Category Archives: Law, Politics & Military

Jews in the World of Law and Politics

Jews of the Week: Belkinds and Hankins

Israel’s Great Pioneers

Israel Belkind (1861-1929) was born near Minsk, Belarus. After a Hebrew elementary school education, he enrolled at a Russian gymnasium and planned to study in university. However, the terrible 1881 pogroms turned him into a passionate Zionist, and the rest of his life was dedicated to saving the plight of diaspora Jews. He founded an organization called BILU (an acronym of Beit Yaakov Lechu v’Nelcha, from an End of Days prophecy in Isaiah 2:5, where the Biblical prophet encourages Jews to get up and take possession of their land). In the summer of 1882, Belkind led the first group of Biluim to the Holy Land. After several years of working on Jewish agricultural settlements, he decided to focus on education instead. He taught at a school in Jaffa, and then in Jerusalem. In 1904, Belkind started his own school for children orphaned by the devastating Kishinev Pogrom. Meanwhile, Belkind wrote several important Zionist texts, and was also a noted anthropologist. Intriguingly, he did a great deal of research among the local Arab population and came to the conclusion that they must be the descendants of Jews who had been forcibly converted to Islam! He noted how the locals did not even refer to themselves as “Arabs”, but only “Muslims” (they called the Bedouins “Arabs”), and many of them knew about their Hebrew ancestors. They had various customs that resembled Jewish ones, used an Arabic dialect peppered with old Jewish terms, and venerated the same Biblical figures as the Jews. His dream was thus to open Hebrew schools for the Palestinians, and slowly return them to the Jewish fold. (Later, thanks to the opportunities created by the Zionist movement, a massive influx of non-indigenous Arab immigrants came from neighbouring areas, particularly Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon.)

Yehoshua and Olga Hankin in 1910

Belkind’s older sister was Olga Hankin (1852-1943). She studied in St. Petersburg to become a midwife. Olga joined her brother in the Holy Land during the First Aliyah of 1886, making her the first professional midwife in the region. She soon became the most famous midwife in the land, and was sought out by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. She made a name for herself as being the only woman to ride alone on horseback—even at night—and became something of a feminist icon. Olga married Yehoshua Hankin (1864-1945), originally from Russia. Hankin was well-respected by local Arabs, and was able to negotiate a purchase of a massive plot of land on behalf of the Zionist movement in 1890. This land became what is today the city of Rehovot, a name proposed by Israel Belkind based on a verse in Genesis. In 1891, using donations from diaspora Jews, the Hankins purchased what is today Hadera (the neighbourhood of Givat Olga in Hadera is named after Olga Hankin). In 1908, Yehoshua Hankin joined the Palestine Land Development Company and became its number-one real estate agent in the Holy Land. His most famous deal was the Sursock Purchase, acquiring Haifa Bay and the Jezreel Valley from the Sursocks (an Orthodox Christian family who had purchased the land from the Ottomans decades earlier). Hankin’s work secured hundreds of thousands of dunams of land for the Jewish cause, and he is credited with being the top negotiator of land purchases in Israel’s history.

Understanding the Arab-Israeli Conflict in 5 Easy Points

The Incredible Story of the “Mensch of Malden Mills”

Words of the Week

We are worth what we are willing to share with others.
Sir Moses Montefiore

Jew of the Week: Milton Friedman

The Great Liberator

Milton Friedman (1912-2006) was born in Brooklyn to poor Jewish immigrants from what is today Ukraine (then part of Hungary). He graduated high school at just 15 and earned a big scholarship to Rutgers University. Initially wishing to be a mathematician, the Great Depression inspired Friedman to become an economist instead. After post-graduate studies at the University of Chicago, and a fellowship at Columbia University, Friedman headed to Washington to work as an economist for the government. To help pay for World War II, it was Friedman who introduced the payroll withholding tax system (“pay-as-you-earn”), where income taxes are deducted automatically from an employee’s paycheck. (Friedman later regretted it very much and said he wished it hadn’t been necessary.) He also spent much of the war working on weapons design and military statistics. He finally earned his Ph.D from Columbia after the war, following which he took a professorship at the University of Chicago, where he taught for the next 30 years. He wrote a popular weekly column for Newsweek, for which he won a prestigious award. His 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom was an international bestseller and made Friedman world-famous, while his A Monetary History of the United States became the standard textbook for understanding the Great Depression and the effects of monetary policy. Friedman argued passionately for a free-market economy and for the government to stay out of business. He proposed such important concepts as the permanent income hypothesis, the quantity theory of money, floating exchange rates, sequential sampling, and the natural rate of unemployment. He also argued for abolishing the Federal Reserve, whom he blamed for many economic ills. He was opposed to minimum wages and foresaw that they would actually lead to increases in unemployment. He is also credited with bringing an end to America’s military draft, transitioning the US military into an all-volunteer paid army. He believed conscription was unethical and prevented young men from choosing their own life path. Friedman later said abolishing the draft was his greatest and proudest accomplishment. Friedman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976. After retiring from the University of Chicago the following year, he continued to do research in San Francisco, and also worked on a popular ten-part TV show called Free to Choose (the companion text of which was the bestselling nonfiction book of 1980). Friedman was an economic advisor to Ronald Reagan, and was called the “guru” of the Reagan administration. In 1988, he won a National Medal of Science and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Friedman stayed busy until his final days, and his last article for The Wall Street Journal was published a day after his death! He has been called “the Great Liberator” and has been compared to Adam Smith. The Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty is named after him. He is widely considered one of history’s most significant economists. Today was his yahrzeit.

The End of World War I and the Beginning of the Jewish State

Words of the Week

A society that aims for equality before liberty will end up with neither equality nor liberty.
Milton Friedman

Jew of the Week: Ebrahim Shirazi

The Persian Kingmaker

Ebrahim “Hajji” Shirazi (1745-1801) was born in the Persian metropolis of Shiraz to a family of crypto-Jews. His grandfather was a wealthy Jewish merchant who was forced to convert to Islam. The family continued to practice Judaism in secret. His father, Mohammad, became the warden of the richest area of Shiraz, as well as the kadkhoda-bashi, the government’s official representative to, and chief administrator of, the large Jewish population. Ebrahim inherited the title and role from his father. He grew even wealthier and more influential, eventually becoming kalantar, the city’s mayor. When the Persian king Karim Khan died, a civil war and power struggle ensued. Ebrahim was able to use his diplomatic skills to place Jafar Khan on the throne, and helped the new king consolidate his rule. He raised an army to defeat Jafar’s enemies, and brokered important deals with the British to support the new regime. Nonetheless, Jafar’s rule didn’t last long, and he was soon replaced by Lotf Ali Kahn, who was in turn replaced by Agha Mohammad Khan. Ebrahim became the latter’s most trusted advisor, and was soon appointed his sole grand vizier. Ebrahim effectively ran the whole Persian Empire henceforth. He continued in this role even after a takeover by a new emperor, Fath Ali Shah. In those days, Persian royalty and government officials were all expected to have multiple wives. Ebrahim, however, had only one Jewish wife. This was one of many reasons he was suspected of not being a true Muslim. Additionally, under his watch multiple new synagogues were opened in Shiraz and Tehran. At one point, Ebrahim went on a hajj to Mecca to try to cover up his Jewishness, and made sure people called him by the nickname Hajji. Nonetheless, the suspicions caught up with him and, together with his immense power and influence, brought the ire of the other Persian officials. They eventually convinced Fath Ali Shah that Ebrahim was his enemy, and the Shah had Ebrahim executed. Tragically, he also executed much of Ebrahim’s extended family. Historians have described Ebrahim Shirazi as a great Persian “kingmaker”, genius diplomat, and even as “one of the best statesmen Persia has ever had”. Meanwhile, the new Qajar dynasty went on to severely increase persecutions and forced conversions of Jews, causing many Jews to flee east to the Khanate of Bukhara, thus providing a large boost to the growing Bukharian Jewish community.

Are Bukharian Jews Descended from the Lost Tribe of Naftali?

Is it Possible to Reconcile Torah with Evolution?

Words of the Week

God knows what could be done here if you were left alone… The fate of the world depends on the fate of the people of Israel. Make yourself a shining light on a hill.
Jordan Peterson, in a speech during his recent trip to Israel