Sholom Aleichem

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Sholom Aleichem

Sholom (Sholem) Aleichem (February 18 (O.S.) = March 2 (N.S.), 1859May 13, 1916) was a popular humorist and Russian Jewish author of Yiddish literature, including novels, short stories, and plays. He did much to promote Yiddish writers, and was the first to pen children's literature in Yiddish.

His work has been widely translated. The musical comedy "Fiddler on the Roof" (1964), based on Sholom Aleichem's stories about his character Tevye the Milkman, was the first commercially successful English-language play about Eastern European Jewish life.

Born Sholem Yakov Rabinowitz (ru: Рабино́вич) to a poor patriarchal Jewish family in Pereyaslav (near Kiev), Ukraine. Sholem's mother died when he was 13. His first writing was alphabetical vocabulary of the epithets used by his stepmother. At the age of fifteen, inspired by Robinson Crusoe, he composed his own, Jewish version of the famous novel and decided to dedicate himself to writing. He adopted the pseudonym Sholom Aleichem, a common greeting meaning "peace be with you".

After completing Pereyaslav local school with excellent grades in 1876, he left home in search for work. For three years, he taught a wealthy merchant's daughter Olga Loev, who on May 12, 1883 became his wife. They had six children, including painter Norman Raeben, whose teaching Bob Dylan credits as an important influence on Blood On The Tracks.

At first Aleichem wrote in Russian and Hebrew, but from 1883 on, he produced over forty volumes in Yiddish, to become a central figure in Yiddish literature by 1890. Most writing for Russian Jews at the time was in Hebrew, the language used exclusively by the learned Jews. Sholom Aleichem wrote for about three million Russian Jews whose only language was Yiddish.

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Israeli postal stamp dedicated to the centennial birthday of Sholom Aleichem

Besides his prodigious output of Yiddish literature, he also used his personal fortune to encourage Yiddish writers. In 1888-1889, he put out two issues of an annual, Die Yiddishe Folksbibliotek ("The Yiddish Popular Library") which gave important exposure to many young Yiddish writers. A third issue was edited, but never printed, because he lost his entire fortune in a stock speculation in 1890. Over the next few years, while continuing to write in Yiddish, he also wrote in Russian for an Odessa newspaper and for Voskhod, the leading Russian Jewish publication of the time, and in Hebrew for Hamelitz and for an anthology edited by Y.H. Ravnitzky.

Sholom Aleichem was often referred to as the "Jewish Mark Twain" because of the two authors' similar writing styles and use of pen names. Both authors wrote for both adults and children, and lectured extensively in Europe and the United States. When the two finally met late in life, however, Twain retorted that he considered himself the "American Sholom Aleichem."

After 1891 Sholom Aleichem lived in Odessa, but as waves of pogroms swept southern Russia in the early 1900s, he emigrated with the family in 1905, settling first in Switzerland, and in 1914, in the United States, where he made his home in New York City. He died there at the age of 57 and was laid to rest at the Brooklyn cemetery.

In 1997, a monument dedicated to Sholom Aleichem was erected in Kiev; another was erected 2001 in Moscow.


A short passage to illustrate Sholom Aleichem's style

"Pinhas Pincus is of less than normal height, with one small eye and one bigger eye. When he talks, it seems as if the eyes talk to each other; the smaller eye asks for and seeks approval from the bigger eye; and the bigger eye gives its approval of every plan or undertaking. When he first came to Nuremberg, there was no limit to his sufferings; he had to endure starvation, misery and personal insults from his German brethren. In Nuremburg he was protected from massacres, but was not protected from starvation."  —from An Early Passover, translated by George Zinberg


A bachelor is a man who comes to work each morning from a different direction.
Gossip is nature's telephone.
Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor.
No matter how bad things get you got to go on living, even if it kills you.
The rich swell up with pride, the poor from hunger.


English-language collections

  • The Best of Sholom Aleichem, translated by I. Wisse, R. Howe (originally published 1979), Walker and Co., 1991, ISBN 0802726453.
  • Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories, translated by H. Halkin (originally published 1987), Schocken Books, 1996, ISBN 0805210695.
  • Nineteen to the Dozen: Monologues and Bits and Bobs of Other Things, translated by Ted Gorelick, Syracuse Univ Press, 1998, ISBN 0815604777.
  • A Treasury of Sholom Aleichem Childrens Stories, translated by Aliza Shevrin, Jason Aronson, 1996, ISBN 1568219261.
  • Inside Kasrilovka, Three Stories, translated by I. Goldstick, Schocken Books, 1948 (variously reprinted)
  • The Old Country, translated by Julius & Frances Butwin, J B H of Peconic, 1999, ISBN 1929068212.
  • Stories and Satires, translated by Curt Leviant, Sholom Aleichem Family Publications, 1999, ISBN 1929068204.


  • Funm Yarid, written 1914-1916, translated as The Great Fair by Tamara Kahana, Noonday Press, 1955; translated by Curt Leviant as From the Fair, Viking, 1986, ISBN 014008830X.


  • Stempenyu, originally published in his Folksbibliotek, adapted 1905 for the play Jewish Daughters.
  • Yossele Solovey (1889, published in his Folksbibliotek)
  • Tevye's Daughters, translated by F. Butwin (originally published 1949), Crown, 1959, ISBN 0517507102.

Young adult literature

  • Menahem-Mendl, translated as The Adventures of Menahem-Mendl, translated by Tamara Kahana, Sholom Aleichem Family Publications, 1969, ISBN 1929068026.
  • Motl peysi dem khazns, translated as The Adventures of Mottel, the Cantor's Son (young adult literature), translated by Tamara Kahana, Sholom Aleichem Family Publications, 1999, ISBN 192906800X.
  • The Bewitched Tailor, Sholom Aleichem Family Publications, 1999, ISBN 1929068190.


  • The Doctor (1887), one-act comedy
  • Der Get (The Divorce, 1888), one-act comedy
  • Die Asifa (The Assembly, 1889), one-act comedy
  • Yaknez (1894), a satire on brokers and speculators
  • Tsezeht Un Tseshpreht (Scattered Far and Wide, 1903), comedy
  • Agenten (Agents, 1905), one-act comedy
  • Yiedishe Tekhter (Jewish Daughters, 1905) drama, adaptation of his early novel Stempenyu
  • Die Goldgreber (The Golddiggers, 1907), comedy
  • Shver Tsu Zein a Yied (Hard to be a Jew, 1914)
  • Dos Groisse Gevins (The Big Lottery / The Jackpot, 1916)


  • Oyf vos badarfn Yidn a land (Why Do the Jews Need a Land of Their Own?), translated by Joseph Leftwich and Mordecai S. Chertoff, Cornwall Books, 1984, ISBN 0845347748


  • Jewish Children, translated by Hannah Berman, William Morrow & Co, 1987, ISBN 0688841201.
  • numerous stories in Russian, published in Voshkod (1891-1892)


  • My Father, Sholom Aleichem, by Marie Waife-Goldberg
  • Liptzin, Sol, A History of Yiddish Literature, Jonathan David Publishers, Middle Village, NY, 1972, ISBN 0-8246-0124-6. 66 et. seq.

External links

he:שלום עליכם ja:ショーレム・アレイヘム sv:Sholem Aleichem tt:Şolom Aleyxem


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