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Ben Yiẓḥak, Avraham

BEN YIẒḤAK, AVRAHAM (pen name of Avraham Sonne; 1883–1950), Hebrew poet. Born in Galicia, Ben Yiẓḥak received a traditional Jewish and secular education, and then studied at the universities of Vienna and Berlin. From 1913 to the summer of 1914, he was visiting lecturer in Hebrew literature and psychology at the Jerusalem Teachers' Seminary. After a brief career in the Zionist organization, he served as teacher and later principal at the Hebrew Pedagogium (Teachers' Academy) in Vienna, founded by *H.P. Chajes. After the Nazi Anschluss of Austria in 1938, he emigrated to Ereẓ Israel and settled in Jerusalem. Although he published only 11 poems during his lifetime Ben Yiẓḥak is considered a distinguished figure in modern Hebrew poetry. Most of his poems appeared before World War I and immediately attracted attention. His first poem, "Ḥoref Bahir" ("Bright Winter") was published in Ha-Shilo'aḥ in 1908. His last poem, "Ashrei ha-Zore'im ve-Lo Yikẓoru" ("Happy Are They That Sow But Shall Not Reap") in 1928, a farewell to his craft, concludes with the words, "And their everlasting lot shall be silence." His refusal to publish further remains a mystery. Later poems were found among his effects, but others, which he had read to his friends, are lost. Some of his work has been translated into English and various European languages. Ben Yiẓḥak wrote according to the Sephardi pronunciation (the one adopted in Ereẓ Israel) long before it was adopted by other Hebrew poets, who wrote in the Ashkenazi accent used by Hebrew-speaking European Jews. Ben Yiẓḥak's lyrics, with their terse style and biblical diction, focus on nature, meditation, and love. Though the form of Ben Yiẓḥak's poems is occasionally reminiscent of the Psalms, their content expresses a modern outlook on life and poetry, and he is considered by many to be the first truly modern Hebrew poet. His prose works included anonymous articles in German-Jewish periodicals and an essay on *Mendele Mokher Seforim in Der Jude, 3 (1918–19). One of the most scholarly and sensitive thinkers of his generation, Ben Yiẓḥak's personal influence on both Jewish and non-Jewish writers and philosophers was profound, yet he always declined to publish his obiter dicta. His collected poems appeared posthumously.


A. Ben Yiẓḥak, Shirim (1957), original poems with English translation, biography and essay by Benzion Benshalom Katz; L. Goldberg, Pegishah im Meshorer (1952); S. Burnshaw et al. (eds.), Modern Hebrew Poem Itself (1965), 50–53. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: L. Hakak, Im Arba'ah Meshorerim: Ben Yiẓḥak, Gilboa, Zach ve-Zamir (1979); L. Goldberg, Pegishot im Meshorer: Al Avraham Ben Yiẓḥak Sonne (1988); Ḥ. Ḥever, Periḥat ha-Dumiyah: Shirat Avraham Ben Yiẓḥak (1993); G. Ganiel, Haggut u-Poetikah be-Shirat Avraham Ben Yiẓḥak (1997).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.