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Taanis Yerushalayim, in Honor of Shimon Kalphus

These are the days in which calamity befell our ancestors, and upon which it is proper to fast…

On the eighth of Teves, in the times of King Ptolemy, the Torah was translated into Greek, and the world was darkened for three days.

On the ninth, it’s unknown which trouble happened… This is a passage in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim Siman 580:1.

The Tur, the source of this section, explained this fast day with a slight, yet important, variation: “Regarding the ninth, our teachers did not write the reason.” The implication of the Tur’s choice of language is that the particular trouble that occurred was well known but was not recorded for some reason. The Tur also offers us the source for this whole siman, the Ba’al Halachos Gedolos, which was written in Babylon in the Geonic period.

Shimon Hakalphus

So what happened on the ninth of Teves, and why couldn’t it be committed to writing?

Contemporary editions of the Shulchan Aruch include the notations of the Baruch Ta’am, Rabbi Baruch Fränkel from Leipnik, entitled Imrei Baruch. He writes the following:

I found in a manuscript that on the ninth of Teves Shimon Hakalphus passed away. He saved the Jews when they were in great trouble in the times of the poritzim, and a yearly fast day was established in Yerushalayim.

This is a very intriguing note. It clearly explains the reason for the fast day, yet no apparent reason why our teachers chose not to publicize it.

Who was Shimon Hakalphus and why did his passing warrant the establishment of a yearly fast day in Yerushalayim? His name is not mentioned in Chazal, even though, as we shall see, he lived in their times.


On every Shabbos and Yom Tov, we say Nishmas. Did you ever wonder who authored this special tefillah? Some siddurim and machzorim give short biographical information about the authors of piyutim, but you will not find anything regarding the author of Nishmas.

In the 16th century in Frankfurt am Main, there lived the gaon and mekubal Rabbi Naftali Hirtz Trewes. He was dayan and chazzan of the community. He authored the first kabbalistic siddur, which was printed in the year 1560. There we read the following: “Nishmas, I found, that Shimon ben Kepa authored it, and some say Shimon ben Shetach.”

Similarly, we find in the siddur Seder Avodas Yisrael, printed in Rödelheim 1868: “I found in an old commentary, in a siddur, minhag Troyes, written in 167 [1407], as follows: ‘I heard from R’ Yehudah ben Yaakov, that R’ Shimon ben Kepa authored Nishmas.’”

Who is R’ Shimon ben Kepa?

Rabbi Yehudah HaChassid knew something about him. In his famous will, he wrote, “A Jew who converts (to Christianity) is called by name…if his name is Avraham he shall be called Efram (ashes) and so on, even though he is a tzaddik, like Shimon Kepa which we say ‘peter chamor’ (firstling of a donkey).”

Hmm…so the tzaddik R’ Shimon Kepa, the author of Nishmas, is actually a convert who should be called Peter Chamor!

Rashi has quite a different opinion on this. Rashi claims he was no tzaddik at all, rather he was a boor. Anyone who claims that Shimon Kepa was the author of Nishmas, says Rashi, should expect to bring a korban chatas once the third Beis HaMikdash is built.

Let’s go back to Rabbi Yehudah HaChassid. We see a linguistic similarity between the name Avraham and Efram, but one wonders, what’s the connection between the name Shimon and Peter Chamor?

Let’s open the sefer Takanos Utefillos, printed in Munkatch1Mukacheve, Ukraine in 1890. On the last page we read:

And the rav from Beregsas [Rabbi Shlomo Sofer] wrote to me about this topic as follows: In the pamphlet which my holy grandfather the Chasam Sofer copied for himself is the story of the Nazarene. There it is written that on the 9th of Teves, R’ Shimon Kalphus passed away. He was the uncle of the Nazarene; his mother Miriam was a sister to the above-mentioned R’ Shimon. On behalf of the Sages, who entrusted him with the Sheim Hameforash, he went to the people of Ai to completely separate them and the poritzim from the community of Israel in Jerusalem. He established new laws for them, as it is mentioned there at length. And because he did this great deed, therefore our Sages established a fast day for generations to come on the day of his passing away, on the 9th of Teves.

My grandfather copied this from a Christian book by John Jacob Huldrico. It is signed, “And these are the words of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai in Jerusalem.”

The book referred to is Toledos Yeshuah HaNotzri—Historia Jeschuae Nazareni. The author is unknown but it was first printed from a manuscript by Johannes Jacobus Huldricus in 1705. Numerous other handwritten versions are extant and the details differ from one to the next, but the gist of the story is the same in all of them.

Take a look back at the passage with the comment of the Baruch Taam. One can conclude that the Baruch Taam is referring to the very same source, and as we see, gedolei Yisroel themselves copied the story from that particular book.

So we know who Shimon Hakalphus is and we can understand why the reason for the fast was kept secret. Jews who lived in a Christian world for a hundred years wouldn’t benefit from having the reason published.

Who, then, is Shimon Kepa, and why did we bother mentioning him earlier?

Well, it turns out that the matter is not quite so simple. One version from the Toledos Yeshuah gives the credit of what R’ Shimon Hakalphus did to someone named Shimon Kepa!

If Shimon Kepa and R’ Shimon Hakalphus are one and the same, we then have to figure out if he was indeed a tzaddik and worthy of a fast day, as called by Rabbi Yehudah HaChassid, or on the contrary, he was a boor and a fool, as is the opinion of Rashi!

We have seen above that the gedolei Yisrael preferred the version of Huldreich. That is because Huldreich’s version has both Shimon Kepa and R’ Shimon Hakalphus as part of the account.

  • Please note: We are not here to discuss the authenticity of this book. All versions are filled with discrepancies.

Let’s read the relevant sections from Hudreich’s version of Toldos Yeshuah:

Chapter I

During the reign of Herod the Convert, there was a man named Papus ben Yehudah. He had a wife named Miriam, the daughter of Kalphus, a sister of R’ Shimon Kalphus…She was very pretty and she was from the tribe of Benjamin. Her husband, Papus, wouldn’t allow her to leave his house, keeping the door locked, claiming to be afraid that the poritzim would assault her.

And so it was on the fast of Yom Kippur, the handsome poritz Yosef Pandera from Nazareth passed the window of her house. Observing that no one was home but her, he shouted out, “Miriam, Miriam, until when will you sit imprisoned at home?” She was watching from the window and she answered him, “Yosef, Yosef, save me!” Yosef brought a ladder, she climbed down from the house, and on that very day they both ran away from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. They lived together from that Yom Kippur in Bethlehem for many days, and no one recognised them. She became pregnant and to the year, she gave birth to Yeshuah from Nazareth. She became pregnant again and had many more sons and daughters.

Chapter II

As time passed by, an individual from Jerusalem came to Bethlehem and recognized Miriam. He kept his silence but upon returning to Jerusalem, he told Papus that his wife Miriam gave birth to illegitimate children from Yosef Pandera from Nazareth.

When Papus heard that, he went to King Herod and started to cry out loud.  He told the king that his wife bore illegitimate children from Yosef Pandera, and the word came out in the king’s court in Jerusalem.

As the poritzim, those close to Yosef Pandera, heard about it, they quickly told Yosef, “Yosef, escape from here for you are a dead man. The king heard what you and Miriam did, and about your children.” Yosef took Miriam and his sons and daughters, seated them on camels, and fled from Bethlehem to Egypt.

In the meantime, Herod came to Bethlehem in search of Yosef, Miriam, and their children, intending to stone them to death, but he did not find them. So he had all the children found in Bethlehem killed.

Chapter III

And it was after a long time that a famine broke out in the land of Egypt. Yosef, Miriam, and their children returned to Canaan and settled in Nazareth, his birth town, and they changed their names.

Yeshuah, the mamzer, grew older, and he went to Jerusalem to study in the yeshivah of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachya. He also learned Maaseh Merkavah and the secrets of the Sheim Hameforash.

Chapter IV

One day, Yeshuah was throwing a ball with some youngsters of the Kohanim, next to the Lishkas Hagazis, on the Temple Mount, and the ball fell into the valley. Yeshuah became very aggravated.  He threw his headdress from his head and started to cry. The boys around him told him to put his headdress back on. He answered them, “Moshe did not command it in the Torah, and what the Sages say is of no significance.”

At the time, Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi and Rabbi Akiva were sitting in the beis medrash across the way, and they heard the comment of Yeshuah. Rabbi Elazar said, “Since he’s proven to be so insolent, one can assume that he is the son of a niddah.” Rabbi Yehoshua said, “The son of a prostitute.” Rabbi Akiva said, “A mamzer and the aforementioned!”

Rabbi Akiva went out and asked Yeshuah, “From which town are you?” Yeshuah answered, “From Nazareth. My father is Mitzriah and my mother is Karachas.”

Chapter V

And so Rabbi Akiva went to Nazareth and was directed to the house of Mitzriah and Karachas.

Rabbi Akiva came to the house and found Miriam there by herself, so he told her, “It is ordained from Hashem that your husband isn’t currently at home. I adjure you in the name of Hashem, the G-d of the heavens, for you to tell me your deeds, and I promise you a share in the World to Come.” The woman asked him to swear in the name of G-d, and Rabbi Akiva swore verbally while intending that the vow be annulled.

Then the woman told him, “I am Miriam, the sister of Shimon Hakalphus. I am the wife of Papus ben Yehudah. I escaped with Yosef Pandera and had children with him in Bethlehem who are mamzerim. When Herod came to stone us, we ran to Egypt. When the famine started we came here, and we changed our names so we shouldn’t be recognised.”

When Rabbi Akiva heard the story, he tore his clothes and told her, “He is aptly named Mitzriah since his deeds are those of the Egyptians, and you, Karachas, for you shaved baldness in Israel.”

Rabbi Akiva returned to Jerusalem and informed Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi of what he had found out. All three went to the beis medrash of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perchaya and they grabbed Yeshuah, may his memory be erased and his name blotted out. They shaved his head and washed it with Bolet water so the hair should not grow back, since this is what they did to mamzerim as they shouldn’t mix with the community of Israel.

The sages were afraid to tell the king that Yosef and Miriam reside in Nazareth, worrying that the king would kill the whole town because of them.

So far we have read about the childhood of Oso HaIsh, and we met his uncle R’ Shimon Hakalphus. Now let’s meet Shimon Kepa, otherwise known as Peter, or Petrus in Latin:

Chapter VII

When Yeshuah saw that the Jews dissociated from him and they call him Yezus (the acronym of Y’emach Z’ichro U’yemach S’hemo), Yeshuah said, “I have no part in the G-d of Israel.” He became contemptuous towards the Torah. Worthless and reckless characters gathered around him, as well as the poritzim Shimon, Masya, Elyakum, Mordechai and Todah. Yeshuah changed their names: Shimon he called Peter, as he was the first. Masya he changed to Matthew, since he wrongly followed him. Elyakum he changed to Lakum, as in the verse “lakum oso bagoyim.” Mordechai to Marc, as in the verse “mereikin nasonu.” And Todah to Paul, as in the verse “poel vehe’id alav kiretzono.”

Another one who joined him was the head of the bullies, Yochanan, and he changed his name to John, after the wonders that Yeshuah made in front of him with the Sheim Hameforash.

Then John suggested that if they all shaved and washed their heads with Bolet water, then they would be recognisable as a group. Yeshuah started to teach them the Torah in the wrong way, and each new member had to shave and wash their head with Bolet water so they should be recognised as a notzri.

So there you have it! The reason why Shimon Kepa should be called Peter Chamor is because his new given name was Peter. But we see here something else as well. Shimon Kepa, also known as Peter Chamor, was a follower of Oso HaIsh, Christianity’s founder. Rashi is correct with his statement; he did not author Nishmas and he was a fool.

Now let’s go back to the story and see how the tzaddik R’ Shimon Hakalphus is involved. We re-enter the story after the people of Ai heard that their leader Oso HaIsh was hanged:

Chapter XVI

And it was, when the people of Ai heard that Yeshua was hanged, they quarreled with the Jews…they killed about two thousand Jews, and the Jews were not able to travel to the Temple from fear. The king tried to fight the people of Ai, but they had help from the poritzim in Jerusalem, who also opposed the king. Some of these poritzim went to Ai and told them lies, that three days after Yeshua was hanged a fire came down from heaven and surrounded Yeshua, and he received new life in an instant, and thereafter Yeshu went up into heaven. The people of Ai believed the poritzim, and they swore to take revenge on the Jews for hanging Yeshua.

And it was when Yehudah saw this scandal, he sent letters to Ai as follows: “There is no safety, said the Lord, for the wicked. Why do nations assemble, and people plot vain things? Come to Jerusalem and see your false prophet! Here he is, a defeated carcass which I placed in a chamber pot of feces.”

When the poritzim heard these words they went to Jerusalem and they indeed saw Yezus as Yehudah described. But they went back to Ai and proclaimed, “Yehudah wrote lies. We came to Jerusalem, and many rose up against the king. They ousted the king because he doesn’t believe in Yeshua.” The people of Ai believed the lies of the poritzim and continued to fight with the Jews.

Chapter XVII

The king and the sages saw that the people of Ai overpowered the Jews, and that many of the poritzim were comrades and relatives to Yeshua. The king and the wise men consulted and they asked Yehudah, “How shall we deal with this issue?”

Yehudah answered, “The uncle of Yezus, Shimon Hakalphus, is an elderly, well-respected man. Teach him the Sheim Hameforash, and Shimon should go to Ai and perform wonders. He should tell them that he is doing everything because of Yezus. The people of Ai would believe what he says in the name of Yezus [but they will think that ‘because of’ means ‘according to.’ In truth, Shimon’s intention will be ‘forced to do so on account of Yezus’]. The people will believe the words of Shimon since he is the uncle of Yezus. Shimon should tell them that Yezus commanded them to stop their fight against the Jews since he would personally take revenge against the Jews.”

The king and the sages approved of the idea, and so they called Shimon and told him their plan.

“Swear to me,” replied Shimon, “that I’ll receive Olam Haba. I will go and concoct incorrect laws for them and quiet their fight against the Jews.”

The Sages and the elders swore an oath to Shimon and transmitted the Sheim Hameforash to him.

Chapter XVIII

Shimon went to Ai, and when he approached the city, he created a small cloud. He caused an uproar while sitting upon the cloud, with flashes of lighting and claps of thunder, and said, “Listen to me, people of Ai. Gather around the tower of Ai, and there I’ll give new laws on behalf of Yeshua. When the people of Ai heard the noise and the voice, they became frightened and ran to the tower of Ai. And there Shimon embarked from the cloud to the tower. The people of Ai bowed to his honor, and Shimon told them, “I am Shimon the Kalphusean, the uncle of Yeshua. Yeshua came to me and sent me to you to teach you the laws, since Yeshua is the son of G-d, and I, Shimon, will teach you the laws of Yeshua, the new laws.”

Shimon showed them great wonders, and the people of Ai believed his words. They told him, “We will faithfully do and listen to any order you give us.”

Shimon, told them, “Go to your homes!” And all the people of Ai went home.

And Shimon settled in the tower of Ai, and Shimon wrote down the laws he was given by the king and the sages.

Chapter XVIV

He wrote for them more false books and named them Avon-Kilyon (Sin and Destruction), but they thought that he said Evangelion, meaning av – father, ben – son, giluy – the revealing of the holy spirit. And Shimon made more books from the disciples from Yeshua and from John. He claimed that Yeshua passed this all over to him…He did these things in order to cause the people of Ai to err, as the king and the sages commanded him.

Chapter XX

And it was in the third month, on the sixth of the month, and Shimon rode on his cloud and gathered all the people of Ai to the Tower, and he gave them the Avon-Kilyon, and ordered them that when male offspring are born to them they should sprinkle water on them as a sign that Yeshua was washed with Bolet water, and to follow the laws written in the Avon-Kilyon. They should not fight the Jews since Yeshua will take revenge on them by himself.

When the people of Ai heard all of this, they said, “We will obey what you have spoken.”

Shimon went back on his cloud and returned to Jerusalem, while the people of Ai thought that he flew back to the sky, and they were afraid to fight the Jews.

When Shimon returned to Jerusalem, he told everything to the king and the sages. The king, the sages, and the Jews were very pleased, and the war between the Jews and the people of Ai calmed down.

And it was in those days when King Herod died, his son took his place and ruled over Israel. The king heard that the people of Ai made an idol in the name of Yeshua, and Miriam, and this idol was placed on King Herod’s [grave]. The king sent out letters to the people of Ai to have this statue removed, and if they refused he would start a fight between them,

When the letters arrived in Ai, the people of Ai sent letters to Caesarea to come to their help in their fight against the Jews. The king of Caesarea answered that he was not interested in fighting the Jews, so the people had no choice but to burn the statue, and surrender to the Jews.

Chapter XXI

Then Shimon the Kalphusean came before the king and said, “His Majesty the King, please give me permission, and I’ll sweep out all the poritzim from Jerusalem.”

The king said to Shimon, “Go, and may G-d be with you.”

Shimon went secretly to the poritzim and told them, “Please come with me to Ai and you’ll see the wonder I made on behalf of Yeshua, and what I am yet to do.”

Some poritzim rode to Ai and some joined Shimon on his cloud. While flying, Shimon ordered the cloud to fall and all the poritzim on it fell down to their death.

Shimon returned to Jerusalem and told the king. The king was pleased with him, and from that day onwards Shimon stayed in the royal court until his death, when the Jews mourned him, and set the day of his passing to be a fast day, and that was the ninth of Teves.

The other poritzim who arrived in Ai thought that the poritzim who went with Shimon went up straight to heaven.

When the poritzim saw the laws that Shimon ordered the people of Ai on behalf of Yezus, they followed them as well. The people of Ai intermarried with the poritzim, and among the poritzim there were some false prophets, and the poritzim married the daughters from the people of Ai.

They sent the Avon-Kilyon to the far islands, and they accepted upon themselves and their generations to follow the Avon-Kilyon as law. They have forsaken the teachings of Moses. They set their Sabbath to be on Sunday, which was the day of the birth of Yezus, and more laws, and bad holidays. Therefore, they have no part or portion in Israel…May G-d bestow peace upon His people, Israel.

Chapter XXII

These are the words of our master Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai.

Based on this version, one can clearly conclude that there were two Shimons involved in the story of Oso HaIsh.

Due to their similar names and proximity to each other in the story, these two figures became confused with each over time, thereby confusing their legacies. Shimon Kepa, better known as Peter, was a fool and the disciple of Yeshu HaNotzri. He is the one who should be called Peter Chamor. R’ Shimon HaKalphus, an uncle of Yeshu, on the other hand, was a true tzadik and the author of Nishmas.

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

Eliyahu Hanavi Appoints a King

In the city of Zolkiew lived a very important and prominent Jew known as R’ Itzik Zolkver. He rented estates in the area of Złoczów [Zolochiv], Zborów [Zboriv] and Pomarin [Pomoryany] from a nobleman Pan Jakob Sobieski, the Zolkover poritz. Pan Sobieski had two sons who were soldiers in the Polish army and one of them was killed when captured by the enemy. The old Pan Sobieski became very worried about the wellbeing of his remaining and only son who was in a foreign place, far from home, eating and sleeping in army barracks. However, he did not have much choice in the matter because when the king drafts one to the army, there is no refusing.

When Pan Sobieski was worried and upset about the situation, he found a listening ear by his “Zyd,” R’ Itzik Zolkover. He visited him often and poured out his heart to him about his woes. R’ Itzik always calmed him down by saying, “Don’t be so worried. Your son has a good head and is very resourceful. He will fight for the homeland like a hero and will move up in the ranks to become a colonel or maybe even a general.” The young Sobieski did in fact make his way up the ranks to the position of Field Crown Hetman, which is the highest ranking military officer, second only to the King.

One Friday, young Sobieski returned home dressed in full military regalia, replete with many medals of honor. By his side hung a sword decorated with pearls which he had received from the king. Pan and Pani Sobieski did not recognize their own child.

The young Sobieski, who was friendly with his father’s “Zyd,” went to visit him to tell him of his experiences. He made his visit on Friday night and the family was in the middle of the Shabbos meal. In his honor, they brought out a challah and a portion of fish, after which they presented a bottle of vodka to drink a l’chaim. As they were sitting there, Sobieski noticed that it wasn’t only the “Zyd’s” family but that there were a motley group of guests around the table. After Sobieski finished eating his portion, he regaled the listeners with stories of his stint with the army and described the battles that he had fought. It was extremely interesting to hear about his experiences. In the midst of his storytelling, one of the guests leaned over and whispered in R’ Itzik’s ear, “This young sheigitz will one day be king.”

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