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The Genius of Vilnius is Born

One of the greatest Jewish scholars of the modern era (if not THE greatest scholar) is born this year in the city of Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania. His name is Elijah, son of Solomon, but most people use his title, "The Genius of Vilnius". By 20 years old he will be recognized as a genius and many will seek his judgement on difficult points of law. The people of Vilnius will pay for his support while he sets in place Jewish education as it is known in the modern day. It includes what modern people would call "secular studies" such as math and science along with regular religious subjects. Some Jews will not like this change in the curriculum. They will call themselves "The Pious Ones." The Genius of Vilnius will oppose the Pious Ones and thus define his own movement as "The Opponents." The battle will continue into the modern day. Oh yeah. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
I am an Orthodox Jew and I am one of The Opponents. I think that the study of the way the world works is the study of God's handiwork. The Pious Ones, ironically, can be found on many college campuses. Yet they still think that the Sun orbits around the Earth. 'Nuf said. I know many of them personally. They are nice guys. I will gladly pray with them, but I can't join their movement. To understand the differences, there is a popular movie for a general audience entitled "The Chosen" (1981) starring Robby Benson. (It is still good.) During World War 2, a Jewish high school organizes a baseball league to prove that Jews can be athletes. It is not a baseball movie but it begins with a game between the Pious Ones and the Opponents. It makes baseball look like a war. The movie focuses on two boys who eventually become friends after almost killing each other. [8]

Trivia: Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October" opens with Captain Marko Ramius, a Soviet Union submarine captain from Lithuanian. He is mockingly called: "the Vilnius headmaster." [9]

The Mississippi and South Sea Bubbles Burst

Remember Tulip Mania? A scheme to reduce government debt has blown up in the faces of France and England. France has been swamped in debt so the Comptroller General of Finances, John Law, created the Royal Bank of France (like the Fed) and placed government revenues in the bank. He uses paper money issued by the bank to buy the Mississippi Company, and then grants it a trade monopoly in Louisiana as well as mineral rights. He authorizes the sale of stock in the company, and doubles the population of Louisiana by freeing French prisoners, chaining them to prostitutes and shipping them to Louisiana to build a New World. (Everyone is going to Louisiana!) People go wild buying shares in the Company until they begin to lose confidence in their investments. There is a run on the bank. There is not enough coinage to cover their accounts so John Law makes a run for Brussels. He will live out his final days in Italy as a professional gambler which is almost the same thing as being a fractional banker. [10]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
England tried something similar with the Bank of England and the South Sea Company. Government debt was repaid in shares of the new company. Unfortunately, when England went to war with Spain, the Spaniards seized assets of the South Sea Company. (Spain was also an investor.) Instead of shutting the company down, England sold even more shares. (The future King George the 2nd was director of the company. His father, the present King, was involved. Even the King's mistress had stock. Oh baby!) The stock price jumped from 100 pounds to 1,000 pounds in a year which made people nervous. Stockholders backed away and the stock price plummeted to 150 pounds. Sir Issac Newton said, "I can calculate the movement of the stars, but not the madness of men." His niece lost the modern equivalent of 2.4 million dollars. After an investigation, widespread fraud was discovered. (Imagine that!) The Company struggled along for years thereafter, but the damage was done. [11]

Astronomy is Going to Hell

Maximilian Hell is born this year in the Kingdom of Hungary. As well as becoming a priest he will also become director of the Observatory in Vienna and publish several papers on astronomy. He will believe in the healing power of magnets. [12]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
I couldn't resist. He has one heck of a name. He also has a crater on the Moon named after him.

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1720, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. The original Jewish genius: The Gaon of Vilna. Slate.com (28 January 2013). Retrieved on 28 January 2016. “Born in 1720 into a respected rabbinic family, the Gaon, whose first name was Elijah, distinguished himself from early adolescence through his mastery of biblical and Talmudic literature. In his youth he is said to have aspired to become a doctor. In the manner of scholars of the time, he wandered anonymously around various towns before settling in the city of Vilna (now known as Vilnius), located in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.”
  2. Vilna Gaon. Reprinted from The Jewish Religion: A Companion (2016). Retrieved on 29 January 2016. “The Gaon believed that it was essential for a Jewish scholar to have sufficient knowledge of secular subjects such as mathematics, astronomy, botany, and zoology, to be able to understand the many Talmudic passages which take such knowledge for granted. Secular learning, however, was for the Gaon only a means to the supreme task of 'toiling in the Torah,' as the rabbis call this intense activity.”
  3. Jacobs, Louis. Jewish Religion: A Companion, The. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198264631. 
  4. Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (The Vilna Gaon). Jewish Virtual Library (1998). Retrieved on 29 January 2016. “The Gaon was the leading opponent of Chassidus, a movement founded by Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov in the 1730s (approximately). The Chassidim instituted a number of changes in standard Jewish practice and many great leaders viewed them as a nascent breakaway sect from true Judaism in the manner of similar movements in the past. The emphasis of Chassidus on mysticism was particularly worrisome in this regard. Chassidus also placed a very strong emphasis on fervent worship. While this is well within the boundaries of traditional Judaism, many of the opponents of Chassidus, called 'Misnagdim,' misunderstood this emphasis as detracting from the importance of Torah study.”
  5. Vilna Gaon - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  6. Misnagdim - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 29 January 2016. “Misnagdim or Mitnagdim is a Hebrew word meaning 'opponents'. It is the plural of misnaged or mitnaged. The term 'Misnagdim' commonly refers to opponents of Hasidism.”
  7. Hasidic Judaism - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 29 January 2016. “Hasidic Judaism, meaning 'piety' (or 'loving-kindness'), is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality through the popularization and internalization of Jewish mysticism as the fundamental aspect of the faith. It was founded in 18th-century Eastern Europe by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov as a reaction against what was perceived by some as overly legalistic Judaism.”
  8. The Chosen (1981 film) - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 29 January 2016. “At first, the meeting is one of enmity since Danny accidentally injures Reuven's eye during the game; this results in Reuven wearing an eye patch for a good portion of the movie. Danny goes to Reuven's house to apologize to him and the teens gradually become friends, despite their differing backgrounds.”
  9. Tom Clancy. The Hunt for Red October. Berkley Books. ISBN 9780425133514. “...and it was said that if anyone but the famous Vilnius headmaster had been in command, the submarine would surely have been lost.” 
  10. Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. Simon and Schuster, 330-331. “'South Sea Bubble,' Eng. speculation craze, bursts; Failure of John Law's Mississippi Company leads to French national bankruptcy” 
  11. South Sea Company - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 29 January 2016. “Newton's niece Catherine Conduitt reported that he 'lost twenty thousand pounds. Of this, however, he never much liked to hear…'[34] This was a fortune at the time (equivalent to about £2.4 million in present-day terms), but it is not clear whether it was a monetary loss or an opportunity cost loss.”
  12. Maximilian Hell - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 29 January 2016. “Born as Rudolf Maximilian Höll in Selmecbánya, Kingdom of Hungary (present-day Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia)., but later changed his surname to Hell. He was the third son from the second marriage of his father Matthias Cornelius Hell (Matthäus Kornelius Hell) and his mother Julianna Staindl. The couple had a total of 22 children. Registry entries indicate that the family was of German descent, while Maximilian Hell later in life (ca 1750) is known to declare himself as Hungarian.”

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