Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Avraham Ber Gottlober

Born on 14 January 1811 in Alt-Konstantin, where his father was a cantor, trustee and town writer. He learned for a short time in a cheder, then with religious teachers, and a teacher in his home and under the supervision of his father. Soon after his bar mitzvah, he was married and put on maintenance in Chernihiv near the heavy, Rizhiner Chasid, under whose influence G. also become a Chasid, took up with Kabala, and spoke to Chasidic youth. Due to the decree of military service, he left with his father to Galicia. Here in Tarnapol he became acquainted with Yosef Perl, and under his supervision began to take up a secular education and Haskalah. He went back to Chernihiv, and he became, on the message of Chasidim, that he reads "Trif-psul," forced to divorce his wife, G.'s made him a wedding with the daughter of a yeshivnik, but he could not go in with her and left her.

At the cafe, G., with Mendel Liepin's books in Hebrew and Yiddish, this moves him to question his powers in writing Yiddish (circa 1830). He then strolls around various cities, becomes acquainted with maskilim, sits in on lessons as a teacher and concludes his Hebrew play in three acts, "Amnon and Tamar." At the same time he studies German diligently and makes is first attempt at translating Schiller into Hebrew. He marries for a third time, and G. settles in Dubno, where he groups himself around the maskilim from the town. Later, not having any means to live, he leaves his family, travels to Zhitomir, where in 1851 he took the exam to be a teacher. He weighed in as a teacher in Kamenets-Podolsk, then in 1855 in Alt-Konstantin, where in 1865 he was appointed teacher in the Zhitomir rabbinical school.


Among his students in this rabbinical school was also Goldfaden. In his memoirs, Gottlober writes about Goldfaden:

"Among my students was a youth, only a younger, Avrahamele Goldfaden. This boy, apart from my school, studied at home privately. Over and over, he used to look very much like I wrote jargon: That was his passion. I do not need to tell you, you already know who he is and what he has already written."

Gottleber's influence on Goldfaden Is even bolder from the following remarks of A.J. Paperna (in his memoirs, published in Vilna's "Pinchas," p. 188):

"Like Goldfaden, Gottlober also became acquainted with the Yiddish song. A son of a cantor, Gottlober inherited from his father a good voice and a love of melodies. By himself, he used to create the melodies to his songs. Goldfaden took over these songs with the melodies. In Gottlober's house Goldfaden learned to appreciate the Yiddish language and love the Jewish people. He knew everyone on the outside and loved to sing. ... In the rabbinical school, in the time of recreation, Goldfaden often used to draw on a small Gottlober song, and the other students used to be entertained."

Sh.L. Zitron writes something similar ("Three Literary Generations," Vol. II, pp. 14-15): "In Zhitomir at Gottlober's home, the city's biggest players often gather. It would have been special singing evenings for him, in which they used to talk about various matters of music, both secular and Yiddish. Those evenings had a great influence on the young Goldfaden, who then had already begun to compose his popular songs, for which he had also personally composed the music."

That Goldfaden recognized Gottlober as his rabbi, Yitskhok Libresko testifies in his memoirs ("Hintern farhang" by Zalmen Zylbercweig): "In the meantime, Avraham Ber Gottlober came to me for "Sftsi haskalah," as I deal with common matters, especially with matters dealing with newspapers, that I should support him because he is starting to publish a page, "Hbkr ur." Gottleber then was an older man. At home with him, we indeed did celebrate his sixty-eighth birthday. (As it happened in 1876, G. was then turning sixty-five years old.) But still he still wanted to live his own life. I went out with him in the street to be a friend, made a few hundred francs, and he left Bucharest to go to Goldfaden. Gottlober used to tell us that he was Goldfaden's teacher in the rabbinical school in Zhitomir, and Goldfaden used to call him "Rabbi."

Under the impression from Dr. Ettinger's comedy, "Merkele," which the author read to him during G.'s visit in Zamosc (circa 1837), G. in 1838 composed a three-act comedy "Der dektukh, oder, Tsvi khupes in eyn nakht (The Bridal Veil, or, Two Weddings in One Night)."

About Ettinger's influence on him, Gottleber recalls alone in his memoirs (Sholem Aleichem's "Yudishe folksbibliotek," Vol. 1, p. 254): "The rector Ettinger enraged me, I felt anxious and I started to write in jargon. (Sh. Niger remarks that G. wrote Yiddish even before, and  it would have been more correct to say, "The desire to write in the book intensified ...).

In the year 1838 I wrote a comedy in three acts, "Dos dektukh, oder, tsvey khupes in eyn nakht." Later it was truly published in Warsaw and forgot to cite my name. He still did something wise and wrote to him at the beginning: "Strictly forbidden."

That comedy went around for a long time in manuscript form, until it was printed in an enlarged form without the knowledge of the author, and his name: "Der dektukh, oder, tsvey khupes in eyn nakht, a comedy, issued by Yozef Verbleynski, Warsaw publisher and alone by Yehuda Leib Morgenstern, bookstore in Warsaw, Shnt trtg Lp"k." (1876, 51 pp.16o).

It means that the text has been reprinted many times -- even with the old date of printing.

B. Gorin characterizes G.'s comedy in the following way:

"Gottlober in his 'bridal veil' is much further away (from Wolfszon). He included a rabbi and a good Jew in his comedy and showed that the rabbi is an honest Jew, but a fool, and the good Jew is simply a swindler. The entire comedy is built on the silly belief of the clowns, devils, and good Jews.

For Gottlober had little to contend with. He sought to attack the entire foundation of Hasidism, and therefore he adopted the central pillars and applied his heroic deeds to destroy them. He also brought all the means, even the "chanson-couplets," which during that time At that time, a Jewish playwright did not even dream of seeing his piece played. (Sh. Niger remarks that in the published editions, in general, there were not any "chansonetkes," emphasized the diminished expression, "chansonetkes," instead, "chansons," but were actually found in texts of couplets [chansons] ).

The personnel of the comedy were portrayed more or less with special faces. They are not just people, but everyone has lighter or bolder individualism. Ezriel, the renderer's servant speaks with a digging, daring language, the teaching teacher speaks like a Talmudist. Fraydele is a sentimental girl at times and at times she jumps into the country girl. Yosele is a happy, lively young boy.

In the comedy Gottlober shows that he has the eye to notice what is going on, and the ear to hear what is being spoken about him. Almost all of his beauties do not only speak with a human tongue, after they use the correct words they need to say. But at the same time, he was strongly influenced by the sentimental literature of the day, and this calls for the portrayal of his positive persons.

The jokes and the humor in the comedy are plausible. The synagogue caretaker (Yisroel) needs to describe the one with the whip, the coachman. When the "wedding jester" starts to ridicule the groom and remains standing for a moment by the phrase "ignorant," because he can't so easily a word to rhyme with it, Yosele says to him under his breath things that cannot be printed. The groom Lemel is a person with a nasal voice, the rabbi is a stutterer. This is all a cheaper decision, but because of this, he is very close and understandable to the proud people, and this shows that Gottlober, more than any other playwright, had a sense for him, for the practical side of a theatre, a sense that more than ever was needed to reach that prestigious public from which a stable Yiddish theatre had to depend. There is no doubt that under other circumstances, Gottlober would have been the founder of Yiddish theatre. He had those qualities that, a few years later, were so brilliant in Avraham Goldfaden.

The language in the "Dektukh" is a pure Yiddish, and the positive individuals, even when they Melitsa, also speak the same pure Yiddish."

Dr. Jacob Shatzky characterizes G.'s creations as such:

"His satirical talent is not from a high pitch. Nevertheless, it is higher than the badkhan satirists of his time. With his Yiddish work he also exhibits a certain popular and cultural-historical interest."

Palatiel Zamoshtshin adapted G.'s Hebrew poem, "Khutm shdi," into Yiddish as "Der medolion, an operetta in one act in two scenes (freely worked from the Khutm shdi from A.B. Gottlober), from Palatiel Zamoshtshin" (published in "The Family's Friend)," published by M. Spektor, Warsaw, 1887.")

According to A. Fiszon and Z. Reisen, G. also wrote a play, "Di farkerte velt (The Inverted World?)," which together with other writings went lost.

Avraham Fiszon recalls in his memoirs that when he and Gradner, with his wife, played in Rovno, Gottlober came to them in the theatre, and as much as he liked to act, he lent them two comedies, "Iks driks" and "Tsvey por portseleyene teler," which he gave them to play. (one-acters with these names were played through the itinerant Brodersingers. Among Gottlober's manuscripts one does not find any theatre pieces. Goldfaden later composed one-acters with similar names.)

On 12 April 1899 G. passed away in Bialystok.

In 1925 in Vilna's Kletzkin publishing house, there was published "Avraham-Ber Gottlober and his Epoch" (380 pp.,16o), published  by A. Fridkin and Z. Reisen.

In that book there was also included G.'s comedy, "Der dektukh, oder, Tsvey khupes in eyn nakht" (pp. 79-134).

In the "introduction" the publisher says: As it appeared in the original play- - we do not know, because we do not have it. ... Hand-in-hand, in manuscript, a preposterous copy fell to one who had printed it, full of print, not preserving the intricacies of Southern Jewish dialect, blending it somewhere with elements and forms of Polish Yiddish, and as an addition -- under a foreign name. Gottlober even at a time when a cry was made, the publisher defied a process, withdrew from the printed text and offered another text to the publisher, greatly improved and edited, but we cannot and we can only judge that text from the printed copy we own."

The publisher characterizes the comedy by writing:

"Once again Gottlober says: He introduced the first song into the play, he was, so to speak, the boss of the modern Yiddish melodrama, who so brilliantly developed his pupil Avraham Goldfaen, and also here showed his sense for popularity -- to live his work through a melody, a melody - in the course of the ancient Jewish folk: 'Makhres yosef (The Sale of Joseph),' 'Hakhokhem Shlomo (Solomon the King),' et al.

... It is right to say that if Goldfaden was the founder of Yiddish theatre, Gottleber was his godfather."

  • Z. Reisen -- "Lexicon of Yiddish Literature," Vol. I, pp. 451-7.

  • B. Gorin -- "History of Yiddish Theatre," Vol. I, pp. 97-98, 114-124.

  • A.B. Gottlober -- Memoirs, "Yidishe folks-bibliotek," editor Sholem Aleichem, Vol. I, p. 254.

  • A. Fridkin -- "Avraham gottlober un zayn epokhe," Vilna, 1925.

  • Avraham Fiszon -- (Memoirs), "Morning Journal," N.Y., 6 March 1925.

  • A. Fridkin and Z. Reisen -- "A.B. gottlobers yidishe verk," Vilna, 1927.

  • Dr. J. Shatzky -- Avraham-ber gottlober un zayn epokhe, "Pinchas," N.Y., 3, 1928, p. 284.

  • Zalmen Zylbercweig -- "Hintern forhang," Vilna, 1928, pp. 40-1.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 1, page 252.

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