SHOYL (SHAUL, SAUL M.) GINZBURG (April 6, 1866-November 16, 1940)
He was born in Minsk, Byelorussia, into a wealthy, observant family of businessmen and manufacturers. He received a Jewish education with private tutors. He later graduated from a secular high school with a gold medal. Afterward he joined the founders of the “lovers of Zion” (Ḥoveve-tsiyon [early Zionists]) circle known as “Kibuts nideḥe yisrael” (Association of those banished from Israel) in 1882, and he wrote correspondence pieces for Hamagid (The preacher). When he was a student in the law faculty of St. Petersburg University, he was close to members of the secret organization “Nes Tsiyona” (Zionist miracle), founded by yeshiva students in Volozhin. After graduation from university, in 1892, he started publishing critical notices and articles in Voskhod (Sunrise), and from 1897, when he settled in St. Petersburg, he was in charge of the regular columns—called: “Survey of the Jewish press,” using the pen name Hakore, and “Literary chronicle”—of this journal. Aside from a longer work entitled “A Forgotten Epoch” (concerning the first Russian Jewish magazine, Razsviet (Dawn), of 1860), he published articles there about R. Isaac Baer Levinsohn, Perets Smolenskin, Mapu, studies of the history of Hassidism, and the like. In 1899 he joined the new editorial board of Razsviet. In 1901, together with Perets Marek, he brought out the anthology Evreiskie narodnye pesni v Rossii (Yiddish folksongs in Russia) (St. Petersburg, 373 pp.), which proved epochal in the history of Jewish folklore. The texts of the songs were published in Yiddish and Romanization parallel to one another. There was also in the collection a detailed cultural-historical treatise (in Russian) on Yiddish folksongs, with bibliographical commentary and a bibliographical listing compiled by Shmuel Viner.
In January 1903, Ginzburg and Shabsay Rapoport founded in St. Petersburg the first Yiddish daily newspaper in Russia: Der fraynd (The friend). Being a Zionist himself, as chief editor of the newspaper (with assistant editors Dr. Yoysef Lurye, Dr. Kh. D. Hurvits, and Sh. Rozenfeld), he initially added to the newspaper a Zionist coloring, but from the 1905 revolutionary rising, the newspaper became all the more the organ of civil radicalism. The newspaper was rich in information and had the best Yiddish and Hebrew writers as contributors. It became firmly popular, both for intellectuals and for the broad masses, and already in its first year the circulation of the newspaper reached 50,000 copies. Der fraynd (in 1906, because of a political litigation, the name was changed to Dos lebn [The life]) played a major role in the development of the consciousness and literary sensibility of a Jewish mass readership, in enriching the Yiddish language, and in establishing a uniform Yiddish orthography. In 1905 he began publishing Dos lebn as a “monthly journal of literary, scientific, and social issues” (nine issues appeared). In this journal he wrote political reports under the pen name “Sh. Freydes,” a name he used for his cultural-historical studies in Der fraynd. For a short period of time, the newspaper also carried a weekly humor supplement entitled Der bezim (The broom), which later appeared as an irregular witty newspaper. With the emergence of a diversified Yiddish press in Warsaw, Der fraynd went into decline in October 1908, and Ginzburg withdrew from its editorial board and from that point forward devoted himself fully to studies into the cultural history of Russian Jewry. He helped edit the collections Perezhitoie (The past)—four volumes appeared. In Di idishe velt (The Jewish world), issues 1 and 4 (St. Petersburg, 1912), he published (under the pseudonym “Mit hundern yor tsurik” [100 years ago]) chapters of his Russian book on the part played by Jews in the war with Napoleon of 1812, Otechestvennai︠a︡ voina 1812 goda i russkie evrei (The Patriotic War [against Napoleon] of 1812 and Russian Jews) (St. Petersburg, 1912, 152 pp.). In 1918 he edited in Petrograd two volumes of the Hebrew-language journal, Haavar (The past). From 1922 to 1928, he edited the Russian-Jewish collections of historical scholarship, Yevreiskaia mysl’ (Jewish thought) and Yevreiskaia vestnik (Jewish herald), both in Petrograd (Leningrad). On the basis of his archival research, he published in Tsukunft (Future) in New York a series of historical monographs, such as: “Tsvishn haskole un shmad” (Between Enlightenment and apostasy) (April 1922); “A yidishe tsaytung vos iz shier nit aroys mit hundert yor tsurik in rusland” (A Yiddish newspaper that was almost published 100 years ago in Russia) (November 1923); “Di kantonistn” (The Cantonists) (April-May 1924); “Almaras, der forgeyer fun baron hirsh” (Almaras, the forerunner of Baron Hirsch) (January 1925); “Ver iz shuldik in dem 34-yorikn farbot fun yidishn teater in rusland” (Who is responsible for the 34-year ban on Yiddish theater in Russia) (February 1927); “Idishe khutspe” (Jewish nerve) (July 1928); and “Mayse ushits” (The Ushits affair) (October 1928), among others. Between 1897 and 1903, Ginzburg was secretary of the “Ḥevra mefitse haskala” (Society for the promotion of enlightenment) in St. Petersburg, and he took part in the “Union for the Attainment of Full Rights for the Jewish People in Russia” (“Attainers” [dergreykhers] for short). In 1908 he was one of the founders of the Jewish Literary Society in St. Petersburg, with divisions across the country which around 1910 were dissolved by the Tsarist government. Ginzburg was professor of Jewish history in the Institute for Judaic Studies in St. Petersburg. He left Russia in 1930, settling in New York where he became a regular contributor to the Forverts (Forward); there, he published numerous works of research of a cultural and literary historical bent.
Among his books: Historishe verk (Historical works), vols. 1 and 2 entitled Fun idishn lebn un shafn in tsarishn rusland (On Jewish life and work in Tsarist Russia) (New York, 1937), 314 pp. and 312 pp., vol. 3 entitled Idishe laydn in tsarishn rusland (Jewish suffering in Tsarist Russia) (New York, 1938), 416 pp.; Historishe verk, new series, vol. 1 entitled Amolike peterburg, forshungen un zikhroynes vegn yidishn lebn in der residents-shtot fun tsarishn rusland (St. Petersburg of old, research and memories of Jewish life in the imperial capital of Tsarist Russia) (New York, 1944), 261 pp., vol. 2 entitled Meshumodim in tsarishn rusland, forshungen un zikhroynes vegn yidishn lebn in amolikn rusland (Jewish apostates in Tsarist Russia, research and memories of Jewish life in Russia of old) (New York, 1946), 315 pp. A volume of his historical materials also appeared in Hebrew, entitled Ketavim historiyim (Historical writings), translated by Y. L. Bruk. A collection of his historical studies, articles, and characterizations, entitled Minuvshcheie (The past) was published in Petrograd in 1923. He died in New York.