NAFTALI MASKIL-LEETAN (February 20, 1829-November 19, 1897)
He was born in Radoshkovitsh (Radashkovichy), Minsk district, Byelorussia, the son of a rabbi. He studied with his father, at religious elementary schools and yeshivas in Minsk, and at the yeshivas of Horodok and Volozhin. In his early days in synagogue study hall, he started writing poetry in Hebrew and in Yiddish. At age seventeen he composed a play entitled Ester (Esther), which in manuscript was widely known among the followers of the Jewish Enlightenment at that time. He arrived in Vilna in 1855 and became a frequent visitor at the home of Adam Hakohen Lebenzon, who published a poem of his (left unsigned) as an introduction to Kalmen Shulman’s Hebrew translation of Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris. At the time he also published (using the pen name “Divre emunim”) his “Shir tsiyon” (Poem of Zion), as an introduction to Yehalel’s Sifte renanot (Lips of joyous poetry), as well as poems and articles in the Hebrew-language publications of the day: Keneset yisrael (Congregation of Israel), Hamelits (The spectator), Hamagid (The preacher), and Luaḥ aḥiasaf. He also published under such pseudonyms as: Ploni, Ben-Avraham, and Mamoni. He composed prayers in Yiddish, Hebrew prayers, and poems of Zion and popular poetry, which between the 1860s and 1890s were published either anonymously or with such pseudonyms as: Mamoni, Avrom Avinus Eynikl (our father Abraham’s grandson), and Naftolke der Ile (Little Natali the prodigy). From 1859 to 1979, he devoted himself to adapting the edition of Yekhiel Halpern’s Seder hadorot (Order of the generations) in four volumes (Warsaw, 1875-1882). His writings in book form include: Ḥokhmat yehoshua ben sira (The wisdom of Joshua ben Sira) (Vilna, 1869), 82 pp., with notes in Judeo-German; a collection of articles, translations, and florid works, entitled Mikhtav lelamed (Letter of explanation) (Vilna, 1870), 132 pp., unsigned. In 1870 he also published in Vilna his Yiddish translation of En yaakov (Jacob’s eye [a collection of tales and homiletical literature drawn from the Talmud]). He adapted and explained (under the pen name Mamoni) in Yiddish and Russian R. Benyamin Musafia, Sefer zakhar rav (Volume in memory of Rav) (Warsaw, 1875), 92 pp. Best known among his Yiddish-language prayers for women: A naye tkhine hazkares neshomes (A new women’s memorial prayer for the dead) (Warsaw, 1874); Tkhine khadoshe letashlikh (New women’s prayer for Tashlikh) (Warsaw, 1876); Mizmer leeysn (Psalm for strength) (Warsaw, 1882); Naye yidishe folkslider un tsien-lider min hametsar (New Yiddish folk poetry and Zion poems out of distress), written under the pen name Avrom Avinus Eynikl (Warsaw, 1898), 28 pp., published posthumously by his son. He was also the author of Seder hagadah shel pesaḥ, im beur ḥadash, midrash hagada (Hagada for Passover, with a new commentary and tales from the Hagada) (Warsaw, 1883), 68 pp.; and of Ruaḥ ḥakhamim (The spirit of the sages), published by his son (Warsaw, 1912), 335 pp. He also penned prefaces to his father’s religious texts: Yad avraham (The arm of Abraham) and Beer avraham (The well of Abraham), among others. A large portion of his writings was lost during his trip from Vilna to Warsaw (1874) and as a result of an immense fire in Minsk (1882). He died in Minsk. In manuscript he left behind a large number of translations from Hebrew-Aramaic into Judeo-German, as well as poetry and florid prose in Hebrew.
Sources: Sefer zikaron (Book of remembrance) (Warsaw, 1889), pp. 153-56; Luaḥ aḥiasaf (Warsaw, 1898), pp. 345-46; Zalmen Reyzen, Psevdonimen in der yidisher literatur (Pseudonyms in Yiddish literature) (Vilna, 1939); Tsvi Harkavi, Leḥeker mishpaḥot (Inquiry into families) (Jerusalem, 1953), pp. 11-12; Shmuel Niger, Bleter geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur (Pages from the history of Yiddish literature) (New York, 1959), pp. 83, 106; Tsvi Sharfshteyn, in Shvile haḥinukh (New York) (summer 1962), pp. 223-25; Bet eked sefarim.
Khayim Leyb Fuks