By: Herman Rosenthal
Russo-Hebrew writer; born at Wilna Aug. 5, 1820; died at Kherson Nov. 14, 1900. He was the last of the champions of progress in Russo-Hebrew literature, known under the name of "Maskilim." Owing partly to the influence of Elijah of Wilna, and partly to the progressive spirit of the epoch of Moses Mendelssohn, a circle of pioneers of Jewish culture was formed in Wilna, the leading spirits of which were Behak, M. A. Guenzburg, A. B. Lebensohn, Benjacob, S. I. Fuenn, and others. Its object was the revival of Biblical Hebrew and the diffusion of secular knowledge among the Jewish masses by the cultivation of the Hebrew language and literature.
Behak entered the literary field at the age of twenty, and engaged mainly in philological research, studying the Aramaic translation of the Bible and rational exegesis. He soon attracted attention by his scholarly articles in the Hebrew periodicals "Pirḥe-Ẓafon" and "Ha-Karmel." When the Rabbinical School was established at Wilna in 1848, Behak was invited to occupy the position of instructor in the Talmud of the advanced classes. This post he continued to hold until 1856, when he removed to Kherson, where he retired into private life. In commemoration of his eightieth birthday (Aug. 5, 1900), some of the prominent members of the Jewish congregation of Kherson founded, under the name of "Bet-Yehudah," a school in which all subjects were to be taught in Hebrew.
Behak corresponded extensively with most of the Hebrew scholars of the second half of the nineteenth century. Two of his letters (to A. Dobsevage and Palei) appeared in "Ha-Modia' la-Ḥadashim," No. 5, New York, 1901.
Besides numerous articles in various Hebrew periodicals, Behak published notes on the "Biurim Ḥadashim" to the Pentateuch, to be found in the first volume of the Bible edition published by Lebensohn and Benjacob, Wilna, 1848-53; "'Eẓ-Yehudah" (Judah's Tree), a treatise on the prophet Samuel and on the twenty-four places in the Bible where the priests are also called Levites, Wilna, 1848; notes to Ben-Ze'eb's "Talmud Leshon Ibri," Wilna, 1848 and 1857; notes to Solomon Loewisohn's "Meḥḳere Lashon," Wilna, 1849; "Tosephet Milluim" (Additional Notes), a commentary on the Aramaic translation of the Pentateuch, Wilna, 1898.
- Voskhod, 1900, No. 87;
- Ha-Meliẓ, 1900, No. 254.