NOKHUM-YANKEV NIR-RAFALKES (NAḤUM NIR) (March 18, 1884-July 10, 1968)
He was born in Warsaw, Poland. His father Moyshe had been ordained as a rabbi, was an early Zionist, had built a school “Moriya” in Warsaw, worked for thirty years as a manufacturer, and later joined the organization “Menuḥa venaḥala” (Rest and estate), which established the colony of Rehovot in the land of Israel. His mother hailed from generations of rabbis. Nir-Rafalkes attended a religious elementary school in which Russian was taught, until age fifteen studied Tanakh and Talmud, and later (against the wishes of his father) entered the sixth class of high school from which he graduated in 1902. He studied natural science at Warsaw University. In 1905 he was expelled for taking part in a student strike and other political offenses. He studied for a semester in Zurich, Switzerland, and then in September 1905 returned to Warsaw. In late 1906 he entered the department of natural science at St. Petersburg University and graduated in 1907. He went on to study law at Dorpat (Yuryev), Estonia, and received his doctoral degree. Over the years 1908-1917, he practiced as a lawyer in Warsaw and later in St. Petersburg. From 1920 he spent two years studying in Vienna. His work within the community began during his high school years. He was one of the leaders of “Jewish Fellowship of High School Students and Realists,” which was founded by Bronisław Grosser, H. Erlikh, and others. This was an organization that attended to financial assistance for all Jewish pupils, who due to the Jewish quotas, were unable to enroll in Russian universities and had perforce to study abroad. In 1903 he joined the student association Kadima (Onwards) which was tied to the Zionist “Democratic Fraction” (with Dr. Chaim Weizmann, Leon Motzkin, and others). He attended as a guest the fifteenth Zionist Congress (the famed Uganda one). He participated in later congresses as a selected delegate. In September 1905 he joined the bloc of Labor Zionists. At the time of the pogroms in Russia, he was active in Jewish self-defense. Together with Ber Borokhov, Y. Zerubavel, Yitskhok Ben-Tsvi, Aleksander Khashin, Y. Tabenkin, and others, in 1906 he called a conference in Grodno to lay the groundwork for the ideology of the Labor Zionist movement. He and some forty other socialist Zionists were arrested. At the first world conference of Labor Zionism in The Hague, he was coopted onto the leadership of the movement. His activities encompassed Russia, Poland, Austria, and the Scandinavian countries. He spent January-April 1906 imprisoned in the Modlin Fortress in Warsaw. Over the years 1907-1915, he withdrew from the movement, but in 1918 he again became active, joined the central committee of the Labor Zionists party, was a candidate in 1919 to the founding Sejm in Poland, and was elected to the Warsaw city council. When the Labor Zionist party split apart after WWI, he joined the leftists. In 1925 he made aliya to the land of Israel, and in 1948 he was selected as a member of “Moetset haam” (Provisional State Council, the first provisional Jewish government). He served as one of the deputy speakers of the first and third Knessets, chaired the Construction Committee, and on March 12, 1959 was elected speaker of the third Knesset. In his partisan community work, he was active as well as a writer and editor. In 1906 he—with Ben-Tsien Raskin and Froym Blumenfeld—published two issues of the illegal serial Dos yidishe arbeter-velt (The world of Jewish labor). From March 1917 to March 1918, he edited in Petrograd the central organ of the Labor Zionists in Russia, Evreiskaia rabochaia khronika (Jewish labor chronicle)—some thirty-four issues. He wrote for party newspapers in Poland’s Arbeter-tsaytung (Labor newspaper), Der yunger kemfer (The young fighter), and Fraye yugnt (Free youth)—in Warsaw; the German-Jewish Freie Tribüne (Free tribune) in Vienna; Der yudisher sotsyalist (The Jewish socialist) in Brunn; Arbeter-tsaytung in Kovno; Idisher kemfer (Jewish fighter), Di tsukunft (The future), Proletarisher gedank (Proletarian idea), and Di tsayt (The times)—in New York; Unzer veg (Our way) in London; Nakanune (On the eve) in Russian (1921); Naye tsayt (New times), Arbeter-vort (Workers’ word), Di prese (The press), and Pinkes varshe (Records of Warsaw)—in Buenos Aires; Oyfgang (Arise) and Folksblat (People’s newspaper) in Lemberg; Frayhayt (Freedom) in Czernowitz; Emes (Truth), Haadama (The earth), Nay-velt (New world), Derekh hapoal (The way of labor), Davar (Word), Al hamishmar (On guard), and Lemerḥav (Into the open), among others, in Israel. He also wrote reviews for Bikher-velt (Book world) in Warsaw, and he published in Royter pinkes (Red records), no. 2, an article on the rise of labor in Poland. He also took part in the struggle on behalf of Yiddish in Israel. Over the years 1928-1958, he was chair of the Yiddish Literary and Journalists’ Club in Tel Aviv, which published the magazines: Eyns (One), Tsvishn eyns un tsvey (Between one and two), and Tsvey biz finf (Two to five). He edited the Labor Zionist organ Nay-velt (founded in 1934 in Tel Aviv) over the course of many years, and later Folksblat in Tel Aviv which commenced publication on November 28, 1958. His book-length works include: Rusland unter raten-regirung (oktober 1917-detsember 1918) (Russia under the red government, October 1917-December 1918) (Warsaw, 1919), 78 pp.; Di landvirtshaftlikhe kvutses in erets yisroel in yor 1920 (Agricultural collectives in the land of Israel in 1920) (Vienna: Labor Zionist Bureau, Palestine Labor Association, 1921), 40 pp.; Der poyle-tsienizm, a populere balaykhtung (Labor Zionism, a popular explanation) (Vienna: Central Committee, Labor Zionists of Argentina, 1922), 44 pp.; Di geshikhte fun sotsyalizm (The history of socialism), vol. 1, from ancient times until after the French Revolution (Cracow: Yugnt-fon, 1923), 146 pp.; Palestina in tsifern, di virtshaflekhe antviklung far di letste yorn (Palestine in figures, economic growth over recent years) (Warsaw: Naye kultur, 1927), 87 pp., including 51 tables; Virtshaft un politik in erets yisroel (Economy and politics in the land of Israel) (Warsaw, 1930), 134 pp.; Leningrad, dem heylikn ondenk fun mayne khaverim in borokhov-batalyon gevidmet (Leningrad, dedicated to the sacred memory of my comrades in the Borokhov battalion) (Tel Aviv, 1942), 97 pp.; with Y. Rozen and M. Erem, Ḥativat poale-tsiyon im mapam (The split between Labor Zionists and Mapam) (Tel Aviv, n.d.), 46 pp.; Pirke ḥayim, bemagele hador vehatenuah, 1884-1918 (Periods of life, in the course of the generation and the movement, 1884-1918) (Tel Aviv: Kibbutz Meuḥad, 1958), 298 pp.; Ershte yorn, in rod fun dor un bavegung (First years, in the course of the generation and the movement), translated from Hebrew by Y. Bregman (Tel Aviv: Perets Library, 1960), 414 pp.; Vanderungen (Wanderings) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1966), 400 pp. His edited works include: Vayter, y. opatoshu dem groysen shrayber un kemfer far yidish, tsum fertl yorhundert fun zayn shafn gevidmet (Further, dedicated to Y. Opatoshu, the great writer and fighter for Yiddish, on the quarter-century of his writings) (Tel Aviv: Yiddish Literary and Journalists’ Club, 1935), 90 pp.; Bleter tsum ondenk fun l. malakh (Pages in remembrance of L. Malakh) (Tel Aviv: Yiddish Literary and Journalists’ Club, 1936), 72 pp. He also wrote under such pen names as: A. Shavski, Tre-eser, and Sh. (N.) Broder. He made a circuit (1958-1959) through South and North America. He died in Tel Aviv. “In the 1930s, when he was editing and publishing the newspaper Nay-velt,” wrote Y. Abramson, “when the opposition to Yiddish in the land of Israel found expression in an open, physical eruption on the part of a bunch of fanatics from ‘Gedud megine hasafa’ (Battalion for the defense of the language) did not stop at throwing a bomb in the publishing house where newspapers were published with the Yiddish letters. Nir-Rafalkes, however, was frightened off by nothing, but persistently he led his fight for the rights of Yiddish in the land of Israel. He did not yield his position even when he was excluded by his colleagues from the organization of lawyers…. To him fell the honor to assume the high position of speaker of the Knesset following the death of the popular and beloved first speaker, Yosef Shprinzak. There arose at that time a passionate struggle. His opponent was a representative from a stronger party, but the political opponents appreciated his competence, his proficiency in legislation, his innately agile orientation, his tact, his insight into the opposing side, and mainly his indefatigable energy and organizational ability, and created the ‘Nir Coalition’ which gave him the possibility to be elected speaker of the Knesset, carrying out the dignified post with honor and tactfulness.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; D. Tidhar, in Entsiklopedyah leḥalutse hayishuv uvonav (Encyclopedia of the pioneers and builders of the yishuv), vol. 4 (Tel Aviv, 1950), pp. 1605-7; B. Tsvien, in Forverts (New York) (December 15, 1934); Dr. Yisroel Rubin, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) 23 (1934); M. Kats, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (February 2, 1935); D. Perski, in Hadoar (New York) (February 8, 1935); A. Tishbi, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (September 14, 1951; September 30, 1951); Y. Zerubavel, in Undzer veg (New York) (May 1, 1954); Kh. Sh. Kazdan, Fun kheyder un shkoles biz tsisho (From religious and secular primary schools to Tsisho) (Mexico City, 1956), see index; Dr. L. Zhitnitski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (September 22, 1957); M. Unger, in Der tog (New York) (December 1957); M. Ravitsh, Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), vol. 3 (Montreal, 1958), p. 450; A. Asa, in Haarets (Tel Aviv) (March 29, 1958); D. Flinker, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (March 11, 1959); Sh. Rozenfeld, in Forverts (March 11, 1959); Sh. Z. Shragai, in Der idisher zhurnal (Toronto) (March 12, 1959); B. Tsukerman, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (March 27, 1959); Sh. Izban, in Der amerikaner (New York) (July 3, 1959); Y. Abramson, in Idishe tsaytung (Buenos Aires) (September 6, 1963); Abramson, in Der idisher zhurnal (October 25, 1963); Y. Tiberg, M. Shner, and M. Eres, in Undzer veg (April 1964).
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 391.]