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.

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