Zeitlin, Hillel

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ZEITLIN, HILLEL (1871–1942), author, thinker, and journalist. Born in Korma, Belorussia, Zeitlin received the education of a *Ḥabad Ḥasid; self-taught in secular studies, he became troubled by matters of religion and faith. His first work, Ha-Tov ve-ha-Ra (in Ha-Shilo'aḥ, 5, 1899), was pessimistic in tone and was followed by monographs on Spinoza (1900) and Nietzsche (in Ha-Zeman, 1905). Zeitlin was disappointed by secular culture and longed for celestial beauty, a longing expressed in Maḥashavah ve-Shirah (2 vols., 1911–12). Shocked by the pogroms in *Kishinev in 1903, he reveals his unceasing anxiety for the survival of the Jew in Al ha-Zevaḥ (Ha-Zeman, 1905). Out of profound reflection on the fate of the Jew, he returned to religion and came close to Orthodox Judaism, to whose literature he gave a new character. From 1906 he worked for Haynt and Der Moment, writing for 36 years on both minor topics and serious ones. From 1914 he immersed himself in mysticism and published "visions" in Ha-Tekufah. In "Al Gevul Shenei Olamot" (Ha-Tekufah, 4 (1919), 501–45) he discusses "the origins of mysticism in Israel" on the hypothesis that Judaism is mystical and not rational, concluding, against most scholarly opinions, that Moses de Leon was merely the final editor of the *Zohar, who set forth the teaching of the Zohar in its four subjects – the human body, the soul, the spheres, the Divine – and not the original author. Zeitlin translated the Zohar into Hebrew and wrote a commentary on it, of which only the introduction was published. He became active in the cause of propagating Judaism, publishing Der Alef-Beys funem Yudentum ("The Alphabet of Judaism," 1922), in which he establishes a Jewish outlook on the world against a scientific background, as well as books on Ḥasidism, on R. *Naḥman of Bratslav, and on Ḥabad. During his last years, when he foresaw the Holocaust, he called for repentance with enormous fervor – in pamphlets, in speeches, and in organizing special groups of mekhuvvanim ("purposeful ones"). Once more despairing, he gave expression to his loneliness in the book containing his last confession, Demamah ve-Kol (1936). Zeitlin died a martyr's death, garbed in tallit and tefillin, on the way to Treblinka on the eve of Rosh Ha-Shanah.


I. Rabinowich, Major Trends in Modern Hebrew Fiction (1968), 100–1; Ha-Tekufah, 32–33 (1948), 848–76; 34–35 (1950), 843–8, bibl. by E.R. Malachi; I. Wolfsberg and Z. Harkavy (eds.), Sefer Zeitlin (1945); S.B. Urbach, Toledot Neshamah Aḥat (1953); idem, Hillel Zeitlin (1969); A. Holtz, in: jba, 28 (1970/71).

[Symcha Bunim Urbach]