10 Things You Need to Know About… David Frischmann

1.  He was born in Poland near Lodz in 1859 and at an early age showed literary talent.  At fifteen, he published both a sonnet translated into Hebrew from Heine’s German and an original short story in Hebrew.

2.  He studied philology, philosophy and history of art at the University of Breslau.

3.  His first volume of short stories highlighted Jewish characters in conflict with the attitudes and traditions of their society – a rabbi who smokes on Shabbat; an accomplished singer who abandons her people for a career.

4.  Though he never made aliyah, he visited Palestine twice, once in 1911 and again in 1912, and published The Land of Israel in 1913 – writing with enormous feeling about the land, its holy places, the pioneers and the beginnings of the revival of spoken Hebrew, about which he’d been tepid before his trips.

5.  He was not an observant Jew.  He thought one should act according to his own conscience, rather than religious law or tradition.  He did not believe that Judaism could be adapted to the spirit of his time.

6.  Nonetheless, he identified with Abraham as an iconoclast, one who strikes out on his own rather than following the old ways.

courtesy of EAC Gallery

Courtesy of EAC Gallery

7.  Frischmann was an innovator in style, structure and content who achieve literary fame.  Devoted to literature, he refused to employ his pen for political purposes, which he considered petty.  His “Letters Concerning Literature” is one of the foundations texts of modern Hebrew literary criticism.

8.  Throughout his literary career, he produced superb translations into Hebrew: of George Eliot, Pushkin, Byron, Neitsche and Hans Christian Andersen; of Goethe, Oscar Wilde, Anatole France and Shakespeare, and even a magnificent rendering of the poetry of Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore.

9.  Bar Midbar, published in 1923, was a collection of stories written in biblical style and language, set in the desert following the Exodus from Egypt.  The tales highlight the quandary of the Israelites, torn between their familiar habits and lusts on the one hand, and the new moral law that has been given to them on the other.  I have not been able to find evidence that these stories were ever translated into English. If somebody out there knows differently, please leave a comment.

10.  He died and was buried in Berlin, August 1922 .

Here is an early poem:

I shall not go with them, I shall not go; their ways are not mine,
I cannot bear their prattle, their expressions, their talk or their conversation.
I cannot tolerate their ways, their manners, or their thoughts,
Their prophets are not my prophets, their angels are not my angels.
Thoughts repel me, thoughts without minds,
I detest feelings, feelings without hearts.

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