Jacob Emden, also known as Ya'avetz (June 4, 1697 – April 19, 1776),
was a leading German rabbi and talmudist who championed Orthodox
Judaism in the face of the growing influence of the Sabbatean
movement. He was acclaimed in all circles for his extensive knowledge,
thus Moses Mendelssohn, founder of the Jewish Enlightenment movement,
wrote to him as "your disciple, who thirsts for your words."
Emden did not approve of the
Hasidic movement which evolved
during his lifetime, his books are highly regarded amongst the
Hasidim. Thirty-one works were published during his lifetime, ten
posthumously while others remain in manuscript.
Emden was the son of the Chacham Tzvi, and a descendant of Elijah
Ba'al Shem of Chelm. He lived most his life in Altona (now a part of
Hamburg, Germany), where he held no official rabbinic position and
earned a living by printing books. His son was Meshullam Solomon,
rabbi of the Hambro Synagogue in London who claimed authority as Chief
Rabbi of the United Kingdom from 1765 to 1780.
3 Other notable events
4 Views on the spread of monotheism
5 Stance on polygamy and concubines
6 Published works
8 External links
Talmud under his father Tzvi Ashkenazi,
a foremost rabbinic authority, first at Altona, then at Amsterdam
(1710–1714). In 1715
Emden married Rachel, daughter of Mordecai ben
Naphtali Kohen, rabbi of Ungarisch-Brod, Moravia, and continued his
studies in his father-in-law's yeshivah.
Emden became well versed
in all branches of Talmudic literature; later he studied philosophy,
kabbalah, and grammar, and made an effort to acquire the
Dutch languages, in which, however, he was seriously hindered by his
belief that a Jew should occupy himself with secular sciences only
during times it was impossible to study Torah. He was opposed to
philosophy and maintained that the views contained in The Guide for
the Perplexed could not have been authored by Maimonides, but rather
by an unknown heretic.
Emden spent three years at Ungarisch-Brod, where he held the office of
private lecturer in Talmud. Later he became a dealer in jewelry and
other articles, an occupation which 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
Emden 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 Hagis, the head of the
Portuguese-Jewish community at Altona, who was afterward turned
Emden by some calumny. His relations with Ezekiel
Katzenellenbogen, the chief rabbi of the German community, were
positive at first, but deteriorated swiftly.
A few years later
Emden obtained from the
King of Denmark
King of Denmark the
privilege of establishing at Altona a printing-press. He was soon
attacked for his publication of the siddur (prayer book) Ammudei
Shamayim, due to his harsh criticisms of the powerful local money
changers. His opponents did not cease denouncing him even after he had
obtained for his work the approbation of the chief rabbi of the German
Part of a series on
Ayin and Yesh
Tree of Life
Jewish angelic hierarchy
Tohu and Tikun
Sparks of holiness
Names of God in Judaism
Anthropomorphism in Kabbalah
Selective influence on
Pre-Kabbalistic Jewish mysticism
on the Bible
Mainstream displacement of
rationalism with Kabbalah
Sabbatean mystical heresies
Immigration to the Land of Israel
Traditional Oriental Kabbalists
Beit El Synagogue
Eastern European Judaism
Hasidic Judaism / philosophy
Academic interest in
Non-Orthodox interest in
Customary immersion in mikveh
Tikkun Leil Shavuot
Pilgrimage to Tzadik
Pilgrimage to holy grave
Lag BaOmer at Meron
Four Who Entered the Pardes
Simeon bar Yochai
Isaac the Blind
Joseph ben Abraham Gikatilla
Moses de Leon
Bahya ben Asher
Meir ibn Gabbai
Judah Loew ben Bezalel
Chaim ibn Attar
Baal Shem Tov
Dov Ber of Mezeritch
Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
Chaim Joseph David Azulai
Schneur Zalman of Liadi
Nachman of Breslov
Ben Ish Chai
Abraham Isaac Kook
Menachem Mendel Schneerson
on the Bible
Eras of Rabbinic Judaism
Generational descent in Halacha
Generational ascent in Kabbalah
Classic Mussar literature
Modern Jewish philosophies
God in Judaism
for the 613 Mitzvot
Jewish principles of faith
Emden accused Jonathan Eybeschütz of being a secret Sabbatean. The
controversy lasted several years, continuing even after Eybeschütz's
death. Emden's assertion of Eybeschütz's heresy was chiefly based on
the interpretation of some amulets prepared by Eybeschütz, in which
Sabbatean allusions. Hostilities began before Eybeschütz
left Prague, and in 1751, when Eybeschütz was named chief rabbi of
the three communities of Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbek, 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
Sabbatean heretic and deserving of
excommunication. In ''Megillat Sefer'', he even accuses Eybeschütz
of having an incestuous relationship with his own daughter, and of
fathering a child with her. However, there have been allegations that
''Megillat Sefer'' was tampered with, and had deliberately ridiculous
accusations, as well as outlandish tales, written in to the original
in order to make a mockery of Emden.
The majority of the community, including R. Aryeh Leib Halevi-Epstein
of Konigsberg, favored Eybeschütz; thus the council condemned Emden
as a slanderer. 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, in
May 1751 he left the town and took refuge in Amsterdam, where he had
many friends and where he joined the household of his brother-in-law,
Aryeh Leib ben Saul, rabbi of the
Emden's cause was subsequently taken up by the court of Frederick V 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 partisans, 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 incriminate Emden.
The truth or falsity of his denunciations against Eybeschütz cannot
Gershom Scholem wrote much on this subject, and his student
Perlmutter devoted a book to proving it. According to historian David
Sorkin, Eybeschütz was probably a Sabbatean, and Eybeschütz's son
openly declared himself to be a
Sabbatean after his father's death.
Other notable events
Letter of Jacob
Emden to the King of Denmark, August 20, 1743
In 1756 the members of the Synod of Constantinov applied to
aid in repressing the
Sabbatean movement. As the
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
the production of an impostor.
Emden's works show him to have been possessed of critical powers
rarely found among his contemporaries. He was strictly Orthodox, never
deviating the least from tradition, even when the difference in time
and circumstance might have warranted a deviation from custom. Emden's
opinions were often viewed as extremely unconventional from the
perspective of strictly traditional mainstream Judaism, though not so
unusual in more free-thinking Enlightenment circles.
friendly relations with Moses Mendelssohn, founder of the Haskalah
movement, and with a number of
In 1772 the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, having issued a decree
forbidding burial on the day of death, the Jews in his territories
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 and wrote in excellent German. Mendelssohn wrote the
requested letter to the Duke, but privately complained to
based on the Talmud, it seemed the Duke was correct.
Emden wrote to
him in strong terms, saying that it was ludicrous to assert that the
custom of the entire Jewish people was blatantly incorrect, and told
Mendelssohn that this kind of claim would only strengthen rumors of
irreligiousness he (Mendelssohn) had aroused by his associations.
Views on the spread of monotheism
Emden was a traditionalist who responded to the ideals of tolerance
being circulated during the 18th-century Enlightenment. He stretched
the traditional inclusivist position into universal directions.
Believing, like Maimonides, that Christianity and
Islam have important
roles to play in God's plan for mankind, he wrote:
We should consider Christians and Moslems as instruments for the
fulfilment of the prophecy that the knowledge of God will one day
spread throughout the earth. Whereas the nations before them
worshipped idols, denied God's existence, and thus did not recognize
God's power or retribution, the rise of Christianity and
to spread among the nations, to the furthest ends of the earth, the
knowledge that there is One God who rules the world, who rewards and
punishes and reveals Himself to man.
Emden praised the ethical teachings of the founder of Christianity,
considering them as being beneficial to the Gentiles by removing the
prevalence of idolatry and bestowing upon them a "moral
Emden also suggested that ascetic Christian
practices provided additional rectification of the soul in the same
way that Judaic commandments do.
Stance on polygamy and concubines
In his responsum,
Emden theoretically advocated the taking of a
pilegesh (concubine) by a scholar since the Rabbis stated that "the
greater the man, the greater his evil inclination." He collected many
Talmudic and medieval examples from Judaic literature that support
such behavior. Although he never put his theories into
practice, he criticised the institution of obligatory matrimony and
suggested that it is permissible for a Jew to cohabit freely with a
single Jewish woman or even with several women without marriage, or as
an addition to the legal wife. He wished to revoke the ban on polygamy
instituted by Rabbeinu Gershom as he believed it erroneously followed
Christian morals, but admitted he did not have the power to do so.
Various works of
Emden and his father
'Edut be-Ya'aḳov, on the supposed heresy of Eybeschütz, and
including Iggeret Shum, a letter to the rabbis of the "Four Lands."
Shimmush, comprising three smaller works: Shoṭ la-Sus and Meteg
la-Hamor, on the growing influence of the Shabbethaians, and Sheveṭ
le-Gev Kesilim, a refutation of heretical demonstrations. Amsterdam,
Shevirat Luḥot ha-Aven, a refutation of Eybeschütz's "Luḥot
'Edut." Altona, 1759.
Seḥoḳ ha-Kesil, Yeḳev Ze'ev, and Gat Derukah, three polemical
works published in the "Hit'abbeḳut" of one of his pupils. Altona,
Miṭpaḥat Sefarim, in two parts: the first part showing that part
Zohar is not authentic but a later compilation; the second, a
criticism on "Emunat Ḥakamim" and "Mishnat Ḥakamim," and other
seforim and polemical letters addressed to the rabbi of Königsberg.
Ḥerev 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;
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 Lonzano's
"'Avodat Miḳdash," entitled Seder Abodah. Altona, 1745–48.
'Eẓ Avot, a commentary to Avot, with Leḥem Neḳudim, grammatical
notes. Amsterdam, 1751.
Sha'agat Aryeh, a eulogy for his brother-in-law Aryeh Leib ben Saul,
the rabbi of Amsterdam. Amsterdam, 1755. This was also included in his
Seder 'Olam Rabbah ve-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 (the novellæ on
the Yoreh De'ah, Even ha'Ezer, and Hoshen Mishpat of Mor u-Ḳeẓi'ah
Ẓiẓim u-Feraḥim, a collection of kabalistic 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.
Divre Emet u-Mishpaṭ Shalom (n. d. and n. p.).
Megillat Sefer, containing biographies of himself and of his father.
Kishshurim le Ya'akob, collection of sermons.
Marginal novellæ on the Babylonian Talmud.
Emes LeYaakov, notes on
Zohar and assorted works, including Dei
Rossis' Meor Einayim. Kiryas Joel, 2017
His unpublished rabbinical writings are the following:
Ẓa'aḳat Damim, refutation of the blood accusation in Poland.
Hilketa li-Meshiḥa, responsum to R. Israel Lipschütz.
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.
^ a b c d e Falk, Harvey. Journal of ecumenical studies Volume 19, no.
1 (Winter 1982),
Rabbi Jacob Emden's Views on Christianity, pp.
^ a b c Louis Jacobs (1995). The Jewish religion: a companion. Oxford
University Press. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-19-826463-7. Retrieved
July 19, 2011.
Emden (May 4, 2011). Megilat Sefer: The Autobiography of Rabbi
Emden (1697–1776). PublishYourSefer.com. p. 353.
ISBN 978-1-61259-001-1. Retrieved July 19, 2011.
^ a b c d e f Solomon Schechter, M. Seligsohn. Emden, Jacob Israel ben
Jewish Encyclopedia (1906).
^ Shachter, Jacob J. (1988).
Rabbi Jacob Emden: Life and Major Works.
Cambridge, Massachusetts. p. 107.
^ Gestetner, Avraham Shmuel Yehuda. מגילת פלסתר [Megilas
Plaster] (in Hebrew). Monsey, NY.
^ David Sorkin, The Transformation of German Jewry, 1780–1840, Wayne
State University Press, 1999, p. 52.
^ Taken from the Public Domain
Jewish Encyclopedia article
^ The Jewish enlightenment, by Shmuel Feiner, ch. 1, University of
Pennsylvania Press, 2003
^ Sheilos Yaavetz, by Jacob Emden, Volume three, siman 44-47, new
edition of Keren Zichron Moshe Yoseph, 2016
Rabbi Dr. Alan Brill. Judaism and Other Religions: An Orthodox
perspective Archived January 20, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.,
commissioned by the
World Jewish Congress
World Jewish Congress for the World Symposium of
Catholic Cardinals and Jewish Leaders (January 2004).
Jewish Encyclopedia (1906).
^ Sandra B. Lubarsky (November 1990). Tolerance and transformation:
Jewish approaches to religious pluralism. Hebrew Union College Press.
p. 20. ISBN 978-0-87820-504-2. Retrieved July 19,
^ Winkler, Gershon. "The responsum of
Emden from Sheylot
Ye'avitz, vol. 2, no. 15" (PDF). Retrieved 28 November 2017.
^ עמדין, יעקב בן צבי (תרמד). שאילת יעבץ.
למברג. p. חלק ב סימן טו. Retrieved 28 November
2017. Check date values in: date= (help)
^ Winkler, Gershon. "The responsum of
Emden from Sheylot
Ye'avitz, vol. 2, no. 15" (PDF). Archived from the original on March
3, 2016. Retrieved November 28, 2017. CS1 maint: BOT:
original-url status unknown (link)
Emden, Jacob Israel Ben Zebi Ashkenazi, jewishencyclopedia.com
Jacob Emden, jewishvirtuallibrary.org
Rabbi Jacob Emden's View on Christianity and the Noachite
Commandments, Reprinted from the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 19:1,
, from Shelyot Ye'avetz, v 2, 15
Cohen, Mortimer J. (1948), "Was Eibeschuetz a Sabbatian?", The Jewish
Quarterly Review, XXXIX (1): 51–62 .
Cohen, Mortimer Joseph, Jacob Emden, A Man of Controversy,
Philadelphia, Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning, 1937.
Schacter, Jacob J.,
Rabbi Jacob Emden: Life and Major Works, Diss.,
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard
University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1988.
ISNI: 0000 0001 1476 0703
BNF: cb12250973h (data)