Yosef Klausner, during the period when he was editor of the monthly Ha-Shiloaḥ, Odessa (?), 1911. (The Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem)

Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Klausner, Yosef

(1874–1958), critic, researcher, and editor. Yosef Klausner was born in Olkeniki, near Vilna. In 1885, his family moved to Odessa and he became involved in the activities of the Ḥibat Tsiyon movement and in organizations promoting Hebrew as a spoken language. In 1893 his first publications addressed both topics—Zionist activism and the revitalization of Hebrew. He then wrote his initial work on literary criticism, on Yehudah Leib Gordon (1894). Between 1897 and 1902, Klausner studied at the University of Heidelberg, simultaneously establishing a reputation as an outstanding critic of renascent Hebrew literature.

In 1903, Klausner was appointed editor of the monthly Ha-Shiloaḥ, following its founding editor, Ahad Ha-Am, and remained in this position for the rest of the periodical’s existence—until 1919 in Russia, and thereafter in Palestine until 1926. He also published a series of scholarly books on the history of Judaism and of Christianity, and participated in various initiatives in the field of Jewish studies. Among these was the Hebrew-language Jewish encyclopedia, Otsar ha-yahadut (The Treasury of Judaism), which did not progress further than its detailed planning stages (1906), and a Jewish encyclopedia in Russian (Evreiskaia entsiklopediia), for which he wrote entries.

Klausner left Odessa in 1919 for Palestine. From 1925 until 1950 he taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, first as a professor of modern Hebrew literature, and later, from 1943, as a historian of the Second Temple period. Active in political life as well, in 1949 Klausner was the political right wing’s candidate for president of Israel. Among the dozens of books he published during this period, most notable were the six volumes of Historyah shel ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ha-ḥadashah (History of Modern Hebrew Literature; 1930–1950), a detailed study of the history of Haskalah Hebrew literature that to this day is considered an essential basis for further study.

Klausner’s philosophical outlook was articulated early in his career in his book Yahadut ve-enoshiyut (Judaism and Humanism; 1905, with revised and expanded editions in 1910, 1941, and 1955). In his view, ancient, pre-exilic Judaism consisted of an ideal integration of national distinctiveness and universal openness, a direct relationship with nature, and a yearning for a messianic redemption that would see the triumph of justice in the world. The Haskalah movement prepared the ground for curing the Jewish people of the diseases of exile, and Zionism was the ideal implement for achieving a national rebirth in the Land of Israel, which would be followed ultimately by the redemption of all humanity.

Klausner therefore considered it his principal mission to encourage Hebrew writers to compose works that blended Judaism with humanism, in order to fulfill his vision of national revival. He regarded a literary work as worthy if it reflected vigorous human vitality and harmony with nature; he also believed that when Zionism would bring about the normalization of Jewish life, Hebrew literature would become capable of producing works of genius. The ideal practitioner of this philosophy, in Klausner’s view, was the poet Sha’ul Tchernichowsky, followed closely by Zalman Shneour, and it appears that he preferred both of them to Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik, whom he viewed as the typical embodiment of sevel ha-yerushah (the suffering of the exilic legacy).

Suggested Reading

Ya‘akov Beker and Ḥayim Toren, Yosef Klozner: Ha-Ish u-fo‘olo (Tel Aviv, 1946/47); Joseph Klausner, Darki li-kerat ha-teḥiyah veha-ge’ulah: Otobiyografyah (Tel Aviv, 1946); Iris Parush, Kanon sifruti ve-ide’ologyah le’umit (Jerusalem, 1992).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler