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Shofman (Schoffmann), Gershon

SHOFMAN (Schoffmann), GERSHON

SHOFMAN (Schoffmann), GERSHON (1880–1972), Hebrew writer, distinguished for his miniature short stories, his meditative and didactic sketches, and his epigrammatic essays on literature and life. Born in Orsha, Belorussia, Shofman received a traditional religious education; but as a result of diligent reading, first of Hebrew and then of Russian literature, he became acquainted with European culture and with the new trends in Hebrew literature developed under the influence of S.Y. *Abramovitsh (Mendele Mokher Seforim) and his disciples. Shofman's talent for short-story writing was revealed in his very first collection of stories, published in Warsaw in 1902. In that same year, he enlisted in the Russian army and served for almost three years. In 1904, during the Russo-Japanese War, he fled to Galicia, remaining there until 1913, when he left for Vienna. He then settled in an Austrian village, and lived there until he immigrated to Ereẓ Israel in 1938, where he eventually settled in Haifa.

Shofman published his stories and articles in various periodicals in Russia, Poland, Germany, Austria, England, and Israel. He also edited several literary journals. His collected writings first appeared in four volumes in 1927–35, and subsequently in a revised edition of four volumes (1946–52), to which a fifth was added in 1960. Shofman was awarded the Israel Prize for literature in 1957.

Shofman's writing is characterized by its conciseness and precision. His sentences are free of all literary embellishment and make no attempt at being dramatic; Jacob *Fichmann commented that "in their utter lucidity and strict precision they resemble scientific definitions." Even Shofman's metaphors are generally confined to an adverb or an adjective of not more than one or two words. Consequently, his narrative thrust depends on subtle innuendo and symbolic implications.

Shofman's stories have no plot in the ordinary sense. There is no real sequence of events; the stories consist rather of a succession of hurried utterances and episodic actions with no apparent close connection between them. Only as the narrative unfolds does it become evident that the actions and utterances related by the author are more than episodic. Events are governed by the iron laws of destiny; they are a necessary outcome of past action, as well as an omen for what may come to pass in the future.

Shofman's own history of wanderings comes out clearly in his stories and articles. But at the same time he writes in a somewhat depersonalized fashion, and consequently his works seem to encompass the many turning points in Jewish life in the 20th century: the collapse of Jewish tradition in Russia during the pre-World War i period, and the conceptual vacuum, rootlessness, and depression which overcame the Jews as a result; the counterwave of faith in the socialist revolution which initially swept away a part of Jewish youth, but which after the 1905 pogroms ended largely in despair; the further moral and spiritual decline which came about in the wake of World War i and increasing antisemitism during the interwar period and World War ii; and the Jewish immigration to Ereẓ Israel, the State of Israel, and the life of the Jew as he attempted to free himself of the marks of degeneration and moral collapse.

The sociocultural nature of Shofman's themes constitutes the implicit rather than the explicit element in his writings. As seen from an external viewpoint, Shofman's hero is generally a total individualist ruled by desires on the one hand, and on the other hand by hidden forces which are apparently imperceptible to the human intellect. At times he struggles against these forces and at times he surrenders to them. At times he is passive and at times active. However, his existence, living as he does a gloomy and commonplace life, is almost always a marginal one. Depression, illness, degradation, the fear both of life and of death seem to thrust the hero into the position of being activated rather than acting; and in consequence of his experience he normally thinks of and cares for no one but himself. On the rare occasions when he does act for the benefit of society, even when he dies for it, he is in actual fact impelled by some hidden force, the significance of which he does not understand.

Shofman developed his own particular view of aesthetics in both his narrative and his meditative writings, and he demanded the same standards from others. His articles on literature and literary criticism, some of which were published in the series Sirtutei Peḥam ("Charcoal Drawings") and Shetayim Shalosh Shurot ("Two or Three Lines"), set out his convictions, often in a strongly polemical tone. On the other hand, when a work under review appeared to conform to his own standards, Shofman was generous with his praise.

For English translations of his works see Goell, Bibliography, 1505, 2465–85.

bibliography:

J. Fichmann, Benei Dor (1952), 104–22; J. Klausner, Yoẓerim u-Vonim, 2 (1929), 208–22; S. Zemach, Massah u-Vikkoret (1954), 53–71; M. Ribalow, Sefer ha-Massot (1928), 105–29; I. Rabinovitz, Ha-Sipporet ha-Ivrit Meḥappeset Gibbor (1967), 91–100; Waxman, Literature, 4 (1960), 105–8; G. Katznelson, in: Moznayim, 33 (1960), 246–55; M. Gil, ibid., 261–67. add. bibliography: N. Govrin, "Zikkat Yeẓirato shel Shofman la-Mikra," in: Karmelit, 16 (1970), 61–84; S. Ben-David, "Idialism ve-Realizm bi-Yẓirat G. Shofman," in: Gazit, 26:9–12 (1970), 7–9; M. Ovadyahu, "G. Shofman, Aman ha-Sippur ha-Kaẓar," in: Bitzaron, 63 (1972), 285–88; G. Shaked, Ha-Sipporet ha-Ivrit, 1 (1977), 385–403; S. Schmidt, Demuyyot ha-Nashim be-Sippurei Berdyczewski ve-Shofman (1978); N. Govrin, Me-Ofek el Ofek: Gershon ShofmanḤayyav vi-Yeẓirato (1983); Y. Even, Ha-Prozah ha-Ivrit be-Dor Bialik (1984); H. Barzel, Ḥazon ve-Ḥizzayon (1988); H. Herzig, Ha-Sippur ha-Ivri be-Reshit ha-Me'ah ha-Esrim (1992); A. Holtzman, "Madu'a He'edimu Penei ha-Nahar?" in: Ẓafon, 7 (2004), 51–59.

[Gideon Katznelson]

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