Hebrew writer and editor Asher Barash, Drohobycz (now Drohobych, Ukr.), 1908. Photograph by W. Russ. (Asher Barash Gnazim Institute, Tel Aviv)

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Barash, Asher

(1889–1952), Hebrew writer and editor. Born in Lopatyn, near Brody in Galicia, Asher Barash was the son of Naftali Herts Barash, a grain merchant who was descended from a rabbinical family. Barash received both a traditional Jewish education at heder and bet midrash and a secular education at a local Polish government school. He was proficient in languages and by adolescence was familiar with Hebrew maskilic literature as well as Polish and German texts. He was also attracted to the Zionist movement.

As a youth Barash wrote poetry, stories, and plays in Hebrew, Yiddish, German, and Polish. At 16 he left home and traveled about Galicia, writing for the Lwów Togblat and other Yiddish newspapers from 1906 through 1912. Following the recommendation of Yosef Ḥayim Brenner, he also published Hebrew poems in Sifrut (Literature; 1908), a collection edited in Warsaw by David Frishman; these were followed by his acclaimed stories “Tena’im” (Conditions; 1910) and “Maitah” (1912). He later recorded his impressions of this period in “Masa‘ be-harim” (Journey to the Mountains; 1927), Pirke Rodorfer (The Rodorfer Episodes; 1928), and Temunot mi-bet mivshal ha-shekhar (Pictures from the Distillery; 1929). Indeed, throughout his writings, and especially in the series Eleh ezkerah (These I Remember; 1923–1951), Asher Barash reworked memories from his Galician childhood. His stories in Yehudi mi-tsarah neḥelats (A Jew Releasing Himself from Distress; 1928) and Ahavah zarah (Alien Love; 1930) show the experiences of his generation in Galicia and Poland, depicted in relationships between Jews and gentiles and among Jews themselves.

In 1914 Barash moved to Palestine, settling in Tel Aviv, where he wrote and taught Hebrew language and literature. His first anthology, Temol (Yesterday; 1915), included poems written before and after his move, as well as translations. During World War I he was deported to Haifa. Between 1922 and 1928 he founded and edited the journal of literature and literary criticism Hedim with the writer Ya‘akov Rabinowitz; as the leading publication of its kind in that decade, it served as a sounding board for aspiring young writers. In his later years he served as president of the Hebrew Writers Union.

Though most famous for his short stories, Barash initiated and actively participated in other literary enterprises as an editor, publisher, translator, and children’s writer. His writings after his move to pre-state Israel give a picture of Jewish history unfolding: in the episodic novel Ke-‘Ir netsurah (Like a Beseiged City; 1935–1944) he describes life during World War I; in Gananim (Gardeners; 1927) he is concerned with the period of the Third Aliyah; and in Siaḥ ha-‘itim: Novelot historiyot (A Dialogue of the Times: Historical Novels; 1924–1959) he indirectly covers the horrors of World War II. In addition, his Torat ha-sifrut (The Theory of Literature; 1924, 1931) was one of the first critical works in Hebrew in this emerging field. Among his many essays on literature and culture, his best known is Sifrut shel shevet ve-sifrut shel ‘am (Literature of a Tribe and Literature of a People; published in two parts, 1931 and 1950). In this work, he maintains that literature produced in the Land of Israel must be open to outside influences, to ensure that such writing represents “the shared output of the Hebrew Nation in the Land [of Israel] and in the Diaspora.”

The world of Asher Barash’s prose is characterized by tensions between the ideal and the tragic. On the surface, his prevailing realities appear calm and harmonious, but deeper down he describes terrifying and unbearable situations. His restrained style, which is lucid and clear, conceals complex and demonic circumstances. A characteristic pattern in his fiction traces paths from perfection to devastation. Destructive processes unfold as he articulates tensions that prevail between a manufactured calm exterior and the storms and abysses that lie beneath the depths. The ostensibly perfect world that first emerges in his typical story slowly cracks, crumbles, and eventually destroys itself. This pattern emerges in social life, in the life of the family, and even within the sphere of the individual (the previously mentioned Yehudi mi-tsarah neḥelats and Temunot mi-bet mivshal ha-shekhar, as well as Ish u-veto nimḥu [A Man and His House Perished; 1933]). Some of his literary heroes are easily identified with Barash himself, as his characters are students, teachers, and novice writers in Galicia, particularly in Lwów (Aḥat u-sheloshah [One and Three; 1913]; ‘Arim ohavot [Loving Cities; 1922]; “Masa‘ be-harim”; and Pirke Rodorfer). More generally, he draws upon the image of the “outsider” that typified his whole generation.

A collection of Barash’s works, Kol ketavav (All His Writings) was issued in three volumes between 1952 and 1957, and several other stories were published in revised editions in 1980 and 2001. A bibliography of his writings and of those who wrote about him was compiled by Shemu’el Laḥover (Lachower) in 1953.

Suggested Reading

Nurit Govrin, “Ha-Nistarot ba-niglot: ‘Al ha-shirah veha-prosah shel Asher Barash” [1984] in Keri’at ha-dorot: Sifrut ‘ivrit be-ma‘aglehah, vol. 1, pp. 259–280 (Tel Aviv, 2002); Nurit Tamir Smilansky, ed., Asher Barash: Mivḥar ma’amare bikoret ‘al yetsirato (Tel Aviv, 1988); Naftali Tucker, Ḥezyon ḥolot ve-yarkate ‘olam: ‘Al zikat ha-makom veha-zeman be-sipure Asher Barash (Giv‘atayim, 1980).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler