Paperna, Abraham Jacob

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PAPERNA, ABRAHAM JACOB (1840–1919), Hebrew writer and critic. Paperna, who was born in Kapuli, Russia, was brought up in the spirit of the moderate Haskalah which prevailed in his father's house. In 1861 he started publishing articles and poems in Ha-Meliẓ and Ha-Karmel. He studied in the government rabbinical seminaries of Zhitomir (1863–64) and Vilna (1864–67). At the same time he became acquainted with Russian literature and was particularly influenced by Russian literary criticism. In 1867 he published a collection of articles entitled Kankan Ḥadash Male Yashan ("A New Vessel Full of Old [Wine]"), in which he criticized the Hebrew literature of the Haskalah in the realistic manner introduced by Uri *Kovner. Paperna's aim was to give the Hebrew reader elementary concepts in literary theory and to point out the main weaknesses of the Hebrew literature of his day. The latter included dilettantism, exaggerated use of pompous and ornate language, and versification instead of poetry. At the same time he acknowledged the achievements of contemporary Hebrew literature and paid tribute to some of its leading figures. A bitter controversy arose over Paperna's second brochure Ha-Dramah bi-Khelal ve-ha-Ivrit bi-Ferat ("Drama in General and Hebrew Drama in Particular," 1868). The brochure opens with an explanation of the basic concepts of poetry and concentrates upon tragedy, bringing examples from Greek and English drama. It then gives an account of the history of Hebrew drama from M.Ḥ. *Luzzatto to A.D. *Lebensohn's Emet ve-Emunah. In Ha-Meliẓ (1869), Paperna published an essay Ha-Avot ve-ha-Banim by S.Y. * Abramovitsh (Mendele Mokher Seforim). This was to be part of a larger article on the development of the novel but the fierce controversy which this essay engendered apparently deterred him from continuing this work. Upon his graduation from the rabbinical seminary in 1867, he was appointed teacher in the government school in Zakroczym, Poland, and in 1869 he moved to Plotsk where he worked as a teacher for some 45 years. During this time he wrote a number of Hebrew-Russian text books. After a lapse of almost 20 years Paperna returned to the field of Hebrew literature, probably under the influence of the national revival among the Jews in Russia. He wrote poems and essays, as well as two booklets, Siḥot Ḥayyot ve-Ofot (1892), and Mishlei ha-Zeman (1893), which were sharp satires on modern civilization with allusions to the particular situation of the Jews in Russia. His memoirs appeared in the Russian-Jewish anthology Perezhitaje. His works were edited by Y. Zmora and published in Tel Aviv in 1952. Together with his contemporaries Uri Kovner and Mendele Mokher Seforim, Paperna raised Hebrew literary criticism from the level of personal invective directed against the author to systematic analysis guided by principles of literary forms and aesthetic theory.


Klausner, Sifrut, 4 (19542), 176–89; I. Averbuch, in: Orlogin, 9 (1953), 166–87; A. Sha'anan, Ha-Sifrut ha-Ivrit ha-Ḥadashah li-Zrameha, 1 (1962), 262–6; Waxman, Literature, index s.v.Papirno.add. bibliography: M. Ungerfeld, "A.Y. Paperna" in: Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir, 40 (1969), 20; A. Kinstler, "Reshit Bikkoret ha-Deramah ba-Sifrut ha-Ivrit: al Paperna," in: Molad, 2 (1969), 379–390; I. Parush, "Tarbut ha-Bikkoret u-Vikkoret ha-Tarbut: Iyyunim be-Sifro shel Paperna, Kankan Ḥadash Male Yashan," in: Meḥkarei Yerushalayim ba-Sifrut Ivrit, 14 (1993), 197–239.

[Yehdua Slutsky]