Category Archives: Writers & Thinkers

Jews in the Wonderful World of Literature, Thought, and Scholarship

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

“The Angel”

HaRav Yitzchak Ginsburgh

Yitzchak Feivish Ginsburgh (b. 1944) was born in St. Louis, Missouri and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. He was recognized as a math prodigy when still a child. While spending a year in Israel as a teenager, Ginsburgh began learning Torah and becoming more religiously observant. He went on to study philosophy and mathematics, and got a Master’s degree in the latter. He left his Ph.D studies to go yeshiva in Jerusalem instead, becoming a rabbi. After the Six-Day War, he was one of the first people to move into the newly-liberated Jewish Quarter. Around this time, he met the Lubavitcher Rebbe for the first time and became his disciple, eventually resettling in Kfar Chabad. During the Yom Kippur War, he served as the Rebbe’s emissary to the IDF, and even delivered a lulav and etrog to Ariel Sharon on the front line for Sukkot. After this, Ginsburgh founded the first Chabad House in the Sinai, which was later destroyed when Israel gave up the area in its peace treaty with Egypt. The rabbi went on to head the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva near Joseph’s Tomb. He has written over 120 books on a variety of subjects, in both Hebrew and English. He is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on Hasidism and Kabbalah, as well as gematria (Jewish numerology), Torah and science, Jewish psychology, and meditation. He is a pioneer of “Hasidic psychotherapy” and is the dean of the Torat Hanefesh School of Hasidic Psychology. Rabbi Ginsburgh is also an avid musician and has composed dozens of popular songs. He has met some controversy in the past for his passionate support of Jewish settlement across all of Israel’s ancestral lands, and for his opposition to government concessions to Israel’s enemies. Despite some of the negative press he has received from the mainstream media, Rabbi Ginsburgh is well-known for his humility, righteousness, profound wisdom, and gentle demeanour. Many refer to him as HaMalakh, “the angel”. Rabbi Ginsburgh has thousands of devoted students around the world, and still presides over a network of Jewish schools in Israel. He is undoubtedly among the greatest contemporary Jewish scholars and religious leaders. Today is his 77th birthday.

Words of the Week

Ours is the first generation in modern times to understand the truly universal human condition and to seek to bring all peoples of the earth together in peace and harmony.
– Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

Jews of the Week: Babatha and Yadin

The War Hero Archaeologist Who Made a Revolutionary Discovery

(Credit: PBS/Nova)

Babatha bat Shimon (c. 104-132 CE) was born in the town of Mahoza by the Dead Sea to a wealthy Jewish family originally from Ein Gedi. It was in this area that Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin discovered a leather pouch with her belongings in 1960. The documents inside included her legal, financial, and marriage contracts, presenting an eye-opening picture of the life of an upper-class Jewish woman two millennia ago. An only child, Babatha inherited all of her father’s date palm orchards when he passed away. She married her first husband, a man named Yeshu, while still a teenager. He died several years later, after which she married another date farmer named Yehuda. One of the discovered documents shows that Babatha lent her husband a sizeable loan (interest-free, of course). When he also passed away, Babatha seized all of his property as collateral. The documents reveal a number of legal battles that Babatha had to overcome, as well as her impressive financial and business acumen. She spoke several languages and was well-educated. During the Bar Kochva Revolt, Babatha fled from the Romans and hid in a cave, together with one of Bar Kochva’s generals, named Yonatan. It is believed she was killed in the war shortly after. Archaeologist Richard Freund has said that Babatha “revolutionized the way that we think about Jewish women in antiquity.”

Yigael Sukenik (1917-1984) was born in Israel to Polish-Jewish parents. He joined the Haganah at 15, leaving several years later after a dispute with Yitzhak Sadeh. He decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an archaeologist. While studying at the Hebrew University he changed his last name to “Yadin”. When Israel’s Independence War broke out, Yadin returned to the newly-formed IDF and became the head of its operations. The following year, he became Chief of Staff. One of his first duties was going to Switzerland to study their army-reserve organization. He then created a similar reverse system in Israel. After resigning from the IDF to protest defence budget cuts, Yadin returned to academia. His doctoral thesis on a translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls won an Israel Prize. He travelled around the world to find and purchase lost and stolen Dead Sea Scrolls to return them to Israel. Meanwhile, Yadin excavated some of the most important archaeological sites in Israel, including Masada, Hazor, and Ein Gedi. During the Six-Day War, he returned to the military to advise the prime minister, and years later was part of the Agranat Commission that investigated the failure of the Yom Kippur War. As a result of this, he formed a new political party, Dash, which sought to fight corruption and restore confidence in Israel’s government. The party won a whopping 15 seats in its first election, and soon joined the new Likud coalition under Menachem Begin. Yadin became deputy prime minister, and played a critical role in the Camp David Accords. He wrote a number of bestselling books, taught at the Hebrew University for over 30 years, and was a renowned expert on the Qumran Caves, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Bar Kochva Revolt.

Words of the Week

Also I have seen under the sun, that in the place of law there is evil, and in the place of justice there is evil.
King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 3:16)

Jew of the Week: Ephraim Kishon

Father of Israeli Satire

Ferenc Hoffman (1924-2005) was born in Budapest, Hungary to a secular Jewish family. He loved to write from a young age, and won a prize for a novel he wrote while still in high school. He was also an avid chess player. During World War II, he was first expelled from university before being imprisoned at a number of concentration camps, ending up in the Sobibor death camp. One of the ways he survived is by challenging the guards to chess matches. Another is by maintaining his sense of humour. After the Holocaust, he went by the name Franz Kishunt, studying sculpting and art history while also writing satire. In 1949, he escaped communist Hungary and made aliyah, becoming “Ephraim Kishon”. He was a passionate Zionist and would staunchly defend the State of Israel for the rest of his life—often being disparaged by the media for his hardline views. Within two years of settling in the Holy Land, Kishon was fluent in Hebrew (he literally hand-copied an entire dictionary) and began writing satire for a number of papers. His most famous column was Had Gadya in the Ma’ariv newspaper, which he wrote almost daily for over 30 years. Kishon soon became Israel’s greatest and most famous humourist. He also wrote popular plays, an opera, and books that have been translated into some 40 languages, including So Sorry We Won! about the Six-Day War. In the 1960s, Kishon entered the world of film. He wrote, directed, and produced five movies, the first being the critically-acclaimed Sallah Shabbati, highlighting the struggle of Mizrachi Jewish refugees to Israel. The film won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar, making Kishon the first Israeli with that distinction. (The film also launched the international career of Israeli actor Chaim Topol, most famous for portraying Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.) Kishon’s fourth film, The Policeman, also won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar. Not surprisingly, Kishon has been credited with opening up Israeli cinema to the world, and paving the path to Hollywood for Israelis. He won a long list of awards, including the Bialik Prize and the Israel Prize. He was a billiards champ, a pioneer in the field of computer chess, and even created a board game (“Havila Higiya”) once popular in Israel. Kishon has been called the “father of Israeli satire”, and inspired an entire generation of Israeli humourists.

Words of the Week

The State of Israel wasn’t founded so that anti-Semitism would end. It was founded so that we could tell the anti-Semites to shove it.
– Ephraim Kishon