LEBENSOHN, ABRAHAM DOB BÄR BEN ḤAYYIM (surnamed Michailishker; pseudonym, Adam):

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Russian Hebraist, poet, and grammarian; born in Wilna, Russia, about 1789; died there Nov. 19, 1878. Like all Jewish boys of that time in Russia he was educated as a Talmudist, but became interested in Hebrew grammar and punctuation when, at the age of eleven, he was instructed in reading in public the weekly portions of the Law. He was married, according to the custom of those times, as soon as he had celebrated his bar miẓwah; and he spent the following eight years with his wife's parents in Michailishok, government of Wilna. This gave him the surname "Michailishker," by which he was popularly known; and it also accounts for the last letter in his pen-name "Adam" (formed from the initials of Abraham Dob Michailishker), while the family name "Lebensohn," which he adopted, is a literal translation of "ben Ḥayyim." He afterward lived about four years in Osmiyany, in the government of Wilna, where he attempted to establish himself as a merchant. He was now an accomplished rabbinic scholar; but he devoted most of his leisure time to the study of Hebrew poetical and grammatical works. On returning to his native city, where he remained for the rest of his life, he engaged in teaching, a profession which he followed until his old age, except for about fifteen years in which he was engaged in the business of a broker.

Abraham Lebensohn.As Poet.

His first poetical work to be published was the "Shir Ḥabibim" (Wilna, 1822), in honor of the marriage of Count Tyszkiewicz, one of the most powerful noblemen of Lithuania. It was followed by "Ebel Kabed" (ib. 1825), an elegy on the death of R. Saul Katzenellenbogen; this established the author's reputation as a Hebrew poet. The publication of the first volume of his poetry, entitled "Shire Sefat Ḳodesh" (Leipsic, 1842; 2d ed. Wilna, 1863), marks the beginning of a new epoch in Neo-Hebrew literature in Russia. It is the first poetical work of the rejuvenated literature that can be favorably compared with the works of that nature which were produced in western European countries. It was received with unbounded enthusiasm. Thousands of young men in sympathy with the Haskalah movement, of which Lebensohn became the leading exponent in Lithuania, learned to recite the songs of "Shire Sefat Ḳodesh" by heart; and the fame of the author spread to all centers of Hebrew learning.

When Sir Moses Montefiore visited Wilna in 1846 Lebensohn prepared for his perusal an article on the condition of the Jews in Russia and the means by which it was to be improved. This interestingdocument, embodying the views held by the Maskilim of that period, summarized the evils from which the Jews suffered and boldly stated that they were themselves to blame for their troubles. Lack of education and of skill in handicrafts, too early marriages, the ignorance of the rabbis and teachers, and extravagance were described as the four "abot neziḳin" or chief faults; and relief was proposed, as was customary in those times, through governmental intervention (see I. M. Dick, "Ha-Oraḥ," and Lebensohn, "Yeter Shire Adam," pp. 67 et seq.).

As Commentator.

In 1848 Lebensohn was made one of the principal teachers in the newly established rabbinical school of Wilna, a position which he creditably filled for nearly twenty years, until he was forced by age and impaired eyesight to relinquish it. He was succeeded by his son-in-law Joshua Steinberg. In 1848, too, he began, conjointly with the bibliographer Benjacob, the publication of a new edition of the Bible, with a German translation, himself adding valuable glosses to the "bi'ur" ("Miḳra'e Ḳodesh," Wilna, 1848-53). Some of his commentaries on the Bible were later printed separately as a supplement to that edition ("Bi'urim Ḥadashim," ib. 1858). A second volume of "Shire Sefat Ḳodesh" appeared in Wilna in 1856 (2d ed., ib. 1869); and in 1869 was published "Yeter Shire Adam," the third volume of the same work, containing also poems written by his son Micah Joseph Lebensohn. The most important of his later works are the allegorical drama "Emet we-Emunah" (ib. 1867; 2d ed., ib. 1870), which has for its theme the harmonization of science and religion; and "Yitron le-Adam" (ib. 1874), a commentary on Ben-Ze'eb's well-known Hebrew grammar, "Talmud Leshon 'Ibri," with which it has been often reprinted. A new edition of the three volumes of "Shire Sefat Ḳodesh" appeared in Wilna in 1895.

Lebensohn was the author of several other, unimportant, works and of numerous articles in the periodicals. He exercised almost as much influence by his powerful personality as by his literary efforts, and was recognized in his later years as the pioneer of haskalah in northwestern Russia. The Maskilim of Wilna considered themselves as his pupils, while the fanatics saw in him the embodiment of all the objectionable features of the progressist movement.

He had two sons, Micah Joseph, cited above, and Aryeh Löb, who was a prominent business man in Wilna.

  • Fuenn, Safah le-Ne'emanim, pp. 156-158, Wilna, 1881;
  • idem, Keneset Yisrael, pp. 36-37;
  • Gordon, in Yevreiskaya Biblioteka, viii. 160-177;
  • Mandelkern, in Ha-Asif, iii. 417-425;
  • Zeitlin, Bibl. Post-Mendels. pp. 192-194.
H. R. P. Wi.
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