Yitzhaq Shami

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Yitzhaq Shami (Hebrew: יצחק שמי‎‎) (August 4, 1888 – March 1949) was a Hebrew writer, one of the earliest modern Hebrew literature writers in Palestine, prior to Israeli statehood. His work was unique for his period, since in contrast with the vast majority of Hebrew writers of the period he crafted his art based on characters who were either Arabs or Sephardic Jews, residing in the Ottoman Palestine, and his literary influences were predominantly Arab and Middle Eastern. Shami published short stories, one novella, several poems and a number of essays.


Shami's birth name was Yitzhaq Sarwi. He was born in Hebron (al-Khalil) in 1888, eldest of three sons. His father, Eliyahu, was a textile merchant, who relocated from Damascus to Hebron in 1885. The father was therefore known as "a-Shami" (the Damascene), and that was the origin of the pen-name later adopted by the writer. Eventually, it became his legal name as well.[1] His mother, Rivqa Castel, was a Hebronite from a traditional Sephardic family from the illustrious Castel family who lived in Hebron for generations.[2] Growing up, Shami spoke Arabic with his father, and Ladino with his mother, and the family conducted its life in customary middle eastern style of the period.

As a youth he studied under Rabbi Chaim Hezekiah Medini, renowned author of the Sdei Chemed and Chief Rabbi of Hebron.[3]

The father traveled across the middle east and in the locality for his business, and through his father, Shami was exposed to the local villagers (fallahin), which were later treated as characters in his stories. A critical influence on Shami as a young teenager was Jurji Zaydan (died 1914)—founder of the Arabic Al-Nahda (Revival), modernizing of the Arabic language, one of the founders of the University of Cairo, and father of Pan-Arabism.[4]

He survived the massacre of 1929 by hiding in the home the Mani family.[5]

Literary works[edit]

The total volume of Shami's works was limited, mostly short stories. Regardless, some critics held him to be "one of the most notable modern Hebrew Sephardic writers."[6] His best known work is the short novella—Vengeance of the Fathers. Six of this short stories and the novella were published posthumously as Shami's stories in Hebrew—Sipurey Shami, in English (2000),[7] and in French.[8]

Critical Perspectives[edit]

The modern Hebrew critic Gershon Shaked wrote that Vengeance of the Fathers, published in 1928, was one of the most important works in modern Hebrew literature. [8] Anton Shammas the Palestinian writer and critic, wrote—"Shami brought into the scene of modern Hebrew literature some seventy years ago, a local Palestinian validity that hasn't been matched, or challenged, since Vengeance of the Fathers is the only novel in modern Hebrew literature whose characters, landscapes and narrative voice are all Palestinian."[9] Merle Rubin, in the Los Angeles Times Book Review described it as "Luminous tales from a bygone middle east".[10] Issa Boullata, in Al Jadid described the works as evidence of co-existence that vanished.[11]

Jerold Auerbach, Professor Emeritus of History[12] and author of Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel, praises Shami's book Hebron Stories as "evocative glimpses of Hebron at the turn of the twentieth century."[13]

In 2004 Shami was recognized by the Palestinian Academic Society as one of the important Palestinian writers. With that—he assumed a unique position, as a shared cultural asset of both Israelis and Palestinians.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Basic biographical information found in Sefer Hevron, edited by Oded Avisar (in Hebrew)
  2. ^ "Hebron massacre survivor Yaakov Castel dies". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 2016-01-27. 
  3. ^ "2006-12-30 Epilogue by Joseph Zernik for "Nouvelles d'Hebron" byYitzhaq Shami s". Scribd. Retrieved 2016-01-27. 
  4. ^ http://www.scribd.com/doc/24633932/09-12-30-Shami-Epilogue-s
  5. ^ Tamari, Salim. "Ishaq al-Shami and the Predicament of the Arab Jew in Palestine" (PDF). Journal of Palestine Studies. 
  6. ^ Israeli Ministry of Education The Barren Wife by Shami—Teacher's Notes by Tzviya Meyer and Yehudit Rosenberg
  7. ^ Hebron Stories by Yitzhaq Shami, edited by Moseh Lazar and Joseph Zernik, introduced by Arnolde Band, Labyrinthos, Lancaster 2000
  8. ^ Nouvelles d'Hebron by Yitzhaq Shami, edited by Joseph Zernik, introduced by Arnolde Band, Labor et Fides, Geneve 2006
  9. ^ Hebron Stories by Yitzhaq Shami, edited by Moseh Lazar and Joseph Zernik, introduced by Arnolde Band, Labyrinthos, Lancaster 2000
  10. ^ http://www.scribd.com/doc/24639990/01-01-22-Los-Angeles-Times-Shami-Book-Review-s
  11. ^ http://www.scribd.com/doc/24633064/01-12-01-Al-Jadid-Shami-Hebrew-Fiction-by-Boullata-s
  12. ^ "Jerold Auerbach". Wellesley College. Retrieved 2016-01-27. 
  13. ^ Auerbach, Jerold S. (2009-07-16). Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 9780742566170. 

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