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Ha-Efrati, Yosef

(1770–1804), Hebrew playwright and poet. Born in Troplowitz (Pol., Opawica), Silesia, Yosef Ha-Efrati (also known as Joseph Troplowitz) served as a private tutor for a wealthy household in Ratibor (Pol., Racibórz) until 1791. Between 1791 and 1794, he lived in Prague. Many of his poems were printed in the Hebrew periodical Ha-Me’asef, which also published his translation (from German) in 1788 of works by Heinrich Von Kleist.

Two years later, Ha-Efrati published a “poem of occasion” in gratitude for the peace between Prussia and Austria, “‘Al devar ha-shalom ben Praisin ve-Estraikh.” In 1792, he issued (in both Hebrew and German) an elegy lamenting the sudden death of Leopold II, “Shulamit ve-Izeva’,” followed by an obituary booklet lamenting the death of Rabbi Yeḥezkel Landau of Prague, published in Vienna in 1793. The illustration on the cover of the booklet depicts Landau, who was detested by maskilim, embracing Moses Mendelssohn—a symbolic expression revealing Ha-Efrati to be a moderate maskil.

Ha-Efrati’s principal work is the historical drama Melukhat Sha’ul (Saul’s Kingdom), first published in Vienna in 1794. Its plot is based on biblical stories, which Ha-Efrati expanded using monologues, dialogues, and concepts drawn from literature and philosophy. He presents Saul as a tragic king who refuses to comply with God’s demand to annihilate the defeated enemy, Amalek. Yosef Klausner regarded Ha-Efrati’s play as the first original Hebrew drama of the Haskalah period. In 1820, Yitsḥak Ber Levinzon published a second edition, at the end of which he included an article titled “To the Enlightened Reader,” praising the play and its author. By 1888, ten further editions had been published. In 1801, a translation of Melukhat Sha’ul into Yiddish had been published in Lwów. The Yiddish version, translated by Naftali Hirsh and called Gedules Dovid un melukhes Shoyel (David’s Greatness and Saul’s Kingdom), was staged as a purim-shpil.

At the same time, Ha-Efrati was influenced by contemporary Hebrew and secular culture, in particular by the works of Mosheh Ḥayim Luzzatto, Naftali Herts Wessely’s Shire tif’eret (Songs of Glory), and the writings of Goethe, Schiller, and Rousseau. Ha-Efrati also composed a collection of poetry that is mentioned in the introduction to Melukhat Sha’ul, but he did not live to see it published. Aharon Ze’ev Ben-Yishai printed excerpts from this book in the periodical Beḥinot in 1957.

Suggested Reading

Yosef Ha-Efrati, Melukhat Sha’ul, ed. Gershon Shaked (Jerusalem, 1968); Joseph Klausner, Historyah shel ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ha-ḥadashah (Jerusalem, 1960), vol. 1, pp. 193–199; Israel Zinberg, Toldot sifrut Yisra’el (Tel Aviv, 1959), pp. 132–134.



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann