Hayyim Nahman Bialik ( 1873-1934) is considered to be the greatest modern Hebrew poet. His career spans a crucial period in Jewish history, and he belongs to the golden age of Eastern European Hebrew and Yiddish literature.
Born in the village of Radi in the Ukrainian province of Volhynia to a middle-class family that had become impoverished, Bialik was raised in the nearby town of Zhitomir, whose Jewish community had still preserved an almost medieval religious culture. He received a strictly traditional education (Bible, Talmud, and Midrash) and at the age of seventeen ( 1891) was sent to study at the great Yeshivah (Talmudic academy) of Volozhin. By the time he arrived there, he had already fallen under the influence of the Haskalah, the Jewish enlightenment movement, which had aspired to integrate Jews into the predominant European culture of the countries in which they resided. The naive Haskalah hopes, however, were shattered by the Russian government's adoption of reactionary policies following the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881. Most Russian Jews despaired of ever gaining emancipation under the oppressive czarist regime. Millions, driven by poverty and discrimination, began a mass emigration to Western Europe or to the United States, where economic and political conditions were more amenable.
A large segment of the Jewish intelligentsia who remained in Russia was attracted either to its rising revolutionary movements or to the ἤovevei Tsion (Lovers of Zion), the pre-Zionist movement, and its call for Jewish auto-emancipation in a reestablished Jewish