Journal of Yiddish Research
No. 7 Autumn 2002
Editors: Shalom Luria, Haya Bar-Ytzhak
Abstracts edited and/or translated by Leonard Prager
Hebrew Haskala Verse in Yiddish Holiday Dress
This article deals with the translation of two nineteenth-century Hebrew poems by two well known Hebrew maskilim, Abraham Dov Lebenzon (1794-1878) and Judah Leib Gordon (1830-1892). Yiddish translation of Hebrew Haskala verse is here briefly surveyed and it is concluded that a close connection existed between Hebrew and Yiddish Haskala literatures. The author discusses Lebenzon's poem "Hakhemla" [Mercy], first published in Hebrew in 1845 and translated into Yiddish in 1881 (under the title "Der rakhmones oder Di erbaremung") by M. Shalmin, a Yiddish writer from the litvisher [Lithuanian] village of Belz who added realism to the wholly allegorical original by alluding to contemporary Russian social problems.
Comparing Gordon's "Kotso shel yod" (1878) ['A Mere Nothing'] with Isaac Joel Linetski's 1903 translation ("Iber a pintele"), one sees the contrast between the Hebrew-Biblical version studded with rabbinic phrases and the zesty idiomatic Yiddish rich in proverbs and fused with Slavic and Germanized [daytshmerish] elements. One easily grasps how much of his own the translator has added and how much of the original he has skipped over. In 1918 the poet Israel Jacob Schwartz [Y.-Y. Shvarts] published a somewhat better translation in America under the title "Arum a pintele."
Parody and Hagiography: On Y.-L. Perets' Ostensibly "Hasidic" Stories
This essay examines the disagreements among critics and scholars regarding the essential quality of Perets' Khsidish: Is it truly a selection of genuine hasidic tales or is it merely an affected hasidic stylization whose intent is to mock its source? In clarifying the difference between satire and parody, the author places Perets' Khsidish in a genre that is post-modern, complex and parodic. Perets forged new paths in the absorption of the hasidic tale into his Khsidish This is manifest in his treatment of hagiography (the lives of saints), in his use of metaphor and fable, in his citation of rabbinic sources, in his understanding of the rebbe's words, and in remarks of a religious nature that reflect his own thoughts. The essay surveys a number of stories and concludes that Perets' texts function tsvishn tsvey berg [between two mountains]: they are truly saturated with the pious mode of hasidic story-telling while also possessing ironic-parodic strains of a distinctly modern narrative art.
On Y.-L. Perets' Relationship to Zionism
This essay reviews Perets' principal publicist writings. In the course of his life Perets had occasion to write about the Zionist dream and the Zionist movement. After the pogroms of the 1880s he had Zionist leanings, as is especially evident in his Hebrew verse of the time. During the 1890s his Zionism and his sympathy for the Khovevey-Tsien [Lovers of Zion] gradually cool. In his occasional periodical, the Yontef bletlekh, the Khovevey-Tsien are regarded as impractical in dealing with such matters as buying land, sowing, planting. "Baron Hirsh's Argentine plan is perhaps preferable," he wrote. But Perets also awoke from this dream. He rejected the territorialist solution to the Jewish problem and polemicized against the Khovevey-Tsien, their writings, and against Ahad Ha-am and his theories..
As regards language, Perets held that Jews must be tri-lingual and speak the co-territorial tongue, Hebrew and Yiddish. "Zhargon [= Yiddish] hot nit keyn pretenzye tsu fartretn di muter-shtele in a yidish hoyz. Dem plats farnemt un darf farnemen loshn-koydesh [=Hebrew]..." [Yiddish has no pretensions to filling a mother role in the Jewish home-that place belongs to Hebrew.] But "whoever wishes to know the folk... must speak and write Yiddish." In this context, the speech Perets made at the Czernowitz Conference in 1908 is mentioned. In the last years of his life Perets again moved closer to Zionism, which he saw however as a distant panacea. In the present it was necessary to fight for Jewish rights in the diaspora.
On Y.-L. Perets
Two fragments are translated here.
1. A letter from Kalmanovitsh to Yankev Dinezon on the day the editors of the Vilna Di yudishe velt learned of Perets' death.
2. A short article by Kalmanovitsh in the Kovno daily Tsayt (27 April 1927) in which he discusses Perets' view of Jewish literature and Perets' ideal of what the Jewish writer should be.
In the Vilna ghetto in 1942 Kalmanovitsh wrote a comprehensive essay on these subjects, the manuscript of which was unearthed in the ruins of 6 Strashun Street in 1944. Abba Kovner brought this manuscrpt, now in the archives of the University and Nation al Library in Jerusalem, to Israel. Part of it was published in Di goldene keyt 2 (1944), pp. 114-126.
David G. Roskies
On Sholem-Aleichem's "Iber a hitl" ["On Account of a Hat"]
Contrary to the views of the American critic Irving Howe, who located Sholem-Aleichem's artistic achievement in the socio-psychological fables of seemingly anecdotal story matter, and likewise contrary to the "general principles" of Sholem-Aleichem's art postulated by Dov Sadan, Sholem-Aleichem's writings as seen from the critical perspective of Mikhail Bakhtin conceal modern and timeless elements that are fused in a polyphonic accord wherein each voice speaks with its own diction and from its own viewpoint.
Take, for example, the story of Sholem-Shakhne Dreyzikh, who got it into his head to earn some money in a speculative deal. However, he ended up losing both his head and his hat. The protagonist tried to deny the story but his Kasrilevke townsmen preferred to mercilessly embroider it. Together in a coach taking them home for Passover, a Kasrilevke merchant retailed the story to the famous writer Sholem Aleichem, who in turn told it to Solomon Rabinovitsh. One can discern the voices of all the tellers; each puts his stamp on the narrative, turning an essentially simple story into a complex one.
Acquaintance with the Tanakh (The Hebrew Scriptures): A Major Autobiographical Experience
Hebrew autobiographical literature of recent generations repeatedly describes the acquaintance with the Tanakh as one of the most significant childhood memories. I refer here to authentic documentary autobiographies as well as to fictional first-person narratives, which are also infiltrated with significant autobiographical materials. This paper examines and characterizes the reflections of the "Tanakh experience" in a wide selection of literary works, most of which are rooted in traditional East-European Jewish life of the 18th and 19th centuries. The discussion illuminates various issues such as: the status of the Tanakh as 'prohibited literature'; the tensions between Biblical and Talmudic studies in the kheder; the Tanakh as a substitute for belletristic and historical literature; the role the Tanakh played in developing its readers' imaginative powers; the reflections of Biblical characters and scenery on real, actual environment; the cultivation of national identity and Zionist yearnings in relation to Tanakh reading; the paradoxical, contradictory role such reading played in simultaneously connecting its readers with historical reality and separating them from it.
"Naive" Nature Poems as Subtle Political Allegories
A problem arises in reading Bialik's Yiddish poem "Friling" ["Spring"] (first published in April 1908 in the St. Petersburg Fraynd). Is this truly only a song of natural delight in the Spring season? Does the excitement here stem solely from field, wood, garden and stream? Or is this perhaps not a socio-political allegory? Such writing could counter the hostile encroachments of the censor and Bialik's art function on several levels simultaneously.
When we compare Bialik's "Friling" with the Hebrew "MiShirey hakhoref" ["Winter Songs"], we quickly see the similarities and differences. In the Yiddish poem there is a spurt of erotic motifs between the lines as the disturbed "I" unbuttons his coat and leaps madly into the mud to dance with a sunbeam. In the Hebrew poem, one of wintertime, wild and lusty gentile girls break in.
It is thus altogether possible that the prime subject of "Friling" is the stormy days of the 1905 revolution, when the czarist regime began to melt like the ice on the rivers and the ice floes were carried away by the strong free waves.
The "Anxiety" in Moyshe-Leyb Halpern's Verse
Moyshe-Leyb Halpern's "anxiety" derives from his troubled life and from his ever present sense of uprootedness and non-belonging. A number of Halpern's poems of lostness are analyzed: "I have lost myself/ And God knows where I can be found." The poet presents himself in the person of one Zarkhi, a dejected wanderer who stands on a sandy, wasteland coast and is battered by incessant waves.
Halpern arrived in America by ship and in his apocalyptic vision he sees the foaming sea-waves through which the ship moved as augury of confusion and anti-sea-desert.
The Jewish condition to an immigrant can seem hopeless; dark clouds on the horizon block out the light. Halpern's apocalyptic anxiety is reflected in his view of himself, of his people and of the cosmos. The great city (Babelstown) "will be swept off the earth as by a broom"; not a speck of dust will remain.
Moyshe-Leyb Halpern died young, but his splendid verse remains.
Invitation to the Author's Laboratory
Isaac Bashevis-Singer: My Father's Court, Sequel-Collection, Selection and Introduction by Chone Shmeruk
Isaac Bashevis-Singer wrote a great number of autobiographical short stories, mainly in the New York Forverts in the years 1955 to 1960. Some of these stories reappeared in book form in Yiddish (Mayn tatns bezdn-shtub, New York 1956), but hundreds of others remained buried in Yiddish newspapers. The book under discussion includes stories unknown to recent readers and chosen according to their relation to the above-mentioned book. Due to the unique character of its publication,
this sequel-collection is an important literary project. The editor points out the explicit motive expressed by the author, who regarded Yiddish literature as a "memorial-book...to bring to life in literature those annihilated" by Hitler. Shmeruk points to an implicit impulse of introspective search after the core of the self, and the author's "dilemma whether to write fiction or autobiography" (Introduction, p.16). The editor suggests these motives as point of departure for further research. The article reviews the main stories in the collection, using the editor's suggestions as guide and suggesting observation of the poetic ways in which the autobiographical raw materials are transformed into a literary design in Singer's fiction.
Names Set in the Works of Yiddish Women Poets
This essay is a chapter in a larger work which investigates how Yiddish women poets encapsulate their names in their verse. The traditional acrostic strategies of name insertion are known from Hebrew medieval religious poems. Yiddish women poets such as Rivka Tiktiner and Reyzl Fishls in the sixteenth century write in a style similar to that of the Shmuel-bukh and the supplicatory poems, the tkhines. In Prague in the seventeenth century Toybe Fan composed original religious poems that were recited and sung, a fact pointing to their popularity. The tradition of authorial name-insertion in verse passed down to modern Yiddish poets such as Moyshe-Leyb Halpern, Yankev Glatshteyn, Anna Margolin and Kadye Molodovski. In modern verse, the weaving of personal name into the fabric of the poem serves to express subtle facets of the poet's artistic personality.
The Art of Daniel Charney's Memoirs
In 27 short chapters Daniel Charney (nicknamed Donye) tells the extraordinary story of his unusual life. A remarkable individual, he was writer, poet, and artist; because of illness, he always kept his right hand in his pocket. With wit and grace, he tells the story of his distinguished family and of his generation. Writing of doctors, love affairs, and the stormy Jewish literary scene, he draws living characters, many of whom are tragic, and sees them with a genial and forgiving eye.
On Israel Rabon's Di gas [The Street]
Israel Rabon's original novel created a stir upon publication. The present essay defines the work as an expression of despair, a post-war generation's profound sense of alienation. The hero (actually anti-hero) is a lost soul with a virtually anonymous ego who wanders about the streets of Lodz. Every contact he has with a fellow human being, male or female, ends in failure. The city is in the throes of a socio-economic crisis and its people and streets seem hostile and forbidding. The Jewish dimension is not lacking in the book, though it is designedly hazy. Polish is spoken and there is no sign of a distinct Jewish presence. While bearing the stigma of his Jewishness, the protagonist in his relations with Gentiles shows no signs of Jewish self-awareness. The novel's numerous digressions and dreams are closely examined and clues are uncovered in the text of a faint thread of meaningfulness in the central character's dreary ambulatory progress.
The Novel Salamandra as a Literary-Historical Document
The original Yiddish edition of Ka-tsetnik's novel Salamandra was never published but is soon scheduled to appear. The present essay, a chapter in a book on Ka-tsetnik, gives the history of the Yiddish text and attempts to evaluate its unique qualities. It also compares the Yiddish original with the Hebrew translation published in Israel by Dvir in 1946. The first stage of the excellent Hebrew translation was the work of Yitschak Leyb Baruch and the second, editing stage was performed by Yitschak Dov Berkovitsh, the son-in-law of Shalom Aleichem. The essay analyzes Salamandra, Ka-tsetnik's first novel about the Shoa, as literary-historical testimony.
Itsik Manger is a Jewish poet par excellence. Beloved by all segments of the Jewish people, especially in Israel, he draws his inspiration and spiritual energy from its deepest dreams, humor and sadness. In 1948, on the fifth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, he said: "Other peoples visit the graves of their poets; the Jewish poet visits the grave of his people."
On Itsik Manger
This brief essay examines the impact Manger's Shtern oyfn dakh [Stars On the Roof] made upon its readers, who were charmed by its freshness. Manger criticism continues to seek the sources of the poet's gifts, of his ironic smile, his original juxtapositions, and his singable rhythms. Dov Sadan traces Manger's talent to the distinct folk culture of the region of his birth, to the songs the tailor apprentices sang in the workshops and the folk tales that were told in the homes. The poet found his own artistic voice by transforming the raw material he absorbed in his childhood and youth.
Five Choice Poems
Avrom Sutskever's "Bashafung" ["Creation"] and "Poezye" ["Poetry"], Dovid Hofshteyn's "Es zenen farfult shoyn di felder" ["The Fields are Full Already"], Moyshe Kulbak's "Zumer" ["Summer"] and Perets Markish's "Brokhshtiker" ["Fragments"] are here presented, Yiddish original beside Hebrew translation with brief explication.
Shloyme Bastomski and His Relations with Writers and Poets
This essay aims to illuminate the exceptional personality of the naturally modest and dedicated Vilna teacher, editor and publisher of journals for children and youth, Shloyme Bastomski. He and his wife, the teacher Malke Khayemson, also compiled and edited a series of school texts as well as the pedagogic journal Shulfraynd [School Friend]. The two journals Grininke beymelekh [Little Green Trees] and Der khaver [The Companion] improved the children's reading material and created a live contact between them and a number of Yiddish authors. This is evident from the collection of letters preserved at the Yivo Institute in New York. The letters show us Bastomski's zeal in creating tools to help educate children in the spirit of Jewish secular culture. The journals edited by the Bastomskis enriched youth circles with stories and poems, folklore and factual studies, pictures and drawings. Research into the contribution of Shloyme Bastomski to Jewish education will prove the importance of his role.
The Humorist Credo of the Writer and Journalist B. Yeushzon (Moyshe Yustman)
In the first four decades of the twentieth century humor flourished in the Yiddish press, the work of Yiddish writers and journalists of the first rank. The present article deals with the small but significant body of humorous work in the writings of Moshe-Bunim Youstman (1889-1942), better known by his pseudonyms B. Yeushson and Itshek. The better known humorist Yoysef Tunkel (Der tunkeler) and Yeushson were both pioneers of the Yiddish humoresque, a genre which contemplated kindly the incongruities of Polish-Jewish life before and after World War One. A number of Yeushson's humorous texts are here analyzed against the backgrounds of Polish-Jewish history and the history of the Yiddish press.
70 Years of Joseph Perl Research
This thorough review of the paths and detours of Perl research in the past century focuses on his ruthlessly satirical Megale Tmirin ('Revealer of Secrets'). Written in Hebrew in a hasidic style and translated into a lively and juicy Yiddish, Perl's maskilic aim in this work was to make hasidim look as ridiculous as possible. Detailed studies are discussed, among them one questioning whether Perl translated the animated Yiddish version. Other works besides the famous satire were found in Perl's library in Tarnopol, and these included a Yiddish translation of a German adaptation of Joseph Fielding's great comic novel, Tom Jones. It is not literature alone that has interested Perl students, who also consider his achievements in the social and political realms. The scope and quality of the works surveyed here give evidence of ample recognition of an important Jewish writer who straddled the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries (1773-1839).
Meir Balaban's Contribution to the Study of Jewish Ethnography and Folklore
Meir Balaban, the well known historian of the Jewish people in Poland, published his studies in several languages, mainly Polish, Russian and German. This essay deals with Meir Balaban's contributions to research in the fields of Jewish ethnography and folklore. He was mainly interested in the areas of material culture and folk art.
He investigated the architecture of wooden synagogues as well as that of synagogues built of stone and iron, though the latter were defensive fortresses.
He was also interested in cemeteries, graves, prayers, customs, clothing, jewelry and other subjects. In his work on folk legends Balaban would record the traditional talmudic and midrashic texts and seek their relationship to historic facts, persons and places. Many legends have their parallel versions in other cultures. Two outstanding examples are the legends of the golden rose and of Saul Wohl.
Saul Wohl -- The Jewish King of Poland (Legends and Reality)
In a comprehensive essay, the well known historian of the Jewish people in Poland, Meir Balaban, discusses the legend of Saul Wohl, the Jewish king of Poland. He brings together a number of variants and seeks the historical facts. Who was he? Where and when did he live? Was he really king in Poland? In connection with this study he also discusses the first Count Radziwill and the book Gedulat Shaul.
On Itsik Manger's Essay "Folklore and Literature"
This essay considers the ideas developed by Manger in his essay "Folklore and Literature" against the background of Yiddishist ideology and the zeitgeist.
Folklore and Literature
Manger maintains that no literature can exist without a firm foundation in genuine folklore and applies this thesis in his discussion of Hebrew and Yiddish literature. He reviews the relationships between the various folklore genres and their transformations in belles lettres both in Jewish and general European writing.
Ashkenaz: The Yiddish Period in Jewish History
This is a Hebrew translation of a talk given at the 25th annual conference of Yivo in New York on 13 January 1951. The talk was published in Yivo Bleter 35 (1951), pages 7-17. The speaker postulates one thousand years of Yiddish in Ashkenaz and discusses the genesis and growth of Yiddish culture. The essay may serve as an introduction to Weinreich's magisterial four-volume Di geshikhte fun der yidisher shprakh (New York, 1973).