Klausner, Joseph Gedaliah

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KLAUSNER, JOSEPH GEDALIAH (1874–1958), literary critic, historian, and Zionist. Klausner was born in Olkienik, near Vilna, but in 1885 his family moved to Odessa where he attended a Hebrew day school. Already in his earliest years he evinced a passion for the Hebrew language, which was to be one of the main interests of his life. He was the youngest member of the Sefatenu Ittanu, a society for the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language, established in Odessa in 1891 and with his friends, who included Nahum *Slouschz and Saul *Tchernichowsky, he spoke only Hebrew. In 1897 he proceeded to Germany, where he studied Semitic and modern languages, history, and philosophy at Heidelberg. In the same year he participated in the discussion in the Jewish press in Russia with regard to the forthcoming Zionist Congress to be convened in Basle, strongly urging participation, and he attended this First Congress. At the age of 28 he moved to Warsaw to succeed Aḥad Ha-Am as editor of *Ha-Shilo'aḥ a position he held for 23 years (together with H.N. *Bialik for volumes 13–21 and with Jacob Fichman for volumes 45–46). In Warsaw he became friendly with I.L. *Peretz and up-and-coming writers such as Z. Shneour, Itzhak Katzenelson, Jacob Steinberg, and Y.D. Berkowitz, who would meet regularly in his home on Saturdays, and to whom he extended every encouragement and guidance. Ha-Shilo'aḥ, which had ceased publication in 1904 was revived in Odessa in 1907 and Klausner moved there. He lectured on Jewish history at the modern yeshivah in Odessa. After the Revolution in February 1917, he was invited to lecture at Odessa University, but following the Bolshevik Revolution in October he immigrated to Palestine, settling in Jerusalem in 1919. He took an active part in the Va'ad ha-Lashon, the *Academy of the Hebrew Language, first as scientific secretary, then as editor of its proceedings, and later as president. He continued to act as editor of Ha-Shilo'aḥ when it was revived in Ereẓ Israel, from 1921–26. When the Hebrew University was established, to his disappointment he was not appointed to the chair of Jewish history, as his views were considered too secular, but was appointed to the chair of Hebrew literature. It was only in 1944, at the age of 70, that he was appointed to the chair of the History of the Second Temple, endowed by his friends and admirers. From 1950 until shortly before his death he acted as editor in chief of the Encyclopaedia Hebraica and was responsible for volumes 2–5 and 7–8. He published his autobiography in 1946 (enlarged edition 1955). Klausner was active as a literary critic and philologist, as a historian, and as a Zionist.

Literary Criticism and Philology

Klausner's essays on criticism, appearing first in 1894, took the form of literary exegesis of contemporary works in which he also discussed the tasks of Hebrew literature in the age of national renaissance. He supported the expansion of the Hebrew language and its use as a living language, both by reviving words from the ancient sources and by coining new words, but he took a moderate stand vis-à-vis both radical innovators and purists. Many of the new words coined by Klausner were criticized by the latter. Klausner insisted on the significance of the Haskalah which he enunciated in the detailed work, Ruḥot Menashevot (1896), by stressing its strong links with the national movement, indicating that, notwithstanding the essential difference between the two movements, the national movement and its literature derived from the Haskalah. His essays on Aḥad Ha-Am, Bialik, Tchernichowsky, Shneour, Ya'akov Cahan, David Shimoni, Shalom Yankev *Abramovitsh (Mendele Mokher Seforim), and Peretz, published in various periodicals, were collected in his three-volume Yoẓerim u-Vonim (1925–28). They reveal an even-handed treatment of diverse authors, and a high regard for detail and biographical data. He believed that Hebrew culture should be open to the influences of European literature. In this respect he represented the moderate line that advocated the synthesis of Judaism and humanism. Klausner believed that poetry was a spiritual force whose influence on the Jewish people should be increased. At the same time he continuously stressed the need for a synthesis between national and universal ideas in the intellectual and literary spheres. He believed that it was not enough for Hebrew literature to reflect and depict reality; it was a fundamental and essential part of the movement of national revival and that it therefore must also take an active part in molding the young generation and in guiding Jewish society. While defending the need for the freedom and autonomy of literature, he also insisted that authors must be alert to public affairs and committed to the national idea. This approach was combined with his militant partisanship on behalf of the Hebrew language and literature as expressed during the debate over whether Hebrew or Yiddish should be considered the national language of Russian Jewry. Ha-Shilo'aḥ, under Klausner, published the best poetry, fiction, and criticism of the early 20th century, including works by Mendele Mokher Seforim, Bialik, Tchernichowsky, and Brenner.

In Ereẓ Israel, too, he argued that authors must strive to create a literature which would help determine the new existence, stressing that Jewish spiritual trends had always been influenced by the contemporary Hebrew literature. Often he used the work under discussion to advance his own ideological and emotional views. His strength in criticism resides in emphasizing a work's conceptual framework, while his evaluation of its aesthetic, poetic, and formal qualities are only of a general nature.

Literary History

Many of the above characteristics also mark his work as a historian of modern Hebrew literature. As early as 1907 he revealed his dream of writing a comprehensive history of modern Hebrew literature. He had published a short history of modern Hebrew literature in Russian in 1900 and in Hebrew in 1920 (Toledot ha-Sifrut ha-Ivrit ha-Ḥadashah). His principal scholarly achievement in this field, based on his university lectures, is the important Historyah shel ha-Sifrut ha-Ivrit ha-Ḥadashah (6 vols., 1930–50; second revised edition 1952–59; translated by H. Danby as History of Modern Hebrew Literature, 1932; 1972). His earlier evaluations of Haskalah authors, e.g., Mapu, A.D. Lebensohn, and Mendele, are here almost fully preserved. The History also evinces Klausner's interest in such contemporary considerations as the writer's contribution to the revival and expansion of the Hebrew language, to the idea of Jewish nationalism, and to the love of Ereẓ Israel before the Zionist period. He also stresses the relationship between Hebrew literature and the general trends in world literature. Klausner adheres strictly to the historical-biographical method to advance his didactic-explanatory approach.

The History consists of separate monographs connected by general surveys. Striving toward a chronological and objective historical perspective, he only brought his study up to 1880 (from 1784) to avoid dealing with contemporary literature in which he was subjectively involved. Klausner devoted much attention to the discussion of periodization. He rejected the view that the history of modern Hebrew literature began with Moses Ḥayyim *Luzzatto, since his writings were neither modern nor secular, regarding it as having begun with the Haskalah literature in Germany in 1787. Klausner saw the starting point of the new period in the political and cultural development of German and Austrian Jewry. Taking into consideration the interrelationship of secular and religious trends, he divided literary history into three periods: the first – a defensive war of Haskalah against religion (Germany, end of 18th century); the second – reconciliation of Haskalah and religion (Galicia and Italy, first half of 19th century); and the third – the attack of Haskalah against religion (Russia and Poland, mainly from 1860 to 1870). Klausner restricted his concept of Hebrew literature to the secular genres, intentionally disregarding traditional and ḥasidic literature, although they were reflected in his discussion of the satiric works of Haskalah authors. On the other hand he dealt extensively with literary genres, discussing not only belles lettres, but also Jewish studies and essays on philosophy, history, ethics, and science. He virtually ignored important Yiddish works because of his active involvement in the "language controversy" between Hebrew and Yiddish. As a result he did not fully understand the complexity of bilingual phenomena in the works of authors such as M. *Levin, J. *Perl, A. *Gottlober, and Mendele Mokher Seforim.

Some of Klausner's observations regarding the impact of world literature are useful as a starting point for the comparative study of modern Hebrew literature. His approach to literary research is based on methods that were current among 19th-century positivist literary scholars such as Taine – who stressed the influence of time, place, and national character on the spiritual and artistic life – and Georg *Brandes who gave primacy to the writer's biography as the effective and even determining factor in shaping his creative personality. In assessing an author Klausner used social-national criteria, which were standards also current in 19th-century Russian criticism. Despite his own methodological deficiencies and the fact that great progress has since been made in methods of literary criticism, Klausner's work remains a notable landmark in modern Hebrew literary criticism. His works in this field also include: Be'ayot shel Sifrut u-Madda (1956); Yoẓerei Tekufah u-Mamshikhei Tekufah (1956); Meshorerei Dorenu (1956); Mi-Gedolei ha-Sifrut ha-Olamit (1954).

[Samuel Werses]

Revival of Hebrew

Klausner's research in the Hebrew language was not merely an abstract diversion, but rather an activity with the practical goal of transforming Hebrew into a spoken tongue capable of meeting all the linguistic demands of modern life. He believed this undertaking, which he called "practical philology" as distinguished from "scientific philology," would aid in the national rebirth of the people. To achieve his goal, Klausner saw the necessity for studying the development of post-biblical Hebrew and, equally important, other semitic languages in regard to vocabulary, morphology, style, and syntax. Consequently he analyzed lexical material from the Book of Ben Sira, the Mishnah, and the Talmud, and published his major findings and opinions in Sefat Ever Safah Ḥayyah (Cracow 1914–15; rev. ed., Ha-Lashon ha-Ivrit Lashon Ḥayyah, Jerusalem 1948–49). Here and in articles collected in the anthology, Ha-Ivrit ha-Ḥadashah u-Ve'ayoteha (Tel Aviv, 1952), Klausner expressed his preference for mishnaic and talmudic usage over biblical usage on the grounds that modern Hebrew must continue the process of linguistic development, even at the expense of foregoing biblical forms. Similarly, he opposed the use of Aramaisms, contending that the vocabulary should be enlarged by creating new words based on Hebrew morphological constructions, by borrowing from related languages, and by adopting words of Greek or Roman origin that have attained international currency. These opinions aroused criticism and opposition among purists. In the style of expression, Klausner advocated clarity and simplicity rather than the traditional rhetorical forms. For practical reasons he deemed it necessary to standardize orthography (ketiv male) and to adopt a system of punctuation.

[Meir Medan]

History of Christianity

Of special importance are Klausner's studies of *Jesus and the beginnings of Christianity. These works represent the first comprehensive books on these subjects written in Hebrew by a modern Jewish scholar in Ereẓ Israel. His Yeshu ha-Noẓeri, Zemanno, Ḥayyav ve-Torato was published in Jerusalem in 1922 and has been translated into many European languages (Eng. transl. by H. Danby, Jesus of Nazareth, 1925). Klausner had first-hand knowledge of the Jewish sources, especially the rabbinic literature, which enabled him to portray Jesus as he lived among his contemporaries. In contrast to Klausner's Jewish predecessors who had written about Jesus from the liberal point of view, he described the background of Jesus' life and activity in rediscovering the original meaning of many of Jesus' sayings. He stresses the Jewishness of Jesus, claiming that he was a proud Jew and never abandoned Judaism, and that he regarded himself as the Jewish messiah. Klausner holds that Jesus' humanistic message, though sometimes more extreme and impracticable than similar contemporary Jewish doctrines, fitted the Judaism of the time. Nevertheless, certain of Jesus' utopian and individualistic doctrines are seen as extending beyond the frame of Judaism and in tragic opposition to Judaism's strong sense of national unity. The work, based on extensive Jewish learning, was welcomed by Christian scholars and readers as a Jewish witness of a new positive evaluation of Jesus and has contributed to a better understanding of Jesus as a wholly Jewish figure. He also shows that Jesus was not executed by Jews but by Pilate the Roman.

In his other book on Christianity, Mi-Yeshu ad Paulus (1939; Eng. transl. by W.F. Stinespring, From Jesus to Paul, 1943), he traces the development of Christianity from Jesus to Paul. He began collecting the material as early as 1907. The work deals mainly with Paul who is depicted in the light of his Jewish and Hellenistic background. He stressed that had there been no Jesus there would have been no Paul and no Christians; but it was due to Paul that Christianity became a world religion.

[David Flusser]

As a Historian

A period of 40 years separates Klausner's two historical works. In 1909 he published Historyah Yisre'elit, consisting of the lectures which he gave in Odessa, covering the period from the conquest of Canaan to the Maccabean period. In 1949 his historical magnum opus Ha-Historyah shel ha-Bayit ha-Sheni appeared in five volumes, covering the period from the destruction of the First Temple to the destruction of the Second. It was based on the lectures he delivered at the Hebrew University. Its exhaustive treatment of all the available sources, and his essentially Jewish approach makes it a major contribution to the subject. A fervent nationalist, however, Klausner makes no secret of the fact that his approach is a subjective one. In his introduction (which appears in the fifth volume) he states frankly, "It is permitted – and even a duty imposed on us… to compare the past with the present no less than the present with the past. Only he who sees the important incidents of his time as part of the universal historical process and views them sub specie historitatis is permitted to write the history of the past… there is no question but that he who writes the history of the past writes at the same time the history of his own time, evaluating the past in the light of the values of the present… the revolutionary events of the last 50 years have disclosed historical causes and factors which operated in previous generations as they do in this."

In an appendix to the third edition (1952) he added an appendix on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Qumran sect, in which he was the first to suggest that these sectarians were Zealots (a view which was adopted by Cecil Roth and Sir Godfrey Driver).

As a Zionist

Klausner was an active Zionist and a fervent nationalist throughout his life, and his Zionist views color all his work. A delegate to the First Congress, he was greatly influenced by the political ideas of Herzl, although his cultural approach remained that of the Ḥovevei Zion and Aḥad Ha-Am. He attended nearly every subsequent Congress until the eleventh, contributing surveys on them to Ha-Shilo'aḥ. From 1930 he began to identify himself more and more with the policy of Jabotinsky and was regarded by the Revisionist Party, and later by its successor, Ḥerut, as the ideologist of the movement. He edited the monthly Beitar (together with B. Netanyahu) from 1932–33 and came out vigorously, both in speech and in writing, in support of the ideals of the right-wing nationalists. In 1949 they put his name forward as their candidate for the first president of the State of Israel in opposition to Chaim Weizmann. Amos Oz describes Joseph Klausner, who was the brother of his grandfather, in the autobiographical novel Sippur al Ahavah ve-Ḥoshekh (2002; A Tale of Love and Darkness, 2004).


Sefer Klausner, Me'assef le-Madda u-le-Sifrut Yafah (1937); J. Klausner, Darki likrat ha-Teḥiyyah ve-ha-Ge'ullah, 2 vols. (1946–55); Y. Beker and H. Toren, Yosef Klausner, ha-Ish u-Fo'olo (1947); S. Werses, in: Molad, 16 (1958), no. 124; B. Shohetman and B. Eliẓedek, Kitvei Yosef Klausner (1937), a bibliography; I. Barzilai, in: ks, 41 (1966), 107–16, (bibliography); Waxman, Literature, 4 (1960), 377–82, 451–2, 751–6, 822–5; A. Broides, "Pegishot ve-Siḥot im Y. Klausner," in: Moznayim, 28 (1969), 116–19; S. Kling, Joseph Klausner (1970, including bibliography). add. bibliography: Y. Barzilai, "Ketavav ha-Publiẓistiyyim shel Y. Klausner," in: Ha-Ẓiyyonut, 11 (1986), 413–31; I. Parush, Kanon Sifruti ve-Ideologyah Le'ummit: Bikkoret ha-Sifrut shel Frischmann be-Hashva'ah le-Bikkoret ha-Sifrut shel Klauzner u-Vrenner (1992); S. Werses, "Y. Klausner ve-Reshit ha-Hora'ah ve-ha-Meḥkar shel ha-Sifrut ha-Ivrit ha-Ḥadashah ba-Universitah ha-Ivrit," in: Toledot ha-Universitah ha-Ivrit bi-Yrushalayim (1997), 487–515; V. Pilovski, "Y. Klausner, Avi ha-Ideologyah shel ha-Yamin ba-Ẓiyyonut u-me-Rasheha," in: Galei Iyyun u-Meḥkar, 9 (2000), 25–31; D.F. Sandmel, Into the Fray: Joseph Klausner's Approach to Judaism and Christianity in the Greco-Roman World (2002).