SAADIAH GAON (892-942)

First of the Jewish medieval philosophers. His fight against the Karaite sect, which broke away from traditional Judaism, was decisive in preserving the unity of historical Jewry. He was born at Fayyum, Egypt. At 20, he compiled a Hebrew dictionary. He also translated the Bible into Arabic and wrote a commentary on most of its books. At about the same time, he combated the Karaite attack on the Talmud, refuting all the arguments of their leader, Anan Ben David. Saadiah’s brilliant defense of the Talmud spread his fame throughout the Jewish world. Saadiah left Egypt and spent some years in Palestine. At that time, Babylonia was still a great center of Jewish learning. The head of the Academy of Palestine, Ben Meir, disputed the right of the Babylonian scholars to compute the calendar. Saadiah sided with the Babylonian academies, and strengthened their authority.

When he arrived in Babylonia, he was invited to become head of the ancient Academy of Sura. Saadiah accepted the post, revitalized the Academy, and reestablished its fame. Unfortunately, a dispute arose between Saadiah and the exilarch, David ben Zakkai. The exilarch succeeded in bribing the Caliph to side with him, and the Gaon was forced to hide in Baghdad for seven years. During his forced exile, he produced his most important work, written in Arabic and called Beliefs and Opinions. His aim was to prove that the Jewish religion is based on reason and does not contradict philosophic thought. The book exerted great influence on Jewish thought, and is one of the standard works of Jewish religious philosophy. Five years before his death, Saadiah was reinstated as head of the Academy of Sura.

SABBATAI ZEVI (1626-1676)

False Messiah, a native of Smyrna, Turkey. When Sabbatai Zevi was still a young and impressionable Talmud student, he became so deeply attracted by the Kabbalah that he devoted himself completely to its study. In Kabbalist circles, he learned that the year 1648 would bring the “end of days,” when the Messiah would come to bring Israel back to the Holy Land. Exactly when he came to look upon himself as the Messiah is difficult to tell. It is known, however, that at the age of 20 he lived the life of a mystic, praying, fasting, and bathing in the sea, even in the winter. He saw mystic visions and began to interpret the messianic passages in the Kabbalah. Handsome and magnetic, Sabbatai was swiftly surrounded by a circle of followers, to whom he revealed openly for the first time in 1648, at age 22, his belief in himself as the Messiah. The Jewish community of Smyrna expelled Sabbatai, and he began the wanderings that spread his fame far and wide. The time was ripe for him. Everywhere, the Jewish people were suffering from poverty, degradation, and persecution. They longed with all their might for the coming of the Messiah who would save them, and almost everywhere there were people who believed Sabbatai was the Messiah. When Sabbatai Zevi came to Constantinople, Abraham Jachine, a self-proclaimed prophet, produced an “ancient document” prophesying Sabbatai’s Messiahship.

Banished from Salonika, he went to Cairo. There, Rabbi Joseph Calaba, treasurer at the governor’s court, honored him with his open support. In Jerusalem he was warmly received by the local Kabbalists. Sabbatai was now convinced he was the Messiah. He fasted and prayed, wept and chanted psalms through wakeful nights. Sent on a mission to Cairo, he heard of Sarah, a beautiful Jewish maiden from Poland who believed that she was the predestined bride of the Messiah. His disciples sent for Sarah, and Sabbatai married her amid great rejoicing. “Prophets” continued to spring up and proclaim him the Messiah, and his fame grew so wide that he dared to return to his native Smyrna in 1655. There he came to the synagogue, and amid the blowing of trumpets and the shouting of “Long Live Our King, Our Anointed One!” Sabbatai proclaimed himself the Messiah.

His following grew everywhere, among Marranos in Amsterdam, among the communities of Hamburg and Venice, among Polish Jews stricken by the Cossack uprising, and in far-off Morocco as well. In Smyrna, all business stopped, and people prepared to follow the Messiah to the Holy Land. In 1666, Sabbatai Zevi set sail for Constantinople, in full expectation that Sultan Mohammed IV would give him a royal reception as the supreme king on earth. On landing, he was arrested and taken in chains to prison. Meantime, a rival “Messiah” from Poland, Nehemiah Cohen, became a Muslim and told the authorities that Sabbatai was plotting to overthrow the Ottoman rule. Sabbatai was brought before the Sultan and given the choice of becoming a Muslim or dying. Sabbatai chose to live, took off his Jewish head-covering, and put on the white turban of the Turkish Muslim. The Jewish Messiah was no more; he had assumed the name Mehemet Effendi. Sabbatai was banished to Dulcigno, a small Albanian town, where he lived until his death on the Day of Atonement in 1676. Neither his conversion nor even his death put an end to the Sabbataian movement. His imprisonment and conversion were accepted as preliminary, mystic suffering before the final glory. After his death, one false messiah after another followed Sabbatai’s ways. Mystic dreamers as well as imposters continued to draw followers because of the people’s hunger to return to the Holy Land and because of their great longing for redemption. (See also Messianism.)


The climax of the Jewish week is the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week. The holiness of the Sabbath is stressed in the fourth commandment (Ex. 20:8-11), “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor and do all thy work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath Day unto the Lord thy God.” This commandment has been given deep symbolic meaning and great social significance. It is an everlasting sign between God and Israel: “For in six days the Lord made Heaven and Earth and on the seventh he ceased from work and rested” (Ex. 31:17). The Sabbath day also is a reminder of the liberation from Egyptian bondage. It has served as a lesson to all humankind, proclaiming the need of human beings for a day free from labor and devoted to spiritual matters.

The Jewish Sabbath, likened in song and story to a queen or a bride, has given a touch of royalty to the humblest home. Its joyful family observance is traditionally marked by special prayers, three festive meals, Sabbath songs, and study of the holy writings. Mourning ceases on the Sabbath, and except for Yom Kippur, no fast day disturbs this holy day. The house is cleaned and scoured beforehand and the family dresses in its Sabbath best. Even the poorest householder tries to provide some delicacy for the day. Fish, wine, and the twisted white loaves of bread (hallah) are part of the Sabbath meals.

On Friday evening, the table is set with a white cloth. Two loaves of hallah are placed at one end and covered. Ornamental candlesticks grace the table. All preparations are completed before sundown, at which time the day is ushered into the home by the mistress of the house as she lights the candles and pronounces the proper blessing. In the synagogue, the 45th psalm, beginning “Come let us sing before the Lord,” opens the services. Lekhah Dodi, song of welcome to the Sabbath Queen, composed about 1540 by Solomon Alkabetz follows. On his return to the home, the master of the house greets the two legendary Sabbath angels (who are said to accompany every worshiper from the synagogue) with the chant Shalom Aleichem, “Peace to you, ministering angels.”

From the moment the candles are lit until the Sabbath is ushered out the next evening with the strains of Havdalah, all work is prohibited; cooking, cleaning, business transactions, carrying, excessive walking, traveling, writing, and kindling fires. An entire volume of the Talmud has been devoted to defining and explaining limitations set up in order to safeguard the sacredness of the day and the comfort and well being of the individual. Despite stringent regulations, the Sabbath never was a burden to the Orthodox Jew. It has served as an endless reservoir of spiritual strength to Jews of all ages.

Each Sabbath has its special section of the Torah, to be read during the morning service along with the appropriate Haftarah. Shabbat Bereshit, immediately after Sukkot, begins the annual cycle of Reading the Law. A number of other Sabbaths are given special designations for one reason or another. On Shabbat Shira in the winter months, the portion Beshalah (Ex. 13-17) containing the famous Song of Moses and the Children of Israel, thanking God for their deliverance from the Egyptians at the Red Sea, is read. Shabbat Hagodol is the Sabbath immediately preceding Passover. Shabbat Hazon (Sabbath of the Vision), read before the 9th of Av, and Shabbat Nachamu (Sabbath of Consolation), read directly after the 9th of Av, take their names from the Haftarah read on these Sabbaths. Shabbat Shuvah (Sabbath of Repentance) appropriately occurs between the New Year and Yom Kippur.

On Sabbath afternoon during the summer months, chapters from the Ethics of the Fathers (Pirke Avot) are studied and discussed. Similarly, a special group of psalms, beginning with Borki Nafshi, are recited in the winter time.

SABIN, ALBERT (1906-1993).

Medical researcher. Born in Poland, he settled in the U.S. in 1921 and started polio research in 1931. In 1959, he developed an oral vaccine for polio that was put into mass use around the world two years later, and ended the scourge of this paralyzing disease. From 1969 to 1972 he lived in Israel where he served as president of the Weizmann Institute of Science.


Literally, clarifiers. Teachers and scholars who were active about the 6th century C.E. and succeeded the Amoriam (See Amora) in clarifying the laws of the Babylonian Talmud.


(1891-1970). German-Jewish poet. Born in Berlin, she went to Sweden with her mother in 1940 as a refugee from Nazism. Her first published work, a volume of stories and legends, appeared in 1921. From 1929 to 1933 her verses were published in various German and German-Jewish newspapers. In Sweden she first earned her living by translating Swedish poetry into German. In her writings, all in German, she portrays in a mystical, descriptive style the sorrows of the Jewish people, its mission and its survival. In 1966, she shared the Nobel Prize for Literature with S.J. Agnon. In the award citation, her works were described as “a testimony to Jewish destiny in times that were inhuman. . .” Her lyrics and plays are


Offerings to a deity. All ancient people offered sacrifices to their gods. Some sacrifices were tendered in thanksgiving for a rich harvest, for a victory in battle, or other happy events. Some were offered in times of trouble, to appease the deity when he was thought to be angry. Others symbolized the bond between a people, a tribe, or a clan and its god. The Israelites in biblical times offered up cattle, sheep, goats, doves, and farm products chiefly as a symbol of their loyalty to God. At first such offerings could be made anywhere. Later, they were permitted only at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, where the priests ceremoniously slaughtered the sacrificial animals on behalf of the entire people. The ritual was prescribed in great detail. There were “regular” sacrifices offered each morning and evening, with “additional” offerings on Sabbaths and holidays. From these and the services accompanying them there evolved the daily morning, afternoon, evening, and holiday services that have been recited at synagogues since the destruction of the Temple. In addition, there were personal sacrifices, offered after a sin had been committed and expiated, as well as thanksgiving offerings after a vow had been fulfilled. Prophets like Amos and Jeremiah spoke out against the sacrificial cult. They were not opposed to the idea of sacrifices so much as to the fact that people thought they could fulfill their obligations to God through material offerings rather than through purity of heart and action. Although Jews have not offered sacrifices since the destruction of the Second Temple, Orthodox Jews have always prayed that sacrifices will be restored with the coming of the Messiah and the rebuilding of the Temple in Zion.

Second largest religious and political party in Palestine during the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C.E. Its members are believed to have been the followers of the high priests, descendants of the house of Zadok, the high priest under King Solomon. The Sadducees recognized the Bible as the only source of Jewish law and rejected most of the traditions and interpretations which had developed since Ezra the Scribe. They drew their followers from the rich and aristocratic, as well as military circles. Often, the Sadducees came into conflict with the Pharisees in religious and political matters. In opposition to the Pharisees, they supported the wars for expansion led by Johanan Hyrcanus and Alexander Jannaeus, as well as the policy of forcing conquered peoples to convert to Judaism. The Sadducees, as opposed to the Pharisees, did not believe in reward and punishment after death.

The numerous differences between the two parties often led to bloody clashes. Whenever the Sadducees were in power, they suppressed and persecuted the Pharisees. After the final war with the Romans, the Sadducees disappeared. The Jewish people henceforth followed the tradition of the Pharisees.

SAFDIE, MOSHE (1938- ).

Israeli-born Canadian architect who became world famous in 1967 with his Habitat 67 built for Expo ’67 in Montreal. His bold experiment in modular prefab housing impacted on contemporary architecture, and later examples are his urban projects in Puerto Rico, Baltimore, and Jerusalem. In 1978, he became professor of urban design at Harvard.


Capital of Upper Galilee. Kabbalists led by Rabbi Isaac Luria and Rabbi Joseph Karo settled there in the 15th century. Since then there has been a settled Jewish community in Safed. A substantial part of the city was destroyed by earthquakes and ensuing epidemics in mid-19th century. After heavy fighting in the 1948 War of Independence, the Arabs fled. With its beautiful mountain location Safed is today an art center and a popular resort city. Its population in 1998 was about 20,000.


(1810-1883). Founder of an ethical movement, known as Musar, which spread through many of the yeshivot of Eastern Europe. Born in a small town in Lithuania, Israel Lipkin spent his youth studying the Talmud. He was given to reflection and was deeply concerned with self-improvement. In his later years, he was recognized as a great Talmudic authority. His modesty was proverbial and so was his generosity. His ethical philosophy was in close agreement with that of Maimonides. Advocating participation in worldly matters, rather than isolation from them, he sought to win back to Judaism those yeshiva and university students who had been influenced by the Enlightenment movement. He hoped to have them return to the study of the Torah and observance of its laws. It is an interesting fact that Rabbi Salanter included the Hebrew translation of Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac among the list of ethical books recommended to his students.

SALINGER, J.D. (Jerome David)

(1919-1910). American writer. Son to a Jewish father, he is known for his short stories and his popular 1951 novel Catcher in the Rye, about an adolescent turning his back on the phoney adult world. In the 1960’s Salinger gave up writing and became a recluse, refusing to see anyone. His novel is still regarded a landmark in American literature.


(1914-1995).American medical researcher and educator. In 1947, he joined the staff of the University of Pittsburgh as director of the Virus Research Laboratory of the School of Medicine. While continuing his work on influenza, he became interested in finding a way to prevent poliomyelitis. He developed the Salk vaccine, made by cultivating three strains of the polio virus separately in monkey tissue. Thanks in large measure to the Salk vaccine the dreaded “infantile paralysis” disease has largely become a thing of the past.


Queen of Judea who ruled from 76 to 67 B.C.E. On his death bed, Salome’s husband, the Hasmonean King Alexander Jannaeus, appointed her to succeed him on the throne. Salome Alexandra brought peace to Judea by reversing her husband’s policy and favoring the Pharisees, who were the majority party in the country. Her brother, the learned Pharisee Simeon ben Shetah, served as president of the Sanhedrin, the legislative-judicial body of the people.

SALOMON, HAYM (ca. 1740-1785).

American Revolutionary banker. Salomon, a native of Poland, described himself as “Broker to the Office of Finance”; he purchased and sold on commission bank stock and bills of exchange of European governments. During the American Revolution, he provisioned the troops of General Washington, often at personal cost. Salomon lent money to many impoverished members of the Continental Congress, including James Madison. He played an important role in the crucial years of the Revolutionary War, negotiating war subsidies from France and Holland. Salomon was captured as a spy and imprisoned by the British in New York, but managed to escape to Philadelphia, where his wife and child joined him.


The capital of and another name for the northern Kingdom of Israel. (See also Israel.)


Possibly the smallest religious sect in the world. There are about 400 Samaritans, most of whom live in Nablus (Shechem), an Arab town in the West Bank; others are settled in the vicinity of Tel AvivJaffa. The Samaritans are historically related to the Jewish people. When the Israelite kingdom Samaria fell in 722 B.C.E., the Assyrian conquerors exiled most of the Israelites to Babylonia. Samaria was then resettled by members of varied Semitic groups. The few remaining Israelites intermarried with the heathen settlers. Out of this union grew the new Samaritan sect. The Samaritans were anxious to join the Jewish group. However, conflict developed. Jews who returned to Palestine from Babylonian captivity in 537 B.C.E. refused to accept the offer of the Samaritans to help rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem because of the differences in religious practice and belief between the two groups (the Samaritans strictly obeyed the laws of the Five Books of Moses, but rejected the Prophets and sacred traditions of the Babylonian exiles).

Hurt by this refusal of cooperation, the Samaritans informed the Persian King Artaxerxes I that the Jews were plotting a rebellion against him. In the days of Nehemiah, the Samaritans joined the “Arabians, Ammonites, and Ashdodites” in building a wall around Jerusalem.

Failing in their plans to join or harm the Jews, the Samaritans chose Mount Gerizim near Nablus as their holy place and later established a shrine there. Gerizim became the religious center of the sect. To the Ten Commandments the Samaritans added another, proclaiming the sanctity of Mount Gerizim.

During the reign of the Maccabees, the feud between Jews and Samaritans became intense. At the end of the 2nd century B.C.E., the Hasmonean king Johanan Hyrcanus, captured Samaria and destroyed its temple on Mount Gerizim. It was rebuilt in 56 B.C.E. by Gabinus, governor of Syria.

The Samaritans shared with Jews the painful conditions under the rule of the Roman emperors Vespasian (r. 79-81 C.E.) and Hadrian (r. 117-138 C.E.). When Palestine came under the rule of the Byzantine kings, persecutions continued. The Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim was again destroyed. Twenty thousand Samaritans perished in a revolt against the Byzantine ruler Justinian I in 572. His successor deprived them of all rights and forced many of them to embrace the Christian faith. The Arab conquest of Palestine in the 7th century and the short reign of the Crusaders in the 11th and 12th centuries saw the further dwindling of their numbers. After 400 years of Turkish rule (1516-1917), the sect had disappeared almost completely. By the end of World War I, only 200 Samaritans remained.

To this day, the Samaritans adhere strictly to the ancient traditions of their religion. Their yearly Passover ceremony of the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb on Mount Gerizim is a colorful event reminiscent of an old Jewish custom practiced in Jerusalem. The Samaritan Bible is written in the old Hebrew script and differs slightly from the traditional Jewish version. Like Jews, the Samaritans recognize the 613 laws of the Five Books of Moses. They also accept the Book of Joshua, but they reject the writings of the prophets and the oral law known as the Talmud. The sanctity of Mount Gerizim is another point of departure from Jewish tradition. The Samaritans believe that the patriarchs are buried in this mountain and that the sacrifice of Isaac took place upon it. They also believe in the coming of the Messiah, who will rebuild the Temple on Mount Gerizim and proclaim the glory of the Shomrim, or “the observant,” as the Samaritans call themselves.

The Samaritans possess a modest literature that includes a few works of biblical commentary, law, theology, and history. Some of their writings date back to the 4th century. At the head of the Samaritan community stands the High Priest, whom they believe to be a descendant of Aaron, brother of Moses. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Israel’s second president, wrote extensively on the Samaritans. His studies are collected in The Book of the Samaritans.


Legendary river whose turbulent waters did not flow on the Sabbath. Jewish and non-Jewish writers have described similar rivers, which they have located variously in Ethiopia, India, and near the Caspian Sea. The Sambatyon, an actual river located in Syria, has been pointed to as possibly connected with the fabled stream. The most famous of the tales about the Sambatyon is that of the 9th-century traveler, Eldad Hadani. He tells of visiting the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel who dwelled on the banks of the river.


Son of Manoah of the tribe of Dan, and one of the Judges of Israel. Samson was marvelously strong, and three chapters of the biblical Book of Judges are full of his great deeds, his downfall, and heroic death. According to the Bible, Samson was a Nazirite, a consecrated man whose supernatural strength lay in his unshorn hair. Single-handed, he fought the Philistines until he was trapped by Delilah, a Philistine woman. Shorn of his hair and blinded, he was imprisoned in Gaza. During one of the festivals in honor of their fish-god Dagon, the Philistines had Samson brought into their temple to “make sport before them” (Judges 16:25). By that time his hair had grown back, and with it, his strength had returned. Standing between two pillars that supported the roof of the temple, the blinded giant prayed, then, crying, “Let my soul perish with the Philistines!” he grasped the two pillars, bent them, and brought the roof crashing down upon himself and his tormentors.

SAMUEL (ca. 1100-1020 B.C.E.).

Prophet and priest. He succeeded the Judges as a leader of the people. In his old age the people asked him to select a king to rule over them and to lead them in battle. Samuel warned them against a monarchy, which would limit their freedom. When the people insisted, he chose Saul and anointed him king. The two Books of Samuel in the Bible describe the founding of the Kingdom of Israel and the reigns of Saul and David.

SAMUEL HA-NAGID (993-1055).

Statesman, poet, Talmudic scholar, and grammarian. Born in Cordova, Spain, he was forced by anti-Jewish persecution to flee to Malaga, where he studied both Jewish and secular subjects. Samuel’s learning and wisdom attracted the attention of the vizier Abu-al-Kasim, who appointed Samuel his confidential secretary. On the vizier’s death, Samuel became counselor and prime minister to the king of Granada. For thirty years, he had overseen the political, financial, and military affairs of the kingdom. The kingdom of Granada prospered, due largely to Samuel’s discretion and sagacity. While holding high political office, Samuel was also the spiritual leader, or Nagid, of the Jewish community. He supported men of letters and institutions of learning, not only in Spain, but also in Egypt, Babylonia, and other Jewish settlements. He found the time to teach the Talmud, as well as to write works of grammar. Samuel Ha-Nagid opened the golden era of Hebrew poetry in Spain. He was the first to write secular poetry; his unique war poems describe military campaigns vividly.

SAMUEL, MAURICE (1895-1972).

Author, translator, and lecturer. Born in Romania, he came to the U.S. in 1914. He wrote books on Israel including What Happened in Palestine and Harvest in the Desert. In The Great Hatred (1940) he reached the conclusion that Jews are hated because they taught the world a system of morality which humans have not been able to live up to.

In addition to a number of novels, Samuel produced many excellent translations from Yiddish, Hebrew, and German. These include most of the poetry of Chaim Nahman Bialik and several novels by Sholem Asch. His most popular books are The World of Sholom Aleichem and Prince of the Ghetto, which recreates the stories of the great Yiddish writer Y.L. Peretz.


British statesman. Born in Liverpool and educated at Oxford, Samuel turned to politics as a profession. He was elected to Parliament in 1902, became a member of the British Cabinet in 1909, and became Secretary of State for Home Affairs in 1916. From 1931 to 1935, he served as leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons. He was knighted and, in 1937, he was made a viscount as a reward for his public services. Samuel’s connection with Zionism began in the early stages of the World War I. He aided in the preliminary negotiations between Zionist leaders and the British government which resulted in the Balfour Declaration. In 1920, he was appointed first High Commissioner of Palestine under the British Mandate. During Samuel’s five years in this office, his efforts to serve as an impartial British administrator failed to please the Arabs or Jews. He became member of the Jewish Agency for Palestine in 1929. Samuel was a member of the British Institute of Philosophy and the author of such books as Philosophy and the Ordinary Man and Liberalism: Its Principles and Proposals.


See Kiddush Ha-shem.


From Greek. Name applied to the higher courts of law which in the latter period of the Second Temple administered justice in Palestine according to the Mosaic law. It dealt with serious cases, both criminal and capital. Sanhedrin is also the name of a tractate of the Talmud which deals fully with the composition, powers, and functions of the court.

Two types of Sanhedrin existed side by side: the Great Sanhedrin with 71 members, and several lesser Sanhedrin with 23. According to tradition, both were instituted by Moses, but the first reference to a functioning Sanhedrin is from 57 B.C.E. Some scholars maintain there was also a Sanhedrin with more political powers. The president was called the nasi; his deputy, the ab bet din; and the expert or specialist on any given case, the mufla. The Great Sanhedrin met in the Chamber of Hewn Stone in the Temple of Jerusalem. Decisions required a majority of the votes to be valid. The Sanhedrin organized in Yavneh after the destruction of the Second Temple was purely religious in character.


See France.

SAPIR, PINHAS (1909-1975).

Israeli cabinet member and public official. Born in Poland, he came to Palestine in 1929 and early became active in the labor movement there. In February 1948, he was put in charge of the quartermaster general’s branch of Haganah. Between 1948 and 1968, he served variously as Director General of the Ministry of Defense, Director General of the Ministry of Finance, Minister of Commerce and Industry, and Minister of Finance. In 1968, he became secretary general of the Mapai party while serving in the Cabinet as Minister without Portfolio. In 1974, he became chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency.


Wife of the patriarch Abraham and mother of the patriarch Isaac. Sarah was barren for many years and finally at age 90 gave birth to Isaac.

SARNOFF, DAVID (1891-1971).

American media leader. He was born in Russia and came to the U.S. as a child. Working as a wireless operator, he was the first to receive a message about the sinking of the Titanic. A pioneer in the radio industry, he headed RCA (Radio Corporation of America), and in 1953 became head of NBC (National Broadcasting Company).


Family of merchants, industrialists, and public servants. David Sassoon (1793-1864), founder of the “Sassoon dynasty,” was descended from an old Baghdad Jewish family. Forced to flee his birthplace in 1829, David settled in Bombay, India, where he founded a textile firm that came to dominate the Indian cotton industry. With his eight sons he extended his trading empire to China, Japan, and Central Asia. David was a pillar of the Bombay Jewish community and fabled for both his charity and his piety. At David’s death, Abdullah (later Albert) Sassoon (1817-1897), his eldest son, assumed control of the family business. After founding Bombay’s first great textile mills, Albert moved the headquarters of the firm to London. There, together with his brothers, Reuben (1835-1905) and Arthur (1840-1912), Albert figured prominently in London society, becoming an intimate of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). In 1890, Albert was made first Baronet of Kensington-Gore.

Later generations of the Sassoons tended to loosen their ties with Judaism (except for one branch, which has remained strictly Orthodox), as well as to lose interest in the family business. The Sassoons achieved eminence in politics, the armed forces, and the arts. A number married into English nobility. Among the best known of the later Sassoons were Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967), who gained a reputation as a poet before World War I; Rachel Sassoon Beer (1858-1927), who owned and edited two rival London newspapers at once; and Philip Sassoon (1888-1939), who rose to a high place in government.


In the Hebrew Bible, where he makes his first appearance (I Chron. 21:1), Satan, or the devil, is not the supreme evil force of the universe he became later in Jewish tradition and even more so in Christianity. Rather, he is part of the divine entourage of good and bad angels, and his function is to tempt people, as in the case of Job. Medieval Bible commentators, however, identify him as the snake in the story of the Garden of Eden, and ascribe him a much greater role in the divine plan. Today, Satan no longer occupies a position of prominence in most Jewish thinking, but his power is seen in the dark side of the human character that turns individuals into perpetrators of evil acts.

SAUL (11th century B.C.E.).

First king of Israel. The youngest son of Kish the Benjaminite, Saul was a modest shepherd lad when the prophet Samuel anointed him as king. He defeated the Ammonites and fought successfully against the Philistines, Moabites, Arameans, and Amalekites. Saul’s dispute with the prophet Samuel followed his defeat of the Amalekites. The prophet’s public rebuke depressed the king and tragic melancholia


See Sheerit ha-pletah.

SCHAPIRA, HERMANN (1840-1898).

Mathematician and Zionist. Born in Russia, he taught mathematics at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, where he founded the first Zionist society in Germany. He is best remembered as the originator of the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet le-Israel), based on a plan for the purchase of land in Palestine for Jews through small donations from the Jewish masses. He presented this proposal again at the first Zionist Congress in 1897, but it was not adopted until the 5th Congress in 1901, three years after Schapira’s death. Another of his proposals that was made at the first Congress was adopted at the 11th in 1913, the last congress before World War I began; it was then decided to proceed immediately with the creation of a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The poet Chaim Bialik reminded the delegates that this vision of a new house of learning in Zion came from the mind of the mathematician Hermann Schapira.

SCHATZ, BORIS (1866-1932).

Painter and sculptor. Born in Lithuania, his works are found in many European and American museums. His statue of Mattathias, the Hasmonean, is his best-known work in Israel. In Paris, he assisted the great Russian sculptor, Mark Antokolsky, and in Sofia he helped found the Academy of Fine Arts. Schatz’s crowning achievement was founding the Bezalel Museum and School of Art in Jerusalem in 1906.


See Sports.


Scholar and founder of American Conservative Judaism. Born in Romania, he studied in Vienna and Berlin and eventually came to England. There, the wealth of Hebrew manuscripts at the British Museum in London and at the Bodleian Library of Oxford absorbed him for years. He taught at Cambridge University, where he was elected Reader in Rabbinics. He became Professor of Hebrew at the University College of London in 1899. In 1896, Schechter came upon a large part of the original Hebrew of the Book of Ben Sira; this discovery led him to visit the Cairo Genizah, a literary “cemetery” for wornout sacred books and manuscripts. He investigated the many thousands of fragments in the Genizah, brought them back to Cambridge, and spent years sorting and studying this great scholarly treasure. The writings he published as a result of these studies brought him worldwide fame among scholars. In 1902, Schechter came to the U.S. to serve as president of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. During his presidency he reorganized the Seminary and enlarged its scope. His essays, particularly the three-volume Studies in Judaism, were widely read.

SCHIFF, JACOB HENRY (1847-1920).

Financier and philanthropist. Schiff came to the U.S. from Germany, where his family had lived since the 14th century. He received his early business training in his father’s Frankfurt brokerage house. In 1885, he became head of Kuhn, Loeb, and Co., which had a significant share in financing the expansion of railroads in the U.S. Deeply hostile to Tsarist Russia for mistreating its Jews, he consistently refused to help that country obtain loans, foregoing opportunities for great profit. He was one of the founders of the American Jewish Committee in 1906 and a leader in its successful effort in 1911 to have the U.S.-Russia commercial treaty abrogated because Russia discriminated against holders of U.S. passports. The range of his philanthropies, Jewish and nonsectarian, was immense. A Reform Jew, he retained much of the traditional piety he had learned in his childhood, and generously supported the religious, educational, and scholarly work of all branches of Judaism. He was opposed to Zionism insofar as it was nationalist and secularist, but he felt that Palestine was needed as a refuge and as a spiritual and cultural center. Schiff supported educational institutions in Palestine, donating $100,000 toward the founding of the Technion (the Haifa Institute of Technology).


American Reform leader. Former president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, his leadership of the Reform movement saw a greater Reform involvement with the State of Israel and initiated some radical changes in Reform philosophy, such as ordained female rabbis and the acceptance of people with only a patrilineal tie to Judaism. He also advocated reaching out to the “unchurched,” in other words, actively seeking converts to Judaism.

SCHINDLER, OSKAR (1908-1974).

German businessman who worked for the Nazis during World War II in Poland, where he used Jewish slave labor. He seized upon the idea of preserving the lives of his Jewish workers by arguing that they were vital for the war effort. In this manner he ultimately saved the lives of some 1,200 Jews. Yad Va-shem honored him as a Righteous among the Nations. He is the subject of Steven Spielberg’s widely acclaimed film Schindler’s List.


Austrian playwright and novelist known for his acute psychological character analysis. His views of the role of the Jew in the modern world is expressed in his play Professor Bernhardi.

SCHOLEM, GERSHOM (1897-1982).

Leading authority on Jewish mysticism. He was born in Germany and became a Zionist at an early age. In 1923, he became professor of Jewish mysticism at the Hebrew University and published major works on the Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism, including Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism.

SCHONBERG, ARNOLD (1874-1951).

Composer. One of the masters of modern music, Schonberg gained international acclaim early in Austria and Germany with his Verklarte Nacht for strings and the Gurrelieder. In the years before World War I he evolved his controversial “twelve-tone principle,” a theory of composition which abandoned the harmonic tonality of traditional western music. His compositions on Jewish themes include Kol Nidre, in the twelve-tone system; A Survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, a cantata for solo, chorus, and orchestra; Moses and Aaron, an opera; and Die Jakobsleiter, an unfinished oratorio. Schonberg was a teacher of genius as well as a composer and conductor. Fleeing Nazi persecution in 1934, he settled in the U.S., and taught at the University of California until his death.


German-born American scholar. He came to the U.S. in his youth and was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he later taught History of German Jewry, and in 1986 became chancellor of the seminary.


See Stage and Screen.

French author. He lost his family in the Holocaust, and later wrote a novel, The Last of the Just, which is based on Jewish martyrdom and is still considered a key book about the Holocaust. In his later writing he turned away from Jewish themes.


See Tzofim.


From Latin; literally, writing. The Bible is also known as the Sacred Scriptures.


See Passover.


See Omer.


See Kabbalah.


An American comedian, actor, and writer from Massapequa, New York. Seinfeld is often described as an observational comedian. He is best known for playing a semifictional version of himself in the long-running sitcom Seinfeld, which he co-created and produced.


Literally, forgiveness. Prayers requesting God to pardon sins and end suffering. Thousands of selihot were written mainly between the 7th and 17th centuries. Well-known writers such as Judah Ha-Levi, Solomon Ibn-Gabirol, and Rashi, as well as numerous anonymous poets, produced fervent selihot, many bearing acrostics with the author’s name. Many of the selihot have been incorporated into the synagogue services, particularly those of the High Holy Days.


See Stage and Screen.


See Stage and Screen.

Literally, laying on of hands. The act of ordination of a religious leader, originally performed by the ordainer’s placing his hands upon the person to be ordained, probably in emulation of the manner in which Moses ordained Joshua (Num. 27: 22-23).

Gradually, the ceremony of the laying on of hands was abolished, and by the 2nd century B.C.E., religious leaders were ordained simply by being awarded the title “rabbi.”

Any ordained rabbi is empowered to confer the rabbinate upon a worthy disciple by ordination. This practice has persisted in Orthodox Jewry to our day, although it has largely been replaced by institutional ordination, namely through the award of an ordination certificate by a recognized rabbinical school. In the United States today, one may be ordained as a rabbi in Orthodox Judaism by one of the numerous yeshivot, or theological colleges, or by Yeshiva University; in Conservative Judaism, by the Jewish Theological Seminary; and in Reform Judaism, by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

A traditional Semikhah vests the ordained rabbi with the authority of rendering decisions in ritual matters and in monetary disputes.


Poet. Born in Budapest, at age 18 she came to Palestine and studied at the Nahalal Agricultural School, then joined the Sdoth Yam kibbutz near Caesarea. In 1943, Senesch joined the band of parachutists from Palestine who jumped into Nazi-occupied Europe on rescue missions. She was the first to cross into Hungary from Yugoslavia, where she landed and fought with the partisans. She was captured, tortured, and executed at the age of 23. Her poem, Blessed Is The Match, which she wrote in Yugoslavia, has been set to music. Another poem, Eli Eli, has become one of Israel’s most popular songs.


Literally, Spaniards. Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin. The customs, rituals, synagogue services, and Hebrew pronunciation of the Sephardim differ from those of the Ashkenazim, Jews of Germany and Eastern Europe. Expelled from Spain by the Inquisition of 1492, the Sephardim were scattered throughout the Mediterranean world, along the north coast of Africa, the Turkish Empire, and the Balkans. Wherever they went, they established the Sephardic ways and rituals. The Marranos, or secret Jews, transported their customs to the New World. When Zionists began to migrate to Palestine at the close of the 19th century, they adopted the Sephardic pronunciation of Hebrew for their daily use.


See Kaballah.


Latin, literally, seventy. Greek translation of the Bible made between 250 and 100 B.C.E. According to tradition, the translation was made in Alexandria at the request of the ruler, Ptolemy Philadelphus, by 72 scholars. Working individually, they are said to have produced identical translations in 72 days. The Septuagint was the first translation of the Bible, and it made the Scriptures accessible to large numbers of Jews and Gentiles alike. Because the Septuagint was translated from Hebrew texts now lost, biblical scholars have found it invaluable in comparing translations, as an aid in the recovery of a better Hebrew text and in interpreting difficult Hebrew passages.

SERENI, ENZO (1905-1944).

Scholar, author, and pioneer. Born in Rome, son of the physician to King Victor Emmanuel III, Sereni abandoned a brilliant intellectual career to settle in Palestine in 1926. He was the founder and moving spirit of the settlement of Givat Brenner. During World War II, Sereni organized a group of Jewish parachutists to jump into enemy territories on Jewish rescue missions. Although nearly 40, he joined the group, was caught, and was executed in Dachau in 1944.


See Music.


Fabric mixture of wool and linen. The Bible (Lev. 19:19) forbids the wearing of garments made of such compositions although the material may be used for other purposes. This prohibition follows the general laws forbidding two other kinds of mixtures: the cross-breeding of different species of animals, and the planting together of different varieties of seeds.

SHABAZI, SHALOM (17th century).

Yemenite poet and Kabbalist. He wrote close to 5,000 poems and songs in Hebrew and Arabic. Shabazi became almost a legendary figure, and is one of the most beloved poets of the Yemenite Jews. His poems are included in the festival and holiday liturgy of the Yemenites. A street in Tel Aviv is named in his honor.


Literally, mediator or go-between. The shadkhan was a matchmaker employed by parents to arrange their children’s marriages. The shadkhan’s profession attained importance in Jewish life in the early Middle Ages. His legal position was regulated by the rabbis, and he is already mentioned in the Talmud. Piety, modesty, and the early age of marriage among Jews tended to preserve the shadkhan as a go-between until recent times. In modern Yiddish and Hebrew literature, as well as in folk stories, he is usually pictured as a ne’er-do-well, sometimes funny, sometimes downright ridiculous.


See Art.


See Sabbath.


See Hebrew Literature.

SHAMIR, YITZHAK (1915-2012).

Israel’s seventh prime minister, minister of foreign affairs, and speaker of the Knesset. Born in Ruzinoy, Poland, Shamir immigrated to Palestine in 1935 and studied at the Hebrew University. He served in the Irgun Z’vai L’umi and the Stern Group, was arrested twice by the British but escaped. From 1955 to 1965, he served in the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, and was active on behalf of Soviet Jewry. In 1970, Shamir joined the Herut movement and chaired its Executive Committee in 1975 and 1977. He has served on the committees for defense, foreign affairs, and state control. In 1980-1981 he was Foreign Minister and became Prime Minister in 1983, following Menachem Begin‘s resignation. He served until 1984, then again from 1990 to 1992, when Labor came back to power under Rabin.


Talmudic scholar of the 1st century B.C.E. He was the contemporary and rival of Hillel and founder of a school named after him. Hillel was president of the Sanhedrin, and Shammai, the vice-president. The Talmud records a number of differences of opinion between Hillel and Shammai. In most instances, Shammai and his followers were more strict in their interpretation of the law. The opinions of the School of Hillel were accepted by the sages. The stories about Shammai reveal his inflexible personality. But Shammai also preached friendliness; one of his favorite sayings was: “Welcome every man with a friendly face.” Shammai and Hillel were the last of the “pairs,” or zugot, of scholars whose teachings formed the basis of the Talmud.

SHAPIRO, IRVING S. (1916-2001).

Lawyer and business executive. Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Jewish Lithuanian parents. His father ran a dry-cleaning business.  Irving Shapiro graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1939 and was a 1941 graduate of its law school.

After working in Washington at the Justice Department, he joined the DuPont Company in 1951, rising the the position of chairman and chief executive by 1974, a post he held until 1981. After retirement he returned to the law in private practice.

Although he was not a businessman or executive by training, he nevertheless became a forceful advocate for corporate America’s important role in the nation.

In the 1970’s Shapiro became the leader of a group that advised lawmakers on certain issues. He also advised President Jimmy Carter on various subjects including a response to the Arab boycott of Israel.

SHARETT, MOSHE (1894-1965).

Zionist and Israeli leader. Moshe Shertok was brought by his family to Palestine in 1906. In 1913, he went to Istanbul, Turkey, to study law. Sharett mastered a number of languages, which later served him in good stead in his political work. Besides his mother tongue Hebrew, he spoke and wrote fluently in Arabic, Turkish, German, French, and English. During the World War I, Sharett served as an officer in the Turkish army. Between the two World Wars, he took part in Zionist political work. For five years he lived in England, where he continued with his studies and helped Chaim Weizmann as an expert in Arab affairs. During World War II he shared in the political work that led to the establishment of the Jewish Brigade, which fought the Nazis and played an important part in saving and bringing the remnants of the Nazi victims to Palestine. From 1946 until the establishment of Israel in 1948, Sharett did intensive work in the U.S. In the first Israel cabinet, Sharett became Minister of Foreign Affairs, and from 1954 to 1955, he served also as Prime Minister. He was one of the key figures in the early years of the state.

SHARON, ARIEL (1928-1914 ).

Israeli soldier and politician, one of Israel’s outstanding generals, who played a critical role in the Sinai Campaign in 1956, and in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. As Begin‘s Minister of Defense, he was condemned for his conduct of the 1982 Lebanon War, and had to resign. He remained in the cabinet, and later became Minister of Housing, and played a major role in settling Russian immigrants. In 1998 Sharon became Foreign Minister and headed the permanent status negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. In September 2000 he paid a visit to the Temple Mount, which triggered the al-Aksa Intifada, a wave of Palestinian violence that lasted for several years. In 2001 he was elected Prime Minister. To reduce the violence, he implemented a disengagement plan in the Gaza Strip, removing all Israeli settlers from the Strip. This caused a rift in his Likud party that resulted in the formation of a new party named Kadima. In 2006, as Kadima came to power, Sharon suffered a severe stroke and was replaced as Prime Minister by Ehud Olmert. A controversial leader throughout his career, Sharon became a peacemaker in his latter years.


Term applied to the Talmud, it is the abbreviation of shishah sedarim or six “orders,” or divisions, of the Mishnah.


Also known as the Feast of Weeks, it falls on the sixth day of Sivan, just seven weeks after Passover. The three days before Shavuot are called the “Three Days of Limitation” or “Preparation,” for the people of Israel had to purify themselves for a period of three days in order to be ready to receive the Law from Mount Sinai. One of the pilgrimage festivals, Shavuot is both Hag ha-Bikkurim (Holiday of the First Fruits) and Zeman Motan Toratenu (The Time of the Giving of Our Torah.) In biblical times, offerings of the first fruits of tree and field were brought to the Temple. Today, this aspect of the holiday is observed by decorating the synagogue with green boughs. In Israel, Shavuot is marked by the ceremonial offering of the first fruits to the Jewish National Fund, which hold the land in trust for the Jewish people. Because the Rabbis calculated that the Jews had received the Torah at Sinai on Shavout, it was considered appropriate for children to begin their Hebrew studies on this day. Tikkun Shavuot, a collection of passages from the Bible and other sacred books, is read on Shavout night, while the biblical Book of Ruth is read after the morning service.

Tradition has it that David was born and died on Shavuot. It is therefore customary to read Psalms on the second evening of Shavuot. In Jerusalem, many Jews make a pilgrimage to Mount Zion, on which, according to tradition, King David was buried. In some communities, Jews light 150 candles in the synagogue, the numbers of chapters in the Book of Psalms attributed to David. The custom is to prepare and eat dairy dishes on Shavuot. In recent times, Reform synagogues, as well as some Conservative and Orthodox congregations, have designated the day for the ceremony of confirmation for children past Bar Mitzvah age. The Shavuot service also includes the singing of a poem called Akdamut. This poem written in Aramaic, deals with the grandeur of God, the greatness of His deeds, and the rewards that await the righteous in the world to come. Written in the 11th century, Akdamut has a mystical theme, for which an inspiring melody has been composed.

SHAZAR, ZALMAN (1889-1974).

Scholar, author, third President of Israel (1963-1973). Born in Mir, Russia, and raised in a Hasidic environment, he attended the Academy of Jewish Sciences at Leningrad as well as the Universities of Freiburg, Strasbourg, and Berlin. Shazar settled in Palestine in 1924. He served as editor of the daily Davar until 1948, and was a leading organizer of Israel’s labor movement. As Israel’s first Minister of Education, Shazar introduced general compulsory education. He also held educational posts in the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization. He was a man of widely varied interests and impressive scholarship. He was a gifted and persuasive speaker, and authored a number of scholarly works on biblical archeology and messianic figures.


Literally, remnant of Israel. Organized in 1654 by the first Jewish pilgrims to come to Nieuw Amsterdam. Its founders had escaped from the Inquisition in South America. The first Jewish congregation in what is now the U.S., it has had continuous history of more than three centuries as a Sephardic synagogue.


Literally, the remnant or the saving remnant. This concept dates back to biblical times, and refers to that part of the Jewish people left after a major calamity. The prophets often predict that a small portion of Jews will come back from exile and reestablish itself in its land. This, indeed, happened more than once in Jewish history. First, after the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C.E., and more recently in our time with the birth of the State of Israel.

The slaughter of ritually pure animals according to Jewish law. The laws which govern slaughtering grew out of a verse in the Bible (Deut. 12:21), and are contained in the tractate Hullin of the Talmud. The shohet (slaughterer) is required to follow a special course of study dealing with these laws, and is permitted to practice his profession only upon receiving a certificate known as a kabbalah. The shohet employs a special knife called hallaf, which must be applied to a specific spot on the animal’s neck. Before slaughtering, the shohet must examine his blade for flaws. To avoid causing the animal unnecessary pain, the shohet must follow strictly the rules for slaughtering; if he fails, the animal is ruled a nevelah (carcass), forbidden as food. After the slaughter, the shohet must subject the animal’s inner organs, particularly the lungs, to a minute examination. The discovery of the slightest sign of disease is sufficient cause to forbid the consumption of the animal. The shehitah laws were intended to safeguard the health of the individual, and to avoid pain to the animal as much as possible.


Literally, weight. The measure against which pieces of silver and gold were weighed for use as money. When Sarah died, Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite the Cave of Machpelah as a family burial ground. In payment, he “weighed out


Literally, indwelling. A term used to express God‘s omnipresence. Though the Shekhinah is everywhere, it is the prophet and the righteous individual, the judge who pronounces true judgment, the charitable person, and the one who lives as well as believes his Judaism, are said to particularly attract the Divine Presence to themselves.


The declaration of faith in the unity of God, traditionally recited mornings and evenings: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deut. 6:4-9). (See also Prayer.)


See Sukkot.


Babylonian sage who claimed descent from King David. Sherira Gaon’s scholarship commanded the respect of all Jewish communities. He headed the academy at Pumbeditha from 969 until his death. His letter to the Jewish scholars of Kairwan, North Africa, relates the origin of the Mishnah and enumerates in chronological order the scholars and leaders from the time of the Mishnah to his day. The work is a major source of information on because it is of utmost importance, 800 years of Jewish history.

Twenty-first letter of the Hebrew alphabet; numerically, 300.

SHLONSKY, ABRAHAM (1900-1973).

Hebrew poet. Born in Ukraine, educated at the Tel Aviv Herzliah Gymnasium and at the Sorbonne University in Paris. Shlonsky’s experiences as a pioneer in Palestine are reflected in his poetry. He is a first-rate craftsman, whose poetry excels in rich imagery and mastery of language and style. He has translated into Hebrew a number of works from world literature.


Eighteen Benedictions. (See Prayer and Siddur.)


Family of Hasidic rabbis. Shneour Zalman (1748-1812), founder of the dynasty, was born in Liozno, White Russia, where he received a traditional Talmudic education. Won over to Hasidism, he founded a movement known as Chabad, which stressed Talmudic learning and the forms of Orthodox Judaism rather than the ecstatic mysticism of other types of Hasidism. Known as the Rabbi of Ladi, he drew many followers from among the conservative Jewish communities of Lithuania and White Russia. During his lifetime, Chabad had more than 100,000 adherents. Leadership of the movement, which has survived into the present, has remained with the Shneerson family. It passed from Shneour to his son, Baer (1774-1812), and then to his grandson, Menachem Mendel (1786-1866), whose direct descendants have remained the spiritual guides of Chabad. Menachem Mendel’s son, Samuel (1834-1883), settled in the town of Lubavitch; followers of Chabad consequently call themselves Lubavitch Hasidim. The leadership passed to Samuel’s son, Sholom Baer (1861-1920), whose son, Joseph Isaac (1890-1950), founded the World Chabad movement in 1934. In the tradition of his ancestors, who had fought assimilation in Tsarist Russia, Joseph Isaac refused to acquiesce to a Soviet order closing Jewish schools. For this refusal he was exiled from Greater Russia. In 1940, he settled in New York City; here he conducted Chabad activities and supervised the establishment of Lubavitch academies throughout North and South America.

The Lubavitcher movement’s most recent rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendl Shneerson, died on June 12, 1994. He built a worldwide Chabad network, sending young Lubavitch families as emissaries of Judaism to remote parts of the globe. Their primary purpose is to promote Jewish education in the spirit of Torah-true Judaism among all Jews, regardless of background, to establish contact with, and to retrieve alienated Jewish youth, and to promulgate the observance of the Torah as a daily experience among all Jews.

SHNEUR, ZALMAN (1887-1959).

Hebrew and Yiddish poet and novelist. Born in Russia, Shneur began to write when he was barely 14 years old. His creative talents were quick to develop, and as a youth of 20 he was already recognized as one of the most original and powerful poets in modern Jewish literature. His poetry appealed to the younger generation in its rebellion against convention. His novels, describing Jewish life in Eastern Europe, rank with the classic works of Mendele Mocher Sefarim and Sholom Aleichem in artistic achievement. His novel Noah Pandre appeared in an English translation in 1936.


Literally, horn or trumpet. Traditionally the curved horn of a ram, the animal that Abraham sacrificed instead of his son, Isaac. In the Bible, the shofar is blown to announce all-important occasions. The blast of the ram’s horn proclaimed the Jubilee year, the beginning of the Sabbath, the festivals and the New Moon. The shofar is blown during the month of Elul preceeding the High Holy Days as a call to repentance. It is an essential part of the Rosh ha-Shanah services, and the Yom Kippur day of fasting and prayer ends with the sound of the shofar.

SHOLOM ALEICHEM (1859-1916).

Pen name of the Yiddish writer and humorist Sholom Rabinowitz. Born in a small town in Ukraine, he displayed in his early childhood a remarkable talent for mimicry and caricature. Young Sholom was also endowed with keen sensitivity and an imaginative mind. While he liked best to play pranks on his elders, he nevertheless excelled in his studies. He was especially attracted to the Bible, most of which he learned by heart. Later, he attended a government high school, and at seventeen, he accepted a job as a private tutor. For some time he even served as a rabbinical functionary, and also engaged in business until he lost all his money.

He then dedicated himself entirely to writing, to the great enrichment of Yiddish literature. In his hundreds of stories, novels, and plays, Sholom Aleichem mirrored Jewish life of the small towns in Eastern Europe. He reflected in his tales the wisdom and wit of his people and became their favorite writer. Universally admired, he was given rousing receptions on his visits to the Jewish centers in Russia. He came to America twice, the last time shortly before World War I broke out. It is said that a half million people came to his funeral when he died in New York in 1916.

Sholom Aleichem created unforgettable types: Tevyeh, the milkman, Menachem Mendel, the luckless broker, and Motel, the cantor’s son, whose escapades are especially endearing to young readers. He has been compared to Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. Much of his work has been translated into English; Maurice Samuel‘s World of Sholom Aleichem has distilled the flavor of the great humorist into one volume.


Literally, persuader. A representative chosen by the Jewish community, or self-appointed, to plead the Jewish cause before governments or rulers. He was usually appointed because of his wealth, eloquence, or good relations with important personalities. In 1315, five such shtadlanim were chosen to negotiate with Philip the Fair of France for the return of Jews who had been expelled from the country. During the 16th century, another Shtadlan, Josel of Rosheim, pleaded successfully with the nobility of Brandenburg, and Jews were not expelled from that German state. The Shtadlan, as an unofficial diplomat or lobbyist, continued to serve the Jewish people until he was replaced by modern professional organizations and democratically chosen communal leaders.


Authoritative code, prepared by Joseph Karo, containing all the traditional rules of Jewish conduct, based on Talmudic sources and later opinions or decisions of the great rabbis. Originally, the Shulhan Arukh was intended for young students who were not yet prepared to weigh the complex decisions of the authorities. However, the work suited so well the need for a methodical and easily accessible arrangement of the various laws that it became the most popular handbook for both scholars and laypersons.

The Shulhan Arukh is divided, like its predecessor, the Arbaah Turim, into four parts: one summarizing the laws pertaining to prayers, Sabbath, and holidays; a second, the dietary laws, laws of mourning and other ritual matters; a third, civil laws; and a fourth, the laws relating to marriage, divorce, and similar matters.

The Code of Joseph Karo was accepted immediately by Sephardic Jewry. Ashkenazic scholars, chief among them Moses Isserles, amended, revised, and added many customs and practices current among the Ashkenazic Jewry. With the additions of Isserles and other commentaries, the Shulhan Arukh has been the most vital and influential book in Jewish religious life.


Rabbi in Galicia. He served as rabbi first in the town of Potok and then in Brezen. He is best known for his responsa, four volumes of which were published during his lifetime and three after his death. His rulings on Jewish law were widely accepted as authoritative and essential in coping with the practical problems of the time in which he was active. A modest and kindly man, he adhered stringently to the requirements of Jewish law but endeavored to reach as lenient decisions as possible in religious questions addressed to him.


Literally, order or arrangement. The daily prayer book. Since prayer in a synagogue came to take the place of animal sacrifices after the destruction of the Second Temple, the prayers in the Siddur were arranged to follow closely the order of sacrifices in the Temple. The three daily services are included in all daily prayer books, though some editions contain numerous additions, such as the Psalms and the Song of Songs. Many editions of the daily prayer books include the Sabbath and Festival prayers, as well as Pirke Avot (The Ethics of the Fathers). The oldest of the prayers is the Shema (Hear, O Israel). The Shemoneh Esreh


See Music.

SILVER, ABBA HILLEL (1893-1963).

Rabbi, author, and Zionist leader. Brought to the U.S. from Lithuania as a child, Silver rose to a position of leadership in American Zionism in the years of struggle that preceded the creation of a Jewish state. He prepared for the rabbinate at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. In 1917 he took the pulpit of The Temple in Cleveland, Ohio, a post he held for the rest of his life. During the 1940’s when Zionists were undecided whether to cooperate with England or to oppose it on the question of Jewish statehood in Palestine, Silver came to head the “activist” opposition faction. As chairman of the American Zionist Emergency Council from 1945 to 1948, and of the American Section of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, he led the campaign that gained U.S. support for a Jewish state. From 1946 to 1948, Silver was also president of the Zionist Organization of America. In 1956, he became chairman of the Bonds for Israel.


See Sukkot.


Second son of Jacob and Leah. The tribe of Simeon settled in Canaan in the territory south of Judah. Eventually, the Simeonites merged with the dominant tribe of Judah.


President of the Sanhedrin during the 1st century B.C.E. For nine prosperous years, during the reign of his sister, Queen Salome Alexandra, Simeon was the leader of the Pharisees, the majority party of Judea. The Pharisees interpreted the Law according to traditions handed down over the generations. They were opposed by the aristocratic Sadducees, who insisted on a literal interpretation of the biblical law. As president of the Sanhedrin, Simeon rid this legislative and judicial council of its Sadducee members. The reforms he introduced gained him the title of “restorer of the Law.” Simeon was also known for his personal integrity. One story that has come down relates that Simeon once received a donkey as a gift from his students. As he mounted the donkey, he found a valuable jewel hung around his neck. His students were exultant: Now their master would be able to retire from active life and devote himself to his studies. Simeon, however, ordered them to return the treasure to the Arab from whom they had bought the animal. The Arab, he said, had sold them a donkey, and not a jewel. The students protested, but Simeon insisted, and the jewel was returned.


See Tannaim.


See Stage and Screen.

See Music.

See Israel, State of and Sinai Peninsula.


Situated between the two continents of Asia and Africa, and between two seas: the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Triangular in shape, the Peninsula is 11,200 square miles. The coastal route which runs through the Sinai, by way of el-Arish to Gaza, is one of the oldest in history. The Egyptians and Assyrians used it in ancient times, the former establishing military outposts along it. Alexander the Great traveled it, and, in modern times, Napoleon used it on his march to Acre. During World War I, the British Army, under the command of General Allenby, reached Gaza through this road.

The Sinai Peninsula is mainly desert, sparsely settled by wandering Bedouins. Few permanent settlements exist because of the lack of rain and the shifting sand dunes. The largest town, El-Arish, has a population of 20,000, most of which engages in trade and agriculture. The Peninsula is rich in natural resources, which were already exploited by the ancient Pharaohs. Their limited exploitation today is due to poor means of communication and lack of water.

The Peninsula is famous because the Children of Israel traveled through it when they came out of Egypt and made their way to the Holy Land. “In the third month after the Children of Israel went out of the land of Egypt, the same day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. And when they were departed from Rephidim, and came to the wilderness of Sinai, they encamped in the wilderness, and there Israel encamped before the mount” (Ex. 19:1-2).

The location of Mount Sinai, also known as Horeb, is uncertain. According to Christian tradition, it lies close to the southern tip of the Peninsula, and its peak is known as Jebel Musa (Mountain of Moses). It is an awe-inspiring mountain, deserving the name of Mountain of God. Nearby is a place called Ein Musa, where, tradition has it, Moses watered Jethro’s flocks. However, the biblical account of the routes taken by the Children of Israel through the desert does not support the claim that Jebel Musa is Mount Sinai. According to it, it is reasonable to identify Mount Sinai with Jebel Hilal, in the vicinity of Kadesh Barnea, in the northern part of the Peninsula. Jebel Hilal is only 890 feet tall, but it dominates the whole area. This region was the scene of the battle between the Israelites and Amalek in ancient times, Here, also, in the vicinity of Abu Aweigila, a pitched battle took place between the Israeli and Egyptian forces in the course of the four-day 1956 Sinai campaign. This battle ended with the occupation of the whole Peninsula by the Israeli army. However, Israel was forced to return the Peninsula to Egypt. In 1967, Egypt used the Peninsula as a staging area for a planned fullscale invasion of Israel, and in the Six-Day War Israeli forces once again recaptured it. Following the Yom Kippur War, part of the Peninsula was returned to Egypt and the rest of the Peninsula was returned to Egypt under the peace agreement signed between Israel and Egypt on March 26, 1979.


See Sports.


Yiddish novelist and journalist. The younger brother of Israel Joshua Singer (the brothers were sons and grandsons of Hasidic rabbis), he was born in Poland and in 1935 he settled in New York, where he joined the staff of the Jewish Daily Forward. Beginning in the 1950’s, several novels, collections of short stories, volumes of memoirs, and children’s books written by Singer in Yiddish have appeared in English translations. His stories deal mostly with mysticism, love, and the conflict between piety and enlightenment; their settings are in Eastern Europe and the U.S. His novels include The Family Moskat, In My Father’s Court, The Manor, The Estate, and Shosha. His short story anthologies include The Spinoza of Market Street, Short Friday, and A Crown of Feathers. Among his children’s books is Zlateh the Goat. His play, Yentl, was produced on Broadway in 1975. He was awarded the 1978 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Older brother of Isaac Bashevis Singer, he is best known for his play Yoshe Kalb and his epic novel The Brothers Ashkenazi.


Ninth month of the Hebrew calendar. Shavuot falls on the 6th of Sivan.


Contrary to Israel’s hopes and the assumptions of its allies, Israel’s withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip after the Sinai Campaign of 1956 was not followed by the true peace. Emboldened by diplomatic and military support from the Soviet Union, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt, and his associates continued to declare their aim to destroy Israel. These threats were accompanied by increasingly serious Arab incursions into Israel from Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, and Israeli border villages were constantly shelled by Arab artillery. In the middle of May 1967, Nasser began to move Egyptian troops and Russian-supplied armor into the Sinai Peninsula for an all-out invasion of Israel and summarily evicted the UN Emergency Force which had been stationed in Sinai and in the Gaza Strip. Next, Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to all Israeli shipping and cargoes. On May 30, Nasser signed an anti-Israel pact with the Kingdom of Jordan and on June 4 with Iraq. Surrounded by enemies and unable to obtain support from the UN and the friendly powers who had promised to guarantee her security, Israel had no other choice but to strike back at her enemies. On June 5, 1967, Israel destroyed most of Egypt’s air force on the ground. With Egypt’s air power neutralized, Israel’s forces moved forward and by June 8 had reached the Suez Canal. In the meantime, Israeli troops had repulsed a Jordanian attack, and by June 7 had taken the sector of Jerusalem that had been occupied by Jordan in 1948. For the first time since 1948, Jews were able to worship at the Western Wall. Next, Israeli forces stormed and occupied the Syrian fortifications in the Golan Heights which had posed a constant threat to Israeli border settlements. By June 11, Egypt, Jordan and Syria had agreed to a ceasefire.


The formal conclusion of the writing of a Torah Scroll or the completion of the study of a section of the Bible or Talmud; usually marked by a celebration. The custom is to hold a siyyum on the morning preceding the first day of Passover: the purpose is to release the firstborn male from the pre-Passover fast.


Hebrew novelist in Russia, and pioneer of Jewish national revival. His restless spirit led him in his early youth to wander through the Jewish towns of Eastern Europe, and he later described his experiences in the foremost Hebrew novel of the period, The Wanderer on the Paths of Life, which criticized the existing Jewish educational and communal system. It inspired young Jewish people to strive for radical changes in Jewish society. (See also Hebrew Literature.)