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Zitron, Shemu’el Leib

(1860–1930), Hebrew and Yiddish journalist, writer, and critic. Shemu’el Leib Zitron was born in Minsk and received most of his education from his father. After his father’s death in 1870, Zitron studied at various yeshivas, including Volozhin (1875–1876), where he was attracted to the Haskalah. In 1876 he went to Vienna, where he befriended the writer and editor Perets Smolenskin.

Zitron next moved to Breslau to study at the Jewish Theological Seminary. In 1877 he published his first article in Ha-Magid, and in 1878 his first story appeared in Smolenskin’s Ha-Mabit. Returning to Minsk, for the next few years Zitron taught in various towns across Poland and Lithuania. In 1882, he became a founder of the Minsk branch of Ḥoveve Tsiyon. That same year, he published his first articles reflecting the spirit of the nascent Zionist movement; for several decades, he continued to champion the Zionist cause in his role as lecturer, journalist, editor, translator, and historian. Yet this was only one aspect of his prolific literary activity. In 1885 he moved to Warsaw.

Throughout the 1880s, Zitron was known mainly as a storyteller and as a translator. Among his published works were Asifat sipurim me-ḥaye bene Yisra’el (A Collection of Stories from the Lives of Jews; 1885); Mi-Shuk ha-ḥayim (From Life’s Marketplace; 1887); and Yonah potah (A Naive Dove; 1888). He was also a contributing editor to Sha’ul Pinḥas Rabbinowitz’s Zionist-leaning annual Keneset Yisra’el (The Jewish People; 1886–1888).

During the 1890s, Zitron’s prominence as an essayist grew, with his articles appearing in the major Hebrew newspapers and journals, including Ha-Melits, Ha-Shiloaḥ, and Luaḥ Aḥi’asaf. As a literary critic, he adopted a nationalist conservative stance that favored the development of a Hebrew culture that at the same time preserved links with Jewish tradition. As a result, Zitron turned into one of the fiercest opponents of Hebrew literature’s innovative trendsetters at the turn of the twentieth century. He targeted his animosity toward Ben-Avigdor (Avraham Leib Shalkovich)—and, by extension, toward the European-naturalist literary style of the “New Wave” school—and toward Mikhah Yosef Berdyczewski, who with youthful supporters had ushered in the modernist genre.

In 1904, Zitron settled in Vilna, where he joined the editorial board of the newspaper Ha-Zeman. He gradually stopped contributing his regular columns and devoted himself to historiography, employing a narrative style and largely relying on personal encounters and impressions.

Zitron’s main works in Hebrew include Reshimot le-toldot ha-‘itonut ha-‘ivrit (Articles on the History of the Hebrew Press; published in numerous installments in the weekly Ha-‘Olam between 1911 and 1930 but never collected); Toldot Ḥibat Tsiyon (The History of Ḥibat Tsiyon; 1914–1919); Anashim ve-sofrim (Men and Writers; 1921); Hertsl, ḥayav u-fe‘ulotav (Herzl, His Life and His Activities; 1921); Yotsre ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ha-ḥadashah (Creators of the New Hebrew Literature; 1922); Me-Aḥore ha-pargod: Mumarim, bogdim, mitkaḥashim (Behind the Screen: Apostates, Traitors, Alienators; 1923–1925).

Among Zitron’s Yiddish works are Dray literarishe doyres (Three Literary Generations; 1920–1922; sketches and reminiscences of Yiddish writers); Di geshikhte fun der yidisher prese fun yor 1863 biz 1889 (The History of the Yiddish Press from the Year 1863 to 1889; 1923); Shtadlonim: Interesante yidishe tipen fun noenten over (Intercessors: Interesting Jewish Characters from the Recent Past; 1926); and Barimte yidishe froyen (Famous Jewish Women; 1928).

Beginning in 1878, Zitron’s Yiddish writings were published at irregular intervals. After 1899, they began to appear with greater frequency when he became a regular contributor to Der yud. In 1904, he joined the Saint Petersburg newspaper Der tog, and then was chiefly preoccupied with writing for the Vilna Yiddish press. In the final decade of his life, a time when the Hebrew press in Poland was in a state of decline, he became a regular contributor to the Warsaw daily Moment, as well as to other Yiddish dailies.

Suggested Reading

Dror Aldema‘, “Shemu’el Leb Tsitron: Historyon toldot ha-‘itonut ha-‘ivrit” (M.A. thesis, Tel Aviv University, 1987); Natan Goren, “Shemu’el Leb Tsitron,” in Demuyot be-sifrutenu, pp. 200–203 (Tel Aviv, 1952/53).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler