CHAPTER X. THE CONTRIBUTORS TO HA-SHAHAR
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 The propaganda it carried on was all the more effectual as it opposed an out-of-date Judaism in the name of a national regeneration, the deathless ideal of the Jewish people. While admitting the principle that reforms are necessary, provided they are reasonable and slowly advanced, in agreement with the natural evolution of Judaism and not in opposition to its spirit, Smolenskin's review at the same time constituted itself the focus of a bold campaign against the kind of religious reform introduced by the moderns.
Whoever thought, felt, suffered, and was alive to the new ideas, hastened to range himself under the banner of the Hebrew review during its eighteen years of a more or less regular existence, the occasional interruptions being due to lack of funds. Its history forms an important chapter in that of Hebrew literature. Smolenskin possessed the art of stimulating well-tried powers, and discovering new talent and bringing it forward. The school of Ha-Shahar may almost be looked upon as the creation of his strong hand. Gordon, it is true, published the best of his satires in Ha-Shahar, and Lilienblum pursued his reform purposes in its columns, 'Olam ha-Tohu (“The World of Chaos"), his ringing criticism of “The Hypocrite", being among the articles written by him for it, in which he casts upon Mapu's work the light of the utilitarian realism borrowed from the Russian writers of his time, and exposes it as a naïve, unreal conception of Jewish life. Though these two veterans gave him their support, the larger number of the collaborators of Smolenskin made their first appearance in the world of letters under his auspices, and it was due to his influence that German and Austrian scholars returned to the use of Hebrew. On the other hand, the co-operation of eminent professors, such as Heller, David Müller, and others, contributed not a little to the success of Ha-Shahar.
The Galician novelist Mordecai D. Brändstätter is properly reckoned among the best of the contributors to the review. His novels, a collected edition of which appeared in 1891, are of distinguished literary interest. Brandstätter is the painter of the customs and manners of the Galician Hasidim, whom he rallies with kindliness that yet has a keen edge, and with perfect artistic taste. Almost he is the only humorist of the time. His style is classic without going to extremes. He often makes use of the Talmudic jargon peculiar to Rabbinical scholars, whom he has the skill to transfer to his canvas down to their slightest gestures and mannerisms. But he does not restrain his wit in showing up the ridiculous side of the moderns as well. His best-known novels, which have been translated into Russian and into German, are “Doctor Alfasi", “Mordecai Kisowitz", “The Beginning and the End of a Quarrel", etc. Brändstatter also wrote satires in verse. He has not a few points of resemblance to the painter of Galician Jewish manners in German, Karl Emil Franzos.
Solomon Mandelkern, the erudite author of a new Biblical Concordance, hailing from Dubno (1846-1902), was an inspired poet. His historical pieces, his satires, and his epigrams, published for the most part in Ha-Shahar, have finish and grace. In his Zionist poems, he gives evidence of an enlightened patriotism. His popularity he gained by a detailed history of Russia (Dibre Yeme Russia) in three volumes, published at Wilna, in 1876, and a number of other works, all written in a pure, Biblical style at once beautiful and lively.
Jehudah Löb Levin (born in 1845), surnamed Yehallel, another poet who was an habitual contributor to Ha-Shahar, owes his fame to the fervent realism of his poems, which, however, suffer from pompousness and prolixity. His first appearance in the review was with a collection of poems, Sifte Renanot (“The Lips of Song"), in 1867. A long, realistic poem of his, Kishron ha-Ma'aseh (“The Value of Work"), in which he extols the unrivalled place of work in the universe, also was published in Ha-Shahar. In this poem, as well as in his prose articles, he ranged himself with Lilienblum in demanding a reshaping of Jewish life on an utilitarian, practical basis.
The criticism of Jewish customs and manners was brilliantly done by M. Cahen and Ben-Zebi, to mention only two among the many journalists of talent. The “Letters from Mohilew” by the former testify to the impartiality and independence, not only of the author, but also of the editor who accepted them for his periodical. Ben-Zebi wrote “Letters from Palestine", in which he depicts the ways of the rapacious notables of the old school in his country.
Science, historical and philosophical, found a sure welcome in Ha- Shahar. Smolenskin knew how to arouse the interest of the educated in these branches, which had been neglected by writers of Hebrew in Russia. Besides such well-known names as Chwolson, the eminent professor, Harkavy, the indefatigable explorer of Jewish history in the Slav countries, and Gurland, the learned chronicler of the persecutions of the Jews in Poland, it is proper to make mention of David Kahana, one of the most eminent of the scientific contributors to Ha-Shahar, a scholar of distinction, who has succeeded in throwing light upon the obscure epoch of the false Messiahs and on the origin of Hasidism.
Dr. Solomon Rubin's ingenious philosophical studies on the origin of religions and the history of ancient peoples were also for the most part published in Ha-Shahar. Lazarus Schulman, the author of humorous tales, wrote a painstaking analysis of Heine for Smolenskin's periodical. Other contributors to the scientific department were Joshua Lewinsohn, Schorr, Jehiel Bernstein, Moses Ornstein, Dr. Kantor, and Dr. A. Poriess, the last of whom was the author of an excellent treatise on physiology in Hebrew. The productions of these writers did more for the spread of enlightenment than all the exhortations of the reformers.
Of litterateurs, the novelist Braudes, and the poets Menahem M. Dolitzki and Zebi Schereschewsky, etc., made their first appearance in the columns of Ha-Shahar.
The impetus issuing from Ha-Shahar was visible on all fields of Judaism. The number of Hebrew readers increased considerably, and the interest in Hebrew literature grew. The eminent scholar I. H. Weiss published his five-volume History of Tradition (Dor Dor we- Doreshaw ) in Hebrew (Vienna, 1883-1890). Though it was a purely scientific work, laying bare the successive steps in the natural development of Rabbinic law, it produced a veritable revolution in the attitude of the orthodox of the backward countries.
As was mentioned above, Gottlober founded his review, Ha-Boker Or, in 1876, to ensure the continuity of the humanist tradition and defend the theories of the school of Mendelssohn. The last of the followers of German humanism rallied about it,—Braudes published his principal novel “Religion and Life” in it,—and it also attracted the last representatives of the Melizah, like Wechsler (Ish Naomi ), who wrote Biblical criticism in an artificial, pompous style.
This artificiality, fostered in an earlier period by the Melizim, had by no means disappeared from Hebrew literature. Its most popular devotees in the later day of which we are speaking were, besides Kalman Schulman, A. Friedberg, who wrote a Hebrew adaptation of Grace Aguilar's tale, “The Vale of Cedars", published in 1876, and Ramesh, the translator of “Robinson Crusoe.”
Translations continued to enjoy great vogue, and it was vain for Smolenskin, in the introduction to his novel Ha-To'eh be-Darke ha-Hayyim, to warn the public against the abuses of which translators were guilty. The readers of Hebrew sought, besides novels, chiefly works on the natural sciences and on mathematics, especially astronomy. Among the authors of original scientific books, Hirsch Rabinowitz should be given the first place, as the writer of a series of treatises on physics, chemistry, etc., which appeared at Wilna, between the years 1866 and 1880. After him come Lerner, Mises, Reifmann, and a number of others.
The period was also prolific in periodicals representing various tendencies. At Jerusalem appeared Ha-Habazzelet, Sha'are Ziyyon (“The Gates of Zion"), and others. On the American side of the Atlantic, the review Ha-Zofeh be-Erez Nod (“The Watchman in the Land of the Wanderer") reflected the fortunes and views of the educated among the immigrants in the New World. Even the orthodox had recourse to this modern expedient of periodicals in their endeavor to put up a defense of Rabbinism. The journal Ha-Yareah (“The Moon"), and particularly Mahazike ha-Dat (“The Pillars of the Faith"), both issued in Galicia, were the organs of the faithful in their opposition to humanism and progress. Ha-Kol, the journal founded by Rodkinson (1876-1880), with reform purposes, played a rôle of considerable importance in the conflict between the two parties.
Already tendencies were beginning to crop up radically different from any Judaism had betrayed previously. In 1877, when Smolenskin was publishing his weekly paper Ha-Mabbit (“The Observer"), Freiman founded the first Socialistic journal in Hebrew, Ha-Emet (“The Truth"). It also appeared in Vienna. And, again, S. A. Salkindson, a convert from Judaism, the author of admirable translations of “Othello" (1874) and “Romeo and Juliet” (1878), both published through the endeavors of Smolenskin, brought out the Hebrew translation of an epic wholly Christian in character, Milton's “Paradise Lost”. It was a sign of the times that this work of art was enjoyed and appreciated by the educated Hebrew public in due accordance with its literary merits.
The clash of opinions and tendencies encouraged by the authority and the tolerance of Smolenskin was fruitful of results. Ha-Shahar had made itself the centre of a synthetic movement, progressive and national, which was gradually revealing the outline of its plan and aims. The reaction caused by the unexpected revival of anti-Semitism in Germany, Austria, Roumania, and Russia, had levelled the last ruins of German humanism in the West, and had put disillusionment in the place of dreams of equality in the East. Whoever remained faithful to the Hebrew language and to the ideal of the regeneration of the Jewish people, turned his eyes toward the stout-hearted writer who ten years earlier had predicted the overthrow of all humanitarian hopes, and had been the first to propose the practical solution of the Jewish problem by means of national reconstruction.
Smolenskin's fame had by this time transcended the circle of his readers and those interested in Hebrew literature. The Alliance Israélite Universelle entrusted to him the mission of investigating the conditions of the life of the Roumanian Jews. During his stay in Paris, Adolphe Crémieux, the tireless defender of the oppressed of his race, agreed, in conversation with him, that only those who know the Hebrew language, hold the key to the heart of the Jewish masses, and, Crémieux continued, he would give ten years of his life to have known Hebrew. [Footnote: Brainin, in his admirable “Life of Smolenskin", Warsaw, 1897, p. 58; Ha-Shahar, X, 532.]
The war of 1877 between Russia and Turkey, and the nationalistic sentiments it engendered everywhere in Eastern Europe, awakened a patriotic movement among the Jewish youth who had until then resisted the idea of national emancipation. A young student in Paris, a native of Lithuania, Eliezer Ben-Jehudah, published two articles in Ha-Shahar, in 1878, in which, setting aside all religious notions, he urged the regeneration of the Jewish people on its ancient soil, and the cultivation of the Biblical language.
In 1880, Smolenskin, who had undertaken a new and complete edition of his works in twenty-four volumes, at Vienna, went on a tour through Russia. Great was his joy when he noted the results produced by his own activity, and saw that he had gained the affection and approval of all enlightened classes of Jews. Under the influence of Ha-Shahar, a new generation had grown up, free and nevertheless loyal to its nativity and to the ideal of Judaism. Smolenskin's journey resembled a triumphal procession. The university students at St. Petersburg and Moscow arranged meetings in honor of the Hebrew writer, at which he was acclaimed the master of the national tongue, the prophet of the rejuvenation of his people. In the provincial districts, similar scenes were enacted, and Smolenskin saw himself the object of honors never before accorded a Hebrew author. He returned to Vienna, encouraged to pursue the task he had assumed, and full of hope for the future.
It was the eve of the cataclysm foretold by the editor of Ha-Shahar.
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