Dik, Isaac (Ayzik) Meir

views updated


DIK, ISAAC (Ayzik ) MEIR (c. 1807–1893), first popular writer of Yiddish fiction, best known by the acronym AMaD . Born in Vilna, Dik received a traditional Jewish education and proved an able student. He began his literary activity around 1838 with a Hebrew story "Zifronah" and a Hebrew parody "Massekhet Aniyyut" ("Tractate on Poverty," in Kanfei Yonah, 1848). An adherent of the *Haskalah, Dik urged Jewish school and clothing reform, and in his early years corresponded to this end with the czarist minister of education. An admirer of the reforming zeal of Czar *Alexander ii, Dik devoted his energy to promoting those reforms that would bring the Jews into modern European life as equal citizens. From 1861 he thus wrote only in Yiddish in order to instruct the unlearned in practical morality and ethics, becoming the author of over 300 stories and short novels. He is best known for introducing into Yiddish literature realistic tales with sound morals, many of which were subtle adaptations of other works. Dik knew that to teach, one must entertain, and he consistently used literature to popularize the ideas of the Haskalah which advocated both modern education and traditional learning. Since he was anxious to reach the widest possible audience without alienating pious traditionalists, he drew much material from traditional folklore. In 1865 he signed a contract with the Romm publishing house, agreeing to write a 48 page novelette each week. His engaging stories, which reveled in both sentimentality and melodrama, were eagerly read by men and women alike, who regularly bought nearly 100,000 copies of his works, many of which have not survived since they were literally read to shreds. Dik's work was characterized by the subtle use of narrative strategies and modes of discourse that worked against conventional expectations; his favorite modes were parody and satire in which he exposed the deficiencies of traditional Jewish society as he saw it. His purpose was to show Jewish people how to play productive roles in the modern world. The traditional values of Judaism nonetheless remained dear to him, and he himself remained strictly observant all his life. He popularized knowledge of the Bible, wrote on the Haggadah, composed a popular version of the Shulḥan Arukh, and published many stories on Ereẓ Israel, including a history of Jerusalem. Dik also summarized Jewish classical, medieval, and contemporary writings for the average Yiddish reader. His selected works, severely edited and modernized, were published in 1954 (Geklibene Verk fun I.M. Dik, ed. Sh. Niger).


I.M. Dik, R. Shemayah Mevarekh ha-Mo'adot (1967), D. Sadan (ed. and tr.); Sh. Niger, in: He-Avar, 2 (1918), 140–54; M. Weinreich, Bilder fun der Yidisher Literatur Geshikhte (1928), 292–329; B. Rivkind, in: yivo Bleter, 36 (1952), 191–230; lnyl, 2 (1958), 518–24; M. Kosover, in: jba, 25 (1957/68), 241–8; C. Madison, Yiddish Literature (1968), 23f. add. bibliography: D. Roskies, A Bridge of Longing: The Lost Art of Jewish Storytelling (1995), 56–98; J. Sherman, The Jewish Pope: Myth, Diaspora and Yiddish Literature (2003), 83–105.

[Elias Schulman /

Joseph Sherman (2nd ed.)]