Monday, August 13, 2007

More on Rabbi Da Modena and gilgul - follow up on previous post

Yesterday, I came across a book in Hebrew entitled Or Hachayim, which is a listing of Rabbinical biographies organized in alphabetical order and written by one R’ Chaim (ben Yosef) Michel (1792-1846) . R’ Michel was a Habmburg-born wealthy merchant who spent his leisurely time -and beyond- authoring works of Jewish and scholarly interest. He was friendly -and often corresponded- with the Wissenschaft scholars of his day such as Zunz, Shir and Shadal.

In the bibliography for the entry 'Yehuda Aryeh Mimodena' [1] he lists the latter's seforim, among which is a work entitled Ben David against the popular belief in gilgul (the book is also mentioned in his seminal anti-kabbalistic work Ari Nohem). Under the entry Chayei Yehuda -the book in question- he writes, (translation mine):

And know that in the manuscript that I have before me, there is absolutely no mention of the story brought down by the Chida (pictured) in Shem Hagedolim about the sick infant who said 'Shema Yisrael'. It is also not found in the manuscript version of Rabbi Uri Chai Sarval. Therefore Yashar is certainly correct in his assertion that that particular manuscript which Chida saw, was undoubtedly written by on of his (Da Modena’s) disciples who was partial to belief in Kabballah and he added it to the manuscript to show that in his later days Da Modena recanted. [2]


[1]. in the margins, he points out that the proper way to write the name is ‘mimodena’ and not 'da modena', as the Rabbi himself wrote “I sign my name Leone Modena Da Venezia and not Da Modena”, See Graetz, B.X.S. 141 (p. 439 (אור החיים, הוצאת מוסד הרב קוק, תשכ"ה

[2]. Ibid, p. 443

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Did Rabbi Da Modena believe in gilgul?

The Jewish belief in gilgul (literally, reincarnation of the soul) is one fraught with controversy. While it has since become accepted as a basic tenet of Orthodox Judaism, such was not always the case. Among the more famous opponents of this belief is the famed Rabbi Saadiah Gaon, [1] Rabbi Hasdai Crescas and Rabbi Shalom Strashun (Rashash) [2]. R' Saadiah assailed it strongly and claimed it originated from eastern paganism. A lesser famous but equally fierce opponent of gilgul was -one of my favorite Jewish historical figures- Rabbi Leone Da Modena (see my previous posts on him here and here ). However, there is an interesting twist to this. In the book Shem Hagedolim of Rabbi Chayyim Yosef David Azulai (known as the CHIDA) under the entry of Rabbi Yehuda Arye Mimodena, he relates an strange and interesting story. The Chida (pictured) writes (translation mine):

I have seen the latter’s autobiography, 'Chayei Yehuda' (The Life of Judah) in manuscript where he writes that everything he endured in his life was for the best. The Rabbi writes that in his early days he did not believe in Gilgul, then something occurred which made him change his beliefs. His (Da Modena's) neighbor gave birth to a son and within a month the infant took violently ill. When the child reached six months, it was clearly apparent that he at death's door, so the neighbor called him (Da-Modena) to the infant’s bedside to recite Psalms and read from the Torah -as was the custom in Italy at the time. As he was reciting some verses, the child opened his eyes wide and shouted “Shema Yisrael” and his soul left his body. Henceforth, the Rabbi changed his view on gilgul, for his own eyes saw a six month old sickly infant recite the words of the shema like an adult! [3].

This story seems quite strange, not to mention very uncharachteristic of R' Da Modena for obvious reasons. I have read the English translation of Da Modena's fascinating autobiography and I do not recall coming across this story anywhere (though I still have not had the opportunity to read the original Hebrew version). Furthermore, I find it interesting that R' Azulai -the great Kabbalist and proponent of Hassidim- lists him in his Gedolim compendium and refers to him with honorific terms, considering R' Da Modena's radical views regarding Kabballah and Zohar which -as far as we know- he never deviated from.


See his Ha-Emunot V'Deyot 6:3

[2]. See here page 11 for interesting biographical informantion.

[3].שם הגדולים, עג

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The ten lost tribes are still lost (Part 3) ; the Jewish cannibals of Polynesia

See Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

The noted British researcher Tudor Parfitt in his The lost tribes of Israel; History of a myth, writes about the Maori tribes of New Zealand who fought against the British. One of their leaders Te Ua Horoparera Haumene founded the Pai Marire movement. Pai Marire religion was a strange hybrid of Maori and Judeo/Christian culture. Undoubetedly influenced by their encounter with Christianity and often encouraged by British Missionaries, many of the Aborigines believed themselves to be desendants of the lost tribes of Israel. The aforementioned Haumene began to see himself as a Prophet and saviour akin to the Prophet Moses sent by God to liberate his people; the Jews, he subsequently went under the name Te Ua Jew Ua.

Richard Taylor in Te Ika a Maui, or New Zealand and its inhabitants (1855) wrote:

The many points of resemblance in feature, general customs and manners may enable us to discover in the widely spread Polynesian race, a remnant of the long-lost tribes of Israel.

The fascinating segment in Parfitt's book that really caught my attention is a hair raising tale involving a Jewish sea captain from NJ, Christian clerics and a group of Maori Cannibals:

The Hau Hau's sense of Jewish solidarity led them to spare any Jews they came across in the settler towns they captured. In March 1781, Eclipse berthed in Opitiki, on the north-east coast of the North Island. Some of the passengers including the Reverends, Carl Volkner and T. S. Grace were captured by the Hau Hau under the command of their arch-priest Kereopa. The owner and captain of the Eclipse was a Jersey-born Jew, Captain M. Levy (1821-1901). Both he and his brother, as Jews and thus 'akin to the Hau-Hau' were freed. On 2,March 1864, however, Volkner was taken into the local Church of St. Stephens, stripped of his clothes and allowed to pray in front of the altar before being hanged. An hour later he was decapitated and the Hau Hau allegedly crowded around the altar to drink his blood from the communion cup while Kereopa recited the prayer 'Hear O' Israel , this is the word of God, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We are the Jews who were lost and have been persecuted!' Kereopa then gouged out Volkner's eyes and gave orders that his head be smoke cured. [1] [2]


[1] Parfitt, Tudor. The lost tribes of Israel; History of a myth. Phoenix Press, 2003 pp. 151-152.

[2] The account may have been exaggerated for effect. It is possible that anti-semitism played a not minor role in the description of the Maori and their identification with Jews. The Anglican clergyman Samuel Mardsen did a comparative study of ancient Israelite and Maori culture and arrived at the conclusion that the latter originates from the former. Parfitt writes: even cannibalism was evoked -on the grounds that Jesus had told the Jews 'he that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him' (See Ibid, p. 148).

Labels: , , , ,

free counters