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: Sir Sassoon Eskell

Father of Iraq

Sassoon Eskell (1860-1932) was born in Baghdad to a wealthy and illustrious Mizrachi Jewish family. At the time, some 40% of Baghdad’s population was Jewish. Eskell’s father was a rabbi, and at one point served as the chief rabbi of India’s large Baghdadi community. Eskell studied law and economics in Istanbul, London, and Vienna. He spoke nine languages fluently, and became the official translator (dragoman) for the Ottoman government in Baghdad. When the Ottomans drafted a constitution and established a new Turkish Parliament in 1908, Eskell was elected as Baghdad’s deputy representative. He also served as the under-secretary of state for trade and agriculture, and represented the Ottomans on multiple international delegations. At the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and Eskell was among the key figures that pushed for Iraqi independence. He was one of two Iraqi representatives that negotiated with Winston Churchill in creating the new state and choosing its first king. Eskell went on to be Iraq’s first finance minister, and continued in this role through the next five governments. He was the primary advisor to the Iraqi king and prime minister, and was described as “by far the ablest man” on Iraq’s governing council. Eskell was elected to the first Iraqi parliament in 1925, and continued to serve on it until his death. He is often referred to as the “Father of Iraqi Parliament”. Among his many significant achievements was making sure that Iraq’s oil was sold to the British for gold, not pounds sterling. While this was unusual at the time, the British pound soon lost most of its value and was no longer backed by gold. Sassoon thus ensured Iraq’s wealth was not diminished, and that it would continue to profit from its oil sales. These funds were critical in ensuring the success and viability of the nascent state. Eskell was also a major philanthropist and gave countless sums to charity. Much of his wealth went to the Jewish National Fund to support the re-establishment of Israel. The village of Kfar Yehezkel in Israel is named after him. Among his many other awards and honours, Eskell was knighted by King George V. Several years ago, the Iraqi government demolished his historic 100-year old home in a controversial move that made way for a new development.

Words of the Week

Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.
– Alexander Hamilton

Jews of the Week: Sherbatov and Hyman

Two Inspiring Pro Hockey Players

Eliezer “Eli” Sherbatov

Eliezer Sherbatov (b. 1991) was born in Rehovot, Israel to Jewish-Russian immigrants, and moved with his family to Quebec as a child. His father was a big fan of the Montreal Canadians hockey team, and Sherbatov grew up playing lots of hockey. At just 13, he returned to Israel to join the HC Metulla hockey team. He represented Israel at the 2005 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, becoming the youngest player in tournament history. A serious rollerblading injury nearly ended his career, and kept him off the ice for over two years. He eventually returned to Montreal for junior training camp, then headed to France to play in the Magnus League, where he was one of the top scorers. He has since played for a number of European teams, and was the first Israeli to play in the KHL. More recently, he played for Poland’s Oswiecim (ie. Auschwitz) of which he said: “I have a great deal of motivation because it is Auschwitz. I want to win the championship, the Polish Cup and the continental title, and then everyone will know the one who did this is a Jewish-Israeli.” Sherbatov has been most successful on the international stage, captaining Israel’s little-known hockey team to multiple victories. At the 2011 IIHF World Championships, Sherbatov stunned fans with a highlight-reel goal that ended up being ranked as the fourth greatest hockey goal of all time. In 2019, he led Israel’s team to its first gold medal at the IIHF World Championship (Division II). He was the tournament’s top scorer, and named “Best Forward”. Sherbatov currently plays for HC Mariupol in the Ukrainian Hockey League.

Zach Hyman (Credit: Michael Miller)

Zachary Martin Hyman (b. 1992) was born in Toronto, Canada. His father is the chairman of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and Hyman grew up immersed in hockey, together with his four brothers. He went to Jewish day school and graduated from Toronto’s Jewish high school, CHAT. Meanwhile, Hyman played for the Hamilton Red Wings junior team and became its captain and leading scorer. He was soon awarded junior Player of the Year by Hockey Canada, and the OJHL’s Most Gentlemanly Player. Hyman went to the University of Michigan on an athletic scholarship, and by his senior year was the team’s top scorer. A serious student, too, he graduated with a Distinguished Scholar Award. Hyman was drafted to the NHL by the Florida Panthers in 2010, but ended up playing for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. In his first year, he set records for most shorthanded goals by a rookie and most consecutive games with an assist. He went on to play on the Leafs’ top line, and was an alternate captain. Aside from hockey, Hyman is a bestselling author of children’s books, and is currently working on his fourth book. He has also been praised for his extensive charity work. When the new NHL season begins next week, Hyman will suit up for the Edmonton Oilers, with whom he signed a 7-year, $38.5 million contract.

Words of the Week

Jews do not accept the world that is. They challenge it in the name of the world that ought to be.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks