Shalom Aleichem


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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Shalom Aleichem

 

(also Sholem or Sholom Aleichem; pen name of Sholom Nokhumovich Rabinovich). Born Feb. 18 (Mar. 2), 1859, in Pereiaslav, Ukraine; died May 13, 1916, in New York. Jewish writer.

Shalom Aleichem wrote in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian. He studied at a heder and at the Russian district school in Pereiaslav. His first published work, in 1879, was in Hebrew. The novella Two Stones and the short story “The Elections,” both published in 1883, were the first of his works to appear in Yiddish. His writing conformed to the democratic and enlightenment traditions of Jewish and Russian literature. In the pamphlet The Trial of Shomer (1888) and in the series of articles “The Theme of Poverty in Jewish Literature,” Shalom Aleichem fought against the “trash” literature and idyllic romance, advocating a realistic folk literature. He also founded a literary annual, The Popular Jewish Library (1888–89), which brought together the work of many democratic writers and played a notable role in the history of modern Jewish literature.

In his satirical novel Sender Blank and His Household (1887), Shalom Aleichem criticized the bourgeoisie. He followed this with romantic portrayals of gifted common people in the novels Stempenyu (1888) and Yosele Solovey (1889). In 1892 the first chapters of Menakhem-Mendl were published; this was a novella about a luftmentsh, or impractical dreamer—a petit bourgeois who tries unsuccessfully to climb up the capitalist ladder. Another “little man,” but of a completely different stamp than Menakhem-Mendl, was portrayed in the novella Tevye the Dairyman, some chapters of which appeared in 1894. Tevye is a toiler and a pure spirit; he is a wise, unselfish, and good man who is full of compassion for another’s misfortune. These stories demonstrate Shalom Aleichem’s masterful use of humor, as do his short-story cycles, which he began in the 1890’s and on which he continued to work throughout his writing life—Kasrilevke, Railroad Stories, The Undaunted, Stories for Children, and Monologues.

The Revolution of 1905–07 was a significant landmark in Shalom Aleichem’s development as a writer. In the early 1900’s he established contacts with L. N. Tolstoy, A. P. Chekhov, M. Gorky, and V. G. Korolenko, gave readings from his works at illegal and semilegal gatherings of the intelligentsia and young workers in Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, issued satirical pamphlets against autocracy (Uncle Pinye and Aunt Reyzl, Sleep, Alesha, and The Newly Born—all published in 1905), and wrote about revolutionaries in the short stories “Yosif” and “Shmulik” (1905). In the novel The Deluge (1906) he sought to draw a broad picture of the age, including figures of revolutionaries and common people. The novel, albeit full of sympathy for the people and the revolution, is nevertheless characterized by an abstract humanism that testifies to the author’s inadequate understanding of the social significance of events.

With the reestablishment of reactionary rule, having survived the pogrom in Kiev, Shalom Aleichem left for America, and subsequently he moved to Switzerland. The anticapitalist tendencies in his writings, made more pronounced by his observations on the “American way of life,” were reflected in the novel Wandering Stars (1909–11), in various short stories, and especially in the novella Motl, the Son of the Cantor Peyse (part 1,1907); here, as well as in Menakhem-Mendl and Tevye the Dairyman, the author poses the question of the fate of the masses under capitalism. Motl was highly praised by M. Gorky in 1910.

Shalom Aleichem returned to Russia in 1908; in October of that year he was widely acclaimed on the 25th anniversary of the start of his literary activity, and in 1909 his works were published in Russian. In the last years of his life he published the novel The Bloody Jest (1912), written in response to the Beilis case; he also worked on the play The Grand Prize (1915) and on the unfinished autobiographical novel Back From the Fair.

World War I found Shalom Aleichem in Germany, where he was undergoing medical treatment; he was interned and sent to Berlin, then to Denmark, and in December 1914 he arrived in New York. The imperialist war evoked his anger, which he expressed in the short-story cycle Tales of a Thousand and One Nights (1914). He experienced loneliness and depression in a country that was alien to him, and these feelings aggravated the illness that led to his death.

Shalom Aleichem’s realistic writing gained worldwide recognition, and his works have been translated into many languages. Modern Jewish literature continues in the best of Shalom Aleichem’s traditions.

WORKS

Yubileum oysgabe, vols. 1–14. Warsaw, 1908–14.
Ale verk, vols. 1–28. New York, 1917–25.
Oysgeveylte verk, vols. 1–15. Moscow, 1935–41.
Oysgeveylte briv. Moscow, 1941.
Ale verk, vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1948.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. proizvedeniia, vols. 1–8. Moscow, 1910–13.
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–6. Moscow, 1959–61. [Foreword by R. Rubina.]
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–6. Moscow, 1971–74. [Foreword by M. Bazhan.]

REFERENCES

Fadeev, A. “O Sholom-Aleikheme.” In his Za tridtsat’ let, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1959.
Remenik, G. Sholom-Aleikhem: Kritiko-biografich. ocherk. Moscow, 1963.
Oyslender, N. Grundshtrikhn fun Yidishn realizm. Kiev, 1919.
Remenik, G. “Sholem Aleykhem der Novelist.” Sovetishe literatur (Kiev), 1939, nos. 3–4.
Sholem Aleykhem: Zamlung kritishe artiklen un materialn. Kiev, 1940.
Meisel,N. Unzer Sholem Aleykhem. Warsaw, 1959.

G. A. REMENIK

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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