ESTER ELYASHEV (October 5, 1878-May 2, 1941)
The younger sister of Isador Elyashev (Bal-Makhshoves), she was born in Kovno, Lithuania. From age seven to eighteen, she studied Hebrew, German, and French. In 1895 she graduated from a Russian Jewish primary school. From 1901 she was studying philosophy in Leipzig with Wilhelm Wundt, in Heidelberg with Kuno Fischer and Wilhelm Windelband, and in Berne with Ludwig Stein. In 1906 she received her doctoral degree for a dissertation on the anti-psychological basis for “understanding” (Erkenntnis). She continued studying philosophy and the history of political economy in Heidelberg. She also studied philosophy (1913-1915) at the Second St. Petersburg University (formerly, the Bestuzhev courses [higher educational courses for women in St. Petersburg]) and received a Russian university diploma. As a Russian citizen she was interned for four months by the Germans during WWI. She returned to St. Petersburg, worked for ORT (Association for the Promotion of Skilled Trades), after the October Revolution in the Commissariat for Public Education, and from 1919 at the Russian-Jewish university (later, “Institute of Higher Jewish Learning”), where she gave lectures on the methodology of the humanities with a seminar. In 1921 she moved to Kovno and helped to organize the “higher Jewish courses,” where she served as dean of the humanities division. The “higher Jewish courses” were reorganized in early 1926 into the Jewish People’s University, where she taught such courses as: “Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge” and “The Problem of Personality and Life in Shakespeare.” As a representative of the Jewish Folks-partey, she was active in the “advisory board” of the Jewish Sejm faction in Kovno. She debuted in print as a writer in 1910 in Ludwig Stein’s Berner Studien (Berne studies), vol. 7, with a work in German: “The Conditions of Modern Psychologism and Kant’s Point of Departure.” Together with Borekh Stolpner, she compiled a Filosofskii slovar’ (Philosophical dictionary), 2 volumes (St. Petersburg: Brockhaus-Efron, 1911), in which—aside from the revisions of the sections on logic and the theory of knowledge—she wrote a series of independent articles, such as: “Reality,” “Uniformity,” “The Problems of Pure Wisdom,” “Law,” the “Law of Contradiction,” “The Laws of Thinking,” “Knowledge,” “Quality,” and “Quantity,” among others. She also wrote a longer article “Psychologism” for the Evreiskaia entsiklopediya (Jewish encyclopedia) put out by Brockhaus-Efran and longer piece on “The Idea of Creative Consciousness in Ibsen’s Dramas” for an anthology Isskustvo staraie i novaie (Art old and new) (St. Petersburg, 1921)—both in Russian. From 1921 she also published a series of articles in Yiddish in the folkist periodical Nayes (News)—for a short time this appeared as a daily newspaper, later as a weekly—on such topics as: Leonid Andreev, Leivick’s “Golem,” Gerhart Hauptmann, Henryk Ibsen, Sholem Aleichem, Sholem Asch (“At the Border of Life and Culture”—about Asch’s Motke ganef [Motke, the thief]), Zionism, and folkism, among others. Also in Idishe shtime (Jewish voice) and in the illustrated weekly newspaper Di velt (The world)—among other items, a piece on Immanuel Kant—in the anthology Arbet (Work) put out by ORT (1924), and in the one-off publication Der veg tsu der yidisher visnshaft (The path to Jewish scholarship) concerning YIVO. In Ringen (Links), an anthology of literature (Kovno, 1940), she published an essay, “Di velt fun dikhter m. lermantov” (The world of the poet M. Lermantov). Of her works in literary criticism and philosophical aesthetics in Yiddish which remain in manuscript, we need mention a long work on Shakespeare. She died in Kovno.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; A. Kats, in Yidish bilder (Riga) 43 (75) (October 28, 1938); Y. Bashevis, in Di tsukunft (New York) (July 1940); N. Y. Gotlib, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (April 10, 1944).