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A Rebuke from the King

The Naroler Rav in Metz, France

There was a write-up in a German Jewish newspaper1Monatsschrift fur Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, 1872, page 44 about a relatively unknown Torah giant, where he relates an uncomfortable meeting he had with the king of France. He recorded this episode on a page of one of his holy books, a Yalkut Shimoni.

The raw text (translated):

I will write in words what actually happened when I was the rav in Metz. A day after Yom Kippur 5418, Louis XIV, king of France and Navarre, his mother Anne, and his brother Phillipe2He was two years younger than his brother, the king. arrived. Then, on Shabbos, the first day of Sukkos, they appeared publicly to the shul, the king and his brother…

…and he demanded that I tell the Jews that they should send their rabbi tomorrow to meet the king. The next day, the first day of Chol Hamoed Sukkos, we made our appearance to the king. He greeted us with great respect and, via the interpreter, told me and the leaders of the community that came with me, R’ Yaakov Yasum and Mr. Zeligman Yasum: How dare I take upon myself the rabbinate without the approval of the king? The Jews are allowed to appoint a rav, but not from a different kingdom. As I heard these words I became terrified. As the king’s brother noticed how scared I became, he told the others to tell me not to worry, for the king is kind and likes to do good. Although you may have wronged this time, he may not necessarily take strong measures.

The full story

It happened on the first day of Sukkos. The French king was Louis XIV, the paternal grandfather of Louis XVI, who was guillotined by the revolutionaries during the French Revolution (1789-1799).

Louis XIV succeeded his father and became king at the age of four. At the time of the episode discussed here, he was twenty years old. He, his mother Anne of Austria, and his younger brother Philippe I, known as the Duke of Anjou, later known as the Duke of Orléans, came to the city of Metz. The actual reason for the visit is unknown to us, although it may have some connection to the League of the Rhine that he signed at the end of that year. They arrived in Metz a day after Yom Kippur. He was either invited or he decided on his own to go visit the Jewish synagogue. The visit was scheduled for the coming Shabbos, which was the first day of Sukkos. Being that it was Shabbos, he didn’t manage to see the naanuim or the hakafah with the arba minim during the recital of the hoshanos.

The rabbi in Metz at that time was Hagaon R’ Moshe Narol.

R’ Moshe was born in Tzfas in the year 1598 to his father R’ Eliezer Welshum Kohen. His full name was Moshe Yirmiyah, although most likely the name Yirmiyah was added later on account of illness. In those days, it wasn’t accepted to name a child with two names at his bris.

His father, R’ Eliezer, was a son of the rav of Tzfas, R’ Shalom Hakohen Manoscribi.3Mano escriba means “hand write” in Spanish. It’s similar to the word “manuscript”. They were an illustrious family, tracing their lineage back to Ezra the Scribe. As a young man, R’ Eliezer left Eretz Yisroel to Poland, where he printed the sefer Reishis Chochmah. The author was his uncle, the great kabbalist R’ Eliyahu de Vidas, a student of R’ Moshe Cordovero. He married in Poland and towards the end of his life, he moved to Krzemieniec, where he served as a doctor until he passed away on Monday the 5th of Shevat, 1628.

R’ Moshe Narol married Faiga, a daughter of R’ Yona of Narol.

During his youth, he studied with the Maharsha, R’ Yitzchok Kalmankes, and R’ Yaakov of Lublin. He then became friendly with R’ Yaakov’s son, the famous R’ Heschel of Cracow.

Later on, he served as rav in several Jewish communities in Poland, the last one being Narol, Poland, and from there he is known as R’ Moshe Narol. He actually didn’t stay there all his life. After the 1648 massacres, he and his family moved west to the German countries4At that time, the countries of Ashkenaz weren’t one big country like Germany of today. where he became rav in Metz, France.5The Pnei Yehoshua, Rebbi R’ Yonason, and the Shaagas Arye served as rav there.

In Metz, there were a minority of Jews that weren’t satisfied with their new rav and they saw the king’s visit as a perfect opportunity to relieve the new rav of his position. They informed the king that the new rabbi doesn’t know the language of the country, which is strictly against French law.

At his visit to the synagogue, the king requested that the rav come to him the following Monday. Nobody dreamed that it wasn’t just an ordinary visit. The rav came to the king with his two community leaders, as he called them, R’ Yaakov Yasum and Zeligman Yasum. The king then accused the rav via the community leaders, “How dare you accept the rabbinate without permission from the king?”

The rav was terribly bewildered. Noticing his reaction, Philippe, the king’s brother, tried to calm the rav and said, “My brother is a kind king. Although you may have wronged, you may not be in too much trouble.”

The next day, Louis approved of the rabbinate, and R’ Moshe retained his position as rav in Metz. In addition, the rav and seven other prominent members of the community got permission to wear black hats in and out of the country. It was strictly forbidden at the time for Jews to wear black hats; they all had to wear yellow ones.

R’ Moshe Narol remained in Metz until he passed away on Motzei Shabbos Lag Baomer, 1659.

In 1676, the cemetery in Metz was destroyed, as noted in the Metzer Sefer Hazikaron D’Chevra Kaddisha Kabarnim:

A terrible incident happened to us, in the year 5436, when the cemetery was taken as part of the king’s work, to build upon it to strengthen the city… The valley was full of dry bones…everyone tried picking the bones of their family members and buried them… Nobody knew the burial spot of their parents. The gravestones were taken to strengthen the fortress. Woe is to us because we sinned.

There is an entry in the community memorbuch6A book, where the names of those who passed were recorded for posterity. about R’ Moshe Narol:

It shall be remembered the soul of the pious gaon…R’ Moshe Yirmiya ben R’ Eliezer Hakohen z”l, because he spread Torah by the Jews… He had many students, many in Poland, in the Three Lands, and also here in Metz where he was rav. He produced many novel Torah ideas in his lectures, and it was as though they were given at Sinai… He was a faithful shepherd that led us sweetly, calmly… He also wrote some selichos, kinnos, kel malei Rachamim, with his clear language as if given over from the Creator Himself…He returned his soul to the Creator on Motzei Shabbos, when Sunday was Lag Baomer, 1659.

His Rebbetzin Faiga was left a widow, and a couple of years later in Cheshvan 16627It’s interesting to note that this piece of information is written on her gravestone. she remarried R’ Shimshon Bacharach of Worms, the father of the Chavas Yair, and she moved to Worms.

Their children were:

  1. Daughter Tziporah, wife of R’ Moshe Tzifs of Narol
  2. Son R’ Eliezer Hakohen of Narol
  3. Daughter Mushkat
  4. Son Hakadosh Hendel Hakohen hy”d – he was killed near the border of Kuzmir in 1653.
  5. Son R’ Yehuda Leib Hakohen of Premishla
  6. Daughter Sarah
  7. Son R’ Sholom Hakohen
  8. Son Yedidya Gottlieb Hakohen
  9. Son R’ Yitzchok Hakohen
  10. Son R’ Yisroel Hakohen
  11. Son the doctor Hagaon R’ Tovia, author of Maasei Tovia

R’ Moshe Narol wrote the sefer Birchas Tov, which his youngest son, R’ Tovia, printed. R’ Tovia also added in his father’s novellae that were written by his son-in-law, R’ Moshe Tzips.