Rosenzweig, Gerson

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ROSENZWEIG, GERSON

ROSENZWEIG, GERSON (1861–1914), U.S. Hebrew writer. Born in Lithuania, he taught Hebrew in Bialystok, and in 1888 he immigrated to the United States. Rosenzweig edited several Hebrew periodicals– Ha-Ivri (1891–1902), Kadimah (1899–1902), Ha-Devorah (1911–12) – they were short-lived and earned him neither fame nor a livelihood. He also edited Hebrew columns in the Yiddish press.

Though he was a versifier rather than a poet, he had a genuine flair for satire and he was known to his contemporaries as the "sweet satirist of Israel" and as a parodist he earned an honorable place in Hebrew literature. His Talmud Yanka'i ("Yankee Talmud", 1907, 1909) poured a stream of ill-humored sarcasm on the peddler, the teacher, the rabbi. The pages of that collection of satires resembled the pages of the Talmud: the text in large letters, wreathed by commentary in Rashi script, is divided into six tractates instead of the talmudic six orders. Rosenzweig also denounced the vulgarisms of the country, the worship of money, the religion of success. Epigrammatic neatness was his forte. Example: "What is the difference between a convert and an anarchist? A convert denies what he believes, an anarchist believes what he denies." Using a biblical phrase, he quipped sardonically about his impending death by cancer of the tongue: "Life and death are at the mercy of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21). He published two books of epigrams: Shirim, Meshalim u-Mikhtamim (1893) and Ḥamishah ve-Elef Mikhtamim (1903; reprinted in Russia).

In the English preface to his Hebrew translations of "America," "The Star-Spangled Banner," and "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean" which appeared in the booklet Mi-Zimrat ha-Areẓ (1898), he ventured to suggest that "the youngest nation is the heir of the oldest, and all that was best in the Jewish nation is now in the possession of the American nation to be developed and cultivated for the benefit of all humanity."

bibliography:

E.R. Malachi, Massot u-Reshimot (1937), 178–86; E. Silberschlag, in: jba, 18 (1960/61), 62–66; J. Kabakoff, Ḥaluẓei ha-Sifrut ha-Ivrit ba-Amerikah (1966), 211–66; Kressel, Leksikon, 2 (1967), 845–6.

[Eisig Silberschlag]