Rabbis of the 18th Century
Rabbis of the 18th Century: Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi, Sabbateanism and communal politics
In this class we begin in the 1660s with the false Messiah Shabbatai Tzvi and the impact he had on the next century. We look at what is going on in Britain and Europe as politics changes the shape of the world and the role of the Jews within in.
We focus on Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi, known by the name of his book, Chacham Tzvi. He was familiar with both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi worlds, and knew only too well the dangers of Sabbateanism.
We end with Rene Descartes, automatons and a golem.
Rabbis of the 18th Century: Shabtai Bass, author of Siftei Chachamim
This class is about Shabtai Bass, whose most famous book, Siftei Chachamim — a collection of commentaries on Rashi’s commentary on Chumash, is well known and used.
He wrote two other books: Siftei Yeshenim — the first bibliography of Jewish books. For this reason Bass is known as the father of Hebrew bibliography.
And: Derech Eretz — a unique, rare, book with advice for Jewish travelers earning a living across Europe. It is part prayer book, part travel guide, and part information for traders.
Rabbis of the 18th Century: Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar – Ohr Hachaim
In this class we look at the life and teachings of Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, one of the greatest Moroccan-born Rabbis. He wrote Ohr Hachaim on the Chumash, Pri To’ar on Yoreh De’a which are widely used today, as well as commentaries on parts of the Talmud and on parts of the Bible.
He was born and grew up in Morocco, moved to Israel via Italy. But became a favorite of the Polish hasidim (including the Ba’al Shem Tov).
Rabbis of the 18th Century: Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Ramchal)
In this class we look at a small part of the life of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, known by the acronym Ramchal. We discuss his kabbalistic works, and the rabbis who banned him out of fear that he may be a Sabbatean.
Ramchal was a kabbalist and a rationalist, and in his attempt to combine the two, was kicked out of his home town of Padua. He spent 10 years in Amsterdam where he wrote his most famous books — including Derech Hashem (Way of God) and Mesilat Yesharim (Path of the Just).
He and his family moved eventually to Israel where they died a few years later during a plague. Ramchal was aged 39.
Rabbis of the 18th Century: Rabbi Yonatan Eybeschutz
Rabbis of the 18th Century: Rabbi Yaakov Emden
Rabbi Yaakov Emden was one of the first, and one of the few, to write an intimate autobiography which focused not only on his life events but also his emotions (a very 18th century thing to do).
He was the son of Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi, and followed in his father’s footsteps in the quest to eradicate Sabbateanism. He fatefully accused Rabbi Yonatan Eybeschutz of being a closet Sabbatean, kicking off a controversy that divided Europe.
He complained about depression and lived a sad and miserable life. He wrote dozens of books on a wide range of topics, in both halakha and theology.
Rabbis of the 18th Century: Baal Shem Tov
Although we know the basic details of the Baal Shem Tov’s life, all of the stories that make him the Baal Shem Tov are from decades after his death and are of dubious provenance.
So, this shiur focuses first on several of the other Baalei Shem who preceded the Baal Shem Tov. They were folk doctors, prescribing natural remedies, spiritual cures and sometimes amulets for healing or protection.
Then we look briefly at some of the writings attributed to the Baal Shem Tov, and why they were so revolutionary, and even considered heretical by the mainstream.
Rabbis of the 18th Century: Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi
The author of the Tanya and Shulhan Arukh Harav, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was the founder of what would become Lubavitch Hasidut.
In this class we examine his life, his family and the dispute over succession after his death. We will also look at some of the profound and innovative ideas in the Tanya, which in many ways is the basic textbook of all hasidic thinking.
Rabbis of the 18th Century: Vilna Gaon
The Vilna Gaon is one of the most famous 18th century rabbis, yet he never held any official position. He did not publish any books in his lifetime, though subsequently many books of his notes have been published.
In this class we look at his views on secular studies, one area of his dispute with the Chasidim, and touch briefly on his Messianic views.
Rabbis of the 18th Century: Chaim Yosef David Azulai (Chida)
Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai, better known by his acronym Chida, was born in Jerusalem and studied under the some of the greatest rabbis, including the Ohr Hachaim. He was sent several times to Europe and North Africa to raise money for the Jewish communities of Jerusalem and Hebron. He records his travels around Europe in Ma’agal Tov which was published posthumously.
He was a tremendous scholar in every field of Jewish knowledge and wrote some 55 books, including the Birkei Yosef commentary on Shulhan Arukh and a biography and bibliography of Rabbis entitled Shem Hagedolim.
His body was brought to Israel 150 years after his death, in 1960 and he is buried on Har Hamenuchot.
Rabbis of the 18th Century: Rabbi Avraham Danzig
Rabbi Avraham Danzig was the author of Chayei Adam and Chochmat Adam — two of the most popular Jewish books in Europe at the end of the 18th century. He and his family were miraculously saved when a gunpowder store exploded next door to them — an event that he and his family commemorated every year.
We’ll look at some of his writings, and the influence of Kantian thought on his ideas.
Rabbis of the 18th Century: Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (Noda BeYehuda)
Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, better known today after the name of his most famous book, Noda BeYehuda, was one of the greatest rabbis of his generation. He became the chief rabbi of Prague — a very prestigious position — while still a young man.
He was involved in the Emden-Eybeschutz controversy, opposed Sabbateanism, spoke out against the reliability and authenticity of the Zohar and writings of the Arizal, and attacked Chasidim who changed customs and prayers.
Many of his halakhic views are still relevant today. Most famously, he was the first to suggest that the kazayit should be much bigger than the size of an actual olive.
Rabbis of the 18th Century: Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin
We know very little information about Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin’s life. He was born in Volozhin and died in Volozhin. He had five children and founded the flagship yeshiva which became the paradigm of all future yeshivot. And after he died, his son, Yitzchak, published his three books, Nefesh Hachaim, Ruach Chaim and Chut Hameshulash.
Rabbi David Sedley lives in Jerusalem with his wife and six children. He was born and raised in New Zealand before making Aliya in 1992. He left Israel temporarily (for eight years) to serve as a communal Rabbi in Scotland and England and returned to Israel in 2004. He has translated Rabbeinu Yonah's commentary on Pirkei Avos and is the co-author of Sefiros: Spiritual Refinement Through Counting the Omer (both Judaica Press). Over the years Rabbi Sedley has worked as a journalist, a translator, a video director and in online reputation management. He also writes a weekly Torah blog on the Times of Israel.