Doctor and Rabbi… and Also Court Jew
Dr. Markus Frankel, or, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Teomim
Previous articles in Kankan introduced readers to R’ Bezalel Muchsan of Zolkiew, also known as Mordechai II, Bezalis, and R’ Simcha Menachem Meyonah of Lemberg, also known as R’ Simcha Doctor, both of whom were court Jews at the Royal Court of the Polish King John III Sobieski. Let us now meet the third of King John’s court Jews, R’ Yitzchak Meir Teomim.
The Court Jews of King John III Sobieski
The two court Jews previously featured in these pages, R’ Simcha Doctor of Lemberg, and R’ Bezalel Muchsan of Zolkiew, were leaders or askanim in their local communities. The central character of this article, R’ Yitzchak Meir Teomim, however, was the Rav of the community of Zolkiew. He was not well-known for being an askan but he was familiar in some circles as Doctor Rabbi Marcus Frankel. The very fact that he had several titles and names clearly indicates he was an intriguing personality.
There is little that is documented about him in official records. There are no references to R’ Yitzchak Meir’s position as a rav nor to his standing at the Royal Court. It appears that he did not use his position for community purposes, but instead, was known in the palace only in his impressive medical capacity as a physician to King John III Sobieski.
R’ Yitzchak Meir was a multifaceted personality. He came from a rabbinic family, his father having served as the rav in Metz, France, and he too was an outstanding talmid chacham. In addition to that, he was drawn to knowledge of all types and studied astronomy, mathematics and medicine.1Leopold Löwenstein, ‘Die Familie Teomim,’ Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, Volume 57, May/June 1913, pages 341-362.
Historically, Jews were prohibited from attending European universities, the only exception being the university in Padua,2Rabbi Zvi Horowitz, LeToledos HaKehilos BePolin, Mossad Harav Kook 1978, page 39. where many gedolei Yisrael studied, including the Mahari Münz. Thus, it is most likely that R’ Yitzchak Meir was self-taught, which would have been the most feasible option, and apparently he succeeded in his self-education to the point of becoming a doctor capable of attending to a king. His position at the royal court even received mention in the famous She’elos Uteshuvos Noda B’Yehudah of Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, where, in reference to a certain medical situation, it states:3Noda B’Yehuda, second edition, Even HaEzer 81.
The gaon R’ Meir Frankel, the rav of Zolkiew, was also a doctor in the king’s court together with the famous and brilliant doctor, R’ Simcha.
The Teomim Family History
The rabbinic family Teomim, began with R’ Aron Teomim of Frankfurt on the Main. He married Rivkah Stern4‘Stern’ was a nickname or her civil name, but clearly not a surname, which was Horowitz or Munk as per the local records. Horowitz, from the prestigious Horowitz family of Prague, and together they had many children who were the forebears of many gedolei Yisroel, including the Tosfos Yom Tov, Rabbi Aron Malkes the rav of Vienna, and the rabbinic dynasties of Lipshutz and Brandes of Prague. One of their children, R’ Yonah, authored the sefer, Kikayon DeYonah and served as rav in many Jewish communities throughout Europe, the last of which was Metz.
R’ Yitzchak Meir Teomim-Frankel was born in Horodna,5His father was then rav in this town, see Rechovos Ir, Vilnius 1891, page 7. Lithuania in the year 1651 [5411 AM],6Horowitz, page 38. the eldest son of R’ Yonah Teomim and Rebbitzen Beile née Katzenellenbogen. He was named ‘Meir’ after his maternal grandfather, R’ Meir Katzenellenbogen, who was the rav of Brisk [Brest-Litovsk, Lithuania] and the eldest son of R’ Saul Wohl (the legendary “king of Poland for one night”7Read the biography in Kankan, issue 7.). The name Yitzchak was added at a later stage in his life, perhaps due to an illness.
From Horodna, the Teomim family moved to Pinsk, and thereafter to Metz, France, where R’ Yitzchak Meir spent the years of his youth.
R’ Yitzchak Meir’s Personal History
In the year 1669 [5429 AM],8Kiryah Nisgavah, Cracow 1903, page 42. R’ Yitzchak Meir married his wife Sarah, the daughter of R’ Moshe Mirels,9Prof. Dr. David Kaufmann, Die Letzte Vertreibung, Budapest 1889, page 79. who was one of the leaders of Vienna’s Jewish community. R’ Moshe was the brother of Rebbetzin Sara, wife of the famed Chacham Tzvi. They were the children of R’ Shlomo Zalman Mirels, the first rav of the federated communities of Hamburg, Altona and Wandsbek.
It seems that the son-in-law, R’ Yitzchak Meir, and father-in-law, R’ Moshe, lived on the same street in Vienna, where R’ Yitzchak Meir’s name was recorded as ‘Marx Fränkel’.10Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Fränkel in his preface, to Ayin Yakov, Amsterdam Edition 1684. The official surname of the Mirels family was ‘Franckel,’ and interestingly, the Teomim family also adopted the surname Fränkel. This was due to their father, R’ Yonah being rav in Metz, France, which is called ‘Frankreich’ in Yiddish.
R’ Yitzchak Meir lived in Vienna, until the year 1670, when the Jews of Vienna were expelled from the city, after which he spent time in Hamburg, although there is evidence that for a period of time he also lived in Moravia.
In 1672, at the young age of twenty-one, R’ Yitzchak Meir had already become the rav of the Jewish community of Trebitsch [Třebíč, Czech Republic].11Hamevaser, year 1861, vol. 1, issue 21, page 147.
To his dismay, less than three years after marrying Sarah, she passed away. R’ Yitzchak Meir then married Sarah’s niece, the daughter of Sarah’s brother, R’ Avraham Mirels.
In the year 1682, we find that R’ Yitzchak Meir was in Amsterdam12Above mentioned Yiddish edition of Tanach. where he edited the Blitz Tanach. In the year 1684, a new edition of the sefer Ayin Yaakov, with additional commentaries, was printed in Amsterdam. It was named Kosnos Or, and R’ Yitzchak Meir edited that work too.
In the year 1685 [5445 AM] at the age of 34, he was appointed as rav of the community in Poznań [Poland].13Kiryah Nisgavah, page 45. From there he moved on to become a rav in the community in Zolkiew [Zhovkva].14Horowitz, page 474. See Ayin Yaakov. His connection with the Polish king was probably made during this period.
R’ Yitzchak Meir spent a few years in Zolkiew, between the years of 1685–1691. While we have evidence of R’ Simcha and R’ Bezalel’s personal connections with the king,15A royal gift of pistols given to R’ Simcha. He had those pistols melted down to form a menorah, See Kankan issue 9. this is not the case with R’ Yitzchak Meir. R’ Yitzchak Meir lived in Zolkiew, in the same period as when R’ Simcha Doctor lived and was also active in Sobieski’s court in Zolkiew. R’ Bezalel Muchsan, however, probably had his engagements, in the Royal Court in Warsaw.
In the year 1691 [5451 AM], at the age of 40, he left Zolkiew and was appointed as rav in the community in Slutsk [Belarus]. 16Horowitz, page 474. Pinkas HaMedinah year 5445. The fact that R’ Yitzchak Meir left Zolkiew helped save his life, although he did not know it at the time. Following King John Sobieski’s death in 1695, R’ Simcha Doctor was jailed due to false accusations. The Polish anti-Semites would most likely have had the same plan for R’ Yitzchak Meir, but by time the king died, R’ Yitzchak Meir was long gone from the royal court in Zolkiew.
Following his tenure in Slutsk, he was appointed as rav in the nearby community of Pinsk [Belarus]17Horowitz, page 474. See Kevod Chachamim. in the year 1694 [5454 AM], at the age of 43.
In the year 1702 [5462 AM], he was invited to take over the rabbinate in the community of Pshemysl [Przemyśl, Poland], which he accepted. Unfortunately, he never did become the rav there, as he passed away en route to that destination.
Sadly enough, the date of R’ Yitzchak Meir’s passing is unknown, nor do we know the location of his final resting place.18Horowitz, page 39.
Editor of The Blitz Tanach
Between the years 1676-1682, R’ Uri Feibush HaLevi published the Blitz edition of Tanach, in Amsterdam, Holland.
This edition of the Tanach is quite unique, since it is only in the language called ‘Ashkenaz’, a Judeo-German language, also known as ‘German-Yiddish’ and does not contain the original Hebrew text. The translation was the work of R’ Yekusiel Blitz of Wittmund, Lower Saxony, located in today’s northern Germany.
A quick perusal of this edition shows that there are several literal translations, with no Midrashic additions, which are usually regarded as essential to having a basic understanding of the text of the Tanach.
Nevertheless, the Blitz Tanach has the joint approbation of the rabbanim of the Va’ad Arba Aratzos (the Council of the Four Lands), which was given, during the gathering of the Va’ad that took place during the spring fair in Lublin in the year 1771. The spring fair was called the ‘Gromnice Fair’, and we find it referred to as such in the above-mentioned approbation:
“Today, the 5th day [Thursday], 8 Nissan 431 lp”k, whilst seated in… Gromince Fair, in Lublin, the capital.”
The first signatory to the approbation was Rabbi Moshe from Krakow, the rav of Lublin. He was the son-in-law of R’ Shmuel Eidels, also known as the Maharsha, after the name of his famous sefer. R’ Moshe from Krakow authored the commentary Mahadura Basra (‘Second Edition’), on his father in-law’s sefer, Maharsha.
At the end of the Tanach, we find an apology from the editor, which appears in Hebrew, and thereafter in Yiddish. He also signed his name in Yiddish, as “Marcus Frankel Doctor und Rabbiner.”19“מרקוש פרנקל דאקטיר אונט רבינר.”
The way the editor dated that apology is also very intriguing, using the civil month system, rather than the Jewish one. “It was edited, the 27th August, to the number of years of the creation of the world, 5442.”
Doctor and Rabiner Marcus Frankel was none other than R’ Yitzchok Meir Teomim, as the editor’s signature on his Hebrew apology makes clear. It is dated and signed this way: “The words of the editor, today, the 2nd day [Monday] 27 Menachem [Av] 442 lp”k, hakatan Yitzchak Meir son to my father the great Gaon Rabbi Yonah zt”l Teomim.”20The 27th of Av 5442, does not correspond with the 27th of August of that same year. The 27th of Av was the 31st of August, therefore it could be that using August in his Yiddish apology, was simply a mistake, and the correct month should be Av.
Conclusion of Series of Court Jews of Sobieski
As we can see, it was not uncommon for Jews to rise up in society and work their way to a position of power and influence. Often at a time of tzarah, these personalities came to the rescue of their Jewish brethren by using their positions to influence the rulers of their times. R’ Yitzchak Meir, together with the other court Jews of the Polish King John III Sobieski, are prime examples of this phenomenon.