Sunday 26 April 2020


The Book of Isaiah  as found in Qumran


Once again I am very happy to present another guest post by Rabbi Boruch Clinton. [See his previous post.]

Rabbi Clinton has taught at yeshiva and Beis Yaakov High Schools for twenty years. He currently works as an information technology content provider, authoring books and courses on cloud computing, technology security, server virtualization, and Linux system administration.

For more, visit his site

The article follows and his message at the end is, I believe, very pertinent to our times:

Social Injustice - When Leadership Fails: 

Before reading this essay, it might be helpful to take a look at these passages from Isaiah: 1:17-27, 5:7-9; 10:1-3; 58:6-9 and 59:3-9

If there’s only one thing that becomes abundantly clear from reading Isaiah’s words, it is that God cares deeply about the suffering endured by the weak at the hands of Jewish society’s rich and powerful classes. But why? Why is this such a key focus more than, say, the mitzvah to love your neighbor, or than the related but distinct mitzvah to avoid spreading slander? What is it that makes promoting civic justice into a deal breaker?

Sunday 19 April 2020


The original notarized copy of the Eibeschutz amulets. Metz, 17 March 1751.


The controversy between R. Yaakov Emden (1697-1776) and R. Yonatan Eibeschuetz (1690-1764) shook the Jewish community to its core as it involved two well-known and highly respected rabbis.

R. Eibeschuetz started out as the Chief Rabbi of Metz in north-eastern France bordering on Germany, and later after 1750, he assumed the position of Chief Rabbi of the triple community of Altona[1], Hamburg and Wandsbeck[2]. He was, arguably, one of the most powerful rabbis serving in the most prestigious communities at that time.

This did not prevent R. Yaakov Emden from attacking the Chief Rabbi alleging he was a secret follower of the false Messiah, Shabbatai Tzvi (1626-1676). The vast network of underground and secret followers of Shabbatai Tzvi, were known as Sabbateans - and now a famous rabbi was suspected of being one of them.

At the heart of the controversy were a number of amulets, particularly for childbirth, written by R. Eibeschuetz which were said to contain references to Shabbatai Tzvi.

The stage was now set for the most aggressive and bitter rabbinical conflict to erupt in many centuries.

Besides R. Emden, other prominent rabbis weighed in, including R. Yechezkel Landau (the Nodah beYehudah) and the Vilna Gaon. Even Christian scholars and foreign governments got involved. The matter was widely reported on by the newspapers of the day.

In this article, I have drawn extensively from the research and writing of Rabbi Professor Sid Leiman and Professor Simon Schwarzfuchs.[3]


In 1752, about a year after the controversy reached a feverish peak, a copy of some of the notorious amulets distributed by R. Eibeschuetz were printed and published in a book entitled Sefat Emet.[4] (This work is often ascribed to R. Emden but the author is unknown. Some suggest it may have been Nechemia Reischer.)


Over two-hundred years later - around the 1980’s - in a fascinating turn of events, the original four-page documents[5] containing copies of five of the Eibeschuetz amulets, were found quite by accident. As we shall see later, these matched almost perfectly with the printed version in Sefat Emet. What made this find even more interesting was the fact that they were notarized and authorized as authentic copies.

This surprising discovery occurred when an independent researcher was looking for Jewish marriage contracts in the Moselle region of France bordering on Germany. He was not looking for anything to do with the Eibeschuetz amulets and, as he didn’t know what they were, he handed these strange documents over to the head of the Departmental Archives who duly contacted Professors Leiman and Schwarzfuchs (henceforth, for brevity simply referred to as Leiman).

They immediately realized that these documents were related the Emden-Eibeschuetz controversy over the nature of the healing amulets and clearly, they were notarized so as to be valid for use as evidence against R. Eibeschuetz in a civil lawsuit.

Interestingly, the documents were first notarized just by the officials of the Jewish community of Metz (on 17 March 1751), and then notarized again by the same officials exactly eight months later (17 November 1751) but this time under the authority of the French King’s attorney general.

This following Hebrew text appears on the fourth page, next to the copy of the amulets. It contains the names and signatures of the two official notaries for the Jewish community of Metz (who, to complicate matters further, happened to be supporters of R. Eibeschuetz and were just fulfilling their civic duties as notaries):

English translation of the text:

The original text follows with the signatures of the two notaries:


The discovery of the original notarized version of the amulets matches almost perfectly with the printed version as found in Sefat Emet[15]. As can be seen, the differences are minor and insignificant and today would pass as common ‘typos’:


According to Chassidic tradition[6] seven early Masters are referred to by the honorific Rebbe Reb. One of them is the Rebbe Reb Yonatan Eibeschuetz. He was a respected Kabbalist and he wrote amulets, or Segulot, to allegedly ward off evil spirits from sick people and pregnant women. He was even known as a Baal Shem[7], or spiritual healer who knew and practised the secrets of mysticism. As part of his healing mission, he wrote and sold amulets.


R. Eibeschuetz left Metz to take on his new position in Germany. However, rumours were already rife about R. Eibeschuetz’ suspected Sabbatean activities. On the day that he arrived to serve as Chief Rabbi in Hamburg[8] in September 1750, he was challenged by charges of his alleged association with the Sabbateans and questioned about his amulets referencing Shabbatai Tzvi.

The leadership of the Hamburg Jewish community immediately became wary of their new Chief Rabbi, and it wasn’t long before they found one of these amulets. They consulted with R. Emden who confirmed their Sabbatean character.


R. Eibeschuetz, as was to become a pattern, immediately denied the accusations as he had done even going back as far thirty years earlier in the 1720s.

The allegation was that R. Eibeschuetz had written into the amulets the name of Shabbatai Tzvi in coded form, typical of the tactics of many of the secret Sabbateans. 

R. Eibeschuetz responded that the ‘code’ was simply an acrostic for a verse in the Torah.

Upon further questioning, he claimed that the ‘code’ was simply the format he had received from another Baal Shem and that he didn’t know its meaning or significance.

Upon even further questioning, he denied he had even written the particular amulet.


On February 2, 1751, R. Emden was called to meet with the Jewish leadership of the German triple community in Altona. That was a Tuesday. A further meeting was scheduled for the Thursday of that same week but it never took place because R. Emden immediately realized that he was up against a stone wall and no matter what, his evidence and representations would fall on deaf ears. The leadership was at that stage in full support of their new Chief Rabbi.

Instead, that same Thursday morning, R. Emden decided to fight his battle in public and not behind closed doors. In retaliation, the Jewish council prohibited R. Emden from maintaining his private synagogue services which he had been operating from his house in Altona for the past twenty years.

Then, the situation became more intense when R. Emden was placed under house arrest and no one was permitted to have any social contact with him. He was given six months to leave Altona and to never come back.


That Friday, R. Emden managed to quickly send some letters off to three leading rabbis who were his allies in this battle - namely, R. Yaakov Yehoshua Falk of Frankfurt, R. Shmuel Hilman of Metz and R. Aryeh Leib of Amsterdam to whom he looked for support. In those times it generally took fifteen days or more for letters to be delivered from Altona to Metz or Amsterdam.


R. Hilman of Metz had already been collecting evidence of R. Eibeschuetz’ amulets for some time, as he had always suspected him of being a secret Sabbatean.

He responded to R. Emden’s letter on 21 February 1751[9]:

It didn’t take long for R. Hilman to realize that in order to protect themselves it would be prudent to notarize the copies of the Metz amulets because he knew that R. Eibeschuetz would certainly deny that he had written them and he would claim they were forgeries.

In another letter[10], R. Emden had already stated that this denial had always been a part of R. Eibeschuetz’ strategy.


Acting swiftly, R. Hilman had five Metz amulets notarized by the two official communal notaries - Isaac Itzik Koblentz and Mordechai Gumprecht Biriet – whose services were always used to verify documents in that city.  As mentioned, these notaries happened to be supporters of R. Eibeschuetz but they were faithful to their official communal duties.

In their presence, a scribe copied the five amulets written by R. Eibeschuetz. A border was drawn closely around the texts of the amulets in order to prevent tampering.

As it happens, R. Aryeh Leib of Amsterdam had written to R. Hilman of Metz urging him to notarize the copies of the amulets:

R. Aryeh Leib of Amsterdam wrote on 8 March 1751[11]:

Amazingly, at the same time R. Yaakov Yehoshua Falk of Frankfurt similarly wrote to R. Hilman on 31 March 1751:


After R. Hilman of Metz had the documents notarized, it became apparent that the matter was not going to be a simple one and that this whole debacle would end up not just in a Jewish court but in the civil courts. Therefore it became necessary to have the amulets notarized again, eight months later, under the civil authorities in order to prepare for civil litigation. Because of the gravity of the situation, it was believed that not just rabbis but the governments of Denmark, Germany and France would get involved.

R. Eibeschuetz had already had opportunities to present his case to the Jewish courts, but he had declined the opportunity of such a forum.

For this second notarization, the same two notaries were again used in their official capacity, only this time it was with oversight from the Kings attorney general. Also the signing was now done on “stamped paper”. 

R. Emden’s warnings - although he was still under house arrest - could no longer be swept under the carpet due to the foresight of R. Hilman of Metz and his colleagues R. Falk of Frankfurt and R. Aryeh Leib of Amsterdam. The evidence was now officially notarized.


R. Eibeschuetz claimed that the two official notaries of the Metz Jewish community were forced against their will to sign the documents.

However, according to Leiner:

“Emden...correctly noted that the notaries were admires of R. Eibeschuetz who certainly wished him no harm...They understood fully the import of the Metz amulets...They did not tamper with the texts of the amulets...They simply followed the orders of the Chief Rabbi (of Metz)[12and the officials of the Jewish Council of Metz and notarized the amulets. They did so honestly and accurately.”

This is borne out by a previously unpublished letter of one of the notaries, R. Mordechai Gumprecht, who wrote:

“This is to inform all regarding my signature and that of my colleague R. Itzik, notary [of the Jewish community of Metz]...that appeared on the amulets that were copied at the behest of the Jewish council of Metz and by their scribe.

I just saw a letter by the Gaon R. Jacob Joshua [Falk] Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt...He saw a letter from Hamburg that stated that ‘R. Gumprecht...wrote to the Jewish community of Hamburg and indicated that he was forced to sign his name on the above amulets.’

I therefore wish to indicate that my recollection is that I wrote to a student in follows:  ‘I have heard that my master and Rabbi [Eibeschuetz] was angry at me for signing the amulets. I cannot believe this is true. For surely he knows that I am the notary of the Jewish community [of Metz]. Whatever they order me to do, I must do.’ 

I certainly never wrote that I was forced to sign...”


Although R. Yaakov Emden is generally regarded as the main protagonist in the conflict - which is even known as the Emden-Eibeschuetz controversy - the fiercest opponent was, in fact, R. Emden’s colleague R. Yaakov Yehoshua Falk of Frankfurt. He was the main strategist and leader of the campaign against R. Eibeschuetz.

R. Falk tried, again and again, to bring R. Eibeschuetz to the Jewish courts but without any success. In this regard, R. Falk was actually quite fair. He said that in the event that R. Eibeschuetz be found guilty, he could, in Leiner’s words, be ‘rehabilitated’ or be given an opportunity to repent and his status quo may be perpetuated.

However, when he saw that he was getting nowhere with that approach, R. Falk threatened to ‘defrock’ R. Eibeschuetz which he eventually did on 12 March 1753.


Some of R. Falk’s views expressed in his many letters were reproduced in Sefat Emet[13]. R. Eibeschuetz retaliated by publishing his only work on the controversy, Luchot Edut in Altona.

In it, he admits that he wrote what became known as the ‘Metz amulets’ but he steadfastly denied any Sabbataen references.

He continues to explain that at the time of their writing he was subject to an eye infection which didn’t allow him to see clearly what he was writing. 

Furthermore, the script he used - square Hebrew lettering – was something he was not used to. 

R. Eibeschuetz also complained that some of the letters in wording the amulets had been intentionally distorted.[14]

Interestingly, by referencing some of the distorted letters in the Metz amulets, he essentially admitted to the authenticity and accuracy of the essential documents themselves.

Leiner writes:

“In effect, they prove that, for the most part, the notarized Metz amulets accurately reflect what Eibeschuetz wrote.”

But R. Eibeschuetz persisted that some of the distortions of letters that look similar to each other were deliberate.

The differences are as follows:


R. Eibeschuetz was pressed by R. Falk to explain the meaning of all the amulets, but he chose only to explain one, which was amulet 5. He said he could not explain the others because that would amount to revealing secrets of Kabbalah to the uninitiated.

Nevertheless, for amulet 5 he provided his own copy (which is, incidentally, virtually identical to the notarized version!) as well as a sixteen-page explanation for the fourteen words of the amulet.

R. Eibeschuetz explained that it would be wrong to read the amulets as a connected text because each word was a Shem Kadosh or Holy Name of G-d and therefore had to be read individually. 

And anyway, their true meaning could, again, only be known to those initiated into the secrets of Kabbalah. R. Eibeschuetz claimed that those who read the texts as a unit and thought it was a prayer to G-d and mentioned His Messiah Shabbatai Tzvi, were misconstruing the text and ignorant of true Kabbalah.


Unfortunately, the discovery of the notarized version of the Metz amulets does not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that R. Eibeschuetz was a secret Sabbatean. This, despite the fact that they reflect accurately the version as printed in Sefat Emet and despite the fact that there are only minor discrepancies which would have been common in a pre-photocopying age. And despite the fact that R. Eibescheutz’ own copy which he presented of amulet 5 is virtually identical to the notarized version.

The only way to prove R. Eibeschuetz’ guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt would be to find the original amulets written in his own hand. These, sadly, are no longer extant.

However, were we to follow the principle of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ we can say that the discovery of the notarized documents certainly favour the camp of R. Emden.

For more on related matters, see:


I have incorporated a letter from the fascinating 300 controversial Cherson Letters - which I have translated into English for the first time - which deals with the Emden-Eibeschuetz controversy:

Letter from the Baal Shem Tov to R. Dovber of Mezeritch warning him not to take sides or interfere in the Emden/Eybeschutz controversy (where, amongst other accusations, R. Yaakov Enden accused R. Yehonatan Eybeschutz of being a secret follower of the false messiah Shabbatai Tzvi and of having Sabbatean amulets).

Erev Shabbat. 3 Menachem Av 5515 (1755).
To my student the rabbi and holy genius, an officer of the Torah, a man of G-d etc., our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi Berenish[11], may you live:
Since I have (already) heard that you are sticking your head into the controversy between these two geniuses and pillars of the earth, namely: the holy Gaon Mr. Yaakov (Emden), son of the holy Gaon Mr Tzvi[12] n‎‎’y, and the holy Gaon Mr. Yehonatan (Eybeschutz) n’y.
I warn you now not to interfere in a controversy that is not yours. (This is because of) a hidden reason. And only let your eyes look at (be concerned with) your teacher. Enough said.
From your rabbi and teacher who always requests your well-being;
Yisrael, son of our teacher the rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer Baal Shem from Medzebuzh.
(P.S.) I have also written (a similar letter with a similar warning) to the holy Gaon Mr...(yud “ yud...missing text...)[13] n’y.

[1] There were severe restrictions on the number of Jews who were allowed to live in Hamburg (until 1864) so a major Jewish community was established in Altona from 1611. From 1640 to 1864 Altona was under the administration of the Danish monarchy. Altona is just seven miles away from Hamburg.
[2] Wandsbeck is about six miles from Hamburg.
[3] Sid Z. Leiman – Simon Schwarfuchs, New Evidence on the Emden-Eibeschuetz Controversy: The Amulets from Metz. 
[4] The full title is Sefat Emet veLashon Zehorit, or True Speech and Crimson Language.
[5] Dated 17 March 1751.
[6] As I learned from one of the secretaries to the Gerer Rebbe.
[7] See Sippurei Dibbuk beSifrut Yisrael where he is referred to as a Baal Shem, p. 108-9.
[8] He served as Chief Rabbi of the triple community of Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbeck.
[9] Translations are all from Leiman.
[10] Sefat Emet pp. 37-38.
[11] Sefat Emet p. 42.
[12] Parenthesis mine.
[13] Sefat Emet pp. 56-58.
[14] Luchot Edut pp. 1,3, 6 and 17.
[15] This is after consultation with the corrigenda in Sefat Emet.

Sunday 5 April 2020


Rabbi Yitzchak Nissenbaum 1868-1943.


There is almost no literature in English on Rabbi Yitzchak Nissenbaum (1868-1943) who was one of the early ideologues of religious Zionism. R. Yitzchak Nisenbaum was a leader of the Mizrachi movement in Warsaw and he died in the Ghetto during the Holocaust.
Not wishing to dwell on politics, I shall ignore any political overtones (remembering that R. Nissenbaum passed away five years before the establishment of the State of Israel) and focus primarily on his theology and Hashkafa (world view) which is rich, refreshing and very relevant.
I have drawn from the research of Rabbi Dr Amir Mashiach of Bar Ilan University who presents us with probably the first academic study of R. Nissenbaum in the English language.[1]


R. Yitzchak Nissenbaum was born into a Chassidic family. His father passed away when he was still young and Yitzchak was raised by his uncle who was a mitnaged, an opponent of the Chassidic movement. With time R. Yitzchak also adopted his uncle’s worldview, although he continued to study Chassidic literature. Notwithstanding his connection to Chassidism, his writings reflect no elements of Chassidic thought, and he never quotes any Chassidic masters. In fact, his writings are void of any mysticism whatsoever.

He studied at Volozhin Yeshiva and when the government forced the closure of the yeshiva, he joined the yeshiva’s secret nationalistic association called ‘Netzach Yisrael’. The society demanded that all its members declare their allegiance to Eretz Yisrael.


R. Nissenbaum regarded R. Shmuel Mohilewer as his mentor, and he called him Admor (a term usually reserved for a Chassidic rebbe). R. Mohilewer, who received his ordination at Volozhin Yeshiva in 1842, is regarded as one of the founders of the religious Zionist movement.  R. Mohilewer tried to persuade the rabbis to "combine the Torah and [secular] wisdom as the time is appropriate."

R. Mohilewer was once refused funding - for creating settlements in the Holy Land - from a philanthropist, because the donor suggested that he would be creating “12th-century Jews” and not Jews who were capable of building a new country.

He responded:

“You are mistaken... we want to create...Jews who, on the one hand, will belong to the 30th century, but on the other, will hail from periods preceding the counting of centuries. Jews from the period of the Prophets and the Hasmoneans…”

Thus we see how R. Mohilewer was already thinking of a nascent model of Jewry looking towards the future but with precedent firmly rooted in the ancient - but not immediate - past.


R. Nissenbaum was also familiar with the writings and philosophy of another spiritual mentor, R. Shimshon Refael Hirsch (1808-1888), the founder of Modern Orthodoxy, who taught the principle of Torah Im Derech Eretz, and quoted from him with great respect. However, he felt that R. Hirsch had downplayed the notion of Jewish nationality.


The ultra-Orthodox camps especially during R. Nissenbaum’s time were averse to interfering with the anticipated redemptive process of the Messiah. R. Nissenbaum, however, was of the opinion that the redemption of the Jewish people lay within their willingness to create a redemptive era by their own actions. This was one of the reasons why he felt that creative work and labour was so important. The Jewish people must no sit by idly waiting for some miraculous event to take place but must do whatever is within their physical power to create the change they want to see.

Dr Mashiach writes very poignantly about how, as an overriding rule, passivity had actually become a 'Torah virtue' in post-Temple times:

“After nearly 2,000 years of exile and inaction, which had largely been dictated by contemporary realities, passivity had become part of the Jewish way of thinking, to the point where it was accorded a theological standing by Orthodox leaders.”

To best way to understand just how radical R. Nissenbaum’s view on taking Jewish redemptive destiny into individual hands, is to contrast his thinking with the views of another contemporary rabbinic leader, R. Shalom Dov-Ber Schneerson of Lubavitch. He was the fifth Rebbe of the dynasty and (surprisingly) an outspoken promoter of theological passivity!
R. Shalom Dov-Ber believed that any attempt at interfering in the redemptive process was certain to be futile if not have an adverse effect. He argued that any human interference could only be temporary as even Moshe and Aharon could not bring about a permanent state of redemption other than the partial process of the Exodus from Egypt. And even when the kings and prophets built Temples but they did not last forever.
Therefore the Jews should do nothing other than wait for the total Redemption which will be brought about through “the Holy One, Blessed Is He, Himself” without human interference. Only then will “our Redemption be complete” and everlasting.[2]

Dr Mashiach writes:

“The Rebbe not only argued against taking practical measures; he even placed a vehement ban on spiritual activism. He said that a believer is not permitted to pray earnestly for the coming of the Messiah, for in earnest prayer for Redemption, one infringes upon the prohibition against ‘urging the end.’ One is ‘not permitted to urge the end, to engage in extensive supplication about this, especially with bodily powers and stratagems.’”

These teachings of R. Shalom Dov-Ber were published in 1900 and many rabbis began to view Zionism as a threat and a theological problem.
By contrast, R. Nissenbaum writes:
“Elijah, awaiting the day of Redemption together with the Messiah, is busy, according to aggadic midrash, writing Israelite history. But this is not the writing of our passive history: our troubles and our suffering, our affliction and our ordeals; our Redemption will not come of these. This is rather the writing of our active history, the deeds and actions performed so as to strengthen the spirit of the people and to bring closer its Redemption … all is as per the deed of the nation as a whole moving toward its Redemption and the ransom of its soul – so will the Holy Spirit descend upon it.”

Thus R. Nissenbaum extends his notion of the importance of work in general to the importance of work to end the exilic slumber which had taken hold of the Jewish people and to replace it with a pre-emptive approach. This was, in his view, the only way to escape the curse of the exile which was the belief in the necessity of Jewish passivity.

On the notion of work in general and its elevation to a noble and theological status, R. Nissenbaum believed it was a Halachic obligation for a Jew to work.[3] By work, he meant not just to make a living but even work for its own sake. Work was, as Dr Mashiach puts it: “[an] independent religious Torah value.
R. Nissenbaum wrote:
“The Torah of Israel detests idleness and loves work. In accord with this was Adam brought to the Garden in Eden, not to enjoy its choice fruit … but “to work and to guard it” [Gen 2:15]. The it is emphasized by the grammatical addition of the special dot in the letter heh at the end of each of these two verbs. The work is literal work, and the guarding is literal guarding.”[4]

Interestingly, R. Nissenbaum admits that work is not one of the 613 commandments. However, that fact does not deter him from maintaining that, nevertheless, by incorporating work into the first story of the humankind, it was clear that it was the basic vision of the Torah. Thus work, like breathing and walking, did not require a specific command. Humans had to perfect the world and bring it to a state of technological advancement.

R. Nissenbaum believes that, over time, we had lost the Torah’s original vision of work - to the extent that our Judaism as presented today is unbalanced and not reflective of the totality of Torah thought.

Although it was not a specific commandment, R. Nissenbaum argued that work still has a Halachic imperative because when the Torah mentions ceasing from work on the Sabbath, it writes:

 “Six days will you work and do all your special tasks, and on the seventh day is the Sabbath.”[5]

As Dr Mashiach puts it:

“Thus, in his view, according to the Torah and halakhah, work during the six days of the week is no less a positive value than refraining from work on the Sabbath.”


R. Nissenbaum does not mince his words when writing sharply about his coreligionists in his day:

“[T]he idleness widespread among our People, a large part of whom earn their keep
by the spirit alone, without any labor, is utterly in opposition to our Torah, for “just as the Torah was given in covenant, so was skilled work given in covenant” (Avot
de-Rabbi Natan 11).”[6]
Thus, according to R. Nissenbaum, it is the person who works and contributes to society, not the person who just ‘sits in learning’ who is closer to the original ideal of the archetypal Torah human being.
R. Nissenbaum positions himself somewhere between the secular left and the ultra-Orthodox right.
His theology obviously created waves within the traditional community of which he too was a part. He was openly critical of anyone who tried to separate the then secular Zionism from ultra-Orthodoxy – to the extent that he referred to both extremes as “assimilationists.” :
“The Left proclaims a religion of labor and sees work as the forefront of everything.
The Right proclaims a labor of religion and treats practical physical labor with contempt.”[7]
Dr Mashiach encapsulates this ideal as follows:
“[R. Nissenbaum] endorsed an approach of ’religion and labor,’ not ‘religion of labor.’

Bodily practical work, then, was required as part of the national religious identity, the original Judaism:

[H]e promoted not another uni-dimensional notion of Judaism as ‘either … or,’ but one of ‘both.’

It is on this point that R. Nissenbaum parts theological ways with his mentor R. Mohilewer.

Dr Mashiach explains:

“Nissenbaum and Mohilewer’s views differ in essence: Mohilewer saw work as a means of sustenance, while Nissenbaum treated labor as a part of theology; in his view, making a living, however important, was marginal by comparison.”

R. Nissenbaum points out that in biblical times, Judaism incorporated both a component of physical and practical enterprise as well as a corresponding component of religious and spiritual endeavours. Jews were primarily traders and farmers who did not shy away from extreme physical activity.
However, as a result of the exile following the destruction of the Temple, that primary physical component was lost. With time, it was as if Judaism’s integral affinity and connection to the physical world had never even existed.
According to Dr Mashiach:
“As Nissenbaum saw it, exilic Judaism proceeded to develop with nothing but spiritual concerns.”
 R. Nissenbaum writes in his own forthright words in Masoret veCherut:[8]
“Little by little did the exile eat up not only the Jews … but also Judaism … instead of the complete, historical Judaism, a naïve religious Judaism arose before us, one which had nothing in its universe except for the God of Israel and His Torah.”[9]
And in his Ketavim Nivharim he writes:
“[In the exile, Jews] began to look on simple labor with disdain … and so it was that we came to neglect concern with the body.”[10]
In other words, as Dr Mashiach puts it, we have transformed from a Judaism which had a “bi-dimensional, physical-and-spiritual character” to a “uni-dimensional, or exclusively spiritual, exilic Judaism.
R. Nissenbaum wrote:
“[T]he nature of the body is now taking its revenge upon us for having abandoned it, and clipping the reach of our spirit.”

In R. Nissenbaum’s words, the original Judaism taught a “holistic worldview” with a “spiritual-material outlook[11] where work and spirit were two sides of the same coin. When R. Nissenbaum observed the Judaism of his day, he felt that it was missing a vital component – a positive attitude towards labour. Therefore Judaism was incomplete and no longer in balance because concern for the spirit had become the sole and dominant purpose of Judaism. For Nissenbaum, the attitude towards and involvement in the material world for its own sake, was just as important.
R. Nissenbaum writes:
 “’Jewry’ is a people living in the tradition of its fathers. But this tradition is not only in
the spiritual life of the fathers, but also in their bodily life … This we must remember
well. The first principle of this life was work: manual labor producing simple bodily
values. They tilled the land, raised sheep and cattle, worked in every trade and dealt
in commerce … and airiness was foreign to them...
Therefore the Jews committed to Jewry need first of all to arrange their personal
lives and raise their children on the basis of labor, constructive and productive work,
              like our fathers … as was the reality in olden times.”[12]

During the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, he refused to leave the city because he wanted to share the fate of Warsaw Jewry.  Apparently the Germans shot him on January 1, 1943, when he refused to stand in the wagons transporting the Warsaw Jews to Treblinka. He is said to have yelled out to the other Jews just before he died: “Do not go to Treblinka!

[For further exploration of this fascinating topic of religious passivity, see How Reality on the Ground Informs Perceptions of Heaven.]

[1] Amir Mashiach, Work in the Teaching of Rabbi Yitzchak Nissenbaum.
[2] Holy Letters (Hebrew; New York: Kehat, 5742 1982]), Part 1, Para. 122.
[3] Imrei Derush (Homilies) 55-124.
[4] Imrei Derush 223.
[5] Shemot 20:15.
[6]Ketavim Nivharim 225.
[7] From an address to the Second Congress of Mizrahi Youth in Poland (1922), cited in Nehemiah
Aminoach, ed., The Religious Labor Movement (Hebrew; Jerusalem: Hahanhala Harashit
Shel Tnuat Torah Veʾavoda, 5691 [1931]) 89.
[8] Translations by Dr. Mashiach.
[9] R. Yitzchak Nissenbaum, Masoret veCherut (Tradition and Freedom), 17.
[10] R. Yitzchak Nissenbaum, Ketavim Nivharim (Selected Writings) 22.
[11] Ketavim Nivharim 19.
[12] Ketavim Nivharim 113.