Hillel Zeitlin

Hillel Zeitlin

Hillel Zeitlin

Hillel Zeitlin (1871–1942) was a Yiddish and Hebrew writer who edited the Yiddish newspaper Moment, among other literary activities. He was born in the Mogilev Governorate of the Russian Empire (present-day Gomel Region of Belarus) to a Chassidic Chabad family. Already in his childhood, he was recognized for his particularly sharp and analytical mind. When Zeiltin turned 15, his father died and he decided to become a Hebrew teacher.

His exit from the world of the Yeshiva exposed him to the works of the scholars of the Enlightenment. He began studying in earnest the works of both Jewish philosophers (Maimonides, Gersonides, Spinoza etc.) and non-Jewish ones such as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and others.

During this period in his life, he began questioning his religious beliefs and eventually drifted toward secularism.

Zeitlin also grew close to the territorialist movement and lent his support to the "Uganda proposal". Zeitlin was of the opinion that it would be impossible to settle in Palestine without removing the half a million Palestinian Arabs and so the Zionist proposals would fail.[1]

He was a practical territorialist and his writings took on more urgency after the notorious pogroms in Kishinev and Homel.

After World War I, Zeitlin gradually drifted back toward tradition and began leading an Orthodox lifestyle. The reason(s) for this drastic change in his life is not completely clear but may have had something to do with the suffering of Jews during the war.

At the same time, Zeitlin remained independent and unconventional in his beliefs and actions. He did not—for instance—hesitate to eulogize his former friend, the great writer and thinker, Yosef Haim Brenner who was an ardent secularist.

When the Nazis began liquidating Polish Jewry in 1942, Zeitlin was 71 years old. He was killed by Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto[2] while holding a book of the Zohar and wrapped in a prayer shawl and phylacteries. Most of his family was also killed; the only survivor was his elder son Aaron.

His sons, Aaron Zeitlin (1898-1973) and Elchanan Zeitlin (1900-1942), were also Yiddish writers.


  1. ^ Shapira, Anita (1999) Land and Power; The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948. Stanford University press, ISBN 0-8047-3776-2 p 46
  2. ^ Fine, Lawrence; Fishbane, Eitan; Rose, Or N (2010). Jewish Mysticism and the Spiritual Life: Classical Texts, Contemporary Reflections.  


  • Arthur Green (2012) Hasidic Spirituality for a New Era; The Religious Writings of Hillel Zeitlin. The Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press.
  • Shapira, Anita (1999) Land and Power; The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948. Stanford University press, ISBN 0-8047-3776-2
  • Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav: World Weariness and Longing for the Messiah, Two Essays by Hillel Zeitlin, Introduction and Critical Notes by Jonatan Meir, Jerusalem: Yeriot: Essays and Papers in the Jewish Studies Bearing on the Humanities and the Social Sciences, 5, 2006
  • Jonatan Meir. ‘Hillel Zeitlin's Zohar, The History of a Translation and Commentary Project’, Kabbalah: Journal for the Study of Jewish Mystical Texts 10 (2004), pp. 119–157
  • Shraga Bar-On(2013), 'Hillel Zeitlin in Search of God: An Analysis of Zeitlin's Meditation ‘The Thirst’, in: D. Schwartz and A. Sagi (eds.), Faith: Jewish Perspectives, (Boston: Academic Studies Press): 478-499