MOYSHE-LEYB LILYENBLUM (MOSHE-LEIB LILIENBLUM) (November 3, 1843-February 12, 1910)
He was born in Kaidan (Kėdainiai), Kovno district, Lithuania. He father was a cooper, but also a well-educated and pious man. At the age of four years and three months, Lilienblum was dispatched to religious primary school. Three months later he spoke Hebrew and was beginning to study the Bible. At age six he was proficient in the Early Prophets, at nine he was able to study a page of Talmud on his own, and at the time of his Bar Mitzvah, people said of him that he was destined to become a great scholar among the Jewish people. In his youth he was already writing Hebrew poetry, usually long liturgical pieces following the alphabet pattern for the first letter of each line as well as acrostics. At fifteen his parents arranged a marriage for him with the thirteen-year-old daughter of a butcher from Vilkomir (Ukmergė). He lived with the support of his father-in-law for six years and studied. At that time he also became acquainted with Hebrew-language speculative texts and with works of the Jewish Enlightenment, but out of fear that he not become a heretic, he launched into an excessive piety, in casuistry and religious ecstasy, spending days and nights in his prayer shawl and phylacteries and studying. At that time he wrote a scroll—with the language of the Tanakh, with pointing and trope marks—on the Polish uprising and thus acquired the reputation of a “little Berliner” [meaning: a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment]. In 1865 he left his father-in-law’s backing, put together a yeshiva to support himself, and studied Talmud with the yeshiva lads. He also ran a small library which several village lads had founded, and although he removed all of the books that so much as smelled of heresy, people began to persecute him; parents no longer entrusted their sons to study in his yeshiva, and he thus suffered from extreme want. His bitterness was great, for in truth he was still very devout at the time. In 1867 he published in Hamelits (The advocate) the articles “Araḥot hatalmud” (Pathways to the Talmud) and “Nosafot araḥot hatalmud” (Addenda to pathways to the Talmud), in which he demonstrated that many of the edicts and stringencies in the Talmud had their reasons in their day, but they ought now be repealed, whereas their causes have disappeared. He was subsequently persecuted in Vilkomir even more that earlier and forced to leave the city. On October 3, 1869, Lilienblum arrived in Odessa, where there began for him a new era in his writing and in his national, community activities. In 1870 his first book was published, the social satirical poem Kehal refaim (Community of the dead)—the dead come out of their graves with complaints before Adam as to why they died on account of his sins; there appears a rich man, a hypocrite, a community leader, a trustee of the burial society, the community writer, a matchmaker, a cantor, a candle maker, an itinerant teacher, a shrewd man and a fine Talmudic spirit, a preacher, a mystic, a Hassidic rabbi, a newspaper editor, a poet, an author, a rabbi, and a libertine. In his satire, Lilienblum settles accounts with each of those who had persecuted him. Kehal refaim made a huge impact in Enlightenment circles. In 1871 Lilienblum’s journalist activities commenced in Yiddish, as he became co-editor of Kol mevaser (Herald), and when Alexander Tsederbaum, editor of the newspaper, departed for St. Petersburg, Lilienblum ran the newspaper for seven months; and under the pen name “L-M,” he wrote a series of articles entitled “Yidishe lebensfragen” (Jewish life issues) in which he proved to be one of the best Yiddish journalists of that era. In these articles he pointed out the destruction of Jewish life, the excessive piety, the vapid ways of living, early arranged marriages, and the inadequacies of the world. “One raises,” he wrote “a Jewish child in such a way that he is good for nothing…. One leaves the Jewish child to be inadequate to enjoy his youthful years…. Everyone lives off the land, and Jews live off heaven. Even modern Yiddish literature still isn’t worthy of coming down to earth, as it still flies for the most part in the air; but one elevated idea, one further idea…which is thoroughly unconnected to the world and to life.” Lilienblum came out publicly opposed to those who complained: “Education, enlightenment, civilization, emancipation, contemporary times” and who failed to notice that the ordinary Jew regarded them as crazy. He also came out against Jewish journalism which did not keep the individual in mind, but only the abstract group; against the wealthy who spend money not to educate the people but for their own glory. In 1876 he published his autobiographical Ḥatot neurim (Sins of youth), a confession of a writer who frankly recounts his internal battles and doubts and the new meanings that constituted a judgment via-à-vis the old, patriarchal Jewish life—this was a book that made an impression and upon which were bred practically all subsequent Jewish writers and leaders. In 1878 he wrote for Rodkinson’s socialist journal Asefat ḥakhamim (Assembly of the wise), edited by M. Winchevsky, in Königsberg a series entitled “Mishnat elisha ben avuya” (The teaching of Elisha ben Avuyah), in which (in a brilliant parody of the language of the Mishna) he expressed his socialist ideas. However, the pogroms in Russia in the early 1880s brought an upheaval to his worldview. He became an adherent of the settlement in the land of Israel, one of the fighters on behalf of Ḥibat-Tsiyon (Love of Zion), and bound his community and literary activities to the Zionist movement until his very last days.
Lilienblum also conducted propaganda on behalf of the settlement in Israel in Yiddish by means of a number of plays and pamphlets. His first play, bearing the Russian title Dvoyezhenets (The bigamist), was staged in the 1880s. It was a play aimed against the Jewish slave dealers who would seduce Jewish girls and sell them in disrepute to Constantinople. B. Gorin also cites a play by Lilienblum entitled Der shkontist (The discount banker). His most important theatrical work, though, with the goal of arousing a Jewish national sensibility, was Zerubavl oder shvat-tsien (Zerubavel or return to Zion), a drama in five acts, which initially appeared as a supplement to the anthology Der yudisher veker (The Jewish alarm) and later in book form (Odessa: Odesskii vestnik, 1887), 55 pp. In Yiddish he accomplished a great deal as a contributor to Yudishe folksblat (Jewish people’s newspaper). Together with Y. Kh. Ravnitski, in 1887 he published the collection Der yudisher veker with Ḥibat-Tsiyon poems, articles, and novellas by A. Goldfaden, M. Ayzman, A. B. Gotlober, Marye Lerner, Y. Kh. Ravnitski, Eliakum Tsunzer (Zunser), A. Y. Bukhbinder, Yekoyakim Zilbershteyn, Yitskhok ben Nokhum Epshteyn, Khayim Khishin, Ish Naami, and Paltiel Zamoshtshin. He later contributed articles on Zionist themes to: Der yud (The Jew), Fraynd (Friend) in St. Peterburg, Yudishes folk (The Jewish people) in Vilna, and G. Bader’s Yudisher folks-kalendar (Jewish people’s calendar), among other serials. He also published in Fraynd a pair of articles on the language issue and several fierce articles against Yankev Gordin’s society “Biblical Brotherhood.” He was one of the founders of the Association for the Settlement in the Land of Israel, of which Leon Pinsker was head and Lilienblum secretary. From 1885 he held a position in the group’s burial society. “Lilienblum was in those years,” wrote Zalmen Shneur, “the fiery preacher of a genuine Jewish life, the fervent practitioner of the Ḥibat-Tsiyon movement. He was just the opposite of Aḥad Haam, who wrote about reviving the Jewish spirit. From Lilienblum arose the famed expression which actual Ḥibat-Tsiyon people made their slogan: One more goat bought in the land of Israel is more important than ten new high schools.” He also, though, dreamed his entire life of completing a high school, and even in his older years more than anything of being an external student. His collected writings in Hebrew come to four volumes, published by Moriya in Odessa (1914). The Zionist “Kopek library” (Odessa) published his pamphlet Geula titenu laarets (You shall grant redemption to the land)—concerning the purchase of land in Israel—(1909), as well as his biography written by Moyshe Kleynman. Also published was Lilienblum’s Finf momentn in moyshe rabeynus leben (Five moments in Moses’ life) [original: Piatʹ momentov iz zhizni Moiseia (Warsaw, 1900)], translated from the Russian by Hillel Malakhovski (New York: Reznik un Kaplan, 1909), 52 pp.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2, with a bibliography; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934); B. Gorin, Geshikhte fun yidishn teater (New York, 1918), vol. 1, pp. 31-32, vol. 2, p. 245; Noyekh Prilucki, Yidish teater, 1905-1912 (Yiddish theater, 1905-1912), vol. 1 (Bialystok, 1921), pp. 46, 98, 101; M. Winchevsky, in Tsukunft (New York) (November 1906; June 1907; August 1907; March 1910); A. Goldberg, Gezamlte shriftn (Collected writings), vol. 1 (New York, 1913), pp. 79-84; E. R. Malachi, in Tsukunft (May 1930); Malachi, in Bitsaron (Av-Elul [= July-September] 1944); Malachi, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (February 15, 1961); Sh. Rozenfeld, in Tog (New York) (March 7, 1931; March 14, 1931); Rozenfeld, Geklibene shriftn (Selected works) (New York, 1947), pp. 153-227; Ben-Tsien Kats, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (May 5, 1932; November 25, 1932; December 11, 1932; December 23, 1932; December 25, 1932); Zalmen Shneur, in Forverts (New York) (May 13, 1932; May 20, 1932); Sh. Dubnov, in Tog (October 22, 1932); Moyshe Shtarkman, in Tog (February 26, 1950); Sh. Perlmuter, Yidishe dramaturgn un teater-compozitors (Yiddish playwrights and theatrical composers) (New York, 1952); Joseph Klausner, Yotsrim uvonim (Creators and builders), vol. 1 (Tel Aviv, 1925), pp. 80-123; Klausner, Darkhe likerat ha-tehiya vehageula, autobiyografya, 1874-1944 (Roads toward revival and redemption, an autobiography, 1874-1944), vol. 1 (Tel Aviv, 1946), pp. 37, 38, 43, 49, 50, 66, 67, 73, 97, 111, 243; Klausner, Historiya shel hasifrut haivrit haḥadasha (History of modern Hebrew literature), vol. 4 (Jerusalem, 1954), pp. 190-300; F. Lachower, Meḥkarim venisyonot (Research and experiments) (Warsaw, 1925), pp. 79-94; Lachower, Rishonim veaḥaronim (The early and later [rabbinic figures]) (Tel Aviv, 1934-1935); Sh. Z. Zester, in Ohalim (New York) (June0-December 1944; January-March 1945); A. Ben-Or, Toldot hasifrut haivrit (History of Hebrew literature), vol. 1 (Tel Aviv, 1951), pp. 264-79; Meir Vakhsman, Bishvili hasifrut vehamaḥashava haivrit (Toward Hebrew literature and thought) (Tel Aviv, 1956); Z. Epshteyn, Moshe leib lilyenblum (Tel Aviv: Devir, 1935).