Photo Credit: Mosaica Press

Title: Today in Jewish History
Rabbi Pinchas Landis
Mosaica Press



Parshas Ha’azinu’s exhortation to “remember the days of old; understand the years of each generation” (Devarim 32:7) has motivated the various history classes I have taught for close to 15 years. However, some works of history make it easier than others to see the days of old or remember the generations. Rabbi Pinchas Landis’s Today in Jewish History arrives in the category of books that make it easier to see than harder.

Rabbi Landis’s book calls to mind Day by Day in Jewish History by Rabbi Abraham Bloch published by Ktav in 1983. Bloch’s book lists approximately ten different events for each day on the Jewish calendar, but usually provides only a few lines of description at most for each event. By contrast, Today in Jewish History usually provides a single event for each Hebrew calendar date but provides at least a paragraph description for the chosen event. Furthermore, Today in Jewish History has the opportunity to include Jewish historical events that have occurred in the four decades since Day by Day in Jewish History was published. It was this potential updating of events that intrigued me most when I first saw this book.

One recent date in the Jewish calendar clearly demonstrates the style of Today in Jewish History compared Rabbi Bloch’s earlier work. The 29th of Shevat lists three events. The first of these is the Theodosian Code going into effect in 439 which restricted the Jews of Rome’s ability to build shuls and own slaves. The second event is the passing of Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, commonly known as the Alter of Slabodka, in 1927. This event is mentioned in both books, but orthodox readers will likely appreciate that Rabbi Landis devotes almost an entire page to a figure that played such a crucial role in the success of so many of today’s biggest yeshivas. The final event mentioned is the more recent explosion of the space shuttle Columbia which carried Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon. I remember hearing different responses to this event from the rosh yeshiva and my rebbe when I was in Ner Yisrael, and I appreciate Rabbi Landis (who may have similar memories from his time in Ner Yisrael depending on the years we overlapped) adding the detail of Ilan Ramon taking a Torah smuggled into Bergen-Belsen with him on that fateful voyage.

History is both broad and deep at the same time. One with a broad knowledge of the subject probably prefers more depth on a topic, while one with less background probably prefers something broader in its scope. Rabbi Landis book likely appeals more to the second type of reader than the first. However, my time teaching American history has taught me that the juicy nuggets of history are what resonate most.

Allow me to elaborate. While initially perusing through Today in Jewish History I came across the 30th of Av. This is a second day in the book with more than one entry. Aside from Moshe ascending Har Sinai for the third time following the sin of the eigel hazahav in 1312 BCE, this was also the day the Uganda Plan was discussed at the Sixth Zionist Congress in 1903. Uganda was not the only place looked into for future Jewish settlement. So was the city of Galveston, Texas. In fact, 9,300 Jews made their way to Galveston, Texas from 1907-1914. I have taught yeshiva high school students for the last seven years about Galveston, Texas during the Progressive Era as a place where reforms in local governance were implemented following a devastating hurricane in 1900. Little did I know that I have missed informing my students about this lovely Jewish history nugget about Galveston’s swelling Jewish population during this time period. I am certain that regardless of your history background, Today in Jewish History has a nugget waiting for you.

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Rabbi Adam Shulman learned and received semicha from Ner Yisrael. During the school year he teaches English and history classes in Ner Yisrael's high school. During the summer he helps run a frum summer camp in Baltimore's JCC.