Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Moshe Zeifert


Born on 9 May 1851 in Vilkomir, Kovno Gubernia, Lita (Lithuania). His father was a meshkhil, a feldsher (old-time barber surgeon), who gave him a traditional Jewish education, leaving him to learn in cheders and with religious teachers, and also he became familiar with the Hebrew Haskalah literature at his own library.

At the age of ten, Z. together with his family, moved to Shverzne, Minsk Gubernia, where he further learned Gemorah and read the Hebrew press, and already at the age of thirteen he printed correspondences in "HaCarmel", then popular scientific articles in the periodic Hebrew editions.

Later Z. entered into the Volozhin yeshiva, but he was soon was excluded from there, because he was caught reading "Trfh psul". In 1873 Z. stopped working in Kovno as a feldsher, practicing in Sherzne, and found the opportunity to become a writer. In 1883 Z. published his first novel in Yiddish. In 1886 he immigrated to America, where he entered into the former weekly page in Yiddish and also wrote correspondences in Russian newspapers in Russia. Then he published in "NED. KhRON VOSKhODA" a long article about Yiddish theatre in America.


In order to better his material condition, Z. decided -- that he related in his history of the Yiddish theatre -- to become a dramatist and he took for himself a sample of the then Yiddish dramaturgy of Lateiner and Hurwitz.

Z.'s first play was a vision of American Jewish life "Di tsvey grinhorns (The Two Greenhorns)", but soon he took on the historical texts and composed the operetta, "Miriam hkhshmunis". The former Yiddish dramatists, who also were partners in the direction of the theatres, decided not to stage Z.'s play, and initially in 1890 his operetta "Miriam hkhshunis" was staged at the Thalia Theatre, and it soon made a name for him as a dramatist.

On 24 October 1890, Z.'s lebensbild "Der shloser" (probably "Di tsvey grinhorns (The Two Greenhorns)") was staged in the Roumanian Opera House, and on 25 December 1890 -- his "historical Polish opera -- the Yiddish Folk Colonel" [Berek Yoselevish], music by Mogulesko and Minkovsky.

In 1891 there was staged Z.'s play "Titus", or "Khurbn bit shni", in 1892 his plays: "Shumr israel", "Geheymnis fun rusishn hoyf", "Shibs tsion", 'Di drey trern", "Ger tsadik", or "Graf Potosky", and "Dos kind in vald"; in 1893: "Gburi israel", "Di bt ikhidh" or "New York veynt un veynt", a translation of Schiller's "The Robbers", and on 24 November of the same year (in his "History of the Yiddish Theatre, Z. laughs at that earlier adaptation).

In 1894 there were staged: "Kroynprints rudolf (Crown Price Rudolf)", or "Di yidn in estreykh (The Jew in Austria)", an adaptation from Schiller's "Maria Stuart", and "Don Karlos", and on 9 February of the same year (in the Thalia Theatre), "R' Meir Bel hns", or "Di melukha fun tsezeria", a "historical legend in five acts" (after Schiller's "Turandot").

In 1895: "Di idishe trilbi", (adapted by  A. Marier) and "Der Nakht-vekhter"; in 1896 -- the "original sensational operetta of American life -- the Yiddish Colonist" and "Galut moskva", in 1898 -- a free translation of Sardou's ''Théodora'', in 1900 -- "Freie libe" or "Di nekomeh fun a froy", in 1901-- Shabat yehuda" or "Der revolutsyoner", on 13 February 1902 -- "Zandas hokhtseyt" or "Der prokuror als farteydiker -- Hungarian lebensbild in four acts" (adapted from the drama "Nunta di valeni"), 1904 -- "Moshe rabeinu" or "Di yidn in der mdbr", 1906 -- (in the Grand Theatre) the operetta "Mlkha shba" [adapted from by Sholem Perlmutter as a play of Z.'s one-acter "Ush bkhl alf la mtsasi"], and in 1909 the very popular operetta "Dos pintele yid" [later performed under the name of the the adaptor Thomashefsky].

Z. also adapted from the German a play "Der sibirnik", which Feinman had once again adapted and staged under his [P.'s] name as "30 yor unter der erd".

B. Gorin characterized Z.'s dramaturgy as such [poor translation here -ed.]: "Z. has melded his shtiks into the same part, whereas the shtiks from each time then became melded. He followed the same path that the earlier dramatic writers in New York had followed. He had perhaps in his historical shtiks kept more of the history and his lebensbilds perhaps wasn't lebervurst as well as the others, but he also didn't have his material... M. Zeifert also deserves attention due to the fact that he was he was one of the first who had translated classical plays for the Yiddish stage."

Z. had in a collection "Di idishe bine" (New York 1897) published a large work [47 pages] under the name of "The History of Yiddish Theatre", where he studied with sarcasm and humor the history of the Yiddish theatre of Goldfaden until the year 1897. This work soon thereof was published in a special edition. In this history Z. characterized his own dramaturgical work in the following way:

"I am a teacher, that I am a "ganev (thief)", that is, everyone of my plays are adequate for khprus point as the plays of the other composer. I am not prouder tonight with them, because I know that I have created nothing".

In the same collection he also published a long article "Di idishe bine un ihr tsukunft", and in "Lukh akhiebr" (New York Srp'a) a large Hebrew article about Yiddish theatre.

Since 1909 Z. withdrew from his theatrical activities, and he only gives himself to his work in Yiddish literature, especially journalistic.

On 7 February 1922, Z. passed away in New York.

  • Zalmen Reyzen -- "Lexicon of Yiddish Literature", Vol. I, pp. 1065-9.

  • B. Gorin -- "History of Yiddish Theatre", Vol. II, pp. 66, 88-99, 182, 204, 269, 277.

  • M. Zeifert -- Di geshikhte fun idishen theater ("Di idishe bine", N. Y., 1897, editor Chanan Y. Minikes.)

  • M. Zeifert -- Lsuldus khsiatrun hisudi (Prk mzkhrunusi), "Loch Akhiebr", Eruk el "d" M. Lipson, N. Y., Trp'a, pp. 134-150.

  • B. Gorin -- "Gezamelte shriften", N. Y., 1927, vol. I, pp. 56-7.

  • Sholem Perlmutter -- Idisher dramaturgen, "Di idishe velt", Cleeveland, 9, 10, December 1928.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 1, page 772.

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