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Jews of the Week: Jeremiah and Gedaliah

'Jeremiah' by Michelangelo (from the Sistine Chapel)

‘Jeremiah’ by Michelangelo (from the Sistine Chapel)

Yirmiyahu ben Hilkiah (c. 6th century BCE), better known as Jeremiah, was born to a family of Kohanim in Anathoth, Israel towards the end of the First Temple period. As the Kingdom of Judah descended into more and more sin, the righteous Jeremiah began receiving divine revelations prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the Jewish people by the Babylonians. Although Jeremiah was very young, and did not want to take up the calling of a prophet, he nonetheless followed God’s direction to warn the people of their impending doom, and to inspire them to repent. Unfortunately, the people chastised Jeremiah and he was imprisoned for his teachings. Jerusalem was indeed destroyed, and the people exiled to Babylon. Jeremiah captured these events in his Book of Lamentations (Eichah), and recorded his prophecies in the Book of Jeremiah (written by his scribe Baruch). He is also credited with composing the Book of Kings, making him the author of three of the 24 books of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. After prophesying to five kings of Judah, and surviving the destruction of the Temple, Jeremiah lived out the rest of his life in Egypt. Jewish texts compare Jeremiah to Moses, and he is also honoured as a prophet and holy man by Christians, Muslims, and the Bahai.

Archaeologists have discovered official clay seals bearing the names of Yehuchal and Gedaliah ben Pashur, two of the king's ministers that opposed Jeremiah and imprisoned him, as recounted in the Bible. Gedaliah ben Pashur should not be confused with the righteous Gedaliah ben Ahikam (Photo Credit: Gaby Laron, The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University.)

Archaeologists have discovered official clay seals bearing the names of Yehuchal and Gedaliah ben Pashur, two of the king’s ministers that opposed Jeremiah and imprisoned him, as recounted in the Bible. Gedaliah ben Pashur should not be confused with the righteous Gedaliah ben Ahikam (Credit: Gaby Laron, The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University.)

One of the leaders that Jeremiah supported was Gedaliah ben Ahikam, who was appointed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar to govern the Judean province after Jerusalem’s destruction, and to facilitate the rebuilding of Israel with the small group of Jews that were not exiled. Gedaliah successfully inspired the people to reestablish their farms and vineyards, rebuild their homes, and to inspire many other Jews who fled before the war to return. Sadly, Gedaliah was assassinated on Rosh Hashanah. Fearing another uprising and the response from King Nebuchadnezzar, the Jews of Israel fled to Egypt, despite Jeremiah’s insistence that God would protect them. This essentially left the land nearly devoid of any Jews for the next several decades, until the end of the Babylonian empire at the hands of the Persians, and the ensuing end of the Jewish exile. To mark the tragedy of the righteous Gedaliah’s assassination, and the temporary end of the Jewish presence in the Holy Land, the day after Rosh Hashanah (today) is observed as a fast day, known as the Fast of Gedaliah.

Words of the Week

Of everything G‑d created in His world, not one thing was created without purpose.
– Talmud, Shabbat 77b

Jew of the Week: Rav Yitzhak Kaduri

Rav Yitzchak Kaduri

Rav Yitzchak Kaduri

Yitzhak ben Zeev Diva (c. 1902-2008) was born in Baghdad to a rabbi who worked as a spice trader. Early on, he plunged into the depths of Jewish wisdom and by his teenage years was already recognized as a prodigy. In 1923, he settled in the Holy Land to bring spirituality into the secular Zionism that was flourishing in Israel. Upon arrival, he officially changed his last name to Kaduri. He continued his learning under some of the greatest rabbis of the time, particularly at Jerusalem’s famous Porat Yosef Yeshiva. Meanwhile, refusing to live on charity, he worked as a scribe and bookbinder, committing the books that he worked on to memory. It is said that he memorized the entire Talmud (over 5400 pages of dense text), together with its commentaries, along with a multitude of other works. He wrote several mystical texts of his own, which were never published, as Rav Kaduri did not want them getting into the wrong hands. He went on to become the head mekubal (“Kabbalist”) among Israel’s rabbis. His son spearheaded the opening of Rav Kaduri’s own yeshiva – Nachalat Yitzchak – located in the Bukharian Quarter of Jerusalem next to the Rav’s home. Rav Kaduri was famous for eating very little, and speaking very little. Despite his occupation with study, his doors were always open to help others (in fact, he refused to lock the doors of his home even amidst a spate of thefts). Hundreds of people sought his advice and blessings each day, and he was known as a miracle worker and healer. At his funeral, 8 years yesterday, over 300,000 people came to pay their respects.

Words of the Week

When God created the first man, He showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him: ‘See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are. And everything that I created, I created for you. Be careful not to spoil or destroy My world—for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it.’
– Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 7:13