Tag Archives: Shah

Jews of the Week: Shushandukht and Bahram V

Gold Coins Depicting Iranian Shah Bahram V, often referred to as Bahramgur – “Bahram the Hunter”

Shushandukht (c. 380-430 CE) was born in Persia, the daughter of the Resh Galuta (Exilarch), a title reserved for the chief rabbi and official leader of the Jews in the diaspora during this time period. Little is known of her early life. She went on to marry the Sasanian king Yazdegerd I, and gave him two sons, Shapur IV and Bahram V (c. 406-438 CE). Yazdegerd and Shapur were assassinated, triggering a brief civil war that ended with Bahram successfully taking the throne. Bahram V went on to reign for nearly two decades as Iran’s Shah. In that time, he held off the advancing Eastern Roman Empire and conquered Armenia. Later, a massive invasion by the feared Huns nearly destroyed his empire. However, he caught the Huns unaware in a surprise night attack, decimating their force, and bringing peace to the entire region. Bahram presided over a period of great Persian wealth. Coins with Bahram’s portrait have been found across Asia. Not surprisingly, Bahram V became one of the most legendary kings in Asian history, and is an important figure not just in Iran, but in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India, and even in Islamic literature (despite the fact that the Muslims tried pretty hard to erase pre-Islamic Iranian history). Bahram V is the hero of many ancient Persian legends. One of these was translated into English under the title The Three Princes of Serendip – giving rise to the word “serendipity”. In the famous Persian epic Shahnameh, he is the king that slays two lions with his bare hands. Meanwhile, his mother Shushandukht used her position to assist the Jews of Iran (where the vast majority of the world’s Jews lived at the time). She established large and prosperous Jewish neighbourhoods in Esfahan, Susa, Hamadan, and Shushtar. During this period, the Jewish Exilarch sat on the Shah’s court. Many scholars believe that the ‘Tomb of Esther and Mordechai’ in modern-day Iran is actually the tomb of Shushandukht.

Words of the Week

It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.
– Hippocrates

Tomb of Esther and Mordechai (or Shushandukht) in present-day Hamadan, Iran (Credit: Philippe Chavin)

Jews of the Week: Zev Wolfson and Sir Isaac Wolfson

Zev Wolfson

Zev Wolfson (1928-2012) was born in Lithuania, deported to Siberia during World War II and finally made his way to New York. With no money he began working as a light-bulb salesman, but soon found his way into real estate where he quickly earned a large sum of wealth. Inspired by the sight of an Israeli flag, Wolfson began working tirelessly for Israel, lobbying the U.S. government to help the nascent state. He secured arms for Israel during the critical period of the Yom Kippur War, and built countless institutions across the country. Yitzchak Rabin said he didn’t know “one other Jew in the world who, as an individual, had done more for the State of Israel”. In spiritual matters, too, Wolfson was a giant, financing yeshivas worldwide, and paying for such programs as RAJE, Aish Fellowships, and Argentina’s Morasha, which bring thousands of young Jews to Israel every year at virtually no cost. Possibly every Jew in the world has somehow been touched by Wolfson’s outreach – he even established a Torah-learning program in Iran during the times of the Shah! Humble and dedicated to Torah, he made sure to donate more than 50% of his earnings, and was known to fly economy class despite his wealth. His family continues to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to Jewish causes every year.

Sir Isaac Wolfson

Zev Wolfson is not to be confused with Sir Isaac Wolfson (1897-1991) of Scotland, another great Jewish philanthropist. Born to poor Polish immigrants, Isaac Wolfson couldn’t afford school so he became a salesperson. He worked his way up to become director of Great Universal Stores, once among the largest retailers in the UK, with over 50,000 employees. A devout Orthodox Jew, Sir Wolfson donated virtually all of his wealth, much of it to build the young State of Israel, saying “No man should have more than £100,000. The rest should go to charity.”

Words of the Week

People are accustomed to look at the heavens and wonder what happens there. It would be better if they would look within themselves to see what happens there.
– Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, “The Kotzker Rebbe”