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AKSENFELD, ISRAEL:

A Judæo-German writer; born in Russia in the last quarter of the eighteenth century; died about 1868. He passed the first period of his life among the Ḥasidim, being himself a disciple of R. Naḥman Bratzlaver (of Bratzlav) and the companion of Nathan Bratzlaver, the editor and publisher of Naḥman's works. Later he abandoned his early associations, and removed to Odessa. By self-education he acquired a wide knowledge of law, literature, and science. He practised as a notary public, and was also a prolific writer of fiction. Like nearly all Russo-Jewish novelists, Aksenfeld was a realist. He derived the themes of his works from contemporary Jewish life, describing with the pen of an artist the conditions, manners, and customs of the Russian ghetto at the beginning of the eventful reign of Czar Nicholas I. He was the author of about twenty works, of which only five—one novel and four dramas—were printed; the others are still in manuscript, in the possession of a Polish family in St. Petersburg; and it is hoped they may soon be published. The most important of his dramatic works is "Der Erste Jüdische Rekrut," 1862, a tragedy which presents a remarkably vivid picture of the terrible commotion in the Russian ghetto when, in 1827, the ukase compelling the Jews to do military service was enforced for the first time. His novel, "Das Sterntüchel," describes the seamy side of Ḥasidism, its intolerance, bigotry, and hypocrisy, and contrasts it with the fair-mindedness and honesty of progressive Judaism.

Bibliography:
  • Gottlober, in Jüdische Volksbibliothek, Kiev, 1888, p. 258;
  • Lerner, Kriticheskij Razbor Sochineni I Aksenfeld, Odessa, 1868;
  • L. Rosenthal, Toledot Hebrat Marbe Haskalah, i. 6, ii. 21, St. Petersburg, 1885-1890.
H. R.
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