Rabbi Jonathan. Nathan Nata Eibeschutz
DESCENDED FROM GIANTS
Rabbi Eibeschitz was born to a highly respected rabbinic family of tsadiks (pious men). His great grandfather was the very famous scholar, author and preacher Rabbi Nathan Spira, who wrote the Megalleh Amukot (see below).
Early on in life, Yehonatan was known as an ilui or child prodigy. Even as a very young boy he astonished adult scholars with his brilliance and insightful depth and breath of thought.. While still a boy he acquired great renown throughout Yiddishkite. His enormous scholarship in both Talmud and Kabbalah became legendary. As he grew from a boy to a young man his reputation continued to grow as well. While still a young boyit is said that his famous Talmudist and Kabbalist father. Rabbi Nathan Nata, revealed the profound secret mysteries of the Kabbalah passed down from Rabbi Yehonosan’s grandfather and master Kabbalist, Rabbi Nathan Nata Spiro, wrote the Megalleh Amukot (discussed below).
DESCENDED FROM GIANTS
Rabbi Nathan Nata Solomon Spira
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 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 son, Rabbi Solomon Spira (1616-1648) who was slain by the Cossacks under Chmielnicki in 1648, wrote that his father was endowed with incomparable capacities and had a memory not to be seen in anyone else. His Solomon goes on to write that his father would awaken in the middle of the night weeping over the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem 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 night after midnight the prophet Elijah appeared to him. Solomon said. “ Hashem gave him 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 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-grandfather, 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 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 son. It was reprinted many times and became one of the Ashkenazi Kabbalah classics.
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 eighteen. This is why many Jews give tzedakah (gifts and donations) in multiples of eighteen. Most Jews don’t realize that their eighteen dollar gift relating to Chai is based on Gimatriyah, or the connection of words and numbers to spirituality and mysticism. And Rabbi Eibeschitz’s grandfather, Rabbi Nathan, “wrote the book” which is widely used in Kabbalistic practice even to this day.
Megalleh Amukkot is composed of two hundred and fifty two different interpretations of one single Torah passage, Deuteronomy 3:23 where Moishe (Moses) beseeches Hashem (G-d) to allow him to give a look at Israel. 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” (“A” )in the word Va-Yikra in Leviticus 1:1 in one thousand different ways!
He also wrote another mystical Kabbalistic commentary to the Pentateuch entitled Megalleh Amukkot Al Ha-Torah.
Rabbi Jonathan’s family liniagecan 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!
Rabbi Jonathan’s family liniage can be traced back from Rabbi Nathan Nata Spira to Rashi a direct descendant of the famous King David!.
Rabbi Yehonosan was truly descended from torah giants
When young Jehonosan Eibeschutz was about 11 years old his father died at which point the young Yehonatan 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.
Yehonatan was bounced around until settling in Prague. There he matured into an well known Torah scholar. By 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 year 1711 he married Elkele bat Mose Isaak Spira, daughter of Rabbi Isaac Spira. He then resided with his new wife, Elkele, for two years in Hamburg at the house of Mordecai ha-Kohen, Chief Rabbi of Prague and Rabbi Yehonatan wife’s maternal grandfather. He served as the Dayon of Prague as well.
Rabbi Yehonatan was president of the rabbinic court at Jungbunzlau and by the age of 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 genius at his yesheva.
Rabbi Yehonatan 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. This outpouring of love and support by so many students caused Rabbi David Oppenheim, Chief Rabbi of Prague at the time, some resentment. In fact, he was able to get the local authorities to close down Eibeschitz’s yeshiva in 1722.
Rabbi Yehonatan ...Talmud Publisher
Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeschutz 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 non-Jews. Because of his enormous intellect and charismatic personality Rabbi Yehonatan Yehonatan 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 world were friendly with the great rabbi. Because of his unique status and personal relationship, Rabbi Eibeschutz 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 homes 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. 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.
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 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 intellectual thought and depth that many believed Rabbi Eybeshitz could be the only man alive at the time that could execute such a brilliant work. To make things even more complicated, Rabbi Yehonatan 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.
Let’s explore the life and times of Shabbatai Tzvi and the Shabbatean movement, a sect of Judaism, which swept the Jewish world at that time. So it is necessary to supply some history on this false messiah and the movement surrounding him.
History has shown us time and time again that hating and persecuting Jews has been a global sport since ancient times. Some instances were more violent and brutal than others but all in all the Jews have
experienced lots of pain and suffering. Click on the following link to see a timeline of Jewish persecutions since 250 C.E.:
The 17th century turned out to be bad for Jews in general but exceptionally bad for the Polish Jews. In 1648-1649, one third of the Polish Jews were annihilated in the Chmielnicki Massacre. Mobs of Cossacks
savagely butchered and murdered tens, if not hundreds of thousand Jews. The non-Jew mobs saw the Jews as the money takers since the Jews were used by the nobles as the tax collectors and other governmental independent contractors since Christians were not permitted to do these jobs. The population saw the Jews as bankers, money handlers and tax collectors. Since the non-Jews physically gave Jews the taxes, they hated the Jews. Although the actual money went to the nobles and clergy the Jews were the ones being handed the money so they were extremely the most hated. The Chmielnicki Massacre was one of the darkest times for Yiddishkite. Barbaric acts were committed including the most unthinkable tortures and brutal slaughter of children, women and men. The Cossacks destroyed over 300 Jewish communities. That’s over 300 entire communities. Losses numbered in the 100,000’s and it was given the name ‘The Deluge’ because of its total violent emersion and destruction of the Jewish population in Poland at the time. These were some of the Jewish people’s darkest days.
The real world was a very dangerous place to be a Jew. They lived in countries, states, cities and towns where they were hated and despised openly by the majority population because they were Jews, usurous bankers and money handlers. The times were so bad many Jews had very deep questions and concerns. What did it mean to be one of the “Chosen People”? How can we get out of this? When the real world is very scary sometimes people look inward for answers to very complex questions. So the hopeless can find some hope in the spirit world.
Spirituality, mysticism and the study of Kabbalah grew by leaps and bounds during this period. Although these inward studies were around for millennia a resurgence erupted throughout World Jewery. Especially in Poland. There was a blossoming of mysticism and Kabbalah study throughout the Jewish world and it seemed like its epicenter was Poland. It’s popularity spread from the rabbi’s and scholars to the Jewish population as well. One may think that maybe the real world was so treacherous people were seeking escape to higher internal ground. Rabbi Eybeshitz was born into this milieu fourteen years after the death of Shabbati Tzvi the false mesheach who exerted an extremely strong influence on Polish Jews years after his demise.
Shabbatai Tzvi had such a profound negative effect on Yiddishkite that a concerted effort of the established rabbis and scholars to wipe out all things related to him occurred. Of course this forced his followers underground and created a secret sect of Cyrpto-Jews who followed his preaching in secret. Thus Shabbeteanism, the belief that Shabbetai Tzvi was the Mesheach, was born and the burning desire to wipe-out the sect followed. The act of searching out and excommunicating these secret Shabbeteans became commonplace. Unfortunately Rabbi Yehonatan was accused of being a secret follower of Tzvi and got tangled up with zealot witch hunts for rest of his entire career.
Shabbatai Tzvi (1626-1676) was a Rabbi and Kabbalist. At the age of 22 he declaired himself the mesheach. Early on he practiced extreme forms of self-denial as well as mortifications in order to punish the body in order to lift the spirit. Bathing in the ice-cold winter sea and fasting for long periods of time besides other acts he thought would liberate the soul. In another act of denial he married and never consummated the marriage, so it ended in divorce. Then he does the exact same thing a second time. He marries another woman and never consummates that marriage so it too ends in divorce (2). These acts of denial including extreme fasting would put him in a state of ecstasy possibly even bordering on hallucinationary. He also committed forbidden acts to show his spiritual power. He would pronounce Hashem’s name, eat non-kosher food, feast on fast days, commit extramarital sexual acts to name a few. The wilder the better since it caused more notoriety and the mesheach is above the law.
The news of the mesheach, Shabbatai Tzvi’s, infamy grew from his home base of Turkey to Egypt, Israel, Europe, Asia and Africa. Many heard that the mesheach has arrived. Some European Jews started to unroof their houses and sell their property in order to get ready for their trip back to Jerusalem. In his quest for fame, adulation and to complete his interpretation of the scriptures, Tzvi preached that he must abrogate Jewish law and customs thus signaling the arrival of the mesheach. He wanted to prove that the ordinary rules do not apply to him or Yiddishkite anymore, because he, the mesheach, has arrived.
Shabbetai Tzvi created 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 large 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 committed the sin of a public wedding and married the Torah. This was a great scandal.
In Tzvi’s compulsion to commit more sins for redemption he and his wife Sarah, 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 the self proclaimed prophet, Nathen of Gaza declared Tzvi the mesheach.
In 1665, 21 year old Nathan of Gaza declared he was a prophet, claiming to be the reincarnation of the Prophet Elijah, Nathan announced that 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.
There are problems with making public pronouncements about exactly when and where the mesheach will arrive and exactly whom that Person is. The Sultan ordered Tzvi to convert to Islam or die. 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 Out of the question. 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, he 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. Before Shabbatai’s conversion almost one third of European Jews were following him. 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.
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 Yehonatan but as you will see shortly he had a huge effect on Jews for years to come.
To review, Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz 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 Eybeshitz was 34 years old he was accused of following the false messiah, Shabbatti Tzvi, who died 50 years earlier. And many thought that because this manuscript was composed so brilliantly only Rabbi Eybeshitz could be the only man in the world in that time capable of such intellectual capacity.
On Kol Nidre evening 1726 the 36 year old Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz stood before the congregation and many highly regarded rabbi’s of Prague and gave a fiery speech against the Shabbatean 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 Eybeshitz signed excommunication bans against the Shabbatean movement in 1751, 1755 and 1761 as well. Many in the clandestine Shabbatean movement considered Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz the new leader of the sect after reading the alleged works as well as oral stories. Once Rabbi Eybeshitz 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 Yehonatan as a secret Shabbatean follower but these attempts were all foiled for a number of years. Rabbi Yehonatan seem to always be surrounded by intrigue.
He 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 EYbeshitz’s yeshiva. Rabbi Oppenheim died in 1736 and Rabbi Eybeshitz’ 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 Yehonatan 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”, 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 Yehonatan Eybeshitz was challenged to defend himself against attacks of him being a secret Shabbatean follower.
The Amulet Controversary
On 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 Yehonatan Eybeshitz. Rabbi Emden claimed this amulet proved that Rabbi Yehonatan was a follower of Shabbatai Tzvi. In Rabbi Emden’s mind the amulet was the proof that Rabbi Yehonatan 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 tool 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 Yehonatan was the master Kabbalist of his generation. Therefore, his amulets were very highly prized.
Because of his fame and brilliance Rabbi Eybeshit’s amulets were always in high regard and demand so the law of supply and demand applied to Rabbi Yehonatan ’s amulets as well. He creaed amulets for Jews who desired them. and never denied that he wrote amulets. Many other rabbis and scholars made amulets as well. It was a fairly common and highly desired practice and legally it was considered perfectly kosher. The amulet trade was a brisk one. As you can well imagine the wealthier Jews had more amulets written for them and their families since they were most able to afford it but charity amulets were available as well
All amulets were not created equal. Amulets harbored hidden Kabalistic and mystical meaning by their very nature. Secret codes only understood by their creator. Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz was a master amulet but unfortunately REabbi Jacob Emden was an expert decipherer of Cyrpto-Shabbatean code hidden in amulets? 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 Yehonatan was the chief rabbi. We must also remember that Rabbi Eybeshitz defended himself against accusations of being a Shabbatai Tzvi follower 30 years earlier.
So here we have the seeds of an epic battle between two Torah giants
Rabbi Emden was a gifted scholar who had a a very respected 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 EMDEN DENOUNCES RABBI YEHONOSAN EIBESCHUTZ
Going back to that fateful 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 Yehonatan Eybeshitz18th. Rabbi Emden stated that very same amulet has Shabbatean code encrypted in it proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Rabbi Yehonatan was a secret Shabbatai Tzvi follower.
How did Rabbi Emden get the amulet? It seems that some expectant mothers who had amulets created by Rabbi Yehonatan for protection and fertility from his old town of Metz and some from The Three Communities mysteriously died. These amulets created by Rabbi Yehonatan were then opened and it was said that they were encrypted with Shabbatai code.
There is nothing new about Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz writing amulets. While chief rabbi of Metz his reputation of being a master of 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 The Three Communities was his unique and special knowledge of the Kabbala. Rabbi Yehonatan’s stance was that there was nothing new here and this was just rehashing of slurs from the previous incident in the 1720’s which were proven false. So Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz was dismissive of the accusations. But Rabbi Emden was not one to give up easily.
Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz 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 Jews 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. He was a very powerful force to confront., but Rabbi Emden was quite a strong personality as well, To be clear Rabbi Emden was not in the same league as Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz who was in a league of his own.
Rabbi Emden had quite the opposite personality as Rabbi Yehonatan. He was angry, belligerent with little subtlety. Emden was a fire and brimstone ridged man who suffered from depression and mental illness. Rabbi Emden was better off in solitude which was diametrically opposite of Rabbi Eybeshitz, the great communicator. During the preceding twenty years while Rabbi Emden was leading his shul in his house, Rabbi Eybeshitz 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 Eybeshitz’. But the dark clouds against Rabbi Yehonatan were powerful indeed and kept growing darker and larger.
BATTLE OF THE TORAH TITANS SPREADS FROM TO THE NON-JEWS
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 internal disputes with the Christian world since that could bring punishment down on them. The Jews wanted to stay under the secular radar. They preferred that what happened in Yiddishkite stayed in Yiddishkite. Unfortunately, the controversy grew so large that it spread outside the Jewish community.
Rabbi Yehonatan 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 The Three Communities ruled against Rabbi Emden and shut down his shul and banned him from using his printing press. They also outlawed any negative talk about Rabbi Yehonatan.
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 King Frederick V, of Denmark at the time. Appealing outside of the Jewish Community, especially to the King was very controversial. Remember that the Council of The Three Communities was an internal Jewish authority. Now Rabbi Emden brought the dispute to the King of Denmark who was presented with biased information submitted to him by Rabbi Emden followers to base his judgment.
On June 3, 1752 King Frederick V ruled against Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz forcing him to step down from his leadership position. 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 Eibeschutz 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! 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 Eibeschutz was also a very well connected man in both the Jewish and Christan 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 Eybeshitz. The king‘s 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 Yehonatan Eybeshitz 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 Yehonatan 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 Eybeshitz 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 Yehonatan was actually larger than when he first applied for the job. So after all this negative controversy Rabbi Eybeshitz 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 Eybeshitz..
RABBI EIBESCHITZ PUBLISHES HIS REBUTTAL ~ TABLETS OF TESTIMONY
In 1755 after a couple of years of this war raging between sides where at times one group or the other got the upper hand Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz published Luhot ha-‘edut (Tablets of the Testimony). It was the only book written by Rabbi Eybeshitz 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 Eybeshitz 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 Rabbi Eybeshitz. The publication of this book quelled the fires of the controversy and things quieted down for several years. Rabbi Yehonatan was vindicated and many felt the case was closed. Rabbi Eybeshitz also stated that this whole incident gave the non-Jews a very bad view of the Jews and Jewish institutions. But, the bitter fires still raged in Rabbi Emden’s heart and printing press.
Jacob Emden’s House, Shul and Printing Offices
Rabbi Jacob Emden published many pamphlets against Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz. 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 Eybeshitz, with titles like: The Scorpion’s Sting. (3)
Rabbi Emden responded to Rabbi Yehonatan’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 Yehonatan: (4)
"He (Rabbi Eybeshitz) 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".
It was said that Rabbi Emden was so blinded by hate and prone to exaggeration making whatever he said about Rabbi Yehonatan questionable. (5)
In fact, things were going so well for Rabbi Eybeshitz 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.
1760...NOT A GOOD YEAR FOR RABBI EIBESCHITZ
Things remained pretty quiet until 1760 when two problems erupted against Rabbi Eybeshitz. The first being the discovery that a group of students in his yeshevah were indeed followers of the clandestine Shabbatean sect. The second mater 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 Eybeshitz entrusted his son Wolf with some business deals and access to the family wealth, which Wolf completely mishandled. In communicating about his son Wolf’s situation, Rabbi Eibeschutz said that he was aware of Wolf’s mis-steps but thought he was being moved by a devine spirit. Later Rabbi Eybeshitz realized it was unclear if the forces were pure or unpure.(2) This was heartbreaking, and put Rabbi Euybeshitz in financial jeopard. .
Several rabbis who supported Rabbi Emden initially actually denounced him and switched allegiance to Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz as the controversy drew on.
RABBI EMDEN'S VITRIOL TOWARDS RABBI JONATHAN
Rabbi Emden’s vilification of Rabbi Eibeschutz increased to a feverish pitch. He published many pieces from his home printing press including pamphlets, broadsides and books attacking Rabbi Eibeschutz. 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 Eibeschutz was the secret code incorporated into his amulets, Rabbi Emden went after Rabbi Eibeschutz on other sinful fronts as well. I will submit to you two examples illustrating Rabbi Emden’s desire to prove that Rabbi Jehonosan Eibeschutz was not following Jewish law and that he was hiding Shabbatean code in places other than the amulets. Where would he accuse Rabbi Jehonosan Eibeschutz of commiting sacred sin, you might be wondering? How about Crypto-Shabbatean code Rabbi Emden accused Rabbi Eibeschutz 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 Eibeschutz 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 Eibeschutz is in order.
When we think of the great accomplishments of Rabbi Eybeshitz, and see pictures of him, our minds fill in many blanks with our own ideas and perceptions. In our minds eye we see Rabbi Eybeshitz 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. 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 Eybeshitz in the highest regard. It is also well known that he used this unique position and his gift of gab with the non-Jews to advance better treatment of the Jews. 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 to Rabbi Yehonatan’s question. (7)
Fitting into the premise that Rabbi Eybeshitz 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 non-kosher (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 a 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 Eibeschutz 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 Eibeschutz 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 Eybeshitz. His abilities as a porger were not being questioned. In 1755-6, Rabbi Emden wrote in favor of the expulsion of Rabbi Eybeshitz and his followers from the Jewish Community claiming he fed a group of people meat containing forbidden fat as per a Shabetai Tzvi ritual of consuming forbidden fat (9) Most scholars even to this day side with Rabbi Yehonatan on this mater.
RABBI EMDEN ACCUSES RABBI EIBESCHUTZ OF GRAVE MISDEEDS
The second example of Rabbi Emden’s desire to destroy the good name of Rabbi Eybeshitz was accusing him of writing secret Shabbetean code on a tombstone. In a pamphlet written by Rabbi Emden he actually accused Rabbi Eybeshitz of writing an encrypted Shabbetean message on Rabbi Yehonatan’s wife, Elkele’s, gravestone! In 1756 one year after the death of Elkele Eybeshitz from cancer, Rabbi Eybeshitz 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.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) In sum, Rabbi Emden denounces Rabbi Yehonatan for Shabbetean 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. Scoring a 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. In 1765, nine years after Elkele’s unveiling and one year after Rabbi Yehonatan death at the first yahrzeit the headstone was unveiled. Rabbi Eybeshitz composed the text for his own stone. After the unveiling Rabbi Emden accused Rabbi Yehonatan of composing Shabbetean acrostic to be written on his gravestone. Even after the death of Rabbi Eybeshitz, Rabbi Emden was still spreading vile lies but not Rabbi Yehonatan had no way of defending himself. Emden continued his fight with Rabbi Eybeshitz 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 Eybeshitz 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.
RABBI EYBESHITZ & 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 died Rabbi Ezekial Landau was in town. 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 Eybeshitz 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 controversy. Rabbi EYbeshitz 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 the very last three words of his life he remained a bitter enemy of Rabbi Jehonosan.
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 Yehonatan”. These last words of friendly greetings in our world opened the door to a respectful burial for Rabbi Emden. 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. This singular plot had a very big problem. The plot was in the very same row and only five graves away from Rabbi Eybeshitz’s gravesite. This was a major obstacle 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.
Since 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. 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 Yehonatan. Rabbi Landau concluded that Rabbi Eybeshitz welcomed Rabbi Emden into the afterlife as he would family. Therefore the differences these great rabbi’s had in life did not survive in death. The feud was over. 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 Eibeschutz lying next to his wife Elkele. (10,11)
May they all Rest In Peace
The Emden-Eybeshitz 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.
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