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  • My Old New Land

Yaakov Mazeh

1859–1924.


Rabbi Yaakov Mazeh served as the government-appointed chief rabbi of Moscow.

Rav Yaakov Mazeh in 1910. Source, Wikipedia, public domain.

Born in 1859 in Mogilev, Belarus, Mazeh's family name is an acronym signifying their lineage as Kohanim: MiZera Aharon Hacohen (from the seed of Aaron the Priest). Following the early passing of his father, he was raised by his maternal grandfather.


His education was comprehensive, encompassing both religious and secular studies. He graduated from Moscow University's law school and briefly practiced law. He supported the Hovevei Zion ideology and even created a Zionist association.


In 1884 he was one of the founders of the circle "Bnei Zion" together with Menachem Ussishkin and Hichiel Chelanov.


In 1890, he organized a group of capital owners in Odessa for settlement in the Land of Israel, traveled to the Land of Israel, and purchased the land of Mahanaim in the Galilee region. Due to financial difficulties, the land was sold to Baron Rothschild.


In 1893, Mazeh was appointed by the Russian government as the Rabbi of Moscow, a position he held until his passing on December 19, 1924. That same year, under his encouragement, a circle of Hebrew language enthusiasts began to operate in Moscow.


Mazeh gained fame in the Jewish world for his courageous testimony in the Beilis trial (a Jewish man falsly accused of ritual murder in Kiev) in 1911-1913, where he defended the accused alongside Israel Gruzenberg, showcasing his impressive rhetorical skills.


At one of the court sessions, when Rabbi Mazeh was asked to describe the variety of Jewish people, he said:

“There are the Sabbathists – who come every Shabbat to Shul. There are the Yomtovists, who come about five times a year to Shul – on the holidays. There are the Yahrzeitists, who come twice a year to say Kaddish. And there are also the Pogromists, who come every time there is a pogrom; that’s when their Jewish spark that loves its nation and its homeland awakens.”*

After the February Revolution in 1917, Mazeh was chosen to represent the Jewish list at the All-Russian Democratic Conference.


In 1923, he protested against attempts to close the Great Synagogue in Moscow.


In 1924, Mazeh met with Lenin in an attempt to stop the pogroms in Ukraine and the persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union.


Maza Street in Tel Aviv and streets in Herzliya, Netanya and Holon were named after him.


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