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Sunday, 24 June 2018

182) RABBINIC FORAYS INTO THE MATRIX OF SABBATEAN KABBALAH:

'Eshel Avraham' by R. Avraham Rovigo and R. Mordechai Ashkenazi.
INTRODUCTION:

In this article, we will look at the surprising ease with which some mainstream rabbis of the 1700’s would delve in and out of known Sabbatean writings as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
Sabbateans were the followers of the false messiah Shabattai Tzvi, who, long after his death still continued to secretly follow his mystical teachings and infiltrate the Torah community. [See previous post.] 

Once again I draw from the fascinating and outstanding research of Rabbi Dr Maoz Kahana[1].
We will look particularly at the writings of R. Pinchas Katzenellenbogen who was a typical mainstream rabbi - not a Sabbatean - who openly studied Sabbatean Kabbalah:

R. PINCHAS KATZENELLENBOGEN:

R. Pinchas Katzenellenbogen (1691-1765) was a descendant of R. Meir, the Maharam of Padua (1482-1564). He served in many communities throughout Europe and eventually settled in Boskowitz in Moravia (Czech Republic) and was known as the Rav of Boskowitz.

Fortunately, we know much about him because he fastidiously kept about two thousand pages of notebooks and diaries, some of which are at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, on all matters Halachic, Talmudic, as well as personal encounters with mystics.

ASSOCIATION WITH R. AVRAHAM ROVIGO AND R. MORDECHAI ASHKENAZI:
ESHEL AVRAHAM’:

One of R. Katzenellenbogen’s notebooks, Yesh Manchilin[2], records his interaction with two mystics, R. Avraham Rovigo and R. Mordechai Ashkenazi in the early 1700’s:

R. Katzenellenbogen describes how he met: “A holy and pure man...his faith was in the hidden secrets of Torah, and all the pious (Hasidim) including their most learned and ascetic, would approach him in order to draw living waters from his well of kabbalistic wisdom...My father...also attended him.
...his name was the Sage, our Master, Avraham Rovigo.

His student who served him...Rabbi Mordechai from...Lwow...cleaved unto his master’s Torah and faith until he merited...that a [heavenly] Magid was revealed to him in the form of his perfectly wise rabbi, the same master, Rabbi Avraham Rovigo.

[In other words, R. Mordechai Ashkenazi allegedly merited to be taught by a Maggid or angelic being which resembled his teacher R. Avraham Rovigo, apparently while his teacher was still alive!]

He studied the wisdom of the Kabbalah with him, and revealed secrets to him until he [R. Mordechai] wrote a book...called Eshel Avraham[3] [so named after his teacher] Rabbi [Avraham Rovigo].

...since I know that...R. Mordechai was not learned enough to be versed in Talmud, he must have obtained the knowledge as a gift from heaven for serving the great man [R. Avraham Rovigo].

...for I have known him [R. Avraham Rovigo] from youth – his countenance is like an angel of G-d, and his appearance is majestic...and every Shabbat I would go to him to receive his blessing.”

The Eshel Avraham was "based on a new interpretation of the Zohar he [R. Moredchai] received from heaven."[4] R. Mordechai Ashkenazi claims that through the principles revealed in this book one can understand more of the Zohar in three months than others have been able to achieve in many years.

 Then R. Kahana drops a bombshell: 

Abraham Rovigo and his student Mordecai Ashkenazi were not, however, merely ordinary kabbalists. The pair played an important role at the center of the dissemination of Sabbatean teachings in the early eighteenth century.”

R. AVRAHAM ROVIGO:

R. Avraham Rovigo (1650-1713), a wealthy collector and publisher of Kabbalistic manuscripts, claimed to be the recipient of revelations by otherworldly maggidim. He had studied under the renowned Kabbalist R. Moshe Zacuto in Venice, but broke away from him after Zacuto became an opponent of Shabbatai Tzvi. 

R. Avraham Rovigo's signature.

Rovigo chose instead to remain a supporter of Sabbateanism, known as one of the ma’aminim or believers.[5] In 1701 (or 02) he and his followers established a Kabbalistic Sabbatean yeshiva in Jerusalem.

UNABASHED SABBATEAN INFLUENCE:

Surprisingly, Rovigo and Ashkenazi’s combined work Eshel Avraham, has the enthusiastic approbations of very many great rabbis of the period even though both the author and his teacher were known Sabbateans:












R. KATZENELLENBOGEN’S PRAISE OF ‘ESHEL AVRAHAM’:

R. Katzenellenbogen, unashamedly and quite openly, acknowledges and praises the greatness of the authors and the book Eshel Avraham, and thus effectively declares himself as having being influenced by known followers of Sabbateanism!

Importantly though, R. Kahana goes on to make the point that despite this - R. Katzenellenbogen (who associated with avowed anti-Sabbateans like the Nodah biYehuda) was NOT a Sabbatean!

This amazingly shows how easy and common it was for some rabbis of that time to move in and out of Sabbatean teachings, even though they knew full well that Shabattai Tzvi had already been shown to be a false messiah decades earlier in 1666.

ALLUSIONS TO THE ‘FAITH OF SHABBATAI TZVI':

R. Kahana draws our attention to R. Katenellenbogen’s expressions in his aforementioned notebook, like “his faith was in the hidden secrets of Torah” and “R. Mordechai...cleaved unto his master’s Torah and faith”, which may indicate that R. Katzenellenbogen was aware that both Rovigo and Ashkenazi were adherents to an almost distinct ‘faith’– that of messianic Sabbateanism. Also, later in reference to another work, Or Yisrael, R. Katzenellenbogen refers similarly and clearly to ‘the faith of Sabbatai Zevi’.

Amazingly, R. Katzenellenbogen was still prepared to admire and continued to consult many of these Sabbatean mystical teachings.

‘TIKKUNEI TESHUVA’ BY NATHAN OF GAZA:

R. Katzenellenbogen, furthermore, also had a manuscript copy of a Kabbalistic composition of about fifteen pages, entitled Tikkunei Teshuva.[6]

This composition contains the following note:

Tikunei Teshuva (penitential rectifications), sent from Gaza, instituted by our most dignified teacher, Rabbi Nathan the Prophet Ashkenazi.”[7]

This is a reference to R. Natan haAzati (Nathan of Gaza) who was the prophet and messianic endorser of Shabbattai Tzvi.
And R. Katzenellenbogen identified the copier of this clearly Sabbatean composition as none other than R. Avraham Rovigo!

R. Kahana writes:
Just as the reference to Nathan of Gaza did not lead Katzenellenbogen to burn the Sabbatean manuscript, or even remove it from his house, so Rovigo’s affiliation with Sabbateanism, clearly established by the manuscript, failed to induce the author [Katzenellenbogen][8] to repudiate his youthful relationship with the latter.”

THE 'VERSE FOR THE NAME':

Additionally, R. Katzenellenbogen claimed (like R. Mordechai Ashkenazi) to have seen R. Avraham Rovigo in a dream where he was taught the Biblical verse which corresponded to his name. (This is a practice whereby a Biblical verse - which begins with the same letter as the first letter of one’s name and ends with the same letter of the last letter of the name – is recited, often at the end of the Amidah prayer.) 

And more than fifty years later, R. Katzenellenbogen wrote that he continued to recite it every day “since I merited from heaven that he (R. Rovigo) show it to me, and I heard it from that holy, pure mouth.”[9]

Again, the fact that R. Rovigo was a Sabbatean who taught Sabbatean practices, did not at all deter R. Katzenellenbogen in the slightest.

LEST ANYONE SUSPECT ME OF BEING ONE OF THEM’:

About two years later, in 1758, R. Katzenellenbogen added another comment, as if to cover himself from suspicions of Sabbateanism, in that selfsame manuscript:

Now I have observed in this book that he [R. Avraham Rovigo][10] calls Nathan of Gaza a true and righteous prophet... the same man who prophesied falsely regarding Sabbatai Zevi...who caused a great stumbling-block.

Lest anyone suspect me, G-d forbid, of being one of them, far be it for [me].

However, we do not criticise...[R. Avraham Rovigo][11], that G-d fearing righteous man...for in those days, in the year 1666, most communities in Israel believed in those strange matters [that Sabbatai Zevi was the Messiah][12].

But their disgrace has since been revealed, and no more need be said.”[13]

The fact is that by the time R. Katzenellenbogen wrote this last note (in 1758), the Council of the Four Lands has already banned the possession of Sabbatean literature two years earlier (in 1756)[14] – so perhaps he felt it necessary to explain why he still possessed such writings.

THE OPENLY SABBATEAN ‘OR YISRAEL’:

'Or Yisrael' by. R. Yisrael Yaffe.
In R. Katzenellenbogen’s notebooks[15], he again wrote concerning another Sabbatean work, Or Yisrael, from which he had also studied from. It was authored by R. Yisrael Yaffe.

R. Yisrael Jaffe (1640-1702) had witnessed the suffering brought about by the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648. Thereafter, he dedicated his life to the study of Kabbalah in order to understand why G-d had permitted those terrible tribulations. He rebuked rabbis who did not study Kabbalah and composed his Or Yisrael to encourage the study of mysticism. He repeated made use of the word ‘Tzvi’ in his work. He claimed repeated heavenly visions and visitations by Elijah the Prophet and spoke urgently about messianic redemption.

The Or Yisrael also came with very many respected rabbinic approbations:















Note R. Katzenellenbogen’s angst when he wrote about R. Yisrael Yaffe’s Or Yisrael:

 “When I was [serving as rabbi][16] in the community of Markbreit, a book entitled Or Yisra’el came into my possession. I realised that this man [the author, R. Yisrael Yaffe][17] was a great Kabbalist. I learned wonderful ideas from this book, which I studied literally every day.

However, when I came to realise from his words that he was a believer in the faith of Sabbetai Zevi[18]...I realised that it was a mitzvah to withdraw from the study of this book, so that I should not be drawn into error...

I said that just as I will receive reward for expounding it, so will I be rewarded for withdrawing from it.

Subsequently, however, I retracted and said to myself: why should I refrain from studying this book? It is entirely comprised of kabbalistic explanations, elucidations of the Zohar, and clarifications of the words of the Holy Ari...

All his teachings are insightful, becoming and in good taste. If he is in error of his belief, I will make sure not to follow his mistake, just as R. Meir learned Torah from ‘Aher’[19] by eating the pulp of his words and discarding the rind etc.

I did not want to hold back from the book any longer, but I was confused as to what to do; I would not read it on a regular basis as before, but only occasionally, etc.

[This remained the case] until one time, [a certain individual] appeared to me in a dream and greeted me with peace, and I answered him with peace.

I asked him who he was and he replied that he was Elijah the Prophet.

Among other things, he encouraged me to study the book Or Yisra’el, praising it highly.
I awoke perturbed by this dream and I said myself: who am I that Elijah the Prophet should reveal himself to me?

This dream must be a worthless message that the deceiving and destructive forces have sent to mislead me...

After this incident, which happened in about 5483 (1723), I withdrew my hand from that book, only reading it on the ninth of Av [!], or the occasional halacha which cannot lead one astray, and even this only once or twice a year.

Several years passed during which I did not so much as glance at it...

Nonetheless, this last summer [1756] I have occasionally returned to the book, for he was truly a great and cherished kabbalist, all of his words are in good taste, and composed with perceptive understanding.

And if he was in error - I said to myself – now that I have reached old age [G-d] will assist me and teach me the way of truth, and until the day of my death he will lead me in straight paths...”

This is a fascinatingly personal and honest account of R. Katzenellenbogen’s angst which he experienced over what R. Kahana calls ‘the allure of forbidden knowledge’. He squarely rejected Sabbateanism and he was not a Sabbatean but he had no issue with delving into Sabbatean mysticism wherever he could see its value.

ANALYSIS:

The Sabbatean movement was no mere footnote to Jewish history, although it is often portrayed as such. Its subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) influence can be seen in the Judaism that was to emerge during the 1700’s and continues to exist within some trends of Judaism to this day.

R. Nachman of Breslov wrote: 

For that Shabbatai Tzvi...led astray a number of the greatest men of the generation and outstanding scholars...they left the fold and spoke evil regarding the Oral law...but when a Tzadik sweetens their words, he transforms their sayings back into Torah.”[20]

This underscores what we have seen regarding many of the leading rabbis of the 1700’s. It appears as if forays into some forms of Sabbateanism may have been more common than imagined.

According to an account in Shivchei haBesht, Shabbatai Tzvi came in a dream to the Baal Shem Tov, to ask for a rectification. This rectification was to be done “soul with soul, spirit with spirit, and breath with breath...the Baal Shem Tov said that Shabbatai Tzvi had a spark of holiness in him.”

This again shows that the Chassidic movement felt that some Sabbatean elements were considered redeemable. 

But it wasn’t just the Chassidic movement, because even rabbis like Menachem Mendel of Shklov, the student of the Vilna Gaon may have been attracted to elements of Sabbateanism.[21]  And R. Kahana writes that Sabbateanism presented: “...an attraction common to Hasidim and Mitnagdim, Sephardim and Ashkenazim alike.”

Gershom Scholem writes that Sabbateanism didn’t just influence Judaism in its various forms, but even non-Jewish thought systems: 

Sabbateanism is the matrix of every significant movement to have emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, from Hasidism, to Reform Judaism, to the earliest Masonic circles and revolutionary idealism.”

[Definition of 'matrix' - the set of conditions that provides a system in which something grows or develops.]

Sarena Di Nepi writes: 

Sabbateanism has recently been the subject of renewed interest among social and religious historians. Attention has been focused on the vicissitudes of Sabbatai Zevi himself as well as on the movement that gathered around him in 1665 and 1666, and that would continue to express itself through activist missionizing and subterranean conventicles [secret religious meetings] in the decades and even centuries that followed.”[22]

With Sabbateanism exerting such widespread influence (arguably according to some, including aspects of Chassidism, modern Messianism, revival of popular Mysticism, Communism and even Zionism – let alone apparent inroads into the non-Jewish world, as many Sabbateans and Frankists converted to other faiths) – it should not come as a surprise that many in the rabbinical world continued to delve in and out of Sabbateanism as well. See R. Ya’akov Koppel Lifschitz and Sefer haTzoref and Chemdat Yamim and Shabbatai Tzvi.

Might one say that in terms of sheer numbers alone - with most Jews having initially been Sabbatean followers of Shabbatai Tzvi - the movement was probably larger and more successful than many of the other religious Jewish movements which were to rapidly follow on its heels!

That energy, as we have seen, did not just dissipate into thin air.





[1] The Allure of Forbidden knowledge: The Temptation of Sabbatean Literature for Mainstream Rabbis in the Frankist Movement, 1756 - 1761, by Maoz Kahana.
[2]There are Those who Bequeath’, published in 1986 by R. Isaac Dov Feld.
[3] This was a commentary to selections of the Zohar, based in part on dreams.
[4] Kabbalah, by Gershom Scholem, p.275.
[5] See The Hebrew Goddess by Rafael Patai, p. 209.
[6] This short manuscript is contained within another larger manuscript of Shulchan Aruch haAri Zal. This was not a work of Halacha, as the name would suggest, but rather a compilation by the Ari Zal’s students of their teacher’s Kabbalistic customs, practices including the use of amulets.
[7] Hebrew Oxford manuscript, MS Mich. 36, 214a
[8] Parenthesis mine.
[9] P. 259a of the manuscript. This entry was made in 1756.
[10] Parenthesis mine.
[11] Parenthesis mine.
[12] Parenthesis mine.
[13] P. 259a of the manuscript.
[14] As well as other subsequent events such as the burning of Talmuds after the disastrous Kamenetz-Podolsk debate with the Frankists and their recognition by the authorities.
[15] Oxford manuscript MS Heb. E. 130
[16] Parenthesis mine.
[17] Parenthesis mine.
[18] This was apparent already from page four of the book.
[19] The Talmud record that the great R. Meir continued to study under the rebel sage turned heretic, Elisha ben Avuya who was referred to as ‘Acher’ the ‘Other’.
[20] Likkutai Moharan 1:207
[21] See Yehuda Liebes, The Vilna Gaon Scholl. Sabbateanism and Das Pintale Yid. 

[22] CFP: Sabbateanism in Italy and its Mediterranean Context. International Conference. Roma, January 20-22, 2019


Sunday, 17 June 2018

181) WHY THE NODA BE’YEHUDAH WANTED TO BAN THE STUDY OF KABBALAH:


BACKGROUND TO THE NODA BE’YEHUDAH:

R. Yechezkel Landau (1713-1793) - also known after his Halachic work, as the Noda biYehudah – was born to a wealthy and influential family in Opatow in Poland. His father, R. Yehudah, was very involved in communal affairs and became one of the leaders of the Va’ad Arba Aratzot or the Council of the Four Lands[1]. This body, based in Lublin, was in existence for two hundred years and took care of Jewish communal, religious and political affairs.

Thus, R. Landau grew up in an environment which was rich and knowledgeable in communal realities.

At the age of twenty, he was appointed as dayan or judge of the Court at Brody, a position he held for eleven years.

MEDIATING THE EMDEN/EYBESCHUTZ CONTROVERSY:

In the 1700s, the Council of Four Lands moved from Lublin to Yaroslav and in their last session in the fall of 1753[2], it adjudicated the famous Emden/Eybeschutz controversy. This was where R. Ya’akov Emden accused R. Yonatan Eybeschutz - no less a personality than the Chief Rabbi of Prague - of being a secret Sabbatean or follower of false messiah Shabbatai Tzvi.

During that session, R. Eybeschutz was acquitted of Sabbatean heresy - and it was none other than R. Landau who had sat in judgement during that bitter trial.

The reason why they chose R. Landau to reside over that cataclysmic controversy was that he was respected as both a Talmudist as well as a Kabbalist. And he lived up to his reputation because his judgement on this matter was considered so sensitive, fair and neutral, that he attracted the attention of the entire Jewish world – to the extent that when the position of Chief Rabbi later became available in Prague, it was offered to him.

People flocked to R. Landau for advice and Halachic guidance and the constant practical application of his scholarship thus broadened the material for his Sha’alot uTeshuvot or responsa work – the Noda biYehudah - which he named after his father.

SABBATEAN INVASIVENESS:

SHABBATAI TZVI:

Although the false messiah Shabbatai Tzvi had died almost a century earlier in 1676, there was a multitude of secret Sabbatean cells all over Europe, still spreading his message. Shabbatai Tzvi had mastered and then abused the Kabballah of the Ari Zal. 

This explains why his teachings were of an extremely mystical nature and had much allure. He had also produced a Sabbatean Kabbalah and his teaching found ripe audiences across the Jewish and Torah world. He had taught that sometimes one needs to intentionally enter into the sin in order to ‘elevate’ it and thus hasten the redemption. This was a very dangerous notion and some of his followers were known to have been promiscuous. 

More than half of the Jewish population, including respected rabbis, are said to have followed Shabbatai Tzvi before his conversion to Islam in 1666. And many continued to follow his Kabbalah even after his death ten years later.

Rabbi Dr Maoz Kahana (with whom I have communicated and admire greatly as a scholar and an absolute gentleman) has written in-depth about the post-Shabbatai Tzvi period, and I have drawn - in this article - from his extensive research.[3]  

As part of his investigation, he dated and revisited lost manuscripts, fragments and personal writings relating to R. Landau and the Sabbatean issue.
He refers to the disturbing phenomenon of “the percolation of Sabbatean ideas into mainstream [including rabbinical][4] writing”- even almost a century after Shabbatai Tzvi’s demise.

R. YA’AKOV EMDEN:

Secret and covert Sabbatean ideology was so pervasive that in 1752, R. Ya’akov Emden published a blacklist of books containing such literature. R. Emden wrote: “The following books have absorbed the venom of this snake in certain concealed parts...impurity has spread throughout Israel, hidden away in secret places.[5] 

Many Sabbatean ideas were discreetly disseminated even within the pages of mainstream prayer books and other rabbinical works which were commonly found in many homes at that time. [See KOTZK BLOG 168].

Referring to one such Sabbatean manuscript Va’avo hayom el ha’ayin R. Emden wrote: “even the upright people of this country possess copies of it.”[6]
[See KOTZK BLOG 168 and KOTZK BLOG 118 for some more examples.]

Sabbatean literature got interspersed within normative Kabbalistic literature and it was often hard, even for the trained eye, to distinguish one from the other.

R. LANDAU’S LETTER TO ALL JEWISH COMMUNITIES:

A) THE COMPROMISE:

During the Emden/Eybeschutz debacle, R. Landau compiled his famous and crafty letter of compromise which he hoped would put the controversy to rest. He addressed his letter to the heads of all the main Jewish communities. While R. Emden had accused R. Eybeschutz of distributing amulets with Shabbatai Tzvi’s name on them, R. Landau took a middle of the road approach. He expressed disapproval only of the amulets, but he did not condemn R. Eybeschutz personally.

EMPRESS MARIA THERESA:

R.Landau was known to have encouraged good relations with all people including non-Jews and was considered to be a model and patriotic citizen. When Empress Maria Theresa (the only female leader, and the last, of the powerful Hapsburgs)died, it was R. Landau who delivered the eulogy.

This is even more notable considering that Maria Theresa was once regarded as one of the most anti-Semitic rulers of that time. She even considered expelling the Jews from her realm. She wrote of the Jews: "I know of no greater plague than this race, which on account of its deceit, usury and avarice is driving my subjects into beggary. Therefore as far as possible, the Jews are to be kept away and avoided." 

However, toward the end of her life, she offered the Jews protection and opposed forced conversions to Christianity, permitted Jewish schools to open and for Jews to participate actively in commerce.

I did some research of my own and discovered that one of the reasons why Empress Maria Theresa, although an avowed anti-Semite, changed her attitude and actually ended up being very favourable to the Jews – was because of a Jewish courtier whom she greatly admired, Avraham Mendel Theben. He had the ear of the Empress and used his influence to release Jews who had been falsely imprisoned as a result of a blood libel as well as convince her to adopt other reforms which were favourable to the Jews.

It turns out that Theben’s daughter was married to R. Mordechai, the son of R. Yonatan Eybeschutz![7]
Perhaps this was one of the reasons why R. Landau did not want to antagonise R. Eybeschutz.

And perhaps this is why R. Kahana refers to R. Landau’s soft compromise on R. Eybeschutz’s Sabbatean controversy - as him “turning a blind eye” and making “convoluted efforts to resolve the confrontation”.

B) THE SUGGESTED CAMPAIGN:

But in that same aforementioned letter, R. Landau went on to state in no uncertain terms:

I have come to awaken the hearts of all the great men of the land regarding the books of magic and heresy that have been found in our country . . . [that aim] to deny heretically the basic truths . . . to uproot and remove all traces of the root of the belief of Israel . . . 

Believe me, amongst all gentile faiths . . . I have not heard such heresy as this...These writings have spread throughout almost the majority of the regions of Podolia, where they are considered holy writings...

[Therefore] Issue a printed proclamation of a severe excommunication...and send instructions in print to this end to all the communities of Israel in every country,
[signed] Yechezkiel [Landau].[8]

From the letter, we see that R. Landau was less concerned about the matter of R. Eybeschutz’s alleged personal use of Sabbatean amulets, and more concerned about the more dangerous issue of the masses confusing Sabbatean literature with holy mystical writings, particularly those of the Ari Zal which at that time were at the height of their popularity.

Ironically, R. Kahana adds in a footnote that some have argued that Sabbateanism itself was responsible to some extent for the popularity of the Ari Zal’s teachings!

(Interestingly enough, both R. Eybeschutz[9] and R. Emden[10] published this letter of R. Landau in their respective works – although R. Emden continued to discredit R. Eybeschutz by claiming he had left out certain sections of the letter.)

RESPONSE TO R. LANDAU’S LETTER:

The response to R. Landau letter was quite surprising. The rabbis of Brody - while agreeing in principle to the ban on the various publications because of suspected Sabbatean heresy - felt that R. Landau had actually not compromised but had in fact been too harsh on R. Eybeschutz by condemning the amulets!

And, even the ban on the publications which they partially agreed to, was not really taken seriously and may have been lip service more than anything else.

Thus R. Landau’s letter was not as effective as he thought it would be.

THE NODA B'YEHUDA'S BAN ON KABBALAH:

R. Landau did not just leave it at the Letter.  In his response work Noda biYehudah - in an undated entry dealing with an unrelated issue of the shapes of letters in a Sefer Torah scroll - R. Landau inserts the following:


Now, regarding the words of the Zohar, I do not wish to speak at length. How I am angered by those who study the book of the Zohar and the Kabbalistic literature in public. They remove the yolk of the revealed Torah from their necks, and chirp and make noises over the book of the Zohar, thus losing out on both, causing the Torah to be forgotten from Israel.

Furthermore, since our generation has seen an increase in the heretics of the sect of Shabbatai Tzvi...it would be proper to mend a fence and prohibit the study of the Zohar and the Kabbalistic texts...in any case, we do not rule Halacha from the Zohar...I do not deal with hidden secrets but merely reflect on that which has been permitted to me.” [11]

Amazingly, in this Halachic responsum, R. Landau appears to call for a blanket prohibition against the study of the mysticism of the Zohar and Kabbalistic texts, in order do away once and for all with the possibility of the merging of a genuine mystical system with that of a secret Sabbatean mystical system!

R. Kahana writes: “there was no sharp differentiation between a recognised maggid or kabbalistic preacher, on the one hand, and a hidden Sabbatean heretic, on the other...the escalation of heretical activities necessitates a clear renunciation of kabbalistic literature in all its varieties...[and][12] would proscribe the entire kabbalistic tradition by prohibiting all study of the zohar and kabbalistic texts.

DETECTIVE WORK:

The printed editions of Noda biYehuda do not provide a date for this last responsum banning the study of Kabbalah. However, in a notebook of R. Pinchas Katzenellenbogen (who originally addressed the query about the shapes of the letters of a Sefer Torah to R. Landau in the first instance), there is a date which corresponds to Friday, February 20, 1756!

Putting the pieces of the puzzle together, R. Kahana shows how at that time, R. Landau would have been caught up in the furry and debacle of another false messiah (who claimed to be a reincarnation of Shabbatai Tzvi) by the name of Jacob Frank.  (See KOTZK BLOG 123.)

Jacob Frank had, about two months earlier, just crossed into Poland as part of his campaign to solicit support from Polish secret Sabbatteans. And just a few weeks prior, Jacob Frank was caught in a Sabbatean nihilistic ritual which resulted in arrests, accusations and counter-accusations. 

This sparked an intense confrontation between the rabbis and the Frankists under the ‘patronage’ of Bishop Dembowsky. Eventually, the tensions culminated in religious debates in Kamenetz Podolsk (where copies of the Talmud were burned) and Lvov, with Jacob Frank converting to Christianity together with many of his followers.

R. Katzenellenbogen’s question to R. Landau just happened to arrive at the beginning of this tumultuous period. This may have prompted R. Landau referring to ‘an increase in the heretics’ at that precise time. And this may explain why R Landau was prepared to revert to such an extreme measure as banning the study of Kabbalah.

This suggestion would hold true considering, as mentioned earlier, that R. Landau was indeed respected by both Talmudists and Kabbalists and in fact had previously participated in the circulation of Kabbalistic works while serving at the Brody Kloyz. R. Kahana writes: “The almost forty years he was to spend in Prague (1755 to 1793) only served to entrench and deepen  his hostility to Kabbalah – this in a man who had himself grown up, been educated, and had been unconditionally active in an environment saturated with it.”

RESPONSE TO THE BAN OF THE NODAH BI’YEHUDAH:

This time the rabbinate responded more swiftly and directly to his call and issued a writ of excommunication against the Frankists. They did not ban the study of Kabbalah, but they raised the minimum age of study of Kabbalah to thirty years, and of study of the Ari Zal’s teachings to forty years of age.

A short time later this writ became officially known as ‘The Double-Edged sword’ and became the official protocol of Eastern European Jewry.

Furthermore, at the same time, R. Landau’s previous suggestion in his earlier letter - to ban Sabbatean publications - was retroactively reinstated and the official wording now read:

“...and the excommunication shall apply to anyone who owns the aforementioned impure [Sabbatean][13] books, unless he burns them, including the names of G-d they contain.”[14]





[1] These included Greater Poland, Little Poland, Ruthenia and Volhynia.
[2] Some put the date at 1752.
[3] The Allure of Forbidden Knowledge: The Temptation of Sabbatean Literature for Mainstream Rabbis.
[4] Parenthesis mine.
[5] Torat haKenaot (Altona 1752), 71b-72a.
[6] Shvirat Luchot haEven (Altona 1757), 31b.
[7]The Jews of Hungary: History, Culture, Psychology, by Raphael Patai, p.228.
[8] Gachalei Eish, II, 132a-133a.
[9] Luchot Edut (Altona 1755), p. 41.
[10] Petach Enayim (Altona 1755) 7-8.
[11] Noda beYehudah, Part 1, Yoreh De’ah 74. (One could perhaps argue whether 'ligdor geder' means to restrict, limit or to prohibit.)
[12] Parenthesis mine.
[13] Parenthesis mine.
[14] Halperin, The Records, sections 750-53.