Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshutz • “Author of Yaarot Dvash”

Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshutz was born about the year 5450 (1690) in Krakow, Poland. He was from a family of rabbis that went back to Rabbi Natan Shapira (author of Megaleh Amukot) and to the Arizal.

At the age of 3, his father, Rabbi Natan Neta, Rav of the city of Eibeshutz, put him into cheder. On his first day there, as the teacher taught his class the alphabet, he came to the letter peh and asked the students, “What do we call this letter when there is a tzereh below it?”

All the students answered in unison: Peh.

“Have you no questions to ask me, dear children?” the teacher added.

The children kept quiet. Only little Yonatan jumped to his feet and shouted, “Yes! Why is a tzereh needed under the peh? Even without it, we still call it peh.”

The teacher looked at Yonatan with satisfaction and said, “Shame on you all. You all deserve to be punished. This little darling, who just arrived in cheder today, knows more than all of you.”

Yonatan, who had not yet learned to respect his teacher, continued with he smiled: “As for punishment, the Rabbi deserves one too.”

“Why?” the teacher asked him with a smile.

“Because he could have asked this question before, when we learned the letter hei,” the child responded with a grin.

Rabbi Yonatan lost his mother as a boy, and his father passed away before his Bar Mitzvah. From that moment on, he began to wander from place to place, sometimes under the roof of Torah greats. A teacher such as Rabbi Meir Eisenstadt, author of Panim Meirot, let him stay with him in Prusnitz for several years, and his close relative, Rabbi Eliezer Ettinger, admitted him into his yeshiva in Holleschau.

Besides his great abilities, Rabbi Yonatan was recognized for his boundless diligence. With the same fervor that he put into the study of the Gemara and its Poskim, he also studied the Zohar and the writings of the Arizal to the point that he knew them by heart. He also had an understanding of philosophy, astronomy, the natural sciences and medicine, and he knew several languages.

He was already known as a Gaon by the age of 18, and he was offered the position of Rav in the Jewish community of Yongvontslo in Bohemia. After staying there for three years, he left and settled in Prague.

In 5510 (1750), Rabbi Yonatan was chosen to head the Jewish communities of Altona, Hamburg, and Vedsbeck, a position that was considered as one of the most important and prestigious in Germany. There he remained until his final day, Elul 21, 5524 (1764).

Far from staying enclosed in the tent of Torah study, Rabbi Yonatan was involved in public life and troubled himself for the good of the community. He had friendly relations with political figures and discussed matters with bishops and priests. Because of his influence, the Talmud (which up to then the popes had forbidden) was allowed to be printed.

We have many stories and legends concerning Rabbi Yonatan’s wisdom in his discussions with all kinds of enemies of the Jew people, ones whose mouths he shut by his lively retorts.

Rabbi Yonatan was a great scholar with an extremely sharp mind. The king had heard of him, and he often called him to the palace to chat with him and delight in his wisdom. The king’s ministers, however, hated the Jewish people and were jealous of him. They constantly looked for ways to lower the Rav in the eyes of the king, yet he always found a way to answer them by reducing their words to nothing.

One day, Rabbi Yonatan left his home to go pray in synagogue. At that moment the king’s coach was passing in the street and the king ordered his driver to stop. He asked the Rav to come over, and he approached, bowed before the king and said, “Long live the king!”

The king then asked, “Where are you going, honored Rabbi?”

“I do not know, your majesty,” replied Rabbi Yonatan.

“You don’t know?” the king repeated, quite angry. “How can a person not know where he is going?”

“Such is the case, your majesty. I do not know.”

This reply greatly infuriated the king, who thought that this Jew was mocking him. He called for a guard and ordered him to take the Rabbi into prison. The guard did so, and the king continued on his way.

Several hours later, the king ordered one of his servants to go and remove the Rav from prison and bring him to him.

When Rabbi Yonatan came before the king, he asked him, “How could you dare lie to me? Did you really not know where you were going?”

“I was careful not to lie, your majesty,” Rabbi Yonatan replied. “I said only the truth. If the king had asked me where I was planning to go, I would have told him that I wanted to go to synagogue. But he asked me where I was going – and truthfully, that I did not know. The proof is that I thought I was going to synagogue, and in the end I was taken into prison.”

Stories of this type, concerning Rabbi Yonatan’s wisdom and intelligence, have been transmitted from father to son over the generations. However, it is because of his books that Rabbi Yonatan is known as a Gaon.

He wrote several works of Halachah and Aggadah, the best known being Urim VeTumim on the Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat; Kereti U’Feleti on the Tur, Yore Deah (which contains lessons that he gave on Shabbat and holidays); and many other works.




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