David Frishman (right) with Hebrew poets (left) Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik and (center) Zusman Segalovitsh. Postcard published by Verlag Jehudia, Warsaw. (YIVO)

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Frishman, David

(1859–1922), Hebrew and Yiddish writer and editor, literary critic, translator, and poet. David Frishman was born to a family of wealthy merchants in Zgierz, near Łódź. When he was two years old, his family moved to Łódź, and Frishman received a private education that included traditional Jewish studies, French, and German. At 16, he published his first story (written at age 13), followed by poems, translations, and articles for various Hebrew newspapers and journals (Ha-Tsefirah, Ha-Shaḥar, Ha-Boker or). Frishman’s literary views were influenced by European early modernism. As a critic he greatly valued the aesthetic form, rejecting Ahad Ha-Am and Yosef Klausner’s idea that a good writer expresses the national spirit. However, Frishman’s own short stories are simplistic, didactic, and sentimental, in the vein of Haskalah literature. Some of them show the influence of fin de siècle neoromanticism.

Dovid Frishman, “Briv fun Poyln” (Letter from Poland), early 1920s. In this article Frishman writes that it is said that extreme nationalist parties such as Roman Dmowski's Endecja are being influenced by Romanian-style antisemitism. But actually, Poland has a much more complicated relationship with antisemitism. In Poland, Jews are not hated, they are "despised," which is much worse. The epithets "Pan Moshek” [Little Mister Moyshe] and "Pan Itsek” [Little Mister Yitskhok] symbolize this disdain. Today, antisemites in Poland are angry because they are still mired in the world of long ago, whereas Jews have moved on and become modern and are no longer willing to put up with this sort of thing. Today's Jew will answer back, but watch out: with his son it will be even worse. He'll hit you or do even more damage. Poland is still today a feudal and ethnocratic society, mired in romanticism while the rest of Europe has moved on. Antisemitism in Poland is not just a matter of "politics," but also a deep reflection of national psychology.Yiddish. RG 108, Manuscripts Collection, F67.13. (YIVO)

In the early 1880s, Frishman wrote sensational polemical essays for Ha-Boker or, criticizing what he regarded as the mediocre standards of Perets Smolenskin’s essays. He also attacked the lack of style and literary taste that he believed characterized Hebrew newspapers, especially Ha-Melits. His own prose (as in the story “Yom ha-Kipurim” [Day of Atonement], written in 1881) was lyrical and sentimental.

In 1881–1883, Frishman lived in Berlin, where he had contacts with Jewish German writers, including Berthold Auerbach and Aharon Bernstein. Earning a living there by translating a popular 20-volume science book from German, Frishman also began to write stories in German. In the mid 1880s, he moved to Warsaw, where he wrote Otiyot porḥot (Flying Letters), a series of long stories. This was also the title he gave his series of feuilletons, a popular genre in Russian and other European literature at the time, in which he emphasized Hebrew literature.

Frishman’s essays won him the respect of contemporary major writers (including Yehudah Leib Gordon) and editors. In 1886, he became an editor of the daily Ha-Yom in Saint Petersburg. There he began to publish his popular “Mikhtavim ‘al devar ha-sifrut” (Letters about Literature), a series of feuilletons on literary phenomena in Hebrew and world literature, written as letters to a woman friend. In 1888, after Ha-Yom ceased publication, Frishman returned to Warsaw and began to write articles and essays in Yiddish.

In the early 1890s, Frishman spent four years at Breslau University, where he befriended Mikhah Yosef Berdyczewski. Later in the decade, he translated works of European literature from English, German, and Russian into Hebrew; wrote romantic ballads and poems; and continued to write literary criticism, praising Mendele Moykher-Sforim and attacking Y. L. Peretz. He also criticized Eli‘ezer Ben-Yehudah’s innovative plans for the Hebrew language.

When Zionism became a political movement, Frishman treated it with reservations. He also rejected the title National Poet, given to Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik by Yosef Klausner, because he thought the designation belittled Bialik’s aesthetic achievements. However, and in spite of Ahad Ha-Am’s disapproval, Frishman was invited by the publishing house of Aḥi’asaf to edit the weekly Ha-Dor (1900). In this role, Frishman made efforts to elevate his readers’ tastes according to contemporary European standards of early modernism. In its pages, he published works of the best contemporary Hebrew writers—Mendele, Bialik, Peretz, Sha’ul Tchernichowsky—as well as his own “Mikhtavim ‘al devar ha-sifrut.” Ha-Dor, however, lasted only one year.

In mid-1905, Frishman became the editor of the monthly Ha-Zeman, and later of the literary journals Sifrut (Warsaw; 1908–1909) and Reshafim (Warsaw; 1908–1909). In the latter publication, he published his translation of Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra). His translation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House appeared in book form in 1909.

As an editor and literary critic, Frishman encouraged young writers such as Uri Nisan Gnessin and Gershom Shofman, who turned to nonrealistic and nonideological prose. In the early 1900s, Frishman published translations of Byron and wrote biblical neoromantic stories. In 1909 he tried to found a Hebrew newspaper, Ha-Boker, but the paper lasted only six months. As a journalist for Ha-Tsefirah and Haynt, he was sent to Palestine twice (1911; 1912), and his reports were published in book form in Hebrew (Ba-Arets; 1913). In the early 1900s he also continued his literary activity, writing a series called Partsufim (Portraits; 1912).

When World War I broke out, Frishman was arrested in Berlin. He later went to live in Odessa (1915). There he translated the tales of the brothers Grimm and the poems of Rabindranath Tagore; wrote Hebrew poems (published in Keneset) and Yiddish feuilletons (published in Unzer lebn). After the war, he was invited to Moscow to run the Stybel publishing house and to edit the prestigious quarterly Ha-Tekufah, which he did very successfully in his final years (1918–1922). In Ha-Tekufah, he published Bialik’s translation of An-ski’s play The Dybbuk, Tshernichowsky’s translations of Homer, and his own biblical stories and translations of Oscar Wilde, Heinrich Heine, and others. His translation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus appeared posthumously (1924).

Frishman’s collected writings were issued in several editions between 1899 and 1965. His collected Yiddish works still await publication. A collection of his stories in Russian translation, V pustynie (In the Desert) was published in Israel in 1992.

Frishman was an outstanding representative of the East European Jewish dream to create “normal” European modern Jewish literature within Eastern Europe, unconnected to the fight for civil rights or plans for a revolutionary solution to the “Jewish question.” He envisioned an elitist, refined Hebrew literature that could parallel the achievements of classic works of Western literature. He was skeptical about the value of Jewish cultural heritage and believed that the development of taste and aesthetic sensitivity was the key to a modern Jewish renaissance.

Suggested Reading

Menuḥah Gilbo‘a, Ben re’alizm le-romantikah (Tel Aviv, 1975); Shalom Kremer, Frishman ha-mevaker: Monografyah (Jerusalem, 1984); Iris Parush, Kanon sifruti ve-ide’ologyah le’umit: Bikoret ha-sifrut shel Frishman be-hashva’ah le-vikoret ha-sifrut shel Klozner u-Brener (Jerusalem, 1992), pp. 3–210.