Born July 13 (25). 1840, in Starokonstantinov, in present-day Khmel’nitskii Oblast; died Jan. 9, 1908, in New York. Jewish playwright and poet; “father of the Jewish theater.”
Goldfaden was the son of a craftsman. He began writing in Hebrew, but he soon changed to Yiddish, the spoken language. In 1866 and 1869 he published the collections of poems Jew and Jewess, which are imbued with sympathy for his unfortunate people. He organized a Jewish theater troupe, which played in Odessa and other cities in 1876. Of the many plays Goldfaden wrote, the outstanding ones are The Witch, Two Simpletons, A Grandmother and Granddaughter, Shmendrik, The Recruits, Shulamit, and Bar Kochba. Ridiculing the obsolete aspects of patriarchal Jewish life, Goldfaden struggled for the democratic enlightenment of the masses. He filled his plays and performances with sung folklore. Goldfaden found the models for his popular jokers and punsters among the laboring people. He went abroad after the tsarist government banned the Jewish theater in 1883.