Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

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

Goldberg, Leah

(1911–1970), poet, novelist, playwright, and literary scholar. Born in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), then an important center of the Haskalah movement and Hebrew culture, Leah Goldberg moved in her early childhood to Kovno (now Kaunas), where in 1923 one-quarter of the population was Jewish. During World War I, her family, with many other Jews in Lithuania, was forced by the Russian government to move to the countryside, and they lived for a few years as refugees in Balashov (Saratov province).

In 1918, Goldberg’s family moved back to Kaunas, which was then the capital of independent Lithuania. As they made their way to that city, her father was caught and tortured by the Bolsheviks, causing his mental breakdown. He was hospitalized in an asylum in Kaunas, divorced his wife, and later disappeared. Throughout her life, Goldberg lived in fear of genetic insanity. Perhaps her fears caused her to reject the revolutionary and mystical styles and themes that were in vogue in Russian and Hebrew poetry; her style, instead, was classical and romantic.

In Kaunas, Goldberg graduated from a Jewish high school and Kaunas University, where she studied German and Russian literature and Semitics. In 1930, she went to Berlin and Bonn, where at the age of 22 she earned her doctorate (her thesis was on the Samaritan translation of the Bible). In 1932, she returned to Kaunas and became a leading figure in Petaḥ (Opening), a group of young poets who founded the eponymous publishing house and literary organs Petaḥ (1932) and Pa‘am (1933).

The members of Petaḥ considered themselves to be a revolutionary opposition to the “official” line of nationalist and patriotic positivist literature. They were in contact with the Ketuvim group, headed by Avraham Shlonsky in Palestine. Along with Shlonsky and Natan Al’tman, Goldberg associated with a group of poets who in the 1930s and 1940s wrote under the influence of Russian symbolism. However, Goldberg’s poetry in those decades was closer to Acmeism: she refrained from using “great” themes and developed a poetics that she later formulated in the title of her literary essays Ha-Omets la-ḥulin (The Courage for the Everyday [or the Profane]; 1976).

Goldberg had begun writing poems in Russian at age 11, and in high school she started to write in Hebrew. In 1935, she went to Palestine, where she collaborated with Shlonsky as an editor and translator and became acclaimed as a writer and literary scholar. She founded the department of comparative literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and lectured there from 1955 to 1970. She also wrote many books for children, and some of her poems have become popular songs.

Goldberg was one of the few women poets who began writing poetry in Hebrew after World War I, when the Zionist revolution was beginning to materialize. (Other poets included Raḥel, Elisheva, Esther Raab, and Yokheved Bat-Miriam.) Their presence offered a new form for modern Hebrew literature, which, since the late eighteenth century, had been composed only by men.

Suggested Reading

Ruth Kartun-Blum and Anat Weisman, eds., Pegishot ‘im meshoreret: Masot u-meḥkarim ‘al yetsiratah shel Le’ah Goldberg (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 2000); Tuvia Ruebner, Le’ah Goldberg: Monografyah (Tel Aviv, 1980); A. B. Yoffe, ed., Le’ah Goldberg: Mivḥar ma’amre bikoret ‘al yetsiratah (Tel Aviv, 1980).