Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschutz fought against the rampant rabbinic corruption of his time, including the sale of rabbinical positions to the highest bidder, and at the same time, he also fought against the Enlightenment, which was taking ever increasing numbers of Jews away from traditional Judaism. But he was also likely a closet heretic.
Above: Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschutz
September 18, 1764 – 250 years ago today – is thought to be the day Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschutz passed away.
Eybeschutz fought against the rampant rabbinic corruption of his time, including the sale of rabbinical positions to the highest bidder, and at the same time, he also fought against the Enlightenment, which was taking ever increasing numbers of Jews away from traditional Judaism.
But most famously, Eybeschutz – who, besides his work as a city rabbi and rosh yeshiva also worked as a trial lawyer and customs agent – was accused by another great rabbi of his day, Yaakov Emden, of being a closet follower of the false messiah Shabatai Tzvi.
Emden based his accusation in part on amulets written by Eybeschutz that had what Emden said was a reference to Shabtai Tzvi as God’s anointed one – the messiah.
Emden also accused Eybeschutz of having incestuous sex with his own daughter, something followers the false messiah were rumored to do for kabbalistic reasons.
Emden, whose father had been chief rabbi of the towns, Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbek, that Eybeschutz was now chief rabbi of, hammered away at Eybeschutz in Jewish council of the three towns until Emden was excommunicated and essentially expelled from the town.
As Wikipedia summarizes it:
…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 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 incriminate Emden.…
However, it has become increasingly clear that Eybeschutz – one of the earliest proponents of irrational and "mystical" responses to scientific findings and rationalism he and other rabbis viewed as threats to Judaism – was a closet Sabbatean, and research published by Rabbi Dr. Schneur Zalman (Sid) Leiman of Brooklyn College and Simon Schwarzfuchs of Bar Ilan University seems to definitively prove it.