Tag Archives: Playwright

Jew of the Week: Ramchal

The Unparalleled Kabbalist Who Became the Father of Modern Hebrew

Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-1746) was born in Padua, Italy to a wealthy Sephardic family. He studied under some of the great Italian rabbis of the time and was quickly recognized as a prodigy, receiving rabbinic ordination himself while still a teenager. He also took up studies at the University of Padua, and by the time he was just 20 years old had complete mastery of Torah, Talmud, and Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), as well as philosophy, medicine, and alchemy. He had also written a textbook on Hebrew language and grammar, Leshon Limmudim (predating Eliezer Ben-Yehuda by some two centuries!) Meanwhile, Luzzatto wrote several plays including a dramatization of the Biblical story of Samson. Around the same time, he started writing a book of 150 psalms to mirror the 150 Psalms of King David in the Tanakh. His Hebrew and poetry were of such a high level that people had a hard time distinguishing between the psalms of Luzzatto and the psalms of David! This drew the anger of many rabbis, who banned the work. The final straw was when Luzzatto revealed that he had been visited by a maggid, an angel that taught the mysteries of the Torah. He started writing these teachings down, and relaying them to a small mystical circle. When word got out, the Italian rabbis sought to excommunicate him for good. To avoid the decree, Luzzatto agreed to stop teaching and leave Italy. He resettled in Amsterdam and made a living as a diamond cutter and lens grinder. During this time he produced his greatest works, which would become classics of Judaism and standard textbooks in yeshivas to this day: Mesillat Yesharim (“Path of the Just”), a manual for personal development and character refinement; Derekh Hashem (“Way of God”) on the fundamentals of Jewish theology; Da’at Tevunot, a unification of Kabbalah and rationalism written in the form of a conversation between the Soul and the Intellect; and Derekh Tevunot, a manual for Talmudic study. He also wrote a number of commentaries on the Zohar (the central text of Kabbalah) and countless other discourses, most of which have been lost. After being barred from teaching in Amsterdam as well, he headed to the Holy Land and settled in Acco. There he helped build the Jewish community and a new synagogue (destroyed by Bedouins in 1758). Sadly, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (or the Ramchal, his initials, by which he is better known) perished in a devastating plague that broke out several years later. One of the early Hasidic leaders, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezerich, would later say of the Ramchal that “His generation did not have the merit of this great man.” The Vilna Gaon famously stated that had the Ramchal still been alive, he would have walked all the way from Lithuania to Amsterdam just to meet him, and that the Ramchal was the only person to understand Kabbalah since the Arizal. The Ramchal was seen as a hero and inspiration by secular Jewish and Haskalah leaders, too, who crowned him the “father of modern Hebrew literature”. Today, the 26th of Iyar, is his yahrzeit.

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Words of the Week

He who confronts himself with the paradoxical, exposes himself to reality.
– Friedrich Durenmatt

Jew of the Week: Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron (1941-2012) was born in Manhattan to a family of writers. She became a journalist and worked as an intern in President Kennedy’s White House until joining Newsweek as a lowly “mail girl”. From there, she became a reporter, and also started writing humourous essays. By 1972, Ephron was among the most well-known humourists in America. She also happened to be married to Carl Bernstein, the journalist who exposed the Watergate scandal. After being asked for help rewriting the screenplay for the film All the President’s Men, Ephron moved into film-making. She went on to make such classics as When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seatle and You’ve Got Mail. Her last film was the highly acclaimed Julie & Julia. Nominated for three Academy Awards, and winning countless others, Ephron also published books, wrote plays, and in her last years contributed a column for The Huffington Post. A symbol of feminism, she inspired a generation of women. Sadly, Nora Ephron passed away on Tuesday.

Words of the Week

One who does not see God everywhere does not see God anywhere.
– The Kotzker Rebbe

Jew of the Week: Mordechai Emmanuel Noah

Israel in Buffalo?

Noah had the rank of Major

Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851) is considered by many to be America’s first famous Jew. Coming from a blended family of Sephardic-Portuguese and German-Ashkenazi Jews, Noah’s father was one of the main financiers of the American Revolution. Mordecai began his career in trade, then moved into law while living in South Carolina. He made a name for himself as a journalist, writing passionately to drive the American cause and boosting the nation’s morale in the face of war with the British Empire. For his wisdom and eloquence, President Madison appointed him consul to Imperial Russia in 1811, then consul to Tunis in 1813. There he worked to fight against marauding pirates and saved countless Americans captured and enslaved in Morocco. However, in 1815 the anti-Semitic President Monroe repealed Noah’s position. This stirred a massive controversy. Former presidents John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison all joined Noah’s side, championing equality for all. Nonetheless, Noah left politics, returning to New York where he founded a variety of newspapers (including the Enquirer). He wrote several popular plays (including the famous She Would be a Soldier), as well as three books. He is a founder of New York University and Mt. Sinai Hospital, and also served as a judge and sheriff of New York. But most intriguing of all is that in 1825 Mordechai Noah bought a massive piece of land near Buffalo to be established as a Jewish state called “Ararat”. Surprisingly, thousands of Christians came out in support to lay the first cornerstone, along with Masons, the New York militia and St. Paul’s Church! Unfortunately, the project failed, and Noah realized a Jewish state could only be established in the Holy Land. To this he dedicated the last years of his life, spearheading the return to Israel long before Herzl and the Zionists.

 

Words of the Week

The progeny of Abraham are likened to the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16), and to the stars of the heavens (Genesis 15:5). For when they fall, they fall as low as dust; when they rise, they rise as high as the stars.
– Midrash

The original marker for the refuge of Ararat