AVROM-YANKEV (JACOB) NETTER (1842-1918)
He was born in Lithuania and lived in Yagustova (Augustów), Suwalk district. He became a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment early in life. Under the influence of the first socialist writers in Hebrew (Y. L. Kantor, Yehalel [Yehuda-Leyb Levin], and others), he became a socialist. With the Vilna group, “Am olam” (Eternal people), organized by Av. Kaspe, he moved to the United States in 1882. He worked as a teacher in the Meḥazike Talmud Torah in New York, though he was forced later to relinquish his position because of his heretical behavior. He was active in the Jewish labor movement, and his apartment became a center of pioneers of Jewish radicalism in America. With his talents and fine character, in a short time he acquired numerous followers and friends. In the conflict between the “Arbayter Tsaytung Public Association” and the S.L.P. (Socialist Labor Party) in the 1890s, Netter joined the “opposition” and helped establish Forverts (Forward) in 1897. He wrote for Forverts and Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor) on Zionism, religion, socialism, and the like, though primarily combative pieces against religion. A series of these heretical articles later came out in book form under the title Der idisher got un religyon, loyt toyre moyshe un di ikrim (The Jewish God and religion, according to the Torah of Moses and [its] principles) (New York: Khevre dorshe emes, 1907), 133 pp. In 1901 Netter was very active in the revival of Di tsukunft (The future) and later became manager of the magazine. The Jewish anarchist writer Dr. Michael Kohn was Netter’s son-in-law. “Netter had a deep confidence in mankind,” wrote H. Vigderson. “He was persuaded that men, the highest of living beings, had in the short time of their existence [in a biological sense] accomplished a great deal. In conversations, he would point out that, when a person is in danger, another person is prepared to risk his life to save him. In one’s ordinary life, he would remark, a person’s attachment to a child, to the helpless, and to those who have suffered injustice is active sympathy. Cruelty, fraud, and hypocrisy certainly exist, but these are not the essence of a human being. What is essential here is the opposite—the best in man…. Religion is entirely superfluous when it is a question of improving man and harmful because it creates fanaticism and persecution. The disappearance of religion will enable people to come together and understand one another better. This was also Netter’s standpoint on nationalism. He wrote along these lines in Fraye arbeter shtime, and he also wrote several pamphlets on this…. He also impressed me as a typically Jewish wise man, irrespective of his heretical behavior. His antipathy for religion was religious. In personal relations he was the personification of goodness and courtesy. Whenever someone he knew had trouble, his involvement was both personal and serious, just as if the trouble were his own. He was always a consistent socialist, but he did not think highly of politics.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; M. Winchevsky and A. Lyesin, in Di tsukunft (New York) (February 1918), pp. 94-95, 128-29; Kalmen Marmor, Dovid edelshttadt-bukh (Volume for Dovid Edelshtadt) (New York, 1942), see index; Marmor, Dovid edelshtadt-gedenk-bukh (Dovid Edelshtadt remembrance volume) (New York, 1953), pp. 183-85; H. Vidgerson, in Forverts (New York) (August 31, 1952); A. Shin, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (January 15, 1961).