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Kabak, Aharon Avraham

(1883–1944), Hebrew novelist, critic, and translator. Aharon Avraham Kabak was born in Smorgon in the province of Vilna and died in Jerusalem. His education began at home with his father, who was a rabbi, and continued in a heder and various yeshivas. Kabak lived in several towns, working as a teacher and writing for Hebrew and Yiddish newspapers. Headed for Palestine, he stopped in Constantinople, where he taught and edited. In 1911, he arrived in Palestine and taught at the Herzliya gymnasium in Tel Aviv. In 1914, he returned to Europe, where he studied psychology and philosophy at universities in Berlin, Geneva, and Lausanne. In 1921, he came back to Palestine, settled in Jerusalem, and devoted himself to writing and teaching literature in the Reḥavyah gymnasium. Later in life, during a period of illness, he underwent a spiritual change that is evident in his writing.

Although Kabak began his literary career writing for Hebrew and Yiddish newspapers and periodicals, he quickly turned to composing short stories in Hebrew. The first of these, “Ha-Me’ora‘” (The Event), was published in Ha-Shiloaḥ in 1903, edited by Ahad Ha-Am. The second, “Ha-Ma‘apil” (The Trailblazer), appeared in the same periodical in 1904, edited by Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik. Kabak’s stories were later collected in the volume Nano ve-sipurim aḥerim (Nano and Other Stories; 1927).

Kabak is regarded as a pioneer of the Hebrew novel in the twentieth century. His literary talent found its most prominent expression in this form, especially in his trilogies and tetralogies. His first novel, Levadah (By Herself; 1905) was the opening volume of a lengthy, four-part epic depicting the spiritual development of a young girl against the backdrop of Lithuanian society. The plots of the three additional volumes play out over a wide geographical expanse: Daniyel Shafranov (1912) in Russia; Nitsaḥon (Victory; 1923) in Germany; and Ben yam u-ven midbar (Between Sea and Desert; 1933) in Palestine. Wide geographical scopes also characterize Kabak’s historical trilogy Shelomoh Molkho (1928), whose plot reflects Jewish life in the sixteenth century and takes place in Lisbon, Safed, Germany, and Rome.

Kabak’s final novel, Toldot mishpaḥah aḥat (History of One Family; 1943–1945), the story of an extended family depicted over a very wide canvas, falls into the category of the genealogical novel, a fictional form developed in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century. Kabak modeled this work on John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga, stating that it was his intention to write a comprehensive work to show the entirety of “Jewish energy” in recent generations. Since Kabak wrote this work during the very years that East European Jewry was being destroyed, and with the consciousness of destruction already in the air (though the enormity of the destruction was not yet known), the novel became a memorial to that Jewry, commemorating the cultural dynamics operating within the society. It describes the spiritual life of young Jews struggling to choose among traditional Judaism, Haskalah, assimilation, social revolutions, and Jewish nationalism. The first part, Be-Ḥalal ha-rek (In the Empty Space), is set in Minsk and moves to Kovno; its second part, Be-Tsel ‘ets ha-teliyah (In the Shadow of the Gallows), is set in Warsaw; and its third part, Sipur beli giborim (Story without Heroes), is set in Odessa. He intended the novel to span 18 volumes, and was supposed to conclude its action in a kibbutz in Palestine, which was to be presented as the place that leads to the renaissance of the Jewish people. Kabak died, however, before its completion.

Kabak’s historical novel, Ba-Mish‘ol ha-tsar (In the Narrow Path; 1937), occupies a unique place among Hebrew novels, inasmuch as it is an account of Jesus Christ. As was true of many of Kabak’s heroes, Jesus is depicted as a Jew searching for the redemption of man, in his own unique manner.

Kabak’s literary writing, like his approach to literary criticism, is guided by a realistic poetic outlook. His didactic inclination and intention to influence his readers with his Zionist–renaissance ideology are clearly evident in his early compositions, but not in his more mature works, which avoid stereotypes. These later works faithfully reflect social and historical reality. Therefore, not only do the ideological conflicts described not impair the realistic shaping of the work, but rather they reinforce it, and turn Kabak into one of the most outstanding realistic writers of Hebrew literature.

Suggested Reading

Shim‘on Halkin, “A. A. Kabak,” in Derakhim ve-tside derakhim ba-sifrut, vol. 1, pp. 150–167 (Jerusalem, 1969); Gershon Shaked, “A. A. Kabak,” in Ha-Siporet ha-‘ivrit, 1880–1980, vol. 1, pp. 303–314 ([Tel Aviv and Jerusalem], 1977); Malka Shaked, “Toldot mishpaḥah aḥat le-Avraham Aharon Kabak,” in Ḥulyot ve-shalshelet: Ha-Roman ha-‘ivri ‘al toldot mishpaḥah, pp. 55–128 ([Tel Aviv], 1990); Ruth Shenfeld, Min ha-melekh ha-mashiaḥ ve-‘ad le-melekh basar va-dam: ‘Iyunim ba-roman ha-histori ha-‘ivri ba-me’ah ha-‘esrim (Tel Aviv, 1986), pp. 131–142; Shemu’el Verses (Samuel Werses), “Ha-Mesaper A. A. Kabak ke-mevaker,” in Bikoret ha-bikoret, pp. 198–218 (Tel Aviv, 1982).



Translated from Hebrew by David Strauss