Micah Yosef Berdyczewski and the Development of Modern Hebrew Literature
|April 12, 2012|
Micha Josef Berdyczewski
by Talia Lavin
Introduction: the birth of Modern Hebrew
The resurrection of Hebrew from a “dead,”  liturgical language into a living tongue remains dazzling, even a half-century after its initial establishment as an official state language. Once a purely literary language of Scripture and holy songs, Hebrew is now the native language of a populace of millions, and the vehicle of cultural products as diverse as inaugural speeches, pizzeria menus, comic books, and lullabies. As famed Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai writes in his poem “National Thoughts,”
to speak now in this weary language,
a language that was torn from its sleep in the Bible: dazzled,
it wobbles from mouth to mouth. In a language that once described
miracles and God, to say car, bomb, God. 
The process of tearing Hebrew from its Biblical sleep was not easily or immediately accomplished. Although it has certainly come a long way, Hebrew remains a perpetually evolving language. A thousand-year gap in its spoken evolution has rendered it full of gaps and omissions, which natives are continually repairing with clever calques from English (“fen,” from the English “fan,” for “blowdryer,” among many others), or appropriation of street Arabic (the omnipresent ahla and sababa).
While credit for this unprecedented transformation is often conferred upon the small core of radically idealist early settlers in Palestine (and the gifted monomaniac Eliezer Ben Yehuda), Hebrew’s journey towards renewed prominence began much earlier, in a literary revolution that shook the world of Jewish intellectualism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The strange paradox of modern Hebrew literature—its persistence, for more than a century, on foreign soil and without native speakers—and the subsequent in toto revival of the tongue is unprecedented in the history of language.
Of course, for those who participated in its revival, Hebrew was far more than a language: it was a politics, a mindset, an ideology in and of itself. In Russia, in Germany, Lithuania and Latvia, the tiny and zealous Hebrew literary circles wrote modern poetry and prose in the language of David and Daniel, eschewing more developed (and less contentious) linguistic options. The effort was at once atavistic and utterly, radically innovative: Hebrew authors, writing in a language that had lost its constituency approximately a millennium earlier, were the vanguard of European Enlightenment values in the Jewish world.
The process of creating modern Hebrew involved shaping a world around the need for a new Jewish language. Hebrew was the language of Jewish heroism, political sovereignty, and the origin of Jewish mythmaking; the process of Hebrew’s reformation was, therefore, at once a renunciation of the present, a return to the past, and a creation of a new and hitherto impossible future.
In this paper, I will discuss a member of the literary cadre that began the paradoxical endeavor of Hebrew’s modernization, Micah Yosef Berdichevsky. Through an analysis of his life and work, I hope to illustrate the strange confluence of European ideals and uniquely Jewish scholarship that typify the literary endeavors of early Modern Hebrew.
A Brief History of Hebrew
Perhaps the only analogy that may be drawn to the position of Hebrew during its long dormancy is that of Latin. Beginning with the Midrash (which was recorded starting in 400 B.C.E., after Hebrew had already ceased to be the spoken language of the Jews), Hebrew was the primary language of Jewish scholarship. Throughout generations of dispersal and diffusion, Hebrew served as the de facto common language for Jewish intellectual effort in the many nations of Europe and beyond. In the Middle Ages, Hebrew served as the vehicle for Jewish liturgy, homily, exegesis, devotional poetry, and formal correspondence. Hebrew served as the language of court proceedings in the beth din, the Jewish court of law; martyrologies in twelfth-century Rhineland; and kabbalistic writings in sixteenth-century Poland. Despite its rich and diverse history of use in Jewish endeavor, it was, like Latin, little conversationally spoken, save, perhaps, for the occasional exchange between members of a rare elite. The linguistic patterns of a millennium, however, were to change as rapidly in the twentieth century as the social fabric of Europe itself.
The story of Hebrew’s modernization begins with the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment, a movement whose beginnings are largely attributed to Moses Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn (1729-1786), a German scholar, translator, and philosopher, advocated Jewish Europeanization, calling on his fellow Jews to abandon their ghettoized ways and adopt the outward manners of their countries of residence. The first Hebrew literary periodical, Hame’assef (The Gatherer), was created by students of Mendelssohn and published in Germany from 1786 to 1811. Choosing Hebrew was a political decision of pointed import: Yiddish, the primary language of Europe’s Jews, was perceived by Mendelssohn and the rest of the German Haskalah as a “lashon ilgim mekulkal umoshkhat me’od” – “a language of stammerers, corrupt and deformed.” Yiddish was the vehicle for a culture they sought to reform utterly–beginning their efforts, like all creations, with language.
A parallel movement began to develop in the Russian Empire by the early decades of the nineteenth century, beginning with the Russian-Polish borderlands and spreading, slowly and contentiously, eastward. A plurality of the world’s Jewry lived then in a region Catherine the Great had demarcated called the Pale of Settlement (chert oslednosti); it was a vast swath of Russian imperial holdings in Eastern Europe, incorporating today’s Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus. The vast majority of the Pale’s Jews were Yiddish-speaking, with coextensive use of local languages, and were religiously observant.
The Haskalah’s first Russian iterations were few and rootless, and many early proto-maskilim (Haskalah intellectuals) fled the Pale to lead a life of enlightenment in Western Europe. The tide began slowly to turn with the publication of Isaac Beer Levinsohn’s work Teudah be-Yisrael (Testimony in Israel) in 1828, a work that harshly criticized the traditionalist communities of the Pale. The Teudah adopted many of the ideals of the Enlightenment, advocating secular study and the productive economic activity among Jews. After the publication of Teudah, young Jews throughout the Pale began to gather together in the pursuit of a new and enlightened mode of being. Among these budding, self-proclaimed maskilim, Yiddish was viewed with appropriate scorn, used only reluctantly in occasional efforts to educate the masses in their native tongue. Yiddish, a “mongrel” composite language born in exile, was the language of Jewish parochialism and isolationism, of the shrunken and dogmatic mode of being that the new maskilim hoped to do away with. Ahad Ha’am (“One of the People,” the pen name of the famed Haskalah intellectual Asher Ginzberg), ringleader of the Odessa school of Jewish intellectuals, denounced his Yiddish mama-loshn (mother tongue) as an “alien language to us” in 1905. Language, ever a crucial vehicle of Jewish collective life, was for these writers the exilic condition crystallized; and the solution to the mindset Yiddish both created and expressed was to come also in the form of a Jewish language. That language was Hebrew, the language of the Jewish nation’s political sovereignty, and the vehicle for its greatest poetry and heroism. But if the reputation of Yiddish was tarnished, sodden with victimhood and overshrewd practicalities, Hebrew suffered the opposite problem: kept isolated from practical subjects as the language of homily and Biblical exegesis, Hebrew was a clumsy and ineffective tool for descriptions of the realities of everyday life. Among the maskilim, Hebrew was viewed with unassailable reverence; until the 1860s, Haskalah writers were preoccupied with the attempt to sift through the many generations of Hebrew’s use in Europe in order to arrive at the purest possible Biblical idiom. The attempt to mimic the aesthetic of Judaism’s earliest past spoke to the elision of history desired by Hebrew writers, a history of Yiddish-speaking ghettoes and exilic victimhood.
The first Hebrew novel, Ahavat Ziyon (Love of Zion), was written in 1853 by Abraham Mapu, a Lithuanian-Jewish writer. A florid narrative of pastoral Israel in the time of the Prophet Isaiah, it was written in a Hebrew that consciously strove to imitate the era of the language’s past glories, with long passages consisting of strung-together Biblical quotes. This hyper-aesthetic style of writing was called melitzah, “flowery phrase,” and consisted of didactic prose with highly mannered Biblical diction. The attempt to deliver moral instruction through an aesthetically perfect medium spoke to a collapsed duality in the Haskalah ideation of language: the moral and the aesthetic, the beautiful and the good, were unified in Hebrew writing. Hebrew fiction and poetry, in this nascent stage, expressed its desire for change in its societal surroundings by hearkening back to a long-vanished past
By the eighteen-sixties, with the advent of Hebrew daily newspapers, the old melitzah style could no longer accommodate the burgeoning breadth of Hebrew’s subject matter. S.Y. Abramovitch (whose pen name, Mendele Mokher Sforim, meant “Mendele the Bookseller”), one of the first major writers of both Hebrew and Yiddish narrative literature, began to publish fiction that flouted the constraining forms of maskilic prose. Going beyond Biblical language, he used a potent, lively admixture of all periods of Hebrew that had come before him. Inventing as they went, writers like Judah Leib Gordon (1831-1892) and Ahad Ha’am (1856-1927) created works in Hebrew capable of conveying potent social criticism, adapting and desanctifying a Biblical language to convey the abstraction and interiority of modern prose. And yet, though prose styles in Hebrew became more nuanced, and satiric wit sharper, Hebrew fiction was still almost entirely didactic, yoked to the social agenda of the Haskalah. Writings like Gordon’s famous 1878 poem “Kotzo Shel Yod” (“The Tip of the Yud,” a lengthy poem about a woman unable to remarry due to a minutely faulty divorce decree) exercised great verve and creativity in its execution, but still primarily served to critique traditionalist Jewish society for its treatment of women. Despite the stylistic innovations of Ahad Ha’am, who wrote in a newly succinct, “deeply learned…but unadorned” Hebrew, he nonetheless refused to allow writing that did not center around Jewish topics in his Hebrew-language literary periodical, Ha-Shiloah. The Haskalah ideas of national revival through rational self-examination, active sartorial and linguistic imitation of surrounding Gentiles, and a conscious distance from traditionalist religious mores had permeated the fabric of Hebrew writing, rendering much of it doctrinaire and pedantic
But all of this changed following several great convulsions that shook the Pale of Settlement at the latter decades of the nineteenth century. In the chaos following the 1881 assassination of Tsar Alexander II, surges of anti-Jewish violence struck from Bessarabia to Warsaw. This tragic outbreak was followed immediately by Alexander III’s publication of the May Laws, a piece of legislature which codified systematic discrimination against the Jews, including severe restrictions on Jewish admission to institutions of higher education. Violence continued to break out intermittently, from Berdichev to Yekaterinoslav, until 1884. Hundreds of Jews were murdered over these years by violent mobs; Jewry in the Pale, connected by Hebrew and Yiddish newspapers, voiced their collective shock and agony in a flurry of articles and elegies. The Haskalah dream of assimilation into the culture of greater Russia, even to old Haskalah stalwarts like Judah Leib Gordon, seemed, suddenly, no longer tenable—or even desirable. The shift in attitudes following these historical convulsions led to a rupture in the stability of the Haskalah worldview—the certainty that if a Jew could assimilate in outward manners—if, in Gordon’s words, a Jewish citizen of the Pale were to become “a Jew in his tent and a man in the street,”  the historical problems of world Jewry would be solved, had been roughly shaken.
A new generation of writers, known as the Tekhiyya (revival) movement, began to produce Hebrew fiction that responded to—or was animated by—the uncertainties of its time. After a devastating pogrom struck in the Ukrainian city of Kishinev in 1903, the young poet Hayyim-Nahman Bialik responded with his scathing poem In The City of Slaughter, condemning in muscular, innovative Hebrew the responses of exilic Jews to their plight. However, in direct contrast to most Haskalah didactic fiction, Bialik condemns neither Jewish particularism nor adherence to religious ritual; rather, he condemns the physical passivity, the lack of violent resistance, of the people of Kishinev. The final apostrophe of In the City of Slaughter is an address by the poet to the Jews of the city. He pictures them disinterring their fathers’ bones and peddling them to the wealthy. With this “pauper’s ditty,” the Jews conjure up the pity of nations. But there is no readymade solution here—no simple Haskalah fix-all, as in Gordon’s “Kotzo Shel Yod,” whose tragedy is all the more tragic for the ease with which it might have been averted; in Bialik’s imagination, the cycle of despair and wretchedness has no visible end. Haskalah writing was essentially optimistic, confident in the improvement of the Jewish position following Enlightenment-prescribed reforms; freedom and stability will come after cooperation with authority and assimilation of Gentile sartorial manners. Tekhiyya writing, on the other hand, formed in the crucible of anti-Semitic violence, demands more fundamental changes inspired by a world far more complex, where governmental authority is not necessarily benevolent and sartorial distinction is not the sole mark of the Jew.
Aftermath of the 1903 Kishinev Pogrom
The writings of Bialik and his contemporaries reflect a new kind of Jewish self-conception; their explicit despair masked a challenge, a strident call to arms in newly violent times. In the era since 1881, the need for a shinui arachin, a transvaluation of values, had impressed itself on Jewish writers of Hebrew, Russian, Yiddish, and many other languages. A new Jewish nationalism, a nationalism manifest in Vladimir Jabotinsky’s self-defense leagues in Odessa, in the new Palestinian settlements of Gadera and Zichron Ya’akov (founded with the influx of 35,000 Jews from Eastern Europe in 1881-2)—and no less manifest in the youthful, protean, and idealistic discipline of Hebrew literature.
Among the writers most forcefully advocating this transvaluation of values—the person who spoke for the “rebellion of historically suppressed individualism”– was one Micah Yosef Berdyczewski, scholar, novelist, translator and essayist. All of sixteen when the 1881 pogroms narrowly bypassed his native town of Medzhibidzh, Ukraine, Berdyczewski went on to have a singular impact on the world of Hebrew letters. A tempestuous and enigmatic figure, Berdyczewski embodies the many warring influences, both internal and external, exerted on Hebrew writers of the period. Berdyczewski’s mission as a writer, anthologist, scholar, and critic was to repair the tear in the heart of the Jewish nation, making it possible to be both a Jew and a man in the modern world.
Berdyczewski’s Early Life
Micah Yosef Berdyczewski was born into the family of a Hassidic rabbi in Medzhibizh, Podolia, deep in the heart of the Russian Empire. The townspeople of Medzhibidzh (Dubova, in Yiddish) were oppressively poor, earning their living, due to imperial restrictions on Jewish agriculture, as middlemen and merchants, selling the goods of neighboring peasants. According to N.S. Feinberg, a pupil of the author in Berdyczewski’s his early twenties, weeks when the peasants in surrounding towns had poor yields or rain disturbed the roads “were for the Jews of Dubova …days without bread and cleanliness of teeth [i.e., hunger] for all.” The pastoral images of Berdyczewski’s early youth would impress themselves vividly on his literary imagination; provincial Ukraine, with its lush natural bounty, its stocky peasants and impoverished Jews, would recur again and again in his fictional works.
As described by Feinberg, Micah Yosef in his childhood was the stereotypical ilui—the genius youth: “By the age of seventeen, he already knew most of the tractates of the Talmud and their interpretations to the minutest detail, and his name had spread to the towns around Dubova, the city of his birth.” This youthful precocity, in a society where Talmudic prowess was an ensured route to social esteem even for the poor, ensured his eligibility for an early marriage. As per the norms of the time, he was married off in his teenage years to the daughter of David Weis, a wealthy and devout merchant in the town of Bershad. 
Despite his Talmudic acclaim, Berdyczewski’s rebel intellect denied him peace and order even in his early years. After a run-in with his father-in-law over secret consumption of mystical Hasidic writings, Berdyczewski was sternly instructed to return to his Talmud. These measures worked for a time—until Berdyczewski fell suddenly and hungrily upon the writings of the Haskalah, and “drank their words in his thirst, not knowing cease or limit; the force of his desire made him unable to stop.” In Feinberg’s dramatic retelling, Weis broke into Berdyczewski’s quarters and subjected his bookshelf to a surprise inspection. Upon discovering a certain heretical Hebrew text by Nahum Sokolow, Weis demanded of the youth a writ of divorce for his daughter. This plunged the nineteen-year-old Berdyczewski into crisis, and, without granting his wife a divorce, he ran away to the prestigious Yeshiva of Volozhin (in today’s Belarus), studying there for a year before returning, penniless, to the town of Bershad.
Micah Yosef Berdyczewski as a young man
Berdyczewski’s escape from Bershad, a husband on the lam for his illicit Hebrew reading, seems like an impossible relic of the past. But this odyssey—the first of many in the writer’s life—was typical of the Hebrew writers of his generation. Steeped in the texts of the Jewish past, chafing for a freedom they did not fully understand, the members of the “Young Generation” were afflicted by a thirst for ideas they slaked at the expense of the traditions of their fathers. The text that caused the breakup of Berdyczewski’s first marriage was by another would-be rabbi turned Hebrew journalist and translator, Nahum Sokolow. Entitled Sin’at Olam Le’Am Olam (Eternal Hatred for the Eternal People), the work detailed the origins and history of antisemitism, describing the coevolution of the people and its persecutions. The book’s central thesis: that cultural assimilation could not solve the problem of anti-Semitism. This was the unspoken resolution of Berdyczewski’s generation, a resolve that would compel the “eternal people” to grapple at last with the notion of radical change to their way of life.
Berdyczewski arrived in Odessa at the age of twenty-four, a yearlong stopover on his journey to the West. The bustling port city at the end of the nineteenth century lay at the crossroads of East and West, site of a welter of Jewish Weltanschauungs whose raucous voices vied for the attention of the public. Simon Dubnow, perhaps the most famous historian of Russia’s Jews, recalls a visit with Berdyczewski in that year:
Once a young man entered [my rooms], poorly clad, the very “type” of a yeshiva-boy, and presented himself by the name of Berdyczewski [sic]. …The young man [had] cast off from himself the yoke of family, and and was leaving by way of Odessa abroad with the goal of acquiring European enlightenment. At that time he did not know any European language, only Yiddish of the Ukrainian dialect… Who could have imagined at that time, that from this same yeshiva-boy would emerge after a time a writer of genius, who aimed “to transvaluate the values” in the spirit of Nietzsche? 
Such, indeed, was the transformation that faced the youthful Berdyczewski, who went on to acquire a philosophy degree at the University of Breslau in Poland, and a doctorate in Berlin. Although he had completed the oft-imagined journey to the West of the Haskalah, his was a quest not towards assimilation of manner, but a new dream for a new era. By 1896, at the age of twenty-eight, he had exploded onto the Hebrew literary scene, locking horns with literatteur Ahad Ha’am in a series of polemical articles that divided the world of Hebrew intellectualism.
At the center of Berdyczewski’s conflict with Ahad Ha’am is a poignant request for a new approach towards Judaism: Berdyczewski accused Ahad Ha’am, in his refusal to allow Hebrew texts addressing non-Jewish subjects, of “causing a separation between nationalism and humanity by building our literature on a Jewish basis while leaving the human aspect of culture to other literatures … Ha-Shiloah desires to divide the heart of every Jew into two separate compartments: a Jewish compartment and a human one.” Berdyczewski forcefully argues for Hebrew literature as a means for Jews to contend with modernity, not only in its internally Jewish manifestations, but in the greater world—utilizing the language, and its inherently Jewish means of expression, to retain their cultural and spiritual coherence as a nation. Only a Hebrew that could include all phenomena of modern life—internal and external to Judaism—could heal the rift in the heart of young Jews striving at once to retain their Jewishness and cope with a modernity they could not fully understand.
Their conflicts were numerous, their rift as deep as that within the Jewish nation: between Haskalah and Techiyya, between old hopes and new ones, between a continuation of tradition and a radical break with the past. Berdyczewski held up the notion of a new, hitherto unimagined figure—the “new Hebrew,” an individual capable of overcoming the legacy of Jewish communal history and healing the rifts in the Jewish heart. In Berlin, Berdyczewski had already encountered the writer whose worldview would come to define his own—one Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.
The Work of Berdyczewski: External Influences and Conceptions of Social Change
Berdyczewski first encountered the writings of Nietzsche in 1896, as a twenty-eight-year-old student of philosophy in Berlin. Nietzsche’s bold assertion that God was dead, that the principal obstacle to a full life was the government of the superego over the id (to utilize the language of psychoanalysis, over which he had an indubitable and acknowledged influence) ,  his perpetual questioning of the very possibility of social truth, had already begun to impact German culture in unprecedented and explosive ways. His vivid, self-enamored prose and provocative insights took the German academe, stultified by Hegel’s historical inevitabilities and Kantian hyper-rationality, by storm. By the time of the First World War, Thus Spoke Zarathustra  would be a standard companion to the Bible in the rucksacks of German soldiers. Berdyczewski was no exception to this wave of general enthusiasm for Nietzsche: in a letter to a friend, he said of Beyond Good and Evil, “[this book] has made a stronger impression on me than any book I have read…” Nietzsche’s conceptions of the Superman, the will to power, and the transvaluation or revaluation of values would go on to have a complex and multifarious impact on Berdyczewski’s work, and its perception by scholars and readers, for the rest of his life.
Implicit in the works and worldview of many of the “Young Hebrews” was the notion of a “New Hebrew,” a figure that would break loose from the fetters of its exilic past. This elemental figure—breaking free of the supremacy of knowledge over life, embracing nature—was the patent opposite of the “yeshiva type” of Berdyczewski’s past, who spent his waning youth bent over texts in unlit rooms. Berdyczewski himself, in his novella ‘Urva Parakh (A Raven Has Flown), engages in analysis of the paralyzing effects of the hair-splitting scholasticist textual analysis that constituted the discipline of pilpul—the method of Talmudic study dominant in the period. These consequences were especially devastating with regards to psychosexual development. As perceived by the Young Hebrews, the Talmudist was incapable of action, cut off entirely from the natural world, and dulled even to the truth and value of his own senses–echoing Nietzsche’s assertion that “‘purely disinterested knowledge’ is only dressed up… paralysis of the will.” Berdyczewski in particular sought to find a unity between nature and man, emphasizing a radical individualism predicated upon the will:
What are you, man, and what are your deeds, before the breadth of creation…? My life, my deeds, your life, your deeds, every moment of our lives today, from yesterday to tomorrow are a part of eternity. … All that is still and all that grows, each and every stone, each tree that bears fruit and does not bear fruit, each grain of earth, hill, valley and living being, beast and bird, are of the same species, the same type, the same individual, breathe in the same hour, and, indeed, is what is most essential—is, indeed, the world. Life in the essence of life, is will; will turns that which is singular into the essence, the essence of all things.
In addition to decrying the figure of the desiccated Talmudist, writers of the period began to lavish attention on a directly opposing type; poems, stories and elegies began to be written in Hebrew for “the false prophets…the kings and heroes subdued by the rigorous true prophets of biblical times in the name of God’s will…the Hellenizing Jews and the Sadducees,” figures that had subverted the traditions of Judaism and had long been buried in its past. Emphasis was placed on the heroes of violent struggle, such as the martyred Jewish rebel Bar Kokhba and the Biblical King Saul. These figures, often juxtaposed with romantic depictions of natural landscapes (notable in Bialik’s “The Dead of the Desert”), call upon their readers to awaken themselves to sensation and to nature.
Although Zionism is not explicit in Berdyczewski’s works, many of his literary essays hearken back to ancient Israel as a time of political sovereignty and physical heroism—a time before the ossification of Jewish culture into its exilic manifestations. The effort of these writers was nothing short of an attempt to create a countermythos, a new story of Judaism written in a new Hebrew, that could stand in opposition to the narratives of their forefathers. Formed by the images and texts of past generations, they drew upon them in order to refigure them in their entirety. Phillip Roth, although referring specifically to Zionism, admirably sums up the efforts of these writers in his novel The Counterlife: they sought to “reverse the very form of Jewish existence [through] the construction of a counterlife that is one’s own anti-myth.” The idea of a countermyth, or anti-myth, begins to explain the “paradox” of Berdyczewski’s own preoccupation with Judaism’s mythic narratives.
Some scholars, including the Hebrew literary historian Simon Halkin, see an impossible contradiction between Berdyczewski’s later work anthologizing Hasidic tales and Jewish legends with his earlier repudiation of the Jewish past. For Berdyczewski, the the compilation and reconfiguration of previous layers of myth was an essential part of the wholesale recreation of the Jewish volk. The cryptic legends of Hasidism, the narratives culled from Midrash and Talmud, contained within them “a historically dynamic rather than static memory, namely, the summation of all deeds, desires, feelings, and visions that had accumulated over generations in the life of the Jewish people.” Moreover, Berdyczewski’s careful reiteration of these legends in his sparse, lyrical Hebrew created a new idiom for Jewish myth: anthologized, crisply modern, pellucid in a prose now disentangled from Midrashic and Aramaic jargon. In an age of burgeoning European nationalism, in which the gathering of national myth played an essential role, Berdyczewski’s carefully curated aggadic compilations symbolized the new clarification of Jewish purpose he sought.
Berdyczewski assimilated his external influences, as well as his own continually evolving views towards literature, in a wide-ranging and extensive body of critical work. His literary-critical essays proffer articulate a finely honed perception of art’s role in the shaping of national culture, particularly in the unique case of the Jews; it is in these works that he most vividly brings forth his notion of the need for a Jewish countermyth. In “On The Essence of Poetry,” Berdyczewski tellingly places the figures of Saul and David in opposition to each other, in a passage uniquely illustrative of the effort of countermyth. In two short paragraphs, Berdyczewski does nothing less than reverse millennia of Talmudic apologia, generating his countermyth at the origin of the Jewish myth itself. The deftness with which he summarizes and subverts Biblical narrative indicates his intended audience—a generation fluent in not only the language but the narratives of the Bible, and their subsequent reiterations in Jewish tradition. Berdyczewski uses the narratives of King Saul and King David to set in opposition, and revaluate, mythic archetypes that have shaped Jewish history. In Berdyczewski’s image, burly, unselfconscious Saul with his spear and his silence, the anti-Jew, stands without praise or lament opposite David, who wrings his hands over the lyre with his dead son’s name echoing on his lips. Because this passage, which forcefully demonstrates both Berdyczewski’s ideology and his methodology, has never been translated into English, I have elected to translate it myself and cite it at greater length:
We had two kings. One ruled over all of Israel, and the other began his command as king of Judah: David and Saul! Saul was head and shoulders taller than the rest of the nation, a man of sentiment, great and brave of spirit. … when he fell upon his sword before the Philistines could abuse his body, then all in us was silent, astonished at his fortitude of spirit. And David, a small youth, ruddy, was not fated to be chosen as king by the people. He was taken from his flock of sheep and rolled in the filth of rebellion, until he rose to greatness; he brought down the tribe of Saul in blood, ousting one and burying another. He made promises and broke them, bloodshed was in his house, malice and separation between him and the people. … And hark to this: Saul did not sing a song to God, on the day God saved him from his enemy David; and when the spirit of God was upon him, he commanded another to take the lyre in his hands and play before him. –But David the king was the sweet singer of Israel, and the creator of prayers for innumerable generations. Who understands this contradiction—perhaps the greatest sinner is also the most prayerful. Prayer comes to man for his mistakes! He who kills the shepherd and takes the flock—it is his heart that strikes at him and he who pours out his heart.
I see before me Saul the King of Israel, sitting and leaning upon his spear, and his eyes gazing at the hills of Israel. Many great thoughts are in his heart, of his throne, of his kingdom and of the future of the nation, which differs from that which secures its path by the ways of the histories of our people, and he sees the shadow coming from a distance, the shadow of David. –What a song would have remained of his divulgence, had the king opened his mouth and given us from his soul a song of his terrible strength. And David inherits him in life, and after his death is our mouthpiece… God, what I have loved and what I have hated! The lyric of the sinner and he who causes others to sin comes to cleanse our lives. The songs of our man became our prayers. Instead of the song of expansion and conquest of life in strength, the song of outpouring and the fracture of life. We shall not sing, unless we pray; we shall not live in trumpet-blasts of strength, but in lament… … Our weeping, our entreaties, are abundant; but of the songs of expansion, that which does not come out of the suffering of life, but conquers life—we have not one of its attributes. We cannot live; but how quick and resourceful we are at blessing and cursing… 
How strongly this statement of Berdyczewski’s stands in opposition to the words of Rabbi Samuel Ben Nahmani in Tractate Sabbath of the Talmud!
“Whoever says that David sinned is merely erring, for it is said, And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways: and the Lord was with him. Is it possible that sin came to his hand, yet the Divine Presence was with him? … He wished to do [evil], but did not.”
Against David, the bloodied and penitent singer, who both bore and expressed a complex and flawed psyche—Berdyczewski situates Saul, condemned by God at the last for a simple act of mercy, and whose physical greatness (his height and kingly appearance are made much of in the Biblical text) matched the greatness of his deeds. This is an eloquent and succinct formulation of the seed of the Jewish countermyth: the ideas of Berdyczewski and his generation would shape the culture of the nascent state of Israel, from the radical politics of Vladimir Jabotinsky to the literary “Canaanists” of the 1940s.
The influence of Nietzschean thought, as well as Russian literary endeavor, is evident not only in Berdyczewski’s aggadic and literary-critical works; it also considerably shapes his fiction. By its very nature, created as a response to the ideological provocations of the European Enlightenment, Hebrew fiction was shaped by its surrounding literary milieus—in particular German and Russian works, among others. Berdyczewski’s fiction is full of the Russian imperial types that seethe through the pages of Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy: drunken landowners, virile serfs, and lecherous priests are evident in both his short stories and his longer prose works. Evidence of the influence of both Nietzsche and Russian authors—and their subsequent absorption into the Hebrew canon—can be found in nearly all Berdyczewski’s belletristic writings, including the short story Kayitz Vachoref (Summer and Winter).
David and Saul, Julius Kronberg, 1885
In Kayitz Vachoref (Summer and Winter), the forces of fertility and virility contend with a kind of mystic counterforce, the malice of potency consuming itself. All the characters of the piece are, remarkably for Hebrew fiction, Christian Ukrainian peasants; the central characters, Osip and Marta, are a bell-puller in the local church and a peasant’s daughter respectively. Osip and Marta are the very archetypes of sexually articulated masculinity and femininity: portrayed variously as “a witch” and “a sorceress,” Marta’s exceptional beauty exerts an unnatural, bewitching power on the inhabitants of the village of Shoshka. Osip, her masculine counterpart, is hyper-virile. He is characterized upon initial appearance by a barely restrained physicality, expressed through the tearing of flesh: frustrated while fishing, he “would tear the fish alive and send [throw] the squirming shreds into the water.” His obsession with Marta, too, is described in terms of flesh and rending: his passion is first categorized as “חמדת-בשרים” –literally, “desire of the flesh;” it is subsequently compared to the desire of a lion for prey (טרף, from the verb לטרוף, “to tear to pieces”), and the sight of her drives him to a monstrous strength, such that he could have “uprooted the foundation of the house.” The central event of the story is a violent rape, described in ambiguous terms; positing a provocative alignment between sexual violence and the forces of nature, the narrative admits the possibility of that violence as a form of redemption. After Osip seizes Marta “by the head” and threatens to pitch her into the water “unless she listen[s] to him,” the forces of nature themselves respond to the goings-on: “And nature again shone forth, and autumn awakened to the trembling of worlds; and lo the whole area was set aflame, and the stream overflowed in its place. Foreign powers battled and listened to each other.”  Through the personas of these peasant figures, Berdyczewski creates a powerful narrative of Nietzschean holism: he depicts a selfhood that incorporates violent and unsacred impulses in striving toward the fulfillment of its nature.
Berdyczewski’s work also contains countermythic and violent figures within the Jewish community itself. In another short story, Parah Adumah (The Red Heifer), Berdyczewski depicts the violent slaughter of a red heifer by a group of hyper-potent Jewish butchers in the small Jewish village of Dashya. The Jewish inhabitants of Dashya are urban dwellers, engaging in retail and service professions. Indeed, Berdyczewski explicitly states that the inhabitants of Dashya are “truly urban, and without much connection to nature.” The sole, vestigial connection between the Jews and their natural surroundings are the milk-cows owned by each household, whose presence will serve to incite a powerful outburst of violent action. The ambivalent and ephemeral physicality of the Biblical red heifer–whose physical body is burned and whose ashes are used in minute, undetectable quantities for ritual purification—mirrors the ambivalence of the villagers towards their own physicality. The story’s unnamed central male character is part of the class of coarse and simple Jewish butchers (as distinct from ritual slaughterers, educated and trained in the Torah); they rend and tear the flesh of animals with cruel abandon. The butchers are excluded from the rigidly hierarchical structure of Jewish social life, deprived of honors in the synagogue due to the physical nature of their work and the suspect business practices in which they engage; by contrast, the highest honors in the synagogue are given to merchants and retailers.
And yet, despite their general scorn of the butchers, the community relies on their brute strength in their hour of need: only the butchers have the brute strength and fearlessness to fight against drunken peasants in the event of a pogrom. In these times the butchers are crowned “the foremost heroes of Israel,” whose physical power comes to represent the frustrated urges of the community as a whole. The butchers’ role in this regard is cemented – and , thus, the community of Dashya irrevocably changed–by the pogroms of 1818, following the assassination of Alexander II. The repressed urges that course through Dashya fittingly come to a head in this period of violent and revolutionary foment. Through a vividly constructed tableau of violence, Berdyczewski speaks to the dangerous consequences of Judaism’s disdain for the physical: although his butchers are little more than crude manifestations of the collective “id” of their community, Berdyczewski utilizes the complex relations between the citizens of Dashya, with their reverence for the cerebral, and the violent agents they both need and abhor to make a powerful argument for the pathology of Jewish detachment from nature and physicality.
The work that perhaps most finely showcases Berdyczewski’s multifarious influences is his last work, the novel Miriam. The novel is an affecting and intimate portrait of Jews on the cusp of modernity; it is set shortly before the assassination of Alexander II, before many members of the younger generation had begun to be disillusioned with the Haskalah. This generation—Berdyczewski’s generation—was shaped by its relationship to text. Their worldview was irrevocably shaken by the texts of the Haskalah, and further developed by the many literatures of their places of residence.The central characters of Miriam are Jews who inhabit a benighted and vanishing world; they arrive at revelations of modernity through a then-illicit Hebrew literature, and their narrative is interwoven with those of their shtetl counterparts.
Berdyczewski wrote Miriam in the last year of his life, in 1921. Writing in Berlin shortly after the death of his father and brother in devastating pogroms, he approached the setting and characters of the shtetl, the milieu of his own origin, with an increased tenderness. The intellectual arc of many of Miriam‘s characters reflects the beginning of Berdyczewski’s own intellectual development: multiple scenes in the novel depict characters surreptitiously reading Haskalah texts in the beit midrash (the house of Talmud study), and Berdyczewski depicts a couple united based on their mutual study of Haskalah writing (perhaps wistfully, in light of his own failed first marriage). And yet, remarkably, Miriam not only offers a portrait of the Haskalah’s impact on Jews in the nineteenth century; it also presents other models of Jewish evolution and engagement. The novel draws upon Berdyczewski’s forays into anthologizing Jewish myth, and his own background in Hasidism’s mystical poetics. The novel is filled with abrupt shifts in location and in time, with cryptic episodes, with characters once mentioned and never returned to; these incidents include a girl possessed with the spirit of Michal, the daughter of Saul, then exorcised by a holy man; a man exiled from his community for daring to assert belief in a general rather than a specific Providence; a master thief who renounces both his criminality and his possessions after speaking to a mystical Zaddik (Hasidic holy man); a strange parable of a crocodile that gave birth to the world; and on, and on, in a bewildering array. The novel draws on ancient and modern sources, both internal and external to Judaism, creating a remarkable patchwork that in and of itself seems to answer Berdyczewski’s urgent need: to be a Jew and a full human being, at once, without eliding influence of any origin. The resultant text is the culmination of Berdyczewski’s development as a Jewish intellectual and as a writer.
The novel’s eponymous central character, Miriam—who is principally a catalyst for the text’s frequent, dreamlike tangents—arrives at her own cultural awakening through reading the Russian novels of Ivan Turgenev. Reiterating the oft-repeated Haskalah trope of women’s spiritual disenfranchisement within Judaism,Berdyczewski depicts Miriam at thirteen arriving at a moral and intellectual awakening independent of the social framework of Jewish scholasticism. In a state of inner exaltation, Miriam experiences the world through the overarching naturalistic metaphor of a garden: “The world came into being like a rooted garden, beads of dew wetting each plant.” Her absorption of culture facilitates, rather than diminishes, her experience of the natural world, indicating the possibility of a cultural absorption harmonic with naturalistic human holism.
At the center of this burgeoning understanding of the world lies her fixation on the Russian author, Ivan Turgenev. Throughout a short passage framed by references to Turgenev, the narration alternates between metaphysical speculation and lyrical evocation of Miriam’s natural environs, thus illustrating the intertwining of culture and experience. Her absorption of cultural phenomena (beginning with Vsevolod Garshin and proceeding to Turgenev) engenders in her a realization that “there is no freedom without searching”—a phrase that might have served as a slogan for the hungry intellects of Haskalah youths.
Chief among the observations of her vision is the notion of the ‘gan natua’ (planted garden), in which each participant in society, rich or poor, noble or peasant, is ultimately an equal participant in the same human endeavor: “The table is set and when the family is sitting to eat, the bread is blessed. And if the poor man will only receive the crumbs of this, even if a tear descends, the sun will yet shine for him. Murky waters will be distilled, and cloudy skies will become clear.” Miriam, in the midst of these reflections, and nourished by Turgenev’s prose, becomes “in essence merely a rose among other roses of this garden,” absorbed into the throng of humanity equal in its deep-rooted life, and equal in its searching.
At first, though this passage aligns itself with the liberal ideals of Turgenev, it seems to have little in common with Turgenev’s literary aesthetic. Turgenev’s most famous novel, Fathers and Sons, seems at first glance to be a classic novel of manners, outlining the marriages and courtships of the Russian upper class. Its writing style differs greatly from Miriam, The narrative of Fathers and Sons is less episodic, and far more concerned with the directly and explicitly told narrative of a few central characters. And yet, like many Russian novels of the period, it is at heart a novel of ideas, delineating the philosophical and personal development of Yevgeny Vasil’evich Bazarov, the young nihilist, and his protégé Arkady Kirsanov. A passage that seems to align directly with the essentially democratic ideas of the previously quoted selection from Miriam can be found in Chapter Sixteen of Fathers and Children (commonly known in English as Fathers and Sons). Kirsanov and Bazarov, in conversation with the wealthy, attractive widow Anna Odintsova, attempt to convey their nihilist ideas to her:
Bazarov smiled. “In the first place, experience of life does that, and in the second, I assure you the study of separate individuals is not worth the trouble it involves. All people resemble each other, in soul as well as in body; each of us has a brain, spleen, heart and lungs of similar construction; the so-called moral qualities are the same in all of us; the slight variations are insignificant. It is enough to have one single human specimen in order to judge all the others. People are like trees in a forest; no botanist would think of studying each individual birch tree.“
Although Turgenev speaks not of roses, but of birch trees, the essential idea running through the center of each chapter is clear: the rich man at his laden table and the poor man pecking crumbs, the wicked man and the good, the clever man and the ignoramus are all part of the same planted garden of humanity, whose similarities are far more significant than their differences. “At any rate, in a properly organized society it will make no difference whether a man is stupid or clever, bad or good,” declares Bazarov. Miriam “achieves in her vision” an even more radical leveling: “Here are nobles and peasants, intellectuals and laymen (amei-haaretz), souls full of nature’s gifts and those who were born lacking. A fence is between them, but not a wall of iron, and calm conquers struggle.”  Miriam, Berdyczewski’s final work, hearkens back to an image of humanity shaped by the dual forces of cultural production and naturalistic holism–the notion of a Jew shaped by the Jewish culture of his birth, the modern European culture he has come to understand, and the human nature he intuitively understands. The images of “Miriam,” haunting, lyrical, and often gnomic, indicate both the desirability and the elusiveness of that dream.
Berdyczewski, steeped in the literatures of Europe, and writing in a tongue at once ancient and newborn, was able to uniquely to commit to the idea of culture as a means to create national synthesis. Writing into the generational crisis of his time, the abyss between the “last Jews” and the “new Hebrews,” Berdyczewski called for an utter transvaluation of the values of Israel: an embrace of physicality, a turn towards nationalism in the European sense, a need to rid the Jewish psyche of its crippling emphasis on history over life. “It is upon us,” he wrote, “to choose in ourselves that which is good and beautiful, that which is righteous and lasting. Free men are turned into slaves, if they close the path before themselves; if we open our windows—freedom arrives from the distance.”
Piece originally published at UC Berkeley Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal |
Alter, Robert. Modern Hebrew Literature. Edison, New Jersey: Behrman House, 1975.
Amichai, Yehuda. The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai. trans. Chana Bloch. California: University of California Press, 1995
Abd El-Rahman Attia, Ali Mohamed. The Hebrew Periodical Ha-Shiloah (1896-1919: Its Role In the Development Of Modern Hebrew Literature. Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1991.
Berdyczewski, Micah Yosef. “Hezyonot-Am.” Ben Yehuda Project Web Archive, Updated 4/15/2011. <http://benyehuda.org/berdi/xezionot_am.html>
Berdyczewski, Micah Joseph. “Hiddot.” Israel: Ben Yehuda Project Web Archive, updated 4/15/2011. <http://benyehuda.org/berdi/xidot.html> Translation is my own.
Berdyczewski, Micah Joseph. “Kayitz Va-Horef.” Ben Yehuda Project Web Archive, Updated 4/15/2011. <http://benyehuda.org/berdi/summer.html>
Berdyczewski, Micah Joseph. “Le-Mahut Ha-Shirah.” Israel: Ben Yehuda Project Web Archive, Updated 4/15/2011. <http://benyehuda.org/berdi/lemahut_hashira.html> Translation is my own.
Berdyczewski, Micah Yosef. Miriam: Roman Me-Khayyei Shtei Ayarot. Annotated by Ziporah Kagan. Haifa: University of Haifa Press, 1997
Berdyczewski, Micah Joseph. “Parah Adumah.” Ben Yehuda Project Web Archive: Updated 4/15/2011. <http://benyehuda.org/berdi/para.html> Translation is my own.
Dubnow, Simon. “From ‘My Life.” Boded Be’Maaravo: Micah Yosef Berdyczewski Be-Zikharon Bnei Zmano. ed. Avner Holtzman. Israel: Dvora & Emmanuel House, 1998.
Feinberg, Shmuel N. “Berdyczewski Before He Was Revealed.” Boded Be’Maaravo: Micah Yosef Berdyczewski Be-Zikharon Bnei Zmano. ed. Avner Holtzman. Israel: Dvora & Emmanuel House, 1998.
Fishman, David E. The Rise of Modern Yiddish Culture. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010.
Gurock, Jeffrey. Orthodox Jews in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009
Halkin, Simon. Modern Hebrew Literature: From the Enlightenment to the Birth of the State of Israel. New York: Schocken Books, 1970.
Hertzberg, Arthur. “100 Years Later, A Jewish Writer’s Time Has Come.” The New York Times 31 March 1991. Accessed 14 April 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/1991/03/31/books/100-years-later-a-jewish-writer-s-time-has-come.html>
Harshav, Benjamin. “Language In Time of Revolution.” California: Stanford University Press, 1999
Holtzman, Avner. “Berdyczewski, Mikhah Yosef.” YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. 26 July 2010. 20 April 2011 <http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Berdyczewski_Mikhah_Yosef>.
Holtzman, Avner. “Sokolow, Naḥum.” YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. 20 October 2010. Accessed 20 April 2011 <http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Sokolow_Nahum>.
Kagan, Zipora. “Homo Anthologicus: Micha Joseph Berdyczewski and the Anthological Genre.” Prooftexts 19.1 (1999): 41-57. Project MUSE. Web. 26 Jan. 2011. <http://muse.jhu.edu.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/>.
Kauffman, Walter. “Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist.” New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1974.
Mintz, Alan. Banished From Their Father’s Table: Loss of Faith and Hebrew Autobiography. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1989.
Miron, Dan. A Traveller Disguised: The Rise of Modern Yiddish Fiction. New York: Schocken Books, 1973.: 43
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Trans. Helen Zimmern. Virginia: University of Virginia Press, 1907 (Digitized 2008).
Ohana, David. “Zarathustra in Jerusalem: Nietzsche and the ‘New Hebrews.’” Israel Affairs 1995: 38-60.
Roth, Phillip. The Counterlife. New York: Vintage Books, 2005.
Saenz-Badillos, Angel. A History of the Hebrew Language. trans. John Elwolde. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Stanislawski, Michael. For Whom Do I Toil? Judah Leib Gordon And the Crisis of Russian Jewery. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.: p 188.
Stanislawski, Michael. Tsar Nicholas I and the Jews: the transformation of Jewish society in Russia, 1825-1855. New York: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1983.: 55
Turgenev, Ivan. Fathers and Sons. trans. Richard Hare. London: Hutchinson & Co. Publishers, 1948. <http://www.ibiblio.org/eldritch/ist/fas.htm>
Wicks, Robert. “Friedrich Nietzsche.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition). Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2010/entries/nietzsche/>.
Zipperstein, Steven. Elusive Prophet: Ahad Ha’am And the Origins of Zionism. California: University of California Press, 1993: 224
 In many ways, as I explain below, it is misleading to describe Hebrew as ever having “died,” given its uninterrupted prominence as a language of Jewish intellectual discourse, communal documentation, and formal correspondence. However, Hebrew had not been spoken in any colloquial sense or used in purely artistic (rather than homiletic) endeavor for at least a thousand years, and its development was consequently arrested
Amichai, Yehuda. The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai. trans. Chana Bloch. California: University of California Press, 1995.: p. 57
 Ben-Yehuda, initially an editor for several Hebrew-language publications, went on to write the massive (and, at the time, authoritative) Complete Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew. He raised his son, Ben-Zion, as the first Hebrew-speaking child in over a thousand years, and went on to aid in the establishment of the Hebrew Language Academy, which still exists. However, Ben-Yehuda, like the Hebrew Language Academy itself, did not always (or even all that often) succeed at translating his solitary efforts into the pulse of a living language; Hebrew today massively diverges from Ben-Yehuda’s dictionary, up to and including words like “tomato” (his badura became the contemporary avganiah, another instance of language that refuses all discipline, even by the most fanatical of souls). Cf. Harshav, Benjamin. “Language In Time of Revolution.” California: Stanford University Press, 1999: p. 88.
 As I will explain, it is this elision of history that was precisely the point.
Saenz-Badillos, Angel. A History of the Hebrew Language. trans. John Elwolde. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
 It is worth noting here, however, that the analogy with Latin falls through in terms of the portion of the populace familiar with the language; widespread literacy and elementary religious education ensured that the majority of Jewish males were at least nominally familiar with the Hebrew alphabet and the rudiments of its grammatical composition.
 Miron, Dan. A Traveller Disguised: The Rise of Modern Yiddish Fiction. New York: Schocken Books, 1973.: 43
Fishman, David E. The Rise of Modern Yiddish Culture. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010.
 Stanislawski, Michael. Tsar Nicholas I and the Jews: the transformation of Jewish society in Russia, 1825-1855. New York: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1983.: 55
 Zipperstein, Steven. Elusive Prophet: Ahad Ha’am And the Origins of Zionism. California: University of California Press, 1993: 224
 Miron, 48
 Halkin, Simon. Modern Hebrew Literature: From the Enlightenment to the Birth of the State of Israel. New York: Schocken Books, 1970: 41-44.
 Such as St. Petersburg’s HaMelitz, which began in Odessa in 1860.
 Alter, Robert. Modern Hebrew Literature. New Jersey: Behrman House Press, 1975: 8.
Hertzberg, Arthur. “100 Years Later, A Jewish Writer’s Time Has Come.” The New York Times 31 March 1991. Accessed 14 April 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/1991/03/31/books/100-years-later-a-jewish-writer-s-time-has-come.html>
 HaShiloah, published from 1896 to 1919, was one of the first monthly periodicals in Hebrew; it published social commentary, rigorous scholarship, and belletristic writings. Under the skilled and zealous editorship of Ahad Ha’am, the publication went on to attain previously unmatched standards of quality in Hebrew secular scholarship, and had a formative influence on the Hebrew literary scene. (Abd El-Rahman Attia, Ali Mohamed. The Hebrew Periodical Ha-Shiloah (1896-1919: Its Role In the Development Of Modern Hebrew Literature. Jerusalem: Hebrew University Press, 1991.)
 Gurock, Jeffrey. Orthodox Jews in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.: 88.
 Stanislawski, Michael. For Whom Do I Toil? Judah Leib Gordon And the Crisis of Russian Jewery. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.: p 188.
 A famous quote culled from the poem “Arise, my People!,” an 1863 call to modernity for the Jews by Yehudah Leib Gordon.
 Halkin 92.
 Feinberg, Shmuel N. “Berdyczewski Before He Was Revealed.” Boded Be’Maaravo: Micah Yosef Berdyczewski Be-Zikharon Bnei Zmano. ed. Avner Holtzman. Israel: Dvora & Emmanuel House, 1998. 104-109. Translation is my own.
 The figure of the ilui—the youthful prodigy—crops up again and again in biographical discussions of Jewish luminaries. Figures as diverse as Menachem Mendel Schneurson and Sholem Aleichem are claimed to have memorized significant portions of the Talmud long before marriageable age.
 Feinberg 105.
 It is important to note that while Feinberg’s testimony is invaluable due to his personal closeness with Berdyczewski, personal adulation and the literary norms in Hebrew of the period (which tended towards florid praise in discussion of fellow Hebrew littérateurs) demand a certain wariness with regard to his conclusions. They are, however, certainly edifying with regard to the image of Berdyczewski current at the time of the essay’s publication, a year after Berdyczewski’s death.
 Feinberg 107; cf. also Kagan, Zipora, “Homo Anthologicus: Micha Joseph Berdyczewski and the Anthological Genre.” Prooftexts Jan 1999: 41-57.
Holtzman, Avner. “Sokolow, Naḥum.” YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. 20 October 2010. Accessed 20 April 2011 <http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Sokolow_Nahum>.
 Dubnow, Simon. “From ‘My Life.” Boded Be’Maaravo: Micah Yosef Berdyczewski Be-Zikharon Bnei Zmano. ed. Avner Holtzman. Israel: Dvora & Emmanuel House, 1998. 104-109. Translation is my own.
Abd El-Rahman Attia, Ali Mohamed. “The Hebrew Periodical Ha-Shiloah (1896-1919): Its role in the Development of Modern Hebrew Literature.” 55.
 Wicks, Robert. “Friedrich Nietzsche.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition). Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2010/entries/nietzsche/>.
 One of Nietzsche’s later books, in which he develops the conception of the Ubermensch, who is capable of mastering life by the act of mastering himself; one of his most famous and widely-read works. (Wicks, Robert.)
Kauffman, Walter. “Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist.” New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1974:. 8
 Ohana, David. “Zarathustra in Jerusalem: Nietzsche and the ‘New Hebrews.’” Israel Affairs 1995: 38-60.
 A term for the writers of Berdyczewski’s generation and their young protégés, the “Young Hebrews” were a group of writers whose values included a rebellion against Jewish history as it had been formulated by their forebears; they argued for the embrace of modern values through the creation of alternative formulations of Jewish narratives – a form of “mythological argumentation” (Ohana.)
 Mintz, Alan. Banished From Their Father’s Table: Loss of Faith and Hebrew Autobiography. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1989.
 Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Trans. Helen Zimmern. Virginia: University of Virginia Press, 1907 (Digitized 2008): 145.
 Berdyczewski, Micah Joseph. “Hiddot.” Israel: Ben Yehuda Project Web Archive, updated 4/15/2011. <http://benyehuda.org/berdi/xidot.html> Translation is my own.
 Halkin, 93
 Roth, Phillip. The Counterlife. New York: Vintage Books, 2005: 147.
 Halkin, 222.
 Kagan, Zipora. “Homo Anthologicus: Micha Joseph Berdyczewski and the Anthological Genre.” Prooftexts 19.1 (1999): 41-57. Project MUSE. Web. 26 Jan. 2011. <http://muse.jhu.edu.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/>.
 Although it is beyond the scope of this paper, the parallel developments of Ukrainian and Jewish nationalism in the Russian Empire—with their attendant creation and recreation of national myth—awaits further scholarly exploration.
 Berdyczewski, Micah Joseph. “Le-Mahut Ha-Shirah.” Israel: Ben Yehuda Project Web Archive, Updated 4/15/2011. <http://benyehuda.org/berdi/lemahut_hashira.html> Translation is my own.
 In the Book of Samuel, Saul is condemned by the Prophet Samuel for contradicting God’s edict and refusing to slay the King of Amalek—an act of mercy which ultimately led to his removal from the throne.
 On Saul’s first appearance in 1 Samuel 9, he is described as “as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.”
 Berdyczewski, Micah Joseph. “Kayitz Va-Horef.” Ben Yehuda Project Web Archive, Updated 4/15/2011. <http://benyehuda.org/berdi/summer.html> Translation is my own.
 Berdyczewski, Micah Joseph. “Kayitz Va-Horef.”
 Berdyczewski, Micah Joseph. “Parah Adumah.” Ben Yehuda Project Web Archive: Updated 4/15/2011. <http://benyehuda.org/berdi/para.html> Translation is my own.
 The red heifer is also a symbol of the Messiah—one of the omens of his coming is the birth of an immaculate red heifer. Although this is not explicitly referenced in the text, the Messiah is a highly ambivalent figure in Haskalah literature, and is often used as a proxy to condemn the passivity of religious Judaism—cf. Hayyim Hazaz, “The Sermon,” for further elaboration regarding Judaic Messianism and the cult of waiting. (Alter, Robert. Modern Hebrew Literature. Edison, New Jersey: Behrman House, 1975. P. 267.)
 Berdyczewski, Micah Joseph. “Parah Adumah.”
 Holtzman, Avner. “Berdyczewski, Mikhah Yosef.” YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. 26 July 2010. 20 April 2011
 A subject dealt with in Y.L. Gordon’s “Tip of the Yud” and many other Haskalah works—and a principal means to attack traditional modes of Jewish life.
 Berdyczewski, Micah Yosef. Miriam: Roman Me-Khayyei Shtei Ayarot. Annotated by Ziporah Kagan. Haifa: University of Haifa Press, 1997: 138-9. Translation is my own.
 Turgenev, Ivan. Fathers and Sons. trans. Richard Hare. London: Hutchinson & Co. Publishers, 1948. <http://www.ibiblio.org/eldritch/ist/fas.htm>
 Berdyczewski. Miriam. 139.
 Berdyczewski, Micah Yosef. “Hezyonot-Am.” Ben Yehuda Project Web Archive, Updated 4/15/2011. <http://benyehuda.org/berdi/xezionot_am.html> Translation is my own.
Merleau-Ponty’s Child Psychology
As much as death signals the end of the self, birth is just as mysterious. Both extend out to infinity and signal the brevity and contingency of our lives. As mysterious are those first few years of life that one does not have access to as an adult, I know I existed before my earliest memories. I know I interacted with others, I learned to walk and talk. I was willful from my parent’s tales.
William Pope.L: Reader Friendly
William Pope.L is famous for (among other things) carrying a business card that identifies him as “The Friendliest Black Artist in America.” It’s a clever gag because it makes itself true, in a way, every time it draws people closer. The card must be especially useful when Pope.L does business with people who dread Black men or Black artists.
10 Things the NSA Has Seen Me Do
One winter in my early twenties myself and some good friends — a merging of art, music and literary ladies of New York, full-grown girls aspiring to be women — got together, had a lovely dinner, some wine and delightful chat. Then we decided to spend an hour practicing “Teach Me How To Dougie”. NSA — can you teach me how to Dougie? You know why? “Because all my bitches love me.”
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