RIFOEL MAHLER (RAPHAEL MAHLER) (August 15, 1895-October 4, 1977)
He was born in Nay-Sandz (Nowy Sącz), western Galicia, into a scholarly and business family. He studied with private tutors and in the Nowy Sącz yeshiva. His general education came in the municipal public school in Nowy Sącz, where he was the sole Jewish student. Privately, he prepared to enter high school, and in 1918 he passed the examinations for the baccalaureate at the state high school in Cracow. He went on to study Semitic philology and history at the University of Vienna. He received his doctoral degree in 1922 for a dissertation on the sociological issues of progress. He then returned to Poland. He was a teacher of Jewish and general history in Lodz (at the Hebrew high school “Yavne”) and in Konin. In 1924 he became a teacher at the high school (later, lyceum) Askala in Warsaw. In late 1937 he came to the United States at the invitation of YIVO and settled in New York, where he worked as a lecturer in the research student courses at YIVO, in the teachers’ seminary of the Jewish National Labor Alliance, and in the teachers’ courses at the Workmen’s Circle. He was a lecturer (1938-1939) at the Hebrew teachers’ seminary Hertsliya in New York. During WWII he taught Jewish history at the Jefferson School for Social Studies and at the School of Jewish Studies in New York. In 1947 he visited Poland and Israel, returning to New York in 1948; in March 1950 he visited Israel, now the state of Israel, for the second time, and in late 1950 he returned to the United States and soon thereafter made aliya to Israel with his family. In June 1951 he settled in Jerusalem. Over the years 1953-1959, he was an instructor in Jewish economic history at the Tel Aviv School of Law and Economics. He also lectured on Jewish history at Seminar Hakibutsim, first in Tel Aviv and later in Oranim. From 1959 he was an instructor of Eastern European Jewish history at Tel Aviv University, where in 1961 he was nominated for a professorship. His community activities began in his early years. In Nowy Sącz, he was active in the Zionist school organization Bene Tsiyon (Children of Zion). In the summer of 1918 he took part in the conference of Hashomer Hatsair (The young guard) in Galicia, which took place in Tarnawa Wyżna in the Sambor (Sambir) region. After the end of WWI, he joined the Labor Zionist Party. When the party split in 1920, he remained with the left Labor Zionists. In Warsaw he was a member of the central committee of the youth movement of the left Labor Zionists. His writing began in Di fraye yugnt (The free youth), edited by Yankev Kener, in Warsaw (1925) with an article about movies, what they are and what they should be. He later became a member of the editorial board and contributed articles on current politics and scholarly topics. Approximately at this time he began writing for Arbayter-tsaytung (Workers’ newspaper) in Warsaw, while at the same time becoming involved in research in the field of Jewish history. He worked a great deal in archives and assembled materials for historical works. Together with Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum: (1) he founded the historians’ circle at the Jewish Academic House, which later combined with YIVO; (2) he co-edited Der yunger historiker (The young historian), the first issue of which appeared in 1926 as a work of the “Seminar in Jewish History at the Jewish Academic House”; and (3) he provided justification for the so-called social doctrine in Jewish historiography. According to this doctrine, the Jewish past must be illuminated in light of historical materialism. Only while working with Ringelblum was the influence of this doctrine not seemingly apparent, and thus Mahler in the early years of his activities as a historian sought to assess Jewish history according to the Marxist viewpoint. In his report on “The problems of Jewish cultural development in Jewish historiography,” presented at the seventh international historian’s conference in Warsaw (1933)—which he attended as a member of the YIVO delegation and which was published in Miesięcznik Żydowski (Jewish monthly) in its second issue in 1933—Mahler criticized historiographic approaches of older historians. He said of Dubnov’s world history of the Jewish people: “It is written under the sign of the ideology of his class among the Jewish people and not of the entire Jewish people.” According to Mahler, the new history must be first and foremost realistic and not idealistic, and it must rely upon “a fundamental analysis of the special economic and social conditions which existed both among Jews and among the countries in which the Jewish lived.” His four-volume work Divre yeme yisrael (History of Israel), which appeared about twenty years later, was indeed written in concert with these principles. He introduced in it moments of class struggle among the Jews, and he described events from a political-economic point of view. Mahler directed the association “Evening Courses for Workers” (Warsaw) until 1931, when the association was dissolved. He was active in YIVO from its founding, and in 1935 he became a member of the historical section of YIVO. He contributed to Yivo-bleter (Pages from YIVO) from its start until around 1950, and he served as editor of Bleter fun geshikhte (Pages from history) in Warsaw and Dos virtshaftlekhe lebn (The economic life), a publication of Central Society for Interest-Free Credit (Warsaw), in which he published a series of works, including statistics on Jewish bagel-sellers in Warsaw (in Yiddish and Polish). He also placed work in: Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw; in Enzyklopädie Judaica in Berlin, to which he contributed some thirty entries on the history of Jewish communities in Poland; and Eynikeyt (Unity) in Moscow. In the United States, he contributed to: Yidishe kultur (Jewish culture), Der tog (The day), Jewish Quarterly Review, Jewish Social Studies, Historia Judaica, American Jewish Year Book, Gerekhtikeyt (Justice)—a series of articles on trades practiced by Jews in the past—Di tsukunft (The future), Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, and more. In the state of Israel, Mahler was a member of the council of Yad Vashem, of the central committee and the political commission of the Mapam Party, and of the management committee of the Israeli Historical Association and of the Judaica Congress. He was a member of the presidium of contemporary Zionist Congresses. He continued to publish work in such journals as: Gesher (Bridge), also a member of the editorial board; Orlogin (Clock); Maḥbarot lemarksizm (Notebooks on Marxism), jubilee collection; Al hamishmar (On guard); Asufot (Anthologies); Yisroel-shtime (Voice of Israel); Tsiyon (Zion); Haoved (The worker); and Di goldene keyt (The golden chain); among others.
Among his published books: Jewish Emancipation: A Selection of Documents (New York: American Jewish Committee, 1941), 72 pp.; Der kamf tsvishn haskole un khsides in galitsye in der ershter helft fun 19tn yorhundert (The struggle between Jewish Enlightenment and Hassidism in the first half of the nineteenth century) (New York: YIVO, 1942), 254 pp. (in 1961 this appeared in Hebrew as: Haḥasidut vehahaskala begalitsya uvepolin hakongresait [Hassidism and Jewish Enlightenment in Galicia and Congress Poland]); Karaimer, a yidishe geule-bavegung in mitlalter (Karaites, a Jewish redemptive movement in the Middle Ages) (New York, 1947), 476 pp. (awarded the Zvi Kessel Prize in 1948; published in Hebrew translation in 1950 as Hakaraim [The Karaites], 355 pp.); Divre yeme yisrael, dorot aḥaronot (History of Israel, modern times) (Merḥavya, 1951-1956), 4 vols.; Geshikhte fun yidishn folk, nayeste tsayt (History of the Jewish people) (New York, 1957), 2 vols.; Yidn in amolikn poyln in likht fun tsifern, di demografishe un sotsyal-ekonomishe struktur fun yidn in kroyn-poyln in XVII yorhundert (Jews in Poland of the past in light of numbers, the demographic and social-economic structure of Jews in Crown Poland in the seventeenth century) (Warsaw: Yidish bukh, 1958), 216 pp.; Historiker un vegvayser, eseyen (Historian and guide, essays) (Tel Aviv: Yisroel-bukh, 1967), 315 pp.; Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment: Their Confrontation in Galicia and Poland in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century, trans. from Yiddish by Eugene Orenstein and trans. from Hebrew by Aaron Klein and Jenny Machlowitz Klein (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1985), 411 pp. Mahler edited a number of remembrance volumes from various Jewish communities, among them: Tshenstokhover yidn (The Jews of Częstochowa) (New York, 1947), 404 pp. A number of his more important writings include: Geklibene mekoyrim tsu der geshikhte fun di yidn in poyln un mizrekh eyrope (Selected sources on the history of Jews in Poland and Eastern Europe), with E. Ringelblum (Warsaw: Klutur-lige, 1930), 2 vols.; a work in Polish on “theories of Jewish historiography and the historical development of Jewish culture” (Warsaw, 1933); Tsol un tseshpreytung fun di yidn in varshe in 18tn yorhundert (The number and distribution of Jews in Warsaw in the eighteenth century) (Warsaw, 1934); A fragment vegn yidishn handl tsvishn lite un poyln in 16tn yorhundert (A fragment on Jewish business between Lithuania and Poland in the sixteenth century) (Vilna, 1937); Dokumentn tsu der geshikhte fun di vaade-hagliles in poyln (Documents on the history of the councils of territories in Poland) (Vilna, 1937); Di sektantishe opneygn inem amolikn karayimizm (The sectarian deviations in Karaism of the past) (Vilna, 1938); “The Austrian Government and the Hassidim during the Period of Reaction (1814-1848),” Jewish Social Studies 1.2 (1939), pp. 195-240; Yidishe emigratsye fun galitsye un ire sibes (Jewish emigration from Poland and its causes) (New York, 1948); “Di geshikhte fun yidn in poyln biz tsu der tseteylung” (The history of Jews in Poland until the partition), in the collection Yidn in poyln (Jews in Poland) (New York, 1946); Di natsyonaler un sotsyaler kharakter fun der alter karayimisher bavegung (karaim in 9tn un 10tn yorhundert) (The national and social character of the ancient Karaite movement, Karaites in the ninth and tenth centuries) (New York, 1948); Ven un vi azoy zaynen yidn gevorn a handlsfolk (When and how did Jews become a business people) (Vilna, 1935); Shtrikhn tsu di sotsyal-politishe farheltenishn fun di bavlish-persishe yidn in der azoy-gerufener geoynim-tkufe (Features of the social-political relations among Babylonian-Persian Jews in the so-called era of the Geonim) (Vilna, 1937); Tsvey monumentale verk fun yankev man vegn der yidishe geshikhte (Two monumental works by Jacob Mann on Jewish history) (Warsaw, 1938); and Di sotsyale tendentsn un velt-banem fun der karayimisher bavegung (The social tendencies and world conception of the Karaite movement) (New York, 1943); among others. He also penned the introduction to the Hebrew edition of Dr. Chaim Zhitlovsky’s selected writings (1961). Mahler also authored a series of works on political and ideological issues. In these he represented the viewpoint of socialist Zionism. He also wrote several significant pieces on anti-Semitism, the last of these published in Entsiklopediya lamadae haḥevra (Encyclopedia of the social sciences) (1962). Among his works on politics and ideology: “Anti-Semitism in Poland” (New York, 1942); Der nekhtn, haynt un morgn fun di yidn in ratn-farband (Yesterday, today, and tomorrow for Jews in the Soviet Union) (Buenos Aires, 1950), 43 pp.; Bundishe ideologye in a nayer oyflage (an entfer tsu moyshe kats (Bundist ideology in a new edition, an answer to Moyshe Katz) (New York, 1954); “The Socialist Zionist Viewpoint” (New York), with Dovid Flinker and D. Ben-Nokhum. He made research trips to Europe in 1956-1957 and to the United States in the summer of 1962; and he made a lecture tour in South Africa in the summer of 1958. He also wrote under such pen names as: Uriel. He died in Ramat-Gan, Israel.
Left-to-right: Emanuel Ringelblum, Itsik Manger,
Rokhl Oyerbakh, Yankev Shatzky, Ber Horovits, Mahel, M. Weinberg
Sources: Y. Opatoshu, in Yivo-bleter (Vilna) 14.1-2 (1939); Dr. Y. Shatzky, in Yivo-bleter (New York) 19.1 (1942); Shmuel Niger, in Tog (New York) (February 28, 1942); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (March 4, 1942); L. Nyemoy, in Yivo-bleter 33 (1949); G. Aronson, in Di tsukunft (New York) (March 1951); Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, Kapitlen geshikhte fun amolikn yidishn lebn in poyln (Chapters from the history of past Jewish life in Poland), ed. Y. Shatzky (Buenos Aires, 1953); Shaye Trunk, in Di tsukunft (April 1955); Z. Shaykovski, in Yivo-bleter 41 (1957-1958); Meylekh Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 3 (Montreal, 1958); Y. Mestel, in Yidishe kultur (New York) (June-July 1958); B. Ts. Goldberg, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (March 26, 1959); Elye Shulman, in Unzer tsayt (New York) (July-August 1959); Dr. M. Handel, in Haarets (Tel Aviv) (August 12, 1960); A. M. Haberman, in Haarets (December 29, 1962); Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 7
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 354.]