Prose Writing in "Hame'asef", the First Hebrew Periodical, and its Literary Conventions

הז'אנר של הסיפורת ואביזרייהו ב'המאסף', כתב העת העברי הראשון.


This article undertakes, for the first time in Haskalah (the period of the Jewish Enlightenment) criticism, to delineate, analyze and explain the phenomena of prose narratives in Hame'asef, the first Hebrew journal of the German Haskalah, which appeared between 1783 and 1811. It is also worth noting that this article closely follows upon the completion of the 'Hame'asef Index', a project to bring out an annotated, computerized index of the journal. Out of one thousand different entries published in the ten volumes of Hame'asef, eighteen entries were categorized as 'prose narrative', including four idylls in prose. The author delineates the variety of literary techniques used in several sub-genres of fiction narratives, such as moral stories, a pensive idyll, idylls in prose, descriptive prose, contemplative prose, fable stories, biblical stories, an allegorical story, the epistolary story, the mode of satire in narrative, authentic travelogue as epistolary, dialogues, and the 'dialogues of the dead' — imaginary conversations with important figures from the past. Among the literary conventions employed, the author cites the reliance on biblical proverbs exemplified by the moral stories. The pastoral idylls are mostly translated or adapted from the German, yet they are given a biblical imprint through the biblical style or setting. The contemplative prose tends to be sentimental and to urge man to return to Nature, much in the way advocated by Jean Jacques Rousseau. Other works are influenced by Albrecht von Haller's pastoral and religious hymns. An interesting development in prose writing is the attempt to 'compose' biblical stories based on seminal biblical figures such as David, Saul or Joseph. Some of the more modern stories are the ones related to the prevalent epistolary form or take the form of dialogues of the dead, both utilized for satirical purposes. The author concludes that these prose writings are essentially experimental, and that they are either related to existing forms in the Hebrew literary tradition or to some contemporary European forms of writing. As such, it is suggested that they constitute what can be seen as the beginnings of modern prose writing during the period of early Hebrew Enlightenment in Germany.

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Jerusalem Studies in Hebrew Literature /מחקרי ירושלים בספרות עברית

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