Friday, 9 August 2019


ELAZAR (ELOZER) SHULMAN (1837-July 30, 1904)
            He was born in Salant (Salantai), Lithuania.  He received a traditional Jewish as well as a general education.  He was primarily a Hebrew writer.  He published stories, a novel, biographies, and essays.  His work appeared in: Hashiloa (The shiloah) 2 (1898) concerning Yiddish; Lua aiasef; Hazman (The times) (St. Petersburg) 1-3 (1903) concerning Yiddish; and other Hebrew periodicals.  He wrote in Yiddish infrequently, but he was interested in Yiddish literature and published several studies about it in Yiddish: “Di geshikhte fun der zhargon-literatur, fun ir eshtn onhoyb on biz tsum sof 18tn yorhundert” (The history of Yiddish literature, from its very beginning until the end of the eighteenth century), in Di yudishe folks-biblyotek (The Jewish people’s library) (Kiev) 2 (1889), pp. 115-34; “A bisl literatur geshikhte” (A little literary history), in the anthology Hilf (Relief) (Warsaw, 1903), in which he also published a story, “Emes” (Truth); “Etlekhe verter iber di zhargon literatur” (A few words about Yiddish literature),[1] in Yud (Jew) (Cracow) 17, 18 (1900).  In the first part of this last work (issue 17), he wrote: “…and there runs through this literature, as if petrified for a full century, reflected in every manifestation of the past life of our people…which we cannot in every instance recognize from our Hebrew literature.”
            He began publishing his history of Yiddish literature in Hazman (issues 1-3, 1903).  It later appeared in full under the title Sefat yehudit-ashkenazit vesifruta, mikets hamea ha15 ad kets shenot hamea ha18 (The Yiddish language and its literature, from the fifteenth century until the eighteenth century), “under the supervision of Y. . Taviov” (Riga: A. Lein, 1912/1913), 223 pp.  Taviov’s preface was written with contempt and disparagement for Yiddish and Yiddish literature.  This aroused huge protests from Yiddish writers.  Yisroel Tsinberg wrote: “Elozer Shulman treats the literature of the Jewish people with love and warmth; he always emphasizes its national-cultural significance and often complains of the followers of the Jewish Enlightenment of the older sort for their hatred and scorn for the vernacular….  [And only] for us is it possible…that one would confide in a writer…who finds it necessary to boast…that in his life he has never ‘polluted’ his pen with ‘zhargon’ [Yiddish]…to edit a book about the history of Yiddish literature.”
            About the book itself, Zalmen Reyzen writes: “Until very recent times, prior to the publication of new works of research…[on] Old Yiddish literature,…[this] was the most important in the field….  Thanks to its rich bibliography, it is also till now a necessary research aid for everyone who works on the history of Yiddish literature.”  “Elozer Shulman,” noted Max Weinreich, “is the true father of so-called Spielmann Theory in our literary research.”
            “Among Russian Jews,” commented Ber Borokhov, “he was the first to turn to fundamental research in Yiddish literature and linguistics.  And his greatest virtue is that he wrote his philological work not in a foreign language but in our own Yiddish and Hebrew.”  He died in Kiev.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; Reyzen, Yidishe literatur un yidishe shprakh (Yiddish literature and Yiddish language) (Buenos Aires, 1965), pp. 42-51; Getzel Kressel, Leksikon hasifrut haivrit (Handbook of Hebrew literature), vol. 2 (Meravya, 1967); Max Weinreich, Shtaplen (Rungs) (Berlin: Vostok, 1923), pp. 38, 78, 90, 140; Weinreich, Bilder fun der yidisher literatur-geshikhte, fun di onheybn biz mendele moykher-sforim (Scenes from Yiddish literary history, from the beginnings until Mendele Moykher-Sforim) (Vilna: Tamar, 1928), p. 325; Yisroel Tsinberg, Kultur-historishe shtudyes (Cultural historical studies) (New York, 1949), pp. 333-38; Ber Borokhov, Shprakh-forshung un literatur-geshikhte (Language research and literary history) (Tel Aviv: Peretz Publ., 1966), pp. 95, 104; E. R. Malachi, in Fraye arbeter shtime (New York) (February, April, July-August 1975).
Elye (Elias) Shulman

[1] Translator’s note.  Grammatically, this title should be “…iber der zhargon literatur,” but there were many inconsistencies of grammar in Yiddish at the time of this author. (JAF)

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