Somehow, God keeps dragging me back to the subject of ‘real Jewish history’.
Even though I am so tired of all this, at a soul level, and so yearning for Moshiach to just show up and explain exactly what happened and why, so I don’t need to be involved with breaking my head over this anymore – that doesn’t seem to be happening.
I have deleted so many files, archived so much paper – even burnt some of it, as part of the pre-Pesach bonfire effort -and yet, here I am again, about to launch into another slice of ‘real Jewish history.
As seems to happen nearly all the time, the story starts back in Vilna.
I have a bunch of notes next to my computer, with random ‘interesting’ names written upon them, and today, one seemed to have come free and placed itself right on my mouse mat. The name that caught my attention was this:
In case you didn’t know, there was a massive machloket that engulfed the Vilna community long before any mention of the suspect ‘chassidism vs mitnagdim’ argument.
I wrote about that a while ago HERE, and here’s a relevant snippet:
In the years leading up to the first ‘excommunication’ of the chassidim, in 1772, The Vilna ‘kahal’, or community leaders had been locked in a vicious struggle with the town’s chief rabbi and rabbinical judge, a fellow by the name of Shmuel ben Avigdor.
Shmuel ben Avigdor had been ‘bought’ his position – as was the custom of the time then, and in many ways still is today – by his wealthy father-in-law. The kahal leaders felt that Shmuel ben Avigdor was throwing his weight around, was out of his depth when it came to making halachically-binding decisions, and – most crucially of all – was impinging on their income by trying to butt into communal affairs that they felt he should play no part in.
So, the kahal went to war against their very wealthy, very connected chief rabbi, to try to get him ousted. His father-in-law had bought him the rabbinate ‘for life’, so the kahal leaders could only get him out of the way if they could prove his was guilty of gross, ‘anti-Torah’ misconduct. So that’s what they set about trying to show.
According to Arie Morgenstern:
“The methods used were illegitimate:…false testimonies, silencing of witnesses, preventing the presentation of exculpatory evidence about the defendants under threat of excommunication, forbidding the lodging of complaints with the rabbinical court by the same means, and even forbidding the rabbinical judges to listen to cries of protest against the abuse being committed.”
Of course, you can’t find any trace of a ‘Shmuel ben Avigdor’ in the real world.
Believe me, I’ve tried and tried.
Which is kind of strange, no? Given that this massive machloket was going on in Vilna for around 30 years, at the same time as the Vilna Gaon lived there, and shortly before the whole, seminal ‘excommunicating the chassidim’ thing apparently happened – and yet we can’t find any trace of Vilna’s chief rabbi in the real world?
No descendants, no siblings, no trace of who this guy really was?
That just trips off my ‘BS-o-meter’, and then I have the strange urge to start digging deeper.
If you go to the JewishGen site HERE, you’ll learn more about the official story of the Jewish history and dispute in Vilna.
Here’s some relevant snippets – see how many names you recognise from stuff I’ve already written about on the site:
The first rabbi [of Vilna] was apparently Rabbi Abraham Segal.
After him came Rabbi Menachem Munish, the son of Rabbi Itshak Hayut, author of the pamphlet ‘Zmirot Leshabat’ (Prague 1621)….
Rabbi Uri Shraga Feivish, who immigrated to Jerusalem and served as the rabbi of the Ashkenazi community in 1650-1653 (thereby earning the sobriquet ‘the Ashkenazi’).
The ruling Rabbi (posek) Moshe the son of Rabbi Itshak Yehuda Lima (1605-1658) author of Chelkat Mechokek…
His colleagues at the Beth Din were equally famous: the Dayan Rabbi Efraim Ben Rabbi Aaron Hacohen author of Sha’ar Efraim (from 1635 until his death in 1678).
Rabbi Shabtai Ben Rabbi Meir Katz (‘the SHAKh’ 1628-1663), who wrote at the age of 24 the treatise Siftei Kohen about the Shulchan Aruch, and among whose other important works are Nekudot Hakesef, Tkafo Kohen, and Gvurat Anashim. Rabbi Shabtai became famous and corresponded also with Christian scholars. In 1655 he fled to Moravia and was a rabbi in Helishoi.
Rabbi Aaron Shmuel Ben Rabbi Israel Kaidanover (MHRSHAK, 1614-1676)…Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel Ben Yosef “Kharif” (“the sharp”) author of Pnei Yehoshua, a native of the city: Rabbi Heshel Tsoref (born 1633), one of the most important rabbis of his generation (his work Sefer Hatzsoref is a treatise of five volumes on the Kabalah full of Sabbatean allusions….)
There is so much ‘weird’ stuff going on in Vilna, it’s hard to know where to start with it all.
Here’s a few more snippets from the JewishGen site, and then we’ll focus in on the Vilna dispute, in particular, to see where that leads us.
(This is going to be a long post…. better go and get the popcorn and cup of tea and make yourself comfy.)
I’ll bold the bits that really stand out, to make it easier for you to try to follow what’s going on. Also, remember that ‘Kremers’ are meant to be ancestors of the Vilna Gaon.
From 1709 onwards, Rabbi Moshe Ben Rabbi Naftali Hirtz (died 1726) served as head of the Beth Din and preacher in Vilna.
Among the great Torah scholars in Vilna were the Dayan Rabbi Arieh Leib Ben Rabbi Yitshak Shapira (born 1701) author of Nakhalat Ariel and Ma’on Arayot and a friend of the Karaite Khakham… Rabbi Shlomo Ben Aaron of Trokai;
Rabbi Josef of Pinchuv, author of Rosh Josef and Rabbi Moshe Kremer’s in-law; the grammarians Rabbi Azriel and his sons Nisan and Eliyahu; Rabbi Zvi Hirsh from Koidanov; the Dayan Rabbi Eliyahu Kremer; Rabbi Hirsh Ben Rabbi Ezriel, author of the work Beth Lekhem Yehuda;
Rabbi Ya’akov Vilna-Ashkenazi, who emigrated to Eretz Yisrael with the group around [leading Sabbatean] Rabbi Yehuda Hasid and was one of the pillars of the community.
Rabbi Aaron Gordon, who was also the doctor to the king of Poland; Rabbi Yehuda Leib, who was the head of the Beth Din of Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel; Rabbi Yekutial Ben Rabbi Leib Gordon, who studied medicine in Padua, was influenced by Rabbi Moshe Haim Lucato (the RAMCHAL) and was among the signatories to the rules of the RAMCHAL group. Upon his return to Vilna he studied, in addition to medicine, Talmud and Kabalah.
(As a side note, there is a strong possibility that this ‘Rabbi Aaron Gordon‘ who was the Polish king’s physician was actually the brother of none other than Yonatan Eybshutz – they were both sons of Rabbi Nathan Nata Gordon, the ABD of Eibenschutz.)
Let’s park that side of things for now, but pay attention to all the interactions going on with Karaites, and xtians, and Sabbatians that have been going on in Vilna for generations.
There’s also a really weird story of how a son of Count Potocki – Abraham ben Abraham – converted to Judaism, then got denounced and burnt at the stake in Vilna. This also comes from the JewishGen site:
Abraham Ben Abraham was condemned to death and on the second day of Shavuot was burnt at the stake.
Rabbi Eliezer Sitskes of Vilna, who was without a beard, disguised himself as a Christian and using a bribe managed to retrieve some of the ashes and a finger which had survived the fire, and buried them in holy ground in Vilna (without a gravestone or mention of name) where to this day the grave serves as a place of pilgrimage.
Abraham ben Abraham’s teacher was meant to be none other than the Vilna Gaon.
And just to make this weird story even weirder, the remains of ‘Abraham ben Abraham’ somehow ended up being buried in the Vilna Gaon’s relocated tomb in the new Jewish cemetery.
Go HERE, to read more about all this, but I’ll give you one more snippet, to underline just how strange so many of the stories coming out of Vilna, and about the Vilna Gaon, really are:
According to Jewish tradition, following Avraham ben Avraham’s death, the Vilna Gaon believed that the spiritual constitution of the world had become altered in such a way that a Jew was no longer bound to wash his hands in the morning (netilat yadayim) within four amot (cubits) of his bed, as explicitly taught in the codes of Jewish law such as the Shulchan Aruch and other halachic works.
Rather, a Jew’s entire house would be considered as four amot for this mitzvah. This custom, begun at Avraham ben Avraham’s death, commenced with the Vilna Gaon and later became the practice of the Slabodka yeshiva in Europe, becoming today the routine of many leading Israeli rabbis who follow the Slabodka tradition.
The last bit of info related to this is that Chabad states that the person who brought Count Potocki to Judaism is one “Rabbi Menachem Mann” (not the Vilna Gaon). He is probably one and the same as R’ Menachem Manish Horowitz, aka “Mordechai Yollis”, aka the grandfather of Alexander Sender Margoliot (Shor) – my candidate for the real world name of the Vilna Gaon, as I set out HERE.
The Chabad site states that Potocki converted in Amsterdam under the aegis of the Chief Rabbi there.
Depending on when all this is meant to have actually happened, the Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam would be one of these guys (from the Jewish Virtual Library):
The son-in-law of the Chakham Zevi, Aryeh Leib ben Saul *Loewenstamm from Rzeszów, thereupon became Amsterdam’s chief rabbi (until 1755). He became the founder of the Dutch rabbinical Loewenstamm dynasty: his son Saul ben Aryeh Leib Polonus succeeded him and served until 1793, when his grandson Moses Saul Loewenstamm took over (until 1815).
In common with ‘Shmuel ben Avigdor’ of Vilna, Aryeh Leib ben Saul Loewenstamm was also bought his pulpits by his wealthy family, and also had a number of ‘wars’ with his unhappy community:
Through the influence of his relatives he then obtained the rabbinical position in Tarnopol in 1720 (or 1718?), the former incumbent having been ousted by the officials of the government to make room for him. This interference on the part of the civic authorities naturally aroused great opposition to him in the congregation, and Aryeh Loeb was deposed in 1724.
OK, let’s (try to…) get back to Jacob Peretz Klatzi, and the dispute with the Vilna rabbi, Shmuel ben Avigdor.
Back on the JewishGen website, we find this, about who Shmuel ben Avigdor was related to. I’m going to quote the whole thing, as it’s useful to have this information in one place, going forward:
Pride of place among the public leaders and rabbis of Vilna is reserved for Rabbi Yehuda Ben Eliezer Safra Vedayana (YSUD).
He made his fortune in trade, donated much money to the community and built a synagogue which bore his name (the Old Kloyz). In addition to being a rabbi he was also active in public matters affecting the Kahal and the ‘Council of the Lithuanian Land’…
In the argument between Rabbi Yonatan Eivshitz and Rabbi Ya’akov Amdan, Rabbi Yehuda Safra Vedayana supported Rabbi Yonatan and convinced the Vilna scholars and the Council to take his part…
After the death of Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel in 1749, Rabbi Yehuda forced the Kahal to appoint his son in law, Rabbi Shmuel Ben Rabbi Avigdor, to the position for life, in return for a large donation.
After the death of Rabbi Yehuda (1762) a sharp dispute developed between the Kahal and Rabbi Shmuel who wanted to appoint members of his family to public positions and intended his son Rabbi Israel to succeed him in office. For some 30 years, the conflict raged on, drawing into it powerful factions from Vilna and elsewhere and threatened the community’s autonomous standing.
The Kahal – the official leadership – opposed Rabbi Shmuel and accused him of corruption and taking bribes but he was supported by the ‘mob’… and later by the Hassids [read: members of Chabad chassidut], who operated underground.
Both parties involved rabbis of other large communities and the [secular] authorities… The two sides also appealed to the crown court and the Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu) of Vilna, who was imprisoned for a time because of his support for the Vilna Kahal.
The representative of the ‘mob’, Rabbi Shimon Ben Josef, was also imprisoned, and while sitting in the Nieszwiesz prison wrote a pamphlet in Polish about the need for reform in the authority given to the communities. The pamphlet reached the king of Poland, who published a royal order, on July 30, 1786, which forbade the Vilna Kahal to oppress and extort by the use of taxes.
It was only after the death of Rabbi Shmuel Ben Avigdor at the beginning of 1791 that the conflict came to an end.
Did you know that the Vilna Gaon apparently sat in a secular prison for a while?
No, neither did I. You have to wonder how so many generations of Jewish historians, both secular and religious, apparently missed such an important bit of information (and also note, that every time we see ‘the Gaon’ being mentioned, they have to fill in the name ‘Eliyahu’ in square brackets…).
I also didn’t know that ‘Shmuel Ben Avigdor’ only died in 1791 – just six years before the Vilna Gaon passed away, and the same year that Jacob Frank died.
And the last thing I didn’t know was that there was such a ‘luminary’ in Vilna called Rabbi Yehuda Ben Eliezer Safra Vedayana (YSUD) – who has also apparently been scrubbed out of official Jewish history.
Before we go on, let’s remind ourselves that when I tried to track down who the Vilna Gaon might be ‘in the real world’, in THIS mind-blowing post, I came to this conclusion:
Alexander Sender Margoliot is the ‘real world’ name of the Vilna Gaon.
Alexander Sender is the son of Rabbi Mordechai “Chassid”, and the grandson of that same Rabbi Menachem Manish Margaliot (mentioned above, in the Chabad story about the ger tzedek). Menachem Manish is married to Hinda Margulis – sister of the infamous Frankist and convert to Catholicism, Elisha Shor.
Long story short, ‘Alexander Sender Haim Shor / Margoliot’ (my candidate for the real name of the Vilna Gaon) changes the family name to ‘Brodsky’, and his family become leading entrepreneurs and philanthropists in Russia.
So, I start tootling around, trying to find any people nicknamed ‘YESOD’ that might fit the bill for this guy, Rabbi Yehuda Safra Vedayana – one of the most fabulously wealthy and powerful Jews in Vilna, and the whole of Russia, and interestingly, I get to this:
Rabbi Yosef Yoske Sabatka of Dubno was a scholar, moralist and cabbalist. He became rabbi of Dubno in 1698. Known for his piety, he wrote a morality book Yesod Yosef, which was first printed in Shklov in 1785.
I also learn that this ‘Yosef Yoske Sabatka’ – the YESOD YOSEF – is the “Brother of Mrs. Aleksander Sender“.
And that’s when I remember the conversation I had with a descendant of the Alter Rebbe of Chabad 5 months ago, when I was just starting to figure all this stuff out.
(Poor woman. She was very nice, and has probably been totally scandalised by the turn all this has taken.)
This is part of what I emailed her then, after she’d sent me some of the details of her family tree:
B’kitzur, I think the Alter Rebbe had an ‘alter ego’ called R’Alexander Sander / Sander (i.e. this is the same person).If you look on the main ‘Loebtree’ site here: http://www.loebtree.com/maharal.htmlYou will see most of the Maharal of Prague’s descendants listed.If you click on Tilla Lowe – his daughter – you will see this family tree: (I put the part where it overlaps with your family tree in BOLD).====
Tilla LOEW married Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch SABA or SABATKA of Lublin (b. Prague), Dayan of Prague 1630, son of Joseph Yaski and/or else she married Rabbi Zechariah Mendel I WAHL.
- Rabbi Meir SABATKA (d. 1668 Prague) m. Buna the daughter of Mendel from Kolin (d. 1649 Prague).Rabbi Meir SABATKA remarried Surel ZOREF (d. 1664 Prague)
- Izhak SABATKA (d. 1703 Prague) m. Haja TILS (d. 1668 Prague)
- Leib SABATKA (d. 1673 Prague)
- Matatya SABATKA (d. 1680 Prague)
- Tilla SABATKA (d. 1694 Prague) m. Josel LIBERLESH
- Reisel SABATKA (d. 1742 Prague) m. Izhak LEVITIZ (d. 1740 Prague)
- Rabbi Moshe SABATKA from Pozen, Rabbi in Prague.
- Rabbi Yehuda Yudl SABATKA from Kawali.
- daughter married Alexander SENDER son of Rabbi Jacob from Stutzek.
- Rabbi Alexander SENDER Slutzek
- Rabbi Yehuda Yudel
- Rabbi Aryeh LEIB (Shpolar Zeide) of Krakow married Jute FISCHEL (b. about 1620)
- Rabbi Zecharia Mendel LOEB
- Debora LEIB (b. 1660)
- Efraim III FISCHEL
- daughter married Fishl LODMER
- Perl LEIB (b. 1666, d. 30 May 1722) married Rabbi Feivel Premsler Joshua Ezekial TEOMIM (THEOMIM?) (b. 1654, d. 1726)
- daughter married Rabbi Samuel BethShmuel WAHL
- Elia COHEN.
- Rivka GOLDE ?? married Rabbi Abraham LISSA==If your tradition is that you are definitely descended from the Alter Rebbe, then the premise that the Alter Rebbe = Alexander Sander / Sendor seems to hold up. The information above certainly tallies with what you sent me on your family tree, so far.
The Alter Rebbe was supposed to be the 7th generation from the Maharal of Prague.
Then, I remember the ‘new portrait’ of the Alter Rebbe that was discovered a few years back, which you can see on the Collive website (screenshotted below):
“I agree with the comment it looks like the GRA. I am not convinced this is the Alter Rebbe. It has some resemblance, but also very much like the Vilna Gaon.”
Let’s leave that rabbit hole alone for now, and come back to the machloket in Vilna.
He also happened to be the son-in-law of Joshua Zeitlin.
And the last thing to tell you is that Abraham Peretz ended up marrying a non-Jewish woman, and also being baptized into the Lutheran church.
It’s so, so hard to find any real information about Abraham Peretz in the English-speaking world, where it’s all been carefully scrubbed and sanitized, but thank God for Google translate.
Because I get to THIS SITE in Russian, and here’s a little more of what I learn about Abraham Peretz:
“The son of a Lubart rabbi, Peretz at the age of 16 married the daughter of a famous Talmudist and philanthropist, Rabbi Yehoshua Zeitlin (1742–1822) from Shklov, who was patronized by Prince G. Potemkin.
Peretz received a good Jewish education at his father’s house and in the yeshiva, but he strove to supplement it with knowledge of foreign languages and general education subjects.
His father-in-law [i.e. Joshua Zeitlin] introduced him to Potemkin, as a result of which Peretz was able to move to St. Petersburg (early 1790s), where he began to represent the commercial and financial interests of Zeitlin.
Soon he was promoted here as a banker, ship contractor and tax farmer, and in 1801 Emperor Paul I bestowed upon him the title of Commerce Counselor.”
Notice how coy the internet is being about who Abraham Peretz’s dad is.
That set off the BS-o-meter again, so I went to see what I could learn about who the ‘rabbi of Lubartow’ was as that time (in Russian…). That’s when I tripped over this piece of information:
Abram Peretz was born in 1770 (or 1771) in Lubartow, Lublin province.
His father was the rabbi of this small town and first taught his son at home, and then sent him to the yeshiva (where he himself taught). However, Abram studied not only the sacred texts assigned to the rabbi’s son, but also other books, as well as languages - he spoke German and Russian perfectly.
The main teacher and spiritual mentor of the young man was not his father, but his uncle – the chief rabbi of Berlin, Hirsch Lebel (1721-1800). In his house, the young man learned a lot about the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskal), which his uncle was fascinated with.
Now I start to sit up!
Because we’ve mentioned ‘Hirsch Lebel’ a few times on this blog, not least, in this post:
As well as being the Chief Rabbi of Berlin, he was also the Chief Rabbi of London, too, where he was called ‘Hart Lyon’.
And ‘Hirshel Lobel’s’ father is Aryeh Leib Lowenstaam – the same guy I was talking about above, as being the ABD of Amsterdam who apparently converted the ger tzedek Abraham ben Abraham.
And Hirshel Lobel of Berlin is the uncle of the wealthy maskil, Lutheran convert and son-in-law of Joshua Zeitlin, Abraham Peretz.
Amazing, how all this is coming together.
But there’s more.
Now that we know this, it should be a cinch to figure out who Abraham Peretz really was, in the real world.
He’s the nephew of Tzvi Hirsh Lowenstaam (Hirshel Lobel) of Berlin and London.
That means that either one of his parents is the sibling of Tzvi Hirsh Lowenstaam, or that one of their siblings married Tzvi Hirsh Lowenstaam.
Which always tells me I’m on the right track with all this stuff.
Why is this stuff being so hidden?
Because if you recall from THIS post, I set out a theory that Tzvi Hirsch Lowenstaam is a strong contender for the real father of none other than Jacob Frank.
Which would make false messiah Jacob Frank and converted Lutheran maskil Abraham Peretz cousins.
And which would bring that whole Frankist connection way closer to Yehoshua Zeitlin, Peretz’s father-in-law, and in turn to the rest of the leading Jewish figures in Shklov and Vilna – on both sides of the mitnaged / chassid divide.
Remember that in previous posts, we figured out that:
Joshua Zeitlin is listed as the father in law of ‘Reb Alexander Sender’ – apparently one of the Alter Rebbe’s favorite talmidim.
And ‘Alexander Sender’ is meant to be the father of Moshe of Shklov – who we already pinned down as being one and the same as Moshe Schneuri, the Alter Rebbe’s catholic Frankist son.
That would make Joshua Zeitlin the Alter Rebbe’s father in law.
So far, we still didn’t manage to track down Rabbi Yehuda Ben Eliezer Safra Vedayana of Vilna down, in the real world.
But we learned a lot of other interesting things.
And I can see that I’m finally, bezrat Hashem, closing the gap between the known and unknown enough to make that elusive breakthrough I’ve been waiting on for 6 months at least possible.
So, we’ll wait to see what the next piece of the puzzle is, that God decides to toss me.
You might also like these posts: