BAAL-MAKHSHOVES (pen name of Israel Isidor Elyashev ; 1873–1924), Yiddish literary critic, pioneer, and creator of Yiddish literary criticism as an art form. Born in Kovno, Baal-Makhshoves was educated at a Courland yeshivah which combined the moral severity of the *Musar movement with a modern curriculum, including mathematics, geography, and German. The influence of the Musar movement intensified his skepticism, melancholy, and analytic sagacity. After completing his studies at a Swiss high school, he studied medicine at Heidelberg and Berlin. Although he practiced medicine in Kovno, Vilna, Riga, Warsaw, and St. Petersburg, and also translated a few popular works of science into Yiddish, his main interest was in belles lettres. In 1896 he began to write in German and Russian and in 1901 published his first Yiddish critical reviews in Der Yud. Influenced by the writer I.L. *Peretz, Baal-Makhshoves continued to write in Yiddish. In a brilliant essay, "Tsvey Shprakhn – Eyneyntsike Literatur" ("Two Languages – One Literature"), he stressed the unity of Jewish literature despite its linguistic duality. In another famous essay, "Dray Shtetlakh" ("Three Towns") he called attention to the three different interpretations of shtetl culture in the works of Peretz, Sholem Asch, and I.M. Vaisenberg. An early admirer of Theodor Herzl, he translated Altneuland into Yiddish (1902) and participated in the Fifth and Twelfth Zionist Congresses. His war years were spent as a medical officer in the Russian Army. Another burst of literary activity as Yiddish editor of Klal-verlag (Berlin, 1922–23), was cut short by his illness and subsequent death. Baal-Makhshoves introduced European aesthetic standards and norms into his interpretation of Yiddish literature. He discovered new talents and encouraged H. *Leivick, David *Bergelson, and the postrevolutionary Kiev Group. He held that both Hebrew and Yiddish should be recognized as Jewish national languages, the former because it linked the Jewish people with its historic past and the latter because it united Jews in the Diaspora. He saw himself fulfilling a role in Yiddish literature similar to that of critics like Byelinski and Lessing in Russian and German literature, respectively, and as heralding a Jewish literary renaissance whose pioneers were Sholem Yankev *Abramovitsh (Mendele Mokher Seforim), *Sholem Aleichem, I.L. *Peretz, Sholem *Asch, and Ḥ.N. *Bialik, to each of whom he devoted a penetrating essay. He accepted Taine's theory that historical, geographical, and ethnic environment determined the character of literary creativity, and formulated the view that true creativity led from regionalism to national culture, illustrating it in his essay on the impact of South Russian Jewish life on Yiddish literature. He translated authors like Turgenev (Fotersun Kinder, "Fathers and Children," 1922) and Tolstoy (Kozakn, "Cossacks," c. 1920) into Yiddish.
Less well-known but no less valuable are his Ironishe Mayselekh ("Ironic Tales," after 1910), in which he expressed his increasing pessimism and disillusionment. His selected works appeared in five volumes (1915, 19232, 19293) and in a single volume in 1953.
Rejzen, Leksikon, 2 (1927), 744–66; S. Niger, Lezer, Dikhter un Kritiker (1928), 495–565; Eliashev, in: Lite, 1 (1951), 1313–72; N.B. Minkoff, Zeks Yidishe Kritiker (1954), 227–90; lnyl, 1 (1956), 359–66; S. Niger, Kritik un Kritiker (1959), 360–82. add. bibliography: M. Krutikov, in: Polin, 17 (2004), 243–58.
[Simha Katz and
Shlomo Bickel /
Shifra Kuperman (2nd ed.)]
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