Zilberfarb, Moishe

Zilberfarb, Moishe or Silberfarb, Moses [Зілберфарб, Мойше], b 1876 in Rivne, Volhynia gubernia, d 1934 in Warsaw. Jewish political activist in Ukraine. Zilberfarb, born into an affluent Hasidic family, received a traditional Jewish education until the age of fourteen. In 1898 he completed his studies at the gymnasium in Zhytomyr. He then pursued higher education at the Kyiv Polytechnical Institute, focusing on law. Zilberfarb also spent two years studying medicine at the University of Berlin. In 1904 he obtained a doctorate in law from the University of Bern. Between 1904 and 1906 Zilberfarb wrote several essays on the relationship between socialism and the Jewish question. In April 1906, he was one of the founders and leaders of the Jewish Socialist Workers’ party (SERP; Seymists).

Following the February Revolution of 1917, a significant political realignment took place among various Jewish socialist factions. The Seymists, in conjunction with the Zionist Socialist Workers’ party, forged an alliance, resulting in the formation of the United Jewish Socialist Workers’ party, commonly referred to as the Fareynikte. This coalition aimed to consolidate the efforts of Jewish socialists and Zionists in advancing their shared goals within the tumultuous political landscape of the time. A leader of the United Jewish Socialist Workers’ party, Zilberfarb became the Jewish deputy to the Central Rada. On 27 July 1917 he became general secretary for nationality affairs in the General Secretariat of the Central Rada; thereafter he was a member of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (from 7 November 1917) and general secretary for Jewish affairs (from 22 November). Eventually, on 22 January 1918 he became minister for Jewish affairs in the Ukrainian government, but he resigned his post a few days later, on 29 January.

Prior to the Revolution of 1917, Zilberfarb had established himself as a fervent advocate of Jewish autonomism, championing the cause of self-governance for the Jewish community. Consequently, he welcomed the policies implemented by the Central Rada and the Ukrainian National Republic, which aimed to grant national-personal autonomy to various ethnic and minority groups within Ukraine. Zilberfarb actively contributed to the drafting of legislation specifically focused on Jewish autonomy in Ukraine, reflecting his dedication to empowering the Jewish community and preserving its distinct cultural and social identity within the broader Ukrainian context.

In the period spanning 1918 to 1920, Zilberfarb assumed leadership of the Jewish People’s University and the organization Kultur Lige in Kyiv. In this influential role, he spearheaded efforts to foster educational and cultural development among the Jewish population. However, in 1921 Zilberfarb made the decision to leave Ukraine and he settled in Warsaw.

Zilberfarb published, in Yiddish, an account of the Jewish ministry and Jewish national autonomy in Ukraine (1919). In 1993 its English translation (by David H. Lincoln) was published in New York under the title The Jewish Ministry and Jewish National Autonomy in Ukraine. His collected works were published in 2 volumes in 1935 and 1937.

Goldelman, Solomon I. Jewish National Autonomy in Ukraine, 1917–1920 (Chicago 1968)
Abramson, Henry. A Prayer for the Government: Ukrainians and Jews in Revolutionary Times, 1917–1920 (Cambridge 1999)
Moss, Kenneth B. Jewish Renaissance in the Russian Revolution (Cambridge 2009)
Lazarovych, Mykola. Etnopolityka ukraïns'koï vlady doby national'no-vyzvol'nykh zmahan' 1917–1921 rokiv: komparatyvnyi analiz (Ternopil 2013)

Larysa Bilous

[This article was updated in 2023.]

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