Yiddish writers (left to right) Mendele Moykher-Sforim (Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh), Alter Druyanow, Yehoshu‘a Ḥana Ravnitski, Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik, and Yitsḥak Dov Berkowitz, Odessa, ca. 1910. (Beit Bialik, Tel Aviv)

Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Ravnitski, Yehoshu‘a Ḥana

(1859–1944), Hebrew and Yiddish writer, editor, publisher, and educator. Yehoshu‘a Ḥana Ravnitski (Yoshue Khone Rawnitzki) was born in Odessa and received a traditional Jewish education in heder and yeshiva. After marrying, he lived from 1877 to 1887 in the nearby town of Mayak. There he taught himself Russian, French, and German.

In 1888, Ravnitski returned to Odessa, where he remained until moving to Palestine in 1921. As a central figure in the prominent circle of Jewish writers, thinkers, and activists known as the Wise Men of Odessa, he associated with Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh, Ahad Ha-Am, Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik, Sholem Aleichem, and Simon Dubnow. Ravnitski published extensively in the Hebrew and Yiddish press, and although he initially wrote stories and poems, his Hebrew writing soon dealt with the Haskalah, Jewish nationalism, and Zionism. During the 1880s and early 1890s, he was active in the proto-Zionist movement Ḥibat Tsiyon, and later was a major figure in the Cultural Zionism movement, even before it was associated with Ahad Ha-Am. Ravnitski was an enthusiastic supporter of Ahad Ha-Am, and took on the task of explaining, expanding, and popularizing the latter’s work.

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)

Fleeing Russia after the revolution, in 1921, Ravnitski (with Bialik and other Hebrew writers) moved to Palestine and settled in Tel Aviv. While his achievements there were often overshadowed by those of the more famous figures with whom he collaborated, a consideration of his work reveals his highly significant role in creating modern Jewish culture.

In the Yiddish press, Ravnitski’s main emphasis was on literary criticism. In fact, he was one of the first to evaluate Yiddish literature (some consider him the first literary critic of works in that language). His most significant early publication in that field was the series of critical essays titled An esek mit shmates (A Business with Rags), written under a pseudonym and published in Baylage tsum Yudishes folksblat (1888). In these, he sharply attacked the novels of Shomer, Shim‘on Bekerman, and Avrom-Yitskhok Bukhbinder for their sentimentalism, and called for a more realistic style and approach in Yiddish literature.

In 1892–1893, Ravnitski collaborated with Sholem Aleichem on a satirical column, published in Ha-Melits and titled “Kevurat sofrim” (The Burial of Writers). Adopting the pseudonyms Eldad (Sholem Aleichem) and Medad (Ravnitski), the two critics pretended to be “simple readers in a small town” doing what the “spoiled professional critics” avoid—sharply criticizing Hebrew and Yiddish writers. Medad was just one of many pseudonyms that Ravnitski used (among his favorite pen names were Bar Katsin, Bat Kol, Baki, and Tsofnat Pa‘neaḥ). His pieces appeared in Der yud, Der fraynd, Hilf, and Pinkes.

Ravnitski also established and edited the Hebrew literary journal Pardes (1892–1896), which contained some of the most important writing of Hebrew literature of the time. In it, he published Bialik’s first poem, “El ha-tsipor” (1892). Bialik continued to publish in Pardes, marking the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration between the two men, which lasted until Bialik’s death in 1934.

In 1893, Ravnitski established ‘Olam Katan (Small World), a publishing house whose aim was to produce and disseminate Hebrew literature (both original and in translation) for young readers. In Yiddish, he edited the first volumes of Der yud (from 1899 on), a journal that played an important role in the history of Yiddish literature and the Yiddish press. He was also an editor of the collection Kultur (Minsk, 1905).

In 1901, after many years of work in Jewish education, Ravnitski, with Bialik, S. Ben-Tsion (Simḥah Alter Gutmann) and Elḥanan Leib Lewinsky, established the Moriah publishing house. Its aim was to publish Hebrew classics and educational literature in Hebrew, and its projects became the foundation of what Bialik called kinus—gathering classic Jewish texts so as to create a foundation for a modern national Jewish culture. The crown in this activity was Ravnitski and Bialik’s collaboration on Sefer ha-agadah (The Book of Legends; 1908–1911), a three-volume edition of narratives, folktales, and proverbs found in Talmudic and midrashic sources. Immediately regarded as a masterwork, Sefer ha-agadah had an enormous influence. In 1919, Ravnitski published Mikhtavim le-bat Yisra’el (Letters to the Daughter of Israel), in which he laid out his ideas on education in general and on Jewish education in particular. Ravnitski and his collaborators also established the publishing project Turgeman (The Translator), with the goal of translating classic European and world literature into Hebrew. Their translations included Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

In Palestine, Ravnitski, Bialik, and Shemaryahu Levin established the publishing house Devir, a continuation of Moriah. There he issued a two-volume collection of his own critical and literary essays, Dor ve-sofrav (The Generation and Its Writers; 1927–1938). This work provided a comprehensive overview of Jewish literature and culture in the period 1880–1920, and produced an especially vivid portrait of the literary and cultural center of Odessa.

Suggested Reading

Simon Ginzburg, Be-Masekhet ha-sifrut (New York, 1944/45), pp. 177–181; Natan Goren, Mevakrim be-sifrutenu (Tel Aviv, 1943/44), pp. 140–142; Shalom Kremer, “Mavo’,” in Be-Sha‘are sefer: Kitve Y. Kh. Ravnitski, pp. 7–47 (Tel Aviv, 1960/61); Yeruḥam Fishel Lachower, Shirah u-maḥashavah (Tel Aviv, 1952/53), pp. 190–199; Nokhem B. Minkoff, Zeks yidishe kritiker (Buenos Aires, 1954), pp. 125–168; Chone Shmeruk, ed., Ḥalifat igrot ben S. Y. Abramovits u-ven Ḥ. N. Byalik ve-Y. [Ḥ.] Ravnitski (Jerusalem, 1976).