Alfes (Alfas), Benzion

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ALFES (Alfas ), BENZION (1850–1940), Yiddish and Hebrew writer. Born in Vilna, Alfes settled in Palestine in 1924; his earlier attempt to do so in 1871 had failed for family reasons. In Vilna he worked as a proofreader and for many years managed his wife's stocking factory. Alfes devoted his life to religious education, and was one of the few writers of his time who attempted to stem the secularizing drift of the Haskalah and its successor ideologies by writing religious literary works in Yiddish and Hebrew in a modern, popular style. He reacted to the late-19th-century proliferation of secular novels with his Yiddish Ma'aseh Alfes ("Alfes' Story"), published serially starting in 1900. The work consists of ethical and moralistic love tales in which he cast traditional allegorical and didactic elements in epistolary form. The work went through 12 editions and became a household name. Alfes also translated many religious Hebrew works into Yiddish (e.g., Gerondi's Sha'arei Teshuvah and Maimonides' Ẓavva'at ha-Rambam), and edited several works of other authors. Many of Alfes' commentaries were included in liturgical texts. At the age of 90, he wrote his autobiography, Toledot ve-Zikhronot (published posthumously in 1941).


Rejzen, Leksikon, 1 (1928), 107–11; lnyl, 1 (1956), 118–20; Kressel, Leksikon, 1 (1965), 117.

[Leonard Prager]