Tag Archives: Orthodox Jews

Jew of the Week: Ben Shapiro

America’s Top Political Pundit

Ben Shapiro (Credit: Gage Skidmore)

Benjamin Aaron Shapiro (b. 1984) was born in Los Angeles to a Jewish family of Russian and Lithuanian heritage. His family became Orthodox when he was 9 years old, and Shapiro has been a Torah-observant Jew ever since. He skipped two grades and graduated from high school at 16, and from UCLA at 20 with a degree in political science. That same year, he published his first book, Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth. By this point, his political column was nationally syndicated, and Shapiro still has the distinction of being the youngest person in American history to have a nationally syndicated column. Shapiro then went to law school at Harvard, after which he worked as a lawyer for several years. In 2012, he became the editor of Breitbart News, though he resigned in 2016 over disagreements over Breitbart’s direction. He subsequently became the number one target of anti-Semitism in America, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Since then, he has been the editor of The Daily Wire, which is currently the top news page on Facebook (and has more engagement than The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC News and CNN combined!) He is also the host of The Ben Shapiro Show, now the second most popular podcast in the US (ninth-most in the whole world!) and carried by over 200 radio stations across the country. Shapiro is famous for his many stimulating speaking engagements on campuses, and for his quick wit and debate skills. Altogether, Shapiro has written 11 books thus far and is among today’s leading conservative commentators. He has sometimes been confused with the alt-right, who he actually strongly opposes, and has been a frequent target of. Shapiro is an avid violinist (see a 12-year-old Shapiro play “Schindler’s List” here). Last week, he was in Israel for a CPAC conference and several thousand people crammed into an auditorium to hear him speak. He also made sure to visit the Temple Mount and pray there.

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Words of the Week

Before the thinkers of Athens came along, the Torah arrived at the notion of equality before the law. All public institutions in the Torah – the judiciary, the priesthood, the monarchy, the institution of prophecy – are subordinated to the law. Moreover, the law is a public text whose dictates are meant to be widely known, thus making abuse of power more obvious and safeguarding the common citizenry… the most important body of authority in the polity envisioned by the Torah is none other than the people themselves.
Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman (Ani Maamin, pg. 174)

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.

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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”