Steinbarg, Eliezer

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STEINBARG, ELIEZER (Shtaynbarg ; 1880–1932), Yiddish educator, cultural activist, and author. Born in Lipkany, Moldava (former Bessarabia), Steinbarg received extensive Jewish instruction from kabbalist Yosele Dayen, and was self-taught in Russian and German literature. Like his older cousin, Hebrew writer Judah *Steinberg, he was a teacher, and, for many years, director of a Hebrew-Yiddish school in Lipkany. In 1911, Steinbarg met with Ḥ.N. *Bialik and Y.Ḥ.*Rawnitzki in Odessa; their plan to publish Steinbarg's fables was abandoned with the outbreak of World War i. From 1919 until his death, Steinbarg lived with his wife, Rivke, in Czernowitz, where Jewish national consciousness was finding increasing expression. A keen Hebraist, Steinbarg was also a proponent of Yiddish phonetic orthography. He published an illustrated Yiddish primer (Alef-Beys, 1921) and a Yiddish-language method for learning Hebrew (Alfon, 1921), intertwining the pedagogy of taytsh with the aesthetic pleasure of whimsy. From 1920 to 1928, he was the animating force behind Yiddish-language children's theater and summer camps. He was director of a Sholem Aleichem school in Rio de Janeiro (1928–30), before returning to Czernowitz, where he resumed the leadership of Yiddishist cultural activities. The 20th anniversary of the Czernowitz Language Conference saw the publication of Durkh di Briln ("Through My Eyeglasses"), a limited edition of 12 of Steinbarg's rhymed fables, and was the occasion for the "discovery" of literary Yiddish Romania, then at its apogee, whose towering figures were two "neo-folk poets," Steinbarg and Itsik *Manger. While public performances of Steinbarg's fables had long been popular locally, it was through Herz Grossbart's artistic recitals that these Yiddish tales gained international renown. When Steinbarg died in March 1932, his collection Mesholim, was in galley proofs. Published a few months later, the book became a bestseller; the texts have been widely translated and anthologized. Mayselekh ("Short Stories) was published in Czernowitz (1936), and a supplementary volume of fables, Mesholim ii, in Tel Aviv (1956). The revised, standard edition of Mesholim (with 150 fables) was issued in 1969. Rivke Steinbarg died in Israel in 1968. In 1972, Eliezer Steinbarg's archives were donated to the National and University Library (Jerusalem) by her brother, Yehudah Heilprin, and Eliezer Steinbarg's siblings, Shemuel and Rivke. Steinbarg is the outstanding master of the Yiddish fable both in content and form. An admixture of mordant wit, trenchant analysis, and deep humanism, the fables are largely indeterminate and rarely offer a clear moral. Each protagonist is depicted through characteristic syntax and discourse; the speaking subjects include lyric figures, animals, and inanimate objects, notably exploring power relations. Fables of alphabetic characters (oysyes) are particularly innovative. Steinbarg combines motifs from traditional Hebrew study with modern literary language informed by conversational folk sources. He also enriched Yiddish culture with new idioms and reshaped proverbs.


Rejzen, Leksikon, 4 (1929), 588–93; S. Bickel, Rumenye (1961), 205–34; G. Kressel, Leksikon, 2 (1967), 909–10. add. bibliography: Sh. Niger, Yidishe Shrayber fun Tsvantsikstn Yorhundert (1973), 211–28; D. Leibel, in E. Steinbarg, Mesholim (1969), 323–34; Afn Shvel, 306 (April-June 1997) (special Steinbarg issue).

[Nikki Halpern (2nd ed.)]