Tag Archives: Polyglot

Jew of the Week: King Solomon

History’s Wisest Man and Greatest King

Shlomo ben David (c. 983-931 BCE) was born in Jerusalem to King David and his wife Batsheva. He inherited the throne when he was just 12 years old. God famously appeared to him in a dream and asked what Shlomo wanted most, to which the young king replied that he wished for wisdom to rule his kingdom justly. God replied that since Shlomo did not ask for a long reign, riches, or power, He would grant Shlomo the wisdom he asked for, as well as longevity, riches, and power (I Kings 3:11). Shlomo went on to rule for a long four decades, equal to his father David, and merited to preside over an era of total peace (alluded to by his name “Shlomo”, from the root shalom). He forged many peace treaties (often through marriage, resulting in hundreds of wives), established strong trade relations with his neighbours, greatly expanded the Israelite military, and most importantly, built Jerusalem’s first Holy Temple, the Beit haMikdash. He was a wise judge, and prolific thinker and scholar, composing 3 of the 24 books of the Tanakh, including the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (Kohelet), and Song of Songs. He was also an astronomer, master of the dark arts, and a polyglot fluent in numerous languages—even able to communicate with wild life! Despite his immense wisdom, when he wrote in Proverbs 30:18 that there were four things he still did not quite understand, the Midrash states these are the mysteries of the four species waved on the holiday of Sukkot (lulav, hadassim, aravot, and etrog). In Jewish tradition, it is customary to read his book Kohelet during Sukkot. It is also believed that it was Shlomo who instituted the practice of netilat yadayim, the ritual washing of the hands before a meal. Interestingly, one of Shlomo’s direct ancestors was named Salmah (see Ruth 4:18-19), spelled the exact same way in Hebrew as Shlomo (שלמה), though vowelized differently. Salmah was also called Sal’mon (שלמון), which was likely confused in the non-Jewish world and may be the reason why Shlomo’s name was transliterated as “Salman” in Greek, “Suleiman” in Arabic, and “Solomon” in English! The Midrash (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer) lists Shlomo as one of history’s ten most powerful kings.

Chag Sukkot Sameach!

14 Sukkot Facts Every Jew Should Know

Rare Photo of Sukkot During World War I

Who Really Wants Peace in the Middle East?

Words of the Week

Our way… is the way of peace. It is narrow, difficult and unpaved. There is no false heroism on it and no false pathos, but it rests, so I believe, on the historic tradition of the Jewish people.
Chaim Weizmann, first president of Israel 

Jew of the Week: Madeleine Albright

First Female Secretary of State

Marie Jana Korbelova (1937-2022) was born in Prague to a Jewish family. Her father was a Czech diplomat and when Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938, the family fled and ended up in Britain. Traumatized by what they had experienced, and distraught over the loss of their parents and many other relatives in the Holocaust, the Korbels decided to convert to Catholicism and bury their Jewish identity for good. They did not tell their children that they were Jewish. After the war, the family return to Prague and Marie Jana went on to study in Switzerland, where she changed her name to Madeleine. When the Communists took over Czechoslovakia in 1948, the family fled again, this time to the US. Madeleine studied political science and wrote for The Denver Post, where she met her husband, journalist Joseph Albright. She went on to earn her Ph.D, focusing on the Soviet Union, and became fluent in Russian. In 1980, she was given a research grant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and explored Poland’s solidarity movement. She traveled across Poland for a long time and became fluent in the language. When she returned, Albright became a professor at Georgetown University, and also a foreign policy advisor for the Democratic Party. In 1993, Bill Clinton selected Albright to be the ambassador to the UN, and in 1997 she became the US Secretary of State, the first woman to hold the post and the highest-ranking women in the history of US government. One of her key moves was getting the US involved to stop the massacres in Bosnia, arguing that there was no point having a “superb military… if we can’t use it”. In 1998, she formulated NATO’s “3D” policy of “no diminution, no discrimination, no duplication”. After leaving government, Albright briefly served on the board of the New York Stock Exchange. Although she had been vocal about stopping Saddam Hussein back in the 90’s, she opposed the Iraq War. She ran a consulting firm, and also returned to teaching at Georgetown. Albright was awarded multiple honourary degrees and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Last year, she was on Forbes’ list of “50 Over 50” influential people. Altogether, she spoke 8 languages. Sadly, Madeleine Albright passed away last week after a battle with cancer.

When Madeleine Albright Found Out She’s Jewish

Russia, Ukraine, and the Coming of Mashiach

Words of the Week

Such is the way of fools: Once they achieve a little knowledge and awe, they think they have achieved a high level and don’t realize how ignorant they are.
– Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa

Jew of the Week: Sir Sassoon Eskell

Father of Iraq

Sassoon Eskell (1860-1932) was born in Baghdad to a wealthy and illustrious Mizrachi Jewish family. At the time, some 40% of Baghdad’s population was Jewish. Eskell’s father was a rabbi, and at one point served as the chief rabbi of India’s large Baghdadi community. Eskell studied law and economics in Istanbul, London, and Vienna. He spoke nine languages fluently, and became the official translator (dragoman) for the Ottoman government in Baghdad. When the Ottomans drafted a constitution and established a new Turkish Parliament in 1908, Eskell was elected as Baghdad’s deputy representative. He also served as the under-secretary of state for trade and agriculture, and represented the Ottomans on multiple international delegations. At the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and Eskell was among the key figures that pushed for Iraqi independence. He was one of two Iraqi representatives that negotiated with Winston Churchill in creating the new state and choosing its first king. Eskell went on to be Iraq’s first finance minister, and continued in this role through the next five governments. He was the primary advisor to the Iraqi king and prime minister, and was described as “by far the ablest man” on Iraq’s governing council. Eskell was elected to the first Iraqi parliament in 1925, and continued to serve on it until his death. He is often referred to as the “Father of Iraqi Parliament”. Among his many significant achievements was making sure that Iraq’s oil was sold to the British for gold, not pounds sterling. While this was unusual at the time, the British pound soon lost most of its value and was no longer backed by gold. Sassoon thus ensured Iraq’s wealth was not diminished, and that it would continue to profit from its oil sales. These funds were critical in ensuring the success and viability of the nascent state. Eskell was also a major philanthropist and gave countless sums to charity. Much of his wealth went to the Jewish National Fund to support the re-establishment of Israel. The village of Kfar Yehezkel in Israel is named after him. Among his many other awards and honours, Eskell was knighted by King George V. Several years ago, the Iraqi government demolished his historic 100-year old home in a controversial move that made way for a new development.

Words of the Week

Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.
– Alexander Hamilton