SEDER OLAM - Revisited

סדר עולם - חדש



What is new

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

If you would like to support this web site and the amount of research it involves, I will be grateful and will give you access to a library of resources


The Ussher chronology
(5402 AM - 1642 CE)

Sabbatai Zevi
(5408 AM - 1648 CE)

The Cossacks of Khmelnytsky
(5408 AM - 1648 CE)

The return of the Jews to England
Menasseh ben Israel
(5416 AM - 1656 CE)

The excommunication of Baruch Spinoza
(5416 AM - 1656 CE)

The conversion of Balthasar Orobio
(5426 AM - 1666 CE)

Sabbatai Zevi converts to Islam
(5426 AM - 1666 CE)

The execution of Raphael Levy
(5430 AM - 1670 CE)

The Jews of Amsterdam
(5435 AM - 1675 CE)

Alya of the Hassidim
(5460 AM - 1700 CE)

The Jews of London
(5461 AM - 1701 CE)

Isaac Newton
(5464 AM - 1704 CE)

Aaron Hart, Chief Rabbi of England
(5469 AM - 1709 CE)

Haim ibn Attar, the Ohr ha-Haim
(5493 AM - 1733 CE)

The 110 Jubilees
(5500 AM - 1740 CE)

Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
(5500 AM - 1740 CE)

Baal Shem Tov
(5500 AM - 1740 CE)

The Vilna Gaon
(5508 AM - 1748 CE)

Haim Azoulai, the Hida
(5515 AM - 1755 CE)

The Marquis of Pombal
(5515 AM - 1755 CE)

Hart Lyon, Chief Rabbi of England
(5516 AM - 1756 CE)

The baptism of Jacob Frank
(5519 AM - 1759 CE)

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Hebrew years 5400 to 5520 (1640 - 1760 CE)

Year 5402 – 1642 CE – The Ussher chronology

James Ussher, an archbishop of Ireland, published around 1642 a new chronology in order to assess the date of the Creation and explain the chronology of Biblical times until the revolt of the Maccabees. Ussher made calculations that the Creation took place in 4004 BCE, following the Julian Calendar.

Why 4004 BCE? Ussher based his calculations from three methods to cover three respective periods:

- from Adam to the First Temple: the Biblical text seemed clear enough and with no major difficulty (if we except that the date of the First Temple may be opened to interpretation, based on the Biblical text, as explained in this site)

- the period of Judges and of Kings is more blur in the Biblical text because one would have to understand that dates of reigns are set according to the start of Hebrew years, that were different in the kingdoms of Judah and of Israel; besides some kings ruled while their king father was still alive; and there are more obstacles with this chronology; all these difficulties have created a major issue for all chronologies, even today

- then the period of Exile in Babylon and return to Sion, until the Maccabees, lack precise Biblical details for Ussher, so he synchronised his Biblical chronology with the known date of the death of Nebuchadnezzar which was known at his time

But Ussher was an archbishop. So he considered that the world duration of 6000 years should split between 4000 years before the birth of Jesus and 2000 years after. And, as Ussher knew that Jesus was not born in the start of the CE era but 4 years earlier (this error was made in Medieval times but never corrected; see related entry for Denys Le Petit in this page), he shifted back the date of Creation to 4004 BCE. This was therefore all arbitrarily set, to match pseudo-Biblical chronology with a major Christian milestone: the birth of Jesus. Ussher then attempted to fit the events and the dates to match this targeted milestone.

His calculation had great influence in later years, and was adopted by many people, religious and secular, although some people adopted the simpler Creation date in 4000 BCE. As the world is supposed to last for 6000 years, we can be fortunate that both Ussher and his followers were wrong otherwise the world would no longer exist nowadays (in year 2013) if it would have been destroyed 2000 years after the birth of Jesus, so year 1996 according to Ussher or year 2000 according to other assumptions.[5]

According to Jewish Tradition, the Creation took place in Hebrew year 3760 BCE so, fortunately, the world has still up to Hebrew year 2240 CE, so another 227 years to go today in 2013. We can rest assured that, given the rise of nuclear power and mad regimes having access to it, the world would probably not last that long anyway, hence the "up to". The reader will be able to refer to the page of this site on Messianic times to understand.

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Year 5408 – 1648 CE – Sabbatai Zevi

Sabbatai Zevi was born in Smyrna, Ottoman Empire, in 1626 from parents from the old Greek Jewish establishment. This community of so-called Romaniotes was indeed very old, about 2000 years in Greece, as remnants from those who escaped the Assyrian or Babylonian invasions. The times when Sabbatai was born were times when both Jewish and Christian scholars (such as those in Britain) investigated the venue of the Messiah. Deriving some interpretation from the Zohar that Messianic times may start in the 6th century of the 6th millennium from Creation, some people expected the Messiah to reveal himself about the middle of the 17th century CE, roughly 100 years before the final Messianic times. This corresponded, from their (mis)calculations, to about the year 1648.

Sabbatai Zevi studied the Talmud and Kabbalah from a young age and was influenced by the mystical teachings of Isaac Luria. He declared to have Messianic visions although most people did not pay much attention to his claims and rather saw him as mentally ill. After a couple of years, the Rabbis banned Zevi from Smyrna so he went to Constantinople where he found supporters to his messianic claims. He then heard that a theologian in Gaza called Nathan ben Elisha ha-Levi, nicknamed Nathan of Gaza, could heal people. He travelled there at the age of 22, in year 1648, through Cairo then Gaza. But when they met, Nathan declared him to be the Messiah, and himself to be the prophet of the Messiah ! This changed the course of Zevi's life. They both travelled to Jerusalem claiming he was the Messiah and started to gather cores of hopeful or mystic followers in his trail. In these times, the Old Yishuv in Israel was going through difficult times, and the capital of mysticism, Safed, had been emptied of its Jews because of massacres at the hands of Muslims.

Nathan found in Sabbatai Zevi the perfect vehicle to spread his writings and mystical theories, so he was the main vector for the formation of the Sabbateanism sect which then developed. Sabbatai was soon referred as Amirah, the acronym for the Hebrew Long live our King, our Messiah. The fame of Sabbatai spread rapidly across all Europe, such was the hope among the Jewish communities for the venue of the Messiah who would deliver them from the ordeals and persecutions of their Exile. In the city of Avignon in Provence, France, the Jewish community even started to make preparations to emigrate to the Holy Land as an expectation that they would be called for the return to Sion:

And when these things were heard in the lands of Italy, especially in Venice, most believed that God remembered His people. And they made great repentance, greater than this city had ever witnessed from time immemorial. And they sent a messenger to Constantinople if the rumour of our delivrance was true. And they received the answer that Sabbatai Zevi was the true Saviour, and that one who would not believe in him would be as if he did not believe in God... And in these days, all the Earth, in its four corners, East, West, North and South, was divided, class by class, group by group, and the news of our delivrance came and rose from everywhere, with those who believed and those who did not believe, and the other onts were in doubt...
--- Baruch d'Arezzo, "Mémoire aux Enfants d'Israël dans les jours de Mahmoud IV", translated from the French by Albert Benhamou

Sabbatai Zevi
Sabbatai Zevi, stated as "king of the Jews", 1666
(Source: Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme, Paris)

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Year 5408 – 1648 CE – The Cossacks of Khmelnytsky

In 1648, Bohdan Khmelnysky, a 50 years old Cossack from Ukraine, led an uprising against the king of Poland for perceived unfair treatment towards Ukrainians (called Ruthenians at that time) who were subjects of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth established since 1569. The main cities of this entity were Warsaw, Krakow and Vilnius, with many Jews living there at the time. Also the wealth of Polish and Lithuanian landlords was often run by Jewish traders which led Khmelnysky to hate Jews. In his military campaigns, he exterminated every Jewish community that came under his hand. By Chrismas 1648, he established an independant state in Ukraine. But, owing to his lack of ability to run a state, he signed a treaty with Russia in 1654 which essentially made Ukraine suzerain to the Tsar. Yet, part of Ukraine was Tatars who preferred to ally back with Poland and this led to further conflicts between Cossacks and Tatars in this region.


Khmelnysky is a national hero for Ukraine, as he contributed to create its independance, even if it was short-lived. For Jews however, he left a long-lasting memory of the massacres that were perpetrated by his men, under his orders to eradicate the Jewish populations. The most common estimate by historians is that over 100,000 Jews of Ukraine perished at the hand of the Cossacks of Khmelnysky. Some communities were however spared in exchange of the payment of a tribute. This was the case of the community of Brody where 70% of the population was Jewish. In general the Cossacks killed everyone while the Tatars took Jews prisoners to the Black Sea and traded them to the Jewish communities of the Ottoman Empire against the payment of a ransom.

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Year 5416 – 1656 CE – The return of Jews to England

Dutch Puritans petitioned Cromwell in 1655 to allow Jews back to England, as they considered that the Christian Redemption would not be possible without first the Jews to be scattered to all corners of the world. And obviously, England was one of these "corners" that should host the Jews. Already, in 1654, a group of Sephardi Jews had sailed from Holland to the New World, following the path of Christian Pilgrims who had done so first. Some Jewish tombstones dating from 1656 had been found with Hebraic inscriptions in one cemetary of the old city of New York.
Menasseh ben Israel, a Rabbi of Portuguese origin established in Holland (he was born in Lisbon in 1604), came to London in 1656 and petitioned Cromwell on behalf of the Crypto-Jews living in the city. 
At the time, London had indeed many Marranos (also called Crypto-Jews) who were practising Judaism in secret. These Marranos had fled Spain and Portugal to escape from the scrutiny of the Inquisition which had no grasp in England since the reign of Henry VIII. They were eager to have the decree of expulsion of Jews from England over-turned so that they could come back to their true faith.

Petition to Cromwell
Petition from Menasseh to Cromwell, 1656
Courtesy: The British Library

Cromwell was attached to Scriptures, and prophecies, and indeed in favour of the return of the Jews. But a commission set in December 1656 opposed it. After several months of debates in England, Cromwell finally approved the return of Jews. The first community to be declared Jewish in London was defacto Sephardi due to the presence of the Marranos who returned to their original faith. And Menasseh ben Israel naturally became the first Rabbi of this newly formed community.

Menasseh ben Israel
Menasseh ben Israel
(source: Spanish & Portuguese Jews Congregation)

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Year 5416 – 1656 CE – The excommunication of Baruch Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza was born in 1633 from an Espinosa family of Marranos who fled Portugal, and Spain previously, into France then Holland where they returned to the Jewish faith. He studied Philosophy and was greatly influenced by Descartes who introduced rational thinking. Spinoza was driven towards Atheism along with colleagues who distanced themselves from the Church too. Spinoza declared that the Bible was man-made and that the only god was the Nature itself. In his mind, the world would progressively move away from religious bigotry and this would ultimately resolve the differences and hatred between people. In other words, assimilation was the key to the end of racism and discriminations against the Jews. Soon Spinoza got himself excommunicated from the Jewish community of Amsterdam, as he must have expected. He even changed his name to Benedict de Spinoza, thus separating himself from his Jewish roots.

Baruch Spinoza
Baruch/Benedict [de] Spinoza
with a Latin mention of "Jew and Atheist"
(source: New York Public Library Archives)

From a Jewish history point of view, Spinoza was wrong to believe that erasing Jewish religion from the Jews would make them like any other people in Europe. There are scores of examples, before his generation and after his generation, that Jews were persecuted regardless, whether they were observant Jews or not. His philosophy however paved to way to the European Enlightment in the century that followed of which one major achievement has been the separation of State and Religion.

Spinoza completed his masterpiece, The Ethics, in 1676 and died one year later. Some said that his death was caused by the daily breathing of dust from the glass lenses he polished as a professional occupation.

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Year 5426 – 1666 CE – The conversion of Balthasar Orobio

Balthasar Orobio de Castro, famous physician of the 17th century Spain, was denounced to the Inquisition by his angry Catholic servant as being a Marrano, meaning that he practiced Judaism in secret. It was true that his family came from Jewish converts (Castro was a name taken by them at the time), som 150 years earlier, but Orobio was not Jewish at the time of this accusation. Yet the Inquisition took him away, tortured him and emprisoned him for 3 years.

Inquisition scene by Goya
Scene from a Inquisition tribunal -- by Goya, 1816 (Royal Academy of San fernando, Madrid, Spain)
The accused are made to wear a special hat called "carocha" and a painted chasuble called "sambenito" or "samarra"

As Orobio always denied the accusation, they finally expelled him from Spain. He went to Toulouse where he renewed his profession of physician, but finally decided in 1666 to go to Amsterdam to accept the Jewish faith. He made this conversion public and officially changed his first name from Balthasar to Isaac. He continued to practice medicine and died in Amsterdam in 1687.

In 1684, he published a work as an attack against Spinoza's Ethics. Orobio had experienced first hand that a Jew remains a Jew in the eyes of society, even after living as a Christian. The assimilation proposed by Spinoza was thus an utopy.  

Orobio also had many conversations with a Dutch preacher, Philipp van Limborch (in English, Philip Limborch). The latter published them in a book soon after Orobio's death in 1687. In this work, De veritate religionis Christianae amica collatio cum erudito Judaeo (meaning 'About the truth of the Christian religion from a friendly discussion with a learned Jew'), Orobio asserted that there were a multitude of Jewish converts in Spain, within the aristocracy and even the Church, and that he knew Jews in Holland who had done like him, who came there to return to Judaism. He also complained that the "New Christians" in Spain were always watched carefully by the Clergy and were put to trial after any suspicion, founded or not. Those who admitted "guilt", after tortures, of having kept the Jewish faith were condemned to be burned at the stake, in auto-da-fe public ceremonies. This detail was confirmed by a work published in 1740 in France:

The Inquisition keeps an eye on these "New Christians", as they are still called today, although 200 years had passed since the conversion of theur ancestors. For the ministers of this tribunal, they are always suspect. The least suspicion is enough to make them criminals. When any misfortune occurs in the kingdom, people accused them to practice Judaism secretely and to cause the divine wrath.
--- Basnage, Jacques, "Histoire des Juifs depuis Jésus-Christ jusqu'à présent", 1716 (translation: Albert Benhamou)

While the Jews and Crypto-Jews were still persecuted by the Spanish (and Portugese) Inquisition, their brethren were getting more and more accepted in the European nations of the 17th century. This was particularly true in Holland, England, France, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, not counting the vast Ottoman Empire as well. More over, even the Popes Clement VII, Paul III and Julius III successively protected them and allowed them to practice their faith. The Inquistion only was abolished in Portugal and Spain after the conquest by Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 19th century.

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Year 5426 – 1666 CE – Sabbatai Zevi converts to Islam

In 1666, Sabbatai Zevi came to the heart of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople, but was immediately arrested by orders of the Sultan Mehmed IV. His emprisonement provoked a great commotion among the Jewish populations in Europe, who started to cause some level of unrest, sometimes harshly dealt with by the local authorities. From his prison, and with the financial support of rich followers, Zevi was able to continue communicate with the world, nullifying some Torah commandments and declaring Yom Kippur a day of celebration rather than of atonement. 

All this activity started to cause concern with the Sultan who gave Sabbatai Zevi the choices to convert to Islam or to be subjected to ordeals to prove his divine status. On 16 September 1666, Sabbatai appeared before the Sultan and declared his conversion to Islam. About 300 families followed his choice and converted too, thus creating a community of Donmeh (converts who continued secretly in their faith) in the Ottoman Empire. Their descendants still exist today in Turkey but they are not considered Jews by the Jewish authorities due to their beliefs and inter-marriages.

Sabbatai Zevi died 10 years later in 1676. But his conversion didn't stop his followers from believing he was the Messiah ! This is because Nathan of Gaza, who was then nicknamed "The Holy Lamp" (similarly to the name given to Rabbi Simon bar Yochai in the Zohar), played a vital role to pursue, with writings, such beliefs, similarly to what Paul's role in early Christianity. He wrote:

Amirah was exalted and hidden, body and soul, on Yom Kippur, at the time of Nehilah. Whoever thinks that he died like all men and his spirit returned to God commits a grave sin.
--- Nathan of Gaza, "The Holy Lamp", cited from this web site

Nathan copied some details of Shia faith which believes that there is a "hidden" Messiah, called the "Mahdi", who will return at the End of Days. This belief is considered as an heresy for traditional Sunni Islam who considers that there is no greater that Mohammed who was human and not a Messiah. The Sabbateanism is equally considered as an heretical belief by traditional Judaism.

Nathan of Gaza died in 1680 in Skopje, Macedonia. His tomb became a site of pilmigrage for the Sabbateans until it was destroyed during WW-II.

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Year 5430 – 1670 CE – Raphael Levy is burnt at the stake in France

In 1670, a Jewish cattle merchant called Raphael Levy, from the village of Boulay in Moselle (Eastern France), was accused of ritual murder and condemned to be burnt at the stake in the nearby village of Glatigny.

Turgot, a French economist and advisor to King Louis XIV, wrote the following after investigating about this accusation against Levy:

The jealousy of the Christians woke up and they wanted to envelop the whole [Jewish] community in this accusation in order to get them out of the country.
--- Turgot, "Arrêt du 21 janvier 1668. Mémoire an Roi," p. 52, translated by Albert Benhamou

The trial was a travesty of justice, with false testimonials. The bloody head of the lost child was even found several days after Raphael Levy was in custody, proving that the child had been attacked by a wild animal and partially eaten. But to no avail, the accusation stood that the child had been killed by the Jew. His execution was carried out on 17 January 1670 (25 Tevet 5430), after torture and attempts to get him to accept the Christian faith.

The village was then declared "cursed" ("geässert") by the Jewish community of France and Jews were prohibited to even pass through the village since. It seems that this curse would have been felt by the village. But, 344 years later, in January 2014, the mayor of Glatigny sought for reconciliation with the Jewish community and made a public apology for the unfair trial and execution of Raphael Levy. A plaque was installed to commemorate this tragedy. The mayor declared: "Glatigny was cursed since that time because of a principled prohibition decided upon by the Jewish community.” (source: The Times of Israel)

The new plaque in Glatigny
The new plaque in Glatigny
(source: Rédaction FUN RADIO Lorraine)

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Year 5435 – 1675 CE – The Esnoga, Portugese Synagogue of Amsterdam

With the large number of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who had found asylum in Holland nearly 200 years before, the Jewish community of Amsterdam was indeed quite large, and financially successful. So they completed in 1675 the building of a new synagogue, the Esnoga, from the ladino word for synagogue. This building still stands today, attracting many tourists, and its interior is still lit by candlelight as in the original times.

The Great Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam
The Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam - by Emanuel de Witte, 1680 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

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Year 5461 – 1700 CE – The Alya of the Hassidim

Judah HeHasid was a Jewish preacher who gathered some 1500 Jews across Europe over 3 years and conviced them to make Alya to Jerusalem. Most of them were Ashkenazi Jews and one third of the group died before they reached destination. They left an italian port in 1700 and contracted debts to pay for their passage, assuming that the Jewish community of Jerusalem (which was barely the same size of this group at the time) would back them up financially. When then arrived to Jerusalem, Judah died a few days later. The small local community, who themselves lived on donations from abroad, could not afford to easily sustain so many newcomers. They nonetheless started to build a synagogue with more debts from local Arab merchants. By 1729, the debts being unpaid, a mob of angry Arabs attacked the synagogue and destroyed it: its ruins gave it its name as the Hurva (meaning the ruin). The Sultan also forbid Ashkenazim to enter Jerusalem ! Many of them found refuge in the other cities of the Old Yishuv of the Holy Land (in total Jews were allowed in 4 cities: Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias and Safed) and others remained in Jerusalem dressed in Sefardi oriental clothes to avoid being attacked.

Only in 1862 the synagogue was finally rebuilt and named Hurvat Judah HeHasid, which means the "ruin of Judah the Pious". It was the tallest synagogue in the Jewish Quarter and functioned until 1948 when the Jordan Legion took control over the Old City and destroyed the entire Jewish Quarters, houses and synagogues.

The Hurva synagogue before 1948
The Hurva synagogue before 1948

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Year 5461 – 1701 CE – The Bevis Marks synagogue of London

The first Jewish community of London, composed of re-converted Marranos and of other members who came from Holland, also was important enough in size to justify the building of a larger synagogue in London, barely 50 years after Cromwell nullified the decree of expulsion in 1656. This synagogue, off Bevis Marks street near Aldgate in London, was completed in 1701. It is the oldest synagogue of Great Britain which is still in use today and also the one of Europe which has enjoyed the longest continuous worship, without interruption: indeed, some synagogues of Europe are older than Bevis Marks but their service had been interrupted during several periods, whereas Bevis Marks had been active non-stop for over 300 years so far.   

Bevis Marks Synagogue of London
Bevis Marks Synagogue of London
(source: Spanish & Portuguese Jews Congregation)

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Year 5464 – 1704 CE – Isaac Newton and the end of the world

Isaac Newton is best remembered as the scientist who gave a first understanding of how the world actually worked, thanks to his theory of the forces and of gravity. But it is somehow less known that, towards the end of his life, he was entirely absorbed in religious and Biblical studies. From 1690, he wrote several studies on the Biblical Scriptures,[1a] and was determined to estimate the date of the end of the world he previously explained. For his own calculations in 1704, based on his own interpretations of the known passage of the Book of Daniel, he considered that the world will would end no earlier than 2060. In fact his estimation falls indeed in the brackets given by Jewish tradition, as above mentioned (see entry). But Newton never published his study on the end of the world, maybe by fear of being ridiculed by scientists, or being condemned by the Church of England. So it is only in very recent years that his manuscripts have been brought to the public eye.[1b]

Isaac Newton's Biblical studies
A page from Isaac Newton's Biblical studies with his hand-written blessing for God
Courtesy of The Times of Israel

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Year 5469 – 1709 CE – Aaron Hart, the first Chief Rabbi of England

Very soon, an Ashkenazi community also settled in England. They came from all Europe, including Holland, and Poland, because England was a rising maritime and commercial power at the time. Other countries with absolute rulers, such as the French "Old Regime", were in decline and losing ground to emerging and liberal nations such as England and Prussia.

The newcomers to England were obviously merchants and financial dealers and, with the trade opportunities that England had to offer at the time, business started to grow very quickly. A first synagogue was erected
in 1690 at Duke's Place, near Aldgate.[2] But it soon became too small for the growing Ashkenazi community and a new larger synagogue was dearly needed. The Hart family, originating from Breslau in Poland, was a very important part of this Ashkenazi community. Moses Hart, who already participated to the project of the first synagogue, financed again the construction of the Great Synagogue of London in 1722. The consecration of the Synagogue was done on Rosh Hashanah, 18 September 1722.

The post of Chief Rabbi was naturally given to his scholary brother, Aaron Hart, from 1709 until his death in 1756.

Aaron Hart, Chief Rabbi of England
Aaron Hart, Chief Rabbi of England
(source: OzTorah)

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Year 5493 – 1733 CE – Rabbi Haim ibn Attar, the Ohr ha-Haim

Haim ibn Attar was born in Meknes, Morocco, in 1696 and became a prominent rabbi of the community there. The ancestor of the family was probably a Jew from Provence who dealt with the trade of spices in Northern Africa before settling there.[3]

In 1733, Haim set himself to emigrate to Israel. On the way, he stopped at the harbour of Livorno (Leghorn in English) and was kept there by the Jewish community who was in dire need for a leader and rabbi. To convince him to stay with them, they opened a yashiva to enable him to educate the youth. He remained about 10 years then finally completed his journey to Israel and reached Jerusalem in about 1742, where he died a year later. One of his disciples, Haim Azoulai, wrote about him:

Attar's heart pulsated with Talmud; he uprooted mountains like a resistless torrent; his holiness was that of an angel of the Lord, ... having severed all connection with the affairs of this world.
--- cited from The Jewish Encyclopedia

Haim ibn Attar is known as the Ohr ha-Haim (meaning the Light of Life) after the title of the work that made him famous. The book is a commentary of four important tractates of the Talmud. It was first published in Amsterdam in 1732. He is buried at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

Tomb of the Ohr ha-Haim
Tomb of the Ohr ha-Haim (source: Wikipedia)

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Year 5500 – 1740 CE – The 110 Jubilees 

The Hebrew year 5500 marks the cycle of 110 Jubilees from the Creation (110 x 50 years = 5500). Exactly half the period (55 Jubilees) ago, was the time of the erection of the (First) Temple of Jerusalem by Solomon, thus marking the beginning of the divine service for the Jewish people and their connection with God through the Temple. This current period also proved to be worthy to the Jews with the emergence of leading Rabbinical authorities who influenced the Jewish life as importantly as pillars of the Temple. The three main scholars of this period were: Luzzatto the Ramchal, the Baal Shem Tov, and the Vilna Gaon. Through their teaching or doctrine, they have brought a turning point to Jewish life. 

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Year 5500 – 1740 CE – Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal

Luzzatto was born in Padua, Italy, in 1707. At the age of 20, he had a mystical encounter that caused a turning point in his life and started to influence students around him about mystics and alchemy. This drew the attention of the Italian rabbis who threatened him of excommunication. He fled to Amsterdam in 1735, eager to find more open minded environment for his theory. There he published in 1740 his master-piece, Messilat Yesharim (the Path of the Justs), as a method for everyone to overcome sin and be inspired by prophecy. The great Vilna Gaon, when he read the book in later years after Luzzatto's death, have said that, were the author still alive, he would have walked from Vilna to him and learn at his feet !

Luzzatto set for the Holy Land in 1743, but he and his family died there from a plague in 1746. His skills had been to be able to write books with deep Jewish meanings but in a secular way, thus making them accessible to scores of readers. In religious world, he is known as the Ramchal, from the acronym of his name Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto.

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Year 5500 – 1740 CE – Baal Shem Tov

Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, who became known as the Baal Shem Tov, or Besht, was born in Ukraine in 1698. He lost his father at the age of 5, and was taken care by the community of his town where he started to study. Later he held various jobs in the community and, from 1740, started to teach his own doctrine in the small town of Medzhybizh in Ukraine. The town already had a Jewish center, and a fortress synagogue, and hosted a previous famous commentator and Kabbalist called Joel ben Samuel Sirkis, who died in 1640, nicknamed the Bach after his main work Bayit Chadash (the New House).

The Besht shul in Medzhybizh (ca. 1915)
The Besht shul in Medzhybizh (ca. 1915)

The reputation of the Baal Shem Tov grew rapidly and he obtained recognition for his scholarship, and even saintliness, from many Rabbis of his time, including the Sefardi scholar Rabbi Haim Azoulai (see below). His own surname Baal Shem Tov (the master of the good/divine name) was granted because he was able to accomplish miracles.

The number of his disciples grew considerably and they formed what was called the Chasidic movement. Writings about his teaching only appeared from his previous students some 30 years after his death.

The Baal Shem Tov
The Baal Shem Tov

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Year 5508 – 1748 CE – The Vilna Gaon

In parallel to the Baal Shem Tov in Ukraine, another great Jewish scholar grew in importance in the world of Orthodox Judaism in Vilnius Lithuania: Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman Kremer, otherwise known as the Vilna Gaon. Born in 1720, he rapidly acquired scholar recognition even from a young age, knowing the entire Talmud by heart by the age of 11, thanks to a prodigious memory. At the age of 10, he also taught himself astronomy. By 1748, a travel across the communities in Europe helped him acquired a tremedous reputation by the time he returned to Vilnius.

The Vilna Gaon
The Vilna Gaon -- portrait by his grand-daughter

The Vilna Gaon was involved in the critics against Chasidism by Rabbinical authorities, and, in 1777 in Vilnius, they even issued the first excommunication against the Chasidic movement.

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Year 5515 – 1755 CE – Rabbi Haim Azoulai, the Hida

Haim Yoseph David Azulai, the Hida, was born in Jerusalem in 1724 from a family of Sephardi Jews. The ancestor of the Azoulai came from Spain to Algeria after 1492 and adopted the name Bou Zoulai from a Berber place where he settled which is located in the mountains south of the city of Oran. The Atlas mountains spread from Western Algeria to the south of Morocco and have always offered a natural shelter for Jews and Berbers who fled the persecutions and invasions for hundreds of years, and who sometimes fought together the invaders (Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, and finally Muslims). The name Bou Zoulai then became A-zoulai with some arabization. The Azoulai family prospered in the whole Berber region. One of the early members, Abraham Azoulai, born in 1570 in Fes Morocco, a city that was home to a large Jewish community, emigrated to Palestine in 1599 and died in Hebron in 1643.[4] Abraham azoulai authored a commentary of the Zohar and also a Kabbalistic work, Chesed le-Abraham (Mercy to Abraham). Haim Azoulai was one of his grand children. The rest of the Azoulai family also prospered in Northern Africa until their emigration to the State of Israel in the 20th century.

Haim received religious education from prominent scholars of Israel, such as Haim ibn Attar, the famous Ohr ha-Haim, before his death in 1743, and wrote many anecdotes about him.  

Haim Azoulai, the Hida
Haim Azoulai, the 'Hida'

Haim was sent three times as an emissary to the Jewish communities there. His first travel took him to France and Germany in 1755. The second one in Egypt in 1764. The third and last one was in 1773 in Tunis, Morocco and Italy. In Italy, he remained for some time to supervise the publishing of the works he took from Israel. He then proceeded to France in 1777 and Holland in 1778. But it is finally in Livorno that he returned and settled, marrying there too, and occupied himself with the publishing of many works. He died in 1806 (Hebrew year 5566) at the age of 82.

One of his numerous works is Shem ha-Gedolim (the Names of the Great Ones) which gives a biography of several rabbis especially from Israel.

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Year 5515 – 1755 CE – The Marquis of Pombal

Many Jews who remained in Portugal and converted to avoid being expulsed without their children ended up, after three centuries among the aristocraty of the country, or in high offices. The 1st Marquis of Pombal, who became in 1755 the Prime Minister of King Jose I, after the earthquake that destroyed Lisbon in that year, was the one who ended the Inquisition practice of auto-da-fe in Portugal. He may also be remembered for his liberal policy, especially concerning the Jews and "New Christians" (converts), by the following anecdote:

Joseph I [The King of Portugal], ordered that all [New Christian] Portuguese who were in any way allied or descended from the Hebrew race, should wear a yellow hat. The old Marquis [of Pombal] shortly after appeared at court with three of them under his arm. The King, smiling, asked him: "What he had to do with them?" He replied, "That he had them in obedience to His Majesty's command, for he did not know a single Portuguese of note who had not Jewish blood in the veins. "But," said the King, "why have you three?" He answered, "One for myself, one for the Inquisitor-general, and one in case Your Majesty should wish to be covered."
--- Lindo, Elias-Haim, "The Jews of Spain and Portugal", London, 1848 p.375

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Year 5516 – 1756 CE – Hart Lyon, Chief Rabbi of England

Hirschel Levin, born in Lithuania, succeeded Aaron Hart as Chief Rabbi. Levin was known in England as Hart Lyon. But he was more interested in his Talmudic studies than in the politics that a post of Chief Rabbi must have necessarily involved. So he resigned from his post in 1763 and moved to Mannheim, Germany, where he took the post of Rabbi before moving to Berlin in 1772 for the same post.

Hart Lyon, Chief Rabbi of England
Hirschel Levin, a.k.a. Hart Lyon, Chief Rabbi of England
(source: JewishGen, Susser Archive)

After the departure of Hart Lyon, a dispute lasted for the next 24 years for the post of Chief Rabbi, with two claimants: Meshullam Solomon and Tevele Schiff.

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Year 5519 – 1759 CE – The baptism of Jacob Frank

Jacob Frank, born in 1726 in Ukraine (the region belonged to Poland at the time) from a father who followed the Sabbatean movement (disciples of the false messiah Zevi), announced in 1756 that he was the reincarnation of Sabbatai Zevi, after he returned from a travel in the Ottoma empire. He was quickly denounced to the Rabbinical authorities and obliged to flee his village. He however gathered a number of followers, from the ranks of the Sabbateans. He was engaged in a disputation against Talmudists under the watch of the authorities and the Church. The Frankists were declared the winners and requested to apply the natural conclusion which was baptism to Christianity. This is what Jacob Frank did on 17 September 1759. However they were looked with suspicion and Frank was put in jail some time later where he remained for the next 13 years.

In 1772, Poland was partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria and Frank was released by the Russian authorities. He was then seen as a tool to help convert Jews to Christianity, especially by the Austrian ruler. Frank finally settled in Offenbach, Germany, with his daughter Eva. He died there in 1791 and his daughter became 
the next leader of the Frankist movement until her death in Offenbach in 1816.

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[1a] For example, Newton wrote an essay on the Temple of Solomon which he considered was reflecting the universe; to see this work, in Latin, click here

[1b] For more information on Newton's Biblical studies, click here

[2] Dukes' Place no longer exists but it was probably located where Bury Street is today; both Bevis Marks and Dukes' Place were located inside London Wall but very close to it

London in 1654
Extract of a map of London, dated 1654, showing the area of Bevis Marks and Dukes Place
Courtesy: The British Library
[3] For the history of the Jews of Northern Africa, and the origin of their names, refer the book in French from Maurice Eisenbeth, Les Juifs de l'Afrique du Nord, published in Algiers in 1936; the author was the Chief Rabbi of Algiers; concerning the name Attar, the book mentions that the name means "spices trader" in Arabic, and was used in Al-Andalus and Northern Africa for people of such profession. So the ancestor of Haim ibn Attar must have been one of these spice traders who must have settled in Morocco, probably when the persecution in Europe became too harsh

[4] The name Azoulai is also mentioned in the book from Eisenbeth as having its origin from Spain; so the ancestor was one Jew who fled from Spain in 1492 at the latest

[5] Such belief was still much alive towards the end of the 1990's years, for example with the so-called "Hebrew Roots" movement that was founded a couple of decades before the 2000 Millennium; in the (old) Hebrew Roots web site, one issue of their magazine, Volume 2 Number 1 (1997), states the following: "Their [Jewish] chronology is missing approximately 241 years as compared to most Christian chronologies. Jewish chronology is believed to have been correct during the time of Yeshua [Jesus]. They expected the Messiah to come at the end of the first 4000 years and that is precisely when Yeshua was born. However, once Yeshua had been rejected as Messiah, by the leaders who later developed rabbinic Judaism, the Jewish scholars took another look at their chronology and decided they had miscalculated, and decided to remove about 241 years. It is impossible to state dogmatically that we are currently [in 1997 CE] in the year 5998 [instead of Jewish year 5757], but by anyone’s reasonable guess it is evident that we are truly in the last days as described in the Scriptures." Evidently this sort of "last days" belief in 1997 became void once the clock passed the year 2000

Next generation

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