Tag Archives: Rothschilds

Jews of the Week: Edward and Philip Sassoon

In honour of Jew of the Week’s 9th birthday this November, we will feature a month-long series on the Sassoon family, the “Rothschilds of the East”. This is Part 3. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

Sir Edward Sassoon (1856-1912), the son of Albert Sassoon, was born in Bombay, India. He studied at the University of London, and served in the British Army, rising to the rank of major. Edward diligently continued the communal and philanthropic work of his father. In 1899 he was elected to the British House of Commons. One of the most famous bills he proposed was a law to make wireless telegraphs mandatory on all passenger ships. However, the bill was struck down over budget issues—until 1912, when the Titanic sank. By 1914, an international treaty made it mandatory for all passenger ships to have telegraphs. Sir Edward was a close friend of Arthur Balfour, famous for his 1917 Balfour Declaration that paved the way for establishing the State of Israel. Edward married Aline Caroline de Rothschild, granddaughter of (former Jew of the Week) Jacob “James” Rothschild.

Their first child was Sir Philip Albert Gustave David Sassoon (1888-1939). He studied at the prestigious Eton College, and then at Oxford—one of just 25 Jewish students at the time. Following this, he joined the British Army and had the rank of second lieutenant. He followed his father into Parliament in 1912. When World War I broke out, Sir Philip was sent to mainland Europe and was the private secretary of Field Marshal Douglas Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force. He was later awarded the Croix de Guerre for “distinguished service” in the war. Returning to Parliament after the war, Sir Philip made it his personal mission to bring civilian air travel to England and the world. Airplanes were still little-known by the public, and considered far too dangerous. Sir Philip bought his own airplane in 1919 to promote air travel to the masses. In 1931, he was appointed Under-Secretary of State for Air. He also served as England’s First Commissioner of Works, and chaired London’s famous National Gallery. Philip owned Trent Park in the north of London, and built a mansion there where he liked to host his many friends. Interestingly, during World War II the British used Trent Park as a luxury prison for high-ranking German POWs, on whom they carefully spied and extracted critical information, which was instrumental for winning the war.

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Words of the Week

The main superiority of man over animals is in his power of speech. But if we speak vanity and folly, we are no better than animals.
Rabbi Moshe Leib Erblich of Sassov (1745-1807), the Sassover Rebbe

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz

Planting Trees on Tu b’Shevat

Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz

Ze’ev Wolf Yavetz (1847-1924) was born in what is now Kolno, Poland (then part of the Russian Empire) to a wealthy Orthodox Jewish family. A noted scholar from a young age, he became a distinguished historian, linguist, writer, and teacher. When he was 40, Rabbi Yavetz made aliyah to the Holy Land with his family and joined the Yehud moshava, where he worked in a vineyard. Shortly after, he was hired by Baron Edmond de Rothschild to head the new Rothschild-funded school in Zikhron Ya’akov. (Zikhron Ya’akov was one of the first modern Jewish settlements in Israel, founded by Edmond de Rothschild in 1882, and named after his father Ya’akov “James” Rothschild.) In 1890, when the holiday of Tu b’Shevat came around, Rabbi Yavetz wanted to do something meaningful with his students in honour of the Jewish “new year for trees”. So, he took his class on a tree-planting trip. This turned into a yearly tradition, and was soon adopted by neighbouring schools and villages. Eventually, the Jewish National Fund adopted the custom, too, and to this day over a million Jews participate in the JNF’s Tu b’Shevat tree-planting drive each year. In all, the JNF has planted over 260 million trees in Israel, making it the only country in the world to have increased its tree population in the last century. Meanwhile, Rabbi Yavetz joined the Hebrew Language Committee (famously founded by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda) and helped to develop the modern Hebrew tongue. He coined a number of modern Hebrew words, including tarbut and kvish. Unlike other Zionists, Rabbi Yavetz never abandoned his faith, and worked hard to ensure Jews in Israel observe Torah law, and live like their ancestors. For this reason, he was a co-founder of the Mizrachi religious Zionist movement. (The more well-known Bnei Akiva organization is the youth arm of Mizrachi.) Mizrachi would go on to establish Israel’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, ensure that Israeli government kitchens keep kashrut, and that public services rest on Shabbat. Mizrachi also had a political party, which had many names over the years, and is now known as HaBayit HaYehudi (“The Jewish Home”). Rabbi Yavetz spent the last years of his life in London, where he wrote a monumental 14-volume history of the Jewish people called Toldot Israel. Today, a school in Zikhron Ya’akov is named after him, as is the village of Kfar Yavetz.

Happy Tu b’Shevat!

Words of the Week

… from the most inhospitable soil, surrounded on every side by barrenness and the most miserable form of cultivation, I was driven into a fertile and thriving country estate where the scanty soil gave place to good crops and cultivation, and then vineyards and finally to the most beautiful, luxurious orange groves, all created in 20 or 30 years by the exertions of the Jewish community who live there.
– Winston Churchillreporting to Parliament after visiting Rishon LeZion in 1921