Thursday, 6 July 2017

AVROM-MENDL (AVRAHAM-MENDEL) MOHR

AVROM-MENDL (AVRAHAM-MENDEL) MOHR (1815-1868)
            He was born in Lemberg, a leader of the Jewish Enlightenment.  He debuted in print with a composition entitled Magen haḥokhma, bo karev earukh mul mesaneha (The shield of wisdom, with which I shall fight against adversaries) (Lemberg, 1834), 22 pp., which was a defense of science and philosophy.  Together with a second follower of the Jewish Enlightenment and leader, Yaakov Bodek, and the poet Nakhmen-Yitskhok Fishman, and Jacob Mentsch, he brought out a journal Haroe umevaker sifre meḥabre zemanenu (Who sees and criticizes the books of contemporary authors), which among other things harshly criticized the big shots of that time: Sh. D. Luzzato, Y. L. Tsunts, and mainly Sh. Y. Rapoport (Shir).  The overly harsh criticism led to the censor withdrawing the first and second volumes and forbidding their importation to Galicia (the second volume was published in Hungary).  In 1844 Mohr and Bodek revived the publication under the title Yerusholaim (Jerusalem) for three issues, with a more temperate character.  Mohr was implicated in the controversy over the first modern rabbi in Lemberg, Avraham Cohen.  The devout Jews could not and did not wish to consent to having a modern man, “a daytsh” (a “German”), sitting in the rabbi’s chair, and they fought against it with all legal and illegal means.  He was slandered in every Hassidic house of prayer, and a variety of pamphlets and appeals were sounded against him.  One of the brochures by Mohr and Bodek was written in Yiddish in an utterly distinctive language and orthography.  It was entitled Eytse-toyve (Good advice) and appeared in 1848 as “good counsel and advice that one should enact here in Lemberg in these times, and in all smaller districts and towns.”  The brochure summoned numerous responses in Yiddish, such as, for example, an attack against the brochure in the name of: “Violating the advice of the wicked, a proclamation…to reveal evidence of ignorance,” which warned that “one need not obey and listen to the false counsel of the wicked people written in Eytse-toyve.”  Mohr brought out a series of biographies of well-known people in Hebrew, such as: Rothschild—Tiferet yisrael (The hope of Israel) (Lemberg, 1843), 48 pp.; Herman Tedesco—Ateret tsvi (Glory of Tsvi) (Żółkiew, 1845), 20 pp.; Moses Montefiore—Keter shem tov (Crown of the good name) (Lemberg, 1947), 16 pp.; Kolumbus, hu metsiat erets amerika (Columbus who discovered America) (Lemberg, 1846), 48 pp., translated from the German; Erzherzog Carl—Ariel (Hero) (Lemberg, 1848), 23 pp.; Napoleon I—Dagul merevava (One in a thousand) (Czernowitz, 1855), 228 pp.; Napoleon III—Ḥut hameshulash (The eternal triangle) (Lemberg, 1853) 14 pp.; a collection Arugat habosem (Woven fabric) (1848); a description of the land of Israel entitled Mivaseret tsiyon (Herald of Zion) (Lemberg, 1847), 98 pp.; and a letter-writing manual, Sofer mahir (Swift writer) (Lemberg, 1851), 56 pp.  He also republished with notes well-known historical texts.  He gained fame for his geographical work Shvile olam (Paths of the world), in three parts (Lemberg, 1855-1857); the second part was confiscated by the Austrian censor and later republished in a new adaptation (1860).  Mohr was a strong supporter of Yiddish.  He nonetheless published an abridgement of Tuvye Feder’s pamphlet Kol meḥatsetsim (Voice of the Archers) against Mendl Lefin, because he was a friend of the well-known Enlightenment follower Tuvye Feder.  In his preface to the book, Mohr evinces that he was a supporter of Yiddish.  He was, though, so closely tied to Feder that he was unable see that his friend’s work ought to have remained unpublished.  This also attests to the fact that Feder was in fact a great admirer of Mendl Lefin.  Mohr also translated into Yiddish the storybook of Rabbi Nissim Ben Yaakov Gaon, Mayse nisim (Nissim’s tale), and published it (1851) together with the original text.  He himself also wrote original stories in Yiddish, which were of great value, as were his critical and scholarly works.  Mohr was a pioneer in Yiddish newspapers: he published a weekly titled Tsaytung (Newspaper) which at the time (the first issue appeared on May 5, 1848) was the only Yiddish newspaper in the world.  Irregularly, always on Friday, subsequent issues appeared until no. 34 (December 29, 1848).  In the last issue he complained that his newspaper was not being sufficiently supported and had a mere 200 subscribers, although the cost was only one guilder per quarter.  He went on to say that, if he had no support, he would have to discontinue it in the new year.  The weekly came out until early 1850 when the government concluded that the editor should provide a guarantee of 5000 guilders, and he was not able to come up with such a sum.  Nevertheless, he revived the newspaper in 1863 with the names Yidishe tsaytung (Jewish newspaper) and Telegraf (Telegraph), which changed from week to week.  In the prospectus “Psure toyve” (Good tidings), the publisher explained: “These two newspapers must have two [different] names, as we have been informed by the law.  This was, though, designed so that every week…one issue of each appears.”  Professor M. Balaban relayed a series of essential details about this weekly: “The newspaper was published in quarto format in dual columns.  Its contents consisted of political news, as well as interesting information concerning Jewish life in Lemberg.”

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Shvile olam (Paths of the world), part 3 (the description of Lemberg); Sh. Bernfeld, Toldot shir (Biography of S. Y. Rapoport) (Berlin, 1899), pp. 98-99; Evreiskaia Entsiklopedya, vol. XI, p. 764; Stanislavski, “Khronika vostoka” (Chronicle of the East) (1903), p. 9; Ben-Yaakov, Otsar hasefarim (Treasury of books) (Vilna, 1880), p. 356; M. Balaban, in Bikher-velt (Warsaw) (1923), pp. 175-80; Yoysef Falk, in Tsushtayer (Lemberg) (June 1930); Reyzen, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (May 1, 1932); Reyzen, in Yoyvl-bukh 30 yor keneder odler (30-year jubilee volume of the Canadian eagle) (Montreal, 1938); Dr. Y. Tenenboym, Galitsye mayn alte heym (Galicia, my old home) (Buenos Aires, 1952), pp. 163-64; A. R. Malachi, in Di tsukunft (new York) (1960), pp. 128-32; Tsvi Sharfshteyn, in Shvile haḥinukh (Paths to education) (New York, 1961/1962), pp. 226-33.
Mortkhe Yofe


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