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LA-LM Archives | Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia
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LABAN.

Jacob‘s uncle and later father-in-law. He promised to let his daughter Rachel marry Jacob. On the wedding night he substituted Leah, Rachel’s older sister. After Jacob worked for Laban for seven more years, Laban gave him Rachel as well. In Jewish tradition, Laban became known as a deceiver.

LABOR ZIONISM.

Socialist Zionism originated at the close of the 19th century and had to struggle for followers among Jewish socialists who rejected Zionism as a “reactionary movement.” Jewish socialists saw the solution of the Jewish problem in a Utopian world that socialism aimed to create for all people. The first Jewish leader to differ with the Marxist idea was Moses Hess, who held that Jewish people had the right to a place in humankind’s family of nations. As the Socialist Zionist movement grew, it had to make its way against socialist ridicule and opposition. Nachman Syrkin and Ber Borochov were the leaders in this struggle. Syrkin saw in Socialist Zionism a modern expression of the Hebrew prophets’ teachings of justice for all. He founded the first Poale Zion, or Workers of Zion, group in London in 1903. Borochov felt that the special problem of the Jewish masses could be solved only in a Jewish Socialist commonwealth in Palestine. At a conference in 1906, the various Russian Poale Zion groups reconciled their differences and formed the Jewish Social Democratic Party, Poale Zion of Russia. This body united with the Poale Zion groups of Austria and the United States in 1907 to form the Poale Zion Party as an autonomous body within the World Zionist Organization. The Labor Zionists came to Palestine as the famous pioneering Second Aliyah (1904-1914), which established agricultural cooperatives and organized the self-defense that guarded Jewish colonies from Arab attack. Before World War I, the Labor Zionists were divided into two parties: Poale Zion and the Hapoel Hatzair, or the Young Worker. The personality and “religion of labor” gospel of Aaron David Gordon exerted the greatest influence on both groups. The Poale Zion leaders in Palestine included David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, and Berl Katznelson. In 1929, Poale Zion and Hapoel Hatzair merged to form Mifleget Poale Eretz Israel, the Party of the Workers of Israel. For decades, Mapai, the initials by which this party is known, was the largest political party in Israel. (See also Hashomer Ha-tzair.)

LACHISH.

Canaanite city kingdom conquered by Joshua in 1230 B.C.E. and allotted to Judah. It was rice, corn, vine, and olive-growing area lying astride the main trade routes to Egypt and Mesopotamia. Lachish was coveted and fought for by Israel’s neighbors. Later, it was the scene of Samson‘s triumphs and David‘s victory over Goliath. Lachish was a link in the chain of fortresses which King Rehoboam built to guard the southern approaches to Jerusalem. It was attacked by Sennacherib and then by Nebuchadnezzar, as corroborated in the Lachish Letters discovered in 1935. After fourteen centuries of neglect, the 125,000 acres of the Lachish area on Israel’s southern border are now being rehabilitated through agricultural settlement. Three training camps have been set up to prepare future settlers, and eight villages have already been established.

LADINO

(Judeo-Spanish). When the Jews left Spain in 1492, the Spanish language was on the verge of change. The old form is preserved today only in the Jewish dialect called Ladino. It is also called Spaniolish or Castiliano. It is spoken by Sephardic Jews in Turkey, the Balkans, part of North Africa, in Israel, and the Americas. More than 20,000 persons in New York City speak Ladino. From the beginning, Ladino included Hebrew words. Later, it picked up Arabic, Turkish, Greek, French, and Italian words. It is usually printed in Rashi script, but in Turkey and Israel a few newspapers print Ladino in Latin letters. Spanish scholars often visit the Sephardim to collect old Spanish songs and sayings. In the U.S. there has been a revival of Ladino culture, reflected mainly in songs and folktales.

LAG B'OMER.

See Omer.

LAMDAN, YITZHAK.

See Hebrew Literature.

LAMED.

Twelfth letter of the Hebrew alphabet; numerically, thirty.

LAMED VAV TZADDIKIM.

Literally, 36 righteous men. The “secret saints” for whose sake the world survives. These secret saints are the center of many stories and mystic legends, all of them based on the saying in the Talmud by Abbaye that there are at least 36 righteous men in every generation. They are so pious and modest that they hide their learning and earn their bread by physical labor. According to this legend, before one of the Lamed Vav dies, another is born, and so the sinful world is saved from destruction.

LAMENTATIONS.

Third of the five scrolls in the Writings section of the Bible. According to tradition, its author is the prophet Jeremiah. Lamentations consists of five beautiful elegies or poems of mourning lamenting the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the first Temple. The first four elegies are written in alphabetic acrostics, that is, each verse opens with a letter of the alphabet in consecutive order. Lamentations is chanted in the synagogue on the ninth day of the month of Ab, the day in 586 B.C.E. of the destruction of the Temple.

LANDAU, SAMUEL HAYIM (1892-1928).

Religious Zionist leader and philosopher. Born to a Hasidic family in Poland, he rose at an early age to a high position of leadership in religious Zionism. He worked untiringly for Hapoel Ha­mizrachi, as well as for Hehalutz and Zionist fundraising, at first in Poland and later in 1925 in Palestine. Landau was the founder of the move­ment within religious Zionism that stressed Torah Ve-Avodah, or traditional Judaism and labor.

LANDOWSKA, WANDA.

See Music.

LASKER, EMANUEL (1868-1941).

German-born world chess champion from 1894 to 1921. He wrote about chess and other subjects.

LASKER-SCHÜLER, ELSE (1876-1945).

German-born poet who lived in Palestine from 1936 until her death. She was a leading German poet who turned to Jewish themes inspired by the prophets of Israel.

LATIN AMERICA.

All of the Western Hemisphere south of the U.S.-Mexican border and north of Antarctica, including South America, Central America, Mexico, and the islands of the Caribbean. This large and variegated portion of the globe is known as Latin America because of the mark left upon it by its Spanish and Portuguese colonizers who spoke Romance languages that were derived from Latin. Spanish or Portuguese is still spoken in most Latin American countries.

Christopher Columbus had ventured to cross the Atlantic in search of the “Indies.” He believed that by sailing westward he would discover a sea route to India, the home of silk, spices, elephants, gold, and all the “riches of the Orient.” Instead, he stumbled on the Americas, which he believed to be the “West Indies.” It was soon realized, however, that this was neither India nor the Indies, but a “New World” no less rich and exotic than the fabled Orient. Within 30 years this New World was overrun with Spanish and Portuguese adventurers intent on exploiting the wealth of their newly discovered empire which they came to call “New Spain.”

As colonists settled in the Americas, traffic sprang up between New Spain and European countries. Ships bore rich ores to Europe and returned with manufactured goods for the colonies. Soon it was discovered that the riches of the New World lay not in metals alone. Sugar, tobacco, coffee, and other items that could be grown in the fertile valleys and tropical islands of the Americas commanded high prices on the markets of the old world. Trade boomed.

Among the masters of this trade were Marranos, Spanish Jews who had converted to Catholicism rather than go into exile or be burned at the stake. The year 1492, when Columbus discovered America, was a monumental year in the annals of Spain

LATVIA.

Jews have lived in Latvia since the 16th century. There were 2,000 Jews in 1795 when it was annexed by Russia. In 1919, when Latvia became independent, Jews were able to develop an active Jewish life, forming schools and organizations. In 1940, the Soviet Union overran Latvia and deported many Jews to Siberia. In 1941, the Nazis occupied Latvia, and some 75,000 Jews fell into their hands. Ghettos were set up in Riga, Dvinsk, Libau, and elsewhere, and by the end of the war most of those Jews perished. After the war some 30,000 Jews returned to Latvia from Russia, but since then a large number has immigrated to Israel. In 2007 there were about 10,000 Jews living in Latvial

LAUDER, ESTEE (1906-2004)

American cosmetics magnate.

LAUTENBERG, FRANK R. (1924- 2013 ).

LautenbergFrankU.S. Senator (Democrat) from New Jersey. He started out as a businessman who helped developed ADP into a leading computing services company, and later became its chief executive. When he became a Senator, he championed legislation that allowed more control over alcohol and tobacco among other issues.

Elected to the Senate in 1982 at age 58, in his first attempt at elective office, he served 3 terms before retiring.   In 2002, he returned to office, serving until his death. He was the last World War II veteran in the Senate.

Lautenberg had little formal Jewish education  and was never able to be a bar mitzvah, but after war became more involved in Jewish communal life and causes. In 1968 he established the Lautenberg Center for General and Tumor Immunology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He was one-time president of the American Friends of Hebrew University, on the Jewish Agency for Israel’s board of governors, and chairman of the United Jewish Appeal.

LAW, JEWISH.

See Talmud.

LAWS OF NOAH.

Seven biblical laws which according to the rabbis are binding upon the human race. They concern the prohibition of idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, robbery, and eating of flesh cut from a living animal. They encourage the establishment of courts of justice.

LAZARUS, EMMA (1849-1887).

American poet. Born in New York to an affluent Sephardic family, she eventually brought her talent to Hebraic themes. News stories of bloody persecutions of the Jews in Russia, followed by contact with refugees in New York, inspired her prose and animated her poetry. “The New Colossus,” written on a single sheet of paper and now inscribed on a plaque imbedded in the Statue of Liberty, constitutes an invocation of welcome to the immigrants.

LEAH.

Jacob‘s first wife and mother of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun.

LEBANON.

Literally, white; named after its snow-capped peaks. An independent republic since 1944, Lebanon occupies a mountain range that runs almost parallel with the Mediterranean, north of Israel, for about 100 miles, rising at its highest point to 10,000 feet. The country is divided by the Coelesyria, or El Baka Valley into Lebanon on the west and Anti-Lebanon on the east. Lebanon was famous in antiquity for its cedar forests (long since destroyed by reckless cutting), which provided timber for the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. In 1998, its population of about 3.4 million included a Christian (that is, Maronite) majority, as well as Moslems and Druzes.

The Jewish community, concentrated mainly in Beirut, has dwindled over the years. A statute passed in 1952 granted the community a large degree of autonomy in internal affairs. Although Lebanon participated in the Arab invasion of Israel in 1948, Lebanese Jewry has enjoyed better treatment than any other Jewish community in the Arab World. There is nonetheless a complete ban on travel and emigration, and Jews are excluded from army and government positions.

During the Six-Day War, Lebanon did not participate in the fighting. However, two and a half years later, Palestinian Arab guerillas began to infiltrate into Lebanon and use the southern part of the country as a base for raids into Israeli territory. When it became obvious that the Lebanon government was unable to put an end to these attacks, Israel retaliated in the areas from which the guerrillas operated.

In 1982, Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee, designed to secure its southern border from terrorist infiltration from Lebanon, where the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) became, in effect, a state within a state. As a result of the war, the PLO was ousted from Beirut and their military base in Lebanon was destroyed, creating hopes for a unified Lebanon and the possibility of an Israeli-Lebanese peace treaty in 1983. This treaty was abrogated by Lebanon in 1984, owing to internal Moslem and Druze pressure and Syrian opposition. In 1998, both Israeli and Syrian troops were still stationed in Lebanon.

LEESER, ISAAC (1806-1868).

American religious leader. A rabbi and founder of Maimonides College in Philadelphia, he came to the U.S. while still in his teens. He became a journalist and editor. In 1829, he became Rabbi of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia, where he introduced an English sermon into synagogue services. He opposed Reform and carried on a strenuous campaign for the preservation of traditional Judaism. His work and thought were reflected in the pages of The Occident, a magazine he edited for 26 years. His 1853 Bible translation served American Jewry as the accepted English version for more than 50 years.

LEGION, JEWISH.

In 1915, during World War I, under the leadership of Joseph Trumpeldor, a Zion Mule Corps was founded and served with the British in the Gallipoli Expeditionary Force. This corps’ record for bravery helped break down British resistance to establishing of a Jewish Legion. Such a legion, the Royal Fusiliers, was organized in 1917 in London after much effort by Vladimir Jabotinsky. In 1918, recruiting for the Jewish Legion began in the United States. David Ben-Gurion, later Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, and Pinhas Rutenberg were the chief architects of the Legion movement in the United States. The Jewish Legion numbered 5,000 and was a part of the British Army that wrested Samaria, the Galilee, and Trans-Jordan from the Turks. Another 5,000 men were due to join them, but the Armistice was proclaimed before their arrival.

LEHMAN, HERBERT HENRY (1878-1963).

American legislator and statesman. In 1928, he was elected Lieutenant Governor of New York and succeeded Roosevelt as Governor in 1932, an office he held for ten years. When the depression started in 1929, Lehman’s liberal legislation in such fields as welfare and labor brought economic stability to the state. In 1949, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he opposed the McCarran-Walter immigration bill and supported sending arms to Israel. For more than half a century, his numerous philanthropic activities included interest in child welfare institutions, hospitals, and vocational schools. He was active in many Jewish organizations and causes.

LEONARD, BENNY.

See Sports.

LEVENSON, SAM.

See Stage and Screen.

LEVI.

Third son of Jacob and Leah. The tribe of Levi received no allotment of land in Canaan, because it was set apart to conduct the worship of God. Instead, the Levites received for their maintenance a portion of the tithes brought by the worshipers to the Temple. (See also Kohen.)

LEVI BEN GERSHON (GERSONIDES) (1288-1344).

Astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher. Born in France, he commented on the Bible, Aristotelian philosophy, and the Talmud. He devised an instrument used in navigation for measuring angular separation between astronomical bodies. His major philosophical work, Milhamot Adonai, deals with contemporary Jewish philosophical questions. His views were controversial because, unlike Maimonides, he did not always let the Bible be the final word when facing a contradiction between Judaism and Greek philosophy.

LEVI ISAAC OF BERDICTCHEV.

See Hasidism.

LEVI, PRIMO (1919-1987).

Italian Jewish writer and chemist. He survived Auschwitz and wrote searing memoirs about his experience. His books rank among the most memorable of the Holocaust.

LEVI-STRAUSS, CLAUDE (1908-2009).

French philosopher and anthropologist. His studies of culture, linguistics, and mythologies have had a profound influence on 20th century sociology, architecture, literature, and art. Some have called him the “father of modern anthropology.” He was born in Belgium, but spent most of his youth in France. In 1934 he was appointed the professor of sociology at the University of São Paulo, Brazil in 1934 and later taught in New York as well as Paris. In 2008, he was appointed as a member of the Académie Française.

LEVI YITZHAK OF BERDITCHEV.

See Hasidism.

LEVIATHAN.

Legendary sea creature described in several places in the Bible, particularly in Job 40. The Talmud and Midrash describe the leviathan as a huge fish coiled around the entire globe, reserved for the feast of the righteous in the world-to-come.

LEVIN, MEYER (1905-1981).

American novelist. He wrote books on a variety of Jewish subjects, including Hasidic legends and novels about Israel and the Holocaust. His best known work includes The Old Bunch, Compulsion, Eva, and The Fanatic.

LEVINE, JAMES.

See Music.

LEVINSKY, BATTLING.

See Sports.

LEVINSOHN, ADAM HACOHEN.

See Hebrew Literature.

LEVINSOHN, MICAH JOSEPH.

See Hebrew Literature.

LEVITES.

Descendants of Levi, the third son of Jacob. From ages 20 to 50, the Levite was consecrated to render service at the Sanctuary where the Israelites worshiped God by bringing sacrifices to the altar. They were gatekeepers and caretakers of the sanctuary and its furnishings; they were judges, teachers of the Law and scribes, temple musicians, and assistants to the priests. Since the tribe of Levi had received no land in Canaan, the Levites were assigned the revenues from 40 cities, as well as certain tithes from all crops and produce. They assisted the prophet Samuel at Shiloh in the Tabernacle services and in teaching the people. In the First Temple, built by Solomon in Jerusalem, they were the musicians and singers, and performed the menial tasks as well. When the Temple was rebuilt after the Babylonian exile, the Levites led the joyous recession at the dedication festival. When Ezra and Nehemiah instituted the Great Assemblies and read the Law to the people, the Levites circulated among them explaining and teaching its meaning. To this day, when all traces of the various tribes of Israel have long been erased by the centuries, the tradition of descent from the Levites is still handed down. At synagogue services, a Levite is called up to the reading of the Torah second after a kohen, or priest.

LEVITICUS.

Literally, relating to the Levites. Third of the five books of Moses. It contains a manual for Levites, the priestly ritual of sacrifices, the Code of Holiness, rules regarding charity, marriage, and laws governing many other phases of life.

LEVY, ASSER (d. 1681).

His full name was Asser Levy van Swellem. He was one of the original band of 23 pilgrims who came to New York in 1654. From a penniless immigrant he rose to be a man of property and importance in the community. He initiated several lawsuits which resulted in the clarification of Jewish rights in New Amsterdam. Notable among these was the right to stand guard along with fellow-burghers, rather than pay a tax to be exempt from military duty. A novel by Louis Zara, Blessed Is the Land, commemorates Levy’s life and accomplishments.

LEVY, URIAH PHILLIPS (1792-1862).

U.S. naval officer. He led the crusade to abolish flogging as a form of discipline in the U.S. Navy. Levy’s opposition to this and other accepted practices, as well as his Jewishness, made him a target of petty persecution, abuse, imprisonment, and six court-martials. Finally vindicated by an official court of inquiry, he rose in rank from cabin boy to Commodore and flag-officer of the Navy in the Mediterranean under President Abraham Lincoln. In March 1943, the Navy named a destroyer in the memory of Uriah Phillips Levy.

LEWIS, JERRY.

See Stage and Screen.

LEWISOHN, LUDWIG (1883-1955).

American novelist, critic, and outstanding writer on modern Jewish problems. Between 1920 and 1924, a great personal change transformed Lewisohn from an assimilated Jew to one deeply absorbed in his Jewishness. He became an active Zionist. With The Island Within in 1928, he emerged as primarily a Jewish writer. In this book he analyzed the problems of the assimilated Jew, the difficulties of intermarriage, and the spiritual enrichment that flowed from a rediscovery of Judaism. The last years of Lewisohn’s life were spent at Brandeis University where as Professor of Comparative Literature, a Jew, a Zionist, and a literary stylist, he influenced young minds.

LIEBERMAN, JOSEPH (1942- ).

Former U.S. Democratic Senator from Connecticut. He took strong stands on defense, anti-crime legislation, and aid to small business. He was also known as a staunch supporter of Israel.

LIEBERMANN, MAX (1847-1935).

Artist. A Berlin native, he followed in the footsteps of Joseph Israels and painted Dutch themes. In Amsterdam he was attracted by the same colorful ghetto scenes that had fascinated Rembrandt. In his old age Liebermann became famous as a painter of portraits of outstanding statesmen, educators, and civic leaders. These portraits are notable for their realistic vigor. He served as president of the Prussian Academy of Arts from 1919 until the Nazis ousted him in 1933.

LIFE, SANCTITY OF.

In Judaism, human life is the highest value. Saving a single life is considered equal to saving the entire universe. A Jew is allowed to break a religious law in order to save a life, a practice known as pikuach nefesh. Life is seen as the here-and-now, whereas the afterlife is something beyond the purview of this life (See Heaven and Hell). Judaism does not promote asceticism, removing oneself from the community, or denying oneself the pleasures of this life. A healthy and joyful life is considered the best way to serve God. (See also Hasidism).

LIKUD.

See Israel, Government and Parties.

LILIENBLUM, MOSHE LEIB (1843-1910).

Writer, leader in the Enlightenment movement, and early Zionist. Lilienblum’s desire for secular education brought him to Odessa. Disillusioned by the lack of spiritual values, he wrote a revealing account of his life called Hatot Neurim (Sins of Youth), in which he struck at the evils of ghetto life. After the 1881 pogrom in Russia, Lilienblum favored Jewish settlement in Palestine.

LILITH.

A female demon and consort of Satan, or Samael. According to one legend in Jewish tradition, she was Adam‘s first wife.

LINOWITZ, SOL (1913- ).

American businessman and public figure. He was CEO of the Xerox company which became a major corporation under his leadership. From 1966 to 1969 he was U.S. ambassador to the Organizations of American States, and in 1977 he helped negotiate the Panama Canal Treaty. He was active in Jewish affairs for many years.

LIPCHITZ, JACQUES (1891-1973).

Sculptor. Born in Lithuania, he migrated to France, from where he fled during World War II to the U.S. He drew much inspiration from the Bible, and from his experiences as a Jew. Explaining his bronze statue of Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, he said: “Man is wrestling with the angel; it is a tremendous struggle, but he wins, and is blessed.” Other pieces of Jewish interest include The Prayer (an old man performing the kapparot ceremony) and The Miracle, a tribute to the new state of Israel (a figure, arms raised, facing the Tables of the Law, out of which grows the seven-branched candelabrum). Toward the end of his life he became interested in the Lubavitch Hasidic movement.

LIPPMANN, WALTER (1889-1974).

Leading American social and political commentator of the 20th century. His political columns shaped the thinking of many Americans. His books include A Preface to Politics, The Good Society, and The Public Philosophy.

LIPSKY, LOUIS (1876-1963).

American Zionist leader and writer. As an editor and columnist for various publications, he was introduced into Jewish public life. In 1899, he founded the Maccabaean, editing this monthly official Zionist publication. It was transformed into the weekly New Palestine in 1918. Lipsky was active in the American Jewish Congress from its inception in 1918, and was largely responsible for founding the World Jewish Congress. He served as a member of the Jewish delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, and as a writer, orator, and parliamentarian, he participated in every phase of American Zionist life from the beginning of the 20th century. Lipsky achieved recognition as one of the foremost thinkers in American Zionism and served as President of the Zionist Organization of America from 1921 to 1931.

LITERATURE, HEBREW.

See Hebrew Literature.

LITHUANIA.

Jews settled in Lithuania in the 14th century, coming from Germany and Poland, and were treated well by the local pagan rulers. Most were farmers, artisans, and estate managers. During this period, intermarriage between the ruling families of Lithuania and Poland drew the two countries closer, bringing Lithuania under the influence of Catholicism and reversing the favorable treatment of Jews.

In 1495, the Grand Duke Alexander expelled all Jews from the country. The expulsion edict remained in force for eight years. After returning in 1503, Jews resumed their respected place in the economic life of the country. By the mid-16th century, the influence of the Church and the enmity of the lower nobility intensified, and laws restricting Jewish dress and occupations were passed. The political union of Lithuania and Poland in 1569 brought no marked change to the Jewish position. On the whole, the rulers of the country protected the Jews from excessive restrictions. The Jewish population enjoyed a measure of self-rule within their own communities.

From 1623 to 1764, Jewish religious, economic, and social life was regulated by the Council of Four Lands (See Kahal), within which the important Jewish communities of Lithuania were represented. During the years of the Cossack uprisings which began in 1648 and were led by Chmielnicki, thousands of Jews were slaughtered and many communities in Lithuania destroyed. A partial healing of the wounds inflicted by the Cossacks came in the following century. The Jewish community of Lithuania became a center of Jewish learning. Great influence on the spiritual life of Jews was exerted by Rabbi Elijah Gaon of Vilna. His pupils, especially Hayim of Volozhin, were the founders of famous Talmudical academies, or yeshivot, in the country. Lithuanian Jewry played an important role in the dispute between Hasidism and their opponents, Mitnagdim. The bulk of Lithuanian Jewry remained aloof from the Hasidic movement, and was primarily devoted to the study of the Talmud.

During the late 19th century, Lithuania became fertile ground for the growth of the Haskalah, or Enlightenment movement. Here, modern Hebrew literature flourished and produced some of the greatest Hebrew writers: Micah Joseph Levinsohn, Abraham Mapu, and J.L. Gordon. Later in the 19th century, the Zionist movement, as well as the Socialist Bund, found numerous followers among Lithuanian Jewry. During the same period, due to economic hardships and Tsarist persecutions, a large number of Lithuanian Jews emigrated to the United States, South Africa, and other countries, where they established flourishing Jewish communities.

After World War I, Lithuania became an independent republic. In 1919, the Lithuanian government appointed a Ministry of Jewish Affairs and granted Jews full cultural autonomy. Jews enjoyed these rights for five years before they were curtailed and economic restrictions instituted. However, Jews retained some of their cultural autonomy and developed a government-supported school system with Hebrew and Yiddish as the languages of instruction. Lithuania also remained a center of Talmudic study. Yeshivot continued to exist in Slobodka, Telz, Panevezsh, and a number of other cities.

At the outbreak of the World War II, nearly 170,000 Jews (about 7% of the general population), lived in Lithuania, 40,000 of them in Kovno, the capital of the country. In 1940, Lithuania was annexed by Soviet Russia, only to fall into the hands of Nazi Germany in the following year. In 1942, mass murders of Jews were carried out with the help of the local populace, until almost all Lithuanian Jews were wiped out, save only those few who had managed to flee to other countries.

After World War II, Lithuania was incorporated into the Soviet Union. In 1993, after Lithuania gained independence from the former Soviet Union, the number of Jews remaining in Vilna and Kovno was about 8,000. Although a few synagogues still function in the cities of Vilna and Kovno, Jewish culture and educational institutions are virtually nonexistent. In 1997, the Lithuanian postal service issued a commemorative stamp of the Gaon of Vilna, now recognized as a Lithuanian historical personality.

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