Sunday 24 September 2017


            The pseudonym of Y. Sigal, he was born in Nay-Zhager (Žagarė), Kovno district, Lithuania.  His father—a great scholar, pedant, and polyglot—inculcated in him a love for Torah and wisdom, studied with him alone, and then sent him to the finest yeshivas in Lithuania.  Touched by the Jewish Enlightenment, Mazekh became a teacher of Talmud and Hebrew in the Latvian cities of Kreutzburg (Krustpils), Jakobstadt (Jakabpils), and Boysk (Bauska).  He later attempted to become a businessman and a commercial traveler, and in the end he gave all this up to engage in literary work.  He debuted in the Hebrew press with a correspondence piece in Hakarmel (The Carmel) 44 (1862), using the pen name “Yehoshua Br״Ḥm” [short for: Yehoshua, son of Ḥaim], Ḥaimovich [son of Ḥaim, in Russian], a son of Zhager.”  In Yiddish literature he began with a story concerning the First Crusade, entitled “Kidesh hashem” (Sanctification of God’s name), in Kol mevaser (Herald) 1 (1862), which he signed “Sigal.”  From that point, he contributed to virtually every Hebrew and very many Yiddish periodical publications, such as: Hakarmel, Hamagid (The preacher), Hamelits (The spectator), Hatsfira (The siren), Haivri (Ivri anokhi) (The Jew [I am a Jew]), Hashaḥar (The dawn), Hayahadut (Judaism), Kneset hagedola (The Great Assembly), Hadegel (hayehudi) (The [Jewish] banner), Kol mevaser, Yudishes folksblat (Jewish people’s newspaper), Hoyz-fraynd (House-friend), and Vilner vokhenblat (Vilna weekly newspaper), among others—from his youth, he was rarely healthy, just a wealthy man with a warm temperament and a restless, wandering spirit, and for decades he roamed from city to city and spent time in every Jewish diasporic community from northern to southern Russia, Bessarabia, and the Crimea.  He had observed and heard a great deal in his life, paid attention well to everything that transpired in the Jewish communities, and composed long correspondence pieces and essays for the Hebrew press in which he vented his rage at the “customs” and “big shots of the Jewish people,” and criticized in an Enlightened manner the arrangement of the Jewish community, the abnormal education, the power of the community’s leadership, the inferior state of Jewish women, and the like.  As a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment, he believed that one could help the people with institutions of charity, under the supervision of believers and Enlightenment followers, on the one hand, and through craft and agricultural work, on the other, as well as via emigration to the land of Israel and to the United States.  His Mikhtavim-briv (Letters), written under the pen name “Sar shel Yam” (Captain of the sea), which have a historical, journalistic, and even literary value, appeared in five parts (Warsaw, 1885-1888).  In 1874 he published Sefer haemuna vehahaskala (Faith and enlightenment), in which he laid out a dialogue between a firm believer and a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment, the consequence of which was to unify—according to the ideas of the Enlighteners—the pious and the enlightened in the activities of the people generally and the community.  Saving a bit of money from his commercial travels, Mazekh began to publish Hebrew-language anthologies under the title Gad peraḥim (Garden of flowers), to which the greatest Hebrew writers of that era contributed, including Y. L. Perets and Mazekh’s admirer Dovid Frishman (four volumes appeared: Vilna, 1882, 1890, 1891, and the fourth entitled Peraḥim veshoshanim [Flowers and lilies] in Berdichev, 1892).  In the year 1884/1885, he and Reuven-Asher Broydes began publishing in Lemberg a biweekly, Hebrew journal Hayahadut (Judaism)—only four issues appeared.  In 1885/1886 he brought out a pamphlet in opposition to Tsederbaum, editor of Hamelits, entitled Tefaḥ migola (A handbreadth from exile), written under his own name.  The short work was compiled almost entirely by Y. L. Gordon, who was using Mazekh for his own ends.  While he was in Warsaw, where Goldfaden was then performing with his troupe, Mazekh composed a brochure on Yiddish theater, entitled Bamat yisaḥek o masa gei ḥizayon (Theater stage or the harsh prophecy of the Valley of Vision) (Warsaw, 1890), 40 pp.  A portion of his Hebrew works—stories, poetry, and essays—with the assistance of his wealthy friends was published under the title Haeshel (The grove), 2 parts (Warsaw, 1893-1894).  In the second part of this work, in a long essay entitled “Misefer masaoti” (From the book of my travels), he recounted the great unhappiness that befell him: In a fire in a Berdichev hotel, all of his writings went up in smoke, including his diary which had been keeping over the course of twenty years.  He subsequently continued his travels before returning to Lithuania and settling permanently in Vilna where he lived for his last twenty-five years.  On the one hand, his name at this point in time virtually disappeared from the Hebrew and Yiddish press; on the other hand, until the last day of his life, he never ceased writing and published a string of treatises in Hebrew, such as: Alilat shav (A false libel), a story in dramatic form (Vilna, 1908), 20 pp.; Sipure yisrael (Stories of Israel); Haemet (The truth); Hadin vehashalom (Judgment and peace), concerning Lithuanian Jews; Lemaan haemet (On behalf of truth); Hanistarot vehaniglot (The secrets and that which is revealed); Mishle yehoshua (Joshua’s proverbs), aphorisms; Otsar ḥadash o sefer milim (New treasure or a dictionary), stories, witticisms, and jokes, but only published (by Eliyahu Khlavnovitsh) through “Alef” (Vilna, 1898), 32 pp.; Tumat ivriya (Jewish contamination), a historical drama in four acts (Vilna, 1904), 102 pp.  However, when Mazekh did not write in Hebrew, he was still popular and beloved nonetheless by virtue of a great many things that he composed in Yiddish.  In Yiddish he was a veritable professional writer who produced over 600 pamphlets, the majority of them translations or adaptations of Hebrew religious texts, Hassidic tales and legends, as well as popular scientific stories following A. E. Brehm, N. Rubakin, V. V. Lunkevitsh, and others.  He also published prayers for women (in Yiddish) anonymously.  Many of his pamphlets were lost or were published without his name on them, because no publisher considered it worth their while to republish Mazekh’s booklets, which “flowed out of him as if extemporaneously,” and without even asking him or paying him an honorarium.  His Yiddish booklets were less colored in an Enlightened manner and introduced new social and national currents of thought.  Irrespective of the fact that his storybooks were widespread throughout the entire Jewish world in hundreds and thousands of copies, Mezakh remained his entire live a pauper and was compelled to live on others’ bounty.  Publishers usually brushed him off with a number of copies by way of an honorarium, and he had to sell them himself to his friends and as was known in Vilna and other cities following the custom of past authors who would travel around with their own works from house to house.  In his last years, the elderly man carried from house to house Hebrew and Yiddish newspapers for subscriptions and would as usual add one of his own writings.  In only one instance, his sad condition reverberated through the press: in an article by S. K. Shnayfal in Fraynd (Friend) (1912).  In another article, appearing in Haynt (Today) 201 (1912), the ailing Sholem-Aleykhem spoke out with a heartfelt call entitled “Al tashlikhenu leet zikna” (Do not cast us off in old age), but no concrete assistance was brought to Mazekh.  Meanwhile the German occupation with its attendant fierce starvation and need came, and the lonely old writer expired in a single day, perhaps in the middle of the street.  In his monograph on this “last Jewish folk writer,” E. Y. Goldshmidt—in Vilner zamlbukh (Vilna collection) II (pp. 192-201)—compiled the following list of Mezakh’s published materials.
            Longer works: Shevet yehuda, tsukhtrut yehuda’s, fun rabi shloyme ben virge, sof seyfer hobin mir gedrukt “Seyfer gezeyres takh vetat” fun shapes hakoyen un “Masey hatslov” fun kalmen shulmans “Divre yeme oylem” (The rod of Judah, by Rabbi Solomon ibn Verga, at the end of the work we have published “The Evil Decrees of 1648-1649” of Shabatai Hacohen and “The Crusade” from Kalman Shulman’s “History of the World”), second edition (Vilna: Y. Fuks, 1899), 188 pp.; Shevet yehuda hashalem (The rod of Judah, complete), 12 parts (Vilna: Y. Fuks, 1898); Nidḥe yehuda (Wandering of Judah), first installment of Shevet yehuda, middle ages (Vilna: M. Katseneleboygn, 1901), 86 pp.; Nidḥe yisrael (Wandering of Israel), second installment of Shevet yehuda hashalem, the Inquisition and the Spanish Expulsion (Vilna: Khayim Mirmon of Dvinsk, 1901), 112 pp.; Geyrush shpanye (The Spanish Expulsion), a novel (?) (Warsaw, 1899); Sheyres yisroel, in dray teyl (The remnant of Israel, in three parts) (Vilna: Pirozhnikov, 1901), 195 pp.; Masey hatslov (The Crusade); Aliles dam in yerusholaim, a teater-forshtelung in fir akten un finf bilder (Blood libel in Jerusalem, a theatrical performance in four acts and five scenes) (Vilna, 1910), 47 pp.; Sipure yerusholaim (Stories of Jerusalem), fifth edition (Vilna: Y. Fuks, 1902); Sipure am (Stories of the people); Sipure hatalmud (Stories from the Talmud) (Warsaw, 1894), 48 pp.; Perl fun yam hatalmud (Pearls from the sea of the Talmud), stories (Warsaw, 1893); A shpatsir-shifel afn yam hatalmud (A boat trip on the sea of the Talmud) (Warsaw, 1895), 64 pp.; Sipure yeshurun, ertseylungen fun talmud un medroshim mit heores (Stories of Yeshurun, stories from the Talmud and midrashim with annotations) (Vilna: Sheberk, 1903), 92 pp.; Der bal shem tov (The Bal Shen Tov) (Vilna: Shreberk, 1909), 79 pp.; Talmide bal shem tov, vunderlikhe mayses fun bal-shem-tov’s talmidim gezamlt fun fersheydene rikhtige kvallen (The students of the Bal Shem Tov, wonderful stories of the Bal Shem Tov’s pupils collected from various proper sources) (Vilna: Shreberk, 1909), 54 pp.; Sipure tsadikim, ṿunderlikhe mayses fun bal-shem-tov und fun andere groyse tsadikim (Stories of saintly men, wonderful tales of the Bal Shem Tov and other great saintly men) (Vilna: Shreberk, 1909), 48 pp; Beys rebe, toldes harav, der alter rebe r. shneur zalmen fun ladi, gezamlt fun fersheydene sforim der hoypt iberzetst fun seyfer beys rebe in zhargon durkh y. kh. und iberzehen un tsugigebn heores fun mekhaber (School of the Rebbe, biography of the rabbi, the old rebbe R. Shneur Zalman of Liady, collected from various texts, chiefly translated from a religious work by Rebbe in zhargon [Yiddish] by Y. Kh. and checked with annotations added by the author), Khayim-Meyer Helman (b. 1846 in Lepel [Lepiel], Vitebsk district) (Vilna: Shreberk, 1904), 99 pp.; Beys rebe, vegn dem miteln rebe r. dov ber un zayn eydem r. menakhem-mendel shneurson bal “tsemekh tsedek” fun libavitsh, tsunoyfgeshtelt fun m. kh. helma[n] un ibergekukt un farbesert fun mazekh (The school of the Rebbe, concerning the middle rebbe, R. Dov Ber, and his son-in-law R. Menachem-Mendel Schneerson, the Tsemaḥ Tsedek of Lubavitch, composed by M. Kh. Helman and reviewed and improved by Mazekh) (Vilna: Shreberk, 1905); Aleksander mukdon (Alexander of Macedonia [the Great]), 2 parts; Toldes antokolski (Biography of Antokolski); Lipfold der umgliklikher yudisher minister (Lipfold, the unhappy Jewish minister) (Warsaw, 1893), 69 pp.; in Hebrew he published in Haeshel.
            Legends and tales: Avrom avinu in kalkh-oyven (Our father Abraham in a lime kiln) (Vilna, 1913), 32 pp.; Der heyliger kush, a vunderlikhe sheyne ertseylung vi moyshe rebeynu hot farlozn di velt (The holy kiss, a wonderful, beautiful story of how Moses our teacher departed this world) (Vilna, 1901/1902), 32 pp.; Der kishef-krepost, a mayse vegen shiye bin nun (The magical fortress, a tale about Joshua son of Nun) (Vilna, n.d.), 32 pp.; Shloyme hameylekh oder di fertribene bas-malke (King Solomon or the exiled princess) (Vilna, n.d.), 28 pp.; Elye hanovi, vunderbare ertseylungen fun elye hanovi (Elijah the prophet, marvelous stories of Elijah the prophet) (Viulna, 1902), 31 pp.; Bas yiftokh, der unshuldiger korbn (Yiftokh’s daughter, the innocent victim) (Vilna, 1913), 32 pp.; Der fersholtener ber (The accursed bear), about Nebuchadnezzar (Vilna, 1902), 32 pp.; Der tano rebe shimen ben yokhoy (The tanna R. Shimon ben Yochai) (Vilna, 1913), 32 pp.; Der tano rebe elozer, a vunderlikhe mayse (The tanna R. Elazar, a wonderful tale) (Vilna, n.d.), 31 pp.; Der guter khaver in gan-eyden (The good friend in the Garden of Eden), concerning Rashi (Vilna, 1913), 30 pp.; Rebe meyer bal hanes, nisim un merkvirdige mayses (R. Meir the miracle-worker, miracles and wondrous tales) (Vilna, 1901/1902), 32 pp.; Der heyliger khosn (The holy bridegroom), (Vilna, 1913), 32 pp.; Der vayser odler (The white eagle) (Vilna, 1911), 32 pp.; Di oysgelayterte neshome, oder a geborener id blaybt a id (The purified soul, or a born Jew remains a Jew) (Vilna, 1902), 32 pp.; Oysgeton di pantofel, a sheyne geshikhte vos hot getrofn mit dem rav in roym (Undressed loafer, a lovely story encountered with the rabbi in Rome), about the Maharam of Rothenberg (Vilna, n.d.), 32 pp.; Der likhtiger shtern (The luminous star), about Yitsḥak Luria, the Ari (Vilna, 1901/1902), 32 pp.; Rebe khayim vital (R. Chaim Vital) (Vilna, n.d.), 32 pp.; Der shreklekher gast, a vunderlikhe mayse, fun di tsaytn fun rebe khayim vital (The frightening guest, a wonderful tale, from the time of R. Chaim Vital) (Vilna, 1902), 29 pp.; Der rambans mofsim, vi er hot ongefangen lernen kabole (The miracles of the Ramban, how he began studying Cabbala) (Vilna, 1902), 31 pp.; Der vunderlikher shpigele (The wonderful little mirror) (Vilna, 1910), 32 pp.; Rebe yisroel besht (R. Yisroel Bal Shem Tov); Di heylige kameye (The holy amulet), Dem grafs kranke tokhter (The count’s sick daughter), A vilde kats (A wild cat), Der vunderlikher brif (The wonderful letter), and Der farborgener tsadek (The hidden saint)—all tales of the Bal Shem Tov; Der malekh gavriel (The angel Gabriel), about a blood libel in the time of the Bal Shem Tov (Vilna, 1922/1923), 32 pp.; Ziben vunder fun besht un zayne talmidim (Seven wonders from the Bal Shem Tov and his students) (Vilna, 1922/1923), 32 pp.; Di farborgene libe (The hidden love), concerning the rabbi of Apte (Vilna, 1909/1910), 31 pp.; Di getraye shvester, oder a matone fun a toyte kale (The devoted sister or a gift from a deceased bride), a story about the rabbi of Kozenits (Vilna, 1910), 31 pp.; Rebe shneur zalmen fun ladi (R. Shneur Zalmen of Liady) (Vilna, 1927), 31 pp.; Der bal shem oder a shverer kholem (The Bal Shem [Tov] or a severe dream) (Vilna, 1902/1903), 31 pp.; Der koyekh fun tsdoke, a sheyne interesante ertseylung (The power of charity, a lovely interesting story), a tale from the land of Israel (Vilna, 1897), 32 pp.; Di kishef-ganz (The magical goose) (Vilna, 1912), 32 pp.; Di tsvey vaser treger, a mayse noyre (The two water carriers, an extraordinary event), a folktale (Vilna, 1900?), 26 pp.; Der mekhashef, oder di tsvey gliklekhe khasenes (The magician, or the two joyous weddings) (Vilna, 1913), 32 pp.; A vilner legende (A Vilna legend); A buket frishe blumen, legende vi azoy vi shtodt vilne iz gegrindet gevoren (A bouquet of fresh flowers, a legend about how the city of Vilna was established) (Vilna, 1905), 24 pp.; Der besherter shidekh (The destined match), concerning the first Hassidic synagogues in Vilna; Der shreklikher kholem, in dem seyferl ertseylen (The frightening dream, recounted in the religious text), concerning a false accusation (Vilna, n.d.), 32 pp.; Toldes rabeynu r’ akive eyger (Biography of our rabbi, R. Akiva Eiger) (Vilna, 1906), 31 pp.; Yudishe nisim in virmayze (Jewish miracles in Virvayze) (Vilna, 1903), 32 pp.; Sipurim neymim, heylige mayses fun talmud, medroshim un andere heylige sforim (Pleasant stories, or tales from the Talmud, midrash, and other holy texts) (Warsaw, 1894), 24 pp.; Nisim venifloes (Miracles and wonder) (Warsaw, 1893); Der ashmeday, a vikhtige interesante ertsehlung (The Ashmedai, an important interesting story) (Vilna, 1886/1887), 31 pp.; Der vunderlikher oytser (The wonderful treasure); Vunderlikhe sipurim (Wonderful stories) (Vilna, 1905), 32 pp.; Di kretshme in vald, oder tsvishen gazlonim (The tavern in the woods, or among thieves) (Warsaw, 1891), 18 pp.; Der rikhtiger mogn doved (The proper Jewish star) (Warsaw, 1890); Tsen yudishe folks-mayses (Ten Jewish folktales) (Lublin, 1897).
            Popular science booklets: Di valdmenshen (The woodsmen); Der leyb (The lion); Der leopard (The leopard); Der tiger (The tiger); Der ber (The bear) (Vilna, 1907), 32 pp.; Der ayz-ber (The polar bear); Der volf (The wolf); Der fuks (The fox); Der kemel (The camel); Der hirsh (The gazelle); Der oks (The ox); Der ku (The cow); Yam-ferd (The walrus); Shtroys-foygel (Ostrich) (Vilna, 1907), 32 pp.; Royb foygel (Bird of prey) (Vilna, 1900?), 32 pp.; Der odler (The eagle) (Vilna, 1907), 32 pp.; Langfisige foygel (? bird); Di toyb (The dove) (Vilna, 1913), 32 pp.; Nikhtigal (Nightingale); Der menshenfreser (The cannibal) (Vilna, n.d.), 32 pp.; Salamandra (Salamander) (Vilna, 1908), 32 pp.; Der khameleon (The chameleon); Der krokodil (The crocodile) (Vilna, 1908), 32 pp.; Di rizen-shlang (The boa constrictor); Der levyosn (The leviathan); Royb-fish (Fish of prey); Binen (Bees); Zhiraf (Giraffe); Der yaguar (The jaguar) (Vilna, 1907), 32 pp.; Erdtsiternish (Earthquake); Natur un gevoynheyt (Nature and habit); Hipnotizm (Hypnotism); Der profesor feldman, vunderlikhe ibernaturlikhe mayses (Professor Feldman, wonderful supernatural tales) (Vilna, 1905), 23 pp.; Der zikorn (Memory); Visenshaft un historye (Science and history); Der kheyshek tsum leben (The desire for life) (from Peraḥim veshoshanim); Di mazoles (planeten) (The stars, planets) (Vilna, 1900?), 32 pp.; Di veltlikhe khaloymes (Worldly dreams); Antyukhus epifanes (Antiochus Epiphanes); Vunderlikhe sepurim fun khayes (Wonderful stories of animals).
            Various contents: Eyshes-khayel, eyne historishe ertseylung in fir akten un zeks bilder (Woman of valor, a historical tale in four acts and six scenes) (Warsaw, 1890), 80 pp.; Alte mayses un imer nay (Old tales and ever new ones) (Warsaw, 1896); Di gekoyfte libe (Purchased love) (Vilna, 1877); Di eyferzikhtige froy (The jealous wife) (Warsaw, 1893), 31 pp.—in Hebrew, Alilat shav; Di fayerdige libe (The fiery love) (Vilna, n.d.), 32 pp.; Durkh umglik tsum glik, a roman fun leben (Through unhappiness to happiness, a novel taken from life) (Warsaw, 1895), 64 pp.; Der bal tshuve in erets yisroel (The penitent in the land of Israel) (Vilna, 1897), 32 pp.; A kop mit an oyg, oder der idisher baron un zayne eydele nekome (A head with an eye, or the Jewish baron and his sweet revenge), a reworking of Karl Emil Franzos’s Baron Schmule (Vilna, 1902), 32 pp.; Di goldene matbeye, oder der londoner raykher bankir (The golden coin, or the rich London banker) (Vilna, 1902), 32 pp.; Napolyon der ershter, a sheyne ertseylung fun napolyon (Napoleon I, a lovely story of Napoleon) (Vilna, 1908), 32 pp.; Der natur-shadkhn oder khasene in erets-yisroel (The nature matchmaker or a wedding in the land of Israel) (Vilna, 1913), 31 pp.; A ferlibte kenigin (A queen in love) (Vilna, 1902/1903), 32 pp.; Di farfirte aktrise (The quarrelsome actress) (Vilna, 1901); Di proste kale, oder di eydele nekome (The ordinary bride, or the sweet revenge) (Vilna, 1897), 30 pp.; Der frumer milyoner, oder di dopelte yerushe (The pious millionaire, or the doubled inheritance) (Vilna, 1903), 32 pp.; Der himel-shadkhn, oder di vahre reyne liebe (The matchmaker in heaven, or the true pure love) (Vilna, 1913), 32 pp.; Di ershte bildung in der shtot zager (The first education in the city of Zhager); Di geheymnise fon varshe (The secret of Warsaw); Dos glekele (The doorbell); Mortkhe hatsadek, oykh a mayse noyre mit dem katsev in ganeydn (The saintly Mordekhai, also an extraordinary event involving the butcher in the Garden of Eden) (Vilna, 1897); Der katsev (The butcher); R’ lemel, oder der parizer banker (R. Lemel, or the Parisian banker) (Vilna, 1897); Di frantsoyzishe vaybel (The French wife); Di yudishe gdule (Jewish exultation); Der yudisher kinig (The Jewish king); Der yudishe duks (The Jewish duke); Dos gehenem af der velt (Hell on earth) (Warsaw, 1891), 24 pp.; Di heylige milkhome, vunderlikhe sipurim fun bal shem tov (The holy war, wonderful stories from the Bal Shem Tov) (Vilna, 1913), 29 pp.; Mayses fun der bobe (Grandma’s tales) (Vilna, 1895).  In addition, an assortment of booklets of jokes, such as: A nayes verter-bikhel, ernstes un himeristishes (A new dictionary, serious and humorous) (Warsaw, 1890), 55 pp.; Der velt-vitsling oder der nayer anekdoten-bukh fun oyzerke der shtodt-khokhem (The world wag or the new book of anecdotes of Oyzer, wise man of the city) (Vilna, 1897), 118 pp.; Der amerikaner khokhem (The American wise man) (Vilna, 1900); Luekh hamazker (Calendar for remembrance) (1895/1896-1905/1906); Klolim in menshlikhen leben (Rules in human life), published by [his son] Zalmen Mazekh in Philadelphia; Hagode shel peysekh (Haggada for Passover); Geules yisroel mimitsrayim (The salvation of Israel from Egypt); Shir hashirim (Song of songs), a new translation with a commentary; Eykhe (The book of lamentations) and Megiles ester (The scroll of Esther), with commentaries.  He wrote as many as 300 books and pamphlets (many left in manuscript), and many of them anonymous or with such pen names as: Yaḥas al Dal, Sar shel Yam, Yaḥas, Yam, Yahalom, A Rayzender afn Yam, Girtel, Letrig, Y. Ḥ., and O. X.

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); Elkhonen Kalmenson, in Vilner tog (June 1924).

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