Yakov Yisrael Emden
Rabbi Yakov Yisrael ben Zevi Ashkenazi Emden (Ya'abetz) was German Talmudist and anti-Shabbethaian; born at Altona June 4, 1697; died there April 19, 1776. Until seventeen Emden studied Talmud under his father, known as "Ḥakam Ẓebi," first at Altona, then (1710-14) at Amsterdam. In 1715 he married the daughter of Mordecai ben Naphtali Kohen, rabbi of Ungarish-Brod, Moravia, and continued his studies in his father-in-law's yeshibah. Emden became well versed in all branches of Talmudic literature; later he studied philosophy, Qabala, and grammar, and made an effort to acquire the Latin and Dutch languages, in which, however, he was seriously hindered by his belief that a Jew should occupy himself with secular sciences only during the hour of twilight. He was also opposed to philosophy, and maintained that the "Moreh" could not have been written by Maimonides ("Miṭpaḥat Sefarim"). He spent three years at Ungarish-Brod, where he held the office of private lecturer in Talmud. Then be became a dealer in jewelry and other articles, which occupation compelled him to travel. He generally declined to accept the office of rabbi, though in 1728 he was induced to accept the rabbinate of Emden, from which place he took his name.
In 1733 he returned to Altona, where he obtained the permission of the Jewish community to possess a private synagogue. Emden was at first on friendly terms with Moses Ḥagis, the head of the Portuguese community at Altona, who was afterward turned against Emden by some calumny. His relations with Ezekiel Katzenellenbogen, the chief rabbi of the German community, were strained from the very beginning. Emden seems to have considered every successor of his father as an intruder. A few years later Emden obtained from the King of Denmark the privilege of establishing at Altona a printing-press. He was soon attacked for his publication of the "Siddur 'Ammude Shamayim," being accused of having dealt arbitrarily with the text. His opponents did not cease denouncing him even after he had obtained for his work the approbation of the chief rabbi of the German communities.
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Emden is especially known for his controversial activities, his attacks being generally directed against the adherents, or those he supposed to be adherents, of Shabbethai Ẓebi. Of these controversies the most celebrated was that with Jonathan Eybeschütz, who in Emden's eyes was a convicted Shabbethaian. The controversy lasted several years, continuing even after Eybeschütz's death. Emden's assertion of the heresy of his antagonist was chiefly based on the interpretation of some amulets prepared by Eybeschütz, in which Emden professed to see Shabbethaian allusions (see EybeschÜtz, Jonathan). Hostilities began before Eybeschütz left Prague; when Eybeschütz was named chief rabbi of the three communities of Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbeck (1751), the controversy reached the stage of intense and bitter antagonism. Emden maintained that he was at first prevented by threats from publishing anything against Eybeschütz. He solemnly declared in his synagogue the writer of the amulets to be a Shabbethaian heretic and deserving of excommunication.
The majority of the community favoring Eybeschütz, the council condemned Emden as a calumniator. People were ordered, under pain of excommunication, not to attend Emden's synagogue, and he himself was forbidden to issue anything from his press. As Emden still continued his philippics against Eybeschütz, he was ordered by the council of the three communities to leave Altona. This he refused to do, relying on the strength of the king's charter, and he was, as he maintained, relentlessly persecuted. His life seeming to be in actual danger, he left the town and took refuge in Amsterdam (May, 1751), where he had many friends and where he joined the household of his brother-in-law, Aryeh Löb b. Saul, rabbi of the Ashkenazic community. Emden's cause was subsequently taken up by the court of King Frederick of Denmark, and on June 3, 1752, a judgment was given in favor of Emden, severely censuring the council of the three communities and condemning them to a fine of one hundred thalers. Emden then returned to Altona and took possession of his synagogue and printing-establishment, though he was forbidden to continue his agitation against Eybeschütz. The latter's partizans, however, did not desist from their warfare against Emden. They accused him before the authorities of continuing to publish denunciations against his opponent. One Friday evening (July 8, 1755) his house was broken into and his papers seized and turned over to the "Ober-Präsident," Von Kwalen. Six months later Von Kwalen appointed a commission of three scholars, who, after a close examination, found nothing which could inculpate Emden.
Emden was undoubtedly very quick-tempered and of a jealous disposition. The truth or falsity of his denunciations against Eybeschütz can not be proved, but the fact remains that he quarreled with almost all his contemporaries. He considered that every man who was not for him was against him, and attacked him accordingly. Still, he seems to have enjoyed a certain authority, even among the Polish rabbis, the majority of whom sided with Eybeschütz, and had once even excommunicated Emden upon the initiative of Ḥayyim of Lublin (1751). Thus in 1756 the members of the Synod of Constantinov applied to Emden to aid in repressing the Shabbethaian movement. As the Shabbethaians referred much to the Zohar, Emden thought it wise to examine that book, and after a careful study he concluded that a great part of the Zohar was the production of an impostor (see "Miṭpaḥat Sefarim").
Emden's works show him to have been possessed of critical powers rarely found among his contemporaries, who generally took things for granted. He was strictly Orthodox, never deviating the least from tradition, even when the difference in time and circumstance might have fairly been regarded as warranting a deviation from the old custom. In 1772 the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin having issued a decree forbidding burial on the day of death, the Jews in his territories approached Emden with the request that he demonstrate from the Talmud that a longer exposure of a corpse would be against the Law. Emden referred them to Mendelssohn, who had great influence with Christian authorities; but as Mendelssohn agreed with the ducal order, Emden wrote to him and urged the desirability of opposing the duke if only to remove the suspicion of irreligiousness he (Mendelssohn) had aroused by his associations.
Emden was a very prolific writer; his works fall into two classes, polemical and rabbinical.
- Torat ha-Ḳena'ot, a biography of Shabbethai Ẓebi, and criticisms of Nehemiah Ḥayyon, Jonathan Eybeschütz, and others. Amsterdam, 1752.
- 'Edut be-Ya'aḳob, on the supposed heresy of Eybeschütz, and including Iggeret Shum, a letter to the rabbis of the "Four Lands." Altona, 1756.
- Shimmush, comprising three smaller works: Shoṭ la-Sus and Meteg la-Hamor, on the growing influence of the Shabbethaians, and Shebeṭ le-Gew Kesilim, a refutation of heretical demonstrations. Amsterdam, 1758-62.
- Shebirat Luḥot ha-Awen, a refutation of Eybeschütz's "Luḥot 'Edut." Altona, 1759.
- Seḥoḳ ha-Kesil, Yeḳeb Ze'eb, and Gat Derukah, three polemical works published in the "Hit'abbeḳut" of one of his pupils. Altona, 1762.
- Ḥereb Pifiyyot, Iggeret Purim, Teshubot ha-Minim, and Zikkaron be-Sefer, on money-changers and bankers (unpublished).
- Leḥem Shamayim, a commentary on the Mishnah, with a treatise in two parts, on Maimonides' "Yad," Bet ha-Beḥirah. Altona, 1728; Wandsbeck, 1733.
- Iggeret Biḳḳoret, responsa. Altona, 1733.
- She'elat Ya'abeẓ, a collection of 372 responsa. Altona, 1739-59.
- Siddur Tefillah, an edition of the ritual with a commentary, grammatical notes, ritual laws, and various treatises, in three parts: Bet-El, Sha'ar ha-Shamayim, and Migdal 'Oz. It also includes a treatise entitled Eben Boḥan, and a criticism on Menahem di Lonzano's "'Abodat Miḳdash," entitled Seder Abodah. Altona, 1745-48.
- 'Eẓ Abot, a commentary to Abot, with Leḥem Neḳudim, grammatical notes. Amsterdam, 1751.
- Sha'agat Aryeh, a sermon, also included in his Ḳishshurim le-Ya'aḳob. Amsterdam, 1755.
- Seder 'Olam Rabbah we-Zuṭa, the two Seder 'Olam and the Megillat Ta'anit, edited with critical notes. Hamburg, 1757.
- Mor u-Ḳeẓi'ah, novellæ on the Oraḥ. Ḥayyim, in two parts: the first part, Miṭpaḥat Sefarim, being an expurgation of the Zohar; the second, a criticism on "Emunat Ḥakamim" and "Mishnat Ḥakamim," and polemical letters addressed to the rabbi of Königsberg. Altona, 1761-68.
- Ẓiẓim u-Feraḥim, a collection of Qabalistic articles arranged in alphabetical order. Altona, 1768.
- Luaḥ Eresh, grammatical notes on the prayers, and a criticism of Solomon Hena's "Sha'are Tefillah." Altona, 1769.
- Shemesh Ẓedaḳah. Altona, 1772.
- Pesaḥ Gadol, Tefillat Yesharim, and Ḥoli Ketem. Altona, 1775.
- Sha'are 'Azarah. Altona, 1776.
- Dibre Emet u-Mishpaṭ Shalom (n. d. and n. p.).
Unpublished Rabbinical Works
- Ḳishshurim le-Ya'aḳob, collection of sermons.
- Ẓa'aḳat Damim, refutation of the blood accusation in Poland.
- Halakah Pesuḳah.
- Hilketa li-Meshiḥa, responsum to R. Israel Lipschütz.
- Mada'ah Rabbah.
- Gal-'Ed, commentary to Rashi and to the Targum of the Pentateuch.
- Em la-Binah, commentary to the whole Bible.
- Em la-Miḳra we la-Masoret, also a commentary to the Bible.
- Marginal novellæ on the Talmud of Babylon.
- Megillat Sefer, containing biographies of himself and of his father.
Provided Annotated to these works
- Saadia Gaon's "Sefer ha-Pedut we ha-Purḳan"
- Elijah Levita's "Meturgeman"
- Estori Farḥi's "Kaftor u-Feraḥ"
- Caro's "Kereti u-Feleti"
- Isaac b. Judah ha-Levi's "Pa'aneaḥ Raza"
- Isaac Abravanel's "Rosh Amanah"
- Maimonides' "Iggerot"
- Moses Graf's "Wayaḳel Mosheh"
- Benjamin Musafia's "Musaf he-'Aruk."
- Wagenaar, in his "Toledot Ya'abeẓ" attributes to Emden the Qabalistic "Maḥnayim."
More information can be found
- Grätz, Gesch. 3d ed., x. 343-388
- Megillat Sefer (Emden's autobiography), Warsaw, 1896
- Wagenaar, Toledot Ya'abeẓ, Amsterdam, 1868
- Azulai, Shem ha-Gedolim, i. 96
- Fürst, in Orient, Lit. vii. 442
- Halberstamm, in Berliner's Magazin, v. 203, ix. 173
- D. Kaufmann, in Monatsschrift, xl. 330-331, xli. 333-336, 362-369, 426-429
- Fürst, Bibl. Jud. i. 240-244
- On the controversy between Emden and Eybeschütz see Ha-Shaḥar, vi. 343 et seq., xii. 181-192, 548-552, 602-610, 646-652, 686-692.S. S. M. Sel