Shlom-Tzion (139–67 BCE), more commonly known by her Hellenized name Salome Alexandra, has the distinction of being the only true, independent Jewish Queen of Israel in history. Her husband was the king Alexander Yannai, a Sadducee who sparked a civil war and began an extermination campaign against traditional Judaism. At his death, Salome took over and restored peace to the kingdom. She ended her husband’s cruel persecutions of the rabbis (recalling many of them from exile in Egypt, including her brother, the great Shimon ben Shetach). She also re-established the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court. Together with the sages of the day, a public school system was instituted for all children, rich or poor. Salome also championed the rights of women and developed the marriage document (ketuba) with clauses that protect the bride, as we still use to this day. Greatly expanding the army and fortifying Judea’s borders, Salome protected the kingdom from foreign powers (particularly Armenia and Syria). Her reign was marked by incredible prosperity, and the Talmud recounts that during her nine-year rule the rains always came in their times, oats grew as large as olives and wheat grains as large as kidney beans. Sadly, the kingdom quickly unraveled at her death, and was shortly after conquered by Rome.
Words of the Week
Freedom of choice has been granted to every person: if he desires to turn toward a good path and be righteous, the ability to do so is in his hands; and if he desires to turn toward an evil path and be wicked, the ability to do so is in his hands…
The Khazars (c. 650-1016 CE) A perplexing people with unknown origins who rose to European and Asian dominance, the Khazars are most famous for their national conversion to Judaism. Speculated to have begun as a Turkic break-away kingdom, the Khazars spread quickly to encompass the entire Caucasus region, southern Russia and parts of Eastern Europe. In the 700s, the Khazars waged a series of wars against the superpower Arab Caliphate, which historians agree prevented Europe from becoming an Islamic continent. Around 740 CE, King Bulan, feeling a lack of spirituality in his warrior life, invited representatives of the major religions. He found truth in Judaism and converted. Keeping with the Jewish way, he did not impose his new lifestyle on anyone. Nonetheless, the nobility slowly followed suit and by 860 CE, so had most of the kingdom. The Khazars dominated world trade, controlling much of the Silk Road. The silver coins that they minted (called Yarmaqs) are commonly found in places like China and England, and in 1999 a large reserve of these coins was found in Sweden, bearing the inscription “Moses is the Prophet of God”. Sadly, the kingdom declined after a series of revolts, was then overrun by the Rus, and destroyed by the Mongols.
Words of the Week
Stay away – to the ultimate degree – from “holy wars.” Not because we lack the means of prevailing or because of timorousness, but because we must consecrate all our strength exclusively to strengthening our own structure, the edifice of Torah and mitzvot performed in holiness and purity – Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch