Tag Archives: Philosophy

Jew of the Week: Gershom Scholem

Gerhard Scholem (1897-1982) was born to a secular Jewish family in Berlin. At a young age he showed a great interest in religion, but his father was staunchly anti-Orthodox and opposed it. After his mother intervened, Scholem was allowed to study Judaism with an Orthodox rabbi. In university, he studied mathematics, philosophy, and Hebrew, and met other greats like Martin Buber and Hayim Bialik. He later received an additional degree in Semitic languages. During his studies, he discovered Kabbalah and the infinite depths of Jewish mysticism. He ended up writing his doctoral thesis on the oldest known Kabbalistic text, Sefer ha-Bahir. In 1923 Scholem moved to Israel and changed his name to Gershom. He worked as a librarian and spent his time in study. In 1933 he became the first Professor of Mysticism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, teaching a unique view of Kabbalah from a scientific and historical perspective. He stayed at this post for over 30 years, while writing over 40 world-famous texts (in addition to over 700 articles) and winning a handful of prestigious awards, including the Israel Prize. He is credited with being a major force in opening the study of Kabbalah to the masses, both Jews and Gentiles. Despite studying Judaism through a scholarly approach, he maintained that Hebrew is a divine language, alone capable of revealing hidden truths.

Words of the Week

There are two things that are no cause for worry: that which can be fixed, and that which cannot be fixed. That which can be fixed, can be fixed, so what’s there to worry about? And that which cannot be fixed, cannot be fixed anyways so what’s there to worry about?!
– Rabbi Michel of Zelotchov

Jew of the Week: Abenezra

Abenezra’s Commentaries

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

Jew of the Week: Menachem Mendel Schneerson

The Lubavitcher Rebbe

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.

– Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe