Sunday 1 March 2015


BAL-MAKHSHOVES (September 13, 1873-January 13, 1924)
     This was the literary pen name [meaning “man of thoughts”] of Dr. Isador (Israel) Elyashev, born in Kovno, Lithuania.  His father Shloyme-Zalkind Elyashev owned a large manufacturing business and was one of the most respected businessmen in the city.  The elder Elyashev came from a fine family in Zhager (Žagarė), Lithuania (from the “wise men of Zhager”; he was cousins with R. Khayim Zak and the Mandelshtams); as a young man he was “semi-enlightened, read German books, was an exacting Hebraist and one who pinpointed the best of the first enlightened religious texts” (as Bal-Makhshoves himself explained in his memoirs); after his marriage, though, under the influence of “Ḥevra maḥzike hadat” (Association of the supporters of the faith), and thanks to his own deep religious nature as well, Shloyme-Zalkind returned to a spiritually fearsome Judaism, and in the 1870s—under the influence of Yisroel Salanter—he became part of the Musar movement.  Throughout his entire life, Bal-Makhshoves blamed that time, when his father used to take him, as a little boy, often to Slobodke (Slobodka), a suburb of Kovno, to listen to the sermons of R. Itsele Peterburger, a leader of the Musarniks: “He would stand there before an audience in the darkness between the afternoon and evening prayers.”  Etched with particular depth in his memory were “the gloom and horror” that would envelope him when after the sermon he would suddenly detect “the choir of lamenting voices: Return us and we shall return unto you….  Where have you come from and where are you going?”
     On his other side, the young Isador was influenced by his mother, Khane-Sore (Hannah-Sarah), daughter of Zalke, née Aronson, from Kalvarye (Kalwaria, Kalvarija) in the Suvalk (Suwałki) region.  She was a great woman of valor, full of witticisms, a woman from an earlier era but with considerable insight into the young, and thus not only was she knowledgeable of the daily prayer book, maḥzor (holiday prayer book), and the Pentateuch in Yiddish translation, but she later mastered as well an understanding of what her bright young children and grandchildren expressed in “all the many languages” that they used.  She not only managed the economy of the household, but she also helped her husband in his business, and she gave birth to and raised eight children.  All of them studied and several graduated from universities.  One of her sons later became a well-known chess player; a younger daughter became the writer Dr. Esther Elyashev; two of her grandchildren were the celebrated Shtaynberg (Steinberg) brothers, Yitskhok-Nakhmen and Arn (Aron).  Isador (Israel) grew up in this atmosphere of older Jewishness on one side, and of Russian, German, French, and clavier playing on the other.  When he was ten years of age, his father sent him off to Grobin (Grobiņa), Courland, to study in the Musar yeshiva that R. Israel Salanter had founded for well-to-do children who would not subsequently become rabbis, but businessmen.  In this “religious boardinghouse,” as Bal-Makhshoves’s father called it, they also studied general, worldly knowledge: German, geography, arithmetic, but in the main it was Musar.  In his memoirs, Bal-Makhshoves gives a colorful depiction of life in the Grobin yeshiva where he spent two years.  When he returned home, he studied Talmud for a long period of time with different itinerant teachers under his father’s supervision.  He later went abroad to study.  He graduated from a Realschule in Winterthur, near Zurich, Switzerland.  He next went to study medicine and natural science at Heidelberg University and the University of Berlin.  In his first year of university, Bal-Makhshoves took a stance close to the group of national-minded students with Nachman Syrkin at the head.  This group was looking for a synthesis between Jewish nationalism and Marxism, although later he became a “student of Herlzian Zionism.”  He found himself attracted to the “role of apostle of a young Zionist who yearned to criticize the contemporary state of Jewry and strove to awaken heroic sentiments among the people—cobblers, tailors, and peddlers.” (Bal-Makhshoves, “25 yor literatur.”)
Bal-Makhshoves began writing in German and Russian.  His first literary effort in Yiddish was a kind of human-interest piece entitled “Es kokht un es rudert in shtetl afikomen” (Boiling trouble over the town’s afikomen), which he read aloud at a student association in 1895.  In 1897 he published in a Yiddish newspaper in Romania a semi-fictional piece entitled “Yisroelik iz krank, a khanike-fantazye” (Yisroelik is sick, a Hanukkah fantasy); this piece appears in his Geklibene verk (Collected works) among his “Ironishe mayselekh” (Ironic stories).  At that point in time, he had not as yet thought of becoming a Yiddish writer—“dressing myself up in the epaulets of a man of letters.”  For the first time in 1899, Dr. Yoysef Lurye, a friend of his from Berlin student circles, “forcefully enlisted” him among the collaborators on Der yud (The Jew), which Lurye edited.  Bal-Makhshoves’s first two pieces were published in Der yud: the semi-fictional article Khanike-bletl (A Hanukkah leaf) (November 22); and a short critical article concerning Morris Rozenfeld, entitled “A zhargonisher poet” (A Yiddish poet) (December 23).  Both of these were signed “Dr. Is-El.”  In 1900 many of his articles were published in Der yud with the same byline or with the initials “.ע.א”.  In 1901 Der yud began publishing his regular book reviews with the pseudonym “Baal-Makhshoves.”  In late 1901 his first article about Mendele Moykher-Sforim appeared in Der yud under the title “Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh” (in his Geklibene shriftn [Collected writings], they are entitled “Reb mendeles vegele” [Mendele’s path]); and in 1902 in Di yidishe familye (The Jewish family) in Cracow, his second about Mendele appeared under the signature “Ger tsedek” (Righteous convert), his first major critical work (entitled “Sholem-Yankev Abramovitsh” in Geklibene shriftn), and his first work about Yiddish entitled “Di zhargonishe literatur un ire beste shrayber” (Yiddish literature and its best writers) (in Geklibene shriftn it appears somewhere shortened with the title “Der zhargon” (Jargon), as Yiddish was called in those days, appeared here as well.  In 1899 he showed up for the first time at Peretz’s home in Warsaw, and in 1901 he settled in Warsaw.  From that point forward, one could find the name Bal-Makhshoves in the more important Yiddish periodicals every year, such as: Fraynd (Friend) in St. Petersburg, later in the literary journal Dos lebn (Life) as well; Der veg (The way), whose literary supplement he later edited for a time; Nakhum Sokolow’s Telegraf (Telegraph); Peretz’s Di yudishe biblyotek (The Yiddish library); Der idisher kemfer (The Jewish fighter) and Di tsukunft (The future), both in the United States—he published in the latter a pamphlet about the Uganda project, entitled “Dos zibele” (The primi); and in Romanian journals, as well as in Hatsfira (The siren), Hatsofe (The spectator), and Sifrut (Literature), among other Hebrew serials.  In addition to literary criticism, he published in all of these venues articles concerning current events and popular science, semi-fictional essays, feature pieces, and poetry, using earlier pen names as well as “Verida” and “Tsviling” (twins).  In this first period of his work (1901-1908), the greatest number of his more important literary critical and literary feature treatises (concerning Mendele, Y. L. Peretz, Sholem-Aleykhem, Sholem Ash, Yankev Dinezon, Sh. Frug, Dovid Pinski, H. D. Nomberg, his first article about A. M. Vaysenberg, M. Z. Fayerberg, Anton Chekhov, N. K. Mikhailovski, the history of Yiddish, two languages and one and only one literature, and more).
     In 1905 Bal-Makhshoves took the state examinations and received the right to practice medicine in Russia, though in fact he looked at the medical profession as a curiosity, with his vocation remaining literature.  In 1906 he lived in Vilna, contributing to Di tsayt (The times), Dos yudishe folk (The Jewish people), Hazman (The times), and other publications.  Two years later he returned to Kovno, where he took up a medical practice.  From there he later moved to Riga where he edited Di yudishe shtime (The Jewish voice), which seems only to have appeared between August 13 and October 21, 1910, and at the same time continued with his practice.  In Riga he had an extraordinary experience.  While he was still living in Vilna, he was lured into court for an enthusiastic article about the Russian revolutionary Maria Spiridonova.  He was sentenced to two months in prison, but they postponed the execution of the judgment.  When he was living in Riga, the police arrived to collect this debt.  Good friends forewarned him, and he was able to avoid prison by serving in a hospital jail.  Because of the same article, as well as another article about Lieutenant Schmidt, the leader of the uprising on the battleship Potemkin [sic.], the authorities confiscated the first printing of his Geklibene shriftn (Vilna, 1910).  In 1912 he returned with his wife and child to Warsaw, where he edited the literary section of the daily newspaper Dos lebn, the continuation of Fraynd in St. Petersburg, and, aside from critical essays, he wrote his semi-fictional “Shtrikhn un gedanken” (Traits and thoughts).  The longer critical works of this time were “Dray shtetlekh” (Three towns) and “Di letste literarishe epokhe” (The last literary epoch).  Concerning individual writers, he was satisfied with short “Literarishe shmuesn” (Literary conversations).  There hovered over Bal-Makhshoves’s output in this second period the air of sorrow.  His feature pieces became “Ironishe mayselekh,” and in his attitude toward Yiddish literary phenomena a pessimistic tone slipped in.  Harsh personal experiences played a major role here: his old nervous disorder continued to torment him greatly, and there was a sharp break in his family life.
When WWI broke out, Bal-Makhshoves was mobilized and sent as a doctor to a military hospital in Kashin, Tver district; thereafter, he was sent to Nerekhta, Kostroma district in central Russia.  The Tsarist regime banned the Yiddish press in 1915, and only Russian-language weeklies remained.  He began to work with the Zionist weekly Yevreiskaia zhizn’ (Jewish life), in which he published articles under the general name “Listki” (Leaflets), according to the Yiddish “Shtrikhn un gedanken.”  In Russian, too, he was an excellent stylist.  It was at this time that he engaged in a sharp polemic with Maksim Gorky who was then (1916) editing an anthology, Shchit (Shield), with the goal of supporting Jews again anti-Semitism by better acquainting the Russian population with the lives of Jews.  Bal-Makhshoves saw an insult to Jews therein.  His sentiment grew more depressed with each passing year.  When the Revolution broke out (February-March 1917), he was demobilized, and he moved to Petrograd where he took up his medical practice and became a regular contributor to Petrograder togblat (Petrograd daily newspaper) in which over the course of 1917 and 1918 he wrote under his old rubrics: “Shtrikhn un gedanken,” “Literarishe shmuesn,” and “Ironishe mayselekh.”  Aside from other articles and feature pieces, he published at this time two series: “Undzer tsveyshprakhike literatur” (Our bilingual literature) and “Balfur deklaratsye” (Balfour Declaration).  He also wrote a new treatise on A. M. Vaysenberg, an appreciation of Vladimir Korolenko, and other works.  A number of the articles that he published in Petrograder togblat later appeared in the volume Untern rod (Under the wheel) (New York-Berlin, 1927), 416 pp.  In 1919 he was living in Kiev, where there were spirited cultural and literary activities ongoing, but he remained unconnected to the social stir, quietly experiencing the bloody upheavals and pogroms and suffering hunger.  Early in 1921 he left Russia and returned home to Kovno which was in turmoil with the newly established Jewish autonomy, and hopes flourished for the construction of a new Jewish cultural center.  Surrounded with love and admiration from his compatriots, the sick, exhausted writer was reinvigorated, and with renewed strength returned to writing with gusto.  He became a regular contributor to Di idishe shtime (The Jewish voice) and directed the literary department, as well as wrote articles and feature essays.  In his revived series “Literarishe shmuesn,” he had an impact on the newest phenomena in Yiddish literature from which he had long been cut off.  Young Yiddish writers from around the world sent him their work and waited for his critical evaluation.  In 1921 he attended the twelfth Zionist Congress in Karlsbad, and from there he traveled on to Berlin where he became the editor of the Yiddish division of Klal Publishers.  He also wrote at the time for Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal) and Der amerikaner (The American) in New York, and from time to time for Moment (Moment) in Warsaw.
On July 14, 1923 Bal-Makhshoves was honored in Berlin with a celebration of his twenty-five years of literary activity.  The general fondness that the event summoned in the entire Yiddish world had a refreshing, morale-boosting impact on the sickly, lonesome writer (he had long been divorced from his wife, and his only child, a son, was living with her).  He undertook new literary plans, and began thinking about a trip to the United States.  This all, though, appears to have been no more than a brief flash of light in the darkness.  His depression returned, only with greater severity.  His illness of many years duration, which over the previous two years he had worked to heal in German and Italian spas, only became worse and worse; he then went to a sanatorium in Tegel, near Berlin, and there he suffered another attack.  He returned once again to Italy, but he only grew worse.  Sensing that the end was nigh, he felt the urge to return home to Kovno.  This turned out to be his last trip.  Returning to his aged mother in her spacious home, where he was born and grew up, he lay down in bed, ignoring the consoling supervision and medical specialists called in from Germany.  On January 13, 1924, he died.  He was not even fifty-one years old.  The Kovno Jewish community paid for his funeral, and the Jewish population of Kovno that day was deeply saddened.
     Bal-Makhshoves was not only the first modern critic of Yiddish literature; he was the first to introduce the fundamental notion of unity in Yiddish literature.  His name was established at the same register with the very best: Mendele Moykher-Sforim, Sholem-Aleykhem, Y. L. Peretz.  With them Bal-Makhshoves helped to introduce the basics of modern literature into Yiddish.
His writings were published in book form under the title Geklibene shriftn in five volumes (Vilna, 1910; republished in Vilna, 1923; and in Warsaw, 1929).  In 1922 Klal Publishers in Berlin brought out in pamphlet format his work, Dos dorem-yidntum un di yidishe literatur in XIX yorhundert (Southern Judaism and Yiddish literature in the 19th century), initially published as an article in Tsukunft in New York (January-March 1922).  In 1927 his Untern rod was published (New York-Berlin); it was a collection of his current-events articles.  His Geklibene verk (republished from earlier periodicals and magazines) appeared in 1953 in the “L. M. Stein People’s Library” (New York, 336 pp.).  These collections of his work brought together the greater part of everything that Bal-Makhshoves wrote between 1921 and 1923; his writings from the last two years were scattered over a variety of journals and newspapers.  He additionally produced a number of translations: Alt-nayland, roman (Old new land, a novel) (Brooklyn, 1905) by Dr. Theodor Herzl (original: Altneuland); Kozakn, a kavkaze geshikhte (Cossacks, a Kavkaz story) (New York, 1912) with a foreword by the translator, by Leo Tolstoy (original: Kazaki); Foters un kinder (Fathers and sons), first part (New York, 1921) by Ivan Turgenev (original: Ottsy i deti); Far vos hob ikh nit khasene gehat? (Why have I not married?) with a foreword by the translator, by Leonard Merrick (see comment below); A gilgl fun a neshome (The transformation of a soul) by Hans Kipper (?), published in the weekly edition of Fraynd (no. 58, 1913); some thirty translations of European literature—spread over newspapers and journals; Dos lebn in der natur (Life in nature) (Kiev, 1918, republished in Vilna, 1922) by Y. Yelatshitsh; Zoologye un der mentsh (Zoology and man) by Otto Schmeil.  He also put together the pamphlet: Vos muz itlekhe visn vegn azyatishe kholera? (Why must everyone know about Asian cholera?) (St. Petersburg, 1918).  He edited Di geshikhte fun der yudisher literatur (The history of Yiddish literature) by Dr. Meyer Pines (Warsaw, 1911).  He was also on the editorial board of Kultur Publishers in Minsk and of the series “Folks-universitet” (People’s university, 1920) brought out by Yehudiye Publishers in Warsaw.  Aside from periodicals, which are beyond reckoning, Bal-Makhshoves’s writings were published in the anthologies, Folk un land (People and land; Vilna, 1910) and Velt-eyn, velt-oys (World in, world out; New York, 1916); and in Hebrew in Had hazman (Echo of the times), Haboker (This morning), Hador (The generation), Hameorer (The alarm), and Reshafim (Sparks), among others.  A selection of his articles in Hebrew (all translated—Bal-Makhshoves wrote nothing in Hebrew himself) was published by Sifrut Publishers (Warsaw, 1911).  He also from time to time published articles in such periodicals as: Die Welt Ost un West (The world, east and west), Jüdischer Almanach (Jewish almanac), Voskhod (Sunrise), and Glos zydowski (Jewish voice).  Concerning Gentile authors, aside from those mentioned above, he wrote about (among others): Oscar Wilde, Leo Tolstoy, Leonid Andreev, Multatuli, G. Hauptmann, and workers’ war poetry.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2 (1927), pp. 744-66 (including a longer bibliography); Z. Zilbertsvayg, Teater-leksikon (New York, 1931), pp. 189-91; Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (New York, 1941), vol. 14, p. 68.  Bal-Makhshoves: (1) “Grobin,” Heavar (St. Petersburg, 1918); (2) “A mentsh—a lebn” (A man, a life), Der amerikaner (New York, 1922) and “Bal-makhshoves vegn zikh aleyn” (Bal-Makhshoves on himself), in Geklibene verk (New York, 1953); (3) “25 yor literatur” (Twenty-five years in literature), Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (December 31, 1922) and in Geklibene verk (New York, 1953); (4) letters from Bal-Makhshoves, in Tsukunft (New York) (August 1928) and in Yidishe kultur (New York) (January 1954); Dr. Shmuel Elyashev (Fridman), “Di mishpokhe elyashev in kovne” (The Elyashev family in Kovno), Lite 1 (New York, 1951), and in Geklibene verk (New York, 1953), pp. 7-11; Dr. Y. N. Shteynberg, “Mayn bobe khaye-sore” (My grandmother, Khaye-Sore), Lite 1 (New York, 1951), pp. 1309-14; Dr. A. Mukdoni, “A yor in der litvishe melukhe” (A year in the land of Litvaks), Lite 1 (New York, 1951), pp. 1080-86; Shmuel Niger: (1) Lezer, dikhter un kritiker (Reader, poet, and critic) (New York, 1928), pp. 495-565; (2) in Lite 1 (New York, 1951), pp. 1045-72; (3) Tsukunft (New York) (April 1928, March 1934, and October 1949).  Also: N. Mayzil, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) 6 (1934); Mayzil, in Yidishe kultur (New York) (January 1949); M. Gerts, 25 yor yidishe prese in letland (25 years of the Yiddish press in Latvia) (Riga, 1933); Gerts, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) 3 (1932); Avrom Reyzen, Epizodn fun mayn lebn (Episodes from my life), vols. 1-3 (Vilna, 1929-1935); N. B. Minkov, Zeks yidishe kritiker (Six Yiddish critics) (Buenos Aires, 1954), pp. 227-90.
Yitskhok Kharlash


  1. Leonard Merrick (1864-1939) was an English novelist.
    BAL-MAKHSHOVES translated his 4 stories.
    1. פארװאס האב איך נישט חתונה געהאט
    Farvos hob ikh nisht khasene gehat? = Why have I not married?(orig.:"A very good thing for a girl")
    2. א געװאלטיגער ערפאלג
    A gevaltiger erfolg = A tremendous success (orig.: "Frankenstein II")
    3. א טעות
    A toes = A mistake (orig.: "Dead violets")
    4. פלאראזאנדע
    Florozonde (orig.: "The fatal Florozonde")
    פארװאס האב איך נישט חתונה געהאט?
    און אנדערע נאװעלען
    לעאנארד מעריק; איבערזעצט מיט א פאררעדע פון בעל-מחשבות
    Farvos hob ikh nisht khasene gehat? un andere novelen
    Leonard Merik; iberzetst un mit a forrede fun Baal-Makhshoves
    װארשא : פערלאג אוניװערזאל, 1914.- 76 pp.
    serie : אוניװערזאל-ביבליאטעק № 3

  2. BAL-MAKHSHOVES wrote an introduction `to the translation of Yanush Kortshak's Miniaturen done by L.Goldberg.- Varsha : ferlag Univerzal, 1914.- 73, [1], [VI] pp.
    יאנוש קארטשאק; איבערזעצט פון פױלישען - ל. גאלדבערג מיט א פאררעדע פון בעל-מחשבות

  3. BAL-MAKHSHOVES wrote an introduction `to the translation of Heynrikh Heyne's Florentinishe nekht done by L. Federman.- Varsha : ferlag Univerzal, 1914.- 80 p., [1] portr.
    פלארענטינישע נעכט
    הײנריך הײנע; יודיש - ל. פעדערמאן; אײנלײטונג פון בעל-מחשבות

  4. During BAL-MAKHSHOVES's stay in Kiev a collection of his 13 articles was published under the title Kritik (Critique).- Kiev: farlag "Kultur-Lige", 1920.- 126, [1] pp. (The contents is very close to the 3-d volume of [Geklibene] shriften.- Vilna: Vilner ferlag B.A. Kletskin, 1913)
    בעל-מחשבות (דר. עליאשעװ)
    קיעװ: פארלאג קולטור-ליגע, 1920
    1. דרײ שטעטלאך: פרץ, אש און װײסנבערג
    2. שלום יעקב אבראמאװיטש: מענדעלי מוכר ספרים: צום פופציג יאריגן יובילײ
    3. אן אײניקל דעם זײדן: צו דער יובילײ-אױסגאבע פון ש.י. אבראמאװיטשעס װערק
    4. מעמוארן-ליטעראטור
    5. די לעצטע ליטערארישע עפאכע: אלגעמײנע כאראקטעריסטיק
    6. נאטיצן פון א קריטיקער: ה. צײטלין
    7. נאטיצן פון א קריטיקער: ד”ר נתן בירנבױם
    8. נאטיצן פון א קריטיקער: אברהם רײזין
    9. נאטיצן פון א קריטיקער: ל. שאפירא
    10. נאטיצן פון א קריטיקער:דוד אײנהארן
    11. נאטיצן פון א קריטיקער: ל. קאברין
    12. נאטיצן פון א קריטיקער: ז. ליבין
    13. נאטיצן פון א קריטיקער: דוד בערגעלסאן
    1. Dray shtetlakh (Perets, Ash un Vaysnberg)
    2. Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher Sforim): tsum fuftsig yorign yubiley
    3. An eynikl dem zeydn (Tsu der yubiley-oysgabe fun Sh. Y. Abramovitshes verk)
    4. Memuarn-literatur
    5. Di letste literarishe epokhe: algemeyne kharakteristik
    6. Notitsn fun a kritiker: H. Tseytlin
    7. Notitsn fun a kritiker: d-r. Nosn Birnboym
    8. Notitsn fun a kritiker: Avrom Reyzin
    9. Notitsn fun a kritiker: L. Shapiro
    10. Notitsn fun a kritiker: Dovid Eynhorn
    11. Notitsn fun a kritiker: L. Kobrin
    12. Notitsn fun a kritiker: Z. Libin
    13. Notitsn fun a kritiker: Dovid Bergelson

  5. The 2-nd volume of BAL-MAKHSHOVES's Geklibene shriften undergone censorship and was reissued in 1910 without 2 articles (about Maria Spiridonova and pogroms).
    געקליבענע שריפטען
    בעל-מחשבות (דר. עליאשעװ)
    װילנא: פערלאג פון בוכהאנדלונג ש. שרעבערק, 1910
    209 pp., 4 portr.
    Geklibene shriften
    Bal-Makhshoves (dr. Elyashev)
    Vilna: Ferlag fun bukhhandlung Sh. Sreberk
    Второе исправленное изданiе = The second corrected edition