Living Legacy: Rav Yonasan Eibschutz, zt”l
By: Yehuda Alter
Shabbos, 21 Elul, marks the yohrtzeit of Rav Yonasan Eibschutz, one of the greatest ge’onim in modern history, and author of Ya’aros Devash and Kreisi Upleisi.
He was born in the year 1690 to his father, Rav Nosson Nota, who was the rov of the city of Eibshitz, Czech Republic (in German, Eibenschütz). On both his father’s and mother’s side, he was descended from illustrious rabbonim.
At the young age of eighteen Rav Yonasan was appointed the rov of a city in Poland, and he would continue an illustrious career of Rabbonus in Eastern Europe for the next half-century. He would be known for his incredible genius in Torah, niglah and nistar. One of his talmidim attested that he was as great in nigleh as the Rambam, and as great in nistar, the hidden Torah, as the Arizal.
He also earned the deep respect of the governmental authorities and ministers as well as non-Jewish scholars and thinkers. He held many debates with them, defending his faith and the Jewish way of life, as he himself attested: “I would frequent the courts of these ministers and priests, the learned people of the Christian faith, to debate them on the truth of our Torah and a number of issues which they had. And I was like an advocate, shedding light on the words of our forbearers until they became clear as day. I found favor in their eyes, for they allowed me to print the Talmud Bavli (which had been forbidden).”
One example of such dialogue was when a priest once asked him, “It is said that the world stands upon the merit of Torah study, and yet, there are times that it is customary not to learn Torah. Thus, how does the world continue to stand?” Rav Yonasan answered cleverly, “Minhag Yisroel Torah, the customs of Yidden are themselves Torah, and so if it is the minhag not to learn, this is itself Torah, meriting the continuation of the world’s existence.”
He headed the famed yeshiva in Prague and served as a rov there, and he also served as the rov of a number of German and French cities.
Whenever his brethren were in trouble, Rav Yonasan always jumped into the fray, not being content with toiling in learning in peace. One example of this was the expulsion order of the Queen of Austria against the Jews of the country in the year 1745. He did not rest until he convinced the Queen to rescind this order.
At the time of his passing, he left behind ten brilliant works, on derush, kabbalah, and halacha, all of which are learned and cited to this day. He is interred in the Jewish cemetery of Altona-Hamburg, where he served as the rov for the last period of his life.