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Gornfel'd, Arkadii

(1867–1941), literary scholar, critic, and translator who played an important role in the development of Jewish literature in Russia. The son of a lawyer who had been one of the first Jews to receive a law degree from Kharkov University, Arkadii Gornfel’d suffered a serious childhood illness and remained disabled throughout his life. He studied Jewish subjects at home, and mastered German and French while still a child. After graduating from the Simferopol gymnasium, he studied law at Kharkov University (1886–1891) and simultaneously attended A. A. Potebnya’s seminar on the theory of literature. At the University of Berlin from 1891 to 1893, he took courses on philosophy and psychology, studying with Moritz Lazarus.

Returning to Russia, Gornfel’d settled in Saint Petersburg and wrote criticism on contemporary Russian literature in the journal Severnyi vestnik. Starting in 1897, he wrote for Voskhod, the preeminent Russian Jewish literary journal, contributing analyses of contemporary Russian Jewish literature as well as articles on Russian literature focusing on Jews and the Jewish question. Among the works he discussed were Evgenii Chirikov’s play Evrei (The Jews; 1900), Petr Khotymskii’s novella Na novom meste (In a New Place; 1904), and Savelii Litvin’s short story collection Sredi evreev (Among Jews; 1897).

Between 1895 and 1918, Gornfel’d worked on the literary section of the most distinguished Russian populist journal, Russkoe bogatstvo, run by Vladimir Korolenko and Nikolai Annenskii, who opposed the antisemitism endemic in Russian government and society. In addition to his other duties, Gornfel’d evaluated Jewish literature and articles on the Jewish question. He eventually served as the journal’s main editor.

Gornfel’d advised Korolenko on Jewish themes in the composition “Skazanie o Flore, Agrippe i Menakheme, syne Iegudy” (Tale of Flor, Agrippa, and Menakhem, Son of Yehudah; 1886). He opened the journal’s pages to discussions about Zionism and the Jewish question, bringing in well-known Jewish and Russian social thinkers, and wrote reviews of works by a number of Jewish authors writing in Russian, Yiddish, and Hebrew: among the writers were David Aizman, S. An-ski, Ben-Ami, Jakub Berman, David Benar’e, , Aleksandr Iablonskii, Semen Iushkevich, Aleksandr Kipen, Aleksandr Kugel’, Naum Osipovich, Andrei Sobol’, and Iurii Volin.

In his essay “Zhargonnaia literatura na russkom knizhnom rynke” (Yiddish Literature in the Russian Book Market; Evreiskii mir [1909]) and later, in 1923, in an article titled “Russkoe slovo i evreiskoe tvorchestvo” (The Russian Word and Jewish Art) in Evreiskii al’manakh, Gornfel’d set standards for the development of Jewish literature in Russia. He insisted that Jewish writers possess a perfect command of Russian in addition to understanding and recording specific features of Jewish life. He applied the same standards to Russian translations of Yiddish writers.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, Gornfel’d was associated with the journals Evreiskii mir, Evreiskaia nedel’ia, and Novyi voskhod. He also had extensive correspondence with prominent Jewish political figures, publicists, and critics, among them Aleksandr Braudo, Ber Borokhov, Leontii Bramson, Iulii and Boris Brutskus, Yo’el Engel, Mikhail Gershenzon, Meir Kreinin, David Shor, Maksim Lazerson, Menakhem Morgulis, Yisroel (Sergei) Tsinberg, Maksim Vinaver, Moisei Zil’berfarb.

In an introduction to the 1903 translation of Moritz Lazarus’s Ethics of Judaism, Gornfel’d offered his personal interpretation of the philosophy of Judaism. While praising Lazarus for fighting antisemitism and recognizing the “religious component of his thought,” he criticized the philosopher for his “assimilatory definition of nationhood” and for allowing only German Jewry the “right to have a religion.” Gornfel’d emphasized that for him personally, the most admirable feature of Judaism was that it allowed Jews to preserve their “inner freedom.”

Gornfel’d worked on the Evreiskaia entsiklopediia (Jewish Encyclopedia), published in Russia between 1908 and 1913, editing and reviewing articles on Russian and Yiddish writers. He insisted that even though Russian Jewish literature had not produced the equivalent of a Tolstoy, it still had an integral place in Russian literature.

Gornfel’d was a member of the Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia, and a founder of the Jewish Historical-Ethnographic Society and the Jewish Literary Society. He served on the boards of the publishing houses Razum, Mir, and Novaia biblioteka, all of them in essence Jewish. In the early years of the twentieth century, he supported the positions of the Jewish liberal democratic movement, and between 1905 and 1907 was active within the Saint Petersburg division of the Union for the Rights of Jews in Russia.

After 1917, despite worsening health, Gornfel’d continued to work as a critic and translator. Until the end of the 1920s, he wrote for Jewish academic publications such as Evreiskaia mysl’, Evreiskii al’manakh, and Evreiskii vestnik.

Suggested Reading

A. G. (Arkadii Georgievich) Gornfel’d, Na zapade (St. Petersburg, 1910); A. G. (Arkadii Georgievich) Gornfel’d, O russkikh pisateliakh (St. Petersburg, 1912); A. G. (Arkadii Georgievich) Gornfel’d, Muki slova (Moscow, 1927); A. G. (Arkadii Georgievich) Gornfel’d, Romany i romanisty (Moscow, 1930); A. Palei, “Vospominaniia o Gornfel’de,” Al’manakh bibliofila (Moscow) 5 (1979); G. O. (Grigorii Osipovich) Vinokur, Kul’tura iazyka (Moscow, 1929).



Translated from Russian by Alice Nakhimovsky