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Brandstetter, Mordekhai David

(1844–1928), Hebrew novelist and poet. Mordekhai David Brandstetter was born in the town of Briegel, Galicia. When he was 14, his family arranged his marriage to the daughter of a wealthy family from Tarnów. In that city, Brandstetter became interested in Hebrew and secular literature, and began to publish his own poetry. In 1867–1868, he traveled frequently to Warsaw on business; there he became acquainted with the works of Avraham Mapu, Yitsḥak Ber Levinzon, Adam Ha-Kohen (Avraham Dov Lebensohn), and Yehudah Leib Gordon.

In 1869, Brandstetter met Perets Smolenskin, the editor of Ha-Shaḥar, in Vienna, and subsequently began to publish in that periodical. The stories he produced that year, “Eliyahu ha-navi” (Elijah the Prophet) and “Mapat gelilot ha-arets” (Map of the Regions of the Land), contain unmistakable maskilic and satiric characteristics. He gained his reputation with pieces such as “Mordekhai Kizovitch” (1869), “Ha-Nifla’ot me-‘ir Zhidatshovka” (The Wonders of the Town of Zhidatshovka; 1872), “Doktor Yosel Alfasi” (1878), and his longest story, “Me-Ḥayil el ḥayil umi-deḥi el deḥi” (From Strength to Strength and from Bad to Worse; 1877).

Brandstetter’s stories in Ha-Shaḥar display conventional Jewish life as absurd and degenerate. His maskilic heroes succeed in outsmarting traditional society by accomplishing their goals through humorous methods. In the early 1890s, however, Brandstetter distanced himself from such themes in an attempt to compose realistic descriptions characteristic of the New Current style of Hebrew prose. His writing also began to reflect his interest in Zionism.

Throughout his literary career, Brandstetter was also a wealthy industrialist, the owner of an oil factory, and a prominent leader of the Jewish community of Tarnów. When the Russians captured his city in November 1914, Brandstetter fled to Prague and then to Vienna, where he remained until the end of World War I. When he returned to Tarnów, he had lost most of his property. His works (mainly short aphorisms entitled Kesamim [Magic Tricks]) were largely published in the periodical Ha-Do’ar, based in New York. His complete writings were published in three parts between 1970 and 1973.

Brandstetter died in Tarnów at the age of 84. He was one of a handful of intellectual authors who outlived the Haskalah period. At the end of his life, he realized that the generation of Ha-Shaḥar was over, and that he had nothing more to say in a literary age dominated by Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik. Brandstetter’s grandson was the converted Jewish Polish poet Roman Brandstaetter.

Suggested Reading

Ben-Ami Feingold, “Introduction,” in Sipurim, by Mordecai David Brandstädter (Jerusalem, 1974); Joseph Klausner, Historyah shel ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ha-ḥadashah, vol. 5, pp. 232–242 (Jerusalem, 1955); Getzel Kressel, “Brandstetter, Mordekhai David,” in Leksikon ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ba-dorot ha-aḥaronim, vol. 1, pp. 364–365 (Merḥavyah, Isr., 1965).



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann