A people with 4,000 years of recorded history inevitably produces many leadership figures, some of whom prove so effective or exemplary that they stand out even amid a crowd of luminaries.
For the Jewish people, leadership has been a vocation first inculcated in its incunabular era during the days of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Over the course of history, there were different types of Jewish leaders: several types originated in the biblical period, some of which were explicitly divinely ordained, while others developed in the post-biblical or even modern eras; some leadership types were first instantiated in the Land of Israel, others evolved in exile.
Among Jewry’s greatest leaders were prophets, prophetesses, high priests, Judges, kings, queens, exilarchs, courtiers, Zionists, generals, and sages. What follows is a synoptic glance at some of the most salient and enduring lessons to be gleaned from their extraordinary lives.
- Leadership Is Merit-Based, Not Heritable
Moses was instructed to confer leadership upon his loyal apprentice, Joshua, and not on his own sons Gershom or Eliezer, capable though they may have been.
Eli, the Judge and high priest at Shiloh, led Israel for 40 years. He trained his acolyte Samuel, who went on to become a great prophet and the last Judge of Israel. However, Eli’s sons Hophni and Pinhas engaged in misconduct, and were among the 30,000 Israelites slain on the day the Philistines captured the Ark of the Testimony in battle at Aphek. Samuel was apparently a Levite from the tribal territory of Ephraim who served Israel as Judge for 11 years. He appointed his sons Yo’el and Aviyah as Judges, but they became venal and perverted justice. This corruption prompted the elders of Israel to confront Samuel with the fateful appeal for the monarchical rule other nations had.
Shimon II the Just was a righteous and vaunted high priest who served Israel for 33 years during the Hellenistic era, in the middle of the Second Temple period. He earned a reputation for his piety toward God and benevolence toward his fellows, and was among the remnants of the Knesset HaGedolah (Great Assembly), precursor of the Gerousia and Great Sanhedrin. By stark contrast, one of his sons—Yeshua, known as Jason—became a staunch Hellenist, bribed his way into the high priesthood, began turning Jerusalem into a Greek polis with a gymnasium and ephebeum, fomented a massacre of its residents, was forced to flee, and finally died a fugitive in a foreign land.
- Those Appointed Who Disappoint Will Be Deposed
Samuel dutifully anointed Saul as Israel’s first king, but ultimately contended with him when Saul disregarded the directives given him on behalf of the God of Israel. In accordance with divine instruction, Samuel chose Saul’s successor—David of Bethlehem—and anointed him, as well.
Ahiyah of Shiloh prophesied Yerovo’am I’s secession and reign over the 10 northern tribes (which were actually 8 tribes since Benjamin and Shimon remained with Judah in the south, Levi had no distinct tribal territory, and Ephraim and Menasheh were really the single northern tribe of Joseph) but, like Samuel with Saul, he was later disappointed in his royal appointee. When Yerovo’am’s son Aviyah fell ill, the monarch sent his disguised wife with gifts to the old, blind Ahiyah, who informed her that Yerovo’am’s line would abruptly end and that the ailing Aviyah would die, which he soon did.
- Faith in One’s Own Wisdom Is Folly
King David frequently inquired of God as to the right course of action. One of his high priests, Evyatar ben Ahimelekh, consulted on David’s behalf the Urim and Thummim set in the ephod with which he had absconded from Nob.
Scripture narrates that God appeared to King Solomon in a dream at Givon in which Solomon, offered gifts, asked for an understanding heart instead of wealth or power. He quickly grew famous for his wisdom, which attracted foreign rulers such as the Queen of Sheba to his court. His wisdom waned in his later years: he took many foreign wives, and not only allowed them to worship their gods, but even built shrines for their sacrifices. He also conscripted a corvée of 30,000 Israelite men, an onerous levy that embittered the northern tribes, who soon seceded, bringing to an end the United Monarchy.
Respectful of tradition, King Yehoshaphat of Judah preferred consulting the prophets of God, as when he urged his counterpart King Ahab of Israel to listen to the bold Micaiah ben Yimlah, no respecter of persons, who spoke truth to power even if it fell on deaf ears.
King Yehoram of Israel sought out the prophet Elisha, a musically inspired miracle worker who caused a dry riverbed to be filled with water (which at sunrise seemed to King Mesha’s Moabites to be blood), saving the thirsting armies of Yehoram and his allies King Yehoshaphat of Judah and the deputy ruler of Edom.
King Josiah of Judah consulted the prophetess Huldah following the rediscovery of Deuteronomy (Divarim) in the Temple by Hilkiyahu the high priest.
Patriarch of the Great Sanhedrin Gamliel I the Elder was consulted regularly by King Marcus Julius Agrippa I of Judea, whose guest he often was on festive occasions.
Head of the Nehardea academy, Shila once erroneously permitted a woman to remarry; his fellow amora Rav considered excommunicating him, but their colleague Mar Samuel convinced Rav to first discuss the matter with Shila, who later upon reviewing the case admitted his mistake.
German sage Meir ben Barukh of Rothenburg (Maharam) arbitrated many disputes referred to him from various quarters, and was even consulted on difficult Talmudic questions by eminent sages such as Solomon ben Abraham ibn Aderet.
In 1892, an anxious Theodor Herzl consulted Jewish psychiatrist Max Nordau as a prospective patient on the advice of a friend. Nordau ended their session by pronouncing: “If you are insane, we are insane together. Count on me!” They soon cofounded the Zionist Organization, and Nordau also became vice-president of the Zionist Congress under Herzl and delivered many important addresses on the condition of Jewry.
In 1917, Sarah Aaronsohn embarked on a secret mission to Egypt, where she visited her brother Aaron, consulted with British intelligence officers, and likely encountered T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). She was urged to remain in Egypt for her safety, but regrettably insisted on returning to the Land of Israel, where that year Ottoman military authorities had uncovered the clandestine NILI spy ring upon intercepting a carrier pigeon, resulting in Sarah’s arrest and torture. She disclosed no secrets before committing suicide.
- The Influence of Paragons Can Prove Peremptory and Dispositive
The prophet Shemayah, known as a godly man, successfully exhorted King Rehovo’am of Judah not to engage in civil war with King Yerovo’am of Israel after the latter’s secession.
Meeting King Asa of Judah’s victorious army at Mareshah, the prophet Azaryahu ben Oded implored his sovereign not to forsake the God of Israel. Asa took this to heart and removed the detestable idols from Judah, Benjamin, and the hill country of Ephraim. Under Azaryahu’s influence, Asa renewed the covenant between the people and God.
Following a period of civil war between the Jewish kingdoms, the prophet Oded adjured the triumphant Israelites in God’s name to release their 200,000 captive Judahites from Ephraim so that they might return home. The Judahites were clothed with the spoils of victory, given food and drink, anointed, carried upon donkeys, then returned to Jericho in Judah. Oded’s ability to instill obedience in Israel—never a simple task—remains a mystery.
The prophet Haggai, along with his younger counterpart Zekhariah, encouraged the completion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, which had been started by the Judahite revenants after the Cyrus Proclamation of 538 BCE, but which had stalled due to discouragement, hardship, and opposition. He reprimanded the people for dwelling in costly houses while the Temple remained in ruins. Like Azaryahu ben Oded and Oded, his admonition proved effective and the Second Temple was completed by 516.
- Leadership Entails Unwavering Responsibility to Followers
When his nephew Lot was captured by the alliance of four kings (Khedarlaomer of Elam, Amraphel of Shinar, Ariokh of Elasar, Tidal of Goyim), Abraham marshaled 318 of his trained servants and chased the captors until Dan. He split up his force into smaller groups, attacked at night, and pursued the enemy until Hovah, near Damascus. He then returned with Lot, the women captives, and all of their possessions.
Moses, the greatest leader of all time, at times lost faith in his ability to handle his fractious flock, the Children of Israel. Ever the faithful shepherd, however, he rejected God’s intent to annihilate the Israelites and make a new nation from him alone. Even after the sin of the golden calf, he pled on behalf of his people: “Now, if you will just forgive their sin! But if you won’t, then, I beg you, blot me out of your book which you have written!”
During the Maccabean Rebellion, Hasmonean hero Judah Maccabee rescued persecuted Jews in Gilad, across the Jordan Valley, rallying stragglers as they were brought for their safety into Judea.
During the Hadrianic persecutions following the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–135 CE), rabbinical ordination (smikhah) was outlawed by the Romans on pain of death, and the city wherein ordination took place was condemned to be razed to the ground. Defiant sage Judah ben Baba therefore ordained a group of Akiva’s remaining disciples—Meir Ba’al HaNess, Shimon bar Yohai, Judah bar Ilai, Yosi ben Halafta, and Elazar ben Shammua—at a secluded area amid the hills equidistant between Usha and Shefar’am in Galilee. When Roman legionaries discovered them, Judah ordered his disciples to flee immediately, saying: “I will place myself before them like a stone that cannot be overturned.” The Romans pierced his body with 300 iron lances until it bled like a sieve, and Judah died aged 70.
Don Isaac Abravanel served the royal court of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile and oversaw governmental revenues. He rendered sterling service to the monarchs of his realm, but neither this nor his sizable bribe were able to avert the royal edict—the Alhambra Decree—urged by the fanatical Dominican friar Tomás de Torquemada, Grand Inquisitor of Spain, expelling Jewry from Spain. In 1492, although exempted from the edict, Don Isaac accompanied his fellow Jews into exile and moved to the Kingdom of Naples, where he again served the royal court.
The 19th century sage Meir Simhah HaKohen of Dvinsk (Meshekh Hokhmah/Or Sameah) became chief rabbi of Dvinsk (Daugavpils, Latvia), a position in which he served for 40 years. While most Jews vacated Dvinsk during WWI, Meir resolved to remain among the poorest residents of its Jewish community; if only nine Jews remained, he insisted, he would be the 10th that formed a prayer quorum (minyan).
During the Shoah, German rabbi Leo Baeck personally rejected all invitations to serve abroad as either rabbi or professor, insisting on remaining with the last prayer quorum of German Jews. In 1939, he conveyed a trainload of children to England then returned to Germany. In 1943, after being arrested five times for his outspokenness, he was sent to Theresienstadt (Terezín) concentration camp, where he delivered philosophical lectures and even served as pastor to Christian inmates. That same year, he reportedly learned of the death camps but withheld the information from the camp’s Jewish council of elders (Judenrat) in order to preserve the inmates’ hope, a controversial decision that provoked bitter public debate. He was scheduled for execution on May 9, 1945, but the Russians liberated the camp the day before; he prevented the inmates from killing the camp guards, and again refused to abandon his flock until their safety had been assured.
- Political Victory Can Come at the Expense of Civilizational Identity
In the second century BCE, the Maccabees militarily conquered their Hellenistic antagonists but their own descendants the Hasmoneans were culturally conquered by Hellenism. (Similarly, the Muslim Arabs militarily conquered the Sassanid Persians but were soon culturally and administratively conquered by Islamized Persians, and were later politically dominated from within by Mameluke, Seljuk, and Ottoman Turks.)
- No Leader Is an Island
Moses initially judged and instructed the people of Israel single-handedly, all day long. His father-in-law Yitro recognized that this was unfair both to Moses and to the petitioners. Yitro wisely advised Moses to delegate much of the enormous burden to select men of integrity and competence who would serve as heads of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and who would settle most disputes themselves and only forward difficult cases to Moses. Moses heeded this sage counsel, in so doing creating many new leadership opportunities (78,600 in total) among the nation.
Once the star pupil of Yohanan ben Zakkai in Jerusalem, Eleazar ben Arakh escaped the Holy City during the Great Revolt (66–73 CE) but separated himself from his peers in Yavneh, instead following his wife to Emmaus, a spa town popular for its thermal springs. In the absence of his rabbinical colleagues, his erudition diminished. (Similarly, the usually hyper-productive Frank Lloyd Wright withdrew from colleagues for about a decade—1924–1933—thinking he could excel alone, but only produced two architectural projects in this middle period of his career.)
- Power Struggles Routinely Sunder Families and Prove Deadly
The high priest Yohanan served Israel for 39 years during the Persian era, following the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah. His younger brother Yeshua was supported by the Persian general Bagoas (Bagoses), and provoked Yohanan in the Temple. Following a quarrel, Yohanan slew Yeshua. In consequence, Bagoas violated the Temple’s sanctity by entering it and punished the Judahites for seven years.
In the Hasmonean era, the high priest Alcimus (Elyakim) was appointed by Emperor Demetrius I Soter and installed into office by Seleucid general Bacchides, who supplied him with a garrison before returning to Syria. Alcimus pledged peace to the pious Hassideans who solicited him, but betrayed his word and arrested and had crucified 60 rabbis on the same day, including his uncle and the patriarch of the Great Sanhedrin, Yosi ben Yo’ezer.
The Hasmonean prince Judah Aristobulus I was intended for the high priesthood while his mother was to receive the throne. Yet this arrangement did not satisfy Judah, who upon ascending to the throne imprisoned his mother and starved her to death. He also incarcerated his brothers except for Antigonus, whom he preferred. When allegations of Antigonus’ plotting against Judah emerged, Judah unwittingly put him to death.
After the peaceful nine-year rule of their mother Queen Salome Alexandra, the Hasmonean brothers Aristobulus II and Hyrcanus II spent years waging internecine warfare against each other, dividing the Judean nation. Roman general Pompey the Great took advantage of the turmoil, invaded Jerusalem, besieged and overran the Temple, and slew 12,000 Judeans. The disastrous civil war inadvertently invited the Roman subjugation of Judea.
- Credulity Kills
The Israelite general Avner, intent on defection, went with 20 soldiers to confer with his erstwhile enemy David in Hebron, where he was welcomed with a feast then afforded safe conduct. Upon learning of Avner’s visit, David’s general and nephew Yo’av was incensed and sent messengers to recall Avner from the water cistern at Sirah to Hebron, where Yo’av and his brother Avishai led Avner into a private area by the city gate and fatally stabbed him beneath the ribs, avenging their brother Asahel’s death at Avner’s hands after the battle of Givon.
Gidalyah ben Ahikam, the Judahite governor appointed by Emperor Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylonia to oversee the remnant of Judah, was a moderate man of status and influence. He assumed office at Mitzpah in the tribal territory of Benjamin and had a promising future, but was unwisely unwary of Yishmael ben Netanyah, an anti-Babylonian army officer in cahoots with King Baalis of Ammon, who assassinated Gidalyah then fled to Egypt for fear of reprisal. To this day, Tzom Gidalyah (the Fast Day of Gidalyah) is annually observed after Rosh Hashanah, on the third of Tishrei, by traditional Jews.
High priest and military hero Jonathan Maccabee, the youngest of Judah’s brothers, proved a highly capable leader. With the help of military intelligence, he won a key victory over the forces of Emperor Demetrius II Nicator at Ashdod, and routed the Seleucids (Syrian Greeks) at Hatzor despite lacking timely military intelligence. He renewed the alliance with Rome, as well as with the Spartans. He not only enlarged the territory under Judean control but secured peace within its borders. Jonathan proved gullible, however, and was lured by a treacherous Diodotus Tryphon—a Seleucid usurper—into a trap at Akko, costing him his freedom and the lives of 1,000 of his men. He was thereafter murdered and buried at Baskama, northeast of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee).
When the Parthians helped crown his nephew Mattathias Antigonus as king and high priest, the hapless Hyrcanus II was deposed again and cruelly shorn of his ears, seized, and banished to Babylonia where he remained for four years. Upon defeating Mattathias, Herod the Great avenged Hyrcanus and as a reward was betrothed to the latter’s granddaughter, Miriam, thereby combining the Hasmonean and Herodian dynasties. Herod invited his exiled grandfather-in-law Hyrcanus back to Judea, and Hyrcanus accepted despite warnings against trusting the Idumean upstart. These ignored urgings proved well-founded: Herod eventually had Hyrcanus condemned and executed for treason so as to eliminate all Hasmonean males who might potentially be elevated to power by Augustus Caesar.
- Popularity Comes with Risks
The youthful Aristobulus III (Jonathan) was admired for his noble lineage and handsome appearance, and Judeans greeted him with joy when he appeared in full garb before them during the Sukkot festival in 36. King Herod the Great, however, felt threatened by his brother-in-law’s popularity and had his soldiers drown him in the baths at Jericho the following year. Aristobulus III died at the age of 18, and was the last Hasmonean high priest.
Judean king Marcus Julius Agrippa I ruled a reunited Judean realm, but unlike his dynastic predecessors he was zealous for Judaism and consequently admired by Judeans, especially the Pharisees with whom he identified. As a grandson of Miriam the Hasmonean, Agrippa combined the Hasmonean and Herodian dynasties, further endearing him to the populace. In addition, Agrippa skillfully interceded and persuaded Emperor Caligula of Rome to rescind his odious edict to erect a statue of himself in Jerusalem’s Temple, and he later obtained from Emperor Claudius an edict of privileges on behalf of Alexandria’s Jews. He built public buildings in Berytus (Beirut, Lebanon) and elsewhere, and held games honoring Claudius at Caesarea (Caesarea Maritima), where Agrippa died suddenly of heart and abdominal pains, likely the result of poisoning either by the Romans or by disgruntled Greek residents of Judea (or both).
- Humility and Forgiveness Are Species of Greatness
For her sins of slandering Moses’ marriage to a Kushite woman (either Tzipporah the Midianite or else a second wife) and challenging Moses’ monopoly on leadership, Miriam was afflicted with tzara’at (a skin condition). Aaron pled on her behalf, and Moses cried out, “Please, God, please heal her!” She was healed, but obliged to remain outside the Israelite camp for a week, during which time the nation waited for her as she had once waited for the infant Moses many decades earlier.
Leading his 300 fighters, the Israelite Judge Gidon put the Midianites to flight and slew their kings Zevah and Tzalmuna. The Israelites then offered Gidon hereditary kingship, which he humbly abjured, averring that God alone would rule Israel. He requested of his fellows the golden earrings they had plundered from their foes, with which he fashioned an ephod kept in Ophrah as a memorial and a means of ascertaining the divine will. With the Midianite threat overcome, Gidon retired from public service.
Before the Great Revolt, the preeminent sage Yohanan ben Zakkai taught in the shadow of the Temple in Jerusalem. He cautioned his illustrious pupils thusly: “If you have learned much Torah, do not attribute any merit to yourself, since it was for this purpose that you were created.” His most famous disciples included Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, Joshua ben Hananiah, Yosi HaKohen, Shimon ben Netanel, and Elazar ben Arakh.
Concerning a dispute over the necessity of reciting the “Amidah” prayer, the Great Sanhedrin patriarch Gamliel II made his peer Joshua ben Hananiah stand while he himself sat and taught, and the sages were astir over the overbearing affront to their respected colleague. The aristocratic Gamliel was impeached and replaced by Elazar ben Azaryah. However, Gamliel humbled himself by accepting the verdict and continuing to attend the academy, and he made amends with Joshua, whereupon he was reinstated as patriarch, sharing the position with Elazar ben Azaryah.
When the wealthy and influential third century Land of Israel amora Abbahu was lecturing on aggadah in the same town and at the same time as his peer Hiyya bar Abba II (HaKohen) was lecturing on halakhah, Abbahu garnered a larger audience, causing Hiyya to feel slighted; Abbahu attempted to console his friend by comparing his teachings to precious gems while his own were merely cheap trinkets, and he further honored Hiyya by attending his study house (beit midrash). Abbahu was very generous toward his needy friend and fellow sage, Abba of Akko, whom he recommended for a teaching position and of whom he remarked: “What is my modesty in comparison with that of Abba of Akko, who does not even reprove his interpreter for interposing original comments in his expositions?” When Abbahu’s wife related to him that his interpreter’s wife had vaunted her own husband’s greatness, he replied: “What difference does it make which of us is really greater, so long as both of us glorify heaven?”
In 930 CE, the gaon Sa’adiah ben Joseph declined to endorse the terms of a will benefiting the Babylonian exilarch David ben Zakkai, and a feud ensued in which each figure excommunicated the other and appointed a replacement. The dispute was settled by Caliph al-Qahir, who sided with David, resulting in the removal of Sa’adiah from the Sura gaonate. Sa’adiah thereafter sojourned for four years in Baghdad. In 937, Sa’adiah and David finally reconciled, and Sa’adiah was reinstated as gaon. When David and his son Judah died in quick succession, Sa’adiah raised David’s grandson in his home as his own.
Spanish Jewish sage and royal courtier Isaac ben Barukh Albalia engaged in heated scholarly exchanges with his rival, Isaac Alfasi (the Rif), to whom on his deathbed he nonetheless entrusted the tutelage of his adolescent son Barukh.
- We Are Worth What We Give
Joshua ben Gamla, high priest for just a year during the Roman era, instituted a universal education system by arranging for schools in every Judean town (and not just Jerusalem) for children at least five years old, and outlined sound pedagogical principles, garnering the Sages’ praise: “Truly, the name of that man is blessed…since but for him the Torah would have been forgotten in Israel.” He also replaced the boxwood casket from which lots were used for the scapegoat on Yom Kippur with a gold casket, “and his memory was therefore kept in honor”.
The Hasmonean ruler Queen Shlomtzion (Salome Alexandra) possessed extensive foreign connections and was respected by neighboring monarchs. Around 70 BCE, the advancing King Tigranes II the Great of Armenia claimed 10,000 Judean captives but was prevented from occupying Judea by means of the queen’s peace treaties and gifts.
Although likely of Hellenistic origin, Queen Helena of Adiabene was influenced by a Jewish merchant named Hanan (Ananias) and converted to Judaism around 30 CE, spending the latter part of her life in Jerusalem, where she built herself a palace. She also had her sons educated in Jerusalem. Helena earned a reputation for munificence by purchasing grain and dried figs from Alexandria, Egypt and Cyprus to alleviate the famine afflicting the capital in 45, and by endowing gifts to the Temple, including a golden candlestick and an engraved golden plate.
Patriarch of the Great Sanhedrin and redactor of the Mishnah Judah HaNasi was very wealthy and during a famine opened his storehouses to distribute grain to the poor; his eminent disciple Hiyya bar Abba I (Rabbah) became a very wealthy silk and flax merchant and always provided for the poor who solicited him at his home.
The wealthy sage Yannai (Rabbah) planted and owned 400 vineyards and an orchard. Yannai’s pupils were treated as family, working on his estates, claiming their fair share of revenues, and living under his roof. He once declared the fruit of his orchard to be free for all for an entire year, and he permitted his fields to be sown during a sabbatical year when the Romans had imposed onerous taxes upon the people.
Jonah of Tiberias tithed his income to fellow Torah scholars instead of to priests, and became known for his charitable acts. Upon encountering a worthy but impoverished man, he offered help in a considerate fashion, saying, “My son, I understand that you have come into an inheritance” or “your debtors will soon repay you; borrow this money from me, which you can repay when you obtain your inheritance.” Once his loan had been accepted, he absolved the borrower of any debt, saying “the money is yours as a gift.”
Prior to his death around 240 CE in Babylonia, the Jewish exilarch Mar Ukba I (Nathan Ukban I) consulted his accounts and discovered that in total he had donated 7,000 gold dinars to charity, prompting him to remark, “it is a light meal for a distant journey”, whereupon he ordered that half of his fortune be distributed to charity upon his death.
The third century Babylonian amora Huna, who eventually headed the Sura academy, initially earned his livelihood as a cowherd and fruit picker. Although Huna started out in life poor, he ultimately became very wealthy and earned a reputation for his philanthropy. Before eating, his servants would open his doors and announce, “Whoever is in need may come and eat!”
Once when workers placed wine barrels on the ground and these were accidentally shattered, this expensive accident was attributed to the work of “demons”, and the compassionate fifth century Babylonian amora Tavyomi (Mar bar Ashi), head of the Sura academy, ruled that the “demons” were financially liable, not the workers.
The fifth century Jewess and Sassanid empress Shushandukht enhanced the position of Jews in the Persian imperial court. She founded the sizable Jewish district of Yahudiya in Isfahan, as well as Jewish colonies in Susa (Shushan) and Shushtar.
Jewish scholar and royal courtier Hasdai ibn Shaprut became head of Spanish Jewry in Muslim Spain. His generous patronage fostered a thriving Judaic culture in Spain, and he also sponsored the Talmudic academies of Sura and Pumbedita in Babylonia.
In 1027, the title of prince (nagid) was conferred upon Samuel HaLevi ben Joseph ibn Nagdela (Shmuel HaNagid) by the Jewish community of Muslim Spain, and he served in this capacity for almost 30 years. He paid for book copies to be distributed to impoverished Jewish students in various quarters and also furnished Jerusalem synagogues with olive oil.
Known as the “primate of Prague”, Mordecai Marcus Meisel soon became a benevolent philanthropist to the Jewish community. He and his wife Eva constructed the Jewish town hall and the Hohe (High) synagogue in Prague. After his first wife died sometime prior to 1580, he remarried a woman named Frumet with whom he constructed, and furnished with golden and silver vessels, the celebrated Meisel synagogue.
Samuel Wolf Oppenheimer was a 17th century German-Jewish purveyor and munificent benefactor who sponsored many synagogues, academies, and scholars, and ransomed numerous Jewish captives after the Turkish wars. For all such efforts, he became known as the “Judenkaiser” (“Jewish Caesar”).
The 19th century Anglo-Jewish financier, diplomat, and philanthropist Moses Montefiore was reportedly asked about his net worth, and after divulging a relatively meager sum comprising only his most recent charitable donations, he gently explained to his inquirer that “we are worth only what we are willing to share with others.”