The Mendele Review: Yiddish Literature and Language
(A Companion to MENDELE)
of Vol. 09.07 [Sequential No. 159]
1) This issue. (ed.)
2) The Goldfaden Micrograph (1897) (David Mazower)
3) A Note on Ignaz Bernstein (Lucas Bruyn)
4) Coming book reviews (ed.)
5) Books received (ed.)
From: Leonard Prager, ed.
Subject: This issue.
This issue of TMR continues to probe the graphic arts in their relation to Yiddish culture, in this instance via a unique art object, a micrograph, as it connects to the founder of the Yiddish theater, Avrom Goldfadn [Abraham Goldfaden]. This is followed by a short essay on the author of Juedische Sprichwoerter und Redensarten, Ignaz Bernstein, which reminds Yiddish students of a scholar who deserves to be remembered.
From: David Mazower (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Subject: The Goldfaden Micrograph (1897): Portraiture and the Formation of Yiddish Literary Celebrity
The Goldfaden Micrograph (1897): Portraiture and the Formation of Yiddish Literary Celebrity
In a recent TMR article, I looked at Henryk Berlewi’s satirical cartoon of the Vilna Troupe production of Ansky’s Dybbuk. In this issue I want to examine another important but unknown graphic image from the world of Yiddish culture - a micrographic portrait of Avrom Goldfadn (1840 - 1908) - placing it within the context of the emergence of the Yiddish writer as celebrity and cultural icon.
The ideological battle for the hearts and minds of the Jewish masses in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was fought on many fronts. The principal battleground was the war of words; Zionists, Bundists, orthodox believers, Communists and secular Yiddishists all sought to win recruits through debate, propaganda pamphlets, the popular press and at underground meetings. But pictures and graphics also played an important role. Commercial postcards, satirical cartoons in the press, lapel badges and street posters all helped to promote key figures and develop the idea of celebrity in an age - almost impossible to imagine today - when few people knew what their heroes actually looked like. (1)
The Zionist movement was quick to realise the propaganda value of promoting images of Theodore Herzl and Max Nordau in the 1890s and 1900s. By contrast, there were few key images of Yiddish writers in the same period - a time when the founding fathers of Yiddish literature were in their prime. Only with the Yiddish language conference at Czernowitz in 1908 did something resembling a classic image emerge - the widely disseminated postcard featuring the writers Perets, Nomberg, Zhitlovski, Ash and Reyzn. Here, belatedly, the Yiddish literary world had found a match for the numerous conference photos already produced by the Zionists.
By the 1910s and 20s, Jewish publishers and
The second generation of modern Yiddish writers
(Opatoshu, Manger, Ash and the rest) were more fortunate. Not only were they
featured regularly in the sepia photo supplements of the
The use of these elite art forms (and other forms of portraiture such as the silhouette and minted medal) carried an unspoken but important message: they contradicted the status of Yiddish literature as a stepchild of the European literary family, insisting instead that it deserved a place alongside other high-status mainstream cultures whose leading personalities were routinely pictured by celebrated artists.
By contrast, the micrographic portrait signifies something rather different. Hebrew micrography - the art of creating pictures composed out of minute Hebrew letters - developed as a distinctive form of religious art, invented by Jewish scribes in the early Middle Ages. For centuries micrography was used almost exclusively in the religious sphere, for Bible illustrations, amulets and ketuba decoration. From the late nineteenth century, portraits of famous rabbis, Biblical sites and scenes from the scriptures were reproduced as lithographic prints and sold as commercial artefacts. (2)
Portrait of Avrom
(click to enlarge; when done – click the back arrow)
Around the 1890s the Hebrew micrograph was
adopted by the Zionist movement.
Theodore Herzl, Max Nordau, Rabbi Moses Gaster and the writer Bialik
were all portrayed in micrographic form, as an essentially devotional art
gradually moved into the secular sphere. There was even a micrographic portrait
of Kaiser Wilhelm 2nd, composed from his biography in Hebrew translation,
and issued in honour of his visit to
All the more surprising, then, that (to the
best of my knowledge) there is not a single micrographic portrait of
Sholem-Aleykhem and Mendele and only a later and small-scale picture of
Perets.(5). There is, however, a superb 68 x 49 cm. micrographic portrait of
the Yiddish poet, playwright and operetta composer Avrom Goldfadn. Printed in
A. Goldfaden / poet und
dikhter / in zayn geshtalt iz geshriben dos berihmte verk “shulamis” 37.404
verter / aroysgegeben fun l.rotblat un goldshmit.
(A. Goldfaden / poet and writer / in his
portrait is written the famous work “Shulamis” 37.404 words / published by L
Rotblat and Goldshmit.
By 1897 Goldfadn was at the height of his
celebrity. His plays were being performed in Yiddish theatres across
By the time of his death in
The exact circumstances of the micrograph’s
creation are unclear. In 1897 Goldfadn
(click to enlarge; when done – click on the back arrow)
What is not in doubt is that Goldfadn had many
Observers of the early Yiddish stage frequently commented on the fervour with which the audience joined in the spectacle. For the impoverished playgoer, the early Yiddish drama halls and clubs inspired the same devotion as synagogues and the playwrights were viewed with the same admiration and awe as the most famous rabbis. We should not be surprised, therefore, that a form of portraiture associated with distinguished rabbis and political leaders has been chosen to venerate a figure like Avrom Goldfadn. The Goldfadn micrograph of 1897 both reinforces and pays tribute to the early Yiddish writer’s celebrity status, and also stands as a testament to his immense popularity.
1. For a
wide-ranging discussion of these issues, see Michael Berkowitz, The Jewish
Avrin pioneered research into this neglected subject. See the book co-written
by her and Colette Sirat: La lettre hebraique et sa signification /
Micrography as Art,
and Sirat’s book contains reproductions and provenance details of the
micrographic portraits of Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Spector, Theodore Herzl, the
Chief Rabbi of Vienna Zvi Peretz Chajas, and Kaiser Wilhelm II. For a reproduction of the Gaster micrograph,
see Leila Avrin’s 1981 exhibition catalogue Hebrew Micrography, One Thousand
Years of Art in Script, published by the
are a small number of micrographic or quasi-micrographic portraits in other
languages. A folio-sized memorial
portrait of Martin Luther, done in the year of his death, 1546, and composed of
minute Gothic-style German letters, was sold at Sotheby’s approximately twenty
years ago. Around 1905, a
5. The micrographic portraits of Perets (drawn by Yoysef Troyber, and consisting of the words to the author’s poem ‘Monish’) and Avrom Reyzn (drawn by N Kopelovitsh in Vilna in 1938, using the words from several of Reyzn’s poems) are reproduced in Melech Grafstein’s survey, Sholem Aleichem Panorama, London, Ontario, 1948, pp. 200 - 201. On page 192 of the same book, there is a reproduction of a micrographic portrait of Bialik, published in Tel Aviv. I am aware of two further micrograph portraits of Yiddish writers: Yoysef Opatoshu (also drawn by Yoysef Troyber, and reproduced in Ber Kutsher’s book Geven amol varshe / zikhroynes, Paris, 1955, p237); and Nokhem-Meyer Shaykevitsh (Shomer), unseen but described in his daughter’s memoir as “a picture of my father….made up of minute script in which the story of his life was told” (see Miriam Shomer Zunser: Yesterday / A Memoir of a Russian Jewish Family, Harper and Row, New York, 1978, p182); have any copies of this micrograph survived?
6. The Goldfadn micrograph is now in a private collection; I am grateful to the owner for allowing me to reproduce it for this article.
example was exhibited a few years ago in the
8. For more on the actor, see Leonard Prager, Yiddish Culture in Britain, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1990, p. 287.
"The Ghetto Kipling - Father of the Yiddish Stage, Abraham
Goldfaden," The Jewish World,
From: Lucas Bruyn
Subject: A Note on Ignaz Bernstein
Ignaz Bernstein (1836-1909)
Ignaz Bernstein is known as the author of Juedische Sprichwoerter und Redensarten, a collection of 3987 Yiddish "shprikhverter un redensartn" (proverbs and expressions). A short biography by Herman Rosenthal written at the time Bernstein was still alive can be found in the on-line Jewish Encyclopedia. The first version of the "Shprikhverter" was published in 1888-1889 in Der Hoyz Fraynd. On the latter, Leonard Prager writes: "Two anonymous collections of Yiddish proverbs appeared here. They were acknowledged as Ignats Bernshteyn's and in an expanded and revised form later published as a book (1908). The separate offprint of the 2056 proverbs in the Hoyz Fraynd version is thus the first edition." (Yiddish Literary and Linguistic Periodicals, 1982, p. 79) Bernstein confirms this in his 1907 "Vorwort" (Introduction) to the 1908 work:
"In den Jahren 1888 und 1889 erschienen in dem von M. Spektor herausgegebenen Jahrbuch Der Hausfreund zwei anonyme Sammlungen juedisher Sprichwoerter, die aus meinem handschriftlichen Material stammten und die gleichzeitig als Separatausgabe in einen kleinen Anzahl von Exemplaren in zwei Heften abgedruckt wurden. Jeder dieser Sammlungen war fuer zich nach dem Anfangsbuchstaben des ersten Wortes alphabetisch geordnet und beide enthielten zusammen 2056 Sprichwoerter mit fortlaufender Numerierung."
[Two anonymous collections of Yiddish proverbs from my materials in manuscript came out in 1888-1889 in the yearbook published by M. Spektor "The House Friend". They were simultaneously published in a separate limited two-volume edition. In these two volumes the proverbs were placed in alphabetical order, according to their first words; in total 2056 progressively numbered proverbs.]
Even earlier some of Bernstein's materials had been incorporated in Karl Friedrich Wilhelm Wander's monumental Deutsches Sprichwoerter-Lexikon ; ein Hausschatz fuer das deutsche Volk (1867-1880). The 1908 editon is the "tsveyte, shtark fermehrte un ferbeserte oyflage" and contains the "shprikhverter" in Hebrew script as well as a transcription. Some of the entries are accompanied by a short explanation in Yiddish and German. There is an index and an 84-page glossary of words and expressions appearing in the proverbs that derive from foreign languages (Hebrew/Aramaic, Slavic and Romance) or that are less common. This glossary, with the Yiddish in transcription (Hebrew added if appropriate) and translation in German, contains about 1600 words, including several not found in Harkavi or Weinreich. It also gives etymologies of words, not found in other dictionaries.
At the time Bernstein wrote his work neither the YIVO standardized spelling of Yiddish nor the YIVO romanization had yet been developed. Bernstein had to devise a spelling and a transcription himself. As models for his orthography he took contemporary literature and magazines. Thus he decided against using doubled consonants. He based his transcription on the "Podolisch-wolhynische Mundart". The resulting orthography looks much like the one used by Harkavi (e.g. "nehmen" instead of "nemen"); his transcription looks strange to the modern reader used to the YIVO/Weinrech method. Although the Shprikhverter have been around for about a century, it does not seem to be very popular with Yiddishists – but I may be wrong here. An undated wholly Yiddish edition of the 1908 work – without the Erotica -- duplicating right-side pages only that was published by the Brider Kaminski Farlag in New York points to some demand for the book. This edition has exactly the number of pages for main section (294) and Index (296-329) as has the deluxe 1908 edition, but omits the Latin-letter "Glossar." A note on the reverse side of the title page of this economical edition reads: "dos bukh iz gedrukt loyt dem foto-ofset protses, derfar dershaynt es mit der alter ortografye" (The book is printed by the offset process, therefore it has the old orthography." This spelling awareness suggests the 1950s – Stutshkov's Oytser was published in 1950. In the Mendele list, Bernstein's Erotica was mentioned several times, but the main work of proverbs was never quoted as a source. Availability cannot be the entire problem, since the book can be bought at antiquarian bookstores – though at very high prices today.
is some further bibliographic information about Bernstein's work: The second
edition of the "Yudishe shprikhverter" came out in 1908, in
[This collection of Yiddish proverbs with an erotic or colored content is published following the Big Book of Yiddish Proverbs of Ignats Bernstein that came out in 1908 in Frankfurt am Mainz. Note: This book was published as the second volume of the Library for Jewish Biblophiles, 300 numbered copies in total.]
a hundred years after the first appearance of the Shprikhverter a new
edition came out in the United States of America: Yidishe shprikhverter
[gezamlt un aroysgegebn fun] Ignats Bernshteyn ; tsugegreyt tsum druk, Y.
Birnboym. Nyu-York (
had been preceded by an American reprint of the Erotica et turpia in the
seventies (exact date and publisher unknown) and by a different edition of the Erotica
and Rustica with English translations: Yiddish sayings mama never taught
you. [compiled by Ignaz Bernstein ; translated] by Weltman &
Bernstein was neither the first nor the last paremiologist with an interest in Yiddish sayings (paremiology, the study of proverbs). CATNYP lists 47 studies of Yiddish proverbs and there are no doubt many more. Some of the early ones we may mention are: Tendlau, Abraham Moses, 1802-1878. Sprichwoerter und Redensarten deutsch-juedischer Vorzeit; als Beitrag zur Volks-, Sprach- und Sprichwoerter-Kunde, aufgezeichnet aus dem Munde des Volkes und nach Wort und Sinn erlaeutert von Abraham Tendlau. Frankfurt a. M., H. Keller, 1860.
Wahl, Moritz Callmann, 1829-1887 Das Sprichwort
der hebraeisch-aramischen Literatur, mit besonderer Beruecksichtigung des
Sprichwortes der neueren Umgangssprachen. Ein Beitrag zur vergleichenden
Parmiologie ... Buch 1. Zur Entwicklungstheorie des sprichwoertlichen
wrote only one other book, a catalogue of his collection of about 8400 books on
proverbs, folk-lore ethnography etc.: Bernstein, Ignatz. Catalogue des livres
paremiologiques, composant la bibliothque de Ignace Bernstein. Varsovie, de
L'imprimerie W. Drugulin Leipsick, 1900. Added t.p. in Polish: Katalog dziel
trsci przyslowiowej. A reprint of this work was issued by Olms (
modern study, relying on Bernstein is Magdalena Sitarz, Yiddish and Polish proverbs : contrastive
analysis against cultural background,
BERNSTEIN, IGNAZ. Catalogue des livres parémiologiques composant la bibliothèque de Ignace Bernstein / Catalogue of Ignace Bernstein's Collection of Proverb Literature / Katalog von Ignaz Bernsteins Bibliothek der Sprichwörterliteratur / Katalog dziel tresci przyslowiowej skladajacych bibljoteke Ignacego Bernsteina [ISBN: 3-487-11437-2] 268,00 Eur
BERNSTEIN, IGNAZ. Jüdische Sprichwörter und Redensarten [ISBN: 3-487-02298-2] 99,80 Eur .
Georg Olms Verlag AG Weidmannsche Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH Hagentorwall 7, D-31134 Hildesheim Tel: ++49 (0) 5121 / 150 10 Fax: ++49 (0) 5121 / 150 150. E-Mail: email@example.com
Subject: Coming book reviews
next issue will be devoted solely to Menke, edited by Dovid Katz and
Harry Smith. Dovid Katz's Lithuanian Jewish Culture (Vilna: Baltos
Lankos, 2004, 398 pp), will yet be reviewed in TMR, as will be Nancy
Sinkoff's Out of the Shtetl (
Subject: Books received
Der Nister [HaNistar], Maasiyot beKharuzim, tirgem meYidish veHosif mavo Shalom Luria.
[Sifriat Khulyot 2]. The editor of Khulyot, Shalom Luria, gives us lively Hebrew renderings of eleven of the careful artist Der Nister's tales in verse written for children but adored by adults.
The translator's introduction is an expanded version of an essay that first appeared in Khulyot 2
(1994), 151-168. The front cover by David Luria shows us a shretele (little elf) in a tall hat.
End of The Mendele Review Vol.09.07
Editor, Leonard Prager
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