Hayim Nahman Bialik
Hayim Nahman Bialik, the Schwadron Collection at the National Library

Hayim Nahman Bialik

Hayim Nahman Bialik (1873–1934) was a poet, writer, editor, translator and publisher. He was one of the greatest Hebrew poets and innovators of the Hebrew language, among the founders of a new field of Hebrew children’s literature and, as a result of his great influence, became commonly known as “the national poet.”

Bialik was born in the Russian Empire, in the village of Radi, in what is now Ukraine. Bialik wrote of his hometown: “A place of forests and fields and a lovely oasis, full of the modest beauty of simple and healthy nature, happy with its portion and content with little.” When he was six, the family moved to a nearby town, where they made a meager living from running a tavern in their home. At the age of seven, Bialik’s father died, and as a result, he was sent to live in the home of his strict and pious grandfather. During this period living in his grandfather’s home, he suffered great cruelty at the hands of his teachers and cousins.

At the age of 17, Bialik went to study at the Volozhin Yeshiva, where he wrote his first well-known work, El Hatzipor ("To the Bird"). His profound childhood experiences and studies in the yeshiva were reflected in his diverse works throughout his life.

The Work of H.N. Bialik

At the age of 19, Bialik moved to Odessa, which at the time was a bustling center of Hebrew cultural and spiritual life. He lived there for most of his adult life and wrote much of his work there. It was in Odesssa that he also began to publish his work and gain recognition. He befriended prominent figures in the world of Hebrew culture and in the Zionist movement, including Moshe Leib Lilienblum, Yehoshua Ḥana Rawnitzki, Elhanan Lewinsky, Meir Dizengoff and S. Ben-Zion, promoting a number of important cultural ventures together with them.

In 1903, horrified by the witness testimonies emerging from the Kishinev Pogrom, Bialik wrote “On the Slaughter” and “In the City of Slaughter,” two of his best-known and poignant works. In 1924, he immigrated to Mandatory Palestine with his wife and settled in Tel Aviv. He died in 1934, and was buried in Trumpeldor Cemetery. His funeral was attended by thousands of mourners.

Bialik’s work occupies an important place in the Hebrew literary canon. He is known for his talent for describing modern life and responding to current events through a combination of innovative Hebrew and biblical and Talmudic expressions. Bialik wrote poems for adults and children, stories, essays, translations, commentaries as well as poems in Yiddish. He was one of the founders of the “Moriah” and “Dvir” publishing houses, edited the compilation known as Sefer HaAggadah ("The Book of Legends") and worked on the Hebrew Language Committee. Many of his songs were set to music and became popular hits.

The National Library of Israel has collected many fascinating materials related to Bialik. The items reveal various aspects of his work, life and broad cultural endeavors. In the Library you can browse different editions of his writings for adults and children, including origal works in his own handwriting; correspondence; photographs; news articles; obituaries and more. In addition to these, you can listen to recordings of his songs performed by Israeli artists.