Jacob Emden

Jacob Emden

Jacob Emden (he|יעקב עמדן) (the Yabets) was a Jewish rabbi and notable talmudist, and prominent opponent of the Shabbethaians. He was born at Altona June 4, 1697, and died there April 19, 1776. He was the son of the Chacham Tzvi, and a great-great grandson of Elijah Ba'al Shem of Chelm.


Until seventeen Emden studied Talmud under his father Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi, the foremost Talmudic authority of the age, first at Altona, then from 1710 to 1714 at Amsterdam. In 1715 Emden married the daughter of Mordecai ben Naphtali Kohen, rabbi of Uhersky Brod, Moravia, and continued his studies in his father-in-law's yeshivah. Emden became well versed in Talmudic literature; later he studied philosophy, Kabbalah, 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. This belief stems from the biblical verse (Josh. I, 8): "You will study [the Torah] day and night", leaving room for secular studies during hours which are neither truly day nor truly night.

He was opposed to philosophy, and maintained that "The Guide to the Perplexed" could not have been written by Maimonides, as he could not imagine that a pious Jew would write a work accepting and promoting what Emden saw as a non-Jewish theology.Fact|date=September 2007

Emden 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 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 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 (prayer book) "Ammudei 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.

The Emden-Eybeschütz Controversy

:"See also: Jonathan Eybeschutz"

Emden is known for his controversial activities, his attacks being generally directed against the adherents, or those he supposed to be adherents, of Sabbatai Zevi. Of these controversies the most prominent 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. Hostilities began before Eybeschütz left Prague, and when Eybeschütz was named chief rabbi of the three communities of Altona, Hamburg, and Wansbeck (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. In "Megillat Sefer", he even accuses Eybeschütz of having an incestuous relationship with his own daughter, and of fathering a child with her.

The majority of the community favored Eybeschütz, including R. Aryeh Leib Halevi-Epstein of Konigsberg; thus 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 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 inculpate Emden.


The truth or falsity of his denunciations against Eybeschütz can not be proved. However, Eybeschutz' son openly declared himself to be a sabbatian after his father's death. Still, he enjoyed a certain authority, even among the Polish rabbis. 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.

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 fairly been regarded as warranting a deviation from the old custom. Emden's opinions were often extremely unconventional. Emden believed that Christianity has an important role to play in God's plan for mankind and was on friendly relations with a number of Christian scholars, as he was with Moses Mendelssohn the founder of the Haskalah movement.

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 has been criticized for his interest in sexual matters but while it is true that, for instance, he provides, in his Siddur, details of how the marital act is to be carried out, this is in the context of the Shabbat eve section of the Prayer Book which, for the Kabbalists, is the occasion for sexual congress between husband and wife in order to repeat and assist the union on high between the male and female principles in the Godhead. He believed that the ban on polygamy by Rabbeinu Gershom was a serious mistake in that it followed Christian mores; although, he states, he does not have the power to urge the ban to be repealed. He even advocates a scholar taking a pilegesh(concubine) since, he says, the Rabbis hold that 'the greater the man, the greater his yetzer hara'. He never carried out his theories in practice and was looked upon by later Jewish teachers as a holy man. [The Jewish Religion: A Companion | Louis Jacobs; Oxford University Press, 1995. 641 pgs., p.146]

External links and references

* [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=341&letter=E Emden, Jacob Israel Ben Zebi Ashkenazi] , jewishencyclopedia.com
* [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Emden.html Jacob Emden] , jewishvirtuallibrary.org
* [http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/falk1a.html Rabbi Jacob Emden's View on Christianity and the Noachite Commandments] , Reprinted from the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 19:1, Winter 1982
* [http://wikinoah.org/index.php?title=Yaakov_Emden_on_Noahides&redirect=no Wikinoah article on Jacob Emden's view of Noachites]
* [http://pilegeshpersonals.com/Rabbi_Yaakov_Emden%27s_responsa_on_Pilegesh.pdf Responsum of Jacob Emden on the Polygamy Ban and the Pilegesh] , from Shelyot Ye'avetz, v 2, 15
* Cohen, Mortimer Joseph, "Jacob Emden, A Man of Controversy", Philadelphia, Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning, 1937.

His Works

'Edut be-Ya'aḳov, 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 Sheveṭ le-Gev Kesilim, a refutation of heretical demonstrations. Amsterdam, 1758-62.

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, 1762.

Miṭpaḥat Sefarim, showing that the Zohar is not authentic but a later compilation

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; 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 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 sermon, also included in his Ḳishshurim le-Ya'aḳov. Amsterdam, 1755.

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, 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 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.).

His unpublished rabbinical writings are the following:

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.

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