Title page of Ha-Boker or (The Morning Light), Warsaw, 1880. (YIVO)

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Literary Journals

Hebrew Literary Journals

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The first Hebrew literary journals appeared in Galicia just when a literary center in that language began to flourish there in the early nineteenth century. The earliest examples were annuals or single publications of limited scope, such as Yosef Perl’s Tsir ne’eman (Tarnopol; 1813–1815) or Me’ir Letteris’s Ha-Tsefirah (Żółkiew; 1823). At the same time, maskilim in Galicia read periodicals that were issued in Vienna or Prague; among these were Shalom ben Ya‘akov ha-Kohen’s Bikure ha-‘itim (1820–1831), and Shelomoh Yehudah Rapoport and Shneur Sachs’s Kerem ḥemed (1833–1843, 1854, 1856). As forums for the expression of ideas and scholarship, polemics and exegesis, the journals devoted limited space to belles lettres; that which was printed was mainly satiric, either translated (from ancient writers such as Lucian) or original (Yitsḥak Erter, Yosef Perl). Maskilim of Galicia also produced the yearbook He-Ḥaluts (Lwów, 1852–1865; then in Frankfurt, Prague, and Vienna until 1889), published by Yehoshu‘a Heshel Schorr, which expressed a radical maskilic line in the battle against rabbinical Judaism. It also influenced the antirabbinic and anti-Talmudic ideas that developed in Russia in the 1860s and 1870s.

Title page of He-Ḥaluts (The Pioneer), Lemberg, 1852. (YIVO)

Even after the center of the Hebrew Haskalah movement had passed to Russia, animated literary life persisted in Galicia until the beginning of the twentieth century, though it was mainly local and provincial in character. This activity found expression in a broad spectrum of periodicals: weeklies such as Ha-‘Ivri / ‘Ivri anokhi, edited by Barukh Ya‘akov Werber (Lwów; 1865–1890); Ha-Zeman / Ruaḥ ha-zeman, edited by Re’uven Asher Braudes (Kraków; 1890–1891); Ha-Mitspeh, edited by Shim‘on Menaḥem Lazar (Kraków; 1904–1922); comprehensive annuals such as Otsar ha-sifrut, edited by Shalti’el Ayzik Gräber (Kraków; 1887–1902); Ha-Eshkol, edited by ‘Azri’el Ginzig (Kraków; 1897–1913); and small anthologies published by energetic literary activists including Gershom Bader, Yitsḥak Fernhof, and Aharon Tsevi Zupnik.

Toward the mid-nineteenth century, Lithuania produced its first Hebrew periodical, Pirḥe tsafon (Vilna; 1841, 1844), edited by Eli‘ezer Lipman Horovitz and Shemu’el Yosef Fuenn (or Fünn). Its main innovation was to place belles lettres and literary criticism on an equal plane with the exposition of ideas and scholarship, and it thereby heralded the honored place that Vilna was to soon occupy as an important center for Hebrew creativity in Eastern Europe. However, a more tangible development in the world of Hebrew periodicals took place several years later, with the establishment of four maskilic weeklies, one after the other: Ha-Magid (Lyck; 1856), Ha-Melits (Odessa; 1860), Ha-Karmel (Vilna; 1860), and Ha-Tsefirah (Warsaw; 1862). Each of these, in its own way, sought to achieve several goals—to disseminate news from the general and Jewish world; to enrich readers with modern general education and encourage them to integrate in the life of the state; to discuss the conditions of Jews and of Judaism; and to develop readers’ aesthetic sense. The latter goal opened these periodicals to writers and literature; accordingly, belletristic material—stories, poems, feuilletons, and critical articles—became an integral part of these periodicals throughout their existence.

Title page of Ha-Shaḥar, September/October 1876, Vienna. (YIVO)

In addition to these journals (which were intended for the general public), more elitist forums were created for holding ideological and literary discussions and for publishing longer works. The most important of these was Ha-Shaḥar (1868–1884), the monthly edited by Perets Smolenskin, which was printed in Vienna but was meant for readers in Eastern Europe and was the central forum for later Haskalah literature. Smolenskin serialized his own novels in it, expressing his nationalist and maskilic outlook. All of the prominent authors of the Haskalah, including Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher-Sforim), Yehudah Leib Gordon, and Mosheh Leib Lilienblum, contributed to it to some degree. After Smolenskin attacked Moses Mendelssohn and the Berlin Haskalah in his ‘Et lata‘at (A Time to Plant; published serially in Ha-Shaḥar 6 [1875] and 8 [1877]), Avraham Ber Gottlober founded Ha-Boker or (Lwów and Warsaw; 1876–1886) as a counterpoint to Ha-Shaḥar and as a base for attacking its editor. Gottlober’s monthly was, in fact, edited by Re’uven Asher Braudes, who also serialized his (Braudes’s) important novel, Ha-Dat veha-ḥayim (Religion and Life), in its pages.

In the 1880s, with the decline of the Haskalah and the rise of the Ḥibat Tsiyon (Love of Zion) movement, far-reaching changes took place in the character and scope of the Hebrew reading audience, and, consequently, in the map of periodicals. Instead of a few thousand readers throughout Eastern Europe, there were suddenly tens of thousands of people interested in Hebrew literature and journalism. One of the first signs of this phenomenon was the huge success of the annual Ha-Asif, edited by Naḥum Sokolow (Warsaw; 1884–1893), a hefty anthology of all types of literature. Ten thousand copies of the first volume were printed, and it reached many additional readers, too. The desire to respond to the expanding needs of the readership led to the establishment of the first Hebrew daily, Ha-Yom (Saint Petersburg; 1886–1888), edited by Yehudah Leib Kantor. Following it, Ha-Melits and Ha-Tsefirah also became daily newspapers in 1886, each dedicating considerable space to literature. In Ha-Yom, David Frishman, a dominant figure on the editorial board, was behind this feature; in Ha-MelitsYehudah Leib Gordon served as the editor during the 1880s; and in Ha-Tsefirah, the editor Naḥum Sokolow was extremely active in attracting dozens of young authors and using them as constant contributors to his newspaper.

Various comprehensive anthologies and annuals also served the literary needs of readers. These included Keneset Yisra’el (Warsaw; 1886–1888), edited by Sha’ul Pinḥas Rabbinowitz, Ha-Kerem (Warsaw; 1888), edited by Eli‘ezer Atlas, Keneset ha-gedolah (Warsaw; 1890–1891) edited by Yitsḥak Sobalski, Luaḥ aḥi’asaf (with various editors, Warsaw 1893–1904; 1923), and Sefer ha-shanah (Warsaw; 1899–1905), edited by Sokolow.

Table: East European Hebrew Journals, by Year of Publication

While Warsaw held its place as a dynamic and pluralistic center of literary and publishing activity in Hebrew, a more elitist and conservative tendency developed in Odessa. This was largely due to the powerful influence of Ahad Ha-Am (Asher Ginzberg). The ideological stamp and stylistic seal of approval of the Nusaḥ Odesa (The Odessa Formula) are evident in the collection titled Kaveret (Odessa; 1890, edited by Ahad Ha-Am); in the annual Pardes (Odessa; 1892–1896), edited by Yehoshu‘a Ḥana Ravnitski; and especially in the monthly Ha-Shiloaḥ, which Ahad Ha-Am founded in 1896 and made the most important and prestigious Hebrew periodical for many years. Ahad Ha-Am regarded Ha-Shiloaḥ as a tool for intellectual and literary discussion of the state of the Jewish people, in the spirit of his doctrine of spiritual Zionism. He also chose the works of literature for his monthly according to this severe and restrictive policy, arousing the wrath of Mikhah Yosef Berdyczewski and the latter’s comrades, and giving rise to an important discussion of the boundaries and capacities of the newly forming Hebrew culture. After Yosef Klausner became the editor in 1903, and especially after Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik was in charge of the literary section (1904–1909), the paper was open to all writers of talent, and the best young writers of that generation found their place in it. Ha-Shiloaḥ was active in Russia until 1919 and then was transferred to Jerusalem, where it continued publication until 1926.

In contrast to the pronounced nationalistic tendency found in Ahad Ha-Am’s periodicals, a different tendency arose starting at the end of the nineteenth century, and it sought to remove barriers between the Hebrew reader and contemporary European culture and to emphasize universal aesthetic elements in literature and the other arts. An early expression of this tendency is found in Mi-Mizraḥ umi-ma‘arav, edited by Re’uven Brainin (Vienna and Berlin; 1894–1899), in which for the first time comprehensive essays were published in Hebrew on Tolstoy, Nietzsche, and Ibsen. However, the main figure in this context was the author, critic, and translator David Frishman. He had first written for the newspaper Ha-Yom and continued in periodicals that he published in the first decade of the twentieth century, including the weekly Ha-Dor (Kraków; 1900, 1904), and the anthologies Reshafim (50 issues, Warsaw; 1908–1910), and Sifrut (four issues, Warsaw; 1908–1909). Frishman also published in the short-lived daily newspaper Ha-Boker or (Warsaw; 1909). He aimed to expand his readers’ conceptual world, for example by exposing them to the modern plastic arts, and he encouraged and cultivated young authors of quality such as Uri Nisan Gnessin, whom he “discovered” in 1905.

In those years, the possibilities for both publication and employment were available to Hebrew writers. In addition to the literary journals already mentioned, new daily newspapers emerged that included stories, poems, and essays—among these were Ha-Tsofeh, edited by Avraham Ludvipol and Eli‘ezer Eliyahu Friedman (Warsaw; 1903–1905); and Ha-Zeman, edited by Bentsiyon Katz (Saint Petersburg and Vilna; 1903–1915). At the same time, excellent periodicals were established for children and young readers, with the goal of fostering a future audience of readers of Hebrew literature. These publications included ‘Olam katan, edited by Shemu’el Leib Gordon (Warsaw; 1901–1905), and Ha-Peraḥim (Lugansk; 1907–1914), edited by Yisra’el Binyamin Levner. From time to time, young authors would publish special anthologies of their own in order to express their innovative spirits independently and distinctly. Among the most prominent of these anthologies were Revivim of Yosef Ḥayim Brenner (Lwów; 1908); Shalekhet of Gershom Shofman (Lwów; 1911); Ha-‘Ivri he-ḥadash (Warsaw; 1912) of Ya‘akov Cahan, and Netivot of Yeruḥam Fishel Lachower (Warsaw; 1913). This rich literary activity was interrupted in Russian during the first Russian revolution (1905–1907) when Hebrew newspapers and periodicals were prohibited, but publication was subsequently renewed there and continued until the outbreak of World War I.

During World War I, the Russian Revolution, and that country’s civil war, Hebrew literary activity decreased to a minimum in Eastern Europe, and only rarely, and with great effort, was a literary volume published as an expression of the stubborn will of Hebrew writers to live and work. These isolated volumes included Keneset, edited by Bialik (Odessa; 1917), which contained most of the author’s literary output during the war years; ‘Olamenu (Moscow; 1917) of Mosheh Glickson (Glücksohn); and Ha-‘Ogen of Cahan (Warsaw; 1917). In 1919, while Russia was still in the throes of the civil war, Masu’ot (by Glikson), and Erets appeared in Odessa. The latter was a tempestuous collection of the work of young and rebellious writers edited by Shelomoh Tsemaḥ and Eli‘ezer Steinman; the spirit of the upheaval in Russia is evident in its pages.

The most significant expression of the revival of Hebrew literature from the state of paralysis and muteness imposed by the war occurred in 1918, with the establishment in Moscow of the literary quarterly Ha-Tekufah, financed by the philanthropist and lover of literature Avraham Yosef Stybel and edited by David Frishman (and, following him, Ya‘akov Cahan, Fishel Lachower, and others). The thick volumes of Ha-Tekufah, which appeared regularly, attracted masses of readers and permitted the publication of large-scale works by veteran authors such as Sha’ul Tchernichowsky and Berdyczewski and younger writers such as S. Y. Agnon, Uri Tsevi Grinberg, and Ḥayim Hazaz, who also received generous remuneration. The rich translation section of Ha-Tekufah was prominent, following the spirit and views of Frishman, and included the best of world literature, from Homer through Heine to Tagore. The transfer of this periodical to Warsaw in 1919, and its continued appearance there until 1925, was a sign of the renewal of Hebrew literary life in Poland after the war.

Meanwhile the curtain fell upon the Hebrew literary center in Odessa with the collective departure of the city’s Hebrew authors in the summer of 1921. A small group of loyalists to Hebrew literature—proponents of the Bolshevik revolution—remained in Soviet Russia, and managed to publish two anthologies permeated by the revolutionary modernist spirit: Tsiltsele shama‘ (Resounding Cymbals [from Ps. 150:5]; 1923) and Be-Re’shit (Genesis; 1926), before they were suppressed by the authorities, who prohibited the use of Hebrew and banned literature in that language. Henceforth, Poland remained the only living soil for Hebrew literature in Eastern Europe.

About 30 Hebrew periodicals were published in Poland during the 20 years between the wars, most in Warsaw and some in Lwów, Vilna, and Kovno. This high number should not suggest prosperity, for the majority had few readers and were short-lived or published just once. The dwindling of Hebrew readership in Poland is indicated more than anything by the long death throes of Ha-Tsefirah until its final demise in 1931. At first these publications were edited by experienced authors such as Steinman (the monthly Kolot; 1923–1924), Cahan (the monthly Seneh; 1929), and Ya‘akov Fichmann (the volume Nisan; 1930). Gradually a generation of enthusiastic young writers emerged, repeatedly but vainly seeking to breathe life into the waning arena of Hebrew literature. Me’ir Tschudner published the biweekly Galim (Waves) in Vilna (1929–1930), and after its last issue, a weekly was published there titled Zeramim (Currents; 1931–1932), which did not last long either. A group of young writers in Kovno (including the poet Leah Goldberg) published a journal called Petaḥ (Opening; 1931–1932). Ya‘akov Netaneli-Rothmann published a monthly called Ha-Solel (The Paver) in Lwów (1932–1934). Malki’el Lusternik published Re’shit (Beginning) in Warsaw (1932–1934), and Yehudah Warszawiak published ‘Amudim in Warsaw as well (1936). In these publications, the last Hebrew writers in Poland were able to express themselves in prose and poetry, clearly showing the distress of their situation and their fears for the future. Similarly, they showed their powerful Zionist yearnings, which only a few of the authors managed to fulfill, for most were murdered during the Holocaust.

In 1938, the final two Hebrew publications appeared in Poland: the first and only volume of Sefer ha-shanah le-yehude Polaniyah (The Yearbook of Polish Jewry), and the first and last two volumes of a periodical called Teḥumim (Boundaries). These two comprehensive publications constitute a final group portrait of Hebrew literature in Poland on the eve of its extinction, and the last link of 120 consecutive years of worthy and persistent effort to maintain literary life in Hebrew in Eastern Europe.

Suggested Reading

Menuḥah Gilbo‘a, Leksikon ha-‘itonut ha-‘ivrit ba-me’ot ha-shemoneh-‘esreh veha-tesha‘-‘esreh (Jerusalem, 1992); Nurit Govrin, Manifestim sifrutiyim. Mivḥar manifestim shel kitve ‘et ve-‘itonim ‘ivriyim ba-shanim 1821–1981 (Tel Aviv, 1983/84); Menaḥem Mendel Probst, “Ha-‘Itonut ha-‘ivrit be-hitpatḥuta ha-kronologit,” Luaḥ aḥi’asaf 13 (1923): 239–287; Samuel Werses, “Kitve-‘et ‘ivriyim le-sifrut be-Polin ben shete milḥamot ‘olam,” in Ben shete milḥamot ‘olam: Perakim me-ḥaye ha-tarbut shel yehude Polin li-leshonotehem, pp. 96–127 (Jerusalem, 1997).



Translated from Hebrew by Jeffrey Green