Page 44 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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34
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
players but professional performers. The original four soon
grew into a professional company that continued to play and
gave birth to other companies in eastern Europe and America.
The time was ripe: the Russo-Turkish War had brought a
substantial amount of prosperity to Jewish army purveyers who,
far from home, sought entertainment. It merely needed a man
of Goldfaden’s great energy, matched by his substantial talents
as an organizer, producer, director, composer, librettist, and dra­
matist.
A more intriguing question than that of Goldfaden’s role,
is the question of why Yiddish theater arose so late relative to
the history of Western theater. It was Dr. Yitskhok Shipper who,
in his three-volume
Geshikhte fun Yidisher Teater Kunst un
Drarne, fun di Eltste Tsaytn biz 1750
(Warsaw, 1923-1928), re­
jected the commonly held view that dramatic art in the Yiddish
language did not really begin until the second half of the
nineteenth century. He took the position, based not only on the
few extant texts, but also on evidence in rabbinic and
mussar
literature that the scarcity of Yiddish dramatic texts from earlier
periods was, in the light of the frequent pogroms and the at­
tendant destruction, not an indication of rarity of composition
but, on the contrary, evidence that there must have been very
many more plays that did not survive. On this basis he recon­
structed a fairly rich history of Yiddish theater up to 1750.
OPPOSITION TO PUBLIC PERFORMANCES
A little over a dozen years later, however, the position taken
by Shipper was brought sharply into question by Noyakh Prilut-
sky in his
Farvos Iz dos Yidishe Teater Oyfgekumen Azoy Shpet
(Vilna, 1940). Citing such evidence as the continual opposi­
tion of rabbis and community leaders to public performances
of Purim plays, the absence of any kind of regular public per­
formances before the early eighteenth century (which led him
to believe that they were forbidden before tha t) , the fact that
all kinds of public edifices had been built by Jewish communi­
ties—synagogues, mikvas, hekdoshim, even dance halls for wed­
dings, but no theaters—he concluded that “theater in the broader
sense of that concept first arose among Jews in the nineteenth