Gershom Shofman, Lwów, ca. 1904. Photograph by Rivoli. (Asher Barash Gnazim Institute, Tel Aviv)

Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

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

Shofman, Gershom

(1880–1972), Hebrew writer. Born in Orsha (now in Belarus), Gershom Shofman was educated at heder and in several yeshivas. He also studied the classics of Russian and Hebrew literature and was especially captivated by the works of Mendele Moykher-Sforim. Orphaned during his childhood, Shofman grew up in poverty. The fearful circumstances of his youth left their marks in his stories.

Shofman’s first book, Sipurim ve-tsiyurim (Stories and Illustrations; 1902), was published by Avraham Leib Shalkovich (Ben-Avigdor)’s Tushiyah Press in Warsaw; its successful reception immediately established Shofman as one of the most important young writers of his generation. Between 1902 and 1904 he served in the Russian army, stationed in Gomel. In March 1904 he escaped to Lwów, where he was permitted to remain until 1913. During that period he wrote daring stories depicting brothels, and published his books Reshimot (Lists; 1908) and Me-idakh gisa’ (On the Other Hand; 1909). He also edited the journal Shalekhet (1911).

In 1913 Shofman moved to Vienna, where during World War I he held the status of a Jewish refugee and resident alien. In 1920 he married the Jewish convert Annie Planck, the daughter of an Austrian farmer, and in 1921 the couple moved to Vezelsdorf, near Graz. With the financial support of the Stybel publishing company of Palestine, he enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle and wrote his finest stories. However, the financial crisis that befell Stybel, coupled with increasing levels of antisemitism, affected Shofman adversely. In July 1938, after Austria was annexed by the Nazis, he left for Palestine. He lived first in Tel Aviv but moved to Haifa in 1954, where he was granted honorary citizenship. He died in Israel in 1972.

Shofman’s stories flow like a personal diary, intimately reflecting the various stages of his own life while simultaneously noting historical events that affected Jews universally. His words are brief and succinct: plots are condensed and the reader’s imagination fills in the gaps. Shofman’s idiom is intentionally frugal, foregoing the richness of the multilayered Hebrew language, so that it avoids ostentatious phrase and as much as possible uses precise expressions. At the same time, his language unearths the full depths of its meanings, lending his prose the quality of poetry. Seemingly insignificant details become symbols of reality and representations of human nature. His “detached” heroes are the weak and the sickly, yearning for things they are unable to identify by name. The eroticism of his stories, directed at men and women equally, is unusually daring for its era, and caused some critics to warn that Shofman’s writings could be harmful to young readers. Cruelty in the world in general, and to Jews in particular, is ably described in his literary output. Yet apathy is a typical response of his characters, while men, women, and children also derive pleasure from the suffering of others.

Shofman’s writings were issued in four volumes (1927–1934; 1946–1952), and later in five volumes (1960). Selections of his stories were published in 1967 and 1994.

Suggested Reading

Nurit Govrin, ed., G. Shofman, mivḥar ma’amre bikoret ‘al yetsirato (Tel Aviv, 1978); Nurit Govrin, Me-Ofek el ofek: G. Shofman, ḥayav vi-yetsirato, 2 vols. (Tel Aviv, 1983); Moshe Moskowitz, The Vital Sketch: The Humanistic Element in Modern Hebrew Literature (Haifa, 1978); Norman Tarnor, The Many Worlds of Gershon [sic] Shofman (West Orange, N.J., 1989).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler