Ratosh, Yonathan

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RATOSH, YONATHAN (originally Uriel Halperin ; 1908–1981; pseudonym: Uriel Shelaḥ ), Hebrew poet and journalist. Born in Russia, the son of Yehiel *Halperin, he was brought up in an exclusively Hebrew-speaking environment. Ratosh went to Palestine in 1921. In the mid-1930s, he worked on the staff of two daily newspapers, first Haaretz and then the rightwing Ha-Yarden. In 1938 he left the country to avoid imprisonment by the Mandatory authorities for his political activities, but returned with the outbreak of World War ii.

Ratosh published several volumes of poetry; the first, Ḥuppah Sheḥorah ("Black Canopy," 1941), caused a scandal because of its sensuality, its innovations of language, and the *Canaanite motifs intrinsic to the writer's political-cultural thought. He translated many books into Hebrew, including such classics as Cyrano de Bergerac (1965) and the Fables of La Fontaine. Ratosh founded a political movement, originally called the Young Hebrews, but dubbed the "Canaanites" by its opponents, and he published articles on politics. He coined many new Hebrew words, worked in Hebrew literature and linguistics, and advocated the use of the Latin alphabet for Hebrew.

Ratosh was distinguished by his political-cultural philosophy. His insistence on being defined as a "Hebrew" rather than as a "Jew" reflects his conviction that the population developing an identity in Palestine/Israel is a new nation – as the descendants of immigrants in a country of immigration invariably become. Through its choice of the Hebrew language and culture, the new nation is defining itself as the cultural descendant of the ancient Hebrew-Canaanite nation, indigenous to what is generally known as the Fertile Crescent, which produced such cultural documents as the Ugaritic tablets and the body of literature that, extensively and tendentiously edited, has come down as the Hebrew Bible. The terms "Jew" and "Jewish" are, in Ratosh's opinion, to be reserved for the adherents of the religion of that name, developed by a group of Judean emigrés during the Babylonian Exile and imposed on the people of the land when part of them returned there in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. To apply the term now as a national determinant is in his view a distortion, and the resulting identification between the old-new Hebrew nation and the Jewish communities of different persuasions in the rest of the world runs counter to history. In addition, Ratosh believed that the identification is injurious to the Hebrew nation and to the role that it must play in the national revival of the lands of the Euphrates. Ratosh had considerable influence on contemporary Hebrew poetry. The vicissitude of his early work, which provoked violent opposition when it first appeared, and was accepted ten years later and held up as a standard 20 years later, is perhaps characteristic. Devices and principles which he was the first to use were later taken for granted as part of the Hebrew poet's tools. This is true at all levels, from such purely technical matters as the use of an indention and dash pattern instead of punctuation, to structural techniques such as the near-repetition of phrases and refrains to obtain a counterpoint effect, to the recourse to local mythology as a vivifying poetic element. It seems likely that later works, particularly his verse in Ha-Holkhi ba-Ḥoshekh ("Who Walketh in Darkness," 1965) will, in time, be found to have had a similar influence. His collected poetry was published 1975–77, followed by a number of collections, among them Shirei Ahavah (1983), Ḥuppah Sheḥorah (1988), and Shirei Ḥeshbon (1988), as well as the letters (1937–80), which were edited by Y. Amrami (1986). D. Laor supervised the publication of Ratosh's essays (1983). Aharon *Amir edited (with a bibliography) a collection of Ratosh's poems (Yalkut Shirim), to which he and Dan Miron added essays (1991). For English translations of Ratosh's works see Goell, Bibliography and the ithl website at www.ithl.org.il.


D. Meron, Arba'ah Panim ba-Sifrut ha-Ivrit Bat YameinuIyyunim bi-Yẓirot Alterman, Ratosh, Yizhar, Shamir (1962); S. Burnshaw et al. (eds.), Modern Hebrew Poem Itself (1966), 92–105. add. bibliography: B. Evron, "Uriel Shelah and Yonatan Ratosh," in: Modern Hebrew Literature, 7:1–2 (1981/1982), 37–40; Y. Bronowski, "Y. Ratosh, Poet and Ideologist," in: Modern Hebrew Literature, 9:3–4 (1984), 5–12; J.S. Diamond, Homeland or Holy Land? The "Canaanite" Critique of Israel (1986); J. Shavit, The New Hebrew Nation: A Study in Israeli Heresy and Fantasy (1987); Y. Porat, Shelaḥ ve-Et be-Yado: Sippur Ḥayyav shel Uriel Shelaḥ (Yonatan Ratosh) (1989); Z. Shamir, Lehatḥil mi-Alef: Shirat RatoshMekoriyyutah u-Mekorotehah (1993); S. Zeevi, Livtei Ma'avar ba-Poetikah shel Yonatan Ratosh (1998); E. Rabin, "'Hebrew" Culture': The Shared Foundations of Ratosh's Ideology and Poetry," in: Modern Judaism, 19:2 (1999), 119–32; M. Ephratt, Shirat Ratosh u-Leshono (2002).

[David Saraph]

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