Bershadsky (Domashevitzky), Isaiah

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BERSHADSKY (Domashevitzky), ISAIAH

BERSHADSKY (Domashevitzky), ISAIAH (1871–1908), Hebrew novelist. Bershadsky, who was born in Zimoshti, Belorussia, received the traditional Jewish education of the period, and also acquired a knowledge of Russian. His novel Be-Ein Mattarah ("To No Purpose") appeared in 1899 (under the pseudonym Bershadsky, an abbreviation of the Hebrew for Ben Reb Shimon Domashevitzky) in the Biblioteka Ivrit series founded by Ben Avigdor. It proved a landmark in Hebrew literature. For the first time in the 20 years since the foundation of the Ḥibbat Zion movement a novel was published in Hebrew giving a comprehensive view of contemporary society. Be-Ein Mattarah is a psychological realistic novel of the type prevalent in the European literature of the period. The background is the Jewish middle class in a town in the Pale of Settlement, and the main characters are the Hebrew teachers. The plot deals with their social and ideological problems arising from the question of a Jewish national rebirth. The hero, Admovitz, in common with Bazarov, Turgenev's nihilist archetype of Russian literature, rejects idealism and favors theorizing and philosophizing. He thus reacts negatively to Zionism and to the concept of a resurrection of the Hebrew language, both of which threw the Pale of Settlement into a ferment in the 1890s. However, his rejection does not lead to any constructive alternative. His attempts to immerse himself in materialistic pleasures are accompanied by agonies of conscience, a result of his religious education. These he tries to hide beneath a mask of cynicism and mockery. His life is joyless and purposeless. In the character of Admovitz, who shares many personality traits with his author, Bershadsky created the prototype of the Jewish social misfit, who became the anti-hero of Hebrew fiction in the first quarter of the 20th century. A two-volume anthology of Bershadsky's stories and sketches was published during 1899 and 1902 under the title Tippusim u-Ẓelalim ("Types and Shadows"). His second novel, Neged ha-Zerem ("Against the Stream") appeared in 1901 in four parts. Written before Be-Ein Mattarah, it depicts the collapse of traditional Jewish life. The hero, Israelson, the representative of Zionist orthodoxy, discovers that the bourgeois youth has surrendered to anarchy, cynicism, and hedonism. He eventually reached the conclusion that no Diaspora-based system of education can contain assimilation. Bershadsky is one of the first modern Hebrew authors to describe the relationship between the sexes realistically. In general, his works mark the entry of realism into Hebrew fiction, ending its tradition of over-moralizing. There are, however, defects in his writing. These include weakly traced plots, an excess of propaganda, usually put into the mouths of the heroes during their numerous arguments, and a dry, unimaginative style, lacking lyrical finesse.

Bershadsky was a member of the editorial board of the periodical Ha-Zeman in 1904–05 in St. Petersburg and later in Vilna. He died in Warsaw. His later stories and sketches and his early and unpublished writings were collected and published posthumously in two volumes under the title Ketavim Aḥaronim ("Last Writings," 1910).


I. Bershadsky, Be-Ein Mattarah (1967), introduction (contains a selected bibliography); I. Bershadsky, Ketavim Aḥaronim, 1 (1910), 7–22 (biography by P. Kaplan); A. Sha'anan, Ha-Sifrut ha-Ivrit ha-Ḥadashah li-Zerameha, 3 (1964), 322–6; Waxman, Literature, 4 (1960), 85–92.

[Gedalyah Elkoshi]