MAZEH, JACOB (1859–1924), Zionist leader and Hebrew writer. Born in Mogilev, Belorussia, he was orphaned in childhood and given a traditional education in his grandfather's home. Later he read and was influenced by the Haskalah, in particular by the works of E. *Zweifel. At the age of 16, he entered a Russian secondary school in *Kerch, Crimea, and in 1886 completed his studies at the law faculty of the Moscow University. After the pogroms of 1882, he joined the *Ḥibbat Zion movement and was one of the founders of the Benei Zion Society (1884). In his article Elleh Hem ha-Ashamot in *Ha-Meliẓ (1888) Mazeh rebuked his generation for negligence in the education of their children, charging exorbitant rates of interest, forging currency, evading public welfare activities, despising work, and "lack of positive love of our fathers." He represented the Benei Zion at the founding conference of the Committee for the Support of Farmers and Craftsmen in Palestine (Odessa, 1890), and organized a group of wealthy men for settlement in Ereẓ Israel. Traveling there as their emissary, he even opened negotiations for the purchase of the *Mahanaim tract of land in Galilee for the project, which was brought to a halt as a result of the Moscow expulsion (1891).
In 1893, after S.Z. *Minor was removed from his position as *kazyonny ravvin (government-appointed rabbi) of the Moscow community, Mazeh was appointed as his successor. Being both a maskil and a man steeped in Jewish tradition and nationalism, he was an exception to the usual type of kazyonny ravvin. He became the spiritual leader of his congregation and its representative before the local authorities, who were noted for their hatred of the Jews. A brilliant orator, Mazeh was well known for his numerous activities in Jewish public life, which included the promotion of Hebrew culture and the founding of the Ḥovevei Sefat Ever Society. His appearance as the defense expert on Jewish law at the *Beilis trial in Kiev (1912), when he refuted the evidence of the prosecution "experts", made him famous among Jews everywhere. After the 1917 Revolution, he was a deputy at the all-Russian Constituent Assembly representing the Jewish National List and was also among the founders and devoted workers of the *Tarbut organization. He supported the *Habimah theater during its early years. With the establishment of the Soviet regime, Mazeh interceded with the authorities in order to assure the rights of Hebrew language and culture. In 1920 he participated in the last Zionist Council of Russia. He refused to sign the declaration of the representatives of the various religions in which they denied that religion was persecuted in the U.S.S.R. In his last years, deprived of his functions under the Communist regime, Mazeh wrote his memoirs, which are marked by dignity and humor. He was unable to complete them as he became blind in 1922. The chapters which were brought out of Russia and published in Ereẓ Israel (Zikhronot, 4 vols., 1936) are a valuable source for the history of Russian Jewry and Hebrew literature. Mazeh wrote under the pseudonyms Saadiah, Jacob ha-Kohen, Aharoni, and Kochav. Thousands of local Jews took part in his funeral in Moscow.
Z. Rabiner, Sefer ha-Rav Mazeh (1958).