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Sholem Abramovitsh, Founder of Modern Hebrew & Yiddish is Born, 1835.

On This Day in Jewish History: January 2, 1835


On this day in 1835, Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh was born in Kopyl in Beloruss. He would go on to become widely acknowledged as a transformative figure for Yiddish and modern Hebrew literature with a tremendous impact on all who came after him, most notably Sholem Aleicheim, who acknowledged his debt to the writer by labeling him “the grandfather.” After settling for a five year stay in Kamenets Podolski, Abramovitsh would fall under the influence of the Jewish Enlightenment or Haskalah. Its powerful secularizing force would take him from his youthful yeshiva study to a career as a writer with a variety of interests. As a journalist and essayist, he explored the sciences and natural history, work he composed in Hebrew. He also wrote literary criticism. His first foray into fiction was published in 1863 and pointed toward a growing interest in detailing the lives of Eastern European Jewish life. Indeed, capturing the reality of Jewish life was central to his emerging literary imagination at this point and, as a maskil, his work challenged the mysticism and superstition he saw at the heart of much Jewish thought and life.

But Abramovitsh came to recognize that to truly render the reality of the Jewish world he would have to communicate in the language of that European Jewish world and that language was Yiddish. Rejected by many adherents of the Haskalah as a jargon without a serious intellectual pedigree, the “people’s language” was given, by Abramovitsh, its first literary dignity. In 1864 and 1865 he published his first two stories in Yiddish, although without his name attached to either. Both were framed as if being presented to the reader by a go-between, a book peddler by the name of Mendele. And with this figure—Mendele the Book Peddler, or Mendele Mocher S’forim, Abramovitsh would become forever attached. It would often be taken as his pen name but it is more properly seen as a brilliant mediating device, a character through which the author could observe and critique the world he saw, frequently with a satirical eye cast upon the exploits of the middle class. Fishke the Lame (1869), The Nag (1873) and The Brief Travels of Benjamin the Third (1878) are perhaps Abramovitsh’s most admired works but over the course of his career he created an expansive oeuvre.

The hold of the Haskalah on Abramovitsh weakened during his highly productive period in the 1870s and after he settled in Odessa in 1881, where he took over as director of a school, he became drawn to the politics of Jewish nationalism. Shaken by the pogroms of 1881, he turned greater attention to the subject of antisemitism and he undertook the enormous task of rewriting all his work in Hebrew. With the financial stability granted him in Odessa, he remained productive over the last thirty years of his life, solidifying a reputation that hardly needed burnishing as the writer most responsible for the emergence of modern Yiddish and Hebrew literature, a writer studied by several generations of scholars. Sholem Abramovitsh, and Mendele Mocher S’forim with him, died in 1917.


https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/abramovitsh_sholem_yankev https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mendele_Mocher_Sforim

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