Even-Zohar, Basmat 1999. “The Construction of Children’s Literature within the Creation of Hebrew Culture in Eretz-Israel”. Thesis Submitted for the Degree “Doctor of Philosophy”, Tel Aviv University.




Thesis Submitted for the Degree “Doctor of Philosophy”




Basmat Even-Zohar





0.1. The Building of Hebrew culture during the First Aliya (the first wave of Jewish immigration to Palestine)


This study examines the building of a literature for children in Palestine between 1880 and 1905. The texts for children, as well as the very creation of Hebrew-language children’s literature in Palestine, are discussed as part of a complex and comprehensive endeavor to establish a new national Hebrew culture in Palestine. This endeavor consisted of a set of actions carried out by a small group of people who committed themselves to planning, creating and marketing this culture through all means that were available to them, as well as through means they invented and manufactured when the need arose. The discussion of the Hebrew literary system for children focuses on the literary repertoires it used and the status of its various models, underlining where it was innovative. Since it has become apparent that all of the activities involved were highly constrained by the “Image of History”, I will focus on describing the group’s historical and historiographic concepts which structured their plan of the new culture. This “image of history” manifested itself in their texts as “awareness of the past” in the broadest sense.

Hebrew literature for children began to develop in Palestine only in the 1880s, although isolated texts for children (such as “chinukhey banim” by Metrani) had been published in Palestine earlier. This literature developed as a result of contact with Hebrew literature for both children and adults, which already began to develop in Europe during the Hebrew Enlightenment period, and also as a result of contact with European literatures. However, its development started from a different point of departure and took a different direction. Its beginning can be found in literary models of an earlier period in the history of Hebrew children’s literature, but along these, it used the most updated literary repertoires of European literatures for children, and quite soon it developed new directions of its own.


Like other children’s literatures, the first stages of Hebrew children’s literature in Palestine seem linked with education. Its first texts were educational – readers and textbooks – followed only later by literary texts for entertainment. However, this process lasted less than ten years – from 1883 (when Eliezer Ben-Yehuda’s geography book appeared), through 1887 (when the first reader for children, by David Yellin and Ben-Yehuda, appeared), until 1892 (when the first story-books by Grazovski, Tzifrin and Yudilovitch, and by Grazovski and Horvitz, were printed).

The authors and their activities can be more adequately described as “cultural enterpreneurs”, who endeavored together toward the construction of the new Hebrew-National culture in Palestine, rather than within narrow bounds of “education” or “children’s literature”. Already at the beginning of the 1880s, a local center emerged in Palestine, socially and culturally involved in local relations amid the Jewish community in Palestine (including the local orthodox community). The center was led by this local group of “entrepreneurs” – Ben-Yehuda, Yellin, Yaavez, Grazovski, Yudilovitch, Tzifrin, Epstein, Belkind and others – who began to develop a local repertoire. For that purpose they established Hebrew education and Hebrew children’s literature in Palestine, made Hebrew the spoken tongue of the new Jewish entity in Palestine, produced a repertoire of new activities for the new culture, such as “singing the songs of Zion” in Hebrew, celebrating new Hebrew holidays and ceremonies, or going on excursions. At the same time, they created the textual repertoire for the literary presentation and distribution of those activities, in texts for both children and adults. It even seems that the “Revival of the Hebrew language” and Hebrew children’s literature in Palestine, successfully marketed to Jewish centers in the Diaspora, played an important role in the development of Hebrew culture and children’s literature there.

The planning and construction of the new culture were complemented by a third activity carried out by the enterpreneurs, namely its distribution. For that purpose they formed associations and activated the children, their pupils, who by speaking Hebrew among themselves and participating in Hebrew activities spread the new repertoire. They also marketed their texts both in Palestine and the Diaspora, and made ample use of the media of the time, especially the periodicals. As part of their distribution efforts, the entrepreneurs also struggled against competing repertoires, both old and new, such as the “religious orthodox” culture of the “old Jewish settlement” (haYishuv haYashan), or the national-religious repertoire.

The texts for children constituted an important factor in the struggle for the making of a new Hebrew culture at the time, first and foremost in the matter of “reviving” Hebrew as a spoken tongue. However, it is difficult to understand their function without considering their context. For example, plays were important not as literary texts, but as central social events by being publicly performed in Hebrew. Similarly, the stories “from the lives of the children in Eretz-Yisrael” did not function as reading matter only, but as proof and evidence – for both internal and external audiences – of the claim that a new “reality”, different than that of the Diaspora, was being created in Palestine. The new repertoire thus helped consolidate a new “identity” for the new Palestinian Jews, and served as propaganda in the Diaspora.

This study focuses on the center in Palestine, but the findings also make it possible to examine processes which took place in the Diaspora. These also suggest a new mapping for the interrelations between the two centers, as far as Hebrew literature for children and the beginning of Hebrew education are concerned.


All the activities and texts created by the cultural enterpreneurs were based on a new concept of “awareness of the Jewish past” (צככֹ 5991: 11). As part of making the new culture, a “new history” was “invented” for what they came to call “the people of Israel”. This new history served as a model for their plan of the future. The enterpreneurs’ plan for “building a national culture” was inspired by the founding of the new European nations, such as Germany, Italy or the Balkan states. Ben-Yehuda specifically mentioned the “liberation” of the Balkan nations, especially Bulgaria, as a model for the Jews (“she’ela nikhbada”, hashachar 1879). “History” was an integral part of the plan, since the enterpreneurs did not convey it through ideological preachings, but via the “image of the national past”. In order to consolidate a nation it was necessary, in their view, to construct a history for it, to declare a Homeland, to set its language and to strive for political independence. In keeping with this, the creators of the new Hebrew culture in Palestine also used history to legitimize their program – to find in it the necessary justification for their cultural choices. Within these concepts, there was admittedly no problem to view the Jews of the time as some sort of collective, but a new need emerged to re-describe them as “the historical people of Israel”. Similarly, in the reality of the time, the “Homeland” was situated in the Ottoman empire, in a geographic area called “Palestine” in European languages of that time[1], but it was presented as Eretz-Yisrael, the “Land of Israel” – Israel and Judea of ancient times. The same holds for language. The language which was presented as “the language of the nation” was Hebrew, because it was considered as the “historical” language of the nation, although the “Nation” did not speak it.

A key-word in this process was “revival”. But the concept of “revival” was only one of the mechanisms through which the enterpreneurs of modern nationalism succeeded in introducing their new inventions into an extant culture. This mechanism was wholly based on the historical aspect: on the image of history which was constructed and distributed in order to replace the current culture (usually called “tradition”), and to market their innovations as if they actually were the “true”, ancient, original and authentic “tradition”. Moreover, in addition to creating a history of “the people of Israel” for earlier periods, they also inserted an instant history of the recent Jewish settlement in Palestine into the continuum of this history. They thus created an immediate historical “myth”, with the intent of presenting their future goals as if they had already been achieved.

Since “history” is not a given inventory of “facts”, existing, as it were, in some “reality”, in order to create the image of the new “history”, the enterpreneurs had to re-arrange the whole inventory of possible “historical” elements. This required not only new interpretations to change the organization of known and accepted “elements”, but also a change in the position of elements and models and the introduction of totally new components, mostly adopted from European models of history and nationalism. The enterpreneurs presented the past in a certain way in order to create symbols for identification. The elements were supposedly “found” in the historical past, but in fact, an amended “image of past” was imbued with values of modern nationalism.

The very claim that there had existed a unified, homogeneous and continuous entity that was “a people of Israel” which had a continuous history since Abraham until the Jews at the end of the 19th century, was itself an invention. Another invention was the complete omission of the activities which for centuries held a central position in Jewish culture – the institution of the Rabbinate, the production and organization of Halakha, the writing of interpretations for the scriptures, the literature of “Questions and Answers”, etc.[2] All these were erased from “history”, to be replaced by activities which were generally considered marginal or negative, such as the migrations to Palestine, the building of places in Palestine in previous centuries (Safed, Tiberias, Jerusalem), the “Jewish kingdoms”, or the phenomena of “False Messiahs”.

Although the texts were written for children, they actually served as a vehicle to help reach adults. The children were a means to spread the new repertoires among their parents, relatives and the general population. For example, plays produced at schools were intended for adult audiences, especially in the new agricultural settlements (Moshavot), where the audience included not only the whole population of the settlement, but guests from neighbouring settlements as well.

In addition, investing in the education of children was clearly the result of the belief that this would raise a new generation of adults, who would realize the new culture. Ben-Yehuda explained quite explicitly that girls must be taught Hebrew so that in due course, when they become mothers, they would raise a whole new generation of Hebrew speaking children. The children were the target – as in any system of education – because they were conceived to be easily molded, in contrast to adults, who were considered difficult to influence.


0.2. Sources and the period studied


This study is based on heterogeneous source materials: the body of texts written by the enterpreneurs, memoirs, research and primary documents (letters, diaries, notes). Both texts and “activities” were analyzed. The latter have been partly researched in studies about “the revival of Hebrew”, or in studies about the development of the “new Jewish settlement in Palestine”, such as the founding of libraries or schools or the purchasing of land.

In order to reconstruct the enterpreneurs’ “image of the past”, I have examined all the texts written for children in Palestine, and those which were part of this endeavor, even if printed elsewhere. The body of texts examined comprises not only stand-alone publications, but also texts and parts of texts included in books, readers and periodicals.

The study concentrates on the first period of the intensive activity for the creation and distribution of the new culture in Palestine through the “image of history” via literature for children, and therefore it covers the period between 1880 and 1905. Though in the lives of the writers, 1905 was an arbitrary point in time, for the creation and the development of the new repertoire it constituted a turning point, and an end of a period.


0.3. The structure of this study


This study is divided into two parts: the first, chapters one to four, presents the enterpreneurs, children’s literature in relation to Hebrew culture both in Palestine and in the Diaspora, the literary texts and repertoires of Hebrew children’s literature in Palestine. The second part, which includes the last five chapters, describes “the image of history” which the enterpreneurs created in children’s literature, and analyzes the way it was used to construct the new Hebrew national identity and culture in Palestine.


Chapter One presents the people who created and distributed the “texts” discussed in this study, and the context in which they operated. Since it is not the people as individuals who are the focus of this study, they are presented as a small group of “cultural enterpreneurs” whose agenda was to consciously and deliberately devise the Hebrew-National culture in Palestine as a new culture, meant to replace the existing Jewish cultures on all levels.

This chapter describes how the enterpreneurs founded an array of institutions and set up operations for the purpose of marketing their newly devised culture. This comprised both social and literary repertoires, and putting these to work in both texts and deeds. The deliberate planning included attempts by the group to institutionalize its team-work by founding associations (such as Bne Brith, Bne Moshe, Safa Berura, the “teachers’ organization” [1891–1896]), and by the use they made of the Hebrew press for adults (especially the Ben-Yehuda press) and for children, which they founded themselves.

In the second decade of their activity, the enterpreneurs succeeded in mobilizing the children as agents for distributing and marketing the new culture among adults, both privately (in their homes and families) and publicly (when the Hebrew schools became the focus of Hebrew activity in Jaffa and the villages).

The familial aspect of the enterpreneurs’ activity surfaced already in the close family contacts among the small group of enterpreneurs: Eliezer Ben-Yehuda included both of his wives (who were sisters[3]) and his children, in all his activities and in his plan to maintain “a Hebrew home”; he was later joined by his father-in-law. One of the first decisions in the history of the new culture was the decision of the first “four families” to follow Ben-Yehuda and speak only Hebrew at home (Horvitz, Grazovski, Yudilovitch and Meyuhas). Yaavez, Pines, Yellin and Meyuhas were relatives, and so were the Belkinds and the Yudilovitches. The whole Belkind family took part in the Hebrew and educational endeavor: father, sons and daughter. Grazovski and Press both married their students of Hebrew, who also published texts for children in Hebrew in the first Hebrew periodical for children, Olam Qaton of Jerusalem (1893). Yudilovitch and Yellin founded the first Hebrew kindergartens in Palestine, to which they sent their own children. Thanks to their children who came home from kindergarten conversing in Hebrew, Yellin and his wife also began to speak it as the domestic tongue. Even Olam Qatan in Warsaw, the children’s periodical with the strong “Eretz-Yisrael” links, was a family project: the editors and publishers, Ben-Avigdor and Gordon (“Shalag”) were brothers-in-law, Ben-Avigdor’s brother, the writer “Salmon”, participated in the periodical, and so did both of Gordon’s sons, who initiated a zealous correspondence among the young readers of the periodical. The children of Epstein, Yudilovitch, Yellin and Grazovski from Palestine participated in it by letter, while their fathers participated as writers.

In contrast to the Diaspora, then, where the making of the new Hebrew culture was an almost exclusively male project, which mainly remained in the realm of texts for adults and schools for children, the new culture in Palestine succeeded in becoming the reality of the entire population because it “invaded” the home, the family, the women and children, thus creating authentic habitats of “Hebrew life”, which influenced their surroundings by the example they gave. However, in Palestine, too, as long as Hebrew was only a language studied at school, i.e., during the 1880s and until about the middle of the 1890s, the new culture had no tangible accomplishments. Only after it transcended the realm of schools and started to be used in actual life situations, did it become a living reality.


Chapter Two presents Hebrew children’s literature in Palestine between 1880 and 1905. In these years, and even until the beginning of the 1920s, the center of Hebrew children’s literature was still in Europe, though first signs of crisis appeared there in the first decade of the 20th century, and were augmented during the second decade. Although many publishing houses and periodicals for children were founded in Europe during this period, they all shortly closed down. The blossoming turned out to be an illusion, because the target audience – thousands of students of Hebrew in Eastern Europe – scarcely consumed the literature written for them. In Palestine, this period was a time of crystallization, with a complex relationship with the Diaspora, still without a distinct boundary between education and children’s literature or between literature and press for adults and literature and press for children.

In addition to creating a public Hebrew social activity, the enterpreneurs initially created Hebrew children’s texts of different kinds – for study and reading – which were initially based on existing repertoires, such as the Bible, the Talmud or the moralistic literature of the Enlightenment period. However, they very soon began to develop a new literary repertoire which also created “the new life that is forming in Palestine”, according to the enterpreneurs’ Plan.


Chapter Three focuses on the body of texts which were written in Palestine: readers and textbooks, belletristics and periodicals, and the literary texts they encompassed: stories, poems, fables, legends or “moralisms”. The chapter also discusses the question of translation and its position within Hebrew children’s literature in Palestine, which is linked to the question of the available reading material for Hebrew reading children in Palestine at the time.


Chapter Four focuses exclusively on the “original” texts, because it was only from these texts that original Hebrew children’s literature actually emerged in Palestine.

Many discussions of children’s literature bring up the image of the “Eretz-Yisraeli child” in the context of the question of what literature “befits” the children of the Land of Israel. This image, interpreted within nationalistic concepts, actually related to two distinct aspects: (a) The Hebrew child as different from the Jewish child in the Diaspora, who therefore needs literature different from that of the Diaspora; (b) The ideal of “the Hebrew child”, who was to be created in Palestine. On one hand, there was an attempt to fulfill the needs of actual children, though within the Hebrew national perception of these needs. On the other, there was an attempt to create a model of “a Hebrew child” in children’s literature, in the assumption that children in Palestine would be molded according to it.

A repertoire of elements conceived by both writers and readers as “Eretz-Yisraeli” was created in order to shape the Hebrew language, life in Hebrew Palestine and “the New Hebrew” literary characters. Among these elements we find the following: (1) Hebrew language which determined the speech of the characters, their names, their games and their studies; (2) the background and the setting of the stories taking place in Palestine, especially the emphasis on outdoor life, replacing the Diaspora indoor-setting; (3) the characters, who replaced the character repertoire of Diaspora literature by characters of “Hebrew speaking Eretz-Yisraeli children, free and confident, mischievous and anchored in the land”; (4) the new activities, which quickly became symbols of “the new life that is being created in Palestine”: the excursions into the country, the singing of “songs of Zion” in Hebrew, and the new Hebrew holidays, where the historical and agricultural aspects were emphasized instead of the religious and traditional ones; (5) history, manifested in an obligatory linkage of every place and action to the ancient history of “the people of Israel” in the “Land of Israel”, or to the immediate historical past of the new settlement in Palestine. It was also manifested in a literary model which had to include in each prose fiction piece for children at least one “story” from ancient history and at least one “story” from the history of the new settlement.

In this way, Hebrew children’s literature of the First Aliya created the models for the use of the new culture developing in Palestine, not only in the children’s system, but also in the entire culture. It subsequently distributed these to the Diaspora as symbols of “Eretz-Yisrael” and as testimony to the success of the national and cultural program to create “a new generation”.


Chapter Five presents a general view of the “image of history” that the entrepreneurs constructed, as a framework for the detailed discussion of its major components in the following chapters: the nation, the homeland, political independence, and the alternative History Model of religious nationalism, whose main representative was Zeev Yaavez. It also discusses the choice of Hebrew as the language of the “Nation”, in the context of the national program and the use of “the image of history”. The struggle for Hebrew was part of the attempt to promote the new national concept, and the use of the term “the revival of Hebrew” reflected the entrepreneurs’ “image of history”. Hebrew was conceived of as the historical language, which used to be “the people’s language” during its ancient, glorious past in its own country. This “reconstructed” past served as a model to be implemented in the future, which is why they used the term “revival” in their time.


Chapter Six discusses the re-writing of “the history of the people of Israel” that was meant to prove that the Jews were a “nation” in the modern sense. In their texts, the entrepreneurs presented an entity called “the people of Israel”, for which they created a “national” history, based on the history narrated in the Bible (Old Testament). They avoided the use of the term “Jews”, which due to non-national concepts might have insinuated a split between the “Jews” of the end of the 19th century and the “children of Israel” of ancient times. They chose the name “Israel” also to emphasize the link between “the nation” and its “homeland”, which was called “the Land of Israel”, not “the Land of the Jews”. Their view of all Jews, throughout their history, as belonging to one nation, a unified and continuous national entity, stands out as unique against the background of similar texts written in the Diaspora at that time. They used the Bible as a source for legitimation and as a historiographical source to prove the existence of the nation, and to show the connection between the various contemporary Jewish communities through their shared ancient past. However, they made one change in the biblical tale, when they invented a new model for “the beginning of history”, which started with the creation of the “nation” at the Exodus from Egypt, which replaced the traditional model which started with the creation of the world. The conceptual change regarding such a critical moment in the national history is also related to the propaganda for immigration to Palestine, because, according to the new historical point of beginning, the creation of the nation was an act of leaving “exile” and “returning” to the homeland.


Chapter Seven discusses the means the entrepreneurs used in their attempts to instill patriotic values in children through the “image of history”. The historical tale focussed on the Land of Israel through the ages, and the historical models provided the ideal of the “homeland” for the purpose of its realization in the near future. As part of the presentation of Palestine as the “national homeland”, special emphasis was placed on the history of Jewish immigrations to it. In this respect, the period of the “Return to Zion” (Shivat Zion) to build the second temple (538 B.C.) assumed a special status since it was viewed as the ancient historical equivalent of the modern act. Since the “Return to Zion” was the beginning of the period of the Second Temple, the analogy to their own time created the impression that their time was the beginning of the period of “the Third Temple”.


Chapter Eight discusses the use of history for the sake of creating the aspiration for political freedom for the Jews in Palestine. The aspiration for national independence was expressed by emphasizing those chapters or events in history which could be interpreted as a state of independence or a struggle to achieve one. The “aspiration for freedom” also resulted in making heroes of those who labored for it, or for any independent Jewish rule. In the same way, persons who seemed to offend “freedom”, in the entrepreneurs’ opinion, were criticized. Still others were presented as if they upheld the “value of freedom”, even though their actions would not support such an interpretation. The “desire for freedom” was also stated explicitly in the authors’ forewords, in chapters of history and in literary texts, and described in various ways as a value long-held by the Jews. This was done in order to create the impression that it had always been legitimate and consensual, although of all the principles of the new Hebrew culture, this was perhaps the only one which was totally new, and totally imported from modern secular European nationalism.

In connection with “the desire for freedom”, at the beginning of the 1880s Eliezer Ben-Yehuda already initiated the replacement of the accepted Jewish calendar, which begins with the Creation of the World according to a Rabbinical medieval calculation, with a new one, which begins to count the years from the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 (the entrepreneurs initially dated it 68 AD). The date “since our exile” or “since the destruction of our Temple”, intended to replace the traditional Jewish calendar, indicated (a) that political independence was the most important factor for them, so much so that its loss constituted a reason to start a new count. A new count beginning with the loss of freedom also embodied the expectations for the return of political independence; (b) the concept that the new Jewish settlement in contemporary Palestine represented a revolution in Jewish history, the beginning of a new era which would create in Palestine a state for the Nation, similar to the change of calendar at the French revolution. It seems that all European cultures in the 19th century attributed symbolic meaning to the calendar and its replacement was viewed as a choice denoting revolution, value change and the beginning of a new era. The new Hebrew culture, however, did not offer a new count beginning with the new era, but chose a founding event from ancient Jewish history instead.


Chapter Nine presents the alternative model to the new Hebrew culture, created by Zeev Yaavez, an exceptional figure among the enterpreneurs. In the national Hebrew culture that Yaavez suggested, Jewish religion and God played a central role, while the desire for political independence was subdued. Four test-cases – the return to Zion, the revolt of the Maccabeans, the calendar and the poet Yehuda Halevi – are discussed in this chapter to illustrate his ideas, in comparison and contradistinction to the “secular” Hebrew nationalism propagated by the majority of entrepreneurs.


0.4. Conclusion


Since this work focuses on the repertoires created by the “entrepreneurs of Hebrew culture”, it necessarily emphasizes the work of the entrepreneurs, the social activities of the new culture, the new literary repertoire, and the new “history” they invented. To avoid the impression that these actions were made in a vacuum, and that the construction of the new culture was the only or even the central process which took place in the Jewish settlement in Palestine at that period, attention is often drawn throughout this study to the broad context in which these changes were taking place, and especially to the following factors:

(a) The existence of various groups of people who actively objected to the attempts to introduce the new culture, who at that time were the majority in the country (the people of “the old Jewish community” [haYishuv haYashan], and most of the people of “the new settlement”, who did not intend to replace the traditional Jewish culture they were familiar with).

(b) The relations among the entrepreneurs, and especially the gradual crystallization of two distinct national concepts: the more secular majority-concept, and the minority religious one.

(c) The existence of several competing literary repertoires, of which some served the entrepreneurs to create Hebrew children’s literature, and some were only a source for the texts which were available for reading in Hebrew as well as in other languages. The new Eretz-Yisraeli repertoire thus becomes at the same time more conspicuous, set against the background of the dominant “Enlightenment” literature, and assumes a humbler position.

* * *


The entrepreneurs spread their ideas via the educational system, the associations and the press they founded, via their textual activity and via the organization of culture in the new community in general and in the moshavot (the new agricultural settlements) in particular, both in Palestine and in the Diaspora. This took place first and foremost in the children’s system (including in the training of school and kindergarten teachers). In this way, they influenced the development of Hebrew culture in the Diaspora as well: whether in their books, which were studied at Hebrew classes, or by spreading their methods of teaching “Hebrew in Hebrew”, or by being a living model of the feasibility of a living Hebrew culture in Palestine.

Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize that their activity was local, and that their interest was in Palestine alone. This is particularly conspicuous in “the image of history” they created. They had no interest in the history of Jews in Europe per se; only as steps on the way to the renewal of the Jewish community in Palestine at their time. They had no interest in Jewish solidarity per se, except as a step on the way to gathering all Jews in the Land of Israel. The Diaspora Jews interested them only as candidates for immigrating to Palestine.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, in the first years of the “Second Aliya”, a new group of capable and charismatic teachers arrived in Palestine and eventually took over from the first entrepreneurs. Though they came quite experienced from the Diaspora, they actually continued to develop the new culture according to the principles which had already been formed by their predecessors, since those who came with the “Second Aliya” did not fight Hebrew culture, but already came as its supporters and fans. This shift was possible because there was no split between the groups, and since the entrepreneurs had by then already marketed their concepts and deeds to the Diaspora during the preceding thirty years.

The activities and literary repertoire invented by the entrepreneurs of the “First Aliya” continued to gather strength during the period of the “Second Aliya” and became cultural assets of the new Hebrew culture, not only at school but throughout society, and continued to flourish in the repertoire of Hebrew children’s literature at least until the 1960s.



[1] This area only partly overlapped with the district of the Ottoman empire called [in translation] “Palestine”.

[2] Compare: Drory 1988.

[3] He married his sister-in-law after the death of his first wife.