Braudes, Reuben Asher

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BRAUDES, REUBEN ASHER (1851–1902), Hebrew novelist and advocate of social and religious reform. Braudes, who was born in Vilna, early established a reputation as a brilliant talmudic student, and published his first articles in the rabbinic periodical Ha-Levanon (1869). Leaving Vilna at 17, he spent three years at the rabbinical seminary at Zhitomir before wandering through southern Russia to Odessa, which was then the center of the Haskalah (Enlightenment). Influenced by the critical attitude toward traditional Judaism then dominating Hebrew literature, Braudes began to write articles advocating the religious and social reform of Jewish life such as Si'aḥ Sha'ah Aḥat Aḥar ha-Mavet ("A Conversation One Hour After Death"), published in Ha-Meliẓ (1870), and in his first short story, Misterei Beit Ẓefanyah ("The Mysteries of the Zephaniah Family") which appeared in Ha-Shaḥar (1873). In 1875 Braudes left Odessa to spend a year in Warsaw before proceeding to Lemberg where he edited the monthly Ha-Boker Or (1876–79). There he published much of his novel Ha-Dat ve ha-Ḥayyim ("Religion and Life," 1885), an important work describing the struggle for religious reform that raged within Lithuanian Jewry from 1869 until 1871, as well as many stories, articles, and book reviews.

The years 1879–81 were again spent in Vilna, where he edited most of the first volume of a literary miscellany, Gan Peraḥim ("A Garden of Flowers," 1881), which contains an important article on the revival of Hebrew. Shocked by the 1881 pogroms in Russia, he joined the Ḥibbat Zion, although he had previously attacked Smolenskin's advocacy of nationalism in an article "Beit Yisrael" which appeared in 1880 in David Gordon's Maggid Mishneh (nos. 49–50). After a brief sojourn in St. Petersburg, Braudes fled to Bucharest where from 1882 to 1884 he edited a Yiddish periodical Yehudit which advocated Jewish colonization in Palestine. After his expulsion from Romania as an alien Jew in 1884, Braudes resided in Lemberg until 1891. In 1885 he founded a Hebrew biweekly, Ha-Yahadut, of which only four issues appeared. At the same time he participated in a story-publishing venture under the imprint Eked Sippurim. Part of his second novel Shetei ha-Keẓavot ("The Two Extremes"), which skillfully depicts the clash of contemporary and traditional attitudes and habits within Jewish life in and about Odessa, appeared in the same series, while a finished version was published in Warsaw in 1888. In an introduction to his collection of eight stories (some of which had previously appeared in Ha-Boker Or), published under the title Zekenim im Ne'arim ("Old and Young," 1886), Braudes laments the dearth of essential vocabulary in Hebrew which limits the scope of the Hebrew story. In 1888 he edited the second volume of the annual Oẓar ha-Sifrut published by Shealtiel Isaac Graber in Cracow. His short monograph on Adam Mickiewicz and the Jews (Cracow, 1890) represents the first study in Hebrew of the great Polish poet's attitude toward a Jewish renaissance in Palestine.

From 1891 to 1893 Braudes resided in Cracow, editing a weekly which appeared under the names Ha-Zeman and Ru'aḥ ha-Zeman in alternate weeks, to avoid paying the duty levied on a weekly. In the former he included the first part of an unfinished novel, Me-Ayin u-Le'an ("Whence and Whither") which appeared separately in Cracow in 1891; and in the latter he published a long biographical novel Shirim Attikim ("Old Songs"), the finished version of which appeared posthumously in Cracow in 1903. Both novels depict the ideological struggles of contemporary Jewish life.

From 1893 to 1896 Braudes again resided in Lemberg, where from 1894 he edited a Yiddish weekly, which also appeared in alternate weeks, under the titles Der Karmel and Der Vekker. With the removal of the duty on weeklies, the journal appeared each week under the name Juedisches Wochenblatt, serving as the official Zionist organ in eastern Galicia. Toward the end of 1896 Braudes moved to Vienna where he resided until his death. Here he served as a correspondent for Ha-Maggid he-Ḥadash, in which capacity he attended the First World Zionist Congress in 1897. He was appointed editor of the Yiddish edition of the Zionist weekly, Die Welt, by Theodor *Herzl. During his last years he composed many articles, sketches and stories, although his plans to complete his unfinished novels were realized only in the case of Shirim Attikim.

Braudes' fame as an author rests primarily on the novels, Ha-Dat ve-ha-Ḥayyim and Shetei ha-Keẓavot, both of which display a highly developed sense of literature. The narrative is clear, concise, and interesting, and the presentation straightforward and direct. The plots, particularly in the case of Shetei ha-Keẓavot, are skillfully constructed, with events portrayed in a natural and unforced sequence. In spite of the powerful dramatic tensions and conflicts experienced by the principal characters, the novels are almost entirely free from the crude melodrama and wildly improbable devices to which most of his contemporaries were prone. Both characterization and dialogue are competent within the linguistic limitations of the period. Even the didactic elements which permeate the Hebrew literature of that time are mostly introduced without too much grating on the reader's susceptibilities. Only in the third part of Ha-Dat ve-ha-Ḥayyim is the literary aspect deliberately neglected in favor of Braudes' didactic purpose. In Shetei ha-Keẓavot the author's advocacy of social reform is introduced with such consummate skill that the novel achieves an artistic unity unrivalled in the Hebrew literature of the period. By utilizing his penetrating knowledge of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, Braudes succeeded in depicting the spiritual conflicts which raged within the community in his time with an uncanny accuracy.


Klausner, Sifrut, 5 (19552), 345–402; D. Patterson, Hebrew Novel in Czarist Russia (1964), 188–209; Waxman, Literature, 3 (1960), 301–8.

[David Patterson]