Tag Archives: Rabbi

Jews of the Week: the Genius of Rogatchov and Joseph Trumpeldor

An Unparalleled Genius and a Zionist Icon

Joseph Trumpeldor

Joseph Volfovich Trumpeldor (1880-1920) was born in Russia, the son of a cantonist (young Jews forcefully conscripted into the Russian army). He became a dentist, but in 1902 enlisted in the Russian army. Trumpeldor lost his left arm in one battle of the Russo-Japanese War, yet wanted to continue serving, reportedly saying “I still have another arm to give to the motherland.” He returned to the battlefield and was captured by the Japanese. Trumpeldor spent most of his captivity studying, learning more about Judaism, Jewish history, and the Zionist cause. He even started writing on Jewish topics and found fellow Jewish prisoners who dreamed of settling in the Promised Land. Upon his release, he received four medals, and was later made an officer, making him the most decorated Jew in the Russian army, and its first Jewish officer. Unable to return to the military, he became a lawyer. In 1911, Trumpeldor made aliyah and settled in Kibbutz Degania. With the outbreak of World War I, he went to Egypt to establish the Jewish Legion (which fought for Britain) alongside Ze’ev Jabotinsky. The legion, also known as the Zion Mule Corps, is considered the first entirely Jewish military unit in two thousand years, and a precursor to the IDF. It helped the British conquer the land of Israel from the Ottoman Turks. Trumpeldor was a key soldier in that effort, and was wounded in the Battle of Gallipoli. After the war, he returned to Russia to gather more young Jews to settle in Israel. In 1920, while working to build the new town of Tel Hai, a band of Arabs attacked the Jewish community. Trumpeldor was shot twice, and succumbed to his injuries. According to legend, his last words were “Never mind, it is good to die for our country.” Trumpeldor immediately became a symbol of Jewish strength, self-defense, and resilience, and an inspiration for a new generation of Zionists. The day of his death, the 11th of Adar (this coming Monday), is a minor holiday in Israel.

Rabbi Yosef Rosen, the Rogatchover Gaon

That same date is also the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yosef Rosen (1858-1936). He was born in the town of Rogatchov (in modern Belarus) to a Chabad family. By the age of 13, he was recognized as a genius and was sent to study with some of the great rabbis of the day in the town of Slutzk. At 31, he was appointed one of two chief rabbis of Dvinsk (in modern Latvia), and served in that role for nearly five decades, until his last days. Rabbi Rosen ensured the survival and flourishing of Jewish life under Russian Imperial, and then Communist, rule, often with great sacrifice to himself. Meanwhile, he published several important works of Jewish commentary and Jewish law. Some of his best writings were published only after his death, under the title Tzafnat Paneach, “Decipherer of Secrets”. Rabbi Rosen was known as the Rogatchover Gaon, the “Genius of Rogatchov”, and was famous for his unbelievable breadth of knowledge on just about any subject. After once meeting him for a lengthy discussion, the renowned poet Bialik said that “from the mind of the Rogatchover could be carved out two Einsteins” and that he is “a great spiritual national treasure.” Rabbi Rosen had many students, including Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who also received his rabbinic ordination from the Gaon. The Rebbe once said that Rabbi Rosen was able to simplify all of Judaism into ten ideas, and quoted him as saying: “Were I a little bit smarter, it would be only one idea!”

Did You Know These Famous People Converted to Judaism?

Words of the Week

Love and work are the two things you have to do in life.
– Sigmund Freud

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

In Memory of the Man Who Helped A Million People a Year

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

Yechiel Eckstein (1951-2019) was born in Massachusetts and raised in Canada, where his father served as a rabbi in Ottawa. Eckstein studied at Yeshiva University, starting with its high school program, and all the way through to earning his Master’s and his rabbinic ordination. He also held a Ph.D from Columbia University. After several years working with the Anti-Defamation League, Rabbi Eckstein founded the Holyland Fellowship of Christians and Jews in 1983. The main aim of this organization was to raise funds to support impoverished Jews all over the world, especially in Israel and the Soviet Union. The organization also promoted and funded aliyah, took care of Holocaust survivors, and supported the IDF’s lone soldiers. Originally, nearly all of his donors were Jewish. However, within a decade he had raised a huge amount of support from American Christians. The organization, now known as the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) would go on to raise over $1.6 billion to help needy Jews in 58 countries. By 2003, it was the second largest charity operating in Israel, and some estimate it is the largest humanitarian organization in Israel today. In 2010, Eckstein was ranked among the Top 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America, and a few years later among the Top 50 Most Influential Jews in the world. IFCJ currently provides aid to over one million people each year, and has a base of 175 million donors. Rabbi Eckstein was known to be at the front lines of the work himself. He was an avid musician, and would often take his guitar with him on trips to play for kids and the elderly in camps and nursing homes. (In fact, he was once part of a Jewish band, and even recorded four albums of Hasidic music.) Eckstein was beloved by all those whom he met and assisted. It wasn’t only Jews who benefited from his work. Eckstein and the IFCJ also helped Arab Christians fleeing war-torn countries like Iraq, and supported Israel’s Christian minorities. He traveled to China to fight for the release of imprisoned pastors. He has been credited with being a major force in improving Jewish-Christian relations. He is also the author of eleven books, and his radio program had over 23 million listeners globally. Sadly, Rabbi Eckstein unexpectedly passed away last week from a heart attack. Russia’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, who worked closely with Eckstein, said of him that “He really cared for every single Jew. He had a special warmth, a warm heart, a special ability to feel someone else’s plight… We could have a discussion about a particular story, and he would break down crying. He wasn’t faking; that was the secret to his success—he really cared.”

Words of the Week

Where there is a soul, there cannot be a clock.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzkthe Kotzker Rebbe