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Papers of David Pinski (1872-1959)

Identifier: RG 204

Scope and Content Note

The Papers of David Pinski consist of correspondence with approximately 1,350 individuals and organizations, in English and Yiddish, 1890s-1950s, particularly those active in Yiddish literature, Jewish community life and Yiddish culture. There is also family correspondence with his wife, Adele, 1898-1942, correspondence with his son, his parents and other family members, and letters on his 50th, 70th and 75th birthdays. Letters from individuals include S. An-Ski, Baal Makhshoves, Hayyim Nahman Bialik, Nathan Birnbaum, Ber Borochov, Jacob Dinesohn, Saul Ginsburg, Jacob Glatstein, Peretz Hirschbein, David Ignatoff, Joseph Jaffe, David Kessler, Judah L. Magnes, Golda Meir, Nahum Baruch Minkoff, Shmuel Niger, Moshe Olgin, Joseph Opatoshu, Isaac Leib Peretz, Abraham Reisen, Joseph Schlossberg, Sholem Aleichem, Mordecai Spector, Nachman Syrkin, Baruch Vladeck, Chaim Weizmann, Hillel Zeitlin, Zerubavel, and Chaim Zhitlowsky. Correspondence with Yiddish organizations includes the Jewish National Workers Alliance (Yidisher Natsionaler Arbeter Farband fun Amerike), 1916-1942, including the main office and branches in the U.S. and Canada as well as with its affiliated Yiddish schools, the Poale Zion party in the United States and Canada, 1914-1947, in Palestine, 1924-1937, and in Poland, 1936, as well as correspondence of the party’s press organs, Der Yidisher Arbeiter (The Jewish Worker), 1923-1926, Yidisher Kempfer (Jewish Fighter), 1931-1933, and Di Tsayt (The Times), 1921-1922. There are also letters from affiliated organizations such as Hechalutz, Pioneer Women, and the League for Labor Palestine. The correspondence is indicative of Pinski’s active and colorful activity in many fields and is an important source for the history of Jewish publishing, periodicals, social and communal organizations, and cultural institutions.

There are also manuscripts of novels, plays, poems, essays, and articles, including Arnold Levenberg, Ven Vegn Tsugayn Zikh (When the Roads Split), Noyekh's Hoyz (Noah’s House), Shlomo Hamelekh’s Toyzent Vayber (King Solomon’s Thousand Wives), Adoniahu, Der Oytser (The Treasure), Isaac Sheftel, In Hoykhe Fenster (In the High Window), Der Nes Mendele Moykher-Sforim (The Miracle of Mendele Moykher-Seforim), Biblishe Monologn-Moyshe (Biblical Monologues – Moses), as well as various others, translations of Pinski’s works into English and Russian, lectures made on various occasions, 1891-1945, articles about the Tcherikower Conference, Tolstoy, I.L. Peretz, and about trips to Israel and the Soviet Union. In addition, there are some personal documents and photographs, including two ketubot, one from Geneva, 1897 and one from New York, 1916, David and Adele Pinski’s passports, a membership card from Keren Hayesod, a certificate from the Polish Consul in New York, 1932, Pinski’s will, event programs, and notes.

The collection dates from 1880-1952, with an addendum from 2005-2011 and is in 36.5 manuscript boxes, measuring 18.25 linear feet.


  • Creation: 1880-1952, 2005-2011

Language of Materials

The collection is in Yiddish, Polish, Hebrew, German, Russian, English, and French.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public. Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained in writing from the YIVO Archives.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection.

For more information, contact:

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011 email:

Biographical Note

Yiddish author and playwright David Pinski was born in Mohilev, Russia (now Belarus) on April 5, 1872. His father, Mordechai Yitzhak, was a commissioner of military clothing in Moscow and Pinski composed some of his earliest stories in the letters that he sent to his father. Pinski began studying Gemara at age 7 and soon was known as a prodigy, however he also read widely in Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian literature and often attended Russian and Yiddish theater productions in Mohilev. He and his parents moved to Moscow when Pinski was 13, where he began to learn secular subjects and also continued his writing in Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish.

In 1890-1891 Pinski lived in Vitebsk, where he met Reuben Brainin, with whom he organized a B’nai Zion union, of which Pinski was the secretary. Pinski wrote Zionist songs and melodies for the union in Yiddish, even though Hovevei Zion advocated the use of Hebrew. From Vitebsk Pinski traveled to Vienna in 1891, where he intended to study medicine. On the way to Vienna, he stopped in Warsaw, where he met Isaac Leib Peretz, who warmly welcomed him and, together with Jacob Dinesohn, befriended Pinski and encouraged his literary activities. Pinski only remained in Vienna a short time before returning to Warsaw in early 1892, where his parents had settled after the Jews had been expelled from Moscow. By this time, Pinski was already a committed Socialist and Labor Zionist. He made his living from teaching while also continuing his writing in Russian and Hebrew and eventually Yiddish.

Pinski’s first published work was a poem, "L’Shana Tova" (Happy New Year), in Appelberg’s Varshaver Yiddisher Kalendar (Warsaw Jewish Calendar) in 1893, after which he started to publish a wide variety of materials, including satirical essays, critiques and short sketches. Pinski and Peretz founded the I.L. Peretz Publications publishing house, through which they aimed to use literature as a weapon in the fight for a new social order. In those years Pinski was a public-minded Socialist and, as such, considered himself responsible for exposing others to the teachings of the Socialist enlightenment. Also together with Peretz, Pinski led a revolutionary student circle in Warsaw which aimed to enlighten and revolutionize the Jewish worker through appropriate literature and popular scientific works, brochures and newspapers.

When the student circle fell apart, Peretz, Pinski and Mordecai Spector, with financial assistance from Adele (Hodel) Kaufman (Pinski’s wife from 1897 and also Spector’s sister-in-law) began to put out the magazine Literatur un Lebn (Literature and Life) in order to publicize Socialist ideas. Later they published Yom-Tov Bletlekh (Holiday Pages), which had a similar outlook. Pinski was one of the main contributors to both magazines. Yom-Tov Bletlekh helped to spread Socialist ideas among the Jewish masses and Pinski’s name gained in popularity. He began to travel all over the Pale and to meet supporters face-to-face and to organize “Jargon Committees”, which created funds to support Yom-Tov Bletlekh, although the magazine eventually ceased publication due to financial difficulties. Spector had previously left the magazine over its radical tone and this difference of opinion influenced Pinski to discontinue his participation in Spector’s Hoyz Fraynd (Home Companion).

In spring 1896 Pinski settled in Berlin, where he studied at the university. At the same time he established relations with several American Jewish societies and became a contributer to the New York Jewish Socialist daily newspaper Dos Abend Blatt (The Evening Paper), publishing essays under several pseudonyms. He also established a publishing house called Zeitgeist. He later lived in Switzerland and, while there, he attended the meeting of the Friends of Yiddish in Basel after the First Zionist Congress in 1897, together with Chaim Zhitlowsky. In the same year, 1897, he wrote his first social-psychological drama in Yiddish, Isaac Sheftal, followed by Yesurim (Suffering) in 1899.

Pinski came to New York in December 1899 on the invitation of Herman Simson, the editor of Dos Abend Blatt, the official newspaper of the Socialist Workers Party, for which he had been writing for the previous few years. He soon took over as literary editor at Dos Abend Blatt and was the assistant editor of the weekly Der Arbeiter Zeitung (The Worker’s Paper), later called Der Arbeiter (The Worker) until its closure in 1911. He was also a member of the Bund and published a column about the activities of the Bund in Tsarist Russia, In dem Bunds Rayon (In the Bund’s Region) in Der Arbeiter, the editor of which, Joseph Schlossberg, was Adele Pinski’s nephew. Starting in 1916, Pinski was a prominent leader and a long-time member of the central committee of the Poale Zion (Labor Zionist) movement. He was also the editor of the Poale Zionist journal Der Yidisher Kempfer (The Jewish Fighter) and the daily newspapers Di Tsayt (The Times) and Zukunft (Future), the last of which he co-edited with Shmuel Niger and Hillel Rogoff, from 1941-1949, when he moved to Israel. He wrote articles for Der Yid(The Jew), Der Fraynd (The Friend), Yidishe Vokhnshrift (Yiddish Weekly Journal). In addition, he was the president of the Jewish National Workers’ Alliance (Farband) and of the Jewish Cultural Society and the first president of the Yiddish PEN Club. He helped to found theTsentrale yidishe kultur-organizatsye (Central Yiddish Cultural Organization) CYCO in 1938 and was a member of the managing committee. He also belonged to the group that helped to create the World Cultural Congress in New York in 1948.

Alongside Pinski’s extensive political activities, he continued to write and publish novels and plays and was one of the founders and leaders of the Yiddish theater organization in New York as well as the journal Tealit. In 1904, he nearly received his doctorate in German language and literature from Columbia University, but his play Family Tsvi, written in response to the Kishinev pogrom, premiered on the day set for his Ph.D. examination. He failed to show up for the exam, and never received his doctorate.

He continued to publish plays, many of which were about the common man and the workers, historical legends and folklore, including his first play Di Muter (The Mother), Glik-Fargesene (Forgotten Luck, 1904), Der Oytser (The Treasure, 1906), Yankel der Shmid (Jacob the Blacksmith, 1906), Gabri un di Froyen (Gabri and the Women, 1908), Mary Magdalene (1910-1911), Professor Brenner (1911), Di Bergshteyger (The Mountain Climbers, 1912), Der Letster Sakhakl (The Last Message, 1924), Opgezogt (Declined, 1932), and many others. He also published several plays and other writings about Biblical characters, including a short essay about Bruriah, Rabbi Meir the Tanna’s wife, Dovid Hamelekh un Zayne Vayber (King David and his Wives, c.1923), and a series of sketches of the wives of King Solomon. He published six works about messianic figures from different time periods, Der Eybiker Yid (The Eternal Jew, 1906), which was the first play ever performed by the Habimah Theater of Israel, Rabbi Akiva un Bar Kokhba (Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kokhba), Der Shtumer Meshiakh (The Silent Messiah, 1919), Shlomo Molkho un David Hareuveni (Shlomo Molcho and David Hareuveni), Shabetai Tsvi un Sore (Shabbetai Tsvi and Sarah), and Der Baal-Shem un der Gazlen (The Baal Shem and the Robber). He wrote several plays about the Israeli pioneers as well as novels, Der Tserisener Mentsh (The Split Personality, 1919-1925), and Dos Hoyz fun Noyekh Edon [The House of Noah Edon, c.1929, also known as Noyekh's Hoyz (Noah's House)].

In 1949 Pinski emigrated to the newly founded state of Israel. He settled on Mount Carmel in Haifa, where he had bought a plot of land on which to build a house in 1936. For his eightieth birthday, he was made an honorary citizen of Haifa and a street on Mount Carmel was named after him. He was also made the honorary chairman and vice president of the Yiddish Literary Union in Israel. He continued to write and publish in Israel and to send articles to be published in Morgn Zhurnal (Daily Journal) and Tog (Day) in New York but he also believed that Yiddish would eventually become a respected part of the culture of Israel, alongside Hebrew. He continued to write plays, including several about the Biblical characters Moses, Saul and Samson and Delilah, although it does not appear that these plays were ever staged. Pinski’s wife Adele (Hodel) died March 29, 1959 and he died five months later on August 11, 1959.


18.25 Linear Feet


This collection contains documents relating to David Pinski’s role as a Yiddish writer, playwright, essayist, translator, editor, literary critic, and author of novels, plays, short stories, essays, and poems. There is personal and professional correspondence, manuscripts of novels, plays, poems, essays, and articles, translations of Pinski’s works into English and Russian, lectures made on various occasions, personal documents and photographs, programs, notes, and newspaper clippings. These materials demonstrate Pinski’s important role in Yiddish drama and literature, Jewish community life and Yiddish cultural institutions.


The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent according to the Hebrew alphabet for Hebrew and Yiddish correspondents, and according to the Latin alphabet for English, Russian, Polish, French, and German correspondents. Personal names of correspondents have been transliterated, journal titles and organization names have been transliterated and translated, and the titles of speeches and writings have been transliterated and translated. Yiddish names have been transliterated according to YIVO standards except when the individual is known in English by another spelling. Additionally, if the name appeared in Latin letters anywhere within the folder, that spelling was used rather than a standard transliteration. The English correspondence subseries also contains materials in Russian, Polish, French, and German and a few items in Hebrew and Yiddish.

The collection is divided into 6 series, some of which have been further divided into subseries, and an addendum.

  1. Series I: Personal papers, 1880-1952
  2. Series II: Correspondence, Yiddish, 1888-1952
  3. Subseries 1: Family Correspondence, 1892-1948
  4. Subseries 2: Correspondence with Individuals, Institutions and Organizations, 1888-1952
  5. Series III: Correspondence, English, 1891-1948
  6. Series IV: Correspondence, Jewish National Workers’ Alliance of America and Poale Zion, 1914-1948
  7. Series V: Manuscripts, 1890-1945, undated
  8. Subseries 1: Novels, 1919-1934
  9. Subseries 2: Plays, 1899-1944, undated
  10. Subseries 3: Translations, English, 1924-1927, undated
  11. Subseries 4: Translations, Russian, undated
  12. Subseries 5: Stories, 1890-1945
  13. Subseries 6: Poems, undated
  14. Subseries 7: Essays, 1947, undated
  15. Subseries 8: Articles, undated
  16. Series VI: Miscellaneous, 1904-1948, undated
  17. Series VII: Addendum, 2005-2011

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated to the YIVO Archives by David Pinski in 1942 and by his son Harry in 1949. Materials in the addendum were given to YIVO in 2011 by Gabriel Pinski, David Pinski’s grandson.

Related Material

The YIVO Archives contains collections of several of Pinski’s most prominent correspondents, including B. J. Bialostotzky, Mendl Elḳin, David Ignatoff, H. Leivick, Abraham Liessin, Kalman Marmor, Shmuel Niger, Joseph Opatoshu, and many others. There are also copies of Pinski’s plays and writings and he is represented in materials relating to Yiddish theater.

Separated Material

There is no information about materials that are associated by provenance to the described materials that have been physically separated or removed.

Processing information

The collection was originally processed and a Yiddish finding aid was created by Felicia Figa in October 1976. The full Yiddish finding aid was translated into English and additional processing was completed in 2012.

Guide to the Papers of David Pinski (1872-1959) 1880-1952, 2005-2011 RG 204
Processed by Felicia Figa. Additional processing by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States