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Hebrew Literature

PEREZ SMOLENSKIN

Perez Smolenskin was born, in 1842, at Monastryshchina, a little market town near Mohilew. His father, a poor and an unfortunate man, who was not able to support his wife and six children successfully, was forced to leave his family on account of a slanderous accusation brought against him by a Polish priest. The mother, a plucky woman of the people, supported herself by hard work, in spite of which it was her ambition to make Rabbis of her boys. At length the father joined his family again, and a period of comparative prosperity set in.

Ha-Shahar soon became the centre of a hot crusade against obscurantism. The propaganda it carried on was all the more effectual as it opposed an out-of-date Judaism in the name of a national regeneration, the deathless ideal of the Jewish people.

Smolenskin owed his vast popularity and his influence on his contemporaries only in part to his work as a journalist. What brought him close to the people were his realistic novels, which occupy the highest place in modern Hebrew literature.

Smolenskin's first piece of fiction, Ha-Gemul (“The Recompense"), was published at Odessa, in 1868, on a subject connected with the Polish insurrection. Save its realistic style, there was nothing about it to betray the future novel writer of eminence.

The years 1881-1882 mark off a distinct era in the history of the Jewish people. The revival of anti-Semitism in Germany, the unexpected renewal of persecutions and massacres in Russia and Roumania, the outlawing of millions of human beings, whose situation grew less tenable from day to day in those two countries—such were the occurrences that disconcerted the most optimistic.

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