Wednesday 3 January 2018


EZRIEL NAKS (ISRAEL KNOX) (May 3, 1907-June 9, 1986)
            He was born in Rogatshov (Rogachev), Mohilev district, Byelorussia.  His father, an elementary school teacher and Torah reader in synagogue, left for the United States in 1909, and five years later the rest of the family arrived there.  Until age seventeen he studied in a Talmud Torah, and at the same time he also attended high school in New Haven.  He later graduated from City College in New York, and then proceeded to Columbia University, from which he received his M. A. degree in 1932 and his Ph.D. in 1936.  His dissertation on Kant, Hegel, and Schopenhauer established his name among American philosophers.[1]  Already in his school years, he expressed himself with Yiddish and became an uncompromising Yiddishist.  In the school years he also wrote essays in Yiddish and was close with Dr. Chaim Zhitlovsky ideologically.  Over the years 1927-1932, he was a teacher of Yiddish in the Sholem-Aleykhem schools in New York, a leader among the youth in the Yiddish Cultural Association, and for a long period of time he was the director of the English-speakers’ youth section of Workmen’s Circle and editor of its serial The Call.  He was professor of philosophy (1947-1951) at Ohio University and from 1951 at New York University.  He was a well-known lecturer and author in both English and Yiddish.  He contributed work to the Anglophone serials: Journal of Philosophy and Ethics—in which he published chapters of his work on the philosophy of humor).  In the English-language publication of Workmen’s Circle, The Call, he was in charge of a column entitled “In the Yiddish World.”  He also frequently wrote for such Anglophone Jewish periodicals as Commentary.  In Yiddish he placed work in: Di Tsukunft (The future), Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor), and Der veker (The alarm), among others.  He also contributed to separate publications, such as Yitskhok-nakhmen shtaynberg gedenkbukh (Remembrance volume for Yitskhok-Nakhmen Shtaynberg).  From January 1961 he served as editor of Point of View, an English-language quarterly publication of the Jewish Labor Committee in New York.  In book form in English: Rabbi in America: The Story of Isaac M. Wise (Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1957), 173 pp.—a biography of the founder of Reform Judaism in America, Isaac Mayer Wise, a rabbi from Bohemia, arrived in the United States in 1846 at age twenty-seven and until 1900 played an exceptional role in Jewish spiritual life there.  “This is a piece of Jewish history and human history.  The human illusions emerge with striking clarity, when a certain amount of time passes….  An instructive and interesting work.” wrote Y. Varshavshi [Isaac Bashevis Singer].  “Dr. E. Naks,” noted Y. Zilberberg, “is among the few philosophically schooled writers and speakers, who remain active in our world….  The essays that Naks has published, primarily in Tsukunft and Commentary, are always innovative, always educative.  In everything that Dr. Naks writes, one senses an ethical-humanistic approach….  His striving is to get at the Jewish root.  He gains inspiration from world redemption, from the governance of heaven, in the vision of our prophets, although Dr. Naks is fundamentally grounded in the world of ideas and social concepts of the nineteenth century.”  Naks’s book, write F. Sandler, “is a condensed history of the Reform movement in the Jewish religion in the United States, whose architect, builder, and most influential leader was Rabbi Wise.  It is the history of Reform Judaism, as it arose and developed in America under the leadership and impact of Rabbi Wise.”  Naks gave public lectures with great success (both in English and in Yiddish) in numerous cities in the United States and Canada.  On several occasions he served on the managing committee of the Yiddish Pen Club in America and from 1961 was its vice-president.  In 1964 he was invited to Australia, and for two months he gave lectures with extraordinary success in Yiddish and English.  He died in New York.

Sources: Who’s Who in World Jewry (New York, 1955), p. 406; Sh. Slutski, Avrom reyzen-biblyografye (Avrom Reyzen bibliography) (New York, 1956), no. 5238; H. I. Brock, “The Old and the New,” New York Times Book Review (November 17, 1957); A. Leyeles, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (February 22, 1958); Y. Zilberberg, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (March 1, 1958); Dr. L. Rukhames, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (English section) (March 23, 1958); Y. Varshavski, in Forverts (New York) (June 1, 1958); F. Sandler, in Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (October 1958); Meylekh Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (February 23, 1961); Y. Rapoport, in Di yidishe post (Melbourne) (September 4, 1963).
Yankev Kahan

[1] Translator’s note.  He later published: The Aesthetic Theories of Kant, Hegel, and Schopenhauer (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1978), 219 pp. (JAF)

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