Barash, Asher

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BARASH, ASHER (1889–1952), Hebrew writer. Born in Lopatin, Eastern Galicia, at an early age he was already well acquainted with modern Hebrew literature; however, most of his juvenilia was written in Yiddish, the rest in German and Polish. At the age of 16, Barash left home and wandered all over Galicia, returning from time to time to Lvov. This period is reflected in several of his more important works: Pirkei Rudorfer ("Rudorfer's Episodes," 1920–27), Sippurei Rudorfer ("Rudorfer's Stories," 1936–44), and other autobiographical stories. At that time, Barash began to publish his literary efforts, first in Yiddish and then in Hebrew, the latter in 1910 with a number of Hebrew poems in the second Me'assef Sifruti, edited by David Frischmann, and in Shallekhet, edited by Gershon Shofman. His first long story, "Min ha-Migrash" (1910), also appeared in Shallekhet. In 1914, Barash moved to Ereẓ Israel, where he taught, first at the Herzlia secondary school in Tel Aviv and, after World War i, at the Reali high school in Haifa. This period is described in his work Ke-Ir Neẓurah ("As a Besieged City," 1944).

After World War ii he composed his best works in poetry and prose, wrote criticism, and edited several works. In conjunction with Ya'akov *Rabinowitz, he edited the prose volumes Hedim, the Miẓpeh Almanac, and Atidot, a youth journal. He was also active in the organizational work of the Association of Hebrew Writers, and established the bio-bibliographical institute, Genazim, which now bears his name. Barash's works were collected in three volumes (Kol Kitvei Asher Barash, 19612). In 1931, he wrote Torat ha-Sifrut ("Theory of Literature," in two volumes) which was the first attempt in modern Hebrew literature to present the Hebrew reader with a systematic theory of literature.

It is, however, as an author of fiction that Barash left his impact. His works mainly highlight the world he left behind. His description, often touched by nostalgia, is at the same time indicative of the author's awareness that this world must inevitably disintegrate. Barash was also aware of the new life evolving in Ereẓ Israel, and this consciousness he conveyed in three works, Ke-Ir Neẓurah, Ish u-Veito Nimḥu ("The Man and His Home Perished," 1933–34), and Gannanim ("Gardeners," 1937–38). Among his historical fiction are two stories, "Mul Sha'ar ha-Shamayim" ("Facing the Gates of Heaven," 1924) and "Ha-Nishar be-Toledo" (1944; "Last in Toledo," in Israel Argosy, 8 (1962), 144–71).

Barash's literary works are characterized by a rather personal style, precise language, and a quiet tone tending to simplicity and clear and unsentimental description. He rejected both the traditional style of the school of *Mendele Mokher Seforim and the extreme impressionistic and psychological style of some modernists. These stylistic qualities rapidly won him the title of a cool realist, uninvolved in the world he creates.

Barash's affection for the "good people," who are mostly marginal characters in his stories, was interpreted as an "objective" description of the more pleasant aspects of life. This simplistic and superficial approach to his works, however, ignores the cracks in his seemingly tranquil world through which can be glimpsed the hidden abyss that he keenly sensed. In his essay on Barash (in Arai va-Keva (1942), 147–58) Halkin dwells on this hidden but basic aspect in Barash's writing. He points to the strange but consistent contrast between the seemingly realistic tranquility and the knowledge (which Barash may have tried to conceal from himself) that this pleasant existence is but a thin shell protecting the individual from the chaos which threatens to erupt at any moment and engulf him or her.

The early story "Aḥim" ("Brothers," 1911) describes two brothers, one anchored in the full life of a traditional Jewish family, and the other living in debauchery and poverty. When engaged on a mission of mercy to his brother's family, the rich brother finds himself strangely jealous of the other's way of life. In his early book, Temunot mi-Beit Mivshal ha-Shekhar ("Sketches from the Brewery," 1915–28), considered his best, the theme of the story of "The Burning Bed" sharply offsets the peaceful enterprise at a brewery and hints at the inevitable destruction of this idyllic setting.

In Ammud ha-Esh ("The Pillar of Fire," 1936) Barash depicts the contrast between a good, stable, and humdrum provincial life, with its lovable yet ridiculous Zionist activity, and the explosion of the oil well, a pillar of fire. The burning oil well transforms the small town and its industrious life into a hell, simultaneously attractive and repelling, which threatens the sanity of the people. The thematic juxtaposition, found in almost all of Barash's stories, lends them depth and ambiguity. The same is evident in his method of characterization. Some of his characters appear to serve his "healthy" realistic tendencies, while others result from his romantic affinity for the strange, the rare, and the threatening.

Structurally, Barash's stories and novels follow a conservative, ordered, and clear pattern that seems to avoid confusion. Each story opens with a systematic exposition that acquaints the reader with the significance of events and characters. At times, the author introduces an omniscient narrator who defines the characters clearly. The dramatis personae, however, do not conform to this characterization. In the denouement of the plot and events, their deeds and behavior, whether openly or secretly, contradict the authoritative evaluation of the narrator. What at first seemed a simple structure is actually a literary device through which the complexity of the characters, originally imagined to be much more artless, is revealed. Barash tends toward short and limited narratives. This is clearly evident even in his more extensive works which are composed of more or less independent "sketches" or "episodes." Ke-Ir Neẓurah is a collection of random contemporary historical fiction, narratives, and personal experiences which are organically disconnected. These portrayals may provide the main outlines of characters and events for a full-length novel, but they cannot sustain its necessary unity and complexity.

The novel Ahavah Zarah ("Alien Love," 1930–38) poignantly describes events and experiences characteristic of the problematic coexistence of Jews and non-Jews in a small Galician town. The "grandmother" is undoubtedly one of Barash's best-drawn satirical characters. Barash's simplistic solution to the love conflict of a Jew for a non-Jewish girl introduces a foreign tendentious element into the novel which reduces its tragic significance. Barash thus presents, but does not resolve, the problems in the sphere of human emotions. The girl marries a policeman who is an antisemite; the boy recognizes the evil that is rooted in the non-Jew, even in his own beloved. The solution is ideological and logical, stultifying the human elements in the story and the humanity of the characters.

In Torat ha-Sifrut, Barash attempts to guide the "novice poet" and the teacher of literature. His normative approach was undoubtedly useful and served as a guide to the teacher and the student of literature in the technique of writing. Today, however, Barash's dogmatic statements seem old-fashioned and at times even incorrect: they often unnecessarily limit literary concepts and terms. The anthology of Hebrew poetry edited by Barash, Mivḥar ha-Shirah ha-Ivrit ha-Ḥadashah (1938), attests to good taste and knowledgeable choice of material and is still a faithful and discerning reflection of the best of Hebrew poetry. In 1969, Selected Stories of Asher Barash appeared.

A list of his works translated into English appears in Goell, Bibliography, index.


Halkin, in: Arai va-Keva (1942), 147–58; D. Sadan, Bein Din le-Ḥeshbon (1963), 226–33; Even, in: Moznayim, 22 (1966), 215–20; Kressel, Leksikon, 1 (1965), 383–6; S. Lachower, Asher Barash, Bibliografyah, 190652 (1953); Waxman, Literature, 4 (19602), 173–4. add. bibliography: G. Shaked, Ha-Sipporet ha-Ivrit, 1 (1977), 341–55; N. Toker, Ḥezyon Ḥolot ve-Yarkete Olam: Al Zikat ha-Makom ve-ha-Zeman be-Sippurei Asher Barash (1980); N. Tamir-Smilanski, Asher Barash, Mivḥar Ma'amrei Bikoret al Yeẓirato (1988). website:

[Yosef Ewen]