Greenberg, Uri Ẓevi

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GREENBERG, URI ẒEVI (pseudonym Tur Malka ; 1894–1981), Hebrew poet. He was born in Bialykamien, eastern Galicia, and was descended from hasidic leaders (Meir Przemyslany on his father's side and the Saraf, Uri Strelisk, on his mother's). In his infancy his parents moved to Lvov where Greenberg received a traditional hasidic upbringing and education. His earliest poems, both in Hebrew and Yiddish, were published in 1912 in leading periodicals of the day. In 1915 he was drafted into the Austrian army and, after serving on the Serbian front, he deserted in 1917, returning to Lvov where he witnessed the Polish pogroms against the Jews in 1918 – an event which made an indelible impression on him. After the war he published poems in both Yiddish and Hebrew and soon became a leader of a group of Yiddish expressionist poets (including Pereẓ *Markish) and the editor of a short-lived avant-garde periodical, Albatros (1922–23). He spent a year in Berlin (1923) and then immigrated to Ereẓ Israel (1924).

In Ereẓ Israel, Greenberg stopped writing in Yiddish and published in Hebrew exclusively. When Davar, the Labor daily, was founded in 1925, he participated as one of its regular columnists. His columns were headed Mi-Megillat ha-Yamim ha-Hem and Shomer Mah mi-Leyl and expressed strong views against Zionist sloganeering and calling for self-realization through pioneering. Between 1925 and 1927 he edited the booklets Sadan and Sadna Dar'ah in which he contended that Hebrew artists must abandon "the fixed confines of art, join the Jewish collective, and wrestle with and think out the complex of problems of Jewish national life." Although during this period he was committed to the Labor Zionist movement, he already began to express extreme ultranationalistic ideas which contradicted the official line. In the wake of the Arab riots of 1929, he broke with the Labor movement, joined the ranks of the nationalist Zionist Revisionist Party, and denounced both the British government and the Zionist leadership of the yishuv for betraying the Zionist dream. He became active in political life and was elected as a Revisionist delegate to the Asefat ha-Nivḥarim (the legislative body of the yishuv) and to several Zionist Congresses. Between 1931 and 1934 he lived in Warsaw where he was sent by the Revisionist movement to edit its Yiddish weekly Di Velt. Returning to Ereẓ Israel in 1936, in his poetry and articles he attacked the moderate socialist Zionist leadership and warned of the imminent danger to European Jewry. During the final struggle against Great Britain for national independence, he identified with the *Irgun Ẓeva'i Le'ummi and following the establishment of the State of Israel was elected to Israel's Knesset as a member for the Ḥerut Party, serving from 1949 to 1951. He was awarded the Israel Prize for Hebrew literature in 1957. His 80th birthday was marked by a series of celebrations, most of which were held in 1976. He was awarded a doctorate honoris causa by Tel Aviv University in April 1976 and by Bar-Ilan University in June 1977. He was made a freeman of the cities of Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan, and a special session of the Knesset was held in his honor on November 1, 1977. In December he was awarded the Bialik Prize for the third time.

In contrast to most Hebrew writers who were committed to a secularist-humanist Zionism, Greenberg asserts a religious mystical view of Zionism as the fulfillment of the Jewish historical destiny. The Jew is, in his view, wholly other than the non-Jew, having been elected by God at the beginning of time as a holy instrument of His will. The covenant made with the Jewish Patriarch, Abraham, and renewed at Sinai, is a meta-historical event which cannot be altered by time nor ignored by Jew or gentile. The Jew exists outside of history in an eternal dimension in which mere rationality has no validity. "What shall be in the future, has already occurred in the past and what was not, shall never be. Therefore I put my trust in the future, for I hold the shape of the past before me: this is the vision and the melody. Selah, Hallelujah, and Amen" (Reḥovot ha-Nahar, 1951, p. 37). In Greenberg's scheme the future shall bring about the fulfillment of God's promise to establish Jewish sovereignty and the Messianic redemption. Any attempt by the Jew to shirk his cosmic role, either by default or by an attempt to imitate the value system of the unelected (Europe, the gentiles), leads him to disaster. The secular nationalism or socialism of most contemporary Jews is a superficial reading of the meaning of the Jewish destiny and can only lead to a holocaust. The call for the renewal of Jewish sovereignty is an imperative of the eternal mythos of Judaism. It is neither a sociological nor historical solution of practical human needs, but an absolute value which may exact any price which its realization requires. Halfhearted attempts at Zionist fulfillment are doomed to failure whether they are inhibited by moral niceties, which are derived from alien value systems, or are diffused by human selfishness.

In his Yiddish phase, In Malkhus fun Tselem ("In the Kingdom of the Cross," 1922) Greenberg already foresaw the European Holocaust. His poetry from then on is obsessed with this vision of horror (Migdal ha-Geviyyot, "The Tower of Corpses," in Sefer ha-Kitrug ve-ha-Emunah, 1936). Greenberg in Reḥovot ha-Nahar wrote one of the most moving dirges composed about the Nazi Holocaust. The tragedy, in his view, is the logical culmination of the 2,000-year confrontation between the cross and the star of David and the six million dead are an insuperable barrier which shall eternally separate Christian from Jew. For Greenberg the Holocaust puts into question not only God's theodicy but appears as a horrible practical joke which God and history have played on the Jew: "You promised to come one day to gather and lead them proudly to Zion and to renew their kingdom, raise their king. But, behold you did not come, O God; the enemy came and gathered them all, an ingathering of exiles for annihilation. Now there is no need for redemption. Sit, sit, God, in your heavens" (Reḥovot ha-Nahar, p. 249). God, the Redeemer of Israel, has become "the keeper of the Jewish cemetery" (p. 250).

Greenberg's God however moves outside the rational dimension and in a sudden leap of faith the poet reasserts the vision of redemption: "Will the Messiah yet come? Amen, he shall surely come." Divine history, of which Jewish history is apart, is based on an irrational paradox. Thus, out of the ashes of the crematoria, redemption will come, and out of despair faith. The Holocaust and the vision of Jewish sovereignty are two sides of the same coin of history. Greenberg's personal poetry often sings of his agony as the suffering prophet-priest of the mythos of Jewish catastrophe and redemption. In the years preceding the Holocaust, he laments the tragic fact that the multitude did not heed his terrible message of the imminent massacres, reviling him as they had always spurned their prophets in the past. He is filled with revulsion at their obstinacy and their blind concern for material trivialities in the face of disaster: "God how did I ever get here, inside the swamps – a man of vision befouled by their mud?"

He associates his national poetry with his personal history which also turns into mythos. The Jewish home in Poland, its Eden-like security of faith, his mother and father, assume archetypal dimensions. His love poetry, too, is inhabited by these primordial symbols: mother and father, Adam and Eve, Eden, primeval forests, the sea, the moon, lakes, rivers; they form a mythical landscape not very different from that of much of his national verse.

In an age when poets were concerned with formal and aesthetic problems, Greenberg's poetry is one of engagement, his poetic energy is fired by his all-consuming ideological commitment. Often in his poetry the poetic line surrenders to the overwhelming force of his rhetoric with which he pounds his readers mercilessly. At other times his verse is terse and brilliantly lyrical. While philosophically he rejects European aesthetics and the European poetic tradition, in practice he sometimes uses its devices and forms. More frequently his formal resources are indigenously Jewish: the Bible, medieval dirges, and concepts and statements drawn from kabbalistic literature. His early commitment to expressionism is retained throughout and is evidenced by his rhetorical flourishes, changing rhythms within the poem and sometimes even in one single line, wild metaphors, free verse, and his frequently irregular rhyme patterns.

His anti-humanist approach and ultranationalism, although mitigated by a commitment to Jewish ethical values, are not representative of contemporary Jewish thought. But Hebrew literary criticism has recognized the poetic genius of Greenberg though it rarely shares his ideology. Not that Greenberg's views lack a genuine Jewish basis; they are often deeply rooted in the Jewish subconscious and when expressed expose the raw nerve of the Jewish historical experience. But Greenberg's ideology reflects only one aspect of the Jewish soul – the particularistic, aristocratic sense of election – and often ignores its universalistic humanist character.

U.Z. Greenberg's main works include:

In Yiddish: Ergetz oyf Felder (1915), In Zaytens Roysh (1919), Krig oyf der Erd (1921), Farnakhtengold (1921), Mefisto (1921, 19222).

In Hebrew: Eimah Gedolah ve-Yare'aḥ (1925), Ha-Gavrut ha-Olah (1926), Ḥazon Aḥad ha-Ligyonot (1928), Anacreon al Kotev ha-Iẓẓavon (1928), Kelappei Tishim ve-Tishah (1928), Kelev Bayit (1919), Ezor Magen u-Ne'um Ben ha-Dam (1930), Sefer ha-Kitrug ve-ha-Emunah (1937), Min ha-Ḥakhlil ve-El ha-Kaḥol (in Lu'aḥ Haaretz, 1949), Al Da'at ha-Nes ha-Nikhsaf (1951), Mi-Tokh Sefer he-Agol (in Lu'aḥ Haaretz, 1950), Menofim Reḥokei Mahut (ibid., 1951, 1952), Reḥovot ha-NaharSefer ha-Ilyot ve-ha-Ko'aḥ (1951), Massa ve-Nevel (in Lu'aḥ Haaretz, 1953), Shirei Aspaklar be-Hai Alma (ibid., 1955), Massekhet ha-Matkonet ve-ha-Demut (in Moznayim, 1954), Be-Fisat ha-Arig u-ve-Ḥelkat ha-Ḥevel (ibid., 1965). Seventeen volumes of the Collected Works of U.Z. Greenberg (Kol Kitvei) were published up to 2004. A bibliography of his works is available in J. Arnon, U.Z. Greenberg: Bibliografyah shel Mifalo ha-Sifruti u-Mah she-Nikhtav Alav, 1980.

Poems by Greenberg have been translated into various languages. English translations are included, for instance, in T. Carmi (ed.) The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse (1981) and in The Modern Hebrew Poem Itself (2003). For English translations, see Goell, Bibliography, 776–825, and ithl at


B. Kurzweil, Bein he-Ḥazon levein ha-Absurdi (1966) 3–99; J.H. Yeivin, Uri Ẓevi Greenberg, Meshorer Meḥokek (1938); idem (ed.), Be-Ikkevei ha-Shir (1949–50); J. Klausner, Mi-Shenei Olamot (1944), 209–15; idem, Meshorerei Dorenu (1956), 235–49; A. Liphshitz, Uri Ẓevi Greenberg, Meshorer Adnut ha-Ummah (1945); A. Ukhmani, Le-Ever ha-Adam (1953), 290–8; Y.T. Helman, Hagutu-Demut (1963), 124–41; S.Y. Penueli, Demuyyot be-Sifrutenu ha-Ḥadashah (1946), 124–30; idem, Sifrut ki-Feshutah (1963), 206–21; D.A. Friedman, Iyyunei Shirah (1964), 294–8; M. Ribalow, Sefer ha-Massot (1928), 146–59; Y. Rabinowitz, Be-Ḥavlei Doram (1959), 21–67; G. Katzenelson, ibid., 21 (1966), 307–14; J. Friedlaender, Iyyunim be-Shirat Uri Ẓevi Greenberg (1966) (incl. bibl.); J.D. Abramsky, in: Yadla-Kore, 7 (1963–69), 79–86 (bibl.); Waxman, Literature, 4 (1960) 324–27. add. bibliography: Y. Friedlander, U.Z. Greenberg: Mivḥar Ma'amrei Bikkoret al Yeẓirato (1975); B. Harshav, Ritmus ha-Raḥavut: Halakhah u-Ma'aseh be-Shirato shel U.Z. Greenberg (1978); L. Yudkin, "Art in the Service of the People: On the Poetry of U.Z. Greenberg," in: Jewish Affairs, 36/8 (1981), 31–33; D. Landau, U.Z. Greenberg: Shirei ha-Gavhut be-Ma'amake ha-Zeman (1984); S. Lindenbaum, Shirat U.Z. Greenberg ha-Ivrit ve-ha-Yidit (1984); Y. Shavit, U.Z. Greenberg: "Conservative Revolutionarism and National Messianism," in: Jerusalem Quarterly, 48 (1988), 63–72; D. Miron, "U.Z. Greenberg´s War Poetry," in: The Jews of Poland between Two World Wars (1989), 368–82; Z. Ben Porat, "Forms of Intertextuality and the Reading of Poetry: U.Z. Greenberg's 'Ba-Sha'ar,'" in: Prooftexts, 10/2 (1990), 257–81; J. Arnon: U.Z. Greenberg: Taḥanot be-Ḥayyav (1991); Y.C. Biletzky, U.Z. Greenberg der Yidish Dikhter (1992); G. Kazenlson, Golef ha-Kelim shel ha-Kosef: Masot al Shirat U.Z. Greenberg (1993); A. Lipsker, "The Albatrosses of Young Yiddish Poetry," in: Prooftexts, 15/1 (1995), 89–108; H. Goldblatt, "From Back Street to Boulevard: Directions and Departures in the Scholarship of U.Z. Greenberg," in: Proof-texts, 16/2 (1996), 188–203; J. Winther, "U.Z. Greenberg – The Politics of the Avantgarde," in: Nordisk Judaistik 17/1–2 (1996), 24–60; S. Lindenbaum, "Between the Pole of Existence and the Pole of History: The Poetry of U.Z. Greenberg," in: Jewish Affairs, 52/3 (1997), 107–14; S. Wolitz, "U.Z. Greenberg´s Ideological Conflict with Yiddish Culture," in: Jewish Affairs, 52/3 (1997), 99–106; D. Weinfeld, U.Z. Greenberg (1998); H. Weiss (ed.), Ha-Matkonet ve-ha-Demut (2000); A. Matalon, "Difference at War: S. Sassoon, I. Rosenberg, U.Z. Greenberg and the Poetry of the First World War," in: Shofar, 21/1 (2002), 25–43; D. Miron: Akdamot le-U.Z.G. (2002); R. Shoham, Poetry and Prophecy: The Image of the Poet as a "Prophet," a Hero and an Artist in Modern Hebrew Poetry (2003); A. Negev, Close Encounters with Twenty Israeli Writers (2003); Y. Eldad, Dem'a ve-Nogah, Dam ve-Zahav: Iyyunim be-Shirat U.Z. Greenberg (2003); H. Hever, Moledet ha-Mavet Yafah: Estetikah u-Politikah be-Shirat U.Z. Greenberg (2004).

[Ezra Spicehandler]