DOV-BER NATANZON (BERNHARD NATHANSON) (April 22, 1832-February 2, 1916)
The nephew of Yitsḥak-Ber Levinsohn (Ribal), he was born in Satanov (Sataniv), Podolia, into a well-to-do family. He studied in religious elementary school and yeshivas, as well as with private tutors. In 1850 he received ordination into the rabbinate, but under the influence of the Jewish Enlightenment, he made up his mind to turn his attention to secular education. In 1853 he moved to Odessa and worked there until 1870 as a Hebrew teacher, later (until 1875) he lived in Kishinev. From 1875 until his death, he lived in Lodz and was involved in business. At the same time he was active in the Enlightenment movement. Smitten with the writings of the Ribal, he was determined to publish the Ribal’s writings, to which he added his own annotations. His own writing activities began with an article “Letora veleteuda” (Torah and testimony) in Hamagid (The preacher) in Lik (1864); later, he served as the Odessa, Kishinev, and Warsaw correspondent for Hamelits (The observer) in St. Petersburg, in which he also published stories and impressions of Jewish life. He also contributed to Hatsfira (The siren) and Hayom (Today) in St. Petersburg, among other serials. His book Zikhronot lekorot odesa (Memories from events in Odessa) (Odessa, 1870), 149 pp., established his name among the writers of his generation. He later published: Maarekhet sifre-kodesh (System of Holy Scriptures) (Odessa, 1871), 148 pp.; Sefer hazikhronot lerabi yitsḥak-ber levinzon (The memoirs of Rabbi Yitsḥak-Ber Levinsohn) (Warsaw, 1876), 182 pp., with subsequent editions (1880, 1890, 1900); and Sefer hamilim (Lexicon) (Warsaw, 1900), 148 pp.; among others. Until 1888 he wrote nothing in Yiddish, but that year, when Sholem-Aleykhem was selecting material for his Yudishe folks-biblyotek (Jewish people’s library), he invited Natanzon to provide him with the Ribal’s Di hefker-velt (The wanton world), which had not been published until that time, and he added a biography of Yitsḥak-Ber Levensohn. Natanzon did this, and Sholem-Aleykhem in the first volume of Yudishe biblyotek (Kiev, 1888) published both items, together with Natazon’s accompanying letter to Sholem-Aleykhem. That letter reads as follows: “Dear Mr. Sholem-Aleykhem: Your request that I inform you with something biographical of our celebrated, learned Yitsḥak-Ber Levinsohn, may his memory be for a blessing, was a bit difficult for me, for I have been removed from writing in zhargon [Yiddish], but having no wish to reject the request and the opportunity to send you Di hefker-velt, which you requested of me, to place it in your collection, I shall write something of his life, taken from various sources.” Both the biography (“Di lebens beshaybung fun r’ yitskhok-ber levinzohn” [The biography of R. Yitsḥak-Ber Levinsohn]) and Ribal’s Di hefker-velt were subsequent also published in a separate work by Natanzon. He also later published other works in Yiddish and published in book form. Among the booklets of Harkavi’s St. Petersburg anthology, which Professor Viner presented to Harvard University, is Di papirene brik velkhe fihrt tsu dray ertseylungen (The paper bridge which leads to three stories) (Warsaw, 1891), 90 pp., second edition (1894). He died in Warsaw.
Sources: N. Sokolov, Sefer zikaron (Volume of memoirs) (Warsaw, 1889), p. 73; B. Ts. Ayzenshtadt, Dor rabanav vesofrav (A generation of rabbis and authors) (Vilna, 1905); M. Nyepomnyashtshi, in Tsaytshrift (Kiev) 2-3 (1928), pp. 779-84; Dr. Joseph Klausner, Historiya shel hasifrut haivrit haḥadasha (History of modern Hebrew literature) (Jerusalem, 1950); Bet eked sefarim; The Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 4 (London); Jüdisches Lexikon (Jewish encyclopedia) (Berlin, 1930).
Khayim Leyb Fuks