Micha Josef Berdyczewski
|Micha Josef Berdyczewski|
|Born||August 7, 1865
Medzhybizh, Ukraine, Russian Empire
|Died||November 18, 1921
|Pen name||Mikhah Yosef Bin-Gorion|
|Genres||Journalism, Novels, Short stories|
|Literary movement||Modern Hebrew literature|
Micha Josef Berdyczewski (Hebrew מיכה יוסף ברדיצ'בסקי), or Mikhah Yosef Bin-Gorion (August 7, 1865 – November 18, 1921) (surname also written Berdichevsky), was a Ukrainian-born writer of Hebrew, a journalist, and a scholar. He appealed for the Jews to change their way of thinking, freeing themselves from dogmas ruling the Jewish religion, tradition and history, but is also known for his work with pre-modern Jewish myths and legends. He wrote in Hebrew, Yiddish and German and has been described as "the first Hebrew writer living in Berlin to be revered in the world of German letters".
Berdyczewski was born in 1865 in the town Medzhybizh in western Ukraine, to a family of Hasidic Rabbis. His father was the town Rabbi. In his youth he began to read works from the Jewish Enlightenment, and their influence is noticeable in his works. Berdyczewski was forced to divorce his first wife following her family’s objection to his involvement with secular literature. He then moved to the Volozhin Yeshiva, but there too, his pursuit of unconventional literature stirred anger and objection.
One of his earliest publications was about this period of his life—an article titled "Hetzitz V'nifga" (הציץ ונפגע in Hebrew—literally "peeked and got hurt", meaning "gone to heresy"), published in 1888 in the newspaper Hamelitz. Most of his works from this period were polemic, and his emotional style became his trademark throughout his writing career.
In 1890 he went to Germany and Switzerland, studied at the universities of Berlin, Breslau and Bern, and completed his Doctor of Philosophy degree. In this period Berdyczewski studied the works of the great German philosophers Nietzsche and Hegel, and was deeply influenced by them. In the ten years until his return to Ukraine he published many articles and stories in Hebrew journals. Up to 1900, the year in which he married Rachel Ramberg, Berdyczewski had published ten books.
Upon his return to Ukraine, Berdyczewski encountered the harsh reality of the Jewish life in the Pale of Settlement, and subsequently the subject of many of his stories is the deterioration of the traditional way of life.
After a short stay in Warsaw, Berdyczewski returned to Germany in 1911, where he lived until his death in 1921. He is buried in the Jewish Cemetery in Weißensee, Berlin. Berdyczewski adopted the surname Bin-Gorion, first used to sign a collection of his works that he published in Berlin in 1914. The name Bin-Gorion is also inscribed on his tombstone. His last years were spent in intensive writing and research, collecting Jewish legends and folktales and publishing in Hebrew, Yiddish, and German. After his death, his wife and their son Emanuel Bin-Gorion translated some of his works into German, among them Die Sagen der Juden ("The Legends of the Jews", 1935) and Der Born Judas ("The Well of Judah"), published in six volumes.
Berdyczewski's popularity among the Jews of his age is attributed to his success in expressing their ambivalent attitude towards the traditional Jewish world, and to the secular European culture.
In addition, the following references were consulted:
- The George Washington University's Melvin Gelman Library web site
- German site of tombstones
- The Jewish Agency site (Berdyczewski is spelled "Berdichevsky" on this site)
- JewishEncyclopedia.com - BERDYCZEWSKI, MICAH JOSEPH: at www.jewishencyclopedia.com - Jewish Encyclopedia
- Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature - Berdyczewski: brief bio with list of books in Hebrew and in Translation - ITHL