ARN SHTEYNBERG (AARON STEINBERG) (June 12, 1891-August 7, 1975)
He was a philosophical writer, born in Dvinsk (Daugavpils), Latvia, a descendent of a scholarly family. His father was raised in a circle of Talmudic students, and his mother was the sister of Bal-Makhshoves. He received both a Jewish and a general education. In 1904 his family moved to Pernov (Pärnu), Estonia, where he was a pupil in high school and privately studied Talmud and Maimonides. In 1907 the family moved to Moscow, but Shteynberg departed to study at Heidelberg University, and in 1913 he completed his doctoral degree in law and philosophy. He was a lecturer in St Petersburg’s Institute for Higher Jewish Studies and was a cofounder of this institute as well as the “Free Philosophy Society.” Over the years 1922-1934, he lived in Berlin and later in London where he served as director (1948-1971) of the cultural division of the Jewish World Congress.
He began writing poetry in Hebrew and Russian. In 1911 he became a contributor to Russian-language philosophy periodicals, especially Russkaia mysl’ (Russian thought), in which he wrote about new developments in art. In Russian he published: Sistema Svobody F. M. Dostoevskogo (The system of freedom in F. M. Dostoevsky) (Berlin: Skify, 1923), 144 pp.; Dostoevskii v Londone (Dostoevsky in London), a novella in four parts (Berlin, 1932), 79 pp. In English: Dostoevsky (London, 1966), 126 pp. In Yiddish he debuted in print with an essay on Hersh-Dovid Nomberg in Dos naye leben (The new life) in New York (June 1910). One senses in the article his struggle between symbolism and realism, between rationalism and mysticism—the tendency expressed in all of his writings. In Berlin he contributed to Dos fraye vort (The free word) and to New York’s Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal). In 1931 he was among the founders of the Dubnov Fund to publish Algemeyne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia) (Paris 1934-New York, 1966), and he served as a co-editor. In it he wrote the entries for: utilitarianism, individualism, immoralism, imperative, and similar philosophical topics. In the series in the encyclopedia under “Jews”: he wrote about history, antiquity, Middle Ages, and modern times (Paris, 1939); “Geshikhte fun yidishn religyezn denker” (History of Jewish religious thinkers) and “Meshikhishe bavegungen bay yidn biz sof mitl-alter” (Messianic movements among Jewish through the end of the Middle Ages) (Paris, 1940). In English: “The History of the Jews in the Middle Ages and Modern Times,” “The History of Jewish Religious Thought” and “Messianic Movements up to the End of the Middle Ages” are all included in The Jewish People, Past and Present (New York, 1946), vol. 1; and “Jewish Morals” in vol. 2 of this work. He produced a string of longer works in Shriftn: “Dostoyevski un dos yidntum” (Dostoevsky and Judaism) 1 (1926); “Folk un ideal” (People and ideal) 4 (1928); “Dos yidish ikh” (The Jewish me) 5 (1929); “Moskve, nyu-york, yerusholaim” (Moscow, New York, Jerusalem) 7, 8 (1930); “Sotsyalistishe religye oder religyezer sotsyalizm” (Socialist religion or religious socialism) 9 (1930); “Sotsyalizm un meshikhizm” (Socialism and messianism) 12 (1930); and “Shpinoza un di mentshlekhe frayhayt” (Spinoza and human freedom) 14 (1932); among others. He also published several philosophical essays in Davke (Necessarily) in Buenos Aires. He edited the anthology: Simon Dubnow: The Man and His Work (Paris, 1963). His major work on [his brother] Yitskhok-Nakhmen Shteynberg appeared in Yitskhok nakhmen shteynberg gedenk-bukh, der mentsh, zayn vort, zayn oyftu, 1888-1957 (Yitskhok-Nakhmen Shteynberg remembrance volume, the man, his word, his accomplishment, 1888-1957) (New York, 1961) and contains autobiographical elements. In Yiddish he published no single books, although he planned to publish a collection of his essays as well as a book entitled Yidishe metafizik (Jewish metaphysics).
Shteynberg was a product of Eastern European Jewish culture and civilization and at the same time of the progressive, God-searching, idealistic Russian culture. He had a deep understanding of both cultures and gave each of them his own original content and form. He believed that Jewish “secular nationalism” was thoroughly formalistic. According to Shteynberg, the essence of Jewish culture is the Messiah ideal and that the Jewish people are and must be the bearers of Messianism. He died in London.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; A. Grinboym, in Tsukunft (New York) 12 (1958); Shloyme Bikl, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (February 22, 1959); Elye (Elias) Shulman, in Yitskhok nakhmen shteynberg gedenk-bukh, der mentsh, zayn vort, zayn oyftu, 1888-1957 (Yitskhok-Nakhmen Shteynberg remembrance volume, the man, his word, his accomplishment, 1888-1957) (New York, 1961), pp. 276-78; Joseph Leftwich, in Dos fraye vort (Buenos Aires) 166, 168 (1970); Davke (Buenos Aires) 81 (1976), essays by many authors; Dr. Aaron Steinberg, in Memoriam, 1891-1975 (Geneva, 1976), 27 pp.
Elye (Elias) Shulman