Uri Zvi Greenberg
(1896 - 1981)
The son of a distinguished Hasidic family, Uri Zvi Greenberg was raised in Lvov and
received a traditional religious education. Before he was twenty, his first poems,
written in Yiddish and Hebrew, were published in contemporary periodicals. He was
drafted into the Austrian army in 1915 and served until he deserted two years later.
Returning to Lvov, he witnessed the pogroms of November, 1918, an experience that
made a formative impression on him.
Greenberg lived in Warsaw and Berlin, continuing to write and edit both in Yiddish
and Hebrew. He moved to Eretz Yisrael in 1924, and from then on he wrote
exclusively in Hebrew. Although initially considered a poet of the Labor movement
and a regular contributor to Davar, the Labor Party daily newspaper, by the end of the
decade Greenberg distanced himself decisively from the political leadership of the
Yishuv and aligned himself with the Revisionist movement. Following the Arab riots
of 1929, Greenberg became one of the most extremist members of the party, and he
was its representative for a few years in Poland and at several Zionist Congresses.
During the 1930's, and particularly following the unrest of 1936, Greenberg deplored
what he deemed an overly moderate response by the Yishuv and a deferential posture
of self-restraint towards the Arabs and the British.
In Poland at the outbreak of World War II, Greenberg himself escaped to Eretz
Yisrael, but the rest of his family perished in the Holocaust. In the previous decades
Greenberg had envisioned and warned of the destruction of European Jewry, and to
him, the Holocaust was a tragic but almost inevitable outcome of Jewish indifference
to their destiny. Indeed, for Greenberg, the notion of Jewishness and the essential,
inviolable difference between Jews and Gentiles is what underlies his thought.
Greenberg believed that the Covenant with Abraham, later renewed with the Jews at
Sinai, is the basis of Jewish being. There is no denying that Divine election, and
everything the Jew does must, in the spirit of messianic redemption, act to further and
realize the sense of chosenness. The past is the basis of the future, and the Kingdom of
Israel, which reached its zenith under King David, will be revived. Hence Greenberg's
antipathy towards a humanistic or universalistic approach to Judaism; on the contrary,
being Jewish means being different and distant from non-Jews. For Jews to ignore
their path can only lead to a continuation of the violence against them that has marked
much of their history, and while Greenberg blamed the world for its silence during the
Holocaust, he faulted the Jews as well for their own blindness. In settling the land of
their forefathers, Zionism helps Jews realize their promised redemption, and for
Greenberg, the role of Hebrew poetry is to express the messianic vision.
Greenberg retained his right-wing politics throughout his life. During the Mandate, he
was a member of the Irgun, and following the establishment of the State, he
represented the Herut Party in the first Knesset. After the Six Day War, he joined the
Greater Land of Israel camp. Despite what many deemed his extreme political views,
however, his work has been widely recognized. In 1957 he was awarded the Israel
Prize for his contribution to Hebrew Literature, and in 1976, on the occasion of his
eightieth birthday, the Knesset held a special session to honor him.
Sources: The Pedagogic
Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, The Jewish Agency for
Israel, (c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, Director: Dr. Motti Friedman, Webmaster: