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Haim Nahman Bialik

1873 - 1934.

Source: National Photo Collection of Israel.

Haim Nahman Bialik was a Jewish poet who wrote in Hebrew and Yiddish and was one of the pioneers of modern Hebrew poetry.


Being a noted essayist and storyteller, he also translated major European works. Even though Bialik died before Israel became a state, he was later recognized as Israel's national poet.


Haim Nahman Bialik was born in Radi, in the Russian Empire. After his father's death, he moved to Zhytomyr to live with his Orthodox grandfather and received a traditional Jewish religious education. However, he also explored European literature and was attracted to the Jewish Enlightenment movement.


At 18, he moved to Odessa, the center of modern Jewish culture in the southern Russian Empire. There, he studied Russian and German language and literature and became involved in the Hovevei Zion movement. He greatly appreciated Ahad Ha'am, who significantly influenced his Zionist outlook.


Alone and needy, he made his living teaching Hebrew.

His first poem, El Hatzipor ("To the Bird"), published in 1892, eased Bialik's way into Jewish literary circles in Odessa. The poem is written in accordance with the Ashkenazi pronunciation and expresses a longing for Jerusalem.

This dedicated article will give you more context about this poem, and you can see on this YouTube video one of its interpretations, by Avishai Cohen.


He married Manya Averbuch and worked as a bookkeeper and Hebrew teacher in various places before returning to Odessa in 1900.


For the next two decades, Bialik taught and continued his activities in Zionist and literary circles, as his reputation and fame continued to rise. This is considered Bialik's "golden period". In 1901 his first collection of poetry was published in Warsaw and received critical acclaim. He was hailed "the poet of national Renaissance." Bialik relocated to Warsaw briefly in 1904 as literary editor of the weekly magazine HaShiloah founded by Ahad Ha'am, a position he served for six years.

In the early 20th century, Ravnitzky, Simcha Ben Zion, Elhanan Levinsky, and Bialik founded a Hebrew publishing house, Moriah. This house issued Hebrew classics and school texts. He translated into Hebrew various European works, such as Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Miguel De Cervantes's novel Don Quixote.

Between 1899 and 1915, Bialik published around 20 Yiddish poems in various periodicals in the Russian Empire. He also worked on "Sefer HaAggadah", a three-volume collection of folk tales and proverbs from the Talmud, which was widely praised. Bialik edited Ibn Gabirol's poems and began a modern commentary on the Mishnah. Bialik also added several commentaries to the Talmud.


In 1919 in Odessa, he was also able to found the Dvir publishing house, which would later become famous. This publishing house, now based in Israel, still exists, but is now known as Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir.


In 1924, Bialik moved to Tel Aviv with his publishing house Dvir, and focused on cultural and public affairs. He became a literary figure. He headed the Hebrew Writers Union and founded the Oneg Shabbat Society, promoting Shabbat observance (with singing and Torah studies). He believed that public observance of the Sabbath was essential to the preservation of the Jewish people, even though he wasn't religious in his personal life.


In Tel Aviv, Bialik built an original and special house. Construction and maintenance were expensive, and the house almost impoverished him. Historical evidence describes Bialik as a man who didn't like the house he built. He found himself living inside a building that was a kind of Mediterranean palace, but one that took a lot of energy from him. Only after his death, the house became a memorial place.


Bialik died in Vienna, Austria, on July 4, 1934, from a sudden heart attack. He was buried in Tel Aviv, and as you can see on this YouTube video, a large mourning procession followed from his home on the street named after him to his final resting place.


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