Famous Jews in History

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Jewish history has extended over 4,000 years. Jews were the ancient residents of Israel who settled in Canaan located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Their common ancestor is Abraham, his son Isaac, and his grandson Jacob who had 12 sons.  From each son emerged one of the 12 tribes of Israel. During a severe famine, Jacob and his sons settled in Goshen located in the northern part of Egypt, and those who reached Egypt were later enslaved by Pharaoh. The prophet Moses freed the Egyptian Jews miraculously who returned to their homeland in Canaan. The event is known as the Exodus. The vibrant history of the Jews, their religion, and culture comprises three phases of their  being (a) in Israel (b) in Exile (c) on the way to Israel. Quite a few great men emerged to prominence during these phases.

1. Moshe Ben Maimon

Moshe Ben Maimon
Mishnah Torah

Moshe Ben Maimon, also known as Musa Ibn Maymun, was born in 1135 in Cordoba, Almoravid Empire, current Spain, and died in Fostat or Cairo, Egypt on December 12, 1204. He was a great Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars. His book Mishneh, comprising 14 volumes, is considered authentic Talmudic Law. In appreciation of his remarkable works he is known as he Nesher he Gadol (the great eagle).

2. Joseph Ben Ephraim Karo

Joseph Ben Ephraim Karo
Joseph ben Ephraim Karo signature

Joseph Karo, also known as HaMechaber-The Author, and Maran-Our Master, was born in Toledo, Spain in 1488 and died in Safed in 1575. He was the author of the authoritative Jewish Law Shulchan Aruch. At the age of only four, he, along with the family, had to leave Spain due to the Alhambra Decree for Jewish expulsion. Having settled in Portugal, they were invited by the Ottoman Empire whereupon they settled there in Karo. His early education came from his father who was a learned Talmudist, and later on Joseph emerged as a prominent Torah scholar. After the death of Jacob Berab, Karo was regarded as his successor and along with Rabbi Moshe of Trani. He headed the court of Safed which was the central Rabbinical Court of Palestine. All matters of national and international interest and importance were brought there, and Karo’s word was taken as conclusive. Joseph Ben Ephraim Karo was regarded the leader of a generation, and sages from far and wide sought Karo’s Halachic decisions and clarifications for reference and their guidance.

3. Rabbi Jacob ben Asher

Rabbi Jacob ben Asher Turim
Rabbi Jacob ben Asher Turim

Jacob ben Asher, also known as Ba’al Ha Turim and sometimes as Raash, was born to Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel in Cologne, Germany in 1269 and died in Toledo, Spain in 1343. He was a famous Rabbinic authority titled as Baal Ha Turim ‘Master of the Rows.’ He is best known for his work  ‘Inhalakha ”œJewish Law’ and ‘Arbah Turim-Four Rows’ ; an allusion to the four rows of jewels on the breastplate of the high priest. The book was divided into four sections, each called ‘tur’ meaning ‘row of jewels.’ Jacob succeeded his father as the Rabbi_ teacher of the Torah of the Jewish community in Toledo.

4. Moshe Dayan

Moshe Dayan
Moshe Dayan

Moshe Dayan was born to Shmuel and Devorah in Kibbutz Degania Alef, near the shores of Lake Kinneret, Sea of Galilee, and Ottoman Empire on May 20, 1915 and died in Tel Aviv, Israel on October 16, 1981. He was named after the first member of the Kibbutz killed in the Arab attack. Moshe attended the Agricultural School of Moshay (settlement). Moshe Dayan served in the Israel Defense Forces as Brigadier Commander, Lieutenant General, and Chief of Staff. He fought the Arab revolt in Palestine, World War II.  While observing the enemy post on a rooftop, he was attacked, and splinters damaged his left eye. Due to the extraocular muscle’s damage, his eye could not be replaced, and he was constrained to adopt the black eye patch which became his trademark. He was awarded Distinguished Service Order Legion of Honor medal.

5. Niels Bohr

Niels Bohr
Niels Bohr

Niels Henrik David Bohr was born to Christian Bohar and Ellen Adler Bohr in Copenhagen, Denmark on October 7, 1885 and died in Copenhagen, Denmark on November 18, 1962 at the age of 77. While Bohr was baptized a Lutheran, he was half-Jewish on his maternal side. He made valuable contributions in understanding atomic structure for which he won the Nobel Prize in Physics in the year 1922. Bohr won many other awards and  honors including: Atoms for Peace Award (1957), Institute of Physics. The University of Copenhagen  was  renamed the  Niels Bohr Institute on November 21, 1963. Denmark issued a commemorative postage stamp depicting Bohr and his formula, the element Bohrium, and Asteroid 3948 Bohr were named after him.

6. Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud

Sigismund Schlmo Freud, popularly known as Sigmund Freud, was born in Freiberg in Mahren, Moravia, Austria on May 6, 1856 and died in London, England on September 23, 1939. He founded the Psychoanalytic School of Psychology. He is best known for his theories of the unconscious mind and defense mechanism of repression. He is also renowned for his redefining sexual desire as a motivational energy of human life. His interpretation of dreams as a source of interest into unconscious desires aroused great interest in the psychologists of his time. Freud regarded God as an illusion based upon the infantile need for a father. Late in his life he was inclined towards his childhood Jewish trends. In his last book Moses and Monotheism, he began to see the Jewish faith.

7. Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, popularly known as Elizabeth Taylor, was born in Hampstead Garden Suburb, London on February 27, 1932. She died of heart failure in Los Angeles, California on March 23, 2011. Elizabeth was raised as a Christian but converted to Judaism at the age of 27. Her love for diamonds, fashion, and eight marriages are much publicized. She was a great philanthropist. She was honored many times, and a few of her awards include: French Legion of Honor (1987), Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (2000), Jean Herscholt Humanitarian Academy Award. Having been converted to Judaism, Taylor worked for Jewish causes throughout her life. She purchased Israeli bonds on a large scale which prompted the Arabs’ boycott barring her entry into Egypt to complete her film Cleopatra. The Egyptian government announced that, ‘Miss Taylor will not be allowed to come to Egypt because she has adopted the Jewish faith and ‘supports Israeli causes’.’

8. Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein was born to Hermann Einstein and Pauline Einstein in Ulm, Kingdom of Wurttemberg, German Empire on March 14, 1879 and died in Princeton, New Jersey, U.S. on April 18, 1955. He is known worldwide for his Theory of Relativity, and he was awarded the  Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. His other famous works are: photoelectric effect, mass energy equivalence, Theory of Brownian Motion, Einstein Field Equations, Bose Einstein Statistics, and Unified Field Theory. Albert Einstein published more than 300 scientific papers and ‘Einstein’ is iconic to ‘genius.’ In addition to the Nobel Prize, he has numerous honors a few of them being: Matteucci Medal (1921), Copley Medal (1925), Max Plank Medal (1929), and Time’s ‘Person of the Century’ (1999).

9 . Marc Chagal

Marc Chagal
Marc Chagal

Marc Chagal, with his birth name Moishe Shagal, was born in Liozna, Russian Empire on July 7, 1887 and died in Saint Paul de Vence, France on March 28, 1985 at the age of 97. He was a painter of high renown, best known for his surrealism, expressionism, and stained glass work. His painting reflected Jewish heritage in biblical themes as nostalgia of his Jewish upbringing. Jerusalem city honored him with Yakir Yerushalayim (Worthy Citizen of Jerusalem) in 1977. Many countries issued commemorative stamps showing his work to honor him.

10. Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein was born Louis Bernstein to the Jewish parents Jennie and Samuel Joseph Bernstein in Lawrence, Massachusetts on August 25, 1918 and died of pneumonia and a tumor five days after his 72nd birthday on October 14, 1990. According to The New York Times, he was ‘One of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history.’  In the streets of Manhattan, workers removed their hats crying ‘Goodbye Lenny.’ He won numerous awards including: 9 Grammy Awards, a Tony Award for Best Musical, Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal (U.K.-1987), George Peabody Medal, Johns Hopkins University (1980).

Conclusion:

From whichever angle one studies the lives of famous Jews in history, one cannot miss three of their distinguishing features of the Jewish community; its being comprised of the wealthiest, most educated, and most controversial political views.

 

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