was the second Hebrew-language weekly in Tsarist Russia, and the central journalistic forum for Russian Jewry until the beginning of the twentieth century. Its ambiguous name—alternately meaning 'fine talker,' on the one hand, 'translator' and 'advocate' on the other—reflects the ideological views of its editor and founder: the choice to use Hebrew, the language of historical sources, as the tool of enlightened (and later national) expression rather than the more common and popular Yiddish; and the combination of vigorous intercession with the authorities on behalf of Russian Jewry and the polemic (and often belligerent) political journalism which sought to entirely remold Russian Jewry along European models. In its first year, Ha-Melitz
was bilingual and written in both Hebrew and 'Hebrew-Teitsch' (German written in Hebrew letters), with Zederbaum responsible for the Hebrew section and Goldenblum overseeing the German. In 1871 the paper's editorial board relocated from Odessa to St. Petersburg, where it received financial support from 'Chevrat Marbei Haskalah' (Society for the Promotion of Enlightenment among the Jews of Russia), and in the first half of the 1880s J.L. Gordon joined the editorial staff and served as an acting editor for various periods. In July 1886 the paper adopted a daily format so as not to lag behind its competitors—St. Petersburg's Ha-Yom
and Warsaw's Ha-Tsfira
—which had made the transition to daily publication earlier. With Zederbaum's death in 1893, editorship of the paper passed to Leon Rabinovich ('Ish Yehudi'), who maintained this role until the closing of the paper in 1904, although the paper's prestige had already begun to diminish three years before.
Ha-Melitz served as a forum for engaging in the burning questions of the time and clarifying the various political, ideological, and social dilemmas faced by the Jews of the Tsarist Empire in the second half of the nineteenth century. The history of the newspaper, therefore, is also the history of the development of the ideological thought of the Jewish intelligentsia (and particularly the national faction within it) from the 1860s onward. Ha-Melitz did not simply reflect the public opinion of Hebrew readers; to a large extent the paper actually formed and controlled public opinion, and while the paper's official line was completely in keeping with the views held by its editors, Zederbaum succeeded in creating a forum open to nearly all the currents and opinions present in the Jewish community—so long as they were willing to debate in public. Beginning in the 1880s, Ha-Melitz embraced a fervently nationalist line and diligently preached the importance of the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael/Palestine, and thanks to Zederbaum's tenacious lobbying, a license was granted by the authorities to establish the Odessa Committee of Chovevei Zion (1890). Among the prominent issues discussed in Ha-Melitz over the years were: the controversy over religious reforms (1868-1870); the debate between supporters and opponents of the Hibbat Zion movement; the dispute over the status of Yiddish and Yiddish literature (both in the 1880s); and the controversy which followed the publication of two series of articles by Ahad Ha-Am, 'Emet me-Eretz-Yisrael' ('Truth from Eretz-Yisrael), which criticized the contemporary attempts at settlement in Eretz-Yisrael/Palestine (1890s). During Rabinovich's tenure as editor, the Zionist congresses were reviewed at length, and a broad platform was given to the internal disputes of the Zionist movement until the Uganda crisis (1903).
Before it became a biweekly publication, Ha-Melitz had around 2,000 subscribers, although these numbers do not reflect the paper's actual number of readers, which was considerably larger, as it was common practice for several people to jointly purchase a single subscription. The transition to a biweekly format (1883), and later to a daily format (1886), took place due to a marked expansion of the Hebrew-reading community in the Tsarist Empire of the period, and a generous estimate puts Ha-Melitz's readership at several tens of thousands during its golden era. In addition to every 'fresh' issue of the paper passing through a great many hands, all the editions published in any given year were bound together in a single volume and these came to be considered prestigious items in every library (private or public) which held them; thus Ha-Melitz's readership base was expanded by the people exposed to these older editions.
Ha-Melitz's important journalistic innovations included the creation of the main editorial as an expression of the editorial staff's position (Zederbaum's quintessential contribution), as well as the development of a feuilleton section ('Me-tachat La-kav') and its light, popular style of writing, to which many renowned authors such as J.L. Gordon, E.L. Lewinsky, I.H. Tawiow, Reuben Brainin, and Shalom Aleichem contributed. Furthermore, reports ('Correspondences') sent by readers from all over the Jewish world (Eretz-Yisrael/Palestine, North and South Africa, the United States, and sometimes the Far East and Australia) appeared in the paper, and articles of world news from the foreign press were published in translation, along with a special section of telegrams with the latest news (from the 1880s).
Although Zederbaum preferred to emphasize the paper's news and political sections and had reservations about publishing literary works, from the very beginning Ha-Melitz fulfilled an important role in the advancement of Hebrew literature and literary criticism. In the 1860s the literary critics Abraham Uri Kovner and Abraham Jacob Paperna published pioneering lists, and during his time on the editorial staff the poet J.L. Gordon worked tirelessly to encourage young writers, to polish the paper's overall style, and to publish feuilletons and poems of his own. All of the Hebrew writers in Russia, who were active during the years in which the paper appeared, published in Ha-Melitz; prominent among them were the same young authors whose first literary steps were taken at the paper: M.J. Berdyczewski, H.N. Bialik, J.H. Brenner, and Devorah Baron.
The significance and influence of Ha-Melitz were most pronounced during the first thirty years of its publication, and with the conclusion of the Haskalah period, and particularly following the death of Zederbaum—the paper's editor and founder—in the beginning of the 1890s, the paper gradually declined.