Jonathan Eybeschitz

Noted Prague rabbi was accused of being a Shabbetean.


Reprinted from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.

Jonathan Eybeschitz (or Eibeschütz) was a Talmudist, kabbalist, preacher, and Rabbi (d. 1764). Eybeschitz’s fame as a Talmudist rests chiefly on his Urim ve-Thummim, a work of keen analysis of legal concepts in the form of a commentary to the Shulhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat.

In his early career Eybeschitz was the head of a yeshivah and a preacher in Prague, where he was on friendly terms with Christian prelates with whom he discussed and debated theological question. Many of his sermons were collected in his Yaarat Deuash; a work that provided generations of Jewish preachers with sermonic material.

While in Prague, Eybeschitz was accused of being a follower of the false Messiah, Shabbetai Zevi, an accusation he strongly denied; together with other Prague Rabbis, he signed a herem issued against the Shabbeteans. After Eybeschitz had been appointed Rabbi of the three communities of Altona, Wandsbeck, and Hamburg, he issued amulets for the protection of women in childbirth. His opponent, Jacob Emden, claimed to have discovered in these amulets a coded reference to Shabbetai Zevi. One of the fiercest controversies in Jewish history erupted as a result, the Rabbinic world being split between defenders of Eybeschitz and his detractors.

A number of modern scholars have argued that there was some truth in the accusation, hard to believe though it is that a prominent Rabbi would see anything in the strange heresy. Eybeschitz’s son did become a Shabbetean prophet, But it has to be appreciated that to call someone a Shabbetean, in those days, was rather like calling someone today a Marxist, meaning not necessarily an actual disciple of Marx but one with Marxist leanings.

Both Emden and Eybeschitz are revered in Hasidism, the Hasidim referring to Eybeschitz as "the Rebbe, Rabbi Jonathan," almost as if he were a Hasidic Rebbe before his time.

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Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.

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