Shneour (Shneur), Zalman

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SHNEOUR (Shneur), ZALMAN (Zalkind ; 1887–1959), Hebrew and Yiddish poet and novelist who, together with *Bialik and *Tchernichowsky, is considered to be one of the three great figures in Hebrew poetry of his generation. Shneour was born in Shklov, Belorussia; his father, Isaac-Eisik Shneour, was a descendant of *Shneur Zalman of Lyady. At the age of 13 he left for *Odessa, which was the great literary and Zionist center of the time. Young Shneour was particularly attracted to Bialik, who usually befriended young writers.

Warsaw and Vilna

As Hebrew projects were expanding in Warsaw, Shneour moved there in 1902, and on Bialik's recommendation was employed at Tushiyyah, a large publishing house, founded by the author and publisher Ben-Avigdor (A.L. *Shalkovich). At the same time he published his first poems in the children's newspaper Olam Katan. Shneour also published poems and short articles in the prestigious monthly *Ha-Shilo'aḥ, and in the weekly Ha-Dor. His first Yiddish poems appeared in the weekly Yidishe Folktsaytung (Warsaw, 1902–03).

In 1904, Shneour moved to Vilna, where he found work on the editorial staff of the Hebrew daily Ha-Zeman. The paper included on its staff several young authors who later achieved renown in Hebrew literature. Vilna proved important to Shneour's Hebrew and Yiddish literary development. There he published his first collection of poetry, Im Sheki'at ha-Ḥammah (2 vols., Warsaw, 1906–07), his first novel, Mavet, and a collection of stories. Shneour's poems achieved great success and ran through several editions. He published poetry and prose in Vilna's Jewish periodicals. Whereas the Warsaw period had been one of the most difficult in his life (both because of his economic deprivation and feelings of foreignness), Shneour became acclimatized to life in Vilna. Shneour subsequently expressed his affection and reverence for the city in his poem Vilnah (first printed in the monthly Miklat, New York, 1920), and later in a special book with illustrations by Hermann *Struck (1923). Here he reached the peak of his talent and achieved facility of expression in Hebrew.

First Poems

Shneour's first book of verse, Im Sheki'at ha-Ḥammah, was enthusiastically received both by critics and readers. Bialik warmly praised the author in his essay "Shiratenu ha-Ẓe'irah" (Ha-Shilo'aḥ, 1908), calling Shneour "a young Samson whose seven locks have all grown overnight." Bialik also attributed to Shneour the qualities of the heroic man who "tears the young lion which roared against him as one tears a kid" (Judg. 14:5–6). The trenchant comparison with the "young Samson" was to be repeated by others. Long the idol of the young, Shneour was the poet of heroism and non-surrender, the symbol of revolt against the conventions and long-established customs of the ghetto.

When Ha-Zeman ceased publication at the end of 1905, Shneour left for Switzerland. There, inspired by the country's natural beauty, he began to write the long lyric poem Be-Harim ("In the Mountains," 1908). The major thrust of the poem is its contrast of nature – genuine, fresh, and strong – with the artifices and inauthenticities of civilization. Sections of the poem were eventually translated into some European languages including Russian (S. *Marshak in Yevreyskaya antologiya, edited by L. Jaffe and V. Khodasevich, Moscow, 1918).

In 1907 Shneour moved to Paris, where he continued his literary work while studying literature, philosophy, and natural sciences at the Sorbonne. From 1908 to 1913 he traveled throughout Europe and also visited North Africa. In this period he wrote the cycle of poems Im Ẓelilei ha-Mandolinah ("To the Strains of the Mandolin," 1912) in which the poet showers words of affection on a "lovely sunburnt Italian girl," whom he asks to play the mandolin. Although completely captivated by her charms, the poet does not forget that her ancient forefathers destroyed the Temple and caused the Diaspora. His ambivalence toward the girl involves the entire relationship between Jew and gentile. In one of the poem's most remarkable sections, "Manginot Yisrael" ("Melodies of Israel," 1912), Shneour describes the Jews' "revenge on the gentiles." The revenge, restricted to the realm of the spirit, entailed bequeathing to the gentile conquerors a conception of God that required them to abandon their beautiful and sensuous pagan deities. In 1913, at the time of the *Beilis trial, he wrote Yemei ha-Beinayim Mitkarevim ("The Middle Ages are Returning"), a prediction of European civilization's descent into the maelstrom of war and Jew-hatred. Shneour sensed the return of medieval antisemitism, which in the 20th century would be implemented in the name of patriotism rather than religion, and liberalism's faint-hearted response to this threat to civilized life.

At the beginning of World War i Shneour was in Germany, where he was interned along with all Russian subjects in that country. During the war years he studied medicine at the University of Berlin and worked in a hospital. In 1919, he visited the U.S. to contact various Yiddish newspapers with the object of becoming a regular contributor. However, he returned to Berlin, where, after the war and the Russian Revolution, authors and publishers fleeing from the Bolsheviks created a great literary center.

In Germany, Shneour resumed his literary activity and founded with Solomon Salzmann the Hasefer publishing house, whose publications included works by David Frischmann and Shneour (Gesharim, 19223, and Vilna, 1923). Because of his literary and publishing activity, Shneour did not continue his medical studies. In the early 1920s the group of Hebrew literary men in Germany dispersed. Shneour settled in Paris in 1923 and lived there until Hitler's troops invaded France in 1940, when he succeeded in escaping via Spain to the U.S. He lived in New York from 1941 until his immigration to Israel in 1951.

Yiddish Prose

The political and economic crises which afflicted Europe after World War i caused the market for Hebrew books to shrink to the point where authors were compelled to seek different livelihoods. Those years mark an interval during which Schneour paused in his writing of Hebrew prose, devoting himself rather to writing in Yiddish for the American Yiddish press. In his Yiddish articles and fiction Shneour tapped his childhood memories of "the old home," sketched Jewish life in Eastern Europe which had been disrupted or destroyed by war and revolution, described his encounters with prominent people, and searched the past for forgotten or obscure episodes in Jewish history. He became one of the most widely read Yiddish authors. His novels, some of which were first published serially in newspapers, have been translated into many languages, and have been widely acclaimed. They were also rendered into Hebrew by Schneour himself.

Sources of Inspiration

Shklov, on the River Dnieper, where Shneour spent his childhood, had been a place of Jewish settlement from the 17th century. In Anshei Shklov (1944), Shneour depicts with great artistry and fresh and lively humor the human types that populated the Jewish community in the city. Shklov, where Jews lived their peculiar inner life, was not exceptional among Jewish towns in the Russian *Pale of Settlement, but it achieved fame as a result of Shneour's memorable descriptions and has come to serve as a symbol of the shtetl. A new edition of the novel, with an introduction by Dan Miron, was published in 1999. Ha-Dod Zyame, the sequel to Anshei Shklov, delineates the character of Noah Pandre, a new Jewish type, powerful and unafraid, which began to emerge in the last century. Noah Pandre did not study in the bet ha-midrash; he was not a Torah scholar, but neither was he a bundle of nerves fearing every "driven leaf." A Jew by race and heredity, he was strong and fearless, his hands "the hands of Esau." A series of surprising episodes reveal the potent forces latent within Noah Pandre, who is reminiscent of ancient Jewish heroes. His deeds of bravery and strength earn him the respect even of gentiles for whom the Jew had been synonymous with a coward and one afflicted by God. The heroic character of Noah Pandre influenced Shneour's Shir Mizmor le-Ammei ha-Araẓot – a song of praise to the new type of Jew. Ha-Dod Zyame was translated into most European languages.

Shneour provided a kind of rehabilitation for the ammei ha-areẓ. Despite their ignorance of Jewish learning, Shneour observed that these people were endowed with other valuable qualities, the opposite of resignation, passivity, and fatalism. In appearance, too, the am ha-areẓ was not afflicted with the pallor and bent back of the scholar.

Later Poetry

In his poem cycle Luḥot Genuzim ("Hidden Tablets," 1948), Shneour imagined that in the archaeological excavations being carried out in Israel there might yet be found works written by the opponents of tradition – works like the Apocrypha, fortuitously preserved in other languages and later translated into Hebrew. According to the sages, such books as the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes were to be prohibited from publication, but were miraculously saved from suppression and were ultimately included in the Bible.

The publication of Luḥot Genuzim aroused much controversy. The poem, written in biblical style, relates Israel's early history in a way that conflicts with the Bible. Schneour's critics accused the poet of identifying with the "authors" of the Luḥot, who held views offensive to Jewish tradition. Shneour defended himself with the claim that the work was a product of his imagination and that he had no intention of substituting the ideas of the Luḥot for those of the scriptural version (his admiration for which he had stressed in many of his poems, such as Manginot Yisrael). He merely presented the suppressed opinions of the "opposition," who were to be found in every era (Korah and his band, the "false prophets," the Sadducees, etc.). Literary critics also felt that artistically the work was a failure.

Shneour in Israel

Before formally settling in Israel, in 1951, Shneour had visited the country five times. For many years he had lived the life of the country, past and present, from afar deriving his poetic inspiration from it. He sang of its rebuilding by Jewish pioneers in his Mi-Shirei Ereẓ Israel. In Israel he adapted his story Pandrei ha-Gibbor as a play, which was staged by *Habimah. He also wrote for several daily papers such as Davar and Ha-Boker, publishing in the latter installments of his great epic, Ba'al ha-Parvah. He also revised his Hebrew poetry and prose, which were printed in various formats.

In the 1950s, as prolific as ever, Shneour engaged in collating his enormous output, and was planning new works, when he died in New York. His remains were transferred to Israel and reinterred in a grave next to those of Bialik and Tchernichowsky.


J. Klausner, Z. Shneour (1947, autobiographical writings of Z. Shneour himself, which are collected in Klausner's book); J. Fichmann, in: Kitvei Zalman Shneour (1960), introd.; S. Zemach, Eruvin (1964), 51–62; Z. Shneour, Bialik u-Venei Doro (1953), passim (autobiographical items throughout the book); H. Bavli et al., in: Hadoar, 21 (1959); Rejzen, Leksikon, 4 (1929), 808–20; Waxmann, Literature, 4 (19602), 281–98; Goell, Bibliography, index. add. bibliography: M. Mikam, "Ha-Ḥavayah ha-Elohit be-Shirat Shneour," in: Sefer Shilo (1960), 207–16; M. Tabenkin, Shirat Zalman Sheour (1965); G. Katzenelson, "Be-Ikvot u-ve-Nigud la-Ikvot: Al Shirei ha-Ne'urim shel Shneour," in: Moznayim, 28 (1969), 275–83; D. Radavsky, "Ha-Nose ha-Yehudi be-Shirat Shenour," in: Moreshet, 9 (1973), 110–21; M. Delusznovski, "Itzig Manger ve-Z. Shneour be-Paris," in: Moznayim, 38 (1974), 164–68; A. Barkai, Mishka'im Bialikiyyim be-Shirat Meshorerim Ivriyyim (1976); U. Shavit, "Ha-Omnam Ritmus Tanakhi?" in: Ha-Sifrut, 30–31 (1981), 101–8; U. Ofek, "Z. Schneour u-Terumato le-Sifrut ha-Yeladim Shellanu," in: Meḥkarim be-Sifrut Yeladim (1985), 148–54.

[Aharon Zeev Ben-Yishai]