Benjamin II

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BENJAMIN II

BENJAMIN II (originally Israel Joseph Benjamin ; 1818–1864), Romanian explorer and writer born in Falticeni, Moldavia. He engaged first in the lumber trade (for this reason he was nicknamed Chiristigiu or "Lumberjack") but after some initial success, he lost his fortune at the age of 25. Influenced by his failure and by the romantic trends of the time, he decided to emulate the medieval traveler Benjamin of Tudela. He styled himself Benjamin ii and, in 1845, took to the road in search of the remnants of the Ten Lost Tribes. He traveled first to Egypt, from there through Ereẓ Israel and Syria, and then to Armenia, Iraq, Kurdistan, Persia, India, and China. He came back by way of Afghanistan to Vienna (1851) and from there went on to Italy and to Tripoli, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Wherever his travels took him, he made a point of assembling information concerning the Jewish settlement in that place – the number of Jews of that community, how they earned their livelihood, their customs, and folklore. Although unscientific, his approach was simple and direct, and earned the praise of scholars like A. von Humboldt and A. Petermann. He described his experiences in a Hebrew travelogue, first published in French under the title Cinq années de voyage en Orient 18461851 (1856; Eng. 1859). The Hebrew edition of the book, Sefer Masʿei Yisrael, as revised by David *Gordon, was published in Lyck in 1859. He published at his own expense in 1863 Nathan Hannover's Yeven Meẓulah on the 17th-century Chmielnicki massacres in Poland. Over and above his literary endeavors, Benjamin undertook to ease the plight of the Jews of Morocco. He also appealed to Turkey, France, and England in an attempt to ameliorate the condition of the Jews of Kurdistan and Persia. In 1859 Benjamin ii began a three-year journey through the United States, describing his travels in Drei Jahre in Amerika (1862; republished in English in 1956 by the jpsa). He died in London in poverty while preparing another trip to the Orient.

bibliography:

jc (May 13, 1864), 5; I.J. Benjamin, Three Years in America (1956), introduction by O. Handlin. add. bibliography: pk Romanyah, i, 190.

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