YITSKHOK-YANKEV VAYSBERG (1841-1904)
He was born in Polonka, Minsk district, Byelorussia. He studied in religious elementary schools, later in the Slonim yeshiva where he became known as a prodigy. From there he moved on to study with young Hebrew-language followers of the Jewish Enlightenment, among them the Hebrew writers Yoysef Bril (known as Iyov or Job), while stealthily continuing his self-study of Hebrew and reading Enlightenment books. After Minsk he studied in a number of other yeshivas, while at the same time specializing in the Hebrew language and literature, and in 1873 he settled in Kiev and became a Hebrew teacher there (many of his students later became well-known Hebrew writers). He began his own writing career in 1879 with a series of articles on pedagogical themes, published in Hamelits (The advocate), and later he wrote for: Haboker or (Good morning), Hashaḥar (The dawn), Haasif (The harvest), Halevanon (Lebanon), Hamagid (The preacher), Haivri (The Jew), Hayom (Today), and Hamitspe (The watchtower), among others and using such pseudonyms as: “Eḥad hamorim” (one of the teachers), “Eḥad midare mata” (One who lives underground), “Aḥi tov” (My good brother), “Iyov mikiyuv” (Job from Kiev), “Alyeda” (Unconscious), “Elishema,” “Argov,” “Ata miraḥok” (Come from afar), “Ben-Tsiyon” (Son of Zion), “Baal-tefila” (Prayer leader), “Zaken veragil” (Old and ordinary), “Berg” (Mountain), “Halevani” (The white one), and “Kiyuv.” In book form: Gaon veshivro (Pride and its fall), a critique of Ḥad veḥalak (Plain and simple), published (Warsaw, 1833) together with Mikhl Gordon’s work Shever gaon (Pride before a fall), also a critical work on the same Ḥad veḥalak; Yehuda-leyb gordon vetoldatav (Yehuda-Leyb Gordon and his story), a biography of the man, together with an appreciation of him and including letters from him to Vaysberg (published shortly after Godon’s death in 1892); Igrot yehuda-leyb gordon (The letters of Yehuda-Leyb Gordon), letters from the famous poet with whom Vaysberg had a long friendship, 2 vols. (1894); Hayinu deamre inshe (This is what people say), a collection of Talmudic sayings (Berdichev, 1893), 36 pp., republished under the title Mishle kadmonim (Sayings of the ancients) (Nyezhin, 1901), 104 pp.; Al odot habeurim batanakh (On the commentaries in the Hebrew Bible) (Kiev, 1895); Igrot ribal (Letters of the Ribal) , fourteen letters from Yitsḥak Ber Levinzohn (Ribal) to Dr. R. Kulisher (Cracow, 1896), 19 pp.; Divre yeshaya ben yaakov tugendhold (The words of Isaiah ben Jacob Tugendhold), a biography of Tugendhold, written by Vaysberg, including Tugendhold’s poetry and letters, edited by Vaysberg (Cracow, 1896), 96 pp.; Peshuto mikra al pi daat ḥazal (The simple meaning of readings according to the sages) (St. Petersburg, 1898), 35 pp.; Arba tekufot (Four epochs), four eras in Jewish history (1898).
A writer of the old school and an adherent of “purism” in Hebrew, Vaysberg was also a great friend of literature in Yiddish and contributed to Yiddish-language publications from the 1880s and 1890s. In Sholem-Aleykhem’s Di yudishe folks-biblyotek (The Jewish people’s library), vol. 1 (Kiev, 1888), pp. 427-34, he published: “Yudishe valkonende froyen nokh bibel un talmud biz hayntiger tsayt (bearbaytet nokh doktor kayzerlingn)” (Selected Jewish women from post-biblical and Talmudic times until the present day (adapted from Dr. Kayserling).” In Spektor’s Der hoyz-fraynd (The house-friend), he published in its first number (Warsaw, 1888, in the section “Fersheydenes” [Various and sundry], pp. 78-82): “Eyn kleyn bindel blumen, fun fersheydene gertner genumen” (A small bouquet of flowers, taken from various gardens)—collected aphorisms; and in the second number (Warsaw, 1895, also under “Fersheydenes,” pp. 118-19) he published “Kurts geredt un fiel gemeynt” (Few words spoken, replete with meaning)—also aphorisms. His books in Yiddish would include: Di froyen frage loyt dem Talmud (The women’s question according to the Talmud), two parts (Kiev, 1890), 110 pp.—several chapters of this work were published earlier in the supplement to Yudishe folksblat (Jewish people’s newspaper) in 1889; the same book appeared in Hebrew, Sheelat hanashim al pi hatalmud (1890). Of particular historical value among Vaysberg’s articles (in Hebrew) concerned with Yiddish literature was his published eulogy and biography of Mikhl Gordon, which appeared in Hamelits in 1891 (issues 287, 289, 292), on the first anniversary of Gordon’s death.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1 (with a bibliography); The Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 12; Evreiskaia entsiklopediya, vol. 5 (with a bibliography); Salomon Wininger, Grosse jüdische national-biographie (Great Jewish national biography) (Czernowitz, 1925), vol. 6; E. R. Malachi, Igrot david frishman (Letters of David Frishman), concerning Frishman’s correspondence with Vaysberg (New York, 1927); Ts.-H. Maslyanski, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (July 29, 1932); Y. D. Berkovitsh, in Forverts (New York) (August 21, 1932), concerning Frishman’s meeting Vaysberg.