Tag Archives: Oxford

Jew of the Week: Sir Martin Gilbert

Martin John Gilbert (1936-2015) was born in London to parents of Russian-Jewish background. Soon after World War II broke out, the family was moved to Canada by the British government. Returning to England after the war, Gilbert finished his schooling and served for two years in the British Intelligence Corps. He then went to Oxford to study history. While a postgraduate in 1962, Gilbert was asked by Winston Churchill’s son Rudolph to assist as a researcher for Churchill’s biography. Randolph died a few years later, having brought forth just two volumes on Churchill. Gilbert took over and became the official biographer for Churchill, working on the project for over twenty five years, publishing many volumes along the way. (Currently, there are 31 books encompassing over 25,000 pages, and Gilbert had plans for more.) It was said that “Whoever made the decision to make Martin Gilbert Churchill’s biographer deserves a vote of thanks from the nation. Nothing less would suffice.” Aside from Churchill, Gilbert’s primary interests were studying the World Wars and the Holocaust, as well as producing historical atlases (his were among the very first produced). He also wrote a great deal of books and histories of Jewish communities, of Russia, Israel, and the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as to assist the plight of Soviet Jewry. All in all, Gilbert published an astounding ninety books, many of which were highly acclaimed. His abilities as a scholar and writer were praised. His first volume on Churchill had an original rough draft with two million words (which Gilbert narrowed down to 300,000 for publication), while the short “precis” version of the biography was a mere 981 pages! Gilbert also wrote for The Sunday Times, and for a number of films and TV programs, did research for the BBC, lectured at the White House, and stood before the UN Human Rights Commission. Since 2009, he served as the Privy Counsellor of the British commission inquiring into the Iraq War. Gilbert won numerous awards and honourary degrees, and was knighted in 1995. Sadly, he passed away last week after a lengthy illness.

Words of the Week

Everything happens by Divine Providence. If a leaf is turned over by a breeze, it is only because this has been specifically ordained by God to serve a particular function within the purpose of creation.
– Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov

Jew of the Week: David Reubeni

David Reubeni was born around 1490 in a place called Chabor – the location of which is disputed to this day, though the best evidence points towards Afghanistan, where certain Pashtun tribes still practice Jewish customs (despite being officially Muslim) and speak of a folk hero named Daoud Roubani. In 1522, Reubeni left on a long journey around the world, going to India, Africa, throughout the Ottoman Empire and Europe. Along the way he claimed to be a messenger from the distant Jewish Kingdom of Chabor. His wisdom, piety, and military genius were evident to all who met him, including the Pope and a host of other rulers and dignitaries. To these leaders he proposed a plan to conquer Israel from the Ottomans through a Jewish-Christian alliance. The plan gained a lot of steam, and even appeared to be manifesting at one point. Pope Clement VII supported it, and King Juan III of Portugal promised eight ships and 4000 cannons. However, the messianic fervour that resulted inspired some Jews to rebel against the Inquisition, causing the loss of key allies. Meanwhile, skeptical Jews joined anti-Semities and opponents in preventing what they felt was another “false messiah”, though Reubeni never claimed to be one. It was Emperor Charles V of Spain who eventually had Reubeni and his key supporters arrested. They were assigned to the Inquisition and never heard from again. Reubeni’s cause and time of death are unknown, though his diary survives in Oxford (a second copy was destroyed by the Nazis). His story is as fascinating as it is mysterious: a man with an unknown beginning and an unknown end, hailing from a lost Jewish kingdom, who nearly succeeding in reestablishing a Jewish state in Israel four centuries before the Zionist movement.

Words of the Week

A person must seek out a spiritual livelihood with all the intensity of his strength, just as he seeks a material livelihood.
– The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Hayom Yom, Cheshvan 14)