click here to jump to beginning of article list
View All Recent Posts

Posts on the topic of "Historical Figures"

Israel’s First Nobel Laureate

Jun 14, 2012 at 05:11:55 PM

Israelis have won an astounding 10 Nobel prizes. Can you guess which categories?

What probably first comes to mind are the peace prizes: Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

Next obvious is in economics and the sciences - another six Israeli winners.

But the first Israeli to win a Nobel Prize was author Shai Agnon, who received the 1966 Nobel Prize in Literature.

This month marks the 100th year anniversary of the 1912 publication of Agnon's first book, "And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight." Agnon House in Jerusalem is commemorating this landmark during the coming months with lectures and study sessions for students and tourists. Agnon House is open to the general public where visitors can learn more about the life and works of Agnon as well as visit his library of over 8,000 books, some of which date back to the 16th century.

Agnon was born in Ukraine, the son of an ordained rabbi. At age 20 he moved to Israel and adopted a secular way of life. Shortly afterwards, he returned to Jewish tradition and remained an observant Jew for the rest of his life. His writings deal with the conflict between Jewish tradition and the modern world. His books range from rabbinic lore and chassidic tales, to gothic romances and psychological dramas.

It is remarkable that Agnon was awarded a Nobel Prize for literature in Hebrew, given that much of his writing career was prior to the State of Israel, when Hebrew was primarily still a language of prayer and Torah study.

In his speech at the Nobel award ceremony, Agnon introduced himself in Hebrew: "As a result of the historic catastrophe in which Titus of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and Israel was exiled from its land, I was born in one of the cities of the Exile. But always I regarded myself as one who was born in Jerusalem."

For anyone who's been to Israel, you will recognize Agnon as the person featured on the 50-shekel bill. The design includes an excerpt from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.


Columbus the Jew?

May 21, 2012 at 04:14:46 PM

For centuries, urban legend has posited the Jewish heritage of Christopher Columbus. After all, Columbus set sail on his famous voyage from Spain in 1492 – on the very same day that Jews were being "ethnically cleansed" from the Iberian Peninsula.

Actually, Columbus was originally scheduled to sail on August 2, 1492, which fell on Tisha B'Av, the Jewish national day of mourning that marks the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem. Columbus postponed his journey by one day… to avoid this historically inauspicious Jewish occasion.

Further evidence: Columbus' last will and testament was signed with a triangular signature of dots and letters that resembled inscriptions found on gravestones of Jewish cemeteries in Spain. CNN reports:

According to British historian Cecil Roth's The History of the Marranos, the anagram was a cryptic substitute for the Kaddish, a prayer recited in the synagogue by mourners after the death of a close relative. Thus, Columbus's subterfuge allowed his sons to say Kaddish for their crypto-Jewish father when he died.

Columbus occasionally noted dates by the Jewish calendar, and included some Hebrew in his writings. In the top left-hand corner of personal correspondence frequently wrote the Hebrew letters bet-hei, meaning b'ezrat Hashem (with God's help) – a practice common among observant Jews.

Beyond this, linguists have analyzed the language and syntax of hundreds of Columbus' handwritten documents and concluded that his primary language was Castilian Spanish – the "Yiddish" of Spanish Jewry, known as "Ladino."

But before jumping to any conclusions, consider the wealth of evidence that Columbus was Christian. Bottom line: Expect this debate to rage for another few hundred years.

Visitor Comments: 6

(3) Mike, October 13, 2014 7:10 PM

Simon Wiesenthal makes a strong case for Columbus being a Jew

Simon Wiesenthal presents in his book "Sails of Hope" many more arguments. I highly recommend reading it.
Simon Wiesenthal writes (not verbatum but in the sense of) what should lead the reader to believe that what is in the book is true? Only my credibility and integrity of my previous writing.

He was a foremost scholar of the Holocaust and worked to bring many Nazi criminals to justice.

(2) Anonymous, May 22, 2012 7:04 AM


What difference does it make whether or not Columbus was a Jew. What REALLY matters is whether Jews are taking advantage of the golden opportunity Hashem has kindly handed us to make Al1yah and populate Our Promised Land NOW while we can still leave.

Anonymous, May 22, 2012 8:38 PM


What does aliyah to Israel have to do with this article? To state that "What REALLY matters..." is a bit myopic and you've missed the point. Consider that the USA (even with all it's myriad of issues) is a historically kinder and more compassionate country to Jews than any other country EVER. There are many Torah giants of recent times who referred to the USA as a 'Medina Shel Chessed.' Perhaps Hashem sent the solution of the oncoming exile from the Iberian Empire before tragedies unfolded thereby allowing Jews to eventually settle in the USA.

See All Comments

Counting the Generations

Feb 25, 2012 at 01:43:26 PM

Here's an interesting tidbit that caught my attention: two grandchildren of John Tyler ― America's 10th president who was born in 1790 ― are still alive.

How is this possible? Here's the math:

At age 63, John Tyler fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler. Then, in his 70s, Lyon Gardiner Tyler fathered the two sons who are still alive today - now both in their 80s, living in Virginia and Tennessee.

This got me thinking about the Jewish historical chain. We often regard the seminal Jewish event ― the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai 3,300 years ago ― as impossibly far in the distant past.

But if we consider that the average "generational span" - from parent to child - is 35 years, the number of generations from us back to Moses is less than a hundred. That's pretty amazing, and makes the whole idea of an unbroken chain of transmission much more fathomable.

Bonus info for U.S. history buffs: John Tyler was William Henry Harrison's vice president ("Tippecanoe and Tyler too"), and took office a month into the term when Harrison caught pneumonia and died. Tyler's main presidential achievement is pushing through the annexation of Texas. But his political career ended ignobly; he later joined the South's secession efforts and was even elected to the Confederate House of Representatives. Because of his Confederate ties, Tyler's is the only presidential death not officially mourned.

Visitor Comments: 5

(3) Esp20, March 15, 2012 4:36 PM

John Tyler was a president of the United States that yielded good fruit and works in behalf of his country. He should be celebrated for his positive contributions toward this nation, just like all the other presidents before him and after.

(2) Ilan, February 29, 2012 4:07 PM


All I know for sure about someone who traces his genealogy back to Moses is that he's not descended from Moses. Not a dig at Doron, who's a good guy, but not of the Moses family.

(1) Jack, February 26, 2012 8:31 AM


The chain of tradition is not only fathomable but absolutely true. In his book "Why Be Jewish" Rabbin Doron Kornbluth traces his tradition person by person back to Moses (about 130 generations).

See All Comments