Gentiles dancing and drinking in a Jewish tavern. Lithograph by G. Pillati published by A. Chlebowski, “Swit,” and printed by B.Wierzbicki and Sons, Warsaw, n.d. (Moldovan Family Collection)

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Relations between Jews and Non-Jews

Literary Perspectives

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Jewish literature in Eastern Europe, written in Jewish languages (Yiddish and Hebrew) and in the languages of the non-Jewish surrounding cultures (Russian, Polish, German, Ukrainian, Belorussian, and others), presents a gallery of non-Jewish characters along with depictions of encounters between Jews and their non-Jewish environment. These figures and encounters reflect, by artistic means, the ways in which Jews in Eastern Europe responded to the changes that took place around them: from the disintegration of the old socioeconomic order; through rapid urbanization, mass emigration, and the appearance of political parties; to the rise of modern antisemitism and the outbreak of violent pogroms against Jews.

A thorough examination of non-Jewish characters in Yiddish and Hebrew literature written from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the outbreak of World War I reveals that non-Jews are depicted according to a system of ethnic stereotypes, and are incorporated into a set of standard models of the encounter between Jews and gentiles. The ways that Jews spoke about non-Jews and to non-Jews; speech among Jews in the presence of non-Jews; and quotation of non-Jewish speech by Jews—all of these are essential components of the depiction of relationships between the two sides. Although it would appear that the historical Polish porets (aristocrat) of the early nineteenth century was light-years away from the radical Russian at the time of the 1905 Revolution, their literary portrayals, and the descriptions in literary works of contacts between these types and Jewish characters, are quite similar.

The literary figure of the non-Jew vacillated between the violent “goy,” drunk and obtuse, and the philanthropic, universalistic reformer. Two authors who were among the fathers of Haskalah literature in Yiddish, Avraham Ber Gottlober (1811–1899) and Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher-Sforim; 1835–1917), wrote about the ways in which Jews of Eastern Europe at the time of the reforms of Tsar Alexander II looked upon their non-Jewish neighbors. Gottlober wrote in Yiddish about the “goy”: “The balalaika is his fiddle / girls are his song / vodka is his wine / slabs of pork, his food” (from Der yid in Kiev; ca. 1860s–1870s). Abramovitsh, by contrast, recounts in Hebrew how the first proponents of the Enlightenment regarded non-Jews: “In their thought burned love for all who dwell on earth; all human beings are brethren, whether or not they are members of the covenant” (Be-‘Emek ha-bakha’ [In the Vale of Tears]; published in installments between 1897 and 1909). Daniel Leibel, one of the few writers who dealt with the representation of non-Jews in Yiddish literature, was well aware of the decisive influence of ethnic and ideological stereotypes on the literary depiction of the figure of the goy. In 1932 he wrote: “The ‘Goy’ is the Jew’s fate; he is a mass without individual outlines, his image is lit by the burning flame of war, revolution, pogroms, in flames of ancient fear that have not yet died down” (Leibel, 1932, p. 15).”

Modern Jewish literature first arose in close conjunction with a change in the relationship between Jews and their environment, its values, and the people within it. Until the modern period, the connections maintained by Ashkenazic Jews with the non-Jewish world were subject to religious and social structures that imposed clear boundaries between Jews and “the (other) nations”—the goyim. The feudal–corporative world order accorded Jews a distinct place among the varied populations of Europe. Two main channels of connection bound premodern Ashkenazic Jews to the non-Jewish environment in which they lived: (1) economic activity, and (2) political-juridical factors, both of which necessitated direct contacts between Jews and Christians of various social classes.

Jews were distinguished by their presence in certain professions, which served as unmistakable identifying marks (even though these professions were not unique to Jews). The identifying careers changed over the generations and varied from region to region. Thus, for example, the Jewish lessee of a tavern (arendar), a profession that did not exist at all in Germany, was a highly typical figure in the economic contacts between Jews of Eastern Europe in the eighteenth century and both the Polish nobility and the peasant serfs on their estates. The second factor, political-juridical protection, made possible the very existence of Jewish communities in the Ashkenazic Diaspora until the emancipation era. Personal security and the right of Jews to engage in economic activity were defined in legal agreements that they signed with kings, nobles, and clergy, permitting them to reside on certain property and promising them protection and the freedom to observe the customs of their religion. These two interconnected channels of contact determined to a large extent what could be called premodern Jewish politics.

The attitude of members of traditional Jewish society in Eastern Europe toward non-Jews reflected to a great extent the economic relationships in effect and their political-juridical situation. Jews who stood between the aristocracy and other social groups regarded Polish noblemen as the defenders of their existence and as a source of livelihood. Sometimes, especially at times of distress when the nobility came to their aid, Jews tended to describe such defenders with elevated biblical rhetoric as eagles shielding their young under their wings. (That is how Natan Note Hannover described the Polish magnate Jeremi Wiśniowiecki, whose armies defended the Jews of Ukraine against the Cossack invaders in 1648.) However, on a religious and spiritual level, Jews felt no attraction to the non-Jew, although Jews tended to adopt some customs of the noble courts and assimilated certain details of the dress, furniture, and household items of the aristocracy. The world of the upper-class gentile was identified in the mind of the Jews of Eastern Europe with sexual permissiveness, hedonism, and emptiness—and was regarded as a waste of time and money.

This structure of connections between Jews and their surroundings continued for many decades after the loss of Polish independence at the end of the eighteenth century. However, when the Jews of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth became subjects of Russia, Prussia, and the Austrian Empire, something began to change in the way that Jews understood their place in relation to the surrounding world. This change, which caused some Jews to see their non-Jewish neighbors differently, found expression in new literary works in Hebrew and Yiddish that began to be published soon after the partitions of Poland. These works, written by the first adherents to the Haskalah movement, sought to teach their readers that beyond the boundaries of the Jewish community lived other human beings; that those human beings, especially the rulers, writers, and scientists, had the good of the Jews in mind; and that it was proper for anyone who accepted the principles of the Haskalah to seek closeness to them, to learn their ways, and to behave like them.

Before the beginning of the Haskalah, learned Jews who wished to advance the study of sciences in Central and Eastern Europe (such as Barukh of Shklov, in his introduction to the Hebrew translation of the Geometry of Euclid [1780]) spoke of the “wisdoms” in which the “sages of the nations” had an advantage, such as in mathematics, geometry, or astronomy, as a kind of “perfumery or cookery”—branches of knowledge auxiliary to the study of Talmud and Jewish law. Among maskilim, by contrast, the sciences of the non-Jews became sources of authority in their own right. Moreover, learned Jews such as Barukh of Shklov repeatedly claimed that the source of all knowledge was the Jewish sages of past generations: “The sages of the gentiles” had borrowed from the Jews, these writers claimed, and the project of translating from foreign languages to Hebrew amounted to the recovery of a loss, as it were. Statements of this kind were in no sense an expression of Jewish inferiority or self-abnegation, which was not the case with respect to maskilim. The non-Jewish world appeared to them elevated, well-ordered, and worthy of imitation.

The resulting changes in images of non-Jewish society were evident in the works of the earliest maskilim of Eastern Europe. The first Jewish literature of a modern character was initiated, produced, and frequently consumed by maskilim. It was closely intertwined with an innovative presentation of non-Jewish figures and with an openly nontraditional depiction of the connections between those figures, their cultural world, the economic and social setting in which they acted, and the Jews.

Writers identifying with the Haskalah movement in Eastern Europe confronted several complex problems in seeking to portray new kinds of non-Jewish characters and their worlds. The gap between the ideal figure of the model gentile—a reformer in the spirit of philosophy, guided by rational thought—and the appearance and behavior of the non-Jews whom the Jews actually encountered was usually difficult to bridge. Moreover, the power of traditional images was great. Both authors and readers found it difficult to free themselves from the fears, prejudices, and memories associated with past events. In literary works written by Jews in Eastern Europe, one notes a continuing inner conflict between the threatening and repugnant figure of the “goy,” which continued to exist in Jewish thought, and the figure of the “gentile,” who stood apart from traditional images of non-Jews and instead took on various guises under the influence of historical changes, alterations in taste and literary style, and shifts in political and social ideas and in the structure of interethnic relations. There was a conflict involving fear, recoil, and contempt, on the one hand, and trust, attraction, and admiration, on the other. Jewish authors sought anchors for their identity within the surrounding society, and chose different ethnic and social groups on whom they could project their philosophical views, ideological beliefs, and political hopes. At the same time, other groups in the non-Jewish world remained beyond the pale of the new literature. The representation of members of those groups, and the depiction of contacts with them, reflected the premodern image of the “goy,” and authors drew on their experience, on memories of the past, and on folklore for these portrayals.

The Haskalah Period

In Hebrew and Yiddish literature written from the beginning of the Haskalah movement until World War I—a period of about a century—the ethnic and class fabric of the population in East European countries is depicted faithfully. Nobility stood at the head of the social hierarchy, both in the kingdom of Poland–Lithuania before it was partitioned (1772–1793) and in the three states that annexed parts of it (Russia, Prussia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire). In Yiddish these nobles were called pritsim (a biblical word that alludes to cruelty and sexual promiscuity); adoynim (masters), srores (rulers), or sorim (princes). They were also called by these names in the Jewish literature of Eastern Europe. Jews lived in towns and villages that were owned by members of the high nobility (magnates), such as the Czartoryski, Potocki, Radziwiłł, Chodkiewicz, and Sapieha families. Jews leased property and means of production from them, supplied them with merchandise and services, and enjoyed their protection from various elements, such as the Polish Catholic church, the burghers who competed with them economically, and, after the partitions, representatives of Russian or Austrian authorities who tried to injure and restrict them. There were also middle- and lower-level aristocrats in Poland–Lithuania; the relations of these two groups with Jews ranged from economic confrontation and animosity (among other things, such gentiles played a significant part in the growth of Polish antisemitism in the late nineteenth century) to friendly relations, extending even to cultural contacts.

Members of the high aristocracy (often called magnates) played the role of allies in the Jewish ’s desire for social and cultural reform from the earliest examples of Haskalah literature. Thus, in the first Hebrew novel, ‘Ayit tsavu‘a (The Hypocrite; 1857) by Avraham Mapu, which depicts the reality of the nineteenth century, there appears the figure of a baron named Emanuel, who could be, in origin, Russian, German, or Polish. In the salon of his palace, aristocrats (“princes and princesses”), who “did not distinguish between nation and nation, but between good people and bad ones,” meet with young maskilim.

Officials of the Russian regime also play the role of partners in the ideological struggle of maskilim in Haskalah literature, assisting them against their opponents (the Hasidim or traditional rabbis). In the works of Yehudah Leib Gordon (1831–1892) and Perets Smolenskin (1842–1885), there appear idealized figures of members of the Russian regime in the Pale of Settlement. In describing a Russian army officer, Gordon states the following words: “The Russians are of modest heart and straightforward spirit, and the deeds of their Slavic forebears reflect their heritage, to love strangers and receive them affably” (“Shene yamim ve-lailah eḥad be-vet melon orḥim” [Two Days and One Night in an Inn]; 1871). Toward the 1870s, however, as the pro-government position of Haskalah writers weakened and the influence of Russian radicalism grew, the idealized figures of the Polish nobleman and the Russian official disappear from literary works.

State officials were, clearly, another group of non-Jews with whom Jews of Eastern Europe came into intensive contact during the nineteenth century. Beginning at the end of the 1700s, there were also frequent contacts between Jewish communities and army units stationed in the formerly Polish lands. Representatives of the Russian, Prussian, or Austrian administration in the annexed regions, as well as members of the military, were involved in activities that sought to reform the society. Throughout Eastern Europe, central authorities tried to implement programs to integrate Jews into the state and bring about a change in their culture—and sometimes even in their beliefs and religious behavior. Their presence in the Jewish environment heralded changes in the Jews’ traditional way of life. It threatened the existing order and undermined its economic, social, political, and cultural foundations whose roots lay deep in the feudal regime of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, where Jews had been integrated as a decidedly urban factor. However, lower-level government officials, another group with whom Jews came into daily contact, are depicted in the literature without exception as taking bribes and being addicted to drink.

Maskilim tended to support the apparatus of the regime and attempted to cooperate with it, as they identified with the state and with its political and social goals. They presented memoranda to government offices, proposing ways of improving the behavior of their coreligionists. Thus, for example, Yosef Perl (1773–1839) presented detailed reports in German about what he described as activity hostile to the state on the part of Hasidim in regions under Austrian control. Similarly, maskilim who were subjects of the Russian Empire diligently reported the contemptuous behavior of Hasidic tsadikim in Ukraine toward the office of the governor in Kiev. Most Jews, by contrast, dissociated themselves from those who wished to impose changes of lifestyle, and did everything in their power to maintain their traditional ways, resorting to various methods of avoiding direct confrontations with the government and employing tools of survival that had been practiced in Eastern Europe from time immemorial, among them bribery and intercession.

East European burghers were particularly hostile to Jews. The city dwellers of Poland–Lithuania and later of the states that partitioned it, unlike those of Central Europe, did not serve as a desired cultural model for social integration. The author Y. L. Peretz (1852–1915) wrote with irony about his native city, Zamość, a place that did not appeal to the local maskilim, despite the exhortations of the Haskalah movement to integrate into the surrounding culture. He describes its inhabitants as aging provincial types of limited education: a bankrupt pharmacist, a half-ignorant doctor, a crazy woman shabes goy, a drunken mason, and the like.

The clergy, consisting of Catholic or Russian Orthodox priests, occupied an important place in contacts between the Jewish and secular worlds. Jews had economic ties with church institutions, even as the clerics themselves were objects of religiously motivated animosity.

At the bottom of the ladder were the peasants, who constituted an absolute majority in the surroundings where Jews lived. Peasants dwelled in villages, at the edges of towns, and in rural suburbs of cities. A considerable number of the non-Jews who provided domestic services to the Jews were peasants. (Especially important was the shabes goy, who did things for Jews that they were forbidden to do on the Sabbath). From Jews, peasants bought supplies in the city and purchased products that they did not make themselves, and they sold agricultural produce to Jews. Peasants also drank vodka that Jewish innkeepers sold them in taverns owned by Polish noblemen. The tavern (Yid., shenk; Pol., szenk), which was the ordinary place of encounter between the Jew and the peasant, occupied a central place in the folklore of the peoples of Eastern Europe. Gottlober, for example, wrote: “My father-in-law’s house was a constant drinking place of Christian peasants. . . . That nation who walk in darkness, saw great light in that holy house. There everyone bitter in soul and everyone joyous would gather, who had been beaten in the rear in the nobleman’s house and who had beaten his wife while betraying her or she was betraying him, and every person who had an affair with his fellow’s wife” (Zikhronot mi-yeme ne‘urai [1881–1886]; passage cited from 1976 ed.).

The peasants in the Russian Empire were serfs on the estates of the nobility until 1861; they were regarded as property that could be bought and sold. Their collective name in the languages of the Jews was goyim, a word that could have extremely negative connotations of stupidity and ignorance, coarseness, sexual promiscuity, drunkenness, and violence. Their languages were called goyish, and in Jewish literature—which is full of passages, transliterated into Hebrew, in the vernaculars of the peasants—there is no distinction between one language and another. Moreover, until the beginning of the twentieth century, there is no clear differentiation in the literature between one ethnic group and another. The modern divisions (Ukrainian, Belorussian, Lithuanian, and the like), which became stronger with the rise of nationalist movements, are almost completely absent from Jewish literature published before 1914.

The figure of the peasant did not serve the authors of the Haskalah as a positive model (although some Haskalah writers speak of the need to improve the difficult conditions of peasants’ lives, which were attributed to political and social injustices). For this reason, it is difficult to find depictions of individual peasants in the literature. Rather, they are depicted stereotypically, as part of a mass, with common identifying features: similar facial features, identical items of dress, and the personality characteristics (violence, coarseness, ignorance, drunkenness) alluded to above.

Although most authors of Jewish literature written before World War I lived for many years in big cities, in their works they clung to portraying life in the small town, the village, and the hamlet, and to the groups of non-Jews who were found there. Jews wrote more easily about neighbors familiar to them from the premodern environment, and found it difficult to deal in literature with the non-Jewish world of the larger cities. The Polish aristocrat, the Russian government official, and the peasant belonging to one of the aforementioned ethnic groups were common non-Jewish figures in Jewish literature.

Modern Jewish Literature

What changes took place in depictions of non-Jews during the transition from the Haskalah period to that of modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature? In the literary works in both languages of Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh, Sholem Aleichem, and Y. L. Peretz, we find continuation of the difficult conflict between ideological influences, on the one hand, and the power of deep-seated images, on the other.

Galleys for Abramovitsh’s Di klyatshe (The Nag) (Odessa: A. Varshaver, 1889). The handwritten corrections are believed to have been made by the author himself. (YIVO)

Abramovitsh began to publish early in the reign of Tsar Alexander II. In the novel Ha-Avot veha-banim (The Fathers and the Sons), he continued the Haskalah convention of depicting the maskil who was supported by his Russian ally in the struggle to reform Jewish society. The first version of the novel (1862) is full of sympathy for the Russian monarchy and the Russian people. But as Abramovitsh’s optimism waned with respect to the intentions of the Russian regime toward the Jews, that literary convention faded. In his allegorical work Di klyatshe (The Nag; 1873), cooperation between the maskil and the authorities is represented as something contemptible and unwarranted. This change in attitude toward the regime and its officials was parallel to a change in the consciousness and writing of the Haskalah writers mentioned above. Henceforth the central figure of the non-Jew, which appears repeatedly in the works of Abramovitsh, is that of the low-class “goy” in the shtetl, comparable to the figure of the peasant. The characterization of this figure draws both on Abramovitsh’s social worldview, which is reflected in his attribution of positive characteristics to the peasant in the spirit of Russian populism and in digressions within his works, in which he explicitly presents this view; and on the traditional figure of the rural goy, which is stereotypical and repeats familiar characteristics: coarseness, drunkenness, violence, obtuseness.

The figure of the rural goy also appears in Abramovitsh’s work in critiques of the flaws of Jewish society. Here the encounter of the goy with Jews highlights Abramovitsh’s critical attitude toward his own people. In a Hebrew story, “Be-Seter ra‘am” (In the Secret Places of Thunder; 1886), which was inspired by the pogroms of 1881–1882, rural goyim appear who are characterized by ordinary stereotypical traits. However, those figures are not accused of participation in the pogroms. The attacks on Jews are not linked to the non-Jewish peasant but rather are attributed to social and political conditions, which the author had invoked repeatedly since before 1881. One of the non-Jews in this story says (as though quoting from a political manifesto of one of the Russian radical movements): “There is no work and no demand for production, and the wages in our town have fallen to miserable levels since men have begun to dominate men to do them wrong [i.e., since the introduction of capitalism]. Many of the merchants are impoverished and go hungry. When men are idle, what have they to do but drink?”

The Polish aristocracy appears in Abramovitsh’s work on several levels: as part of rural life, as legendary figures from the distant past, and as an ethnic group with a distinct culture. This is the only non-Jewish group in his work that is not portrayed one-dimensionally.

Sholem Aleichem wrote about a broader segment of society than Abramovitsh, and his works include a much larger variety of non-Jewish characters. Like Abramovitsh, he too departed at some stage in his work from ideological depictions in the Haskalah spirit, and his literary portrayals of the rural goy are far closer to the traditional image. The tension between the Jew and the goy in his writings is far greater. Stereotypical traits, though more plentiful and varied, are absolute, and are not attenuated by ideological digressions or by the addition of traits foreign to rural and village life. However, Sholem Aleichem tried to deal with changing historical reality, which Abramovitsh abandoned consciously and explicitly, and to detach himself from the image of the goy taken from shtetl life.

In his novels and dramas, Sholem Aleichem portrayed several figures of non-Jewish men from the “young intelligentsia.” These figures, who form erotic attachments with Jewish women, are constructed simplistically around social and ideological models that suited the author’s worldview. The positive simplistic model of the non-Jewish revolutionary (who was a kind of antithesis of the negative simplistic model of the antisemite, which also appears in Sholem Aleichem’s works) represented a kind of reversion to the one-dimensional figures of the 1860s.

At the start of his literary career, Y. L. Peretz also vacillated between the ideal image of the member of the Polish intelligentsia who had a radical social worldview (against which he presented the stereotype of the Polish antisemite) and the figure of the Polish peasant from village and rural life. Peretz’s portrayal of the Polish peasant, like that of Abramovitsh, was influenced by ideology. The main encounter between Jews and peasants in his work is economic, and the contrast between the two participants in such an encounter is blurred and barely exists. The “intelligent” non-Jew from the Polish provinces is portrayed under the influence of Polish positivism, and is a kind of antithesis of the shtetl Jew, whom Peretz subjects to severe social criticism.

At a later stage in his work, Peretz withdrew into a distant, legendary past, ostensibly historical, in which the contrast between Jews and gentiles is now total, and unbridgeable. Here the Polish porets becomes a mythical embodiment of the unclean essence of the non-Jewish world (which Peretz identified on the political level with conservative and antisemitic political forces in Polish society at the beginning of the twentieth century). The negative figure of the Polish noble is portrayed by Peretz on the basis of materials from Jewish folklore, and it reverts to the image that it had prior to the Haskalah movement. Non-Jewish figures in Peretz’s work are essentially stereotypes, whether they are portrayed according to an ideology or whether they draw upon images of rural and village life, and they remain so when he returns to the demonic image of the porets in Jewish folklore.

The social class to which Jews actually belonged—the urban class—occupies a somewhat marginal place in Jewish literature. At the same time, burghers are the group whose depictions are the least stereotypical in that literature, and those depictions are not laden with symbols, myths, or ideological significance. Social, economic, and cultural changes are usually portrayed by Jewish writers in terms of the familiar shtetl or rural environment. Even when possibilities for contacts of a new kind appear—in the context of decidedly modern phenomena involving radical or nationalist political activity—familiar patterns drawing on the contrast between the ideological, maskilic, and universalistic message of rapprochement and the traditional recoiling from direct contact (especially intimate or erotic ties) between Poles, Russians, or Ukrainians and Jews recur in the literature.

From a structural point of view, there is no great difference between the literature of the Haskalah period and works written in the first decades of the twentieth century. Ideological meanings change, literary means of characterization vary, style and language are transposed—but fixed models of the encounter between Jew and gentile prevail, from the Hebrew novels of Avraham Mapu and the Yiddish stories of Ayzik Meyer Dik to the prose in both languages on the eve of World War I. The depiction of non-Jews and their society in Jewish literature changed under the influence of historical processes in Eastern Europe—urbanization, the rise of the capitalist economy, and mass emigration—which uprooted hundreds of thousands of Jews and completely altered the environments in which they lived. Jews who left small villages for Odessa, Kiev, or Warsaw (the writers under consideration here personally underwent this experience and did their writing in large cities) bore the memory of a premodern system of relations. At the same time, they encountered an entirely unfamiliar non-Jewish environment. If in the first half of the nineteenth century the masses of Jews still lived in villages and small and medium-sized cities, where the feudal system was still in force and religious, ethnic, and class boundaries were observed, toward the end of that century the old frameworks fell apart and traditional boundaries broke down. The Polish nobleman lost his central place in the life of the Jewish community; the Russian government official’s attitude toward Jews changed; and the Belorussian and Ukrainian serfs were liberated and migrated in masses to large industrial cities. Yet, as we have shown, the depiction in Jewish literature of the change in relations between Jews and non-Jews constantly lagged behind ideology and politics. It also failed to keep up with the pace of social change and economic upheaval. Contacts with the non-Jewish environment, as depicted by Jewish authors, remained few, stereotypically described, and linked to the old shtetl life.

Thus, for example, in a work by Perets Smolenskin from the 1870s, a young Jew sets out to support the liberal wing of Polish nationalism, and is attracted to the ideal figure of a beloved Polish woman from the aristocracy. In works from the 1880s and 1890s by most Hebrew and Yiddish writers, young Jews seek freedom, fulfillment of artistic talent, or psychological, cultural, or erotic fulfillment through attachment to a Polish aristocrat or an imperial official. In early twentieth-century Jewish literature, though, young Jewish men and women are swept up enthusiastically in radical or revolutionary ardor and fall in love with Russian or Ukrainian revolutionaries. In all the aforementioned cases, however, the encounter between the two worlds is described along similar lines of plot and character, some of which at least are drawn from Jewish folklore (e.g., the figure of the Polish nobleman who seduces a Jewish girl at an inn). In these works, without exception, the erotic conflict does not end with the departure of the Jewish man or woman from the Jewish world and an ultimate passage to the other side of the ethnic–religious divide: on the contrary, Elisheva, the aristocratic woman portrayed in Smolenksin’s novel Gemul yesharim (Reward of the Righteous; 1874), converts to Judaism and moves to another country with her Jewish lover. In the other cases, the young Jewish person returns to his or her people—whether because of disappointment with the non-Jewish partner (Khave, Tevye’s daughter in Sholem Aleichem’s stories of Tevye the Dairyman), or because the ideal partner dies heroically for the sake of an idea (Tamara in Sholem Aleichem’s Yiddish novel Der mabul [The Flood]; 1907). It is quite possible to substitute one text for another, which shows how closely bound up the pattern of contacts with the non-Jewish world in this literature was with literary conventions, in which the power of the old world was greater than that of innovative ideas.

Changes in the literary depiction of non-Jews and their society in the works of these three classic writers (Abramovitsh, Peretz, and Sholem Aleichem) reflect the ongoing tension between efforts to portray ideal figures of gentiles in the spirit of the Haskalah and traditional depictions of the threatening “goy,” who is frightening but at the same time attractive and seductive. Between the mid-nineteenth century and World War I, these three authors created a full gallery of non-Jewish characters and described encounters between them and the Jewish world. In their works, it is possible to trace the effects of the ideological drive to create model literary figures of the non-Jew through examining the influence of traditional images of the goy—and the fears and feelings of revulsion and recoil that the latter aroused. The sources of that ideological drive changed over the years, from the ideas of the Enlightenment in the spirit of the eighteenth century to radical Russian and Polish political thought in the second half of the nineteenth century. The preservation of traditional images of non-Jews—and the feelings of repulsion and attraction with regard to gentiles, which were consistent with neoromantic literary influences—was nourished by the rise of modern antisemitism in its Russian and Polish versions, and by the waves of pogroms in Eastern Europe in 1881–1882 and 1903–1906.

Abramovitsh, Peretz, and Sholem Aleichem left the literary stage between 1913 and 1917. The figure of non-Jews in the Hebrew prose of Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik (1873–1934), starting in the early twentieth century (in particular, in his stories “Aryeh ba‘al-guf” [Aryeh the Strongman; 1899], “Ha-Ḥatsotserah nitbayshah” [The Trumpet Was Ashamed; 1915], and especially “Me-Aḥore ha-gader” [Behind the Fence; 1909]), embodies in most concentrated form the ambivalent feelings of attraction–repulsion and closeness–distance on the part of the Jew toward the goy. On the one hand, Bialik’s stories return to the ways of characterizing non-Jews and their world linked to the realities of life in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, the familiar realities become, in Bialik’s prose, symbols for the state of the Jewish people among the nations, and are connected to deep psychological strata of fear along with sexual desire and disgust and erotic attraction to the gentile.

In the same annual volume of the Hebrew publication Ha-Shiloaḥ (1909), two stories were published side by side: the allegorical work of Mendele called “Susati” (the Hebrew version of Di klyatshe), in which the author had expressed, in the 1870s, his abandonment of the maskilic image of the non-Jewish world; and Bialik’s “Me-Aḥore ha-gader,” his love story about a Jew and a Ukrainian “shiksa,” which is probably the most intense expression in Hebrew literature before World War I of the irreconcilable conflict between the Jewish and gentile worlds. The appearance together of these two works symbolizes the encounter between two major influences on Jewish literature: literary traditions from the mid-nineteenth century, and the influence of historical changes on relations between Jews and gentiles in the early twentieth century.

Suggested Reading

Israel Bartal, “Demut halo-Yehudim ve-ḥevratam be-yetsirat Sholem-Alekhem: Shelavim be-hitpatḥut ha-maga‘im ben yehudim li-sevivatam be-Mizraḥ-Eropah,” Ha-Sifrut 26 (1978): 39–71; Israel Bartal, “Halo-Yehudim veḥevratam be-sifrut ‘ivrit ve-yidish be-Mizraḥ-Eropah, 1856–1914” (Ph.D. diss., The Hebrew University, 1980); Israel Bartal, “The Porets and the Arendar: The Depiction of Poles in Jewish Literature, 1800–1914,” The Polish Review 33 (1987): 357–369; Israel Bartal, “On Top of the Volcano: Jewish-Ukrainian Co-Existence as Depicted in Modern East European Jewish Literature,” in Ukrainian-Jewish Relations in Historical Perspective, ed. Peter J. Potichnyj and Howard Aster, pp. 309–325 (Edmonton, 1988); Israel Bartal, “Non-Jews and Gentile Society in East European Hebrew and Yiddish Literature, 1856–1914,” Polin 4 (1989): 53–69; David E. Fishman, Russia’s First Modern Jews (New York, 1995); Olgah Goldberg, “Kavim le-demuto shel ha-yehudi ba-yetsirah ha-polanit ha-‘amamit,” Meḥkare ha-merkaz le-ḥeker ha-folklor 1 (1971): 149–152; Jacob Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance: Studies in Jewish-Gentile Relations in Medieval and Modern Times (Westport, Conn., 1980); Daniel Leibel, “Der goy in der yidisher literatur,” Fir (September 1932): 13–15; Magdalena Opalski, The Jewish Tavern-Keeper and His Tavern in Nineteenth-Century Polish Literature (Jerusalem, 1986).



Translated from Hebrew by Jeffrey Green