Island Kingdom off the northwestern coast of Europe. In 2006, it was the home of 297,000 Jews, less than one percent of the total population of more than 60 million. The first Jews in England were financiers who followed William the Conqueror from France at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. By the middle of the following century, their number had grown to 5,000, with thriving communities in London, Oxford, Cambridge, Norwich, Winchester, Lincoln, and other towns. Within another century, there were 70 “Jew Streets” in England. With the expulsion from England in 1290, 16,000 Jews had to seek homes elsewhere.

During this period, England lived under the feudal system. As in all feudal societies, Jews had no official rights. Officially, they were the property, or “chattel,” of the king. Because they paid heavy taxes to his treasury, it was in his interest to protect them. But the king was not a kind protector. When he needed money, he had no scruples about confiscating the property of “his Jews,” or taxing them to the point of bankruptcy. Despite these handicaps, English Jewry prospered for about 80 years after the conquest and suffered no serious persecution. The majority were not rich, but some of them were great bankers and merchants who founded Talmudic academies and wielded much influence with the king. Before 100 years had passed, however, anti-Jewish feeling began to emerge. In 1144, a charge of ritual murder


The treatment of Jewish characters that appear throughout English literature runs the gamut from blatant antisemitism to great respect and admiration. Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, perhaps the most famous Jewish character in English literature, is commonly seen as an evil person, yet a closer examination reveals that there is more than meets the eye. In Dickens’s Oliver Twist, Fagin the Jew is a corrupter of youth, yet other Dickens Jewish characters are virtuous. Some English writers, like Hilaire Belloc are outright antisemitic, while T.S. Eliot may be considered a latent one. On the other hand, great English poets of the 19th century such as Wordsworth, Byron, and Browning admired and idealized Jews and their culture, and Sir Walter Scott presented the romantic figure of Rebecca in Ivanhoe. For the most part, Jews in English literature have been presented as extremes of either virtue or vice, rather than realistic flesh and blood people with a mixture of both.


See Haskalah.


On July 4, 1976, during the height of Arab terrorism against Israel, an Air France plane was hijacked by Palestinian and German terrorists in Greece and taken to Entebbe in eastern Africa. After releasing the non-Jewish passengers, some 102 passengers, mostly Israelis, were held hostage. Israel sent an air rescue force which flew 2,500 miles at night over Arab and African countries, landed at the Entebbe airport, and rescued the hostages. The commander of the force, Lt. Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu, was the only Israeli casualty.


See Kohen.


Younger of Joseph‘s sons; founder of the warlike “half tribe of Ephraim” that settled almost in the middle of the Promised Land on a narrow stretch between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Joshua, the leader who succeeded Moses, came from the tribe of Ephraim. The first king of Israel after the division of the kingdom into two rival states, Jeroboam ben Nebat, was also an Ephraimite. So important was the part played by this tribe in the affairs of Israel that Ephraim came to be another name for the northern kingdom.

EPSTEIN, SIR JACOB (1880-1959).

Sculptor. Born of immigrant parents in New York, he moved to England where his early work in stone was at first controversial. However, in 1954, he was knighted. Epstein chose biblical subjects such as Adam, Jacob and the Angel, and Lucifer, for his monumental sculptures. He is also widely known for his busts which, dispensing with superficialities and nonessentials, analyze the sitter’s personality. Those who have sat for him include George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, Jawaharlal Nehru, Albert Einstein, and Chaim Weizmann.


See Israel, State of.


See Jacob.

ESHKOL (SHKOLNIK), LEVI (1895-1969).

Israeli labor leader and statesman. Born in the Ukraine, he settled in Palestine in 1914, where he worked in various kibbutzim and became active in HaPoel HaTzair (See Labor Zionism). Mapai member of the Knesset since 1949, he was Minister of Agriculture from 1951 to 1952 and Minister of Finance from 1952 to 1963 before becoming Prime Minister and Minister of Defense in 1963. During his term of office the Six-Day War broke out, and he turned over the defense portfolio to Moshe Dayan. He remained prime minister until his death.


Sect of pious, ascetic Jews during the time of the Second Temple. Evidence of the existence of the sect dates from the Hasmonean period. The members of the group dedicated themselves to a life of simplicity and purity. They lived close to nature and shared in common their worldly possessions. The Essenes settled in isolated areas in the Judean desert and in the vicinity of the Dead Sea. They eked out a modest living by cultivating the land and through their craftsmanship. Trade was prohibited for they considered it dishonest. Similarly, they refused to produce instruments of death and destruction.

The Essenes were known for their strict observance of the ritual of daily immersion in cold water. Purity of the soul was made conditional upon purity of body. The whole community ate together. Their meals, consisting of bread and vegetables, represented a solemn ritual. Keeping absolute silence throughout their meals, they resembled priests performing their rites during the sacred services in the Temple. New members who wished to join the sect had to go through rigorous tests and initiation rites in order to prove their worthiness. Patience, perseverance, modesty, righteousness, purity of character, and above all, love of truth and readiness to aid the poor and downtrodden were the qualities required of every candidate.

The Essenes’ closeness to nature led them to recognize medicinal herbs, and they acquired a reputation as healers and soothsayers. The Essenes refused to divulge their secrets, rules, or knowledge even under threat of death. Although opposed to war, they hated oppression and many joined the fight against the Romans. In recent years, scrolls found in caves near the Dead Sea revealed a rich and valuable literature of sects similar to the Essenes.


The megillah, or scroll of Esther, tells the story of the beautiful Esther, whose Hebrew name was Hadassah, or Myrtle. She was an orphan who lived with her wise cousin Mordecai in the capital city Shushan. When King Ahasuerus (thought to be Xerxes, 485-464 B.C.E.) deposed Queen Vashti, he chose Esther to take her place. Neither the King nor his wicked minister Haman the Agagite, knew that Esther was Jewish. Haman plotted to destroy all the Jews of Persia. Queen Esther, after fasting and praying for guidance, pleaded with the King and saved her people from destruction. Purim is the festival celebrated to commemorate this deliverance. The Fast of Esther is observed on the 13th of Adar in memory of the three days the Jews of Persia fasted at Esther’s request. The Scroll of Esther is read in the synagogue on the evening and the morning of Purim.


In Hebrew, Pirke Avot. Section of the Mishnah. This book is a collection of moral and religious teachings by the rabbis who contributed to the Mishnah. One of the six chapters from the Ethics of the Fathers is read on the afternoon of every Sabbath between Passover and Rosh Hashanah. The original purpose for the compilation of the Ethics was to teach right conduct and to show the divine source of the traditional law. An enlarged version is called the Avot de Rabbi Natan.

Rather than a legal document, an ethical will in Judaism refers to instructions written down during one’s lifetime for one’s children on how to preserve certain aspects of the Jewish heritage or how to live according to certain precepts. Such instructions, albeit verbal, are common in the Bible. During and after the Middle Ages ethical wills appeared in written form, some of which became important historical documents (such as Ibn Tibbon‘s). Recently in the U.S. the tradition of writing an ethical will was revived.


See Hebrew Literature.


In referring to Ethiopian Jews, the term Falashas, meaning foreigners or invaders, is considered a derogatory term. They are Jews originating in separate small villages west of Lake Taana in Ethiopia. Although Christian missionaries succeeded in converting tens of thousands, almost 20,000 remained true to their faith. In 1991, Operation Solomon, a covert airlift operation, brought the large part of the Ethiopian Jewish community to Israel. By 1993, most Ethiopian Jews had been moved, and today no more than 100 remain in Ethiopia.

The integration of the Ethiopian population into Israeli society, however, has been slow. Many Ethiopians are plagued by poverty and a continual sense of alienation in what should be their national home. It is thought that unlike the immigrants from the former Soviet Union who were considerably more involved in socio-political affairs in their places of origin, the Ethiopian community, used to living separately, was not prepared to enter Israel’s cosmopolitan scene. Despite hardships, the Ethiopian community has produced a young generation that is wholly given to the State of Israel, of whom those who serve in the Israeli army are exceedingly dedicated soldiers. Today, many social aid efforts to help the Ethiopian community in Israel continue, and there is much hope for the future.


See Sukkot.


The first woman according to the Bible, created from one of Adam‘s ribs. Eve is tempted by the snake to taste of the forbidden fruit, whereby the first human couple is banished from the Garden of Eden.


Superstition dating back to the Talmud and common among non-Jews as well, according to which someone may be cursed by someone else’s evil glance. Amulets were used to ward off the evil eye.


Resh Galuta, or Prince of the Captivity. Title held by the head of the Babylonian Jewish community until the 11th century C.E. Jews of Babylonia had the right to govern themselves according to Jewish law, and the exilarch therefore appointed judges and was the court of final appeal. The exilarch collected and allocated taxes and represented the Jewish community at the Babylonian court. Since, in addition, the exilarch claimed direct descent from the House of David and for a thousand years the office was transmitted from father to son, they were personages of great authority. (See Babylonia.)


See Galut.


From Greek, meaning “going out.” In Hebrew the second book of the Bible is called Shemot, or Names, because it begins with the words, “Now these are the names of the sons of Israel, who came into Egypt with Jacob.” Exodus tells the story of the Egyptian oppression of the Israelites, the appearance of Moses, the ten plagues, and the exodus from Egypt. It describes how God revealed Himselfin thunder and lightning to the Children of Israel standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai and gave them first the Ten Commandments, the laws they were to live by, and finally the covenant, or promise of the Land of Canaan. The story of the Golden Calf and the making of the Tabernacle are in the closing chapters of the book.


Literally, whom God makes strong. Third of the major prophets, Ezekiel, son of Buzi, was a younger contemporary of Jeremiah. He too witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and Judea, and went into exile to Babylonia. Like Jeremiah, he also believed deeply in each person’s individual responsibility to God. His prophecies have great poetic beauty and mystic power; the mystical concept of the Divine Chariot in the Kabbalah drew its imagery from Ezekiel’s first vision. His most famous chapter, 37, is the symbolic vision of a valley of dry bones that are resurrected and rise again as “a mighty army,” a prophecy of the rebirth of Israel.


This biblical book tells of Ezra the Scribe who led the Jews who had returned from Babylonian exile to Judea in the 5th century B.C.E.


One of two leaders of the return from the Babylonian captivity in the 5th century B.C.E. He was a teacher of the Law and, presumably, author of the Book of Ezra in the Bible. About 458 B.C.E., 60 years after the Return and the rebuilding of the Temple, social and religious conditions in Judea deteriorated, causing great concern among Babylonian Jewry. Ezra, a priest and learned scribe, or sofer, led a mission of Babylonian Jewish notables to Judea to correct this condition. He carried an authorization from King Artaxerxes to appoint officials and act as an administrator. Ezra acted vigorously; he instituted religious reforms that preserved the identity and continuity of the Jewish people. By his act, the scribes took over the responsibility of teaching the people. Ezra called an assembly of the people in the Temple courts where portions of the Torah were read out loud to them. The Levites circulated among the people explaining the text, and the people pledged obedience. This was the First Great Assembly, an institution that continued for about two centuries. Not the least of Ezra’s achievements was the custom he began of reading Portions from the Torah on Sabbaths, Mondays, and Thursdays. This was a form of worship and teaching which spread from the Temple to synagogues all over the Land. It is no wonder that, in the Talmud, Ezra has been compared to Moses.