The Renascence of Hebrew Literature (1743-1885)
by Nahum Slouschz
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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 alone.

* * * * *




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- Potipherah.

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 sleep.

"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 ways."

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 time."

"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 creatures.

"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 Hamor."

"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 them.

"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 despair.

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 education.

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 circles.

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 Lithuania."

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 things...!

"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 hasten?"....

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 Judaism.

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 humanity".

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 knowledge...."

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.

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