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Lewinsky, Elḥanan Leib

(1857–1910), Hebrew writer. Elḥanan Leib Lewinsky was born in Podberez’ye (Pol., Podbrodzie; mod. Lith., Paberžė), on the outskirts of Vilna, though during his childhood his family moved to Gilwan in the Kovno region. He received an intensive Talmudic education under his father’s supervision, but at the same time was given the opportunity to read Haskalah literature in Hebrew. Lewinsky was especially impressed with the writings of Mosheh Leib Lilienblum and with the latter’s struggle against the Lithuanian rabbinate then taking place in the nearby town of Wilkomir (Ukmergė). As an adolescent, Lewinsky spent short periods of time studying in Wilkomir and Kovno, and from 1874 he taught in Vilna and in other towns in the provinces of Minsk, Chernigov, and Ekaterinoslav.

In 1881, Lewinsky began to study medicine in Kharkov and was drawn to the nascent Jewish nationalist movement. Spurred on by pogroms in southern Russia, he abandoned his studies, joined Ḥoveve Tsiyon (Lovers of Zion) circles, allied himself to the BILU student movement, and even went to Palestine, where he stayed for several months in 1882. Upon returning to Russia, he continued his intense involvement in Ḥibat Tsiyon, establishing Zionist associations in various southern towns. Working as a grain merchant, he coordinated his public activities with his business travel schedule. After his business collapsed in 1896, he was appointed manager of the southern and western Russian branches of the Carmel company, marketing wine produced in Palestine. That same year he made Odessa his permanent home, and it was not long before he became one of the mainstays of the elite circle of Hebrew writers and Zionist activists there. For the rest of his life he was a driving force behind the literary, publishing, educational, charitable, and propaganda enterprises in Odessa.

Lewinsky’s first batch of articles was published in 1875 in Ha-Levanon, but he himself belittled the value of these early writings and considered his literary career to have begun in 1889 with the appearance in Ha-Melits of his polemic articles against the attempts of Sholem Aleichem and Yehoshu‘a Ravnitski to cultivate Yiddish literature. Initially viewing their activities as a threat to the future of Hebrew literature, over time Lewinsky changed his mind to the extent that he himself contributed feuilletons to the Yiddish press, and even was a founder of the Odessa-based Yiddish daily Gut morgen. In the early 1890s, he published travel memoirs in the local press that, because of their vitality and humorous tones, proved very popular with readers. Nonetheless, his best work of that period was Masa‘ le-Erets Yisra’el bi-shenat tat (2040) (Voyage to the Land of Israel in the Year 5800 [2040]; 1892), a utopian tale of a visit to an utterly perfect, future Jewish state.

Lewinsky’s crowning achievement in his writing was the Maḥashavot u-ma‘asim (Thoughts and Deeds) series of feuilletons, which he published in Ha-Shiloaḥ from its very first issue in 1896. In 50 installments, Lewinsky elevated the art of the Hebrew feuilleton to new heights. He developed the character of the popular narrator, a firmly rooted Jewish persona called Rabi Karov (Rabbi Close Relative), who discusses issues of the day with quick-witted humor and talks to readers in an unadorned and intimate manner. Embedded in these monologues is Lewinsky’s Hebrew nationalist weltanschauung, which does not owe allegiance to any specific Zionist denomination but rather encapsulates the fundamentals common to practical, political, and spiritual Zionism.

Lewinsky’s generosity and warm countenance became legendary, and after he died suddenly in October 1910, his funeral attracted tens of thousands of people and countless warm words of eulogy, including those written in a special memorial booklet published by the Ha-Shiloaḥ journal. His writings were anthologized immediately after his death in three volumes (1911–1913) and then again in two volumes on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death.

Suggested Reading

Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik, “Ha-Manoaḥ Levinski,” in Kol kitve Ḥ. N. Byalik, pp. 252–254 (Tel Aviv, 1937/38); Tsevi Karni’el, “Elḥanan Leb Levinski,” in Ha-Filiton ha-‘ivri, pp. 286–360 (Tel Aviv, 1981); Joseph Klausner, “E. L. Levinski: Ha-Adam veha-sofer,” in Kitve . . . Levinski, by Elhanan Leib Lewinsky, vol. 1, pp. 1–21 (Tel Aviv, 1935).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler