Let’s see if we can trace back at least some more of the interesting connections between Vilna, Shabbatean-Frankists, and the State of Israel.
As usual, the story begins with yet another Shabbatean ‘false prophet’, this one called Joshua Heshel Tzoref. This from Wikipedia:
Joshua Heschel Zoref (1633–1700) was a 17th-century ascetic, and an important figure in the LithuanianSabbatean movement. During the messianic fervor of 1666, he claimed to experience visions similar to those of Ezekiel. He, like Judah Leib Prossnitz also, considered himself to be possessed of the role of Messiah ben Joseph, with Shabbatai Tzvi playing the role of Messiah ben David.
We have to understand something very important about all of these ‘false prophets’ of Sabbateanism:
They were almost always men of tremendous Torah learning, steeped in the deepest secrets of the kabbalah, but who lacked the kelim to really channel the powerful material they were studying and immersed in, in a positive way.
Again, remember Rabbi Akiva’s pardes – only Rabbi Akiva emerged in peace from delving so deeply into the kabbalah. The other 3 died, went mad or turned into heretics.
Interestingly, as the son of poor converts, who was illiterate until the age of 40, Rabbi Akiva lacked the yichus, learning and material wealth and connections of his colleagues. And it’s very possible, that this is what actually gave him the deep humility required to enter the pardes of kabbalah, and to emerge again unscathed.
There was a big disagreement between the sages of Rabbi Akiva’s time about how to deal with ‘Acher’ – the reknowned Torah scholar who became spiritually corrupted by his foray into deep kabbalah.
While the others chose to shun and split off from him totally, Rabbi Meir adopted a different path, that of treating Acher’s teachings as a pomegranate, where the sweet seeds are carefully extracted, while the pith and klipa are removed.
I think probably, the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Nachman of Breslov were also engaged in this approach, of trying to lift the ‘good Torah’ out of the corrupted, evil, Shabbatean klipah that came to engulf so many of the rabbis of their time.
Ok, let’s get back to the story.
The Sabbatean prophet Heshel Zoref ends up – where else?! – but Vilna.
He’s so named after the book he wrote, Sefer Ha-Tzoref, which is described thus:
Sefer ha-Tsoref [is] based on gematriot, esoteric interpretations and speculations on the date of redemption.
Poland, the land of impurity where the Jews must bear the suffering of exile, is compared to the land of Edom and Esau as opposed to Israel, the land of freedom. However, it is from Poland and Lithuania that the messianic redemption will begin, which will then spread southward.
This idea is then picked up wholesale by Jacob Frank, who then adds his own ‘twist’ by claiming that Edom / Esav can only really be rectified when the children of Israel ‘merge’ back with it and take control from within.
That’s why the Frankists were so happy to (pseudo…) convert to catholicism, and that’s why the Frankist doctrine was so big on promoting Jewish assimilation and conversion, as part of promoting this ‘one world religion’.
(Does any of this sound familiar?)
So anyway, there’s a lot of ‘predicting the end times’ based on kabbalah, and based on ‘prophecies’ going on (again, does this sound familiar?)
And as part of all these predictions, many movements take off with the aim of colonising Eretz Yisrael with Jews ahead of the Moshiach’s imminent appearance and / or return.
When Shabtai Tzvi died, there were so many people saying that he hadn’t really died, he was just ‘in hiding’, waiting to return again.
Many of these prophets gave fixed dates for Shabtai Tzvi’s ‘return’, and many people travelled to the Holy Land to try and get here ahead of Shabtai Tzvi’s ‘return’ and geula.
One of the best known of these groups was the ill-fated expedition of Judah He-Hasid.
Without going into too many details here, you should know that the followers of Shabtai Tzvi were typically called ‘hassidim’.
This was one of the things the Baal Shem Tov ‘sweetened’, by calling his movement chassidut.
But back in 1700, the only people who were hassids were followers of Shabtai Tzvi.
Once you know that piece of information, it becomes very interesting to note that the official genealogy of the Vilna Gaon lists his ancestor as one “Eliyahu ‘Chassid’ Kramer (1640-1710)”.
And the Vilna Gaon’s group of Perushim were very keen to rebuild Yehuda Ha-Hasid’s Churva synagogue in Jerusalem, back in 1864:
[I]n late 1815, leader of the Safed Perushim, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Shklov, arrived in Jerusalem with a group of followers.
They directed their main efforts to rebuilding he-Hasid’s synagogue, which had symbolised the expulsion of the Ashkenazim from Jerusalem. By this, they intended to demonstrate the re-establishment of Ashkenazic presence in the city. Rebuilding one of Jerusalem’s ruins would also have symbolic kabbalistic significance.
The “repairing” of an earlier destruction would represent the first step of rebuilding the entire city, a prerequisite for the arrival of the Messiah.
And strangely, the State of Israel was also very keen to rebuild it for a third time, back in 2010.
But let’s get back to Heshel Zoref.
Heshel Zoref gets to Vilna, then kind of drops out of view.
We have no idea what happened to him, nor his descendants, officially.
But then, whadya know, a Lithuainian called Rabbi Avraham Shlomo Zalman Zoref (also known as Ibrahim Salomon) (1786-1851) – shows up as part of the Perushim group, and plays a crucial part in getting the authorities in Constantinople to cancel the debt owed over by the Ashkenazim in Jerusalem, so the Churva can be rebuilt.
Below, you can see a video made about him, in this best tradition of State of Israel hagiography: there’s a song, a re-enactment of his landing in Acre in 1811, and most importantly of all, a description of him being ‘very handsome’. Of course.
Shlomo Zalman Zoref‘s father is listed on geni as being one ‘Yaakov of Keidan’. Interestingly, the Vilna Gaon’s wife Khana also comes from Keidan. Even more interestingly, the Vilna Gaon is said to have also had a daughter called Khana….
(I was going to try and show how ‘Shlomo Zalman Zoref’s’ father, Yaacov, is linked to the Vilna Gaon’s wife, Khana, but I just tripped over a whole other hot mess of interesting disinformation. So, let’s shelve that part, and move on.)
If you go HERE:
You will find a whole website devoted to chronicling what the descendants of Shlomo Zalman Zoref got up to, in the Holy Land.
Here’s a snippet:
“Rabbi Mordecai Tzoref, Zalman Tzoref’s oldest son, married Hana, granddaughter of Rabbi Shlomo of Tolochin.
Rabbi Shlomo of Tolochin was one of the greatest disciples of Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (HaGra).”
So, I’d love to explain who Shlomo of Tulchin really is, but when I started searching now, all I’m coming back with for that period of time is Rav Shlomo Karliner of Tulchin. My ‘hot-mess-o-meter’ is dinging off again, so let’s just leave that for now, and move on.
That same site tells us that:
The Tsadik Rabbi Tuvya was the son of Rabbi Shlomo of Tolochin. He too was a tsadik and a great scholar. Through his father Rabbi Shlomo he befriended Zalman Tzoref and became his loyal assistant. Rabbi Tuvya travelled abroad frequently on behalf of the Jerusalem community. He also accompanied Zalman Tzoref on all his trips abroad.
During one of those trips, when the Tsadik Rabbi Tuvya was returning with Zalman Tzoref to Jerusalem, there was a fierce storm and their ship was about to shatter. Zalman Tzoref and Rabbi Tuvya then promised each other that if, God willing, they will be saved and make it back to Jerusalem, Rabbi Tuvya will give his daughter to Zalman Tzoref’s son in matrimony. The Storm abated and the two made it back home safe and sound.
Zalman Tzoref’s son, Mordecai Tzoref, then married the Tsadik Rabbi Tuvya’s daughter. Rabbi Tuvya was then appointed as head of the community, and when Moses Montefiore came for a visit it was he who received him.