Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

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

Schulman, El‘azar

(1837–1904), Hebrew short-story writer, journalist, and Yiddish researcher. El‘azar Schulman was born in the district town of Kretinge, in the Kovno province of Lithuania. In 1867, he published a two-part novel, Ha-‘Ovdim veha-nidaḥim (The Lost and the Lonesome), in imitation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. When the book received negative reviews, Schulman destroyed most of the printed copies.

In 1869, Schulman moved to Vienna, where he worked as a letter writer for a commercial store and shared his quarters with his friend Perets Smolenskin. Subsequently, Schulman traveled to Russia. Through his father-in-law, he established a personal connection with the family of the affluent businessman El‘azar Brodskii in Kiev and accepted an appointment as chief treasurer of the Alexandrov Company run by that family.

In 1872, Schulman anonymously published his first two stories, “Bi-Metsulot ha-yam” (In the Depths of the Ocean) and “Orḥi ve-rivi” (My Guest and My Quarrel), in Ha-Shaḥar, the Hebrew periodical edited by Smolenskin. Receiving positive reviews, Schulman then published monographs on Jewish-born writers such as Heinrich Heine and Ludwig Börne. From 1886 on, his additional stories appeared in Ha-Asif, Peraḥim ve-shoshanim, Mi-Mizraḥ umi-ma‘arav, and Ha-Zeman. In 1894, a collection of his stories, Otsar sipurim (A Treasure of Stories) was issued in Warsaw. Schulman’s fiction illustrates, in a fairly conventional and realistic manner, the folklore of Lithuanian Jews in provincial towns and cities, with both its flaws and positive aspects. His writing combines realistic, concise descriptions of life-changing conflicts and the vicissitudes of fate with comical situations and social criticism.

In 1894, Schulman published 22 chapters of his memoirs in Ha-Melits, later issuing them in book form in Saint Petersburg as Zikhronot ‘ir moladeti (Memories of My Hometown; 1895). The memoirs are written as feuilletons, presenting maskilic social criticism in narrative form and debate. In 1895, he began to publish translations, mainly of Heine’s poetry. Schulman was also the first scholar to publish Hebrew scholarly essays on Yiddish language and literature, of which the most prominent example is his book Sefat yehudit ashkenazit ve-sifrutah (The Ashkenazi Jewish Language and Its Literature), published in Saint Petersburg in 1903.

Schulman’s works conform to the objectives of the Lithuanian Haskalah, a particular trend of Hebrew enlightenment that aspired to preserve religious and national Jewish values while aiming to liberate the Jewish public from its seclusion. Schulman was in this way of thinking opposed to the principles of Moses Mendelssohn’s German Jewish Haskalah, which regarded Jewish nationalism as contradicting universalism and love of humankind. Like Smolenskin, Schulman considered Judaism to hold a nationalistic worldview with a religious moral basis.

Schulman’s stories present social, economic, and ethical aspects of Jewish life as false and corrupt but also as pitiful and deserving of empathy. For example, his characterizations of rabbis reflect an ambivalent attitude: though they are dignified religious authorities, they oppose progress and productivity. He describes Jewish masses as a people at variance with their environment, and as naive and inflexible. His works thus encourage typical Haskalah values such as social progress, productivity, the learning of languages and sciences, and educational reforms; at the same time, he is critical of ignorance, corruption, and religious fanaticism within traditional Jewish communities.

Suggested Reading

Erella Balitzki, El‘azar Shulman: Ḥayav ve-yetsirato, 1837–1904 (Tel Aviv, 1980); Joseph Klausner, Historyah shel ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ha-ḥadashah, vol. 5, pp. 275–279 (Jerusalem, 1955); Getzel Kressel, Leksikon ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ba-dorot ha-aḥaronim, vol. 2, col. 890 (Merḥavyah, Isr., 1967).



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann