BEHR, ISSACHAR FALKENSOHN:
Lithuanian poet; born in 1746 at Zamosc, government of Lublin, Russian Poland, or, according to Recke and Napiersky, at Salaty, a village in Lithuania, near the Courland frontier. Behr received in his native town no education beyond that afforded in small country schools, and was married at an early age, according to the custom of that time. He engaged in retail trade, and while he was at Königsberg, Prussia (about 1767), his whole stock in trade, consisting of a piece of velvet, was stolen from him. Ashamed to return, and in the hope of bettering his condition and that of his family, he sought to become a student at the university, though possessing no funds and having no knowledge of German. Finding this impossible, he left Königsberg and tramped to Berlin, often contemplating suicide in a nearby stream. Arrived at the Prussian capital (1768), he looked up his relative and countryman, Israel Zamosc, who, as tutor, came in contact with the leading Jewish families of the city. Through the influence of his relative and of Daniel Jafe he was introduced to Moses Mendelssohn, whose house was at that time the rendezvous of men of talent and genius. With the assistance of his new friends, Behr was enabled to acquire an education, studying German, French, and Latin (being forced to start, however, with the rudiments of each language), and later natural science, philosophy, and medicine.
As soon as Behr had mastered German, he commenced to write poetry, using as models the poems of Ramler, Wieland, and Herder. During this time Boie wrote to Knebel, the friend of Goethe: "The poems of the Lithuanian are said to have appeared in print. You are right: the Jewish nation promises much after it is once awakened" (translated from "Literarischer Nachlass und Briefwechsel Karl Ludwig von Knebel's," ed. Varnhagen von Ense and Th. Mundt, ii. 111, Leipsic, 1840).
In 1771-72 the "Gedichte eines Polnischen Juden, mit Anhang" were published in Mitau and Leipsic. Goethe himself reviewed them in the "Frankfurter Gelehrte Anzeigen" of 1772. "First, we must admit," he says, "that the superscription of these pages has made a very favorable impression upon us." He continues by saying that he had expected something new, and had hoped to note the impression made by German habits and customs upon a foreigner—and this foreigner a Polish Jew entirely unacquainted and unused to the country—but that he finds himself sorely disappointed: "Only mediocrity, hated of gods and men." He concludes his review with these words: "We hope that we may one day meet him again in those parts, where we seek our ideals, and in a more intellectual mood" (Goethe's "Vollständige Ausgabe Letzter Hand," xxxiii. 38 et seq., Stuttgart and Tübingen, 1830).
About this time Behr left Berlin for Halle, and completed at the university of that city his studies in medicine, graduating in 1772. The title of his thesis was "Animadversiones Quædam ad Illustrandam Phrenitidis Causam" (Halle, 1772). The same year he went to Breslau. Kayserling, in his "Issachar Falkensohn Behr," says that, according to a manuscript, Behr's coreligionists, fearing that, like many others, he would change his religion, placed him in custody. Of his further history nothing is known, except that he practised medicine in Hasenpoth, Courland, and removed to Mohilev on the Dnieper about 1775. It is doubtful whether he went thence to St. Petersburg, as stated by Fischer in Hupels' "Nordische Miscellen," iv. 15. According to Kayserling, Behr was the father of Rabbi Jeruḥam, who published "Oẓar Neḥmad," a commentary on the "Cuzari" by Israel Zamocz; if this were so, then Behr died before 1796.
- Goethe's Werke, as above;
- letters of Karl G. Lessing to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, in Lessing's Gesammelte Schriften, xiii. 305-306, Berlin, 1840;
- Literarischer Nachlass und Briefwechsel Karl Ludwig von Knebel's, as above;
- Kayserling, in Wiener Jahrbuch für Israeliten, 1862, pp. 1 et seq.;
- Fürst, Bibliotheca Judaica, s.v. Falkensohn, Leipsic, 1863;
- Kayserling, Der Dichter Ephraim Kuh (Appendix, Issachar Falkensohn Behr), pp. 43 et seq., Berlin, 1864 (who mistakes Karl G. Lessing for Gotthold Ephraim Lessing);
- Karpeles, Gesch. der Jüdischen Literatur, ii. 1094, Berlin, 1886 (who calls him "Isachar Bär Falkensohn");
- Fuenn, Keneset Yisrael, p. 186, Warsaw, 1886-1890;
- Winter and Wünsche, Jüdische Literatur, iii. 881, Berlin, 1897;
- Recke and Napiersky, Allgemeines Schriftsteller- und Gelehrten-Lexikon, i. 92, Mitau, 1827;
- H. Rosenthal, Toledot Anshe Shem be-Kurland, in Ha-Meliẓ, Odessa, 1862.