Logo reading “Hotsa’at Avraham Yosef Shtibel.” From cover of Shire Anakre’on (Poems of Anacreon), by Sha’ul Tchernichowsky (Warsaw, 1920). (YIVO)

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Hebrew publishing house founded in Moscow in 1917 by the patron and literary enthusiast Avraham Yosef Stybel (1885–1946) and journalist Bentsiyon Katz. Literary critic David Frishman, whose aestheticist and westernizing Hebraism influenced Stybel, was editor in chief.

With an endowment from Avraham Stybel, the publishing house embarked on an ambitious publishing program focusing on art-literature and especially translations from classical and modern Western literature. It also produced the massive, eclectic literary quarterly Ha-Tekufah (1918–1950, with interruptions). Unusually generous wages drew the participation of many Hebrew authors; Sha’ul Tchernichowsky, David Shimoni (Shimonovitz), and Gershom Shofman had particularly strong early ties to the house.

Stybel’s aspiration to have an international presence, coupled with Bolshevik suppression in late 1918, resulted in the publishing house’s relocation to New York (where a second journal, Miklat, also appeared in 1919–1920) with branches in Palestine and Warsaw. Relocating to Warsaw in 1921 under the editorial guidance of literary critic Yeruḥam Fishel Lachower and poet Ya‘akov Cahan, Stybel was extraordinarily prolific but nevertheless collapsed in 1925–1926 due to a decline in its fortunes, the high price of book production in Poland, and falling Hebrew book consumption in the Diaspora (by contrast, there were consistently good sales in the growing Hebrew center in Palestine). Founded again in Berlin in 1928 with the financial backing of the Hebraist patrons Bendit and David Cohen, it then moved to Tel Aviv under the control of Naḥum Twersky. Stybel made a stillborn effort to revive a center in Warsaw in 1937–1938.

Stybel published hundreds of translations, including classical works (Anacreon, Homer, Sophocles), and books from English (Shakespeare, Wilde, Byron, Emerson), French (Flaubert, Maupassant), German (Goethe, Schnitzler), Russian (Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy), and Polish (Sienkewicz, Mickewicz). It also published original Hebrew literary pieces and the collected works of Mikhah Yosef Berdyczewski and Yosef Ḥayim Brenner, as well as a small body of original and translated scholarship and philosophy. Its translations were particularly popular, especially in the Hebrew-speaking Yishuv emerging in Palestine.

Stybel was a mainstay of Hebrew literary life, especially through the early 1920s, and was a key publishing framework for the dwindling Polish Hebrew literary community including Ya‘akov Cahan, Arn Zeitlin, and Matityahu Shoham. Ideologically, contemporaries considered it to be the most important agent for the brand of Hebraism that envisioned a new cosmopolitan Hebrew culture centering on humanist conceptions of art and integrated into a pan-European cultural tradition without sharp distinctions between “Jewish” and “non-Jewish” components.

Stybel himself insisted on the unparalleled cultural value of art literature, considered a capacious Hebrew culture as preferable to a narrowly “Jewish” one, and argued that Hebrew culture would command the loyalty of coming generations only if world culture were readily available in Hebrew translation. Hence the emphasis on translation of non-Jewish literary works and relative neglect of scholarship, classical Jewish writings, and translations from Yiddish; hence also the widely noted emphasis on the physical beauty of its publications. There was considerable criticism throughout the 1920s of all these points, and its emphasis on translations (and their manifest popularity) was also repeatedly blamed for “suffocating” contemporary Hebrew literature. Nevertheless, the provision of hundreds of translations to the fledgling Yishuv culture was perhaps Stybel’s most lasting contribution.

Suggested Reading

Dania Amichay-Michlin, Ahavat ish: Avraham Yosef Shtibel (Jerusalem, 2000); Samuel Werses (Shemu’el Verses), “Kitve-‘et ‘ivriyim le-sifrut be-Polin ben shete milḥamot ‘olam,” in Ben shete milḥamot ‘olam: Perakim me-ḥaye ha-tarbut shel yehude Polin li-leshonotehem, ed. Chone Shmeruk and Samuel Werses, pp. 96–127 (Jerusalem, 1997).