Sholem Aleichem at his writing desk, Saint Petersburg, 1904. (Beit Scholem Aleichem, Israel)

Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

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

Sholem Aleichem

(Shalom Rabinovitz; 1859–1916), one of the founding fathers of modern Yiddish literature. A supreme Jewish humorist, Sholem Aleichem tapped into the energies of the East European, spoken-Yiddish idiom and invented modern Jewish archetypes, myths, and fables of unequaled imaginative potency and universal appeal.

Page from an original manuscript of Funem yarid (Back from the Fair), by Sholem Aleichem, 1915. (YIVO)

Born in the provincial town of Pereyaslav (Ukraine) to a middle-class family of timber merchants, Rabinovitz spent a happy childhood in Voronkov. Here he was suffused with impressions and experiences that he would later utilize artistically, sublimating memories of his tiny childhood hamlet into the literary image of Kasrilevke, the archetypal shtetl. The death of his mother, Esther, and the loss of the family’s capital, truncated his childhood felicity. Following a brief stay with his grandparents in Bohuslav, he returned to live with his father and stepmother. In spite of his habitual high spirits, depression and impotent fantasies marked Rabinovitz’s pubescent years. This dark mood suffused his fictional world as a dangerous undercurrent of distress, sickness, psychosis, and death, which belied its bright surface and informed the “Jewish comedy” that he was to create.

Although the family had a Hasidic background and Rabinovitz was given a traditional heder education, his father, Nokhem, was somewhat exposed to ideas of the Haskalah and encouraged his son to learn Russian and read secular books. Rabinovitz attended the local Russian secondary school, matriculating in 1876 with distinction. In 1877, he became a tutor for the children of a prominent estate owner, Elimelekh Loyev, remaining there for three years until a love affair between him and Olga Loyev, Elimelekh’s daughter, was exposed. Brokenhearted but unvanquished, he ran for the elected post of crown rabbi of the town of Lubny (Yid., Luben), won the elections, and resided there from 1880 to 1883.

In those years Rabinovitz began his career as a writer. By 1879, he had already been a local reporter for the Hebrew weekly Ha-Tsefirah. In 1881 and 1882, his articles, focusing on issues of Jewish education, appeared in Ha-Melits, the chief journalistic organ of the Haskalah. His original intention was to become a Hebrew or a Russian writer, and his resort to Yiddish was, as he would say, “accidental.” He discovered an issue of the Saint Petersburg weekly Yudishes folks-blat (the only Yiddish periodical in Russia at the time) and realized that the Yiddish language and its literature appealed to the majority because of its accessibility. He was soon at work on his first Yiddish novella, Tsvey shteyner (Two Gravestones), in which he fictionalized his romance with Olga Loyev and ended his tale with the suicide of the two young protagonists. He published the story in weekly sequels (July–August 1883) in the Folks-blat, but not before he and Olga overcame, in real life, the objections of Elimelekh Loyev and married. The couple moved to the town of Belaia Tserkov’, where Rabinovitz worked as an agent for the Brody family of sugar magnates. His first full-length novel, Natashe (later retitled Taybele) appeared in 1884, the same year as the birth of his first child, Esther. In 1885, with the death of his father-in-law, he became the sole trustee of the Loyev estate, and a relatively rich man himself. In 1887, the young family moved to Kiev, where the budding writer dabbled in the stock market.

Tevye der milkhiker (Tevye the Dairyman). Polish and Yiddish poster. Printed by C. Laskowa and Sons, Vilna. The poster advertises a performance of Sholem Aleichem’s play by the Kraków Jewish Theater, featuring Rudolf Zaslavsky. (YIVO)

This enterprise did not bring about any diminution of his literary activity. On the contrary, Rabinovitz was now writing at a dizzying pace, publishing in many genres in Russian, Hebrew, and Yiddish. He also founded a literary almanac, modeled after the prestigious Russian “thick” literary journals of the day. The appearance of the first volume of the almanac, Di yidishe folks-bibliotek (The Jewish People’s Library) in 1888 became a milestone in the history of modern Yiddish literature and put Sholem Aleichem at the center of its stage. However, shortly after the publication of the second volume (1889), Rabinovitz depleted his wealth in irresponsible business transactions. By 1890, he was bankrupt. The family had to abandon its bourgeois apartment in Kiev and move to humbler quarters in Odessa. He spent several months abroad, until his mother-in-law settled with his creditors, and he rejoined the family in Odessa. Penniless and burdened with a large family, he faced a decade of hardship.

The years 1883–1890 formed a distinct part of Sholem Aleichem’s career, during which he produced much work (in three languages), the majority of which was never to be included in his official oeuvre, or was thoroughly rewritten later. Sholem Aleichem’s literary activity during these years was divided between the gentrification and “Europeanization” of Yiddish literature and the writing of sequences of feuilletons. When he began writing in Yiddish, literature in that language lacked cultural status and artistic respectability. Although it had won the interest of a wide reading public in popular works of fiction such as Ayzik Meyer Dik’s didactic novellas, Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh’s Dos kleyne mentshele (The Little Man) and Di klyatshe (The Nag), and Yitskhok Yoyel Linetski’s Dos poylishe yingl (The Polish Boy), it still had no sense of continuity and accumulative worth. Most of its writers hid behind pseudonyms, saving their real names for their productions in other languages.

Title page of book 2 of Di yidishe folksbibliotek (Jewish People’s Library), by Sholem Aleichem (Kiev and Berdichev: Yankev Sheftel, 1889). (YIVO)

Sholem Aleichem is itself a peculiar pen name, meaning something like “how do you do.” The writer resolved to elevate Yiddish literature to the role of a Jewish national literature together with Hebrew. This necessitated the continuous production in Yiddish of meritorious literary works; the establishment of a literary tradition; and the cleansing of current Yiddish writing from popular shund (trash). Sholem Aleichem used his command as the owner and editor of the Folks-bibliotek to encourage writers he admired, such as Abramovitsh and Linetski, to produce new works, all the while looking out for new talent such as Y. L. Peretz and David Frishman. He himself set out to create what he called “the Jewish novel”: a realistic text in which the erotic theme (regarded as a necessary ingredient in any roman) would be developed within the framework of contemporary Jewish society. Sholem Aleichem had internalized the values of nineteenth-century Russia and its flourishing literature as expounded by the nation’s chief novelists (his own favorite among them was Ivan Turgenev). He firmly believed in realistic mimesis as the chief means for achieving artistic maturity and in the novel as the genre most conducive to the evolving of such mimesis. During the years 1884–1889 he produced six novel-length works of fiction, among them Natashe (1884), Sender Blank un zayn gezindl (Sender Blank and his Family; 1888), Stempenyu (1888), and Yosele solovey (Yosele the Nightingale; 1889). The best example of Sholem Aleichem’s novelistic concept and ability at the time was Stempenyu. In this work, Sholem Aleichem unfolds an aborted love affair between a musician and a pious woman. Necessarily, the plot of such novels could not be complex or multitiered, since the author’s loyalty to what he perceived as the “truth” of Jewish life would not allow for a full development of the erotic theme.

Sholem Aleichem turned intensively to literary criticism in the 1880s in an attempt to establish a literary tradition and to purge Yiddish literature of “trash.” As a critic, he was invested in the process of elevating certain Yiddish writers to semiclassical status. For example, he presented Abramovitsh, Linetski, and to a certain degree Dik and Avrom Goldfadn, as the harbingers of mimetic realism. Conversely, he waged scathing critical attacks on writers he regarded as hacks. He exposed certain ones, such as the prolific romancier Nokhem Meyer Shaykevitch (known by his pseudonym, Shomer), as sensationalists vying for commercial success. The “classics” Sholem Aleichem projected as his own precursors. He took special pains in canonizing Abramovitsh, inventing (in his introduction to Stempenyu) the myth of “grandfather Mendele” as an éminence grise of Yiddish writing. Of course, the canonization of the “grandfather” was primarily aimed at asserting the legitimacy of the heir apparent, or the “grandson”: Sholem Aleichem himself.

Between 1883 and 1889, Sholem Aleichem wrote many feuilletonistic sequences, often in epistolary form. Chief among these were “Di ibergekhapte briv af der post” (Letters Intercepted at the Post Office; 1883–1884), “An ibershraybung tsvishn tsvey alte khaveyrim” (A Correspondence between Two Old Friends; 1884), and “Kontor gesheft” (Office Business; 1885). He never dreamed of collecting these wild farces and satires, some of which were aimed at ad hominem targets and pertaining to the author’s personal enmities. However, it was precisely through these sequences that he quickly became an intimate household name in Yiddish families. In these works, the effervescent persona “Sholem Aleichem” was born, playing the role of a funny “devil” who wreaked comic havoc wherever he went; however, this character differed greatly from the chatty omniscient narrator of the author’s novels who went by the same name. In these sequences, the author abandoned realism and descriptive verisimilitude in favor of writing within the more primitive traditions of Lucian satire and epistolary parody and pastiche. Through these writings, the author offered the readers literature unbridled by almost any “rules” of artistic decorum. The readers loved what they read and clamored for more. Sholem Aleichem, on his part, felt most in his element when indulging in these literary pranks, and of course he savored the popularity.

“Scissor and Iron, Our People (Big Prize).” Polish/Yiddish poster for a performance of Sholem Aleichem’s play Dos groyse gevins (The Big Prize; also known as Sher un ayzn [Scissor and Iron] and Unzer folk amkha [Our People]) by Rudolf Zaslavsky’s ensemble at the People’s Theater, Vilna. Artwork by H. Cyna. Printed by Ch. Łaskowa, Vilna. (YIVO)

In 1890, Sholem Aleichem entered a literary limbo. He no longer had the time or the financial resources to maintain the same level of literary productivity as in the 1880s. Also, with the Folks-blat folded and no similar popular Yiddish organ in existence, he had no outlet for the publication of his Yiddish works. He therefore published little and quite irregularly throughout the decade, often turning to both fiction and essay writing in Hebrew, which brought him close to the circle of the Odessa Zionist writers, whose nationalist mood and politics he shared. The only short (and unfinished) novel Sholem Aleichem managed to write in the 1890s was Meshiekhs tsaytn (The Days of the Redeemer; 1898), a piece of Zionist propaganda of slight literary merit, that directly continued, by fictional means, nonfictional propaganda brochures that he had written right after the first Zionist Congress (1897). Also, the 1890s were the years of Y. L. Peretz’s rise to literary and cultural stardom. Overnight, Peretz became the great hope and the cultural hero of a young Yiddish intelligentsia, wrenching the initiative of modernizing Jewish culture through a modern Yiddish literature out of the hands of Sholem Aleichem. This was the source of much bitterness to which the “dispossessed” writer gave expression in a rather unsavory sarcastic critique of his rival’s poems.

Nevertheless, it was during this decade that Sholem Aleichem devised two critical literary inventions. The first, the character Menakhem Mendl, had briefly appeared in an epistolary feuilleton in 1887 as a young husband still living with his in-laws. Now Menakhem Mendl, already the father of several children, found himself in Odessa, experimented as a small-time stock investor, and forgot about returning to his family. One immediately sensed that the reappearance of Menakhem Mendl in this work marked a sublimation of the habitual hilarity of the author’s earlier farces and satires. The character gained semiautobiographical importance in terms of Sholem Aleichem’s own disastrous penchant for speculation, as well as a depth of significance emanating from the projection of the character as a Jewish “hero” of a comic myth. This archetype was at once a version of the modern homo economicus, as well as a representative for henpecked Jewish manhood celebrating its freedom from repressive cultural and familial institutions. The development of this figure was of the greatest symbolic significance, and Menakhem Mendl was to follow Sholem Aleichem throughout his creative life, with new sequels of epistolary exchanges between the speculator and his wife finally occupying two volumes in the author’s collected writings.

Sholem Aleichem’s second crucial literary invention during this period was the character Tevye, a dairy supplier to the wealthy inhabitants of Boyberik (Boyre), a summer colony adjacent to the great “Yehupets” (Kiev). Tevye of the 1895 story “Dos groyse gevins” (Striking the Jackpot) was a buffoon—a zesty raconteur in possession of a trove of folk-sayings, funny mistranslations of scripture, and malapropisms. However, like Menakhem Mendl, Tevye possessed an inherent inability to cope with the vicissitudes of existence. Coupled with a tendency to counterbalance this passivity through a vivacious loquacity, he exposed his own shortcomings in a seductive yarn. Tevye consistently rendered the listener his ally rather than his critic, and on one level, this was a subtle revelation of the author’s own manipulation of the reader through self-effacing humor. Tevye was one of Sholem Aleichem’s greatest achievements and he remained a fixture in his work. With new Tevye stories appearing every few years, each story reflected changing historical circumstances and added fresh subtleties to the complex icon.

Cover of Familien-bibliotek, no. 51, Warsaw, 1900: playscript for Mentshn, by Sholem Aleichem, with notes by the author inserted in Yiddish and Russian. Yiddish and Russian. RG 107, Letters Collection, Box 16, F20. (YIVO)

In 1899, the weekly Yiddish publication Der yud appeared and allowed Sholem Aleichem to earn a living from his writing. As the Yiddish reading public during this period consumed literature via the newspaper rather than in book form, he was required to produce short pieces for the newspaper on a weekly basis. (He did write two short novels in this time, entitled Ver veyst? [Who Knows?]; 1902, and Moshkele ganef [Moshkele the Thief]; 1903). While the writer himself probably regretted this state of affairs, his short pieces amounted to the very core of his oeuvre and displayed his brilliance to the best effect. Sholem Aleichem’s son-in-law, Yitsḥak Dov Berkowitz, compared his father-in-law at the time to a stoker in a locomotive throwing coals into burning furnaces, which were not to cool off for a minute, lest the train lose velocity and come to a grinding halt. Indeed, Sholem Aleichem’s creative train chugged through these years (1899–1905) at full speed.

The body of work Sholem Aleichem created during these years is vast and variegated. Schematization of his publications reveals four genres: monologues, stories about children, holiday narratives, and the Kasrilevke tales. Most important were the monologues, spoken by specific characters and often addressed to a fictionalized interlocutor, such as “Sholem Aleichem” in the Tevye stories. The emergence of this genre was based on the success of these tales; by 1905, Sholem Aleichem had written four of the nine stories that were to add up to his Gants Tevye der milkhiker (The Complete Tevye the Dairyman). However, it was with the publication of Dos tepl (The Pot; 1901) that the monologue evolved into the writer’s forme maitresse. “Dos tepl” was succeeded by “Gendz” (Geese; 1902), “Funem priziv” (From the Draft; 1902), “Gimenazye” (High School; 1902), “Finf un zibetsik toyzent” (Seventy-Five Thousand; 1902), “A nisref” (Burnt Out; 1903), “An eytse” (Advice; 1904), “Yoysef” (Joseph; 1905), “Khabne” (1905), and the particularly complex and bewildering “Dray almones” (Three Widows; 1907). Superficially, each story presented a disorganized effusion of its gossipy monologist, yet beneath this veneer was a human being in great distress. Nowhere else did Sholem Aleichem succeed in yoking together comedy and tragedy as he did in these monologues, in which the “tensors” of spoken Yiddish as a provincial vernacular were tautly contracted and flexed in the creation of texts of universal import.

Second, Sholem Aleichem wrote stories focusing on children. These were usually composed as monologues spoken by a child, whose experiences were refracted through the prism of an adult consciousness. The use of this hybrid construct often gave rise to problems of stylistic uniformity and psychological coherence, but as often resulted in thoroughly integrated narrative amalgams. Of such amalgams are the stories “Der zeyger” (The Clock; 1900), “Di fon” (The Banner; 1900), “Afn fidl” (The Violin; 1902), and “Der esreg” (The Citron; 1902). Many of these children’s stories also belonged to the category of “Yontev Stories,” stories published by the Jewish press on the eves of traditional Jewish holidays. Sholem Aleichem was contractually obliged to supply holiday stories to all the newspapers for which he worked. He often succeeded in fleshing out the required rudiments of this subgenre into a poignant work, as in “Af Peysekh aheym” (Homebound for Passover; 1903). In this story about a teacher who risks his life crossing a half-frozen river in his quest to return home for Passover, the author brought together notions regarding the Jewish calendar, the natural seasons, contemporary life, and the reenactment of the biblical myth of the crossing of the Red Sea.

“Napoleon’s oytser” (Napoleon’s treasure). Yiddish poster advertising a Yung-teater production of a play by Sholem Aleichem. Artwork by M. Gruszka. Printed by P.O.L., Warsaw, 1934. (YIVO)

A final category of stories gave Sholem Aleichem the opportunity to create his Kasrilevke, the quintessential shtetl. While he previously dealt with small-town and hamlet scenes, it was only in the early 1900s that such scenes coalesced into the unified image of Kasrilevke. The self-seeking “Kasriliks” were plagued by dire poverty yet somehow managed to stay upbeat, always dreaming of miraculous events and redemption, as in the story “Ven ikh bin Roytshild” (If I Were Rothschild; 1902).

By 1905, Sholem Aleichem felt overextended physically and mentally. Unable to meet his financial obligations without constantly producing new work at an unrealistic pace, he turned his hopes to the theater. In 1905, his drama Tsezeyt un tseshpreyt (Scattered and Dispersed; 1903) was staged successfully in Warsaw on the Polish stage. Emboldened by this positive reception, he planned a collaborative effort to launch a Yiddish theater in Odessa; however, his plans fell through due to the Russian authorities’ extreme distrust of any cultural activity that could be used as a cover for revolutionary propaganda. In October, the widespread pogroms followed by the abortive 1905 Russian Revolution prompted his departure from the tsarist empire. In December, the family crossed the border and ensconced itself in Lemberg. Following the summer of 1906, he went through Geneva to London, where he spent part of the fall before setting out for New York City.

In New York, the Yiddish and the American-English press greeted Sholem Aleichem as a celebrity. Dubbed the “Jewish Mark Twain,” the journalistic fanfare went to his head. Sholem Aleichem, insensitive to the New York Yiddish literary community’s strong sense of its own worth, made patronizing remarks, announcing the role he would play in elevating the American Yiddish theater to the European artistic level. This boasting came home to roost as Sholem Aleichem’s own two plays, Yaknehoz and a dramatization of Stempenyu, were flops—much to the schadenfreude of the local Yiddishist community. Compounding his unpopularity, Sholem Aleichem alienated the influential left-wing Yiddish press by aligning himself with conservative and traditionalist newspapers such as the Tageblat. In short, his American sojourn turned out to be a fiasco. In the summer of 1907, he departed for Europe, disappointed and resentful. Yet he took from this experience the idea for a series of stories about the mass emigration from Eastern Europe to New York in the wake of the 1905 pogroms. The immigrants’ struggles of acculturation were presented through the eyes of a shtetl boy named Motl. The work expounded the writer’s optimistic view that East European Jewry would emerge strong from the downfall of its traditional civilization and from the melting pot of assimilation. The first chapters of Motl Peyse dem khazns (Motl the Son of Cantor Peyse) were written before the author’s return to Europe and continued throughout 1907.

Members of the Bene Tsiyon (Sons of Zion) society with visiting writer Sholem Aleichem (second row from front, fifth from left) and composer Mark Varshavski (third from left), Berdichev (now Berdychiv, Ukr.), 1900. (YIVO)

Unwilling to return to the tsarist empire, he stayed briefly in Geneva, then went to Berlin. Crestfallen and fatigued, Sholem Aleichem nevertheless had to produce at a steady pace if he was to earn an income. With serial publication of novels in demand, he wrote the lengthy Der mabl (The Deluge, later retitled In shturm [In the Storm]; 1907), succeeded by Blonzhende shtern (Wandering Stars; 1909–1911) and Der blutiker shpas (The Bloody Hoax; 1912). Returning to America in 1915, Sholem Aleichem wrote his autobiographical novel, Funem yarid (Back from the Fair), Der misteyk (The Mistake), and the second part of the Motl sequence (all three works remain unfinished). These were written very quickly in serialized form, the author always running only a few episodes ahead of the one that went to the printer. Although he would never regain the craft of his earlier works, the epistolary stories Marienbad (1911) and the new Menakhem Mendl series (1913) somewhat recaptured his earlier flair.

In 1908, financial hardship and nostalgia for his East European readers drove Sholem Aleichem to tour throughout the Jewish Pale of Ukraine and Belorussia. For three months he traveled from one town to another, performing as a one-man act, which took a serious toll on his health. Diagnosed with open tuberculosis, he became bedridden, yet continued writing. Friends purchased the rights to his entire published corpus and presented them to him on his twenty-fifth anniversary as a Yiddish writer. This enabled him to publish an extensive edition of his collected works, which sold well and yielded a certain dependable annual income.

Set design by Isaac Rabichev for Get (Divorce) by Sholem Aleichem, Moscow State Yiddish Theater, 1924. (Hillel Kazovsky)

During World War I, Sholem Aleichem escaped from Berlin to Copenhagen. In 1914, in poor health and cut off from his sources of income, he returned to New York. There he signed a contract with the newspaper Der tog, which assured him a fixed income, and he returned to habitually producing both large and small-scale literary projects. In the summer of 1915, crushed by the news of his son Misha’s sudden death, Sholem Aleichem wrote a will and spoke of his own impending death. He nevertheless continued writing new chapters for both the autobiographical novel, of which the first two of the intended eight parts had been completed, and for the sequel of the Motl stories. In 1916, he fell ill and died on 13 May. Two days later, he was given a temporary burial (he was reburied in the Har Carmel cemetery in Queens, although he desired to be buried in Kiev, alongside his father). Attracting hundreds of thousands of mourners, the funeral evolved into an unprecedented demonstration of the size and cohesion of New York’s Yiddish-speaking population—no longer a conglomerate of rootless immigrants, but rather an organized community, joined in their grief for the loss of a great artist.

Sholem Aleichem’s legacy has been of a universal scope and significance. Since 1909, his works have been translated into dozens of languages with complete sets of comprehensive selections appearing in Hebrew and Russian. In the 1960s, his Tevye stories, having gone through theatrical productions in the United States, Soviet Russia, and Israel (including a serious cinematic adaptation by Morris Schwarz), enjoyed international success in Fiddler on the Roof, a Broadway musical classic that has played at almost every theatrical center in the world.

Much impressionistic criticism of uneven quality has been written on Sholem Aleichem. In contrast, serious Sholem Aleichem scholarship is limited. The 28 volumes of the Folksfond edition published by Berkowitz between 1917 and 1925, while still the most widely used, does not encompass much more than half of the author’s Yiddish output. As for the author’s recorded life, only the mere rudiments of a trustworthy scholarly biography are available. The author’s own semifictional rendering of the story of his early years (in Funem yarid and other writings), as well as memoirs recorded by himself, his son-in-law, his brother Volf Rabinovitz, and his daughter Marie, serve as a basis for study, yet cannot be taken as factual biography. Other biographical and scholarly sources include Uri Finkel’s rudimentary Sholem Aleykhem (Moscow, 1939), as well as Uriel Weinreich’s study, “Principal Research Sources” (The Field of Yiddish, vol. 1 [1954], pp. 278–291), since updated by Khone Shmeruk (Shalom-‘Alekhem, madrikh le-ḥayav veli-yetsirato; 1990).

From Sholem Aleichem in Kiev to Yehoshu‘a Ḥana Ravnitski, October 1903. Notes on his autobiography. Sholem Aleichem fully expects that Yiddish will play a great role in the culture of the Jewish people but that one would need to be "half a prophet or a whole fool to say this out loud." Yiddish. RG 107, Letters Collection, Box 16, F1. (YIVO)

As noted, the critical and scholarly writing on Sholem Aleichem’s work is quantitatively vast. Comprehensive assessments and interpretations were launched in 1908 and 1912 by the critics Bal-Makhshoves and Shmuel Niger, respectively. The former analyzed the symbolic functions of Sholem Aleichem’s chief characters. A perception of Tevye and Motl as illustrations of the writer’s benign humor vis-à-vis his harsher satire (i.e., Menakhem Mendl) informed Niger’s criticism throughout his scholarly career (cf. his 1928 short monograph Sholem Aleykhem, zayne vikhtikste verk, zayn humor un zayn ort in der yidisher literatur [Sholem Aleichem, His Most Important Works, His Humor and His Place in Yiddish Literature]).

After the writer’s death in 1916, an array of critical appraisals appeared throughout the Jewish world, the bulk of which was by Soviet scholars and critics. Their work fell into three major categories: Nokhem Oyslender, Yitskhok Nusinov, Yekhezkl Dobrushin, Maks Erik, Meyer Viner, and others used a positivist-historical approach to study the evolution of the author’s texts. A second category, dominated by such critics as Viner, Moyshe Mizheritsky, and Erik, was marked by Marxist theoretical concepts offering a view of Sholem Aleichem’s “vision” as an expression of the Jewish petite bourgeoisie at the turn of the century. The third category was the philological study of Sholem Aleichem’s language and style. Critics such as Ayzik Zaretski (1926, 1927), Khayim Loytsker (1939), and Elye Spivak (1940) laid the foundation for the understanding of the various aspects of Sholem Aleichem’s artistic usage of Yiddish and highlighted the stylistic virtuosity evident in his best works.

After World War II, the focus of Sholem Aleichem scholarship and criticism shifted to Israel and North America. In Israel, Shmeruk continued the Positivist-Historical perspective, with his ideas, as well as the most thought-provoking ones of critic Dov Sadan, informing the work of a new generation of scholars both in Israel and in the United States. New scholarship dealt with such issues as the fictionality of the Sholem Aleichem persona (Miron, 1972); Sholem Aleichem’s humor and the challenges of Jewish tragic history (Ruth Wisse, 1971, 2000; David Roskies, 1984); the writer’s use of the monologue (Victor Erlich, 1964; Miron, 1978; Hana Wirth-Nesher, 1981; Benjamin Harshav, 1983; Ken Frieden, 1989, 1995), and many other topics. Sholem Aleichem scholarship and criticism can be said to have been opened up to post-Positivist, modernist and postmodernist views and perspectives.

Suggested Reading

Bal-Makhshoves (I. Elyashiv), “Sholem Aleykhem,” in Geklibene verk, pp. 172–190 (New York, 1953), in English as “Sholem Aleichem [A Typology of His Characters],” Prooftexts 6.1 (1986): 7–15; Max Erik, “Menakhem Mendl: Geshtalt un metod,” Shtern 5–6 (1935): 180–202, 8 (1935): 82–90, English translation in Prooftexts 6.1 (1986): 23–39; Max Erik, “Vegn Sholem Aleykhems ‘Ksovim fun a komivoyazher,’” Visnshaft un revolutsye 3–4 (1935): 161–172; Victor Erlich, “A Note on the Monologue As a Literary Form: Sholem Aleichem’s Monologn; A Test Case,” in For Max Weinreich on His Seventieth Birthday, pp. 44–50 (The Hague, 1964); Ken Frieden, Classic Yiddish Fiction (Albany, N.Y., 1995), pp. 95–224; Jacob Glatstein, “Menakhem Mendl,” in In tokh genumen: Eseyen, 1945–1947, pp. 469–484 (New York, 1947); Janet Hadda, Passionate Women, Passive Men: Suicide in Yiddish Literature (Albany, N.Y., 1988), pp. 101–118; Binyamin Harshav, “Dekonstruktsyah shel dibur: Shalom ‘Alekhem veha-semantikah shel ha-folklor ha-yehudi,” in Tevyeh ha-ḥalban u-monologim, pp. 195–212 (Tel Aviv, 1983); Dan Miron, Masot meshulavot (Ramat Gan, Isr., 1976); Dan Miron, The Image of the Shtetl (Syracuse, N.Y., 2000); Dan Miron, Ha-Tsad ha-afel bi-tseḥoko shel Shalom ‘Alekhem (Tel Aviv, 2004), pp. 19–116; Shmuel Niger, Sholem Aleykhem: Zayne vikhtikste verk, zayn humor un zayn ort in der yidisher literatur (New York, 1928); Avraham Novershtern, “Menakhem Mendl le-Shalom Alekhem: Ben toldot ha-tekst le-mivneh ha-yetsirah,” Tarbits 54.1 (1984): 105–146; Nokhem Oyslender, “Der yunger Sholem Aleykhem un zayn roman Stempenyu,Shriftn 1 (1928): 1–72; David Roskies, Against the Apocalypse: Responses to Catastrophe in Modern Jewish Culture (Cambridge, Mass., 1984), pp. 163–195; David Roskies, A Bridge of Longing: The Lost Art of Yiddish Storytelling (Cambridge, Mass., 1995), pp. 147–190; Dov Sadan, “Sheloshah yesodot,” in Avne miftan, vol. 1, pp. 45–54 (Tel Aviv, 1961), in English as “Three Foundations,” Prooftexts 6.1 (1986): 55–63; Chone Shmeruk, ‘Ayarot u-kherakhim: Perakim bi-yetsirato shel Shalom-‘Alekhem, ed. Chava Turniansky (Jerusalem, 2000); Eliyohu Spivak, Sholem Aleykhems shprakh un stil (Kiev, 1940); Yeḥi’el Yeshaia Trunk, Sholem-Aleykhem: Zayn vezn un zayne verk (Warsaw, 1937); Yeḥi’el Yeshaia Trunk, Tevye un Menakhem Mendl in yidishn velt-goyrl (New York, 1944); Meir Wiener, Tsu der geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur in 19tn yorhundert, vol. 2 (New York, 1946), pp. 235–378; Ruth R. Wisse, The Schlemiel As Modern Hero (Chicago, 1971); Ruth R. Wisse, Sholem Aleichem and the Art of Communication (Syracuse, N.Y., 1980); Ruth R. Wisse, The Modern Jewish Canon (New York, 2000), pp. 31–64.