Page 69 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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by s ign ing h im se lf in his non -H eb rew works Solomon
Mandelkern (the added final
changing the name to give it a
German meaning, “Almond kernel”). The family was among the
adherents of the Hasidim. From his earliest days in the local syna­
gogue school he showed unusual talent and diligence in Bible
and Talmud studies, as well as being endowed with a phenome­
nal memory. Without the aid of a teacher he extended his studies
to the Bible commentaries of Maimonides and Ibn Ezra which he
came to know virtually by heart. When he was 14 years old his
father died, and he spent the next two years with his maternal
One day, he felt compelled to write a little poem in the margin
of Maimonides’
Sefer ha-mitsvot
but was caught in the act by the
synagogue warden who gave him a dressing-down: “So you want
to defile a sacred book with your own scribblings? Why don’t you
leave for Dubno? There you will find people of your kind, here­
tics who will welcome you!” (Dubno was a center of traditional
Judaism, opposed to the teachings of the Hasidim.) The aspiring
young poet and Bible scholar took the hint, and at the age of 16
moved to Dubno where he continued his studies under two fa­
mous rabbis. But unlike his fellow students at the Dubno yeshiva
who devoted themselves to the traditional study of the Talmud,
Shelomo also followed the tenets of his hasidic upbringing and
immersed himself in the study of the Kabbalah. For some time,
he even went to Kock (pronounced Kotsk) in Poland, a center of
hasidic learning, where he sat at the feet of the venerable
“Kotsker Rebbe” Menahem Mendel and his son David.
In his late teens he returned to Dubno where he experienced
an abrupt change in his spiritual outlook, one diametrically op­
posed to his earlier leanings toward mysticism: he now joined the
Haskalah movement which at that time was beginning to gain ad­
herents among Russian Jewry. The Hebrew word
“enlightenment,” and the movement, which had its origin in
Germany with Moses Mendelssohn, aimed at integrating the Jews
into European society and culture by encouraging them to study
secular subjects and to learn their respective national languages
instead of Yiddish, the everyday vernacular of East European
Jews. Hebrew, the “Sacred Tongue,” was to be used only in the