Category Archives: Religious Leaders

Spiritual and Religious Greats of the Jewish People

Jew of the Week: Shimon Lavi

Father of Libyan Jewry

Shimon ibn Lavi (1486-1585) was born in Spain and exiled with his family during the Spanish Expulsion of 1492. The family settled in Fez, Morocco, where Lavi studied to become a rabbi. He then sought to make aliyah to the Holy Land, but was kidnapped along the way near Tripoli by Arab brigands. After being ransomed, he found the Tripoli Jewish community in need of a rabbi so he stayed there. It was Lavi who opened the city’s first yeshivas, established a beit din, and went on to make the city one of the largest Jewish communities in North Africa. He is often credited with being the “father of Tripoli Jews”. Rabbi Lavi was the community’s official representative to the government, and served as the Ottoman governor’s personal physician. He was also a major Kabbalist, alchemist, and mystic. In fact, he wrote the popular song “Bar Yochai”, in honour of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai whose teachings would become the Zohar (the primary “textbook” of Kabbalah) and who is celebrated on Lag b’Omer. Lavi wrote a commentary on the Zohar called Ketem Paz, as well as a dictionary translating some of the Zohar’s most cryptic words. He was widely known as a miracle worker, and was revered by Jews and Muslims alike (the latter refer to him as “Ibn Limam”), with his tomb serving as a major pilgrimage site in Libya.

Lag b’Omer Begins Tonight!

How To Celebrate Lag b’Omer

Video: Secret Origins of Lag b’Omer

Words of the Week

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.
Carl Sagan

Jew of the Week: Rav Chaim Kanievsky

Prince of Torah

Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim Kanievsky (1928-2022) was born in Pinsk (then Poland, now Belarus) and made aliyah with his family to Israel when he was six years old. He never left the Holy Land thereafter. His father was the great “Steipler Gaon”, Rabbi Yaakov Kanievsky, and his maternal uncle was the famed Chazon Ish. Following in their footsteps, Kanievsky became a rabbi, too, and was recognized as a sharp scholar at a young age. As a yeshiva student during Israel’s Independence War, he briefly served in the newly-formed IDF and defended Jaffa (though he did it spiritually, spending most of the time at his post learning Torah!) He then married the daughter of another great rabbi, Rav Elyashiv. Rabbi Kanievsky typically studied Torah for about 17 hours a day. He would wake up at midnight to pray Tikkun Chatzot (mourning for the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people) and then learned for the rest of the day, starting with eight (double-sided) pages of the Talmud Bavli, followed by eight pages of the Talmud Yerushalmi, and then selections from a number of Jewish legal codes, the Tanakh, as well as Midrashic and Kabbalistic texts. What normally takes a typical rabbi a lifetime to study, Rav Kanievsky would complete every year! He was famous for his total mastery of all Torah texts, with photographic memory and an ability to mentally “scan” these texts for any word or phrase. He was often called the “Prince of Torah”. In addition to his studies, Rav Kanievsky wrote over a dozen popular books and commentaries. Hundreds of people would line up daily to ask questions and request blessings. His blessings were known to be fulfilled, often miraculously, and his legal rulings were followed closely by religious Jews, especially those in non-Hasidic Ashkenazi communities. He regularly responded to thousands of letters, too. Rav Kanievsky lived simply in a small apartment in Bnei Brak his whole life. After the passing of Rav Shteinman in 2017, he was widely-recognized as the supreme authority on Jewish law, and the top gadol hador. Sadly, the Prince of Torah passed away shortly after the conclusion of Purim last week. He had completed his yearly study cycle the previous day. Some 750,000 people came to his funeral, making it among the largest in Israel’s history.

Words of the Week

In a lottery, it is not the ticket that wins but the person.
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky

Jew of the Week: Adele HaNeviah

First Lady of Hasidism

The Baal Shem Tov’s Synagogue in Medzibuzh

Adele bat Israel (c. 1720-1787) was born in Podolia (in what is today Ukraine), the eldest of two children of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism. Adele (sometimes alternatively spelled “Odel”) grew up learning with her father, and was one of his greatest disciples. She served as his assistant and advisor. Adele went on to be a Hasidic teacher herself and a famed mystic in her own right. In fact, she was known to have divine inspiration, and was sometimes called Adele HaNeviah, “the Prophetess”. When the Baal Shem Tov sought to make aliyah to Israel, he only took with him his two children. They experienced many hardships along the way, including the capsizing of their ship, and being stranded on an island. Adele had been thrown off the ship into a stormy sea, and survived miraculously. The three ultimately returned to Europe. Before her twentieth birthday, Adele married a young Jewish scholar. Together, they made a living by running a shoe shop, and had three children: Her eldest son, Moshe Chaim Ephraim, went on to be a great Hasidic leader and wrote the famed text Degel Machaneh Ephraim. Second son Boruch was instrumental in getting the Hasidic movement going from its new “capital city” of Medzibuzh. Her youngest, daughter Faiga, was the mother of renowned Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Adele was a key link in the chain of Hasidic tradition, and served as the “matriarch” of its first few generations. She has been called the “First Lady” of Hasidism.

The Surprising Story of Russia, Ukraine, and the Jews

Words of the Week

Anyone who has truly practiced a religion knows very well that it is that [which] stimulates the feelings of joy, inner peace, serenity, and enthusiasm that, for the faithful, stand as experimental proof of their beliefs.
 Emile Durkheim, “father of sociology”