Menaḥem Mendel Dolitzki (right), with (left to right) Hebrew writers Iakov Maze and Leon Rabinovich, editor of the Hebrew newspaper Ha-Melits, 1885. Among the portraits of other Hebrew writers on the table is (center) one of Perets Smolenskin. (YIVO)

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Maze, Iakov Isaevich

(1859–1924), Russian rabbi, publicist, and Zionist leader. Born in Mogilev, Iakov Maze lost his father at an early age and was raised by his maternal grandfather, who gave him a thorough Jewish education. While studying at the gymnasium in Kerch (Crimea), Maze was shocked to overhear an antisemitic remark by the reputedly liberal Tsar Alexander II. Maze remained observant—unusual for his era—while studying law at Moscow University. He then practiced law for a time after graduation.

In 1879, Maze made his literary debut in the Hebrew newspaper Ha-Melits with a proposal to remedy the negative attitude of Jewish gymnasium students toward their religion. In 1882, he joined the pre-Zionist Ḥibat Tsiyon movement, and was a founder of the Bene Tsiyon society in Moscow. He also visited Palestine to promote settlement there.

Commemorative postcard celebrating the role played by lawyer Oskar Osipovich Gruzenberg (right) and Rabbi Iakov Maze (left) in the acquittal of Mendel Beilis, a Jew accused of murdering a Christian boy in Kiev in 1911 for ritual purposes. Postcard printed by H. Goldberg, ca. 1920. (YIVO)

In 1893, Maze was appointed state rabbi of Moscow, after the Jewish community had been decimated by the expulsion of 1891. He worked hard to rebuild local institutions and, because of his Jewish learning, became rabbi in fact as well as in name. An excellent speaker, he gained nationwide fame when he appeared in 1913 for the defense in the ritual murder trial of Mendel Beilis to refute the charge that Jews needed human blood in their rites.

After the February 1917 Revolution, Maze was elected as a Zionist delegate to the Constituent Assembly, but the Bolsheviks soon put an end to Zionist work, and he barely escaped arrest after the 1920 conference of Russian Zionists in Moscow. When the new regime put Evsektsiia (the Jewish Section of the Communist Party) in charge of Jewish culture and made Yiddish the official Jewish language, Maze made an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Marxist historian Nikolai Pokrovskii, deputy commissar of education, that Hebrew was the real language of the Jewish masses. In his last years, Maze wrote his memoirs, Zikhronot (Remembrances; posthumously published in 1936). He died in Moscow in December 1924, and his funeral was a silent demonstration on behalf of the persecuted Jewish religion.

Suggested Reading

Avraham Greenbaum, Rabane Berit ha-Mo‘atsot ben milḥamot ha-‘olam: 1917–1939, (Jerusalem, 1994); Ze’ev Aryeh Rabiner, Ha-Rav Yaakov Mazeh: Rabah shel Moskvah (Tel Aviv, 1958); Aryeh Leib Tsentsiper, ‘Eser shenot redifot: Megilat ha-gezerot ‘al ha-tenu‘ah ha-tsiyonit be-Rusyah ha-Sovyetit (Tel Aviv, 1930).