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From E.Segal (Calgary University)

The most ingenious ruse for circumventing the government al objections was surely that of Alexander Zederbaum, editor of the weekly Ha-Melitz. After squeezing out permission to print his periodical in Odessa in Hebrew and Hebrew-lettered German (but not in the despised Yiddish!), he was dismayed to discover that Odessa had neither a resident censor nor a printing press, and that the need to send the copy to Zhitomir for typesetting, and afterwards to Kiev for censorship, rendered the process impossibly cumbersome.

By seizing an opportune moment, however, Zederbaum was able to realize his dream of printing Ha-Melitz in Odessa.

In 1860, to mark the anniversary of Czar Alexander II's coronation, he composed a Hebrew ode that he had translated into German and sent to the Czar, accompanied by a humble request for permission to publish the patriotic masterpiece in the journal Ha-Melitz in Odessa. The Czar graciously agreed.

Now that His Majesty himself had consented to the request, it became necessary for there to be a newspaper named Ha-Melitz, and that it be published in Odessa!

Thus, the governor-general could not object to the Jewish newspaper without finding himself in disobedience to the Czar. Therefore, he quickly appointed a local censor, while Zederbaum arranged with the local German printer to handle Hebrew print jobs.

And that was how the first Hebrew newspaper was established in Russia.


Zederbaum, Aleksander

(Courtesy: The Yivo Encyclopedis of Jews of Eastern Europe)

(1816–1893), editor and journalist. Aleksander Zederbaum was born in Zamość, Poland. After marrying in 1835, he moved to Lublin, and then in 1840 to Odessa, where he initially worked as a bookkeeper. He soon became a tailor and opened his own shop. In Odessa, Zederbaum associated with local maskilim, was involved in community affairs, and helped to found a school for adults. With Aharon Yitsḥak Goldenblum, he founded Ha-Melits (The Advocate), the first Hebrew weekly periodical in tsarist Russia (eventually it became a daily). The first issue appeared on 11 October 1860, and Zederbaum remained as the paper’s publisher and editor for the rest of his life. In 1871, he moved with the editorial offices to Saint Petersburg.

In October 1862, Zederbaum began to publish the weekly Kol mevaser (The Herald)—Russia’s first Yiddish newspaper—as a supplement to Ha-Melits. In 1869, Kol mevaser became an independent weekly until 1872, when it ceased publication with Zederbaum’s move to the capital. From 1871 to 1873, Zederbaum also published a Jewish weekly in Russian, Vestnik russkikh evreev. However, in 1873 all of his papers ceased publication because of financial difficulties.

When publishing commenced again in 1878, Zederbaum established a new Russian newspaper, Razsvet (Dawn) and resumed production of Ha-Melits. In Saint Petersburg, he published Dos yudishes folks-blat, a Yiddish-language weekly, between 1881 and 1887. In Ha-Melits, Zederbaum polemicized with the antisemitic Russian press. Following pogroms in 1881–1882, the paper gradually became associated with the platform of the Ḥoveve Tsiyon movement, reflecting Zederbaum’s personal involvement with early Zionism.

In addition to his work in journalism and Zionist activities, Zederbaum published a number of books: Ben ha-metsarim (In the Straits; 1867), a story about life in Poland; Motar ha-adam min ha-behemah (Man’s Preeminence over Beast; 1868); Keter kehunah (Crown of Priesthood; 1868), which included a critical history of Hasidism; and Di geheymnise fun Barditshev (The Secrets of Berdichev; 1870), an exposé in Yiddish about the Jewish community in Berdichev.

Aleksander Zederbaum died in Saint Petersburg. His grandchildren, L. (Iulii) Martov and Lidiia Dan, gained prominence as leaders of the Russian socialist movement.

Author:Oded Menda-Levy
Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann