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Rabinovitz, Aleksander Ziskind

(1854–1945), Hebrew writer. Aleksander Ziskind Rabinovitz (known as Azar) was born in Liady, in the Mogilev district, to a poor family. Although he received a comprehensive Talmudic education, as an adolescent he grew acquainted with Hebrew maskilic literature. At the same time, he took it upon himself to study the (Jewish) Bible and, later on, Russian. He married at age 18 and went to live at his father-in-law’s home in nearby Romnova. Three years later, he became a peddler, as his father had done before him, but was not successful in that venture. He then traversed Lithuania, eking out a living from tutoring until eventually finding a permanent teaching position in the Smolensk regional town of Viazma. He published his first batch of articles in the Jewish Russian press, nurturing the hope that eventually he would become a Russian journalist.

Passionate in his desire to write, Rabinovitz moved in the early 1880s to Moscow, where he associated with the Ḥibat Tsiyon (Lovers of Zion) movement but could not find his place in the Russian press. In 1887, he published his first book, the novel ‘Al ha-perek (On the Agenda), criticizing Haskalah literature and asserting that it was contributing to an upheaval in traditional life. In 1888, he settled in Poltava and lived there for the next 17 years. While working as a teacher, he devoted himself to Zionism and to writing. His first Hebrew article, “Siḥat melamed” (The Tutor’s Conversation), appeared in Ha-Melits in 1889 and disparaged Jewish philanthropists whom he felt evaded a duty to support the Zionist movement.

During the 1890s, Rabinovitz gained a reputation as a pioneer of Hebrew socialist literature for his collections of stories that dealt, in a realistic and sentimental style, with class warfare within the Jewish community. These works called for the vocational training of those who were suffering from, and falling victim to, economic depression and class discrimination. Titles included Be-Efes tikvah (Without Any Hope; 1892), Be-Tsel ha-kesef (In the Shadow of Money; 1894), Ḥatat ha-tsibur (The Sin of the Community; 1896), Bat he-‘ashir (The Daughter of the Wealthy Man; 1898), and Tsilele he-‘avar (Sounds from the Past; 1900).

In 1906, Rabinovitz immigrated to Palestine, where he worked as a translator, editor, compiler of textbooks, and composer of popular historical accounts. His translations reflected the various spheres that made up his world; among them were the works of Vladimir Korolenko, with whom he had shared a friendship in Poltava; the autobiographies of the Jewish socialists Tsevi (Grigorii) Gershuni and Vera Figner; and Binyamin Ze’ev Bakher’s series of volumes on Talmudic legends (agadah).

Rabinovitz acquired a special status among the much younger members of the Second Aliyah generation, who regarded him as a surrogate father from whom they could draw warmth, and upon whom they in turn would shower their love. Among his “custodial children” were Yosef Ḥayim Brenner and Shemu’el Yosef Agnon. Rabinovitz’s followers were attracted to his harmonious, tolerant character, which integrated his solid socialist Zionist leanings with his unassailable and pure religiosity. In celebration of his eightieth birthday, a comprehensive selection of his writings was published in six volumes (1934–1936).

Suggested Reading

Ben-‘Ami Feingold, “‘Al ha-perek me’et A. Z. Rabinovits ve-ḥeshbon ha-nefesh shel ha-haskalah,” Moznayim 49 (1979): 119–126; Zekhariah Fishman, “Aleksander Ziskind ben Tsevi-Hirsh Rabinovits,” in Sefer zikaron la-yovel ha-shiv‘im shel Aleksander Ziskind Rabinovits, ed. Abraham Zifroni, pp. 3–23 (Tel Aviv, 1923/24), includes biography and bibliography; Alexander Siskind Rabinovitz, “Zikhronot,” in Ketavim mekubatsim, vol. 3, pp. 293–441 (Tel Aviv, 1934/35); David Zakai, Ḥaye Azar (Tel Aviv, 1934).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler