The Radical Isaac

I. L. Peretz and the Rise of Jewish Socialism

By Adi Mahalel

Subjects: Jewish Studies, Radical History, Hebrew Language And Literature, Literary History, Biography
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary Jewish Literature and Culture
Hardcover : 9781438492339, 332 pages, April 2023
Paperback : 9781438492322, 332 pages, October 2023

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Intellectual and Historical Backdrop of Peretz’s Early Work, Outline, and Methodology

1. Education, Professions, and Literary Proclamations: Peretz between Warsaw Positivism and Proto-Socialism

2. A Radical Shift: Becoming a Social-Protest Writer

3. “To Be a Fighter with Both Fists!”: Peretz the Radical Hebrew Writer

4. On Love and Class War: Peretz’s 1890s Hebrew and Yiddish Poetry

5. Between Liberal Satire and Socialist Roots: Peretz’s Hasidic Creations of the 1890s


Examines the Yiddish-Hebrew writer I. L. Peretz's alignment with the Jewish working-class in Eastern Europe and his devotion to progressive politics.


Yiddish and Hebrew writer I. L. Peretz (1852–1915) was a major leader of Eastern European Jewry in the years prior to World War I, and was deeply involved in Jewish politics and communal life throughout his lifetime. In The Radical Isaac, Adi Mahalel examines a central part of his life and art that has often been neglected, namely, his close alignment with the needs of the Jewish working-class and his deep devotion to progressive politics. Although there have been numerous studies of Peretz and his work, this very central component of his life nonetheless remains severely understudied. By offering close readings of the "radical" Peretz, Mahalel recasts the way political activism is understood in scholarly evaluations of the writer's work. Employing a partly chronological, partly thematic scheme, Mahalel follows Peretz's radicalism from its inception and then through the various ways in which it was synchronically expressed during this intense period of history.

Adi Mahalel is Visiting Assistant Professor of Yiddish Studies at the University of Maryland.


"This book is a major contribution to Yiddish studies and Hebrew studies, as well as to studies of Jewish class consciousness, diaspora nationalism, and the Bund. It will contribute widely across these related areas within the broader arena of Jewish studies and is also a well- and long-needed update on the field's consideration of and approach to Peretz." — Nick Underwood, author of Yiddish Paris: Staging Nation and Community in Interwar France