MENDELE MOYKHER-SFORIM (SHOLEM-YANKEV ABRAMOVITSH, MENDELE MOKHER-SEFARIM) (January 2, 1836 [or December 20, 1835 by the old style calendar]-December 8, 1917)
The date of his birth is uncertain. We are relying on what Mendele himself said in his Hebrew-language autobiography (1889), but Shimon Dubnov has written in his memoirs that, among Odessans, “people tended to believe that the grandfather [Mendele] was older by a few years.” Mendele himself once told Bialik that he was seven or eight years older. According to reckoning of Yosef Klausner, his birth date was January 2, 1837—see his Historiya shel hasifrut haivrit haḥadasha (History of modern Hebrew literature) (Jerusalem, 1950), vol. 6, pp. 359-61.
He was born, the seventh child in the family, in Kapulye (Kopyl, Kapyl), formerly in Minsk district, Byelorussia. His father, Khayim-Moyshe Broyde (Mendele took the family name Abramovitsh later), a prominent householder and a Talmud scholar, was seen by the town Jewry as a freethinker, because he studied Tanakh. Over the course of many years, his father ran the special tax on kosher meat for the town. He was a community leader and assumed the role of crown rabbi (with no salary) and he was in charge of the town’s birth certificates. He was also well known as an expert in healing sick people. His mother, Sore-Neshe, a genteel and learned woman, exercised an influence on the education of the young Sholem-Yankev. She rooted deeply in her son that sentimental sincerity and lyrical feeling that would later find expression in many parts of Mendele’s literary-artistic creation. Mendele received a traditional Jewish education. His first teacher was Yosi the son of Ruvn (in his autobiographical work, Shloyme reb khayims [Shloyme the son of Reb Khayim], he called him Lipa the son of Ruvn), who was endowed with the soul of an artist and felt personally very attached to his pupil. It was his father’s will that Yosi teach Mendele Tanakh and Hebrew grammar. At age ten—so recounts Mendele—he knew the Tanakh by heart. He then left religious elementary school, and with his father himself studied Talmud with the Tosafot [medieval Talmud commentators] and Maharsha [Shmuel Eidels, 1555-1631, Talmudist]. At age fourteen he already had a basic understanding of Talmud and rabbinical literature. Of the outside, foreign world, he knew nothing at this time. In his autobiography, he described is as follows: “The entire world was for me and for Kapulye a desolate wasteland: there was to be found the ‘mountains of darkness’ and the Sambation [River] with strange, bizarre creatures.” At that time he befriended the two craftsmen in town, Ayzik the blacksmith and Hertsl the son of Keyle the carpenter; he would run off to the blacksmith in his workshop to listen to the bellows and watch as the sparks “leap and dance amid the spirits,” and to Hertsl the son of Keyle, for whom carpentry brought him the pleasure of “making a tool.” Meanwhile, the businesses in town were starting to decline, there was a shortage of livelihoods, the populace stopped purchasing meat, and Mendele’s father could no longer make ends meet. He became ill and died at the age of a little over forty. Mendele was fourteen at the time. His mother was unable to support the family alone, and she sent Mendele to Timkevitsh (Cimkavičy), a small town near Kapulye, to study and “eat days” [eat and board with different families each day of the week]. There was no yeshiva in Cimkavičy, and Mendele mostly sat over the Talmud all by himself in an empty synagogue study hall. He felt extremely lonely and often hungry. However, he also met there for the first time Hassidim and was strongly drawn to their heartfelt prayer, their ardor, and their religious ecstasy. He himself began to pray with a strong emotion, and this brought him relief from his loneliness. Then, his homesickness drew him back home, and he set off on foot for Kapulye. In his mother’s impoverished home, however, it became clear to him that he could not stay for long. He moved on to Slutsk where there was a great yeshiva. For him to find places to eat and sleep did not prove difficult, because many local Jews had known his father. Mendele did not make significant progress in his studies in Slutsk. As he recounted in Shloyme reb khayims, he found there a cheerful group of fellows among the yeshiva lads and girls, and he would often be carried away by the evil inclination. Soon, though, he sobered up and returned to take up his studies. He moved on from Slutsk to other yeshivas until he arrived in Vilna, where he had wealthy relatives. There he studied in Rameyle’s yeshiva and in the Vilna Gaon’s house of study. After some two years wandering about, Mendele returned to Kapulye. His mother had married a miller who leased a mill in the village of Melniki, near Kapulye, and his mother with her younger children now lived in the village. His stepfather welcomed Mendele into the home, and to earn his keep Mendele taught the stepfather’s young boys. The village of Melniki was located in the middle of a wonderful area, surrounded by great woods, through which flowed a beautiful river. “In this lonely, deserted corner,” wrote Mendele in his Hebrew autobiography, “my muse was revealed to me…. With her charm she drew me in, and I followed her into the forest…. She forged a link for me with the forest flowers and the birds in the sky…and taught me their language.” This aroused in him the desire “to pour out his heart” on paper, and at the time he launched his first literary efforts—spirited love songs to nature in florid Hebrew in the mold of the “Barkhi nafshi” (Bless, my soul) prayer. He also composed an allegorical drama in verse following the style of Moyshe Ḥaim Luzzatto’s Layesharim tehila (Praise be to the upright). In his autobiography, Mendele later wrote that at that time even he did not know just what a drama consisted of, because he had never read a book of that sort. Nevertheless, even in his naïve childlike efforts, there are apparent two basic features of his subsequent writings: a love of nature and an inclination toward satire. Unable to sustain himself for long in the cheerless home of his stepfather, he returned to Kapulye and there to studying in the synagogue study hall. No longer satisfied by Talmud and commentators, he was beginning to be interested in more philosophical texts, such as Ḥovot halevavot (Duties of the heart), More nevukhim (Guide of the perplexed), and Sefer hakuzari (Book of the Kuzaris). Meanwhile, an event transpired which turned Mendele’s life toward an entirely different direction.
Just at this time there returned to Kapulye a local beggar, Avreml the lame (prototype for the title character of Mendele’s later work, Fishke der krumer [Fishke the lame]), who traveled around with his tent through the length and breadth of the Pale of Settlement and recounted wonderful tales of the joyful life of Jews in Volhynia, in Southern Russia, where “it was dripping with milk and honey.” These tales made a huge impression on Mendele, and he decided to travel with Avreml on a trip to Southern Russia. Shortly after Passover (1854), they were on their way. They went through cities and towns in Lithuania, Volhynia, Ukraine, and Podolia, spending nights in synagogue study halls and poorhouses and eating whatever Avreml could scrounge out through begging. This long trip in a broken-down cart with their emaciated mare provided Mendele with the material for his subsequent masterpiece of Yiddish literature. In Lutsk (Volhynia) Avreml attempted to make a match between Mendele and the daughter of a wealthy man and thus earn the matchmaking fee, but Mendele refused. Because of this incident, Avreml bore him a grudge and began to demand his fare before proceeding further. Y. Ḥ. Ravnitski explains that he hoped to get some assistance in Kamenets, where his relative Borekh Ginstler lived; Ginstler was a choirboy with the Kamenets cantor. When Mendele reached Kamenets, however, his relative together with the cantor were on the road somewhere. In desperation, Mendele returned to Avreml, but thanks to a happy chance occasion, en route he bumped into his relative and the cantor, who had pity on Mendele and delivered him from Avreml’s hands. And, thus, Mendele arrived in Kamenets-Podolsk. He settled into the synagogue study hall, where he studied and spent the nights. At that time Avrom-Ber Gotlober, who was then prominent in Hebrew and Yiddish literature, lived in Kamenets-Podolsk. Mendele became acquainted with Gotlober, and the latter—Mendele later depicted him in the refined figure of Gutman in Dos kleyne mentshele [The little fellow]—helped Mendele a great deal. He gave him books to read and asked his daughter to study Russian, German, and accounting with Mendele. Mendele thus acquired a good reputation in the city. People began to speak with him of “good matches,” and indeed in a short time he was married and became a son-in-law with room and board provided by his wealthy father-in-law. The life together of the married couple, however, was not a happy one. The two children to whom they gave birth died soon thereafter, and after three years they divorced. Over the course of the three years, Mendele prepared for the examinations to become a teacher. In 1856 he passed the last of them and received a teacher’s diploma and a position in the Kamenets state school. One year later Gotlober, without Mendele’s knowledge, published in Hamagid (The preacher), no. 31 in the first year of publication—dated Tamuz 23 (= July 15), 1857—Mendele’s first Hebrew article, entitled “Mikhtav al davar haḥinukh” (Letter of the matter of education), an essay on education generally and the need to teach Jewish children Russian and knowledge of a trade. Gotlober lent his approval to the article, in which he emphasized the dignity inherent in the article and the need to translate it and published it in Russian. Mendele received invitations to write for Hamagid and other journals, and soon he assumed a prominent position in—still quite poor—Hebrew journalism. In 1858 he married a second time, this time to Pesi Levin, a daughter of the Zalmen Levin, a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment from Berdichev. After the wedding he opted to remain in Berdichev.
Through the first few years after his marriage, Mendele was free of all worries. His wealthy father-in-law paid for his room and board, and he turned his attention to studying and writing. He already had his own opinion of the problems and hardships of the Jewish masses in Russia. Contrary to the followers of the Enlightenment in the previous generation, for whom German was the most important language of education even for Jews in Russia, in his articles for Hamagid and Hamelits (The spectator), Mendele believed that Jewish children were better off studying Russian for practical reasons. Also, the harshly oppressive material conditions of Jews in Russia troubled him. He frequently walked around the dwellings of poor folk and paid attention to their ways of life. He would embark on lengthy conversations with beggars and cripples. About this time he founded a group supporting inexpensive credit, “Maskil el dal” (He who considers the poor), in 1863, and many impoverished people were restored by assistance from this charitable society. Mendele also established a public library in Berdichev and helped many young folks to enter the Zhitomir rabbinical school. Having suffered severe repression was a fate visited as well on Hebrew literature. In subsequent years when Mendele wrote about the state of Hebrew literature at that time, he compared it to “a garden in autumn, which had wilted, and the trees were naked.” In 1860 he published in Vilna a collection of critical articles entitled Mishpat shalom (Judgment of peace), in which he sharply criticized some highly renowned Hebrew writers, especially Eliezer-Zvi Zweifel. As the first serious critical effort in Hebrew literature, this book had a major impact. There were clear signs in it of Mendele’s later neo-Enlightenment realism which in his work was just as important as his love of nature and his affinity for satire. Mendele proved here to be the forecaster of the epoch of positivism and natural science, which several years later would prevail in Russian literature under the influence of Dmitry Pisarev—in Hebrew literature in Russia, the positivist school was represented by Pisarev’s student, Uri Kovner. Mendele called upon writers to cease writing in an obscure, florid style and, instead, render literature in a thoroughly realistic form with instructive content and in beautiful, pure, and logical language. As an expression of this school of thought, one may consider the series of books, entitled Toldot hateva (History of nature), which Mendele began publishing in 1862. This was an adaptation of the German-language work in the field of natural history by Professor Harald Lenz. The first volume (concerning animals that suckle) appeared in 1862, the second (on birds) in 1867, and the third (on amphibians and reptiles) in 1872. Mendele created in this natural history the beginning of modern natural science terminology in Hebrew. In 1862 he wrote a story based on real life entitled Limdu hetev (Learn to do well), which later (after revisions) developed into the novel Haavot vehabanim (Fathers and sons) (Odessa, 1868). (Leyb Binshtok translated this novel from a Hebrew manuscript into Russian and published it in 1867; in a new, improved Hebrew edition, the novel was included as the third volume of Kol kitve mendele mokher-sefarim [Collected writings of Mendele Moykher-Sforim], Odessa, 1912; it first appeared in Yiddish in 1923 in a translation by B. Eplboym.) Written in the old, florid Hebrew-Aramaic and permeated with the blunt bent of the Enlightenment, the novel had a more social than artistic import. In 1867 Mendele published a new collection of literary critical and journalistic works under the title Ein mishpat (Fountain of judgment). At the same time, on assignment from the “Mefitse haskole” (Society for the promotion of enlightenment [among the Jews of Russia]), he began translating Ilovaisky’s history into Hebrew, but he ceased work on it. He was unable to tolerate the patriotic spirit of the reactionary historian and indulged in introducing various changes that the Mefitse haskole did not appreciate. Publication of the history was cancelled after the first few pieces. In those years in Berdichev, Mendele became close friends with the (aforementioned) well-known Russian-Jewish author and community leader, Leyb Binshtok; this intimate friendship would last for the entirety of Mendele’s life. He also established a close kinship with the Yiddishist and lexicographer Shiye-Mortkhe Lifshits, who had a definite influence on Mendele and awakened in him an interest in the Yiddish language. Mendele himself later justified in his autobiography his crossing over to Yiddish as follows:
I was watching the life of my people, and I wanted to give them stories drawn from Jewish roots in the sacred language. But the majority of the people know nothing of this language and speak Yiddish. With all the trouble and heartfelt desire that a writer expends today, is it of no use whatsoever to the people?... Our writers, the eloquent ones, have gazed upon Yiddish with eyes facing downwards and with great contempt…. The idea that writing Yiddish would abase me tormented me, but the eagerness to be of utility overcame the false shame, and I said to myself: “It is what it is. I shall champion the repudiated Yiddish and be useful to my people.”
Mendele got in touch with his friend Shiye-Mortkhe Lifshits, and the two of them argued with and prevailed against Alexander Tsederboym, the publisher of Hamelits, so that he would published a newspaper in Yiddish; this was the newspaper Kol mevaser (Herald) which began publication in 1862 in Odessa as a supplement to Hamelits. Mendele published in Kol mevaser—issue 2.45 (November 12 , 1864) through issue 3.6 (February 4 , 1965—the first story that he wrote in Yiddish, “Dos kleyne menshele, oder a lebens-beshraybung fun yitskhok-avrom takef” (The little fellow, or a biography of Yitskhok-Avrom Takef). This was also the first time that Mendele used his pseudonym “Mendele Moykher-Sforim” (Mendele, the bookseller). With the publication of “Dos kleyne menshele”—in book form it initially appeared in 1866 in Vilna—the second period of Mendele’s creative work commenced: the Yiddish period. This story was later reprinted several times with major changes and additions, but even in the first, still rough form and with Enlightenment tendencies, one could detect Mendele’s innovative, artistic cast. The story was a big hit with readers and had a reassuring effect on the author. In his autobiography, he recounts about this beginning period of his writing in Yiddish: “From that time forward, my soul cleaved to the Yiddish language (yehudit), and I joined myself to her for eternity and gave her spices and herbs, for which she was entitled, and she became a beautiful, charming wife and begat for me many sons.” A bit later, Mendele published the first version of Dos vintshfingerl (The wishing ring) (Warsaw, 1865), “with which some people can accomplish everything that their heart desires and craves, and can thus be useful in the world. This volume was written in the German language by Hirsch Rothman of Russia and was first published in Leipzig by Brockhaus in 1864. It is here translated into Yiddish (yudesh daytsh) and published for the benefit of the public by Mendele the Bookseller, the author of Dos kleyne menshele, from the new publishing house of Yoysef Lebenzohn” (Warsaw, 1864). This was a short book, which was to catch the interest of the reader for a series of natural science books that Mendele, it would seem, planned to publish in Yiddish. The series was not published, but from this short Dos vintshfingerl there developed some years later the two-volume novel under the same title—in Hebrew the book appeared in Mendele’s own translation with the title Beemek habakha (In the vale of tears). At the time, Mendele found himself in difficult material straits. In a letter of 1868 to Leyb Binshtok, he wrote that he was once again living with his father-in-law’s support. Y. Ḥ. Ravnitski intimated that Mendele was looking for a teaching position, but had as yet found nothing. His only source of livelihood was his books, but the income from the sales on the books was insignificant. Of his straightened circumstances, Mendele complained in another letter to Binshtok in 1864: “The time has arrived when I must do something for my household, and I don’t know what to undertake. Until now I was entirely engrossed in the love of our holy language. I would toil day and night to help colleagues with my little knowledge, forgetting that I have a wife and children. I have stopped thinking of the use to my people, and I have forgotten to care for my small children, and now when my great duty for the members of my household stands clearly before me, striking fear in me, noting that with all of my toil and drudgery, no one is coming to help.” In 1867 Mendele was carrying around the idea of publishing a newspaper in Hebrew (to be called Ben-ami); he later started thinking about a newspaper in Yiddish, and he even traveled (in 1871) to St. Petersburg to intercede on behalf of permission to publish such a newspaper, but permission was not granted. His later attempts to accomplish the same thing (until 1886) were also unsuccessful. In the meantime, he wrote his subsequent works in Yiddish. In 1869 two of his books were published in Zhitomir: Fishke der krumer, a mayse fun yidishe oreme layt (Fishke the lame, a story of poor Jewish people) and Di takse oder di bande shtodt bale-toyves (The tax [on kosher meat] or the clique of town benefactors). The former was in its first version a short booklet of forty-five pages and later grew into a much larger novel about the “great Jewish sack” which we now recognize (first enlarged edition, 1888). In Mendele’s Hebrew translation, Fishke der krumer appeared as a separate book only in 1913 under the title Sefer hakabtsanim (The book of beggars). In 1896 Fishke der frumer was dramatized by A. Vayter and Y. Rabinovitsh and staged in Smargon (Smorgon), Vilna district. In another adaptation for the stage (by Y. Vaksman), the work was produced in Warsaw under the direction of Moyshe Lipman. The latter volume of 1869, Di takse oder di bande shtodt bale-toyves, a social drama in five acts (republished in Vilna, 1872; in 1884 it appeared in Belotserkov in a Russian translation by Y. M. Petrikovski; New York, 1907-1908; Warsaw, 1911-1913; it was staged, among other places, in Manchester, England, 1910-1911, and later in Soviet Russia), was a stinging satire of the urban Jewish community people and ringleaders who “extract from the poor masses the marrow from their bones”; the play ran up against the Berdichev elite who so persecuted Mendele that he had to leave the city. He settled with his family in Zhitomir in 1869, and turned to preparing for the examinations for the rabbinate in the local seminary. He passed but it remains unclear if he ever received a diploma. Y. Ḥ. Ravnitski writes (in Dor vesofrav [The generation and its writers]) that Mendele did in fact receive it, but he did not make use of it; Sh. L. Tsitron (in “Dray literarishe doyres” [Three literary generations]), however, claims that Mendele did not receive the diploma. On the Sabbath after the examinations, he gave his trial sermon in synagogue, and instead of extolling the government in it, as the Enlightened rabbis of the time would do at that time, Mendele sharply attacked the big shots in the Jewish community. The sermon was much liked by the assembled people in synagogue, but not by the inspector from the rabbinical seminary. Mendele remained in an uncertain material condition. In that year (1869), Mendele together with Binshtok, who was then the “uchonyi evrei” (learned Jew [and advisor]) to the governor of Zhitomir, brought out a translation of Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon as Der luftbalon (incidentally, this was the first work only just published by the later world-famous French novelist). In 1870 he published Der fish, vos hot ayngeshlungen yoyne hanovi (The fish that devoured Jonah the prophet) (Odessa: Kol mevaser, 1870), 21 pp., a natural science description of the “fish,” and although enmeshed with Enlightenment quibbling, it demonstrates how Mendele was then becoming interested in spreading natural science knowledge among the Jewish folk masses. Two years later, Mendele completed his famous allegory, Di klyatshe oder tsar bale-khayim (The nag or cruelty to animals) (Vilna, 1873), “a story which turned up among the writings of Yisrolik the madman.” Mendele wrote Di klyatshe with particular fervor, and he completed it in a short period of time. The book made a tremendous impact and Mendele’s popularity grew widely. Di klyatshe was translated into Polish (as Szkapa) by Klemens Junosza (published in 1886). The Russian translation (as Kliacha) by Mendele’s son, Mikhail (Meyer) Abramovitsh, was initially published in a Russian-Jewish journal Voskhod (Arise) (St. Petersburg, 1891), but more than only a few chapters were not published because it was banned by the Russian censor who as a penalty closed the journal down after only six months. The work was also translated into German and English. Notwithstanding the widespread dissemination of Di klyatshe, Mendele’s material condition did not improve for long, because he had earlier sold the manuscript of the famed allegory to the Romm publishing house in Vilna for forty rubles per publisher’s sheet. To earn a living, Mendele (together with Binshtok) translated into Yiddish Der ustav iber voinski provinost (The code of military service) (Zhitomir, 1874); and he published the poem Dos yudel (The little Jew) (Warsaw, 1875), a storyline in verse bearing the motto: “Oh, little Jew, my sick little Jew, your life is truly a sad little song,” in which with old-fashioned rhymes communicated the history of the Jewish people from receiving the Ten Commandments until Mendele’s time; Zmires yisroel (Songs of Israel), “to the Sabbath eve, to the Sabbath, and to Saturday evening” (Zhitomir, 1875), 82 pp., a translation of Sabbath songs in rhymes, with a commentary; and Peyrek shire (Chapter of song) (Zhitomir, 1875), 124 pp., a translation into Yiddish with commentary in Hebrew. Mendele also translated into Yiddish the Psalms (never published and the manuscript was later lost). He conducted negotiations with Romm’s publishing house concerning a new translation of Korban minḥa (lit., meal offering) prayer book, but without success. Mendele also published Der nittslikher kalendar far di rusishe yidn (The useful calendar for the Russian Jews)—the first in Zhitomir (1877) and the last in Odessa (1883) and Luaḥ hasoḥarim (Businessmen’s calendar) (Vilna, 1879). All of these, however, brought Mendele no livelihood, and he continued to live in poverty. In Vilna in 1878 his book Kitser masoes benyomen hashlishi (Abridged travels of Benjamin III), “namely the voyage or a travel narrative of Benjamin III, who set off on his trip far away in a remote place, and he saw and heard such marvelous, beautiful things which are published in all seventy languages and now also in our language—with the efforts of Mendele Moykher-Sforim, volume one” (Vilna: Romm, 1878). This book appears to be a parody of Cervantes’s famous work Don Quixote, but in essence it is an original Jewish work and hence Mendele’s first purely artistic creation, without any journalistic prose and without any tendentious Enlightenment propaganda. The book gleams with Mendele’s celebrated plastic satire of the old Frankish Jewish life. The aforementioned Polish writer Klemens Junosza made a point of learning Yiddish so that he could translate this work. His Polish translation appeared in 1885 with the title Donkiszot Żydowski (Jewish Don Quixote), and several years later Mendele was invited to Warsaw, where a group of Polish writers held a special reception for him. From Polish this book was translated into Russian (Kazan, 1898) and into Czech.
Around 1877 Mendele’s situation became severe. Troubles on all sides afflicted him at the time. Leyb Binshtok wrote that the troubles “paralyzed in Mendele all eagerness to engage in any literary activity,” but Binshtok did not say in what these troubles consisted. Shortly after Mendele’s death, Sh. Ginzburg (pursuant to Mendele’s letter to Binshtok) discovered a piece of the secret. In 1922 Ginzburg wrote that “the time still has not arrived, even now, to say in detail all of the circumstances which over the course of years weighed heavily on Mendele and almost ruined him.” At that time, Mendele lost his sister Rachelle, a young and extremely gifted artist. His only son Mikhail (b. 1859, wrote poems in Russian, some of which he translated into Yiddish, published in Sholem-Aleykhem’s Yudishe folks-biblyotek [Jewish people’s library] and Spektor’s Hoyzfraynd [House friend], later converted to Christianity and in old age returned to Judaism; his own son, Mendele’s grandson, a daring aviator, the first to fly an airplane over the route from Berlin to St. Petersburg, was killed in 1912 in an airplane crash) was arrested for political reasons and exiled for several years. There were other harsh circumstances as well in Mendele’s family affairs. Sh. L. Tsitron recounts (based on his past conversations with E. L. Zweifel who was living in Zhitomir at the time) that Mendele was being persecuted at the time by the Berdichev gang, whom he had so bitterly depicted in Di takse. One of these Jewish community leaders came specifically to Zhitomir, threatened Mendele with denunciation, blackmailed him, and for several years tapped him for ransom money. Mendele was exceedingly afraid of a denunciation, because he had already assumed a position in public life (he was a member of the state commission on Jewish elementary schools for the governor of Volhynia and had been invited to serve as editor of Hamelits for Southern Russia). The threats from the Berdichev gang had such a profound effect on Mendele that over the course of the subsequent six years he completely ceased all literary work. Mendele would have completely collapsed at the time, if not for the monthly monetary support that Baron Horatio Ginzburg sent him over the years 1879-1880. To rescue himself from material need, in 1881 Mendele took on the position of administrator of a Reform Talmud Torah in Odessa, where he had then settled. The new post provided him with sustenance, but at the same time demanded his attention fulltime. He was responsible solely for directing the pedagogical and administrative work of the institution and, when necessary, also teaching classes. In addition, he had to maintain contact with the parents of the children and to put up with various and sundry whims of the school trustees. While Mendele was running the Talmud Torah, its condition was not highly dignified. Pupils studied in a small and shabby dwelling, and the number of students was small. Mendele was saddled with the burden of moving the school to an acceptable building and enlarging the number of pupils. In a letter to Leyb Binshtok in 1887, he wrote: “It would be no exaggeration if I were to say to you: Work consumes all of my time, not leaving me even a free minute to engage myself with something else, aside from my accursed position.. I have also become an older kind of nag (klyatshe).” After an interruption of six years, in 1884 Mendele published a five-act play entitled Der priziv (The conscript) (St. Petersburg, 1884), 87 pp., with a preface in which he wrote, inter alia: “Troubles of all sorts have they [the Jews] had going back several thousand years, and troubles of all sorts do they now have, and when all the troubles will come to an end, only God knows.” (The “troubles” mentioned here probably referred to the pogroms in Russia in the 1880s.) Under the impact of the new era, Mendele in Der priziv introduced, side by side with his old Jewish personages, new ones; the hero of the drama, Aleksander, was a typical representative of the modern intellectual, and then there emerged new sorts of persons not so standard, such as various sorts of men of the people. In a letter to Binshtok he himself wrote that his “muse was not to be found in Odessa, but only in Berdichev and Zhitomir.” Der priviz was published by friends on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Mendele’s creative work. The anniversary found no echo in wider Yiddish circles; a portion of the Jewish intellectuals celebrated in Odessa and in the Russian Jewish press—there was published in Voskhod a biographical sketch of Mendele in the article “Prazdnik evreiskoi literatury” (Celebration of Yiddish literature) by Leyb Binshtok. A prominent Russian liberal, Professor Bezsonov, sent Mendele a written greeting on this occasion. In his reply Mendele in a kind manner chastised the liberal, for why he had not come out publicly with his positive views of Jews. Der priziv was republished: (New York, 1907-1908), (Warsaw, 1911, 1913, 1928); and it was produced for the stage: in 1909 in Lodz with the supervision of the author, the first act performed under the direction of Mark Arnshteyn; in 1918 D. Kesler staged the entire play in New York; in 1923 it was performed in Warsaw’s Central Theater under the direction of Zigmunt Turkov; in 1927—in Cracow and Kharkov; and in 1928 in Vinitse (Vinnytsa, Vinnytsya). It was around this time that Mendele returned to Hebrew literature. He published his story “Beseter raam” (In the secret places of thunder) in Hayom (Today)—from issue no. 41 (1886-1887)—in which he depicted with exquisite humor the period after the pogroms. This was first item in Hebrew that he published under the pen name Mendele Mokher-Sefarim. In addition he wrote a series of other stories in Hebrew and also translated into poetic form some of his work which he had earlier written in Yiddish. According to Zalmen Reyzen, he created a “new Hebrew prose style—a synthesis of all the developmental phases that the Hebrew language had experienced until his time.” At the same time, he did not stop working on his great work Dos vintshfingerl, which he had begun to publish with Sholem-Aleykhem’s Yudishe folks-biblyotek (vols. 1 and 2) and which Mendele himself liked a great deal. At the time he also proceeded to publish Ale ksovim fun mendele moykher-sforim (Collected works of Mendele Moykher-Sforim), although in this series he only published two volumes: Fishke der krumer and Di klyatshe (Odessa, 1888-1889). These works were received with enthusiasm by the just then emerging realm of Jewish literary criticism (Dovid Frishman’s review in Spektor’s Hoyzfraynd 2 and Ravnitski in Sholem-Aleykhem’s Yudishe folks-biblyotek 2). He was not lacking, however, for negative responses, such as, for example, the pamphlet by Tsodek Frumes (Y. Lerner?) in the collection Der kleyner veker (The little alarm) (Odessa, 1890). Mendele published subsequent chapters of Dos vintshfingerl in Hoyzfraynd: “A nakht in tsores” (A night of troubles) in 1894; “Di alte mayse” (The old story) in 1895, which appeared earlier in Hebrew under the title “Lo naḥat beyaakov” (There is no good in Jacob) and later in Russian in the anthology Budushchnost’ (The future) (St. Petersburg, 1900). In the Hebrew stories of the 1890s, Mendele introduced a series of characters drawn from modern Jewish life—lovers of Zion, other ethnically predisposed Jews, and simple intellectuals—but the subjects he most appreciated remained the older types from Jewish towns. With the decline in Jewish periodical publications in Russia, there was as well a four-year break in Mendele’s writings in Yiddish. Then, with the rise of Der yud (The Jew), edited by Y. Ḥ. Ravnitski, Mendele began to publish his longer autobiographical story Shloyme reb khayims (in Der yud [Warsaw-Cracow] 1-19 ). Slowly but surely, Mendele began to establish a circle of friends and followers. His home in Odessa became a kind of literary center, to which would frequently come such Jewish writers as: Ben-Ami, Y. Ḥ. Ravnitski, Menashe Margoles, Shimon Dubnov, Sh. Frug, and Sholem-Aleykhem (when he was in Odessa). In later years, they would be joined by: Ḥaim Nachman Bialik, Zalman Shneur, and many other younger writers. They would gather on Saturday evening, and Mendele would usually read something before the group from his writings or a story about events from his youth. He was a master at imitating gestures and facial expressions of different characters, whom he was describing in his work. He had as well his own original manner of thinking and speaking, and he abhorred embracing ready-made ideas and programs. In the circle of his friends, Mendele was much beloved and respected. However, he also had opponents, among them: Y. Y. Linetski and M. M. Usishkin, among others. Sholem-Aleykhem dubbed him “Der zeyde” (The grandfather) and so the moniker remained: the grandfather of Yiddish literature. Mendele’s conversations were full of knowledge, witticisms, and astuteness, and some of his friends (among them: Ben-Ami, Sholem-Aleykhem, Dr. Klausner, Y. Ḥ. Ravnitski, and Z. Shneur) wrote down portions of these conversations. The “oral Mendele” (Mendele shebaal pe), as they called them, was just as important as the written Mendele. In Der yud 26-29 (1902), Mendele published his Seyfer habeheymes (The book of beasts); and 47-52 (1902) Yisrolik der meshugener farflit in di hoykhe oylems (Yisrolik the madman flies off to the higher realms), which was a kind of sequel to Di klyatshe (in Russian translation: St. Petersburg, 1903). In Gershom Bader’s Yudisher folks-kalendar (Jewish people’s calendar) (1899), Mendele published “A sgule tsu yidishe tsores” (A remedy for Jewish troubles), an adaptation of Dr. L. Pinsker’s Autoemancipation; and in the same collection for 1903, “Korbones” (Victims) and “A frimorgn in glupsk” (One morning in Glupsk). In the anthology Hilf (Assistance), he published: “Di entdekung fun vohlin” (The discovery of Volhynia) in 1903. In Der fraynd (The friend) and the monthly Dos leben (The life) in St. Petersburg, he placed later chapters of Dos vintshfingerl, “Di groye hor” (The gray hair), “Seyfer hagilgulim” (The book of metamorphoses), and more. The pogroms of 1903 and late 1905, especially the Kishinev pogrom of 1903, had a crushing impact on Mendele. During the Odessa pogrom in 1905, he almost fell into the hands of the murderers. Because of these events, his friends’ plans to publish on his seventieth birthday all of his works in Yiddish and Hebrew did not come to fruition. At that time Mendele and his family left Russia, spent several months in Constantinople, and later lived in Geneva, Switzerland, for two years, while he prepared a comprehensive edition of his writings. Only two volumes were published then: one in Yiddish which included Dos kleyne mentshele and Fishke der krumer (a splendid edition, Odessa, 1903); and one in Hebrew. Mendele also accepted several invitations to literary evenings of the Russian-Jewish student colonies in Berne, Lausanne, and Zurich. In February 1908 he returned to Odessa and again assumed his position in the Talmud Torah. The Jewish community at the time began preparations for his seventy-fifth birthday. The Jewish publishers Sh. Shreberk and L. Lidski purchased the rights from him to publish his complete works. In 1910 the publisher “Mendele” brought out an almost complete edition of his writings in seventeen volumes. In subsequent years this edition was reissued several times, and three further volumes (one of which contained articles and essays about Mendele) added. There was a great commotion in the world of Jewish publishing in 1910 when the American “Hebrew Publishing Company”—with the permission of the author—brought out virtually all of his works in twelve volumes and distributed them over the entire world. The conduct of the American publishers made a particularly bad impression, as it came on the eve of the great festival in Jewish literature, that of Mendele’s seventy-fifth birthday. Mendele was at the time (1909) living with his daughter in Podbrodz (Pabradė), near Vilna. The reception for him in Vilna was grandiose. A special delegation soon arrived with an invitation to Warsaw, where he was ecstatically entertained by various strata of the population. With similar enthusiasm, he was also received in Lodz and in Bialystok. In December 1910 his seventy-fifth birthday and the fiftieth anniversary of his writing career were celebrated. The main festive event was held in Odessa, but Jews in all parts of the Diaspora observed the events. Thousands of telegrams from every corner of the world saluted the great Jewish master, the “grandfather of Jewish literature.” Mendele did not, after all this, cease writing. In 1911 he became ill with eczema that interfered with his work, but he was somehow cured of this disease, and he returned to work. He published several further chapters of his unfinished autobiographical work Shloyme reb khayims in both Hebrew and Yiddish—in Der fraynd (jubilee issue, 1912) and Moment (Moment) in Warsaw—and he completely reworked Haavot vehabanim; with Bialik and Ravnitski, he worked on a translation of Tanakh into Yiddish, of which only Breyshis (Bereshit, Genesis) was published (Odessa: Moriya, 1913); and planned to published a series of impressions of Jewish life and of Jewish holidays, but only the short sketch “Yom hashabat” (The Sabbath) appeared in print. In 1915 Mendele turned eighty years of age, and another major celebration would have been held, but he turned down the idea because the ongoing war. His last writings were chapters of his memoirs which were published in Di yudishe velt (The Jewish world) in Vilna (1915) and in the collection Untervegns (Pathways) in Odessa which appeared in print soon after the March 1917 Revolution in Russia, when the ban on Yiddish publishing in the Tsarist empire was lifted. Mendele responded to the February-March Revolution (1917) with fear, as one can see from his greetings to the Bund on their twentieth anniversary celebrations and to the conference of Jewish artists—published in Der yidisher artist (The Jewish artist) in Kharkov (1918). In 1916 the Mefitse haskole society in Petrograd assigned for Mendele a lifetime pension of 3,000 rubles per year, and Mendele was thus able to leave his job with the Talmud Torah. Until then he had a fresh and strong physical bearing, but in 1916 he began to bend under the burden of years. No longer able to write, he was compelled to dictate. In early 1917 he became ill, and in a short time he was almost completely paralyzed. He was transported to the Odessa Jewish hospital, where he died on the Sabbath, Kislev 23 (December 8), 1917, at 5:00 p.m. Tens of thousands of people from all strata of the Jewish community of Odessa attended his funeral (Monday, December 10). Mendele was laid to his eternal rest in the Odessa cemetery near the graves of Sh. Frug and M. L. Lilienblum, among other Jewish writers. His death aroused a general sadness through the Jewish world. Jewish newspapers in various languages published obituaries about this great man now gone. Memorial meetings were held where only Jews resided. Later, until the present day, people return at the appropriate opportunity to commemorate the creator of modern Jewish literature.
In the area of Mendele research and of literary-critical assessments of his works over the course of a century that has transpired since he published Dos kleyne mentshele in Kol mevaser, we have seen books, monographs, essays, treatments, and articles about Mendele published in the thousands, but as yet no exhaustive bibliography of all of his writings distributed over various and sundry collections, magazines, and newspapers. We shall introduce here a small portion of these treatises. The classic phrase “Mendele’s style” belongs to the pen of Ḥaim Nachman Bialik: “To create for literature a style—namely, to add once and for all firm and long-lasting forms for the feelings and thoughts of the people and thereby lighten the process of both; namely, to help the people to think and to feel; namely, to discipline its spirit, to create a form out of the inchoate, to extract gold from the rough land and smelt it into current ‘coinage’; to bequeath a ‘style’ to the people—namely, to introduce unnoticed the people into the marrow; to quietly engrave in the heart, to flow into it, and perhaps to disappear permanently in the soul…. The grandfather completed this bit of work. For over fifty years the grandfather with his eyeglasses on his sharply pointed eyelets has sat in his armchair, bent in a half arc, fiddling. For that lengthy period of time—until he fiddled out for us a language, a style—a literature.” “The style of an epoch,” wrote Shmuel Niger, “is something that one cannot impersonate. One can create it. To detect it, one must have a profound and fine-tuned sense of style. Mendele had this. Rarely among any of the Yiddish writers was style so consistent and ‘of one cast,’ as it was with Mendele.” And, on this topic, Y. L. Perets so highly valued Mendele’s style, as Dr. A. Mukdoni conveys in his book, Yitskhok leybush perets un dos yidishe teater (Yitskhok Leybush Perets and Yiddish theater) (New York, 1949): “Perets once said to me: ‘Before I sit down to write, I read through several pages of Mendele, and I am led into the very thicket of the Yiddish language. I do not imitate him, but I am absorbed and nourished by the abundance of his Yiddish. I make use of this abundance in my own manner.’” Bal-Makhshoves located the chief value of Mendele’s work in his capacity “to see in every detail the whole, in the specific the general, and he painted so ingeniously that out of every detail there shines forth the whole. And, this is something that only those who see life synthetically, for whom the flow of human existence does not disintegrate in a single drop. Only the soul immersed in the breadth of life, like a singular person who sees the world not through the spectacles of one’s own narrow, egoistic gaze, is capable of consistently seeing and feeling the larger whole, the general soul of a collective. And we can point to few before or after Abramovitsh with such a broad synthetic view of Jewish life.” In his treatment of Mendele’s position in Jewish literature, Dovid Frishman wrote that Mendele was not only the founder of Yiddish literature, but also its highest accomplishment. In his assessment of Dos vintshfingerl, Frishman argues that the work is an artistic reflection of the entirety of Jewish life in Mendele’s time. At the same time, however, Jewish critics did not fail to see artistic weaknesses as well in some of his writings. Even Shmuel Niger, who took every opportunity to praise Mendele’s artistic strengths, wrote in his analysis of Mendele’s play Der priziv that, “although Mendele had already by this time written Benyomen hashlishi and he was already more the artist than the journalist and more the humorist than the satirist, nonetheless the figure of Aleksander, just like all intellectuals of the modern generation, was artistically colorless, and only the common folk breathe with life.” Y. L. Perets himself also had a critical perspective on Mendele’s work, although he so admired his style and unqualified recognition of Mendele’s position as a classic figure in Yiddish literature. Perets believed that Mendele was unable to be the guide to Yiddish writers of the younger generation. In Perets’s view, the picture of Jewish life that Mendele painted was not always an authentic and faithful reflection of the source. Mendele understood Jewish poverty, the “great old Jewish sack,” as almost the only pattern of Jewish reality, while there were many other, more beautiful and more characteristic patterns in Jewish life. In modern times, between the two world wars as well as after the Nazi Holocaust, some critics intensified their critical approach to Mendele. Thus, for example, Yankev Glatshteyn wrote: “Mendele is an expression of the genius of the Jewish people. He is a defender of our brilliance, but that does not make him more important than the Jewish people. Mendele accelerated an epoch. He came from the Jewish Enlightenment which turned against the Jewish people with harsh contempt. Jews never deserved the chastisement directed at them by Mendele, because they were no worse, God forbid, than any other people. To the contrary, they so elevated and refined their great sufferings and anguish that, even when they were homeless and destitute in the filth of Tuneyadevke, they were always God’s children…. Fishke der krumer is a highly primitive work, and what’s more, Mendele’s Enlightenment satire in this work is played up in the most heartless manner. It is a wretched story of a poorhouse, of the underworld, of beggars, of vulgarity and obscenity, and it is even worse that the work is explained as a symbol for the ‘great sack of the Jewish people,’ as the entire Jewish people would consist of such persons. We know that Mendele’s work can easily draw one in. One should confront it with great caution.” The critical approach to Mendele of the “lovers of Israel” standpoint more recently elicited a debate in the state of Israel. A. Kariv, who launched the debate, claimed that one should not study Mendele in the schools of Israel, for what he summons for students is repugnant with respect to Diaspora Jewry. One Soviet Jewish literary critic had a special connection to Mendele’s literary behest. She stressed mainly the social moments, for which Mendele’s works are so rich. The Soviet Yiddish literary scholar M. Viner (Weiner) worked on various aspects of Mendele’s writings. In his essay, “Mendele un di traditsyes fun der velt-literatur” (Mendele and traditions of world literature), he pointed out marked influences of the classical authors of world literature, such as: Cervantes, Gogol, Hugo, Dickens, and others on Mendele’s work. “In his writings about the masses,” noted Viner, “Mendele strove for a higher level. With fine artistic taste he sought out in the Russian and European literary traditions those most appropriate to his ends, although he transformed everything into an ethnically specific, deeply original, and in a heartfelt, masterful manner. In his best work, Mendele had not only what pertained to ideas but also what pertained to the internal fabric of a plot and story to introduce admirable ‘European’ traditions. He ‘Europeanized’ his style in the best sense of the word, not superficially ‘modern,’ but profoundly internal, for his ‘Europeanization’ he selected the most difficult route—organic ‘Europeanization.’” In his general appreciation of Mendele’s place in Jewish literature (in his first essay about Mendele, published in Der yud in 1901), Bal-Makhshoves wrote: “Mendele is of the greatest talent to which Jewish literature in Russia can attest over the last generations. What he has written is written with a divine pen, which with a fiery zest was created on the six days of Creation. No one before him painted images of Jewish life as he did. And, the paint brush he used to paint was as thin as a hair that is capable of conveying the finest line, the thinnest dot.” Zalmen Reyzen finished his very detailed biography in volume 1 of his Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur (Biographical dictionary of modern Yiddish literature) with a summing up, from which I offer a few fragments:
Abramovitsh occupies the first position in Yiddish literature. He was not only the great, original Yiddish writer who drew from the deepest wellsprings—from the life and the culture of the people and from nature; he was overall the first great artist in Yiddish. Insofar as Yiddish literature existed before Abramovitsh, with insignificant exceptions, it had exalted religious or didactic goals. Abramovitsh, although he also wished to effect certain tendencies, ultimately he overcame the inclinations of his generation and elevated Yiddish literature from its primitive condition to a higher level of pure artistic creation…. He understood from the outset that the reasons for Jewish poverty and want were far deeper than his contemporaries among the followers of the Jewish Enlightenment, who explained all troubles of Jewish life by the ignorance and lack of education of the Jewish masses. Already in [Dos] kleyne mentshele and more vividly in Di takse, Abramovitsh shows us the internal, social injustice in Jewish life…. Abramovitsh may have laughed at the awkward manifestations in the life of the Jewish people, but his laughter is a bitter laughter; through his incomparably biting humor, he pushed through a great compassion and profound love for the dreadful loneliness of his people…. We are indebted to Abramovitsh as the first pure and truly artistic descriptors of nature in Yiddish literature; with him all of nature acquired a Jewish face; he painted it in purely Jewish folk images and metaphors; his landscapes thus excelled with their classically simple and exquisite expressiveness. Through his depictions of nature, Abramovitsh demonstrated that the Yiddish language possesses such means of expression for the mute, living nature, of which one would not even have dreamed…. Born in Lithuania, lived for many years in Volhynia and southern Russia, blessed with a stunning linguistic instinct, he created the classical Yiddish prose style on the foundations of our principal dialects, making use to a wide extent of the linguistic riches of the old Jewish folk literature.
Sources: Mendele’s complete works in Yiddish were over the course of the last fifty years published in a number of different editions in various countries and cities. The first such was brought out by the publisher “Mendele” on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday in 1910-1911 (published at the same time in Warsaw, Cracow, and Vilna). Initially it was reckoned to be seventeen volumes, but as the years went by, it grew and the same publisher brought it out in Warsaw (1913) in twenty volumes, in 1928 in twenty-two volumes. The contents ran as follows: 1. Biography (by Y. Ḥ. Ravnitski), “Di alte mayse,” Seyfer habeheymes, and “Seyfer hagilgulim”; 2. “In yener tsayt” (At that time) and Shloyme reb khayims; 3. Di klyatshe; 4. Dos yudel; 5. Di takse, Antedekung fun vohlin, and A shtot in mizrekh-vant (A city by the eastern wall); 6. Dos kleyne mentshele; 7. Dos vintshfingerl; 8. Beemek habakha (the second part of Dos vintshfingerl); 9. Der priziv and “A groye hor”; 10. Masoes benyomen hashlishi and Shem un yafes in vagon (Shem and Yaphet in a wagon); 11. Fishke der krumer; 12. Der luftbalon; 13. Peyrek shire; 14. Shabes un yontef (Sabbath and holidays); 15. In der yeshive shel mayle (In the yeshiva in heaven) and Di nisrofim (Those who lost everything in a fire); 16. In a shturem-tsayt (In a violent time) and Tsurik aheym (Back home); 17. Kritik iber Mendele moykher-sforim (Critics on Mendele Moykher-Sforim); 18. Eltern un kinder (Parents and children); 19. Mayn lebn (My life), fourteen new chapters for Shloyme reb khayims, which brings Mendele’s autobiography up to his student years in Slutsk, and “Fun mayn seyfer zikhroynes” (From my book of memoirs), translated from Hebrew by B. Eplboym, although it is Mendele’s own translation in Di yudishe velt 1 (1915), and “Shtrikhn tsu mayn byografye” (Features of my biography), translated by B. Eplboym from Sokolov’s Sefer zikaron (Volume of memoirs), pp. 117-26; 20. Zikhroynes vegn mendelen (Memories of Mendele); 21. Mayses vegn mendelen (Stories about Mendele), collected by Nakhmen Mayzil; 22. Der mendele-turem (The Mendele tower), collected by Nakhmen Mayzil. At about the same time in the United States, the large edition of the Hebrew Publishing Company published in twelve volumes. This was not the first edition in America. In 1898-1900 two Jewish publishers in New York (Yankev Sapirshteyn and L. Verzhbelovski) competed to bring out all of Mendele’s writings, but they were unsuccessful in this; both nonetheless published several volumes by Mendele. In subsequent years the Hebrew Publishing Company on several occasions brought out new editions of Mendele’s work. Over the years 1946-1949, IKUF (Jewish Cultural Association) in New York published Mendele’s Geklibene verk (Selected works) in five volumes: 1. Dos kleyne mentshele; 2. Di takse, Di klyatshe, and Masoes benyomen hashlishi; 3. Fishke der krumer and Der priziv; 4. Dos vintshfingerl; 5. Tsurik aheym, Di alte mayse, Shem un yafes in vagon, Beyeshive shel mayle un beyeshive shel mate (In the yeshiva in heaven and in the yeshiva on earth), In der shturem-tsayṭ, Beshas der mehume (During the turmoil), Di nisrofim, Seyfer hagilgulim, and A shtot in mizrekh-vant. In Soviet Russia, Mendele’s Gezamlte verk (Collected writings) were published in: 1918 (St. Petersburg); and 1937-1940 (Moscow: Emes). One-off editions include: the made-for-school volumes brought out by Kultur-lige (Culture league) in Warsaw (1921)—Masoes benyomen hashlishi, 98 pp., and Dos kelbl (The little calf), 14 pp., with illustrations by Yoysef Tshaykov; Fun zeydns kval, fir stsenirungen (From Grandfather wellspring, four dramatizations) (Buenos Aires, 1927), 79 pp.; Dos vintshfingerl (Kiev, 1927), 213 pp.; Amolike bale-toyves, stsenes fun “Der takse” (Benefactors of yore, scenes from Der takse), adapted for a school performance by Sh. Bastomski (Vilna, 1928); Fishke der krumer (with a foreword by M. Viner) (Kiev, 1929), 214 pp.; Dos vintshfingerl (Kiev, 1930), 2 volumes; Kleyn mendele: ṭipn, bilder, dertseylungen un gleykhvertlakh (The shortened Mendele: Types, images, stories, and aphorisms), compiled and edited by Joseph Kaitz (New York, 1931), 208 pp.; Di nisrofim and other stories (Warsaw, 1936); Mendele-zamlbukh (Mendele collection), easy-to-transport reader, compiled by Sh. Bastomski (Vilna, 1936), 46 pp.; Geklibene verk in eyn band (Selected works in one volume) (Kiev, 1936), 491 pp.; Dos vintshfingerl (Moscow, 1937); Masoes benyomen hashlishi, incomplete, illustrations by A. Gorshman (Moscow: Emes, 1948), 175 pp.; Fishke der krumer, shortened and elucidated by A. Goldberg (New York, 1951), 96 pp.; Oysgeveylte shriftn (Selected writings), edited by Meyer Risfler (Bucharest, 1956), 658 pp.; Masoes benyomen hashlishi, mendele un zayn epokhe, fragmentn fun forsh-arbetn tsu der kharakteristik (The travels of Benjamin III, Mendele and his epoch, fragments of research on its character), edited by Shmuel Rozhanski, bibliography by Yefim Yeshurin (Buenos Aires: Argentinian division of the World Jewish Culture Congress, 1958), 251 pp.; and many more.
In Hebrew: Kol kitve mendele mokher-sefarim, vol. 1 (Cracow: Vaad hayovel, 1909), vol. 2 (Odessa, 1910), vol. 3 (Odessa, 1912), including: 1. Sefer hakabtsanim and Beemek habakha; 2. Susati (My steed), Masaot binyamin hashelishi (The travels of Benjamin III), Bayamim hahem (In those days), with a foreword by D. Frishman; 3. Beseter raam, Lo naḥat beyaakov, Shem veyafet baagala (Shem and Yaphet in a wagon), Biyeme haraash (In the days of tumult), Beyeshiva shel mala uveyeshiva shel mata (In the yeshiva in heaven and in the yeshiva on earth), Hanisrafim (Those who lost everything in a fire), Ḥagim vezamanim (Holidays and festivals), Sefer habehemot (The books of beasts), and Haavot vehabanim (Fathers and sons). Later editions of Mendele’s collected writings in Hebrew were published: by Moriah in Jerusalem-Berlin (1922) in seven volumes; and by Devir in Tel Aviv (1929) in two volumes: 1. Sefer hakabtsanim and Masaot binyamin hashelishi; and 2. Bayamim hahem and Misefer hazikhronot (From my book of memoirs). In America the publishing house Kadimah brought out Susati (New York, 1918), 136 pp. More recent editions of his writings in Hebrew would include: Limdu hetev, with introduction, notes, and supplements by Dan Miron (New York: YIVO, 1969), viii + 75 + 125 + vii pp.; Haishon hakatan—Dos kleyne mentshele (The little fellow) (Tel Aviv, 1984), 139 pp., translated with a lengthy introduction by Shalom Luria.
In Russian, the publishing house Sovremennie Problemy (Contemporary issues) undertook an edition of Abramovitsh’s works, of which only V dolinie placha (In the valley of tears), translated by Y. Pinus and A. Derman, with a translated article by Dr. Eliashev as an introduction (Moscow, 1912), 240 pp.; this edition was continued by L. Stoliar and also brought out Kliacha, translated by Y. Pinus and edited by Sh. Vermel (Moscow, 1913), 214 pp., and Fishka khromoi (Fishke the lame); a translation of Fishke der krumer was also published by Semeinaia Biblioteka (Family library) in 1903. Also translated (by D. Yofe) was Chelovechek (The little fellow), in Evreiskii Yezhegodnik (Jewish yearbook) (1901/1902); Sim i yafet (Shem and Yaphet), in Zhizn’ (1899); V dni smiatenia (In the days of tumult) and Pogoreltsy (Those who lost everything in a fire), in Voskhod (1901); and many more.
There are as well translations of Mendele’s works into other languages. Di klyatshe was published by the English division of the newspaper Di yidishe velt (The Jewish world) and into German in Israelit. Fishke der krumer was published in book form by Helikon in Berlin, with sixteen artworks by Rachel Szalit-Marcus. Fragments were also included in anthologies by Zlatsisti (?) in German, in French by Blumenfeld and Fleg, in English by Helen Frank, and into Spanish by Resnik. (Translator’s note: This is only the tip of the iceberg; far more now exists in translations into these and many other languages—JAF.)
Writings about Mendele: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1, with a bibliography; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934), with a bibliography; Bikher-velt (Kiev) 1 (1919); a greater number of writings may be found in “Kritik iber mendelen” (Criticism of Mendele), in volume 13 of Ale verk fun mendele moykher-sforim (Cracow, 1911; volume 17 in later editions), including articles by D. Frishman, Bal-Makhshoves, Shmuel Niger, Ḥ. N. Bialik, Y. Fikhman, Dr. A. Mukdoni, Sholem-Aleykhem, and Avrom Reyzen; in the volume Der mendele turem of the 1928 edition of Ale verk, as well as in other volumes, may be found further articles by Sh. An-ski, Sholem Asch, Ḥ. N. Bialik, Ben-Ami, M. Y. Berditshevski, A. M. Fuks, Y. D. Berkovitsh, Bar-Marvi, R. Brainin, Sh. Ginzburg, Sh. Gorelik, Sh. Dubnov, Y. Dinezon, Kh. Tshemerinski, N. Mayzil, M. Nadir, Mortkhe Spektor, B. Eplboym, Noyekh Prilucki, Sh. L. Tsitron, and Y. Dobrushin, among others. Individual monographs and collections about Mendele: A. Abtshuk, Mendele moykher-sforim, zayn lebn un zayne verk (Mendele, the bookseller, his life and work) (Kiev, 1927), 47 pp.; N. Abramovitsh and Al. Dobrin-Abromovitsh, Der zeyde tsvishn eygene un fremde, zikhroynes fun mendeles tekhter (Grandfather among his own and others, memoirs of Mendele’s daughters) (Warsaw, 1928), 64 pp.; Mendele un zayn tsayt (Mendele and his times), anthology (Moscow, 1940), with articles by N. Oyslender, Sh. Borovoy, A. Binshtok, A. Gurshteyn, A. Vorobaytshik, A. Yuditski, A. Lev, Kh. Lerner, and Y. Riminik, among others; Shmuel Rozenfeld, ed., Mendele moykher-sforim, tsu zayn 75 yorigen yubiley, zamel-bukh (Mendele Moykher-Sforim, on his seventy-fifth birthday, an anthology) (Warsaw: Fraynd, 1910), 103 pp., with articles by Y. L. Perets, Y. Ḥ. Ravnitski, Sholem Asch, A. Vayter, D. Eynhorn, Bal-Makhshoves, Dr. A. Mukdoni, Ḥ. N. Bialik, H. D. Nomberg, Kh. Tshemerinski, and Sh. Rozenfeld; Noyekh Prilucki, Sholem-yankev abramovitsh (Sholem-Yankev Abramovitsh) (Warsaw, 1920), 189 pp.; Zalmen Reyzen, Mendele moykher-sforim, zayn lebn un verk (Mendele Moykher-Sforim, his life and work), for children (Vilna, 1918), 42 pp.; Zalmen Shneur, Fun dem zeydns kval (From the grandfather’s wellspring) (Berlin, 1922); Bal-Makhshoves, Geklibene shriftn (Selected works), vol. 1 (Vilna, 1910), vols. 3 and 4 (Vilna, 1923); Bal Makhshoves, Geklibene shriftn (New York: L. M. Shteyn folks-biblyotek, World Jewish Culture Congress, 1953); M. Gross-Zimerman, Mendele moykher-sforim, fragmenten vegen zayn literarisher perzenlikhkayt (Mendele Moykher-Sforim, fragments concerning his literary personality) (Vienna, 1920), 92 pp.; M. Viner, Tsu der geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur in 19-tn yorhundert (etyudn un materyaln) (On the history of Yiddish literature in the nineteenth century, studies and materials), vols. 1 and 2 (Kiev, 1940; New York, 1945); Mani Leib, Mendele moykher sforim (sholem yankev abramovitsh), biografye tsu zayn 100-yerikn geburtstog (Mendele Moykher-Sforim, Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh, biography on his 100th birthday), a biography for children (New York: Sholem-Aleykhem Schools, 1936), 32 pp.; Shmuel Niger, Tsum tsentn yortsayt nokh mendele moykher seforim (sholem yankev abramovitsh), a kurtse bashraybung fun mendeles lebn (On the tenth anniversary of the death of Mendele Moykher-Sforim [Sholem-Yankev Abramovitsh], a short description of Mendele’s life) (New York, 1928), 63 pp.; Niger, Mendele moykher-sforim (Mendele Moykher-Sforim) (Chicago, 1936), 319 pp.; Sh. Rapaport, Mendele un der mentsh fun folk (Mendele and the man of the people) (Toronto, 1955), 77 pp.; Moyshe Shalit, Mendele-sholem-aleykhem-perets (Mendele, Sholem-Aleykhem, Perets) (Vilna, 1920); Nakhmen Mayzil, comp., Dos mendele bukh, briv un oytobiografishe notitisn (The Mendele volume, letters and autobiographical notes) (New York, 1959), 512 pp. Monographs and anthologies in Hebrew: Kol kitve mendele mokher-sefarim (Berlin, 1922), vol. 7, contains articles by Y. Ḥ. Ravnitski, Ḥ. N. Bialik, D. Frishman, Ben-Ami, Sholem-Aleykhem, R. Brainin, Z. Epshteyn, Dr. Y. Klausner, Y. A. Lubitski, M. Ts. Faytelzon, and B. Eplboym, among others (some of the articles in vol. 7 of Kol kitve were published earlier in the Hebrew-language collection Mendele mokher sefarim [Mondele Moykher-Sforim], Odessa, 1919, 242 pp.); Aharon Ben-Or, Shiurim betoldot hasifrut haivrit haḥadasha (Lessons in the history of modern Hebrew literature), vol. 2 (Warsaw, 1927; Tel Aviv, 1945); R. Omri (Faygenberg), Susati shel mendele (My steed, by Mendele) (Tel Aviv, 1950), 36 pp.; Y. Fikhman, “Mendele,” in Amat habinyan, sofre odesa (The builder’s cubit, Odessa writers) (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1951); Dr. M. Rabinzon, Sifrutenu haḥadasha (Our new literature) (Vilna, 1922), pp. 113-42; Yefim Yeshurin, Mendele bibliography, in Masoes benyomen hashlishi, mendele un zayn epokhe, fragmentn fun forsh-arbetn tsu der kharakteristik, ed. Sh. Rozhanski (Buenos Aires, 1958), including 625 entries; Yona David, Mendele mokher sefarim babikoret haivrit, bibliografiya (Mendele Moykher-Sforim in Hebrew criticism, bibliography) (Jerusalem, 1961/1962), 17 pp.; Y. Likhtenboym, Sofre yisrael, masot (Writers of Israel, essays) (Tel Aviv, 1959); E. R. Malachi, “Hundert yor kol mevaser” (One hundred years of Kol mavaser), in Yidisher bukh almanakh (Yiddish book almanac) (New York, 1961/1962); Avraham Shaanan, Hasifrut haivrit haḥadasha lizeramenha (Modern Hebrew literature and its currents), vol. 2 (Tel Aviv: Masada, 1962); Algemeyne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia), “Yidn 3” (New York, 1942); Symcha Pietruszka, Yidishe folks-entsiklopedye (Jewish people’s encyclopedia), vol. 1 (Warsaw, 1932), vol. 2 (Montreal, 1943); Eshkol, entsiklopediya yisraelit (Cluster of grapes: Encyclopedia Judaica), vol. 1 (Berlin-Jerusalem, 1929); Joseph Klausner, Historiya shel hasifrut haivrit haḥadasha (History of modern Hebrew literature), vol. 5 (Jerusalem, 1949), vol. 6 (1950), vols. 1 and 2 (1952), vol. 3 (1953), vol. 4 (1954); Leo Wiener, The History of Yiddish Literature in the 19th Century (London, 1899); Meyer Waxman, “Mendele Mocher Seforim,” in his History of Jewish Literature (New York, 1941); The Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 1 (New York-London, 1901-1912); Encyclopédie de la Pléiade, vol. 2 (Paris, 1956); Cassell’s Encyclopedia of World Literature, vols. 1 and 2 (New York, 1953); The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 1 (New York, 1939); Literaturnaia Entsiklopediia (Literary encyclopedia), vol. 4 (Moscow, 1934). Many works about Mendele were published in other biographical dictionaries and anthologies in a variety of languages, in addition to a great many articles and essays in newspapers and periodicals concerning him. In 1963-1964, on the centenary of the publication of Dos kleyne mentshele in Kol mevaser, many articles appeared in the press about Mendele. And, in connection with the anniversary conducted in Warsaw, “Di troymer fun kabtsansk” (The dreamers from Kabtsansk), works by Mendele, were dramatized on the stage under the direction of Ester-Rokhl Kaminska; Sh. Rabinovitsh, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (December 11, 1964); Yankev Glatshteyn, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (December 11, 1964); Micah Joseph Berdichevsky, Ketavim yehudiyim meet karov raḥok (Hebrew writings from near and far) (Tel Aviv, 1964), pp. 223-24; Irme Druker, Der zeyde mendele (Grandfather Mendele) (Warsaw: Yidish bukh, 1964); A. Kvaterko, in Morgn-frayhayt (December 27, 1964); M. Rabinovitsh, Ḥol umoed (Jerusalem, 1964/1965), pp. 175-78.
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 380.]
(Translator’s note. After this entry was first published ca. 1965, an extraordinary study of Mendele and his work appeared in English, which I would be remiss in not mentioning: Dan Miron, A Traveler Disguised: A Study in the Rise of Modern Yiddish Fiction in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Schocken Books, 1973), xv + 347 pp.—JAF.)
 Translator’s note. There is a recent French translation as well: La haridelle ou Détresse des animaux (Paris: Medem, 2008), 295 pp. (JAF)
 Mendele first published “A sgule tsu yidishe tsores” in 1884 in his Nitslekher kalendar (Useful calendar). That same year this piece in pamphlet form appeared as an offprint. In the version which Mendele published in Gershom Bader’s Yudisher folks-kalendar, he left out several pages of the first version.