YOYSEF (YOSEF, JOSEPH) PERL (November 8, 1773-October 2, 1839)
He was born in Tarnopol, eastern Galicia, into a wealthy family. He studied in religious elementary schools and secular subject matter with private tutors. In his youth he was a Hassid, later becoming a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment in Galicia. He was the founder and director of the four-level Jewish school in Tarnopol. He maintained the school alone. The school had in its programming the Yiddish language, and even German was written there in the Jewish alphabet (see the essay by M. Balaban, in Yivo-bleter [Pages from YIVO] in Vilna 3 ). In 1912 he founded a publishing house which, aside from Mendl Lefin’s first Yiddish translation of Proverbs, also brought out three annual calendars (1813, 1814, 1815), and there he began to publish himself. In Peter Beer’s Geschichte der Sekten in Judenthum (History of the sects of Judaism) (Vienna, 1816), he published an essay entitled “Über das Wesen der sekte Chassidim” (On the essence of the Hassidic sect). His Hebrew work Megale temirin (Revealer of secrets) (Vienna, 1819), 110 pp., was the first satirical work in modern Hebrew literature, written in the language and style of a Hassidic storybook, the form—taken from 151 letters of twenty-six Hassidim to one another, concerning actual Hassidic and general affairs, excelled in its manner of imparting and introducing the genuine tendencies of the author in battling against Hassidism. The influence of Megale temirin was apparent in both Hebrew literature (Yitsḥak Erter, Hatsofe levet yisrael [Spectator of the House of Israel]) and in Yiddish literature (Y. Y. Linetski, Dos poylishe yingl [The Polish lad]). His struggle against Hassidism was also expressed in his second work, Boḥen tsadik (Test of a righteous man) (Prague, 1819), 120 pp. He was in addition the author of Dray briv (Three letters), a supplement to Y. B. Levinzon’s “Shiḥa” (Conversation), which Perl published as Divre tsadikim (Words of the righteous) (Vienna, 1834). He also penned articles for Kerem ḥemed (Vineyard of delight) (Vienna-Prague, 1836-1838), as well as several pieces concerned with school matters in German. In Tarnopol people boasted of Perl, and when Yisroel Vaynlez (Weinlös) canvassed Perl’s archive, he found Perl’s Yiddish compositions. They were included in a volume: Yoysef perls yidishe ksovim (Yoysef Perl’s Yiddish writings) (Vilna: YIVO, 1937), 244 pp. In addition to the Yiddish text, the book included Megale temirin, the Hassidic story written in the style of the Sipure-maasiyot (Tales) of Rabbi Nakhmen of Bratslav, and “Gdules r. volf” (The grandeur of Reb Volf). There is also the monograph by Weinlös entitled “Y. perl, zayn lebn un shafn” (Y. Perl, his life and works), 63 pp.; and Z. Kalmanovitsh’s “Literarisher un shriftlekher analiz” (Literary and artistic analysis), 37 pp. An important contribution is also Simkhe Kats’s work. He selected Perl’s other writings (some of them published in Yivo-bleter in Vilna, November-December 1938). Some of Perl’s Yiddish letters, dramatic writings in Yiddish and Hebrew, as well as his Yiddish historical novel Antignos, were later published in Israeli periodicals. The discovered Yiddish writings establish the importance that Perl ascribed to the Yiddish language in the work of the Jewish Enlightenment. He died in Tarnopol.
Sources: On Megale temirin and its author, there is an entire literature. We shall only note a number of the most important sources: Maks Erik, Etyudn tsu der geshikhte fun der haskole (Studies in the history of the [Jewish] Enlightenment) (Minsk, 1934), pp. 163-74; Dr. Yisroel Tsinberg, Di geshikhte fun literatur bay yidn (The history of Jewish literature), vol. 7 (Vilna, 1936), pp. 283-88; Tsinberg, Di bli-tekufe fun der haskole (The flourishing period of the Enlightenment) (New York, 1966), see index; Y. Vaynlez and Z. Kalmanovitsh, Yoysef perls yidishe ksovim (Yoysef Perl’s Yiddish writings) (Vilna: YIVO, 1937), p. 107; Arn Mark, in Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper) (Warsaw) (September 3, 1937); Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (New York) (October 1937); Simkhe Kats, in Yivo-bleter (Vilna) (November-December 1938); Niger, Bleter geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur (Pages of history from Yiddish literature) (New York: Shmuel Niger Book Committee, World Jewish Culture Congress, 1959), pp. 270-73; M. Viner, Tsu der geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur in 19th yorhundert (On the history of Yiddish literature in the nineteenth century) (Kiev, 1940), pp. 44-49; Dr. F. Fridman, in Shriftn far psikhologye un pedagogye (Vilna) 2 (1940); Khayim Liberman, in Yivo-bleter (New York) 2 (1947), pp. 201-19; Dr. R. Mahler, Der kamf tsvishn haskole un khsides in galitsye in der ershter helft fun 19tn yorhundert (The struggle between Jewish Enlightenment and Hassidism in the first half of the nineteenth century) (New York: YIVO, 1942), see index; M. Osherovitsh, Yidn in ukraine (Jews in Ukraine) (New York, 1961), pp. 279-336; Avrom Rubinshteyn, in Kiryat sefer (Jerusalem) 38 (pp. 415-24), 39 (pp. 117-36).
Khayim Leyb Fuks