EBAN, ABBA (1915-2002).

Abba EbanIsraeli statesman, Eban was born in Capetown, South Africa, and grew up in a Zionist home in England. He studied Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian at Cambridge University. Having distinguished himself in these subjects, he remained to teach them. During World War II he enlisted in the British Army, became an officer, and was assigned to Cairo headquarters. Part of Eban’s duties included flights to Palestine in order to stimulate the Jewish war effort there.

Eban settled in Jerusalem where his special background was utilized by its Jewish “shadow government” during the closing days of the British Mandate. In 1947, he was appointed liaison officer with the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine. After the proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948, Eban pleaded successfully for the admission of Israel to the United Nations. One of the most eloquent spokespersons on the international scene, he served with distinction as head of the Israeli delegation to the United Nations. In 1950, he became Israel’s ambassador to the U. S. In 1953, he was deputy chairman of the U.N. assembly. From 1958 until 1966 he was president of the Weizmann Institute of Science. In 1960, he was appointed Minister of Education and Culture; in 1963, Deputy Prime Minister; and in 1966, Foreign Minister of the State of Israel, a post he held until the fall of Golda Meir‘s government in 1974.


Greek for Kohelet. Seventh book of Writings in the Bible. The suggested Hebrew meaning of Kohelet, its author, is “the Assembler.” One of several Wisdom books, the central idea that “all is vanity” is expressed in pithy sayings. Mostly prose, it has passages of great poetic beauty.


Republic on the northern Pacific coast of South America. There are about 900 Jews in a population near 13 million. In Spanish colonial times Ecuador was the home of Marranos, forced Catholic converts who practiced their Jewish faith in secret. Their settlement disappeared, and nothing is known of it. In the 20th century, Jews from Europe founded a new community in Ecuador consisting of two distinct settlements in Quito and Guayaquil. Each is separately affiliated with the World Jewish Congress. Each settlement has Zionist groups and a B’nai B’rith organization, but educational facilities are poor. In recent years, there has been a tendency for Jews to emigrate to other South American countries.


Small tribe in southern Palestine, conquered and forcibly converted to Judaism by Johanan Hyrcanus. Traditionally, they are descendants of Esau, who lived by hunting.


In many ways, Jewish history is the story of the education of a people. From the beginning, many great Jewish leaders were also great teachers who spoke to the world through the Jewish people. When the world’s mystery and wonder were fresh in the human mind, the patriarch Abraham thought about its mystery and wondered about its Creator. He discarded his father’s idols and began to teach his tribe to believe in one God. Thus, the founder of the Jewish people was also the first teacher in Jewish history. Moses, the Lawgiver who led the people to freedom, was called rabbenu, our teacher. He taught the children of Israel during their years of wandering, and he designated times when the people should come together and study. When the Children of Israel settled in the Promised Land and were ruled by judges, there were no schools, so knowledge was handed down by word of mouth from father to son, mother to daughter. The Judges, priests, and Levites taught the people to reject the idols of their Canaanite neighbors and follow the laws of Moses. Then the greatest teachers of all time, the prophets of Israel, brought to the people a lofty vision of God and taught that to serve Him people must love peace and justice and act rightly toward one another.

A knowledge of reading and writing was common in Israel’s earliest days. When he wanted some information during one of his military expeditions, Gideon, the fifth of the Judges, found a simple boy who knew enough to “write down for him the princes of Sukkot, and the elders thereof, seventy and seven men.” Perhaps the earliest formal schools in ancient Israel were those that trained the priests and Levites in the complicated laws and rituals of bringing sacrifices and conducting Temple services. By the 6th century B.C.E., after the return from the Babylonian exile, scribes or soferim had become the teachers of the people, who were required to come regularly to the Temple courts for instruction. Synagogues, or houses of prayer, then sprang up all over Judea and served dually as schools. Around 75 B.C.E., Simeon ben Shetah, the head of the Sanhedrin, a judicial and legislative body, established a system of high schools in all large towns for boys older than 15. Fewer than 100 years later, the high priest, Joshua ben Gamala, set up a system of elementary schools in every town for boys at least age five. The historian Josephus Flavius boasted that in Jerusalem alone there were more than 300 schools for children.

Education came to be of utmost importance in the life of the people. After the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, the rabbis taught that study, like prayer, was a form of worship and a substitute for sacrifices. During the Talmudic period in Babylonia, the rabbis set up a complete, lifelong system of education that began at the age of five or six. Few details were overlooked, and there was even a place for athletics. In the 6th century, one rabbi stressed that 25 pupils were the ideal number for a class. If there were 40 children, he urged that an assistant teacher be added, and for 50 he advised two teachers. The Bet Ha-Sefer, or House of the Book, was the Bible school for the youngest children. At age 10 they were expected to enter the Bet Talmud or Bet Ha-Knesset, or House of Assembly, for the study of the Talmud. These schools taught languages and mathematics; such subjects as astronomy, botany, and zoology were required for certain Talmudic studies.

The highest schools of this system were the great academies of Babylonia, where the scholars studied and created the Talmud. One great teacher, Abba Arikha, founded an academy at Sura that lasted, with brief interruptions, for eight centuries. The academy at Sura was never idle or empty. Scholars who had to work all day studied there in the early morning and late evening. In March and September, when there was little work in the fields, the Sura academy held Kallot, or seminars, for farmers and businessmen. There were even scholarships for worthy students who could not afford to take two months off from work and travel to attend the Kallot in Sura.

The education system begun in Palestine and developed in Babylonia moved with the people wherever they went. By the 11th century, persecution and intolerance had driven the Jews out of Babylonia. The great centers dwindled and almost disappeared, and Jews set up new communities in Spain, Italy, France, and Germany. New subjects of study were added to the system, others were subtracted, without changing its core. In 12th century Arab Spain, philosophy and Arabic were added to the studies in the higher schools. In Italy the new subjects were Latin, Italian, and logic. To escape the bloody path of the Crusades, Jews began to migrate from Germany to Poland in the 12th century. The Kahal, or community organization, in Poland was a strong one. Education was made compulsory for children from six to thirteen years of age, and the system was controlled by a board of study called the Hevra Talmud Torah. This hevra prescribed the studies for the heder, or elementary private school, as well as for the Talmud Torah, the community free school. The yeshiva, or Talmudic academy, was also supervised by the hevra. The head, or Rosh Yeshiva, was selected by them. During the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, when Jewish life became constricted and was limited to the ghetto, education also narrowed, and languages and sciences were no longer studied. These subjects were reintroduced during the Haskalah, or enlightenment period. Education for girls was not required at any period. Yet the woman of outstanding abilities usually managed to get an education. Ordinary women shared deeply the general reverence for learning and often made great sacrifices that their sons might become scholars.

During the 20th century, Orthodoxy began providing formal Jewish education for girls and women. One of the outstanding movements working to this end is the Beth Jacob movement, which since its founding by Sara Schenirer in Cracow in the early 1920’s has spread around the world.

The average male Jew could always read and write, since even the poorest child could get an elementary education. For bright young students who had no means of support, the community provided food and shelter, so that they could devote themselves completely to study at the yeshiva. As a result, ignorance was rare among Jews. During the Middle Ages, when even princes and nobles were illiterate, the Jewish community had many scholars and honored them above other men. Until recent times, Jewish education was considered a lifetime process: the young studied all day, while the adults studied during their leisure hours, evenings, Sabbaths, and holidays. When Jews dreamed of Paradise, study held a place in their vision. (See also Jewish Education in the United States.)

EFROS, ISRAEL (1890-1981).

Hebrew poet, scholar, and educator. He was born in Poland and immigrated to the U.S. in 1906. He wrote Hebrew poetry and translated Shakespeare into Hebrew and Bialik into English. In 1919 he founded the Baltimore Hebrew College. In 1955, he settled in Israel and became rector of Tel Aviv University.


Egypt’s recorded history goes back to about 4000 B.C.E. A close neighbor of Israel, Egypt has been linked with Jews and their history from the beginning. The patriarchs all stayed in Egypt for various periods of time. Bondage in Egypt and the Exodus mark the beginnings of Jewish history. Historians believe that the first Hebrew migration to Egypt probably took place during the rule of the Semitic Hyksos dynasty of the 18th to 16th centuries B.C.E. The Tel El-Amarna tablets, discovered in 1887, show that the Pharaohs had set up governors in many towns of Canaan, evidence of their domination of the country. One of the Amarna tablets is a letter from the ruler of Jerusalem. In it, he complains to Pharaoh that the Habiru, or Hebrews, are invading and conquering the land.

Relations between Egypt and the Jewish people continued throughout the period of the Jewish Monarchy. Solomon married an Egyptian princess and made a trade treaty with Egypt. After Solomon’s death, when the northern tribes broke off and established their own kingdom, the Pharaoh Shishak came to their aid by attacking Jerusalem. Two centuries later in 608 B.C.E., Josiah, King of Judah, died in battle at Megiddo when he tried to block the march of Pharaoh Necho through his territory. Josiah’s son Jehoahaz ruled Judah for only three months. The Egyptians deposed him and set his brother Jehoiakim on the throne.

After the First Temple was destroyed in 586 B.C.E., the exiled prophet Jeremiah found Jewish colonies in Upper and Lower Egypt. Papyri, discovered in Elephantine, an island on the Nile, describe the life of its Jewish colony and its Jewish temple in the 5th century B.C.E. After Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 B.C.E., Jewish immigrants streamed into Egypt where they prospered and established themselves under Hellenist rule. The Alexandrian Jewish community grew until in time it numbered almost one million; in Alexandria, a great Hellenistic Jewish civilization developed (See Hellenism). Jews spoke Greek and tried to work out a viable compromise between Jewish and Greek culture. The philosopher Philo is the best known representative of this movement. During the Syrian oppression of Judea, the refugee High Priest Onias founded a Temple in Heliopolis, a city near the Nile. At this time in the 3rd century B.C.E., the Bible, translated into Greek at Alexandria, known as the Septuagint version, came to exert a great influence, serving both the Jews of the Hellenistic period and the rising Christian Church.

At the same time, the security of Egyptian Jewry was threatened by a great deal of antisemitic feeling among the Greek population. Sometimes Greek riots and attacks on the Jewish community had to be stopped by the governing Roman authorities. Developments in Judea also influenced the security of Egyptian Jewry. Refugees from the Judean revolt against Rome stirred up a Jewish rebellion in Egypt in 72 C.E., and again in 115-117 C.E., when Alexandrian Jewry was massacred.

As the Roman Empire became Christian, the situation of Egyptian Jewry deteriorated. In 415 C.E., Alexandrian masses, inflamed by Bishop Cyril, broke out in violent riots and forced hundreds of Jews to undergo baptism. During the following two centuries, the Alexandrian Jewish community dwindled in importance. With the Arab invasion of 639 the situation improved slightly. Under Moslem rule, the community, centered mainly in the new city of Cairo, became Arab in character and culture. Documents found in the Cairo Genizah, a storehouse of worn-out books, describe in detail the life of the community. Though the traditional Moslem code treated Jews as inferiors, Jewish cultural life reached a high level. Saadiah Gaon, the greatest scholar of his day, was a native of the Fayyum in Egypt. The Jewish community came to be governed by an exilarch, and significant academies of learning were established. Except for the period of bitter persecution under Caliph Hakim from 995-1021, conditions were favorable. When Maimonides arrived in Egypt in 1165, the great scholar found an appreciative Jewish environment. Maimonides became court physician to the Sultan Saladin, and a number of his great works were written during this period. Maimonides took a leading part in Jewish life in Egypt, and his descendants were dominant there for a long time.

After the Turkish occupation of Egypt in 1517, the Egyptian Jewish community managed to sustain itself, but did not achieve economic or cultural advancement. It was not until the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 that economic prosperity and Western influence reached the Jewish community, then numbering about 75,000. Many Jews became wealthy businessmen, even pashas and senators. The majority, however, remained poor peddlers and craftsmen, segregated in the Jewish quarters of Alexandria and Cairo. During World War I, many Jews from Palestine fled to Egypt to escape Turkish persecution. Their influence and the development of Arab nationalism stirred Egyptian Jewry from its lethargy. They began to migrate to Palestine and Europe, and the community declined. Many Egyptian Jews who had European citizenship also suffered because of the general anti-European reaction of the period, and because an anti-Zionist policy had been adopted.

After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the position of the Jews in Egypt became increasingly difficult. Jews were arrested and robbed. After the Sinai Campaign of 1956 President Gamal Abdel Nasser passed a law that in effect deprived all Zionists of Egyptian citizenship. Jews were imprisoned and expelled for security reasons. Large numbers of Jews were able to immigrate to Israel by way of Europe.

In 1967 and again in 1973 (See Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War), Egypt went to war against Israel with the avowed aim of destroying the Jewish state. In November 1977, Anwar el-Sadat, who had succeeded Nasser as president of Egypt in 1970, surprised the world with the announcement that he would visit Israel and discuss the possibility of peace with the Jewish State. He arrived in Jerusalem late on November 18, 1977, and on the next day addressed the Knesset. This marked the beginning of peace negotiations between Egypt and Israel. In September 1978, Sadat met with Israel’s prime minister Menachem Begin under the auspices of U.S. President Jimmy Carter at Camp David, Maryland., to draw up a framework for a peace treaty. A formal peace treaty, the Camp David Accords, was signed in 1979 by Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat, and Jimmy Carter. However, Sadat was assassinated in October 1981 by Arab fundamentalists who opposed his policy of Israeli-Egyptian rapprochement. Despite the treaty, relations between Israel and Egypt have remained strained under the leadership of Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak. The Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt, however, has endured.

Common public opinion in Egypt has often shown signs of antisemitism. The government, however, trying to maintain a lukewarm diplomatic composure, has appeared to assist Israel with matters along the Egyptian border, pushing Palestinian leaders toward peaceful resolution, supporting the Israeli disengagement from Gaza settlements, and blocking the escape of terrorists from th
e Gaza region. The Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt continues to endure, but it is a cold peace. After an al-Qaeda bomb killed 31 tourists at the Hilton in the Egyptian resort town of Taba in 2004, a rare cooperation between Israel and Egypt was exhibited when groups from both countries helped in the rescue and hospitalization efforts.

Currently there are only about 100 Jews in Egypt. The Cairo synagogue has been recently restored and was reopened in 2005 as a monument for some 1,200 years of Jewish history.

EHRLICH, PAUL (1845-1915).

German scientist. His achievements


Renowned rabbi and Kabbalist. Born in Cracow, Poland, he gained fame as a Talmudist early in his life. At age 21, he became head of a yeshiva in Prague. His comments on the Shulhan Arukh and his sermons, collected in his Yaarot Devash (Forests of Honey), are classics in rabbinic literature.


See Holocaust.


See Prayer.


See Baltimore.

EINSTEIN, ALBERT (1879-1955).

Theoretical physicist. The most outstanding physicist of modern times, Albert Einstein was almost as revered for his honesty, humility, and humanitarianism as for his theories about the nature of the universe. Born in Ulm, Germany, he received his scientific education in Switzerland, where he was naturalized in 1901. While working at the Patent Office in Berne, he prepared four scientific papers that gained him international acclaim before he was 26. In the years that followed, Einstein lectured and taught in Prague, Zurich, Leyden, and Berlin. In 1916, he published his famous general theory of relativity, which has been described as “the greatest intellectual revolution since Newton”; six years later he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on photoelectric effects. With the rise of Hitler to power in 1933, he left Berlin, where he had held a distinguished position since 1914, and settled in the U.S. From 1933 until his death in 1955, he served as professor of theoretical physics at Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Studies.

In 1939, Einstein called the attention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the possibilities of atomic warfare; his own theories played a crucial part in unbinding the energies of the atom. It was, in fact, the great irony of Einstein’s life that his work for the advancement of human understanding of the world had also advanced human capacity for deadly warfare. Having experienced antisemitism early in life and realizing the evils of Prussian militarism, Einstein had early become a crusader for peace and harmony in human relations. He did not hesitate to speak out against injustice. After World War I, he headed the International Committee for Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations, withdrawing in protest against the League’s failure to take strong measures against Italian Fascism. As the clouds of Nazism gathered over Germany, Einstein spoke out against antisemitism and the Nazi threat to intellectual freedom. In the U. S., too, Einstein was an outspoken defender of freedom of thought. To the end, he advocated international cooperation, and even world government, in the hope that the human race might learn to live in peace. He devoted much energy during the last decade of his life to making the world aware of the great dangers threatening it, as the result of his own work in discovering the destructive potential of atomic power.

Einstein was never a practicing Jew. From the 1920’s onward, however, he expressed his devotion to his people by dedicating considerable effort to Zionism and especially to the development of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He first visited the U.S. in 1921 on a tour with Chaim Weizmann on behalf of the university, and sat on its board of governors until his death. After the death of Weizmann, Einstein was proposed as a candidate for the presidency of the State of Israel; Einstein refused on the ground that he was not qualified to fill the position.


Smallest of the Central American republics. Only 100 Jews of a total population of more than 4 million live in the capital, San Salvador. There are Zionist groups and a central, legally recognized organization, the Comunidad Israelita, or Jewish Community.


Derived from th Hebrewword for terebinth. Seaport on the Gulf of Elat, or Aqaba; a finger of the Red Sea, where the borders of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia meet. About 950 B.C.E. Solomon built the twin cities of Elat and Ezion Geber for his navy and copper industry. With the discovery of a sea route around Africa to India, Elat was abandoned. Developed by Israel as a seaport window to East African and Asian markets, Elat now boasts a growing population of 45,000. The nearby Timna copper mines are expanding production, and the port is growing. Elat is also a winter resort, noted for its coral reefs and exotic tropical fish.

See Antisemitism.


See Tannaim.


See Tannaim.


The prophet Elijah the Tishbite lived at the time of Ahab from 874-853 B.C.E., the king who “did what is evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Ahab married the Phoenician princess Jezebel and permitted her to build an altar and sanctuary to Baal in Samaria.

The biblical story of Elijah, from his first startling appearance before the king, prophesying drought in the land, to his end when he is whirled to heaven in a chariot of fire, established the image of the prophet for ages to come. A gaunt figure clothed in goatskin, Elijah prophesied drought and disappeared into the desert to be fed by ravens. When the punishing drought came, the people cried out for rain. Yet the king did not forbid the idol worship, and Elijah challenged the Baal priests to prove that theirs was the true god. The dramatic public duel on Mt. Carmel between Elijah and 450 priests of Baal ended in the humiliation of the latter. The Lord answered Elijah’s prayers. The king and people saw a fire descend from heaven to consume the offering on Elijah’s altar. Then a heavy rain fell and the drought ended (I Kings 18).

Still, the struggle went on. Elijah had to flee from the anger of Queen Jezebel who threatened his life. Ahab desired the fine vineyard of Naboth who refused to sell it. Jezebel had Naboth executed on false charges. When Ahab came to take possession of the dead man’s vineyard, Elijah appeared before him and cried out: “Hast thou murdered and also taken possession?

ELIJAH, GAON OF VILNA (1720-1797).

Great Talmudist and revered spiritual leader of Lithuanian Jewry. Tradition has it that at the age of 10 he was already well versed in the Talmud and had outgrown the need for instructors. The title “Gaon” was given him because of his extraordinary genius. The Gaon brought a new approach to Talmud study by stressing the factual and logical interpretation of the Bible text and Jewish law. In brief and concise marginal notes to Talmudic and Midrashic literature he shed light on the most difficult passages. His power of concentration and perseverance was extraordinary. It is related that for 50 years he slept no more than two hours a night. Although he gave his entire life to sacred studies, he recognized the necessity for secular learning. This recognition represented a revolutionary idea for the rabbis of his time, who generally considered worldly study as damaging to the traditional Jewish way of life. He wrote a work on mathematics and a Hebrew grammar.

Elijah’s fame spread quickly, but he remained a most unassuming and modest man. Sternly pious, he led a life of self-denial, shunning all fame and offers of rabbinical posts. He lived in seclusion on a tiny allowance granted to him and his family by the town’s Jewish community. The spread of Hasidism drew him out of his retirement. He feared that this new movement would lead its followers astray, and therefore he advocated the harshest measures against them. His favorite pupil, Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, established a rabbinical college at Volozhin where the Gaon of Vilna’s methods of study were put into practice.

ELISHA BEN ABUYAH (ca. 80-150 C.E.).

Scholar and teacher of the Law. Though he was one of the most learned men of his time, Jewish tradition regards him as a traitor and apostate. He was the son of a wealthy Jerusalem family, and excelled early in both secular and rabbinic learning. He lectured at the academies of Jerusalem and was a close friend of Rabbi Akiva, as well as teacher and friend of Rabbi Meir. He is said to have turned to Greek mysticism and to have informed on his fellow-Jews to the Romans. Because of this reprehensible act his name is scarcely ever mentioned in the Talmud, all his sayings being attributed to Aher, “the other.” Modern scholars believe that he was a Sadducee rather than a convert to a gentile religion. This, they feel, would have been sufficient ground for his excommunication by the dominant Pharisee faction, which demanded complete conformity during a period when the Jewish people were struggling for spiritual survival.

ELISHA (Late 9th century B.C.E.).

Biblical prophet on whose shoulders Elijah placed his mantle as his successor (I Kings 19:19). Elisha was the son of a wealthy landowner who lived east of the Jordan. Like Elijah, he wanted to rid Israel of Baal worship. He therefore secretly anointed Jehu, a general in the army, as king of Israel. Jehu led a revolt against Jehoram, son of Ahab, destroying him as well as his mother Jezebel, the idolatrous queen. Then Jehu exterminated the priests of Baal.

Elisha mingled with the people, helping them and winning their love. No other prophet in Israel is reputed to have performed as many miracles as Elisha. He is said to have divided the waters of the Jordan, resurrected a child, and healed the Syrian captain Naaman of leprosy. The many stories of Elisha’s miracle-working reflect the people’s love for the prophet who healed the sick and helped the poor. (II Kings 1-9:4, 13:14-21.)


Last month of the Jewish civil calendar. Preceding the High Holy Days, it is a month of spiritual preparation and penitence.


The removal of restrictions against the Jews in the western world during the late 18th to early 20th centuries, especially during the 19th century. A major factor in this process was the French Revolution in 1789, which brought emancipation to the general population of France and Europe. Until that time, Jews had lived for more than a thousand years under the restrictive rule of Christian Europe, which had prevented Jews from fully participating in the social and economic order, forced them to live in secluded areas called ghettos, and in effect accorded them the status of outsiders. In the New World, particularly in North America, the Jews enjoyed much better status than in Europe. But gradually after 1789, the civil, social, and economic status of Jews throughout Europe, beginning in Western Europe, began to improve, while in Russia this did not occur until after the Communist Revolution in 1917. This is not to say that Jews in Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries achieved equality. While European societies changed during that time, attitudes toward Jews and Judaism remained ambiguous at best and outright hostile at worst. Emancipation in Europe did not realize the idealistic goals of the French or Russian revolutions. Rather, it ended in the death fields and death camps of World War II.


See Israel.


A religious Zionist women’s organization started in 1948 as Hapoel Hamizrachi Women’s Organization, the name Emunah was adopted in 1978 to affect a unity with its sister countries throughout the world.

It is a national movement of 25,000 religious Zionists, encompassing 80 chapters throughout the U.S. Emunah of America supports an extensive network of 187 institutions in Israel which includes daycare centers, vocational training schools, teacher schools, and children’s villages. Additionally, Emunah provides social welfare services through its “Self-Help” programs for indigent and immigrant mothers, parental guidance programs, absorption and integration services for new immigrants, psychological counseling, community centers, and aid to the elderly.