SHOMER (pseudonym of Nahum Meyer Shaikevich; 1849–1905), Yiddish novelist, dramatist. Born in Nesvizh, Russia, Shomer settled in Pinsk. He began his literary career in the 1870s with Hebrew translations from German in Ha-Meliẓ. Under the influence of Abraham Mapu and Kalman Schulman, he wrote many Hebrew short stories and about 200 Hebrew lyrics, which he later incorporated into his Yiddish tales. When he moved to Vilna, he was advised to write in Yiddish and soon became known for his popular novels, with which he achieved a mass appeal hitherto unprecedented in Yiddish letters. Before his literary career began, however, Shaikevich worked as a military contractor whose work took him to Bucharest, where he met Abraham *Goldfaden. Impressed by Goldfaden's Yiddish theater, Shaikevich began to write plays and organized his own theatrical troupe. When Yiddish performances were forbidden in Russia, he returned to Vilna and concentrated on fiction, sometimes making use of borrowed plots, in order to meet the demand of his ever-increasing audience. At the request of another theater troupe, Shaikevich moved to New York in 1889, where his plays were well received by both the audience and the Yiddish press. Artistic differences prompted Shaikevich to leave the theater and begin publishing his own literary journals. Meant to serve both as edification and as entertainment for an unsophisticated readership, Shaikevich's stories are filled with sentimental elements and fantastic themes, but also a sympathetic representation of the Jewish masses and a happy ending. The enormous popularity of Shaikevich's work spawned numerous imitators, although his style was reviled by his contemporary intellectuals. Led by *Sholem Aleichem (Sholem Rabinovitsh), detractors dubbed his potboiler fiction "Shomerism." Attacks on "Shomerism" culminated famously in Sholem Aleichem's 1888 pamphlet entitled Shomers Mishpet ("The Shomer Verdict"). Shaikevich answered that devastating critique in the introductions to many of his novels; he was convinced that his books performed the valuable function of bringing ethical education to the Jewish masses whose general education had been neglected. Later, his work was more positively received; Soviet critics emphasized the educational service performed by his narratives in the struggle to improve the lot of Jewish victims of poverty and oppression. He is also credited with creating a new Yiddish readership. According to his supporters, he developed the Yiddish audience later enjoyed by Sholem Aleichem, I.L. *Peretz, and others. Among his works are Di Ungliklikhe Libe ("Unhappy Love," 1882); Der Oytser oder der Kalter Gazlen ("The Treasure or the Cold Thief," 1884); Eyn Ungerikhter Glik ("Unexpected Luck," 1885); and Der Yid un di Grefin ("The Jew and the Countess," 1892).
S. Niger, Geklibene shriftn: Sholem Aleykhem 3 (1928), 20–6; Reyzen, Leksikon, 4 (1929), 758–808; A. Veviorka, Revizye (1931); S. Niger, Dertseyler un romanistn (1946), 84–95; R. Shomer-Bachelis, Unzer Foter Shomer (1950), incl. bibl.; Z. Zylbercweig, Leksikon fun Yidishn Teater, 3 (1959), 2077–104; Waxman, Literature (1960), 485–86; S. Liptzin, Flowering of Yiddish Literature (1963), 83–86; C. Madison, Yiddish Literature (1968), 25, 29–30. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: S. Liptzin, A History of Yiddish Literature (1972), 53–54; J. Glatstein, Prost un Poshet (1978), 130–35; LNYL 8 (1981), 731–45; D. Miron, A Traveler Disguised (1996), 28–30, 253–55; E. Shulman, in: Yiddish, 13 (2003), 56–64.
[Sarah B. Felsen and
Jordan Finkin (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.