Postcard from Yehoshu‘a Ravnitski to Dovid Pinski, 1909. From Yehoshu‘a Ravnitski in Odessa to Dovid Pinski in Berlin, 14 April 1909, asking him to contribute a piece to an anthology commemorating Zelig Yehudah Steinberg, which Pinski is to write in Yiddish but which will be translated into Hebrew. Yiddish. Russian, German, and Hebrew letterhead: Verlag Moriah, Odessa, Post office box 916. RG 107, Letters Collection. (YIVO)

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Hebrew publishing house, founded in 1901–1902 in Odessa. Moriah was established by the poet Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik, Hebrew-Zionist activist Y. H. Ravnitski, writer Simḥah Alter Gutmann (known as S. Ben-Zion), and others in Ahad Ha-Am’s circle. Under Bialik and Ravnitski, Moriah became the premiere Hebrew publishing house in the period before World War I; a brief revival in 1917–1918 ended amid economic crisis and Bolshevik suppression.

Moriah made its reputation with innovative adaptations of classical and modern Hebrew texts for students in modernized Hebrew-Zionist schools, including its oft-reprinted collection of biblical stories Sipure ha-Mikra’ (1903); Ben-Zion’s reader for school and home Ben-‘ami (1907); and Shirat Yisra’el (1906), a reader of Sephardic poetry. Bialik and Ravnitski soon reoriented Moriah with a more ambitious effort to create a national Hebrew canon. This included most famously their Sefer ha-agadah (The Book of Legends, 1908–1911) and the collected works of key modern Jewish writers including Bialik, Sha’ul Tchernichowsky, Zalman Shneour, Mendele Moykher-Sforim, and (to some extent) Y. L. Peretz. Moriah also published Hebrew and translated Yiddish literary works suitable for children; authors included Sholem Aleichem, Avrom Reyzen, Mordekhai Ben-Ami, Mendele, and Bialik himself (who also did many of the translations).

Moriah made limited space for translations of European classics (e.g., Frishman’s translation of Grimms’ fairy tales). In 1917–1918, it published the anthology Keneset (edited by Bialik), which included Bialik’s famous essay “Halakhah and Agadah,” Ravnitski’s Yiddish anthology Untervegs, and Reshumot (edited by Alter Druyanow and others), a pioneering journal of folklore, ethnography, and memoirs.

Moriah’s significance inheres especially in its distillation of Bialik’s distinctive cultural vision. Its initial educational focus grew out of the editors’ involvement in Hebraist educational efforts in Odessa. Its expanding brief reflected Bialik’s idea of kinus, or cultural ingathering, which aimed to constitute a unified, Hebraized, and aesthetically reconstructed canon of the most compelling Jewish texts throughout history as the basis for the emerging modern Hebrew national culture. In particular, Bialik sought to reintegrate selected classical Hebrew texts (reworked according to secular and national categories) and valuable Jewish texts from other languages (such as Yiddish) into modern Hebrew culture.

Hence Moriah’s focus on classical (and often neglected) texts and definitive editions of modern Jewish classics. Hence, too, Moriah’s most distinctive endeavor, Bialik’s and Ravnitski’s longtime, all-consuming effort to make agadah a central and compelling force in the evolving secular Hebrew culture. Initiated in 1904 as part of Moriah’s textbook program, this undertaking led not only to a series of textbooks, Divre agadah (a selection of agadot from the Talmud and midrashim for students; 1909–1929) but also to the Sefer ha-agadah. In wresting aggadic elements, particularly from the Babylonian Talmud, out of their exegetical or homiletic contexts, translating them into literary Hebrew, and selecting them according to aesthetic criteria, Bialik and Ravnitski reorganized them under their own chronological and thematic categories and presented them as folkloristic literary texts and fragments of a national epic. Sefer ha-agadah achieved immediate popularity in Hebrew as well as in Bialik and Ravnitski’s own Yiddish adaptation and has been reprinted many times by Moriah’s successor in Israel, Devir.

Suggested Reading

Mark Kiel, “A Twice Lost Legacy: Ideology, Culture, and the Pursuit of Jewish Folklore in Russia until Stalinization, 1930–1931” (Ph.D. diss., The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1991); Uriel Ofek, “Moriyah ve-sofre Odesah,” in Sifrut ha-yeladim ha-‘ivrit, 1900–1948, vol. 1, pp. 77–122 (Tel Aviv, 1988); Yoḥanan Pograbinski, “Le-Toldot ha-molut ha-‘ivrit,” Ha-Sefer ha-‘ivri: Kovets shenati 9 (New York, 1950/51): 37–56; Adam Rubin, “From Torah to Tarbut: Hayim Nahman Bialik and the Nationalization of Judaism” (Ph.D. diss., University of California—Los Angeles, 2000).