Mapu, Abraham

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MAPU, ABRAHAM (1808–1867), creator of the modern Hebrew novel. One of the principal exponents of the Haskalah movement in Eastern Europe, he is best known for his first and most successful novel Ahavat Ẓiyyon ("The Love of Zion," Vilna, 1853), which represents a turning point in the development of modern Hebrew literature. The son of an indigent and scholarly teacher, Mapu was born in Slobodka, a poverty-stricken suburb of Kovno, where he early acquired a reputation as a brilliant student, and, having mastered much of the talmudic learning of the day, he was considered fit for independent study at the age of 12. Following his marriage at 17, Mapu continued his studies in the home of his wealthy father-in-law in Kovno. After a brief flirtation with Ḥasidism, he resumed an interest in Kabbalah and mysticism, previously fostered by his father. This occasioned a period of close contact with Elijah *Ragoler. The chance finding of a copy of the Psalms with a Latin translation in Ragoler's home aroused his interest and he taught himself Latin, virtually an unknown study among pious Jews in Eastern Europe. Eventually he acquired a fair proficiency in French, German, and Russian, in spite of the prevailing hostility in Orthodox Jewish circles to the learning of languages. These studies plus an interest in such equally neglected subjects as Bible, Hebrew grammar, and modern literature laid the foundations of his subsequent achievements.

Throughout his life Mapu struggled to maintain his family. He became a teacher of young children and was invited in 1832 to tutor the children of a wealthy merchant in the nearby town of Georgenberg. While separated from his family for two or three years, he was drawn to the Haskalah movement, and, on his return to Kovno, he began to disseminate its doctrines among the local youth. In 1837 Mapu moved his family to Rossyieny, where he taught for about seven years. In spite of his economic hardship, Mapu found the cultural atmosphere of Rossyieny attractive. There his friendship with Senior *Sachs engendered a profound interest in the history of ancient Israel. In an attempt to improve his finances Mapu returned to Kovno in 1844. His wife died in 1846, and the following year he moved to Vilna to tutor the son of the wealthy but unlettered Judah Opatov. Despite Vilna's reputation as a great center of Haskalah, Mapu found the city no more congenial than the house of his harsh employer. On learning of Mapu's appointment to teach at a government school in Kovno in 1848, Opatov assaulted him physically. Mapu, deeply humiliated, fled the house. He avenged the insult by modeling the character of the boorish upstart, Ga'al, in his novel Ayit Ẓavu'a ("The Hypocrite") on his former employer. From the Hebrew writers of Vilna, however, Mapu acquired the taste for Romanticism which permeates his novels.

As the new post proved permanent, Mapu settled in Kovno and remarried in 1851. For about ten years domestic happiness and improved financial circumstances coincided with his most fruitful literary period. His growing reputation was enhanced in 1857 by the personal congratulations of the Russian minister of public institutions, Norov, a singular honor which induced Mapu to include a poem in Norov's honor in the introduction to his lost novel Ḥozei Ḥezyonot ("The Visionaries"). But from 1860 his health began to fail beneath the burdens of overwork and persecution by the pious opponents of Haskalah who managed to influence the censors to delay or even forbid his publications. His meager resources were further undermined by his second wife's long illness, from which she died in 1863. His later years were relieved only by a short visit to St. Petersburg in 1861, where his first acquaintance with opera appealed to his romantic imagination. The loneliness of his last years was aggravated by a disease of his fingers, which made every line he wrote an agony.

Although Mapu was 45 when Ahavat Ẓiyyon was published he seems to have labored on the novel, despite its modest length, for more than 20 years. While the plot may well have been originally modeled on the allegorical dramas of M. Ḥ. *Luzzatto, the influence of Senior Sachs directed Mapu's attention toward the Bible, so that the first Hebrew novel also became the world's first novel in a biblical setting. Ahavat Ẓiyyon won immediate acclaim, and its continued popularity is attested by at least 16 editions, as well as translations into many languages including English, French, German, Russian, Arabic, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, Ladino, and Yiddish. The more liberal spirit prevailing in Russia during the early reign of Alexander ii prompted Mapu to choose a contemporary setting for his second novel Ayit Ẓavu'a. Of the five parts comprising this long and rambling novel, the first was published in Vilna in 1858, the second in 1861, and the third in 1864. A second edition containing all five parts appeared posthumously in Warsaw in 1869. About ten editions show its popularity. Mapu had been simultaneously composing a third novel, Ḥozei Ḥezyonot, depicting the period of the pseudo-Messiah, *Shabbetai Ẓevi. Reputed to have been in ten complete parts, the work was sent to the censor in 1858, together with the first two parts of Ayit Ẓavu'a. Whereas the publication of the latter was subject only to irritating delays, the campaign of the fanatical opponents of Haskalah persuaded the censor to forbid publication of Ḥozei Ḥezyonot altogether. The manuscript disappeared, and only a seven-chapter fragment remains. Mapu never completely recovered from this loss. To avoid the persecution of his opponents, he reverted to a biblical background for his fourth and last novel, Ashmat Shomron ("The Guilt of Samaria," Vilna, first part, 1865; second part, 1866). Again, this achieved some ten editions.

Apart from his novels, Mapu published several books designed to improve the clumsy educational methods of his day. Two of his textbooks, Ḥanokh la-Na'ar and Der Hausfranzose, appeared in Vilna in 1859. The former outlines the author's method for teaching elementary Hebrew, while the latter comprises a primary textbook for the study of French. Written in German but with Hebrew characters, it constitutes an interesting example of the attempts made by the exponents of Haskalah to broaden the cultural interests of the Jewish community. A third textbook, Amon Pedagog (Koenigsberg, 1867), again deals with the teaching of Hebrew. But even within the framework of a textbook, his creative talent emerges in the form of a story, later published separately by J. Klausner under the title Beit-Ḥanan (Jerusalem, 1920), which is unfolded section by section to illustrate the rules to be explained. Amon Pedagog served as a standard textbook until the end of the century, and went through five editions.

Mapu's creativity contains both strongly imitative and highly original features. The influence of the Bible is naturally most conspicuous in the setting, style, and language of the two historical novels, Ahavat Ẓiyyon and Ashmat Shomron, which depict life in ancient Israel in the days of Isaiah. In lesser measure it also extends to Ayit Ẓavu'a which portrays contemporary Jewish life, mainly in his native Lithuania. Aspects of his novels were derived from other sources, principally Hebrew and French writers. His limited inventiveness is demonstrated by his frequent borrowing of dramatic devices and by the many repetitions and similarities which occur in his stories.

Of the Hebrew writers who influenced Mapu, M.Ḥ. Luzzatto's example may be discerned in the plots, dramatic devices and symbolic names, as well as in the didactic and ethical ideas, and the interest in nature. From N.H. *Wessely, whom he held in almost equal esteem, Mapu derived less specific but no less important elements, such as the linguistic narrative possibilities inherent in the Bible. Moreover, the social and educational reforms advocated in Wessely's series of open letters Divrei Shalom ve-Emet found an enthusiastic echo in Mapu's novels, especially Ayit Ẓavu'a. Among Hebrew prose writers, the Galician exponents of Haskalah, J. *Perl and I. *Erter exerted considerable influence on Mapu. From their satires on the shortcomings of society, he learned how to use melodrama and farfetched incidents. The letters and dreams which Perl and Erter frequently introduce as convenient media for their satirical purposes are a characteristic feature of Mapu's novels. Many of his characters embody their demands for radical changes in outlook and occupation in Jewish society.

Mapu's novels also owe a considerable debt to the French romantic novelists, the elder Dumas and Eugène Suë. Like Dumas, Mapu turned his attention to the national past, infusing an historical situation with heroism and romantic love, and introducing historical personages side by side with his own creations. From Dumas, Mapu learned the art of creating atmosphere and of clothing his plots in a romantic historical mantle while the influence of Eugène Suë is particularly noticeable in Mapu's novel of contemporary life. But whereas the violence and intrigue encountered in Suë's Mystères de Paris are perfectly in keeping with its background of the Paris underworld, the attempt in Ayit Ẓavu'a to superimpose such elements on a backcloth of Jewish society in Eastern Europe, which was characterized by sobriety, timidity, and a rigid control of the passionate emotions, is primarily responsible for the incongruity of the setting and the plot.

The original and creative element in Mapu's writings does not lie in the external forms of his novels. The structure, dramatic techniques, and characterizations and stereotypes personifying vice and virtue, all lean heavily on previous writers, and all display grave weaknesses and limitations. For Mapu's own generation, however, the plots, particularly of the historical novels, were the most attractive and fascinating aspect of his work, both because this literary medium was unknown in Hebrew literature and because the adventure and excitement provided so striking a contrast to the colorless lives of most of his readers. The vivid descriptions of heroism and action, the free expression of emotion, and above all the colorful scenes of a people living unrestricted in its own land inflamed the imagination of a life-starved generation. His success in arousing imagination and emotion and his ability to transfuse a somewhat dry and intellectual literature with the feelings of heroism and romantic love constitute the most striking elements of his achievement. By fostering pride in the national past and focusing attention on the land of Israel, Mapu provided an emotional stimulus for generations of young readers. Indeed, the contribution of his novels to the rise of the Jewish national movement from which Zionism later emerged must be regarded as an important factor in modern Jewish history.

Mapu's use of language was equally remarkable. The restricted vocabulary of biblical Hebrew and its limited dialogue seriously curtail its suitability for the modern novel. The narrative power of the biblical story stems, moreover, from its tantalizing brevity and its ruthless pruning of extraneous detail. The Bible story relates a series of events in sequence of time, with little analysis or speculation. It presents a skeleton narrative, leaving the reader to supply the flesh and blood. But the novel demands techniques of a different kind. It is expansive and has to supply those very elements and details which the Bible is so careful to omit. Yet Mapu adopted a medium for expansion whose main strength lies in strict omission, knowingly risking the constant comparison of his own creation with the lofty grandeur of the original. Mapu attempted to solve the problem of language by using his material to the full. The entire Bible became a source for his invention. His style constitutes a fusion of elements of the prose and the poetry of the Bible. Appropriating and refashioning at will, he molded the material to suit his purpose, while retaining much of its original spirit. In spite of the frequent introduction of entire phrases and complete images, he avoided the danger of producing a jumbled patchwork of biblical snippets. So smoothly do they merge with the texture of his own style that the result is neither an imitation nor a parody of the Hebrew Bible. This sensitivity to language is one of the most attractive features of his novels. But Mapu was well aware that he had stretched his material to the limit. In Ayit Ẓavu'a he deliberately introduced post-biblical elements, and himself protested that biblical Hebrew was not an adequate vehicle of expression for the modern novel. His writing may be regarded as the consummation of the neobiblical style advocated by the exponents of Haskalah. No major Hebrew novelist attempted to emulate his achievements.

Although aesthetically the least satisfying, it was Ayit Ẓavu'a with its emphasis on social and educational reform that exerted the most influence on subsequent Hebrew writers. The realistic elements of Mapu's social novel may be traced in the words of many writers, including P. *Smolenskin, J.L. *Gordon, R.A. *Braudes, M.D. *Brandstaedter, and S.J. *Abramovitsh (Mendele Mokher Sforim), all of whom furthered the positivist and social aspects of his work. Indeed, the realistic novel depicting the problems of contemporary society has continued to occupy a dominant position in Hebrew literature.

For the Hebrew reader, Mapu's first novel, Ahavat Ẓiyyon, was uniquely influential. It opened the prospect of a free and independent life to a people hopelessly fettered by political, social, and economic restrictions. Its significance lies in the fresh possibilities of art and life which it revealed, and in the new awareness it promoted. As the first Hebrew novel, it represents the first expression of a people's longing for a fuller and better life. The English translations of *Ahavat Ẓiyyon were published under various titles: Amnon, Prince and Peasant, tr. by F. Jaffe (1887); In the Days of Isaiah, tr. by A.M. Schapiro (1902; the same translation was published later under the title The Shepherd Prince in 1922 and 1930); The Sorrows of Noma, tr. by J. Marymont (1919). His letters were published by B. Dinur under the title Mikhtevei Avraham Mapu (1971). Following the 1928 edition of Mapu's works in five volumes, further editions were published in 1945 and 1953.


D. Patterson, Abraham Mapu (Eng., 1964); Waxman, Literature, 3 (19602), 267–78; Klausner, Sifrut, 3 (19503), 269–360 (incl. bibl.). add. bibliography: J. Fichman, Avraham Mapu (1920); Y. Karmiel, "Ha-Ẓiyyur bi-Lshono shel Mapu," in: Leshonenu, 34 (1970), 306–308; S. Haramati, Mapu ha-Moreh le-Ivrit (1972); G. Alkoshi, "Mikhtevei A. Mapu," in: Ha-Sifrut, 4 (1973), 376–395; J. Even-Cohen, Avraham Mapu (1973); D. Miron, Bein Ḥazon la-Emet (1979); Y. Rabi, in: Al ha-Mishmar (November 2, 1979); S. Werses, "Zeman u-Merḥav ba-Roman Ayit Ẓavu'a," in: Te'udah, 5 (1986), 67–84; D. Patterson, "Epistolary Elements in the Novels of A. Mapu," in: A Phoenix in Fetters (1988), 21–33; S. Werses, Ha-Tirgumim le-Yidish shel Ahavat Ẓiyyon (1989); T. Cohen, Ẓevu'im vi-Ysharim, Elilot ve-Lilyot: A. Mapu (1991); R. Oren, "Relativity of Time in the Story 'Ahavat Zion,'" in: Acta Academica, 24:4 (1992), 85–99; S. Haramati, Benei Aliyah Manḥilei Lashon Bekhirim ba-Dorot ha-Aḥaronim (1993); V. Dohrn, "Abraham Mapus 'Zionsliebe,' die Geburt einer neuen Zionsidee in Osteuropa," in: Der Traum von Israel (1998), 108–139; Y. Schwartz, "'Handasat ha-Adam' ve-Iẓẓuv ha-Merḥav ba-Tarbut ha-Ivrit ha-Ḥadashah," in: Mikan, 1 (2000), 9–24.

[David Patterson]