Journal of Yiddish Research  

No. 4 Summer 1997

Editors: Shalom Luria, Haya Bar-Ytzhak

Abstracts edited and/or translated by Leonard Prager

Mendele Moykher-Sforim

-My (Last) Journey

This is one of the very last texts in the Mendele archives to be published. Its subject is Mendele the Bookseller in an hour of extreme financial need when he is forced to consider selling his hungry and exhausted old companion, his horse. But when he encounters the foul talk of the horsedealers at the market, he pulls back, ashamed and full of pity for his barely breathing four-legged friend. Reprinted from Shtern (Minsk, 10 July 1939, 1-4) and translated into Hebrew.

Arn Vorobeytshik

-From Mendele Moykher-Sforim's Laboratory

Arn Vorobeytshik (1895-1941), who worked in the Alukrainisher Muzey far Yidisher Kultur Oyf Mendeles Nomen (Mendele All-Ukrainian Institute for Jewish Culture) in Odessa and edited the miscellany Mendele un zayn tsayt (Mendele and His Times) (1939), and was undoubtedly an expert on Mendele's manuscripts, sketches the relationship between Mendele's story "My (Last) Journey and his later plans and works. He argues for a connection between the story and Mendele's famous novel Di kliatshe (The Mare).

Khone Shmeruk

-A Foreign Work Recast from German or An Original and Innovative Italian Variant?

This essay deals with a brief period in the history of Yiddish literature, mainly in the 16th century. A new freshly innovative work somehow broke into the established literary traditions. Epic works such as the Shmuel-bukh and the Melokhim-bukh exemplify the system of reworking style and content from German originals, a system that held sway in the second half of the 14th century. Jews understood the daytshmerish texts quite well. And then unexpectedly appeared Elye Bokher's Bove-bukh, a long chivalric romance in Italian ottava rima meter. Elye Bokher (1468-1549) founded a new literary school, whose most interesting production is Pariz un viene (Paris and Vienna), written either by Elye Bokher or by one of his students. The works of the new school are also from a foreign source, but their original treatment is abundantly clear.

Chava Turniansky

- Pariz un viene -- a 16th-Century Yiddish Literary Work from Italy

The post-World War Two discovery of a number of Old Yiddish books and manuscripts has radically altered the view of Old Yiddish literature held by the older scholarship. Our new understanding of Old Yiddish literature is in large measure the work of Khone Shmeruk. In addition to his fundamental research on Old Yiddish literature, especially that of Renaissance Italy, he has now given us a critical edition of the recently discoverd complete text of Pariz un viene (Verona 1594). Here is given a brief summary of the contents of this work, illustrating the literary qualities which explain its exemplary position in Old Yiddish literature.

Shlomo Berger

-On Abraham Levy's Travelogue (Amsterdam 1764)

The West Yiddish travelogue of Abraham Levy ben Menachem Tall is a rare Jewish exemplar of the popular 18th century grand tour. Levy's descriptions of his travels through Germany, Bohemia, Moravia, Austria, and Italy between 1719 and 1723 show how a Jewish young man perceived both Jewish and Christian environments, what matters occupied him and what he hoped to achieve from his long trip. Living in a period of significant changes in the Jewish world and needing to understand Christian modern society as well, Abraham's medieval and modern attitudes intertwined. We see how he reacts to East European Jews, how he describes gentile society, where he places the boundaries dividing Jew from gentile. In such descriptions as that of Vienna, he shows how one can harmonize two different worlds. He is able to describe the gentile world in a neutral manner. Ultimately he returns to his own world.

Shmuel Werses

-Women's Voices in the Yiddish Weekly Kol-Mevaser

The importance of Kol-Mevaser (Odessa and St. Petersburg, 1862-1871) in the development of Yiddish fiction in the nineteenth century has been long acknowledged. The present essay details the periodical's particular role as an outlet for women's voices and concerns in Russia and Poland in the 1860s, discussing women as readers, as writers of essays and letters-to-the-editor, and as translators. The periodical reflects the position of women in the family and in education in its frequent -- and heretofore insufficuently noted -- discussion of these themes.

Ziva Shamir

-Bialik's Apocalyptic Prophecies Dos letste vort and Davar

The bulk of Bialik's prophetic poetry is a typical product of the first decade of the twentieth century and forms one of the undoubted peaks of his literary career. However, the figure of the prophet as poetic speaker was almost exhausted within Russian and Yiddish poetry of the last decades of the nineteenth century. Bialik at the turn of the century wrote a dramatic dialogue in Yiddish, Dos letste vort (1901), whose speaker is a suffering apocalyptic prophet. The critics and scholars who greeted his well known Hebrew poem Davar as his first prophetic poem were uninformed. Davar, in fact, is a synthesis of motifs and topoi to be found in the works of many of Bialik's predecessors and in many of Bialik's own poems, such as his unpublished juvenile Belev hayam ('In the Midst of the Sea') or his poem of reproof Achen chatsir ha'am ('Surely the People is Grass').

The prophet in Bialik's poems combines uncompromising opposites: fierce public orator and individualist romantic poet; aristocratric leader and vulgar commoner; fighter for justice and timid escapist. Though Bialik used a conventional persona rooted in the 19th century, he did so with his typical ingenuity, creating an original poetic figure.

This paper traces the creation of this figure within the corpus of Bialik's collected works. It surveys its precedents, both in Yiddish and Jewish-Russian poetry; it explores the revolutionary innovations introduced by Bialik despite reliance on traditional characterizations. It concludes that the pseudo-prophetic poem Davar is an impossible combination of elevated Biblical language and commonplace problems. It reflects the disorientation confronted by the poet and his contemporaries in 1904 owing to the death of Herzl, the Uganda crisis, the weakening of Ahad Ha'am's influence, and the approaching 1905 revlution. In order to express this sense of complete disorientation of all values, Bialik made intentional use of ambiguous words and phrases of both high and low levels of meaning, words that had gradually become pejorative though not originlly such. Total disorientation is expressed through the generic patterns of the danse macabre, the poem closing with a picture of a disreputable creature, lame and vulgar, staggering slowly toward death. This is Bialik's description of a decademt nation that refuses redemption, his reply to the traumas and atrocities faced by Man in a godless world.

Max Erik


Alongside Tevye the Dairyman and Menakhem-Mendl, Kasrilevke is the third of Sholem-Aleykhem's three great characterizations, the work of the last fifteen years of his life (1901-1915). This essay examines Sholem-Aleykhem's Kasrilevke, comparing it to Mendele Moykher-Sforim's shtetl repertoire. Sholem-Aleykhem created two opposing Kasrilevkes, one facing the past and the other the present; one is drawn romantically and the other realistically. The two Kasrilevkes contradict one another and are internally contradictory as well. According to Erik's Marxist analysis, the source of these multiple contradictions lies in the vacillations and lack of direction of the petty-bourgeois author himself.

Avidov Lipsker / Joseph Bamberger

-Rabbi Amram's Coffin

"Rabbi Amram's Coffin is a story found in the Old Yiddish Mayse Bukh (first edition Basel, 1602). The present thematological study examines this relatively rare attempt to judaize a Christian story of the death of St. Amram, a semi-historical 7th-century figure who was tortured to death and buried in Regensburg; a church was erected over his grave. The Jewish variant relates a similar tale of a Rabbi Amram of Cologne who asked to be interred in Worms and a boat magically carried his body to Mainz (in another variant: to Regensburg) and the Christians built a church over his grave. The Jews of the city stole the corpse and buried it according to Jewish law. This tradition of conflict between Christianity and Judaism over ownership of a holy place and over hagiographic legend also inspired Yoysef Opatoshu's Eyn tog in Regensburg (A Day in Regensburg) (1933), a novel which expresses contemporary facets of an age-old struggle between conflicting cultures.

Michael Astour

-Zalmen Reyzen (1878-1941) -- (A Memoir)

The Yiddish original of this essay appeared in Oyfn shvel (October-December 1985). Its author spent his youth in Vilna in the cultural sphere of Zalmen Reyzen, under whose editorship he began his literary activity. The essay tries to draw the main lines of Reyzen's many-sided character and personality: pioneer of Yiddish philology, historian of Yiddish literature, organizer and exponent of secular Yiddish culture, biographer of Yiddish authors, editor of one of the most important Yiddish daily newspapers in Poland. The essay also casts new light on the last two years of Reyzen's life spent in Soviet jails and terminated with a bullet.

Yechiel Szeintuch

-Aaron Zeitlin's Sojourn in Erets-Yisrael

The Erets Yisrael chapter in Aaron Zeitlin's life and literary works remain unknown to this very day. Aaron Zeitlin's spiritual biography is conceptually and realistically connected to life in Erets Yisrael in the early 1920s, when the author, together with his younger brother Elchanan, settled in and then had to leave the country nine months later.

The article deals with one aspect of Aaron Zeitlin's biography in Erets Yisrael, as well as with his spiritual struggles there and their reflection in his Hebrew poem Kedem ('East'). Additionally, the article deals with the year 1920/1921, the Zeitlin brothers' life in Jaffa, Jerusalem and Zichron Yaakov. The experiences of this period are later reflected in Aaron Zeitlin's literary works in Hebrew and Yiddish, which include, among others: the drama Brener ('Brenner'), the comedy Di yidishe melukhe oder Veytsman der tsveyter ('The Jewish Kingdom or Weitzman the Second') and especially his novel Brenendike erd ('Burning Earth'). One may add to the list his Hebrew and Yiddish Erets Yisrael poems, as well as his Hebrew dramatic writings.

The issues dealt with in this article introduce both the Erets Yisrael chapter in Zeitlin's Hebrew and Yiddish writings and his written correspondence. The latter will soon be published in the volume Birshus harabim ubirshus hayachid -- Arn Tseytlin un di yidishe literatur: briv un dokumentn tsu der yidisher kultur-geshikhte tsvishn beyde velt milkhomes ('Public and Private: Aaron Zeitlin and Jewish Literature -- Letters and Documents of Jewish Cultural History Between the Two World Wars') (Jerusalem 1997).

Shalom Luria

-Alter Kacizna (1885-1941), Artist of Many Genres

This essay aims to acquaint the Hebrew reader with the creative world of an extraordinary artist, one of the most talented of the young men who grouped around Y.-L. Perets in Warsaw and who after his death became prolific writers. Alter Kacizna [Yiddish: Katsizne] wrote plays, poems, stories, a novel, feuilletons and other works. He even published his own journal, Mayn reydndiker film ('My Talking Film') and filled it from A to Z by himself. This Polish Yiddish writer was cruelly murdered by Ukrainian collaborators at the Jewish cemetery of Tarnopol.

Alter Kacizna

-Boris Arkadyevitsh Kletskin

The Vilna publisher and community activist Boris Kletskin was known throughout the Jewish world for his dedication to Yiddish literature and to everything which was daily created in Yiddish. He published hundreds of books and periodicals and he assisted Yiddish writers, teachers and scholars to develop secular-Yiddish cultural values. Alter Kacizna was a close personal friend of Kletskin's and knew him intimately. In this essay Kacizna records his impressions of this Yiddish magnate and revolutionary who went bankrupt subsidizing an entire culture.

Dov Sadan

-On Moyshe Valdman [Moshe Waldman] the Poet

This essay initiates a new feature in Khulyot: fragments and quotations in and about Yiddish from Dov Sadan's huge literary estate. This is Sadan's introduction to the major collection of Waldman's poems, Fun ale vaytn ('From All Distances') (Tel Aviv, 1980). It includes, in addition to an evaluation of Waldman's poetic achievement, translations of two of his poems.

Shalom Luria

-Exemplary Yiddish Poems

Another new feature of Khulyot, this section undertakes to present outstanding specimens from the boundless stores of Yiddish poetry, to translate them into Hebrew, and to comment on them briefly. The selections in this issue include H. Leyvik's Oyf di vegn siberer, Moyshe Kulbak's Di Viliye un der Nyeman (a section of his poem Raysn ['Belorussia']) and Avrom Sutskever's Ikh tor nit (the third poem in his cycle of poems Ineveynik.

Chaya Fisherman

-Yiddish in Israel: Appearance and Reality

Research on the status of Yiddish in present-day Israel reflects an interesting sociolinguistic phenomenon, namely that the use of this language, which was once the instrument of a large segment of the Jewish people, has declined and the language has become converted into a value. In Israel prior to 1948 Yiddish was the most used mother tongue of those spoken in the country, competing with Hebrew. The lower the mastery of Hebrew, the more was Yiddish used among the older population of European origin. Today it is spoken in the homes of many families from Eastern Europe, but it is not perceived as a language competing with Hebrew. Among ultra-Orthodox Jews it served and still serves as the everyday language in all domains. Yiddish has an additional function beyond its being an instrument, namely that of being a symbol of Jewish identity. It is a bridge to yidishkayt for a large section of the Jewish people.

The study is based on replies to a questionaire regarding attitudes to Yiddish from 80 students aged 16 to 18 and 52 students and teachers aged 20 to 50. There was no significant difference in the replies of the two groups. Those who knew or were studying Yiddish had a more positive attitude to the language than the rest. Even those who did not speak Yiddish but were studying it found value in the language.

In the associative dimension Yiddish was perceived in a more negative light than in the cognitive dimension. Aspects such as Yiddish being the language of the aging, an old-fashioned and diaspora language, emerged more in the associative dimension, whereas in the cognitive dimension the prominent aspects were the nostalgia and humor in Yiddish and its being the lingua franca of the Jewish people. The associative dimension reflects feelings that have not undergone filtering and selection in order to meet normative expectations. A correlation is found between the two dimensions in the issue of Jewish identity as symbolized by the language.

Isaac Ganuz

-'The Wicked Woman': A Yiddish Folktale

The author presents and briefly comments on a folktale he discovered in the Yiddish weekly Lider vokh of 30 November 1932. The story tells of an old bachelor, a scholar, who would marry no one but a wicked woman, thus assuring his entrance to gan-eydn ('Paradise'). The ending of the story is almost ludicrous: the husband dies from the wife's malevolent goodness. The story is also given in Hebrew translation.

Jacob Zeifter

The Town of Ushpitsin

In his memoirs the author describes the Jewish community of Ushpitsin (Polish: Oszwiecim; German: Auschwitz). He is impelled to express his grief and shock at the horrors of the Auschwitz death factory, but he also wishes to recapture the sweet memories of his childhood and youth in a place to which history has decisively allotted a singular association. The essay appeared in Yiddish in Seyfer Ushpitsin ('The Ushpitsin Book') (Jerusalem 1977, pp. 355-361).

Simon Bruner

-There was something magical about it

The author discusses the literary, folkloristic and scholarly dimensions of Jacob Zeifter's essay on the Jewish community of Ushpitsin, a rich and wondrous amalgam of history and legend. Prior to the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, Jews formed 40% of the town's general population. The Jewish community was deeply rooted, culturally and religiously vibrant, a center of saints and scholars, home of the near-legendary Rabbi Abele Shnur.

Dalia Kaufman

A Poet Who Lived Before His Time

The author compares two Yiddish translations of Krilov's proverbs: one, virtually unknown and rare, by Sh.-Y. Katsenelenbogen (Vilna, 1861) -- a copy of which she was able to find in St. Petersburg through clever detective work -- and another by Tsvi-Hirsh Raykerson (Zvi Hirsch Reicherson) (Vilna, 1879). Both translators were maskilin ('enlighteners'). Katsenelenbogen's work had a foreword in biblical Hebrew in which he wrote that it was time to take action for my people and write for them in the disparaged Yiddish language, the only language they know.

The author reviews thematic treatment, linguistic components, figurative language, folkloric expressions, rhyme and versification, monologue and dialogue forms, use of myth, and modes of judaization. She finds Katsenelenbogen's text close to the original, idiomatically rich, integrating relatively few German and Russian elements. Raykerson's text on the other hand, while close in content to the original, is decorated with German words, adopts Russian elements (mainly from the original) which appear next to simple Yiddish with a Lithuanian ring. Katsenelenbogen employed a syllabo-tonic meter, unusual in Yiddish verse at the time; Raykherson used rhymed prose and sometimes rhymed in foreign languages.

Franz Kafka

-A Talk about Yiddish

This is a talk given by Kafka in 1912 in honor of his friend, the Yiddish actor Jaques Levi (1887-1942), who that evening gave a performance of speeches from the Yiddish dramatic repertoire to a largely assimilated Prague Jewish audience. Kafka is not strong here on the history of Yiddish, but he does communicate his deep feeling for the language.

Khaym Grade

-Ariel of Yagur (reprinted from Tsukunft April 1947, p. 201)

Arye Sarid

-How the Poem 'Ariel of Yagur' Was Composed

In 1945 the author was sent to Poland by the Hechaluts movement in Palestine to organize collectives and training farms for aliya candidates. He encountered numerous Jewish orphans hidden by Polish families in the years of the Nazi occupation. Rescuing these children and helping them reach Erets-Yisrael became a passion of his life. The poet Khaym Grade observed this drama closely and poured out his feelings in the poem Ariel of Yagur. The Ariel of the poem was none other than Arye Sarid, who at that time was a member of Kibbutz Yagur.

Eliyahu Binyamini

-Lyube Vaserman, a Forgotten Yiddish Poet

Leafing through the journal Sovetish heymland the author uncovered several delicately wrought poems of Lyube Vaserman, whose last years were spent in Biro-Bidjan but who had actually begun her literary career in Palestine. He found the scarce little book of her poems, Farnakhtn ('Evenings') (Tel Aviv, 1931) and argues she is an unjustly forgotten poet. Three of her poems illustrate his argument.

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