Israel Meir Kagan (1839-1933) was born in what is today Belarus to an Orthodox Polish-Jewish family. After his father’s passing when he was just ten years old, the family moved to Vilnius where Kagan continued his Jewish studies. Quickly noted as a great scholar, at the age of 17 he was married and appointed rabbi of the town of Radin. Soon after, he founded the Radin Yeshiva, which would go on to become one of the greatest yeshivas in the Ashkenazi world. Meanwhile, Rabbi Kagan wrote many popular books of wisdom, most notably Chofetz Chaim, a book about the laws of proper speech, the title of which became Rabbi Kagan’s nickname. His Mishna Berura became a standard text of Jewish law, and still used extensively today. He wrote nearly two dozen other books on a wide array of topics. At the same time, the Chofetz Chaim traveled across Europe to inspire Jews to observe the Torah, and to counter the growing secular movement. He was also an important member of Agudath Israel. Click here to see rare footage of the Chofetz Chaim at the First Congress of Agudath Israel in 1923.
Ben-Zion Meir Chai Uziel (1880-1953) was born in Jerusalem, the son of the president of the city’s Sephardic community. Like the Chofetz Chaim, Uziel was also quickly noted as a great scholar, and by age 20 founded his own yeshiva. By 31, he was the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jaffa, where he worked alongside his Ashkenazi counterpart, Rabbi Kook, bridging the two communities together. During World War I, he worked tirelessly to stop the persecution of Jews, which earned him a sentence of exile in Damascus. In 1923 he returned to Israel as the Chief Rabbi of Tel-Aviv, and in 1939 became the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, a post he held until his passing in 1953. Rabbi Uziel was a founding member of the Jewish Agency, and played a key role in the founding of the State of Israel. Of course, he wrote a great deal of widely-read Torah thought and commentary as well. Rav Uziel and the Chofetz Chaim passed away on the same day, twenty years apart: the 24th of Elul.
Words of the Week
In Jewish history there are no coincidences.
– Elie Wiesel
Saving Syria’s Jews
Judith Feld Carr (b. 1938) was born in Montreal and grew up in Sudbury. She earned a Master’s in musicology from the University of Toronto, and taught music in both high schools and universities, including Yeshiva University in New York and Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In the early 70s, inspired by a neighbour who was a Holocaust survivor, and by an article in the Jerusalem Post about 12 young Syrian Jews who were badly hurt when attempting to flee the country, Carr undertook a mission, together with her then-husband Dr. Ronald Feld, to help disadvantaged Jews living in Arab lands. Following the establishment of Israel in 1948, the living conditions for over a million Jews living in Arab lands became intolerable. In the following years, around 900,000 Jews were forcibly expelled from their homes across the Arab world. While the global community focuses on the Palestinian refugee crisis, few have ever paid much attention to the plight of these Jews. In Syria, Jews were barred from leaving the country (in fact, they were forbidden from traveling more than three kilometres without a permit!) and were forced to remain under terrible circumstances. Carr made contact with Syrian Jews in Canada who could help her, and then with Rabbi Ibrahim Hamra in Damascus, with whom she worked to smuggle Jews out of Syria, as well as to ransom Jews trapped in Syrian prisons. They communicated in secret by highlighting phrases in Torah texts that would be sent back and forth. Carr soon received death threats for her efforts, but persevered, even after her husband passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. In 1973, a charity fund was established at Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto to assist Carr in her work. All in all, over three thousand Jews were rescued from Syria – three quarters of the whole community. Carr was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal, the Order of Canada, as well as Israel’s Presidential Award of Distinction, among many others. A book about her story has been adapted to film.
Words of the Week
The three loves – love of God, love of Torah and love of one’s fellow – are all one. One cannot differentiate between them, for they are of a single essence… And since they are of a single essence, each one embodies all three.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe