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Kantor, Yehudah Leib

(1849–1915), editor and author; acclaimed for developing the feuilleton as a genre in the Jewish press. Yehudah Leib Kantor was born in Vilna, where his father Yosef served as a cantor in the main synagogue. A promising student at his yeshiva, Kantor soon grew interested in the Haskalah. In 1869, he entered the government-sponsored rabbinical seminary in Vilna and, in the same year, launched his literary career with an article in the Hebrew periodical Ha-Karmel, criticizing the state of education and other aspects of Jewish life.

From 1871 to 1873, Kantor studied at Russia’s rabbinical seminary in Zhitomir, receiving his ordination. He went to Berlin in 1873 and earned a medical degree, all the while publishing articles and satires, mainly in the Hebrew periodicals Ha-Melits and Ha-Shaḥar. When Ḥayim Zelig Słonimski revived the periodical Ha-Tsefirah in Berlin, Kantor was invited to serve as chief assistant editor, becoming the de facto editor from July 1874 to September 1875. As he was not allowed to work as a physician in Germany, Kantor (who in fact never did practice medicine) returned to Vilna, where he contributed to Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian periodicals.

In 1879, Kantor accepted an appointment in Saint Petersburg to be the editor of the Russian-language Jewish weekly Russkii evrei. In this position, he aimed to spread both general and Jewish cultures, and presented readers with detailed information about settlement in Palestine. After the outbreak of pogroms in Russia, he coedited and wrote for the Jewish Russian monthly Evreiskoe obrazovanie. His articles encouraged Jews not to leave the country, and gave them hope for a future in Russia.

Kantor, who was praised for his excellent Hebrew style, also established the first Hebrew-language daily newspaper, Ha-Yom, in 1886. His own feuilletons were written in straightforward, attractive prose, and dealt with political, scholarly, and educational issues. Kantor’s greatest concerns—the Hebrew language, literature, and scholarship—led him to found, along with Ha-Yom, the monthly Ben-‘ami, though only four issues were issued between January and May 1887. The paper continued for less than three years.

After Ben-‘ami folded, Kantor edited what was then the only Yiddish weekly in Russia, Dos yudishes folksblat (1888). When his health forced him to give up journalism, he served as state rabbi in Libau (Lat., Liepāja; 1890–1904), Vilna (1905–1908), and Riga (from 1909 until his death).

Suggested Reading

“Kantor, Yehude-Leyb,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 8, cols. 70–71 (New York, 1971); Getzel Kressel, Leksikon ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ba-dorot ha-aḥaronim, vol. 2, col. 781 (Merḥavyah, Isr., 1967); Fishel Lachower, “Y. L. Kantor,” in Ri’shonim ve-aḥaronim, pp. 143–147 (Tel Aviv, 1965/66).



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann