Cilibi Moïse

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CILIBI MOÏSE (pseudonym of Ephraim Moses ben Sender ; 1812–1870), Romanian popular philosopher, moralist, and thinker. Cilibi, who was born in Focsani, into a very poor Jewish family, received little formal education, hardly knew how to read or write, and earned his living as a peddler. He became a familiar figure in Bucharest, where he amused his clients with anecdotes, epigrams, and witticisms of his own invention. In time he came to be regarded as a Romanian counterpart of Hershele *Ostropoler, the 18th-century ḥasidic wit. The popularity of Cilibi's sayings encouraged him to collect them in Viaţa lui Cilibi Moïse Vestitul ("The Life of Moïse Cilibi the Famous," 1858), which he dictated to the printer. This was so successful that 13 more collections in editions of 10,000 copies appeared annually until his death – an amazing achievement for the era. Cilibi's sayings, which entered Romanian folklore even before they were printed, were sometimes humorous and satirical but mainly reflect the author's practical wisdom and moral standpoint. His keen common sense and native intelligence gave him a penetrating outlook on everyday life and the social scene. The Romanian language used by Cilibi Moïse remains close to today's spoken and literary variants of it. Cilibi's works won the approval of many leading Romanian writers, including the eminent playwright Ion Luca Caragiale, who praised the "modest Jewish writer's" artistic integrity, and acknowledged Cilibi's influence on his own work. Later on the renowned Romanian literary critic George Calinescu called Cilibi Moïse an "oral genius" and spoke about his important contribution to the "maturization" of Romanian literature. Many Romanian intellectuals have noted Cilibi Moïse's devotion to his homeland. One typical expression of Cilibi Moïse's humanism and moral thinking is: "He who distinguishes man from man is himself not a human being."


M. Cilibi, Practica si apropourile lui Cilibi Moise, vestitul în Tara Romîneascâ…, ed. by M. Schwarzfeld (19012), includes biography; C. Bacalbaşa, Bucureştii altǎ datǎ, 1 (1927), 70, 73–74; S. Semilian, in: Adevǎrul literar (March 6, 1939); G. Călinescu, Istoria Literaturii Române (1939).

[Isac Bercovici /

Paul Schveiger (2nd ed.)]