YITSKHOK-YOYEL LINETSKI (ISAAC JOEL LINETZKY) (September 8, 1839-September 23, 1915)
He was born in Vinitse (Vinnytsa, Vinnytsya), Podolia. His father, Yoysef Linitser, a rabbi and, moreover, a zealous Hassid and mystic, sought to raise his son on the basis of Hassidism and Kabbala, and entrusted him to the supervision of the Kloyzner ultra-Orthodox who guided the bright youngster, a prodigy, in a despotic manner, smacking, cursing, and humiliating him, and not allowing him to learn a single passage of Tanakh while stuffing him with secrets of Kabbala. This aroused in the lad a deep sentiment of protest against Hassidism generally, as he sought out the acquaintance of local followers of the Jewish Enlightenment and quietly began to devote himself to the Enlightenment. His father noticed this, and to put an end to his son’s heresy, he married him off at age fourteen to a twelve-year-old girl. As Linetski, though, succeeded in persuading his young wife to his side, his father was compelled to give her a divorce and then married him off a second time with a blind, mentally handicapped woman. This outrageousness made an enormous impression on the sixteen-year-old Linetski, and he set out on an open fight against wild fanaticism. In this struggle the Hassidim fought against him with all means at hand, as they even tried to have him thrown into the river and killed, but with the assistance of the police Linetski succeeded in being saved, and surreptitiously left for Odessa, where he gave Hebrew lessons and also ran a children’s school in Hebrew, while at the same time studying German and preparing to travel to Breslau to attend the rabbinical seminary there. In Odessa as well, though, he suffered under the persecutions on the part of the Hassidim and escaped from there to Breslau, but en route—in the town of Novoselits (Novoseltsa), near the Austrian border—the local rabbi detained him, informed his father who came after him, and led him to the Sadigurer rebbe “to seek repentance”—Linetski described the trip in his comedy Hanesia hagedola (The big trip), and thereafter brought him back to Vinnytsya. After divorcing his second wife, he this time departed for Zhitomir, where for a short time he studied at the rabbinical school and where he for the first time got to know and befriend Avrom Goldfaden. After Zhitomir, he lived for several years in Kiev, where he earned a living teaching and writing poetry which later appeared in his collection Der beyzer marshelik (The wicked jester). In late 1864 he published in issue 46 of Hamelits (The advocate) his article “Lo talakh rakhil beamekha” (Do not deal in slander with your people), and for the next two years he contributed to this periodical. That year he also married a woman whom he loved, and thus began a period for Linetski of many years’ wandering with his growing family. He changed his residence frequently, lived in cities and villages (in southern Russia), while he worked as a teacher, a bookbinder, an employee in a whiskey distillery, and a merchant at fairs. On two occasions over the course of those years, he happened to meet Avrom Goldfaden who had yet to find his way to the Yiddish theater; they attempted in partnership to run a business which ended poorly. At that time, Linetski also began writing in Yiddish. He debuted in print in Yiddish with a satire, “Gezukht un gezukht un gefunen mayns” (Looked and looked and found mine), a correspondence piece from Nikopol, published in Kol mevaser (Herald) (Odessa) 8 (February 28, 1867). In issue 16 of Kol mevaser (June 9, 1867), he began publishing his work Dos poylishe yingl (The Polish lad), which he signed “Eli Kotsin Hatskhakueli,” an anagram of his name. This work aroused a genuine sensation. When a sequel from this work ought to have appeared in print, an impatient crowd gathered at the editorial office to wait for the issuance of the newspaper. His biting satire of the Hassidim reached all layers and circles of the Jewish population in the Pale of Settlement and even abroad. The author, who until then had gone unnoticed, suddenly became popular everywhere, even in the courts of Hassidic rebbes. Linetski was living at the time in a secluded area between Kherson and Simferopol. When the news reached him about the success of his work, he left for Odessa in self-confidence to collect his royalties from the newspaper, but the editor of the newspaper, Aleksander Tsederboym, told him: “Not I to you, but you should pay me, for I have made you famous.” In issue 44 of Kol mevaser, the first part of Dos poylishe yingl came to an end, and some two years later the publisher of Kol mevaser brought out the work together with the second part in book form (Odessa, 1869), with a preface by Tsederboym. At this time Linetski published in Kol mevaser many feature pieces, virtually all of which in a satirical tone. He later began to publish his own work by himself, initially with his short book of satirical folksongs, Der beyzer marshelik, and then in 1872 he brought out in Odessa Der velt-luekh fun yohr eyn kesef (The world calendar of the year of no money), a collection with parodies of a calendar in verse and prose (95 pp.), in which he principally ridiculed various phenomena in Jewish life, mainly the Hassidic way of life. His subsequent literary publications include: Dos mishlakhes (The calamity), “scenes from Jewish life” (Zhitomir, 1875), 71 pp., and Der kol-boynik (The rascal), “scenes from Jewish life” (Zhitomir, 1876), 72 pp. In 1875 Linetski turned up in Lemberg, where he once again encountered his childhood friend Avrom Goldfaden, and together they published (between July 1875 and February 1876) the weekly newspaper Yisroelik, “a newspaper for all Jews,” which exerted an impact on its readers. After the newspaper ceased publication, he again left for Odessa where he began to publish a series entitled Linetskis ksovim (Linetski’s writings), of which only the first two volumes appeared: Der pritshepe (The bellicose fellow) and Der statek (The well-behaved fellow). Over the years 1878-1882, he devoted himself to the grain business in various port cities on the Black Sea, but the pogroms cut him off from business, and in 1882 he became a resident of Odessa, and literature became the sole source for him to earn a living. He became a fierce “lover of Zion” (Ḥovev-tsiyon) and propagandist on behalf of the idea of settling the land of Israel in a series of pamphlets, such as: Amerika tsi erets yisroel (America or the land of Israel) (1882), 16 pp., and Aher oder ahin (Here or there) (1882), among others. Linetski began focusing on translations, but there was no living to be made from them. In 1886 he was in Botoșani, Romania, launching publication of the weekly newspaper Natsyonal (National), but after its twenty-first issue the Romanian authorities closed down the publication and expelled the editor from the country. Until the early 1890s, he remained extremely active. Aside from his writing, in this period he also published a series of sporadic newspapers, in which he with his satirical and spicy wit spared neither the Hassidim nor the Enlightenment Jews, neither the community leaders nor the assimilated Jewish intellectuals. At this point, he was already one of the first to recognize the positive aspects of the old Jewish way of life, even of Hassidism. With his books and newspapers, published for the most part by his own account, Linetski for many years traveled through the cities and towns of the Pale. An excellent orator, he would also appear at concerts and literary evenings. In book form he published: Ksovim (Writings), vol. 1: Der praktisher folks-kalendar (The practical people’s calendar) (Odessa, 1875), and Der pritshepe (Odessa: Ulrikh un Shultse, 1876), “critical, satirical, and humorous essays and poems,” 64 pp., vol. 2: Der statek (Odessa: L. Nittsshe, 1876), “critical, satirical, and humorous essays and poems,” 127 pp.; Der beyzer marshelik (Warsaw, 1879), satirical folk-songs, 48 pp.; Di kurtse geografye fun palestine un ir itsigen tsushtand (Short geography of Palestine and its contemporary situation) (Odessa, 1882), 31 pp.; Der velt-luekh fun yohr eyn kesef (Odessa, 1883), 86 pp.; Dos poylishe yungel, oder a biografye fun zikh aleyn (The Polish lad, or a biography of himself) (Odessa, 1885), 132 pp.; Der plapler (The chatterbox) (Odessa, 1887), 8 pp.; Dos khsidishe yingel (The Hassidic lad) (Vilna, 1897), 280 pp.; Nit toyt, nit lebedik (Neither dead nor alive) (Vilna, 1898), 82 pp.; Fir naye sheyne lider (Four lovely new poems) (Warsaw, 1902), 24 pp.; Der nakhalne zhid (The brash Jew) (Odessa, 1907), 16 pp.; Fin’m yarid, a fantazye, tsu mayn zibetsig yoriger geburtstog (From the fair, a fantasy, on my sixtieth birthday) (Odessa, 1909), 16 pp. His translations include: Di geshikhte fin’m yudishen folk (The history of the Jewish people), “translated and freely adapted from Dr. Graetz with my own perspectives and observations concerning numerous facts and personalities,” 4 vols. (Odessa, 1883-1885), 698 pp.; Nosn der khokhem (Nathan the wise [original: Nathan der Weise]), by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “freely translated and adapted into the Yiddish language” (Odessa, 1884), 80 pp.; Iber a pintele, di berihmte hebraishe poeme kotso shel yod (Because of a dot, the famous Hebrew poem, “Kotso shel yod”), by Yehuda Leib Gordon (Odessa, 1904), 48 pp.; and Nur nikht yudish (Only not in Yiddish), by N. N. Samuel (Odessa, 1899), 34 pp.; among others. Nit toyt, nit lebedik, which was supposed to be a sequel to Dos poylishe yingl, was first published in Sholem-Aleykhem’s Yudishe folks-biblyotek (Jewish people’s library), vol. 1 (Kiev, 1888), under the title “Der vorem in khreyn” (The worm in the horseradish). Dos poylishe yingl went through nearly thirty editions, the final one in Kiev in 1939. An adaptation of this work for the schoolroom was made by B. Kahan and Y. Rudin (Moscow-Kharkov-Kiev, 1930), 99 pp. A portion of Dos poylishe yingle, entitled Reb eybishes mitsl (Reb Eybishe’s cap), appeared in Minsk in 1941, 25 pp. In November 1890, a group of Linetski’s friends celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of his literary activities. The “Khevre mefitse haskole” (Society for the promotion of enlightenment [among the Jews of Russia]) was practically the only major Jewish organization which demonstrated its participation at the celebration. From that time on, he lived largely as a man forgotten by the wider Jewish public. Shortly before WWI, when the newspaper Unzer leben (Our life) was beginning to be published, Linetski came back to life a bit and for a time contributed to the newspaper. He died in Odessa, when the fires of WWI were all aflame, and his passing aroused no special repercussions. On his gravestone at the Jewish cemetery in Odessa, there is engraved an epitaph in Hebrew which he prepared himself:
Here lies a man whose heart was stirred for all, with only love and faith
Yet he did not taste the taste of love and mercy all his life;
Good faith demands truth from birth
And all those who knew rose against him at the devil’s command.
A man who was born an old man and died a little boy,
This is the man,
Yitsḥak-Yoel, the son of Yosef, Linetski,
He was a writer of the people, who wrote in blood
Who poured forth like water, as long as he was alive,
Until his soul rose up to sky!
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2, with a detailed bibliography; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934); A. Gurshteyn, “Sakhaklen fun der mendele-forshung” (A summing up of Mendele research), Tsaytshrift 2-3 (1928), pp. 485-524; M. Shalit, Lukhes in undzer literatur (Calendars in our literature) (Vilna, 1929), p. 17; Nokhum Shtif, Di eltere yidishe literatur (The older Yiddish literature) (Kiev, 1929), pp. 225-46; Avrom Reyzen, Epizodn fun mayn lebn (Episodes from my life), vol. 2 (Vilna, 1929), pp. 153-54; Y. Riminik, in Tsaytshrift (Minsk) 5 (1931); Riminik, in Shtern (Minsk) (September 1939); Riminik, in Fargesene lider (Forgotten poems) (Moscow, 1939); Sh. Ortenberg, Y. y. linetski, zayn lebn un shafn (Y. Y. Linetski, his life and work) (Vinnytsya, 1931), 64 pp.; M. Greydenberg, “Fartseykhenungen vegn mayn foter” (Notes about my father), Tsyatshrift 5 (1931); Greydenberg, in Hadoar (New York) (February 15, 1946); E. Spivak, in Afn shprakhfront (Kiev) 1 (1937); M. Notovitsh, Y. y. linetski, 1839-1939 (Y. Y. Linetski, 1839-1939) (Moscow, 1939), 61 pp.; A. Vorobaytshik, “Briv fun dinezonen un spektorn tsu linetskin” (Letters from Dinezon and Spektor to Linetski), in Mendele un zayn tsayt (Mendele and his era) (Moscow, 1940); R. Granovski, Yitskhok-yoyel linetski un zayn dor (Yitskhok-Yoyel Linetski and his generation) (New York, 1941); Shmuel Niger, Dertseylers un romanistn (Storytellers and novelists) (New York, 1946), pp. 77-78; Niger, Habikoret uveayoteha (Criticism and its problems) (Jerusalem, 1957), p. 351; Niger, Bleter geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur (Pages of history from Yiddish literature) (New York, 1959), pp. 257-59; M. Laks, in Folks-shtime (Warsaw) (November 10, 1956); Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot, 1917-1961 (Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem, 1961), see index; A. R. Malachi, in Yidisher bukh-almanakh (New York, 1962); N. Mayzil, Tsurikblikn un perspektivn (Retrospectives and perspectives) (Tel Aviv, 1962), see index.