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Schulman, Kalman

(1819–1899), maskil and Hebrew writer whose work was significant in the development of modern Hebrew literature. Kalman Schulman was born to a Hasidic family in Stary Bykhov, in the Mogilev district of Belorussia. He studied at the Volozhin yeshiva for about six years, subsequently learning German and developing an interest in Haskalah literature. In 1843, Schulman settled in Vilna, joining that city’s circle of maskilic authors, especially Mikhah Yosef Lebensohn (Mikhal), with whom he shared a close friendship. From 1849 to 1861, Schulman taught Hebrew at the secondary school connected to the state rabbinical seminary. Later he devoted himself entirely to literary activity, receiving encouragement and support from Saint Petersburg’s Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia.

Schulman’s works included dozens of books written in a biblical style. He devoted himself primarily to translating (mainly from German) and popularizing history, geography, and ethnography, both general and Jewish. His outstanding work in the area of general history was Divre yeme ‘olam (1867–1884), a nine-volume Hebrew version of Allgemeine Weltgeschichte (A General History of the World) by Georg Weber. In the field of geography, he published Meḥkare erets Rusyah (Studies in the Land of Russia; 1869); Kiryat melekh rav (City of a Great King [on Saint Petersburg]; 1869); Mosde erets (Foundations of the Earth; 10 volumes, 1871–1877); and Erets ha-kedem (Land of the East [on India]; 1890).

In the area of Jewish history, Schulman wrote Harisot Betar (The Destruction of Betar; 1858, following a book by Rabbi Shemu’el Me’ir); the four-volume Toldot ḥakhme Yisra’el (History of the Sages of Israel; 1872–1878); Divre yeme ha-Yehudim (Jewish History [the first chapters of Heinrich Graetz’s historical work]; 1876); and four books by Josephus Flavius. Writing also about the geography and history of the Land of Israel and its surroundings, Schulman published Halikhot kedem (The Ways of the East; 1854), Shulamit (1855), Ari’el (1856), and Har’el (1866), as well as Shevile erets ha-kedoshah (Paths in the Holy Land; 1870).

In addition, Schulman issued some 10 collections of articles on various topics within Jewish studies. Particularly popular was his abbreviated translation of Les mystères de Paris (The Mysteries of Paris), a melodramatic adventure novel by Eugène Sue (four volumes; 1857–1860), of which thousands of copies were printed. This work led to a spirited discussion about the legitimacy of adapting the novel form to Hebrew literature.

Schulman’s maskilic approach was combined with his firmly religious outlook in the spirit of Vilna’s moderate Haskalah. For that reason, in his translations he tended to understate elements that contradicted Jewish tradition. In his section of Graetz’s History of the Jews, for example, he included personal additions about the religious significance of Jewish history, while passing over findings and conclusions that were decidedly part of modern secular scholarship. His Orthodox tendencies angered radical maskilim such as Mosheh Leib Lilienblum, but contributed to the popularity of Schulman’s books with a large audience of traditional readers who found no danger in them. In retrospect, some critics have regarded Schulman as a harbinger of Zionism because of his books on the Land of Israel, although in fact his loving treatment of material on the Holy Land and its history derived more from religious romanticism than from nationalist motives.

Suggested Reading

Shmuel Feiner, Haskalah and History: The Emergence of a Modern Jewish Historical Consciousness, trans. Chaya Naor and Sondra Silverton (Oxford and Portland, Ore., 2002); Joseph Klausner, Historyah shel ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ha-ḥadashah, vol. 3, pp. 361–388 (Jerusalem, 1953); Getzel Kressel, “Shulman, Kalman,” in Leksikon ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ba-dorot ha-aḥaronim, vol. 2, cols. 890–892 (Merḥavyah, Isr., 1967).



Translated from Hebrew by Jeffrey Green