AARON (ca. 1300 B.C.E.).

Moses’ older brother and spokesman in Egypt. Together they appeared before Pharaoh when Aaron “cast down his staff before Pharaoh…and it became a serpent” (Exod. 7:10). Aaron is represented as the first high priest in Israel, having officiated in the Tabernacle built in the wilderness. He became the ancestor of all the priests and high priests, thus permanently dividing the tribe of Levi into two categories: the priests and the Levites, or servitors, both of whom served in the Sanctuary. (See also Kohen.)

AARONSOHN, AARON. (1876-1919).

Agricultural expert and early Zionist leader in Palestine. He conducted valuable experiments to improve crops cultivated in Palestine, and discovered wild wheat, a special type of grain sought by botanists the world over. During World War I, with his brother Alexander, his sister Sarah, and close friends, he joined the NILI, a secret organization which sought to aid Britain in conquering Palestine, in order to realize a Jewish homeland. Sarah was captured by the Turks who tortured her to find out who NILI’s members were. She refused to tell and finally shot herself. At the end of the war, Aaronsohn set out on a political mission to England. On May 15, 1919, on the way from London to Paris to the Peace Conference, his plane mysteriously disappeared. It is assumed that it fell into the English Channel. Aaronsohn left behind valuable botanical studies which were published after his untimely death. K’far Aaron, a village in Israel, as well as the Agricultural Institute of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, are named in his honor.


Leader of extremist rebels in the Jewish uprising against Rome in 69-70 C.E. When his uncle, Rabbi Johanan Ben Zakkai, wanted to leave the beleaguered Jerusalem and establish a center of learning at Yavneh in southern Palestine, Abba Sikra saw to Rabbi Johanan’s safe passage through one of the city gates.


Son of Adam and Eve; a shepherd. When Abel’s offering was accepted by God, his brother, Cain, grew jealous and slew him. Then the Lord asked Cain, “Where is Abel, thy brother?” Cain answered, “I know not; am I my brother’s keeper?” As punishment, the Lord made Cain a “fugitive and a vagabond on the earth” (Gen. 4:1-4:16).


See Life, Sanctity of.

ABRAHAM (ca. 1940 B.C.E.)

Founder of the Jewish people; first of the patriarchs, who discarded idol worship for belief in one God. The Covenant between God and Israel began with Abraham. His story is told in Genesis 11-25, from his birth in Ur of Chaldea in southern Mesopotamia to his death and burial in the cave of Machpelah near Hebron in the land of Ca­naan. Abraham was commanded by God to leave his birthplace between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and to settle in “the land that I will show you.” He obeyed and set out with his family on the long journey to Canaan. When he came to Sh’chem, “the Lord appeared to Abraham and said, ‘Unto your seed will I give this land!’” (Gen. 12:7) Throughout Genesis 11:26-17:5, Abraham is called Av-Ram, “exalted father.” Then his name is changed to Av-Raham, “father of multitudes”—“for the father of a multitude of nations have I made you…And I will establish my covenant between Me and you, and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant.” As a sign of this everlasting contract, Abraham instituted circumcision of every eight-day-old male child.

 The biblical account of Abraham brings new dignity to the story of humankind. Through the covenant of Abraham, each person becomes a partner in a contract with God, obligated to serve righteously and obediently, receiving in return the Promised Land as inheritance.

 As the story of Abraham unfolds, his love of peace, sense of justice, and compassion for suffering are revealed in his acts. With great pa­tience, he settled the disputes between the sheep herders of Lot and his own men. With great daring, he pleaded with God not to destroy the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah, even if there were only ten righteous people among them. In the story of Isaac’s sacrifice, Abra­ham’s sub­mission to God was test­ed. As com­manded, Abra­ham placed his son upon the altar, preparing to offer him up. An angel of God restrained him: “Lay not your hand upon the lad… for now I know you fear God.” Then Abraham lifted his eyes and saw a ram “caught up in a thicket by his horns.” He sacrificed the ram instead of  his Isaac. In Abraham’s time, sacrificing children to the gods was a com­mon ritual among heathens, but through his new faith learned that God forbade child sacrifice and that human life was sacred.


See Sports.


See Mendele Mocher Sefarim.


(1437-1508). Scholar, philosopher, and statesman. Don Isaac was an illustrious member of one of the most distinguished Sephardic Jewish families that traced its origin to King David. Born in Lisbon, Abravanel served as treasurer to King Alfonso V of Portugal. When Alfonso died, his successor accused Don Isaac of conspiring against the king, forcing Abravanel to flee to Spain in 1483. There he served King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in state financial affairs. When a decree expelling Jews from Spain was issued in 1492, he and other influential Jews pleaded before the court for its withdrawal, but to no avail. Abravanel was offered personal exemption from the decree, but chose to flee to Naples, where he again entered royal service.

Abravanel’s Jewish scholarship is shown in his commentaries on the Bible. Despite his firm faith in the divine revelation of the Bible, he saw clearly the importance of historical background in biblical exposition. Stirred by Jewish suffering, he wrote three works to perpetuate belief in the coming of the Messiah (See also Messianism). As a philosopher, he supported the principle of free will, and opposed the influence of Aristotle and Plato on Jewish thought. Abravanel was survived by three distinguished sons: Joseph, a physician and scholar; Judah Leon, also a physician; and Samuel, scholar and patron of Jewish learning.


Third son of David and his wife Maacha, the daughter of Talmai, King of Geshur. The Hebrew Av-Shalom, “Father of Peace,” is an ironic name for the son who stirred up a rebellion against his father in order to wrest the throne from him and who became a perennial symbol of a rebellious child. For four years Absalom secretly plotted and then openly set up military headquarters in Hebron. David withdrew from Jerusalem, a stratagem which proved successful, for it brought Absalom to “the forest of Ephraim,” east of the Jordan River, where David, long skilled in guerrilla fighting, had no difficulty in defeating his son. As Absalom fled from the battlefield on a mule, his long hair caught in the branches of an oak tree. His mule trotted on, leaving him helplessly trapped. He was killed by David’s general, Joab. Hearing the news of this act which he had expressly forbidden, David the King uttered a cry that has become a classic expression of a father’s grief: “O my son Ab­salom, my son…would I had died for thee…” (II Sam. 19:1).


See Kabbalah.


(1920-1998). First Jewish woman to serve in the U.S. Congress (1971-76) and first person elected on a women’s rights platform. Abzug was a peace activist, labor lawyer, lecturer, news commentator, and civil rights advocate. “Women,” she once said, “have been trained to speak softly and carry a lipstick. Those days are over.”


See Talmud.


(t’amim, or trope). Signs above and underneath letters of the Scriptural texts, indicating how the text should be chanted to make the meaning clear and the reading pleasant. Thus, accents serve both as musical notes and as punctuation. The signs are the same in all books of the Bible, but are read differently in certain passages and sections. Jews of various countries have evolved different chants for them. This system of accents is said to date back to Ezra the Scribe (5th century B.C.E.) and the Great Assembly.


(Gabriel da Costa) (1585-1640). Uriel Acosta was born in Oporto, Portugal, to an aristocratic Marrano family that had been forcibly converted to Christianity. He came to doubt the teachings of Catholicism, but having no contact with Judaism he formed a highly personal view through his reading of the Bible. After his father’s death, he persuaded his family to move to Amsterdam and return to Judaism. There he began to express his ideas and wrote Proposals Against Tradition; in 1624 he developed these ideas further in Comparison of Pharisaic Tradition with the Scriptures. In this book Acosta expressed his rejection of the soul’s immortality, resurrection, and reward and punishment. These views resulted in the public burning of his books. The Amsterdam Jewish community placed him under “the great ban” in 1618. Everyone, including his brothers, shunned him. In 1633, when he could no longer bear the isolation, Acosta publicly renounced his opinions, only to revert back to his controversial beliefs. Again excommunicated, he led a solitary life for seven years. When this existence became unbearable, he again recanted and submitted to a harrowing ceremony of repentance in the Amsterdam synagogue. Acosta could not bear to live after this public humiliation. He wrote a short autobiography defending his views, then in 1640, committed suicide.

ACRE (Akko).

Seaport town on the northern hook of Haifa Bay. In Canaanite times it was a “strong-walled” Phoenician seaport allotted to the tribe of Asher (Judges 1:31), seized alternately by Egypt and Assyria. Since 800 B.C.E., it has served successively as a Greek and Roman port, Crusaders’ fortress, Moslem battlefield, and French trading center. After being destroyed by the Turks, Acre was rebuilt in 1749, only to be besieged by Napoleon. It continued to change hands until it was acquired by the British. In 1948, Acre fell to the State of Israel, which built a new Jewish town outside the walls. Its population of 45,600 includes Moslem, Maronite, Quaker, Druze, and Bahai minorities. With the advent of steamships, Haifa replaced Acre as a major port.


Hebrew for “man; son of the earth.” In the Bible, Adam is the first man, created “in the image of God” on the sixth day of Creation and given by the Lord “dominion over all the earth.” (For the story of Creation, see the first chapter of Genesis.)


Sixth month of the Jewish civil calendar. Traditionally known as a month of merriment since Purim falls on the 14th.

ADLER, CYRUS. (1863-1940)

Scholar of and authority on Far East civilizations and Semitic languages, and prominent leader in the American Jewish community. Adler was born in Van Buren, Ark., almost two years before the end of the Civil War. He played an important role in shaping the cultural life and in developing some of the great organizations of the American Jewish community as hewatched it grow from a few thousand to five million duringhis lifetime. He was a founder and active member of the American Jewish Historical Society and the Jewish Publication Society of America.

He served as president of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City and of Dropsie College (See Annenberg Research Institute) in Philadelphia. As a young man, he taught Semitic languages at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Between 1888 and 1909, he served as director of the Ancient East department of the Washington National Museum. At the Smithsonian Institution he served as librarian (1892-1905) and assistant secretary (1905-08). He edited publications of Jewish learning, including Jews in the Diplomatic Correspondence of the U.S. He was a founder and president of the American Jewish Committee and the National Jewish Welfare Board. He was active in forming the Jewish Agency for Palestine, and served as its non-Zionist co-chair. His autobiography, I Have Considered the Days, is an engaging profile of his era and its many noteworthy leaders.


See Siddur.


Middle Eastern country lying between India, Pakistan, and Russia. Jews have lived in Afghanistan since before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 B.C.E. There is a legend that they are descended from the Ten Lost Tribes. Little is known about the history of the Jewish community there, except that Jews have always been second-class citizens under the medieval despotism prevailing in Afghanistan. Until 1914, they were forced to live in sealed ghettos. After 1914, there was a brief period during which abuse was curtailed and their situation improved. However, in the early 1930’s, largely under the influence of several hundred German technicians working in the country, discriminatory measures were renewed. Jews were required to obtain special permits for travel, forbidden to write letters abroad, excluded from the civil service and most of the professions, banned from commerce, expelled from rural areas, and confined to the cities of Kabul, Herat, and Balkh. By the end of World War II, the number of Jews in Afghanistan had been reduced from about 12,000 to 5,000, largely through illegal emigration.

In 1948, with the establishment of the State of Israel, the majority of Afghanistan Jewry expressed the desire to emigrate, but the government obstructed their emigration. Between 1949 and 1970, approximately 4,200 Afghan Jews reached Israel. In 1993, there were fewer than 100 Jews in the country.

By the end of 2004, only two Jews were left in Afghanistan, Zebulon Simentov and Isaac Levy (Born ca. 1920). In January 2005, Levy died. Simentov, now the last remaining Jew in Afganistan, is trying to recover confiscated Torah scrolls.


See Passover.


See Heaven and Hell.


(1928- ). Internationally renowned Israeli artist, known for his abstract, colorful painting which change colors when seen from different angles, known as kinetic and optical art. Agam has produced many works based on Jewish ritual objects and traditional Jewish themes.

AGNON, SHMUEL YOSEF (1888-1970).

Hebrew novelist. Born in Galicia, Agnon settled in Palestine in 1909, but lived in Germany from 1912 to 1923. His works are based chiefly upon traditional Jewish life in Europe. They are rich in Hasidic lore and legend, capturing the spirit and flavor of Jewish culture. Writing in Hebrew, then emerging as a modern tongue, Agnon’s prose has a charm of its own. Although abundant in realistic detail, it often has a dream-like quality.

Among Agnon’s finest novels are Hachnasat Kallah (The Bridal Canopy), Sippur Pashut (A Simple Story), and Oreah Natah La-lun (Lodging for a Night). In T’mol Shilshom (Only Yesterday), he draws upon his experiences in Palestine to create a fascinating epic. In December 1966 he became the first Hebrew writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, an award he shared with the German-Jewish poet Nelly Sachs.


Now chiefly city dwellers, Jews spent the first two millennia of their history as shepherds and farmers. Abraham came to Canaan in search of grazing land for his flocks. For several centuries his descendants were semi-nomadic, settling down to farm only at the time of the conquest of Canaan around 1200 B.C.E. Under the Judges and during the First and Second Commonwealths, most Israelites were farmers, breeding livestock and raising wheat, barley, grapes, olives, and vegetables.

The dispersion of the Jews by the Romans in the 1st century C.E. led to their separation from the land. In Babylonia, most exiles settled in cities and into handicraft and trade occupations. Jews were removed further from agriculture in the Middle Ages when most Christian princes forbade Jews to own land. Thus, by the beginning of the 19th century, less than one percent of Jews in the world were farmers.

At that time, however, a movement had arisen to bring the Jews back to the soil. Pondering the problem of antisemitism and the economic distress of East European Jewry, many thinkers concluded that a return to the soil might provide a solution. In 1804, Tsar Alexander I of Russia founded seven colonies expressly for Jewish subjects, as part of a plan for their segregation as well as rehabilitation. In the following decades several Jewish colonies were established in the Americas; due to lack of funds and experience, most failed. Not until the 1880’s and 1890’s were small but successful colonies founded in Palestine, Argentina, and the U.S.

In 1900, the Jewish Agricultural Society was established in the U.S. by joint action of the Jewish Colonization Association and the Baron de Hirsch Fund. During the first forty years of the Society’s existence, more than 13,000 Jewish farmers were assisted in land acquisition and development. Jewish agricultural communities are located in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other states. The National Farm school was established in Doylestown, Pa., in 1896. An agricultural magazine, The Jewish Farmer, established in 1908, provides agricultural information in both Yiddish and English.

During the 20th century, the number of Jewish farmers has steadily increased, swelled by refugees from Eastern and Central Europe. In Israel, where land settlement has been the first goal of the Zionist movement, the number of Jewish farmers has risen from several hundred in 1900 to about 83,000 in 1984 (in a total work force of 1.3 million.) The Jewish farm population of the U.S. has increased from about 300 families in 1900 to more than 10,000 in 1960. In 1979, there were about 30,000 Jewish farmers in Argentina. Colonization on a smaller scale has taken place in Brazil, Australia, Poland, and the Balkans.


(ca. 10 B.C.E -44 C.E.).King of Judea. Son of Aristobulus and grandson of Herod and Mariamne, at the age of six Agrippa was sent to Rome to be educated. He was a companion to the Roman crown prince Gaius Caligula and shared in the gay and frivolous court life. Accused of favoring the crown prince over the reigning Emperor Tiberius, he was thrown into prison. Upon Caligula’s ascent to the throne, he was released and appointed king of Galilee.

The Jews received Agrippa’s appointment with great joy. Having been subjected to Roman rule for 45 years, the appointment of Agrippa I signified liberation from foreign dominion and oppression. (When at one time he deplored the fact that he was not of pure Jewish stock, the scholars consoled him, saying, “Fear not, Agrippa, you are our brother.”) When Claudius replaced Caligula as emperor, Agrippa’s rule was extended to Samaria and Judea. A brief era of peace began, which recalled the glories of the Hasmonean period.

Agrippa planned to strengthen Jewish rule and eventually free Palestine from Roman yoke. The great hopes of his people for full independence were shattered when he died suddenly in 44 C.E. while attending the Roman games in Caesarea. It is assumed that he was poisoned by enemies of the Jews.


(ca. 28-93 C.E.).Son of Agrippa I, he was the last king to rule Palestine before the destruction of the Second Temple. He was reared in the same corrupt Roman court atmosphere as his father; however, unlike his father, Agrippa II was completely alienated from his people. The Roman rulers appointed him king of the eastern provinces of Palestine and entrusted him with the care of the Temple. All of western Palestine remained under Roman rule.

When the Jewish revolt broke out against foreign dominion in 70 C.E., Agrippa urged unconditional submission to Rome. His cooperation with the hated enemy angered the people, and together with his sister, he was forced to flee Jerusalem. He remained in the Roman camp until his death.


Worldwide organization of Orthodox Jews, founded in 1912 in Kattowitz, Poland. Before World War II, Agudath Israel was influential in many European countries, particularly in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Germany. Its total membership was estimated at half a million. A rabbinical council of prominent Talmudical scholars, called Moetzet Gedolei Ha-Torah, was established to hand down decisions on Jewish law. Today, Agudah has headquarters in three world capitals: London, Jerusalem, and New York City.

Through a special fund, the Keren Ha-Torah, the movement has established and maintained many yeshivot and Talmud Torahs throughout the world. It has also promoted the Beth Jacob school system for girls in many countries, providing both religious and secular education for its students.

Agudath Israel is active in combating laws which interfere with traditional religious observance. It has opposed the passage of laws in Europe and the U.S. that prohibit ritual slaughter. It has also campaigned against changes in the calendar which would jeopardize the observance of Jewish holy days.

From its inception, Agudath Israel has opposed political Zionism. After the birth of Israel, however, the Agudah joined the first government of Israel and participated in subsequent government coalitions.

Prominent leaders of Agudath Israel included the late Jacob Rosenheim of Israel, the late Rabbi Aaron Kotler of Lakewood, N.J., and the late Rabbi Eliezer Silver of Cincinnati, Ohio.


(Ruled 876-853 B.C.E.).Seventh king of Israel; contemporary and ally of Jehoshaphat, King of Judah. Ahab married the Phoenician princess Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, King of Tyre. This alliance, by securing Israel’s peace with a powerful neighbor, left Ahab free to resist an Assyrian attack successfully and win a victory over Ben Hadad II, King of Damascus. Three years later, Ahab was slain by a chance arrow in the battle for Ramot Gilead. Elijah‘s prophecy had foretold Ahab’s death as punishment for tolerating the Baal worship instituted by Jezebel, and for lawlessly executing Naboth, whose vineyard he desired.

“Ahab the Israelite” is mentioned in the “monolithic inscription” left by Shalmaneser III (858-825 B.C.E.) of Assyria. Here, Ahab is portrayed as a formidable foe commanding a force of 2,000 chariots and 10,000 soldiers.

AHAD HA-AM (Asher Ginzberg)

(1856-1927).One of the foremost thinkers and essayists in Hebrew literature. Writing under the pseudonym Ahad Ha-Am, meaning “one of the people,” he taught cultural or “spiritual Zionism.” As “political Zionism” emerged under Herzl, Ahad Ha-Am argued in such essays as Lo Zeh ha-derekh (This Is Not the Way) that Israel must first become a spiritual and cultural center before it could develop into a viable Jewish state. His essays, collectively published as Al Parashat Derakhim(At the Crossroads) roused the Jewish public and stand as a landmark of Hebrew literature. His forceful, moral personality greatly influenced Zionism. Before World War I, Ahad Ha-am lived in England, where he played an important role in the events leading to the Balfour Declaration. At 66, he settled in Palestine, on a Tel Aviv street named in his honor.


See Esther, Book of.


See Shavuot.


Meaning binding or preparing for sacrifice; Abraham’s offering of Isaac as a sacrifice to God (Gen. 22).


(ca. 40-135 C.E.).Great Talmudic scholar and leader. It is told that until he was forty years of age, he was an ignorant shepherd. Rachel, the beautiful daughter of Kalba Sabbua, a rich Jerusalemite, fell in love with Akiva and secretly married him. Enraged that his daughter married beneath her station, her father immediately disinherited her. Rachel’s ardent wish was that Akiva study Jewish law. Despite their poverty, Rachel encouraged Akiva as he studied for many years in the academy. When he finally returned home followed by thousands of pupils, Rachel came to meet him. When his students, not knowing who she was, wanted to turn her away, Rabbi Akiva rebuked them, saying, “Let her be. Your wisdom, as well as mine, are due to her.”

Akiva’s brilliant and penetrating mind is revealed in his interpretation of Jewish law. He assembled and edited the teachings of previous scholars, and in arranging them by subject, laid the foundation for the editing of the Mishnah. A great Jewish patriot, he joined Bar Kokhba in inspiring the Jews to rebel against Roman rule, sixty years after the destruction of the Temple. Akiva saw the Messiah in Bar Kokhba (See Messianism), applying to him the biblical prediction of the coming of the Messianic redeemer of the Jews: “A star (kokhav) shall rise out of Jacob” (Num. 24:17). However, the rebellion failed, and the Roman Emperor Hadrian prohibited, under penalty of death, the observance and study of Jewish law. Having defied the Emperor’s decree, Akiva was one of the ten martyrs sentenced to death by flaying. Accepting his fate to serve God with all his soul, he faced his end serenely. While the sage recited the traditional prayer of Shema (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one”), he relinquished his spirit, setting a lasting example for the Jewish martyrs to come.


See Yom Kippur.


Jewish merchants in Mobile, Alabama date back to 1777. Later in 1840, the congregation Shaare Shamayim was organized there. German Jews settled in Selma in the 1840’s. In the 1960’s, American Jewish leaders, such as Heschel, took part in the struggle for civil rights in this state. There are Jewish communities in Birmingham (about 5,500), Mobile (1,100), Montgomery (1,200), and Huntsville (750).


Jews from California were instrumental in making this territory part of the United States and in establishing the Alaska Company which controlled the state’s main industry, the fur trade. Records of Jewish life date back to the mid-19th century. Today, most Jews (about 3,000) live in Anchorage, with a smaller community in Fairbanks (600).


Jews have been living in the northern region of Albania since Roman times. For many centuries, the region had been under Ottoman rule. Following the Spanish Inquisition of 1492, Jews fleeing eastward began to settle in seaports in Albania and to establish a Jewish community there. Exiled by the Turkish sultan in 1673, false messiah Sabbatai Zevi found refuge in Albania.

During World War II, under the German occupation, nearly 600 Jews from Albania were sent to their deaths in various concentration camps around Europe. Many Albanian citizens


Polish born Israeli singer and songwriter. Recording primarily in Hebrew, but also in Yiddish and Arabic, she is one the most important Israeli singers today, having released more than 50 albums with strong consistency since her debut in 1967 and still going strong.

ALBO, JOSEPH (1380-1435).

Spanish-Jewish philosopher who encapsulated Jewish dogma in his book Sefer Ha-Ikkarim (Book of Principles.) He based this summary on God’s existence and revelation, and on divine reward and punishment. .


“Father of Biblical Archeology.” Albright was the son of Christian missionaries. He paved the way for major Jewish archeologists like Glueck and Yadin. He directed the American School for Oriental Research in Jerusalem, and taught Semitic languages at Johns Hopkins University.

ALEXANDER JANNAEUS (Hebrew name, Jonathan).

Reigned 103-76 B.C.E. as king and high priest; son of Johanan Hyrcanos; first of the Hasmonean dynasty to be called king; and first to issue coins stamped in both Greek and Hebrew. He married Queen Salome Alexandra, sister of Simon ben Shetah, president of the Sanhedrin, or high court.

Jannaeus was a courageous warrior-king who extended Palestine’s borders by conquering the Mediterranean coast as far as the Egyptian border. He reconquered the eastern area from Lake Huleh to the Dead Sea and captured a number of cities beyond the eastern regions of the Jordan. In their dispute with the Pharisees, he sided with the Sadducees. This quarrel brought on a civil war and served to detract from the honor of king and country. During his last battle against the king of Arabia, Jannaeus died from a severe attack of malaria. He was buried near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem.


King of Macedonia; conqueror of the ancient world. In his defeated provinces, Alexander introduced Greek forms of government, encouraged intermarriage among his followers and his new subjects, and spread the Greek language and customs. As a result, a new civilization, Hellenism, spread throughout Alexander’s empire. His attitude toward the Jews was friendly, and in Maccabean times, his name was used frequently among Jews. His many legends have been told in Talmudic literature. The Hellenism he introduced into Syria and Egypt had a deep influence on Judaism and its history.


City in northern Egypt where a tributary of the Nile feeds into the Mediterranean. Founded in 331 B.C.E. by Alexander the Great, the city soon became a great metropolis. Alexander the Great was friendly to the Jews, and Alexandria was the first Greek city to give them citizenship. Under the rule of the Ptolemy kings who succeeded Alexander in Egypt, and under the rule of the Romans who defeated Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemies, the Jewish community was autonomous and prosperous. Jews held civic office and served as soldiers. With their population fluctuating between half a million to a million, Alexandrian Jews spoke Greek. Their Greek version of the Bible, the Septuagint, was used in their synagogue in place of the Hebrew. The Great Synagogue of Alexandria was said to hold 100,000 worshipers. The reader had to wave a flag to indicate when the people, some of whom could not hear him, should say the responses. Such sages as Philo lectured on Hellenistic Judaism (See Hellenism) to multitudes of interested pagans. Nevertheless, such heathens as the priest Apion instigated hatred of Jews to the point of riots. This hatred increased after Egypt became Christian. When Christian mobs destroyed the Jewish quarter of Alexandria, Hellenistic Judaism was doomed. Under Arab and Turkish rule, some Jews returned to Alexandria, but the center of Egyptian Jewry gradually moved to Cairo. Before 1956, the year in which thousands of Jews left for Israel, Alexandria had a Jewish population of about 15,000. Today, there are practically none. (See also Egypt.)


Known as the Rif; Talmudic scholar who lived and taught in Fez, North Africa. He was the forerunner of Maimonides in summarizing Jewish law.


Jewish communities have existed in Algeria since the 1st century C.E., and have lived under Moslem rule since the 7th century. Refugees from the Spanish Inquisition swelled the Jewish population in the 15th century, making the country an important center of Sephardic Jewry. In 1830, when Algeria became a French colony, Jews were granted French citizenship by the Cremieux Decree of 1870. During the seven-year political struggle leading to Algeria’s independence in July 1962, the Great Synagogue of Algiers was looted and many Jews were killed. Due to heavy emigration to France and some to Israel, the Jewish community declined from 135,000 in 1958 to 100 in 2007. Most live in the capital, Algiers.

ALHARIZI, JUDAH (1170-1235).

Spanish-Hebrew poet and translator. His entertaining style of poetry shed light on Jewish life in his time, according him a special place in medieval Hebrew literature.


Literally, going up. In the synagogue service, aliyah is the act of going up to the reading desk of the synagogue to read a portion of the Torah. In the Bible, three aliyot, or pilgrimages, to the Temple in Jerusalem were appointed for Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. In modern times, the term aliyah has been used to denote immigration to Israel.

ALKABETZ, SOLOMON (ca. 1505-1584).

Hebrew poet, Kabbalist, and biblical commentator. Alkabetz was born in Turkey but lived most of his life in Safed, Palestine, the 16th century center of mysticism. The best known of his poems, Lekhah Dodi (Come, My Beloved), is chanted in synagogues on Friday night. The poet expresses the love of the Jewish people for the Sabbath Bride and their longing for Zion to be rebuilt. Legend has it that every Friday afternoon, Alkabetz and his students, dressed in their Sabbath best, set out to welcome the Sabbath Queen. In the open field outside Safed they marched in procession at dusk, chanting psalms and Lekhah Dodi.


Serbian rabbi dedicated to the idea of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine 100 years before the rise of Zionism. A forerunner of political Zionism, he proposed that the Jews obtain Palestine from the Turks through the intervention of England and France. He maintained that the Jews’ suffering was completely the result of their own passivity and inaction. Rabbi Alkalai also worked out a plan for redemption of Palestine that was similar to the plan adopted by the present Jewish National Fund, founded in 1901. Disappointed with the attitude of European Jewish leaders toward his ideas, he emigrated to Palestine at the age of 76, and there founded a society to resettle Jews on the land. He did not live to see his dream come true, dying in Jerusalem at the age of 80. A few days after Rabbi Alkalai’s funeral, some of his devoted followers bought the land which later became the site of Petach Tikvah, the first Jewish agricultural colony in modern Palestine.


British field marshal and veteran of many campaigns. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he was given command of the cavalry in France. During 1917-1918, he served as commander-in-chief of the Egyptian-based expeditionary force of Great Britain. In his victorious battle in Samaria on September 18-21, 1918, he invaded Palestine and captured Jerusalem, ending Turkish resistance. Jewish Legion troops took an active part in Allenby’s Palestine campaign.


French Jewish organization of international scope and influence; first to represent world Jewry on a political basis. Founded in 1860 by a group of seventeen Parisian Jews in protest against such antisemitic incidents as the Damascus affair and the Mortara case, the alliance expanded to world membership, becoming the Mediterranean area’s central educational agency and a powerful medium for the interests of world Jewry. In 1862, the Alliance founded a network of schools in the lands of the Middle East and North Africa for the purpose of uniting Mediterrean Jews with a common identity. The first school was set up in Tetuan, Spanish Morocco.

Today, the schools founded by the Alliance have an enrollment of about 20,000. Many Jewish children from the Middle East and North Africa have been educated in schools founded by the Alliance. In these schools, the children receive a secular as well as a Jewish education from teachers specially trained in schools maintained by the Alliance in Paris and Casablanca. Alliance schools have successfully combated some of the dreaded childhood diseases prevalent in the Mediterranean area, improving children’s overall health. In 1869, the alliance founded the first agricultural school in Palestine at Mikveh Israel. The Alliance maintains a vocational school and a school for deaf mutes in Jerusalem. To this day, the Alliance is a major educational force in the Jewish world.

ALLON, YIGAL (1918-1980).

Israeli army commander and Cabinet member. Born in Palestine, he was one of the founders and later commander-in-chief of the Palmach. He subsequently played a leading role in military operations during Israel’s War of Independence. A leader in the Labor Zionist and Kibbutz organizations, he was first elected to the Knesset in 1955. He was appointed Minister of Labor in 1961 and Deputy Prime Minister in 1968. He served as Israel’s Foreign Minister from 1974 to 1977.


From the Greek letters alpha and beta, those based on the Hebrew aleph and bet. The Hebrew alphabet has 22 basic letters, five having special final forms. Through the use of points, or dots, the sounds of the following letters are changed: bet, kaf, pe, shin, tav. In Sephardic pronunciation, the tav is not changed by the dot.

According to the authorities, the Hebrew alphabet came into being around 1500 B.C.E. Before that, the Egyptians used hieroglyphics, or picture writing, to express ideas or objects. Then some of the hieroglyphics were adapted into 22 sound symbols; the earliest examples of such a script come from inscriptions found in the Sinai peninsula. It is thought, however, that the first true alphabet was developed in Palestine. The Semitic alphabets were quite similar to one another, the Phoenician being closest to the Hebrew. The Phoenicians, mostly seafaring merchants, carried this script to many lands just before the 9th century B.C.E. Various peoples took this alphabet and altered it to suit their own language. According to tradition, the Greeks received this Hebrew-Canaanite alphabet from Cadmus, the Phoenician who was considered the Greek kadmi, Hebrew for “Easterner.” Like Hebrew, the oldest Greek inscriptions were written from right to left, using the 22 Hebrew letters in original order and with their original names, though these had no meaning in the Greek language. All European alphabets can be traced to this common origin. North of Canaan, in the territories that formerly belonged to Assyria, the alphabetic script developed a cursive and square form. Following the rapid diffusion of the Aramaic language, this square script, too, came into general use. According to tradition, the Jews came in contact with this “Assyrian” or Aramaic script during the Babylonian exile in the 6th century B.C.E.; over time they adopted it, and still use it today. The old Hebrew script was still being copied on the Maccabean as well as the Bar Kokhba coins.

ALROY, DAVID (12th century).

Self-declared messiah to the Jews of Babylonia who led a revolt against Persia in 1160; born in Chaftan, Kurdistan. With his large following, he planned to capture Jerusalem as the first step to redeeming the Jewish people. He began his campaign with an attack on the citadel of his native town, was defeated and died, possibly at the hand of his own father-in-law. For a while his memory was kept alive by the Menahemites (“The Consolers”), a Jewish sect which greatly revered him. Folk stories endowed his personality with great beauty and valor. In the 19th century, this legend-encrusted figure became the hero of Benjamin Disraeli‘s novel, David Alroy. (See also Messianism.)


See Literature, Hebrew.


Literally, country folk. It became a derogatory phrase, meaning one ignorant and uneducated in Jewish matters. The term originated in the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah. These two leaders urged those who returned from the Babylonian Exile with them to separate themselves from “the people of the earth,” called Ammei Ha-Aretz. This separation was necessary to prevent Jews from assimilating and losing their identity. The Talmud has many definitions of an Am Ha-Aretz, such as: “One of the multitude which knows not the (Jewish) law,” and “he who has children and does not educate them in the Law.”


Aborigines who tried to prevent the Israelites from entering Canaan and who continued to wage war against them up to the time of David. Because of their cruelty, and because Haman (See Purim) was thought to be one of them, the Amalekites were branded by tradition as enemies whose “memory is to be blotted out.” (Told in Exod. 17:8, Deut. 25:17, and Esther 3:1.)


“So be it” or “verily”; biblical word spoken to confirm the statement of another, or chanted in affirmation of a prayer. It first occurs in the Book of Numbers. Amen is nearly universal, being used by Jews, Christians, and Moslems.


Agency that promotes cultural exchanges between Israel and the U.S. It was originally founded in 1939 by Edward A. Norman to unify American-Jewish fundraising for educational, cultural, and social service institutions in Palestine.


Established by the Bnai Zion order, the league is dedicated to promoting friendship and understanding between Americans and Israelis through the interchange of cultural, educational, artistic, and scientific knowledge. Its program and activities are channeled through the American-Israel Friendship House in New York City. Membership is open to all who subscribe to its principles, irrespective of race, creed, or religion. One of its ongoing projects is the High School Students Exchange Program.


Organization which defines Jews as members of a religious faith only, not as a people. It was founded in 1942 by Rabbi Louis Wolsey of Philadelphia. Its adherents were members of the Reform movement who were dissatisfied with the gradual acceptance of Zionism by the majority of Reform Jews. The Council waged a bitter campaign against the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. After the creation of the State of Israel they raised the issue of dual loyalties and dual citizenship. The Council has been charged with playing into the hands of hatemongers, as well as with encouraging assimilation. Following the Six-Day War of 1967, the Council all but ceased to exist.


American lobbying group for Israel that works actively on legislation affecting the State of Israel; established in 1954 in Washington, D.C. Widely supported among American Jews, it is considered one of the most effective lobbies in Washington.

Today, AIPAC has 100,000 members across all 50 states who are at the forefront of the most vexing issues facing Israel today: stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, fighting terrorism and achieving peace. Above all, AIPAC works to ensure that U.S.-Israel relations are strong so that both countries can work together to meet these challenges effectively.


American Jewish organization, founded in 1906. At present, the AJC has 30 offices worldwide. The committee’s objectives, as stated in its charter of incorporation, are to prevent the violation of civil and religious rights of Jews everywhere; to take action when such violations occur; to “secure for Jews equality of economic, social, and educational opportunity”; and to relieve Jews who suffer from persecution and disasters.

Although the Committee initially opposed Jewish nationalism, a number of its leaders, particularly Louis Marshall, who served as president from 1912 to 1929, were instrumental in establishing the Jewish Agency for Palestine. In 1947, the AJC urged the U.S. to support the Palestine partition resolution in the UN.

With the cooperation of the Jewish Publication Society of America the Committee has published annually since 1909 the American Jewish Yearbook, a handbook of information on Jews around the world. It also founded Commentary, a monthly opinion magazine on Jewish affairs, now an independent magazine.


Founded in 1916, the Congress sent a delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference in 1918 to help secure Jewish rights all over the world. Though the Congress adjourned “permanently” in 1920, it was felt that it needed to continue, and so it was revived in 1922. During the Nazi period, the American Jewish Congress worked militantly against Nazism. It also worked consistently for Zionism, both before and after the establishment of the State of Israel, actively pursuing issues of social justice for all people.

The total membership is approximately 50,000. Its presidents, following Nathan Straus, have included Stephen S. Wise, Israel Goldstein, Joachim Prinz, Arthur J. Lelyveld, and Arthur Hertzberg.


The JDC, or “Joint” as it is universally known, was founded on November 27, 1914, to serve as the overall distribution agency for funds collected by different American Jewish groups for overseas relief. By 1917, it was conducting its own centralized fundraising campaign. From 1939 on, it received the bulk of its funds from the United Jewish Appeal.

Since 1914, the JDC has spent more than $1.2 billion for the relief of Jews everywhere in the world. In 1979, the Committee aided more than 435,000 Jews in more than 25 countries, mainly in North Africa, the Middle East, Israel, and Europe. The first half century of its existence may be divided into six periods: World War I, when the Jewish refugees’ status required urgent help in many parts of Europe; the postwar emergency period of 1918-1920, when food and clothing had to be distributed in huge quantities; the reconstruction period from 1921-1932, when JDC aided Jewish communities throughout the world to help themselves; the Nazi period, 1933-1945, when Jews had to be saved from death, moved to new countries, and fed and clothed until they were self-sufficient; and the emergency period after World War II, when the JDC bore its greatest burdens. Tens of thousands of Jewish displaced persons (DP’s) had to be helped to rebuild their lives. DP camps in Europe needed food, clothing, teachers, social workers, medical personnel


See Magen David Adom.

AMICHAI, YEHUDA (1924-2000).

Major Hebrew poet known for his nontraditional choice of subjects; Amichai’s innovative use of the Hebrew language. Drawing from and interfacing various strata of language, from classical Hebrew to the post-modern colloquial, Amichai became known as the “poet who plays with words. “Amichai’s poetry spans a range of emotions, from laughter to sadness to self-mockery. His work emphasizes the individual who, although conscious and integrally part of the collective experience, ultimately views the world through his personal lens.


See Prayer and Siddur.


Hero of a legend first published around 1350 that reflected the bloody persecutions of the Jews during the Crusades. The Archbishop of Mayence continually pressed Amnon, a distinguished and learned man of wealth among the Jews of Mayence in Germany, to convert to Christianity. Finally, Amnon asked the archbishop for three days to come to a decision. At the end of this period, Amnon did not appear before the archbishop because he regretted having given the impression that he was considering changing his faith. As punishment, the archbishop commanded that Amnon’s hands and feet be cut off. This happened just before the Jewish New Year, and Amnon, dying of his wounds, had himself carried into the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah during the services. As the cantor was about to recite the Kedusha, or Sanctification, Amnon stopped him, saying: “Pause that I may sanctify the most holy Name.” He then began the hymn starting with the words U’netaneh Tokef, We will celebrate the mighty holiness of this day. When he reached the words “and our Name hast Thou linked with Thine own,” Amnon died. The famous Rabbi Meshullam ben Kalonymus of Mayence (ca. 1000 C.E.) who published this poem, is considered its author. Since then, U’netaneh Tokef has been a part of Rosh Hashanah services.


Hebrew and Aramaic, meaning speaker or interpreter. The title “Amora” was given to all teachers of Jewish law in Palestine from about 200 C.E. to 500 C.E. The Amoraim continued the work of the Tannaim, the creators of the Mishnah. After the Mishnah was edited, many new problems requiring clarification arose in Jewish law. To help solve these problems, the Amoraim explained the Mishnah, discussing its rulings and reinterpreting its decisions. Their work was eventually incorporated into what is today known as the Gemara, which, together with the Mishnah, forms the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmud. The names of more than 3,000 Amoraim are mentioned in the Talmud.

AMOS (ca. 750 B.C.E.).

Third of the Minor Prophets in the Bible; first of the prophets known to have recorded their visions. Amos was a shepherd in the village of Tekoa nestling in the hills of the kingdom of Judah. He came to nearby Bethel, the principal religious center of the northern kingdom of Israel, to sell his sheep and fruits. There, Amos cried out against the injustice and poverty of the masses under Jeroboam II. In pity and sorrow, he predicted the punishment of Israel and its destruction by Assyria. Turning to Samaria, the political center of Israel, he accused the wrongdoers and warned them of the ruin they would bring on their nation. The main idea of Amos was justice for all humanity, not only for his own nation. He was the first to see God as the universal Lord of all the nations, not only of Israel. Israel must live up to a unique standard of righteousness, being the home of God’s chosen people. Amos taught also that God required not sacrifices, but justice, purity, and truth. He dreamed of a future golden age of peace, when “the exiles of my people Israel” will return home, rebuild the wasted cities, replant the vineyards, and never be uprooted again.


The first Jews to settle in the Netherlands‘ capital were refugees from persecution in Portugal and of the Spanish expulsion of 1492. They were given religious freedom but were barred from all professions except medicine. They became active in commerce and industry and, during the 17th century, established synagogues and schools, including the great yeshiva, Etz Hayim. The earliest waves of Ashkenazic Jews came from Poland in the wake of the Chmielniki pogroms in 1648. Shortly after, German Jews settled in Amsterdam. The entire community participated in the development of a rich cultural life. Outstanding among the many scholars of this period was Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel, the diplomat, author, and printer who set up the first printing press in Amsterdam. The community accorded great power to its rabbis, who opposed the study of the Kabbalah, as they did the Messianic movements. They excommunicated the religious rebel Uriel Acosta in 1640 and the philosopher Baruch Spinoza in 1656.

In 1796, in the wake of the French Revolution, Jews were granted equal rights, attaining complete emancipation during the 19th century. They continued to play an important role in the economic life of the city, until the outbreak of World War II.

With the Nazi rise to power in Germany in 1933, a mass migration of Jewish refugees to the Netherlands began. When Hitler’s armies entered the Netherlands, there were approximately 80,000 Jews in Amsterdam. The familiar Nazi pattern of mass deportation and atrocities against Jews destroyed 85 percent of Dutch Jewry. When the Allied armies of liberation entered Amsterdam in 1945, they found about 25,000 Jewish survivors of this once great Jewish community. The most famous victim of Naziism in Amsterdam is Anne Frank, author of Diary of a Young Girl.

Since then, Amsterdam Jewry, with the assistance of the Netherlands government, has slowly recovered and reestablished itself. In 2007, about 15,000 Jews lived in the city. Schools for children and synagogue services were serving the community. The Ashkenazi community of Amsterdam celebrated its 350th anniversary in April 1986.