Yehudah Leib-Binyamin Katzenelson. Painting by M. S. Yoffe, 1901. The Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem. (Image courtesy The Jewish National and University Library)

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Katzenelson, Yehudah Leib-Binyamin

(1846–1917), Russian and Hebrew writer. Born in Chernigov, Russia, Yehudah Leib-Binyamin Katzenelson, who adopted the pseudonym Buki ben Yogli (the name of the head of the biblical tribe of Dan), grew up in Gomel. In 1861, he began his yeshiva education in Bobruisk, and while there he grew interested in the Haskalah.

In 1865, Katzenelson attended the government-sponsored rabbinical seminary in Zhitomir. After graduating in 1871, he studied medicine in Saint Petersburg and taught Hebrew at the only Jewish school in the city. When he completed his degree, he married a woman from the medical academy; in 1877, they both set out to serve in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878—Katzenelson as an army physician and his wife as a nurse. When the war ended, he returned to Saint Petersburg to practice medicine.

Katzenelson began his literary career in 1879, writing for the Jewish weekly Russkii evrei. In Russian-language feuilletons written prior to the pogroms of 1881, he promoted agriculture as a means to strengthen the spirit of the Jewish people. But the violence of 1881 shocked Katzenelson, causing him to reduce his literary output. In 1886, he published his first feuilleton in Hebrew, “Ha-Yad‘oni” (The Wizard), in the ninth issue of Ha-Yom, the first Hebrew daily newspaper (edited by Yehudah Leib Kantor). Elements such as lyricism and humor, along with mockery, sarcasm, and wit, were prominent in all of Katzenelson’s feuilletons.

Katzenelson also published studies of ancient medicine as reflected in the Bible and the Talmud. Parts of his works were collected into a volume published after his death, titled Ha-Talmud ve-ḥokhmat ha-refu’ah (1928). His writings enriched modern Hebrew vocabulary with new medical terminology.

In 1886, Katzenelson tried his hand at political journalism. At that point, he was still hesitant to recommend Palestine as the sole solution for the Jewish people, and he also had reservations about Jewish nationalism. In 1892, though, he published seven articles in Ha-Melits about Jews who had settled in farming communities in Argentina. In 1894, he wrote a story for adolescents, “Shirat ha-zamir” (The Nightingale’s Song), which promoted the concept of agriculture in general, and of farming in Palestine in particular. The story was printed several times and became one of the most popular pieces of Hebrew literature. Katzenelson maintained his territorialist views until he visited Palestine in 1909—a visit that made a lasting impression upon him. He then became a full supporter of Zionism and continued to work to revive the Hebrew language.

Katzenelson also wrote a monograph about Aleksandr Pushkin, which was published with a selection of the latter’s poems (translated by David Frishman). Beginning in 1901, he published stories and articles in Ha-Dor, and as of 1906 he edited, initially with Simon Dubnow and subsequently as editor in chief, a Russian-language Jewish encyclopedia.

Katzenelson was among the leaders of Ḥevrat Mefitse Haskalah (Society for the Promotion of Enlightenment among the Jews of Russia) and of Ḥoveve Sefat ‘Ever (Lovers of Hebrew). He edited the latter organization’s monthly Ha-Safah between 1912 and 1913. The first issue of this journal printed his final Hebrew article, “Ha-Safah veha-signon” (Language and Style).

Suggested Reading

Benzion Katz, “Y. L. Katsenelson: Ha-Ish u-fo‘alo,” in Mah she-ra’u ‘enai ve-sham‘u oznai: Zikhronot mi-yeme ḥayai, by Y. L. Katsenelson, pp. 167–277 (Jerusalem, 1947); Y. L. Katzenelson (Buki ben Yogli), Mah she-ra’u ‘enai ve-sham‘u oznai: Zikhronot mi-yeme ḥayai (Jerusalem, 1947), pp. 3–155; Fishel Lachower, “Y. L. Katsenelson (Buki ben Yogli),” in Ri’shonim ve-aḥaronim: Masot u-ma’amarim, vol. 1 (Tel Aviv, 1934), pp. 133–137.

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 1121, Saul Ginsburg, Papers, .



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann