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Lieberman, Aharon Shemu’el

(1843–1880), socialist author, Hebrew translator, and political essayist. Aharon Shemu’el Lieberman (Liebermann) was born in Luna, Grodno district, Russia. His father, Eli‘ezer Dov Lieberman (1820–1897), was a maskilic author, translator, and political writer. Lieberman studied at the rabbinical seminary in Vilna (1861–1867), worked as a teacher and clerk, and spent time in Białystok, Saint Petersburg, Vilna, and other cities. In 1866, he married Raḥel, the daughter of Mosheh Trotsky, and had three daughters and a son.

In 1872, Lieberman became an activist in the socialist movement. The Vilna secret police, suspecting his involvement in subversive propaganda activity, issued a warrant for his arrest. Lieberman managed to escape, however, and after short stays in Königsberg and Berlin, settled in London. There he promoted socialist organizations among local Jews and at the same time edited Vpered (Forward), a Russian-language periodical. The provocative methods he used for criticizing the London bourgeoisie led him to a serious dispute with fellow socialists who, as British subjects, objected to what they considered a crude approach.

In 1877, Lieberman went to Vienna, where under the pseudonym Arthur Freeman he published three issues of the first Hebrew-language socialist periodical, Ha-Emet (The Truth). In that city, too, he came under police surveillance, and was interrogated, tried, and deported to Berlin. He spent about 20 months in prison in both of those cities, in 1878–1879.

Frustrated and disappointed, Lieberman returned to London in 1880, where he attempted without much success to resume his socialist activities. After having neglected his wife and children (maintaining contact only through occasional letters), he fell in love with Rachel Sarasohn, a married woman and mother of a small daughter. Lieberman sent a writ of divorce to his wife, but Sarasohn departed for America to join her husband. Lieberman followed her there, where he realized that her rejection was final. He subsequently committed suicide.

In addition to his political-organizational activity, Lieberman published literary pieces and political journalism. Under the name Daniyel Ish Ḥamudot, he published the story “Ḥazut ha-kol” (The Essence of It All; 1874), about a man who returns from the dead. The character views the world critically, having developed a fairly surreal outlook while in the company of Satan. Lieberman’s story criticizes many facets of Jewish life: the Talmud (which, in his opinion, distorted the Bible); Jewish society for tolerating poverty, class exploitation and superstition; government-appointed and “non-appointed” rabbis and tutors not worthy of their titles; and pseudo-maskilim who renounced Hebrew and Jewish tradition and culture. Another story, “Gai Melaḥ” (Salt Valley), published in Ha-Shaḥar in 1878, is essentially a satire about class divisions and exploitation in Jewish society.

Lieberman’s political essays, in Hebrew and Russian, focused primarily on socialist messages influenced by Marx’s Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto. In “She’elat ha-Yehudim” (The Question of the Jews; 1877), published in Ha-Emet, Lieberman attempts to pinpoint the causes of modern antisemitism using the approach of historic materialism. In “Hitpatḥut ḥaye ha-ḥevrah bi-shenot ha-benayim” (The Development of Social Life in Medieval Times; 1887), written in that vein, Lieberman views Western history as a series of struggles and confrontations between exploiters and the exploited. In “Petiḥah li-she’elat ha-sakin veha-mazleg” (Introduction to the Question of the Knife and Fork; 1877), he deals with questions of wealth versus poverty and class exploitation, issues he considered to be rooted in the foundations of capitalist society.

“Ha-Yehudim be-London” (The Jews of London; 1877) reviews the status of London as a modern metropolis, economically developed and culturally excellent, providing a refuge to all exiles including Jews. But Lieberman, ever the socialist, sees another side in which London represents an exploitative capitalist-bourgeois society. Another article (published from its manuscript in 1928), “Le-Toldot ha-Utopyah” (About the History of Utopia), was devoted to Thomas More’s early sixteenth-century Utopia. Lieberman claimed that More had been the first socialist, as the latter had regarded private property, poverty, and exploitation as the root of all evil, and held views that even in modern times (according to Lieberman) could motivate “revolutionaries and socialists” into action.

It was no coincidence that the patriarchs of socialist Zionism considered Lieberman to be the “Father of Hebrew socialism.” Yet Lieberman failed to fully utilize his talents as an author, philosopher, and leader. One question still remains unanswered: did he commit suicide for romantic reasons, or had he meant for his death to express his disappointment and frustration over failing to contribute to substantial social revision? In any case, his personality was complex and full of contradictions. He was a modern socialist and maskil on the one hand, and a Jew with an affinity to Jewish history, tradition, and the Hebrew language on the other. He had the sensitivity of an artist, and at the same time took a rational and analytical approach and used his powers of observation to consider the social and political circumstances in which he lived and operated.

Suggested Reading

Daniyel Ben-Naḥum, Be-Ma‘ale dorot: ‘Iyunim be-sifrut ha-haskalah (Merḥavyah, Isr., 1962), pp. 234–276; Joseph Klausner, Historyah shel ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ha-ḥadashah, vol. 6, pp. 220–274 (Jerusalem, 1958); Zevi Kroll, Ḥaye A. S. Liberman (Tel Aviv, 1932); Moshe Mishkinsky, Sotsyalizm yehudi u-tenu‘at ha-po‘alim ha-yehudit ba-me’ah ha-19 (Jerusalem, 1975); Dan Omer, Daniyel ish ḥamudot (Tel Aviv, 1980/81); B. Sapir, “Libération et le socialisme russe,” International Review for Social History 4 (1939): 25–87.

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 205, Kalman Marmor, Papers, 1880s-1950s.



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann