Staff of Der moment, Warsaw, 1920s. (Back row, left to right) Mordkhe Spektor, A. Almi, Yoysef Tunkel, Moyshe Bunem Yustman, Tsevi Pryłucki, D. Druk,  Sh. Janowski, Yisroel Khayim Zagorodski (front), Bentsion Chilinowicz, Yisroel Khayim Zagorodski, and Hillel Zeitlin. (YIVO)

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Spektor, Mordkhe

(1858–1925), writer and editor. Born to a prominent family in Uman, Ukraine, Mordkhe Spektor received a traditional education, although according to his own account he preferred the outdoors over home and heder. As a teenager, Spektor met writers Yitskhok Yoyel Linetski and Avrom Goldfadn and began to read contemporary Yiddish Haskalah literature. At the age of 19, he moved to Odessa and became acquainted with the Jewish writers of that city.

In contrast to some of his contemporaries who began their writing careers in other languages before turning to Yiddish with considerable reluctance, Spektor unhesitatingly wrote in Yiddish. His works include dozens of novels and stories, many of which were published in more than one edition. Spektor’s early novel, Der yidisher muzhik (The Jewish Peasant), originally serialized in Aleksander Zederbaum’s Yudishes folks-blat (1883), attracted wide attention because of its contemporary relevance and its sympathy for the ideas of the Ḥibat Tsiyon movement.

In the mid-1880s, Spektor moved to Saint Petersburg and worked as a journalist. His first literary work in print was A roman on a nomen (A Novel without a Name; 1883), which was also published in installments in Yudishes folks-blat (1883). One of Spektor’s most popular novels was Reb Traytl (in book form; 1889). Here he vividly described the inner life of a small Jewish town with a variety of typical and recognizable characters. In this book, as in others, Spektor addressed his male and female readers directly, an accepted means at that time of achieving reliability and close contact between author and reader.

From Mordkhe Spektor in Warsaw to Yitshak Goydo (Bernard Gorin) in Vilna, September 1893, congratulating him on the establishment of his new publishing house. He has heard that its first publication will be a work by Goydo himself, and he cautions that publishing one’s own work as the first project of one’s publishing imprint is always a bad idea. He himself can't send Dovid Pinski anything for publication at the moment because he is too busy with his anthology series, Der hoyz-fraynd (The Home Companion). He complains that the 20-ruble honorarium [?] being offered is not enough but that he will overlook it this time and send something to publish when he can. Yiddish. German and Yiddish letterhead: Der hoyz-fraynd. RG 204, David Pinsky Papers, F10. (YIVO)

Shmuel Niger considered Spektor’s writings to constitute a link between the Haskalah and the national folk literature of the 1880s and 1890s. Spektor’s works were imbued with the issues of the day. “He wrote with the aid of the pen,” commented Niger, emphasizing the journalistic character of Spektor’s texts.

Failing in his attempts to publish his own newspaper in Saint Petersburg, Spektor moved in 1887 to Warsaw, then still a minor center of modern Jewish literature. In 1888, he published the first volume of an anthology series, Der hoyz-fraynd (The House Friend), of which a total of five volumes appeared by 1896. Spektor also published Varshever yudisher familyen-kalendar (Warsaw’s Jewish Family Calendar) in the years 1893–1897. During this period, he became friendly with Y. L. Peretz. In 1899, the two were arrested at a clandestine literary event and were incarcerated for several months in the Warsaw Citadel.

Between 1899 and 1902, Spektor regularly contributed to Der yud (Kraków) and, in 1902–1903, served as an editor of the weekly publications Yudishe folks-tsaytung and Yidishe froyenvelt (Warsaw), as well as the literary anthology Hilf (Help), whose profits were sent to assist pogrom victims in Kishinev in 1903. Spektor also befriended Sholem Aleichem, and the two engaged in a prolific correspondence. In 1905, he met Tsevi Pryłucki, editor of Der veg (Warsaw), the first Yiddish daily newspaper in Poland, and became a regular contributor.

In 1907, Spektor attempted to publish a new weekly in Warsaw titled Fraytik (Friday), but this endeavor failed. Another paper he edited, Di naye velt, merged with Pryłucki’s Der moment in 1910, and a subsequent effort in 1912 to produce a daily newspaper, Unzer lebn, lasted less than a year. According to Yitsḥak Dov Berkowitz, Spektor failed in the newspaper business because he could not compete with the inferior yellow journalism of such papers as Haynt.

Following the outbreak of World War I, Spektor moved back to Odessa, where his health deteriorated. Notwithstanding, he participated in founding the Yiddish cultural organization Kultur-lige in Odessa. At the end of 1920, he managed to leave the Soviet Union and made his way to the United States. In New York as well, Spektor contributed to a number of newspapers and periodicals and continued to publish novels and chapters of his memoirs.

Suggested Reading

Yitzḥak Dov Berkowitz, Ha-Ri’shonim ki-vene adam, vol. 4, pp. 1877–1886 (Tel Aviv, 1943); Yankev Birnboym, “Spektor, Mordkhe,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 6, cols. 518–527 (New York, 1965); Samuel (Shmuel) Niger, Dertseylers un romanistn (New York 1946), pp. 111–130; Mordecai Spector (Mordkhe Spektor), Mayn lebn (Warsaw, [1927]).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 204, David Pinsky, Papers, 1893-1949; RG 223, Abraham Sutzkever–Szmerke Kaczerginski, Collection, 1806-1945.



Translated from Hebrew by Carrie Friedman-Cohen