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November 10: The First Hebrew Novel

November 10, 2015

getfileJoseph Perl, whose 1819 epistolary novel ridiculing khasidism, Revealer of Secrets (Megaleh Temirim), is considered by some to be the first modern novel in Hebrew (Perl translated it into Yiddish to make it accessible to Jews), was born on this date in 1773 in Galicia. He was a follower of khasidism as a boy, but wrote a book when he was only 13, On the Nature of the Sect of the Hasidim, Drawn from Their Own Writings, that purported to demonstrate the mystical absurdities of the movement, including its founding leaders. Perl accused khasidism, which had spread rapidly into Galicia during his lifetime, of deceit, and went so far as to lobby the government to suppress it.He kept at it with numerous books and articles and became significant leader of the Haskalah (Enlighten- ment) movement, as well as a founder of the Deutsche-Israelitische Hauptschule, a school for Jewish children that taught history, geography, mathematics, and other subjects in German, in addition to traditional Jewish studies.

“While Megaleh temirin had no particular influence on Hasidim, it did influence Hebrew literature, and some critics view it as the first Hebrew novel. It opened up the genre of maskilic anti-khasidic satire and established a discourse that solidified the Haskalah’s treatment of khasidism. Many writers of satires throughout the 19th century wrote sequels to the work, or rewrote it.” —YIVO Encyclopedia of the Jews in Eastern Europe