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Kaminer, Yitsḥak

(1834–1901), Hebrew poet, physician, and socialist. Yitsḥak Kaminer was born in Levkiev, near Zhitomir. As a child, he received a traditional education, but also began to read Hebrew scientific and Haskalah literature. Hoping to keep him in the traditional fold, his parents married him to a young girl. Kaminer, however, abandoned his wife and headed for Vilna, where he associated with maskilim, in particular with Shemu’el Yosef Fuenn, who supervised the city’s rabbinical college.

Rejoining his wife and newborn child, Kaminer taught at the government Hebrew school in Zhitomir from 1854 until 1859. In 1861, he published “Melitsah le-Purim” (Jest for Purim) in the Hebrew weekly Ha-Karmel. This was a typical maskilic piece, extolling the virtues of wisdom, knowledge, and faith—provided they were moderate and not extreme. Kaminer then went to Kiev to study mathematics and medicine, graduating as a physician in 1865. Until 1880, he served as assistant to the renowned internal medicine specialist Mehring in Kiev.

During the 1870s, Kaminer became interested in socialism. His two daughters had married revolutionaries and his home served as a meeting place and hideout. Informants, searches, and investigations ultimately threatened Kaminer’s position; in addition, the deaths of his sons and his own financial decline forced him to leave Kiev. In 1880, he was appointed physician for the village administrative council in the Nijin district of the Chernigov region. He also served as a consultant for Jewish affairs to the district governor.

Kaminer’s poetry was influenced by both the Haskalah and socialism. In “Shir ahavah le-matbe‘a” (Love Poem for a Coin; 1877), published in the Hebrew periodical Ha-Emet, he protested economic and social injustice, stating that “the pauper’s son hungers—while the rich man’s horse is satisfied.” In “‘Emek ‘akhor” (Foul Valley; 1878), which appeared in the Hebrew periodical Asefat ḥakhamim, Kaminer protested the pursuit of luxury, as well as the deceit and exploitation that he felt had become the human lot. In the same year, he published his satire Seder kaparot le-va‘al taksi (Procedure of Ritual Atonement for a Tax Man). This piece was followed in 1878 by Kinot mi-siduram shel bene Dan (Laments from the Prayer Book of the Tribe of Dan), in which he addressed the plight of the Hebrew language, attacked those who copied non-Jewish customs, and praised wisdom, secular knowledge, and Haskalah, which (he believed) had the potential to deliver the Jewish people. In 1877 and 1878, he published poems in Ha-Kol, Ha-Shaḥar and Ha-Boker or, criticizing maskilim as well as Hasidim and Misnagdim.

Pogroms of 1881–1882 in southern Russia led Kaminer to reassess and revise his views. He became an enthusiastic, passionate follower of Ḥibat Tsiyon and subsequently was one of the most ardent admirers of Theodor Herzl. For almost 20 years after 1882, his poems expressed his nationalist–Zionist views, inspired by the ideas of Mosheh Leib Lilienblum and Ahad Ha-Am. His works were collected posthumously in 1905.

Suggested Reading

Joseph Klausner, Historyah shel ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ha-ḥadashah, vol. 6, pp. 188–219 (Jerusalem, 1958); Yehoshua Rawnitzki (Ravnitsky), Dor ve-sofrav: Reshimot ve-divre-zikhronot ‘al sofre dori, vol. 1, pp. 143–159 (Tel Aviv, 1926/27).



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann