SEDER OLAM - Revisited

סדר עולם - חדש



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Index of names


Generations  1-14
(3760 - 2080 BCE)

Generations 15-21
(2080 - 1240 BCE)

Generations 22-28
(1240 - 400 BCE)

Generations 29-35
(400 BCE - 440 CE)

Generations 36-42
(440 - 1280 CE)

Generations 43-49
(1280 - 2120 CE)

Generation 50

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The first edition of the Talmud
(5280 AM - 1520 CE)

The Lutheran Church
(5281 AM - 1521 CE)

Eliyahu Capsali
(5283 AM - 1523 CE)

The Jews of Venice
(5288 AM - 1528 CE)

Solomon Molcho and David Reubeni
(5292 AM - 1532 CE)

The Bible in German
(5293 AM - 1533 CE)

The English Reformation
(5293 AM - 1533 CE)

The scholars of Safed
(5295 AM - 1535 CE)

Sinan Reis "the Great Jew"
(5299 AM - 1538 CE)

Luther turns against the Jews
(5303 AM - 1543 CE)

Joseph Ha-Cohen and the Vale of the Tears
(5315 AM - 1555 CE)

(5315 AM - 1555 CE)

The voyage of Pierre Belon
(5315 AM - 1555 CE)

The Jews of India
(5328 AM - 1568 CE)

The Kabbalah of Isaac Luria
(5330 AM - 1570 CE)

The Jews of Poland and Ukraine
(5330 AM - 1570 CE)

The Jews of Lithuania
(5332 AM - 1572 CE)

Azariah dei Rossi and the Me'or Enayim
(5335 AM - 1575 CE)

The Gregorian Calendar
(5342 AM - 1582 CE)

The Maharal of Prague
(5360 AM - 1600 CE)

The Jews of Argentina
(5365 AM - 1605 CE)

The King James Bible
(5371 AM - 1611 CE)

The Pilgrims of the Mayflower
(5380 AM - 1620 CE)

The Jews of Lutzk
(5382 AM - 1622 CE)

The Jews of Zabludow
(5397 AM - 1637 CE)

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Hebrew years 5280 to 5400 (1520 - 1640 CE)

Year 5280 – 1520 CE – The first edition of the Talmud

Daniel Bomberg, a Christian from Antwerp who became wealthy in Venice, became the first publisher of a complete edition of the Babylonian Talmud (in Hebrew). He printed it between 1520 and 1523. Italy, in particular the cities of Genoa and Venice, saw their Jewish population increased drastically in the previous decades due to the flow of refugees from countries where they had been expelled. A few years before, in 1483, Joshua Solomon Soncino published one tractate, Berachot, followed by a few other tractates. But Bomberg was the first to publish the complete Talmud.

Bomberg Talmud
A page from Bomberg Talmud, 1520

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Year 5281 – 1521 CE – The Lutheran Church

In 1520, Pope Leo X rebutted Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses. As Luther refused to retract his writings, he was excommunicated in 1521. But his movement started to gain support in his native Saxony where churches began celebrating Lutheran services instead of Roman Catholic ones.

In a provocative essay he published in 1523, Luther blamed the Christian hierarchy for teaching the hatred of the Jews and thus alienating them from willing to convert to the Christian faith:

Our fools, the popes, bishops, sophists, and monks-the crude asses' heads-have hitherto so treated the Jews that anyone who wished to be a good Christian would almost have had to become a Jew. If I had been a Jew and had seen such dolts and blockheads govern and teach the Christian faith, I would sooner have become a hog than a Christian. They have dealt with the Jews as if they were dogs rather than human beings; they have done little else than deride them and seize their property. When they baptize them they show them nothing of Christian doctrine or life, but only subject them to popishness and monkery. When the Jews then see that Judaism has such strong support in Scripture, and that Christianity has become a mere babble without reliance on Scripture, how can they possibly compose themselves and become right good Christians?
--- Luther, Martin, "That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew", 1523, to see text online, click here

So the Lutheran Church welcomed the Jews and treated them with humanity. This attracted some Jews to Luther, but he failed to enrol a broader mass of the German Jews, as he had hoped.

Martin Luther
Martin Luther -- from "History of the World",
edited by H. F. Helmolt, 1902

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Year 5283 – 1523 CE – Eliyahu Capsali and the Seder Eliyahu Zutta

Eliyahu Capsali was the Rabbi of the Jewish community of Candia in Crete. He had helped Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition to establish themselves in Crete in 1492-1493. Some years later in 1508, he went to Jewish centers in Northern Italy to learn from the talmudic teachings in these communities, especially in Venice, and spent two years before returning to Crete. In 1517, he authored a book about the history of Venice, including of the Jewish community there: Divrei ha-Yamim le-Malkhut Venezia ("Chronicles of the dominion of Venice"). Later in 1523, he published the book for which he is better known: Seder Eliyahu Zuta. It covers the history of Turkish dominions up to his times, with special focus on its Jewish communities. The book also contains records of the sufferings of the Jews from Spain and Portugal following the Inquisition.

Capsali is the name of a small town on the southern shore of the Cythera island in Greece. This island is not far from Crete and presumably Eliyahu's ancestor borrowed the name Capsali when he moved to Crete.

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Year 5288 – 1528 CE – The Jews of Venice

The Jews of Venice lived in a ghetto which was the first instance in Europe of a Jewish borough reserved for the Jews. In 1528, they completed the construction of the German Synagogue, one of the six 16th centuty synagogues that still exist today in the city. The city of Venice thus gave birth to two major features of the Jewish life of Europe: the printed Talmud and the ghetto.

German Synagogue in Venice
The German Synagogue in Venice
(reproduction, Beth Hatfusoth, Diaspora Museum, photo: Albert Benhamou)

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Year 5292 – 1532 CE – Solomon Molcho

In December 1532, Solomon Molcho was burned at the stake in Mantua, Italy, by order of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Carlo Quinto). He was born Diego Pires (or Peres) about 1500 in Portugal from a family who had first escaped from Spain but subsequently converted to Christianity in Portugal to remain there. But they were Marranos (also called Crypto-Jews). Solomon, who was employed as a secretary to the king of Portugal, became acquainted in Lisbon with a Jewish adventurer, David Reubeni, and converted back to Judaism at that time. Forced to flee Portugal, he travelled to the Holy Land where he met the Kabbalists of Safed. Then, after gaining some reputation, he travelled to Italy where he defended Reubeni from the Jewish communities who rejected him. Solomon wrote in a letter:

Having learned that the illustrious David [Reubeni] had arrived to Italy and that some wicked persons from our people poured slander on him, I intended when I would see him to beg to teach me his wisdom, but the contrary happened because it was him who asked me questions.
--- --- Ha-Cohen, Joseph, "The Vale of the Tears", 1575, text extracted from the French version "La Vallée des Pleurs", p. 117, translated by Albert Benhamou   

Solomon Molcho's signature
Solomon Molcho's signature
(source: Jewish Encyclopedia)

Molcho and Reubeni then travelled to Germany to meet with the Emperor who, instead, put them to jail and took them back to Italy with him. Molcho had announced that the Messiah would come in 1540. But the Emperor rather consulted with the Christian authorities who advised that Molcho should be burned at the stake because he had abandoned the Christian faith. Molcho was thus executed in 1532. As of Reubeni, he was kept in jail until his death a few years later.

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Year 5293 – 1533 CE – The Bible in German

In 1533, Luther published a first translation of the Bible in German. So far, the only languages used for the Bible were Hebrew (the Torah), Greek (the Septuagint) and Latin (the Vulgate). He undertook this task that took him several years, starting from 1523, because he declared that the Bible was the only holy book. It was of paramount importance in his mind that people would be able to read and understand the Scriptures in order to become good Christians. And indeed, for the first time, masses of people could read the Bible in a language they could understand.

Luther Bible in German
Luther Bible in German, 1533 -- from Luther house in Wittenberg, Saxony, Germany
(source: Wikipedia)

The German Bible played a decisive role in the spread of Reformation movement in Germany, the same way that the Septuagint (the Bible translation in Greek) was previously the main catalyst for the conversion of Greek and Roman Pagans to Christianity. Within a few years, the Reformation movement spread from Germany to other countries such as the Nordic countries, which vastly adopted the ideas of Luther, and also Switzerland with John Calvin from 1541.

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Year 5293 – 1533 CE – The English Reformation

In England, where anti-clerical sentiments already existed long before, King Henry VIII dissolved his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, daughter of the Catholic Monarch Isabella, in 1533 on the pretext that she did not produce any male heir since their union in 1509. The real reason was that Henry VIII became infatuated with his mistress Anne Boleyn. This divorce caused the separation of England from Rome, who supported the Catholic Monarchs, by an Act of Parliament in 1536. Instead of the Roman Catholic Church, Henry VIII became patron of the newly formed Church of England and was officially excommunicated by Rome in 1538.

After his death, his older daughter, Mary Tudor, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, reigned from 1553. But, after her own death, she was replaced by Elisabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn, in 1559 who became known as the "Virgin Queen". It is during the reign of Elisabeth that England became a regional power and destroyed the Spanish Armada in 1588, thus putting an end to Spanish ambitions over the seas.

In the meantime, after the crisis with England and the spread of Reformation undergoing in Central Europe, the Roman Catholic Church decided in 1534 to engage in a reform of its own institution and also in a repression policy to restore its authority. Some of the measures were the restoration of the Roman Inquisition and the creation of the Jesuit Order in 1540 [6] to send missionaries to the masses and help convert them back to the Roman Catholic Church. The European continent was about to witness a succession of wars in various countries, generally called the "Wars of Religion", starting from the time of the Council of Trent in 1545 and lasting for about one century.

Massacre of the St Barthelemy in Paris
Massacre of the St Barthelemy in Paris in 1572
by Francois Dubois, 1576

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Year 5295 – 1535 CE – The scholars of Safed

From 1535, prominent Jewish scholars arrived in the city of Safed, Galilee, where a community had already established there and grew to become the largest Jewish community of "Southern Syria" province in the Ottoman Empire. The Holy Land was under Ottoman rule and the empire had become a shelter of Jewry coming from the countries where Jews had been expulsed in the past decades.

Jacob Berab, born in 1474 in
Toledo, fled from Spain in 1492 and settled in Tlemcen, the Berber main city in Algeria, where he was chosen rabbi at the age of 18. He then became chief rabbi of Cairo in 1533, but then settled in Safed about 1535. In 1538, he reintroduced the Semicha (ordination of rabbis) in Safed, and ordained several religious figures there with the goal to form again the Sanhedrin. One of the ordained rabbi was Joseph Caro. The ordination of Safed lasted for four generations of rabbis. Berab died in Safed in 1541. However the Sanhedrin was never renewed, and will not be so until Messianic times.

Joseph Caro, born in 1488 in Toledo from a family who fled from Spain in 1492 to the Ottoman empire, settled in Safed in 1535. In 1555, he authored the important work Shulchan Aruch which has since served as a reference for observant Jews as the ultimate compilation of the duties and observances of the divine commandments. Caro died in Safed in 1575.

Solomon Alkabetz, born in Thessaloniki in 1500, also from family having fled from Spain, settled in Safed in 1535. He is the author of the mystical song Lecha Dodi (meaning "come my beloved") to welcome the Shabbat. This song has been added to the Shabbat evening service in all Jewish communities, as it represents a beautiful reminder that the exiled can find confort in the Shabbat, that it will not last for ever and that Redemption will ultimately reunite the bride (the soul) and the groom (the exiled):

Chorus: Let's go my beloved, to meet the bride, and let us welcome the presence of Shabbat.
Verse 6: Do not be embarrassed! Do not be ashamed! Why be downcast? Why groan? All my afflicted people will find refuge within you, and the city shall be rebuilt on her hill.
--- Elkabetz, Solomon, Lecha Dodi, extract from the translation in Wikipedia

The brother-in-law of Alkabetz was Moses Cordovero, who was also a pupil of Caro. His family was from Cordoba, Al-Andalus, as his name indicated it. They fled Spain after the fall of the Granada in 1492 and went to Portugal first. From there, they had to flee again and came to the Holy Land where, it is assumed, Moses Cordovero was then born in 1522. In the age of 20, he studied mystical works with Alkabetz and, at the age of 26, wrote the Kabbalistic masterpiece called Pardes Rimonim (meaning "The Orchard of Pomegranates"). Cordovero is known as the Ramak, by the acronym of his full name. He became brother-in-law of Alkabetz. His second work was Ohr Yakar ("Precious Light") which is a set of 16 volumes of commentaries of the Kabbalistic writings such as the Zohar and the Sefer Yetzirah. Cordovero was a very prolific writer. He is also known for the mystical work called Tomer Deborah ("The Palm Tree of Deborah").[2] All the works of Cordovero had been known early on in the Jewish communities because his son Gedaliah travelled to Venice to have them printed in the late 1580s: Venice was the center of Jewish press in these days, after the success of the printing of the Talmud. Cordovero died in Safed in 1570. One of his main disciples was Isaac Luria, who became his spiritual heir.

Graves of the Kabbalists of Safed
Graves of the Kabbalists of Safed

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Year 5299 – 1538 CE – Sinan Reis, "the Great Jew", at the battle of Preveza

Several Jews who were expelled from Spain or Portugal in their youth swore to take their revenge and joined the Ottoman navy. This was the case of Sinan Reis who was eager to attack any Spanish or Portuguese ships. He joined the famous corsair Barbarossa in his sea war against the Holy Roman Empire of Charles V (Carlo Quinto). Over time, Sinan Reis earned fame by his own means and his actions were noted in English State documents. In 1528, the Portuguese named him in their reports as the "Great Jew" and feared he would join a naval camain to attack their dominions in India.

In 1538, Sinan Reis helped Barbarossa win a decisive victory by proposing a brillant idea that his commander initially opposed. His idea was however executed and proved right, allowing Barbarossa to win against the Holy League the Battle of Preveza (near Actium, location of another famous naval battle of the Antiquity) on 28 September 1538. The outcome of the battle was very impressive: the Ottoman fleet destroyed 13 ships, and captured 36 other ones, and yet did not lose any ship !
With this battle and superiority at sea, Barbarossa captured all the islands in the Aegan and Ionian seas from the Christian dominion. A year later the Holy Empire had no other choice bu to accept peace conditions that gave to the Ottomans rule over previous Christian dominions, and the payment of a massive fine of 300,000 ducats of gold. The domination of the Ottoman empire over the sea remained unchallenged until a few years later in 1571 when they lost the Battle of Lepanto against a huge Christian coalition.  

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Year 5303 – 1543 CE – Luther turns against the Jews

After having met great success in German states with his doctrine, but having failed to rally the Jews as well, Luther turned against the latter from 1536 when he refused to intercede in their favour against an edict promulgated in Saxony. Then, in 1543, he published a first work which was openly anti-Jewish: On the Jews and their Lies. With this publication which departed entirely from his earlier Christian theories, as he professed the following agains the Jews:

- to burn down all the synagogues and Jewish schools
- to raze to the ground their properties 
- to confiscate their writings
- to forbid rabbis to preach
- to prohibit usury
- to enslave them in agricultural labour

With such rant of hatred, Luther's followers were keener in condemning the Jews as they had always done before they joined his doctrine. The book indeed met great success as it was re-published four times until the death of its author three years later in 1546. The book was still widely read in Germany at the time of the Nazi party before WW-II, 400 years after it was first published. It is only in 1980 that one Lutheran church, the Church of Bavaria, distanced itself from the "anti-Judaism in Lutheran theology"
. [1]  The other Lutheran churches have yet to follow the example from Bavaria...

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Year 5315 – 1555 CE – The Vale of the Tears

In 1555, Joseph Ha-Cohen, physician and historian residing in Voltaggio, near Genoa, Italy, composed a book in Hebrew called Emek ha-Baqah (the Vale of the Tears). He was born in Avignon in 1496, where his parents immigrated from Spain at the expulsion of 1492. He took several years to compile his book, starting from 1555 until 1563, because ittook time to collect accounts from the Jewish communities in Europe about what bad fate fell upon them in the past. He brought a second version in 1575 to complete the first work with new information from other communities. The book is a chronicle of the persecutions and murders of Jews in these ages. It circulated in the form of manuscript during many years until it was first published in Vienna in 1852. The author introduced his book similarly as a "graveyard" of those among his brethren who died as martyrs. The period he covered starts from the massacres at the time of the First Crusade.

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Year 5315 – 1555 CE – Nostradamus and Les Prophéties

Michel de Notre-Dame was born in 1503 in Provence from a family of Jewish origin, from his father, who had converted to Christianity about 1455. In 1534 his wife and two children died, presumably from the plague. As he had trained as an apothecary, he then endeavoured to create a pill to be a remedy against the disease. He later re-married a rich widow and had six children. From 1550, after a trip to Italy, he wrote a book of predictions for the year 1550, an almanach, under the latinised name Nostradamus. When this work was met with success, he decided to change his occupation from medicine to astrology to create and almanach every year. With clients for whom he established private predictions, he gained some reputation and decided to write a whole book of prophecies with 1000 quatrains (stanzas): each set of 100 quatrains was called a centurie. His book, Les Prophéties, was published in 1555. He however made the text so obscure that the Inquisition and the Church would not be able to condemn him. He was just considered as a fake astrologer by all astrologers of his time, which proves somehow that, even if he claimed to be an astrologer and thus having been taught by them, Nostradamus probably only used this as a protection to avoid persecution. The common understanding is that Nostradamus was influencec by a book published in France in 1525, Mirabilis Liber, which also gave a series of predictions. But the predictions of that book are largely based on Christian concepts, whereas Nostradamus' propheties seem to be devoid of religious background. It is yet possible that he knew about this book and thought to make a book of predictions abou the world as a whole.

The Propheties of Nostradamus
The Propheties of Nostradamus

But it is more possible that he had been influenced by some Jewish mystic or had learned sufficiently of the cryptic Jewish scriptures during his trips to Italy where Jewish works were being published. He declared in his prophecies that they applied from his time until the year 3797. If one would remove the year he wrote this statement, in 1555, it leaves 2242 years. Assuming Nostradamus wanted to hide what he alluded to, and was really counting these additional 2242 years as the year when his prophecies would end, it would make the count of 3760 years from Creation + 2242 Nostradamus additions = Hebrew year 6002. In Jewish tradition, that year would be about the start of an millennium of Shabbat for the righteous people, Jews and Gentiles alike, after the physical world as we know it today would have ended.

Nostradamus was not pursued by the Church or the Inquisition, as they probably assumed he was just a fraud or a mad man. Fool or fraud, he had a very powerful admirer: Catherine de Medici, the wife of King Henry II of France. She summoned him to Paris to explain his publication of predictions for the year 1555 and subsequently attached him to the care of her son, the future King Charles IX. Nostradamus is credited as having predicted the circumstances of the death of Henry II, although some people believe it was a postdiction rather than a prediction.  

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Year 5315 – 1555 CE – The voyage of Pierre Belon

Pierre Belon du Mans was a man from France who travelled in the Levant and wrote a narrative of his voyage. This document in three books was published in 1555. In the second book, the author covers his travel across Judea and wrote about the population around the Sea of Galilee (Lake of Tiberias):

The villages are now inhabited by Jews who have recently built in every place around the lake and, because they created fisheries, have made it populated from being previously deserted. 
--- Belon, Pierre, "Les observations de plusieurs singularitez et choses mémorables trouvées en Grèce, Asie, Judée, Egypte, Arabie et autres pays estranges", rédigées en trois livres, Paris, 1555, translation by Albert Benhamou

The author also records the presence of a strong presence of Jews in other cities of the Levant, including Damas, Antioch, and so on. And the chapter XIII of his third book is entirely dedicated to describe the Jews of Turkey who, he said, came there during the expulsion from Spain and Portugal. He mentioned that the personal physician of the Sultan was a Jew called Joseph Hamon and that his role of physician of the Sultan was passed from father to son.

In the same period, another person travelled to Rhodes and noted:

Today the city of Rhodes is in predominently inhabited by Jews.
--- Thevet d'Angoulême, "Cosmographie du Levant", Lyon, 1556, translation by Albert Benhamou

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Year 5328 – 1568 CE – The Jews of Cochin, India

The Jews arrived in India fleeing the persecutions in Europe. They mostly originated from Spain and Germany, transiting via Holland and using the Dutch fleet to cross the oceans. These European Jews were called the "White Jews" in Cochin because of their fair skin compared to another Jewish community which was established in that city long before them, originating from the time of King Solomon because of the spice trade, and called the "Black Jews" in comparison.

The White Jews were also called the Paradesi which means foreigners. They built their synagogue in Cochin in 1568. The building was enlarged in 1761.

Paradesi Synagogue of Cochin
Inside the Paradesi Synagogue of Cochin, with its Portuguese tiled floor

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Year 5330 – 1570 CE – The Kabbalah of Isaac Luria

Isaac Luria was born in Jerusalem in 1534. When he was young, his father died and he was sent for care to his wealthy uncle in Egypt who provided him with religious education. He was married at the age of 15, and started to study in recluse the printed Zohar at the age of 22. In 1569, he returned to the Holy Land and settled in Safed where the most important scholars resided already thanks to the effort of Joseph Nasi, an advisor of the Ottoman sultan Selim II who endeavoured to re-establish Jewish life in Tiberias and Safed. Luria became pupil to Moses Cordovero and replaced him in the mystical studies at the death of the latter in 1570. Luria, who was nicknamed the Ari (name formed from the acronym of his full name, and meaning "The Lion"), was not a writer as Cordovero was, but his teaching had a high influence at the time as he is credited to be one of the founders of the Kabbalah. His lectures were noted down by his main disciple, Hayim Vital, and computed in a publication called Etz Chayim ("The Tree of Life").

The Ari, also called the Arizal (meaning, "Ari, blessed be his memory"), died at the young age of 38 in 1572.

The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life with its 10 Sefiroth

Hayim Vital was the priritual heir of Isaac Luria. Born in Safed in 1543, he already attracted attention from the young aged by the scholars such as Cordovero. At the age of 14, he started to be taught by Luria, who recently arrived in Safed and shortly after replaced Cordovero as the spiritual guide of the community of mystics. Thanks to Vital who wrote down the teachings from Luria, we have today a good understanding of them. Vital replaced Luria at his death in 1572, then went to Egypt in 1577, then back to Safed and Jerusalem, before settling from 1594 in Jobar near Damascus. Vital was credited to possess magical powers, and the ability to connect with the deceased such as his master. He wrote his own books too such as Shaar ha-Gilgulim (the "Gate of Reincarnations"), a topic that was central in Luria's teaching.[3a] Vital died in 1620 and was buried in Jobar.[3b]

The grave of Hayim Vital in Jobar
The grave of Hayim Vital in Jobar, near Damascus 

One of the main students of Vital was Samuel Elbaz, who is the ancestor of the family of religious leaders, the Abuhatsera, who is still in existence in Israel today. Elbaz was buried near Vital in Jobar but his son was sent as missionary to the community of Morocco and settled there where he founded the dynasty.

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Year 5330 – 1570 CE – The fortress synagogues of Poland and Ukraine

The Jews had arrived to Poland and Ukraine when fleeing the oppressions of the German states by going Eastward in Europe, and more recently from Central Europe such as the state of Prague when they were expelled from there around 1542. In 1500, there were about 25,000 Jews in Poland and, within 100 years, their number increased three folds.

In Krakow the Jewish community built a synagogue that was also used as a fortress or shelter for the Jewish community in times of possible pogrom.

Synagogue of Krakow
The fortress synagogue of Krakow (photo: Stephan Edelbroich)

This architecture was repeated in other cities of Poland where the number of Jews grew over time. In Brody, Western Poland, the Jewish population represents 70% of the city around 1600 CE.[4] 

The synagogue of Brody
The synagogue of Brody, built in 1724 (photo: Yad Vashem, Israel)

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Year 5332 – 1572 CE – The Jews of Vilna, Lithuania

The Jews had arrived to Lithuania from 1323, fleeing the oppressions of the European states. They had been welcomed for their skills to build the city of Vilnius and were granted a portion of this city as a place of residence which became the Jewish ghetto. There they prospered and built no less than 20 synagogues over time. In 1572, they built the Great Synagogue and it gave the name to this Jewish quarter as the Shulhof, meaning the Synagogue Place.

The Shulhof in Vilna
Entrance to the Shulhof in Vilna (reproduction, Beth Hatfusoth, Diaspora Museum, photo: Albert Benhamou)

The synagogue was part of the Jewish ghetto which was entirely destroyed by the Germans during WW-II, thus putting an end to 620 years of Jewish presence in Vilnius. 

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Year 5335 – 1575 CE – Azariah dei Rossi publishes the controversial Me'or Enayim

Azariah dei Rossi was an Italian Jewish physician born around 1513 in Mantua. His name dei Rossi means of Red, as a reference to the fact that his family was living in exile in Edom, the old Rome, the red haired brother of Jacob. His masterpiece is a book called Me'or Enayim (the Light of the Eyes) in which he attempted to reconcile Jewish chronology with History and non-Jewish culture in general. To do so, he had to assert that the Creation was a tale invented in a post-Talmudic time. He also contradicted some of the calculations made by the Talmudists about the Jewish chronology. Azaraih dei Rossi tried to place himself as a mediator between Jewish and Christian cultures. All this obviously brought upon him the reprobation of the Jewish scholars of his time, of which the Maharal of Prague himself.  

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Year 5342 – 1582 CE – The Gregorian Calendar

On 24 February 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced a reform in the Julian calendar which had been used in the Christian world since the Roman Empire in 45 BCE. The goal was to adjust the date of Easter according to the Spring Equinox. The Julian Calendar had introduced a discrepancy of three days every 400 years. So, by the year 1582, there were already over 12 days of discrepancy which was no longer acceptable to match with the time of Spring. The Gregorian Calendar reduced the number of leap years per century. And in order to match the next coming of Sprnig 1582, it was decided that the 4 October 1582 of Julian Calendar would be followed by the 15 October 1582 of the new Gregorian Calendar, thus skipping 11 days.

The new Calendar was progressively adopted in Catholic Europe, but took more years to be adopted in Protestant Europe. Some countries, issued from the previous Eastern Roman Empire, are still using the Julian Calendar thus causing different dates for Christmas, for example, in Rome and in Moscow.

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Year 5360 – 1600 CE – The Maharal of Prague

Judah Loew ben Bezalel was born around 1520, probably in Poznan or Worms, where his family originated from. His uncle was the Chief Rabbi of the Holy Roman Empire. His family was assumed to be wealthy so he spent his life in studies and community duties. He held a rabbinical position in Moravia from 1553 to 1588 until over the age of 60. He was then known as the Maharal, which is an acronym of Moreinu ha-Rav Loew (our teacher, the Rav Loew). He then moved to Prague and, after a time in Poznan as well, came back to Prague around 1600 where he remained until his death in 1609. It is with the city of Prague that his name has been most famous because of the legend that he created a creature from clay in the attic of the Old Synagogue of the city, to which he gave life: the Golem.   

He was also a prolific writer  as he authored several books of commentaries and on festivals. One of his main works, Be'er ha-Golah (the Well of the Exile), is a critics of the work published by Italian Jewish scholar Azariah dei Rossi. The Maharal's main goal was to strenghen the belief in Tradition in the wake of the trends of his times to criticize it.

The Maharal is buried in the old cemetery of Prague. His tombstone features a lion, remainder of his name Loew and also because he was assumed to come from the Davidic lineage of the kings of Judah.

Tomb of the Maharal of Prague
Tomb of the Maharal of Prague

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Year 5365 – 1605 CE – The Jews of Argentina

Several Marranos from Spain and Portugal moved to the New World to escape the tribunals of the Inquisition. The first of such migrants actually came with the ships of Christopher Columbus. But Portugal soon after, with the help of astronomical tables calculated by a Jew in Portugal, found the way to travel to the southern hemisphere and started to colonise Southern America and also reached the coasts of India (where they established the city of Goa) and of China. Marranos followed these maritime routes... in the hope that, in the New World, the Inquisition would not reach them so that they could return to their Jewish faith.

One of such Marranos was Francisco Maldonado de Silva. In 1605, his father decided to return to Judaism when Francisco was still in his youth. It seems that, for several years, the family was indeed undisturbed by the local Portuguese authorities, who surely had many other things to attend such as lolonise an entire continent ! But, in 1626, the wind changed because missionaries and representatives of the Inquisition reached the New World. Francisco, then a physician
established in Tucuman, Northern Argentina, was thrown into a jail where he spent the next 13 years, refusing to return to Christian faith. In 1639, he was finally judged in an auto-da-fe, probably one of the first tribunals of the Inquisition in the New World, along with 60 other Marranos who had returned to the Jewish faith. He with 10 other condemned Jews were burnt at the stake in Lima on 23 January 1639. In the same execution, the tortured body of one of them, Diego Lopez de Fonseca, a merchant from Lima, was thrown in the fire.

Several other autos-da-fe followed the one in Lima in the years that followed. The New World, at least under spanish and Portuguese grasp, offered no respite to Marranos. At time, the punishment of these tribunals was public humiliation, which was probably the least of the ordeals, as depicted in one drawing from Spanish artist Goya.

Nohubo Remedio by Goya
'Nohubo Remedio' ('There was no alternative') --- by Goya
(source: Los Caprichos, number 24)

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Year 5371 – 1611 CE – The King James Bible

Following the publication of the Bible in German, in 1534, King James of England ordered to publish it in English too. It was completed in 1611 and became the King James Version, still in use today for English speaking people. This Bible conforted the English Reformation in the people and helped develop the Church of England instead of the Roman Catholic's.

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Year 5380 – 1620 CE – The Pilgrims of the Mayflower

In 1620, a colony of about 100 "Pilgrim Fathers" set forth from England towards the American continent, to move away from the wars that ravaged Britain and Europe. On board the Mayflower, they reached the coast of the "New World" in a landing place they named Plymouth (in modern-day's Massachusetts). This first colony will be followed by many others in the years to come, and led to the European colonisation of the what later became the United States of America. Other parts of the American continent were also under the way of colonisation, such as South America with Spain, New France with France (a region that spread from Quebec in the north all the way down the Mississipi River until New Orleans in the south), New Netherlands a Dutch colony recently established in what became New York after it was ceded to England.

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Year 5382 – 1622 CE – The fortress synagogue of Lutzk

The Jews also went towards Ukraine to the city of Luchesk, modern-day Lutzk, which existed since about 600 CE. It is possible that they arrived there after they came to Lithuania because the Grand-Duke of Lithuania conquered this territory and then wanted to rebuild it. He would have called for skilled men to come and help repopulate it. It was during this time of Lithuanian rule that this city started to prosper. And in 1622, the Jews built a synagogue which had the particular feature of being fortified, as they had done in other places.

The synagogue of Lutzk
The synagogue of Lutzk (reproduction, Beth Hatfusoth, Diaspora Museum; photo: Albert Benhamou)

During WW-II, the synagogue was partially destroyed and is now rebuilt and used as a movie theater.

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Year 5397 – 1637 CE – The wooden synagogue of Zabludow

Close to the border between Poland and Russia, near Biaystok, was the small town of Zabludow. Jews settled there before 1600 and built an unusual wooden synagogue which stood until the Germans burned it in 1941 during WW-II:
"Only the very old synagogue still stood, the fire didn't touch it. Me and my father, may he rest in peace, are looking, wondering, and imagining- it's a miracle! It was but an illusion, suddenly the Nazi hooligans, may their name and memory be erased pulled up in a car. They spilled gasoline around the very old synagogue, and they lit it on fire. . . that is how the very famous Zabludow Synagogue was erased from the earth."
--- Korovski, Phinia, quoted from the Zabludow Yizkor Book, published in Israel, 1987, to read more, click here

The wooden synagogue of Zabludow
The wooden synagogue of Zabludow
(source Mathias Bersohn: about wooden synagogues in Poland,

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[1] See note 9 in Wikipedia

[2] To read an English translation on line, click here

[3a] To read the text on line, click here

[3b] The Jewish shrine in Jobar, said to be also holy concerning the prophets Eliyahu and Elisha, was destroyed in March 2013 during the civil war in Syria; to see related article, click here

[4] In about 1870, the Jewish population represented 80% of Brody, according to the Austrian Empire census (see details in Wikipedia); the Jewish cemetery of the city is said to contain over 20,000 tombstones

[5] To read some extracts of the text, click here

[6] The founder of the Jesuit Order was Ignatius of Loyola, who was born in 1491 from a Jewish family of the Basque region in Northwest Spain

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