Literature and Hebrew

Literary Work

Jabotinsky was influenced by the multi-cultural and cosmopolitan atmosphere that characterized Odessa, city of his birth. His literary oeuvre extended over many literary genres, including: novel, drama, poetry, literary criticism and feuilleton – a genre that especially characterized him and in which he saw art for art's sake. He even composed an autobiography.

In literature and art, the intellectual Jabotinsky perceived tools to educate the people. He viewed art as an educator and designer of the individual and the social image and saw the artist as a leader with a mission. Art lifts man to a higher spiritual and ethical plane; "art is a reflection of life, the summation of their uniqueness", he would say. He wrote in many languages, among them: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, Russian and German, and translated numerous works from Western literature into Hebrew. For good reason, he chose to translate "Spartacus" by Rafael Giovanoli from Italian, which reflects the spirit of the rebellion for national liberation, as well as "The Raven" and "Annabel Lee" by Edgar Allan Poe. He also translated sections of "Faust" by Goethe, and Bialik's poems to Russian. His translation of Poe's "The Raven" became a classic work and is included in educational books in Israel's schools.

The historical novel "Samson" written by Jabotinsky in 1927, in which he sketches the image of the new Jewish type, reflects his Jewish-Zionist-Revisionist world. Samson is presented as a national hero with a mission, connected to his own people but, simultaneously, drawn to the gentile world. The book is intended as the first of a Biblical trilogy. Another important novel by Jabotinsky is "The Five", published in 1936. The book describes Russian Jewish life through an assimilated Jewish family – the Milgrom family from Odessa. The story follows the disintegration of the family against the background of a description of the period at the end of the 19th century, emphasizing the problem of anti-Semitism. Jabotinsky specialized in writing short stories, characterized by realistic descriptions of daily life. In his eyes, theater was strong art no less than literature, but the loftiest art form was music, the only one "capable of capturing the entire human soul and expressing both happiness and sorrow, joy and grief".

Within literature, poetry, according to Jabotinsky, was infinitely superior to prose.  "Art, I call, only the art of the poet," he declared. He contributed to the development of new Hebrew poetry. His nationalist poems are characterized by love for Eretz Israel, and a call to the Jewish people in the Diaspora to awaken and fight the enemy.

In his "Songs of Zion", enlisted for the Zionist idea, written in Hebrew, he presented the "Great Zionist" doctrine. These poems became anthems for youth and student movements. He also wrote secular poems, like: "A Smuggler's Poem", and "Shafloch", in which one first encounters his view of the superiority of the individual and the power of love.

Battle for the Hebrew Language

The Hebrew language was one of Jabotinsky's greatest loves. In 1910, when he participated in a conference in which greats of Jewish culture spoke in Yiddish, Jabotinsky chose to speak in Hebrew. During this same period, he went on a lecture tour and delivered a speech entitled "The Language of Hebrew Culture" in 50 different Russian communities, which he had learned by heart. He defined this speech as "the only one of which I will be proud, until the day I die".

Jabotinsky initiated establishment of Hebrew schools in various European countries, acted to find suitable teachers to teach in Hebrew and to publish text- and reference books in the holy tongue. Thus the book "Everything for the Pupil" was published, a pocket book containing tables and versions on various topics: geography, physics, chemistry and more, lists of verbs in various languages, chronological and historical tables and the book "613 Words", for learning 613 Hebrew words written in Latin letters. He waged a campaign for use of Hebrew and for the correct accent. In 1911, along with his colleague Shlomo Saltzman, Jabotinsky established the "Turgeman Publishing House", with the aim of translating the finest classic world literature to Hebrew. Among books published can be found Bialik's translation of "Don Quixote" by Cervantes and David Yellin's translation of "One Thousand and One Nights", two books which Jabotinsky defined as among the world's ten masterpieces. Cooperating with Saltzman, owner of "HaSefer" Publishing, he began to edit and publish text- and reference books, as well as various translations to Hebrew. Together they published the first geographic atlas in Hebrew, edited by Jabotinsky and Shmuel Perlman. In the summer of 1919, the association "Our Language", was founded and Jabotinsky was selected as a board member, along with Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and others. In that same year 'Hadshot HaAretz' (News of the Land) newspaper was established, for which Jabotinsky served as an editorial board member and wrote articles regularly. He was active in the effort to open The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, requesting to establish faculties in which Jewish youth from Eastern Europe could study, for whom the gates of universities had been closed, as a result of "Numerus Clausus".

His Social Philosophy

Jabotinsky's writings are steeped in his yearning to repair the world's social order.  According to him, "Every Man is a King, and Every Woman a Queen". In his article "On the State and On Social Problems", he wrote: "The Essence of the idea, 'I am a King and You are a King' is that no one is superior to you or me from the standpoint of position and glory." Jabotinsky testified about himself, "Truth: I am 'insane' as regards the concept of equality. I hate…every concept that hints at value differences between a man and his friend". He was even known to sign some of his articles with the moniker "Egal", meaning "equal". Equality was, for him, the ultimate principle, and the basis for life as it should be; in this concept he perceived Judaism at its best. Jabotinsky aimed to create a Jewish type, proud of his nationalist value, secure in himself and imbued with recognition of his rights. But he thought that, prior to this, one must prepare the "laboratory" – the Jewish state, in which the Jewish people could conduct it social experiments.

About the woman, he said that she is "an organizer' from birth. From earliest times, the woman always filled the 'position of organizer', in every family….she has a natural inclination to put in order, to envision ahead what is necessary not only for today, but also for tomorrow…one's attitude toward the woman is the dividing line distinguishing between the man of culture and the savage. According to Jabotinsky, the approach to women, in ancient times, was called chivalry, while today – equal rights. Another principle in his political perception was individualism. Jabotinsky believed in creating a state in which the government does not interfere in the life of the individual. He was democratic with all his heart and a clear liberal, despising the concept of 'leader', and saw in it the indication of the herd instinct. "For the sake of the individuals was the society created, and not the opposite," he wrote.

According to Jabotinsky, the shame of poverty is "the shame of humanity" and its existence has no justification. In his view, abolition of poverty takes precedence over all other reforms. It is the right of every human to receive his 'portion' of the five "m's" (in Hebrew): food – shelter – clothing – learning – healing. The state must provide all citizens that require these rights. After solving the problem of poverty, the society will be available to care for matters of the spirit.

Jabotinsky perceived the nation as a living organism and claimed that "the feeling of national selfhood is steeped in the blood of the human being". Though he grew up in a traditional home, he did not live a religious life, but related to religion with great respect, so long as it wasn't forced upon anyone. He credited race as the central element in preserving the uniqueness of the Jewish people, in its distinction from other peoples, but viewed the national cultural expression of the Jewish spirit in religion; he viewed the Bible as the authentic expression of Judaism's spirit and ethical ethos. The Bible was a source of inspiration for Jabotinsky's social ideas, perceiving that the Bible's creators had faced the same struggles as the present society: freedom versus tyranny, hard work versus abundance, justice versus injustice. He emphasized the three precepts: the principle of the Sabbath, commandments for 'tithing', and the concept of the "jubilee". The Sabbath and tithing form the society's "safety net", which will regulate the habitual man and will prevent him from faltering. Inherent in the "jubilee" is the concept of the constant social revolution. Jabotinsky claimed that the revolution that will bring about new world orders will be founded on equal rights of all citizens and upon respect for their freedoms.

Jabotinsky drew from philosophers such as Croce and De Man but more than any other, from Nietzsche. Thus he wrote of the German philosopher: "In our youth, who was the teacher and prophet of all those ignited, who, by their guilt (or to their credit) all the fences in our world now burn? His name was Nietzsche."