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A rav in Lithuania, Poland and Holland

n the previous issue, we wrote about the famous R’ Shaul Wohl. A descendant of his, also named R’ Shaul, was the rav of Cracow and one of the great rabbanim of his time. There is not much written about this R’ Shaul and we present here our findings after much investigative research.

His Forebearers

The Gaon R’ Shaul was born in Lublin in the second half of the 17th century. He was the youngest son of the famed gaon R’ Heschel of Cracow and Rebbetzin Dina. They likely named him Shaul after her great-grandfather, R’ Shaul Wohl, the Polish king.

Before we discuss R’ Shaul, we should relate a legend, regarding how the match between his parents was made. The tale goes as follows:

Prior to R’ Heschel being appointed as Rav of Cracow, he had lived in Lublin and served as Rosh Yeshiva there. Lublin was a city of scholars; the Rav was the Gaon R’ Naftali Hakohen, the grandfather of the Smichas Chachamim. When R’ Naftali Katz passed away, his widow, Dina, wished to marry R’ Heschel, her husband’s successor in Lublin, who himself had just become widowed.

The problem with this idea was that, on her deathbed, R’ Heschel’s first rebbetzin had one last request of her husband. She asked that he not marry anyone from the Katzenelenbogen family, namely the widow, Rebbetzin Dina. R’ Heschel desired to make his wife happy one last time and he acquiesced to her request. Understandably, not a single shadchan dared mention the Rebbetzin Dina as a potential mate for R’ Heschel, for he was sure to refuse.

Rebbetzin Dina decided to take daring steps on her own behalf. She went to the women’s section of the shul and asked someone to call R’ Heschel over. Entering the women’s section from the main shul required descending a few stairs. When R’ Heschel came down the stairs, the Rebbetzin Dina quoted a saying from Chazal, “Descend a level and marry a woman”. Rashi explains the meaning as, a man should not marry a woman who is superior to him in stature, rather he should marry a woman on a level below him. Rebbetzin Dina, in her wisdom, used the saying quite literally to hint to R’ Heschel that he should go down the steps and marry her.

R’ Heschel maintained, that due to the promise he made his first wife, they would not be able to marry. Rebbetzin Dina replied, “You are a Rav and you know that you can annul your promise.” And that is exactly what happened.

When did this occur? The wedding did not take place before the year 1652-53. In the records of the “Vaadei Kodesh” of the rabbanim and leaders of Lithuania, it states: “By the Vaad Gromnice that took place in the winter of 1652, they owed the widow of R’ Naftali Katz a sum of money.” Accordingly, R’ Shaul could not have been born before 1653.

R’ Shaul, unfortunately, did not merit to learn Torah from his father because when he was a lad of ten, R’ Heschel was niftar in Cracow where he had been the Av Beis Din, and he was laid to rest in the cemetery there. After the death of his father, R’ Shaul returned with his mother to her hometown of Brisk. When he became of age, R’ Shaul married his Rebbetzin, Esther, the daughter of his father’s successor in Cracow, the gaon who was known as “The Hoicher R’ Leib”. It is probable that R’ Shaul’s older brother, R’ Ber, the president of the Council of Four Lands (Va’ad Arba Aratzos), was involved in the shidduch of  R’ Shaul as he was R’ Shaul’s brother and parnes in Cracow, where the tall R’ Leib was the Rav.

Rav in Lithuania

In the year 1680, R’ Shaul became Rav in the Brisker Klauss which his grandfather R’ Shaul Wohl built. In the year 1683, we know that R’ Shaul sat with the rabbanim of the city at the “Vaad Kodesh”.  His signature is on the haskama of the sefer Zera Avraham, written on the 10th of Teves 1683, as “Shaul the son of the great Rav R’ Yehoshua Heschel”. On a cherem written in 1684, he signed: “The humble Shaul, son of the great Rav Yehoshua Heschel who lives in the Brisker Klauss.” Also signed by many greats of the generation, the cherem was against those who maligned R’ Dovid Lida, the Ir Dovid. In 1687. we find his signature in the records of the city: “The humble Shaul, son of the great Rav Yehoshua Heschel, chosen by the congregation of the city of Brisk, Lithuania.”

After that, R’ Shaul was chosen as Rav of Keidany [Kėdainiai, Lithuania]. He also acted as Rav of the town of Lokachi [Ukraine] as his grandson, R’ Shaul of Amsterdam shares, in the introduction to his sefer Binyan Ariel: “Therefore, I will choose this position that was originally offered to me, the congregation of Lokachi where my grandfather R’ Shaul served as Rav in his early years. In his later years he served as Rav in our congregation of Amsterdam, Holland.”

In 1691, or perhaps even earlier, R’ Shaul rose to the position of Rav in the big city of Brisk, Lithuania where his father and grandfather served as rabbanim. During the time that he was rav in Brisk, we find many of his signatures, including those in the sefarim Shabsa DeRigla and Shulchan Aruch Maginei Eretz.

Was the Chametz Sold?

In Brisk R’ Shaul was asked an interesting question, which is brought in the sefer Yad Eliyahu. We are not going to discuss the halachic part of the question, just the story behind it, the response and the historical context.

The Yad Eliyahu begins as follows: A story came to my attention when I was in Biala in 1691. There was a man, we will call him Avraham, who was not yet home one Erev Pesach. He owned chametz – malt, which was in the factory in the city. The owner of the factory was a Jew, R’ Baruch, who sold his factory with the malt, to a non-Jew. It was Erev Pesach when everyone has to get rid of their chametz and the wife of R’ Avraham went to the non-Jew, to whom R’ Baruch had sold his factory and its contents. She wanted to sell the malt that belonged to her husband – Avraham, which was situated in the factory of R’ Baruch. The non-Jew told her that R’ Baruch had already sold the factory and all its contents to him, so she went home calmly with the understanding that all was okay.

After chatzos Avraham returned home. When he heard what his wife related, he went to R’ Baruch to confirm her report, that his chametz was sold according to halacha. R’ Baruch told him, “No! I only sold my chametz, not yours.” So Avraham went to the non-Jew and sold him the malt, asking for a deposit as was customary. He did this after chatzos without consulting a rav if this was correct.

Anyone who knows even rudimentary halacha about the sale of chametz knows that after chatzos one can no longer sell chametz. According to this R’ Avraham’s transaction was not legitimate and the chametz still belonged to him. He was transgressing the law of owning chametz, and was obligated to dispose of it immediately.

Still there is a way to allow the chametz. When R’ Baruch sold his factory and its contents, he did not specify that he was selling only his own chametz and not Avraham’s. The non-Jew bought the factory with “all” its contents and did not care whether the sale was according to halacha or not, or if R’ Baruch had the right to sell Avraham’s malt. Therefore, even if R’ Baruch had no right to sell it according to halacha, if he would have asked the non-Jew to return Avraham’s malt, the gentile would have laughed at him. If it would have occurred in the middle of the year, R’ Baruch would have had to pay what the malt was worth to Avraham because the non-Jew wouldn’t have returned it to him. It turns out that R’ Baruch owes Avraham money and not chametz. Therefore the chametz is not forbidden, because it was all part of the sale to the gentile.

The Yad Eliyahu continues with an argument from our R’ Shaul, who was then the rav in Brisk about this question. “And this is what the great light and esteemed R’ Shaul the Rav of the congregation of Brisk answered about this issue.” His reasoning leaned toward being stringent, but he advised Avraham on how to deal with it, in order to avoid financial loss.

The Rav of Apt and the Environs of Cracow

As we mentioned earlier, in Cracow there was a parnes from the “Vaad Arba Aratzos”, R’ Ber, a son of R’ Heschel and an older brother of our R’ Shaul. R’ Ber was also one of the local community leaders in Cracow. At the end of 1690, R’ Aharon Darshan, the Rav of Cracow was tragically murdered in the city of Chmielnik  just as he was slated to join in the “Vaad Kodesh” of the “Vaad Arba Aratzos”. R’ Ber and his brothers-in-law worked hard to bring their brother and brother-in-law, R’ Shaul to Cracow and have him take their father’s place as Rav.

The family of R’ Shaul had some adversaries, amongst them was the parnes R’ Shimon, the son of Zarach. They tried their utmost to deter R’ Shaul from filling the vacant slot as Rav of Cracow. These people absolutely did not want a rav from the family of R’ Heschel. They also were afraid that this would give more power to the parnes R’ Ber, who was not only the parnes of the city but also the head of the parnasim and leaders of the “Vaad Arba Aratzos”. Ultimately, the Jewish community of Cracow hired a rav from the family of the Bach, the gaon R’ Leib, a direct descendant of the Bach, and a step-child of the “Turei Zahav”. R’ Leib was known for his visit to Shabsai Tzvi, together with his step-brother in-law, the gaon, R’ Yeshaya Halevi the rav of Komarno and the son of the Turei Zahav.

The Congregations of the Environs of Cracow

Let us turn the page to the largely unknown history of Cracow and expose the tip of the iceberg. The Cracow suburbs, the towns that made up the “environs of Cracow”, had a very small Jewish population. Each village had approximately twenty families that originated in Cracow but for some reason or another moved out of the city. Because their hometown was Cracow they had a close connection with the city and the community there. Instead of being independent, they put themselves under the auspices of Cracow. The rabbanim in the small towns were generally not in the same league as the rabbanim of Cracow who were the greats of the generation. At the time of this story, however, things began to change.

The change began slowly after the bitter Chmelnitsky massacres of 1648 when the Jews of Volhynia, Podolia and Lithuania moved west and settled in the towns surrounding Cracow. The small congregations grew from tiny gatherings to large, independent communities. The large city of Apt [Opatow], which developed into a major congregation, started hiring rabbanim who were world renowned.

In the city of Cracow itself many things had changed. Cracow suffered greatly during the Swedish invasion of Poland, along with other wars and plagues that occurred there. The population dwindled so much that the kehilla was in danger of falling apart and the city found itself suffering under heavy debt.

Why did this situation create debt?

As is known, the “Vaad Arba Aratzos” controlled the taxes of the communities of the “Arba Aratzos”, the four lands: Lesser Poland, Greater Poland, Podolia, and Volhynia, who were under the rule of the Polish royalty. The “Vaad Arba Aratzos” was created specifically for the purpose of collecting taxes from the Jewish community. That way the government had one less job to take care of and they received their taxes presented to them on a golden tray via the “Vaad Arba Aratzos”.

Each kehilla had a representative in the Vaad who protected their interests and decided how much to request from each kehilla. Every kehilla collected the amount that the “surveyors” estimated they could afford. The Vaad convened two times a year during the big fairs, once at the end of the winter and once at the end of the summer. At the gathering, the representatives would pay their taxes and the Vaad would send it on to the coffers of the Royal Treasury.

Cracow, being the main city of Lesser Poland, collected the taxes of the city and the surrounding area. Because it was a major center, it was required to pay a commensurately large portion of taxes, but due to the dwindling population, the residents could not cover the high sum. It took a good few years for Cracow to re-establish themselves, but until then, they struggled to raise the money for the tax payments. Where did they get the money?

The solution came from the small towns in the environs. As mentioned earlier, the tiny villages grew into larger towns and cities, and the residents of Cracow burdened those communities to pay larger amounts so they could cover the taxes which they owed.

This solution was met with strong protest from the suburbs. They claimed that they were not responsible to cover for Cracow’s inability to pay its own taxes and they refused to pay any more. Ultimately, they separated from Cracow and represented themselves in the Vaad, in the hopes of being charged more reasonable taxes, than when they were under the jurisdiction of Cracow.

Cracow was not happy with the secession. The influence that the city had on any matters of importance decreased and they lost their scapegoat upon whom to throw the burden of their taxes. The outcome of the story was that Cracow felt betrayed by the Vaad for allowing the separation. In 1666, Cracow decided to boycott the Vaad saying, “they need our taxes more than we need them. Let them chase us.” The Vaad did not cave and they insisted that a representative from Cracow must appear at the next conference of the “Vaad Kodesh” in the month of Av 1677, in the city of Tarnogrod [Poland] and pay an additional sum of 600 gulden as restitution for their insolence.

The Cracow parnasim informed the appointees of the Vaad that they agreed to take part in the “Vaad Kodesh”.  The rabbanim and the leaders of the Vaad, waited for the Cracow representatives to appear but they never showed. It must be mentioned that we are not talking about fooling a few school children. The Vaad was run by the greatest rabbanim and the most famous of parnasim of the times. Cracow was an important city in the Vaad but it didn’t give them the right to make fools of the rabbanim who presided over the most prestigious Jewish communities in those times and whose word was accepted as law by all of Ashkenazic European Jewry.  All Jews, the world over had the greatest respect for these rabbanim.

The names of the rabbanim on the Vaad during this time is not known, however, the head of the rabbanim at the time was the Lubliner Rav – the Gaon R’ Moshe of Cracow, better known by the name of his sefer Mehadurah Basra, which translates as “Latest Edition”.  The sefer is an exposition on the work of the Maharsha, on the Gemara. We find the name of R’ Moshe mentioned as the leading rabbi of the Vaad before and after the time mentioned above.

The heads of the Cracow community thought they might be able to play games with the Vaad but this time the Vaad doubled the sum owed and removed the Cracow representative from the Vaad entirely, ostensibly kicking them out of the Vaad. Clearly, something drastic occurred thereafter as, we find that in 1692, Cracow was once again part of the Vaad.

Now let us return to the tale of R’ Shaul. The villages were not happy with the appointed rav of Cracow, the Gaon R’ Leib, and they chose their own rav, R’ Shaul.

In the sefer Shem Shmuel there is a signature from R’ Shaul which he signed when in Brisk: “the humble Shaul who lives here in the kehilla of Brisk, Lithuania and its suburbs.” However, the letter is titled: “The great Gaon, who was the Rav of Brisk, Lithuania and now has been chosen with blessings and pomp, as Rav of the suburbs of Cracow.” Also, we see in a response in a sefer Shvus Yaakov from: “the humble Shaul who lives in the suburbs of Cracow, the kehilla of Apt”. Again, the letter is titled: “Response of the Av Beis Din and Rav of the kehilla of Apt and the suburbs of Cracow.”

Do We Have To Return The Dowry?

During the time that R’ Shaul was rav in Apt, the famous Gaon R’ Yaakov Reisher, the Rav of Meetz, asked him a halachic question which is recorded in his famous sefer Shevus Yaakov.

The gaon R’ Moshe, the Av Beis Din of the kehilla of Sanz, asked the question of the Shevus Yaakov and it was sent around to all the greats of the generation. The question was sent to the gaon R’ Leib , the rav of Cracow, the gaon R’ Enzil  Av Beis Din of Pinczow [Poland], (a grandfather of the great gaon R’ Itzik’l Hamburger and a relative of the Shevus Yaakov), and also to Apt, to R’ Shaul  who gave his opinion on the matter.

The interesting question was regarding an incident that occurred in the city of Sanz [Nowy Sącz, Poland]. A woman came to the rav of Sanz, R’ Moshe, requesting a divorce from her husband. The beis din found her motivations to be pure and justified and they granted her the right to demand of her husband, a get. The husband, however, had some questions about the dowry that the woman’s father gave her. Before the wedding, they used a third party to take care of the distribution of the dowry, and after the wedding the third party loaned the dowry to the husband’s father and brother. Technically the groom did not take ownership of the dowry that was promised to him because he didn’t have the money in his own hands. The question was, if the money ended up with his father, is this considered as the husband has the dowry through the father or is the father a separate party?

The Shvus Yaakov writes: “I asked the question of the great luminaries, the Av Beis Din of Apt [Opatow, Poland], and the Dayan of the kehilla of Pinczow.  They each answered according to their great wisdom. Please let me know your eloquent opinion.”

The answer of R’ Shaul is brought as follows: “I was asked about one woman who complained about her husband justly. Her dowry was in the hands of a third party and he gave it to her husband’s father and brother who gave the third party a document of debt…According to the Bach and the Emunas Shmuel, if the dowry was in the hands of the husband, they wouldn’t be able to take it away from him. According to other Achraonim, the Chelkas Mechokek and Bais Shmuel, it can be taken away from the husband even if he is possession of the dowry.”

R’ Shaul does not want to make his judgment in writing. He preferred that the question should be put forth before the Vaad and he concludes his answer as follows: “In order that this law should not be determined for posterity and not rely on my judgment alone, I said that the money should stay in the hands of the third party as it has been until this point. The dividends should be split between the husband and wife until the convening of the Vaad in Jarosław. Then the two sides should come and a judgment should be made that will be a law for posterity. The third party may not give anything to either side until the case is presented to the greats of the generation. These are the words of the lowly Shaul of the suburbs of Cracow.”

The Cracow Congregation

The Cracow kehilla, hearing about the rift between their city and the suburbs, understood that they had a lot to lose from this situation. The glory of Cracow was lessening with each passing day. In the face of their impending disgrace, they put their differences aside and unitedly begged R’ Shaul to take over as rav in Cracow and its suburbs.

It is not known what happened to the rav of Cracow, R’ Leib. There is no mention of his passing or of his departure from the city. Some say that he was asked to leave but it is more likely that R’ Leib  understood that his stepping down would be for the benefit of the kehilla. However, this is all speculation as there is no record of what actually transpired.

Rav of Cracow and Suburbs

In 1698 R’ Shaul finally stepped into the position that had been his fathers and grandfathers before him, as it is recorded in the sefer Ohel Yaakov. He is also mentioned amongst the rabbanim of the Vaad Arba Aratzos: “The great luminaries, our teachers and rabbis of the Vaad Arba Aratzos sign here at the convening of the Vaad on this day of Monday, 8th of Tishrei. Signed, the humble Shaul who resides in the suburbs of the kehilla of Cracow and later accepted as the Av Beis Din and rav of the kehilla of Cracow.” From the standpoint of Jewish history, R’ Shaul reached the highest and most honorable position as rav of Ashkenazic Jewry in those times.

R’ Yehudah Chassid of Szydłów

As acting rav in Cracow, R’ Shaul encountered a new group, which he had never met before. This was the Chassidim! We are not referring to the Chassidim of the Chasidic Movement; the Baal Shem Tov  was only a young child at this time. We are talking about R’ Yehudah Chassid of Szydłów [Poland] and his followers. They later made their way to Eretz Yisroel with R’ Yehudah Chassid, where they set out to bring the final redemption. However, it was not to be and R’ Yehudah passed away mere days after arriving in Yerushalayim. The Churva Shul in the Old City of Yerushalayim is named “Churvas R’ Yehudah Chassid” for this R’ Yehudah and his Chassidim.

In any case, R’ Shaul found himself dealing with these Chassidim who were very busy with the final redemption. Familiar with the havoc wrought by the Shabsai Tzvi debacle, he had no idea what to do with this group. R’ Shaul knew that the Chacham Tzvi had some interaction with the case of Shabsai Tzvi so he asked his advice on how to go about dealing with this new group in Cracow.  R’ Yaakov Emden, who was also unsure of how to deal with this particular group of Chassidim, writes in his sefer Toras HaKanaus: “The wise rav mentioned above,(R’ Shaul) did not know what their bad emunah was and therefore, he asked my father, who was raised in the land of the east. He was certain that he would know what that cursed group was all about.” R’ Yaakov Emden continued: “It is unfortunate that at the time I was a small child (3 years old) and did not pay attention to save a copy of the conversation. Only mere memories remain.”

It is apparent that R’ Yaakov Emden’s negative perception of R’ Yehudah Chassid, originated from the repercussions of Shabsai Tzvi. The Chacham Tzvi advised R’ Shaul, as R’ Yaakov Emden wrote in poem form: “To shatter the works of the new group that is bringing strange ideas to uproot the Jewish faith that destroy and blemish the spiritual state of the Jewish nation.” R’ Shaul accepted the words of the Chacham Tzvi and chased the group out of Cracow and out of Poland. Where did the group of Chassidim end up? They landed in Altona [then Denmark] where the Chacham Tzvi lived!

R’ Yaakov Emden brings an episode when his father, the Chacham Tzvi, almost put R’ Yehudah Chasid in cherem. He related what he had heard from R’ Moshe Leib’s, a parnes in Altona, what he – R’ Moshe Leib’s, heard from his father.  R’ Yehudah used to take a sefer Torah and make speeches in the women’s shul for the women. The Chacham Tzvi, while he viewed R’ Yehudah as strange, he could not find fault with R’ Yehudah for his actions. Now, that he took out a sefer Torah for no reason, he threatened to put him in cherem if this wouldn’t stop. R’ Yehudah refrained from removing the sefer Torah thereafter. Even so, R’ Yaakov Emden concludes with some positive words about the group and their leader: “Even though the intentions of R’ Yehudah Chassid weren’t as good, according to the lack of wisdom and expectations, he did do some good, as he awoke many to teshuva with sobs and tears that fell from the eyes.” There is more to tell about this episode but it is not germane to the current discussion.

R’ Shaul Abandons Cracow

As mentioned earlier, Cracow went through hard financial times and that had an effect on the city’s rav. As the city’s rav he was responsible for all the loans made to the city to cover their debts. The gaon R’ Pinchas Katzenelenbogen, the Av Beis Din of Boskowitz [Moravia] writes a bit about R’ Shaul and the debts of the kehilla.

“Everything goes after the mazal. R’ Shaul rose to greatness. At first he was made Rosh Yeshiva in Brisk, in the Klauss of our grandfather R’ Shaul Wohl. After that he was declared Av Beis Din of the kehilla of Brisk and then was accepted as the rav of the city of Cracow. In 1689, due to the great amount of debt that the kehilla of Cracow accumulated, the noblemen took R’ Aharon [Darshan] Teumim, author  of the sefer Mateh Aharon, who was a heavy man, and made him ride a horse on Shabbos for many hours. The rav weakened and died whilst still on the horse. He was buried in Chmielnik. Due to this incident, R’ Shaul was afraid for his life, since the debts of the kehilla kept growing.  He therefore moved to the city of Glogau [Silesia] and was buried there when his time was up.”

In that time we find another parnes in the city by the name of R’ Zecharia Mendel, the son of R’ Yaakov Rashach. R’ Mendel was a son-in-law of the parnes R’ Shachna Katz Rashach, who was the head of the Rashach family of Cracow. R’ Shachna was a son-in-law of the gaon R’ Yehoshua Charif, the Rav of Cracow. He is known for his sefer Maginei Shlomo.

R’ Mendel Rashach was a strong man who was not afraid of anything. He tried everything in his power to revive Cracow and restore its former glory. Some of his tactics also caused damage.  One of those that suffered was R’ Shaul.  As parnes, R’ Mendel was eager to strengthen the power of the kehilla.  We will not go into detail about this but the end result was that R’ Shaul left the rabbinate in Cracow and went to Breslau [Wrocław, Silesia]. After R’ Shaul left Cracow, R’ Mendel wanted to bring in a new rav, someone famous who would be appropriate for the city of Cracow. He recommended that the rabbinate go to the gaon R’ Leizer Lichtenstadt, the Av Beis Din of Holleschau, Moravia [Holešov, Czech Republic] but he passed away before this could happen. Afterwards, he suggested the rabbinate go to a very well known personage, R’ Shimshon Wertheimer from Vienna, who refused the position. Left with few options, he offered the position to a relative of his, the rav of Szydłów, R’ Leib, Grandson of his grandfather the Maginei Shlomos.

A Private Citizen in Breslau

In Breslau, R’ Shaul lived as a private citizen waiting to receive a position as rav in another city. At the end of 1724, we find a signature of his, in the sefer Chemdas Tzvi on Tikunei Zohar: “Words of the writer and the signer here in Breslau, Tuesday, 24 of Elul 464. The lowly Shaul is from the kehilla of Cracow and its suburbs.” A year later we find a signature on the sefer Naftali S’va Ratzon: “These words are written in Breslau on Thursday, 8 Nissan 465. Signed by the lowly Shaul the rav of Cracow and its suburbs.” While he was in Breslau, R’ Shaul married off his son, the gaon R’ Leib, to the oldest daughter of the Chacham Tzvi, Miriam. Not long afterwards, R’ Shaul found out that his new mechutan was struggling with his rabbinate. As R’ Shaul was a bit familiar with this kind of situation, he wrote a responsa which proved that the rabbinate came to the Chacham Tzvi by right and not to anyone else.

The Rabanus of the Chacham Tzvi in Altona

In order to understand this responsa and the circumstances surrounding it, we have to preface it with some details about the Chacham Tzvi and the way in which he assisted his father-in-law, R’ Zalman Mireles, the Av Beis Din of Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbek. The Chacham Tzvi was very active in the community and founded many organizations that served in their benefit. He opened a wine store that sold imported kosher wines from Italy and France. He hired mashgichim for the matzah bakery and also controlled the prices so that everyone would be able to afford them. He founded charity organizations and also sent funds to the poor in Eretz Yisroel. In addition to this, when his father-in-law was bedridden in his later years, the Chacham Tzvi took over the reins of the rabbinate.

His son, R’ Yaakov Emden, writes: “My father and teacher founded a yeshiva in the Klauss in Altona that has spread wisdom and fear of Heaven,  for close to twenty years. His advice has helped many and he has bought a good name for himself, not only in the above mentioned Hamburg communities,  but his name is known until the ends of the world, where they have heard of his greatness, even to Yerushalayim. The wise men of Germany  and Poland ask his advice, and ask every difficult question that arises in Torah and halacha. When there is doubt about the law, they come to him and what he decreed was accepted as though given by the highest court in the land. Even the Sefardi congregations sought his opinion in the word of Hashem because from him came Torah to every Jew and after he spoke it wasn’t changed. He worked on behalf of the public for both the communities of Ashkenaz and Sefarad. In Hamburg he was taken to rule between man and his neighbor and between kehilla and kehilla and they abided by what he said.”

When R’ Zalman Mireles passed away on 22 Kislev, 1626, the kehillos of Hamburg and Vandsbek took on the Chacham Tzvi as their rav. In Altona the story was different. There lived two families of wealthy people, the family of R’ Ber Cohen and the family of Fürst, who did not want the Chacham Tzvi as rav. They wanted to hire a relative of theirs, R’ Moshe Rottenberg, the son-in-law of R’ Yisroel Fürst of Altona, as the rav.

R’ Yaakov Emden writes: “These two families leaned towards hiring R’ Moshe in order to make him great and anger my father and teacher, the rav. Therefore, after the death of my grandfather R’ Zalman Mireles, the three kehillos immediately wanted to hire my father, the son-in-law of the rav who had just passed away. The rabbinate of the two kehillos Hamburg and Wandsbek was offered to him immediately following the burial of my grandfather and they proclaimed, “Long live our teacher and rav”. However, it was not the case with Altona. There he had competition for the rabanus in, R’ Moshe the son-in-law of Yisroel Fürst whose wealthy family had a strong hand and the backing of R’ Ber Cohen;  and so Altona was divided. Some wanted R’ Moshe, and the others wanted my father. They all met and agreed that they would serve Altona as partners, each for half a year.”

Back to Breslau. When R’ Shaul discovered what was going on in Altona, even though he didn’t have all the details, he writes: “The details of the politics were hidden from me.  I did not know whether it was decided by the scholars of the city or not.” When we will become familiar with the question we will discover that this was not the problem that the Chacham Tzvi had with Altona.

We will open the teshuvos of the Rema that was published in Amsterdam 1731709 where the above mentioned R’ Leib gave in and printed this teshuva in the end of the sefer: “In one city they made a rule and this was the rule: You should not take a rav or Av Beis Din from outside of the city who has relatives in the city. Now there is a rav who is famous in the world and is the son-in-law of the previous rav who has helped his father-in-law during his (the father-in-law’s) lifetime with answering sheilos and all the difficult problems that came to his father-in-law he assisted with. He also has relatives of his wife in the city. So is it part of the rule or not?” As it turns out, the rabbinate of the Chacham Tzvi came up against this rule, that they cannot take a rav from out of the city who has relatives in the city. The Chacham Tzvi did actually have relatives in the city, his wife’s nephew. His competition, R’ Moshe Rottenberg  apparently did not have “this” problem but we know that it must have been an even greater problem with R’ Moshe because his father-in-law and his whole family lived in Altona.

R’ Shaul brings many examples and reasons proving that the Chacham Tzvi was not from outside the city and that the relative was not his but his wife’s and other reasons why the rule does not include the Chacham Tzvi. He concludes his response: “I wrote about this in depth although the reasoning is so simple that you can’t deny it. Relatives of one’s wife are not relatives, and especially with this rule, do not need to be included. Sitting in exile and waiting for salvation, the lowly Shaul from the kehilla of Cracow and the suburbs, signing in Breslau.”

It is self-evident that the question didn’t come from Altona. Certainly the other side would never ask the rav who had just become a mechutan with the Chacham Tzvi. It would not have come from the Chacham Tzvi either because he would never had kept the details hidden from the rav and we also know that this rule was not the cause of the dispute at all.  So who posed the question? R’ Shaul probably wrote the responsa at the request of his son, R’ Leib, who was then engaged to the daughter of the Chacham Tzvi.  R’Leib sent the question to many relatives just as he had done later on, when there was a tumult in relation to the “heartless chicken”.

A Welcome from Amsterdam

After living for many years in Breslau, R’ Shaul finally received an offer of rabanus from the kehilla in Amsterdam. However, he never reached Amsterdam because whilst on route, near the city of Glogau, he became ill and he had to stop in Glogau, where he passed away. This was noted in the record of the chevra kadisha of the kehilla of Cracow: “May Hashem remember the soul of our teacher and rav of our kehilla and its suburbs, R’ Shaul,”l who was the son of the renowned gaon R’ Yehoshua Heschel, the Av Beis Din and rav of our city. R’ Shaul was niftar on the way and was buried in the city of Glogau on Thursday, 17th of Iyar ”1707.

Image Information:
Title: Świecznik dziewięcioramienny w bożnicy » Złotej Róży « – Nine-armed Candlestick in the “Golden Rose” shul
Source: Rocznik Architektoniczny Date: 1914
Image Information:
Artist: anonymous
Title: Portret Jana III na tle bitwy – Portrait of Jan III on the background of the battle
Description: Portrait of John III Sobieski (1629-1696)
Date: fourth quarter of 17th century
Collection: Palace Museum in Wilanów
Accession numberWil.1961
ReferencesMuseum of King Jan Iii’s Palace at Wilanów

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