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[Page 84]

The Golden Chain of Podhajce Rabbis

by Rabbi Wolf Firestone (Fierstein)[1]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Approximately 400 years ago, the town of Podhajce, my birthplace, was a city full of scholars and learned people. Its rabbis were great in Torah, and were famous throughout all Jewish communities. Rabbis from near and far used to write to them regarding various problems in Halacha, and students from all countries used to come to learn with them. The greatest and most important of them was the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Binyamin the son of Reb Avraham Solnik, the author of the Masaat Binyamin book of responsa. He occupied the rabbinical seat of Podhajce for forty years (1580-1620), and his responsa were spread out to every place that Jews lived. He instilled order into the Podhajce community. First and foremost he founded a large yeshiva, where students came to study Torah and wisdom from his mouth and from his assistants. He also studied there, and fulfilled the verse, “and you shall toil in it day and night”. He became even better known in the Jewish world, for he was selected to be a member of the “Council of the Three Lands”. He later became the head of the council.

In order to perpetuate the memory of the rabbis of Podhajce, and to give honor to my native town, where my mother Chana of blessed memory, the daughter of Reb Chaim Mordechai Fierstein and all of her ancestors are buried, I wish to enumerate here all of the rabbis who occupied the rabbinical seat of our city from the year 5300 until 5665 (1540-1905).

The two rabbis who preceded the author of the Masaat Binyamin were the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Moshe and his son Rabbi Yehuda Leib. Rabbi Yehuda Leib is buried in the Lemberg cemetery. Great praises about his personality are inscribed upon his gravestone. It is mentioned there that both he and his father were rabbis in Podhajce.

The third rabbi was, as mentioned, the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Binyamin Solnik. His eldest son, Rabbi Avraham, was the rabbi in Tarnopol and later in Brest Litovak. His second son Reb Yaakov was the rabbi in Podhajce after his father's passing. He composed a book titled “Nachalat Yaakov” a commentary on Rashi's commentary on the Torah. He was the fourth rabbi of our city. He had no son to take his place.

The fifth rabbi was Rabbi David, the author of a book called “Tiferet Yisrael”. He died in the year 5393 (1633). He was followed by Rabbi Mordechai of holy blessed memory, who had previously been a rabbi in Rzeszow.

The seventh rabbi was the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Moshe Kac, the eldest son of the famous rabbi Rabbi Shabtai Kac, who is known as the author of the Shach. He was followed by the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Moshe Katzenelenboigen, the son of Rabbi Shaul Katzenelenboigen, who can trace his lineage to Rabbi Shaul Wahl (who was the king of Poland for one day), and to the Gaon the author of the Masaat Binyamin. His brother-n-law was the rabbi and kabbalist Rabbi Zecharia Mendel of Podhajce, who was the author of several books.

After Rabbi Moshe Katzenelenboigen, Rabbi Moshe the son of Rabbi Menachem Nachum was appointed as the new rabbi. He was followed by the great Gaon Rabbi Yissachar Dov Berish, the son of the Gaon Rabbi Yehoshua the author of the Pnei Yehoshua.

The eleventh rabbi was the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Meshulam Zalman, the son of the Gaon Rabbi Yaakov Emden. Later, he was appointed as a rabbi in London (around 1769).

After Rabbi Meshulam Zalman, the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch occupied the rabbinical seat. Following him was Rabbi Simcha Rappaport, the son of the Lemberger rabbi Rabbi Chaim Kohen Rappaport. He died in the year 5585 (1825).

After them was the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Shmuel. His name is mentioned in various responsa books. After him, Rabbi Aryeh Leib was appointed as rabbi. He was a great Gaon, who is known as the author of the book Leiv Aryeh.

After the author of Leiv Aryeh was Rabbi Nota. Rabbi Nota is mentioned as a great and important rabbi in various books.

After Rabbi Nota, Rabbi Shimon Meller was appointed as rabbi, and following him, his son Rabbi Yonah Meller.

After Rabbi Yonah Meller, the Gaon Rabbi Shalom the son of Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Lilienfeld was appointed rabbi. He was born in

[Page 85]

Podhajce. After he died, nobody was appointed as a new rabbi. His place was filled by three rabbinical judges, the righteous teachers Rabbi Avraham Eisen, Rabbi Feivish Szwarc, and Rabbi Wolf Haber.

In New York, the natives of our town appointed my brother Rabbi Chaim-Mordechai Brecher of blessed memory as the rabbi and righteous teacher in the Masaat Binyamin synagogue. He was great in Torah and good deeds, and a great grammarian. He annotated the Yehoash edition of the Bible, the Concordance of Shlomo Mandelkorn, and other books. He died on the 14th of Cheshvan 5626 (1966) at the age of 86.

May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.

{An abridged summary of the article in the Hebrew section of the book.}

A Few Lines About Rabbi David Lilienfeld

by Meir Pikholtz

{This is equivalent with the Hebrew article on page 53.}

[Page 86]

(An abridged summary of the article in the Hebrew section of the book {Hebrew article is on page 56}[2])

Dr. Falk the Baal Shem of London

by Dr. Herman Adler

(An abridged summary of the article in the Hebrew section of the book {Hebrew article is on page 57})

[Page 88]

Important Historical Dates for Podhajce[3]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

1420 Beginning of the Jewish settlement. The oldest gravestones in the cemetery are from that year.
1580 Rabbi Binyamin Solnik, the author of the Masaat Binyamin responsa book, was the rabbi in Podhajce until his death.
1667 Jews fight together with all the citizens against the Turks and Tatars.
1676 The Turks overrun Podhajce and perpetrate a pogrom against the Jews.
1676 The Polish Sejm exempts the Jews of Podhajce from paying taxes for a period of 12 years, on account of their oppressed state and as thanks for their help in the battle against the Tatars.
1680-1690 Chaim Malach, a follower of Shabtai Tzvi, comes to Podhajce several times.
1696 Rabbi Moshe David of Podhajce, a well-known kabbalist and follower of Shabtai Tzvi, was born in Podhajce. (He died in 1766).
1708 Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Falk, the “Baal Shem of London” was born, apparently in Podhajce. (He died in 1782 in London).
1745 Rabbi Yissachar Berish, the rabbi of Podhajce, the son of the Pnei Yehoshua, died on the 22nd of Cheshvan 5505[4].
1746 The book Birchat Yaakov by the rabbi of Podhajce, Rabbi Yaakov the son of Rabbi Baruch, was published in Lemberg.
1756 Jacob Frank appeared in Poland, and came to Podhajce several times.
1759 The last Frankists, including several families from Podhajce, commit apostasy in Lemberg on September 17, 1759.
1765 The first census in Poland. There are 1,290 Jews in Podhajce.
1772 The entire area of eastern Galicia, including Podhajce, comes under Austrian rule.
1790 Nine Jewish families of Podhajce settle on farms with the help of the Austrian regime.
1791 In the year 5552, Rabbi Zecharia Mendel the son of Aryeh Leib died. He was a well-known rabbi and author of books.
1876 A “club” for the reading of periodicals was founded.
1879 Rabbi Yitzchak Izak Menachem Eichenstein, who was the Podhajcer Rebbe until 1929, was born.
1895 The founding of the first Podhajce organization in America.
1896 Rabbi Avraham Weiss, the renowned Talmudic scholar, was born.
1909 Rabbi Shalom Lilienfeld died on September 31 at the age of 53.
1941 On July 6, the city fell to the Nazis.
1942 The first aktion in the city took place on Yom Kippur. The 3rd of Sivan is the yahrzeit of the martyrs of Podhajce and region.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Although this is a summary of the longer Hebrew article on page 49, I have translated it in its own right, as it simplifies much of the flowery language, and is therefore much easier to read. Interestingly enough, there are a few facts in the Yiddish that do not appear in the Hebrew such as the cryptic comment about someone having been the king of Poland for one day (although this is documented see http://www.maxpages.com/nodabyehuda/samuel_j_katzenellenbogen_1521 Return

  2. I generally did not translate the Yiddish abridged summaries of the Hebrew articles, unless there was an overriding reason. In these cases, the hyperlink points to the original article. Return

  3. This Yiddish section is not a translation of the dates on page 47. Although this Yiddish date list is far briefer than the Hebrew date list, there are some dates in each section that do not appear in the others. No author is listed for the Yiddish date list. Return

  4. There is a mistake in the English year here. The English year would be 1744. Hebrew Years and English years always have the same final digit except that the Hebrew year starts in September or October, so the first few months of a new Hebrew year still correspond to the preceding English year. Cheshvan is the second month of the year, and would fall in October or November. Return

[Page 89]

M. M. Oizerkes

by Nachman Blumenthal

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Podhajce was represented with its own writer in the new Jewish literature in the Yiddish literature – Mordechai Mendel Oizerkes. The word “Podhajce” is written under the author's name on the title page in one of his books, “The Private Teacher”. The author apparently took pride in his home town even from so far away! Perhaps he thereby wished to hint that what he was writing about had a connection with Podhajce, even without mentioning the name of the place from where he came? It is entirely possible.

Oizerkes was born in Podhajce in 1848. During his young days, he worked in a liquor distillery. He traveled widely through Galicia, Russia (Odessa) and Romania, and reached as far as Constantinople. Then he returned and settled in his native town, where he earned his livelihood as a private teacher (in people's homes). In his lexicon, Zalman Reisen even notes that Oizerkes was a lawyer. He certainly meant that he was a legal assistant, for Oizerkes had never studied this subject.

Oizerkes wrote in many genres: novels, plays, songs with their own tunes, etc.

After becoming acquainted with his published novels – and many of his writings never saw the light of day and we can assume that they were lost – we cannot agree with the opinion of Zalman Reisen, who referred to them as “novels of literary trash”. On the contrary, they always had a healthy moral, and many accurate details are woven in that portray the lives of Jews in the small and medium sized towns and villages from his time and his place (Podhajce, Lvov, etc.) in a very realistic fashion – as the author himself demonstrates in the names of his books. From this standpoint, they have a great value. It is also worthwhile to praise the Yiddish words and idiom that stem for the most part from the “Germanic”[1] languages (Galician Yiddish German), according to the mode of that time).

Oizerkes died in 1913 at the age of 65 in America.

We have very few details about his life. Apparently, he had a difficult childhood and youth. Apparently, his father was a private teacher, and his mother died when he was born. His book “The Private Teacher” seems to be a sort of literary autobiography (in which he discussed excessively – under disguised names – more about his fellow townsfolk than about his own self). In his introduction to his own book, he states the following about this: “Believe me – he means the “dear reader” – that I know of no professional teacher, even for one solitary lesson, who earned bread from one mode, and already worshipped many forms of idols”. We can assume that he was describing the parents of his students, who in his time had already began to seek people with secular education (students, academics) rather than riff-raff, as well as his own students to whom they wished to impart worldly education aside from the traditional subjects. Regarding such “antics”, the author states that he would not wish to learn with someone of that nature. For he only wishes to “learn to dance”. “Dancing with the Angel of Death” – adds the mother of the student, who was angry for she is paying futile money to the teacher…

A private teacher – that is his teacher himself – also comes through in his story “The New Generation”, and from his words and the words of the parents to the children, we can even find out what he taught, and how much he charged for a “lesson”.

First of all, one learns “how to write properly” (of course, not in Yiddish), then they read a Yiddish card that came in the mail, a “newspaper page”, they make a calculation; -- indeed, of course to speak and read a bit of Polish and German. In “Private Teacher”, we even have almost a shorthand protocol for a German lesson. The author reads a

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sentence and translates it into clear German. The students must repeat it in their own words, but they intermix Polish and Yiddish words. The author hears this and corrects them.

For his difficult labor – the older students frequently disparage him and do not want to put their heads into his doctrines at all – for coming to the students' homes for an entire month, the teacher is paid (if no fault is found with him) ten crowns for an entire month! And if, Heaven forbid, he became ill and did not come to the lessons, they deduct 12 kreitzer (24 heller) for every missed day. This is the manner that his “bread givers”, of course wealthy people, conduct themselves.

Just as he lived alone, he died alone. One can see that after his death, nobody called, nobody wrote any personal memories or literary evaluations.

He took up writing in his middle years, after he returned from touring the world. As he himself states, he had enough life experiences and adventures, and this spurred him on to demonstrate to his readers how to live and protect oneself from the errors that others have stumbled upon. He himself had no formal education. It seems that he only completed four classes in the gymnasium, and did not learn any trade. In describing his acquaintances and his environment, the author demonstrates directly and indirectly through general principals what is good and what is bad, which protagonist is an honorable person and which is a devil. Sometimes he gives over the moral in brief passages, such as for example: “How good is it when one learns a trade” (the name of a chapter), and of course in that chapter he describes that the Jew with a trade is a respectable Jew, has a livelihood, performs necessary work, at the time when others are “shurkn”, playing cards, and conducting dark business, etc.

According to him, “to be an ignoramus is a great error”. A second golden thought of his.

We can see from this that Oizerkes strove for excellence. He was an erudite Jew, not steeped in “sciences” – but he wanted to be a disseminator of the haskalah ideals and spirit from the progressives in his times.

However, aside from his writing, which had great influence upon his readership – which was not small and his work did fulfill their needs – he himself had to concern himself with livelihood. How? In the aforementioned preface he states that he wishes to “present the situation” in the right light, as it truly is. He must therefore involve himself with the wealthy Jews whose “situation” is so lofty, and it was they who hired him as a private teacher. In truth, the author does not give the name of the place, but it was in a small town like Podhajce, and it is not too difficult to figure out what the author was talking about. Indeed, he states in the preface that he is afraid of those who are well connected, but he describes it nevertheless!

The author explains “the difficulties of every strata of society, nobody is passed over– today this is an error and a crime”. Thus were they persecuted until death.

In his first book that he published, he turns to words of sadness and weariness:

“Go forth, my poor child, into the world. And when someone laughs at you, you must not make anything of it. Then you should know that you have encountered a completely simple and uneducated person. And a poor child must already know that he should laugh at this…”

The relationship of the wealthy people to him, who had to endure his criticism and apostasy – was probably the reason for his immigration to America. However, as has been stated, even there he had no luck.

Actually, he did not “emigrate”, for to America, one escapes. However, as the author writes in one place regarding his connection with one of his protagonists who escapes “to Columbus' land” (for he made a girl pregnant) – “only bums travel to America”. (The New Generation, page 100). However, we do not know the actual reason that compelled the author to travel to “Columbus' land”.

[Page 91]

From Oizerkes' rich creations, very few appear in book form – only the following:

  1. “The Private Teacher, Portraits of Galician Jewish Life”. By M. M. Oizerkes, Podhajce, Drohobycz. Printed by A. H. Zupnik, 1897. (120 pages).
  2. “The Private Teacher...” Second Section. Drohobycz. “Ferlag Des Farpasers[2], 1899, (131 pages).
  3. “The Private Teacher…” Third Section, Drohobycz, “Ferlag Des Farpasers”, 1900 (153 pages).
  4. “The New Generation”, portraits of the present time, published by Shmuel Horn, 5665 (1905), (173 pages).
  5. “Father Took Mother”, A novel of the Present. Published by Shmuel Horn, Lemberg, Alembekov 7. 5665 (1905). (172 pages).
  6. Portraits of Various Jewish Strata. Podhajce, 1908.

Where Oizerkes literary legacy remains, and whether it still remains at all – is unknown to us.

The author was very concerned about anyone pilfering from him, Heaven forbid, or reprinting his books without his knowledge. Therefore, he always included the appropriate warnings on the title page, such as “all rights reserved” or “reprinting is forbidden”.

Aside from this, he included the following remark: “Every book which does not have my insignia (stampiglia) is considered as stolen.”

The “stampiglia” was a stamp with red ink: Lwow-Lemberg, Hebrew teacher – Samuel Horn.

However all the warnings – it seems to me – helped him little. I doubt if the income from the books covered the expenses.

It was not out of riches that he left the city and set out for America.

Incidentally, we have already seen what type of an undignified opinion Zalman Reisen had of Oizerkes. Nevertheless, when Gershon Bader published the first volume of his lexicon (letters aleph – yod), under the entry “The State and its wise people – biographies of erudite people and writers whose cradle was in Galicia” Oizerkes is not even mentioned. It was only Reisen of all people who took up Oizerkes' unjust treatment. It is possible that, “One sees it in the other”. Reisen felt that G. Bader had committed a wrong with respect to Oizerkes, for “His novels were very popular with the public, a form of Galician Sh”M[3] ” We are happy to hear that the Podhajce residents were included in the reading public at that time (most certainly these common folk whom the author intended were primarily girls and housewives). However, on the other hand, we must as well take up again the injustice perpetrated against Oizerkes, in that Reisen places him on the same plane as Sh”M, whereas Oizerkes deserves to be placed on no less of a plane than Izak Meir Dik of Vilna, if not higher… and Izak Meir Dik is considered by Reisen to be a veritable writer. In his article “Galicia in Yiddish Literature”, Reisen gives us new details about Oizerkes life. Bader once wrote to him that he (Bader) knows Oizerkes well. “At the time when I was the editor of the Lemberger Tagblatt, I had in my file a full bundle of his stories of which I did not even publish one. As far as I know, he used to travel around to distribute his books, and large circles 'loved him', as they say in America.”

In this manner, by writing about Oizerkes so nonchalantly, Bader not only wronged him, for a published article in the Lemberger Tagblatt would have helped him greatly, if not materially then at least morally – but he also committed an injustice against Yiddish literature; for where are those narratives today? Even Reisen comes to the following conclusion: “I believe that Oizerkes does not deserve to be entirely forgotten (? ! N. B.) when one writes about the history of Jewish folk literature in Galicia.” In order to write about a writer, one must know his work! And where is Oizerkes' written work?

As much as I do not want to castigate Zalman Reisen's opinions and his own persona – I knew him personally and maintained a correspondence with him for some time – I must state that in Reisen's evaluation of the Oizerkes' creations, one can plainly feel the completely negative attitude to a Lithuanian and Galician Jew.

Oizerkes remained lonely in life and lonely as a writer, completely immersed in his own straight path, influenced by nobody. Nobody took note of him in literature. Nobody wrote about him, and therefore, Oizerkes

[Page 92]

{Three title pages of Oizerkes books. The German translation appears next to each one. Each one is stamped with the seal of “Yosef Archives in Jerusalem”}


Father Took Mother

A Novel about the Present

M. M. Oizerkes

Published by SHMUEL HORN, Lemberg, Alembekow 7.
Copying is prohibited

Lemberg 5666

Printed by A. Salat

Hebrew Teacher
Lwow – Lemberg

Der Tate hot die Mame Genimen
Roman aus der Gegenwart, von M. M. Ojserkis,
Verlag von SAMUEL HORN, Lemberg, Alembekow 7.
Nachdruck verboten
Druck von E. Salat, Lemberg, 1905


Private Teacher

Portraits of Galician Jewish Life

By M. M. Oizerkes

All rights reserved

Printed by A. H. Zupnik

Druk von A. H. Zupnik n Drohobycz


Das Neue Dor (The New Geneation)
Portraits from the present time
M.M. Oizerkes

Published by Shmuel Horn, Lemberg, Alembekow 7.
Copying is prohibited

Lemberg 5666
Printed by A. Salat

Das neue Dor
Bilder aus der jetziger Zeit, von M. M. Ojserkis
Verlag von SAMUEL HORN, Lemberg, Alembekow 7.
Nachdruck verboten.
Druck von E. Salat, Lemberg,1905


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remained in a situation where he did not develop as a writer. This is a shame, for he had kernels that could have sprouted, that could have developed and gone higher and higher, and could have advanced him. However, the outside stimulus was lacking.

What were the merits of Oizerkes' books? His topics were taken from Galician Jewish life of that era, where he himself comes from, and we believe that he took his topics from events in Podhajce, which he knew in full detail.

He polishes up the events somewhat, makes them interesting, (extraordinary events), and exaggerates when describing both the good and bad characters. He states in his aforementioned preface, he himself was a witness to the “facts” that he describes. However, it is difficult to take at face value that so many fortuitous events took place in one place and unfolded as he described them.

He describes good, ideal people and bad people. The bad ones persecute the good ones, who must defend themselves from them. However, finally, things end up well. Everything is in accordance with an enlightened Jew who believes in progress. Oizerkes was no exception in this detail. To his credit, we should emphasize that there is no lewdness in his narratives. The idea was always a moral one. Good is rewarded, evil is punished, and finally, after a crisis in family life, the man turns to his wife, and everything is good and well. In one word, it is a story like all other stories…

So what of it then? Oizerkes had a good eye. He precisely observed the spirited people, the sources of their poetic personalities, and portrays their essence accurately and realistically. The external characteristics come out better – as if from a world of German-Yiddish gibberish – would a Maskil have better understood his different Galicia? However, we do find a large number of pure Yiddish words, curses, genuine Yiddish idioms, etc.

Now you read and see for yourself how the “Deitshmerish”[1] rings in the following excerpts.[4]

“He stands there overcast; I would certainly want to rip off the spodek!”

“Somewhat of a loafer” “I make a footbath for you.”

And when a woman comes to a wedding and is unable to dance “She indeed (the word 'takeh' with an 'n' sound at the end!) has the face of mockery, like a dressed up ram.” “He went as if on foreign feet.” “A linen knish.”

“One sweet man and a golden brother-in-law” “Once he was silenced with silliness”. “Not with a spodek!”

“A head to absorb the learning, she had, such a year for my and your enemies, dear reader.”

“You foolish bigot!” – “Every poor person is a charitable person!”

And if there is a commotion in the house, the protagonist does not shout out: “shta tam what are you doing?”, And another Ukrainian word: “Hovorei meni do sraki”' (Private Teacher, page 36). Did they not talk this way in Podhajce? Was this not ordinary Jewish folk, which touches the heart?

And now an old matchmaker comes to a maiden: She feels like meeting her, who had a relationship with a lad, “Who had made graduation”, and suddenly such a disgrace: a matchmaker! She talks to her – the modern “educated” maiden: “who crawls to her like something else? Do not provide for me.”

The matchmaker, who was no fool, and was familiar with an honorable man, knows about the relationship and wishes to proceed with her match, goes to the father of the maiden and calms him, even though he himself knows everything and “carries around a belly full of secrets, but everything remains with me.” Thereby, she wins over the father…

The author does not merely wish to tell over to the reader a fine, interesting story and thereby entertain him. He does not merely wish to educate him about good things, about good deeds, and deter the evil. He does wish to teach him something concrete, first and foremost… German. For example, when he makes use of a German word which is not common among the people, he includes a Judeo-German version in parentheses. On another occasion, he translates such an international word, with the explicit objective of teacher the reader, civilizing

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him, and turning him into a European! I am certain that when reading his books, people did not merely read the story with great interest, but also learned things: words, ideas. Aside from this, from the subject matter one could learn proper behavior, the art of ideal rhetoric, and how to conduct oneself in a cultured fashion in society, on the street, etc.

He explains the relevance of his language in the introduction to “The Private Teacher”. “The people in the book speak German. Not because the author wishes to demonstrate that he knows a bit of German. Heaven forbid! But rather because a teacher with students, students who are successful one with the other, and they all speak only German with officials. Such German that today's civilized Jews must be familiar with. I do not know deep German, and it should not be pronounced. Have no fear – my friendly reader.”

Even the writing technique of our author is old fashioned and quaint. The author, aside from when he is telling a story, talks personally with the reader: “Dear Reader” (and not only at the very beginning of the narrative). He might also say: “You must know, dear reader, that Moshe had a melancholy, choleric temperament; but perhaps you do not know what this means, so I will explain it to you…” He indeed describes it, and explains over two entire pages that temperament is the same as the condition or the nature of the human blood – in coarse Yiddish “dos geblit” – and that researchers have found that there are four human temperaments, etc. etc.

On another occasion, the author has mercy on the reader, when he deviated from the path (of telling the story) and on the path of science, as he explains, “I do not wish to make you, reader, tired, so I will be brief...” He then continues on with the story until he forgets himself a second time…

And when he finally brings the mother together with the father – who had been separated and had already become old through the course of the long story – he gives over a moral to the young readers: “This couple, I mean our couple, felt like producing a young Jewish couple, who would get married on G-d's head (!! – N.B.), my readers would understand very well that they must think about this a bit. End.”

Here too one can see the private teacher, the great pedagogue!

He concludes the lesson, but this cannot be enough, one must work independently with the teacher. The reader, after concluding the narrative, has enough material to ponder and review. The author does not want the reader to take him for his word. A student must not stick a finger in his mouth; on the contrary, the reader himself must attempt and come to his own realization that the author is correct! And I place before you the fact that they did indeed discuss, debate and even vote on the problems discussed in his books in far off corners of Eastern Galicia, from where the protagonists hailed… Only when one comes to the “end” does the author take the reader by the hand, over houses and homes, over small towns and large cities, over oceans and deserts. You understand that you are accompanied by such a good guide, so the “dear reader” need not have any fear; for he will be led to the happy ending.


“I guide the reader into one house, one that is called “a balabatish house”[5] in Galicia, which implies that the head of the household is doing quite well.” This is certainly good, a fine house, but the head of the household does not like him (or the reader).

Later he guides him, may we be spared, into a prison. Earlier, he warns the reader that he should have no fear, for he would be with the author, thank G-d, and they would be able to leave the prison. The protagonist of the story would remain there, and this would also not be for long, for he is an honorable man, but the evil ones spoke against him…

These are his own words, taken from the chapter: “In the Isolation Cell”. First the author explains why he guides the unfortunate reader to this place: “I must now take my reader to a place that is very sorrowful; believe me, dear reader, I would sincerely like to spare you this, for I know… (it is) an iron cage – – – but it

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cannot be thus, I must visit our good Friedman there, and naturally, I must take along my devoted readers…” Incidentally, Friedman also wishes to say a sad word there…

It was indeed gloomy in the isolation cell, but the author had a good heart, and did not keep the reader there for long. Only Friedman must remain there unfortunately, even though he is an “honest man” – and there was a mix-up. However, the author does not neglect him there, and the eighth chapter is already called “Friedman is Free”. Truth must be victorious! This is a comfort for the reader, who has gone through so much, and perhaps indeed saw themselves as living through Friedman.

The author often feels that the reader cannot endure the great tension until the appropriate answers that he pines for finally come: he already wishes to know the ending. In the interim, the author appeases him: a miracle occurred: from the evil women came a righteous woman. And the puzzle is already set out – in the interim. This reminds me of another episode from another story of the author – where he writes about another type of problem in a similar fashion: the child is unfortunately very hungry, but dinner is still far off; what did the devoted mother do? She gave the child in the interim… a “faltshikl” (little portion)! This way he could hold out until dinner! But if one turn from an evil person into a righteous person overnight, please, if you will (and incidentally, the author knows well that the reader, whom he has surrounded from all sides, wishes this and even more!) know this – read the pair of calm chapters which will explain to you how this came about.

Here is another thing about Oizerkes' literary technique. Most of the material in his narratives is discussions between his characters, and if momentarily there was no second person in the scene, he allows the person to talk to himself or to brood out loud. Thus something happens in the plot. The reader learns very important things, often deep secrets that the author did not or was not able to make obvious to the reader earlier in a different manner.

From this we see how easy it was for his narratives to make scenes and dramas. On the other hand, if he places a character into a scene, he makes an introduction and presents him to the reader. He will already know something, and he will know more later “My dear reader, I must first introduce you to Mrs. Kessler's tenant, or before I let our story unfold.”

The author plays the role as an eyewitness to what he writes about, as if he heard and saw everything, and what he did not see – he does not know! He does not take the reader with him everywhere; for example, in “Tzezeit Un Tzespreit” (“Wildly Scattered”) (1, 7), he writes about the mistress of the house who sits in a corner and dreams. He states, “To write about her stature and her eyes, I must wait until she awakens.” And indeed, when she wakes up, opens her eyes and stands up, he describes her stature and eyes. In other cases, he apologizes for not giving over such details, since, “Unfortunately, dear reader, I cannot tell you this, because I myself do not know.” (ibid. page 61). On another occasion, he gives a different answer; for example: “About the separation (of the man and his wife), I do not wish to tell this to the reader so as not to sadden him (ibid, page 57). However, the reader already got the hint, and already felt very well the pain of the separation. (The author knew this very well, but he “makes himself as dead”).

And in another place: the author tells about an honest Jew, a faithful person in the forest: “Whether the Jew was a wealthy man, this I cannot tell the reader, for I have not seen the bank books with the balance.” This appeals to primitive and naïve readers – and such were Oizerkes' readers! -- They are convinced that everything that he says is absolutely true; he is therefore alone!

The author also consults with the reader and asks him how he likes things, whether he agrees with him – the author. The author places before the reader a question which must certainly be an original question to this type of reader: Why is the good bad and the bad good? And he explains as follows: “One must be a philosopher in order to understand the answer. However I am not even remotely a philosopher[6] so it would be brazen of me to attempt to answer. I beg the beloved reader my boldness for delaying. Let me chatter. I

[Page 96]

expect that you, Heaven forbid if not, have understood my meaning. Every one of you has intelligence. I wish to sharpen your minds, and that will hurt nobody” (Private Teacher, 3, page 7). Thus does the author ingeniously lead the reader into philosophical questions and… explains them.

Oizerkes does not state from where the themes of his novels stem. Many facts that he relates in his stories stem without doubt from his hometown. People who still remember that time will certainly recognize which of the true residents of the town are hidden under the newly invented name of a protagonist in the novels. Furthermore, when he writes about certain events and institutions, they certainly have a basis in what he saw with his own eyes in his hometown: such as “Zion Organization”, an “Official Casino”, a people's kitchen, “tombale”, “Our city”. “The lawyer settled in Podhajce” – this is certainly referring to the first lawyer in Podhajce, with whom Oizerkes might have worked as an assistant, etc., etc.

However, the author was not only afraid of people with dark characters, with whom he might have worked for a living; unintentionally, he also deals with the observant (nevertheless a Maskil Jew!) In one place he states that unfortunately, piety along does not save a person from crime, for the only “pure human character is the right closet”. And he soon comes to the following: “I do not claim, Heaven forbid, that the observant are criminals”. However have the Orthodox forgiven him for this statement? I believe not (In the story, they take revenge on the teacher, and they throw him into a pit.)

In another place he states: “The reader must be afraid to read about the rabbi, for it is bad; believe me, my dear reader, that a rabbi, a priest (He, the heretic, does not even use the customary “lehavdil[7], which would have fit in very well here.), even a good Jew would have also made (and not created!) the same penalty as a thief (“which I am not”), a murderer, or even a heretic who smokes on the Sabbath, Heaven forbid. You have nothing to fear, and are permitted to listen.”

A few words about Oizerkes' orthography:

The written word that consists of a Hebrew root with Yiddish prefixes is interesting; he writes the root in Hebrew and the accessories in Yiddish, and separates the parts with an apostrophe. Ge'ganve't or geganvet. The author also has the question of his own style. He writes: “gefateret” (page 112), 'gemosert” (3, page 136), “gepoelt” (3 page 150). He Hebraizes the second part of the word, the suffix and writes it along with the “sav”, a letter which is used solely in Hebrew words. For in Yiddish, one uses the letter “tes”.

He uses mnemonics and abbreviations in places where one usually does not do so. For example, he often uses the abbreviation F”m (Feh, Mem) for the name of the Friedman, the protagonist of the Private Teacher, which comes out very often. He also uses the short form Beis, AyinGimel for “Baal Agala” (wagon driver); Beis AyinMem for “Baal Melacha” (worker); KufMem for “Kerker Meister” (jail master)! When he uses a mnemonic, it is a sign that the word is used often, and it shows that the jail is a beloved accessory in his stories, one of his favorite themes. The ideal teacher sat in jail on one occasion (perhaps also the author?)

Despite his love for his homeland of Galicia, he does not idealize it in his stories:

“I hate Galicia” declares the author often in the name of a protagonist (“Tzezeit”, page 81). “It is better to remain in Vienna, in New York.” There (in Galicia), there are bad people, Orthodox serpents. Fanatics, superstitious people and pious thieves rule there.” For these reasons, he also calls his homeland: Foolish (narishe) Galicians, or silly (fardripete) Galicians (Private Teacher, 2, page 35).

“I want to express appreciation for my brethren, the Jews of Galicia, for I love them sincerely, but this does not work out, for the blunders which they commit cannot be overlooked. They perform the commandments of external show. With the commandments they earn “credits and importance” (3 page 131).


A Maskil, a poor man, with an pure character and a heart full of humanity and decency, a loner, isolated from the world, he finally left his beloved Galicia and sought out a place of refuge in the new world, in America, which was so different than Galicia. However, in the great and endless expanse of America, our author disappeared completely from our eyes…

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The word used here is “Deitshmerish”. In the Weinreich Yiddish / English dictionary, this word is translated as “Too much like German (said of modern German words or phrases sporadically used in Yiddish but not accepted by cultivated stylists).” Return

  2. Ferlag Des Farpasers” literally means “Publishers and Editors”. I suspect that here it is intended to be the name of a publishing company. Return

  3. Evidently the acronym of an author. Return

  4. In translation, the Germanic mode of Yiddish will not be evident. Anyone wishing to study this concept must read the original. These snippets were meant to illustrate the jargon used by the author, and, taken out of context, are difficult to translate. I left some words in transliteration, as they would loose their meaning in translation. Return

  5. Baal Habayit (literally master of the house), is a term used for a patrician or well to do head of a household. Return

  6. The word used here is “untershalg”, which seems to me 'trace of' (i.e. I am not even a trace of a philosopher). The author of the article placed a (!) after this word to express his surprise as to its usage. Return

  7. Lehavdil, literally “to differentiate”, is an interjection often placed to separate between a holy and profane topic – here it would have fit in well between the mention of the rabbi and the mention of the priest. Return
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