AVROM MENES (January 29, 1897-October 18, 1969)
He was born in Grodno, Russian Poland, into a rigorously religious family. He studied in religious elementary school and yeshivas. At the time of his bar mitzvah, he completed his studies at the yeshiva in Grodno and went on to study at the Mirer yeshiva. His older brother became involved (1905-1906) in the revolutionary movement, and from that time began showing him newspapers, books, and secular literature, as well as illegal pamphlets. From 1913 Menes was studying in various synagogue study chambers in Grodno, while at the same time he became interested in socialist ideas, as he also began to study works of scientific and philosophical literature. In the summer of 1914, for the first time Menes participated in an illegal Bundist meeting, although he did not become a member of the party. He spent the years of WWI in Grodno, where he continued studying both religious and secular materials. In 1917, together with several older Bundists, he founded an illegal Bundist group which launched intensive cultural activities in Grodno and in the surrounding towns. In late 1918, after the defeat of the German armed forces, Menes took an active part in the construction of Jewish community life in Grodno. He assumed the position of vice-chairman of the community council and was a member of the executive of the city council. In late 1920 he made his way to Germany and studied history and Tanakh scholarship at the University of Berlin. In Berlin he was also active in the Bundist group and contributed to publishing in 1920s Berlin. With Nokhum Shtif and Elye Tsherikover, Menes established the initiative group that assisted in the creation of YIVO. After the Nazi takeover in Germany (1933), Menes left Berlin and settled in Paris, where he contributed to the editorial board of Algemeyne yidishe entsiklopedye (General Jewish encyclopedia) and at the same time with other publications as well. With E. Tsherikover, F. Kurski, and A. Rozin (Ben Adir), he edited the third volume of Historishe shriftn fun yivo, di yidishe sotsyalistishe bavegung biz der grindung fun “bund”: forshung, zikhrones, materyaln (Historical writings from YIVO, the Jewish socialist movement until the founding of the Bund: research, memoirs, materials) (Vilna-Paris, 1939), 830 pp. In late 1940, Menes with help from the Jewish Labor Committee came to the United States, where he continued his editorial work for Algemeyne yidishe entsiklopedye and wrote for a series of newspapers and periodical publications. From 1947 he was a regular contributor to the Forverts (Forward) in New York. His literary activity began with a work about the Hebraic elements in the Yiddish language, published in 1919 in the Grodno anthology Unzer vinkl (Our corner), edited by A. Zak. Later, during his time in Berlin, his research field began to crystallize for Menes. He was initially attracted to Jewish history in antiquity (history of Tanakh research), especially the economic and social aspects of Jewish history. In Bleter far yidisher demografye, statistik un ekonomik (Papers on Jewish demography, statistics, and economics), edited by Y. Leshtshinski, Menes published his first major work entitled “Di sotsyale un virtshaftlekhe farheltenishn bay di yidn in altertum” (The social and economic relations among Jews in antiquity) in Berlin (April-August 1923). In this period, he contributed as well to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, as well as to the journals: Virtshaft un lebn (Economy and life) in Berlin and Fraye shriftn (Free writings) in Warsaw, among others. In YIVO’s Shriftn far ekonomik un statistik (Writings on economics and statistics) (Berlin) 1 (1928), he published, among others items: “Melokhe bay yidn in der biblisher un talmudisher tsayt” (Trades among Jews in biblical and Talmudic times) and “Vegn der industrye-bafelkerung bay yidn in rusland, 1897” (On the industrial population among Jewish in Russia, 1897). He published “A shmad-bavegung in praysn in der ershter helft fun 19tn yorhundert” (A conversion movement in Prussia in the first half of the nineteenth century), in Historishe shriftn fun yivo (Historical writings from YIVO) (Warsaw) 1 (1929); “Sakhaklen un perspektivn” (Summing up and perspectives), Virtshaft un lebn (1929); “Der tanakh un zayn ort in der moderner yidisher literatur” (The Tanakh and its place in modern literature), Fraye shriftn (March 1930); “Tsu der frage vegn onheyb fun der yidisher oytonomye in der biblisher tsayt” (On the issue of the beginning of Jewish autonomy in biblical times), Yivo-bleter (Pages from YIVO) (Vilna) 1 (1931); “Di kemerlekh fun tsiber-lebn bay yidn” (The cells of Jewish community life), Yivo-bleter 2 (1931); “Handl un sotsyalizm” (Business and socialism), Fraye shriftn (May 1931); “Nokh a por verter tsu der frage handl un sotsyalizm” (A few more words about the issue of business and socialism), Fraye shriftn (October 1931); “Der matsev fun yidn in shayn fun konyunktur-antviklung” (The condition of Jewish in light of developing circumstances), Yivo-bleter 3 (1932); “Alte un naye yidishkeyt” (Old and new Jewishness), Fraye shriftn (December 1932; May 1933). At that time, Menes—together with Rifoel Abramovitsh—published Leyen-bukh tsu der geshikhte fun yisroel (Textbook for the history of Israel) (Berlin, 1923). He also published in Tsukunft (Future) in New York (January 1924) a study of the stories in Genesis, which also appeared in a German translation under the title “Die sozialpolitische Analyse der Urgeschichte” (Socio-political analysis of prehistory), Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft (Journal of Old Testament scholarship) 43.1 (January 1925). In addition, he also brought out another series of studies in German on the Tanakh. Over the course of his years spent in Paris (1933-1940), Menes expanded the area of his research work into the history of the labor movement and socialism. In Tsukunft (September 1935), he published “Der onheyb fun der yidisher arbeter-bavegung un ir shoyresh in yidishn folks-lebn” (The beginning of the Jewish labor movement and its roots in Jewish folk life); and two years later, in a series of articles also in Tsukunft (January-April 1937), entitled “Sotsyalistishe gezelshaft oder sotsyalistishe gemeynshaft, tsu der revizye fun di ideyen un der praktik fun der sotsyalistisher arbeter-bavegung” (Socialist society or socialist community, on the revision in ideas and practice of the socialist ;labor movement), he confronted the fundamental issues in both Jewish and general socialism. Also, in the third volume of Historishe shriftn fun yivo (Vilna-Paris, 1939), he published a foundational work, “Di yidishe arbeter-bavegung in rusland fun onheyb 70er biz sof 90er yorn” (The Jewish labor movement in Russian from the early 70s until the late 90s). At the same time, Tanakh research and ancient Jewish history still remained the central focus of his scholarly work. In Yivo-bleter in Vilna 9 (1936), he published “”Neviim un folks-farzamlungen, zeyer ort in efntlekhn lebn bay yidn in der biblisher tekufe” (The prophets and popular gatherings, their place in the public life of Jews in the biblical era). From time to time he also wrote journalistic articles on contemporary Jewish problems, which he published in the Parisian journal Afn sheyveg (At the crossroads): “Der zinen fun unzer tsayt” (Sense of our times) (August 1939); and “Unzer veg un unzer goyrl” (Our path and our fate) (April 1939). In New York, Menes continued his research work in all the same fields, but—influenced by the fateful events surrounding the Holocaust—he became ever more engrossed in the issues of Jewish existence and the continuation of Jewish thought. In his journalistic philosophical studies concerning Jewish beliefs, Jewish ethics, and religious way of life, Menes especially stressed the significance of sanctity and human dignity in the Jewish tradition. Menes represents for us the idea that religion, which is an independent factor in the life of an individual, establishes in Jewish community life one of the three currents that influence the development of contemporary Jewish culture: religion, Zionism, and secular socialism. Over the course of many years, these movements contested one another, because the bearers of each of them believed they would become over time the sole dominant force in Jewish cultural life. This, however, was not slated to happen, and Menes supported the idea that Jews must have all three forces on the road working together. In our rich cultural heritage, they must all be part of a joint treasury that can bind us all together. In this connection, we need note such works as the following by him: “Sotsyale yontoyvim bay yidn” (Social festivals among Jews), Tsukunft (April 1932); “Di tfile fun kidesh hashem” (The prayer for martyrdom), Tsukunft (July 1944); “Di ideye fun mentshlekher khshives in der yidisher traditsye” (The idea of human dignity in the Jewish tradition), Idisher kemfer (Jewish fighter) (Rosh Hashanah [September 10,] 1953); “Ikev hatfile un ikev hakrie” (Forcing the congregation to delay reading the Torah to deal with a personal complaint), Idisher kemfer (Passover [April 5-11,] 1947); “Eybikeyt” (Eternity), Idisher kemfer (April 17, 1953); “A naye velt un a nayer mentsh” (A new world and a new person), Idisher kemfer (Rosh Hashanah [September 29,] 1952); “Shabes, der yidisher tog un di yidishe ideye” (Sabbath, the Jewish day and the Jewish idea), in Seyfer hashabes, shabes in yidishn lebn durkh ale doyres (The book of the Sabbath, the Sabbath in Jewish life throughout all generations), compiled by Israel J. Schwartz (New York, 1947); “Di gaystike geshtalt funem poylishn yid” (The spiritual image of the Polish Jew), Tsukunft (August 1943); “Der yidisher lebnsshteyger un zayn sotsyal-etishe badaytung” (The Jewish way of life and its social-ethical significance), Tsukunft (March 1947); “Di toyre shebal pe fun rusland un poyln” (The oral law [Talmud] in Russia and Poland), Idisher kemfer (August-November 1946); “Der vilner goen un zayn shite” (The Gaon of Vilna and his doctrine), Idisher kemfer (Passover [April 10-16,] 1952); and more. He also published a great number of articles concerned with Jewish holidays in Forverts, for which he was a regular contributor. He wrote a series of important works in the fields of history, sociology, and philosophy , as well as methodological issues in Jewish historical research, such as: “Di am-oylem-bavegung” (The Am-Olam movement), in Geshikhte fun der yidisher arbeter bavegung in di fareynikte shtatn (History of the Jewish labor movement in the United States), vol. 2 (New York, 1945); “Der poylisher yid in der yidisher geshikhte” (The Polish Jew in Jewish history), in Di yidn in poyln (The Jews in Poland) (New York, 1946); “Farvos davke aaves yisroel” (Why necessarily love of Israel), Tsukunft (July-September 1949); “Aaves yisroel un yidishe geshikhte” (Love of Israel and Jewish history), Tsukunft (April 1954); “Yidishe demokratye un parteyishe visnshaft” (Jewish democracy and partisan scholarship), Tsukunft (November 1949); “Di shlikhes fun der yidisher visnshaft” (The mission of Jewish scholarship), Idisher kemfer (Rosh Hashanah [September 12,] 1950); and more. On the problems of Jewish existence in contemporary times, he penned a series entitled “Alte un naye yidishkeyt” (Old and new Jewishness), Tsukunft (October-December 1941 and August 1942), and: “Yidishkeyt bikhides un yidishkeyt betsiber” (Jewishness privately and Jewishness collectively), Tsukunft (November 1945); “Yidish folk, yidish loshn, yidish gloybn” (Jewish people, Yiddish language, Jewish belief), Tsukunft (June 1946); “Yidish gloybn in unzer tsayt” (Jewish belief in our time), Idisher kemfer (Rosh Hashanah [September 15,] 1947); and “Di shlikhes fun undzer dor” (The mission of our generation), Kultur un dertsiung (Culture and education) in New York (February 1959); among others. Of particular value are Menes’s summing-up writings which appeared in Algemeyne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia): the piece “Yidish geshikhte” (Jewish history), which embraces the biblical and Talmudic eras, was published in the “Yidn 1” (Jews, vol. 1), pp. 100-86; the survey of Talmudic literature in “Yidn 2” (Jews, vol. 2), pp. 267-213. In the same volume, Menes placed two further works: “Oykum un geshikhte fun yidishn gloybn” (The emergence and history of Jewish belief) and “Di sotsyalistishe bavegung in rusland un poyln” (The socialist movement in Russian and Poland), with R. Abramovitsh; and “Di mizrekh-eyropeishe tkufe in der yidisher geshikhte” (The Eastern European epoch in Jewish history), pp. 275-430. In “Yidn 3” (Jews, vol. 3) of Algemeyne entsiklopedye (New York, 1964), pp. 1-46, he placed the introductory essay, “Problemen fun lebn un vidershtand in di getos” (Problems of life and the resistance in the ghettos). Menes’s works in English would include the following: “The Ethical Teachings of Moses Hayim Luzzatto,” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 17 (1948), pp. 61-68; “Patterns of Jewish Scholarship in Eastern Europe,” in The Jews: Their History, Culture and Religion, edited by L. Finkelstein (New York, 1960), vol. 1, pp. 376-424, third edition. In the English edition of the general Jewish encyclopedia, The Jewish People, Past and Present (4 vols., New York, 1946-1955), he published: “The Yeshivot in Eastern Europe” in vol. 2, pp. 108-18; and “The Jewish Labor Movement” in vol. 4. This English encyclopedia also included his aforecited writings on Jewish history and Tanakh literature, as well as his essay on the rise of Jewish belief. His articles in Forverts were much admired by readers.
His books include: Die vorexilischen Gesetze Israels im Zusammenhang seiner kulturgeschichtlichen Entwicklung (The pre-exilic laws of Israel in the context of its cultural-historical development) (Giessen, 1928), 143 pp., a longer work on the laws of the Torah, which deal with the social and economic development in Israel and Judah in the era of the First Temple; Leyen-bukh tsu der geshikhte fun yisroel (Berlin, 1923), 118 pp. (illustrated), with Rifoel Abramovitsh; Di yidishe folks-hakhnose un sotsyaler budzhet, a pruv fun an analiz (The Jewish people’s national income and social budget, an attempt based on an analysis) (Paris, 1936), 19 pp.; Elye hanovi, agodes un folks-mayses (Elijah the prophet, homiletic tales and folk stories) (New York, 1955), 343 pp.; Der yidisher gedank in der nayer tsayt, dokumentn, eseyen un oystsugn (Jewish thought in modern times: documents, essays, and extracts), vol. 1: “Goles un geule” (Diaspora and redemption) (New York, 1957), 428 pp.; Shabes un yontef, sotsyale gerekhtikeyt, kheshbn hanefesh, geule inem gang fun yidishn yor (Sabbath and holidays, social justice, spiritual stocktaking, salvation in the course of the Jewish year) (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1973), 422 pp.; Yidn un yidishkeyt (Jews and Judaism) (Jerusalem, 1974/1975), 2 vols. Menes’s books Elye hanovi and Der yidisher gedank in der nayer tsayt drew considerable attention in the Jewish cultural world and were positively reviewed by the critics. Dr. A. Mukdoni wrote concerning the latter work: “We have here a complete anthology of political Jewish thought in modern times…. A. Menes is qualified for such a job as a scholar, but first and foremost—he is qualified for this job given his disposition, his quiet and pious objectivity. And, this is just what such a work needs. Here are intact all opinions, no matter how divergent or contradictory they may be. All may be found here with equal rights…. For, no matter how contradictory the ideas may be, in the end they are all the spiritual fruit of one people…. Yes, this is a good book and even more: a necessary book.” Concerning Menes’s Elye hanovi, A. Glants-Leyeles wrote that it is “a valuable volume with texts, scholarly commentary, legends, and folktales about the figure of this remarkable prophet, who so influenced the fantasies of our people for over 2,000 years…. In his highly compact introduction, Menes demonstrates an immersion not only in a considerable amount of learning, but he also establishes on the basis of its basic features the image of Elijah—with all their changes, transformations, and wonder-filled qualities.” Concerning Menes’s introduction to Elye hanovi, Y. Botoshanski noted: “The introduction—that is, ‘Elye hanovi un zayn tsayt’ (Elijah the prophet and his times)—… is a fine and engrossing study of this prophet, who is to destined to bring the messiah. And, although the title speaks of Elijah the prophet and his times, we get in the introduction the very essence of Elijah who remains at all times as the most significant personality whom the biblical epoch brought forth after Moses.” On the anthology Der yidisher gedank in der nayer tsayt, Dr. Sh. Margoshes wrote: “This book is perhaps the most valuable collection that we possess for the ideological lines of thought in our time. It shines a particularly bright light on the painful problems, economic, political, and spiritual, that have tormented our generation.” Late in life, Menes was preparing for publication a book of his selected essays, in which he would include his articles of longstanding importance which were published earlier in Forverts and other serials. He died in New York.
Sources: Khatskl Dunyets, In kamf af tsvey frontn (In a struggle on two fronts) (Minsk: Byelorussian Academy of Sciences, 1932); E. Osherovitsh, in Afn visnshaflekhn front (Minsk) 1.2 (1932); Dr. Chaim Zhitlovsky, in Der tog (New York) (August 20, 1932); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (April 10, 1935); Mukdoni, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (March 25, 1956); Mukdoni, in Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (October 1957); Yankev Glatshteyn, in In tokh genumen (In essence) (New York, 1947); A. Leyeles, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (July 1956; September 25, 1960; September 26, 1960); P. Shteynvaks, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (August 12, 1956; August 15, 1956); Shteynvaks, Siluetn fun a dor (Silhouettes of a generation) (Buenos Aires, 1958); Shteyvaks, in Byalistoker shtime (New york) (September-October 1952); D. Naymark, in Forverts (New York) (April 15, 1956); Dr. Sh. Saymon, in Di tsukunft (New York) (October 1956); Y. Vinyetski, in Di shtime (Mexico City) (March 17, 1956); Dr. Sh. Margoshes, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (August 24, 1957); Hillel Rogof, in Forverts (September 15, 1957); Kh. Bez, in Keneder odler (October 28, 1957); M. Khizkuni, in Kultur un dertsiung (October 1957); Meylekh Ravitsh, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (December 20, 1957); Ravitsh, in Forverts (May 8, 1960); Dr. N. Woherman, in Omer (Tel Aviv) (Elul 10 [= September 2], 1960); Khayim Leyb Fuks, in Der veker (New york) (December 1964); Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 7 (New York).
[Addition information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 380.]