KHAYIM-LEYZER MUSHKAT (January 17, 1851-March 19, 1916)
He was born in Lukov (Maciejów), Shedlets (Siedlce) region, Poland. He attended religious primary school and synagogue study hall, acquiring a name as a prodigy and expert in Hassidism, but then devoted himself to the Jewish Enlightenment and philosophical and ethical tracts. At age eighteen he married and moved to Brisk (Brest) to live in the home of his father-in-law. He corresponded on Torah novellae with the greatest Talmudic scholars of the era, but on his own he began to have doubts about his faith, left his father-in-law’s home, and departed to wander through Poland and Russia. He lived in Odessa, St. Petersburg, Kovno, Bendin (Będzin), Pyetrikov, and Lodz, where he supported himself by giving lessons in Hebrew. In 1880 he was a delegate to the first conference of the Odessa Palestine committee. In 1890, together with a group of “Lovers of Zions” from Kovno, he traveled to the land of Israel and returned to Poland a year later. He debuted in print (using the pen name “Eḥad mibaale haasufot” [a collector of wise sayings]) in Hatsofe-lehamagid (The spectator-the preacher) in 1874, later publishing in: Hamagid (The preacher), Hamelits (The spectator), Hakarmel (The Carmel), and Hatsfira (The siren) in which he published several of his impressions from Israel which were included in his work Hare yehuda (Behold, a Jew) (Warsaw, 1890), 160 pp. He authored Hebrew and Yiddish pamphlets and books (some of them signed with the intials “MR״T” or “M״AḤ”), among them: Tikvat ḥanef (Hope of the hypocrite) (Warsaw, 1878), 32 pp., second edition (1888), third edition (1891); Ahava nikhzava (Disappointed in love) (Warsaw, 1880), 44 pp. (a play in one act, in verse, following Pushkin); Veyehi biyeshurun melekh (And there was a king in Jerusalem) (St. Petersburg, 1884), 27 pp., concerning Jewish customs at the time of the Jewish state, selected from Talmud and homiletic interpretation, dedicated to the 100th birthday of Moses Montefiore (published in an abridged form in Yiddish [Pyetrikov, 1892], 14 pp.; Adam hamaala (A man of high qualities) (Pyetrikov, 1894), 45 pp. (a philosophical study of the obligations of a wise man to God, to himself, and to his people, and of the duties of the people to him); Avne nezer (Stones of the crown) (Warsaw, 1890), 34 pp., second edition (1910); Maskil al dal (He who considers the poor), a story drawn from the Talmud (Warsaw, 1904), 14 pp.; Haholekh al shetayim (He who walks on two [legs]), a study of cultural history (Będzin, 1910), 48 pp., second edition (Warsaw, 1913). Among his writings in Yiddish, we know of the following, among others: Talmide khakhomim un ameratsim (Wise men and fools), “truly a wonderful and beautiful story from which the reader will gain a lesson; there is no difference among the educated and the ordinary and foolish men when it comes to supporting this need; drawn from the holy Talmud and beautifully written” (Vilna, 1894), 24 pp., appearing in several editions, the final one in Warsaw, 1914; Rabi meyer (Rabbi Meir), “this description taken from the holy and wise Tanna” [R. Meir, an interpreter of the Mishna] (Vilna, 1895), 20 pp.; Di tolodo fun r’ shimen ben yokhay (The biography of R. Shimon ben Yochai) (Vilna, 1896), 23 pp.; Hilel hazakn, di tsayt, dos leben un virken fun dizen frumen, geduldigen un klugen tane (Hillel the Elder, the times, the life and impact of the devout, patient, and wise Tanna) (Berdichev, 1899), 20 pp.; Mayse fun kozhenitser magid (Story of the Kozienice Preacher) (Vilna, 1900), 16 pp.; Mayse fun besht un zayne talmidim (Story of the Bal Shem Tov and his students) (Vilna, 1901), 24 pp.; Der ferblondzeter general (The lost general) (Vilna, 1901), 16 pp.—the last three written under the pen name M״A״Kh. From his numerous dramatic works along biblical themes, only one was published: Yankev bay lobn in khoron (Jacob and Lavan in Ḥaran), a biblical drama in five acts (Warsaw, 1907), 22 pp. He died alone and forgotten during the German occupation of Praga, near Warsaw, where he had lived since 1910.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2, with a bibliography; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934); Varshever tageblat (Warsaw) (March 20, 1916); Bet eked sefarim; Sholem-aleykhem-bukh (Volume for Sholem-Aleykhem) (New York, 1926), p. 39.
Khayim Leyb Fuks