For a long time, me and my husband struggled with the concept of the ‘ideal way to serve Hashem’.

We were reading chassidic stories about Tzaddikim, reading biographies of Lithuanian ‘Godols’, reading the works of people like R’ Eliyahu Dessler, and in the middle of all that, one thing was clear:

No-one was writing books about real people trying to serve Hashem sincerely in a real way, including all of life’s inevitable ups and downs.

Unfortunately, we only got to that conclusion much later in the process.

And in the meantime, we tried so hard to follow this ‘pretend perfect’ religious path that was set out for us, that my husband quit his job to learn Torah and ‘pray for parnassa’ six hours a day.

Like his teacher was encouraging him to do.

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Long story short, we ran out of money after about two months, and ended up having to sell our house.

Of course we did.

For a few years after that happened, I struggled with so much anger and bitterness and confusion, especially about the people who encouraged us to do all that.

But at this stage, I’m realising that hard as it was to go through that experience, it’s given me a very deep insight in to what I now call ‘fake emuna’.

And now that I’ve been knee-deep in all the false ideologies, and ‘not quite right’ religious ideas that sound theoretically ok, or great!!! even – but which just don’t work for real people leading real lives, I’m seeing that was a necessary part of this learning process.

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When I first started reading the books about Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s life, I was immediately struck by how ‘real’ they were.

Rabbi Nachman also struggled with difficult feelings and emotions.

His discussions with his family about going to Israel for a long trip were portrayed in stark colours, with no candy-coating the worry and fears his wife had about the whole enterprise.

In short, there weren’t a lot of ‘open miracles’ and ‘big Tzaddik’ stuff in the books.

But Rav Natan summed it up so nicely when he said that Rebbe Nachman’s biggest miracle was Rav Natan himself – i.e. his ability to have a real relationship with God, and to keep working on overcoming his bad middot, by following Rabbenu’s advice.

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At this stage, it seems Rabbenu was pretty much the only ‘Tzaddik’ of that time who encouraged his students to portray him in a real, truthful light.

And that is at least part of why I mostly can’t stand to read standard ‘gadol biographies’ these days, and why when I hit Breslov, it was like a deep draught of water for a very thirsty soul.

And it still is.

At least, Rav Berland’s bit of it.

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So now, what does all this have to do with R’ Zushia of Annipoli?

Before we get into that, let me just state that none of this is black-or-white. That’s a false paradigm, designed to push everyone into corners fighting for ideas and principles that are unrealistic and untruthful. At this stage, I still believe R’ Zushia was probably a big tzaddik – until and unless I get new information that clearly shows that’s not the case.

BUT.

He was also a real person.

Like all these ‘tzaddikim’ actually were and are.

And real people struggle all the time to do the right thing, and to serve God, even if that is what they sincerely want to be doing with themselves.

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So, a few days ago, I decided to take a closer look at the Noam Elimelech and Rav Zushia, as part of my ongoing effort to figure out what was really going on in the Jewish world 200 years ago.

The first stop was the GENI page for Rav Zushia, which you can see for yourselves HERE.

That gave me Rav Zushia’s ‘official’ name, R’ Meshullam Zusia Lipman, of Annipol, who lived between 1718-1800.

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Long story short, again, two clicks later I realised that both Rav Zushia and the Noam Elimelech appear to be brothers, or possibly nephews, of the notorious Jacob Frank.

Of course, that’s not written there on Geni:

But I’ve been poring over these names for so long now, they are engraved in my brain.

And when the name ‘MARGOLA SHOR / FRANKEL-HALPERN’ popped up as the ‘grandma’ in the tree of Rav Zushia and the Noam Elimelech, that immediately tripped off the JACOB FRANK alert.

The Shor / Halprin / Heilprin /Halpern family tree is a deliberate mess, to make it so hard to track all this down.

But I’ve been doing a lot of work on this, scribbling down more and more family trees as I go, and while I’m still not sure which names are ‘real’ and which names are the ‘aliases’, I can tell you for sure, that Reb Zushia and the Noam Elimelech are VERY close family to Jacob Frank, and probably even his brothers.

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Again, remember the wider context to all this.

The BESHT came to ‘sweeten’ all those pockets of Shabtai Tzvi / SHACH’s followers, which were far more widespread and embedded in ‘Jewish royalty’ than anyone cares to admit.

Most, if not all, of the BESHT’s disciples came directly from strong, secretly-Sabbatean families.

The Baal Shem Tov managed to ‘sweeten’ a great deal with his teachings, and to bring the mystical back into normative Judaism in a ‘kosher’ way, after what happened with Shabtai Tzvi / SHACH’s perversion of very deep kabbalistic teachings.

BUT.

He didn’t manage to sweeten all the Sabbateans.

And Jacob Frank (and Jonathan Eybshutz…) were still beavering away, trying to forge an even more disgusting version of Sabbatean beliefs, that ultimately became what we know as ‘Frankism’.

But Sabbatean-Frankists and the BESHTs disciples were effectively the same people, at the beginning of the birur process.

Just some went to the side of ‘good’, while others didn’t.

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(Let’s park the whole argument about chassidut vs mitnagdim for now. I have come to the conclusion that the followers on all sides of that debate were probably secret Sabbateans, or at least, carrying on from where Shabtai Tzvi / SHACH left off, and that the argument was more about WHICH PATH OF ‘CHASSIDUT’ TO TAKE, which person to follow after, and not ‘chassid vs mitnag’, as we’ve all been led to believe.)

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So.

It’s not really at all surprising that a ‘R Zushia’ and a ‘Noam Elimelech’ could actually be the brothers of Jacob Frank.

But once I saw that, I started to wonder a lot more about all the stories we’re told about R Zushia in particular – stories that personally, I used to really love.

Like THIS one, about how Reb Zushia would never ask his servants to feed him directly, but would also ask Hashem to provide, while the servants brought in the food and drink.

One time, his servants decided to teach him a lesson, that it was really them who was bringing him the food, so they pretended not to hear him, when he walked around saying ‘Zushia is hungry’.

Here is what happened next:

The visitor arrived at the Rebbe Reb Zushia’s home in time to hear him say, “Ribono shel Olam! Master of the World! Zushia is very hungry. Please prepare his meal for him.”

It wasn’t the first time, but the servants were sticking to their plan, standing around, waiting for the Rebbe Reb Zushia to ask directly. The visitor, however, heard the Rebbe Reb Zushia and walked right into the Rebbe’s room, placing the cake and drink on the table.

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On the one hand… it’s a story with a very important moral about really trusting in Hashem alone.

On the other…

I went over to R’ Zushia’s Hebrew Wikipedia page, HERE, which is usually where you learn way more real details than the ‘airbrushed’ and sanitized English versions.

There, I learnt that R’ Zushia and the Noam Elimelech actually came from a very wealthy, landowning family.

They weren’t the ‘poor peasants’ I thought they were.

And I also learnt that R’ Zushia was married twice, because apparently his first wife divorced him.

Snippet:

Married twice. The name of his first wife is unknown and from whom he divorced and from whom he had his first son. From his second wife Henia he had another son and daughter.

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And then I started trying to picture the R’ Zushia story, quoted above, in the realm of a real relationship, with a real wife.

Zushia is hungry!!

(Can’t Zushia fix himself an omelet, once a while? Does Zushia ever thank the person who actually prepared the food directly, or does he always address his thanks straight to the Creator? Does Zushia ever bring his wife a cup of tea, or a glass of water?)

You see what I mean, about this yawning chasm between ‘the ideal’ and ‘reality’?

And especially when you go with the teaching of Rav Berland and his student Rav Arush, that the ‘real you’ is the one that comes out at home, in your marriage, and how you treat your wife and children.

Sigh.

No wonder R’ Zushia got divorced.

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There is another aspect to this story, that I’m still feeling out.

Whenever these descendants of the SHOR family show up, there are always multiple names, partial and misleading biographies, and false dates being used, to try and blur the links between the people that literally became all our rebbes and ‘gadols’ and the Sabbatean-Frankists.

For example, according to the Hebrew Wikipedia page, Reb Zushia’s grave was initially left unnamed…. It was only later on that the name ‘R Zushia’ actually appeared on his headstone.

Translated snippet:

At first it read: “This is where the Tzaddik was buried… God works in love and rejoices in the torment of many,”he said. The tombstone was later re-written with the inscription “Rabbi R. Zosha”.

Whenever gravestones get ‘overwritten’ like this, that always draws my attention.

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This snapshot of the tombstone comes from R’ Zushia’s English Wikipedia page (full of miraculous stories of how his poor parents keep finding treasures in all sorts of strange ways…. of course.)

 

Once I realised that R’ Zushia’s first name was ‘Meshulam’, that reminded me of another famous ‘Meshulam’ who lived at the same time and who also descends from the same SHORs, and who also got divorced (actually more than once…)

That is R’ Meshulam Igra.

You can read more about him on the YIVO website, HERE.

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He also descends from Ephraim Zalman SHOR.

Geni shows Meshulam Igra’s maternal great-grandma was meant to be YENTA SHOR.

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YENTA SHOR is apparently the sister of (but could also be an alias for) MARGOLA SHOR, the mother of Jacob Frank.

This screenshot shows how Margola SHOR is the paternal great-grandma of Reb Zushia of Annipoli.

Again, bear in mind so much of this is distorted.

EG, Reb Zushia is meant to have been born in 1718, while his ‘great-uncle’ Jacob Frank was only born nine years later, in 1726. Clearly, those dates don’t add up.

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Meshulam Igra was succeeded in the rabbinate of Pressburg by the Chatam Sofer.

The Chatam Sofer was the main disciple of R’ Pinchas of Horowitz, brother of Shmuel Shmelke of Nikolsburg.

There is a bunch of mighty strange stuff going around the family trees of these two brothers, R’ Pinchas and Shmuel Shmelke.

I’ve been trying to pin it down for months and months, but it seems to me that these brothers may have a number of ‘aliases’ within Jewish history, possibly even including R’ Zushia and the Noam Elimelech (!) And I have a hunch this is also connected to the GRA’s family tree, somehow.

I am still trying to disentangle the facts from the fiction, but in some ways there is a lot of overlap with the stories, and there is so much funny stuff going on with dates and relatives, that something dodgy is definitely going on.

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Last thing:

R Zushia has a whole bunch of our modern-day rebbes and rabbis and admors descending from him, including Auerbachs and Twerskys.

Go HERE and poke around yourself.

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It’s not black-and-white, not at all.

Sabbatean-Frankist families are ruling the roost all over the place, but the question is:

Who made teshuva, and who didn’t?

Because yichus is meaningless, and God wants our hearts and our yearnings to be holy, and our good deeds and our prayers to change.

But one thing I can tell you:

They have lied to us about everything to do with ‘real Jewish history’ over the last 400 years, and probably, way beyond that too.

And for us to move forward in a healthy way as a people, all these lies about ‘pretend perfect Tzaddikim’ with some big skeletons in their closets have to stop.

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13 replies
  1. Mordechai
    Mordechai says:

    About the first part of your article, the book you wrote about rav eliezer berland also has no ups and downs only how perfect he was (and he was) and it seems like the rav didn’t have any challenges.
    (Btw it’s a real nicely written Book especially the collection of all stories.)

    Reply
    • Rivka Levy
      Rivka Levy says:

      That’s half true.

      The first book was written like that, ‘gadol biography’ style, not least because that was the genre I thought I was writing. The second book has more of the ups and downs in it and is way more ‘real’ – but I guess the real ‘realness’ will have to wait for Volume 3.

      And in the meantime, the main difference is this: there is nothing written in Volume 1 that isn’t true, to the best of my knowledge.

      And that makes all the difference.

      Reply
      • Nachum
        Nachum says:

        There are those who argue that “gadol” biographies that show challenges when young are actually to be preferred to those that show them as perfect from the start, as the latter discourages people facing such challenges from trying to be better.

        Note that I’m not saying anything about R’ Berland one way or another- for all I know he *didn’t* have such challenges. But we know that many gedolim did, and that stuff is often left out of their biographies, not necessarily for the better.

        Reply
        • Rivka Levy
          Rivka Levy says:

          I think they are for sure preferable.

          If I was rewriting One in a Generation Volume 1, I would put more of those things in now.

          R Berland gave an interview to Amnon Levy shortly after Volume 1 came out where he described how he spent months searching for the truth about which religion was ‘true’ when he was a young teenager, and did hours and hours of hitbodedut asking God to show him why Judaism was the true religion…

          Stuff like that is very useful for others to hear, just I didn’t have access to that information when I was writing Volume 1. And of course, I felt ‘bound’ by ‘gadol biography’ rules a lot more.

          Already by Volume 2, the writing totally changed and got a lot more real – and I got a lot of flack for not being respectful enough from some quarters. But I believe that is the way to go. Respectful truth.

          Reply
  2. nechama
    nechama says:

    That’s why when I started my way (back) learning why I was Jewish, what it meant, and what I should be doing, when chabad reached out to me to become their Baalas Teshuva i tested their waters but couldn’t allow myself to come under their “spell.” However, I did feel close to The Rebbe. But call myself a Lubavitcher no. I liked their approach of making a Jew feel like a Jew. Saatmar, no, but I learned some beautiful things from them. I learned a while in Rebbetzin Weinberg’s classes; she was for reality and Hashem’s halachos, 613 of them, and living in Eretz Yisrael. But call myself a litvak or misnagid, no. I just wanted to talk to HaShem, and wanted Him to lead me. I like going into the ikkar, the essence of everything. So that is why I used to think of myself as an “eved HaShem”. I learned something from everyone and from the creations of HaShem (trees, birdies, ketzelas, clouds, et al. Everything around us testifies to our Creator. This business of being a Chassid of (fill in rabbi/Gadol name) is the past. In our era we must talk to and cling to HaShem, G-d, and our purpose in this world that we learn from our Avos and Imahos! They were real and dealt with real issues. Of course there is much more to being a yid and like you say, we keep trying.

    Reply
  3. Shimshon
    Shimshon says:

    There is a notorious book, Making of a Godol, that addresses the issues you raise in your latest post directly. A kosher book written for the Charedi audience on the “real lives” of some of the Gedolim, by the son of one of them. It didn’t matter that it was published (obviously with rabbinic approval), it was banned in the end. A terrible shame. I would love to read a copy. Let me know if you find a scanned version.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Making_of_a_Godol

    Reply
    • Rivka Levy
      Rivka Levy says:

      Ta. I’ve downloaded it, and I will go through it, BH.

      There’s a lot of info here, just not written in a way that’s so easy to skim through fast… but very much appreciate you posting the link.

      Reply

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