Tag Archives: Moses

Jew of the Week: Ezra the Scribe

The Sage Who Saved Judaism

“Ezra Reads the Law to the People” by Gustave Doré

Ezra ben Serayah (c. 5th century BCE) was born in Babylon to a family of Jewish priests, kohanim, descendants of Aaron. He spent his early days immersed in Torah study, under the tutelage of Baruch ben Neriah, disciple of the prophet Jeremiah. Ezra soon became the most renowned scholar and scribe in Babylon’s community of exiled Jews. Earlier, the Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great had freed the Jewish community and permitted them to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple. While the majority stayed in Babylon, a group of 42,360 Jews returned to rebuild Jerusalem. Unfortunately, few among them were learned, and in those first decades many ended up intermarrying with the non-Jewish settlers that were brought to Israel by the Assyrians and Babylonians. Ezra soon decided to head to Israel himself, along with a second wave of 1,500 Jews. Upon arrival, he wept at the poor state that the Jewish community was in. He immediately started teaching Torah, decreed that the Torah must be read publicly every Monday and Thursday (which is still done in all synagogues today), and put an end to intermarriages. So successful were his campaigns that the Tanakh states the Jews started to keep the holidays as properly and fervently as they did in the times of Joshua, the successor of Moses. As a priest, Ezra was involved in restoring the new Temple’s services. More importantly, he was able to discover and prepare a new Red Heifer, allowing the entire nation to be spiritually purified. Ezra wrote numerous holy texts, and is fittingly known as Ezra HaSofer, “the Scribe”. He composed the majority of the Book of Chronicles, which concludes the Tanakh, as well as the Book of Ezra, which records the historical events of the time. Ezra was one of the last prophets of Israel, and penned his prophecies under the name Malachi, also a Biblical book. He was one of the co-founders of the Great Assembly, a group of 120 prophets and sages who, among other things, codified the Tanakh and composed the first formal Jewish prayers (including the Amidah). The Talmud credits Ezra with reviving the Torah in the Holy Land, and even states that had Moses not given us the Torah, Ezra would have been worthy of doing so. He passed away on the ninth of Tevet, which is next Monday.

Words of the Week

Predicting rain doesn’t count, building an ark does.
– Warren Buffet

Jew of the Week: Ofra Haza

Ofra Haza

Ofra Haza

Bat-Sheva Ofra Haza (1957-2000) was born in Tel-Aviv to Yemenite Jewish parents, the youngest of nine children. Her talent was first discovered in her youth when she performed with a small theatre troupe. After her military service was complete, Haza officially began her musical career. Her first album quickly went gold, as did her two follow-up albums. In 1983, she was runner-up at the Eurovision Contest, skyrocketing her fame, and giving her next two albums platinum status. She was voted Israel’s “Female Vocalist of the Year” four times in a row. By the late 80s, her fame had spread internationally, particularly for her ‘Yemenite Songs’ album, and its single “Im Nin’alu” (written by 17th-century Rabbi Shalom Shabazi). Her unique mix of Israeli, Arabic, and traditional Jewish music soon topped the Eurochart, and she was even nominated for a Grammy in 1992. Haza collaborated and performed alongside popular artists like Paula Abdul, Michael Jackson, Sarah Brightman, and Iggy Pop, and many others have done covers of her songs, including Madonna and Led Zeppelin. She also voiced Moses’ mother Yocheved in The Prince of Egypt, and sang the hit song from the movie, ‘Deliver Us’, in 17 languages. (It is said that the film artists were so struck by Haza’s beauty that they decided to sketch the character Yocheved to look like her.) Haza also sang on the soundtracks of at least seven other movies. All in all, she brought forth an incredible 24 solo albums. Sadly, Haza died fifteen years ago this week, at just 42 years of age, while in the midst of working on another album. It was later revealed that the likely cause was AIDS-related, which many believed she contracted from her husband. (Her husband said it was from a blood transfusion during a miscarriage, though he himself was found dead shortly after, possibly from a drug overdose). Beloved by Israelis and fans around the world, her music continues to inspire, and she is still often described as the “Madonna of the East”. Tel-Aviv’s Gan Ofra park is named in her honour.

Words of the Week

I don’t know what I would have done without believing in God. His support gives me power and energy to continue to be optimistic, to smile, not to be depressed. Sometimes, if things are not going so well, I don’t cry. I say maybe it’s meant to be…
– Ofra Haza