Journal of Yiddish Research
No. 10 Winter 2007
Editors: Shalom Luria, Haya Bar-Ytzhak
Abstracts edited and/or translated
by Leonard Prager
Tongs are Made with Tongs
Invention and Reality in Mendele's Play "Di takse" ('Tax on Kosher Meat')
This essay and its addenda study Mendele Moykher-Sforim's Di takse (1869), a dramatic work which examines the complex effects and aftereffects of the communal struggle against the hated tax on kosher meat in the town of Glupsk, fictive name for Berditshev, the real locale of Mendele's sharply satiric work. His authorship was quickly uncovered and town notables who identified themselves in the dramatis personae banished the author. The editor of Kol Mevaser, Aleksander Tsederboym, (Alexander Cederbaum) investigated these extra-literary consequences and published his findings. They are given here in their Yiddish original and in Hebrew translation.
Bialik's Ambivalence towards Hasidism and His First Effort
to Write a Yiddish Poem
Bialik wrote "Ikh vel aykh dertseyln" at the very outset of the twentieth century, soon after the First Zionist Congress (1897). From one Zionist congress to the next it became more and more clear that the influence of Ahad HaAm was waning and Herzl's position ascending. The Odessa writers who were Ahad HaAm's followers decided to issue a new periodical for the masses in Yiddish.
Itsik Manger's Ballads
This essay describes the group of more than seventy poems by Itsik Manger that may be regarded as ballads, viewing them in their close relation to the rich ballad-world of Eastern Europe. The poet's stormy life helps explain the wide range of influences on his work, beginning from the Romanian doina and melding Jewish traditional and pan-European folkloric motifs. Manger as balladeer is a singularly original virtuoso.
Influence on His Yiddish Readers
At the end of the nineteenth century Shomer's works became increasingly popular. In many literary circles, however, they were found lacking in artistic worth , the best of the critics simply frowning on them. But Shomer's readers not only enjoyed his works but admired them highly. Shomer's popularity calls for a literary-historical analysis of his extraordinary appeal. The present essay attempts to understand what Shomer meant to varied classes of readers – men and women, young and old, simple souls and intelligentsia and, among the latter, writers such as Y.-L. Perets, Avrom Reyzn, Rokhl Feygnberg, Menashe Halperin and the literary scholar Dov Sadan.
Tones and Colors in Shalom Asch's Descriptions of Night in Der man fun
Natseres (The Nazarene)
Shalom Asch wove seventeen descriptions of night into the fabric of his novel The Nazarene. Together they constitute a uniform artistic system of elements which appear and vanish like a succession of waves against a shore. They constitute a means by which the barriers dividing dream and reality, fact and fantasy are dissolved; they assist the author in moving from the historical to the artistic-philosophical level.
Six of the night passages are set in Jerusalem, five near the Sea of Galilee, five in the hills and valleys of the Galilee; only one is set in Warsaw. Shalom Asch's poetic-mythic worldview penetrates hidden secrets of nature, secrets less clouded in the mysteries of night.
Hebrew to Yiddish: Theory and Practice In Mikhe Yoysef Berditshevski's Bilingual
In the five years from 1902 to 1907 Mikhe Yoysef Berditshevski wrote in Yiddish. The 176 items - stories and articles - of this period were published in the six-volume Shtibel edition of 1924. These Yiddish writings echo folk speech, their savoury colloquiality contrasting with the author's stylized and elitist Hebrew. The difference very likely stems from the author's theory that every language has its own laws, structure and style. Berditshevski held that an author must not be his own translator, a rule he trespassed only once in 1913 when he produced a Hebrew variant titled "HaNistar" (The Hidden One) of his 1905 Yiddish story "HaGdi" (The Goat). A comparison of these two texts reveals Berditshevski's poetic awareness of the uniqueness of each language.
Memory and Dream
Bashevis-Singer's stories in Mayn tatns bezdn shtub are written as though they were dreams recovered from both memory and fantasy. They originally appeared week after week in installments in the daily press. Collecting all of them in a single volume makes it possible to read each story in the light of all the others, yielding an altogether new perspective.
The present essay centers on three personae: the 'I', the father, and the mother. Close acquaintance with these figures opens a window to the core of the author's poetics. In looking at the 'I' (the child) who narrates the stories of Mayn tatns bezdn shtub one uncovers the essential child, an artist. This youngster turns the reader's attention to the very root of his invention. The adult author weaves together light and darkness, past and present, the book's world and that of the readers. The adult speaks directly; the child expresses himself metaphorically. The close relationship between realistic and fantastic elements is characteristic of the writer's narrative art.
Bashevis-Singer's "Di froy un der tayvl" [The Woman and the Devil]
A young woman has lost three of her infants from various illnesses and her husband abandons her, leaving her an agune ('grass-widow'). But the woman – Taybele was her name – does not despair. At night she sits with her female friends and tells marvelous stories.
A story of a young woman who was seduced by a demon, who lay with her as a man does with a woman: This was the motif around which Taybele wove all her stories. The wives were upset and shocked and plied Taybele with questions.
One day Elkhanan passed by and heard the stories and decided to disguise himself as a demon and realize his and Taybele's intimate desires. And so it was. Both hungry bodies and souls coupled, realizing a fantastic dream.
Ambivalent Sexual Identity in Isaac Bashevis-Singer's Works
The distinguished Yiddish writer, Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis-Singer is known for his fascination with the sexual dimension of human experience, a facet of social life that is widely treated in his fiction. Women in particular interest him. Failure appears to be the end result of almost all marital relationships, especially in his homosexual-lesbian stories. Literary analysis sheds new light on his female characters. The motif of destiny as expressed in the Yiddish term bashert ('inevitable, predestined') runs through all the homosexual-lesbian stories. Despite the author's declarations of love for his female figures, the text hints at a more ambivalent attitude.
Khayem Grade's "My Quarrel With Hersh Raseyner": Synthesis of Art and Documentation
Khayem Grade's prose writings paint a vivid and imaginable picture of life in Vilna between the two world wars, a life extinguished in the years of the Nazi occupation. Grade the poet may have decided to compose narrative works in order to enshrine and preserve a destroyed civilization, but they also reflect his own personal history.
"My Quarrel With Hersh Rasseyner" is Grade's only essay. The present article seeks to place it in the larger context of the artist's prose fiction as well as evaluate the work in and for itself. A philosophic work of a subjective kind, it reflects its author's world view and his attitude towards Jewishness and towards literature. It is a key to the dialectical interplay of documentation and art in Grade's books.
The Tsushtayer ('Contribution') Group in Galicia: 1929-1932
This essay deals with the lively group of Galician writers and intellectuals who gathered around the periodical Tsushtayer. Its leading members were Rokhl Oyerbakh, Yankev Ashndorf, Dvoyre Foygl, Nokhem Bomze and – in its earliest years – Meylekh Ravitsh. Initially opposed to Tsushtayer, the Lemberg daily Morgn ('Morning') came to adopt the journal as its literary supplement. The journal was favorably received on both sides of the Atlantic and leading critics such as Nakhmen Mayzl (editor of the Warsaw weekly Literarishe bleter) and prominent writers like Zusman Segelovitsh wrote for it. Two volumes were published, its founders gradually leaving Galicia. Literarishe bleter honored the Galician journal by devoting an entire issue to it (July 1932).
Manuscripts of the Poet Yankev Fridman (Jacob Freedman)
This article discusses the last volume of Dr. Eliyahu Saldinger's important three-volume study of the poet Jacob Freedman and his work. In the third volume Saldinger deals with the poet's writings during the second world war – in the Bershad ghetto, later in Tshernovits, and from 1949 in Israel. Szeintuch analyzes the third volume as a whole as well as a number of Freedman's poetic texts. He points out the connection between traditions nurtured by Nazi Germany and ancient Germanic myths surrounding the god Wotan.
Tkhies-HaMeysim ('Resurrection') – The First Shoa Survivors' Periodical
and Its Editor
This essay examines the first stirrings of the Yiddish press in post-World War II Europe. A periodical with the symbolic name Tkhies-HaMeysim ('Resurrection' ) was founded in a German displaced persons' camp. Its editor was the remarkable Mortkhe Shtrigler . A bilingual (Hebrew and Yiddish) writer, Shtrigler began his journalistic career in his youth while still a yeshive-bokher ('seminarian'), heroically managed to continue to write throughout the Shoa period though incarcerated in death camps, and immediately after the liberation returned to his journalistic work with renewed effort in France and later in America. A figure of first importance in the post-Holocaust effort to revive a decimated Yiddish culture, most of his writings remain in manuscript and await full critical evaluation.
Shtrigler's Buchenwald Poems
This article presents selected items from Shtrigler's collected works, mainly poems he wrote during the Shoa. It appears that these poems are part of the poet's biography, heretofore unknown. Shtrigler was active in the underground movement in Buchenwald both as writer and teacher; he helped to organize schooling for the imprisoned Jewish children.
Two poems are commented on and the large question is pursued: How to create a work of art in the darkest times?
Reception of Rabbi Jacob Joseph in the New York Folksadvokat (People's
Getsl Zelikovitsh, the talented founding editor of the New York Yiddish Folksadvokat (1888-1925) mercilessly satirized the Orthodox in feuilletons and in parodic songs. He ridiculed their efforts to appoint the newly arrived immigrant Rabbi Jacob Joseph – whom he called der mandarin ('The Mandarin') – as rav ha-koylel ('Chief Rabbi') and especially the latter's moves to institute a number of old-country practices such as the korobka ('tax on kosher meat').
Jewish Book Design and Illustration from the Beginnings of Printing in Eastern Europe Until Today
The art of printing Hebrew and Yiddish books in Eastern Europe was made possible by master printers, mainly from Italy, who were forced by despotic rulers to emigrate. We distinguish three typographic periods:
- Cracow (the Halicz brothers) and Lublin (Prossnitz and Schwartz) printers: 1534-1648.
- A turning point was the Chmelnitski massacres of 1648-9. Jewish printing was paralyzed for fifty years – until the revival in Zholkva (1691) and, later, the flowering that accompanied the stormy growth of the Hasidic movement (Koretz, Lemberg, Slavita, Ostraha, Zhitomir and Kapust).
- At the end of the nineteenth century printing became modernized. Hebrew and Yiddish book production paralleled that in Europe; culture centers arose in Vilna, Kiev, Warsaw and Lodz
Index of Stories in the Mayse-bukh (Book of Stories)
The first edition of the widely known Old-Yiddish Mayse-Bukh was published in Basel in 1602. For over three centuries it enjoyed great popularity among Yiddish-speakers. The book contains at least 257 tales and constitutes the quintessence of Old-Yiddish narrative prose. Most of the stories were translated from Hebrew. Comparison of the Talmudic, medieval, and international sources with the Old-Yiddish variants may cast light on the process by which early Yiddish fiction absorbed primitive story materials.
Ten years after the 1602 Mayse-Bukh appeared, a partial German translation was printed. In 1929 there appeared the two-volume English translation of Moses Gaster. In 1969 Jacob Meitlis edited a modern Yiddish version of 84 of the stories. Astrid Starck made a French translation in 2004. Sara Tsfatman has given us a partial Hebrew translation. The present essay includes a complete index of all the stories.
German Literature in Yiddish Translation
Together with the dynamic rise of Yiddish literature and the growth of its readership, there developed the art of translation. In the last decades of the nineteenth century and up to World War Two, European – and especially German -- works of literary quality were translated into Yiddish in great numbers and markedly influenced Yiddish language and literature.
Yoysef Tshernikhov: the Great Advocate and Orator
In a chapter from his book In revtribunal (In A Revolutionary Court), the author recalls the brilliant public addresses and court appearances of Yoysef Tshernikhov-Danieli, an unforgettable orator whom he was privileged to hear in the Kharkov Bolshevik Court. The advocate's intellectual agility, common sense and rhetorical mastery were passionately employed in the pursuit of justice.
A Little Anthology of Poems by Avrom Sutskever, Rivke Basman Ben-Khayim and Moyshe Kulbak
Sutzkever's five prophetic poems again awaken the dark days of the Vilna Ghetto. The poet dedicated these poems to the sacred memory of Zelik Kalmanovitsh, z"l. In addition we give here the first of Sutzkever's poems in the lovely volume entitled Di fidlroyz ('The Violin Rose').
Rivke Basman Ben-Khayim is represented by four new poems whose special quality is their melody and tone.
Kulbak's "Derkentenish" [Derkenung] ('Recognition') bursts out of the pages of the first issue of Milgroym ('Pomegranate', Berlin 1922) and peers wide-eyed into the depths of the poet's feelings and thoughts.
All of the poems in this little anthology are presented in their original Yiddish with Hebrew translations and brief notes.
Shmuel Tsesler – An Argentinian Yiddish Children's Poet
Shmuel Tsesler, teacher, editor and poet, was born in 1904 in Zabludov near Bialistok, Poland, and immigrated to Argentine in 1935; he died in Buenos Aires in 1987. His first poems, written in Poland, were for children, whose world he intuitively understood. He enriched the thematic range of poems for children in Yiddish. His poems, many of which he set to music, are marked by a joyous rhythm and were widely recited and sung throughout the Americas and Europe. Tsesler's role in the development of Yiddish children's literature is discussed and it is shown through examples in Yiddish original and Hebrew translation how his work reflects the influence of the Russian children's poet and theorist of children's literature, Korney Tshukovski. Tsesler was a close friend of the editor of the Vilna Grininke beymelekh, Shloyme Bastomski.
Meylekh Ravitsh on Children's Literature
Meylekh Ravitsh (Galicia 1893-Canada 1976), writer and poet, popular chairman of the Warsaw Writers' Society, traveled the world and published his impressions and memoirs in a series of volumes. In 1938 he visited Argentina where he met Shmuel Tsesler and wrote an introduction to the Latin American's Feygl in der luftn (Birds in the Air). Their correspondence (selections of which are here translated into Hebrew) reveals a harmony of views. Ravitsh sketched the developmental course of Yiddish children's literature and indicated elements which he felt were lacking. He stressed the need for musicality, for dramatic content, for writing that lends itself to oral delivery. He wrote that a good children's poem need not flee from reality. Children's books, he urged, should pay attention to fonts, to spelling and to overall design so that encounters with literature prove to be pleasant experiences.
The First Two Decades of the Kinder-zhurnal in New York
The New York Kinder-zhurnal (1920-1980) appeared fairly regularly every month for no less than sixty years. Published by the Sholem-Aleykhem Folk Institute, its literary and pedagogical editorial staff matched content with readers' needs, attentive to external and internal matters – the quality of the printing, the shape of the letters, the nuances of drawings and colors. It published poems, stories, pictures, reportage, songs and word games, original Yiddish material as well as translations from world literature in other languages. Its first professional editor (from 1922 to 1948) was the distinguished critic Shmuel Niger, who not only donated his own services but attracted those of outstanding writers and poets. The editors also energetically sponsored summer camps, excursions and other social and educational programs for children. Through these activities Jewish children from various lands came to know one another.
The Soviet Bar-Kokhba in Israeli Garb
In 1964 Haifa's Young Theatre under the artistic direction of actor-director Shimon Yisraeli opened its season with the Soviet poet Shmuel Halkin's Bar-Kokhba in the Israeli poet Jacob Orland's Hebrew translation. The play was written in 1938 for the Moscow Yiddish State Theatre under the direction of Shloyme Mikhoels and it was staged in virtually every Yiddish theatre in the Soviet Union. The Haifa production stressed the Erets-Yisrael (Land of Israel) setting and presented the revolt from a national perspective; the critics often "forgot" to mention the Yiddish author of the play. The Hebrew translation, deposited (in two variants) in Bar-Ilan University's Orland Archive, was never published. Orland had tried to lessen the universalist moments of the drama and to lend it a greater Land-of- Israel focus. The translator made many cuts and added material such as songs at his own initiative.
Seyfer Lev Tov: A Popular Seventeenth-Century Yiddish muser Book
Seyfer Lev Tov (Good Heart) by Yitskhok Ben Elyokum MiPozne (Jacob Ben Eliakum of Posen), printed in Prague in 1620, was much loved and widely read. This muser book differed from medieval Hebrew and Arabic exemplars of the genre principally for two reasons: It was written in the vernacular, and connected to the life problems of the Ashkenazic society for which it was designed, dealing with customs, religious laws, marital relations, and, especially, to the spiritual needs of women.
Theory of Literature in Yiddish
The famous poet Dovid Hofshteyn and his friend Fude Shames collaborated in writing two textbooks, Literatur-kentenish (Literary Knowledge, 1928) in two parts for high-school pupils and Di teorye fun literatur (The Theory of Literature) for older students and teachers. Both texts systematically teach their users how the European terminology which they adopt ties together and how to employ it. They illustrate the various tropes and terms by citations from modern Yiddish literature. The author of the essay is occasionally critical of the texts' positions.
"The Yearning for Beauty": Aesthetics and Messianism in the Writings of Hillel Zeitlin
In 1906 Hillel Zeitlin (1871-1942) published his first article in Yiddish. Entitled "The Yearning for Beauty", it discussed the importance of aesthetics and physical beauty in Jewish culture. Zeitlin argued that the appearance of talented and famous Jewish artists in his time was a turning point in Jewish history, part of yemot haMashiekh - the days of the Messiah. Zeitlin explained that for thousands of years the Jewish rabbinical halachic system strove to suppress the aesthetic side of Jewish life and the yearning of Jews for beauty. But now history had arrived at a critical turning point, and Beauty was about to take its place in Jewish life and society.
For understanding the life and writings of Hillel Zeitlin, the publication of "The Yearning for Beauty" has a double meaning. It was Zeitlin's first step towards a life-long career as a Yiddish writer. It was also the first time Zeitlin was able to express profoundly and clearly the Messianic outlook he was to adhere to for the rest of his life.
Review: Mordkhe Schaechter's Plant Names in Yiddish
Yiddish botanic names illuminate a rural dimension of Jewish life which tends to be overlooked given the overwhelmingly urban character of modern Jewry. In particular, Dr. Schaechter's lexicographic and taxonomic project modifies widespread half-truths regarding the relationship to nature of Yiddish poets and writers. The charge that Yiddish authors refer to "birds" or "flowers" without specifying species or varieties applies to many Yiddish writers in many periods and places, but not to all. European romanticism had by the end of the nineteenth century – belatedly indeed -- affected many Eastern-European Yiddish poets both in their lands of birth and in the widespread diaspora to which many migrated. This is a book packed with lexicographical riches which only a masterful philologist such as Mordkhe Schaechter could have assembled. It is worthy of being completed, reedited and organized in a more usable form.
Abstracts in Yiddish and English