R’ Simcha Doctor
Sobieski’s Court Jews – II
John Sobieski, the ruler of Poland, was a heroic king and a lover of Jews. In the year 1687, he gave the long-awaited permission to build a shul in Żółkiew [Zhovkva, Ukraine]. In his palace, there were many Jews, and one of those was the Maharam Frankel. Another was R’ Betzalel Muchsen whom everyone called, “the second Mordechai,” and a third was R’ Simcha Doctor. Who was this R’ Simcha?
A Stroll in the Cemetery
Let us take a tour of the cemetery in Lemberg, whose rav at the time was the Gaon R’ Yosef Shaul Halevi Nathanson, the author of the sefer “Sho’el Umeishiv”. It was Thursday, Parshas Reah, 25 Av in the year 1865, which was the yahrzeit of the Baal Yeshuas Yaakov. R’ Yosef Shaul went out to the cemetery, to his gravestone, accompanied by R’ Gavriel Sochsotover. R’ Gavriel was always keeping up the condition of the cemetery, and always consulted with the Lemberger Rav about his discoveries in the cemetery.1Matzeivas Kodesh, Lwow 1866, see the approbation of the Sho’el Umeshiv to the sefer.
“Here is a very interesting plot,” R’ Gavriel said to R’ Yosef Shaul.
“What is interesting about it?” R’ Yosef Shaul wondered.
“Take a look,” R’ Gavriel pointed to several gravestones. “These gravestones have a picture of two fish.”
R’ Gavriel explained to R’ Yosef Shaul his latest findings. “Here lies the descendants of the Navi, Yonah ben Amitai! On the gravestone was engraved the words, ‘from the descendants of Yonah Hanavi.’ Here lies one R’ Yaakov Kikins, from the descendants of Yonah Hanavi, and here lies R’ Yaakov’s son, R’ Moshe, who was a Rosh Beis Din here, on whose gravestone it also states, ‘from the descendants of Yonah Hanavi.’”
R’ Gavriel pointed to a gravestone and uncovered more about the yichus of this family. It is about a dayan from Lemberg who passed away on the first day of Succos, in the year 1522, named R’ Avraham from Cologne [Germany], the son of R’ Yechiel, the great dayan, who was exiled from Portugal and was from the chasidei Provinztia [Provence, France] and from the descendants of Yonah Hanavi.”
“Wonder of wonders!,” the Lemberger Rav exclaimed.
“Oh, here is a gravestone of someone from the family of Landau.” R’ Gavriel showed the Rav another gravestone that read, ”Here lies the famous chassid, R’ Tzvi Landau, the son of the Gaon, R’ Shaul Landau of the family Kikunish, who is from the descendants of Yonah Hanavi. He was Rav in Zhmigrod [Nowy Żmigród, Poland] and was a dayan here in Lemberg.”
In the same section of the cemetery was the father of R’ Simcha Doctor, and when showing that gravestone to R’ Yosef Shaul, R’ Gavriel related: “I always wondered about the origins of R’ Simcha’s family name “Meyonah,” but when you look at his father’s gravestone, it all makes sense. He is together with the descendants of Yonah Hanavi and on his gravestone here, is also engraved the symbol of the two fish. Meyonah means from Yonah, a descendant of Yonah Hanavi.
The Lemberger Rav was enthralled with what R’ Gavriel had shown him and in the approbation on R’ Gavriel’s Matzeivas Kodesh, he comments on it.2One particular historian is a bit skeptical about the findings and argues that the family originates from the city Jougne, which is in France.
We now have some idea about the lineage of R’ Simcha Doctor. He was from those exiled from Portugal and could trace his yichus to Yonah Hanavi. His father R’ Yochanan Boruch was also a doctor. The Turei Zahav and Pnei Yehoshua said about both doctors: “They were greats in Torah.” R’ Yochanan Baruch Meyonah was a son of R’ Simcha Meyonah.3Matzeivas Kodesh 9. He married his wife, Achsa, the daughter of R’ Menachem Tzunzfurt from Lemberg.4As per her gravestone, see Majer Balaban, “Dr. Emanuel de Jona, lekarz nadworny Jana III”, Z historji żydów w Polsce, Warsaw 1920, page 49. They had the following offspring: R’ Eliezer, R’ Yaakov, R’ Yosef, and R’ Simcha Menachem,5In civil records he’s recorded as ‘Emanuel de Jonah’. and a daughter Chaya. All his sons were doctors except for R’ Yosef, who was a businessman in Lemberg. They all died young except for R’ Yosef and R’ Simcha Menachem.
In the year 1664, R’ Simcha Menachem decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and studied to be a doctor. In Poland there was no opportunity to do so because they did not accept Jews into the universities, so having no choice, he went to Padua, Italy to study medicine. Four years later, after completing his studies, he returned to Lemberg.
When he arrived, the Jewish community, not only in Lemberg, but in all of Poland was in a turmoil since it was right after the gezeiros Tach V’tat, the horrible massacres of Chmielnicki. When R’ Simcha arrived in Lemberg, he married a local girl, Nesia, a daughter of R’ Pesachya. He began to practice medicine there, but R’ Simcha was not just another doctor. To get an idea of who R’ Simcha was, we will cite what is written in the first part of the opening page of the sefer Mifaalos Elokim, a compilation of segulos and refu’os.
It reads as follows:
Here are written things to do, according to pure, holy names and segulos that help, and natural remedies that cannot be compared to expensive gems. The origins are from the writings of great mekubalim, famous throughout the world: R’ Eliyahu Baal Shem; the great mekubal, R’ Yoel Baal Shem; also the writing of the Gaon and Nasi Elokim, R’ Naftali Katz, the Av Beis Din of the kehilla of Poznan and its environs. These are the writings of the brilliant doctors and at their head, the great and famous doctor R’ Simcha.
The first edition of the sefer was published in 1725, and since then it was reprinted eighteen times. Today, we don’t have much use for this kind of sefer but it seems as though those refuos and segulos helped.
Considering the group in which R’ Simcha was included, will point to his greatness:
- R’ Eliyahu Baal Shem – This may refer either to R’ Eliyahu Baal Shem, the rav in the city of Chelm, Poland and the grandfather of the Chacham Tzvi, or R’ Eliyahu Loans Baal Shem who was rav in Worms – the grandchild of the lobbyist, R’ Yoselman of Rossheim. Both R’ Eliyahus were very holy men.
- R’ Yoel Baal Shem – This is the R’ Yoel Halperin, the rav of Ostroh [Ukraine]. His grandchild, who was named for him and was also called R’ Yoel Baal Shem, followed in his footsteps with one exception. As mentioned in the introduction of the above-mentioned sefer, the grandfather was a Baal Shem in public while the grandson was one in secret.
- R’ Naftali Katz – this is the famously known as the Smichas Chachamim.
The fact that R’ Simcha was part of this distinguished group of tzaddikim and geonim says much about his own greatness. The above mentioned R’ Simcha was wealthy and built himself a house in Lemberg, which was known for years later as ‘R’ Simcha Doctor’s house’. The house stood until the year 1907, when it was demolished.
In the Royal Court
As mentioned earlier, R’ Simcha was the doctor in the royal court. How did that happen?
The kings of Poland lived in the Wawel, which is the royal palace in Cracow. However, because he was from Zolkiew, John Sobieski spent the summer months in his palace in Zolkiew. In the year 1670, John Sobieski began to experience terrible, recurring pain in his spine and neck, of which he couldn’t rid himself. He regarded his doctors as incompetent and wouldn’t listen to their advice or follow the diet they gave him.
A year later, while he was in Zolkiew, the king became very ill. There was no choice other than to bring in the best doctor in the neighborhood, which was R’ Simcha Doctor. In a letter to his wife, he writes as follows: “I had the courage to entrust my health to a Jewish doctor and take medicine from him.” The king, who appreciated the professional competence of R’ Simcha, asked him to stay on and escort him wherever he went.
While living in Zolkiew, R’ Simcha earned the respect of the Jews in the community and was very active in solving the problems of its members. As he was so close to the king, R’ Simcha used his relationship to assist his Yiddishe brethren in any way possible. Due to his work on behalf of the Jews, he was respected by all and was chosen to be parnas of the “Vaad Arba Aratzos.”
Apart from his medical skills and the help he gave his brethren, R’ Simcha was also great in Torah. Regarding the “Vaad Kodesh” which convened in Jarosław [Poland] with the rabbanim of the Vaad Arba Aratzos on Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan year 1696, it is written in the records of the Arba Aratzos:6Pinkas Vaad Arba Aratzos, Jerusalem 1990, 510. “The 24 great rabbis who are present by the din Torah and the judge chosen was the head, officer, wise, wealthy R’ Simcha parnas of the Vaad.” He signed his name there: “the humble Simcha Menachem son of R’ Yochanan Boruch Meyonah Doctor.”
Eventually, R’ Simcha was entrusted with the money that was sent to Eretz Yisroel, and he received the title “Nasi Eretz Yisroel”.
The non-Jewish doctors, witnessing the success of R’ Simcha, were jealous and wanted to harm him and get rid of him. As long as the king was alive that was impossible to accomplish, but after the death of Sobieski on June 17, 1696, his former doctors started a rumor that R’ Simcha had poisoned the king and killed him. R’ Simcha was put in jail because of that rumor, but since the family of the king knew that it was a slander and the doctors could not produce proof of the poisoning, or even prove that the king actually died of poisoning, R’ Simcha was freed from jail.
Hendel, his Second Wife
In the year 1693, R’ Simcha’s wife, Nesia, passed away. His daughter, Taube, from that marriage married Rabbi Yitzchok Landau, the Rav of Cracow.7Prof. Majer Balaban, Budowa i ornamentyka synagog w Polsce, Chwila, 30 December 1930. After the first wife died, R’ Simcha married a woman with illustrious yichus, Hendel, the daughter of Rabbi Aaron Darshan, Rav of Cracow, from the famous Teomim family. R’ Simcha had at least two children with her: R’ Aaron, and Yaakov. Yaakov passed away young in Lemberg, where he is buried. R’ Aaron later married the daughter of the Rabbi Avraham Broda in the city of Prague.
It is interesting to note what Rabbi Pinchas Katzenellenbogen, the Boskowitzer Rav writes about Hendel and her father in his autobiography Yesh Manchilin: “In the year 466 or 467 there was in Prague a very wise woman with a good name and who was very learned. Her name was Hendel, the daughter of the Gaon R’ Aaron Teumim Zt”l, the author of the sefer “Mateh Aharon,” who was the rav in Cracow. He was murdered by the poritzim in the year 449 or 450 and he was buried in Pinczow near his8The grandfather of the above-mentioned R’ Pinchas Katzenellenbogen. grandfather the Gaon R’ Shaul Zt”l. I was there at their gravesites with my son in Chodesh Elul in the year 507.”
Later it says in Yesh Manchilin: “Because of her great wisdom, the above mentioned Hendel married the great doctor, the famous R’ Simcha Doctor from Lemberg and she had a son, R’ Aharon. This R’ Aharon married Esther who was the daughter of the Gaon R’ Avraham Broda. Hendel came to Prague for the wedding.”
As we see, Hendel was in Prague all alone because her husband, R’ Simcha was no longer alive. R’ Simcha had passed away a few years previously, on 28 Adar, 1602, and was buried in the Lemberger cemetery. On his gravestone, the following was engraved: “Here is buried the Rav, the leader, the nagid in Israel, a wealthy and famous person in his generation, the expert doctor who helped many, whose hand was open to the poor and needy, a righteous gabai and rav in Yerushalayim, our teacher R’ Simcha Menachem the son of R’ Yochanan Boruch Meyonah Zt”l Wednesday, 28 Adar, 462.”
Description: Old cemetery of Lemberg
Title: Kamienica dra Simchy Menacheml, nadw. lekarza Króla Jana III (Blacharska 19) – Dr. Simcha Menachem’s tenement house, doctor of king John III (Blacharska Street 19)
Source: Żydzi Lwowscy, Lwow 1908, 177.
The Unique Menorah
As it turns out, the king had given R’ Simcha, a few pistols which he had retrieved from the spoils of the war of Khotin in the year 1689. R’ Simcha melted them down in the city of Breslau [Wrocław, Poland] into the form of a huge majestic menorah, which he donated to the “Golden Rose Shul” in his hometown of Lemberg.