In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Zamenhof

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies

Jewish Studies Zamenhof
Tsvi Sadan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0111


L. L. Zamenhof (b. 1859–d. 1917) may be best known to both scholars specializing in (and laypeople interested in) Jewish studies for his initiative of Esperanto, the most successful international planned language (or so-called “artificial language”); Zamenhof initiated Esperanto as a neutral language for all humankind in 1887 while working as an ophthalmologist in the Jewish quarter of Warsaw after his medical education in Moscow and then in Warsaw. Less well known, however, is the fact that he also initiated a universal religion first called “Hilelismo” (or “Hillelism”), and later called “Homaranismo” (or “humanitarianism”), based on the ethical but not halakhic part of Judaism. Even more obscure is the fact that before Zamenhof dedicated his life to Esperanto and Hilelismo/Homaranismo, he was involved in Zionism and Yiddish language planning, both of which he became disappointed with and later abandoned. He also tried to cultivate Esperanto by writing original poems in the language, translating the Hebrew Bible and other literary works from Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Polish, German, French, and English into his still nascent language and compiling dictionaries with Esperanto as either the source language or the target language. This article introduces Zamenhof’s unique multifaceted life and works, with special attention to his Jewish background. Zamenhof published mostly in Esperanto, though he also wrote in Yiddish and Russian before his first book on Esperanto in 1887. More research about him and his ideas has been conducted in this language by Esperantists, so Esperanto is itself an indispensable tool in the study of Zamenhof. The citation of important works written in Esperanto is, therefore, inevitable, although these may be less linguistically accessible to and harder to obtain for non-Esperantists. For the benefit of those who do not read Esperanto, however, an effort has been made to include translations of these works, when available, in major modern European languages by Zamenhofologists (or researchers of Zamenhof, his works and his ideas), including English, German, French, Italian, Polish, and Russian. This selective bibliography surveys the following seven categories of major works by and on Zamenhof and his ideas: (1) general overviews of Zamenhofology, (2) bibliographies, (3) Zamenhof’s biographies, (4) his original writings in Esperanto as well as Yiddish and Russian, (5) other authors’ works translated by him from Hebrew and modern European languages into Esperanto, and (6) research on his ideas on Yiddish and Esperanto as well as international planned languages in general and on his religious ideas.

General Overviews

The most easily accessible overviews for readers of English are Schor 2009 and Schor 2010; these are meant mainly for those who are interested in Jewish history and culture but know little or nothing about Zamenhof. Another overview with a focus on Zamenhof’s Jewish background is Sadan 2010; it is meant mainly for Esperantists familiar with Zamenhof and his ideas but less familiar with his Jewish background. Far more detailed and better documented is Gishron 1986. Korĵenkov 2009 summarizes what has already been done and what must be done in the future in Zamenhofology. Cherpillod 1997 comes in handy when one needs to check important dates in Zamenhof’s life.

  • Cherpillod, André. L. L. Zamenhof: Datoj, faktoj, lokoj [L. L. Zamenhof: Dates, Facts, Places]. Courgenard, France: Self-published, 1997.

    A concise list in Esperanto of important dates in Zamenhof’s life and his pseudonyms. This is useful in quickly checking major milestones in his life.

  • Gishron, Jeremi. Lingvo kaj religio: Studo pri la frua esperantismo kun speciala atento al L. L.Zamenhof [Language and Religion: Study on Early Esperantism with Special Attention to L. L. Zamenhof]. Jerusalem: Sivron, 1986.

    A detailed study in Esperanto of the historical background and the first period of Zamenhof’s linguistic and religious initiatives (Esperanto and Homaranismo, respectively) with a new view of the author interpreting even Esperanto itself as a new religion.

  • Korĵenkov, Aleksander. Zamenhofologio: Aktualaj problemoj kaj taskoj [Zamenhofology: Current Problems and Tasks]. Kaliningrad, Russia: Sezonoj, 2009.

    A short but insightful description in Esperanto of the present state of the study of Zamenhof’s life, works, language (i.e., Esperanto), and political and religious ideas (i.e., Zionism and Hilelismo/Homaranismo), providing a practical guidance on what has already been done and what remains to be done.

  • Sadan, Tsvi. “Juda fono de Zamenhof kaj Esperanto [Jewish Background of Zamenhof and Esperanto].” In Religiaj kaj filozofiaj ideoj de Zamenhof: Kultura kaj socia fono - Aktoj de la 32-a Esperantologia Konferenco en la 94-a Universala Kongreso de Esperanto, Bjalistoko, 2009 [Religious and Philosophical Ideas of Zamenhof: Cultural and Social Background - Proceedings of the 32nd Esperantological Conference at the 94th World Congress of Esperanto, Bialystok, 2009]. Edited by Christer Kiselman, 9–18. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Universala Esperanto-Asocio, 2010.

    A summary in Esperanto of known sources and studies on the Jewish background of Zamenhof and Esperanto as his proposal to linguistically solve the Jewish problem.

  • Schor, Esther. “Esperanto: A Jewish Story.” Pakntreger 60 (2009): 16–23.

    A brief description of Zamenhof’s life as well as his linguistic and religious ideas from a Jewish perspective. This is a good starting point for researchers and students of Jewish studies who are not so familiar with his ideas, especially religious ones.

  • Schor, Esther. “L. L. Zamenhof and the Shadow People.” Language Problems and Language Planning 34 (2010): 183–192.

    DOI: 10.1075/lplp.34.2.05sch

    A study that proposes to analyze Zamenhof’s combined initiative of Esperanto and Hilelismo/Homaranismo as a way to create a new Jewish identity among the Jews of Russia and a new people: Esperantists.

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