Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Moses Leib Lilienblum


B. was born on 3 November 1843 (according to Sh. Rosenfeld 1844) in Keidan, Kovno Province in Lithuania/Poland. His father, who was a barrel maker, although very poor, was a very observant, learned man. At the age of five years he began to study in a cheder run by his grandfather. At six years of age he was already learned both in the biblical 'Book of Prophets,' and in the writings of the first Rabbis of the Talmud. At nine years of age he was studying a page of Gemara each day on his own.

While still a child he wrote poems, especially long piyutim (religious poems) arranged alphabetically as an acrostic. At fourteen years of age he was engaged to marry a girl who was eleven years old. She was the daughter of a poor man in Wilkomir (Ukmerge in Lithuanian). Two years later they married and he moved into his in-laws' home where they were given room and board. At that time he became familiar with Hakira-Sforim (deep inquiry into Hebrew holy writings) and ceased working as a teacher. He did this thinking that this was a way to avoid a fall into heresy. He then entered into a phase of extreme orthodoxy. He devoted himself in adherence to Jewish law, to critical analysis, and into casuistic arguments (pilpul), especially in its application to Talmudic subjects. At twenty years of age, he began to show interest in pseudo-biblical books. Despite these interests he sat night and day studying, dressed in his prayer shawl and donning his phylacteries. Simultaneously he composed a Segula, which means a Jewish mystical remedy to protect the Jews during the Polish uprising. This effort was accomplished in biblical Hebrew, fully vocalized and with musical notations.

In 1865 he left his father's backing, because of a need for a livelihood, he created (or set up) a yeshiva, where he studied Gemora with students from the yeshiva, but due to his founding of a library in the city, and due to his articles in "HaMelitz," people are sending dedications to the government, and when he published in the winter of 1866-67 in "HaMelitz" articles about reforming the Shulchan Aruch [code of Jewish law], he was boycotted with his entire family, and he had to leave Wilkomir. On 3 October 1869 L. arrived in Odessa, where he spent the winter writing.

In 1871 L. began his publicity activity in Yiddish, and on Tsederbaum's initiative he became a co-editor of "Kol mevaser (Herald)."

In 1876 L. issued his autobiographical "Hatat geurim," a book in which they were almost drawn to all the future Yiddish writers and businessmen.  In 1878 L. published in a socialist journal, "Asefat ḥakhamim," a satire "Mishat elisha ben abuyah," in which he brings to publish (in he form of a parody on the language of the Mishnah), his socialistic ideas. But in 1881, during the pogroms in Russia, he became a fanatical follower of the yishuv a'i (?).

L. also attempted to use his powers for the Yiddish stage and wrote a play with the name, "Dvoyezshonyetz" ("Der bigamist"), which in the eightieth year of twenty y'h was staged. About the play and the offering Jacob P. Adler recalls in his memoirs:

"In Yelisavetgrad the repertoire of Yiddish theatre was rich. For the first time in its short history we were (the troupe of Rosenberg and Naftali Goldfaden) receiving plays just from Goldfaden. First we got a play from the well-known Hebrew publicist, mashkhil, epicurean and (later) father of Russian Zionism, Moshe Leib Lilienblum, although he had, like all mashkhilim, not a great deal of sympathy for the Yiddish reality, and understanding this, also not for Yiddish mameloshn (native tongue), where where one read for the then really poor Yiddish theatre, nevertheless our troupe for him received a play, "Der dvoyezshonyetz" (The Two Wives, the Bigamist). This is what Lillienblum's first theatre piece was called."

In another place, Jacob P. Adler recalls:

"Got to know him (L.). I got through the Yiddish play, which he then had wanted to put on in Odessa. 'Der dopl vayberrnik,' or ''Dvoyezhonietz.' This is a play that portrays the lives of the slave traders, and Lilienblum did not miss the goal. For that time in Odessa, and in other southern Russian cities, there was a kind of plague from Jewish slave traders, which used to annoy Jewish daughters, and they were sold to shame in Constantinople, and Lilienblum's with his play out, the masses against those unfortunates were warned. The play made an impression, but there was no success to be had, although the godly Mogulesco had in her played the main role (just a tragedy). The quiet, gentle Lilienblum had, however, for the failure of his play, taken it for love, and there was no murmur against it."

An entirely other scene about the offering, according to B. Gorin in his "History of Yiddish Theatre":

"The Russian name had to be closed, that this was a translation, but the actors who still remember the time when this piece was performed, were under the impression that it was an original play, and it is incomprehensible why he had to arrive at such a Russian word, which is not needed by the Jews in Russia. For the first offering of the cited play, Lilienblum was behind the scenes with a great tension. There were tears from his eyes when it came to the climax in the third act. But here he suddenly saw something like this that confused him a bit. Before the close of the act, a scene appeared that was entirely strange to him. In the first minute, not knowing what it was like, and from where it came, but soon he was guessing what it was, and from where it came, but soon he wondered what that was. The two comedians, who had played in the piece, Mogulesco and Weinblatt, did not ask the composer, alone interrupted a comical scene that had absolutely not been adopted. Lilienblum did not feel so good about this, so that he disappeared on the spot."

In his propaganda for the Eretz Yisroel community L. also wanted to exploit the stage and wrote a play, "Zrubavel, oder, Shivas tsien, a drama in five acts, composed by Moshe Leib Lilienblum, Odessa 1887" (55 p.), which was given as a supplement to his book of collections, "Der yudisher vekker."

Soon thereafter the published play was staged in London through Caesar Grinberg, who adapted and added his songs and music, a year later (1888), the Hebrew translation was staged through the students of the Lemel School in Jerusalem, which was thought of as the first Hebrew production in Eretz Yisroel.

According to Sh. Mayzels, both of L.'s plays were presented on the Yiddish stage, not through Goldfaden's troupe, but only through Lerner's. Mayzels also translated by mistake the name "Dvoyezhenets" as "Di tsveyte khasene (The Two Weddings)."

B. Gorin also registers that L. named the play, "Der shkontist (The Discount Banker)," when the play, "Der skhkontist," or, "Der diskontist," or, "Der protsentnik" just belonged to Shomer-Sheikowitz.

After Jacob Gordin's death, L. appeared in Peterburg's "Der fraynd," with a sharp attack against G., reminding him of his propaganda for the society "Biblical Brotherhood." An apologetic comment for Gordin, Noakh Prilutski became involved in this matter and made an apologetic comment in his article "M. Lilienlum and Jacob Gordin."

According to Sh.L. Zitron in his memoirs, L. had in Levi's "Folkstsaytung" written about Yiddish theatre in Odessa.

On 12 February 1910 L. passed away in Odessa.

  • Z. Reisen -- "Lexicon of Yiddish Literature," Vol. 2, pp. 154-62.

  • B. Gorin -- "History of Yiddish Theatre," Vol. 1, pp. 31-32; Vol. 2, p. 245.

  • Noakh Prilutski -- "Yiddish Theatre," Vol. 1, pp. 46, 98-101.

  • Sh. Rosenfeld -- "Yiddish History," New York, 1928, Second Part, pp. 282-308.

  • Sh.L. Zitron -- "Three Literary Generations," Vol. 3, p. 155.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 2, page 1084.

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