Essays on Jewish History

Insights on Jewish history, our nation's survival, and the lessons we can glean from our nation's storied past.

Who Were the Cantonists?
The Tsar's Jewish Child-Soldiers
The tragedy and triumph of Jewish children who were kidnapped and forced into the Russian military during the 19th century.
Who Were the Khazars?
An overview of the history and mystery of the warrior tribe whose leaders chose to adopt Judaism
The Weasel and the Well: A Story of Loyalty and Love
“If I save you from the well, will you marry me?” asked the man, who was excited by her rich and illustrious family.
When a Dead Man in Syria Was Taxed
A Safed resident moved to Syria and died, but not before the community tried taxing him in absentia. The city's rabbi ruled on the case.
The Persian King, the Rabbi, and the Slave
The story begins with the men engaged in conversation when a fruit was brought to them.
Why the Fast on 20 Sivan?
What is Tach veTat?
The 20th of Sivan commemorates a number of tragedies that befell the Jewish people over the centuries.
Why No Paschal Offering for 39 Years in the Desert?
As strange as it may seem, the Israelites seem to have only observed Passover once during their 40-year sojourn in the desert.
Who Compiled the Babylonian Talmud?
A process of fragmentation had begun, whereby great scholars established academies of their own.
Three Stories, One Saintly Rabbi
What’s with the pious donkey of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair?
Did Achashverosh Rule the World?
We know that Achashverosh ruled over the sprawling Persian Empire. But just how big was his kingdom?
The Mystery of Shiloh
A Most Important (and Mostly Forgotten) Jewish Site
Prior to the Temples in Jerusalem, a temple stood in Shiloh, an ancient town in Samaria, for no less than 369 years.
Why Was Samuel Upset by the Request for a King
And why did G‑d deem the request a rejection, when appointing a king is entirely legitimate according to the Torah?
How Did David Defeat Goliath?
In the famous narrative, young David slays Goliath, the giant Philistine warrior, using a round pebble he collected from a brook.
What Was Wrong With Translating the Torah Into Greek?
Why were the rabbis so hostile to the idea? Translating the Torah into other languages was nothing new!
15 Life-Lessons From King David
David had a tumultous, yet ultimately triumphant life. He was the progenitor of a royal dynasty chosen by G‑d, but he suffered mightily from strife, especially at the hand of those closest to him.
Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews
The history of Ashkenazim and Sephardim
Sephardim originate in the Iberian Peninsula and the Arabic land, and contemporary Ashkenazim are Yiddish-speaking Jews and descendants of Yiddish-speaking Jews.
Discover the Four Exiles of the Jewish People
The history of galut
Learn how the Jews fared under the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Medians, the Greeks, and now under Western rule.
Which Year Was the Second Temple Destroyed, 69 CE or 70 CE?
In some articles on your site it says the Second Temple was destroyed in 69 CE, and in others it says 70 CE. So what year was it?
The Sixth Millennium and the Age of Moshiach
If we map time, will we see where it’s leading us?
Does time, as well, have a topography?
Appointments In Time
A parable by the Chassidic sage Rabbi Yechezkel Panet illuminates the geography of the Jewish calendar
A Brief History of Shabbat
The creation of rest . . . Sarah’s miraculous Shabbat lamp . . . Bread from heaven . . . “Work” defined . . . The invention of cholent . . . Sacrifice and martyrdom . . . Candle-lighting campaign . . . The World to Come . . .
A Rift Extending Across History
From the rivalry between Leah and Rachel, through the animosity between Joseph and his brothers, the clash between Saul and David, the split between Judah and Israel, to the dual nature of the messianic redemption—a rift and twinship that extends across history.
The Science of Jewish Survival
The story of Jewish survival is so exceptional and unparalleled that it challenges the imagination. Perhaps we can take our explanation from the great empirical thinkers of our time, the scientists...
The Sun Behind the Lake
Reflections on Jewish History
Enchanted by the majesty of the moment, my daughter quietly asked, "Will there be a splash when the sun falls into the lake?"
The Jewish Mother: Wisdom of the Heart
Where did these Jewish mothers find the courage? I don't know because I'm not one of them, but ask your mother and I'm sure she'll gladly tell you. When a need arises, the Jewish mother simply responds.
The Rock and the Menorah
Did the people of Masada do the right thing? Isn't suicide a violation of the supreme commandment to cherish life? How did Masada become a story of Jewish 'heroism'?
Is Judaism a Theocracy?
Napoleon of the Czar -- which is better (or less bad?) for the Jews? The debate between Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi and his colleagues on the Napoleonic wars, and the Lubavitvher Rebbe on the French and American revolutions
“Why have they stopped crying?” wondered the villager. “Are they no longer hungry?” Then he remembered the cholent . . .
Rashi's Method of Biblical Commentary
Rashi's Method of Biblical Commentary, and the Rebbe's approach to Rashi's works
Rashi did not receive the Torah from G-d at Sinai, nor was he revered as a prophet. Yet 900 years after his passing, we still seek the weekly guidance and inspiration from Rashi’s commentary. What was his secret? And how has the Rebbe revolutionized the study of this ancient work?
Jewish Impact on Greek and Western Philosophy?
Is there any evidence that Jewish thought and philosophy had an influence on the Greeks?
The Exile of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel
The saga of the ten lost tribes of Israel—Part 1
It was in the waning days of King Solomon’s reign when G‑d sent the prophet, Achiyah of Shiloh, to rebuke Solomon and inform him that, due to his sins, G‑d would tear the kingdom away from him . . .
Are the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel Ever Coming Back?
The saga of the ten lost tribes of Israel—part 2
Can we ascertain whether the ten lost tribes are in fact ever going to come back and be reunited with the remaining Jews?
Where Are the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel?
The saga of the ten lost tribes of Israel—Part 3
For thousands of years, adventurers and explorers have been fascinated by the lost tribes of Israel. No one has ever conclusively identified them. But there have been hints.
Why Did People in the First Millennia Live for So Long?
Can you explain why the lifespan of the early generations was incredibly long? According to Genesis, Adam died at age 930, Noah was almost 500 when he started building the ark (not bad!), and Methuselah lived a world record 969 years. So what happened? Why don’t we live that long anymore?
Professor Lawrence Schiffman discusses the Qumran Scrolls
A History of the Hebrew Monarchy
The Kings of Israel, Judea and Onward
Although the Jews did not require a king in their ideal state, Moses foresaw that the need for one would arise.
Judaism’s origins begin nearly 4,000 years ago in the Middle East with a couple named Abraham and Sarah, whom G-d selected to start a new people, the chosen nation.
Who Were Amalek and the Amalekites?
The ancient enemy of the Israelites, who lives on as a metaphor for scoffing and doubt.
10 Facts About the Maharal Every Jew Should Know
Rabbi Yehuda ben Betzalel Loew is considered one of the foremost Talmudists, Kabbalists and philosophers of all time.
What Is a Yeshiva?
According to tradition, the institution of the yeshiva predates even the giving of the Torah.
Who Was the Exilarch (Reish Galuta)?
This title was given to the political head of the (at times) semi-autonomous Jewish community in Babylon, who traced his lineage to King David.
17 Jewish Calendar Facts
The Jewish calendar is the structure upon which all Jewish holidays are based. It follows the lunar cycle, which means that the year is comprised of 12 lunar months (of approximately 29.5 days each).
The Tragic Downfall of Princess Michal
Michal was elevated to a position of great privilege and earned David's ire by rebuking him for what she considered unbecoming behavior for a monarch.
15 Wise Quotes of Hillel the Elder
Hillel the Elder (Hillel Hazaken) is one of the most influential rabbis in Jewish history. These sayings of his were culled from Talmud and Midrash.
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