Menu

Sunday, 12 March 2017

118) 'CHEMDAT YAMIM' - THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL BOOK EVER?

SHABBATAI TZVI - ROOTS RUN DEEP -  PART 2:

First edition of Chemdat Yamim, Izmir (Istanbul) 1732

[The reader is urged to read the previous post to get an idea of the effect the false messiah - Shabbatai Tzvi - had on the Jewish world in the aftermath of 1666.]

I thank Rabbi Daniel Glatstein most sincerely, for sharing his brilliant research on Chemdat Yamim with me. I am indebted to him for allowing me to make use of his work and particularly his source material. 

INTRODUCTION:

The mystical work known as Chemdat Yamim[1] (dealing largely with Shabbat and festival practices) was first published in 1732.

The author, however, did not record his identity.

Ever since then, for almost three hundred years, the rabbinic world has been fiercely divided over its authorship, authority and acceptability. Views range from praising it to the extent that one could never reach any meaningful levels of spirituality without it – to condemning it as falsehood and idolatry.

We are going to explore exactly what it was about this little book that managed to create such a storm.

AUTHORSHIP:

A set of Chemdat Yamim available today for $53.99

Chemdat Yamim was published fifty-five years after the death of Shabbetai Tzvi. Like so many other books of that era, there were strong suspicions that it may have been authored by one of the many secret Sabbateans who were surreptitiously trying to infuse rabbinic literature with their residual messianism.

Some suspected the anonymous author to have been Natan haAzati (Nathan of Gaza, the ‘prophet’ who proclaimed Sabbatai Tzvi to be ‘Mashiach’.) An Amsterdam publication of Chemdat Yamim actually flaunted a drawing of Natan haAzati, as well as a poem with the acrostic Ani Binyamin Natan ben Elisha Chaim.[2]

From: Harav Yehonatan Eybeschutz, by R. Yekutiel Greenwald, p. 17.

The book is said to contain numerous allusions to ‘the Messiah’ through hints and secret codes, often with numerology approximating 814 - which represents Shabbatai Tzvi[3]. It allegedly does so by using unnecessary quotation marks as illustrated below. (For similar examples see previous post.):

From: Harav Yehonatan Eybeschutz, by R. Yekutiel Greenwald, p. 17.
On the other hand, others believe the author to have simply been a great anonymous kabbalist who was too humble to attach his name to the work.

PRACTICES:

Many are unaware just how much of our common practices today, are to a large extent, taken from Chemdat Yamim. Sometimes these practices were known before and were simply publicised and encouraged by the book. Other times these practices appear to have been original innovations.

These include:

1) ‘LE DAVID HASHEM’:

-The widespread custom of reciting the Psalm LeDavid haShem Ori during the prayers (from the beginning of the month of Ellul until the end of the festive period.)[4]

2) THE ‘TU BISHVAT SEDER’:

-The custom of celebrating Tu Bishvat the way many do today with a special Seder for eating fruits.[5]


In Chemdat Yamim it states: “It is a good custom to have many fruits on this day...as I instituted amongst my colleagues...and although it is not found in the writings of the Rav (Ari Zal), in my view it is a good rectification both in the nigleh (revealed) and nistar (hidden worlds).”[6]

3) COUNTING THE ‘OMER’ AFTER THE SEDER:

-The custom (of some Chassidim) to count the first day of the Omer only after the Pesach Seder and Haggadah have been completed.[7]

4) ‘KE GAVNA’ INSERTION:

-The custom, as included in many siddurim today, to recite the ‘Ke Gavna’ (passages from the Zohar) on Friday evenings after Lecha Dodi.

5) ‘RIBBONO SHEL OLAM’ PRAYER:

-The custom to recite the Ribbono Shel Olam on Yom Tov when the Torah is taken out. The verse ‘venacha alav ruach haShem (may G-d’s spirit rest on him)’ is said to have been a reference to Shabbetai Tzvi.

6) TASHLICH PRAYER:

-Some aspects of the Tashlich ceremony on Rosh Hashana are also attributed to Chemdat Yamim.[8]

WHERE IS TISHA BE’AV?

Other than a cursory remark here and there, there is surprisingly no mention of the Three Weeks and Tisha beAv in Chemdat Yamim - a book specifically written for the festivals! For those who have studied Sabbatean history, this omission is very significant, as one of the first things Shabbatai Tzvi did was to abolish Tisha beAv. This was because he claimed he was the Messiah and there was no longer a need to mourn the destruction of the Temple.

Furthermore, in kabbalistic literature, each of the 365 negative commandments of the Torah corresponds to a different day of the year. Accordingly, the date of Tisha beAv corresponds to the prohibition of eating the hind-quarter. Shabbatai Tzvi also made the point of specifically breaking this commandment and eating the hind-quarter.

SUPPORTERS AND DETRACTORS:

CHIDA (1724-1806):

One of the most ardent supporters of Chemdat Yamim was the great kabbalist known as the Chida, R. Chaim Yosef David Azulai.

The stamp of the father of the Chida - Rabbi Yitzchak Zerachya Azulai - in the first edition of Chemdat Yamim, 1732.

The first edition of Chemdat Yamim was published by R. Yaakov Algazi who was also known as a great scholar. It is no coincidence that he was a friend of the Chida. This connection with the Chida gave the anonymous new work much of its credibility.

R. YONATAN EYBESCHUTZ (1690-1764):

Another supporter of Chemdat Yamim was R. Yonatan Eybeschutz, the Chief Rabbi of Prague, who wrote an approbation to the book. R. Yitzchak Cohen, known for his work the Batei Kehuna, also gave his approbation.

R. OVADIA YOSEF:

In more recent times, Iraqi-born R. Ovadia Yosef, the Sefardic Chief Rabbi from 1973 to 1983, also gave his approbation to a new edition of Chemdat Yamim and referred to the work as a ‘sefer kadosh or holy book’.


He writes: “All who read this book...will be inspired and the fear of Heaven will be upon them, and it will have an effect on his body and soul...it has been checked and confirmed that all the words are true and correct...

R. YEHUDA FATAYA (1859-1942):

R. Yehudah Fataya, a Baghdadi kabbalist, was opposed to the book. He tells about a dream he had where Nathan of Gaza (whom he considered having been the author of Chemdat Yamim) tried to persuade him to join the followers of Shabbatai Tzvi. 

In response, R. Fataya apparently did ‘rectifications’ to ‘heal’ the soul of Nathan of Gaza, because although he did not agree with him, he believed him to have been a great scholar. R. Fataya claimed he suffered for a whole year as a result of trying to help Nathan of Gaza.

(When it was pointed out to R. Ovadiah Yosef that R. Fataya didn’t agree with the Chemdat Yamim, he retorted that ‘we do not pay attention to dreams’.)

R. YAAKOV EMDEN (1697-1776):

One of the most ardent detractors of the Sabbateans in general and Chemdat Yamim in particular, was R. Yaakov Emden. He said about it: “Every line is heresy ...and makes reference to that abominable dog Shabbetai Tzvi.” 

Torat haKenaot p. 144.

R. Yaakov Emden also did not believe that the Zohar was written by R. Shimon bar Yochai, and claimed it to be a forgery. See KOTZK BLOG 87.

The Chida tried to explain why, in his view, R. Emden was so against the Chemdat Yamim and the Zohar. He said it was because R. Emden was so angry with the Sabbateans, and the influence they were having on the Jewish community, that he challenged anything that even remotely resembled unbridled mysticism. For this reason, claimed the Chida, R. Emden was well-intended but mistaken.[9]

R. CHAIM FALAJI (1788-1868):

Burial place of haChacham Chaim Falaji in Izmir Turkey.

As much as R. Yaakov Emden detracted from Chemdat Yamim, the Turkish Chief Rabbi of Izmir, R. Chaim Falaji was its ardent defender. This work was widely disseminated and studied in Turkey. He claimed that the anonymous author simply quoted from earlier sources and that his ideas were considered part of normative kabbalah.

R. Chaim Falaji loved the book so much that he told of how he remembered his grandfather, the Chikrei Lev, studying from Chemdat Yamim and remarking that he only began to experience spirituality once he opened that book.

R. Chaim Falaji went even further by saying that it is impossible for anyone to experience the holiness of Shabbat unless they read the Chemdat Yamim.

Then he makes the most astounding admission: R. Chaim Falaji says that even if one believes that the anonymous author was Nathan of Gaza, it makes no difference, because even R. Meir studied from Acher, and R. Akiva believed Bar Kochba was the Messiah. And that didn’t detract from either of them.

From: Harav Yehonatan Eybeschutz, by R. Yekutiel Greenwald, p. 15.

Then he makes another admission by telling the story of R. Shabbatai Ventura of Sofia:[10] R. Ventura was once passing through Skoplje, Macedonia, where Nathan of Gaza is buried, and with a gesture of his hand showed disrespect to the grave. His hand became ‘paralysed’ until he returned to the grave to ask for forgiveness. 

Yet even after attaining forgiveness, years later, his son R. Avraham Ventura also happened to pass the grave and died on the spot. He was buried next to Nathan of Gaza. (The Tombs were destroyed during the Second World War.)

Surprisingly, this albeit fantastical story illustrates the awe and esteem in which Nathan of Gaza was held by R. Chaim Falaji.

R. Chaim Falaji further admits, very tellingly, that “we have a kabbalah, or tradition, that we don’t talk about Shabbatai Tzvi.”

R. Chaim Falaji also explains why the Chida, the great supporter of the Chemdat Yamim, strangely, never quoted the book in his writing[11]. It was because, in his view, the Chida was a gilgul or reincarnation of Nathan of Gaza, the author of the Chemdat Yamim!

BAAL SHEM TOV (1700-1760):

Shivchey haBesht[12] records two stories which indicate how opposed the Baal Shem Tov was to the Chemdat Yamim:


The Baal Shem Tov predicted that a work would soon to be published, which would be written by a follower of Shabbatai Tzvi and which would contain matters of idolatry. Some time later he entered the home of one of his students and said that something ‘unclean’ was in the house. When he saw the book Chemdat Yamim, he wrapped it in paper and put in on the floor.


Another story records how the Baal Shem Tov had a dream where one of his students converted out of the faith. The next day he called them all together and asked each student to tell him what they had done recently. One admitted to having fallen asleep the previous night while studying. When asked what book he had been studying, it turned out to be the Chemdat Yamim.

Again, these are fanciful stories but they nevertheless illustrate the utter contempt which the Baal Shem Tov had towards the Chemdat Yamim.

THE REBBES:

The Belzer Rabbi, Elazar Rokeach,[13] who travelled from Amsterdam to Safed, is said to have passed away because he was so grieved that people were studying the Chemdat Yamim.

R. Chaim of Sanz refused to say the psalm ‘leDavid’, during Ellul because he said the custom originated from the Chemdat Yamim.

The list of Chassidic Rebbes who rejected the authenticity of the Chemdat Yamim includes: The Chozeh of Lublin, the Yid haKodesh, R. Tzvi Hirsch of Zidichov (who incidentally was known as the Sar Beit haZohar and who taught kabbalah to the Malbim) and the Ropschitzer. None of these Rebbes said ‘leDavid’ because they said the custom came from the Chemdat Yamim!

THE LITHUANIAN SCHOOLS:

In one of the strangest of ironies, the reaction from much of the Chassidic world was negative towards the Chemdat Yamim (although it was a mystical work) – whereas many of the Lithuanian rabbis were supportive of the book.

These include the Chatam Sofer, who quotes from Chemdat Yamim:

Chatam Sofer al haTorahVayera, p. 83.

And the Pri Megadim who also quotes from the Chemdat Yamim:

Tevat Gome, Parshat Yitro.

Even the flagship Mussar work, Yesod veShoresh haAvodah refers to the Chemdat Yamim as the greatest Mussar work ever written!

Yesod veShoresh haAvodah, p.202.

The Chaye Adam, representing to a large extent the teaching of the Vilna Gaon, also refers his readers to the Chemdat Yamim:



ANALYSIS:

The entanglement over the authenticity, or lack thereof, concerning Chemdat Yamim is ongoing to this very day. The following are some distinct contemporary positions that have been taken on the issue:

CHEMDAT YAMIM IS NOT SABBATEAN:

There are still those who claim with absolute certainty that the work is not at all Sabbatean:

“(Moshe) Fogel proves unequivocally that nothing in this anonymously authored work even alludes to belief in Shabbetai Zevi….
Hemdat Yamim, Fogel maintains, carries no message of Sabbatian Kabbala, does not challenge the traditional image of God, does not adopt a new halakhic system, and, above all, fails to express the pronouncedly Sabbatian claim that the era of exile has ended and the messianic one begun. Fogel writes: ‘Hemdat Yamim adheres to the traditional Halakha and traditional kabbalistic theosophy. It takes no liberties to change anything; rather, its purpose is to amplify the conventional wisdom of generations…’.”[14]

IT IS SABBATEAN:

Then some acknowledge that:

“...it should be stressed that in some circles in East Central Europe, there was a rather benign attitude to the failed Sabbatean movement and its teachings. The popularity of Hemdat yamim is only one indication of this.”[15] This shows that some were very aware of the dubious origins of Chemdat Yamim, but it didn’t appear to bother them to any real extent.

IT MAY BE SABBATEAN:

A ‘question and answer’ section, in response to a question about Chemdat Yamim (and its extract, Pri Eitz Chaim) on a contemporary Yeshiva website suggests:

If you are in a Yeshiva, then you should consult your Rabbi as what to do. If you are unsure you may refrain from using these books without vilifying them.”[16]

EVEN IF IT IS SABBATEAN, IT CAN BE ‘SWEETENED’:

 Writing in general about the Sabbatean influence, R. Nachman of Breslov said: 

Sabbatai Tzvi - cursed be his name - led astray a number of the greatest men of the generation and outstanding scholars . . . they left the fold and spoke evil regarding the Oral Law . . . but when a Tsadik sweetens their words, he transforms their sayings back into Torah.

CLOSING THOUGHT:

One cannot help making the observation that, aside from those who absolutely endorse the traditional authenticity of the book, there are many who acknowledge its Sabbatean origins - yet have quite openly turned a blind eye to that.

This ‘accommodation’, however, would never be tolerated in any circles, if a hypothetical work written by a great man intended to alter halacha in any form.
Somehow, it is only in matters of a ‘messianic’ nature, that such forbearance is so apparent.
What is it that allows for such expediency only under such circumstances?

-In the final analysis:

From the stamp of the Chida’s father in the first publication of Chemdat Yamim in 1731, to a picture (and acrostic) of Nathan of Gaza in another early edition - whichever view one chooses to take on the Chemdat Yamim issue, one thing is certain – it must be one of the most controversial seforim, ever!


[1] Not to be confused with Midrash Chemdat Yamim, by Yemenite Kabbalist and poet R. Ahalo Shabazi (1619-1720).
[2] See Jewish Thought and Beyond, by R. Rafael Salber. August 15 2010.
[3] Some have shown that 814 was a mystical number of earlier origin.
[4] There is no mention of the custom to recite this Psalm during Ellul, in the Gemora, Rishonim or even the Shulchan Aruch. There is much controversy surrounding the origins of this custom. Many attribute the custom to Chemdat Yamim although there is a slightly earlier source to be found in Sefer Shem Tov Kattan (by the kabbalist R. Binyamin Beinish Cohen, known also as Amtachat Binyamin) published in 1706.

There is also, possibly, another slightly earlier source, dating a few years earlier, by the kabbalist R. Eliyahu Baal Shem. (There were two with the same name: One from Chelm, who was a student of the Mahalral. The other was R. Eliyah Luentz, the Aderet Eliyahu. Both are said to have created Golems). Either way, Eliyah Baal Shem saved the Jews of a certain town by promising the mayor a child. He, according to the Baal Shem Tov (1700-1760) was the originator of this custom in the late 1600’s. See Nezer haKodesh - Minhagai beit Ropschitz.
Notwithstanding these two slightly earlier references, one may still be able to argue that in practice the custom was taken from the more popular book Chemdat Yamim (as opposed to the less known Sefer Shem Tov Katan and Nezer haKodesh which dealt with customs of Ropschitz).

Some attempt to resolve the controversy by suggesting that although the custom was mentioned earlier on, the Chemdat Yamim was the first to introduce it into the official prayer service, instead of just a private practice. (Others challenge that by saying that Chemdat Yamim did not claim to institute the custom in the official prayers as the author only said LeDavid during Slichot.)

As an aside, the Vilna Gaon didn’t recite LeDavid for the simple reason that he didn’t want to bother the community (tircha de’tziburah) with extra prayers (See Maaseh Rav).
[5]See Vol. 2, Shovevim Ch. 3, p. 108-110. The lengthy section of Chemdat Yamim which deals with Tu Bishvat was reprinted as a separate work called Pri Eitz Hadar.
Although the date was already mentioned in Mishnaic times as the New Year for Trees, most of the early customs involved the ‘negative’, such as refraining from fasting and not reciting Tachanun. The custom to turn the day into a festival by eating fruits, is first mentioned by R. Issachar ibn Susan (1510-1580) in his Ibur Shanim, where he mentions: “the custom of Ashkenazim is to eat fruits on this day.”
Furthermore, the Cairo Geniza has special piyutim (hymns) dating back to the times of Gaonim (589-1038) which were recited on Tu Bishvat during the Shemona Esrei, which show a spiritual dimension to the day.
- Again, Chemdat Yamim elaborated on this and turned the informal custom into a popular and formalized Seder.


[6] Chemdat Yamim, p. 523.
[7] The counting of the first day of the Omer usually takes place during the Evening prayers on the second night of Pesach. Some have the custom to only count at the end of the Seder.
[8] I am unable to find any textual references to exactly what the innovation of Chemdat Yamim was in this regard.
[9] To add even more intrigue, it has been suggested that R. Yaakov Emden may have subtly hinted that Shabbatai Tzvi converted to Islam only after the Sultan’s personal physician, Guidon (who was also a Jewish convert to Islam) convinced him to convert, in order to save the lives of all the Jews of Turkey, who would otherwise have been threatened. See: The Essential Hayim Greenberg: Essays and addresses on Jewish Culture, p. 79.
[10] See Kol haChaim by R. Chaim Falaji, p.17.
[11] Apparently the Chida actually does quote the Chemdat Yamim in at least two places, but this doesn’t take away from the tenor of his remarks.
[12] Some (particularly in Chabad circles) question the authenticity of Shivchey haBesht.
[13] He was the father of R. Shalom of Belz.
[14]See; The Gaon of Vilna and His Messianic Vision, by Arie Morgenstern, pp 77-78.    

[15]See; Jews in Poland-Lithuania in the Eighteenth Century:  A Genealogy of Modernity, by Gershon David Hundert.
[16] See; Yeshiva – The Torah World Gateway, TuBishvat Seder Controversy.

No comments:

Post a Comment