Spire, André

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SPIRE, ANDRÉ

SPIRE, ANDRÉ (1868–1966), French poet and Zionist leader. Born in Nancy, Spire was descended from an old established family of Lorraine and the son of a rich industrialist. After studying law, he became a member of the Conseil d' État in 1894, specialized in employment problems at the French Ministry of Labor (1898–1902), and was inspector general in the Ministry of Agriculture from 1902 to 1926 when he retired. Spire was roused from his assimilationist lethargy by the *Dreyfus Affair, in which he played an active role. He fought a duel with the antisemite *Drumont, and struggled to gain a revision of the trial. Much to the dismay of assimilated French Jewry, Spire speedily became a militant advocate of Jewish national revival, first supporting the Russo-Jewish self-defense organizations during the pogroms, then organizing the Association des Jeunes Juifs in order to organize the recent Jewish immigrants to France. Writing from Basle where he was attending a Zionist Congress in 1911, Spire declared: "The most despicable Jews are those who deny their own identity.… They were cursed by the Prophets and will be banished from the New Jerusalem.… Assimilation is death. Zionism is life." After the Balfour Declaration, Spire founded in 1918 the Ligue des Amis du Sionisme, and a year later represented the French Zionists at the Paris Peace Conference; in 1920 he joined a delegation to Ereẓ Israel. Following a rift with *Weizmann, Spire withdrew from active participation in official Zionism. During World War ii he took refuge in the U.S., where he taught and lectured on French culture and poetry. He worked for refugees during the Nazi period, and supported Hillel Kook's activist "Hebrew National Liberation Movement" on the eve of the birth of the State of Israel.

Spire is best remembered as the leader of the Jewish revival movement in 20th-century French literature, and also as a literary theorist and innovator. His verse, which overflows with passion and humor, defends freedom and justice, and chastises the cowardly and the rich. Spire's main verse collection, Poèmes Juifs (1919, 19593), lashes the assimilated and calls for a Jewish revolt. In Samaël (1921) Spire develops a dramatic vision of good and evil, man's destiny and happiness. His inexhaustible verve also expressed itself in tales such as the fanciful "Le Rabbin et la Sirène" (in Mercure de France, Aug. 15, 1931; "The Rabbi and the Siren," in J. Leftwich, Yisröel, 1933, rev. 1963); his critical judgment and insight appears in the essays Quelques Juifs (1913), enlarged in a second edition as Quelques Juifs et demi-Juifs (2 vols., 1928). He was a rare combination of a Frenchman attached to his country and steeped in its culture, and of a Jew, fully identified with the spiritual and national aspirations of his people.

bibliography:

S. Burnshaw André Spire and his Poetry (1933), essays and translations; Hommage à André Spire (1939); C. Lehrmann, in: Revue des Cours et Conférences (June 15, 1938), 465–79; idem, in: L'élément Juif dans la Littérature Française, 2 (1961), 145–54; P.M. Schuhl, in: Cahiers de l'Alliance Israélite Universelle (Sept.–Oct. 1959), 51–64; P. Jamati, André Spire (Fr., 1962), incl. bibl.; P. Moldaver, La Technique Poétique d'André Spire (1966); L'Amitié Charles Péguy. Feuillets Mensuels, 132 (1967).

[Moshe Catane]

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