Zinberg, Israel

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ZINBERG, ISRAEL (Sergei ; 1873–1939), historian of Hebrew and Yiddish literature. Born near Kremenets, Volhynia, into a maskilic family, Zinberg, a chemical engineer by profession and scholar by avocation, published his first work in the field of literary history in 1900 – a monograph, in Russian, on Isaac Baer *Levinsohn. Editor of, and chief contributor to, the Hebrew and Yiddish literature divisions of the Russian-Jewish encyclopedia (Evreiskaia Entsiklopediia, 16 vols., 1906–13), Zinberg served on its editorial board. Among the many Russo-Jewish periodicals and Yiddish publications to which he contributed were Voskhod, Der Fraynd, and Di Yidishe Velt, which he also helped to establish in St. Petersburg in 1912 (with S.*Dubnow and S. *Ginsburg). His monograph on old Yiddish literature appeared in Istoriia evreiskogo naroda (1914). In 1917, together with S. *Niger, Zinberg edited a Sholem Aleichem memorial volume. During these years he was active in the cultural life of St. Petersburg, wrote for newspapers, and gave lectures which prepared for his monumental Geshikhte fun der Literatur bay Yidn ("History of Jewish Literature," 9 vols. in 11, 1929–66), which chronicles Jewish literary creativity from the Spanish period to the end of the Russian Haskalah. In this monumental work, Zinberg displayed much scholarship, erudition, and originality both as critic and historian. Basing the study on primary sources, he combined the study of historical documents, social context, the primary centers of Jewish literature, and the languages used by the writers, and thus succeeded in giving a sense of the unity and diversity of Jewish cultural creativity and writing a readable history, which has become a standard work in its field (Hebrew transl., 1955–60; English transl., 1972–78).

Arrested in 1938 and deported to Vladivostok, where he died the following year, Zinberg was "rehabilitated" by the Soviet government in 1956. At the time of his arrest his papers were confiscated. Discovered later among these papers at the Academy of Sciences in Leningrad was the manuscript of the first part of the final volume of his history. Entitled "The Flowering of Haskalah Literature in Russia," the manuscript, dealing with the early works of S.J *Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher Seforim), Abraham Uri *Kovner, M.L. *Lilienblum, Isaac Meir *Dik, and I.J. *Linetzki, was published by yivo and Brandeis University in 1966.

Among Zinberg's other works are Proiskhozhdenie Sheiloka ("The Origin of Shylock," 1902), Zhargonnaia literatura i yego chitateli ("Yiddish Literature and Its Readers," 1903), Dva techeniia v evreiskoi zhizni ("Two Trends in Jewish Life," 1905), and Istoriia evreiskoi pechati v Rossii ("History of the Jewish Press in Russia," 1915), a study covering the Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian Jewish press. A selection of Zinberg's essays, Kultur-Historishe Shtudien ("Studies in Cultural History," 1949, ed. by Jacob Shatzky), which appeared in New York, contains original Yiddish essays as well as translations from Russian.


Waxman, Literature, 4 (19602), 825ff.; lnyl, 7 (1968), 585–96; Kressel, Leksikon, 2 (1967), 718–9; D. Sadan, Avnei Miftan (1962), 251–5.

[Elias Schulman /

Jean Baumgarten (2nd ed.)]