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Ronetti-Roman, Moise

(1847/53–1908), writer. Moise Ronetti-Roman (Aron Blumenfeld) was born into a Hasidic family in Jezierzany, Galicia (now Ozeryany, Ukr.); as a teenager, he moved to Moldavia and worked as a Hebrew tutor. In 1869, Ronetti-Roman left for Berlin to study medicine, philosophy, and philology, but did not graduate. In the same period, he contributed articles in Hebrew to Ha-Magid under the name Mosheh Roman. Throughout his life he avoided using his true surname and even kept his given name a secret.

Upon his return to Romania in 1874, Ronetti-Roman determined to become a Romanian writer, and contributed satiric pamphlets and articles on social issues to Romanian-language newspapers. He made his mark as a poet with a long romantic poem, Radu (1878); at the same time, he wrote for the conservative newspaper Timpul (Time) in Bucharest, where he befriended the poet Mihai Eminescu and the playwright Ion Luca Caragiale. Together they attended meetings of the prestigious literary society Junimea.

In 1878, Ronetti-Roman was hired as a German-language interpreter by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After marrying Eleonora Herşcovici in 1883, he moved to Davideni, in Neamț county, to live on an estate leased by his father-in-law. In 1898, Ronetti-Roman published the essay Două măsuri (Two Measurements), taking a daring and original approach to issues of Jewish status in Romania and to relations between Jews and Romanians. The work also included a melancholic meditation on the disappearance of the traditional Jewish world and its values, which the author regarded as eroded by the general modernization process. The Zionist movement, which he considered to be a mere utopian vision, could not in his mind prevent the disappearance of Judaism. His essay also included a critical analysis of Romanian policies toward Jews who, after their emancipation, were expected to be “good and faithful sons” to their homeland.

Ronetti-Roman’s themes in Două măsuri were transposed in his impressive drama Manasse (1900; produced in 1901), which established his reputation as a major Romanian playwright. The protagonist in this work is Manasse Cohen, an elderly Jewish man from a small town in Moldavia, who fanatically defends Jewish religious tradition. His son, Nissim Cohanovici, is a merchant living in Bucharest who maintains just a superficial connection to the Jewish community, resulting from the psychological pressure exerted by Manasse’s demands. Nissim’s children, Lazăr and Lelia, have a more genuine inner life than their father, caring about their grandfather and respecting him for his deep faith, but they are modern people who foster universalistic and socialist ideas and are perfectly integrated into the Romanian intellectual environment. Lelia’s decision to marry a Christian lawyer causes the old man tremendous suffering, eventually leading to his death.

When Manasse was staged in Iaşi and later in Bucharest, it stirred up a good deal of controversy and protest within nationalist and antisemitic circles, especially triggered by Manasse’s central monologue on the hostility of the Christian world to Jews and Judaism. More than a decade after the play’s premiere, polemics concerning its theme continued to be extremely intense, even leading to street demonstrations and government or court interventions to ban its performances. The play strongly influenced a generation of Jewish writers who made their mark after World War I, and the antagonisms and dilemmas related to Jews’ integration into Romanian society were frequently referred to in allusions to this play.

During the peasant uprising of 1907, Ronetti-Roman’s house was vandalized and destroyed. He died of a heart condition shortly afterward in Iaşi.

Suggested Reading

George Călinescu, Istoria literaturii române de la origini până în prezent (Bucharest, 1941), pp. 488–489; Florin Faifer, “Ronetti-Roman,” in Dicționarul literaturii române de la origini până la 1900 (Bucharest, 2002), pp. 769–770; Constantin Măciucă, “Prefată,” in Manasse şi alte scrieri, by Moise Ronetti-Roman, pp. v–lxxxii (Bucharest, 1996); A. B. Yoffe, Be-Sadot zarim: Sofrim yehudim be-Romanyah, 1880–1940 (Tel Aviv, 1996), pp. 71–86, abstract and table of contents also in English.



Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea