Jonathan Eybeschütz (with Autograph).
(After a portrait by Gutekunst.)
Rabbi Jonathan. Nathan Nata Eibeschutz
Rabbi Eibeschitz was born to a balebatish (respected) rabbinic family of tsadiks
(pious men). His great zeyde (grandfather) was the very famous scholar,
author and preacher Rabbi Nathan Spira, who wrote the Megalleh Amukot
DESCENDED FROM GIANTS
Rabbi Nathan Nata Solomon Spira
2013 is his 380th Yahrzeit
Rabbi Nathan Nata b. Solomon Spira was a highly renowned Polish Kabbalist, scholar of Talmud and Rabbinic literature as well as an unusually gifted pulpit orator. He also ran a highly renown yeshivah and, being from a well to do family, he did not accept a salary. He also served as head of the rabbinic court. Born into a richtigeh (prominent) rabbinic family he was widely known as a child prodigy as well.
Truly a man for his times, his spirited messianic Kabbalah teachings found a large and ardent following among Polish Jews.
Every Shabbes and festivals he would preach profound sermons on the mysteries hidden in the letters of the Torah. His zun (son), Rabbi Solomon Spira (1616-1648) who was slain by the Cossacks under Chmielnicki in 1648, schribbe (wrote) that his tate (father) was endowed with incomparable capacities and had a memory not to be seen in anyone else. His zun Solomon goes on to schribbe that his tate would awaken in the middle of the nachtkt (night) weeping over the destruction of the holy city and that our people were forced to wander the world in exile. He prayed that redemption would swiftly come and the fallen tent of David be raised up. One nachtkt after midnight the prophet Elijah appeared to him. Solomon tzugd. “ Hashem gave him di tsung (the tongue) of the learned to preach on Shabbes and festivals words of truth and righteousness, choice fruit and spices, sweet and sharp explanations with deep mysteries of accents, letters, and vowels, words that no oyer (ear) had ever heard and preached before”. A History of Jewish Literature. Israel Zinberg (1873-1938). Translated from the Yiddish by Bernard Martin 1975. Ktav Publishing House, Inc. pp112-114.
Rabbi Nathan Nata Spira was also Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschitz’s great-zeyde, which is one reason why we say that Rabbi Jonathan was Descended From Giants. But his giant intellectual lineage goes even further back in history. Rabbi Nathan Nata Spira’s zeyde (grandfather), Rabbi Nathan Nata Ashkenazi, was the rabbi of Grodno and became famous with the publishing of his books Melo Shearim and Imrei Shefer.
One of Rabbi Nathan Nata SPIRA’S books entitled Megalleh Amukkot was published posthumously in Cracow, 1637 by his zun. It
was reprinted many times and became one of the Ashkenazi Kabbalah
classics. I have a copy of this book. Click on the Book tab above.
The Megalleh Amukkot went on to be the classic work on Gimatriyah (Numerology), which put spiritual and mystical meaning to the relationship of words and letters to numbers. A simple example of this is the Hebrew word “Chai” which means life. The numerical equivalent of Chai is akhtzen (18). This is why many Jews give tzedakah (gifts and donations) in multiples of akhtzen. Most Jews don’t realize that their akhtzen dallah gift relating to Chai is based on Gimatriyah, or the connection of words and numbers to spirituality and mysticism. And Rabbi Eibeschitz’s great-zeyde (grandfather), Rabbi Nathan, “schribben de book” which is widely used in Kabbalistic practice even to this day.
Megalleh Amukkot is composed of tsvey hundret un tsvey un fuftzik (252) different interpretations of one single Torah passage, Deuteronomy 3:23 where Moishe (Moses) beseeches Hashem to allow him to gyb un kik (give look at) Erytz Yisroale. It was as if the author was intoxicated with numbers using them and their permutations and combinations to elucidate the single passage and relating them to spiritual, mystical and real life situations. Even to this day Rabbi Nathan is held in high regard for his extraordinary mathematical mind. Where others thought in words, he thought in numbers and his method of thinking is still used to this day. He also mentions a similar book of his in which he interprets the single letter “alef” in the word Va-Yikra in Leviticus 1:1 in, get this, un toyznt (1000) different ways!
He also wrote another mystical Kabbalistic commentary to the Pentateuch entitled Megalleh Amukkot Al Ha-Torah.
Rabbi Jonathan’s mispucha (family liniage) can be traced back from Rabbi Nathan Nata Spira to Rashi and then back to biblical times as a direct descendant of the famous King David!
Check out Rashi, our mispucha (1/15/2012 was his 810th Yahrzeit)
Rabbi Yehonosan was truly descended from torah giants
When young Jehonosan was about elif yoren alt (11 years old) his tate died at which point the yingeleh (young boy) Johanasan was bounced around from one of his mispucha's home and yeshiva to another. One reason for his being shuffled so much seems that in each new home the local yeshiva could not keep up with the boy’s amazing mind. He went from one prestigious family members yeshiva in Prossnitz to others for several years. First to Holleschau, then Vienna and finally he ended up in the city of Prague.
Yehonosan was bounced around like my Tanah (Aunt) Tillie's matzoh balls until settling in Prague. There he matured into a heymishah (upstanding) Yiddishe mentch. By eynts un tzvuntzick (twenty one) in the year 1711 he was the Darshan of the Jewish Community of Prague as well as the Rosh Yeshiva. Also in the yor (year) 1711 he stood under the chuppah and married Elkele bat Mose Isaak Spira, di tuckhter (daughter) of Rabbi Isaac Spira. He then resided with his new wife, Rebettzin Elkele, for tzvey yor (two years) in Hamburg at the hoiz (house) of Mordecai ha-Kohen, Chief Rabbi of Prague and Rabbi Jehonosan’s wife’s maternal zeyde. He served as the Dayon of Prague as well.
Rabbi Jehonosan was president of the rabbinic court at Jungbunzlau and by the age of fir un tzvontzik (twenty-four) he was the principal at the famous Prague Yeshiva. Regarded as the foremost scholar and genius of his time, hundreds of students from all over Europe hungered to get the opportunity to study with this virtuoso maven at his yesheva, the Yiddisha Harvard of it’s time.
Rabbi Jehonosan became very wealthy practicing various professions including being an accomplished trial lawyer in the secular civil courts as well as a customs agent to name a few. (1) Because of his great wealth he was able to support many students at his yeshiva. He was a real groyser mench. This outpouring of love and support by so many students caused Rabbi David Oppenheim, Chief Rabbi of Prague at the time, to almost plotz. In fact, he was able to get the local authorities to close down Eibeschitz’s yeshiva in 1722. I guess free chedah lessons were bad for business. This was truly a shandah.
Rabbi Yehonosan...Mentch of the World and Talmud Publisher
Rabbi Jehonosan was an exceptionally gifted Talmudist, Halachist, Kabbalist and magnificent pulpit speaker possessing the gift of gab with eloquence and great wit. He was charming and erudite both with the Jews and the Goys. Because of his enormous intellect and charismatic personality Rabbi Jehonosan built relationships with the secular nobility and high-church officials. The King of Denmark, Fredrick V, as well as the Jesuit Bishop Hasselbauer, and other men of power in the secular goy world were friendly with the great rabbi. Because of his unique status and personal relationship, Rabbi Jehonosan was actually able to convince the Jesuit Bishop Hassselbauer to permit him to print the Talmud with the caveat that he not include any passages contradicting the principles of Christianity. This was considered a big deal since it was illegal to print these books for many many years and there were shortages. The availability of these books was small since that very same Bishop’s resume included his many decrees to confiscate Jewish books in door-to-door searches of Jewish hoises throughout the land for years. To get the great book confiscator to agree to the printing books, even to his liking, was a miraculous feat. It was also very controversial since some, including Rabbi David Oppenheim, vehemently disapproved of an edited Talmud. Quite the tzimitz. Ironically, Rabbi Oppenheim owned a legendary Hebrew library containing thousands of books and never brought his great library to Prague for fear of the Bishop confiscating and destroying parts or all of it. Amazingly, this fantastic library was saved and still exists today in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. A miracle. His collection consisted of thousands of works comprised of Talmudic, Kabbalistic, Theological, Mathematical and Medical works. To sum up, here’s the stories plotline: Talmud destroyer Bishop gives permission to print edited Talmud to Rabbi Eibeschitz, then great library creator, Rabbi Oppenheimer shuts down the printing presses of the Rabbi Jehonosan’s edited Talmud. This was and still is a very complicated issue. I think I understand both rabbi’s position, or maybe not. But Rabbi Oppenheimer won this battle with his power to stop the presses. Rabbi Yehonosan ceased printing Talmuds.
This Talmud printing episode would not be the first or the last tumult (controversy) Rabbi Jonathan would find himself in the center of.
GIANTS CAST VERY LARGE SHADOWS
While still in Prague in 1724 a kabalistic manuscript Va-vo’ ha-yom el ha-‘ayin (And I Came This Day Unto The Fountain), written anonymously started to spread like cream cheese on a bagel through parts of Europe. Some thought this manuscript supported the notion that a Turkish Sephardic Jew by the name of Shabbetai Tzvi was the masheach the Jews were waiting for since biblical times. The manuscript in question was written with such astounding sechel (smarts) and intellectual thought and depth that many believed Rabbi Eibeschutz could be the only man alive at the time that could execute such a brilliant work. After all, many considered him the maven’s maven. To muddy things up even more Rabbi Jehonosan did not definitively say he did not write the book. In fact, he said that he definitely did not write certain parts of the book. Vous es dous? And even if he did schrib de gonsah (write the entire) manuscript or just parts you may ask, what’s the gonseh megillah? Shabbeteanism, the belief that Shabbetai Tzvi was the masheach, was the gonseh megillah!!!
This seems like the perfect time to gib a kic (look at) Shabbatai Tzvi and the Shabbatean movement. Shab’s as they were called.This was a sect of Judaism, which swept the Jewish world at that time. So it is necessary to supply some history on this false messiah. Here is some additional Shab food to knosh on.
Shabbetai Tzvi created the first "eat-in". He spread the order to his followers, who were many by this time, to change fast days into feast days. Feast instead of fast was exactly opposite the old and established laws. It was sinful and he was able to get others to commit this sinful behavior thus committing sin on a grand scale. He and his followers embraced the theory of “sacred sin” or redemption through sin, in which the fulfillment of the Torah’s commandments can only be completed by committing amoral acts. It is said that Tzvi had a singularly unique and beautiful singing voice. Many of his followers stood outside his house in the middle of the night to listen to Tzvi sing. They claim his voice was truly amazing. His gifted singing voice might have helped him gather a following.
Another one of his dramatic theatrical performances on a mass scale to boost his amoral credibility was acted out in front of an audience of followers. He never was at a loss for schtick.There he committed the sin of a public khaseneh (wedding). No big deal if di kale (the bride) was a woman but that was way to sha shtil (mundane) for Tzvi. Believe it or not, Shabbatai Tzvi married, of all things...the Torah! This was a great scandal.
Thanks to the internet I was able to hook up with an actual attendee of this affair. We kibbitzed for some time. Here is what he told me. " Vel Rephuel Mechel, I knew from the beginning there was going to be tzores. Foyest, it vas a gansa schlep to the banquet hall. Then, ven I got out of my vagon I heard the band blaring out Contree/Vestern music! I almost plotzed (fainted). Not even von Hora. And the food, such chazerai, you shouldn't know from it. The caterer served more traif (un-kosher food) then the Pope had at his coronation a few veeks ago. The pigs in a blanket were...you guessed it...actual pigs in blankets. I vood never touch such unpure dreck, but my shvester (sister) Hidele told me they were a bissel spicy. At the reception dinner they served smoked ham on bagel points mit un smear, followed by shrimp in a lobster reduction sauce (vatever dat is) and matzah ball soup. And den finished mit bar-b-q pork ribs und brisket. I also heard the matzoh balls were hard as hockey pucks and de zoop vas cold. De men tance un zingen mit ( dance & sing with) the women. I know I must sound like a yenta but I am just speaking emmes. Don't ask me how I know so much, but I will admit I do have mispucha in the catering business. Gunoock. Nuff said.
In Tzvi’s compulsion to commit more sins for redemption he and his wife Sarah, de floozie (a woman of questionable character) engaged in promiscuous sexual behavior including sexual orgies. Followers committed polygamy with Tzvi's blessings. His popularity got a big boost when his Public Relations Agent declared Tzvi the mesheach.Nathan of Gaza
This 21-year-old pitselah Public Relations man was a self-proclaimed prophet who called himself Nathan of Gaza. In 1665 Nathan, who claimed to be the reincarnation of the Prophet Elijah, said he discovered ancient writings proclaiming that on June 18, 1666 the age of the mesheach would arrive. He also stated that in fact, Shabbatai Tzvi was that very mesheach. This 6/18/1666 date Nathan of Gaza selected is a virtual field day for Gimatriyist fans. June is the sixth month (6), 18 is chi or 6+6+6, and 1666 is 1000+666. So the day of the mesheach’s arrival according to the self appointed Prophet Nathan of Gaza is: 6 +6+6+6 +1000+666. So I add up all the 6’s and get the sum of 42 which is 4+2=6. Go figure! Hey, maybe there is something here if you do the math. But don’t ask me because I’m not descended from the Megullot Amukot, my wife Chia is. So ask her.
There are problems with making public pronouncements about exactly when and where the mesheach will arrive and exactly whom that person is. One obvious problem living in Turkey is you may get the leader of the Ottoman Empire annoyed with you since he considered himself in charge and all new messiahs had to get his approval first. So in 1666 the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed IV, decided to teach everyone a lesson called “Who’s the biggest macher of them all”. The Sultan made Tzvi an offer he could not refuse. Convert to Islam or die. After careful consideration and a call to his lifeline Tzvi chose the latter, which kept him alive. The problem for Tzvi was this apostasy did not go over very well with many Jews because they still thought that converting to Islam was not Kosher. Oddly enough many followers converted to Islam along with Shabbatai Tzvi as well. One reason he gave for his conversion was the new opportunity he now had to convert believers from Islam to Judaism. He also tried to sell it as another one of his sacred sins but very few were buying that. So in 1666 instead of Shabbatai Tzvi being anointed the maseach as prophesied by Nathan of Gaza, Shabbatai Tzvi took off his yarmulka and donned his first turban, an outward symbol of his submission to the power of the Sultan and Islam.
Because of Tzvi’s submission and conversion, the Sultan sparred Tzvi’s life and put him on the royal payroll plus benefits which included leaving his head attached to his neck, which Shabbatai Tzvi very much appreciated. Before Shabbatai’s conversion almost one third of European Jews were following him. Oy vey! Of course his number of followers dropped significantly when word got out that he converted to Islam but a surprising number of Jews continued to follow his teachings. Sometimes a great PR person like Nathan of Gaza can make you a little too famous. Be careful what you wish for because it may cost you your kup.
To this day a secret sect or Cyrpto-Jews of Shabbatai Tzvi followers called the Dönmeh (and here) still worship him as their mesheach. They are mostly located in Turkey. They have been practicing this secret religion since the death of Shabbatai Tzvi in 1676. Here is an article from The Jewish Daily Forward from 2007 regarding the demolition of the alleged home of Shabbatai Tzvi in a Dönmeh community. Tzvi is still a controversial figure even to this day. Tzvi died decades before the birth of Rabbi Jehonosan but as you will see shortly he had a huge effect on Jews for years to come. This is why I needed to put some context to Shabbatai Tzvi in order to continue with the story of our great Rabbi Jehonosan.
So, for now, gunuck about Shabbatai Tzvi’s mishagas. Let’s get back to the Rabbi Jonathan story. But before we go here are some old images of Shabbatai Tzvi from his Bar Mitzvah Album. I also have mispucha in the photography business:
Title page from a Sabbatean prayer book Tikkun K'riah (Penitential Prayers for Night and Day), Amsterdam, 1666And now for the final picture of Tzvi as a Muslim convert:
1666 donning his brand new turban and new Muslim attire. These schmattahs need to be taken in a bissel in the tuchas. He has a punim only a mother could love
To review where we left off, Rabbi Jonathan was accused of authoring a brilliant manuscript, which contained passages that were said to have Sabbetean interpretations of Kabbalistic literature. So in 1724, when Rabbi Jonathan was 34 years old he was accused of following a false messiah, Shabbatti Tzvi, who died 50 years earlier. And many thought that because this manuscript was composed so brilliantly only Rabbi Eibeschitz could be the only man in the world in that time capable of such intellectual capacity. In other words he was guilty of being smarter than everybody else. I can truly say I have never been accused of such a thing. Go figure.
On Kol Nidre evening 1726 the 36 year old Rabbi Jonathan stood before the congregation and many highly regarded rabbi’s of Prague and gave a fiery speech against the Shabbatian sect and added his name to an excommunication order signed by leading rabbis and scholars against this heresy. That seemed to silence his opponents, but they were always lurking in the shadows. Rabbi Jonathan signed excommunication bans against the Shabs in 1751, 1755 and 1761 as well. Many in the clandestine Shabbatean movement considered Rabbi Jonathan the new leader of the sect after reading the alleged works as well as oral stories. Once Rabbi Jehonosan signed the excommunication order however, he made new enemies in this secret sect. So now he was being attacked from both sides. Shabbetean haters like Emden on one side and by Crypto-Shabbatean followers who now consider him a traitor. They actually tried to expose Rabbi Jonathan as a secret Shabbatean follower but these attempts were all foiled for a number of years. Rabbi Jonathan seem to always be surrounded by intrigue.
Rabbi Jehonosan lived in Prague for about 30 years (1711-1741) and was second to Rabbi David Oppenheim. You may remember that Rabbi Oppenheim was the very same man who shut down Rabbi Jonathan’s yeshiva. Rabbi Oppenheim died in 1736 and Rabbi Eibeschitz was appointed acting chief rabbi as well as a judge in the religious court. His appointments caused great feelings both for and against his new positions. He served as chief rabbi for about five years but only on an acting basis, which bothered him.
In 1741 Rabbi Eybeschütz moved to Metz, France and served as its chief rabbi. At the time Metz was the home of one of Europe’s largest and renowned yeshivas. Rabbi Jehonosan served as the chief rabbi of Metz until 1749. His reputation continued to grow throughout the Jewish world.
In 1749 he accepted the position of chief rabbi for the “Three Communities”, (TTC) which were Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbeck. This was a most prestigious position indeed. After a year in his new job the now famous amulet controversy with Jacob Emden exploded. Once again, Rabbi Jehonosan was challenged to defend himself against attacks of him being a secret Shab follower.
I found the following pictures as well as the wonderful history of The Great Synagogue in Altona from the following website (The Great Synagogue in Altona built in 1684) The Synagogue was destroyed during a World War II bombing raid in 1943:
Is that Rabbi Jonathan davening on the Bema?
The entrance at no. 50 Breite Straße.
The entrance was made to fit in with the surrounding block so as not to stick out like a sore thumb and bring too much attention to it for fear of attacks by goys as was apt to happen
We can only imagine the days Rabbi Eibeschutz preached, davened and taught in this very spot.
Now the spot where this shul was has only a sign and plaque nearby to acknowledge it ever existed. We must never forget.
The Emden-Eibeschuetz Amulet Controversy
Amulet Prepared by Jonathan Eybeschütz.
(In the collection of Albert Wolf, Dresden.)
Rabbi Jacob Emden
On Donershtik (Thursday), February 4, 1751, Rabbi Jacob Emden proclaimed in his private shul in his home that he had uncovered an amulet purportedly written by Rabbi Jehonosan. Rabbi Emden claimed this amulet proved that Rabbi Jehonosan was a follower of Shabbatai Tzvi. In Rabbi Emden’s mind the amulet was the smoking lox proving once and for all that Rabbi Jehonosan was a Cyrpto-Shabbatai Tzvi follower. This ignited the greatest controversy in Yiddishkite not seen for a few hundred years. In order to understand the controversy we need to get a better understanding of who Jacob Emden was as well as what is the big deal about an amulet. In fact, let’s start with the question: what is an amulet?
Jews have used amulets and other forms of superstition artifacts and words since ancient times as a source of protection against disease, to ward off the evil eye and bad luck and much more. I can remember my mother going two, two, two and spitting to the side of my head or pulling my ear and saying “no kein ahoras” which loosely translated means “without the evil eye”. We Jews have always been a superstitious bunch. The use of amulets has been an important weapon in the fight to keep evil at bay. Amulets are charms with words, letters, numbers and symbols arraigned in special symbolic ways in order to give spiritual help to the owner. The implied success of the amulet was not only the aforementioned properties of words, numbers etc but also the skill and knowledge of it’s creator; and Rabbi Jehonosan was the master Kabbalist of his generation. Therefore, Rabbi Jehonosan's amulets were very highly prized.
Because of his fame and brilliance Rabbi Jehonosan's amulets were always in high regard and demand so the law of supply and demand applied to Rabbi Jehonosan ’s amulets as well. In his travels he picked up some pocket gelt by creating amulets for folks who desired such. He never denied that he wrote amulets. He was an admitted amulet maker but so were many other rabbis and scholars. It was a fairly common and highly desired practice and legally it was considered perfectly kosher. The amulet trade was a brisk one since as we can all agree we Jews are not strangers to tzuris so we will take any help we can get. In other words, it vouldn't hoyt, so vy not. As you can well imagine the wealthier Jews had more amulets scribben for them and their families since they were most able to afford it but tzadackah amulets were available too.
As I said before, all amulets are not created equal. Amulets harbored hidden Kabalistic and mystical meaning by their very nature. Secret codes only understood by their creator. Rabbi Jehonosan was a master amulet maker but guess who was an expert decipherer of Cyrpto-Shabbatean code hidden in amulets? You would be correct if you guessed the one and only Rabbi Jacob Emden. In fact he was considered the maven at the time for sniffing out anything that might even resemble anything remotely relating to the possibility of maybe being Shabbatean origin. He searched far and wide looking to uncover and discover any hint of the outlawed sect. Unfortunately he also lived in Altona where he operated his very own shul in his home. Altona was one of the “Three Communities” (Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbeck) where Rabbi Jehonosan was the chief rabbi. We must also remember that Rabbi Jehonosan defended himself against accusations of being a Shabbatai Tzvi follower 30 years earlier.
So here we have the seeds of an epic battle of the Jewish Titans. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world champion match of “Who’s the Heretic?” In this corner weighing in heavily at a ton of Talmud is the challenger, Rabbi Jacob Emden. And in this corner wrapped in his prayer shaul and wearing amulets around his neck, the Talmudic and Kabbalistic Champion of the World, Rabbi Jehonosan Eibeschutz.
First some information on Rabbi Emden and then we will come back to his proclaiming in his private shul in his house that he uncovered an amulet written by Rabbi Jehonosan which has secret Shab code encrypted in it. Proving beyond the shadow of any doubt that Rabbi Jehonosan was a Crypto-Shabbetai Tzvi follower and must be removed from his position as chief rabbi and punished as well.
Before we discuss Jacob Emden I think it is of great importance to have some knowledge of his father, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Ashkenazi (Chacham Zvi). Rabbi Zvi was a highly acclaimed Rabbi. A scholar of the Torah. A great Kabbalist and Talmudist. He married the daughter of the chief rabbi of the “Three Communities”. After his father-in-law died in 1707, Rabbi Zvi assumed the role of chief rabbi of the “Three Communities”.Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Ashkenazi (Chacham Zvi) Rabbi Emden's Tate
Rabbi Chacham Zvi-Rabbi Emden’s Father (1660-1718)
I found this picture here
In 1710 he left to become chief rabbi of Amsterdam. In both of these positions Rabbi Zvi had troubled relationships with the leadership and rich donors of the communities. Early in his life he experienced the great darkness delivered to the Jewish community by the teachings of Shabbatai Tzvi. These early experiences would shape the rest of his entire career. He was also part of the first generation following the death of Shabbatai Tzvi who’s popularity had waned but still had many secret followers as well as a huge impact on Jews everywhere.
Rabbi Zvi became tangled in a battle with a self-proclaimed follower of Shabbatai Tzvi by the name of Nechemiah Chayun who decided to settle in Amsterdam. Jews in many leadership positions saw first-hand the devastation to Yiddishkite caused by the false Mashiach, Shabbatai Tzvi, and would do almost anything to diminish its toxic effects on Judaism. Many of the poor and less educated were easy prey to this false doctrine. Rabbi Zvi quickly identified Nechemiah Chayunond as a Shabbatai Tzvi follower and spreader of this false belief. The two men became entwined in a brutal battle, which actually caused Rabbi Tvi to leave Amsterdam. Please remember that those sect followers were encouraged to perform acts of blasphemy contrary to the teachings of the Torah, such as feast instead of fast on special days, eating traife (un-kosher foods) etc. Unfortunately, back room politics and feuds carried the day and the learned and accomplished rabbi, Torah authority, Talmudist and scholar lost his battle to Nechemiah Chayunond. Rabbi Zvi died in 1718 at the age of 60, but in all this mischagas Rabbi Zvi provided a fine religious education for his son Jacob who was an excellent student and learned quickly from his father and teachers.
RABBI ZVI RABBI YEHONOSAN EYBESCHITZ
JACOB EMDEN'S FATHER
Young Jacob loved and admired his great tate with extreme zeal. Like his tate he became an accomplished Talmudist, Torah scholar and rabbi. Scholars say that the son did not just stand on the shoulders of his Torah giant tate but actually went far beyond. And just like his tate the boychick personally saw the destructive elements of the Shabs (as they were called) both to his family and the Jewish community, which would shape his entire life and career. He relentlessly searched and investigated everywhere for the tiniest hint of anything even remotely related to Shabbateanism. He searched and prosecuted with unusual zealousness. In his zealousness to defend Judaism against this toxic sect he caused great pain and harm to Yiddishkite which I am sure he did not intend to do. Just a case of unintended consequences.
To sum up Jacob Emden so far:
1. Descended from a line of great rabbis
2. Highly intelligent.
3. Scholar of the Torah, Talmud and Kabbala
4. Like his father, Jacob was very negatively affected by the Shabbatean movement
4. Grandfather on his maternal side was chief rabbi of the “Three Communities”
5. After grandfather’s death his father, Rabbi Zvi, then became chief rabbi of the “Three Communities”
6. Because of his families two generations as Chief Rabbi of “The Three Communities” (TTC) he had a strong expectation, which he expressed openly, that he should be the chief rabbi of the TTC and he would oppose anyone but himself as its chief. So right from the start he was not a Rabbi Jehonosan fan.
7. He was a part time jewelry salesman---forgot to mention that one, really, emmes.
8. He was successful businessman.
9. He was very wealthy
10. He had great power in both the Jewish and Goyisha world.
11. It is said he suffered from depression and mental disease.
So now I double back to that fateful Donershtik (Thursday), February 4, 1751 when at a service at Rabbi Emden’s private shul in his house he claimed possession of an amulet written by Chief Rabbi Jehonosan Eibeschutz . Rabbi Emden stated that very same amulet has Shabbatean code encrypted in it proving that Rabbi Jehonosa is a secret Shabbatai Tzvi follower.
How did Rabbi Emden get the amulet? It seems that some expectant mothers who had amulets created by Rabbi Jehonosan for protection and fertility from his old town of Metz and some from TTC mysteriously died. These amulets created by Rabbi Jehonosan were then opened and it was said that they were encrypted with Shabbatai code.
There is nothing new about Rabbi Jehonosan writing amulets. While chief rabbi of Metz his reputation of being a master of scribbing (writting) amulets to ward off evil spirits and protect the health of the sick as well as protecting pregnant women and helping infertile women get pregnant was widely known. Part of being hired as Chief Rabbi of TTC was his unique and special knowledge of the Kabbala. Rabbi Jehonosan ’s stance was that there was nothing new here and all this was just recycled slurs from the previous incident in the 1720’s which were proven false. So Rabbi Jehonosan was dismissive of the accusations. But Rabbi Emden was not one to give up easily.
Rabbi Jehonosan was a very powerful and popular man. Thousands of students, rabbi’s and scholars studied at his yeshivas over the years. Thousands upon thousands of Yids experienced his brilliant sermons on pulpits throughout Europe. Some of his speeches and sermons are still being studied even to this day. He was considered a truly amazing speaker with a sharp wit and pleasant personality. All in all, he was a very strong force to mess with. Don’t get me wrong; Rabbi Emden was quite a strong personality as well, but not in the same league as Rabbi Jehonosan who was in a league of his own.
Rabbi Emden had quite the opposite personality as Rabbi Jehonosan. He was angry, belligerent with little subtlety and not a real crowd pleaser. A fire and brimstone kind of ridgid man who suffered from depression and mental illness. Rabbi Emden was better off in solitude which was diametrically opposite of Rabbi Jehonosan, the great communicator. During the preceding twenty years while Rabbi Emden was leading his shul in his house, Rabbi Eibscheutz was chief rabbi and yeshiva head in the largest communities of Europe. Tens and tens of thousands of ears learned from this gifted preacher. His reach and popularity was unmatched. Students and scholars alike dreamt of studying with the great Rabbi Jehonosan. But the dark clouds against Rabbi Jehonosan were powerful indeed and kept growing gryser und gryser.BATTLE OF THE TORAH TITANS SPREADS FROM THE JEWS TO THE GOYS
The controversy grew so great that it spread beyond the Jewish community and overflowed into the Christian world. It included governments and kings and even the church. It was reported about in the popular newspapers, broadsides and other periodicals of the time. The Jews always tried to avoid sharing their schmutzizk shmatahs mit de goyem, since that could never be a good thing and very often turned bad for the Jews. The Jews wanted to stay under the secular radar. They preferred that what happened in Yiddishkite stayed in Yiddishkite. Unfortunately there were too many yentas to keep this one quiet. Here’s how the story went down:
Rabbi Jehonosan was very popular and extremely well connected in the community as well as throughout Europe. Public opinion overwhelmingly favored him. In 1751 the Council of TTC ruled against Rabbi Emden and shut down his shul and banned him from using his printing press. They also outlawed any bad mouthing of Rabbi Jehonosan . So if you had something bad to say about Rabbi Jehonosan it was ordered to fermact tzein pisck un tzug nischt. (close your mouth and say nothing).
Things got so heated that street fights erupted with great violence. Rabbi Emden, fearing for his life, fled by cover of night from Altona to the safety of Amsterdam.RABBI EMDEN GETS KING FREDRICK V TO INTERVENE
While Rabbi Emden was in exile in Amsterdam his followers pled Rabbi Emden's case to, of all people, the goy King Frederick V, King of Denmark at the time. Appealing outside of the Jewish Community, especially to the King was very controversial. Remember that the Council of TTC was an internal Jewish authority. Now Rabbi Emden brought the dispute to the King of the Goys who was presented with biased information submitted to him by Rabbi Emden followers to base his judgment.
In this case it is not what you know but rather who you know. On June 3, 1752 King Frederick V ruled against Rabbi Jehonosan . Rabbi Jehonosan stepped down from his leadership position and the king’s ruling allowed Rabbi Emden to return to Altona and reopen his shul as well as fire up his printing press again. King Frederick levied a substantial fine on the community as well. The controversy quickly grew far and wide, and the stakes were enormously high as well as expensive to the Jewish Community.
RABBI EMDEN FIRES UP HIS PRINTING PRESSES
The power of Rabbi Emden’s printing press became evident in 1752 when he started to publish pamphlets and broadsides charging Rabbi Jehonosan of being a Cyrpto-Shabbatean follower. As a mater of fact he went beyond accusing Rabbi Jehonosan of being a follower of the Shabbatean movement to actually being its leader! Oy a bruch! Rabbi Emden’s accusations went far beyond the amulets accusing Rabbi Jehonosan of breaking other sacred Jewish laws as well.
RABBI EIBESCHUTZ FIRES BACK & GETS KING TO RULE IN HIS FAVOR
All was not lost. Rabbi Jehonosan was also a very well connected man in both the Jewish and Goyisha communities. He was able to have King Frederick V reconsider the case. After reviewing the case the king reversed his previous decision and ruled in favor of Rabbi Jehonosan. His court then had the amulet case suppressed. The king issued a royal decree forbidding any further discussion of the issue. This decree was read aloud in the Altona Shul on February 7, 1753.
Rabbi Jehonosan never appeared before a Jewish court of law even though his opponents demanded so. As part of the Royal Decree the government requested the affair be voted on by the community. In 1753 Rabbi Jehonosan brought (although he did not personally appear) his case before the Council of the Four Lands in Jaroslaw and was overwhelmingly vindicated. Now the great Rabbi Eybeschutz has been exonerated both by the King and his court as well as the Jewish court. The king ruled the case closed. The overwhelming result of the vote in favor of Rabbi Jehonosan was actually larger than when he first applied for the job. So after all this negative controversy Rabbi Jehonosan ended up more popular and supported by the community than his first election to the position of Chief Rabbi in 1750. This was a major victory for Rabbi Jehonosan.
RABBI EIBESCHITZ PUBLISHES HIS REBUTTAL Luhot ha-'edut (TABLETS OF TESTIMONY)
In 1755 after a couple of years of this quarreling between sides where at times one group or the other got the upper hand Rabbi Jehonosan published Luhot ha-‘edut (Tablets of the Testimony). It was the only book scribben (written) by Rabbi Jehonosan that was published during his lifetime and his only written defense to Rabbi Emden’s false charges. In it he refuted all the claims made by the Emdenites that he was a Crypto-Shabbatean supporter.
Rabbi Jonathan sent hundreds of copies of the amulets to rabbis around the world. He then published their overwhelming positive responses in this book. Over 50 letters and 300 signatories including some of the greatest rabbis of the time. They all joined forces to write in support of our very dear Rabbi Jehonosan. The publication of this book quelled the fires of the controversy and things quieted down for several years. Rabbi Jehonosan was vindicated and many felt the case was closed. Rabbi Jehonosan also stated that this whole incident gave the goyem a very bad view of the Jews and Jewish institutions. Such a shanda. He zoocht Emmes.
THE BITTER FIRES STILL RAGED IN RABBI EMDEN'S HEART & PRINTING PRESS
Jacob Emden’s House, Shul and Printing Offices
Rabbi Jacob Emden published many pamphlets against Rabbi Jehonosan. The fact that besides having his own private shul in his house he also had quite a printing operation there as well. This provided him with the ability to publish a large number of pamphlets excoriating Rabbi Jehonosan, with titles like: The Scorpion’s Sting. (3) Nothing warm and fuzzy in that title.
Rabbi Emden responded to Rabbi Jehonosan’s book, Luhot ha-‘edut, with tremendous vitriol in his 1756 book, Shevirat Luhot ha-‘Aven. Here is one comment from Rabbi Emden’s book to give you a feel for its style. In it, he is referring to a comment from an illustrious scholar, The Gaon of Vilna, who wrote a piece in support of Rabbi Jehonosan: (4)
"He (Rabbi Jehonosan) then presented before us the testimony of a boor from Vilna, a young fool who testifies to the truthfulness of his amulets and their interpretations. May their stench rise; may the roots of all his helpers turn to rot; for their prayer (i.e., amulet) is filled with pollution".
Plotzki argued that Rabbi Emden was so blinded by hate and prone to exaggeration making whatever he said about Rabbi Jehonosan questionable. (5)
In fact, things were going so well for Rabbi Jehonosan that during Hanukkah 1756 he was again reelected Chief Rabbi of the “Three Communities” and once again even more people voted for him than when he was first elected in 1750. A great overflowing of support from the “Three Communities” showed that the majority of Jews in his community supported this great rabbi. They saw right through the false accusations by Rabbi Emden as a shanda.
1760...NOT A GOOD YEAR FOR RABBI EIBESCHITZ
Things remained pretty sha schtil (quiet) until 1760 when a huge tumult broke out and it did not fare well for our beloved Rabbi Jehonosan. Two huge problems erupted against Rabbi Jehonosan. The first being the discovery that a group of students in his yeshevah were indeed followers of the clandestine Shabbatean sect. The second shoe to drop on Rabbi Jehonosan was his youngest son, Wolf, admitted to being a follower of the Shabbatean cult. In fact, Wolf, declared himself a Shabbetean Prophet! Besides that Rabbi Jehonosan entrusted his son Wolf with some business deals and access to the family wealth, which Wolf completely ferblunget. In communicating about his son Wolf’s situation, Rabbi Jehonosan said that he was aware of Wolf’s misahgas but thought he was being moved by a devine spirit but later realized it was unclear if the forces were pure or unpure.(2) This was heartbreaking. It was such a shandeh, putting Rabbi Jehonosan in financial and emotional jeopardy for the last years of his life. They were supposed to be his golden years but Wolf did not give his tate knoches, rather, he turned gold to borscht.
Several rabbis who supported Rabbi Emden initially actually denounced him and switched allegiance to Rabbi Jehonosan as the controversy drew on.
RABBI EMDEN'S VITRIOL TOWARDS RABBI JONATHAN CONTINUES UNABATED
Rabbi Emden’s vilification of Rabbi Jehonosan increased to a feverish pitch. He published many pieces from his home printing press including pamphlets, broadsides and books attacking Rabbi Jehonosan. I mentioned a pamphlet elsewhere entitled The Scorpion’s Sting to illustrate the inflammatory nature of these works. Inflammatory is being kind. Rabbi Emden actually accused Rabbi Jehonosan of being a Crypto-Christian!!! (6) Oy a brucuh! Rabbi Emden also accused Rabbi Jehonosan of being an ignoramus (his words, not mine) because of his mistakes concerning rabbinic duties and law. (6) Although the main proof of his opposition to Rabbi Jehonosan was the secret code incorporated into his amulets, Rabbi Emden went after Rabbi Jehonosan on other sinful fronts as well. I will submit to you two examples illustrating Rabbi Emden’s desire to prove that Rabbi Jehonosan was not following Jewish law and that he was hiding Shabbatean code in places other than the amulets. Where would he accuse Rabbi Jehonosan of commiting sacred sin, you might be wondering? How about Crypto-Shabbatean code Rabbi Emden accused Rabbi Jehonosan of writing on, of all things, his wife’s gravestone!!! This is some mesugahnah zach, which we will get to later.
First let’s start with Rabbi Emden’s claim that Rabbi Jehonosan deceived people into eating traife (un-kosher foods). Which basically means he fooled Jews by having them unwittingly commit sins. Remember that Shabbateai Tzvi committed many sins in order to prove his claim of being the Meseach, the more sins the better. Feasting on fast days, sexual perversities and consuming un-kosher foods were just the foreschpice of the Jewish Laws Tzvi and his followers broke. Rabbi Emden set out to prove that Rabbi Jehonosan sinned and broke Jewish Law, which would mean that he was a Shab. Accusing the rabbi of tricking Jews into committing sin was blasphemous. Before we explore these inflammatory accusations some additional information on Rabbi Jehonosan is in order.
Rabbi Jehonosan Eybeschutz in Altona
RABBI EYBESCHEUTZ TORAH GIANT AND MAN OF THE WORLD
When we think of the great accomplishments of Rabbi Jehonosan, and see pictures of him our minds fill in many blanks with our own ideas and perceptions. In our minds eye we see Rabbi Jehonosan as a scholar, teacher and pious man. Those three properties lead us to believe that he spent most of his time in quiet study, prayer and deliberation of sacred and holy texts. Undoubtedly this was true but it only describes a portion of this multi-faceted giant.
He was a man of the world as well. He was a legendary pulpit rabbi who could hold an entire congregation’s attention for hours with his charismatic personality. And nobody fell asleep. His wit, intellect and sharp mind were singular and unique. He was involved on a high level with the Christian leaders and the nobility. Bishops and kings held Rabbi Jehonosan in the highest regard. He was one politically connected Yid. It is also well known that he used this unique position and his gift of gab with the goyum to advance better treatment of the Jews. He was a hamesheh mentch. One Christian explains that Rabbi Jehonosan posed such difficult questions to the clergy that sometimes it took a few days of research to come back with an answer Rabbi Jehonosan questions. (7) He kept everyone on their toes.
Fitting into the premise that Rabbi Jehonosan was unique in his connection to the “real world” is the little known fact that he was considered a Master Porger. A porger was a man who was able to cut out various un-kosher parts of an animal in order to have the kosher parts remain. Pogers cut out specific veins, fats, sinews etc, which were considered trayfe. This was a very worldly occupation far from the study chambers. A real world hands on job for sure. Blood and guts. The perceived ability of the porger depended on his honesty, reputation, knowledge of Jewish Law and skill. Please note that porger was not another word for butcher. A porger was a completely different profession than a butcher. They were a few cuts above a butcher. Back in the day butchers, for the most part, were not permitted to be porgers for fear they would cut corners since they had a conflict of interest. Their motivation for profit would incentivize them to consider including more parts of an animal as kosher. Porgers on the other hand, were completely out of the profit loop since they were basically independent consultants who had a reputation to uphold. They did not have this profit incentive so they we able to determine which parts of the animal were or were not kosher based solely on scripture and expertise. The butcher might be influenced by the extra profit from a higher yield of meat while the porger was totally independent because he answered to a higher authority.
RABBI EIBESCHITZ...MASTER PORGER
Rabbi Jehonosan wrote of his porger expertise:
…with regard to deveining, one should rely only on an expert who is also a God-fearer of long standing. Indeed, from the day I matured intellectually and learned the laws of deveining, becoming expert in them and in the names of all their parts, I never relied on a porger. Rather, I ate only what I myself deveined and “the fruit of the labor of my hands did I eat.”(8)
Rabbi Jehonosan was a hands-on guy who was the Chief Rabbi and Master Porger, certainly not your usual ivy tower scholar. He was responsible for making sure Jews would not consume un-kosher meat. Pretty simple, unless he had a devious and secretly mission. What if he wanted to fool his fellow Jews to commit the sin of eating un-kosher meat in order to advance Crypto-Shabbatean sins?
Rabbi Emden always validated the expertise of Master Porger, Rabbi Jehonosan. His abilities as a porger were not being questioned. In 1755-6, Rabbi Emden wrote in favor of the expulsion of Rabbi Jehonosan and his followers from the Jewish Community claiming he fed a group of people meat containing forbidden schmaltz (fat) as per a Shabetai Tzvi ritual of consuming forbidden schmaltz. (9) Most scholars even to this day side with Rabbi Jehonosan on this issue. Lucky for me I am a vegetarian. I always make sure my blintzes are made with low fat sour cream.RABBI EMDEN ACCUSES RABBI EIBESCHUTZ OF GRAVE MISDEEDS
The second example of Rabbi Emden’s desire to destroy the good name of Rabbi Jehonosan was accusing him of writing secret sect code on a tombstone. This is getting more than a bissel misugah. Believe it or not, in a pamphlet written by Rabbi Emden he actually accused Rabbi Jehonosan of writing an encrypted Shabbetean message on, of all things, Rabbi Jehonosan’s wife, Elkele’s, gravestone! In 1756 one year after the death of Elkele Eibeschutz from cancer, Rabbi Jehonosan s wife of 40 years, when her gravestone was unveiled Rabbi Emden claimed that the stone had a Crypto-Shabbetean acrostic written on it. This pamphlet was widely distributed.
There was big problem with Rabbi Emden’s claim, which affected his all round credibility. As a matter of fact the problem still exists to this day. One can go to the cemetery on the Koenigstrasse in Altona and see Elkele Eibeschitz’s tombstone. This is actually the smoking lox if you ask me. Things are starting to smell fishy. The text on the stone is not what Rabbi Emden described and based his condemnation of Rabbi Jehonosan on. Here we have a huge problem with the Rabbi Emden’s point of view since his pamphlet is obviously based on false statements. The acrostic on the stone was not the same as how Rabbi Emden depicted them. No Crypto-Shabbetaen code. Actually, the answer is written in stone for all to see. (10) If you are in the neighborhood gib a keick to see for yourself. In sum, Rabbi Emden denounces Rabbi Jehonosan for Shab code written in stone but anyone can go view the stone and see that it is not written in the way described in the accusatory pamphlet. Big blow to Rabbi Emden’s credibility.
You may think that was the end of the grave stone controversey but it was not the end for Rabbi Emden. Remember that Jewish burial rituals were and still are very important. Nine years after Elkele’s unveiling, 1765, one year after Rabbi Jehonosan death at the first yahrzeit the headstone was unveiled. Rabbi Jehonosan composed the text for his own stone. After the unveiling Rabbi Emden accused Rabbi Jehonosan of composing Shabbetean acrostic to be written on his gravestone. Even after the death of Rabbi Jehonosan Rabbi Emden was still spreading vile lies but not Rabbi Jehonosan had no way of defending himself. Emden continued his fight with Rabbi Jehonosan until his death in 1776.
The problem for Emden was the proof or falsity of his insult regarding the two gravestones was written in stone and resting tranquilly next to each other in the cemetery. Neither of them contained the secret messages that were attributed to them. An interesting fact is that Rabbi Jehonosan never responded to Rabbi Emden’s attacks concerning his wife’s headstone. He must have agreed that the truth was so obvious that anyone and everyone could see for themselves. A trip to the community cemetery easily puts this one to rest. So why bother. Before we bury this subject once and for all I would like to finish up with the final resting place of Rabbi Emden.
RABBI JEHONOSAN & RABBI EMDEN MAKE AMENDS IN THE END
Once a person dies quick action must be taken since the law is very clear on the timeliness of a Jewish burial. 24 hours. No secrets here. Coincidently at the very time Rabbi Emden dies Rabbi Ezekial Landau was in town to visit some mispushah and maybe go to a Bar Mitzvah. Rabbi Landau was highly regarded throughout Yiddishkite for his scholarship, wisdom and devotion. Interestingly, years before he was a principle voice to resolve the amulet dispute by saying Rabbi Jehonosan was a man of unquestionable character and we should accept his declaration of innocence. On the other hand he must get out of the amulet making business. So Rabbi Landau came up with a wonderful compromise solution to the controversy. One would think that would be the end of the whole tzmus. Well Rabbi Jehonosan was agreeable to the deal and put it behind them all to get back to the business of helping Yiddishkite but Rabbi Emden thought otherwise. Rabbi Emden refused the deal and until those very last three words of his life he remained a bitter enemy of Rabbi Jehonosan.
We finish our tale on the deathbed of Rabbi Emden. It is said that on Rabbi Emden’s deathbed just before he expired he verbally greeted his father, Chacham Zvi, and then immediately followed by his last words as a mortal, “Greetings, Rabbi Jehonosan”. So Rabbi Emden’s Steve Jobs “Oh, Wow” moment was “Greetings, Rabbi Jehonosan”. These last words of friendly greetings in our world opened the door to a respectful burial for Rabbi Emden, otherwise, don’t ask. These final words made it possible for Rabbi Emden to be buried with the proper honor and dignity afforded to rabbi's of his stature. The cemetery in Altona only had one available burial plot in the respected rabbinical section of the Altona cemetery at the time of Emden’s demise. One rabbinical burial plot, one dead rabbi. So far, so good, right? Loif shun neicht. This singular plot had a very big problem. The plot was in the very same row and only five graves away from Rabbi Jonathan’s gravesite. This was major tszurus because the burial society would not approve the burying of these two lifelong enemies so close in the very same row. Rabbi Emden had to be buried somewhere else and time was running out. Hashem provided a very elegant solution to this most pressing dilemma.
Rabbi Emden dies and is refused burial in a special part of the cemetery. Coincidently the highly regarded Rabbi Landau was in town. The burial society presents Rabbi Landau with their dilemma. Once again Rabbi Landau shows his quick thinking. He ruled that Rabbi Emden could be buried in the special row of rabbis. Vous? You may be asking yourself. Why? Rabbi Landau acknowledged that indeed the two rabbi’s were enemies throughout their lives but their differences were resolved in the moment before Rabbi Emden’s death. He reasoned that at Rabbi Emden’s deathbed he first greeted his father and finally greeted Rabbi Jehonosan. Rabbi Landau concluded that Rabbi Jehonosan welcomed Rabbi Emden into the afterlife as he would mispucha. Therefore the differences these great rabbi’s had in life did not survive in death. The feud was over and no finger pointing anymore. So, since their souls have made peace they can lie in the same honored rabbinical graveyard row just five plots from each other. To this very day you can visit the cemetery on the Koenigstrasse in Altona and view the burial sites of Rabbi Emden lying next to his third wife and just five plots away, in the same rabbinic section, Rabbi Jehonosan lying next to his wife Elkele. (10,11)
May they all rest in peace
The Emden-Eibeschuetz Amulet Controversy References & Links:
10. Mrs. Jonathan Eibeschuetz’s Epitaph: A Grave Matter Indeed. Sid Z. Leiman.
Scholars and Shholarship: The Interaction Between Judiasm and Other
Cultures. The Michael Scharf Publication Trust of the Yeshiva University
Press. New York, 1990. pp142-3.