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Rosenfeld, Morris


ROSENFELD, MORRIS (1862–1923), Yiddish poet. Born in Suvalk, Poland, Rosenfeld survived a cholera epidemic that claimed the lives of 12 of his siblings. He learned the tailor's trade from his father, which he practiced until he could earn his living by his pen. After several abortive attempts at emigration to Amsterdam and London, he arrived in New York in 1886, where he resided until his death. There he worked in the city's burgeoning garment industry, and the sweatshop became his poetic muse. Rosenfeld lamented the punishing life of the immigrant worker and attracted a wide reading audience with his melodramatic-sentimental portraits of this existence, also composing a great many Zionist poems. Over the course of the next decade, he published: Di Gloke ("The Bell," 1888), Di Blumenkete ("The Flower Wreath," 1890), Poeziyenun Lider ("Poems and Songs," 1893), and Lider Bukh ("Book of Poems," 1897). It was this last volume that attracted the attention of Leo *Wiener. The following year Wiener published an English translation of the poet's works entitled Songs from the Ghetto, which aroused interest in Rosenfeld outside his already substantial Yiddish audience and catapulted him to international fame. In 1894 he co-edited a humorous, satirical weekly Der Ashmeday, and in 1905, the daily New Yorker Morgenblat. Rosenfeld's popularity continued to grow as his works were translated into a number of European languages. He contributed to many Yiddish publications, including regularly to the Forverts (1908–14). With the rise of Di *Yunge in the second decade of the 20th century, Rosenfeld was displaced from the canon of modern Yiddish poetry, his works dismissed as politically tendentious and sub-poetic. While this view may be accurate concerning his earliest poems, Rosenfeld's contribution to modern Yiddish literature was his engaging, emotional portrayal of the immigrant sweatshop worker, which eschewed politics and focused on the existential struggles of the community represented. Of his 20 published volumes, the most widely read were his collected works in six volumes, Shriftn ("Writings," 1908–10), Gevelte Shriftn ("Selected Writings," 1912), in three volumes, and Dos Bukh fun Libe ("The Book of Love," 1914). He also wrote biographies of Judah Halevi and Heinrich Heine, two poets who had exerted a great influence on his own lyrics. Like other Yiddish writers such as *Sholem Aleichem, Sholem *Asch, and Isaac *Bashevis Singer, Rosenfeld represented the world of the East European Jew to a wide international audience.


L. Goldenthal, Toil and Triumph (1960); C. Madison, Yiddish Literature (1968), 151–64; S. Liptzin, Flowering of Yiddish Literature (1963), 138–43; Waxman, Literature, 4 (19602), 1005–8; A.A. Roback, Story of Yiddish Literature (1940), 172–82; Bialostotzky, in: jba, 20 (1962), 100–6; Reyzen, Leksikon, 4 (1929), 141–69; B. Rivkin, Yidishe Dikhter in Amerike, 2 (1947), 35–48. add. bibliography: E. Goldenthal, Poet of the Ghetto (1998); S. Liptzin, A History of Yiddish Literature (1972), 96–97; L. Wiener, The History of Yiddish Literature in the Nineteenth Century (1899),124–30; A. Tabachnik, Dikhter Un Dikhtung (1965), 7–32; N.B. Minkoff, Yidishe Klasiker-Poetn (1937), 67–98; I. Howe, World of Our Fathers (1976), 421–24.

[Moshe Starkman /

Marc Miller (2nd ed.)]

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