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Hazaz, Ḥayim

(1898–1973), Hebrew writer. Ḥayim Hazaz was born in a village in the district of Kiev. Because his father was a logger, Hazaz spent extended periods of his childhood in Ukrainian forests and received some of his Jewish and secular education from private teachers. When he reached adolescence he left his parents’ home to complete his high school studies, and became an avid reader of Russian and Hebrew literature. During the Russian Revolution and the civil war that followed, he witnessed pogroms, the experience of which gave a foundation to his future literary works.

In 1918, Hazaz first published a story in the journal Ha-Shiloaḥ. In 1921, he left Russia, and after a year and a half in Istanbul with a group of young Zionists, he settled in Paris and established a family with the poet Yokheved Bat-Miriam. His literary talents were recognized in 1923 after he published a series of bold, expressionistic stories in Ha-Tekufah. His topics included events of the Russian Revolution and the experiences of displaced Jews in Istanbul and Paris. Hazaz’s first novel, Be-Yishuv shel ya‘ar (In a Forest Settlement) was published in 1930. Set in Ukraine in the early twentieth century, it draws heavily on his childhood experiences.

In 1931, after separating from Bat-Miriam, Hazaz immigrated to Palestine and settled in Jerusalem, where he spent the rest of his life totally dedicated to writing stories and novels, in the process becoming one of the most important writers of his generation. In 1968, some of his writings were compiled into a 12-volume work; nonetheless, much of his writing has yet to appear in book form.

The main protagonist in Hazaz’s works is the Jewish nation, with its diverse groups and divisions, its various diasporas from Russia to Yemen, its historical transmutations from biblical times through the period of the Second Temple through the Middle Ages, to the first years of Israeli statehood. In very broad outline, his works comprise a messianic drama with many chapters, whose heroes are either revolutionaries and rebels, or dreamers seeking redemption, beginning with Moses and Jesus and ending with Jews who followed the false Messiah Shabetai Tsevi; Jews who joined the Bolshevik revolution; Yemenite Jews who yearned to live in Jerusalem; and the anti-British (Jewish) underground during the struggle for Israel’s independence.

At the heart of Hazaz’s writings is the tension between the destruction of the old Jewish world and the modern Jewish revolution with the Zionist movement at its center, and the complex ambivalence he feels toward these clashing ideologies. The Russian Jewish shtetl is simultaneously portrayed in his stories as both an age-old fortress of spiritual and religious strength and a locale of weakness and degeneration. Zionism, on the other hand, which he viewed as the legacy of the Haskalah, is presented as both a wonderfully redemptive movement, and also as a profound rupture in the continuity of Jewish existence that in the long run would have devastating effects.

It appears that the most formative experiences of Hazaz’s life were the terrible journeys he was forced to make during the stormy period of the Russian Revolution. This story is told again and again in expanding versions, and he used his earliest short stories as the prototype from which he created later novels and novellas. One of the trademarks of Hazaz’s writings was his passionate and heavily expressive style, which served as the appropriate vehicle for the thematic and ideological intensity of his literary world.

Suggested Reading

Hillel Barzel, ed., Ḥayim Hazaz: Mivḥar ma’amre bikoret ‘al yetsirato (Tel Aviv, 1978); Dan Laor, ed., Ḥayim Hazaz: Ha-Ish vi-yetsirato (Jerusalem, 1984); Dan Laor and Dov Sadan, eds., Me’asef Ḥayim Hazaz (Jerusalem, 1978).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler