The Book as a Combat Weapon: Intellectuals, Patronage and Institutions in the Establishment of the Argentine Jewish Publishing Field, 1920-1980.[1] 
Alejandro Dujovne
(IDES/Conicet)

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Introduction

A modern publishing field is a space of book production, circulation and consumption that had freed itself from the historical contraints imposed by political and religious powers and that from then on is structured on the tension between the pole of the market and the pole of the culture.  Polarities that correspond to the two faces of the book.  In other words, a publishing house can prioritize their commercial interests and the economic return over literary innovation while another one, located on the opposite side, may appear disinterested in the immediate commercial success stating their interest in the value of pure literature.[2] In this sense, this paper seeks to present and begin to discuss the argument that although Argentine Jewish publishing houses were part of wider Yiddish and Spanish language modern publishing fields, they did it from a singular logic.  A logic based on the combination of political and cultural aims and patronage.

The volume and diversity of publishing endeavors in Argentina aimed at a Jewish audience reveal a strong investment in the editorial work.  But neither the size nor the diversity of these remarkable editorial efforts corresponded with the existence of a specific Jewish book market in modern publishing terms.  In contrast with the competition among agents for the conquest of a readership based on market rules, in the Argentine Jewish case we find a set of local and international political, cultural and philantropic agents that prompted and supported a wide offer of books on Jewish topics and authors throughout the twentieth century, which, ultimately, allowed it not to depend exclusively on the sanction of the market. To understand the social and material conditions that allowed this production that contributed decisively in the emergence and circulation of a set of ideas in the local Jewish context, this paper explores the relationships between money, book publishing, and cultural and political “stakes” developed in the most important Argentine Jewish publishing houses.[3]

The Yiddish Publishing Space

The social and cultural division between Yiddish and Spanish language publishing spaces emerges as one of the main key features of the Argentine Jewish publishing domain. One of the key assumptions in my research is that the choice to publish in one language or the other would have involved the participation in differentiated international book publishing and circulation systems that may have conditioned the local production.

The Second World War and the Shoah marked a fundamental change in the geography of the book in Yiddish.  At the beginning of the 1940s the Polish center of production declined dramatically, allowing Buenos Aires and other cities to become publishing centers themselves. The destruction of the Jewish communities of Central and Eastern Europe removed the major publishers, as well as most of its population that made up the bulk of producers and consumers of books in this language. This tragedy allowed the emergence of clusters of publications in cities from regions not affected by the devastation, from which Buenos Aires held a prominent place.

Due to the previous existence of a critical mass of professionals in printing and publishing and intellectuals, as well as favorable economic conditions for editing in general, the Argentine capital quickly acquired a reputation as a publishing center.  In this regard the 1948-1949 American Jewish Yearbook´s report on Argentina says: "Argentina was the book-publishing center of the Spanish-speaking world, and Jewish books in both Yiddish and Spanish were sent from Argentina to all of South America and beyond.”[4] However, this boom did not correspond with an increase in the presence of works by local authors (this is, Eastern European immigrants living in Argentina). The most significant publishing endeavors published primarily Jewish writers and intellectuals residing in Europe and North America. Local authors continue to rely heavily on smaller publishing enterprises or, as was widespread practice, on ad hoc publishing committees.

The most important publishing projects that promoted and supported the explosion of Yiddish book publishing in Argentina after World War II, were:

Name

Private or institutional publishing house

General orienation

Publishing period

Number of titles published

YIddish

Private

Yiddishist – Secular – Focused on literature

1944-1945

21

ICUF

ICUF – Federation of Jewish Cultural Associations

Yiddishist – Secular – Communist

1946-1967

68

Dos Poylishe Yidntum

Central Union of Polish Jews in Argentina

Yiddishist – Secular

Centered in the Polish-Jewish world

1946-1966

175

IWO

IWO – Jewish Scientific Institute

Yiddishist – Secular

1947-1985

26

Idbuj

Association Pro-Secular Jewish Schools in Argentina

Yiddishist – Secular – Bundist

1949-1966

60

Kium

Poaeli Tsion Hitahdut

Secular – Socialist Zionist

1954-1977¿?

40¿?

Altveltlejer Yiddisher Kultur-Kongres

Congress for Jewish Culture

Yiddishist – Secular

1951-1981

55

Musterverk

IWO – Jewish Scientific Institute

Yiddishist – Secular - Focused on literature

1957-1984

100

Seven out of the eight endeavors included in the table were in one way or another linked to institutions. Most of them were the main local promoters and defenders of Yiddish as a language and as a cultural identity.  The two most outstanding endeavors, Dos Poylishe Yidntum (The Polish Jewry) and Musterverk fun der Yiddisher Literatur (Masterpieces of Yiddish literature), allow us to identify some of the dominant features of the logic of Yiddish publishing in Argentina.

a. Dos Poylishe Yidntum

In 1946 the Tsentral Farband fun Poylishe Yidn in Argentine (Central Union of Polish Jews in Argentina) began to publish under the label Dos Poylishe Yidntum a collection that reached the number of 175 titles in Yiddish language when it published its last book in 1966. The stated purpose of the collection was "... to bring the Jewish reader mass and the whole world close to the problems related to the destruction of the Jewish life in Poland."

A similar aim can be found in Farlag Yiddish, its predecessor: [5]

The small and young Argentinian kibbutz has become, because of the terrible extermination of the Jews since August 1939, one of the most important ishuvim in the world. The world Jewish disaster had raised our yishuv and coated it with a tragic and a great right. A right for us is always at the same time, a duty. Our yishuv is responsible for this tragic and great duty. (...) Through the "Yiddish" publishing house the Argentine Jewish yishuv starts to help the rebuilding of what the enemy destroyed.

Under these premises the series Dos Poylishe Yidntum produced a wide range of genres that, framed within a tradition of Yiddish secular culture, sought to portray Jewish life in Poland before and during the Holocaust.[6] This project was born due to the society established between the Central Union of Polish Jews and Mark Turkov, journalist and intellectual who after an intense career in interwar Warsaw emigrated to Buenos Aires in 1939.  Apart from leading the project, between 1946 and 1966 Turkov took different positions in various local Jewish organizations, including the one responsible for solving the problem of emigration and settlement of Holocaust survivors. Despite the rapid success achieved by the publishing label among the Yiddish readership around the world reflected in the editing and exporting figures, the letters of their publishers indicate that the project was far from being a good business.  In fact, it was not originally founded as a lucrative enterprise.  The moral obligation that the leaders of the Tsentral Farband fun Poylishe Yidn in Argentina felt towards the memory of the Jewish Polish world destroyed by the nazis, was not only expressed in the aim and titles published but also by the fact the profits from the sale of books in the early years of the publishing house were donated to the relief efforts for survivors.

The high quality of the material and the manpower used in the manufacture of books, the effort to get collaborations of renowned writers located in different cities around the world, the decision to publish ten books per year, and the distribution policy that they decided to hold with determination, required financial support that was covered from the outset and as part of its project by the contributions of the members of their community and by the help of the “Yiddisher Folk-Bank” of Buenos Aires (“Banco Israelita del Río de la Plata”), which financed a certain number of books.[7]

In its 1951 report the American Jewish Yearbook says: "Argentina will continue to play a prominent role in Yiddish literature during 1949-50, chiefly through the efforts of the publishing house Farlag fun Poylishe Yidntum.”  With Dos Poylishe Yidntum as the main reference, a year later it claimed: "During 1955-56 Argentinian Jewry continued to be one of the leading publishers and distributors of Yiddish literature"

Text Box:

Dos Poylishe Yidntum

b. Musterverk fun der Yiddisher Literatur

The edition of the 100 "Masterpieces of Yiddish literature" was the result of the joint work of a renown Yiddishist intellectual, an institution devoted to the upkeep and development of Yiddish culture, and a South African philanthropist devoted to diamond trade.  Between 1957 and 1984 Samuel Rozhansky, from the headquarters of the Jewish Scientific Institute (YIVO, Yiddisher Wiesenschaftlejer Organizatzie) and with the financial support of Josef Lifshitz first and, after his death, of other philanthropists, published 100 volumes that aimed to be a sample of the best of Yiddish letters. [8]

The collection consists of almost 60 anthologies of various kinds and slightly more than 40 books of a single author, of which four have two titles each. The anthologies are sorted by topics, regions and countries. In total, the collection contains texts of nearly 1,000 writers and poets. Rozhansky committed to publishing four volumes per year.  He promoted the collection through his travels, resulting in numerous subscriptions in many cities. This allowed an important exportation that in some cases led to two or even three new editions. [9] Beyond the reader support, however, it is important to note that it would not have been possible without the strong support of a philanthropist who, although geographically distant, believed in the cultural significance of the project and trusted Rozhansky and YIVO´s work.

Text Box:

Musterverk fun der Yiddisher Literatur

Musterverk fun der Yiddisher Literatur

The Jewish Spanish-language Publishing Space

Until at least the sixties the issue of the choosing of a language was a crucial problem for intellectuals and community leaders. The decision of using a language (Yiddish, Hebrew or Spanish) for a publication, instruction in schools, or a public event, meant opting for a certain ideological position within the Jewish political and cultural field.  However, the increasingly rapid shift towards the Spanish language, evidenced most clearly from the late 1940s, was unstoppable.

This cultural and social framework led to the emergence of different projects aimed at disseminating Jewish-themed works in Spanish. The six most important Jewish publishing labels in this language from the 1920s until the late 1970s focused on the publishing of translations, leaving a secondary place to the works of local authors. Most of the local Jewish authors who dealt with Jewish issues in their literary texts and essays published their works in non-Jewish general publishing houses.[10]

The first feature that distinguishes a Spanish edition from a Yiddish language one is that before the emergence of these publishing labels there had been no modern repository of works on Jewish themes in this language.  For this reason, the task of writers and publishers can be considered as the modern "invention" of "Jewishness" in Spanish.  I situate publishers side-by-side with writers, as doing the work of selection, inclusion in a collection, and introduction of prologues and other paratexts that influence the reading of the text can be understood as kinds of creative intellectual activity assimilable to the one developed by the writer.  (Actually, a similar thing can be said for the previously mentioned Yiddish language publishing houses regarding to the editorial work).

The second feature is the new identity choices that Spanish opened up for the Jewish reader. Unlike Yiddish readers whose options were restricted to a book field dominated by Jewish themes, the Spanish reading audience could choose among a wider diversity of topics and authors, where references to Jewishness appeared only as a possible alternative . In the case of Spanish, the field of competition conditioned the type of possible editorial intervention. The public was now a universe of readers who had to be brought in and kept close to "Jewishness”.  But the definition of “Jewishness” was a space of dispute between publishing projects with distinct cultural and ideological positions.

Among the various editorial endeavors that exclusively published Jewish-themed titles between 1920 and 1979 in Spanish, the six most significant were:

Name

Private or institutional publishing house

General orienation

Publishing period

Number of Spanish language or Bilingual (Spa/Yid and Spa/Heb) titles published

Sociedad Hebraica Argentina

Sociedad Hebraica Argentina

Cultural – Integrationist – Universalist

1925-1959

37

Israel

Private

Cultural – Zionist

1938-1969

72

Sigal

Private

Religious - Traditional

1944-1979

44

Acervo Cultural

Private

Cultural

1952-1983

79

Candelabro

Private

Cultural – Zionist

1953-1972

80

Yehuda

Private

Religious - Traditional

1959-1979

22

Unlike the previous table, almost all the endeavors in this one are private.  As a first approach to the subject we will focus the attention on two publishing houses, Israel and Candelabro.

a. Editorial Israel

The birth of “Editorial Israel” in the late 1930s was the result of the will and economic resources of the Zionist patron José Mirelman, the strong cultural vocation of the young intellectual Máximo Yagupsky, and the hard work of the translator, secretary and co-editor Rebeca Trabb.  The goals of their project were expressed inside the flap of each book:

ISRAEL editions are aimed at making avaible to the Spanish-language reader the most important Jewish works, ancient and modern. In a selection that covers thought and poetry, history and novels, ideological essays and entertaining books for children, ISRAEL editions constitute a basic Jewish library that offer the reader a thorough knowledge of the Jewish people, their spiritual achievements, and their position in life.

Although these lines refer to the formation of a "library" containing all the necessary elements and themes to acquire a broad knowledge of Jewish history and culture by the Spanish reader, its letterhead sheets specify the ideal target of the project: "A Jewish book in every Jewish home."[11] In this case it is not the general public at whom the collection is primarily aimed, but rather to Spanish-speaking Jews who otherwise would find it difficult to read Jewish-themed books.  But the primacy of the political-cultural purpose over the lucrative cannot be directly inferred from the stated purposes.  This can only be observed when considering that the main resources needed for the basic editorial tasks came from Jose Mirelman.

In its 72 titles there was a greater weight on the narrative in its various alternatives over other genres, such as historical and political essays.  What distinguishes this editorial is its strong commitment to the identification of "Jewishness" with Zionism.  The choices of authors and titles, as well as the way the authors and the works are presented in the prologues, show a clear orientation towards the identification between being Jewish and Zionist.  Although at a first glance Israel seems to have offered a non-partisan Zionism, its catalog reveals a remarkable absence of the socialist wing of Zionist thinking.[12]

Text Box:

Editorial Israel

Founded by Abraham Mibashan and continued by his son Asher after his death in 1960, Candelabro (Menorah) did not have the support of any philanthropist throughout its existence. The only support that I could identify so far is that of the Zionist Central Council for the publishing of a short collection of Zionist titles.  The publishing house was financed through its own publications and the sales of the illustrated magazine Eretz Israel. Asher Mibashan’s son recalled in an interview that while there were attempts to improve sales through some major titles, the publishing label was not and was never conceived to be a large profitable company.  The biographies of Abraham and Asher Mibashan allow us to give a further step in understanding why the selection of titles does not seem to have been guided by criteria of massive or immediate commercial success.

Abraham Mibashan was born in Romania in 1890, and graduated in philosophy and  specializing in Judaic subjects in Berlin. During World War I he worked in Switzerland as a journalist for the daily Neue Züricher Zeitung. Once the war finished he moved to Palestine where, at the beginning of the 1920s, he was appointed secretary of the municipality of Tel Aviv. In 1936 Abraham Mibashan arrived in Argentina to give impetus to the Zionist work in the region. In Buenos Aires he reached and held the highest positions within the Jewish political world.  In 1943 he founded (and directed until his death) the Spanish illustrated magazine "Eretz Israel", which, like the publishing project, was continued by his son Asher. Asher obtained his PhD in physical chemistry in Jerusalem and arrived in Argentina in 1947 where he combined the editorial work with the distribution of news in the local Jewish Press.  Both he and his sister Naomi worked as translators of Jewish texts to Spanish. In the cases of the father and son, but especially Abraham, his commitment and involvement with Jewish life seemed to have marked the whole publishing project, making it a medium of cultural and political intervention rather than a mere business.

Text Box:

Editorial Candelabro

Both publishing houses, Israel and Candelabro, are similar regarding the strong commitment to the identification of "Jewishness" with Zionism.  The choices of authors and titles (whether history, literature or political essay), including the way in which writers and works are presented, show a clear orientation towards this identification.   However in both cases we find an idea of Zionism that exceeds the kind of doctrine spread by political organizations.  In any case we can understand it as the developmnt of a comprehensive Zionist conception that cultural and political at the same time.

Some Final Hypotheses and Considerations

As the most important center of Latin America within the Jewish cultural geography, the participation of Buenos Aires was made possible through the active mediation of a range of actors (intellectuals, translators, editors, printing press workers, librarians, community activists, and philanthropists), and institutions and cultural, political, and commercial enterprises (publishers, printers, bookstores, libraries, and political parties, and organizations) who bought, built up, translated, edited, and distributed through numerous channels works published or written in one of the previously-mentioned cities. In this way, this set of actors and institutions have played a crucial role in establishing a dynamic series of cultural circuits through which the Jewish public in the country could participate in the symbolic production around the Jewish world.

Although all the Yiddish language publishing houses were based on a common national secular Jewish culture matrix rooted in Yiddish language, their objectives were different: the need to recall the European Jewish world destroyed during the Holocaust, the will constitute a body of works in a language whose near ending was perceived with pain, and the aim of spreading ideological-political orientations (Socialist Zionism, Bundism, Communism and Anarchism).  A further step in the investigation is to analyze in what sense these endeavors expressed different ideas or nuances about the meaning of Jewishness.

The Argentinian Jewish book market in Spanish had to face two major problems that may have hindered its development. On the one hand, the Spanish language would have opened the possibility to the readership of choosing within a myriad of books where the Jewish titles appear as just one of many choices. Considering the changes in the Jewish local society, readers’ interests were not necessarily  guided to the reading of Jewish books. On the other hand, publishers had to compete with large general publishing houses that occasionally and sometimes systematically published Jewish-themed books.[13]

The two Jewish Spanish language publishing houses studied here show that Spanish language was not the center of Jewish identity but rather provided a space in which to develop and spread national Zionist ideas.  Unlike the case of Yiddish, there were no Spanish-language projects that had the Holocaust as a main topic.  However, unlike the Yiddish case, we discovered two Spanish language publishers orientated to religious books.  The commercial factor has some presence in the choices of some publishing labels in Spanish, but it can not be regarded as the main logic of the Spanish language publishing space.

From the mid-1950’s onward, the local production of Jewish titles in Spanish was confronted with the publication of books and pamphlets in Spanish in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Political parties and organizations and the State of Israel through agencies and departments begun to publish books and pamphlets aimed at the Latin American Jewish readers and, one might suppose, for the Spanish speaking immigrants who were settling in Israel.

A sociological problem that is present in this paper but that will be deepened in a further analysis is Jews´ significative inclination to cultural and political expression through the book.  In this paper we have seen that this inclination was possible due to the convergence of a set of cultural dispositions: investment in the printed word, institutional organization and, to some extent, philanthropy.  We may refer to these inclinations as general cultural dispositions as the recurrence of cases where these factors are combined may indicate to us that we are dealing with widespread tendencies within the Jewish life.  But we still need to analyze to what extent the specific cultural and political context encouraged and strengthened these dispositions.  The magnitude of these “investments” would become even more visible to the contemporary observer if we were to include in the tables above the large number of publishing projects that edited between one and fourteen titles that were not included.

As I intended to show along the paper I assume that the relative independence from the market conditions of each publishing house and its relationship with the pursued politica and cultural aims, can be observed through the joint analysis of the objectives (the stated ones and those that can be inferred from each list of books published), the funding sources, the trajectories and positions of the editors, and the private or institutional character of each house.

Bibliography

  • American Jewish Yearbook 50 (1948-1949), American Jewish Committee, Nueva York.
  • Bourdieu, Pierre, “Une révolution conservatrice dans l´édition” in Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 126-127: 2-28, Paris, March, 1999.
  • Katz, Pinie, Páginas Escogidas, Ed. ICUF. Buenos Aires (1939), 1982.
  • Scwartz, Jan, “A Library of Hope and Destruction: The Yiddish Book Series Dos Poylishe Yidntum, 1946-1966,” y “Appendix: List of 175 Volumes of Dos poylishe yidntum” en POLIN 20: Studies in Polish Jewry. Págs. 173-196, 2007.
  • Weinstein, Ana y Gover de Nasatsky, Miryam, Escritores judeo-argentinos. Bibliografía 1900-1987, Milá, AMIA, Buenos Aires, 1994.
  • Weinstein, Ana y Toker, Eliahu, La letra idish en tierra argentina.  Bio-bilbiografía de sus autores literarios, Milá, AMIA, Buenos Aires, 2004.

[1] This paper is the first approach to this object and is part of a larger ongoing research.

[2] Bourdieu, Pierre, Une révolution conservatrice dans l´édition in Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 126-127: 2-28

[3] I consider a Jewish publishing house as any Jewish book publishing endeavor aimed primarily at, but not limited to, the Jewish readership, which catalog is dominated by Jewish-themed books. In this sense the inclusion of Yiddish publications enterprises could present an analytical problem regarding Jewish-themes.  In the case of Jewish languages we may talk about a space defined by the language and not by themes, as any text printed in a Jewish language beyond its content, doesn´t have any other potential reader than the Jewish one.

[4] American Jewish Yearbook 50 (1948/49), American Jewish Committee, New York, Pgs. 275,276

 

[5] The similarity in their aims and the central role of Abraham Mittelberg in both projects allow us to understand Farlag Yiddish as Dos Poylishe Yidntum´s predecessor.

[6] Memoirs and fiction had a major presence in numerical terms over historical studies and poetry. In fact, with the survivors of the Holocaust a specific genre was born that had wide circulation throughout the Jewish world and that the series included in a special way, the yizker bijer, or memorial books. Based on testimony, these books recount the lives of people devastated by the Nazis in order to erect monuments as reminders of the existence of these communities.

[7] For a detailed analysis of this publishing project see Scwartz, Jan, “A Library of Hope and Destruction: The Yiddish Book Series Dos Poylishe Yidntum, 1946-1966,” y “Appendix: List of 175 Volumes of Dos poylishe yidntum.” POLIN 20: Studies in Polish Jewry. 2007:173-196

[8] After the death of Joseph Lifschitz the project continued through the support of the Dovid Turjanski Fund, y then through its convergence with the Tyla Kustin Fund.

For more references about this publishing enterprise see The Mendele Review: Yiddish Literature and Language,  Vol. 06.007, 29 July 2002 (http://yiddish.haifa.ac.il/tmr/tmr06/tmr06007.txt)

[10] Alberto Gerchunoff, for instance, publishes between 1910 and 1952 in two of the main cultural ventures of Samuel Glusberg, in M. Gleizer, one in the Sociedad Hebraica Argentina (in 1953, after his death, this institution published a compilation of essays written by him), and in large non-Jewish publishing houses like Losada y Sudamericana.

[11] Since 1934, at the latest, and until the mid-1940s, the Jewish Publication Society of America, a non-profit organization aimed at publishing Jewish-themed books in English, had the following motto: "Jewish books in every Jewish home".  As I have shown in another paper (Dujovne, Alejandro, “A Jewish Book in Every Jewish Home: The Argentine Cultural Project of the Spanish Language “Israel” Publishing House” presented at the Western/Midwestern  Jewish Studies Association Conference, held at Dever University, April 26 and 27, 2009) the connections and similarities between the two projects go far beyond the appropriation of the JPS motto.

[12] Between 1940 and 1946 Israel publishes a set of canonical Zionist authors and works: the founder of political Zionism, Theodore Herzl, the leader of the Revisionist Zionism Vladimir Jabotinsky, the cultural Zionist Ajad Haam, proto-zionist intellectual Moses Hess, and thinkers like Leo Pinsker, Aaron David Gordon and Josef Klausner.

[13] This competence is expressed in almost all the genres, but where it may be more visible is in the case of the the best-sellers.  Spanish publishing label Plaza y Janés, for instance, published many of the nobel prize winner Samuel J. Agnon´s books.