WASHINGTON (AP) _ Joseph Polakoff, the dean of the American Jewish press corps, died Friday at the Hospice of Washington. He was 87 and had lung cancer.

Polakoff was a familiar figure for decades at White House and State Department press briefings, doggedly quizzing U.S. press officers about Middle East policy.

Born in Russia, Polakoff grew up in Scranton, Pa., and began his journalism career posting baseball scores in the window of a local newspaper. He soon moved inside as a copy boy and eventually became city editor.

During World War II, Polakoff went to London to work for the U.S. Office of War Information. He joined the foreign service afterward and was an information officer in Yugoslavia, Peru and Guatemala.

Retiring from the U.S. government in 1970, he became the Washington bureau chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and subsequently worked for several American Jewish newspapers.

James Deakin, longtime St. Louis Post-Dispatch correspondent, wrote of Polakoff in his book ``Straight Stuff'': ``Joseph Polakoff asks some of the sharpest questions at White House briefings; no press secretary has every matched Polakoff's knowledge of the Middle East.''

He was a graduate of St. Thomas College, now the University of Scranton, earning his tuition by working in its press officer. He received a football captain's white sweater at graduation.

Polakoff and his wife, Dorothy, lived in Washington.