Avraham ben Meir ibn Ezra (1089 – c. 1167 CE) was a world-renowned scholar born in Tudela, Spain. He became famous at an early age for both his beautiful poetry and philosophical genius. In 1140, ibn Ezra (also known as Abenezra) left Spain and began a fascinating journey that took him across North Africa, to the Holy Land, back through Europe, Italy, France and England. It was during this time that he wrote most of his famous works, including some of the first Hebrew grammar books, and a commentary on the entire Torah and Tanakh. His commentary contained such depth that subsequently many commentaries were written on ibn Ezra’s commentaries! He is famous for his rationalism and logic; in religious matters, too, sometimes even criticizing sacred texts. Not surprisingly, he was also a scholar of mathematics and science, writing several treatises on astronomy, arithmetic and even a manual for using an astrolabe. He is credited with being among the key figures who introduced Europe to the Indian system of mathematical symbols and decimal fractions (still used to this day). Ibn Ezra’s poetry continues to be recited around the world, in both translations and the original Hebrew and Arabic. Among other titles, he has been called “ibn Ezra the Great” and the “Admirable Doctor”. The lunar crater Abenezra is named after him.
Words of the Week
Words are the pen of the heart; song is the pen of the soul. – Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi
Menachem Mendel Schneerson – The Lubavitcher Rebbe
Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994) was the 7th and final Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch. From an early age he was focused on the well-being of others, diving into the Black Sea to save a drowning boy when he was just 9 years old. After marrying, he settled in Germany, where he studied math, physics, and philosophy at the University of Berlin. Simultaneously, he began writing commentaries on the Torah. With the rise of the Nazis, Rabbi Schneerson moved to France in 1933, and studied mechanics and engineering at ESTP, then enrolled at the world-famous Sarbonne and studied math until the outbreak of World War II. In 1941, the Rebbe finally made it to America. Immediately, he went to work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to help the war effort, and was on the team that supplied the U.S.S. Missouri battleship. By 1942, Rabbi Schneerson began taking charge of Chabad. He reluctantly accepted the title of Rebbe in 1951. Over the years, he launched many campaigns to reignite Judaism globally. He sent thousands of emissaries, called shluchim, around the world, setting up Chabad houses on every continent (except Antarctica, for now), thereby putting kosher food, warm hospitality and prayer services always within reach for Jews anywhere in the world. He was a noted kabbalist, and gave countless penetrating discourses. He touched the lives of thousands of people, and inspired countless more. In 1983, the US Congress established the Rebbe’s birthday as “Education Day”. Posthumously, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Words of the Week
You must approach a fellow Jew as though you are the King’s servant sent with a message to His most precious child.
For millenia, the study of alchemy has been pursued by wise men around the world, practised by such greats as Isaac Newton and Chaim Vital. Ironically, the founding figure of alchemy happens to be a woman, called Maria Hebraea or “Mary the Jewess” (c. 3rd century CE). She is considered to be the first real-life, non-mythological alchemist, making her the first true alchemist in history. She wrote several treatises on the subject, as well as other philosophical works (including the Axiom of Maria: “One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth.”) She is credited with the monumental discovery of hydrochloric acid, and isolation of acetic acid (vinegar). Maria invented at least three scientific apparatuses: a distillation chamber called the tribikos; a sealed-vacuum for collecting vapours, known today as an extractor; as well as the water-bath that we’ve all used in high schools science labs, which still bears her name, the bain-marie. Naturally, many legends have sprung up about this enigmatic Jewish woman. Some say she was the teacher of Democritus, others that she was a student of Aristotle, and others a princess of Saba. Funny enough, she became a key figure in Islam, listed in the Kitab-al-Fihrist as one of the most important scientists/alchemists of all time.
Words of the Week
The coming into being of a Jewish state in Palestine is an event in world history to be viewed in the perspective, not of a generation or a century, but in the perspective of a thousand, two thousand or even three thousand years. That is a standard of temporal values or time-values which seems very much out of accord with the perpetual click-clack of our rapidly changing moods and of the age in which we live. This is an event in world history. – Winston Churchill