Joseph Hayyim Brenner was one of a number of intellectuals amongst the immigrants of the Second Aliyah (19041914). He was arguably the most vehement in his demand for an openended secular Hebrew identity, which he articulated in numerous articles, plays and novels.
Brenner was born in Novy Mlini in the Ukraine in 1881 to a traditional Jewish family. He received a formal Jewish education which included studies at a yeshiva. In Gomel, Brenner became active in the Jewish labor movement. At the turn of the century he lived in Bialystok and Warsaw where he made a living by teaching Hebrew. In 1901 having recently written his first short story, he was drafted to the army but with the outbreak of the RussianJapanese war he was smuggled out of the country. He settled in London where he worked in a print shop and became active in the infant Po'alei Zion movement. In 1909 he emigrated to EretzIsrael and began contributing to a number of periodicals there.
Brenner became one of the outstanding literary voices of the Second Aliyah, characterized by his deep sense of pessimism and despair. He was particularly critical of Jewish life in the Diaspora and had little patience for the rabbinic world which he felt had strangled Jewish creativity in the Diaspora. During the early period of the Third Aliyah (1919 23) he joined the Gedud Ha'avodah (Labor Battalions) and worked in the Galilee in road construction. He was also active in the founding conference of the Histadrut (Labor Federation). In May 1921, Brenner was killed during the Arab riots in Jaffa.