YEHUDE-LEYB BINSHTOK (1836-October 22, 1894)
Born in Lukatsh (Lukach), Volhynia, Ukraine, he attended religious elementary school until age nine or ten. Around that time, circa 1846, the Cantonist laws (drafting Jewish teenagers into the tsarist military for twenty-five years) of 1827 took on an especially harsh form. “Kidnappers” (khapers) lay in hiding at every step to seize eight-to-ten year-old children. The surest safeguard was a Russian school. Binshtok’s father, Moyshe, turned him over to a Russian public school in Zhitomir. In 1858 he graduated from the Zhitomir rabbinical seminary, and thereafter he studied for a time in a yeshiva in Mogilev, Podolia. From 1862 he was the rabbi of Zhitomir, and later he became the “learned Jew” serving the governor of Volhynia and working as a teacher of Judaism in a Zhitomir high school. In 1881 he participated, without the knowledge of the governor, in a conference of Jewish community leaders in connection with the wave of local pogroms and was consequently dismissed from his posts. He remained in St. Petersburg for a number of years where he took up the position of secretary for the St. Petersburg Jewish community, and later of the “Khevre mefitse haskalah” (Society for the promotion of enlightenment [among the Jews of Russia]). In 1892 he traveled to Palestine as plenipotentiary of the Odessa “Committee to Support Jewish Agricultural Laborers and Artisans.” Over the course of the years that he held this position in Israel, he worked energetically to bring the Sefardi and Ashkenazi sections of the Jewish community together. He founded the first Hebrew school in Jaffa and created there the first library in the name of Y. L. Levanda. He died in Jaffa.
He began his literary activities in 1860 with currents events articles in the first Russian Jewish magazines, Rassvet (Dawn) and Sion (Zion). In 1868 (1867?) he published a Russian translation of Mendele’s Haavot vehabonim (Father and sons); in 1868 he translated into Yiddish, together with Mendele, Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon as Der luftbalon; in 1870 he helped Mendele write the popular scientific booklet, Der fish, vos hot ayngeshlungen yoyne hanovi (The fish that swallowed Jonah the prophet); in 1874—again together with Mendele—he translated into Yiddish Ustav o voinskoi povinnosti vysochaishe as Dos gezets vegn algemayne militer-flikht (The law concerning general military duty). He also contributed to Yudishes folksblat (Jewish people’s newspaper) and to Voskhod (Sunrise). He published in 1884 a critical biographical treatise concerning Mendele in connection with the jubilee of Mendele’s twenty-fifth literary work. The biographical information in this work remains until today an important source for all works concerning Mendele’s life. In 1891 Binshtok—using the pseudonym “Uleinikov”—published in Russian the results of his research on the Jewish colonies in the Ekatorinoslav region; in 1896 the Zionist organization the Galicia published, under the auspices of R. Shlomo Berliner, Binshtok’s Dertseylungen funem yidishn lebn in rusland (Tales of Jewish life in Russia), 71 pp. Mendele’s closest friend from 1863 until 1892, they carried on a frequent correspondence. For the historiography of Yiddish literature, Mendele’s letters to Binshtok are an exceedingly important source.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; D. Tidhar, Entsiklopedyah leḥalutse hayishuv uvonav (Encyclopedia of the founders and builders of Israel) (Tel Aviv, 1949), vol. 3, p. 1280; Sh. Ginzburg, “Mendele moykher-sforim in zayne briv” (Mendele Moykher-Sforim in his letters), in his Historishe verk (Historical works) (New York, 1937), vol. 1, pp. 140-63; “Fun undzer arkhiv” (From our archive), Tsaytshrift 5 (Minsk, 1931), pp. 1-42; Avrom Abtshuk, Mendele moykher-sforim (Kiev, 1927), pp. 12ff; Shmuel Niger, Mendele moykher-sforim, zayn lebn, zayne gezelshaftlikhe un literarishe oyftuungen (Mendele Moykher-Sforim, his life, his social and literary feats) (Chicago, 1936).
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