YANKEV-MEYER ZALKIND (J. M. SALKIND) (August 16, 1875-December 25, 1937)
He was born in Kobrin (Kobrun), near Brisk (Brest), Lithuania. His father, Mortkhe-Yehude-Leyb Zalkind, was a prominent, well-cultivated merchant who drew his pedigree from the Baal Shem Tov and from Rabbi Mendele Don Yeḥia (rabbi in Drise [Verkhnedvinsk]) who came from a prominent Jewish family in Portugal. His mother, Khaye-Ester, a great-granddaughter of the rabbi of Lublin, Rabbi Meshulem-Zalmen Ashkenazi, descended from generations of celebrated men and rabbis—from Ḥakham-Tsvi (1656-1718) back to Maharshal (1510-1574), Tosefet-Yom-Tov (1579-1654), and Rashi (1040-1105). Until his bar-mitzvah, Yankev-Meyer attended religious primary school, studied for two years at the Volozhin Yeshiva, gained fame as an utterly brilliant prodigy, while studying secular subjects with private tutors; later as an external student, he sat for the examination for the sixth class in high school, and thereafter studied philosophy, philology, history, literature, and political economy at the Universities of Berlin, Munich, Geneva, and Berne (from the last of these, he received his doctor of philosophy degree in 1904), became a great linguist, knowledgeable in over twenty languages, old and new—he wrote twelve to fourteen with ease—while all the time devoting considerable energy to the multifaceted studies of the Talmud and its commentators. He brought with him from his devout Enlightened, Ḥibat-Tsiyon (Love of Zion) home an ethnic Orthodox disposition, as already in Munich (Germany) he began campaigning for Zionism amid the local German Jewish student body, and later in Switzerland founded Zionist unions, libraries, and kosher student kitchens (as a counterweight to the influence of the assimilationist, socialist “Russian kitchens”); he was the founder and captain of the actively struggling, corporatist student union “Kadima” (Onward!) in Berne, where after the Kishenev pogrom of 1903 he organized an enthusiastic self-defense group, and it studied shooting and military marching. From there he moved to England where he married and became a rabbi in the small Jewish congregation of Cardiff in South Wales. For a time everything was proceeding well in Zalkind’s life, but then he began to quarrel with his community, moved to London where he founded a Zionist “Aḥuza” (estate) with seventy members, left for Israel in 1913 as its representative, and there established the colony of Karkur, not far from Pardes Ḥanna. Just as the Aḥuza members (most of them laborers) were unable to simply move to Israel immediately (they initially began settling in the colony in 1921), so Zalkind returned to England and set off for Glasgow (Scotland) in 1915 to study agronomy, so that he would be able properly to administer the colonization of Karkur, when the time would come. In 1916, however, the course of Zalkind’s life took a turn in a new direction, when he became an opponent of war, returned once again to London where he conducted an anti-militarist campaign, and when Herbert Samuel, Home Secretary in the British Government, reached an agreement with the Russian (Tsarist) government—according to which unnaturalized Russian Jews in England had to either join the English army or return to Russia and be recruited there to fight in the war—Zalkind launched a fierce fight against this. For the goals of the anti-war campaign, he established in London at the time the “Defense Committee,” published and edited himself Di idishe shtime (The Jewish voice)—of which thirteen weekly and thirty-six daily numbers appeared, in close association with A. Vevyorke and Dr. A. Margolin—a national-radical, anti-militaristic newspaper, was arrested and spent a short time in prison for anti-war agitation, left the Zionist party and launched an anti-Zionist campaign, and fought also against Zhabotinsky’s plans of a Jewish Legion. He later arrived intellectually at anarcho-communism and, with help from several London anarchists, in 1920 he revived the old anarchist periodical Der arbayter fraynd (The workers’ friend)—published over the course of three years monthly in 1920, biweekly in 1921, weekly and again biweekly in 1922 and 1923—which he edited and practically wrote by himself alone, both under his own name and using such pseudonyms as: Dr. Y. M. Salinfante, Pyer Romus, Y. M. Mivne Hekhala, B. Mayer, S. Zalkin, Osip S., M. Volodin, Eygen Haynrikh Shmit, M. Gracchus, and the like. Other contributors to the newspaper included: Rudolf Rocker, Dr. Mikhl Kohen, Shloyme Ben-Dovid, Sh. Linder, V. Rubtshinski, Volin, and M. L. Vitkop. Zalkind also edited and practically wrote the entirety of the newspaper (1922) Der yunger dor (The young generation). He became a fiery anarchist, and aside from the hundreds of newspaper articles he wrote, he also translated a series of pamphlets and books by famous anarchist authors, while at the same time remaining a firmly religious Jew and an eminent scholar in his daily life. In his first years as an anarchist, he devoted a great deal of work on a Yiddish translation of the Talmud; he fought hard against the Zionist movement, while at the same time writing (in Der arbayter fraynd) about Vladimir Zhabotinsky as the “Jewish Garibaldi” (he would later take a position close to Zhabotinsky’s Revisionism); he separated himself from Zionism, while remaining a firm adherent of the construction of the land of Israel. Most striking in Zalkind’s contradictory ideas was the linkage between his anarchism and his Talmudic ethic, from which he never budged so much as a hair, neither in theory nor in practice. An authentic “free society” would, in his view, be a “Talmudic society”—namely, a society in which the Talmudic ethic would lie at the foundation of its political philosophy and at the base of its legislation. He believed that from the Talmud one could today extract living sources, and this was the thrust of his vast, nearly lifelong work of rendering the Talmud into Yiddish. From 1921 he was living in Harrogate (a spa near Leeds) where his wife ran a millinery shop. Zalkind was never able to earn enough to support himself and his family. In 1930 on a visit to the United States, where he was close to his anarchist friends in various states, he appeared in public with anarchist speakers. He then traveled on to Israel where he was to spend his last, painful years, went into seclusion, and took part in no community activities at all; for only a few acquaintances would he (with revolutionary pathos) speak about the need to create in Israel a stateless community based on anarchist principles. He also, however, in his last years did not cease studying or writing; he was engaged in his immense Talmudic work (this time in Hebrew)—Hamishna vehatosefta (The Mishnah and the Tosefta), the first part of which appeared only after his death. He died in poverty and desolation in Haifa (although in a letter of April 1937 sent to his Kobrin native place group in New York, he gave his return address as: 15 Yavne St., Tel Aviv).
The first things he wrote for publication appeared in 1900 in Hatsfira (The times) and Drohobitsher tsayung (Drogobych newspaper), and from that point in time he wrote hundreds of articles, treatises, feature pieces, impressions, stories, poems, and dramatic works in a variety of newspapers and journals in Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, German, English, French, and Judeo-Español. In Hebrew he wrote a series of children’s plays which were staged in Jewish schools and Talmud Torahs in various countries; among them the following appeared in separate editions: Haaniyim (The poor) (Warsaw, 1903), 23 pp.; Yetsiat mitsraim (The exodus from Egypt) (London, 1907), 32 pp.; Atselim (Lazy ones) (London, 1907); David (David) (Warsaw, 1907), 32 pp.; Harokhel hakatan (The little peddler) (Warsaw-Cracow, 1907), 27 pp.; Hashoshana halevana (The white rose) (Warsaw, 1907), 9 pp.; Boshtim (Disgraces) (Leipzig, 1922). He translated into Yiddish: M. L. Lilienblum, Finf momentn in lebn fun moyshe rabeynu (Five moments in the life of Moses, our teacher) (Zurich, 1906; another translation by Hilel Malakhovski appeared in New York in 1909); Professor A. Varburg, Di tsukunft fun erets-yisroel (The future of the land of Israel) (London, 1907), 37 pp.; R. Rocker, Anarkhizm un organizatsye (Anarchism and Organization [original: Anarchismus und Organisation]) (London, 1922), 48 pp.; George Barrett (George Powell Ballard), Taynes kegn anarkhizm (Objections to anarchism) (London, 1922), 40 pp.; Sébastien Faure, Verter fun a dertsier (Words from an educator) (Buenos Aires, 1924), 96 pp.; H. G. Wells, Dr maros inzel (The Island of Dr. Moreau), a supplement to Arbayter fraynd. Zalkind’s original works include: Die Peschitta zu Schir-haschirim (Aramaic translation of the Song of Songs) (Leiden, 1905), 42 pp.; Di idishe kolonyes in erets yisroel, zeyer eksistents un progres (The Jewish colonies in the land of Israel, their existence and progress) (London, 1914); Vayomer yaakov (And Jacob spoke), annotations and commentaries on Tanakh and Talmud (London, 1918), 196 pp.; Di geshikhte fun di idishe bukhdrukerayen (The history of Yiddish book publishers), a scholarly work of great range and value, only the first three chapters appeared in print in the monthly Renesans (Renaissance) (London, 1920). Among his unpublished works: a collection of original legends in Hebrew, Bereshit (In the beginning); a longer historical treatment of the Gele late (Yellow patch); a Hebrew translation of Molière’s Der karger (The miser [original: L’avare]); a siddur (prayer book) with historical and grammatical notes and with an introduction on the history of the siddur; an anthology of political legends; a major work entitled Di filosofye fun anarkhizm (The philosophy of anarchism); a work in German entitled Die Irrwege der jüdischen Geshichte (Wrong turns taken in Jewish history); a major work on the history of the church censor and the Inquisition in Jewish religious texts—on the basis of a manuscript (found in the Parisian state library and variants also in Rome and Bologna) of an old censor, a Safed Jew, a student of the Ari, later a convert who pointed out the places that had to be erased in censored texts (this manuscript was unknown to earlier historians of the censorate—A. Berliner and V. Papir). Zalkind also edited Milon zhargoni-ivri (Yiddish-Hebrew dictionary) by A. L. Bisko (London, 1920).
Zalkind’s most important accomplishment was his starting work on a translation of the Talmud into Yiddish, of which the first four tractates in the order of Zeraim (Seeds [agriculture]) appeared in print. The first volume, Berakhot (Blessings), had the general title on frontispiece: Babylonian Talmud—the Talmud in Yiddish, Gemara Publishers, “translated and explained by Dr. Yankev-Meyer Zalkind, published by B. Vaynberg (London, 1922),” 228 pp. in folio. The text consists of the Mishna, the Gemara, and commentary. Under “In lieu of a preface” to Berakhot, the “translator and editor” wrote, inter alia: “With respect to the translation we wish to note that it is highly literal…, even when the style has to suffer on occasion…. As concerns the commentary we have made every effort to create something that is worth any price, usable for the beginner as well as for the scholar.” The commentary “is built, in the main, on the explanations of Rashi, Tosafot, Maharsha, Rabenu Yona, and other ‘commentaries on the Talmud,’” but in certain places “we have found it appropriate to offer our own opinion as well.” Both the translation and the commentary were written (according to Shmuel Niger) “in a delightful language,” which in subsequent volumes became “richer and more refined.” A handful of Germanisms which crop up here and there (dizer ‘this’; entfernt ‘remote’; entfernung ‘removal’; and a few others) apparently had for the author a certain stylistic justification, in any event not hindering in the least the great joy that one has reading (or studying) Zalkind’s Talmud in Yiddish. The second volume, tractate Peah (Corner), carried on its frontispiece the title: “Talmud in Yiddish, Talmud Publishers, London, 1928” (86 pp. in folio). This second tractate, just like the subsequent tractates in this translation, was taken from the Jerusalem Talmud; the Babylonia Talmud has only Berakhot, the Gemara to the first Mishna of the order Zeraim, and the remaining nine Gemaras of the order can only be found in the Jerusalem Talmud. It includes the original Hebrew text, next to the Yiddish translation, and with pointing. In his preface to the second volume, Zalkind remarked that his commentary was built on the commentaries of Rambam and R. Samson of Sens, as well as Bartenuro, Pnei Moshe, Tosafot-Yom-Tov, and later commentators, as well as his own opinions here and there. The third volume on tractate Demai (Uncertainty)—“Talmud in Yiddish, Talmud Publishers, London, 1929” (126 pp. in folio)—also carries the original Hebrew text of the Gemara with pointing. According to Z. R. (Zalmen Reyzen), in Yivo-bleter (Pages from YIVO) 13, Zalkind was planning to bring out a fourth volume, on tractate Kilayim (Mixture), but when and where he does not say. Zalkind’s last work was his no less immense project, Hamishna vehatosefta: “Precise wording with extensive commentary by Yaakov Meir Zalkind,” the first volume of which—on tractate Berakhot—was published posthumously in Haifa in 1939 (348 pp.).
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; A. Frumkin, in Di idishe velt (Philadelphia) (January 23, 1921); Frumkin, in Fraye arbeter shtime (New York) (January 28 and February 4, 1938); Dr. A. Ginzburg, in Tsukunft (New York) (July 1922); Dr. A. Koralnik, Viderklangen un vidershprukhn (Echoes and contradictions), part 1 (Warsaw, 1928), pp. 103-8; M. Vanvild, in Literarishe bleter (Warsaw) (February 1, 1929); Y. Babitsh, in Literarishe bleter (March 17, 1933); Dr. Y. Rubin, in Fraye arbeter shtime (January 21, 1938); Hadoar (New York) (January 21, 1938); Shmuel Niger, in Tsukunft (April 1938; Niger, Bleter geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur (Pages of history from Yiddish literature) (New York, 1959), pp. 203-7; A. Pazi, in Oyfkum (New York) (May-August 1938); Z. R. (Reyzen), in Yivo-beter (Vilna) 13 (November-December 1938), pp. 626-29; B. Riveszon, in Yidish london (London) (1939); Dr. A. Mukdoni, Oysland (Abroad) (Buenos Aires, 1951), pp. 96-106’; Kh. D. Fridberg, in Bet eked sefarim; D. Tidhar, in Entsiklopedyah leḥalutse hayishuv uvonav (Encyclopedia of the pioneers and builders of the yishuv), vol. 9 (Tel Aviv, 1958).