Lilienblum, Moses Leib

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LILIENBLUM, MOSES LEIB (1843–1910), Hebrew writer, critic, and political journalist. Born in Kedainiai, near Kovno, Lilienblum was one of the leaders of the Haskalah in its last period and a leader of Hibbat Zion.

His Life and Public Activity

His first teachers were his father, R. Zevi, a poor cooper, and his maternal grandfather, who was a teacher. Steeped in Talmud, Lilienblum established two yeshivot at the age of 22. At the same time, he began studying the Haskalah literature, secular subjects, and Russian and disseminated his views in public. In 1866 fanatic religious elements in Wilkomir, where he was then living, began to persecute him for his beliefs. Lilienblum retaliated in articles and an exchange of letters published in Ha-Karmel and *Ha-Meliz. In 1868 he published his articles "Orhot ha-Talmud" and "Nosafot le-Orhot ha-Talmud" in Ha-Meliz, advocating reforms in religion and in society. Lilienblum stated that the Talmud contains progressive ideas modified to suit time and place, while the Shulhan Arukh is rigid in tone and out of touch with life. He criticized the outstanding rabbis of his time through the pages of Ha-Levanon and Kevod ha-Levanon. In 1869 Lilienblum moved to Odessa, where he published his political satire, Kehal Refa'im (1870), in which he attacked many of his contemporaries, rabbis, writers, and editors, and called for the normalization of Jewish life through agricultural labor and the rational organization of work in industry, crafts, and commerce.

In 1871 Lilienblum began to edit the Yiddish journal, Kol Mevasser. In a series of articles he drew a grim picture of Jewish education in the heder and in the yeshivot of the time. In articles written in 1871–73 he raised the problems of the emancipation of women, the mismanagement of Jewish community life, and religious and individual freedom. In his article "Olam ha-Tohu" (1873), a critique of Abraham *Mapu's book Ayit Zavu'a, he wrote of the need to reflect life as it really is, without romanticism, superstition, mysteries, or imagination, "a material view of life." In 1873–76 Lilienblum wrote his masterful autobiography Hatte'ot Ne'urim, in which he described his struggles and suffering and the development of his beliefs. In 1874–81 Socialism became the main subject of his writing. He published his article "Mishnat Elisha ben Avuyah" in Liebermann's Ha-Emet, urging the importance of labor in the life of the individual and the nation. He deliberately dated the article "The Day of Atonement, 1877." The year of the pogroms (1881) marks a radical shift in Lilienblum's career. He became a nationalist and a leader of the Hibbat Zion movement in Russia. He was one of the founders of the Odessa committee in 1883, and two years later was appointed its secretary and secretary of the Odessa hevra kaddisha ("burial society").

Lilienblum the Publicist

Lilienblum's career as a journalist had three stages: (a) 1866–70, the period of his struggle for religious reform. Lilienblum believed that the Jewish religion was stagnating and hindering the development of the nation. During this period Lilienblum advocated the introduction of the evolutionary principle into the field of religious practice. His main desire was to create close cooperation between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors to be expressed in moderate reform of the more rigid religious precepts. (b) 1870–81, abandonment of the principle of religious evolution and the adoption of the demand for equal rights to be granted by the state as a prerequisite for the renaissance of Judaism in the spirit of the Haskalah. The Haskalah and progress are not a guarantee against antisemitism, and civil equality cannot be created only as a result of internal reforms in Judaism. (c) From 1881 until his death, the belief that the roots of antisemitism lie in the Aryan society's instinctive enmity toward the Semitic Jews. Legal equality is no guarantee of social equality. The aim of nationalist movements is either total assimilation of the Jews or their expulsion from their countries of residence. The source of the trials of the Jewish people lies in their constituting a nation within a nation. There is no basis for the hope that progress will bring about the end of antisemitism. The process of assimilation will not be implemented because of the firm stand of the Jewish people against the forces of disintegration, nor does it provide a solution to the problems of the Jewish people. Lilienblum concluded that it was necessary to concentrate the nation as one group in its own territory, and regarded Palestine as the suitable location, since there the nation would not constitute a foreign body; he opposed the creation of a Jewish haven in the U.S. His proposal was that land be purchased from the Turks and a quasi-governmental entity be established. It was not sufficient merely to establish settlements. In his view, the solution to the Jewish problem lay in the elimination of the Diaspora, and in the attainment of the status of an independent nation. The return to Zion could be implemented if the nation willed it. Lilienblum placed great hopes in the masses and in a certain stratum of the Jewish intelligentsia, whose task would be to arouse the desire for national independence. From 1889 onward he conducted a debate in the pages of Ha-Meliz and Ha-Shahar, with *Ahad Ha-Am, *Ben-Avigdor, Zalman *Epstein, S.I. *Hurwitz, and *Dubnow, developing the ideology of the Hibbat Zion movement and practical Zionism. He grasped the dynamic and aggressive character of antisemitism, as did *Smolenskin, and foresaw the threat of total physical destruction of the Jewish people. Lilienblum rejected as artificial the autonomist approach, advocated by Dubnow, for the solution of the Jewish problem and regarded the theories of Ahad Ha-Am and his disciples as making the existence of the Jewish people dependent on metaphysical speculations. He stressed that the Jewish people wanted to live for the sake of living and not for any purpose beyond life.

Lilienblum the Critic and Writer

In his literary criticism Lilienblum adopted the concepts of critical realism, bordering on nihilism, as advocated by Pisarev, Dobrolyubov, and Chernyshevski, even after having abandoned their political and social ideology. His literary and lyrical talent was small. Kehal Refa'im, his satirical work, is, in its way, an imitation of *Erter's satires, and the motifs are common ones in Haskalah literature. His only real contribution to literature is Hatte'ot Ne'urim (Vienna, 1876), his autobiography. Despite the sparsity of plastic description, the work is distinguished by its pathos and its insight into the inner emotional and moral conflict of the protagonist who struggles with social mores and the Jewish tradition.

Lilienblum wrote his literary criticism from the pragmatic viewpoint with the aim of educating the Jewish people to a true material view of life and freeing them from the useless life of the imagination. He admired only "real things." This anti-aesthetic pragmatic approach runs throughout his work and his critical articles. All art must be examined in the light of its usefulness to society. Lilienblum attached no importance to style and language as an integral part of artistic expression. He was contemptuous of imagination. He dismissed most love poetry as lacking innovation, and regarded any deviation from rational logic to mysticism, such as the Kabbalah and Hasidism, as constituting a dangerous deviation from reality. He therefore rejected the Nietzschean revolt as expressed by Berdyczewski, his Ha-Kera'im she-ba-Lev, and the worship of hidden impulses. Lilienblum's philosophy is that "there is no aim in life except life itself."

His Books

Lilienblum prepared his own works for publication and they were published posthumously by J. Klausner in four volumes, Kol Kitvei Lilienblum (1910–13). Derekh Teshuvah (1899) and Derekh La'avor Golim (1899) were not included in this collection. Some of Lilienblum's letters were printed in Hed ha-Zeman, in Ha-Olam, in Reshumot, and in Ketavim le-Toledot Hibbat Ziyyon, edited by A.A. Druyanow in Behinot and in Perakim. His letters to J.L. Gordon were published in 1968, edited by S. Breiman, who also edited his autobiographical writings (3 vols., 1970). Lilienblum wrote a play in Yiddish entitled Zerubbavel (1887); he also edited the fifth volume of Lu'ah Ahi'asaf (1897).


J.S. Raisin, The Haskalah Movement in Russia (1913), index; Klausner, Sifrut, 4 (1953), 190–300; Breiman, in: Shivat Ziyyon, 1 (1950), 138–68; 2–3 (1953), 83–113; idem, introd. to Ketavim Autobiografiyyim, 1 (1970), 7–74 (incl. bibl.); A. Shaanan, Ha-Sifrut ha-Ivrit ha-Hadashah li-Zerameha, 2 (1962), 19–34; S. Streit, Peneiha-Sifrut, 1 (1938), 155–72; D. Ben-Nahum, Be-Ma'aleh Dorot (1962), 277–90; P. Lipovetzky (Ben Amram), Ra'yon ha-Avodah ba-Sifrut ha-Ivrit (1930), 54–68; S. Zemah, Eruvin (1964), 37–50; Waxman, Literature, index; Spiegel, Hebrew Reborn (1962), 199–205.

[Shimon Oren]