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Katz, Bentsiyon

(1875–1958), journalist and editor. Bentsiyon Katz was born in Doyg (Lith., Daugai) in Lithuania to a prestigious rabbinical family. At the age of 16, he began to send articles on contemporary problems to Ha-Melits and Ha-Tsefirah, frequently dealing with the need to adapt halakhah to modern times. From 1893 he lived in turn in Vilna, Kovno, and Saint Petersburg, received a university education, and by the end of that decade had published studies on halakhah (Mi-Zekenim etbonen [From the Elders I Shall Gain Wisdom]; 1894), on the Talmud (Or nogah: ‘Al sheme ha-Talmud [A Shining Light upon the Heavens of the Talmud]; 1895), and on Jewish history (Le-Korot ha-yehudim be-Rusyah, Polin, ve-Lita’ bi-shenot me’ot ha-shesh ‘esreh veha-sheva‘ ‘esreh [History of the Jews of Russia, Poland, and Lithuania in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries]; 1899).

Katz wished to establish his own newspaper, and with his organizational skills, energy, and contacts in the Russian government he obtained the needed capital and the official license to found Ha-Zeman (The Time), producing the first issue in Saint Petersburg in February 1903. Initially appearing twice a week, the paper also produced a quarterly with the same title. At the end of its first year, however, Ha-Zeman suffered a financial crisis, whereupon Katz moved it to Vilna, enlisted the support of new backers, and began to publish it as a daily. In this new format Ha-Zeman continued to publish, with a few interruptions, until 1915.

In the years of the first Russian revolution (1905–1907), Ha-Zeman was a success in every respect. At the time it was the only Hebrew newspaper in Russia, and it managed to attract a select group of regular contributors consisting largely of outstanding young writers. In addition, it maintained a quarterly by the same name, devoted to belletristics; a Yiddish newspaper, Di tsayt (The Time; 1906); and a children’s weekly, Ha-Ḥayim veha-teva‘ (Life and Nature).

Katz spent a significant amount of time in Saint Petersburg so that he could supply his paper with information provided by sources close to the government. His greatest journalistic coup came when the paper was the first in the world to publish a draft of the new Russian constitution. Ha-Zeman also acted as a watchdog for Jewish rights in Russia and was at the same time an ardent advocate for the Zionist movement.

In 1910, Katz was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for violating censorship rules, but he continued to run the newspaper from his jail cell in Gory-Gorki, Mogilev province. In 1912–1913 he assisted the defense team in the trial of Mendel Beilis in Kiev. During World War I and the revolution, he alternated between Saint Petersburg and Moscow, publishing newspapers in Yiddish (Petrograder togblat [Petrograd Daily]), and in Hebrew (Ha-‘Am [The People]), both of which were short-lived.

Katz left Russia in 1920. After two years in Kovno, he settled in Berlin, where he was involved in literature and publishing, mainly for the Stybel publishing house. In 1931, he immigrated to Palestine, where he wrote about history and current affairs for the Hebrew press, and published his memoirs in Hebrew and in Yiddish. Above all, Katz should be remembered as one of the pioneers of the modern Hebrew press, an energetic initiator, a gifted reporter, and a dominant, innovative editor.

Suggested Reading

He-‘Avar [Tel Aviv] 6 (1958): 5–24, an assemblage of tributes and reminiscences to Katz’s memory by various authors, summaries in English; Benzion Katz (Ben-Tsiyon Kats), ‘Al ‘itonim va-anashim (Tel Aviv, 1983); A. Lita’i, “Ben-Tsiyon Kats ha-‘itona’i,” Sefer ha-shanah shel ha-‘itona’im (1947): 247–251.



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler