Tuesday 20 September 2016


MOYSHE-LEYB KHASHKES (MOSES LÖB CHASHKES, DANTSIG) (September 27, 1848-December 15, 1906)[1]
            He was born in Vilna (or in Bikhov), Byelorussia.  He studied in various yeshivas, including the Volozhin Yeshiva, before becoming a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment and going to Zhitomir (in the 1860s), where he attended rabbinical school (then under the influence of Khayim-Zelig Slonimski).  He soon left the school, studied for a longer period of time in the 1870s, and established himself as a writer.  He later lived in Moscow, from where he was banished by decree in 1892, then in Riga, in Warsaw (in 1890s), and in St. Petersburg.  Khashkes wrote in several languages, although he began in Hebrew.  He contributed (poems and articles) to the Hebrew-language press in the 1860s and published the following works in Hebrew: Nite naamanim (Seeds of the faithful), poems and essays (Warsaw, 1869), 56 pp.; Haperaḥim (The flowers) (Odessa, 1869), 80 pp.; Nevel vekhinor (Harp and lyre), poetry (Odessa, 1871), 64 pp.; Tsipor deror (Sparrow), poems and satires from Jewish life (Odessa, 1872), 46 pp.; Kol hator (Voice of the times), poetry and a story about social life of Jews in Russia (St. Petersburg, 1975), 136 pp.; Maḥat bevasar heḥai (A needle in flesh), satirical poems depicting the life of people at a low social stratum (St. Petersburg, 1877), 136 pp.; Sefer hayomi (The daily book), diary of a Jewish author in Russia over the years 1880-1881, in verse (St. Petersburg, 1881), 192 pp.—of an autobiographical character; Kol shire moshe ḥashkes (Collected poems of Moyshe Ḥashkes), part 1 (Warsaw, 1896), 106 pp.; Demaot atsurot, shirim (Tears restrained, poems), including poems that he had written earlier in Russian (St. Petersburg, 1906), 263 pp., appearing shortly after the author’s death.
            In Yiddish Khashkes wrote in verse and prose for: Kol mevaser (Herald), Kol laam (The people’s voice), Yudishes folksblat (Jewish people’s newspaper), Hoyz-fraynd (House friend), Varshaver yudisher familyen-kalendar (Warsaw Jewish family calendar), and others, using his own name or the pseudonyms “Khashke di vilnerke” (Khashke the girl from Vilna) or Moyshe ben Yankev Dantsig.  In book form he published in Yiddish (according to Zalmen Reyzen’s Leksikon): Al haadorim (To the crowd), “a call to all devoted Jewish children” (Pressburg, 1863), 43 pp.—according to Kh. D. Fridberg’s Bet eked sefarim (List of books), the author of this work was Hillel Likhtenshteyn; Seyfer al haadorim hasheyni (To the crowd, two), the second call “to all Jewish children”—“this book was written so that the Jew should know himself and that his children should be rescued from Gentile practices” (Lvov, 1869), 92 pp. (this follows Reyzen’s Leksikon, though in Bet eked sefarim the author’s name is given as Rabbi Moyshe Soyfer); Der Litvak (The Lithuanian), “a variety of Yiddish poems, serious ones, also satirical ones, one of them entitled ‘Der Litvak,’ properly characterized by Moyshe ben Yankev Dantsig” (Odessa: M. A. Belinson, 1869), 48 pp.; Di litvetshke (The Lithuanian woman), “a variety of Yiddish poems, one of them entitled ‘Di litvetshke’” (Odessa: L. Nitshe, 1879), 42 pp.; Odeser voyle yunger oder tsen mayl fun odes brent der gehenem (Happy Odessan youth, but hell is burning [only] ten miles from Odessa), from “Paltiel Langhandiker and Yirakhmiel Fingerklepke,” part 1 (Odessa, 1871), 64 pp. (the full novel, entitled Odeser voyle yunger, appeared anonymously in Odessa in 1872); Lider funem hertsen (Poems from the heart), written by Moyshe ben Yankev Khashkes using the cover “Khashke di Vilnerke” (Cracow: Yoysef Fisher, 1888), 48 pp.; and Di yudene (The older Jewish woman), stories; among others.  Khashkes poems (for the most part of a wedding entertainer’s sort, à Elyokim Tsunzer, but without the talent) contained a bit of social satire as well as ethnic pathos—depending on the time and change in mood, something shared by many Enlightenment writers in Yiddish between the mid-1860s and late 1880s.  When in “Di litvetshke,” for example, Khashkes sarcastically ridiculed the rabbis who “raise wedding canopies over cemeteries,” while Jews “collapse like sheaves” from “hunger, cholera, and other troubles,” he was thinking of religious Jewish elementary schools in the late 1880s: “the crowded, filthy classrooms with old, greasy texts,” if “no higher in education, in learning, in teaching, then in feelings, in dignity” (from his Lider funem hertsen).  Of considerable more literary quality was his novel Odeser voyle yunger, which was written following the example of the very popular Russian novel of the time, Peterburgskye trushchoby (The slums of St. Petersburg) by Vsevolod Krestovsky.  Depictions of the underworld was a current style at the time in literature, and Khashkes attempted in Yiddish to describe the poor saloonkeepers and roadhouse owners, “cellars and slums,” thieves and “belt-tailors” (N. Oyslender provides a detailed analysis of the novel in his work on “Mendeles forgeyers” [Mendele’s predecessors], in the anthology Mendele un zayn tsayt [Mendele and his times]).  Khashkes’s books in Russian were: Kurtina muchenichestba evreev (The flower-bed of martyrdom of the Jews) (St. Petersburg, 1879); a translation from the fifth volume of Heinrich Graetz’s history (Moscow, 1880); a translation of M. J. Schleiden’s Die Romantik des Martyriums bei den Juden im Mittelalter (The romance of martyrdom among the Jews in the middle ages) as Stradaniya︡, bi︠e︡dstviya︡ i zashchitniki evreev (Sufferings, calamities, and protectors of the Jews) (St. Petersburg, 1882)[2]; a translation of Ellenberg’s Leiden der Jüden (Suffering of the Jews); Stikhi i mysli (Verse and thought), poetry and ideas (St. Petersburg, 1888), 71 pp.; Stikhotvorenii︠a︡ (Poems) (Moscow, 1892), 293 pp.; Abarbanel (Abarbanel), a drama in four acts (Vilna, 1897), 54 pp., translated from Russian into Hebrew by Y. L. Gamzu in 1893 (see the review in Voskhod [Sunrise] 12 [1894], pp. 23-25); Evreiskii litovets, Yohan Shvabski (Jewish Lithuanian, Johan Shvabsky), a drama in five acts (third printing in 1897).
            Khashkes lived his last years in St. Petersburg and supported himself by selling his religious texts.  Shoyel Ginzburg, the first editor of the St. Petersburg-based Fraynd (Friend), described Khashkes’s way of life at that time as: he was “a literary beggar of the new, stylish sort.  Always well dressed, with a top hat on his head, he used to walk around the hotels, searching for Jews by their family names, intruding upon them in their rooms, and selling them his treatises.  He was travel about the warm bathhouses and spas and look for clients.  He would demands, threaten, and not leave until receiving a ruble or two.”  Ginzburg also recounted that Khashkes had a poor reputation in Jewish literary circles at the time in St. Petersburg and that after his death the Yiddish press dedicated not a single obituary to him.  He died in St. Petersburg after a long illness without seeing his final book—Demaot atsurot which appeared in print just after his passing.  His books are now rare.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1, with a bibliography; Z. Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun idishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 1; Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 3, p. 679, with a bibliography; Encyclopaedia Judaica (in German), vol. 5, pp. 350-51, with a bibliography; S. Wininger, Grosse Jüdische National Biographie (Great Jewish national biography) (Czernowitz, 1925), vol. 1, p. 541, with a bibliography; Sh. Ginzburg, in Forverts (New York) (August 16, 1931); Z. Reyzen, in Yivo-bleter (Vilna) 13 (1938), pp. 606, 616; N. Oyslender, in Mendele un zayn tsayt (Mendele and his time), ed. Arn Gurshteyn (Moscow, 1940), pp. 148-56; Dr. Y. Shatski, in Yivo-bleter (New York) 23 (1944), p. 133; Sh. Shreberk, Zikhroynes (Memoirs) (Tel Aviv, 1955), p. 138.
Yitskhok Kharlash

[1] The dates of Khashkes’s birth and death differ according to different encyclopedias and biographical dictionaries.  Compared with the dates of his published books and the events in his life, the dates given above appear to be the correct ones.
[2] Translator’s note. Other sources give this as a translation by Khashkes of a work by Heinrich Ellenberg and Kurtina muchenichestba evreev as Khashkes’s translation of Schleiden’s work.

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