Dovid Pinski (right) with his cousins Hirshe Zhorov from Orenburg (seated, left) and Yoysef Tsaytlin (standing) from Mohilev, Russia (now in Belarus), 1894. Photograph by L. Perelmann. (YIVO)

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Pinski, Dovid

(1872–1959), Yiddish prose writer and playwright. Dovid Pinksi was born in Mogilev, Belorussia, where he received a traditional and secular education and became acquainted with Russian literature and theater. At age 13, he moved to Moscow and tried his hand at writing in Russian. In 1890–1891, Pinski lived in Vitebsk and was active in the local chapter of Ḥoveve Tsiyon. A year later, on his way to Vienna, hoping to study medicine, Pinski stopped in Warsaw, where he met Y. L. Peretz. Pinski remained in that city from 1892 to 1896. His first pieces in Yiddish were marked by his close collaboration with Peretz and the latter’s circle, who were developing new and radical approaches to modern Yiddish literature in particular, and Jewish culture in general.

This approach influenced Pinski’s creative output in those years. He became one of the main contributors to Yontev-bletlekh (1894–1896) and to the anthology Literatur un lebn (Literature and Life; 1894), publications under Peretz’s editorship that played a pioneering role in disseminating radical and socialist thought among Jewish workers, to the extent possible under tsarist censorship. Peretz and Pinski positioned themselves quite close to the founders of the Jewish labor movement in Eastern Europe, and laid the foundation for Jewish worker literature in its various genres: serious fiction, popular scientific articles, and feuilletons. Pinski was also involved in distributing publications by the group, and he helped to organize zhargonishe komitetn (“jargon committees”), which established libraries and disseminated reading matter to workers. In his travels, he came into direct contact with groups that then formed the core audience for modern Yiddish literature.

Pinski mainly wrote short stories, but also published articles and brochures on popular science under the pseudonym D. Puls. Because the possibilities for Yiddish publishing in Russia were very limited, he also wrote for the radical Yiddish press in America. A significant number of his stories were printed there even before being published in Eastern Europe.

In 1896, Pinski settled in Berlin to study at the university. This move effectively marked the end of his East European period. In Berlin he continued to contribute to the radical Yiddish press in New York and remained active in Yiddish publishing endeavors. At that time he also made his first serious attempts at playwriting.

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)

Pinski emigrated to America in 1899, remaining there until finally settling in Israel in 1949. His extensive literary output in America included short stories, novels, plays, and essays. Pinski’s nationalist Jewish and Zionist ideology were major factors in his fondness for historical topics, both in his prose and in his dramatic works. Among the many plays he wrote, Der oytser (The Treasure) and Yankl der shmid (Yankl the Blacksmith) attained the greatest popularity. Der eybiker yid (The Eternal Jew), with its messianic content, was among the first plays produced by the Hebrew-language Habimah Theater in Moscow (Ha-Yehudi ha-nitsḥi; 1920).

Pinski’s most significant contributions to modern Yiddish literature during his East European period were his short stories. They were published in 1910 in a three-part collection: Libe (Love) and Altinke (Old People) in volume one, and Arbeter-lebn (Workers’ Lives) in volume two. Even the title of the second volume shows the writer’s dedication to the working class; in it, he also included stories about characters on the margins of society who were not necessarily workers. The potential for artistic nuance in these stories was strongly limited by Pinski’s tendency to polarize the characters, either through external class divisions or through their inner capacity to show initiative and readiness to struggle. His efforts to write about the modern world often resulted in artificiality and pathos. Many of Pinski’s early pieces focused on the arousal of the strong and sometimes extreme feelings of individuals who collided with an insensitive and cruel environment. Pinski’s early stories played a significant role in the modernization of Yiddish prose.

Suggested Reading

N. B. Minkoff, Literarishe vegn (Mexico City, 1955), pp. 63–118; Samuel Niger, Dertseylers un romanistn (New York, 1946), pp. 157–162, 282–319.



Translated from Yiddish by Yankl Salant