BER BOROKHOV (BOROCHOV) (June 21, 1881-December 17, 1917)
Born in Zolotonosha, Ukraine. His father, Moyshe, was a Hebrew teacher and an active leader in the Chibat-Tsiyon (Love of Zion) movement. Borochov grew up in Poltava, where his parents moved. He studied in a private Russian-Jewish school, later in a public high school. He devoted himself to philosophy, and studied modern and ancient languages, even Sanskrit. In 1900 he set out for Yekaterinoslav, and there he came into contact with circles of the Russian Social Democratic Party; he withdrew from these, but not from the Jewish surroundings—to the contrary, he deepened his ties specifically to Jewish issues, and involved himself with the events of Jewish life in that turbulent era. In 1904 when the Zionist world was seized with the sharp debate over Uganda, he stood with the anti-Uganda side. He was active in the organization of the [anti-Ugandist] Zionists of Zion and traveled, on assignment for this organization, to a string of cities in southern Russia, Lithuania, and Poland. He turned primarily to Jewish labor and became one of the main initiators of the conference that took place at the end of the winter in 1906 in Poltava and which created the Jewish social-democratic party: Poale-Tsiyon. Borochov became the ideologue of this newly founded party. In April 1906, he was arrested. He was freed in November of the same year and lived for a time illegally in Minsk and in Vilna. In the summer of 1907, he left Russia. He settled initially in Liège, Belgium, and from there he traveled in 1908 to Vienna, where he took up the study of the history of the Yiddish language and literature. He worked in libraries: in Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Holland, and England. He made longer trips to those countries and made reports on social and philosophical problems. Following the eruption of WWI, in August 1914 he was compelled to leave Austria. He stayed for two months in Italy and from there traveled on to the United States.
In New York, he soon became a leader in the Labor Zionist movement, and as a representative of the Labor Zionist movement to the continent, he participated in the work to create the American Jewish Congress which was constituted in March 1915. He became one of its most important and active members. His work in the Poale-Tsiyon Party and his intensive communal and journalistic activities did not, however, pull him away from his economic, philosophical, or philological research work. Together with A. Harkavy, Y. A. Yofe, and others, he organized a scientific commission for Yiddish grammar and orthography. He drew up bibliographies for the works of Y. L. Perets and Sholem Aleykhem, and published other important treatises concerned with Yiddish literature, as well as Yiddish theater. After the Russian Revolution, in March 1917, re raced home to Russia. On the way he visited Stockholm and took part in a socialist conference. At the end of August 1917, he reached Russia, and there he participated in the third Poale-Tsiyon Convention which was taking place in Kiev. He appeared as well at the Kiev Peoples Convention in November 1917, and he was elected as a member of the delegation to the All-Russian Democratic Conference. Shortly after this convention, he became seriously ill with blood poisoning and died.
Regarding his journalistic and research works, it is worthwhile to add that until 1907 he wrote solely in Russian. His first published piece appeared in 1912 in an anthology entitled Yevreiskii almanakh (Jewish almanac) with an essay called “On the Character of Jewish Intellect.” In 1904 he published in Yevreiskaya zhizn’ a series of theoretical pieces concerning Zionist socialism. He expressed his theoretical premises in an article: “The Class Considerations in the National Question,” which later appeared in book form in several languages. He published as well theoretical-publicist articles in that period in Yevreiskaya khronika (Jewish chronicle), Razsviet (Dawn), and other Russian Jewish publications. His first work written in Yiddish under the pen name Dorin was a polemic with Polish parliamentarians which appeared in the Poale-Tsiyon organ Forverts (Forward) (Vilna, 1907). He subsequently contributed to: Der proletarisher gedank (The proletarian idea), Di yidishe velt (The Jewish world), Pinkes (Records), Di yugnt-shtime (The voice of youth)—in Vilna (1913); Der gedank (The idea) in Warsaw; Der yidisher arbeter (The Jewish worker) in Krakow; Dos vort (The word) in Vienna; Di varhayt (The truth), Tog (Day), Yidisher kemfer (Jewish fighter); Literature and lebn (Literature and life)—all in New York. He edited: Dos fraye vort (The free word) in Vienna; Yidisher kemfer, for a short period of time, in New York. In New York as well, he edited the issue of Literatur un lebn that came out separately as an anthology entitled Y. L. Perets, a zamlbukh tsu zayn ondenk (Y. L. Perets, an anthology in his memory) in 1915 and Der kamf far yidishe rekht (The struggle for Jewish rights) in 1916; contributed to the Russian-Yiddish encyclopedia (1908-1911), and to the Russian publication Luach kedima. Among his pen names: Bar-droma, Gershenzon, Dorin, Postoyanni, Der Zelbiker, Dovid Ben-Moyshe, M-vitsh, B. B., and others.
Among his writings: Di klasn-interesn un di natsyonale frage (Class interests and the national question) (Vilna, 1906), 47 pp., second printing (Warsaw, 1926), third printing (Paris, 1946), fourth printing (Munich, 1947); Di regulyerung fun der yidisher emigratsye un der emigratsyons-kongres (Regulating Jewish emigration and the emigration congress) (Stanislav, 1910), 77 pp.; Vos viln di poyle tsien (What the Labor Zionists want), fourth printing (Kiev: Der hamer, 1917), 17 pp.—using the pseudonym Danin; Mitn ponem tsu der virklekhkeyt (Facing the economy) (Moscow: Der hamer, 1917), 11 pp.; Di klasen-interesen un di natsyonale frage (Class interests and the national question) (Kiev: Der hamer, 1917), 38 pp., second printing (1917); Gezamlte shriftn (Selected writings), edited by M. Khashin and A. Revutski (Odessa, 1918), 119 pp.; Di ekonomishe antviklung fun idishn folk (The economic development of the Jewish people) (Odessa: Dos naye lebn, 1918), 24 pp.; Di oyfgabn fun der yidisher filologye (The rise of Yiddish philology), initially published in Pinkes in 1913 (Odessa, 1920), 24 pp.; Poyle tsien shriftn (Labor Zionist writings) (New York, 1920), 230 pp.; Di yidisher arbeter bavegung in tsifern (The Jewish labor movement in numbers) (Berlin, 1923), 109 pp.; Geklibene shriftn (Collected writings), edited by B. Loker (New York, 1928), 300 pp.; Geklibene shriftn (Warsaw, 1935), 326 pp.; Shprakh-forshung un literatur-geshikhte (Language research and literary history) (Tel Aviv: Peretz Publ., 1966), 423 pp.; Class Struggle and the Jewish Nation, trans. Mitchell Cohen (New Brunswick, N.J., 1984). A large proportion of Borochov’s writings, especially from his Russian period, have not to this day been published in book form. There appeared in Russian in Moscow in 1920 his philosophical treatise, Virtualizm i religiozno-eticheskaya problema v Marksizme (Virtualism and the religious-ethical problem in Marxism). A portion of his written work has been translated into Hebrew and other languages.
Borochov was one of the most significant pioneers in research on the Yiddish language. His initial philological writings appeared in Pinkes, edited by Shmuel Niger (Vilna, 1913). In addition to Di oyfgabn fun der yidisher filologye, the following were all published in Pinkes: Di biblyotek fun dem yidishn filolog (The library of the Yiddish philologist), a listing of Yiddish philological writings bringing together over 500 items covering a period of 400 years. In Literatur un lebn (New York, 1917), he published a part of a longer study concerned with the history of Yiddish literature, grounded in sources that until that point in time had scarcely attracted notice. To M. Basin’s Antologye (Anthology) (New York, 1917), he contributed linguistic and bibliographical notes and a glossary for old Yiddish texts. As a sociologist, he synthesized the idea of a national home for Jews with democratic socialism: “Zionism,” he wrote, “will be realized as an elemental, political, and economic revolution in Jewish life.” As a pioneer researcher in the field of the Yiddish language and literature, he left behind important works which remain pertinent to bibliography, spelling, and the history of the Yiddish word. He enhanced the respectability of Yiddish, Yiddish literature, and all of modern Yiddish culture. He sought to set them in the frame of a full Yiddish renaissance movement. His beginning in this regard was loaded with promise that was cut short with his life right in the middle of its flower.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; Algemayne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia), vol. 5; Tsum ondenk fun ber borokhov (To the memory of Ber Borochov) (Kiev, 1918), 32 pp.; Tsum yortsayt, a zamlheft (Toward the anniversary of his death, a collection) (Kharkov, 1921), 32 pp.; Yankev Zerbavel, Ber borokhov, zayn lebn un shafn (Ber Borochov, his life and work) (Warsaw, 1926), 176 pp.; A. Tshernikover, in Literarishe bleter (December 23, 1927); Zalmen Reyzen, in Literarishe bleter (December 23, 1927); Y. Rifkind, in Tsukunft (June 1930); A. Sh. Yuris, Kemfer un dikhter (Fighter and writer) (Riga, 1931), pp. 80-94; Dr. Y. Tsinberg, in Literarishe bleter (January 1933); Shmuel Niger, in YIVO bleter 6 (February 1934); Gedank un lebn (New York, January-December 1948); Tsukunft (March 1938); Yorbukh (New York, 1935); Sh. Goldenberg, Ber borokhov, a goen (Ber Borochov, a genius) (London, 1946), 48 pp.; Y. Ben-tsvi, in Bafrayung (Lodz, December 15, 1947); Dos vort (Munich, December 19, 1947); D. Tsharni, in Undzer veg (New York, December 1947); Kiem (Paris, May 1951); Zalmen Shazar (Rubashov), in Undzer veg (Buenos Aires, March 8, 1954); M. Menakhovski, Ber borokhov, zayn lebn un zayn shafn (Ber Borochov, his life and his work) (Buenos Aires, 1959), 112 pp.; N. Mayzil, Ber borokhov (Ber Borochov) (New York, 1963), 12 pp.; Ber borokhov in der heym (Ber Borochov in the home) (Tel Aviv, 1965), 96 pp.; Kh. Finklshteyn, Der goen fun poltave (The genius from Poltava) (Buenos Aires, 1967), 45 pp.
B. Tshubinski and Yekhezkil Keytelman
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), cols. 57-58.]