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Gottlober, Abraham Baer

GOTTLOBER, ABRAHAM BAER

GOTTLOBER, ABRAHAM BAER (pseudonyms Abag and Mahalalel , 1810–1899), Hebrew and Yiddish writer and poet. Born in Staro-Konstantinov (Volhynia), Gottlober was taken to Tarnopol (now Ternopol), Galicia, by his father at the age of 17. In Galicia he came in contact with the Haskalah, of which he was a staunch advocate most of his life, and met Joseph *Perl in 1828. Upon his return to Volhynia, his pious father-in-law, violently opposed to his secular studies, compelled him to divorce his wife. Gottlober, embittered by the affair, developed a hostility toward orthodoxy and Ḥasidism which found satiric expression in his writings. At 19 he remarried and moved to Podolia where, under the influence of Menahem Mendel *Levin's works, he began writing in Yiddish and in Hebrew. He wandered from place to place, living between 1830 and 1850 in Bessarabia, Berdichev, and Kremenets. In Kremenets he married for the third time and befriended I.B. *Levinsohn. Upon obtaining a government teaching license in 1850, he taught school until 1865 when he was appointed instructor of Talmud at the rabbinical seminary in Zhitomir. There he remained until the government closed down the seminary in 1873.

Hebrew Works

Gottlober's literary career extends over a 60-year period and though his writings are of a limited aesthetic value, they are a real, if modest, contribution to the development of the modern Hebrew language and literature and to Yiddish literature. During the 1830–50 period, he published two collections of Hebrew poems: Pirḥei ha-Aviv (1837) and Ha-Niẓẓanim (1850). In 1874, on an extended sojourn in Vienna, he published his Hebrew translation of Lessing's Nathan der Weise, a number of nationalistic poems in Hebrew, and the short story "Kol Rinnah vi-Yshu'ah be-Oholei Ẓaddikim" (Ha-Shaḥar, 1874–75). When the editor of Ha-Shaḥar, Perez *Smolenskin, attacked the Berlin Haskalah and wrote disparagingly of Moses *Mendelssohn, Gottlober broke with him and founded the Hebrew monthly Ha-Boker Or which appeared intermittently in Lemberg and later in Warsaw (1876–86). The periodical, mainly a vehicle for Gottlober's attack on Smolenskin's views, published also many of his short stories and studies in biblical exegesis, and in 1886 the second part of his memoirs, Zikhronot mi-Ymei Ne'urai. (The first part had appeared separately in Warsaw in 1881, while supplementary material was published in Ha-Asif, 1885.) With the demise of his journal, Gottlober left Warsaw and lived first in Dubno, then in Rovno, spending the last years of his life in Bialystok. While the poet's longing for Ereẓ Israel found some poetic expression in the 1870s, the 1881 pogroms shocked him into further national realization: he joined the Ḥibbat Zion movement and most of his poetry was now imbued with yearning for the Land of Israel. Kol Shirei Mahalalel (1890) is a collection of his poetry, original and translated, that had not appeared in the previous collections. A scholar, Gottlober also published a number of research and critical works. Among these are Bikkoret le-Toledot ha-Kara'im (1865) a study of the history of the Karaites; Iggeret Bikkoret (1866), a critical work on modern Hebrew poetry; a translation of Moses Mendelssohn's Jerusalem (1867); and Toledot ha-Kabbalah veha-Ḥasidut (1869), a history of the Kabbalah.

Yiddish Works

Gottlober's most productive period in Yiddish writing was between the years 1840 and 1870. One of his earliest works, Feldblumen, a collection of lyrics, and Di Farkerte Welt, a didactic poem, were lost, but most of the poems were recovered in the 1920s and 1930s. Many of Gottlober's Yiddish works were published long after they had been written: his three-act comedy "Der Dektukh oder Tsvey Khupes in Eyn Nakht" was written in 1838 and published in 1876, and the poem, "Der Bidne Yisrolik," written in 1843, appeared in 1876. Often depicted against a ḥasidic background, the works are written in an everyday dramatic speech into which the author introduced a satirical note. Gottlober's attitude toward Yiddish was ambivalent: while he saw it as a language "without literature, without grammar, and without logic," he also felt that he could address the Jewish public only in its own language. Among his best Yiddish works are Dos Lid finem Kugel (1863), a parody on Schiller's poem Lied von der Glocke; "Der Seim oder di Groyse Aseyfe in Vald, ven di Ḥayes Hoben Oysgekliben dem Layb far a Meylekh" (1863, but written in 1842), a satiric fable in verse form; and "Der Gilgul" (1896), a sharp social satire which was first published in Kol Mevasser in 1871. "Zikhroynes vegen Yudishe Shrayber" (Yudishe Folksbibliotek 1, 1888) is his important nonfictional work in Yiddish. A collection of his Yiddish works appeared in 1927, A.B. Gottlober's Yidishe Verk (A. Fridkin and Z. Rejzen, eds.).

Initial Evaluation

Greatly overestimated in the prime of his career, Gottlober's writings have, nevertheless, left their mark on Hebrew and Yiddish letters. A facile writer, his style is fluent rather than compelling. Much of his writing is a direct attack on the obscurantism of the period and shows his firm support of the Haskalah. During the last 20 years of his life, however, he had become disappointed with the ideals of the Haskalah and had become one of the early champions of the nationalist movement and of the revival of Hebrew. While his poems are strongly marked by lyricism and often reflect his own experiences, his personal feelings were so closely interwoven with the public weal that much of his poetry bears a journalistic stamp. Its artistic value lies in the fact that it mirrors the aspirations and aesthetic criteria of his time. His incisive criticism influenced contemporary Hebrew poetry and led to greater metrical flexibility; his memoirs and short stories remain valuable for the interesting light they shed on many facets of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. Gottlober was also one of the first Hebrew writers to translate Russian poetry into Hebrew. His studies on the Karaites and on the Kabbalah, although highly imitative, served to draw attention to important but neglected areas of Jewish interest.

bibliography:

Klausner, Sifrut, 5 (19552), 286–344 (includes bibliography); P. Shalev-Toren, A.B. Gottlober vi-Yẓirato ha-Piyyutit (1958); Rejzen, Leksikon, 1 (1926), 451–8; Waxman, Literature, 3 (19602), 255–8; A. Fridkin, A.B. Gottlober un Zeyn Epokhe (1925). add. bibliography: G. Kresel, "Gottlober ha-Memu'arist," in: Moznayim, 44 (1977), 230–32; Y. Mazor, "Sipporet ha-Haskalah," in: Te'udah, 5 (1986), 39–65; Z. Skodizki, "Wejgen Falks Iberarbeitung fun Gottlobers Lider," in: Die Yiddishe Literatur in 19. Jorhindert (1993), 289–304.

[David Patterson]

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