Frischmann, David

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FRISCHMANN, DAVID (1859–1922), one of the first major writers in modern Hebrew literature. Versatile and prolific in his literary creativity, Frischmann was an innovator in style and in the treatment of his subject, especially in the Hebrew short story, the ballad, the essay, criticism, and the lyric-satiric feuilleton. He also distinguished himself as a translator of world literature, and as an editor. In introducing Western aestheticism into Hebrew literature, Frischmann was a major influence in the development of Hebrew literature according to the aesthetic concepts of the world.

Early Career

He was born in Zgierz, near Lodz, into a well-to-do mercantile family which, although traditional, approved of the Haskalah. His education included Hebrew religious studies as well as humanities. At a young age, Frischmann already showed signs of literary talent and was considered a prodigy. At 15, his first writings were published – the sonnet "Yesh Tikvah," a translation of Heine's "Don Ramiro," and "Tarnegol ve-Tarnegolet," an original short story (Ha-Boker Or, 1874). He published satirical writings in *Ha-Shaḥar, whose editor, *Smolenskin, hailed him as a "brilliant star that has risen in our literary spheres – Boerne and Heine in German and Frischmann in Hebrew."

Short Stories

Frischmann's early satirical narratives, with their inherent social criticism, influenced by the writings of J.L. *Gordon andK.E. *Franzos, gave way to the short story whose purpose was mainly aesthetic. Jewish life was now portrayed more objectively. Frequently, the main characters were Jews who had come into direct conflict with the mores of the traditional society in which they lived and who, because of these conflicts, had either become estranged from it, or were rejected by it. In "Yom ha-Kippurim" (1881), a Jewish girl attracted to the world of music becomes a famous singer but abandons her people and traditions. At a recital in the church of her native town, on the Day of Atonement, she meets her death at the hand of her widowed mother who, out of shame and pain, has become demented. In "Ha-Ish u-Miktarto," a famous rabbi is so addicted to smoking that he is forced to violate the Sabbath, first furtively, and later publicly; as a result, he is excommunicated. Frischmann empathizes with these protagonists who succumb to human weaknesses and describes them with compassion and understanding.

Ba-Midbar (1923), a series of fictional biblical tales, alluding to biblical motifs and written in a biblical style and language, are original both in their choice of subject and in form. Set in the desert, immediately after the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, the characters are torn between the half-pagan primitive habits and lusts that they still cling to, and the new moral life preached by Moses as the word of God. Their leaders and priests, responsible for the observance and teaching of the new precepts, are themselves not always faithful to them. These stories, while evoking nostalgia for the ancient era, also reflect universal themes relevant to Frischmann and his time: the conflict between religion as an act of faith and as law, and instinct.

Literary Critic

Frischmann frequently was a scathing literary critic. Thus in an article, "Mi-Misterei Sifrutenu" (Ha-Boker Or, 1880), he violently admonished P. Smolenskin, the leading authority in Hebrew literature at that time, whom he accused of plagiarizing from M. *Hess's Rome and Jerusalem. In Tohu va-Vohu (1883), he mocks and scorns the Hebrew literary journalism of his day because of its inefficiency and provincialism. In due course, Frischmann became an authoritative arbiter of good taste and a champion of literary writing for art's sake. He defended J.L. Gordon against the attacks of M.L. *Lilienblum – who had accused Gordon of not being sufficiently nationalistic in his writings (in a critical article published in *Ha-Asif, 1894). His admiration for Gordon did not, however, prevent him from criticizing Gordon on another matter. He claimed that Gordon, after joining the editorial board of *Ha-Meliẓ, had abandoned those liberal views which he had expounded for 30 years previously.

An Iconoclast Poet

Frischmann's literary nonconformism, expressed in two of his earliest poems "Lo Elekh Immam" and "Elilim," were to become the motto of his life and his literary credo. In "Lo Elekh Immam," he voices his refusal to follow the old path and expresses his fearless criticism:

I shall not go with them, I shall not go; their ways are not mine,
I cannot bear their prattle, their expressions, their talk or their conversation.
I cannot tolerate their ways, their manners, or their thoughts,
Their prophets are not my prophets, their angels are not my angels.
Thoughts repel me, thoughts without minds,
I detest feelings, feelings without hearts.

"Elilim" points to Frischmann the iconoclast; the poem harks back to the patriarch Abraham whom he sees as the first iconoclast. The poet claims that Abraham in smashing the idols had not completed the act, since the largest of the idols still survived. He calls upon the patriarch to endow him with his ancient venerated spirit, so that he might smite surviving idols.

A non-observant Jew, Frischmann rejected as futile and impractical the attempts at religious reforms in the 19th century, whose purpose was the adaptation of Judaism to the spirit of the times. In "Ani va-Avi Zekeni," Frischmann argues that the grandfathers who cling to Judaism would not assent to any reform of the mitzvot which, in their view, were all "given to Moses at Sinai," whereas the younger generation, with which the author identifies, does not need the sanction of tradition to act according to its conscience.

Frischmann and European Culture

Like many of his contemporaries, Frischmann's introduction to European culture was by way of German, a language he had studied in his youth. Two German-Jewish authors, *Heine and *Boerne, exercised a profound influence upon his writing. Frischmann visited Germany several times, and during his 1882 stay, became personally acquainted with a number of authors and scientists, among them B. Auerbach, a German-Jewish writer, and A. *Bernstein, whose large popular scientific work, Knowledge of Nature, Frischmann was to translate in part. Between 1890 and 1895, he studied philology, philosophy, and the history of art at the University of Breslau. He returned to Warsaw in 1895, and until 1910, translation became his regular occupation. The works he rendered from German, Russian, and English into Hebrew during that period include J. Lippert's The History of the Perfection of Man (1894–1908), George Eliot's Daniel Deronda (1893), legends and tales of Hans Christian Andersen (1896), selected poems of Alexander Pushkin (1899), Byron's Cain (1900), and Nietzsche's Alsosprach Zarathustra (1900). Frischmann devoted his entire life to literature and avoided all public office or public involvements. His many opponents accused him of anti-Zionism. In actuality, it was his rejection of the use of art for ideological or propagandistic purposes that caused him to refrain from advocating social or political views.

Frischmann as a Hebrew Journalist

In the 19th century, the dividing line between belles lettres and journalism had not been clearly defined, and most authors engaged in both disciplines without differentiating between them. Frischmann published a series of short stories, Otiyyot Poreḥot (1893), a series of book reviews, and a series of feuilletons on practical subjects, called "Ba-Kol-mi-Kol-Kol" in Ha-Asif. His adversaries often dismissed him as "merely a feuilletonist." Frischmann, who did not accept the old forms, and left on all the genres he employed his mark as innovator – in style, structure, choice of content and its treatment – saw the feuilleton as a new form of poetry whose range extended far beyond that of any other type of poetry. In his eulogy of Theodor *Herzl, Frischmann wrote:

I knew him as an artist in his field long before he became famous as the father of Zionism. My enthusiasm for Herzl, the feuilletonist, was so great, that for a time I almost hated Zionism because it had robbed me of his poetic powers and transformed a great poet into a man of public affairs concerned with petty politics. However immense his contribution to Zionism may have been, the loss to literature is immeasurable.

Frischmann had a special affinity for political leaders who had literary talents. He wrote with enthusiasm about the diary of Ferdinand *Lassalle, and about the private letters of Rosa *Luxemburg.

Editor and Publisher of Journals

Frischmann published several short stories in the German literary monthly Salon (Leipzig, in 1885), in Ha-Meliẓ (whose editor, J.L. Gordon, invited him to join its editorial board in 1896); and in Ha-Yom, the first Hebrew daily. Frischmann preferred Ha-Yom because it was an independent journal and its editor and principal contributors, among them J.L. *Kantor, and J.L. Katznelson, shared the same liberal outlook as he. Frischmann served as assistant editor and published his feuilletons almost daily; the series "Letters Concerning Literature" became one of the foundation stones of modern Hebrew criticism.

In 1901 Frischmann became editor of Ha-Dor, a literary weekly whose high literary standard attracted the most talented writers of the day. After one year it was forced to close down, due to its small circulation. Frischmann tried to revive it three years later, but failed after publishing 38 additional issues. Zalman *Shneour, describing the Ha-Dor period in his memoirs, says: "Frischmann was generally considered a quarrelsome man; his antagonists considered him a cynic. In truth, he was a mild, pleasant man who loved talented and promising young people."

In 1903 Frischmann became editor of the literary supplement of the Vilna daily newspaper Ha-Zeman, in 1909, in Warsaw, of the short-lived Ha-Boker; between 1908 and 1910 of the literary collections Sifrut (1909–10); and of Reshafim (1909–10; pocket-sized literary anthologies) in which he published, in serial form, his translation of Also sprach Zarathustra.

Frischmann in Yiddish

Hebrew was Frischmann's literary vehicle of expression, and he was faithful to biblical Hebrew, which he had mastered probably better than any contemporary author, rejecting the "synthetic" Hebrew developed by *Mendele Mokher Seforim and his school. Occasionally, however, he also wrote in Yiddish and in German. The few poems that he composed in Yiddish are lyrical in tone. He also wrote short stories and feuilletons in that language. His first Yiddish articles were published in *Shalom Aleichem's Yudishe Folksbibliothek (1888–89), but he also contributed Yiddish poems and articles to the literary annual Hoys-Fraynd, the weekly Der Yud, and the daily Fraynd. From 1908, he was a regular contributor of weekly feuilletons to the Warsaw Yiddish daily Haynt. His collected Yiddish stories were published in two volumes by the Lodz Pedagogue editions, and his Yiddish articles on drama and literature were published by the Warsaw Progress editions. These collected works are only a small part of Frischmann's Yiddish writings, most of which are still uncollected.

Frischmann's Visits to Palestine

Frischmann visited Palestine twice, in 1911 and 1912, each time with groups organized by Haynt, in which he published his travel impressions. These he also published in Hebrew in a small book entitled Ba-Areẓ (1913). Overwhelmed by his experiences, he wrote emotionally about the holy places he had visited, the landscape, his meetings with the pioneers, and the beginnings of the revival of Hebrew. His initial skepticism gave way to enthusiasm, and he candidly and openly retracted his reservations about the rebirth of Hebrew as a vernacular.

Frischmann in Russia During World War i and the Revolution

At the outbreak of World War i, Frischmann was on a visit in Berlin, where he was interned as an enemy alien. Eventually, he was set free and allowed to return to Poland. When the conquering German army neared Warsaw, he left for Odessa where he remained until the Russian Revolution. While in Odessa, he wrote some of his most beautiful lyrical poems, translated The Conversations of the Grimm Brothers for the Moriah editions of Bialik-Rawnitzki and the poetry of the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. Frischmann's translation of Tagore's poetry is a masterpiece. The translation, together with several original poems, and a series of literary obituaries, were published in Keneset (1917), edited by *Bialik. During his stay in Odessa, he also contributed weekly feuilletons to the Odessa Yiddish newspaper Undzer Lebn, until the Russian authorities closed down the paper.

After the revolution of February 1917, a Hebrew literary center was formed in Moscow, and Frischmann was invited to be the chairman of the editorial board of the A.J. Stybel publications. He was named editor of *Ha-Tekufah, the quarterly published by Stybel. There he published his translations of Goethe, Heine, Byron, Oscar Wilde, Anatole France, and Tagore. He also continued his biblical stories of the Ba-Midbar series. Stybel's generous support enabled him, as well as many other authors, to devote themselves entirely to writing. The publication program of the house was outlined by Frischmann in his address on "Belles Lettres" at the second Hebrew Language and Culture congress in Vienna (1913).

In 1919 the Stybel publishing house was closed down in Moscow, and reestablished in Warsaw, where Frischmann continued in his capacity of editor. There he also published a series of "New Letters Concerning Literature" in the monthly Miklat (another Stybel project, edited by Y.D. *Berkowitz in New York), and translated the "Legends" (Aggadot) of Max Nordau (19232) and Shakespeare's Coriolanus (published in 1924). Grave illness compelled him to travel to Berlin to seek medical treatment; there he died and was buried.

Frischmann's Conversations and Letters

Besides his great literary prolificacy, perseverance in pursuing an idea or belief, and his immense contributions to the different branches of literature, Frischmann's talent also revealed itself in his letters to friends (few unfortunately survive), and in conversation. Some of his conversations were written down later, from memory, by his admirers: J. *Fichmann, E. *Steinman, and Z. *Shneour. His letters to his contemporaries, rarely personal, are a valuable source of information on Frischmann and on the history of the Hebrew literature of his period. Eleven of his letters, Iggerot David Frischmann ed. by E.R. Malachi, were collected and published in New York (1927); others were published in different periodicals.

Collected writings of Frischmann have been published in various editions: (1) Ketavim Nivḥarim (4 vols., Piotrokow-Warsaw, 1899–1905), a selection of his writings with an introduction by Y.L. Kantor; (2) Ketavim Ḥadashim (5 vols., Warsaw, 1909–12); (3) Kol Kitvei David Frischmann u-Mivḥar Tirgumav (16 vols., Warsaw, 19222), his complete writings and a selection of his translations, as well as an additional volume (vol. 17) of his articles; (4) Kol Kitvei Frischmann (8 vols., Warsaw-New York, 1939), his complete writings; (5) Kol Kitvei Frischmann (8 vols. published until 1968), his complete works; (6) Tirgumim (1954), a collection of all his literary translations. Four books of Frischmann's collected Yiddish writings were published by the Pedagogue editions (1909) in Lodz, and the Progress editions (1911) in Warsaw. Many of Frischmann's writings in Hebrew, as well as in Yiddish and German, have not yet been collected in book form and are still scattered in different periodicals. For English translations, see Goell, Bibliography, 674–81, 2046–91, 2794–95.


D. Frischmann, in: Ha-Tekufah, 16 (1923; autobiographical letter, written in 1893 to S.L. Zitron); E.R. Malachi (ed.), Iggerot Frischmann (1927); N. Sokolow, in: Ha-Tekufah, 16 (1923); J. Fichmann, Ruḥot Menaggenot (1952), 117–74: E. Steinman, Mi-Dor el Dor: Seder Frischmann (1951); Z. Shneour, David Frischmann ve-Aḥerim (1959); Y.D. Berkowitz, Ha-Rishonim ki-Venei Adam, bein Shalom Aleikhem u-Frischmann (1943); Y.H. Rawnitzki, Dor ve-Soferav (1927; in memory of D. Frischmann); Lachower, Sifrut, 3 pt. 1 (1963), 123–78; R. Brainin, Ketavim Nivḥarim, Avot: David Frischmann (1950); A.A. Ben-Yishai, in: Sefer ha-Shanah shel ha-Ittona'im be-Yisrael (1961); Rejzen, Leksikon, 204–28; Z. Fishman, in: En Hakore (1923); Waxman, Literature, index; N. Slouschz, David Frischmann (Fr., 1913). add. bibliography: Sh. Kremer, "Hista'aruto shel Frischmann al Sifrut ha-Haskalah," in: Moznayim 35 (1972), 230–35; M. Gilboa, Bein Re'alizm le-Romantikah: Al Darko shel D. Frischmann ba-Bikkoret (1975); G. Shaked, Ha-Sipporet ha-Ivrit, 1 (1977), 114–30; S. Kramer, Frischmann ha-Mevaker: Monografyah (1984); U. Shoham, in: Te'udah 5 (1986), 101–15; Z. Kagan, "Ma'aseh ha-Sippur: Sippurei ' Ba-Midbar,'" in: Dapim le-Meḥkar ba-Sifrut 7 (1990). 95–110; M. Gilboa (ed.), David Frischmann: Mivḥar Ma'amrei Bikkoret al Yeẓirato (1988), bibliography; E. Mats, "Tenses in Frischmann's Ba-Midbar," in: Jewish Studies in a New Europe (1998), 223–28; I. Parush, Kanon Sifruti ve-Ideologyah Le'ummit: Bikkoret ha-Sifrut shel Frischmann be-Hashva'ah le-Bikoret ha-Sifrut shel Klozner u-Vrener (1992); Y. Peleg, Reinterpreting the East: Orientalism in Hebrew Literature 1890–1930 (2000); R. Scheneld, "Mashber ba-Mishpaḥah," in: Mi-Vilnah li-Yerushalayim (2002), 343–59.

[Aharon Zeev Ben-Yishai]