Levanda, Lev Osipovich

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LEVANDA, LEV OSIPOVICH (1835–1888), Russian author and publicist. Born of a very poor family in Minsk, Levanda studied in a ḥeder, a modernized Jewish school, a government school for Jewish children, and finally at the rabbinical school in Vilna (1850–54), from which he graduated as a teacher. From 1854 to 1860 he taught at a government Jewish school in Minsk, and in 1860 he became the Jewish expert (uchony yevrey) to the governor-general of Vilna, remaining in this office for the rest of his life. Altogether he spent 32 years in Vilna, a period that he resented as a frustration of his aspirations. He wanted to go to St. Petersburg to study at the university, and to advance in his intellectual life and literary activity. However, he made no resolute move in this direction, and remained a provincial correspondent of publications issued in the capital, and his activities were of local scope. Yet his literary work made him a leading figure in the circles of the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia.

Levanda had a wide acquaintance with Russian and Western literature. He made several trips abroad, and knew Western conditions, including Jewish life in the West from personal observation. Levanda was a sensitive, perspicacious observer, reserved in his contacts with people. His struggles and sufferings, his strong reactions to various aspects of Jewish life, and his passionate idealism brought about a growing nervous tension which made an invalid out of him in the last two years of his life; he died in a mental sanatorium in St. Petersburg.

Levanda lived during three periods of Russian Jewish history. He grew up under the extreme autocracy and military bureaucracy of *Nicholasi (1825–55), which is reflected in his reminiscences of the "schoolophobia" campaign against modern schools, and was one of the young hotheads of maskil progressivism. During the early years of *Alexanderii's reign (1855–65) – "years of great reforms" and initial liberalization – feelings of great expectations of general betterment and, in particular, of rapid improvement in the position of Russian Jewry and of their ultimate integration into Russian society with civic equality were common. During this period Levanda became a government official. He was also a sometime editor of Vilenskiy Vestnik and a contributor to Razsvet (1860–61), the first Russian Jewish journal, presenting in articles and in fiction the critique of inner aspects of Jewish life: poverty, parasitism, the role of women storekeepers with the resulting neglect of children, excessive pursuit of talmudic studies, negative role of rich and retrograde communal leaders, marriages imposed by parents, and other problems. He assisted in unraveling an incipient *blood libel at *Siauliai in 1886. He developed a concept of the Jews in northwest Russia (Lithuania-Belorussia) as prospective carriers of Russian culture and citizenship as against Polish aspirations in the region; the Jews were to become Russians except for their religion (sliyaniye). The issue was particularly acute during the Polish insurrection of 1863. Later, he expressed this mood in a novel, Goryacheye Vremya (1875), in which young Westernized Jews were urged by the hero, Sarin, to abandon Polish orientation (after 500 years of unhappy experience with the Poles) and become Russians.

Levanda unhappily had to witness the growing reaction in Russia and the rise of modern antisemitism in the West and its adoption in Russia. He worried about the concentration of Jews in middleman occupations and professions; he urged economic productivization and diversification, and less ostentatiousness on the part of the wealthy. He deplored the fact that Jews had all the obligations, but almost none of the rights, of Russians, and, indeed, suffered from specific restrictions. The Jews wanted a fatherland, and Russia might stand to gain by becoming one (Voskhod, February 1881).

In this period he was primarily a writer of fiction, bitterly denouncing the nouveaux riches (bankers, industrialists, speculators) and the new diploma-intelligentsia crowd with its careerism and greed; he berated the alienation and aloofness of these groups from Jewish interests.

The final stage in the development of his views took place during the wave of pogroms in the early 1880s. Deeply disturbed, he attacked the rich Jews, feeling that the events were really directed against them and that their turn might yet come. He was opposed to the anti-migration stand of the upper class and considered emigration a normal and sound response. He also called for *self-defense. Moving toward agreement with Leon *Pinsker's auto-emancipation, he then joined the ranks of *Ḥovevei Zion as one of their leading figures in literature, propaganda, and organization. Representing Jewish nationalism in an age of national revival and politics, he saw no contradiction between Jewish nationalism and the ideal of a monolithic humanity.

In private correspondence he pointed out that despite his apparent transition from cosmopolitan assimilation to nationalism he had been basically a devoted Jewish patriot who never conceived the dissolution of Jewish group existence or of cultural extinction (Russification being far from assimilation), and to whom the needs of the Jewish masses were always the point of departure. When the pro-Russian hero of his novel is asked, "And what if the Russians do not respond to your aspirations?" he answers, "Then we shall have to reconsider." Levanda wrote later that he clearly remembered that while writing this he had the first glimpse of modern Jewish nationalism.

In the Ḥibbat Zion movement, he considered the awakening of the Jewish masses in Russia, land acquisition in Ereẓ Israel, and entrenchment of Jews on the soil as main tasks. He was against overestimating the value and the claims of the youth movement (e.g., *Bilu), and while opposed to the philanthropic trend, he expected more from middle-class efforts. He sought to counteract Pinsker's tendency to become discouraged, and, unlike Pinsker, did not expect Western Jewry to take a leading role in the movement. He felt that the position of the Jew was dangerously deteriorating. In the past, the Jew had been confronted with an unfavorable law, but now the elemental lawlessness of a violent mob threatened the very life and safety of the Jew. The hope to reeducate these forces was illusory; the safe thing was to avoid the onslaught. Jews must get soil under their feet. Their national culture too would have a normal development once this soil was secured.

Thus Levanda stands out as a reflector and guide of the Haskalah, assimilationism, and nationalism – three stages in the development of the social-political ideology of the intelligentsia, as it abandons traditional messianism and searches for a fatherland to which its energies could be harnessed. As a creative writer, he was gifted and witty in feuilletons, sketches, and in drawing the ethnographic canvas, but he lacked the mastery of characterization and could not develop into a substantial, original artist. In his final years he turned to historical fiction, novels based on the pre-modern history of East European Jewry.

[Mark Perlman]

His brother vitali osipovich levanda (b. 1840), a Russian lawyer, was born in Minsk, Belorussia. His study on the question of Jewish agriculture in Russia (in YevreyskayaBiblioteka, vol. 2, 1872) was well received. On the recommendation of Baron H. *Guenzburg, he compiled and published in 1874 his Polny khronologicheskiy sbornik zakonov… ("Complete Chronological Collection of Laws and Regulations Concerning Jews from the Time of Czar Alexei Mikhailovich to the Present, 1649–1873"), a valuable guide to the legislation affecting Jews in Russia. He also wrote articles in the periodical Russkiy Yevrey on the development of agriculture among the Jews in Russia; he opposed immigration to Ereẓ Israel (in Razsvet, no. 40, 1881).


works: L.O. Levanda's works are listed in Sistematicheskiy ukazatel literatury o yevreyakh (1893). Most appeared in Razsvet (1860, 1879–81), Yevreyskaya Biblioteka, Voskhod (monthly and weekly), Russkiy Yevrey, and Palestina. Many were reprinted and translated into Hebrew and Yiddish. general: S.L. Ẓitron, Anashimve-Soferim (1921), 69–92; idem, in: Leksikon Ẓiyyoni (1924), 297–312; S.M. Ginzburg, in: Minuvsheye (1923). memoirs: L. Kantor, in: Ha-Shilo'aḥ, 1 (1896/97), 255–62; Mordekhai ben Hillel Ha-Kohen, Olami, 1–2 (1927); S.M. Ginzburg, in: E.H. Jeshurin (ed.), Vilne (1935), 466–71; J.L. Appel, Betokh Reshit ha-Teḥiyyah (1936). correspondence, documents: S.M. Ginzburg, in: Perezhitoye, 1 (1908), 36–7; A. Druyanov, in: Yevreyskaya Starina, 5 (1913), 279–281; idem, in: Ketavim le-Toledot Ḥibbat Ẓiyyon (1919–32); N.A. Buchbinder, Literaturnye Etyudi (1927), 5–49; M. Perlmann, in: paajr, 35 (1967). ideology: B.A. Goldberg, Lev Levanda kak publitsist (1900); A. Idelson, in: Razsvet, 12 (1913); S. Breiman, in: Shivat Ẓiyyon, 2–3 (1951–52), 177–205; I. Klausner, Be-Hitorer Am (1962); idem, Mi-Kattowitz ad Basel (1965). the writer: P. Lazarev, in: Voskhod (1885); A. Volynski, in: Voskhod (1888–89).