Otsar ha-limud ha-‘ivri (Treasury of Hebrew Studies), by Y. Garzuvsky and S. L. Gordon (Warsaw: Tushiyah, 1904). Illustrations by G. Tshurny. Hebrew primer. The depiction of girls reading books perhaps reflects the growth of interest in the Jewish community in formal education for girls. The Jean Moldovan Collection, Gift of the Jesselson Family, 1993.853. (Collection of Yeshiva University Museum, New York)

Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Children’s Literature

Hebrew Literature

Page 2 of 4:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Children’s literature began to take form in Hebrew at the end of the eighteenth century, following the Haskalah (Enlightenment) movement in Western Europe. Books and stories for young readers in that language then became standard in Eastern Europe, where the genre continued to develop. After World War I, Hebrew literature flourished more often in Palestine while becoming less popular in Eastern Europe, though texts were published until World War II.

Children’s literature in Hebrew went through transformations in orientation, with patterns resembling those found in other national languages. In the beginning, the output was didactic and intended to instill moral values, faith, and education. To some extent, authors relied on stories from folklore. Over the course of time, however, children’s literature evolved into a form of entertainment, aimed specifically to meet the emotional and psychological needs of young readers.

From La-Sevivon (To the Dreydl), by Zalman Shneour (Frankfurt, Moscow, Odessa: Omanut, 1922). Illustration by Ḥavurat Tsayarim be-Odes (Group of Artists in Odessa). This Hebrew children's book was prepared in Odessa in 1918-1921, but issued in Frankfurt a year later, after the repression of Hebrew culture in the Soviet Union made its publication there impossible. It is believed to have been illustrated by one or more members of a group of four students from the Odessa Art Academy, who may have needed to remain anonymous for fear of persecution. (Gross Family Collection)

Uriel Ofek, a scholar in the field, proposed the following periods in the history of children’s literature in Hebrew. The survey in this article is based on this division:

1. The Haskalah period in Central Europe (1790–1840)

2. The Haskalah period in Eastern Europe (1840–1880)

3. The Ḥibat Tsiyon (Love of Zion) period and a related revival of the Hebrew language (1881–1905)

4. The Teḥiyah (renaissance) period (1900–1917)

5. The Interwar period (1918–1939)

During the Haskalah period in Central Europe, maskilim of Germany (led by Moses Mendelssohn) aspired to teach the young generation ethical values while providing them with a general education. At the end of the eighteenth century, children’s texts (readers) in Hebrew were composed with these purposes in mind.

The first Hebrew reader was written by Aharon Wolfsohn-Halle (1754–1835), a maskilic educator who was an editor of the first Hebrew literary periodical, Me’asef. Titled Avtalyon, the text was published in Berlin in 1790; it then went through seven editions between 1790 and 1861 in Vienna, Prague, and Breslau. Its stories were adapted from the Hebrew Bible and the Prophets, and its readers were introduced to proverbs as well as basic knowledge.

The most widely disseminated nineteenth-century reader for Jewish schools in Europe was Bet ha-sefer (School) by Yehudah Leib ben Ze’ev, a poet, linguist, and Hebrew educator. This text was first published in Vienna in 1802; by 1883, it had seen 17 editions. The book’s first section taught the Hebrew alphabet; its second part included poems, fables, Talmudic sayings, and proverbs. The poems in the reader are considered to be among the first in Hebrew for children.

Front cover of Ḥataltulah she-shakhaḥah ekh tesh’al okhel (The Kitten Who Forgot How to Ask for Food), by Ben-Tsiyon Raskin. (Poland: Tarbut, 1923). Illustrations by Ḥayim Hanft. (YIVO)

During the Haskalah period in Eastern Europe, the author and educator Avraham Mapu (1808–1867) was considered to be the father of Hebrew children’s fiction. Mapu also wrote the first longer story for children, “Bet Ḥanan” (The House of Ḥanan), which he published in the reader Amon pedagog (Pedagogic Training; 1867). Mapu’s stories initiated a historical-folkloric trend within Enlightenment literature; the majority are translations and adaptations from English and German.

The first publishing house of Hebrew books for children and adolescents, Bet ha-Otsar (Treasure House), was established in Warsaw in 1875 by Eli‘ezer Yitsḥak Shapira (1835–1919); it was devoted mainly to historical stories. One of the more famous books of this second period is Zikhronot le-vet David (Memories of the House of David; 1893), by Avraham Shalom Friedberg. At the end of the 1800s, translations of adventure stories for adolescents grew popular; selections included Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and books by Jules Verne.

Also at the end of the nineteenth century, the ḥeder metukan (modern or reformed elementary school) was established in Eastern Europe. While these schools resembled older heders in retaining principles of traditional education, they also offered a wide range of subjects. For this context, educators needed new texts and readers in the Hebrew language for children.

Keshe-ani eheyeh gadol (When I Will Be Big), by Ber Sorin (Vilna: U. Margolis and S. Klaczko, 1937). Illustrations by Ber Sorin. A page from a Hebrew booklet in a series intended to encourage knowledge of Hebrew among children. The verse reads: “I’d want to ride on him / It’s enough to whistle to him: ‘phew’ / Because my horse is very smart / And he stops at ‘Tpru.’” The Jean Moldovan Collection, Gift of the Jesselson Family, 1998.890. (Collection of Yeshiva University Museum, New York)

In 1880, the reader Gan sha‘ashu‘im (Playground) by Aharon Rozenfeld (1846–1916) was published in Warsaw; it contained stories, fables, jokes, and riddles as well as Hebrew poems for children. Ze’ev Yavets (1847–1924) published a collection of legends titled Siḥot u-shemu‘ot mini kedem (Conversations from the Past; 1887). Avraham Mordekhai Piórko (1853–1933) produced a series of 11 Sifre yeladim le-mikra’ ule-sha‘ashu‘im (Children’s Books for Reading and Pleasure; 1893), and edited the first weekly publication for children, similarly titled Gan sha‘ashu‘im (1899).

The contribution of Ḥibat Tsiyon members of Agudat Bene Mosheh to the field was significant during the third period of Hebrew children’s literature. Yehoshu‘a Ḥana Ravnitski (1859–1944) founded a small publishing house in Odessa called ‘Olam Katan (Small World) in 1894. Even more noteworthy were the activities of Avraham Leib Shalkovich (known as Ben-Avigdor; 1866–1921), who in 1896 established the private publishing house Tushiyah, which published hundreds of books in Hebrew for children and adults; selections consisted of original works as well as translations into Hebrew.

Among the titles published by Tushiyah were works by Yehudah Steinberg (1863–1908), a collector of stories, legends, and fables. His first book was an anthology of prose fables titled Ba-‘Ir uva-ya‘ar (In the City and in the Forest; 1896); it was also the first original children’s book that Tushiyah handled. Aharon Luboshitski (1874–1942) wrote poetry in addition to editing newspapers and writing textbooks. Yisra’el Binyamin Levner (1862–1916) an author, poet, translator, editor, and adapter, published a reader titled Re‘a ha-yeladim (Friend of the Children), adapting Jewish legends from different sources (Talmud, Midrash, kabbalistic literature, etc.). Levner also edited a children’s journal titled Ha-Peraḥim (Flowers), issued in Lugansk between 1908 and 1914. Yisra’el Ḥayim Tawiow (1858–1920) wrote in a clear and modern style; his reader ‘Eden ha-yeladim (Children’s Eden) included 120 stories and was published in many editions beginning in 1896 in Warsaw.

Mahatalot, kovets-hatulim metsuyar (Limericks: An Anthology of Illustrated Limericks), by Yitsḥak Katzenelson (Warsaw: Ha-or, 1921). Illustrations by Ḥayim Goldberg. (YIVO)

The renaissance age of children’s literature in Hebrew began in 1900. Following Tushiyah, other East European publishing houses began to handle books for younger readers. Though competition among them and the shock following the 1905 Revolution caused a deceleration of Tushiyah’s activity, Ben-Avigdor still continued to advance his publications, and in 1911 he established the Tsentral Company, which issued educational readers and children’s books. In addition, he and his brother-in-law Shemu’el Leib Gordon (1865–1933) edited and published several periodicals in Warsaw: the children’s weekly ‘Olam katan (Small World; 1901–1905), and one monthly journal titled Ha-Ne‘urim (Adolescence; 1904–1905) and another dedicated to issues in education titled Ha-Pedagog (The Pedagogue; 1903–1904). Concurrently (and in order to finance these journals), Ben-Avigdor published several new series for children at Tushiyah: Nitsanim (Buds) for the very young, Peraḥim (Flowers) for older children, and Bikurim (First Fruits) for adolescents.

Literary activity flourished in other cities as well. The publishing house Moriah was founded in Odessa in 1902 by three author-educators: the poet Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik (1873–1934); Yehoshu‘a Ḥana Ravnitski, who was already experienced in the publishing field; and S. Ben-Tsiyon (Simḥah Alter Gutmann; 1870–1932), an educator and colleague associated with Bialik. As both Bialik and Ben-Tsiyon taught at a ḥeder metukan,Moriah declared as its purpose the revival of Hebrew education; subsequently, the first children’s book it published was Sipure ha-mikra’ (Bible Stories) in five parts. Bialik and Ravnitski also collected Hebrew legends and edited them for adolescents.

The Omanut (Art) publishing house was founded in 1917 in Moscow by Hillel Zlatopolski (author and Zionist leader; 1868–1932), who managed it with his daughter and son-in-law, Shoshanah and Yosef Persits; serving as its editor in chief was Aryeh Leib Semyatitski (1883–1945), a teacher in Grodno as well as a translator. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, however, authorities banned Omanut; subsequently, the company moved to Odessa, where it mainly published booklets for young children. In 1921, Omanut relocated again to Frankfurt, where it continued to publish original children’s books by different authors, among them Levin Kipnis (1894–1990) and Ya‘akov Fichmann (1881–1958). As well, Omanut published legends adapted by Bialik, and translations of approximately 40 classic books for children, among them Ha-Lev (The Heart) by De Amicis, translated by Semyatitski.

In Poland after World War I—in light of the termination of Hebrew publishing in Russia on the one hand, and the opening of Hebrew schools in Poland on the other—authors, the majority of whom were educators, felt that it was imperative to publish books for children and adolescents in Hebrew. In different Polish cities, bibliyotekot (series of booklets) began to appear. One of these, Senunit (Swallow) was founded in 1919 in Lwów in Eastern Galicia by the educator Naftali Zigl (1892–1962). This series contained two sections: the young children’s one was called ‘Eden; and the adolescents’ was ‘Ivrit ḥayah (Living Hebrew).

‘Olami ha-katan (My Small World), 5.44 [Warsaw, 1938]. Pictured are Józef Piłsudski, first president of independent Poland, and his daughters. (Aviezer Yellin Archives of Jewish Education, Tel Aviv University)

During the interwar period in Poland, the Hebrew educational network Tarbut proved to be an extremely significant factor in Hebrew publishing for children and adolescents. Tarbut’s branch in Vilna (which included a teachers’ seminary, a Hebrew high school, and elementary schools) established Ha-Sifriyah le-Yeladim ule-Vene ha-Ne‘urim (Book Series for Children and Adolescents). Its productions contained travel stories, tales about countries and peoples, biographies, and topics from nature and zoology. Most of the material was translated by such writers as Avraham Shlonski (1900–1973), Falk Halperin (1876–1945), and Aharon Zeitlin (Yid., Arn Tseytlin; 1898–1973). Another Vilna series was the Bibliyotekah lema‘an ha-Ketanim (Book Series for the Young), which included fairy tales by the Grimm brothers translated by the educator and publisher Natan Levin.

After World War I, the Hebrew literary center moved to Palestine, while Poland’s literature and press tended to emphasize Yiddish. However, children’s literature in Hebrew did not cease entirely in Eastern Europe, and the Jewish literary center of Europe remained in Warsaw. Poets, writers, and translators continued to publish works for children and adolescents; among the most noted contributors were Aharon Luboshitski, Yitsḥak Katzenelson (1885–1944), Yehudah Warszawiak (1903–1942), and Yakir Varshavsky.

Suggested Reading

Adina Bar-El, “Mi-Shibolim ‘ad ‘Olami ha-ketantan: Reshet ‘Tarbut’ be-Polin ve-‘itoneha le-yeladim,” Kesher 23 (May 1998): 102–111; Adina Bar-El, “Keshe-egdal e‘eleh le-Erets Yisra’el,” Dor le-dor 21 (2003); Eliyahu ha-Kohen, ed., Ma’tayim shenot ha-mikra’ah ha-‘ivrit, 1789–1988 (Tel Aviv, 1988); Uriel Ofek, Sifrut ha-yeladim ha-‘ivrit: Ha-Hatḥalah (Tel Aviv, 1979); Uriel Ofek, Leksikon Ofek le-sifrut yeladim, 2 vols. (Tel Aviv, 1985); Uriel Ofek, Sifrut ha-yeladim ha-‘ivrit, 1900–1948, 2 vols. (Tel Aviv, 1988); Zohar Shavit, “Sifrut yeladim ‘ivrit,” ‘Olam katan 1 (2000): 11–21.



Translated from Hebrew by Carrie Friedman-Cohen