By Hayim Rabin
Dr. Yisroel Zinberg was born in 1873 in Lanowitz, Volyn, when this town was still small.
At the time, 950 Jews lived in our town, surrounded by a sea of Gentiles. Two of their villages bordered on the town. Lanowitz was a relatively new community planted in the midst of Gentiles whose way of life remained unchanged for generations. Nor was there a desire on their part to change it. The Jewish community of Lanowitz was in contrast a dynamic community that re-examined its purpose regularly.
At first look, the two societies appear to be similar, both frozen in time. Actually, the difference between them was large. The village Gentiles lived in the present, where the struggle for their daily bread shaped their social outlook. They did not strive for a different life nor did they have a vision of what it could be like. At the same time, the Jews of Lanowitz, whose memory of the past shaped their lives and marked their preferred values, looked at their past differently. The present was for them a laboratory in which to use the best of the past to chart a better future.
This was a new concept in our town, to conceive of the future as a continuum of the present, measured not by individual achievements, but instead by society's achievements.
When we consider the Lanowitz community as a geographical or demographic entity it is miniscule. However, when we recognize its ability to inspire its residents to think and innovate, we discover its greatness.
The striving for a moral community was expressed in various traditions. Within the family it was expressed during the Sabbath and Holiday meal. On the community level memorial dinners were held to commemorate an important person that passed away. The dinner was a means to an end of shaping a moral community. This striving was also expressed by strict observance of Jewish laws in the home, by honoring one's parents, and by regular prayer.
When we compare the community's social life to the social life and worldliness of the Gentiles in the surrounding villages, we can readily appreciate the high standards of our community. The establishment of the Lanowitz community represented a preference for the deeper Jewish Life in a Shtetl as compared to the convenience of life in larger towns [The author seems to ignore the historical restrictions that precluded Jews from being allowed to reside in larger towns – Ed.] The Shtetl Jew was able to eschew the Gentile's life style of excessive eating and drinking because of his attachment to his past as reflected in our Jewish literature. This literature contained the people's spirit and values. Acquaintance with this literature not only made our resident a good Jew. It also created a good person, loyal to his society. This goodness was the result of the person's devotion to the values of his ancestors as reflected in our past literature.
Dr. Zinberg did not study in a Yeshiva. His biographer points out that his knowledge of Hebrew did not stem from Torah learning. It is surprising that a person who studied secular subjects and science in a foreign (Russian) language was later drawn back to the study of Hebrew and Yiddish and its literature.
For many years Dr. Zinberg lived far away from Lanowitz, dealing with subjects that had nothing to do with our town. Nonetheless, he seemed connected to Lanowitz as if by an umbilical cord through which he drew secret nourishment. In time, this nourishment enabled him to compose and publish his literary history and research the values reflected in its works.
His attachment to Lanowitz stands out in his eclectic approach to his collection of Hebrew literature. He chose to emphasize those literary works that dealt with values. In his approach, he illustrated the legacy our town left in his writings.
The legacy our community was expressed in 5 aspects of his writings:
Zinberg wrote his monumental multi-volume book, containing a set of Hebrew references in the Yiddish language. He saw the need to excerpt part of this literature into Yiddish in order to provide his brethren an understanding of these works, yet screen this material from the secular world.
Just as the Lanowitz community prayed and wept in Hebrew, but used Yiddish as its vernacular, so did Zinberg bring the Hebrew literature to his people in their day-to-day language – Yiddish.
Zinberg documented in his encyclopedia the history of Jewish literature starting with the publication of the Talmud and culminating with current Hebrew works.
He regarded as literature all works from poetry to prose and philosophy. He viewed these literary works as an expression of Jewish continuity through the generations. He included references to all these literary works in these encyclopedic volumes. His comprehensive approach mirrored the attitude of Lanowitz Jews who would open their Siddur, or Makhzor, or Midrash or Ein-Ya'acov book to study and absorb its poetry or prose, thus satisfying their religious thirst.
Zinberg did not skip over any published works, citing all of them. He even regarded the Shulkhan Arukh [Code of Jewish Law] as a literary work that creates in Jews a yearning for their homeland and an abiding faith in the merits of following the law. This book, which demands service to our creator, Zinberg saw as inspiring a desire to preserve one's good image by keeping each of the cited laws. He included in his citations poetry dealing with daily life, wine, love, meditation, polemics such as Moreh Nevukhim [Guide to the Perplexed], The Kuzari, books on travel and medicine, works by Al'Harizi, Moses Mendelson, Spinoza, Shabtai Zevi, Jacob Emden and Jonathan Eybeschuetz.
The Jews of Lanowitz, like Zinberg, tended to study from all available sources in order to understand their heritage better.
It is difficult to characterize Zinberg's writing methodology. He wanders between different fields. He is both a lexicographer and a historian in one chapter, and a critic and researcher in another. He examines and critiques some works, and with others his esthetic dictates that he merely categorize the subject of a monograph or book. He merely describes the content of some works, and analyses in depth other books. It is not my intent to provide detailed evidence of these observations. Instead, these comments are intended as a review for posterity, in an attempt to link Zinberg's and the Lanowitz community's attitude towards Jewish literature. What is of interest to us is not his formal method, but rather, his writing approach as a Jew, intent on preserving his unique (Jewish) identity.
His focus on the 1000-year European part of our history was not due to particular research, but rather due to his deep concern for the preservation of our national identity. Zinberg was concerned that the specter of a liberal Europe was liable to be a strong attraction to young Jews, as a means of freeing them from the chains of the past, hence could serve as a model for desired changes. The parents of Lanowitz youngsters shared this concern. Some parents were fanatical in their struggle against the liberal inclinations of their children.
Zinberg's writing took place under interesting circumstances, testimony to an almost religious approach to writing. He worked at his job during the day to support his family. He spent his nights organizing his references, reading available books and writing chapter after chapter. It reminds me of the custom of some Lanowitz Jews who would get up before dawn, or stay up after midnight, when family members were asleep, to focus on the study of a particular subject.
In 1914 the world was shaken by the events of WWI. It was a time of mass population transfers, hunger, and the promise of a better (socialist) future. Zinberg was a dedicated socialist, yet one with a European secular education. He was at that time far from his hometown and starving. Nonetheless he continued to write. It is hard to understand his attachment to an old literature in the face of a new (revolutionary) world. One can only speculate that Zinberg sensed that the new (Communist) Society was likely to discard the old without creating anything new that is worthy. He apparently sensed the likelihood that the new regime will swallow small nations, their culture and literature. He must have sensed that this danger existed for his people as well. In view of this perceived danger, Zinberg spent his energies completing his monumental work, in an effort to save our literary and religious culture. He, like others in Lanowitz, believed in the saying, This is our Torah, while a person may die… He believed in the future of his people just as he believed that Lanowitz was a long-term experiment that will continue and survive.
In his review of middle-age Jewish literature Zinberg devotes long chapters to the writings of Yehuda Halevy, Ibn Gvirol, Alharizi and Ibn-Ezra. Instead of his normal practice of listing facts and topics, we find Zinberg suddenly writing essays and involved critiques of their writings. These occupy a disproportionate space in his multi-volume book. Dr. Zinberg takes advantage of the nature of these compositions to explain his analytical approach. These compositions, by the aforementioned authors, reveal a tendency to preserve a humanistic social image. When he notes this, Zinberg, in effect, checks his own emotional make-up against the objective logic of their vision.
These composers and thinkers of the middle-ages, who composed drinking songs and poems of desire, sought help from time-to-time with Torah interpretation to check the merit of their own literary works. Zinberg saw this phenomenon as an excellent example of how one validates poetry as appealing to the emotional needs of one's people.
Zinberg realized, when reviewing past literary works, that one needs to verify that these works have an eternal appeal to a Jew at all times and in all circumstances.
He saw the existence of his hometown as a truly Jewish Shtetl whose community defended its unique society against waves of outside changes. He regarded its success as a reason to devote his life's work to the study of Jewish literature.
Zinberg relates (in his writing) that Shlomo Molkho [= a 16th century convert and Jewish Kabalist leader] came to him in a dream and asked him to write his work. The Molkho episode is an interesting chapter that does not concern Jewish literature. Molkho's story is perhaps an ideal subject for a drama that illustrates the large conflicts in his life and his tragic end [=he was burned at the stake in 1532]. Molkho was not a writer, but Zinberg saw in him the product of Jewish literature. He was a convert who stumbled into the winding paths of Jewish thought. In his walks through the spiritual expressions of the Jewish people, Molkho saw himself as a leader marching with them towards their goal -- having a land of their own. This man (Molkho) accompanied Zinberg as a (tragic) example during his long creative period. Molkho's example provided Zinberg with the stamina to labor at the preservation and recording of Jewish literature. He saw in literature not just a means to entertain one's mind and heart, but more as an asset with which the Jewish people will march forward to their objective - a homeland of their own. In its literature, Zinberg saw a guarantee for the people's continued existence and hope.
In summary we can state: Yisroel Zinberg, the chemical engineer, the young socialist, the steadfast genius, did not succumb to the attractions of his era and its benefits. Instead he devoted his full talent and energy to the documentation of his people's literature. He was fascinated by the experiment that demonstrated the ability of literature to maintain a people's vision of the future, shunning short-term diversions, and maintaining behavior limits. We Jews would not have been worthy of such a great editor without the existence of a shtetl community as we knew it. In this instance we are proud that it was our shtetl, Lanowitz.
By David K'na'any
It seems almost paradoxical that a book that covers the history of our literature over the last 1000 years, entitled The History of Jewish Literature by Yisroel Zinberg, should have been written by a person under such unfavorable circumstances. It is doubly surprising that the book was written by a Chemical engineer employed at a large factory in Leningrad for several decades. The book, which emphasizes the continuity and uniqueness of Jewish history, was written in a country that banned use of the Hebrew, and later the Yiddish languages. Its authorities created a spiritual climate designed to cause Jews to forget their past and their heritage.
There have been many cases in our history and the history of other nations of writings to mark the end of a specific era or social process. These writings served to commemorate and show respect for their significance. This was not the motive that guided Zinberg in his literary effort. He did not see himself as the last person to survey Jewish literature, nor did he view it as the end of an era. On the contrary, he saw his work as a chronicle at a way-station of the history of Jewish literature. As a historian who viewed his people's history from a long distance, he did not attribute special weight to the present period vs. previous periods. He was aware of the ups and downs of a culture, hence based his writings on the premise of its periodic renewal and eternal qualities.
Only this love of the past and his historical consciousness gave him the strength to complete his literary work which he conceived already prior to World War I. All his friends agree that they have never come across a person who was as steadfast in his work as he was. During the day he worked in his chemical lab, and at night he continued his writing and his historical research at the Asiatic Museum in Leningrad. He continued his literary effort in this pattern during the war, during the Bolshevik revolution and the civil war that followed, and under the new regime, aware of his spiritual isolation from other Jewish research centers (e.g. Warsaw and Vilna). He was quoted as having written to a friend: I am one of the last Mohicans…dealing only with the past. Today I am writing only about our past and the heritage of our forefathers…While I do this, I have a desire to speak to live people.
He was aware of the anachronism of his situation. (While the regime wanted its Jewish citizen to believe in a better future he was researching their past); that his work was regarded as superfluous, that the regime knew he needed to contact persons in other countries. He also realized the irony in the situation when literary characters appeared in his dreams while he was about to publish a paper on the subject of The issue of love in Jewish literature of the Middle Ages, or when he studied in depth the quarrel between Rabbi J. Eyebeschuetz and Rabbi Y. Emden. One must admire the range of his intellect.
While we admire the person, we have not shied away from the shortcomings of his literary work. His writing lacks consistency. Some chapters include detailed analyses, and others mere studies and descriptions. In some parts, the author acts as a bibliographer, and in other parts as an esthetic and social-critic. These shortcomings are connected to the range of subjects handled by a single author. It is doubtful that he could have dealt with these subjects differently.
The book, in reality, covers the history of Jewish literature during its European period. As is customary, a book entitled History of Literature covers fiction, prose, poetry and plays. Zinberg, however, saw Jewish literature as covering a wider range. He chose to include other literary works that expressed the spirit of our people, that had value for future generations, though written in other languages. He included works in Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish, Arabic and German. Had he restricted the book's scope (to Hebrew and Aramaic) the result would have been one-sided. It would not have shown the literature's unique characteristics.
For a long period in our history, fiction was out-of-bounds. It was regarded as an unnatural phenomenon. The struggle to make fiction legitimate is an important chapter in our literary history. The range of subjects Zinberg selected for his book did not just widen the traditional scope for an encyclopedia; it was all inclusive. The selections included prose, poetry, plays, liturgical and secular songs, rabbinic writings and debates, philosophy, theology, ethics, sermons, historiography, linguistics, travel literature, historical documents and papers dealing with subjects in the natural sciences. He introduces his readers to a range of subjects as for example: The collected writings of Emmanuel and the Zohar, the travel accounts of Benjamin of Tudela, to the writings of Rabbi Moshe Isserles, to Moreh Nevukhim [Guide to the Perplexed by Maimonides], to Miracle Tales by Yosefa Shamash, to a glossary of Yiddish words from the Middle Ages, to Shulkhan Arukh, to Paris un Wien [in Yiddish], to the Sabatean litereature, to Maquamat of Al-Harizi [= a system of musical classification of liturgical melodies], to Moses Mendelsohn, to grammar books, to excommunication edicts, the writings of Zbarah, Krashkash and Joseph Spiel.
There is no doubt that this rich gallery of creative writings that included both ancient and contemporary works had its shortcomings (Zinberg read most of these sources. He never shied away from stating: I did not read this book). Some subjects lacked an adequate coverage or a clean explanation of their unique quality [that justified its inclusion – Ed.]. Topics were covered in unequal proportions. Some literary periods were merely skimmed over. However, he portrayed many writers in a skillful manner, especially the early ones that were dear to his heart. These personalities are richly described from several viewpoints. His analysis is sharp and exhaustive, as for example his essays on Abraham Abulofiah, Ibn Gvirol, Vilna Gaon, Moses Mendelsohn, Abraham ben Ezra, Aryeh Dimodina, Gluekel of Hameln. Eliyahu Bakhur and others.
The book was targeted to appeal to the Jewish masses. It has an intimate writing style that expressed the author's love for Jewish culture. Zinberg did not apply a formal esthetic measure [to his selections], instead he believed in a scale of moral values which he regarded as the main attributes of Jewish culture. It consists of a striving for redemption, for Tikun Olam [= reforming the universe] and for the uplifting of man. He chose writers and writings based on their ability to create and depict values that satisfy the heart of the reader, and influence the masses. He chose the writers based on their ability to project a vision, on the range of their intellectual horizon, and the depth of the emotions they projected. He also looked for those writings that showed a strong striving for social justice and the depiction of a full personality. The essence of his humanistic outlook was, in his own words: The building of a socially just political system is the most noble of projects; hence a moral story is the crowning achievement of a literary person. By using this criterion, Zinberg - who loved his people - was saved from the dangers (attractions) of love, of eclecticism and of apologia. He criticized and/or praised writings based on his conception of the forces that shaped Jewish history.
Zinberg stated that in his youth, he prayed using a Marxist Siddur. After a while, he dropped out of the Yeshiva that he attended. However, the Talmud lessons were valuable. They increased his awareness of the connection between life and literature. He does not maintain that the spiritual development of his people was solely based on immanent (remaining in place) laws. He emphasizes the social and economic factors that influenced these laws. Thus he explains the spread (though not the start) of the rationalism of Maimonides and that of his diciples as fitting the interest of the upper classes of the Jews of Spain and Provence [Southern France], and the opposition to rationalism as reflected in the Kabalah. He emphasized the social roots of the Hasidic, Misnagdic and Haskalah movements, and the decay in the stature of Rabbis. He saw a strong connection between the political reaction in Europe [after Napoleon's defeat] and the spiritual decline in the Jewish world. He pointed to the dialectic with serious repercussions that occurred when centers of Jewish life moved from Western Europe to less developed areas (Eastern Europe and Turkey) at a time when the West gained political freedom and made great economic strides. He employed Marxist determinism in his thinking but shunned its rosy predictions for the future.
Zinberg's focus was on the historical process, on the past that seems to shape the present, on the influence of a people's heritage. He emphasizes the historical distinctiveness of each nation, how it absorbs and reacts to changes. He saw Jewish history as a continuous process. Thus, early periods influence later ones, explaining the resulting changes. Sometimes, he sees eternal repetitions in this pattern. Surveying our history, Zinberg saw an unending struggle between Emotional Judaism and Intellectual Judaism. He stated that these were two approaches that fought for Hegemony. One side was a democratic emotional religion and the other side, an intellectual aristocracy in the shadow of rationalism. These were two movements that fought each other at times and at other times compromised.
Zinberg developed his monumental book to reflect what he saw as a long-term struggle within Judaism between Aristotalian rationalism and the anti-rationalism of the 13th and 14th century, between the Judaism of Shulkhan Aruch and that of the Kabalah, between the Haskalah and the Misnagdim movement and Hasidism. Typical are his treatises on the intellectual confrontation between Rambam and Judah Halevy, Spinoza, and Shabtai Zvi, the Vilna Gaon and the Ba'al Shem Tov.
Zinberg was clearly on the side of those who favored the Musar movement, the Yiddish language and Hasidism. He justified his position not as a mystic or anti-rationalist. Instead, he saw emotional Judaism as the central force that built Jewish history and that satisfied the spiritual needs of the Jewish masses. Hasidism provided them a sense of purpose and consoled them at time of need. In contrast, the dry rationalism, as interpreted by its intellectual rabbinic followers, gave the Jewish masses nothing. It actually put the future of Judaism at risk. It is not difficult to recognize in this set of arguments, in this simplified humanism, an echo of the conflict in the hearts of the Jewish elite during the first half of the 20th century as they witnessed a traditional way of life in a struggle with assimilation. The Jewish elite (intelligentsia) were afraid of secularism and its attractions.
Yisroel Zinberg wanted to cover in his History of Jewish Literature the recent writings ending in World War I. He did not finish his life's project. [It was published posthumously in 1965 – Ed.]. In 1938, he was arrested by the Soviet authorities. According to rumors, he was exiled to Siberia and died there in 1943. [His nephew, in an article on p.187, visited Zinberg's widow and daughter in 1966. He writes that Zinberg died in Vladivostok in 1939 - Ed.] Jewish creativity in Eastern Europe ended in 1939, and the European Hegemony in our history ended in 1943. It is almost symbolic that the end of this era and the death of its recorder occurred at the same time.
The hegemony of Jewish life has shifted to Israel and to the Hebrew language. The educational importance of Zinberg's book has not diminished even today. This encyclopedic compilation is unique and the first in our language [translated to Hebrew, 6 volumes, 1955-60 - Ed]. Even a good Hebrew reader [i.e. well educated – Ed.] is not usually familiar with Jewish literature published between the 13th and 19th century. His knowledge is usually restricted to the bible, Sephardic poetry, and the Haskalah- period literature. This unfamiliarity on the part of the Israeli reader is a factor in the tendency of Israelis to disparage the value of Jewish Diaspora literature. Zinberg's book provides the Israeli reader for the first time a comprehensive view of Jewish literature. The reader is exposed to poetry, meditation and research, to the intellectual struggles that took place within Judaism during the last 1000 years in such areas as Europe and the Middle East. All these literary works are described against the background of their local secular culture and their national social struggles. The Editor points out the literary background that inspired these works and the connection between them.
The publication (of the Hebrew translation) of this book is a great blessing. A book that was born in great isolation (written in the USSR) has been returned to its Jewish homeland where it will perform the mission meant for it at its inception
By Eliezer Zinberg
(Kibbutz Nir David)
In January, 1969 we will commemorate 30 years following the passing of the historiographers and writer Dr. Yisroel Zinberg. He was born in Lanowitz. It is there that he developed his deep affection for his people and their culture. New intellectual ideas (e.g. communism) failed to dissuade him from his tie to his people.
His daily work was in the Chemical Engineering field, a profession he loved. However, his free time and evenings were dedicated to research of the history of Jewish culture in its various Diasporas. He learned the science of Chemical Engineering at the University [of Karlsruhe/DE and Basel/CH*]. His affinity to the culture of his people and the desire to research this field he inherited from: his learned father, the atmosphere in Heder he attended, and the general culture of his town. As a result, he regarded his scientific work as a duty, and his social research as a work of love.
Dr. Yisroel Zinberg became one of the more famous researchers of Jewish literature. He contributed his deep knowledge of this subject to his people. His published works are nowadays a primary source for those who wish to research the history of our culture. His multi-volume study is the product of a long and continuous effort that only few of us can persist in. He gave up his private life, his leisure and rest in order to complete this literary work. For his dedication to its completion he paid with his life.
Zinberg belongs to Lanowitz. His legacy is a link in the legacy of our town; hence his story belongs in our memorial book. Additionally, it is symbolic that the anniversary of his passing parallels the 30th anniversary of the tragic demise of our town. I, Eliezer, his nephew, the son of Dr. Joseph Zinberg, wish to dedicate the following chapters in my uncle's memory.
Three years ago, I was able to carry out one of my dreams. I visited Leningrad: I arrived in the city. In less than one hour I shall be in the apartment of my late uncle, Dr. Yisroel Zinberg. I will meet the remnants of his family and hear about him from them.
I arrived in the city. In less than one hour, I shall be in the apartment of my late uncle, Dr. Yisroel Zinberg. I will meet the remnants of his family and hear about him from them.
Excitedly I walked along the alley that my uncle probably walked daily for 40 years. I arrived at his house, climbed the stairs and stood in front of a darkened sign that read: S. L. (Sergei Lazarovich) Zinberg. In a moment I shall be inside his apartment… I wondered as to who I will meet?
I was received by his daughter, Tamara, a famous local painter. Zinberg's widow, aged 91, does not react to my 'Shalom' greeting. She has left this world while still alive. Now she lives in her own world, the world of the past. It is unfortunate that I do not have an opportunity to speak with her. She was, after all, Zinberg's loyal assistant, hence could have added interesting details concerning his life's work. My family was able to exchange letters with her during the terrible siege of the city (during World War II). I read those letters eagerly. She wrote interesting letters in a beautiful handwriting… now it has all ended.
His daughter wisely received me in her father's study. This was my uncle's work place. The apartment appears to have been renovated as most Leningrad apartments have been after World War II. On his writing desk stood a rare photo of the writer (he did not like to be photographed).
It was at this table that he sat for long night hours pondering over the history of Jewish literature. He dedicated half his life to this effort. The other half he dedicated to the science of chemistry. Zinberg published a large number of articles and books, some of which are still used to teach chemistry in the USSR. In this room he created The History of Jewish Literature, his life's work. His effort was suddenly terminated at the end of 1938. I also found out that the poet Rav Rabi, who started to translate Zinberg's book into Hebrew, died in Siberia at about the same time Zinberg died. The authorities were successful in eliminating both the author and his translator.
My uncle left a huge archive and library. Both were left untouched by the authorities.
His friend, Hillel Alexandrov, was exiled with Zinberg. Alexandrov was both a writer and lecturer at Leningrad University. When Zinberg was hospitalized (after a difficult journey of many days on the infamous prisoner's train he arrived inVladivostok fatally ill- Ed*) he asked his friend, Alexandrov, to take care of his archives should he, Alexandrov, return safely to Leningrad. Alexandrov honored this request upon his return. Zinberg's archives were given by his daughter to the Institute of Asiatic People. His book collection was donated to the local public library at the request of his many friends who wanted access to his collection.
Hillel Alexandrov kept his promise to Dr. Zinberg upon his return to Leningrad from his Siberian exile. [Most of those who were exiled in the 1930ies were rehabilitated after Stalin's death in 1956 and allowed to return to their home towns - Ed.] With the support of the Institute of Asiatic People, Alexandrov was provided with the means to catalog Zinberg's archives, a task he has carried out voluntarily with great devotion.
Among the unpublished manuscripts in these archives was the draft of the last volume of his multi-volume encyclopedia. This volume is due to be published by Brandeis University in the United States, edited by Professor Michael Astour. Professor Alexandrov has edited several other manuscripts from these archives, publishing them in the Soviet Journal Sovietishe Heimat (in Yiddish). He is also compiling a bibliography of these archives, hoping to publish these in the near future. In my discussions with Professor Alexandrov, I got the impression that these archives are in trustworthy hands.
Dr. Yisroel Zinberg asked his friends on his deathbed [in the prison hospital] to remember him and his contribution. This was his unwritten will. Let this article be a part in fulfilling his wish that I took upon myself to do. We shall try not to forget him nor his literary contribution. The latter will be remembered for a long time.
*Ref. A History of Jewish Literature by Y. Zinberg, translated into English by Bernard Martin, 1972, vol 1, p. ix: translator's introduction.
In January, 30 years ago, my uncle passed away. I feel obligated to publish in his memory a lesser known article that was previously published in the Journal Die Yiddishe Welt (The Jewish World) in 1912 in St. Petersburg, Russia. This article exemplifies the author's love for his people and the land of his ancestors [Israel].
The article is entitled The Land Book by Y. Zinberg.
The book was sent to us by one of the (Jewish) workers in Haifa. He previously worked at the Putilov factory* in St. Petersburg [*see above reference] where he shaped metal structures. This person spent all his working hours among Russian Workers. He knew neither Hebrew nor Yiddish. Nonetheless, he dreamt about the land of the Prophets, and immigrated to its shores. He now works in Haifa, Palestine.
The book, entitled Yizkor is a memorial book commemorating the lives of eight Jewish guards who were murdered, one after another, by their Arab neighbors. The book, dealing with these eight deceased workers, is full of life, the life experiences in our Holy Land.
Hundreds of articles have been written about the merits of settling the Holy Land and about Workers in Palestine. Yet reliable information about actual work conditions in the land of our forefathers is scarce.
We only know that hundreds of our youth, who dreamt of a free life, devoid of the limitations pertaining to life within the pale of Settlements, have immigrated to Palestine, full of hope for their future. We also know that many of these immigrants lost their golden dreams. The day to day reality suppressed their noble hopes. They left the land disappointed and bitter, their hopes shattered.
However, not all leave the land. It is not a grave for hopes for all. There are those who are content, those who have succeeded. For these, the aforementioned dream remains a life of hope and challenge. The book sent to us from Haifa introduces us to a few who have succeeded, and were happy. We are introduced to Berl Schweiger who immigrated from Odessa full of enthusiasm. His heart went out to the natural life of local Arabs. He saw them as complete persons, free men, exhibiting healthy instincts and attached to their land. Berl accepts a job guarding Jewish vineyards to protect them against hostile neighbors in the south of Palestine. We are next introduced to Avraham Joseph Berl, a brilliant scholar and ordained Rabbi who discards a promising career, immigrates to Palestine and becomes a guard in the Galilee. Next is Yeheskel Nisanov, born in the Caucasus Mountains to a family that always felt free. Yeheskel could not understand how one can meet an enemy who hits one stealthily, while pretending to be your friend. Next is Ya'acov Plotkin, a middle-aged man who after (The Russian 1905) pogroms found the strength to eschew his old lifestyle and start a new life in Palestine, becoming a farmer. Life was a struggle, but he felt the struggle was worthwhile.
However, in life, its beautiful aspects sometimes are connected to tragedies. Like the aforementioned local Arabs, these young men wanted to shape their lives on their land without compromise. This concept the local Arabs do not want to accept. They view (the Jewish settlers) as illegal immigrants who have come to their land with a doubtful ancient claim, whereas they (the locals) have lived on this land for countless generations, and regard themselves as its exclusive owners.
The fallen men worked and soaked their forefather's land with their sweat. Now they have soaked it with their blood. In the words of the prophet Yeheskel (Chapter 16 verse 6), Yea, I said to you: live in spite of your blood. With their sacrifice, there is hope for a better future. One feels this sense of hope as one leafs through the aforementioned Yizkor Book (for the 8 murdered guards). I do not judge the literary merits of this book. Its value is not as literature but, instead, as reflection of the inner strength shown by its protagonists as they carry on the difficult settlement task.
Do not ask whether these men will succeed. Reaching their objective is not the main issue. It is the desire and resolve in this struggle for a better future that matters. Their resolve illuminates their lives. When some of their friends fall in this battle, the rest place flowers on their graves and continue to march (to their objective).
Blessed be the living; let those who fell be remembered for a long time.
Translated from Yiddish by Shechna Nashkas; Published in the monthly, Die Yiddishe Welt, No. 1, St. Petersburg, 1912.
Ninety years have passed since the birth of one of the greatest Jewish historians in this century. Shortly afterwards, we were informed of two related events:
Yisroel Zinberg was born in 1873 in the town of Lanowitz, province Wolyn, Poland. He was trained as a Chemical Engineer. For over 30 years he directed the Chemical Laboratories of the Pulitov Company, later renamed Kirov plant in Leningrad. In his capacity as director, he published numerous articles and text books including one entitled How to conduct a Chemical Analysis. The latter was re- published in 1929 and again in 1931. Outside his profession that provided him with a livelihood, he was drawn to the study of Jewish Literature and its historical development. It was in this field of study that he developed his monumental project. His first publication in 1900 was a monogram dealing with the writer Yitzhak Ber Levinson. In 1901 followed his book entitled Shylock's Successive Relationships. This book was followed by: Two Avenues in Jewish Life, The Founders of Jewish Journalism, plus other books and articles. In 1908-13, he was one of the editors of the 16-volume Jewish Encyclopedia. In the 1911-1913, Zinberg gave a series of lectures on the history of Jewish literature at the Institute for the study of Asian Nations. He started his lecture with Jewish poets residing in Palestine. These lectures were later rewritten to fit into his 12 books and 9-volume monumental encyclopedia. Recently, a draft of part one of volume 7 has been found in Zinberg's archives.
The first volume of his encyclopedia was still written in Russian. When Zinberg realized that much of the later Jewish literature was indeed written in Yiddish, he concluded that the encyclopedia should likewise be written in Yiddish. He also rewrote he first volume into Yiddish.
Zinberg wrote a number of critiques of current books. These included: The History of Jewish Literature by Max Weinreich & Marek Erich; Shiefer's History of the Jewish Theatre; the writings of Y. L. Peretz & Shalom Alechem. He contributed to the periodical Sammel Heften published in Petrograd. He also published several semi-fictional articles.
In his writings, Zinberg described the history of Jewish literature as a continuum starting in ancient times always reflecting the nation's fate. He singled out the European environment's influence on Jewish literature as an example: The development of Moslem poetry and philosophy during the Spanish Golden Era; The Italian Renaissance, and later, the Haskalah and Humanism of the 18th and 19th Century. He illustrated these influences by citing the following examples: The effect of the environment on Emanuel the Roman's writing; The influence of German philosophy on the writings of the 18thC. A special place in his encyclopedia was reserved for Yiddish literature which, for the first time in Jewish history, included fiction and translation from secular works in the field of Ethics and Philosophy.
Zinberg wrote his reviews and critiques after conducting extensive research and reading of original works, as evidenced by his numerous references. Only seldomly was he content with a secondary source. He conducted his research under difficult working conditions while living in the Soviet Union, disconnected thereby from a larger segment of East European Jewry (residing in Lithuania, Poland, Hungary and Romania). He was likewise separated from literary sources unless they happen to be available in Soviet libraries. He sent his output to his [foreign] Vilna publisher. It appears that this isolation did not affect the quality of his literary work. The supplementary material that appeared in the (recent) Hebrew translation of his encyclopedia dealt with material that Zinberg had no knowledge of. These supplements merely add to the information contained in the original (Yiddish) volumes. They do not contradict its original content.
Zinberg planned to complete his history volumes to cover all the literature up to First World War, but alas, he did not accomplish this. The Soviet authorities were aware of his literary work. For a time, they tolerated its publication. The same tolerance applied to his extensive correspondence with persons outside the USSR, connected with his literary effort. However, in 1938, during the period of show-trials against Soviet Jewish leaders and their elimination, Yisroel Zinberg disappeared. In early 1938, he was able to report to his publisher the completion of the first part of a book entitled, The Blooming of Haskalah Literature. The manuscript, however, did not reach his publisher because Zinberg was arrested and later eliminated.
When news of his disappearance reached New York, a committee was formed to try and save him. The committee included the following Yiddish writers: Hayim Greenberg, Joseph Haikin, David Pinsky, Jacob Fishman, Eliyahu Shulman, the Jewish-American writer, Leon Danan and Judge Isidore Gloverman. The effort was judged to be politically risky in those days. Some writers thought that these appeals would actually hurt Zinberg's chances for parole, and therefore refused to join the committee. In the end, Hayim Greenberg, the committee chair met with a New York Times editor. The latter promised to investigate Zinberg's fate locally (in Leningrad). These efforts proved futile. Zinberg's neighbors denied knowing a neighbor by that name. The local police also denied knowing anything about him. In the end, the committee decided to contact the Soviet Ambassador in Washington, DC. The investigation that ensued dragged on for months. In the meantime, World War II broke out. The committee members continued their efforts but succeeded only to save his archives.
Years later, when Stalin died, a new liberal policy was instituted in the Soviet Union. In this more favorable atmosphere, a Jewish-American scholar by the name of Abraham Katz was given permission to microfilm many Hebrew & Yiddish archives in Soviet Libraries. Upon his return, he reported that in the Leningrad public library he found a collection of works by Friedlander, Mirkovich, Antony Harwan, David Ginzburg and the archives of Zinberg, David Magid and others.
When committee member, Eliyah Shulman read Katz's report, he opined that Zinberg's Archives are likely to include a draft of his last encyclopedia volume; also, that he does not expect a favorable response to any private request for this material from a Soviet institution. Instead, he asked Prof. Michael Astour, of the Yiddish Languages Department of Brandeis University to initiate such a request via the University. In addition, Shulman wrote an article in (the Yiddish periodical) Zukunft asking for help from anyone re. this subject. Brandeis University contacted the Saltikov-Chzhderin library in Leningrad asking for microfilm copies of Zinberg's archives. It turned out the above address was in error. The above mentioned library forwarded the Brandeis request to the Institute for the Study of Asian Nations of the Leningrad Academy of Sciences. Once the microfilm material was received in the U.S., the draft of Zinberg's last volume was among the copied material that was sent to Prof. ASTOUR. As reported to Shulman by the latter on 30 April 1967, significant editing is required before Zinberg's last volume can be submitted for publication. Prof. Astour reported furthermore that he had already secured a publisher, Chico, who agreed to publish this last volume.
Per Eliyahu Shulman in an article published in the May-June issue of Zukunft, the photographed handwritten manuscript is part 1 of The Blooming of Haskalah Literature mentioned above. Besides a critique of Jewish Journalism that Zinberg published previously, the subject volume contains a review of the works of Issac Meir Diek, Linsky, Avraham Uri Kovner, Mosees Lilienblum and Mendele Mokher Seforim.
This is a suitable opportunity to describe the other findings among Zinberg's Archives. These include letters from the following poets and writers: Shalom Alechem, Y.L. Peretz, Shalom Ash, Ch. N. Bialik, David Frishman, Zalman Shne'our, Ya'acov Dinson, Joseph Opatoshu, Morris Vinshevsky, Uri N. Gnesin, Historian Yosef Klausner, Publicists Shmuel Niger, Reuven Brenin, Hillel Zeitun, and Playwrights Peretz Hirshbein, Sh. Ansky, Lexicographer Zalman Reizen, Author Shmuel Horodetzky and Publicist Ya'acov Horowitz.
Y. L. Peretz mentions in his letter to Zinberg that his Hasidim stories were written without any personal ties to the Hasidic movement nor to any of its leaders. He furthermore states in his letter that he initially wrote his stories in the Polish language, but decided to switch to Yiddish and burn the Polish manuscripts. His writings in Hebrew also displeased him, hence he switched to Yiddish at an early age.
The correspondence with Ch. N. Bialik deals with weighty literary questions. In his letters dated 1921-1927, BIALIK deals primarily with his preparation to publish the Hebrew translation of Ibn Gvirol's poetry on which he worked for several years. The State Library in Leningrad had a copy of the Ibn Gvirol handwritten poetry. Bialik asked Zinberg's advice as to how to get a hold of this manuscript.
The five letters from Opatoshu deal with relations between Yiddish and Hebrew language writers. Ber Borochov asks if he could participate in the editing of the Jewish Encyclopedia. Vinchevsky sent Zinberg material relating to the history of the newspaper Wahrheit.
Finally, two letters from Shalom Alechem, one dated October, 1909, sent from Switzerland, written in a beautiful handwriting, deals with the composer Marek Warshaysky (1848-1907). Shalom Alechem writes glowingly about Warshavsky's talent and musical works. The second letter, written in Russian, dated 3 November 1909, he refers back to the October letter asking to make a correction re. the Warshavsky Story, to whit: In his performances in the provincial towns, he was (not we were) quite successful. The letter demonstrates Shalom Alechem's modesty, not wanting to take credit for someone else's success.
This summarizes the article written by the correspondent of Novosty news agency. It is known that Zinberg also wrote a manuscript on the history of the Jewish Theatre. We hope his manuscript will be found and the book published either in Leningrad or New York City, completing the content of his archives.
By Ozer Lerner
He was one of the leaders of our community, a shining representative of our town. He was our leading source of Torah learning. Thanks to him, class after class of students received a thorough Torah education. He helped create our legacy bearers. His monetary compensation was meager. He lived in a rented room. His food consisted of bread, potatoes and a glass of milk, sufficient to sustain his health, and continue teaching.
When he suffered from a headache or a toothache or a sore throat, he would wrap his head with a kerchief and continue teaching. He regarded himself as a public servant, hence tried to repay the community in various ways. He served as a Dayan (Religious Judge), as a prayer leader or scripture reader without added compensation. Rabbi Speizman was poor, but in his heart he felt satisfied serving his community.
He once observed Jews working in a warehouse on a Shabbath, weighing grain and recording the weight of each grain sack in order to prepare these sacks for rail shipment on Sunday. The Rabbi shouted Fire. When asked where the fire is, he replied It's the Sabbath building that is burning. You are asking where the fire is: You are violating the Sabbath. The assembled crowd understood the issue. They entered the warehouse and persuaded those inside to cease their work. For a while, the Rabbi remained on the spot, leaning on his cane, lest the workers return to their workplace after he left. Only after he was promised that they will not return today, did he agree to go home.
Once a poor man, who was physically handicapped, came to our town. The Rabbi did not let him collect. Instead he told the man to sit and study Gemarah. Your legs will probably not carry you. I have young students who can run after a ball; they can do this Mitzva. The man stayed at the Rabbi's home for several days. When we turned in our collection on his behalf, the man saw that our Rabbi added his own contribution. The man refused to accept the Rabbi's contribution saying, It is enough what you did for me already. The Rabbi became angry and told the man that his attitude will be forgiven only because he is ignorant about the deed that was done. You prevented one Jew from doing a Mitzva to another Jew.
The man apologized, explaining that he only wanted to suggest that after what the Rabbi did, adding a contribution of one kopek would have sufficed. The Rabbi retorted saying You are telling a Jew to do a small rather than a large Mitzva? The man apologized again. I can see that I cannot win an argument with you, do as you wish. The Rabbi took out all the money he had in his pocket and gave it to the man following the dictum that a man should give according to his ability. The Rabbi interpreted this dictum to mean what one has at the moment.
When a refugee came across the border [Lanowitz was a few km from the Poland/USSR border], the Rabbi went out of his way to help such a man. He considered such help akin to saving a Jewish life from extinction. [The Rabbi apparently realized the pressure on orthodox Jews in the USSR.]
I remember the case of one refugee for whom the Rabbi organized" several pairs of students to collect money and food on his behalf and bring these to his new lodging. This refugee stayed with us for over a week. When he decided to leave us in order to distance himself from the border area, he asked the Rabbi for advice. The Rabbi told him to follow his instincts. As soon as the refugee left the Kloiz, he was arrested and sent back to the other side of the border. Following his arrest, he was shot without a trial at the border point, so as to be a warning to others who may contemplate crossing the border illegally. When we told the Rabbi what happened to the refugee, the latter went behind the stove and cried. He hid his face lest we see him in his despair. We waited for him to calm himself. He continued to torment himself saying: I did not tell him to leave, but I also did not tell him not to leave, therefore, I am not free of contributing to his death. He faulted himself for not advising the refugee to leave at night; for not sending his students to show him the way. Had I done this small thing, then he would not have gotten lost at the border and would have been saved.
His teaching methods were modern, even though he arrived at them through intuition. He was able to bring a student to think for himself and to sharpen his thoughts so as to arrive at an answer readily. When we studied Gemarah, he would say to us: Do not look sideways, look straight and absorb the Talmud commentaries. Explain the material to yourselves, next re-read the commentaries for a better understanding for the authors spent many hours developing their commentaries.
When the Rabbi noticed that we stopped learning and diverted to speak about another matter, he would ask each one of the students how he got from the commentary he was learning to the issue being discussed. Each of us had to find an excuse as to the reason for his diversion from the study topic. It was done without threats. Instead it was meant to discipline us to focus on our studies. When we tired of learning, the Rabbi would introduce a riddle or a story in order to encourage the student to express himself. The Rabbi preached that behavior is important outside of learning. While learning, if one comes across a person older than him who makes a study mistake, disregard his credentials even if he is an adult and stick to your opinion. Only in non-learning situations let politeness influence your behavior.
Some of the Rabbi's secular remarks were a topic of conversation amongst us, a sort of oral law. One time the Rabbi agreed to join a nominating committee for a set of Gabays (Sextons) provided the committee meets in his Kloiz so as to minimize time taken away from learning supervision. He opposed one nominee whom he did not consider as suitable for a public position. He told the committee members, Do not choose him for one should not practice idolatry or bow to an image. I was too young to understand the connection so I asked the Rabbi the relevance of idolatry to the Sexton's job. He explained: When a person is selected for a public position, the public bows to him, does his will and flatters him. If the person is not worthy of such attention, such behavior is akin to idolatry. It is said that a goy that became rich and rose in stature is like he became a Jew.
I forgot the refugee story for a long time until Zvi Becker, our sole survivor of the Lanowitz massacre reminded me of it. I asked Becker what happened to our dear Rabbi. Was he massacred with the rest? He replied that Rabbi Speizman was the first war fatality in our town. When the Soviets entered our town (1939) they declared a curfew until the late morning hours. That morning our Rabbi rose as usual and forgeting about the curfew, he put on his tallith and proceeded to walk to the synagogue. The guards who saw him disregarded the curfew shot him. He died on the spot. The guards left him lying on the street. Some of us did not see him; others saw him but were afraid to leave their homes. As I heard of my dear Rabbi's tragic death I was reminded of all those aforementioned episodes including the story of the refugee.
The Rabbi's attitude to Zionism was an enigma to us (while we were his students). He avoided this subject as if it was not a proper subject for discussion. However, before I emigrated, my mother ordered me to say goodbye to Rabbi Motel, my esteemed teacher, though I had not attended his Yeshiva for the last several years. When I arrived at his home I could see he was happy to see me at first, but soon his face saddened either due to tears or due to an effort to control his emotions. He confided in me, saying: I always thought that my place was among my students, that I ought to go where they go. Moreover, I should do this sooner rather than later. Nonetheless I tarried. I said to myself that I might need them (economically) so it is better that many of you be there so their burden will not be a high one, should I no longer have pupils to teach. When I asked him why he never confided this wish to us students, he replied that he always wanted to be with his students, which was his obvious if unstated wish. He claimed that he was just waiting for a proper time to implement such a plan and join us.
He never reached this goal. We never had the pleasure of his company in Israel. May his memory remain with us eternally.
The Late Aharon Rabin
(The Last Lanowitz Rabbi)
By Rabbi Dr. A'haron Wertheim
With fear, trepidation and deep respect, I will write a few words about the life of my father-in-law, the late A'haron Rabin.
We have become accustomed in the last few years to encounter publications of Yizkor books that describe, in detail, the horrors of the holocaust. These books detail the destruction of whole communities together with their leaders, the killing of young and old. They tell us that Jews went to their death like sheep together with their leaders. To those who perished we declare: You are all loved, and are holy to us, survivors. In their steadfast dedication to Judaism, while clearly expecting the worst, we need to regard these leaders as holy persons. Among those we can still discern persons who were examples to us while they lived, and when they died. One of these shining examples was Rabbi Aharheli (his nickname - Ed.)
Those who got to know him well came to realize that he was a special person, holy in his manners in life even before he was murdered.
I regret that I got to know him for only a short time, so I am incapable of elaborating about his spiritual level. Let me relate what little I learned about this special person.
He was born in 1870, son of Rabbi Moshe Rabin, a scion of one of the most important families of Eastern Jewry. His ancestor was Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement, from Mezirech. He was a sixth generation Hasid, named after his late grandfather, Rabbi A'haron from the town of Titiyov, whose writings are well known in Hasidic circles.
Already, as a young man, Rabin concentrated on daily Torah learning. Even after he married the daughter of Rabbi Mordechai of Shumsk, a scion of the Magid of Zlochev and Radzivil, he continued his learning schedule to become proficient as a pulpit Rabbi.
At the age of 30 (1900), he was named the Rabbi of Lanowitz, a post previously filled by his wife's grandfather, the famous Rabbi Yosef of Radzivil. In Lanowitz, he got acquainted with many people who remembered his forefathers. These people became respectful of his way of handling religious issues.
Mrs. Yochevet, a wealthy woman of the Gelender and Zinberg families bought him a beautiful brick house that became a local center of learning. To that end, Rabin built a Beith Midrash, (house of learning) in his courtyard, available to any young man wishing to study Torah. Rabbi Ahareli also hired a learned tutor to teach his sons and other youngsters. In those years, his house became a center of religious learning.
His days of joy ended in 1913 when his wife, Eta, died suddenly, leaving him with six orphans to take care of. His wife was both beautiful and modest. I am at a loss to describe the seriousness of this turn of events. The Rabbi succeeded despite many difficulties to raise his children in an orthodox manner.
His exemplary behavior and stress on Midoth (man-to-man behavior) enabled him to exercise strong local leadership, like that between a Tzadik and his followers. However, his double role as both an interpreter of Jewish law, and that of a Hasidic leader caused him numerous problems. The Lanowitz community became divided as a result. They wanted an additional Rabbi that dealt with problems of secular life, one that does not demand behavior that is beyond their capability.
I have mentioned previously that he was a modest person. He seldom raised his voice, honoring the saying, The ways of the wise sound pleasant. He was not only respected by his townsmen who sought his advice, as is the custom of Hasidim, but also by Jews of nearby villages, as well as by Gentiles. It was the custom of these Gentiles to ask for his blessing, regarding him as a holy person.
His home was open to guests not only for food and rest. He also helped his guests with money that he collected from his townsmen in accordance with their financial ability. As the town's Rabbi, he did his duty to help the community's poor as much as possible.
When my wife and I came to visit him on a visit from the U.S. to Lanowitz in 1935, he asked us to use our influence with the committee of Lanowitz expatriates in New York to help Lanowitz's poor. Following our request, a help-committee was formed, chaired by Mrs. Rose Shtepshagel that arranged for weekly flour purchases in Lanowitz meant to be distributed to its poor members. The weekly purchase and distribution was implemented by a committee under the supervision of Rabbi Rabin.
I remember that following my first year after my arrival in America, I mailed my father-in-law a $50 money order. After some time, the money order was mailed back to me together with a letter. In his letter, he expressed his appreciation for my good intentions, but, he added, stated his opinion that financial help ought to come from top to bottom, i.e., from fathers to sons, not from sons to fathers. In spite of his limited income, he declined to receive financial support that did not come from top to bottom.
We learned via a rumor that several months before the terrible massacre, the local authorities decreed that all prayer halls be shuttered. Rabbi Rabin arranged a secret minyan. The minyan meeting was discovered. Consequently, he and other Jewish notables were arrested and threatened with a death sentence. After energetic negotiations and payment of a bribe, the Rabbi and the notables were released. The total annihilation of the district's Jews occurred shortly thereafter. According to a reliable witness, one of the few that survived this massacre, the old Rabbi encouraged his flock to recite the Vidui (Shma Yisrael), to prepare themselves for execution. Machine-gun fire cut them short as they were praying. He died with his flock. Israel is redeemed thanks to their sacrifice.
(Author not stated)
He was the third son of Rabbi Aharon Rabin. He had a sharp mind and was well versed in both secular and Torah subjects. In 1922, he was conscripted into the Polish Army, where he suffered greatly in his attempt to keep the Sabbath and Jewish laws. Despite these difficulties, he finished his military service without violating either Sabbath or kashrut laws.
One such episode occurred on a first Seder night, when his cruel commander prevented him from attending a Seder by assigning him to guard duty. The order pained him so that he left his post to enter a Jewish home to carry out the blessing over Matzo and Morror. His superiors discovered that he left his post and threatened him with a court martial. It was only through the strenuous efforts of local Jewish leaders that he was saved from such a fate. This happened in Lutsk, the capital of the province of Volynia. The episode was spoken about for a long time.
He married the daughter of Rabbi Levi of Brody. Reb Yisroel had two beautiful children. He remained in Lanowitz living with his elderly father, helping him with his religious duties. When the angel of death arrived, he perished with all the other innocent young and old in evil Poland.
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