Lithuania is to issue the Eurozone’s first coin with a Hebrew inscription to mark the birth anniversary of a leading Jewish sage.
The commemorative €10 coin, which will be released between April and June 2020, will recognise Elijah ben Solomon Zalman on the 300th anniversary of his birth.
Zalman, who is also known as the Vilna Gaon, was born in Lithuania in 1720 and became known as the greatest rabbi of his generation, writing noted commentaries on the Torah, Mishnah and Talmud.
The reverse of the coin will bear two inscriptions, Ynet reported: the letter Shin, which represents the number 300 in Hebrew numbering, and an acronym for Ha Gaon Rabbi Elyahu, meaning “Gaon (Genius) Rabbi Elijah”.
Yossi Avni-Levy, Israel’s ambassador to Lithuania, said it was “a very beautiful tribute on behalf of the Lithuanian government to the glorious Jewish heritage of Vilnius on the 300th anniversary of the Gaon’s birth.”
But there was criticism of the design for the obverse of the coin, which features a stylised menorah representing the centuries-old identification of the Lithuanian Jewish community.
Dovid Katz, a Jewish author who lives in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, said that this particular design of menorah was being increasingly used by neo-Nazis.
“The point is that in recent years and decades it has been weaponised as a symbol beloved of the antisemitic far right,” he wrote on his Defending History website. “Nowadays it is the symbol of choice, when organising something new, for just such groups, not for groups that advocate tolerance and inclusiveness.”
Prof Katz added the Lithuanian Mint had “genuinely good intentions” in announcing the coin, but that these had been outbalanced “by taking bad advice from ultranationalist quarters”.
More than 90 per cent of the Lithuanian Jewish community, which before the war numbered over 200,000, were murdered during the Holocaust.
In February, Lithuania refused an Israeli government request to transfer the Vilna Gaon’s remains to Israel.
Arnoldas Pikzirnis, an advisor to Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, said the request to transfer the remains to Israel had been denied because the “Vilna Gaon is an inseparable part of Lithuania’s Jewish community and Lithuania history.”