Menu

Sunday, 21 February 2021

315) A GLIMPSE INTO THE 18th CENTURY WORLD OF SEGULOT AND ‘COUNTER SEGULOT’:

 

 

One of Segulot disributed by R. Yonatan Eibeschuetz (1690-1764) 

INTRODUCTION:

We have dealt with the issue of Segulot (religious amulets) on a number of previous occasions, particularly in relation to the Emden-Eybeschuetz controversies (see links provided below).

In this article, based extensively on the research of Shai A. Alleson-Gerberg[1], we shall examine the strange world of Segulot which was rife within some quarters of rabbinic leadership during the eighteenth century.

 

EMDEN-EIBESCHUETZ CONTROVERSY:

Around 1750, one of the most bitter rabbinical conflicts erupted, probably since the Maimonidean controversies of the thirteenth century. R. Yakov Emden (1697-1776) accused the prestigious R. Yonatan Eibeschuetz (1690 – 1764), who had just been elected to lead the important triple community of Altona-Hamburg-Wandsbek, of being a secret follower of Shabbatai Tzvi (1626-1676), the false messiah who converted to Islam.

Matters came to a head when Segulot written and prescribed by R. Eibeschuetz, which had been distributed to pregnant women to aid in childbirth, were opened and found to contain the name of Shabbatai Tzvi. Apparently, people became suspicious of these Segulot when some of these women died in childbirth.

A short while later, R. Emden publicly declared the Segulot of the esteemed R. Eibeschuetz to be tainted with Sabbatian heresy.

 

R. EIBESCHUETZ RESPONDS:

After being openly humiliated by R. Emden, R. Eibeschuetz felt compelled to defend his actions by producing two commentaries in defense of his Segulot. Essentially, he claimed that the Segulot were incorrectly read as a unit and not as the single entities he had intended.

He gave his first commentary/response to R. Shalom Buzaglo. This was concerning the Segulah he had given to the wife of the beadle of the Synagogue, Michal Halberstadt Segal.

His second commentary was published under the title Luchot Eidut, and was in response to the Segulah he had written for the wife of Moredchai Levi of Metz. In this work, R. Eibeschuetz described the process of gestation and birth. However, as Alleson-Gerberg explains, he also alluded to something else:

Eibeschütz does not simply describe birth, but the birth of the messiah. The question of the messiah’s identity in Luhot ‘edut is fundamental, touching on Eibeschütz’s Sabbatianism”

 

LUCHOT EIDUT:

In his Luchot Eidut, R. Eibeschuetz tried to exonerate himself by deliberating on Kabbalistic concepts surrounding the angel called Metatron. He explained the difference between two distinct aspects of the same angel who can manifest as both Mitatron and Metatron. Mitatron has the extra letter “yod”, which as the Safed Kabbalist R. Moshe Cordovero explains, represents the Shechina manifesting through Ten Sefirot (G-dly emanations).[2]

R. Eibeschuetz suggested that the biblical Yakov wanted his beloved son Binyamin to be associated with Mitatron. This was because Mitatron was, in fact, the Shechina (G-d’s presence). This made Mitatron - according to Kabbalah the feminine aspect of G-d - a perfect being with only good and no evil. This was opposed to Metatron who was a mixture of good and evil. For this reason, Yakov called his youngest son Ben Yamin (son of right-hand side) which, in the Kabbalistic model, contains no evil. The left-hand side is always associated with severity or evil.

R. Eibeschuetz continues that Moshe, similarly wanted to be associated with Mitatron and that’s why, in Pharaoh’s palace, he fled from the snake who is associated with Metatron. Metatron represents:

“the secret of birth by the bite of the serpent…the pain of birth pangs”

Moshe, instead, wanted to bring about the messianic redemption through the all-good Mitatron, the Shechina with no admixture of evil.[3]

 

R. YONATAN EIBESCHUETZ’ SON, WOLF BINYAMIN AS MASHIACH:

At this stage, things start to get interesting. Alleson-Gerberg maintains that R. Eibeschuetz’ reference to the Messiah, is actually a reference to his youngest son, Wolf Binyamin Eibeschuetz!

This view is based on an account by R. Emden in his Sefer Hitavkut, produced in 1769, where he records that Wolf Binyamin Eibeschuetz amassed a large following and they referred to him as Yemini ben David and Yemini Kadosh - both titles emphasizing the yamin, the right-hand side - a concept the mystical followers would have been familiar with: Mashiach had to be drawn down from  Mitatron, not Metatron.

Wolf Binyamin Eibeschuetz also seemed to emphasize the name Binyamin when referring to himself. He carved the name Binyamin on the walls of his estate in Altona (he won a lot of money in a lottery); and he wrote a book entitled Darga Yemini (the grade of right-hand-side) which resembled the style of the Zohar.

According to an account by Issachar Beer, Wolf Binyamin wrote another book, which was not printed, entitled Gevul Binyamin (the border of Binyamin):

“Being still very young he travelled to Vienna and there he joined wanton men and showed desire to rule. And he made himself the messiah and wore Turkish robes and went to Hungary. And many followed him.”[4]

Alleson-Gerberg continues to show how R. Emden recorded that Wolf Binyamin even composed gematrias (numerology) about himself, such as niglah kevod and ki pi (Hashem)[5] which add up to 120, the gematria of Yemini. He also referred to himself by the verse shev le’yemini (sit at my right-hand-side)[6] and keitz ha’yamin (the end of days)[7].

This use of gematria was not lost on R. Emden who made up his own counter gematria where kesil (fool) also adds up to yamini![8]

 

WOLF BINYAMIN AS SUCCESSOR TO SHABBATAI TZVI:

The messianic overtones are again emphasized by R. Emden who reports that around 1757/8 R. Yonatan Eibeschuetz sent his son for whom he had messianic ambitions, to Sabbatian communities in Turkey, Hungary and Moravia in order to establish himself as the successor of Shabbatai Tzvi.[9]

R. Emden records:

“For in the year 5515 [1755] … It so happened that when Eibeschütz saw that all his evil business was succeeding … he wanted to fulfill the vow that he made to Sabbatai Zvi through his prophet Leible Prostiz [Prosnitz][10], to establish the faith of Sabbatai with all his power and might.…

[See Kotzk Blog: 131) R. YEHUDAH LEIB PROSSNITZ - ANOTHER FALSE MESSIAH:]

And when he [i.e., R. Yonatan Eibeschuetz][11] saw that he had aged and failed to accomplish his plots, he decided to set up his boorish son and crown him as his successor … and he let it be known that his son, the boorish lad who lacked all goodness, had won a large sum of money in a lottery and was traveling to distant lands to see the world. And before he left, the spirit of impurity had already sprouted in him and he had secretly revealed hints of Sabbatai’s faith, may his name rot.”[12]

 

LUCHOT EIDUT AS MESSIANIC PROPAGANDA, NOT EXONERATION:

R. Yonatan Eibeschuetz’ work Luchot Edut, which he wrote to exonerate himself and explain the Segulot he had distributed, now seem to be less apologetics and more Sabbatain propagandist with special attention given to the future messianic mission of his son Wolf Binyamin.

R. Eibeschuetz did the same thing when he issued his token anti-Sabbatian ban and also used the opportunity to allude to Sabbatian ideology [See Kotzk Blog: 298) UNIMAGINABLE WRITINGS OF R. YONATAN EIBESCHUETZ :].

 

R. EMDEN’S RESPONSE TO LUCHOT EIDUT:

Alleson-Gerberg points out that it did not take long for R. Emden to respond to R. Eibeschuetz’ Luchot Edut. R. Emden was quick to compose his Shevirat Luchot haAven (the breaking of the evil tablets) which dealt with each of his opponent’s points one at a time.

Towards the end of R. Emden’s response[13] he makes the most astounding claim: R. Yonatan Eibeschuetz wrote the Segulot, not to aid in childbirth but rather for nefarious purposes.

 Alleson-Gerberg writes:

“Emden’s version follows Eibeschütz’s commentary in a stepwise fashion, yet describes a reverse process of turning the fetus to stillborn.”

R. Emden writes in the harshest of language:

לעשות מן ילד, דלי, דליו שוקים מפסח ומשל בפי כסילים

And now hear the charm of his deeds, to make the child [yeled] weak [dali - limp][14] And know that he was not content until he spilt his blood.”

The Segulot had depictions of the Magen David (Star of David). A whole discussion ensues over the significance of this symbol in the Segulot.

According to R. Eibeschuetz:

“Magen David which is a charm and the best talisman of all for every misfortune … especially for those in childbirth, has 7 points [including the hexagon in the middle] … and 7 times 7 equals mem tet [49] which is Metatron…

… and in this picture of Magen David there are 7 openings [zayin nekavim], and the middle one is the “mouth,” and the “lower mouth” [peh de-lematah] is against the upper mouth [peh de-lema‘alah, which whispers the magical names into a woman’s ear], as is known, and therefore these names come as a cure, to open the ‘lower mouth.’”[15]

Alleson-Gerberg continues:

“In order to press the point that Eibeschütz caused the deaths of children yet to be born with his amulets, he evokes the myth of Kronos-Saturnus, the terrible god who devoured his sons, which appears in his description as the planet Saturn “swallowing” Aquarius (דלי), one of its zodiac constellations and an anagram of the Hebrew word yeled (ילד), ‘child’.”

Here again the Sabbatian imagery is evoked because Shabbatai Tzvi was connected to Shabbatai or Saturn which was often depicted in Renaissance iconography as a six-pointed star.[16]

And R. Emden wrote:

“In this amulet, he had distributed the verse ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given’ in five of the [Magen David’s] corners.”[17]

This way, R. Eibeschuetz was perhaps accused of trying to block the energy from the “upper mouth” to the “lower mouth” and cause fatalities through these Segulot.

ANALYSIS:

According to these accounts, we see that not only was R. Eibeschuetz accused of distributing Sabbatian Segulot to aid in childbirth, but another stratum of the controversy is now revealed where he is also accused of “turning the fetus to stillborn”. This seems to have been what prompted people to open up the Segulot and check what was written inside. 

Even for those who today still persist in the belief in the efficacy of Segulot, this imagery and these accusations, claims and counter-accusations are astonishing and shocking to say the least. Nevertheless, this was all taking place within the rabbinical world of the eighteenth century and reveals the astounding belief in Segulot held by both protagonists and antagonists in the Emden-Eibeschuetz controversy.

 

 

FURTHER READING:

Kotzk Blog: 294) WHAT HAPPENED TO WOLF, SON OF R. YONATAN EIBESCHUTZ?

Kotzk Blog: 272) THE DISCOVERY OF NOTARIZED AMULETS OF R. YONATAN EIBESCHUETZ INTENDED TO BE USED IN A CIVIL CASE AGAINST HIM:

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

Kotzk Blog: 298) UNIMAGINABLE WRITINGS OF R. YONATAN EIBESCHUETZ :



[1] Shai A. Alleson-Gerberg, The Sabbatian Who Devoured his Son; Jacob Emden’s Anti-Sabbatian Polemics of Cannibalism.

[2] See Moses Cordovero, Pardes Rimonim, Sha‘ar ’ABI‘A, chap. 4 (Kraków, 1592), 93b–94a:

 

 “[T]his Angel is known by two names: sometimes he is called Metatron [מטטרון], and sometimes Mitatron [מיטטרון] with a [letter] yod. And the meaning is that, when this Angel is the garment [levush] of the Shekhinah, and the Shekhinah conceals herself within him and demonstrates her actions through his agency, then his name becomes Mitatron with a yod [gematria: 10], to indicate the Shekhinah that is constituted of ten [sefirot].” (Translation by Alleson-Gerberg.)

 

[3] See Luchot Eidut 65b:

 

“Jacob wanted to place his son [Benjamin] with Mitatron, since he is the Shekhinah [‘the divine presence,’ i.e., the feminine aspect of the Godhead], all holy and good, not Metatron who is both good and evil … therefore he called him Ben Yamin, ‘son of the right side.’ Even Moses, when he wanted to bring about the redemption, which is the secret of birth by the bite of the serpent, who is Metatron, the pain of birth pangs—changed from a serpent to a rod, towards hesed [the divine mercy]; as was told in the Tikkunim, he flees from before it because he wanted to bring about the redemption through the Shekhinah.” (Translation by Alleson-Gerberg.)

 

[4] Published in Emmanuel Bondi, Mikhtave Sefat Kodesh (Prague, 1857), 78.

[5] Isaiah 40:5.

[6] Psalms 110:1.

[7] Daniel 12:3.

[8] Sefer Hitakvut 27b.

[9] Sefer Hitakvut 51a, 23b.

[10] Leibele Prosnitz was another messianic claimant. R. Eibeschuetz would have had to go 'through' Leibelle Prosnitz because Shabbatai Tzvi died in 1676, and R. Eibeschuetz was born in 1690.

[11] Parentheses mine.

[12] Sefer Hitakvut 51a, 23b, 18a, 19b.

[13] Shevirat Luchot haAven pp. 53a-54b.

[14] Parenthesis mine.

[15] Luchot Eidut 71a.

[16] Klibansky et al., Saturn and Melancholy, plates 30, 37, 38, 40, 47.

[17] Sefat Emet veLashon Zehorit 6a, 15a.

No comments:

Post a comment