Ya‘akov Rabinowitz, Volkovysk, Russia (now in Belarus), ca. 1900. Photograph by Davidovitsh. (Asher Barash Gnazim Institute, Tel Aviv)

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Rabinowitz, Ya‘akov

(1874–1948), Hebrew, Yiddish, and German writer. Ya‘akov Rabinowitz was born in Volkovysk, Russia (now Belarus). After receiving a traditional education at heder and a yeshiva, he studied secular topics and taught in Vitebsk. Before he began composing his major literary output in German and Hebrew, he wrote a number of Zionist brochures in Yiddish, the earliest of which (Vu iz undzer oylem? An ernst vort tsum folk [Where Are Our Masses? A Serious Word to the People]) was published in Berdichev in 1899.

Rabinowitz’s German writing was issued first in Saul Raphael Landau’s Socialist Zionist mouthpiece in Switzerland between 1900 and 1904, and later in Hebrew in David Frishman’s Kraków weekly Ha-Dor. Rabinowitz subsequently published stories, plays, and children’s fiction in major Jewish newspapers. In 1904 he moved to Odessa, serving as the assistant to Menaḥem Ussishkin on the Ḥoveve Tsiyon committee. That same year, he published a collection of Hebrew stories in Warsaw.

In his novel Neveh kayits (Summer Place; 1934), Rabinowitz recounts the experiences in the Zionist youth movement of Russia immediately following the 1905 October Revolution and its accompanying pogroms. In 1905 he took part in the Vilna (anti-Ugandist) Tsiyone Tsiyon (Zionists of Zion) conference. He visited Palestine in 1905 and 1908, returning in 1910 as a permanent resident. In Palestine, he contributed regularly to the weekly Ha-Po‘el ha-tsa‘ir until 1923, writing articles, critiques, fiction, and poetry. In 1914 he published the historical narrative Be-En shoresh (In the Absence of Roots), followed in 1922 by his compendium of stories Or va-ed (Light and Mist). His anthology of poetry Setav (Autumn) appeared in 1926, followed by the two-volume novel Nedude ‘Amasai ha-shomer (The Journeys of Amasai the Guard; 1930), set in the milieu of the Second Aliyah. With a strong public presence, Rabinowitz filled Yosef Ḥayim Brenner’s place as guide and moral authority after Brenner was murdered in 1921.

Between 1910 and 1923, Rabinowitz lived in Petaḥ Tikvah, trying unsuccessfully to earn his living as a farmer. In 1923 he settled permanently in Tel Aviv, where in 1922 he, with Asher Barash, had founded and edited Hedim, the leading journal for literature and literary criticism that served until 1928 as a starting place for aspiring writers.

Ya‘akov Rabinowitz was an enthusiastic follower of maskilic writers who dreamed of rebuilding the Land of Israel. His historical novel Be-Mot ‘amim (Under the Rod of the Nations; 1946) was set in the period of the Second Temple and was dedicated to the nineteenth-century Hebrew novelist Avraham Mapu. Rabinowitz wrote in Yiddish as well, contributing articles under a variety of pen names to the New York journal Yidisher kemfer. He died in Tel Aviv in 1948.

Rabinowitz’s articles and sketches are written in a simple and intimate style that resembles conversational language. This style belies a complexity, however, as his literary works may be read on two levels: the revealed aspect found in the Misnaged Litvak (lit: the Jewish Lithuanian antagonists of Hasidism) approach, which is pragmatic and realistic, and the concealed aspect of the Hasidic approach, which stresses the mystical, visionary, secretive, and invisible.

Suggested Reading

Getzel Kressel, “Rabinowitz, Ya‘akov,” in Leksikon ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit be-dorot ha-aḥronim, vol. 2, pp. 817–818 (Merhavia, 1967); Jacob Rabinowitz, Maslule sifrut, ed. Israel Cohen, 2 vols. (Tel Aviv, 1971); Gershon Shaked, “Ya‘akov Rabinowitz,” in Ha-Siporet ha-‘ivrit, 1880–1980, vol. 1, pp. 467–477 (Jerusalem, 1977).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler