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The Ancient Queen Who Converted to Judaism


Jerusalem’s Reḥov Heleni ha-Malkah (Queen Helena Street) was named for a Byzantine Christian queen. After Israel gained its independence, a second Helena’s name graced the street. This Helena was the 1st-century-CE queen of Adiabene—a principality located in what is now Iraq—who converted to Judaism. Elaine Rose Glickman recounts some of the talmudic legends about this remarkable historical figure:

Helena became acquainted with Judaism through Jewish merchants who visited her country and—according to legend—hired a tutor in order to learn everything she could. Around the year 30 CE, she turned her back on the dominant [local] religion and—along with her younger son Izates—formally converted to Judaism. . .

[The Talmud relates that Helena, in] addition to giving money for the beautification of the Second Temple and to support the poor in the Holy Land, . . . dipped into the royal treasury to purchase grain from Egypt and dried fruits from Cyprus when famine threatened the lives of Jerusalem’s Jews. . . . Helena also donated several significant


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