecclesiastes is
contrasted strikingly with the youth of Solomon--the king disillusioned,
skeptical, convinced of the vanity of love, beauty, and knowledge. All
is dross, vanity of vanities! And the young romantic poet ends his work
with the conclusion that wisdom cannot exist without faith--that faith
alone is capable of giving man supreme satisfaction.

"Jael and Sisera", a noble production, treats of the silent struggle, in
the heart of the valiant woman extolled by Deborah, between the duty of
hospitality on the one side, and love of country on the other. The
latter triumphs in the end:

  "With this people I dwell, and in its land I am sheltered!
  Should I not desire its prosperity and its happiness?"

"Moses on Mount Abarim" is full of admiration for the great legislator.
The poet says regarding his death:

  "The light of the world is obscured and dun,
  Of what avail the light of the sun?"

His elegy on Jehudah Halevi is instinct with the pathos of patriotic
love for the Holy Land:

  "That land, where every stone is an altar to the living God, and
  every rock a seat for a prophet of the supreme Lord".

Or, as he exclaims in another poem, "Land of the muses, perfection of
beauty, wherein every stone is a book, every rock a graven tablet!"

Another collection of poems by Mikal, _Kinnor Bat-Ziyyon_ ("The
Harp of the Daughter of Zion"), published at Wilna, posthumously,
contains, besides a number of pieces translated from the German, also
lyric poems, in which the poet breathes forth his soul and his
suffering. He loves life passionately, but he divines that he will not
be granted the opportunity of enjoying it long, and, in an access of
despair, he cries out: "Accursed be death, accursed also life!" His
nature changes, his muse grows sad, and, like his father, he discerns
only injustice and misfortune in the world. In a poem addressed to "The
Stars", he fairly storms high heaven to wrest from it the secret of the

  "Answer me, I pray, answer me, ye who are denizens on high! O,
  stop the march of the eternal laws a single instant! Alas, my
  heart is full of disgust over this earth. Here man is born unto
  pain and misery!... Here reigns religious Hatred! On her lips
  she bears the name of the God of mercy, and in her hands the
  blood-dripping sword. She prays, she throws herself upon her
  knees, yet without cease, and in the name of God, she slaughters
  her victims. This world, when the Lord created it in a fit of
  anger, He cast it far away from Him in wrath. Then Death threw
  herself upon it, scattering terror everywhere. She holds this
  world in her talons. Misery also precipitates herself upon it,
  gnashing her teeth in beast-like rage. She clutches man like a
  beast of prey, she torments him without reprieve...."

This posthumous collection of poems contains also love poems and Zionist
lamentations, all bearing the impress of the deep melancholy and the
sadness that characterized the last years of the poet's short life. A
cruel malady carried him off at the age of twenty-four, and the friends
of Hebrew poetry were left mourning in despair.

Romantic fiction in Hebrew, which the strait-laced life and the
austerity of the educated had rendered impossible up to this time, now
made its first appearance in the form of translations of modern
romances. They were received with acclaim by a well-disposed public
greedy for novelties. The creators of original romances were not long in
coming. The first master in the department, the father of Hebrew
romance, was Abraham Mapu (1808-1867).

Mapu was born at Slobodka, a suburb of Kowno, a sad town inhabited
almost entirely by Jews. The whole of the population vegetates there
amid the most deplorable conditions, economic and sanitary. The father
of Mapu was a poor, melancholy _Melammed_, a teacher of Hebrew and
the Talmud, simple in his outlook upon life, yet not without a certain
degree of education. He loved and cultivated knowledge as taught by the
Hebrew masters of the Middle Ages. Mapu's mother was gentle and sweet.
With resignation and fortitude she endured the physical suffering that
hampered her all her life. His brother Mattathias, a Rabbinical student,
was a man of parts.

In brief, it was misery itself, the life he knew, but the misery once
surmounted, and vain desires eliminated, it was a life that tended to
bind closer the ties of family love. Being a sickly child, Mapu did not
begin to study the elementary branches until he was five years old, an
advanced age among people whose children were usually sent to the
_Heder_ at four, to spend years upon years there that brought no
joy to the student as he sat all day long bent over the great folios of
the Talmud, except the joy that comes from success in study. Rational
instruction in the Bible and in Hebrew grammar, scorned by the Talmudic
dialecticians as superficial studies, was banished from the
_Heder_. Happily for the future writer, his father taught him the
Bible, and awakened love in his sensitive heart for the Hebrew language
and for the glorious past of his people. At the same time, his Talmudic
education went on admirably. At the age of twelve, he had the reputation
of being a scholar, at the age of thirteen, an _'Illui_, a
"phenomenon", and from that time on he was at liberty to devote himself
to his studies at his own free will, without submitting himself to the
discipline of a master.

Like all young Talmudists, he was soon sought after as a desirable son-
in-law, and it was not long before his father affianced him to the
daughter of a well-to-do burgher. At the age of seventeen, he was
married. Marriage, however, did not change his life. As before, he
pursued his studies, while his father-in-law provided for his wants. But
soon his studies took a new direction. His pensive mind, stifled by
Rabbinic scholasticism, turned to the Kabbalah. Mystical exaltation more
and more took possession of him, and the day came when he all but
declared himself a follower of Hasidism. It was his mother who saved
him. He yielded to her prayers, and was held back from committing a
perilous act of heresy.

These internal conflicts between feeling and reason, the perplexities
with which his spirit wrestled, did not affect our author to an
excessive degree. They produced no radical change in his personality.
All his life Mapu remained the humble scholar of the ghetto, a successor
of the _Ebyonim_, of the psalmists and the prophets. Timorous,
melancholy, lacking all desire for the things connected with practical
life, often degraded by their own material wretchedness and by the
intellectual wretchedness of their surroundings, these dreamers of the
ghetto, more numerous than the outsider knows, hide a moral exaltation
in the depths of their hearts, a supreme idealism, always ready to do
battle, never conquered. In their persons we are offered the only
explanation there is for the activity and persistence of the Messianic

Mapu was on the point of succumbing, like so many others, the darkness
of mysticism was about to drop like a pall upon his mind, when something
happened, insignificant in itself, but important through its
consequences, and he was snatched out of danger. A Latin psalter fell
into his hands by chance; it gave a fresh turn to his studies, and his
mind took its bearings anew.

Was it curiosity, or was it desire for knowledge, that impelled him to
decipher the sacred text in an unknown language at what cost soever? It
is certain that no difficulty affrighted him. Word by word he translated
the Latin text by dint of comparing it with the Hebrew original, and he
succeeded in acquiring a large number of Latin words. He is not alone in
this achievement. Solomon Maimon learned the alphabet of the German, the
language in which he later wrote his best philosophic essays, from the
German names of the treatises of the Talmud prefixed to an edition
printed in Berlin. And many other such cases among the educated Jews of
Lithuania might be cited.

These mental gymnastics, the necessity of rendering account to himself
as to the precise value of each word, helped Mapu to a better
understanding of the Bible text and a closer identification with its

Good fortune and material well-being are not stable possessions with
people like the Russian Jews, obliged to earn their livelihood in the
face of rabid competition, and exposed to the caprices of a hostile
legislation. One day Mapu's father-in-law found himself ruined. The
young man was obliged to interrupt his studies and accept a place as
tutor in the family of a well-situated Jewish farmer.

His prolonged stay in the country exerted an excellent influence upon
the impressionable soul of the young man. His close communion with
nature, which quickly captivated his mind, rent asunder forever the
mystic veil that had enshrouded it. Still more important was his
association with the enlightened Polish curate of the village, who
interested himself in the young scholar and devoted much time to his
instruction. Mapu threw himself with ardor into the study of the Latin
classics. He is the first instance of a Hebrew poet having had the
opportunity of forming his mind upon the ample models of classic
antiquity. Continuing under the tuition of the curate, he studied
French, the language of his preference, then German, and, only in the
last instance, Russian. The Russian language was not held in high esteem
by the Maskilim of Mapu's day. In Kowno, whither he returned after some
time, he was compelled to hide his new acquisitions, for fear of
arousing the hatred of the fanatics and suffering injury in his
profession as teacher of Hebrew.

Infatuated with the works of the romanticists, especially the novels of
Eugene Sue, his favorite author, he began to think out the first part of
his historical romance _Ahabat Ziyyon_ ("The Love of Zion") as
early as 1830. Twenty-three years were to pass before it saw the light
of day. During that interval he led a life of never-ceasing privation
and toil, laboring by day, dreaming by night. The Haskalah had created
humanist centres in the little towns of Lithuania. In some of these, in
Zhagor and in Rossieny, "the city of the educated, of the friends of
their people and of the sacred tongue", Mapu finally found the
opportunity to display his talents. But his material condition, bad
enough to begin with, grew worse and worse. After oft-repeated
applications, he received the appointment as teacher at a Jewish
government school in Kowno, in 1848. This, together with the pecuniary
assistance granted him by his more fortunate brother, put an end
permanently to his embarrassment. Occupying an independent position, he
could devote himself to his romance. Finally, the success obtained by
the Hebrew translation of "The Mysteries of Paris" emboldened him to
publish his "Love of Zion", and the timid author was overwhelmed,
stupefied almost, when he realized the enthusiasm with which the public
had greeted his first literary product.

Into the ascetic and puritanic environment in which the world of
sentiment and the life of the spirit were unknown, Mapu's romance
descended like a flash of lightning, rending the cloud that enveloped
all hearts. A century after Rousseau, there was still a corner in Europe
in which pleasure, the joy of living, the good things of this life, and
nature, were considered futilities, in which love was condemned as a
crime, and the passions as the ruin of the soul. Such were the
surroundings amid which "The Love of Zion", a Jewish _Nouvelle
Heloise_, appeared as the first plea for nature and love.

"The Love of Zion" is an historical romance. It re-tells a chapter in
the life of the Jewish people at the time of the prophet Isaiah. The
poet could not exercise any choice as to his subject--it was forced upon
him inevitably. In order to be sure of touching a responsive chord in
his people, it was necessary to carry the action twenty-five centuries
back. A Jewish novel based on contemporaneous life would have been
incongruous both with truth and with the spirit of the ghetto.

The time of his novel was the golden age of ancient Judea. It was the
epoch of a great literary and prophetic outburst. Also it was an
agitated time, presenting striking contrasts. At Jerusalem, an
enlightened king was making a firm stand against the limitation of his
power from within and against an almost invincible enemy from without.
On the one side, society was decadent, on the other side arose the
greatest moralists the world has ever seen, the prophets, the intrepid
assailants of corruption. It was, finally, the period in which the
noblest dreams of a better, an ideal humanity were dreamed. That is the
time in which the author lets his story take place.

  In the reign of King Ahaz, two friends lived at Jerusalem. The
  one named Joram was an officer in the army and the owner of rich
  domains; the other, Jedidiah, belonged to the royal family. Joram
  had married two wives, Haggith and Naamah. The latter was his
  favorite, but at the end of many years she had borne him no
  children. Obliged to go forth to war against the Philistines,
  Joram entrusted his family to the care of his friend Jedidiah. At
  the moment of his departure, his wife Naamah, and also Tirzah,
  the wife of Jedidiah, discovered, each, that she was with child.
  The two friends agreed, that if the one bore a son and the other
  a daughter, the two children should in time marry each other.

  Things turned out according to the hopes of the fathers. The wife
  of Jedidiah was the first to be confined, and she gave birth to a
  daughter, who was named Tamar.

  Joram was taken captive by the enemy, and did not return. At the
  same time a great misfortune overtook his family. His steward
  Achan permitted himself to be tempted to evil by a judge, Matthan
  by name, a personal enemy of Joram. He set fire to the house of
  his master, first having despoiled it of all there was in it. His
  booty he carried to the house of Matthan, and Haggith and her
  children perished in the flames. Achan laid the blame for the
  fire upon Naamah, who, he said, desired to avenge herself upon
  her rival Haggith. He substituted his own son Nabal for Azrikam,
  the son of Haggith, the only one of Joram's family, he pretended,
  to escape with his life. Poor Naamah, about to be delivered, was
  compelled to flee and take refuge with a shepherd in the
  neighborhood of Bethlehem. There she bore twins, a son named
  Amnon, and a daughter, Peninnah.

  Jedidiah, shocked by the calamity that had overwhelmed the house
  of his friend, took the supposed Azrikam, the son of Joram, home
  with him, and raised him with his own children. In order to keep
  the spirit of his word to his friend, he considered Azrikam the
  future husband of his daughter, seeing that Naamah had
  disappeared, and was, besides, under the suspicion of being a
  murderess. Achan's triumph was complete. His son was to take the
  place of Azrikam, inherit the house of Joram, and marry the
  beautiful Tamar.

  In the meanwhile happened the fall of the kingdom of Samaria. The
  Assyrians carried off the inhabitants captive, among them
  Hananel, the father-in-law of Jedidiah. One of the captives, the
  Samaritan priest Zimri, succeeded in making his escape, and he
  fled to Jerusalem. The name of his fellow-prisoner Hananel, which
  he used as a recommendation, opened the house and the trustful
  heart of Jedidiah to him.

  Tamar and Azrikam grew up side by side in the house of Jedidiah.
  They differed from each other radically. Beautiful as Tamar
  was, and good and generous, so ugly and perverse was Azrikam. The
  maiden despised him with all her heart. One day Tamar, while
  walking in the country near Bethlehem, was attacked by a lion. A
  shepherd hastened to her rescue and saved her life. This shepherd
  was none but Amnon, the son of the unfortunate Naamah.

  Teman, the brother of Tamar, by chance happened upon Peninnah,
  the sister of Amnon, who pretended she was an alien, and he was
  seized with violent love for her. Thus the son and the daughter
  of Jedidiah were infatuated, the one with the daughter of Naamah,
  the other with her son, without suspecting who they were.

  Amnon, who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of
  Tabernacles, was received with joy, by Jedidiah and his wife, as
  the savior of their daughter. He was made at home in their house,
  and won general favor by reason of his excellent character. The
  young shepherd felt attracted to the study of sacred subjects. He
  frequented the school of the prophets, and he was particularly
  entranced with the eloquence of the great Isaiah.

  The pretended Azrikam did not view the friendship established
  between Tamar and Amnon with a favorable eye. He took the priest
  Zimri into his confidence, and made him his accomplice and aid in
  disposing of his rival. Jedidiah, meanwhile, remained faithful to
  his promise, and persisted in his intention of giving his
  daughter in marriage to Azrikam, in spite of her own wishes in
  the matter. When the tender feeling between Tamar and Amnon
  became evident, Jedidiah dismissed the latter from his house.

  The period treated of is the most turbulent in the history of
  Judea. The conflict of passions and intrigues is going on that
  preceded the downfall of the kingdom of Judah and the great
  Assyrian invasion. Moral disorder reigns everywhere, iniquity and
  lies rule in place of justice. The upright tremble and hope,
  encouraged by the prophets. The wicked are defiant, and give
  themselves up shamelessly to their debauches.

  "Let us drink, let us sing!" exclaimed the crowd of the impious.
  "Who knows whether to-morrow finds us alive!"

  Zimri meditates a master stroke. Every evening Amnon betook
  himself to a little hut on the outskirts of the town, where his
  mother and his sister lived. Zimri surprises him. He takes Tamar
  and Teman there, and they watch Amnon embrace his sister. Now all
  is over. A dreadful blow is dealt the love of brother and sister,
  who are ignorant of the bonds of kinship uniting Amnon and
  Peninnah. Repulsed by Tamar, for he knows not what reason, Amnon
  leaves Jerusalem, despair in his heart.

  All is not lost yet. Maltreated by his own son and plagued by
  remorse, Achan confesses his misdeeds to the alleged Azrikam, and
  reveals his real origin to him. Furious, Azrikam thinks of
  nothing but to get rid of his father. He sets his father's house
  afire, but, before his death, Achan makes a confession to the
  court. Everything is disclosed, and everything is cleared up.
  Tamar, now made aware of the error she has committed, is
  inconsolable at having separated from Amnon.

  Meantime the political events take their course. The brave king
  Hezekiah carries on the struggle against his minister Shebnah,
  who desires to surrender the capital to the Assyrians. The
  miraculous defeat of the enemy at the gates of Jerusalem assures
  the triumph of Hezekiah. Peace and justice are established once

  During this time, Amnon, taken prisoner in war and sold as slave
  to a master living on one of the Ionian isles, has found his
  father Jorara there. Both together succeed in making good their
  escape, and they return to Jerusalem.

  The joy of the Holy City delivered from the invader coincides
  with the joy of the two reunited families, whose cherished wishes
  are realized. The loves of Tamar and Amnon, and Teman and
  Peninnah, triumph.

This is the frame of the novel, which recalls the wonder-tales of the
eighteenth century. From the point of view of romantic intrigue, study
of character, and development of plot, it is a puerile work. The
interest does not reside in the romantic story. Borrowed from modern
works, the fiction rather injures Mapu's novel, which is primarily a
poem and an historical reconstruction. "The Love of Zion" is more than
an historical romance, more than a narrative invented by an imaginative
romancer--it is ancient Judea herself, the Judea of the prophets and the
kings, brought to life again in the dreams of the poet. The
reconstruction of Jewish society of long ago, the appreciation of the
prophetic life, the local color, the majesty of the descriptions of
nature, the vivid and striking figures of speech, the elevated and
vigorous style, everything is so instinct with the spirit of the Bible
that, without the romantic story, one would believe himself to be
perusing a long-lost and now recovered book of poetry of ancient Judea.

Dreamy, guileless, ignorant of the actual and complicated phenomena of
modern life, Mapu was able to identify himself with the times of the
prophets so well that he confounded them with modern times. He committed
the anachronism of transporting the humanist ideas of the Lithuanian
Maskil to the period of Isaiah. But by reason of wishing to show himself
modern, he became ancient. He was not even aware of the fact that he was
restoring the past with its peculiar civilization, its manners, and

None the less his aim as a reformer was attained. Guided by prophetic
intuition, Mapu accomplished a task making for morality and culture. To
men given over to a degenerate asceticism, or to a mystic attitude
hostile to the present, he revealed a glorious past as it really had
been, not as their brains, weighed down by misery and befogged by
ignorance, pictured it to have been. He showed them, not the Judea of
the Rabbis, of the pious, and the ascetics, but the land blessed by
nature, the land where men took joy in living, the land of life, flowing
with gaiety and love, the land of the Song of Songs and of Ruth. He drew
Isaiah for them, not as a saintly Rabbi or a teller of mystical dreams,
but a poetic Isaiah, patriot, sublime moralist, the prophet of a free
Judea, the preacher of earthly prosperity, of goodness, and justice,
opposing the narrow doctrines and minute and senseless ceremonialism
inculcated by the priests, who were the predecessors of the Rabbis.

The lesson of the novel is an exhortation to return to a natural life.
It presents a world of pleasure, of feeling, of joyous living, justified
and idealized in the name of the past. It sets forth the charms of rural
life in a succession of poetic pictures. Judea, the pastoral land,
passes under the eyes of the reader. The blithe humor of the vine-
dressers, the light-heartedness of the shepherds, the popular festivals
with their outbursts of joy and high spirits, are reproduced with
masterly skill. The moral grandeur of Judea appears in the magnificent
description of a whole people assembled to celebrate the Feast in the
Holy City, and in the impassioned discourses of the prophets, who openly
criticise the great and the priests in the name of justice and truth.
But especially it is love that pervades the work, love, chaste and
ingenuous, apotheosized in the relation of Amnon and Tamar.

The impression that was made by the book is inconceivable. It can be
compared with nothing less than the effect produced by the publication
of the _Nouvelle Heloise_.

At last the Hebrew language had found the master who could make the
appeal to popular taste, who understood the art of speaking to the
multitude and touching them deeply. The success of the book was
impressive. In spite of the fanatical intriguers, who looked with horror
upon this profanation of the holy language, the novel made its way
everywhere, into the academies for Rabbinical students, into the very
synagogues. The young were amazed and entranced by the poetic flights
and by the sentimentalism of the book. A whole people seemed to be
reborn unto life, to emerge from its millennial lethargy. Upon all minds
the comparison between ancient grandeur and actually existing misery
obtruded itself.

The Lithuanian woods witnessed a startling spectacle. Rabbinical
students, playing truant, resorted thither to read Mapu's novel in
secret. Luxuriously they lived the ancient days over again. The elevated
love celebrated in the book touched all hearts, and many an artless
romance was sketched in outline.

But the greatest beneficiary of the new movement ushered into being by
the appearance of "The Love of Zion" was the Hebrew language, revived in
all its splendor.

  "I have searched out the ancient Latin in its majestic vigor, the
  German with its depth of meaning, the French full of charm and
  ravishing expressions, the Russian in the flower of its youth.
  Each has qualities of its own, each is crowned with beauty. But
  in the face of all of them, whose voice appeals unto me? Is it
  not thy voice, my dove? How pellucid is thy word, though its
  music issues from the land of destruction!... The melody of thy
  words sings in my ear like a heavenly harp." [Footnote: See
  Brainin, "Abraham Mapu", p. 107.]

This idealization of a language of the past, and of that past itself,
produced an enormous effect upon all minds, and it prepared the soil for
an abundant harvest. The success won by "The Love of Zion" encouraged
Mapu to publish his other historical romance, the action of which is
placed in the same period as the first work. _Ashmat Shomeron_
("The Transgression of Samaria"), also published at Wilna, is an epic in
the true sense. It reproduces the conflicts set afoot by the rivalry
between Jerusalem and Samaria. The underlying idea in this novel is not
unlike that of "The Love of Zion". But the author allows himself to run
riot in the use of antitheses and contrasts. He arraigns the poor
inhabitants of Samaria with pitiless severity. Whatever is good, just,
beautiful, lofty, and chaste in love, proceeds from Jerusalem; whatever
savors of hypocrisy, crookedness, dogmatism, absurdity, sensuality,
proceeds from Samaria. The author is particularly implacable toward the
hypocrites, and toward the blind fanatics with their narrow-mindedness.
The personification of certain types of ghetto fanatics is a transparent
ruse. The book excited the anger of the obscurantists, and, in their
wrath, they persecuted all who read the works of Mapu.

"The Transgression of Samaria" shares a number of faults of technique
with the first novel, but also it is equally with the other a product of
rich imaginativeness and epic vigor. In reproducing local color and the
Biblical life, the author's touch is even surer than in "The Love of

If one were inclined to apply to Mapu's novels the standards of art
criticism, a radical fault would reveal itself. Mapu is not a
psychologist. He does not know how to create heroes of flesh and blood.
His men and women are blurred, artificial. The moral aim dominates. The
plot is puerile, and the succession of events tiresome. But these
shortcomings were not noticed by his simple, uncultivated readers, for
the reason that they shared the artless _naivete_ of the author.

Besides these two, we have some poetic fragments of a third historical
romance by Mapu, which was destroyed by the Russian censor. There is
also an excellent manual of the Hebrew language, _Amon Padgug_
("The Master Pedagogue"), very much valued by teachers of Hebrew, and,
finally, a method of the French language In Hebrew.

We shall revert elsewhere to his last novel, '_Ayit Zabua_' ("The
Hypocrite"), which is very different in style and character from his
first two romances.

In his last years he was afflicted with a severe disease. Unable to
work, he was supported by his brother, who had settled in Paris, and who
invited Mapu to join him there. On the way, death overtook him, and he
never saw the capital of the country for which he had expressed the
greatest admiration all his life.

In southern Russia, especially at Odessa, literary activity continued to
be carried on with success. Abraham Bar Gottlober (1811-1900), writing
under the pseudonym Mahalalel, was the most productive of the poets, if
not the best endowed of the whole school.

A disciple of Isaac Bar Levinsohn, and visibly affected by the influence
of Wessely and Abraham Bar Lebensohn, he devoted himself to poetry. The
first volume of his poems appeared at Wilna in 1851. Toward the end of
his days, he published his complete works in three volumes, _Kol Shire
Mahalalel_ ("Collected Poems", Warsaw, 1890). His earliest
productions go back to the middle of the last century. He is a
remarkable stylist, and, in some of his works, his language is both
simple and polished. "Cain", or the Vagabond, is a marvel in style and

In the poem entitled "The Bird in the Cage", he writes as a Zionist, and
he weeps over the trials of his people in exile. In another poem,
_Nezah Yisrael_ ("The Eternity of Israel"), perhaps the best that
issued from his pen, he puts forward a dignified claim to his title as
Jew, of which he is proud.

  "Judah has neither bow nor warring hosts, nor avenging dart, nor
  sharpened sword. But he has a suit in the name of justice with
  the nations that contend with him....

  "I take good heed not to recount to you our glory. Why should I
  extol the eternal people, for you detest its virtues, you desire
  not to hear of them.... But remember, ye peoples, if I commit a
  transgression, not in me lies the wrong--through your sin I have

  "I ask not for pity, I ask but for justice."

On the whole, Gottlober lacks poetic warmth. In the majority of his
poems, his style errs on the side of prolixity and wordiness. He has
made a number of translations into Hebrew, and his prose is excellent.
His satires frequently display wit. His versified history of Hebrew
poetry, contained in the third volume of his works, is inferior to the
_Melizat Yeshurun_ by Solomon Levinsohn referred to above. Later he
published a monthly review in Hebrew, under the title _Ha-Boker Or_
("The Clear Morning"). His reminiscences of the Hasidim, whom he opposed
all his life, are the best of his prose writings, and put him in a class
with the realists. He also wrote a history of the Kabbalah and Hasidism
(_Toledot ha-Kabbalah weha-Hasidut_). [Footnote: In the monthly
_Ha-Boker Or_, and _Orot me-Ofel_ ("Gleams in the Darkness"),
Warsaw, 1881.]

Gottlober was the _Mehabber_ personified, the type of the vagabond
author, who is obliged to go about in person and force his works upon
patrons in easy circumstances.

The number of writers belonging to the romantic school, by reason of the
form of their works, or by reason of their content, is too large for us
to give them all by name. Only a few can be mentioned and characterized

Elias Mordecai Werbel (1805-1880) was the official poet of the literary
circle at Odessa. A collection of his poems, which appeared at Odessa,
is distinguished by its polished execution. Besides odes and occasional
poems, they contain several historical pieces, the most remarkable of
them "Huldah and Bor", Wilna, 1848, based on a Talmudic legend.
[Footnote: In _Keneset Yisrael_, Warsaw, 1888.]

He was excelled by Israel Roll (1830-1893), a Galician by birth, but
living in Odessa. His _Shire Romi_ ("Roman Poems"), all translated
from the works of the great Latin poets, give evidence of considerable
poetic endowment. His style is classic, copious, and precise, and his
volume of poems will always maintain a place in a library of Hebrew
literature by the side of Mikal's version of Ovid and the admirable
translation of the Sibylline books made by the eminent philologist
Joshua Steinberg.

In prose, first place belongs to Benjamin Mandelstamm (died 1886). Among
his works is a history of Russia, but his most important production,
_Hazon la-Mo'ed_, is a narrative of his travels and the impressions
he received in the "Jewish zone", chiefly Lithuania. In certain
respects, he must be classified with Mordecai A. Ginzburg, with whom he
shares clarity of thought and wit. But his sentimentality, and his
excessive indulgence in certain affectations of style, range him with
the romantic poets.

The distinguished poet Judah Leon Gordon in his beginnings also belonged
to the romantic school. His earliest poems, especially "David and
Michal", treat of Bible times. But Gordon did not remain long in
sympathy with the endeavors of the romanticists, and the mature stage of
his literary activity belongs to a later epoch.

The characteristic trait of Hebrew romanticism, which distinguishes it
from most analogous movements in Europe, is that it remained in the path
of orderly progress and emancipation. It showed no sign of turning aside
toward reactionary measures in religion or in other concerns. Neither
the retrograde policy adopted by the government against the Jews, nor
the uncompromising fanaticism of certain parties among the Jews
themselves, could arrest the development of the humanitarian ideas
disseminated by the Austrian and the Italian school.

Since the origin of the German Meassefim movement, the evolution of
Hebrew literature has not been stopped for a single instant in its
striving for knowledge and light. The romantic movement is one of its
most characteristic stages, and at the same time one most productive of
good results. The sombre present held out no promises for the future,
and the dark clouds on the political horizon eclipsed every hope of
better fortunes. At such a time the champions of the Haskalah opposed
ignorance and prejudice in the name of the past, and in the name of
morality and idealism they sought to win the hearts of the populace for
the "Divine Haskalah".

The influence of Hebrew romanticism was many-sided. The blending of the
rationalism of the first humanists with the patriotic sentiments of
Luzzatto fortified the bonds that united the writers to the mass of the
faithful believers. A sentimentalism that was called forth by a poetic
revival of the times of the prophets did more for the diffusion of sane
and natural ideas than exhortations and arguments without end, and the
declaration, repeated again and again by the school of Wilna, that
science and faith stand in no sort of opposition to each other, was an
equally powerful means of bringing together the educated with the
moderate among the religious.

Soon the times were to become more favorable to a renewal of the combat
with the obscurants, and then the antagonism between the educated
classes and the orthodox would be resumed with fresh vigor. When that
time arrived, a whole school of ardent realistic writers set themselves
the task of counteracting the misery of Jewish life, and they executed
it without sparing the susceptibilities and the self-love of the
religious masses. They rose up in judgment against orthodox and
traditional Judaism; they chastised it and traduced it. With acerbity
they promulgated the gospel of modern humanism and the surrender of
outward beliefs. By their side, however, we shall see a more moderate
school claim its own, and one not less efficient. It will proclaim words
of charity, faith, and hope. To the negations and destructive aphorisms
of the realistic school it will oppose firm confidence in the early
regeneration of the Jewish people, called to fulfil its destiny upon its
national soil. The Zionist appeal will unite the orthodox masses and the
emancipated youth in a single transport of action and hope.

       *       *       *       *       *




The accession of Alexander II to the throne marks a decisive moment in
the history of the Russian empire. The fresh impetus that proceeded from
the generous and liberal ideas encouraged by the Czar himself reached
the ghetto. Substantial improvements in the political situation of the
Jews the empire and the easier access to the liberal professions granted
them, the abolition of the old order of military service and the
suppression of the Kahal--these, joined to the expectation of an early
civil emancipation, stirred the Jewish humanists profoundly. Startled
out of their age-long dreams, the Jews with a modern education found
themselves suddenly face to face with reality, and engaged in a struggle
with the exigencies of modern life. In justice to them it must be said
that they realized at once where their duty lay, and they were not found

They ranged themselves on the side of the reform government, and with
all their strength they tried to neutralize the resistance with which
the conservative Jews met the reforms, projected or achieved. They were
particularly active in the regions remote from the large cities, which
had hardly been touched by the new currents. Early in the struggle, the
creation of a Hebrew press placed an effective instrument in the hands
of the defenders of the new order.

The interest aroused among the Jews by the Crimean War suggested the
idea of a political and literary journal in Hebrew to Eliezer Lipman
Silberman. It was called _Ha-Maggid_ ("The Herald"), and the first
issue appeared in 1856, in the little Prussian town of Lyck, situated on
the Russo-Polish frontier. It was successful beyond expectation. The
enthusiasm of the readers at sight of the periodical published in the
holy language expressed itself in dithyrambic eulogies and a vast number
of odes that filled its columns. The influence it exercised was great.
It formed a meeting-place for the educated Jews of all countries and all
shades of opinion. Besides news bearing on politics and literature, and
philological essays, and poems more or less bombastic, _Ha-Maggid_
published a number of original articles of great value. Its issues
formed the link between the old masters, Rapoport and Luzzatto, and
young Russian writers like Gordon and Lilienblum.

The learned French Orientalist Joseph Halevy, later the author of an
interesting collection of Hebrew poems, used _Ha-Maggid_ for the
promulgation of his bold ideas on the revival of Hebrew, and its
practical adjustment to modern notions and needs by means of the
invention of new terms. In part, his propositions have been realized in
our own days. To Rabbi Hirsch Kalisher and the editor, David Gordon, as
the first promoters of the Zionist idea, _Ha-Maggid_ gave the
opportunity, as early as 1860, of urging its practical realization, and
due to their propaganda the first society was formed for the
colonization of Palestine.

This pioneer venture in the field of Hebrew journalism stimulated many
others. Hebrew newspapers sprang up in all countries, varying in their
tendencies according to their surroundings and the opinions of their
editors. In Galicia especially, where there was no absurd censorship to
manacle thought, Hebrew journals were published in abundance. In
Palestine, in Austria, at one time in Paris even, periodicals were
founded, and they created a public opinion as well as readers. But it
was above all in Russia, in the measure in which the censorship was
relaxed, that the Hebrew press became eventually a popular tribunal in
the true sense of the word, with a steady army of readers at its back.

Samuel Joseph Finn, an historian and a philologist of merit, published a
review at Wilna, called _Ha-Karmel_ (1860-1880), which was devoted
to the Science of Judaism in particular.

Hayyim Selig Slonimski, the renowned mathematician, founded his journal
_Ha-Zefirah_ ("The Morningstar") in 1872. It was issued first in
Berlin and later in Warsaw. He himself wrote a large number of articles
in it, in his chosen field as popularizer of the natural sciences.

In Galicia, Joseph Kohen-Zedek published _Ha-Mebasser_ ("The
Messenger") and _Ha-Nesher_ ("The Eagle"), and Baruch Werber,
_Ha-'Ibri_ ("The Hebrew").

By far outstripping all these in importance was the first Hebrew journal
that appeared in Russia, _Ha-Meliz_ ("The Interpreter"), founded at
Odessa in 1860, by Alexander Zederbaum, one of the most faithful
champions of humanism. _Ha-Meliz_ became the principal organ of the
movement for emancipation, and the spokesman of the Jewish reformers.

The Hebrew press with all its shortcomings, and in spite of its meagre
resources, which prevented it from securing regular, paid contributors,
and left it at the mercy of an irresponsible set of amateurs, yet
exercised considerable influence upon the Jews of Russia. [Footnote:
Sometimes ten readers clubbed together for one subscription.]
Unremittingly it busied itself with the spread of civilization,
knowledge, and Hebrew literature.

In the large centres, especially in the more recently established
communities in the south of Russia, the intellectual emancipation of the
Jews was an accomplished fact at an early day. The young people streamed
to the schools, and applied themselves voluntarily to manual trades. The
professional schools and the Rabbinical seminaries established by the
government robbed the _Hedarim_ and the _Yeshibot_ of
thousands of students. The Russian language, hitherto neglected, began
to dispute the first place with the jargon and even the Hebrew. Wherever
the breath of economic and political reforms had penetrated,
emancipation made its way, and without encountering serious opposition
on the part of traditional Judaism.

Wilna, the capital of Lithuania, sorely tried by the Polish insurrection
of 1863, and intentionally excluded by the government from the benefits
of all administrative and political reforms, did not continue to be the
centre of the new life of the Russian Jews, as it had been of their old
life. The "Lithuanian Jerusalem" had put aside its sceptre, and it lay
down for a long sleep, with dreams of the Haskalah, "twin-sister of
faith". As Wilna has since that time witnessed no excesses of
fanaticism, so also it has not known an intense life, the acrid
opposition between Haskalah and religion. It remained the capital of the
moderate, traditional attitude and religious opportunism.

By way of compensation, the small country towns and the Talmudic centres
in Lithuania put up a stubborn resistance to the new reforms. The poor
literary folk stranded in out-of-the-way corners far removed from
civilization were treated as pernicious heretics. Nothing could stop the
fanatics in their persecution, and they had recourse to the extremest
expedients. Made to believe that the reformers harbored designs against
the fundamental principles of Judaism, the people, deluded and erring,
thought the obscurantists right and applauded them, while they rose up
against the modernizers as one man.

The opposition between humanism and the religious fanatics degenerated
into a remorseless struggle. The early Haskalah, the gentle, celestial
daughter of dreamers, was a thing of the past. The educated classes,
conscious of the support of the authorities and of the public opinion
prevailing in the centres of enlightenment, became aggressive, and made
a bold attack upon the course and ways of the traditionalists. They
displayed openly, with bluntest realism, all the evils that were
corroding the system of their antagonists. They followed the example of
the Russian realistic literature of their day, in exposing, branding,
scourging, and chastising whatever is old and antiquated, whatever
mutinies against the modern spirit. Such is the character of the
realistic literature succeeding the epoch of the romanticists.

The signal was again given by Abraham Mapu, in his novel descriptive of
the manners of the small town, '_Ayit Zabua_' ("The Hypocrite"), of
which the early volumes appeared about the year 1860, at Wilna. In view
of the growing insolence of the fanatics, and the urgency of the reforms
projected by the government, the master of Hebrew romance decided to
abandon the poetic heights to which his dreams had been soaring. He
threw himself into the scrimmage, adding the weight of his authority to
the efforts of those who were carrying on the combat with the
obscurantists. Even in his historical romances, especially in the second
of them, he had permitted his hatred against the hypocrites of the
ghetto, disguised in the skin of the false prophet Zimri and his
emulators, to make itself plainly visible. Now he unmasked them in full
view of all, and without regard for the feelings of the other party.

"The Hypocrite" is an ambitious novel in five parts. All the types of
ghetto fanatics are portrayed with the crudest realism. The most
prominent figure is Rabbi Zadok, canting, unmannerly, lewd, an
unscrupulous criminal, covering his malpractices with the mantle of
piety. He is the prototype of all the Tartufes of the ghetto, who play
upon the ignorance and credulity of the people. His chief follower,
Gadiel, is a blind fanatic, an implacable persecutor of all who do not
share his opinions, the enemy of Hebrew literature, embittering the life
of any who venture to read a modern publication. Devoted adherent of the
Haskalah as he was, Mapu was not sparing of paint in blackening these
enemies of culture.

Around his central figure a large number of characters are grouped, each
personifying a type peculiar to the Lithuanian province. The darkest
portrait is that of Gaal, the ignorant upstart who rules the whole
community, and makes common cause with Rabbi Zadok and his followers.
The venality of the officials gives the heartless _parvenu_ free
scope for his arbitrary misdeeds, and without let or hindrance he
persecutes all who are suspected of modernizing tendencies. He is
enveloped in an atmosphere of crime and terror. Mapu was guilty of
overdrawing his characters; he exceeded the limits of truth. On the
other hand, he grows more indulgent and more veracious when he describes
the life of the humbler denizens of the ghetto.

Jerahmeel, the _Batlan_, is a finished product. The _Batlan_
is a species unknown outside of the ghetto. In a sense, he is the
bohemian in Jewry. His distinguishing traits are his oddity and farcical
ways. Not that he is an ignoramus--far from that. In many instances he
is an erudite Talmudist, but his simplicity, his absent-mindedness, his
lack of all practical sense, incapacitate him from undertaking anything,
of whatever nature it may be. He is a parasite, and by reason of mere
inertia he becomes attached to the enemies of progress.

The _Shadhan_, the influential matrimonial agent lacking in no
Jewish community, is painted true to life. Spiteful, cunning, witty,
even learned, he excels in the art of bringing together the eligibles of
the two sexes and unravelling intricate situations.

The most sympathetic figure in the whole novel is the honest burgher.
Mapu has given us the idealization of the large class of humble
tradesmen who have been well grounded in the Talmud, who are endowed
with an open heart for every generous feeling, and whose good common
sense and profoundly moral character the congested condition of the
ghetto has not succeeded in perverting.

All these figures represent real individuals, living and acting. Mapu
has without a doubt exaggerated reality, and frequently to the detriment
of truth. Nevertheless they remain veracious types.

On the other hand, he has not succeeded so well in the creation of the
Maskilim type. The new generation, the enlightened friends of culture,
are puppets without life, without personality, who speak and move only
for the purpose of glorifying the "Divine Haskalah".

Mapu's conception of Jewish life can be summed up in two phrases:
_enlightened_, hence good, just, generous; _fanatic_, hence
wicked, hypocritical, lewd, cowardly.

If the novel on account of its treatment of the subject has some claims
upon the description realistic, it has none by reason of its form. "The
Hypocrite" suffers from all the defects of Mapu's historical romances,
which, in the work under consideration, take on a graver aspect. The
style of Isaiah and poetic flights do not comport well with a modern
subject and a modern environment. Herein, again, Mapu's example became
pernicious for his successors.

When the novel is in full swing, there occurs a series of letters
written by one of the heroes from Palestine. The enthusiasm of the
author for the Holy Land cannot deny itself, and this unexpected Zionist
note, in a purely modern work, reveals his soul as it really is, the
soul of a great dreamer.

It was after the appearance of Mapu's "Hypocrite", in the year 1867,
that Abraham Bar Lebensohn published, at Wilna, his drama "Truth and
Faith", written twenty years before, in which, also, the Tartufe of the
ghetto plays a great part.

At about the same time a young writer, Solomon Jacob Abramowitsch,
issued his realistic novel _Ha-Abot weha-Banim_ ("Fathers and
Sons", Zhitomir, 1868). Abramowitsch had already acquired some fame by a
natural history (_Toledot ha-Teba'_) in four volumes, in which he
taxed his ingenuity to create a complete nomenclature for zoology in
Hebrew. His novel is a failure. The subject is the antagonism between
religious fathers and emancipated sons, and the action takes place in
Hasidic surroundings. There is nothing to betray the future master, the
delicate satirist, the admirable painter of manners. Abramowitsch then
turned away from Hebrew for a while, and made the literary fortune of
the Jewish-German jargon by writing his tales of Jewish life in it, but
about ten years ago he re-entered the ranks of the writers of Hebrew,
and became one of the most original authors handling the sacred
language. What distinguishes Abramowitsch from his contemporaries is his
style. He was among the first to introduce the diction of the Talmud and
the Midrash into modern Hebrew. The result is a picturesque idiom, to
which the Talmudic expressions give its peculiar charm. Though it
continues essentially Biblical, the new element in it puts it into
perfect accord with the spirit and the environment it is called upon to
depict. It lends itself marvellously well to the description of the life
and manners of the Jews of Wolhynia, the province which forms the
background of his novels.

All these creators of a Hebrew realism were outstripped by the poet
Gordon, who expresses the whole of his agitated epoch in his own person

       *       *       *       *       *




Judah Leon Gordon (1830-1892) was born at Wilna, of well-to-do parents,
who were pious and comparatively enlightened. As was customary in his
day, he received a Rabbinical education, but at the same time he was not
permitted to neglect the study of the Bible and the classical Hebrew. He
was a brilliant student, and all circumstances pointed to his future
eminence as a Talmudist. The academic address which he delivered on the
occasion of his _Bar-Mizwah_, on his thirteenth birthday,
proclaimed him an _'Illui_, and he was betrothed to the daughter of
a rich burgher.

His father's financial ruin caused the rupture of his engagement, and, a
marriage being out of the question, he was left free to continue his
studies as he would. He returned to Wilna, the first centre of the
Haskalah in Russia. The secular literature couched in Hebrew had
penetrated to the very synagogue, if not openly, at least by the back
door. In secret Gordon devoured all the modern writings that fell in his
hands. It was the time of the elder Lebensohn, when he stood at the
summit of his fame and influence. Very soon Gordon perceived that the
study of Hebrew is not sufficient for the equipment of a man of learning
and cultivation. Under the guidance of an intelligent kinsman, he
studied German, Russian, French, and Latin, one of the first Hebrew
writers to become thoroughly acquainted with Russian literature. He
devoted much time to the study of Hebrew philology and grammar, and he
was justly reputed a distinguished connoisseur of the language. Both his
linguistic researches and his new linguistic formations in Hebrew are
extremely valuable.

The muse visited him early, and by his first attempts at poetry he
earned the good-will and favor of Lebensohn the father and the
friendship of Lebensohn the son. In his youthful fervor, he offers
enthusiastic admiration to the older man, and proclaims himself his
disciple. But it was the younger poet, Micah Joseph, who exerted the
greater influence upon him. A little drama dedicated to the memory of
the poet snatched away in the prime of his years shows the depth and
tenderness of Gordon's affection for him.

All this time Gordon did not cease to be a student. In 1852 he passed
his final examinations, graduating him from the Rabbinical Seminary at
Wilna, and he was appointed teacher at a Jewish government school at
Poneviej, a small town in the Government of Kowno. Successively he was
transferred from town to town in the same district. Twenty years of
wrangling with fanatics and teaching of children in the most backward
province of Lithuania did not arrest his literary activity. In 1872 he
was called to the post of secretary to the Jewish community of St.
Petersburg and secretary to the recently formed Society for the
Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia. Thenceforward his
material needs were provided for, and he held an assured, independent
position. Denounced in 1879 as a political conspirator, he was thrown
into prison, with the result that he suffered considerable financial
loss and irreparable physical injury. His innocence was established,
and, having been set free, he became one of the editors of the journal
_Ha-Meliz_, the Hebrew periodical with the largest circulation at
the time. But the disease he had contracted ate away his strength, and
he died a victim of the Russian espionage system.

As was said, the young poet followed in the tracks of the two
Lebensohns. In 1857 he published his first ambitious poem, _Ahabat
David u-Michal_, the product of a naive dreamer, who swears a solemn
oath to "remain the slave of the Hebrew language forever, and consecrate
all his life to it". [Footnote: The collected poems of Gordon appeared,
in four volumes, in 1884, at St. Petersburg, and in six volumes, in
1900, at Wilna.] "David and Michal" rehearses poetically the tale of the
shepherd's love for the daughter of the king. The poet carries us back
to Biblical times. He tells us how the daughter of Saul is enamored of
the young shepherd summoned to the royal court to dispel the king's
melancholy. Jealousy springs up in the heart of Saul, and he takes
umbrage at the popularity of David. Before granting him the hand of his
daughter, he imposes superhuman tests upon the young suitor, which would
seem to doom him to certain death. But David emerges from every trial
with glory, and returns triumphant. The king is mastered by consuming
jealousy, and in his anger pursues David relentlessly. David is obliged
to flee, and Michal is given to his rival. The friendship of David and
Jonathan is depicted in touching words. Finally David prevails, and he
is anointed king over Israel. He takes Michal back unto himself, love
being stronger than the sense of injury. The shame of the past is
forgotten. But the poor victim is never to know the joy of bearing a
child--Michal remains barren until the last, and leads a solitary
existence. Old and forgotten, she passes out of life on the very day of
David's death.

In this simple, pure drama, the influence of Schiller and of Micah
Joseph Lebensohn is clearly seen. But real feeling for nature and real
understanding of the emotion of love are lacking in Gordon. His
descriptions of nature are a pale retracing of the pictures of the
romanticists. Poet of the ghetto as he was, he knew neither nature at
first hand, nor love, nor art. [Footnote: The first collection of his
lyrics and his epic poems appeared at Wilna, in 1866, under the title
_Shire Yehudah._] His poems of love are destitute of the personal
note. On the other hand, in point of classic style and the modern polish
of his verses, he outdistances all who preceded him. Lebensohn the
younger removed from the arena, Gordon attained the first place among
Hebrew poets.

In "David and Barzillai", the poet contrasts the tranquillity of the
shepherd's life with that of the king. Gordon was happily inspired by
the desire for outdoor life that had sprung up in the ghetto since
Mapu's warm praise of rural scenes and pleasures, and also under the
influence of the Jewish agricultural colonies founded in Russia. He
shows us the aged king, crushed under a load of hardships, betrayed by
his own son, standing face to face with the old shepherd, who refuses
royal gifts.

  "And David reigned as Israel's head,
  And Barzillai his flocks to pasture led."

The charm of this little poem lies in the description of the land of
Gilead. It seems that in reviving the past, the Hebrew poets were often
vouchsafed remarkable insight into nature and local coloring, which
ordinarily was not a characteristic of theirs. The same warmth and
historical verisimilitude is found again in _Asenath Bat-

From the same period dates the first volume of fables by Gordon,
published at Vienna, in 1860, under the title _Mishle Yehudah_,
forming the second part of his collected poems, and being itself divided
into four books. It consists of translations, or, better, imitations of
Aesop, La Fontaine, and Kryloff, together with fables drawn from the
Midrash. The style is concise and telling, and the satire is keen.

The production of these fables marks a turning-point in the work of
Gordon. Snatched out of the indulgent and conciliatory surroundings in
which he had developed, he found himself face to face with the sad
reality of Jewish life in the provinces. The invincible fanaticism of
the Rabbis, the anachronistic education given the children, who were
kept in a state of ignorance, weighed heavily upon the heart of the
patriot and man of intellect. It was the time in which liberal ideas and
European civilization had penetrated into Russia under the protection of
Czar Alexander II, and Gordon yearned to see his Russian co-religionists
occupy a position similar to that enjoyed by their brethren in the West.

Those envied Jews of the West had had a proper understanding of the
exigencies of their time. They had liberated themselves from the yoke of
Rabbinism, and had assimilated with their fellow-citizens of other
faiths. The Russian government encouraged the spread of education among
the Jews, and granted privileges to such as profited by the
opportunities offered. The reformers were strengthened also by the
support of the newly-founded Hebrew journals. Gordon threw himself
deliberately into the _fracas_. Poetry and prose, Hebrew and
Russian, all served him to champion the cause of the Haskalah. With him
the Haskalah was no longer limited to the cultivation of the Hebrew
language and to the writing of philosophical treatises. It had become an
undisguised conflict with obscurantism, ignorance, a time-worn routine,
and all that barred the way to culture. Since the government permitted
the Jews to enter the social life of the country, and seeing that they
might in the future aspire to a better lot, the Haskalah should and
would work to prepare them for it and make them worthy of it.

In 1863, after the liberation of the serfs in Russia, Gordon uttered a
thrilling cry, _Hakizah 'Ammi!_

  "Awake, O my people! How long wilt thou slumber? Lo, the night
  has vanished, the sun shines bright. Open thy eyes, look hither
  and thither. I pray thee, see in what place thou art, in what
  time thou livest!...

  "The land wherein we were born, wherein we live, is it not part
  of Europe, the most civilized of all continents?...

  "This land, Eden itself, behold, it is open unto thee, its sons
  welcome thee as brother.... Thou hast but to apply thy heart to
  wisdom and knowledge, become a public-spirited people, and speak
  their tongue!"

In another poem, the writer acclaims the dawn of a new time for the
Jews. Their zeal to enter the liberal professions augurs well for a
speedy and complete emancipation.

We have seen how stubborn a resistance was opposed by the orthodox to
this new phase of the Haskalah. Terror seized upon them when they saw
the young desert the religious schools and give themselves up to profane
studies. As for the new Rabbinical seminaries, they regarded them as
outright nurseries of atheism.

However, the government standing on the side of the reformers, the
orthodox could not fight in the open. They entrenched themselves behind
a passive resistance. In this struggle, as was observed above, Gordon
occupied the foremost place. Thenceforth a single idea animated him,
opposition to the enemies of light. His bitter, trenchant sarcasm, his
caustic, vengeful pen, were put at the service of this cause. Even his
historical poems quiver with his resentment. He loses no opportunity to
scourge the Rabbis and their conservative adherents.

_Ben Shinne Arayot_ ("Between the Teeth of the Lions") is an
historical poem on a subject connected with the Judeo-Roman wars. The
hero, Simon the Zealot, is taken captive by Titus. At the moment of
succumbing in the arena, his eyes meet those of his beloved Martha, sold
by the enemy as a slave, and the two expire at the same time.

The poem is a masterpiece by reason of the truly poetic inspiration that
informs it, and the deep national feeling expressed in it. But Gordon
did not stop at that. He makes use of the opportunity to attack
Rabbinism in its vital beginnings, wherein he discerns the cause of his
nation's peril.

  "Woe is thee, O Israel! Thy teachers have not taught thee how to
  conduct war with skill and strategem.

  "Rebellion and bravery, of what avail are they without discipline
  and tactics!

  "True, for many long centuries, they led thee, and constructed
  houses of learning for thee--but what did they teach thee?

  "What accomplished they? They but sowed the wind, and ploughed
  the rock, drew water in a sieve, and threshed empty straw!

  "They taught thee to run counter to life, to isolate thyself
  between walls of precepts and prescriptions, to be dead on earth
  and alive in heaven, to walk about in a dream and speak in thy

  "Thus thy spirit grew faint, thy strength dried up, and the dust
  of thy scribes has sepulchred thee, a living mummy....

  "Woe is thee, O Jerusalem that art lost!"

Yet, though he accuses Rabbinism of all possible ills that have befallen
the Jewish people, it does not follow that he justifies the Roman
invasion. All his wrath is aroused against Rome, the perennial enemy of
Judaism. In the name of humanity and justice, he pours out his scorn
over her. The first he presents is Titus, "the delight of mankind",
preparing brilliant but sanguinary spectacles for his people, and
revelling in the sight of innocent blood shed in the gladiators' arena.
Then he arraigns Rome herself, "the great people who is mistress of
three-quarters of the earth, the terror of the world, whose triumph can
know no limit now that she has carried off the victory over a people
destined to perish, whose territory can be covered in a five hours'
march". And finally his Jewish heart is revolted by "the noble matrons
followed by their servants, whose tender soul is about to take delight
in the bloody sights of the arena".

_Bi-Mezulot Yam_ ("In the Depths of the Sea") revives a terrible
episode of the exodus of the Jews from Spain (1492). The refugees
embarked on pirate vessels, where they were exploited pitilessly. The
cupidity of the corsairs is insatiable. After despoiling the Jews of all
they own, they sell them as slaves or cast them into the water. This is
the lot that threatens to overtake a group of exiles on a certain ship.
But the captain falls in love with the daughter of a Rabbi, a maiden of
rare beauty. To rescue her companions, she pretends to yield to the
solicitations of the captain, who promises to land the passengers safe
and sound on the coast. He keeps his word, but the girl and her mother
must stay with him. At a distance from the coast, the two women, with
prayers to God upon their lips, throw themselves into the sea, to save
the girl from having to surrender herself to the desires of the corsair.
It is one of the most beautiful of Gordon's poems. Indignation and grief
inspire such words as these:

  "The daughter of Jacob is banished from every foot of Spanish
  soil. Portugal also has thrust her out. Europe turns her back
  upon the unfortunates. She grants them only the grave, martyrdom,
  hell. Their bones are strewn upon the rocks of Africa. Their
  blood floods the shores of Asia.... And the Judge of the world
  appeareth not! And the tears of the oppressed are not avenged!"

What revolts the poet above all is the thought that the downtrodden
victims will never have their revenge--all the crimes against them will
go unpunished:

  "Never, O Israel, wilt thou be avenged! Power is with thy
  oppressors. What they desire they accomplish, what they do,
  prospereth.... Spain--did her vessels not set forth and discover
  the New World, the day thou wast driven out a fugitive and
  outlaw? And Portugal, did she not find the way to the Indies? And
  in that far-off country, too, she ruined the land that welcomed
  thy refugees. Yea, Spain and Portugal stand unassailed!"

But if vengeance is withheld from the Jews, implacable hatred takes
possession of all hearts, and never will it be appeased.

  "Enjoin it upon your children until the end of days. Adjure your
  descendants, the great and the little, never to return to the
  land of Spain, reddened with your blood, never again to set foot
  upon the Pyrenean peninsula!"

The despair, the grief of the poet are concentrated in the last stanzas,
telling how the maiden and her mother throw themselves into the water:

  "Only the Eye of the World, silently looking through the clouds,
  the eye that witnesseth the end of all things, views the ruin of
  these thousands of beings, and it sheds not a single tear."

His last historical poem, "King Zedekiah in Prison", dates from the
period when the poet's skepticism was a confirmed temper of mind.
According to Gordon, the ruin of the Jewish State was brought about by
the weight given to moral as compared with political considerations. He
no longer contents himself with attacking Rabbinism, he goes back to the
very principles of the Judaism of the prophets. These are the ideas
which he puts into the mouth of the King of Judah, the captive of
Nebuchadnezzar. He makes him the advocate of the claims of political
power as against the moralist pretensions of the prophets.

The king passes all his misfortunes in review, and he asks himself to
what cause they are attributable.

  "Because I did not submit to the will of Jeremiah? But what was
  it that the priest of Anathoth required of me to do?"

No, the king cannot concede that "the City would still be standing if
her inhabitants had not borne burdens on the Sabbath day".

The prophet proclaims the rule of the letter and of the Law, supreme
over work and war, but can a people of dreamers and visionaries exist a
single day?

The king does not stop at such rebellious thoughts. He remembers all too
well the story of Saul and Samuel--how the king was castigated for
having resisted the whims of the prophets.

"Thus the seers and prophets have always sought to crush the kings in
Israel", he maintains.

  "Alas! I see that the words of the son of Hilkiah will be
  fulfilled without fail. The Law will stand, the kingdom will be
  ruined. The book, the word--they will succeed to the royal
  sceptre. I foresee a whole people of scholars and teachers,
  degenerate folk and feeble."

This amazing view, so disconcerting to the prophet-people, Gordon held
to the very end. And seeing that the Law had killed the nation, and a
cruel fatality dogged the footsteps of the people of the Book, would it
not be best to free the individuals from the chains of the faith and
liberate the masses from the minute religious ceremonial that has
obstructed their path to life? This was the task Gordon set himself for
the rest of his days.

In a poem inscribed to Smolenskin, the editor of _Ha-Shahar_
("Daybreak"), on the occasion of the periodical's resuming publication
after an interval, the poet poured forth his afflicted soul, and pointed
out the aim he had decided to pursue:

  "Once upon a time I sang of love, too, and pleasure, and
  friendship; I announced the advent of days of joy, liberty, and
  hope. The strings of my lyre thrilled with emotion....

  "But yonder comes _Ha-Shahar_ again, and I shall attune my
  harp to hail the break of day.

  "Alas, I am no more the same, I know not how to sing, I waken
  naught but grief. Disquieting dreams trouble my nights. They show
  me my people face to face.... They show me my people in all its
  abasement, with all its unprobed wounds. They reveal to me the
  iniquity that is the source of all its ills.

  "I see its leaders go astray, and its teachers deceiving it. My
  heart bleeds with grief. The strings of my lyre groan, my song is
  a lament.

  "Since that day I sing no more of joy and solace; I hope no more
  for the light, I wait no more for liberty. I sing only of bitter
  days, I foretell everlasting slavery, degradation, and no end.
  And from the strings of my lyre tears gush forth for the ruin of
  my people.

  "Since that day my muse is black as a raven, her mouth is filled
  with abuse, from her tongue drops complaint. She groans like the
  Bat-Kol upon Mount Horeb's ruins. She cries out against the
  wicked shepherds, against the sottish people.

  "She recounts unto God, unto all the human kind, the degrading
  miseries of a hand-to-mouth existence, of the soul that pierces
  to the depths of evil."

But the patriotism of the poet carries the day over his discouragement:

  "From pity for my people, from compassion, I will tell unto its
  shepherds their crimes, unto its teachers the error of their

Will he succeed in his purpose? Is not all hope lost? No matter, he at
least will do his duty until the end:

  "From every part of the Law, from every retreat of the people, I
  shall gather together all vain teachings, all the poisonous
  vipers, wherever they may be, and in the sight of all suspend
  them like a banner. Let the wounded look upon them, perhaps they
  will be cured--perhaps there is still healing for their ills,
  perhaps there is still life in them!"

The poet kept his word. In a series of satires, fables, and epistles, he
reveals the moral plagues that eat into the fabric of Jewish society in
the Slav countries. He gives a realistic description, at once accurate
and subjective, of an extraordinary _milieu_, lacking plausibility
though it existed and defied all opposition. Gordon descended to the
innermost depths of the people's soul, he knew its profoundest secrets.
He caught the spirit of the peculiar manners of the ghetto and
reproduced them with unfailing fidelity. Also he knew all the dishonor
of some of the persons who ruled its society, and he sounded their mean,
crafty brains. His heart was filled with indignation at the painful
spectacle he himself bodied forth, and he suffered the misfortunes of
his people.

His poetic manner changed with the new direction taken by his mind. He
was no more an artist for art's sake. Classical purity ceased to
interest him. What he pursued above all things was an object which can
be reached only by struggle and propaganda. His style became more
realistic. He saturated it with Talmudic terms and phrases, thus
adapting it more closely to the spirit of the scenes and things and acts
he was occupied with, and making it the proper medium for the
description of a world that was Rabbinical in all essential points. But
Gordon never went to excess in the use of Talmudisms; he always
maintained a just sense of proportion. It requires discriminating taste
to appreciate his style, now delicate and now sarcastic, by turns
appealing and vehement. Here Gordon displayed the whole range of his
talent, all his creative powers. The language he uses is the genuine
modern Hebrew, a polished and expressive medium, yielding in naught to
the classical Hebrew.

The social condition of the Jewish woman, the saddest conceivable in the
ghetto, inspired the first of Gordon's satires. The poem is entitled
"The Dot on the I", or, more literally, "The Hanger of the Yod" (_Kozo
shel Yod_).

  "O thou, Jewish Woman, who knows thy life! Unnoticed thou
  enterest the world, unnoticed thou departest from it.

  "Thy heart-aches and thy joys, thy sorrows and thy desires spring
  up within thee and die within thee.

  "All the good things of this life, its pleasures, its enjoyments,
  they were created for the daughters of the other nations. The
  Jewish woman's life is naught but servitude, toil without end.
  Thou conceivest, thou bearest, thou givest suck, thou weanest thy
  babes, thou bakest, thou cookest, and thou witherest before thy

  "Vain for thee to be dowered with an impressionable heart, to be
  beautiful, gentle, intelligent!"

  "The Law in thy mouth is turned to foolishness, beauty in thee is
  a taint, every gift a fault, all knowledge a defect.... Thou art
  but a hen good to raise a brood of chicks!"

It is vain for a Jewish woman to cherish aspirations after life, after
knowledge--nothing of all this is accessible to her.

  "The planting of the Lord wastes away in a desert land without
  having seen the light of the sun...."

  "Before thou becomest conscious of thy soul, before thou knowest
  aught, thou art given in marriage, thou art a mother."

  "Before thou hast learnt to be a daughter to thy parents, thou
  art a wife, and mother to children of thine own."

  "Thou art betrothed--knowest thou him for whom thou art destined?
  Dost thou love him? Yea, hast thou seen him?--Love! Thou unhappy
  being! Knowest thou not that to the heart of a Jewish woman love
  is prohibited?"

  "Forty days before thy birth, thy mate and life companion was
  assigned to thee." [1]

  "Cover thy head, cut off thy braids of hair. Of what avail to
  look at him who stands beside thee? Is he hunchbacked or one-
  eyed? Is he young or old? What matters it? Not thou hast chosen,
  but thy parents, they rule over thee, like merchandise thou
  passest from hand to hand."

[Footnote 1: According to popular belief, it is decided forty days
before its birth to whom a child will be married.]

Slave to her parents, slave to her husband, she is not permitted to
taste even the joys of motherhood in peace. Unforeseen misfortunes
assail her and lay her low. Her husband, without an education, without a
profession, often without a heart, finds himself suddenly at odds with
life, after having eaten at the table and lodged in the house of his
wife's parents for a number of years following his marriage, as is
customary among the Jews of the Slavic countries. If no chance of
success presents itself soon, he grows weary, abandons his wife and
children, and goes off no one knows whither, without a sign of his
whereabouts, and she remains behind, an _'Agunah_, a forsaken wife,
widowed without being a widow, most unfortunate of unfortunate

  "This is the history of all Jewish women, and it is the history
  of Bath-shua the beautiful."

Bath-shua is a noble creature, endowed by nature with all fine
qualities--she is beautiful, intelligent, pure, good, attractive, and an
excellent housekeeper. She is admired by everybody. Even the miserable
_Parush_, the recluse student, conceals himself behind the railing
that divides the women's gallery from the rest of the synagogue, to
steal a look at her. Alas, this flower of womankind is betrothed by her
father to a certain Hillel, a sour specimen, ugly, stupid, repulsive.
But he knows the Talmud by heart, folio by folio, and to say that is to
say everything. The marriage comes off in due time, the young couple eat
at the table of Bath-shua's parents for three years, and two children
spring from the union.

The wife's father loses his fortune, and Hillel must earn his own
livelihood. Incapable as he is, he finds nothing to do, and he goes to
foreign parts to seek his fortunes. Never is he heard of again. Bath-
shua remains behind alone with her two children. By painful toil, she
earns her bread with unfailing courage. All the love of her rich nature
she pours out upon her children, whom by a supreme effort she dresses
and adorns like the children of the wealthy.

Meantime a young man by the name of Fabi makes his appearance in the
little town. He is the type of the modern Jew, educated and intelligent,
and he is handsome and generous besides. He begins by taking an interest
in the young woman, and ends by falling in love with her. Bath-shua does
not dare believe in her happiness. But an insurmountable obstacle lies
in the path of their union. Bath-shua is not divorced from her husband,
and none can tell whether he is dead or alive. Energetically Fabi
undertakes to find the hiding-place of the faithless man. He traces him,
and bribes him to give his wife a divorce. The official document,
properly drawn up and attested by a Rabbinical authority, is sent to
her. Hillel embarks for America, and his vessel suffers shipwreck.

Finally, it would seem, Bath-shua will enjoy the happiness she has amply
merited. Alas, no! In the person of Rabbi Wofsi, fortune plays her
another trick. This Rabbi is a rigid legalist, the slightest of slips
suffices to render the divorce invalid. According to certain
commentators the name Hillel is spelled incorrectly in the document.
After the _He_ a _Yod_ is missing! Thus is the happiness
glimpsed by Bath-shua shattered forever!

Her fate is not unique--the Bath-shuas are counted by the legion in the
ghetto. And there are other fates no less poignant caused by reasons no
less futile.

In another poem, _Ashakka de-Rispak_ ("The Shaft of the Wagon",
meaning "For a Trifle"), the poet tells how the peace of a household was
undermined on account of a barley grain discovered by accident in the
soup at the Passover meal, which must be free from every trace of
fermented food. Brooding over the incident and filled with remorse for
having served the doubtful soup to her family, the poor woman runs to
the Rabbi, who decides that she has, indeed, caused her family to eat
prohibited food, and the dishes in which it was prepared and served must
be broken, they cannot be used, they may not even be sold. But the
husband, a simple carter, does not accept the decision tranquilly. He
vents his anger upon the woman. The peace of the house is troubled, and
finally the man repudiates his wife.

The poet fulminates against the Rabbis and their narrow, senseless
interpretations of texts.

  "Slaves we were in the land of Egypt.... And what are we now? Do
  we not sink lower from year to year? Are we not bound with ropes
  of absurdities, with cords of quibbles, with all sorts of
  prejudices?... The stranger no longer oppresses us, our despots
  are the progeny of our own bodies. Our hands are no longer
  manacled, but our soul is in chains."

In the last of his great satires, "The Two Joseph-ben-Simons", Gordon
gives a sombre and at the same time lofty picture of the manners of the
ghetto, an exact description of the wicked, arbitrary domination
exercised by the _Kahal_, and an idealization of the Maskil,
powerless to prevail single-handed in the combat with combined
reactionary forces. A young Talmudist, devotee of the sciences and of
modern literature, is persecuted by the fanatics. Unable to resist the
seductions of his alien studies, he is forced to expatriate himself. He
goes to Italy, to the University of Padua, whither the renown of Samuel
David Luzzatto has attracted many a young Russian Jew eager for
knowledge. There he pursues both Rabbinical and medical courses.

His efforts are crowned with success, and he dreams of returning to his
country and consecrating his powers to the amelioration of the material
and moral condition of his brethren. In his mind's eye he sees himself
at the head of his community, healing souls and bodies, redressing
wrongs, introducing reforms, breathing a new spirit into the dry bones
and limbs of Judaism. Hardly has he set foot upon the soil of his native
town when he is arrested and thrown into prison. The Kahal had made out
a passport in his name for the cobbler's son, a degraded character, a
highway robber and sneak thief, and charged with murder. Now the true
Joseph ben Simon is to expiate the crime of the other. It is vain for
him to protest his innocence. The president of the Kahal, before whom he
is arraigned, declares there is no other Joseph ben Simon, and he is the
guilty one.

The little town is described minutely. We are on the public square, the
market place, the dumping ground of all the offal and dirt, whence an
offensive odor rises in the nostrils of the passer-by. Facing this
square is the synagogue, a mean, dilapidated building. "Mud and filth
detract from holiness", but the Lord takes no offense, "He thrones too
high to be incommoded by it". The greatest impurity, however, a moral
infection, oozes from the little chamber adjoining the synagogue--the
meeting-room of the Kahal. That is the breeding place of crime and
injustice. Oppression and venality assert themselves there with
barefaced impudence. The Kahal keeps the lists relating to military
service; it makes out the passports, and the whole town is at its mercy.
It offers the hypocrite of the ghetto the opportunity of exercising his
fatal power. There the widow is despoiled, and the orphans are abused.
Together with the unfortunates who have dared aspire to the light, the
fatherless are delivered to the recruiting agent as substitutes for the
sons of the wealthy. It is the domain over which reigns the venerated
Rabbi, powerful and fear-inspiring, Shamgar ben Anath, a stupid and
uncouth upstart.

The life of sacrifices and privations led by the Jewish students who go
abroad in search of an education, inspires Gordon with one of the most
beautiful passages in his poem. In the true sense of the word, these
young men are loyal to Jewish traditions. They are the genuine
successors of those who formerly braved hunger and cold upon the benches
of the _Yeshibot_.

  "How strong it is, the desire for knowledge in the hearts of the
  youth of Israel, the crushed people! It is like the fire, never
  extinguished, burning upon the altar!...

  "Stop upon the highways leading to Mir, Eisheshok, and Wolosin.
  [1] See yon haggard youths walking on foot! Whither lead their
  steps? What do they seek?--Naked they will sleep upon the floor,
  and lead a life of privation.

  "It is said: 'The Torah is given to him alone who dies for her!'"

[Footnote 1: Lithuanian towns well-known for their Talmudic academies.]

And here is the modern counterpart:

  "Go to no matter what university in Europe: the lot of the young
  Jewish strangers is no better.... The Russians are  proud
  of the fame of a Lomonossoff, the son of a poor moujik who became
  a luminary in the world of science. How numerous are the
  Lomonossoffs of the Jew alley!..."

And then the poet, in an access of patriotism, cries out:

  "And what, in fine, art thou, O Israel, but a poor _Bahur_
  among the peoples, eating one day with one of them, another day
  with the other!...

  "Thou hast kindled a perpetual lamp for the whole world. Around
  thee alone the world is dark, O People, slave of slaves,
  desperate and despised!"

With this poem we bring to a close the analysis of Gordon's satires. It
shows at their best the dreams, the aspirations, the struggles of the
Maskilim, in their opposition to the aims of the reactionaries and the
moral and material confusion in which Slavic Judaism wallowed.

The same order of ideas is presented in the greater part of the original
pieces in his "Little Fables for Big Children". They are written in a
vivid, pithy style. The delicate, bantering criticism and the deep
philosophy with which they are impregnated put these fables among the
finest productions of Hebrew literature.

To the same period as the fables belong the several volumes of tales
published by Gordon, _Shene Yomim we-Lailah Ehad_ ("Two Days and
One Night"), _'Olam ke-Minhago_ ("The World as It is"), and later
the first part of _Kol Kitbe Yehudah_ ("Collected Writings of
Gordon"). They also relate to the life and manners of the Jews of
Lithuania, and the struggle of the modern element with the old. Gordon
as story teller is inferior to Gordon as poet. Nevertheless his prose
displays all the delicacy of his mind and the precision of his
observations. At all events, these tales of his are not a negligible
quantity in Hebrew literature.

The reaction which set in about 1870, after a period of social reforms
and unrealized hopes, affected the poet deeply. The government put
obstacles in the forward march of the Jews, the masses remained steeped
in fanaticism, and the men of light and leading themselves fell short of
doing their whole duty. Disillusioned, he cherished no hope of anything.
He could not share the optimism of Smolenskin and his school. For an
instant he stops to look back over the road travelled. He sees nothing,
and in anguish he asks himself:

  "For whom have I toiled all the years of my prime?

  "My parents, they cling to the faith and to their people, they
  think of nothing but business and religious observances all day
  long; they despise knowledge, and are hostile to good sense....

  "Our intellectuals scorn the national language, and all their
  love is lavished upon the language of the land.

  "Our daughters, charming as they are, are kept in absolute
  ignorance of Hebrew....

  "And the young generation go on and on, God knows how far and
  whither ... perhaps to the point whence they will never return."

He therefore addresses himself to a handful of the elect, amateurs, the
only ones who do not despise the Hebrew poet, but understand him and
approve his ways:

  "To you I bring my genius as a sacrifice, before you I shed my
  tears as a libation.... Who knows but I am the last to sing of
  Zion, and you the last to read the Zion songs?"

This pessimistic strain recurs in all the later writings of Gordon. Even
after the events of 1882, when revived hatred and persecution had thrown
the camp of the emancipators into disorder, and the most ardent of the
anti-Rabbinic champions, like Lilienblum and Braudes, had been driven to
the point of raising the flag of Zionism, Gordon alone of all was not
carried along with the current. His skepticism kept him from embracing
the illusions of his friends converted to Zionism.

All his contempt for the tyrants, and his compassion for his people
unjustly oppressed, he puts into his poem _Ahoti Ruhamah_, which is
inscribed "to the Honor of the Daughter of Jacob violated by the Son of

  "Why weepest thou, my afflicted sister?

  "Wherefore this desolation of spirit, this anguish of heart?

  "If thieves surprised thee and ravished thy honor, if the hand of
  the malefactor has prevailed against thee, is it thy fault, my
  afflicted sister?

  "Whither shall I bear my shame?

  "Where is thy shame, seeing thy heart is pure and chaste? Arise,
  display thy wound, that all the world may see the blood of Abel
  upon the forehead of Cain. Let the world know, my afflicted
  sister, how thou art tortured!

  "Not upon thee falls the shame, but upon thy oppressors.

  "Thy purity has not been sullied by their polluting touch....
  Thou art white as snow, my afflicted sister."

Almost the poet seems to regret his efforts of other days to bring the
Jews close to the Christians.

  "What of humiliation hath befallen thee is a solace unto me. Long
  I bore distress and injustice, violence and spoliation; yet I
  remained loyal to my country; for better days I hoped, and
  submitted to all. But to bear thy shame, my afflicted sister, I
  have no spirit more."

But what was to become of it all? Whither were the Jews to turn? The
Palestine of the Turk has not too many attractions for the poet. He
still believes in the existence of a country somewhere "in which the
light shines for all human beings alike, in which man is not humiliated
on account of his race or his faith." Thither he invites his brethren to
go and seek an asylum, "until what day our Father in heaven will take
pity on us and return us to our ancient mother."

It was the agitated time in which Pinsker sent forth his manifesto,
"Auto-Emancipation", and Gordon dedicated his poem, "The Flock of the
Lord", to him.

  "What are we, you ask, and what our life? Are we a people like
  those around us, or only members of a religious community? I will
  tell you: We are neither a people, nor a brotherhood, we are but
  a flock--the holy flock of the Lord God, and the whole earth is
  an altar for us. Thereon we are laid either as burnt offerings
  sacrificed by the other peoples, or as victims bound by the
  precepts of our own Rabbis. A flock wandering in the waste
  desert, sheep set upon on all sides by the wolves.... We cry out--
  in vain! We utter laments--none hears! The desert shuts us in on
  all sides. The earth is of copper, the heavens are of brass.

  "Not an ordinary flock are we, but a flock of iron. We survive
  the slaughter. But will our strength endure forever?

  "A flock dispersed, undisciplined, without a bond--we are the
  flock of the Lord God!"

Not that the idea of a national rebirth displeased the poet. Far from
it. Zionism cannot but exercise a charm upon the Jewish heart. But he
believed the time had not yet arrived for a national regeneration.
According to his opinion, there was a work of religious liberation to be
accomplished before the reconstruction of the Jewish State could be
thought of. He defended this idea in a series of articles published in
_Ha-Meliz_, of which he was the editor at that time.

The last years of his life were tragic, pathetic. With a torn heart he
sat by and looked upon the desperate situation into which the government
had put millions of his brethren. To this he alludes in his fable
"Adoni-bezek", which we reproduce in its entirety, to give a notion of
Gordon as a fabulist:

  "In a sumptuous palace, in the middle of a vast hall, perfumed,
  and draped with Egyptian fabrics, stands a table, and upon it are
  the most delicious viands. Adoni-bezek is dining. His attendants
  are standing each in his place--his cupbearer, the master baker,
  and the chief cook. The eunuchs, his slaves, come and go;
  bringing every variety of dainty dishes, and the flesh of all
  sorts of beasts and birds, roasted and stewed.

  "On the floor, insolent dogs lie sprawling, their jaws agape,
  panting to snap up the bones and scraps their master throws to

  "Prostrate under the table are seventy captive kings, with their
  thumbs and big toes cut off. To appease their appetite they must
  scramble for the scraps that drop under the table of their
  sovereign lord.

  "Adoni-bezek has finished his repast, and he amuses himself with
  throwing bones to the creatures under the table. Suddenly there
  is a hubbub, the dogs bark, and yap at their human neighbors, who
  have appropriated morsels meant for them.

  "The wounded kings complain to the master: O king, see our
  suffering and deliver us from thy dogs. And Adoni-bezek's answer
  is: But it is you who are to be blamed, and they are in the
  right. Why do you do them wrong?

  "With bitterness the kings make reply:

  "O king, is it our fault if we have been brought so low that we
  must vie with your dogs and pick up the crumbs that drop from
  your table? Thou didst come up against us and crush us with thy
  powerful hand, thou didst mutilate us and chain us in these
  cages. No longer are we able to work or seek our sustenance. Why
  should these dogs have the right to bite and bark? O that the
  just--if still there are such men in our time--might rise up! O
  that one whose heart has been touched by God might judge between
  ourselves and those who bite us, which of us is the hangman and
  which the victim?"

Toward the end of his days the poet was permitted to enjoy a great
gratification. The Jewish notabilities of the capital arranged a
celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his activity as a writer.
At the reunion of Gordon's friends on this occasion it was decided to
publish an _edition de luxe_ of his poetical works. A final
optimistic note was forced from his heart, deeply moved by this
unexpected tribute. He recalled the vow once made by him, always to
remain loyal to Hebrew, and he recounted the vexations and
disappointments to which the poet is exposed who chooses to write in a
dead language doomed to oblivion. Then he addressed a salutation to the
young "of whom we had despaired, and who are coming back, and to the
dawn of the rebirth of the Hebrew language and the Jewish people."

However, Gordon never entered into the national revival with full faith
in its promises. Until the end he remained the poet of misery and

The death of Smolenskin elicited a last disconsolate word from him. It
may be considered the ghetto poet's testament. He compared the great
writer to the Jewish people, and asked himself:

  "What is our people, and what its literature?
  A giant felled to the ground unable to rise.
  The whole earth is its sepulchre.
  And its books?--the epitaph engraved upon its tomb-stone...."

       *       *       *       *       *




Though Gordon was the most distinguished, he was not the only
representative of the anti-Rabbinic school in the neo-Hebrew literature.
The decline of liberalism in official state circles, and the frustration
of every hope of equality, had their effect in reshaping the policy
pursued by educated Jews. Up to this time they had cherished no desire
except for external emancipation and to assimilate with their neighbors
of other faiths. Liberty and justice suddenly removed from their
horizon, they could not but transfer their ambition and their activity
to the inner chambers of Judaism. Other circumstances contributed to the
result. The economic changes affecting the bourgeoisie and the influence
exercised by the realism and the utilitarian tendencies of the Russian
literature of the time had not a little to do with the modified aims
cherished in the camp of the Maskilim. Jews of education living in
Galicia or in the small towns of Russia, who had the best opportunity of
penetrating to the intimate life of the people and knowing its day by
day misery, could and did make clear, how helpless the masses of the
Jews were in the face of the moral and economic ruin that menaced them,
and how serious an obstacle religious restrictions and ignorance placed
in the way of any change in their condition. And therefore they made it
their object to extol practical, thoroughgoing reforms.

In religion, they demanded, with Gordon, the abolition of all
restrictions weighing upon the people, and a radical reform of Jewish

In practical life, they were desirous of turning the attention of their
brethren to the manual trades, to the technical professions, and to
agriculture. Besides, it was their purpose to extend modern primary
instruction and bring it within the reach of considerably larger

The government viewed these efforts with a favorable eye, and under its
protection the Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews in
Russia was formed, with headquarters at St. Petersburg. Thus supported,
the educated could carry on their propaganda in the open, and throw
light into the remotest corners of the country. The Hebrew press, though
still in its infancy, co-operated with them zealously in furthering
their beneficent purposes.

The most determined group of the anti-religious propagandists was at
Brody in Galicia. Thence emanated the influences that operated in
Russia, and thence _He-Haluz_ ("The Pioneer"), founded by Erter and
Schorr in 1853, and published at Lemberg, carried on a brilliant
campaign against religious superstitions, shrinking not even from
attacks upon the Biblical tradition itself. The boldest of the
contributors to _He-Haluz_, not counting its valiant editor, was
Abraham Krochmal, the son of the philosopher. A scholar and subtle
thinker, he introduced Biblical criticism into Hebrew literature. In his
books as well as in his articles in _He-Haluz_ and in _Ha-
Kol_, the latter edited by Rodkinson, he goes so far as to dispute
the Divine character of the Bible, and he demands radical reforms in
Judaism. [Footnote: _Ha-Ketab weha-Miktab_ ("Writing and the
Scriptures"), Lemberg, 1875; _'lyyun Tefillah_ ("Reflections on
Prayer"), Lemberg, 1885, etc.] His writings gave the signal for a
considerable stir and expression of opinion. Even the most moderate
among the orthodox could not remain tranquil in the presence of such
blasphemous views. They put Krochmal outside of the pale of Judaism,
together with all scholars occupied with Bible criticism, among them
Geiger, who had exerted great influence upon the school of reformers
writing in Hebrew.

In Lithuania things did not go so far. The hard conditions of existence
there were not propitious to the rise of a purely scholarly school or to
theoretic discussion. Scientific centres were entirely wanting, and the
censor permitted no trifling with the subject of religion. A new
movement, realistic and utilitarian in the main, began to take shape,
first in the form of a protest against the unsubstantial ideals of the
Hebrew press and Hebrew literature. In 1867, Abraham Kowner, an ardent
controversialist, published his _Heker Dabar_ ("A Word of
Criticism"), and his _Zeror Perahim_ ("A Bouquet of Flowers"), in
which he takes the press and the writers severely to task for indulging
in rhetoric and futile scintillations, instead of occupying themselves
with the real exigencies of life. In the same year, Abraham Jacob
Paperna published his essay in literary criticism, and the young
Smolenskin, in an article appearing at Odessa, attacked Letteris for his
artificial, insincere translation of Goethe's _Faust_ into Hebrew.
On all sides there blew a fresh breath of realism, and the critical
spirit was abroad.

The most characteristic exponent of this reforming movement was Moses
Lob Lilienblum, a native of the Government of Kowno. Endowed with a
temperate, logical mind, untroubled by an excess of sentimentality,
Lilienblum, one of those deliberate, puritanic scholars that constitute
the glory of Lithuanian Talmudism, was at once hero and actor in the
intense drama performed in the Russian ghetto, which he himself
described as the "Jewish tragi-comedy".

He began his literary career with an article entitled _Orhot ha-
Talmud_ ("The Paths of the Talmud"), and published in _Ha-Meliz_
in 1868. Here, as well as in the articles following it, he does not
depart from established tradition. In the very name of the spirit of the
Talmud, he demands religious reforms and the abolition of the
restrictions that make daily life burdensome. These excessive
requirements, he urges, were heaped up by the Rabbis subsequent to the
full development of the Law, and in opposition to its spirit. The young
scholar showed himself to be a zealous admirer of the Talmud, and with
clinching logic he proves that the Rabbis of later times, in asserting
its immutability, had distinctly deviated from the principles of the
Law, the fundamental idea of which was the harmonizing of "Law and
Life". The wrath aroused by such articles can easily be imagined.
Lilienblum was an _Apikoros_, the "heretic" _par excellence_
of the Lithuanian ghetto. The young writer had to undergo a series of
outrageous persecutions and acts of vengeance inflicted by the fanatics,
especially the Hasidim, of his town. He tells the story in detail in his
autobiography, _Hattot Neurim_ ("The Sins of Youth"), published at
Vienna, in 1876, one of the most noteworthy productions of modern Hebrew
literature. With the logical directness of a _Mitnagged_ [1], and
the cruel, sarcastic candor of a wasted existence, Lilienblum probes and
exposes the depths of his tortured conscience, at the same time
following up inexorably the steps which remove the free-thinker from the
faithful believer, without, however, reaching a real or positive result--
in the spirit at once of Rousseau and Voltaire. [Footnote 1: Literally,
"one who is opposed" [to the mystical system of Hasidism]; a
protestant, a Puritan.] As he himself says:

  "It is a drama essentially Jewish, because it is a life without
  dramatic effect, without extraordinary adventure. It is made up
  of torment and suffering, all the more grievous as they are kept
  hidden in the recesses of one's heart...."

Better than any one else he knows the cause of these ills. Like Gordon,
he holds that the Book has killed the Man, the dead letter has been
substituted for feeling.

  "You ask me, O reader", he says with bitterness, "who I am, and
  what my name is?--Well, then, I am a living being, not a Job who
  has never existed. Nor am I one of the dead in the valley of
  bones brought back to life by the prophet Ezekiel, which is only
  a tale that is told. But I am one of the living dead of the
  Babylonian Talmud, revived by the new Hebrew literature, itself a
  dead literature, powerless to bring the dead to life with its
  dew, scarcely able to transport us into a state between life and
  death. I am a Talmudist, a believer aforetimes, now become an
  unbeliever, no longer clinging to the dreams and the hopes which
  my ancestors bequeathed to me. I am a wreck, a miserable wretch,
  hopeless unto despair...."

And he narrates the incidents of his childhood, the period of the
_Tohu_, of chaos and confusion, the days of study, misery,
superstition. He recalls the years of adolescence, his premature
marriage, his struggle for a bare existence, his wretched life as a
teacher of the Talmud, panting under the double yoke of a mother-in-law
and a rigid ceremonial. Then comes his introduction to Hebrew
literature. His conscience long refuses assent, but stern logic
triumphs, and the result is that all the ideas that have been his
guiding principles crumble into dust one by one. Negation replaces
faith. The terrible conflict begins with a whole town of formalists, who
declare him outside of the community of Israel,--a pitiless conflict, in
which he is supported half-heartedly by two or three of the strong-
minded. The publication of his first article, on the necessity of
reforms in religion, increases the fury of the people against him, and
his ruin is determined. Had there not been intervention from the
outside, he would have been delivered to the authorities to serve in the
army, or denounced as a dangerous heretic. And yet the so-called heretic
cursed by every mouth had proceeded so short a distance on the path of
heterodoxy that he still entertained scruples about carrying a book from
one house to another on the Sabbath!

This naive soul, in which all sorts of feelings had long before begun to
stir obscurely, was aroused to full consciousness by the reading of
Mapu's works. Casual acquaintance with an intelligent woman made his
heart vibrate with notes unknown until then. Life in his native town
became intolerable, and he left it for Odessa, the El Dorado of all
ghetto dreamers. Again disillusionment was his lot. He who was ready to
undergo martyrdom for his ideas, this champion of the Haskalah, his
heart famishing for knowledge and justice, was not long in discerning,
with his penetrating, perspicacious mind, that he had not yet reached
the best of modern worlds. With bitterness he notes that the Jews of the
south of Russia, "where the Talmud is cut out of practical life, if they
are more liberal than the others, are yet not exempt from stupid
superstitions." He notes that the Hebrew literature so dear to his heart
is excluded from the circles of the intellectual. He sees that egotistic
materialism has superseded the ideal aspirations of the ghetto. He
discovers that feeling has no place in modern life, and tolerance, the
loudly vaunted, is but a sound. When he ventures to put his complaints
into words, he is treated as a "religious fanatic" by people who have no
interest beyond their own selfish pleasures and the satisfaction of
their material cravings. He is deeply affected by what he observes and
notes. In the presence of the egotistic indifference of the emancipated
Jews, he is shaken in his firmest convictions, and he admits with
anguish that the ideal for which he has fought and sacrificed his life
is but a phantom. Under the stress of such disappointment he writes
these lines:

  "In very truth, I tell you, never will the Jewish religion be in
  accord with life. It will sink, or, at best, it will remain the
  cherished possession of the limited few, as it is now in the
  Western countries of Europe.... Practical reality is in
  opposition to religion. Now I know that we have no public on our
  side; and actual life with its great movements produces its
  results without the aid of literature, which even in our people
  is an effective influence only with the simple spirits of the
  country districts. The desire for life and liberty, the
  prevalence of charlatanism on the one side, and on the other the
  abandoning of religious studies in favor of secular studies, will
  have baleful consequences for the Jewish youth, even in

This whole period of our author's life is characterized by similar
regrets--he mourns over days spent in barren struggles and over the
follies of youth.

  "To-day I finished writing my autobiography, which I call 'The
  Sins of Youth'. I have drawn up the balance-sheet of my life of
  thirty years and one month, and I am deeply grieved to see that
  the sum total is a cipher. How heavily the hand of fortune has
  lain upon me! The education I received was the reverse of
  everything I had need of later. I was raised with the idea of
  becoming a distinguished Rabbinical authority, and here I am a
  business man; I was raised in an imaginary world, to be a
  faithful observer of the Law, shrinking back from whatever has
  the odor of sin, and the very things I was taught crush me to
  earth now that the imaginary man has disappeared in me; I was
  raised to live in the atmosphere of the dead, and here I am cast
  among people who lead a real life, in which I am unable to take
  my part; I was raised in a world of dreams and pure theory, and I
  find myself now in the midst of the chaos of practical life, to
  which I am driven by my needs to apply myself, though my brain
  refuses to leave the old ruts and substitute practice for
  speculation. I am not even equipped to carry on a discussion with
  business men discussing nothing but business. I was raised to be
  the father of a family, in the sphere chosen for me by my father
  in his wisdom.... How far removed my heart is from all such

  "I weep over my shattered little world which I cannot restore!"

The regrets of Lilienblum over the useless work attempted by Hebrew
literature betray themselves also in his pamphlet in verse, _Kehal
Refaim_ ("The Assembly of the Dead"). The dead are impersonated by
the Hebrew periodicals and reviews.

Later, a novelist of talent, Reuben Asher Braudes, resumed the attempt
to harmonize theory and practice, in his great novel, "Religion and
Life". The hero, the young Rabbi Samuel, is the picture of Lilienblum.
From the point of view of art, it is one of the best novels in Hebrew
literature. Life in the rural districts, the austere idealism of the
enlightened, the superstitions of the crowd, are depicted with
extraordinary clearness of outline. [Footnote: _Ha-Dat weha-
Hayyim_, Lemberg, 1880. Another long novel by Braudes is called
_Shete ha-Kezawot_ ("The Two Extremes"), published in 1886, wherein
he extols the national revival and religious romanticism.] The novel ran
in _Ha-Boker Or_ (1877-1880), and was never completed--a
counterpart of its hero. Had not Lilienblum, too, stopped in the middle
of the road?

The crisis that occurred in the life of Lilienblum, torn from his ideal
speculations in a provincial town, and forced into contact with an
actuality that was as far as possible away from solving the problem of
harmonizing religion and life, was the typical fate of all the educated
Jews of the period. Lilienblum and his followers gave themselves up to
regrets over the futile work of three generations of humanists, who,
instead of restoring the ghetto to health, had but hastened its utter
ruin. The ideal aspirations of the Maskilim had been succeeded by a
gross utilitarianism without an ideal. What disquieted the soul of the
Maskil in the decade from 1870 to 1880 is expressed in the concluding
words of "The Sins of Youth":

  "The young people are to work at nothing and think of nothing but
  how to prepare for their own life. All is forbidden, wherefrom
  they cannot derive direct profit--they are permitted only the
  study of sciences and languages, or apprenticeship to a trade.

  "The youth who break away from the laborious study of the Talmud,
  throw themselves with avidity into the study of modern
  literature. This headlong course has been in vogue with us about
  a century. One generation disappears, to make place for the next,
  and each generation is pushed forward by a blind force, no one
  knows whither...!

  "It is high time for us to throw a glance backward--to stop a
  moment and ask ourselves: Whither are we hastening, and why do we

However, the gods did not forsake the ghetto. If Gordon and, with more
emphasis, Lilienblum predicted the ruin of all the dreams of the ghetto,
it was because, having been wrenched from the life of the masses and out
of traditional surroundings, they judged things from a distance, and
permitted themselves to be influenced by appearances. Blinded by their
bias, they saw only two well-defined camps in Judaism--the moderns,
indifferent to all that constitutes Judaism, and the bigots, opposed to
what savors of knowledge, free-thinking, and worldly pleasure. They made
their reckoning without the Jewish people. The humanist propaganda was
not so empty and vain as its later promoters were pleased to consider
it. The conservative romanticism of a Samuel David Luzzatto and the
Zionist sentiments of a Mapu had planted a germinating seed in the heart
of traditional Judaism itself. It is conceded that we cannot resort for
evidence to such old romanticists as Schulman, who in the serenity of
their souls gave little heed to the campaign of the reformers, though it
is nevertheless a fact that they contributed to the diffusion of
humanism and of Hebrew literature by their works, which were well
received in orthodox circles. Our contention is better proved by Rabbis
reputed orthodox, who devoted themselves with enthusiasm to the
cultivation of Hebrew literature. Without renouncing religion, they
found a way of effecting the harmonization of religion and life. In
point of fact, humanism of a conservative stripe reached its zenith at
the precise moment when the realists, deceived by superficial
appearances, were predicting the complete breaking up of traditional

The chief representatives of the reform press were _He-Haluz_,
_Ha-Meliz_, and later on _Ha-Kol_ ("The Voice"), and by their
side the views of the conservatives were defended in _Ha-Maggid_,
_Ha-Habazzelet_ ("The Lily"), published at Jerusalem, and
especially _Ha-Lebanon_, appearing first at Paris and then at
Mayence. In _Ha-Maggid_, beginning with the year 1871, the editor,
David Gordon, supported by the assenting opinion of his readers, carried
on an ardent campaign for the colonization of Palestine as the necessary
forerunner of the political revival of Israel.

A Galician thinker, Fabius Mises, published, in 1869, an article in
_Ha-Meliz_, entitled _Milhemet ha-Dat_ ("The Wars of the
Faith"), in which he wards off the attacks upon the Jewish religion by
the anti-Rabbinical school. He proves it to be a reasonable religion,
and a national religion _par excellence_. In his poems, Mises
assails Geiger for the religious reforms urged by him, and he opposes
also the school of _He-Haluz_ in the name of the national
tradition. Later on Mises published an important history of modern
philosophy in Hebrew.

Michael Pines, a writer in _Ha-Lebanon_, and the opponent of
Lilienblum, was the protagonist of the conservative party in Lithuania.
His chief work, _Yalde Ruhi_ ("The Children of My Spirit"),
appeared in 1872 at Mayence. It may be considered the literary
masterpiece on the conservative side, the counterstroke to Lilienblum's
"Sins of Youth". It is a defense of traditional Judaism, and is instinct
with an intuitive philosophy and with deep faith. Pines makes a closely
reasoned claim for the right of the Jewish religion to exist in its
integrity. Without being a fanatic, he believes, with Samuel David
Luzzatto, that the religion of the Jew on its poetic side is the
peculiar product of the Jewish national genius--that the religion, and
not the artificial legal system engrafted upon it, is the essential part
of Judaism. The ceremonies and the religious practices are necessary for
the purpose of maintaining the harmony of the faith, "as the wick is
necessary for the lamp". This harmony, reacting at once upon feeling and
morality, cannot be undone by the results of science, and therefore the
Jewish religion is eternal in its essence. The religious reforms
introduced by the German Rabbis have but had the effect of drying up the
springs of poetry in the religion, and as for the compromise between
faith and life, extolled and urged by Lilienblum, it is only a futile
phrase. Of what use is it, seeing that the religious feel no need of it,
but on the contrary take delight in the religion as it stands, which
fills the void in their soul?

Pines did not share the pessimistic fears of the realists of his time. A
true conservative, he believed in the national rebirth of the people of
Israel, and, a romantic Jew, he dreamed of the realization of the
humanitarian predictions of the prophets. Judaism to him is the pure
idea of justice, "and every just idea ends by conquering the whole of

Extremes meet. There is one point in common between Lilienblum, the last
of the humanists, the disillusioned skeptic, and Pines, the optimist of
the ghetto. Both maintained that the action of the humanists was
inefficacious, and the compromise between religion and life a vain
expedient. Nevertheless, there was no possibility of bringing the two to
stand upon the same platform. While the humanists, in abandoning the
perennial dreams of the people, had separated themselves from its moral
and religious life, and thus cut away the ground from under their own
feet, the romantic conservatives paid no attention to the demands of
modern life, the currents of which had loosed the foundations of the old
world, and were threatening to carry away the last national breastwork.

A synthesis was needed to merge the two currents, the humanist and the
romantic, and lead the languishing Haskalah back to the living sources
of national Judaism. This was the task accomplished by Perez Smolenskin,
the leader of the national progressive movement.

       *       *       *       *       *




Perez Smolenskin was born, in 1842, at Monastryshchina, a little market
town near Mohilew. His father, a poor and an unfortunate man, who was
not able to support his wife and six children successfully, was forced
to leave his family on account of a slanderous accusation brought
against him by a Polish priest. The mother, a plucky woman of the
people, supported herself by hard work, in spite of which it was her
ambition to make Rabbis of her boys. At length the father joined his
family again, and a period of comparative prosperity set in.

The first care of the returned father was to look to the education of
his two sons, Leon and Perez. The latter showed unusual ability. At the
age of four he began the study of the Pentateuch, at five he had been
introduced to the Talmud. These studies absorbed him until his eleventh
year. Then, like all the sons of the ghetto desirous of an education, he
left his father and mother, and betook himself to the _Yeshibah_ at
Shklow. The journey was made on foot, and his only escort was the
blessing of his mother. The lad's youth proved no obstacle to his
entering the Talmud academy, nor to his acquiring celebrity for industry
and attainments. His brother Leon, who had preceded him to Shklow,
initiated him in the Russian language, and supplied him with modern
Hebrew writings. Openhearted and lively, he set prejudice at defiance,
and maintained friendly relations with a certain intellectual who was
reputed a heretic, an acquaintanceship that contributed greatly to the
mental development of young Perez. The dignified burghers who were
taking turns in supplying him with his meals, alarmed at his aberration
from the straight path, one after another withdrew their protection from
him. Black misery clutched him. He was but fourteen years old, and
already he had entered upon a life of disquiet and adventure. His story
is the Odyssey of an erring son of the ghetto. Repulsed by the
_Mitnaggedim_, he sought help with the Hasidim. He was equally ill-
fitted for their life. Their uncouth mystical exaltation, the absurdity
of their superstitions, and their hypocrisy drove him to exasperation.
He cast himself into the whirl of life, became assistant to a cantor at
a synagogue, and then teacher of Hebrew and Talmud. The whole gamut of
precarious employments open to a scholar of the ghetto he ran up and
down again. His restless spirit and the desire to complete his education
carried him to Odessa. There he established himself, and there years of
work and endeavor were passed. He acquired the modern languages, his
mind grew broader, and he gave up religious practices once for all,
always remaining attached to Judaism, however.

In 1867 appeared his first literary production, the article against
Letteris, who at that time occupied the position of an incontestable
authority, in which Smolenskin permits himself to pass severe and
independent criticism upon his Hebrew adaptation of Goethe's
_Faust_. In the Odessa period falls also the writing of the first
few chapters of his great novel, _Ha-To'eh be-Darke ha-Hayyim_ ("A
Wanderer Astray on the Path of Life"). [Footnote: A complete edition of
the novels and articles by Smolenskin appeared recently at St.
Petersburg and Wilna, published by Katzenelenbogen.] But his free spirit
could not adapt itself to the narrowness and meanness of the literary
folk and the editors of periodicals. He determined to leave Russia for
the civilized Occident, the promised land in the dreams of the Russian
Maskilim, beautified by the presence of Rapoport and Luzzatto. His first
destination was Prague, the residence of Rapoport, then Vienna, and
later he pushed his way to Paris and London. Everywhere he studied and
made notes. A sharp-eyed observer, he sought to probe European affairs
as well as Occidental Judaism to their depths. He established relations
with Rabbis, scholars, and Jewish notables, and finally he was in a
position to appraise at close range the liberty he had heard vaunted so
loudly, and the religious reforms wished for so eagerly by the
intelligent of his own country. He soon had occasion to see the reverse
of the medal, and his disenchantment was complete. Regretfully he came
to the conclusion that the modern emancipation movement had brought the
Jewish spirit in the Occident to the point at which the Western Jew was
turned away from the essence of Judaism. Form had taken the place of
substance, ceremonial the place of religious and national sentiment.
Heartsick over such disregard of the past, indignant at the indifference
displayed by modern Jews toward all he held dear, young Smolenskin
resolved to break the silence that was observed in the great capitals of
Europe respecting all things Jewish and carry the gospel of the ghetto
to the "neo-Gentiles".

The first shaft was delivered in Vienna, where he began the publication
of his review _Ha-Shahar_ ("Daybreak"). Almost without means, but
fired by the wish to work for the national and moral elevation of his
people, the young writer laid down the articles of his faith:

  "The purpose of _Ha-Shahar_ is to shed the light of
  knowledge upon the paths of the sons of Jacob, to open the eyes
  of those who either have not beheld knowledge, or, beholding,
  have not understood in value, to regenerate the beauty of the
  Hebrew language, and increase the number of its devotees.

  "... But when the eyes of the blind begin to open slowly, and
  they shake off the sluggish slumber in which they have been sunk
  since many years, then there is still another class to be dealt
  with--those who, having tasted of the fruit of the tree of
  knowledge, intentionally close their eyes to our language, the
  only possession left to us that can bring together the hearts of
  Israel and make one nation of it all over the earth.... Let them
  take warning! If my hand is against the bigots and the hypocrites
  who hide themselves under the mantle of the truth, ... it will be
  equally unsparing of the enlightened hypocrites who seek with
  honeyed words to alienate the sons of Israel from their ancestral

War to mediaeval obscurantism, war to modern indifference, was the plan
of his campaign. _Ha-Shahar_ soon became the organ of all in the
ghetto who thought, felt, and fought,--the spokesman of the nationalist
Maskilim, setting forth their demands as culture bearers and patriots.

At a time when Hebrew literature consisted mainly of translations or
works of minor significance, Smolenskin had the boldness to announce
that the columns of his periodical would be open to writers of original
articles only. The era of the translator and the vapid imitator had come
to a close. A new school of original writers stepped upon the boards,
and little by little the reading public accustomed itself to give
preference to them.

And at a time when disparagement of the national element in Judaism had
been carried to the furthest excess, Smolenskin asserted Judaism's right
to exist, in such words as these:

  [The wilfully blind] "bid us to be like all the other nations,
  and I repeat after them: Let us be like all the other nations,
  pursuing and attaining knowledge, leaving off from wickedness and
  folly, and dwelling as loyal citizens in the lands whither we
  have been scattered. Yes, let us be like all the other nations,
  unashamed of the rock whence we have been hewn, like the rest in
  holding dear our language and the glory of our people. It is not
  a disgrace for us to believe that our exile will once come to an
  end, ... and we need not blush for clinging to the ancient
  language with which we wandered from people to people, in which
  our poets sang and our seers prophesied when we lived at ease in
  our own land, and in which our fathers poured out their hearts
  when their blood flowed like water in the sight of all.... They
  who thrust us away from the Hebrew language meditate evil against
  our people and against its glory!"

The reputation of _Ha-Shahar_ was firmly established by the
publication of Smolenskin's great novel _Ha-To'eh be-Darke ha-
Hayyim_ in its columns. In this as in the rest of his works, he is
the prophet denouncing the crimes and the depravity of the ghetto, and
proclaiming the revival of national dignity.

Smolenskin permitted himself to be thwarted by nothing in the execution
of his bold designs, neither by the meagreness of his material resources
nor by the animosities which his fearless course did not fail to arouse
among literary men.

In 1872, Smolenskin published, at Vienna, his masterpiece _'Am
'Olam_ ("The Eternal People"), which became the platform of the
movement for national emancipation. Noteworthy from every point of view,
this work shows him to have been an original thinker and an inspired
poet, a humanist and at the same time a patriot. He is full of love for
his people, and his faith in its future knows no limits. He demonstrates
convincingly that true nationalism is not incompatible with the final
realization of the ideal of the universal brotherhood of men. National
devotion is but a higher aspect of devotion to family. In nature we see
that, in the measure in which the individuality of a being is distinct,
its superiority and its independence are increased. Differentiation is
the law of progress. Why not apply the law to human groups, or nations?

The sum total of the qualities peculiar to the various nations, and the
various ways in which they respond to concepts presented to them from
without, these constitute the life and the culture of mankind as a
whole. While admitting that the historical past of a people is an
essential part of its existence, he believes it to be a still more
urgent necessity for every people to possess a present ideal, and
entertain national hopes for a better future. Judaism cherishes the
Messianic ideal, which at bottom is nothing but the hope of its national
rebirth. Unfortunately, the modern, unreligious Jew denies the ideal,
and the orthodox Jew envelops it in the obscurity of mysticism.

The last chapter of "The Eternal People", called "The Hope of Israel",
is pervaded by magnificent enthusiasm. For the first time in Hebrew,
Messianism is detached from its religious element. For the first time, a
Hebrew writer asserts that Messianism is the political and moral
resurrection of Israel, _the return to the prophetic tradition_.

Why should the Greeks, the Roumanians, desire a national emancipation,
and Israel, the people of the Bible, not?... The only obstacle is the
fact that the Jews have lost the notion of their national unity and the
feeling of their solidarity.

This conviction as to the existence of a Jewish nationality, the
national emancipation dreamed by Salvador, Hess, and Luzzatto,
considered a heresy by the orthodox and a dangerous theory by the
liberals, had at last found its prophet. In Smolenskin's enthusiastic
formulation of it, the ideal was carried to the masses in Russia and
Galicia, superseding the mystical Messianism they had cherished before.

Smolenskin's combative spirit did not allow him to rest at that. The
idea of national regeneration was in collision with the theory, raised
to a commanding position by Mendelssohn and his school, that Judaism
constitutes a religious confession. In a series of articles ("A Time to
Plant, and a Time to Pluck up that which is Planted"), [Footnote: _Ha-
Shahar_, 1875-6.] he deals with the Mendelssohnian theory.

Proceeding from history and his knowledge of Judaism, he proves that the
Jewish religion is not a rigid block of unalterable notions, but rather
a body of ethical and philosophical teachings constantly undergoing a
process of evolution, and changing its aspect according to the times and
the environment. If this doctrine is the quintessence of the national
genius of the Jew, it is nevertheless accessible, in theory and in
practice, to whosoever desires access. It is not the dogmatic and
exclusive privilege of a sacerdotal caste.

This is the rationale of Smolenskin's opposition to the religious
dogmatism of Mendelssohn, who had wished to confine Judaism inside of
the circle of Rabbinic law without recognizing its essentially
evolutionary character. Maimonides himself is not spared by Smolenskin,
for it was Maimonides who had set the seal of consecration upon logical
dogmatism. The less does he spare the modern school of reformers.
Religious reforms, he freely admits, are necessary, but they ought to be
spontaneous developments, emanations from the heart of the believers
themselves, in response to changes in the times and social relations.
They ought not to be the artificial product of a few intellectuals who
have long broken away from the masses of the people, sharing neither
their suffering nor their hopes. If Luther succeeded, it was because he
had faith himself. But the modern Jewish reformers are not believers,
therefore their work does not abide. It is only the study of the Hebrew
language, of the religion of the Jew, his culture, and his spirit that
is capable of replacing the dead letter and soulless regulations by a
keen national and religious sentiment in harmony with the exigencies of
life. The next century, he predicted, would see a renewed, unified

This is a summing up of the ideas which brought him approval and
endorsement from all sides, but also, and to a greater degree,
opposition and animosity, the latter from the old followers of the
German humanist movement. One of them, the poet Gottlober, founded, in
1876, a rival review, _Ha-Boker Or_, in which he pleaded the cause
of the school of Mendelssohn. But the new periodical, which continued to
appear until 1881, could neither supplant _Ha-Shahar_, nor diminish
Smolenskin's ardor. Other obstacles of all sorts, and the difficulties
raised by the Russian censor, were equally ineffectual in halting the
efforts of the valiant apostle of Jewish nationalism. He was assured the
cooperation of all independent literary men, for Smolenskin had never
posed as a believer in dogmatic religion or as its defender. On the
contrary, he waged constant war with Rabbinism. He was persuaded that an
untrammelled propaganda, bold speech issuing from a knowledge of the
heart of the masses and their urgent needs, would bring about a natural
and peaceable revolution, restoring to the Jewish people its free
spirit, its creative genius, and its lofty morality. It mattered little
to him that the young had ceased to be orthodox: in case of need,
national feeling would suffice to maintain Israel. At this point, it
appears, Smolenskin excelled Samuel David Luzzatto and his school as a
free-thinker. The Jewish people is to him the eternal people
personifying the prophetic idea, realizable in the Jewish land and not
in exile. The liberalism displayed by Europe toward the Jews during a
part of the nineteenth century is in his opinion but a transient
phenomenon, and as early as 1872 he foresaw the recrudescence of anti-

This conception of Jewish life was welcomed by the educated as a
revelation. The distinction of the editor of _Ha-Shahar_ is that he
knew how to develop the ideas enunciated by the masters preceding him,
how to carry them to completion, and render them accessible to the
people at large. He revealed a new formula to them, thanks to which
their claims as Jews were no longer in contradiction with the demands of
modern times. It was the revenge taken by the people speaking through
the mouth of the writer. It was the echo of the cry of the throbbing
soul of the ghetto.

       *       *       *       *       *



_Ha-Shahar_ soon became the centre of a hot crusade against
obscurantism. The propaganda it carried on was all the more effectual as
it opposed an out-of-date Judaism in the name of a national
regeneration, the deathless ideal of the Jewish people. While admitting
the principle that reforms are necessary, provided they are reasonable
and slowly advanced, in agreement with the natural evolution of Judaism
and not in opposition to its spirit, Smolenskin's review at the same
time constituted itself the focus of a bold campaign against the kind of
religious reform introduced by the moderns.

Whoever thought, felt, suffered, and was alive to the new ideas,
hastened to range himself under the banner of the Hebrew review during
its eighteen years of a more or less regular existence, the occasional
interruptions being due to lack of funds. Its history forms an important
chapter in that of Hebrew literature. Smolenskin possessed the art of
stimulating well-tried powers, and discovering new talent and bringing
it forward. The school of _Ha-Shahar_ may almost be looked upon as
the creation of his strong hand. Gordon, it is true, published the best
of his satires in _Ha-Shahar_, and Lilienblum pursued his reform
purposes in its columns, _'Olam ha-Tohu_ ("The World of Chaos"),
his ringing criticism of "The Hypocrite", being among the articles
written by him for it, in which he casts upon Mapu's work the light of
the utilitarian realism borrowed from the Russian writers of his time,
and exposes it as a naive, unreal conception of Jewish life. Though
these two veterans gave him their support, the larger number of the
collaborators of Smolenskin made their first appearance in the world of
letters under his auspices, and it was due to his influence that German
and Austrian scholars returned to the use of Hebrew. On the other hand,
the co-operation of eminent professors, such as Heller, David Muller,
and others, contributed not a little to the success of _Ha-Shahar_.

The Galician novelist Mordecai D. Brandstatter is properly reckoned
among the best of the contributors to the review. His novels, a
collected edition of which appeared in 1891, are of distinguished
literary interest. Brandstatter is the painter of the customs and
manners of the Galician Hasidim, whom he rallies with kindliness that
yet has a keen edge, and with perfect artistic taste. Almost he is the
only humorist of the time. His style is classic without going to
extremes. He often makes use of the Talmudic jargon peculiar to
Rabbinical scholars, whom he has the skill to transfer to his canvas
down to their slightest gestures and mannerisms. But he does not
restrain his wit in showing up the ridiculous side of the moderns as
well. His best-known novels, which have been translated into Russian and
into German, are "Doctor Alfasi", "Mordecai Kisowitz", "The Beginning
and the End of a Quarrel", etc. Brandstatter also wrote satires in
verse. He has not a few points of resemblance to the painter of Galician
Jewish manners in German, Karl Emil Franzos.

Solomon Mandelkern, the erudite author of a new Biblical Concordance,
hailing from Dubno (1846-1902), was an inspired poet. His historical
pieces, his satires, and his epigrams, published for the most part in
_Ha-Shahar_, have finish and grace. In his Zionist poems, he gives
evidence of an enlightened patriotism. His popularity he gained by a
detailed history of Russia (_Dibre Yeme Russia_) in three volumes,
published at Wilna, in 1876, and a number of other works, all written in
a pure, Biblical style at once beautiful and lively.

Jehudah Lob Levin (born in 1845), surnamed Yehallel, another poet who
was an habitual contributor to _Ha-Shahar_, owes his fame to the
fervent realism of his poems, which, however, suffer from pompousness
and prolixity. His first appearance in the review was with a collection
of poems, _Sifte Renanot_ ("The Lips of Song"), in 1867. A long,
realistic poem of his, _Kishron ha-Ma'aseh_ ("The Value of Work"),
in which he extols the unrivalled place of work in the universe, also
was published in _Ha-Shahar_. In this poem, as well as in his prose
articles, he ranged himself with Lilienblum in demanding a reshaping of
Jewish life on an utilitarian, practical basis.

The criticism of Jewish customs and manners was brilliantly done by M.
Cahen and Ben-Zebi, to mention only two among the many journalists of
talent. The "Letters from Mohilew" by the former testify to the
impartiality and independence, not only of the author, but also of the
editor who accepted them for his periodical. Ben-Zebi wrote "Letters
from Palestine", in which he depicts the ways of the rapacious notables
of the old school in his country.

Science, historical and philosophical, found a sure welcome in _Ha-
Shahar_. Smolenskin knew how to arouse the interest of the educated
in these branches, which had been neglected by writers of Hebrew in
Russia. Besides such well-known names as Chwolson, the eminent
professor, Harkavy, the indefatigable explorer of Jewish history in the
Slav countries, and Gurland, the learned chronicler of the persecutions
of the Jews in Poland, it is proper to make mention of David Kahana, one
of the most eminent of the scientific contributors to _Ha-Shahar_,
a scholar of distinction, who has succeeded in throwing light upon the
obscure epoch of the false Messiahs and on the origin of Hasidism.

Dr. Solomon Rubin's ingenious philosophical studies on the origin of
religions and the history of ancient peoples were also for the most part
published in _Ha-Shahar_. Lazarus Schulman, the author of humorous
tales, wrote a painstaking analysis of Heine for Smolenskin's
periodical. Other contributors to the scientific department were Joshua
Lewinsohn, Schorr, Jehiel Bernstein, Moses Ornstein, Dr. Kantor, and Dr.
A. Poriess, the last of whom was the author of an excellent treatise on
physiology in Hebrew. The productions of these writers did more for the
spread of enlightenment than all the exhortations of the reformers.

Of litterateurs, the novelist Braudes, and the poets Menahem M. Dolitzki
and Zebi Schereschewsky, etc., made their first appearance in the
columns of _Ha-Shahar_.

The impetus issuing from _Ha-Shahar_ was visible on all fields of
Judaism. The number of Hebrew readers increased considerably, and the
interest in Hebrew literature grew. The eminent scholar I. H. Weiss
published his five-volume History of Tradition (_Dor Dor we-
Doreshaw_) in Hebrew (Vienna, 1883-1890). Though it was a purely
scientific work, laying bare the successive steps in the natural
development of Rabbinic law, it produced a veritable revolution in the
attitude of the orthodox of the backward countries.

As was mentioned above, Gottlober founded his review, _Ha-Boker
Or_, in 1876, to ensure the continuity of the humanist tradition and
defend the theories of the school of Mendelssohn. The last of the
followers of German humanism rallied about it,--Braudes published his
principal novel "Religion and Life" in it,--and it also attracted the
last representatives of the _Melizah_, like Wechsler (_Ish
Naomi_), who wrote Biblical criticism in an artificial, pompous

This artificiality, fostered in an earlier period by the _Melizim_,
had by no means disappeared from Hebrew literature. Its most popular
devotees in the later day of which we are speaking were, besides Kalman
Schulman, A. Friedberg, who wrote a Hebrew adaptation of Grace Aguilar's
tale, "The Vale of Cedars", published in 1876, and Ramesh, the
translator of "Robinson Crusoe."

Translations continued to enjoy great vogue, and it was vain for
Smolenskin, in the introduction to his novel _Ha-To'eh be-Darke ha-
Hayyim_, to warn the public against the abuses of which translators
were guilty. The readers of Hebrew sought, besides novels, chiefly works
on the natural sciences and on mathematics, especially astronomy. Among
the authors of original scientific books, Hirsch Rabinowitz should be
given the first place, as the writer of a series of treatises on
physics, chemistry, etc., which appeared at Wilna, between the years
1866 and 1880. After him come Lerner, Mises, Reifmann, and a number of

The period was also prolific in periodicals representing various
tendencies. At Jerusalem appeared _Ha-Habazzelet_, _Sha'are
Ziyyon_ ("The Gates of Zion"), and others. On the American side of
the Atlantic, the review _Ha-Zofeh be-Erez Nod_ ("The Watchman in
the Land of the Wanderer") reflected the fortunes and views of the
educated among the immigrants in the New World. Even the orthodox had
recourse to this modern expedient of periodicals in their endeavor to
put up a defense of Rabbinism. The journal _Ha-Yareah_ ("The
Moon"), and particularly _Mahazike ha-Dat_ ("The Pillars of the
Faith"), both issued in Galicia, were the organs of the faithful in
their opposition to humanism and progress. _Ha-Kol_, the journal
founded by Rodkinson (1876-1880), with reform purposes, played a role of
considerable importance in the conflict between the two parties.

Already tendencies were beginning to crop up radically different from
any Judaism had betrayed previously. In 1877, when Smolenskin was
publishing his weekly paper _Ha-Mabbit_ ("The Observer"), Freiman
founded the first Socialistic journal in Hebrew, _Ha-Emet_ ("The
Truth"). It also appeared in Vienna. And, again, S. A. Salkindson, a
convert from Judaism, the author of admirable translations of "Othello"
(1874) and "Romeo and Juliet" (1878), both published through the
endeavors of Smolenskin, brought out the Hebrew translation of an epic
wholly Christian in character, Milton's "Paradise Lost". It was a sign
of the times that this work of art was enjoyed and appreciated by the
educated Hebrew public in due accordance with its literary merits.

The clash of opinions and tendencies encouraged by the authority and the
tolerance of Smolenskin was fruitful of results. _Ha-Shahar_ had
made itself the centre of a synthetic movement, progressive and
national, which was gradually revealing the outline of its plan and
aims. The reaction caused by the unexpected revival of anti-Semitism in
Germany, Austria, Roumania, and Russia, had levelled the last ruins of
German humanism in the West, and had put disillusionment in the place of
dreams of equality in the East. Whoever remained faithful to the Hebrew
language and to the ideal of the regeneration of the Jewish people,
turned his eyes toward the stout-hearted writer who ten years earlier
had predicted the overthrow of all humanitarian hopes, and had been the
first to propose the practical solution of the Jewish problem by means
of national reconstruction.

Smolenskin's fame had by this time transcended the circle of his readers
and those interested in Hebrew literature. The _Alliance Israelite
Universelle_ entrusted to him the mission of investigating the
conditions of the life of the Roumanian Jews. During his stay in Paris,
Adolphe Cremieux, the tireless defender of the oppressed of his race,
agreed, in conversation with him, that only those who know the Hebrew
language, hold the key to the heart of the Jewish masses, and, Cremieux
continued, he would give ten years of his life to have known Hebrew.
[Footnote: Brainin, in his admirable "Life of Smolenskin", Warsaw, 1897,
p. 58; _Ha-Shahar_, X, 532.]

The war of 1877 between Russia and Turkey, and the nationalistic
sentiments it engendered everywhere in Eastern Europe, awakened a
patriotic movement among the Jewish youth who had until then resisted
the idea of national emancipation. A young student in Paris, a native of
Lithuania, Eliezer Ben-Jehudah, published two articles in _Ha-
Shahar_, in 1878, in which, setting aside all religious notions, he
urged the regeneration of the Jewish people on its ancient soil, and the
cultivation of the Biblical language.

In 1880, Smolenskin, who had undertaken a new and complete edition of
his works in twenty-four volumes, at Vienna, went on a tour through
Russia. Great was his joy when he noted the results produced by his own
activity, and saw that he had gained the affection and approval of all
enlightened classes of Jews. Under the influence of _Ha-Shahar_, a
new generation had grown up, free and nevertheless loyal to its nativity
and to the ideal of Judaism. Smolenskin's journey resembled a triumphal
procession. The university students at St. Petersburg and Moscow
arranged meetings in honor of the Hebrew writer, at which he was
acclaimed the master of the national tongue, the prophet of the
rejuvenation of his people. In the provincial districts, similar scenes
were enacted, and Smolenskin saw himself the object of honors never
before accorded a Hebrew author. He returned to Vienna, encouraged to
pursue the task he had assumed, and full of hope for the future.

It was the eve of the cataclysm foretold by the editor of _Ha-

       *       *       *       *       *



Smolenskin owed his vast popularity and his influence on his
contemporaries only in part to his work as a journalist. What brought
him close to the people were his realistic novels, which occupy the
highest place in modern Hebrew literature.

Smolenskin's first piece of fiction, _Ha-Gemul_ ("The Recompense"),
was published at Odessa, in 1868, on a subject connected with the Polish
insurrection. Save its realistic style, there was nothing about it to
betray the future novel writer of eminence.

It was said above, that Smolenskin wrote the early chapters of his
_Ha-To'eh_ while at Odessa, and, also, he planned another novel
there, "The Joy of the Hypocrite". When he proposed working out the
latter for publication in _Ha-Meliz_, the editor rejected the idea
disdainfully, saying that he preferred translations to original stories,
so little likely did it seem that realistic writing could be done in
Hebrew. Once he had his own organ, _Ha-Shahar_, Smolenskin wrote
and published novel after novel in it, beginning with his _Ha-To'eh
be-Darke ha-Hayyim_. In _Ha-Shahar_ it appeared in three parts.
Later it came out in book form, in four volumes. It is the first work of
the Hebrew realistic school worthy of being classed as such.

As Cervantes makes his hero Don Quixote pass through all the social
strata of his time, so the Hebrew novelist conducts his wanderer, Joseph
the orphan, through the nooks and corners of the ghetto. He introduces
him to all the scenes of Jewish life, he displays before his eyes all
its customs and manners, he makes him a witness to all its
superstitions, fanaticism, and sordidness of every kind, a physical and
social abasement that has no parallel. A faithful observer, an
impressionist, an unemphatic realist, he discloses on every page
misunderstood lives, extravagant beliefs, movements, evils, greatnesses,
and miseries, of which the civilized world had not the slightest
suspicion. It is the Odyssey of the ghetto adventurer, the life and
journeyings of the author himself, magnified, and enveloped in the
fictitious circumstances in which the hero is placed, a human document
of the greatest significance.

Joseph, the orphan, whose father, persecuted by the Hasidim,
disappeared, and whose mother died in abject misery, is received into
the house of his uncle, the same brother of his father who had caused
the father's ruin. Abused by a wicked aunt and driven by an irresistible
hankering after a vagabond life, he runs away from his foster home.
First he is picked up by a band of rascally mendicants, then he becomes
an inmate in the house of a _Baal-Shem_, a charlatan wonder-worker,
and thus a changeful existence leads him to traverse the greater part of
Jewish Russia. In a series of photographic pictures, Smolenskin
reproduces in detail the ways and exploits of all the bohemians of the
ghetto, from the beggars up to the peripatetic cantors, their moral
shortcomings, their spitefulness, and their insolence. Impelled by the
wish to acquire an education, and perhaps also put a roof over his head,
Joseph finally enters a celebrated _Yeshibah_. It is the salvation
of the young tramp. He is given food, he sleeps on the school benches,
and he is rescued from military service. But soon, having incurred
disfavor by his frankness, and especially because he is discovered
reading secular books, in which he is initiated by one of his fellow-
students, he is obliged to leave the Yeshibah. By the skin of his teeth
he escapes being packed off to the army as a soldier. He takes refuge
with the Hasidim, and has the good fortune to find favor in the eyes of
the _Zaddik_ ("Saint") himself.

But very soon he revolts against the equivocal transports of the saintly
sect. In his wanderings, Joseph doubtless meets with good people,
disinterested idealists, simple men and women of the rank and file,
Rabbis worthy of the highest praise, enthusiastic intellectuals, but the
ordinary life of the ghetto, abnormal and narrow, disgusts him
completely. He departs to seek a freer life in the West. Passing through
Germany without stopping, he goes on to London. Everywhere he makes
Jewish society the object of study, and everywhere he suffers
disillusionment. _Ha-To'eh_ is a veritable encyclopedia of Jewish
life at the beginning of the second half of the nineteenth century.

As a work of fiction, the novel cannot bear inspection. It is a
succession of fantastic, sometimes incoherent events, an artificial
complex of personages appearing on the scene at the will of the author,
and acting like puppets on wires. The miraculous abounds, and the
characters are in part exaggerated, in part blurred.

On the other hand, it is an incomparable work taken as a panorama of
realistic scenes, not always consecutive scenes, but always absolutely
true to life--a gallery of pictures of the ghetto.

Joseph is a painter, a realist first and last, and an impressionist
besides. Looking at the lights and shadows of his picture, we feel that
what we see is not all pure, spontaneous art. Like Auerbach and like
Dickens, he is a thinker, a teacher. A true son of the ghetto, he
preaches and moralizes. Sometimes he goes too far in his desire to
impress a lesson. The reader perceives too clearly that the author has
not remained an indifferent outsider while writing his novel. It is
evident that his heart is torn by contradictory emotions--pity,
compassion, scorn, anger, and love, all at once.

In point of style also the novel is a realistic piece of work.
Smolenskin does not resort to Talmudisms, like Gordon and Abramowitsch,
but, also, he takes care not to indulge in too many Biblical metaphors.
This sometimes necessitates circumlocutions, and on the whole his
oratorical manner leads to prolixity, but his prose always remains pure,
flowing, and precise in the highest degree.

To illustrate Smolenskin's way of writing, and all the peculiarity of
the social life he depicts, we cannot do better than translate a few
passages from his novel dealing with characteristic phases of ghetto

Joseph is narrating his adventures and the impressions of his daily
routine. The following is his striking description of the _Heder_,
the well-known primary school of the ghetto, when his uncle first enters
him there as a pupil:

  "When I say house, let not the reader imagine a stone structure.
  What he would see is a small, low building, somewhat like a dog's
  kennel, built of thin boards, rotten at that. The thatch that
  covers it by way of roof hangs down to the ground, and yet it
  cannot keep off the rain, for the goats browsing in the
  neighborhood have munched off half of it to satisfy their
  appetite. Within there is a single room covered with black soot,
  the four walls garnished with spider-webs, and the floor paved
  with mortar. On the eastern wall hangs a large sheet of paper
  with the inscription, 'Hence blows the breath of life', which not
  many visitors will believe, because, instead of a quickening
  breath, pestilential odors enter by the window and offend the
  nostrils of those whose olfactory nerve has not lost all
  sensitiveness.... On the opposite wall, to the west, appear the
  words, 'A memorial unto the destruction of the Temple'. To this
  day I do not know what there was to commemorate the fall of the
  Holy Place. The rickety rafters? Or were the little creatures
  swarming all over the walls to remind one of 'the foxes that walk
  upon the mountain of Zion'?

  "A huge stove occupies one-fourth of the room-space. Between the
  stove and the wall, to the right, is a bed made up ready for
  use, and on the other side a smaller one full of straw and hay,
  and without bed-covers. Opposite to it stands a large deal table
  tattoed with marks that are the handiwork of the _Melammed_.
  With his little penknife, which was never out of his hands, he
  would cut them into the wood all the time he was teaching us--
  figures of beasts and fowl, and queer words....

  "Around this table about ten boys were sitting, some conning the
  Talmud and others the Bible. One of the latter, seated at the
  right of the teacher, was reading aloud, in a sing-song voice,
  the section of the Pentateuch assigned for the following Sabbath
  in the synagogue, and his cantillation blended with the crooning
  of the teacher's wife as she sat by her baby's bed, ... but every
  now and then the master's voice rose and drowned the sounds of
  both, as the growl of the thunder stifles the roar of the waves.

  "... The teacher was hideous to behold. He was short of stature
  and thin, his cheeks were withered looking, his nose long and
  aquiline. His two _Peot_ [1] were raven black and hung down
  like ropes by the side of his face. Old as he was, his cheeks
  showed only tufts of beard here and there, on account of his
  habit of plucking the hairs out one by one when he was absorbed
  in thought, not to mention those plucked out by his wife without
  the excuse of thinking. His black cap shone like a buttered roll,
  his linen shirt was neither an Egyptian nor a Swiss fabric, and
  his chest, overgrown with long black hair, always showed bare
  through the slit of his unbuttoned shirt. His linen trousers had
  been white once upon a time, but now they were picturesquely
  variegated from the dust and soot clinging to them, and by the
  stains added by his young hopeful, when he sat and played on his
  knees, by way of contributing his share to the glory in which his
  father was resplendently arrayed.... His _Zizzit_ hung down
  to his bare feet. When my uncle entered the house, the teacher
  jumped up and ran hither and thither, seeking his shoes, but he
  could not find them. My uncle relieved him from his embarrassment
  by presenting me, with the words, 'Here is a new pupil for you!'
  Calming down, the teacher resumed his seat, and when we
  approached him, he tapped me on my cheek, saying, 'What hast thou
  learnt, my son?' All the pupils opened their mouth and eyes in
  amazement, and looked at me with envy. These many days, since
  they themselves were entered as new pupils in the school, they
  had not heard such gentle words issue from the mouth of the

[Footnote 1: See Lev. XIX, 27.]

This odd school prepared the child of the ghetto in very deed for the
life and the struggle for existence awaiting him. In the next higher
school, the Yeshibah, the _alma mater_ of the Rabbinical student,
the happenings were no less curious.

The young people in those strange colleges, for the most part precocious
urchins, fall into classes, which, however, are not sharply divided off
from one another. Day and night they sit bent over the huge folios of
the Rabbis, occupied constantly with the study of the Law. Their meals
are furnished them by the humble people of the town, often under
deplorable conditions, and, on the whole, the life they lead is misery
not untinged with humiliation. Such are the student years of the future
Rabbis. And yet this bohemian existence is not destitute of picturesque
elements and attractive features. Frequently it is at the Yeshibah that
the young man for the first time finds sincere friends for whom he forms
a lasting attachment, and they become his trusted advisers. It is a mob
of young people, enthusiastic and impetuous, yet among them is found the
aristocracy of the ghetto, those endowed with extraordinary intellectual
gifts, and the devotion displayed by some of them to Talmudic knowledge
is absolutely sublime.

Smolenskin paints a characteristic Yeshibah scene enacted by these
embryonic Talmudists:

  "It is a strange spectacle that meets the eye of the observer on
  his first visit to the women's gallery in the Yeshibah [at
  nightfall]. He finds it suddenly transformed into a gathering-
  place for merchants. The boys who have bread or money, try their
  hands at trafficking, and those who have neither bread nor money,
  try theirs at theft, and a large group of those who loathe the
  one pursuit as well as the other, sit apart and entertain each
  other with the wonderful exploits of brigands, and giants, and
  witches, and devils, and evil spirits, who are abroad at night to
  affright human beings, and the dead who leave their graves to
  terrify the wicked or cure the sick with grass of the field, and
  many more such tales that delight the heart and soul of the
  listeners. Such things have I myself seen even while the
  afternoon and the evening prayers were going on below. I heard
  confused sounds. One would cry out, 'Who wants bread?' And
  another would sing out in reply, 'Who has bread to sell? Who has
  bread to sell?'--'Here is bread!'--'Will you take a penny for
  it?'--'Two pennies, and no less!'--'Some one has stolen my bread!
  Who stole my bread?'--' My bread is first-class! Come and buy!'--
  'But I haven't a red copper!'--'All right, give me a pledge!'--
  'You may have my troubles as a pledge, you old curmudgeon!'--
  'Here are two pennies, give me the bread!'--'Get out, I was ahead
  of you!'--'I insist upon my rights, I was the first.'--'Why, I
  handed my money over long ago, it is my bread.'--'You stole my
  bread.'--'You lie, it's my bread!'--'You're a liar, a thief, a
  robber!'--'The devil take you, you hound!'--'Wait a moment, and
  I'll show you my teeth, if I'm a hound!'

  "And so the words fly from mouth to mouth in the women's gallery,
  and cuffs and blows are not rare things, either, and not one of
  the boys remembers that the congregation below is at prayers.
  They go on trafficking and telling tales undisturbed, until the
  end of the service, and then they return to their seats, every
  boy to his own at the long tables, which are lighted each of them
  by a single candle for its whole length. A dispute breaks out as
  to where the candle is to stand. First one draws it up to
  himself, and then another wrests it from his hand and sets it
  next to his own book, and finally all decide to measure the
  table. One of the boys takes off his belt, and ascertains the
  breadth of the table and its length, and the candle is put in the
  exact centre. The quarrel is settled, and the students begin to
  drawl the text before them, and what they did the whole livelong
  day, they continue to do at night.

  "Then one of them says, 'I sold my bread for two pennies'.--
  'And I bought an apple for one penny and a cake for half a
  penny', returns another.--'Darkness swallow up the monitor! He
  doesn't give us enough candles to light up the dark!'--'The devil
  take him!'--'A plague on him!'--'I am going on a visit home at
  Passover.'--'Sarah the widow lent me three pennies.'

  "While the boys talk thus over their open books, their bodies are
  swaying to and fro like reeds in a pond, and their voices rise
  and fall in the same sing-song in which they con their texts, all
  to deceive the monitor, who, hearing the usual drawl and seeing
  the rocking bodies, believes the students to be busy at their
  tasks. But little by little, they forget and drop out of their
  recitative into the ordinary conversational tone.--'Tell me,
  Zabualean [the pupils are called by their native town in the
  Yeshibah], don't you think it's about time for the angel of death
  to come and carry off our monitor? Or is he going to live
  forever?'--'I pray to God to afflict his body with such ills that
  he cannot come to the Yeshibah. Then we should have rest. I take
  good care not to ask for his death. Another would take his place,
  and there's no telling whether he would not be worse. If pain
  keeps him abed, we shall have a respite.'--'But aren't you
  committing a sin, cursing a deaf man?' interposes one of the
  boys, indignantly.--'Look at that Azubian! A saint, isn't he?
  Proof enough that he has seven sins hidden in his heart!' retorts
  the Zabualean.--'No need of any such proof! Why, this very
  Azubian could not resist the tempter, and is hard at work
  studying Russian. That's as bad as bad can be, you don't have to
  search out hidden sins.'--'I at least am not perverting the
  right,' the Azubian flings out, 'because the Talmud itself says
  that the law of the land is law, but you are committing an actual
  sin against the Torah in cursing....' The sentence was never
  finished, for the monitor had been standing behind the table
  observing the boys for some time, and when he saw the excitement
  of the Azubian,--being deaf, he could not hear what he said,--he
  threw himself upon him, and, seizing him by the ear, shook him as
  violently as his strength permitted, crying, 'You wretches, you
  rebels, there, that's for you!' and he beat another boy with his
  fists, and struck a third upon his cheeks.--'The monitor has
  rained profuse kisses upon the Azubian for defending him!' one of
  the boys paraphrased Proverbs, [1] drawling in the approved sing-
  song, and keeping his eyes fixed upon his book. The others burst
  into loud laughter at the sally. Even those who were still
  smarting from the monitor's blows could not restrain themselves
  and joined in. 'Are you making fun of me? You're not afraid?'
  thundered the monitor, in towering rage, turning this way and
  that, uncertain whom to select as the first victim of his heavy
  hand. Before he could collect his wits, one of the boys yelled,
  'Rabbi Isaac, Rabbi Isaac, the candles!'--It worked like a
  conjurer's charm upon a serpent. In an instant the monitor turned
  and ran to his room and searched it. Seeing no one there, he sank
  into his chair, and groaned: 'Wicked, depraved children! Those
  gallows-birds, I'll mangle their flesh, and flay the skin from
  their bones!' and he kept on mumbling to himself in this strain,
  until sleep fell upon his eyelids shaded by long eyebrows white
  as snow, and his head dropped into his hands resting upon the

  "As soon as he slept, the boys resumed their talk, and my friend
  continued to tell me about life in the Yeshibah.... 'Do you think
  that the Yeshibah students are guileless youths who have never
  dropped their mother's apron strings? If you do, you are vastly
  mistaken. They are up to all the tricks, and the dullest among
  them can show a thing or two to the best of the rich boys. You
  will do well to observe their ways and learn from them.'--'I
  shall try to walk in their footsteps.'....

  "Then I went out to get my supper. On returning I found the
  greater part of the boys had gone to sleep, and almost all the
  candles were out. Only a few of the students were sitting
  together and talking. I sought out my friend, and discovered him
  lying upon one of the tables in the women's gallery, but he was
  still awake. 'Why don't you look for a place to lie down in?' he
  asked me.--'I shall lie here next to you,' I replied.--' No, you
  can't do that. Here each boy has a place in which he always
  sleeps; he never changes about. Go down to the men's hall and
  look for an unoccupied spot. If you find a table, so much the
  better. If not, you must be satisfied with a bench.'--I did as he
  advised. I found a long table in the men's hall, but hardly was I
  stretched out upon it when a boy took me by the scruff of my neck
  and shook me, saying: 'Get out, this is my place! And all the
  tables here are taken by boys who came to the Yeshibah long ahead
  of you. You must look for another place.'

  "Not very much pleased, I slipped down from the table, and lay on
  the bench. But I could not go to sleep. I was not accustomed to
  the narrow board, nor to sleep without a bed-cover, and the
  little and big insects that swarmed in the cracks of the wood
  came forth from their nests and tickled me all over my body. But
  there was nothing to do, and I lay there in discomfort until all
  the lights were extinguished. Only one light of all burnt the
  whole night, the _Ner tamid_, and under it sat two students,
  the 'watchers' [whose duty it was to continue at their task until
  morning, so that the study of the Law might not be interrupted
  day or night]."

[Footnote 1: XXVII, 6.]

A life full of excitement, of which the above is a specimen, was not
likely to displease so adventurous a spirit as Joseph's. When all is
said, the Yeshibah provided a living for the young people, not
overabundant, it is true, but at least they were relieved of material
cares. The pious middle class Jews, and even the poor, considered it
their duty to supply the needs of the young Talmudists, and the ambition
of the latter was satisfied by the general good feeling that prevailed
in their favor. For the aristocracy among the Jews, whose minds had not
yet been stimulated by the new ideas, the Yeshibah was the home of all
the virtues, the school in which the ideal was pursued, and lofty dreams
were dreamed.

In another novel, "The Joy of the Hypocrite," which appeared in Vienna,
in 1872, Smolenskin extols the idealism of his hero Simon, a product of
the Yeshibah:

  "Who had implanted in the mind of Simon the ideal of justice and
  the sublime word? Who had kindled in his soul the sacred flame,
  love of truth and research? Verily, he had found all these in the
  Yeshibah. Glory and increase be to you, ye holy places, last
  refuges of Israel's real heritage! From your portals came forth
  the elect destined from birth to be the light of their people and
  breathe new life into the dry bones."

Even during the period of the _Behalah_ ("Terror") the Yeshibah
remained unscathed, beyond the reach of misery and baseness. The venal
jobbers, who, with the assistance of the Kahal, delivered the sons of
the poor to the army in order to shield the rich, did not dare invade
the Rabbinical schools. Like the Temple in ancient times, the
_Yeshibot_ offered a sure refuge. Whenever these sanctuaries were
imperilled, national sentiment was aroused, and the threatened
encroachments upon the last national treasure were resisted with bitter
determination, for the idealism of the people of the ghetto, their hope
and their faith, were enshrined there.

Joseph forfeited the privilege of sanctuary residing in the Yeshibah on
the day he was taken redhanded, in the act of reading a profane book.
Religious fanaticism had never proceeded with so much rigor as during
the reign of terror following upon the disorganization of the social
life of the Jews by the authorities, and the triumphant assertion of
arbitrary power. Nevertheless, even at this disheartening juncture, the
Rabbinical schools were the asylum of whatever of ideal or sublime there
remained in Israel.

They furnished all the champions of humanism and the preachers and
disseminators of civilization. In them Joseph met the generous comrades
who introduced him to the Haskalah, and awakened love for the noble and
the good in him, and boundless devotion to his people.

Hard as flint toward the inefficient leaders, without pity for the
hypocrites and the fanatics, the heart of Joseph yet pulsated with love
for the Jewish masses. Their unsympathetic surroundings and the
persecutions to which they were exposed but increased his compassion for
the straying flock of his people. In the general degradation, he
succeeded in rising to moral heights, and so could set himself up for an
impartial judge. He did not permit himself to be carried away by the
sadness of the moment, though he did not remain indifferent to it, and
his heart bled at the thought of his people's sufferings. In the human
desert, in which he delighted to disport himself, he discovered noble
characters, lofty sentiments, generous friendships, and, above all,
lives devoted entirely to the pursuit of the ideal undeterred by any

One after the other he presents the idealists of the ghetto to the
reader. There is, first of all, Jedidiah, the common type of the Maskil,
working zealously for culture, spreading truth and light in all the
circles he can reach, dreaming of a Judaism, just, enlightened, exalted.
Then there are the ardent young apostles, like that noble friend of
Joseph, Gideon, most enlightened and most tolerant of Maskilim. In the
measure in which Gideon detests fanaticism, he loves the people. He
loves the masses with the heart of a patriot and the soul of a prophet.
He loves them exactly as they are, with their beliefs, their simple
faith, their poor, submissive lives, their ambitions as the chosen
people, and their Messianic hope, to which he himself clings, though in
a way less mystical than theirs. Thrilling, patriotic exaltation
pervades the chapter on "The Day of Atonement." There Smolenskin appears
as a genuine romanticist.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such in outline are the features of this chaotic, superb novel, which,
in spite of its faults of technique, remains to this day the truest and
the most beautiful product of neo-Hebrew literature.

Ten years after finishing it, the author added a fourth part, which, on
the whole, is nothing but an artificial collection of letters relating
only indirectly to the main story. Joseph takes us with him through the
Western lands, and then to Russia, whither he returns. In France and in
England, he deplores the degeneracy of Judaism, attributing it to the
ascendency of the Mendelssohnian school, and he foresees the approach of
anti-Semitism. In Russia, he notes the prevalence of economic misery in
frightful proportions, especially in the small rural towns, while in the
large centres he regrets to see that the communities use every effort to
imitate Occidental Judaism with all its faults. The overhasty culture of
the Russian Jews, weakly correlated with the economic and political
conditions under which they lived, was bound to bring on the breaking up
of the passive idealism which constituted their chief strength.

The novel _Keburat Hamor_ ("The Burial of the Ass") is the most
elaborate and the most finished of Smolenskin's works. It describes the
time of the "Terror" and the domination of the Kahal. The hero, Hayyim
Jacob, is a wag, but pleasantries are not always understood in the
ghetto, and he is made to pay for them. His practical jokes and his
small respect for the notables of the community, whom he dares to defy
and poke fun at, are his ruin.

He was scarcely more than a child when he was guilty of unprecedented
conduct. Wrapped in blue drapery, like a corpse risen from the grave,
and spreading terror wherever he appeared, he made his way one evening
into the room in which cakes were stored for the next day's annual
banquet of the _Hebrah Kadisha_ ("Holy Brotherhood"), the all-
powerful society, organized primarily to perform the last rites and
ceremonies for the dead, to which the best Jews of a town belong. He got
possession of all the dainty morsels, and made away with them. It was an
unpardonable crime, high treason against saintliness. An inquiry was
ordered, but the culprit was not discovered.

In revenge, the Brotherhood ordained the "burial of an ass" for the
nameless criminal, and the verdict was recorded in the minutes of the

The incorrigible Hayyim Jacob continues to perpetrate jokes, and the
Kahal decides to surrender him to the army recruiting officer. Warned
betimes, he is able to make good his escape. He returns to his native
town later on under an assumed name, imposes upon everybody by his
scholarship, and marries the daughter of the head of the community. But
his natural inclinations get the upper hand again. Meantime, he has
confided the tale of his youthful tricks to his wife. She is disturbed
by what she knows, she cannot endure the idea of the unparalleled
punishment that awaits her husband should he be identified, for to
undergo the "burial of an ass" is the supremest indignity that can be
offered to a Jew. The body of the offender is dragged along the ground
to the cemetery, and there it is thrown into a ditch made for the
purpose behind the wall enclosing the grounds. But was not her father
the head of the community? Could he not annul the verdict? She discloses
the secret to him, and the effect is to fill him with instantaneous
rage: What! to that wicked fellow he has given his daughter, to that
heretic! He wants to force him to give up his wife, but no more than the
husband will the woman listen to any such proposal. Hayyim Jacob
succeeds in ingratiating himself with his father-in-law, though by fraud
and only for a short time. After that, one persecution after another is
inflicted upon him, and he succumbs.

So much for the background upon which the novelist has painted his
scenes, authentic reproductions from the life of the Jews in Russia. The
character of Hayyim Jacob stands out clear and forceful. His wife Esther
is the typical Jewish woman, loyal and devoted unto death, of
irreproachable conduct under reverses of fortune, and braving a world
for love of her husband. The prominent characters of the ghetto are
drawn with fidelity, though the colors are sometimes laid on too thick.
The author has been particularly happy in re-creating the atmosphere of
the ghetto, with its contradictions and its passions, the specialized
intellectuality which long seclusion has forged for it, and its odd,
original conception of life.

Smolenskin goes to the Yeshibah for the subject of one of his novels,
_Gemul Yesharim_ ("The Recompense of the Righteous"). The author
describes the part played by the Jewish youth in the Polish
insurrection. The ingratitude of the Poles proves that the Jews have
nothing to expect from others, and they should count only upon their own

_Gaon we-Sheber_ ("Greatness and Ruin") is a collection of
scattered novelettes, some of which are veritable works of art.

_Ha-Yerushah_ ("The Inheritance") is the last of Smolenskin's great
novels. It was first published in _Ha-Shahar_, in 1880-81. Its
three volumes are full of incoherencies and long drawn out arguments.
The life of the Jews of Odessa, however, and of Roumania, is well
depicted, and also the psychologic stages through which the older
humanists pass, deceived in their hopes, and groping for a return to
national Judaism.

Smolenskin's last novel, _Nekam Berit_ ("Holy Vengeance", _Ha-
Shahar_, 1884), is wholly Zionistic. It was the author's swan song.
Not long after its completion, an illness carried him off.

       *       *       *       *       *

The novels of Smolenskin are a series of social documents and
propagandist writings rather than works of pure art. Their chief defects
are the incoherence of the action, the artificiality of the
_denouement_, their simplicity in all that concerns modern life, as
well as their excessive didactic tendencies and the long-winded style of
the author. Most of these defects he shares with such writers as
Auerbach, Jokai, and Thackeray, with whom he may be placed in the same
class. In passing judgment, it must be borne in mind that the Hebrew
writer's life was one prolonged and bitter struggle for bare existence,
his own and _Ha-Shahar's_, for the periodical never yielded him any
income. Only his idealism and the consciousness of the useful purpose he
was serving sustained him in critical moments. These circumstances
explain why his works bear the marks of hasty production. However that
may be, since he gave them to the Jewish world, his novels have, even
more than his articles, exercised unparalleled influence upon his

In a word, the life of the Russian ghetto, its misery and its passions,
the positive and the negative types of that vanishing world, have been
set down in the writings of Smolenskin with such power of realism and
such profound knowledge of conditions that it is impossible to form a
just idea of Russo-Polish Judaism without having read what he has

       *       *       *       *       *



The years 1881-1882 mark off a distinct era in the history of the Jewish
people. The revival of anti-Semitism in Germany, the unexpected renewal
of persecutions and massacres in Russia and Roumania, the outlawing of
millions of human beings, whose situation grew less tenable from day to
day in those two countries--such were the occurrences that disconcerted
the most optimistic.

In the face of the precipitate exodus of crazed masses of the people and
the urgency of decisive action, the old disputes between humanists and
nationalists were laid aside. There could be but one choice between
impossible assimilation with the Slav people on the one hand, and the
idea, on the other hand, of a national emancipation divested of its
mystical envelope and supplied with a territory as a practicable basis.
All the Hebrew-writing authors were agreed that the time had passed for
wrangling over a divergence of opinions. It was imperative that all
forces should range themselves on the side of action. Even a skeptic
like Gordon issued at that time, among many things like it, his
thrilling poem: "We were a people, and we will a people be--with our
young and with our old will we go!"

But whither? Some decided for America with the Western philanthropists,
others, with Smolenskin, declared absolutely in favor of Palestine, the
country of the Jew's perennial dreams.

Academic discussions of such questions are futile. It may safely be left
to time and experience to decide between the two currents of opinion. As
early as 1880, the young dreamer Ben-Jehudah, inspired with the idea of
reviving the Hebrew as a national language, left Paris and established
himself at Jerusalem. And from Lithuania came the romantic conservative
Pines, forsaking the distinguished position he occupied there, in order
to give his aid in the elevation of the Jews of Palestine. The tracks
made by these two pioneers issuing from opposite camps were soon trodden
by the followers of important movements.

A select circle of four hundred university students, indignant at the
humiliating position into which they had been forced, thundered forth an
appeal that resounded throughout the length and breadth of Jewish
Russia: _Bet Ya'akob, leku we-nelekah_ ("O House of Jacob, come ye
and let us walk"). The practical result was the organization of the
group BILU, the first to leave for Palestine and establish a colony
there. [Footnote: Is. II, 5. BILU are the initials of the four words of
the Hebrew sentence quoted above.] This nucleus was enlarged by the
accession of hundreds of middle class burghers and of the educated, and
thus Jewish colonization was a permanently assured fact in the Holy

The surprising return of the younger generation, who had wholly broken
with Judaism, this first step toward the actual realization of the
Zionist dream, has had most important consequences for the renascence of
Hebrew literature. As for the educated element that had never, at least
in spirit, left the ghetto, men like Lilienblum, Braudes, and others,
whose later activity, a propaganda for economic reforms and instruction
in manual trades, had almost ceased to have a reason for continuing,--as
for them, their adhesion to Zionism could not be long delayed. And even
outside of the ghetto a voice was heard, the authoritative voice of Dr.
Leon Pinsker, announcing his support of the philo-Palestinian movement,
as it was then called. In his brochure "Auto-Emancipation", the learned
physician of Odessa, one of the old guard of staunch humanists, declares
that the disease of anti-Semitism is a chronic affection, incurable as
long as the Jews are in exile. There is but one solution for the Jewish
question, the national regeneration of the Jews upon their ancient soil.

A new dawn began to break upon the horizon of the Jewish people. Hebrew
literature was stimulated as never before, and the enthusiasm of the
writers incorporated itself in the spirited proposals of Moses Eismann,
Professor Schapira, and a number of others. In this sudden blossoming of
patriotic ideas, excesses were inevitable. A chauvinistic reaction was
not long in setting in. The religious reformers were attacked, they were
accused of hindering a fusion of diverse parties in Judaism whose
cordial agreement was indispensable to the success of the new movement.

Smolenskin alone was irreproachable. He who had never acknowledged the
benefits of assimilation, had no need now to go to extremes. He remained
faithful to his patriotic ideal, without renouncing any of his
humanitarian and cultural aspirations. The activity he displayed was
feverish. Now that he no longer stood alone in the defense of his ideas,
he redoubled his efforts with admirable energy--encouraging here,
exhorting there. But he was coming to the end of his strength, exhausted
by a life of struggle and wretchedness, by long overtaxing of his
physical and mental powers. He died in 1885, in the vigor of his years,
cut off by disease. The whole of Jewry mourned at his grave. And _Ha-
Shahar_ soon ceased to exist.

       *       *       *       *       *

With the extinction of _Ha-Shahar_ we arrive at the end of the task
we have set ourselves, of following up a phase of literary evolution.
Modern Hebrew literature, for a century the handmaiden of one
preponderating idea, the humanist idea in all its various applications,
henceforth enters upon a new phase of its development. Led back by
Smolenskin to its national source, stripped of every religious element,
and imposed by the force of circumstances upon the masses and the
educated alike, as the link uniting them thenceforth for the furtherance
of the same patriotic end, it has again taken its place as the language
of the Jewish people. It has ceased to serve as the mere mediator
between Rabbinism and modern life. It is become an end in itself, an
important factor in the life of the Jews. It is no longer a parasite
flourishing at the expense of orthodoxy, from which it has for a century
been luring away successive generations of the best of the young men,
who, however, once emancipated, hastened to abandon that to which they
owed their enlightenment. It has become the receptacle of the national
literature of the Jewish people.

In 1885, when the distinguished editor of _Ha-Zefirah_, Nahum
Sokolow, undertook the publication of the great literary annual, _He-
Asif_ ("The Collector"), the success he achieved went beyond the
wildest expectations. The edition ran up to seven thousand copies. It
was followed by other enterprises of a similar character, notably
_Keneset Yisrael_ ("The Assembly of Israel"), published by Saul
Phinehas Rabbinowitz, the learned historian.

In 1886, the journalist, Jehudah Lob Kantor, encouraged by the vogue
acquired by the Hebrew language, founded the first daily paper in it,
_Ha-Yom_ ("The Day"), at St. Petersburg. The success of this organ
induced _Ha-Meliz_ and _Ha-Zefirah_ to change into dailies. A
Hebrew political press thus came into being, and it has contributed
tremendously to the spread of Zionism and culture. Even the Hasidim, who
had until then remained contumacious toward modern ideas, were reached
by its influence. It was, however, the Hebrew language that profited
most by the development of journalism in it. The demands of daily life
enriched its vocabulary and its resources, completing the work of

In Palestine, the need felt for an academic language common to the
children of immigrants from all countries was a great factor in the
practical rehabilitation of Hebrew as the vernacular. Ben-Jehudah was
the first to use it in his home, in intercourse with the members of his
family and his household, and a number of educated Jews followed his
example, not permitting any other to be spoken within their four walls.
In the schools at Jerusalem and in the newly-established colonies, it
has become the official language. A recoil from the Palestinian movement
was felt in Europe and in America, and a limited number of circles were
formed everywhere in which only Hebrew was spoken. The journal _Ha-
Zebi_ ("The Deer"), published by Ben-Jehudah, became the organ of
Hebrew as a spoken language, which differs from the literary language
only in the greater freedom granted it of borrowing modern words and
expressions from the Arabic and even from the European languages, and by
its tendency to create new words from old Hebrew roots, in compliance
with forms occurring in the Bible and the Mishnah. Here are a couple of
examples of this tendency: The Hebrew word _Sha'ah_ means "time",
"hour". To this word the modern Hebrew adds the termination _on_,
making it _Sha'on_, with the meaning "watch", or "clock". The verb
_darak_, in Biblical Hebrew "to walk", gives rise in the modern
language to _Midrakah_, "pavement."

The spread of the language and the increase in the number of readers
together produced a change in the material condition of the writers.
Their compensation became ampler in proportion, the consequence of which
was that they could devote themselves to work requiring more sustained
effort, and what they produced was more finished in detail. With the
founding of the publishing society _Ahiasaf_, and more particularly
the one called _Tushiyah_, due to the energy of Abraham L. Ben-
Avigdor, a sympathetic writer, Hebrew was afforded the possibility of
developing naturally, in the manner of a modern language.

There was a short interval of non-production, caused by the brutality
and sadness of unexpected events, but literary creativeness recovered
quickly, and manifested itself, with growing force, in varied and
widespread activity worthy of a literature that had grown out of the
needs of a national group. On the field of poetry, there is, first of
all, Constantin Shapiro, the virile lyricist, who knew how to put into
fitting words the indignation and revolt of the people against the
injustice levelled against them. His "Poems of Jeshurun" published in
_He-Asif_ for 1888, alive with emotion and patriotic ardor, as well
as his Haggadic legends, must be put in the first rank. After him comes
Menahem M. Dolitzki, the elegiac poet of Zionism, the singer of sweet
"Zionides." [Footnote: Poems published in New York, in 1896.] Then a
young writer, snatched away all too early, Mordecai Zebi Manne, who was
distinguished for his tender lyrics and deep feeling for nature and art.
[Footnote: His works appeared in Warsaw in 1897.] And, finally, there is
Naphtali Herz Imber, the song-writer of the Palestinian colonies, the
poet of the reborn Holy Land and the Zionist hope. [Footnote: Poems
published at Jerusalem in 1886.]

Among the latest to claim the attention of the public, the name of
Hayyim N. Bialik [1] ought to be mentioned, a vigorous lyricist and an
incomparable stylist, and of S. Tchernichovski, [2] an erotic poet, the
singer of love and beauty, a Hebrew with an Hellenic soul. [Footnote 1:
Poems published at Warsaw In 1902.] [Footnote 2: Poems published at
Warsaw in 1900-2.] These two, both of them at the beginning of their
career, are the most brilliant in a group of poets more or less well

Again, there are two story-writers that are particularly prominent,
Abramowitsch, the old favorite, who, having abandoned Hebrew for a brief
period in favor of jargon, returned to enrich Hebrew literature with a
series of tales, poetic and humorous, of incomparable originality and in
a style all his own. [Footnote: Collected Tales and Novels, Odessa,
1900.] The second one is Isaac Lob Perez, the symbolist painter of love
and misery, a charming teller of tales and a distinguished artist.
[Footnote: Works, in ten volumes, Hebrew Library of _Tushiyah_,

Of novelists and romancers, in prose and in verse, Samuely may be
mentioned, and Goldin, Berschadsky, Feierberg, J. Kahn, Berditchevsky,
S. L. Gordon, N. Pines, Rabinovitz, Steinberg, and Loubochitzky, to name
only a few among many. Ben-Avigdor is the creator of the young realist
movement, through his psychologic tales of ghetto life, particularly his
_Menahem ha-Sofer_ ("Menahem the Scribe"), wherein he opposes the
new chauvinism.

Among the masters of the _feuilleton_ are the subtle critic David
Frischmann, translator of numerous scientific books; the writer of
charming _causeries_, A. L. Levinski, author of a Zionist Utopia,
"Journey to Palestine in the Year 5800", published in _Ha-Pardes_
("Paradise"), in Odessa; and J. H. Taviow, the witty writer.

On the field of thought and criticism, the most prominent place belongs
to Ahad ha-'Am, the first editor of the review _Ha-Shiloah_, a
critic who often drops into paradoxes, but is always original and bold.
[Footnote: Collected Essays, published at Odessa in 1885, and at Warsaw
in 1901.] He is the promoter of "spiritual Zionism", the counterstroke
dealt to the practical, political movement by Messianic mysticism
clothed in a somewhat more rational garb than its traditional form. He
has a fine critical mind and is an acute observer, as well as a
remarkable stylist.

To Ahad ha-'Am we may oppose Wolf Jawitz, the philosopher of religious
romanticism, the defender of tradition, and one of the regenerators of
Hebrew style. [Footnote: _Ha-Arez_, published at Jerusalem in 1893-
96; "History of the Jews", published at Wilna, 1898-1902, etc.] Between
these two extremes, there is a moderate party, the foremost
representative of which is Nahum Sokolow, the popular and prolific
editor of _Ha-Zefirah_, prominent at once as a writer and a man of
action. Dr. S. Bernfeld also deserves mention, as the admirable
popularizer of the Science of Judaism, and an excellent historian, the
author of a history of Jewish theology recently published at Warsaw.

Among the latest claimants of public attention is M. J. Berditchevsky,
author of numerous tales bordering upon the decadent, but not wholly
bare of the spirit of poetry. David Neumark takes rank as a thinker.
Philology is worthily represented by Joshua Steinberg, author of a
scientific grammar on original lines, not yet known to the scholars of
Europe, and translator of the Sibylline books. [Footnote: _Ma'arke
Leshon Eber_ ("The Principles of the Hebrew Language"), Wilna, 1884,
etc.] Fabius Mises has published a history of modern philosophy in
Europe, and J. L. Katzenelenson is the author of a treatise on anatomy
and of a number of literary works acceptable to the public. Then there
are Leon Rabinovich, editor of _Ha-Meliz_, David Yellin, Lerner, A.
Kahana, and others.

The history of modern literature has found a worthy representative in
the person of Reuben Brainin, a master of style, himself the author of
popular tales. His remarkable studies of Mapu, Smolenskin, and other
writers, are conceived and executed according to the approved methods of
modern critics. They have done good work in refining the taste and
aesthetic feeling of the Hebrew-reading public.

All these, and a number of others, have given the Hebrew language an
assured place. To their original works must be added numberless
translations, text books, and editions of all sorts, and then we can
form a fair idea of the actual significance of Hebrew in its modern
development. In the number of publications, it ranks as the third
literature in Russia, the Russian and the Polish being the only ones
ahead of it, and no estimate of the influence it wields can afford to
leave out of account its vogue in Palestine, Austria, and America.

       *       *       *       *       *


A glance at modern Hebrew literature as a whole reveals a striking
tendency in its development, at once unexpected and inevitable. The
humanist ideal, which stood sponsor at its rebirth, bore within itself a
germ of dissolution. For national and religious aims it desired to
substitute the idea of liberty and equality. Sooner or later it would
have had to end in assimilation. During the course of a whole century,
from the appearance of the first issue of _Ha-Meassef_, in 1784-5,
until the cessation of _Ha-Shahar_, in 1885, Hebrew literature
offers the spectacle of a constant conflict between the humanist ideals
and Judaism. In spite of obstacles of every kind, and in spite of the
dangerous rivalry of the European languages, the rivalry of the Jewish-
German itself, the Hebrew language has given proof of persistent
vitality, and displayed surprising power of adaptation to all sorts of
circumstances and all departments of literature, and widely separated
countries have been the scene of its development. So far as the earliest
humanists had planned, the Hebrew language was to serve only as an
instrument of propaganda and emancipation. Thanks to the efforts of
Moses Hayyim Luzzatto, Mendes, and Wessely, it rose for a brief moment
to the rank of a truly literary medium, very soon, however, to make way
for the languages of the various countries, while it receded to the
narrow confines provided by the Maskilim. Its final destiny was to be
decided in Slav lands. In Galicia, it gave birth, in the domain of
philosophy, to the ideal of the "mission of the Jewish people", and to
the "science of Judaism." But for the great mass of the Jews remaining
faithful to the Messianic ideal, what was of greatest significance was
the national and religious romanticism expounded by Samuel David

Lithuania, with its inexhaustible resources, moral and intellectual,
became the stronghold of Hebrew. In its double aspect as a humanistic
and a romantic force, Hebrew literature bounded forward on new paths
with the lustiness of youth. Before long, under the impetus of social
and economic reforms, the Hebrew writers declared war upon a Rabbinical
authority that rejected every innovation, and was opposed to all
progress. To meet the issue, the realistic literature came forward,
polemic and destructive in character. A pitiless combat ensued between
the humanists and Rabbinism, and the consequences were fateful for the
one party as well as the other. Rabbinism felt that its very essence had
been shaken, and that it was destined to disappear, at least in its
traditional form. Humanism, on the other side, startled out of its
dreams of justice and equality, lost ground, inch by inch, by reason of
having broken with the national hope of the people. The attempt made by
some writers to bring about the harmonization of religion and life
turned out a lamentable miscarriage. The antagonism between the literary
folk and the mass of believers ended in the breaking up of the whole
literature created by the humanists. At that moment the progressive
national movement made its appearance with Smolenskin, and supplied
Hebrew literature with a purpose and its civilizing mission.

The predominant note of contemporary Hebrew literature is the Zionist
ideal stripped of its mystical envelopes. It may be asserted that the
Messianic hope in this new form is in the act of producing a
transformation in Polish Hasidic surroundings, identical with that
achieved by humanism in Lithuania. The rabid opposition offered to
Hebrew literature by the Hasidim suffices to confirm this
prognostication of a dreaded result.

Also beyond the boundaries of the Slav countries, in the distant Orient,
the Hebrew lion is gaining territory, from Palestine to Morocco, and
wherever his foot treads, culture springs up and national regeneration.

       *       *       *       *       *

Deep down in the sorely tried soul of the Jewish masses, there reposes a
fund of idealism, and ardent faith in a better future unshaken by time
or disappointments. Defraud them of the millennial ideal which sustains
their courage, which is the very cornerstone of their existence, and you
surrender them into the power of a dangerous despair, you push them into
the arms of the demoralization that lies in wait everywhere, and in some
countries has already come out in the open.

Hebrew literature, faithful to its Biblical mission, has within it the
power of replenishing the moral resources of the masses and making their
hearts thrill with enthusiasm for justice and the ideal. It is the focus
of the rays vivifying all that breathes, that struggles, that creates,
that hopes within the Jewish soul.

To misunderstand this moral bearing of the renascence of the Hebrew
language is to fail to know the very life of the better part of Judaism
and the Jew.

       *       *       *       *       *

Literary creation is now at its full blossom, and the ferment of ideas
instilled from all sides is so powerful that an abundant harvest may be

And that Bible language which has given humanity so many glorious pages,
which has but now, thanks to the humanists, added a new page, is it
destined in very truth to be born anew, and become once more the
language of the national culture of the whole of the Jewish people? It
would be rash to reply with a categorical affirmative.

What has been proved in the foregoing pages is, we believe, that it
exists, and is developing both as a literary and a spoken language; that
it has shown itself to be the equal of the modern languages; that it is
capable of giving expression to all thoughts and all forms of human
activity; and, finally, that it is accomplishing a work of culture and
emancipation. The expansion of the language of the prophets taking place
under our eyes is a fact that cannot but fascinate every mind interested
in the mysterious evolution of the destinies of mankind in the direction
of the ideal.

End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of The Renascence of Hebrew Literature
(1743-1885), by Nahum Slouschz


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