I think we’re probably going to get up to part 99 of this saga, the way things are going…

You know, I love a good mystery, and I love the ‘thrill’ of figuring things out. But I have to say, that even I am starting to be overwhelmed by all the twists and turns in the tangled web of ‘Jewish genealogy’ I’m caught up in the moment.

If you haven’t been paying attention, I’m trying to figure out a few things, not least:

  1. How exactly the Vilna Gaon and the Alter Rebbe are connected.

I know they are close family members – brothers, cousins, maybe even father and son, but I haven’t pinned it down exactly yet.

2. Why there are so many deliberate lies and distortions going on around the family trees of Yonatan Eybshutz, the Vilna Gaon, the Alter Rebbe and Jacob Frank (amongst many others…)

As I’ve mentioned, there are a few ‘gatekeepers’ on the geni.com website who keep popping up again and again and again, when I input certain family names.

Whenever I’m pursuing an interesting avenue, all the leads suddenly dry up, and it’s as though these people sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus.

No parents, no siblings, no other children…. always at those intersections where I would start to see how one group, one specific family, might link to another.

But Hashem is sending me more and more leads all the time, and BH, even with all the lies being told, we’re going to figure this out.

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3. How is it, that so many of the ‘leading lights’ surrounding the Vilna Gaon apparently had double identities as the leaders of the haskalah movement?

Let’s give a concrete example.

If you go HERE, you’ll find the following information about ‘Rabbi Yehoshua Zeitlin’, a leading figure in the community of Shklov and the surrounding areas (I’ve screenshotted all of this, to make sure it doesn’t disappear…)

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According to this rosy write up, Rav Yehoshua Zeitlin was a gaon, and a talmid of the Vilna Gaon and Rav Aryeh Leib Ginsburg, the Sha’agas Aryeh.

He was also wealthy – we’re told by this write up, from hamodia.com – and ‘supported many talmidim from his own pocket’.

Now it lists three of his ‘many talmidim’:

  1. Rabbi Menachem Leffin
  2. Rav Binyamin Rivlin
  3. Rav Boruch of Shklov

Here’s where it gets really interesting.

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When I went to look up ‘Rabbi Yehoshua Zeitlin’ (1742-1822, born in Kherson) – this is what I discovered.

He was a Baron – Joshua Von Zeitlin – and the main supplier for Potemkin’s Russian armies, during the Turkish-Russian wars that began in 1768. Count Potemkin was a favorite of the Russian Empress Catherine the Great. You can read more about Potemkin HERE.

Here’s what the translation from an article in alef magazine (now mysteriously taken off line…) said about Baron Joshua Von Zeitlin:

“Yehoshua Zeitlin (1742–1822) is a personality not yet fully appreciated by historians. Meanwhile, he was the first prominent Jewish figure in Russia to combine deep rabbinical scholarship with a passionate desire to familiarize his fellow tribesmen with Russian public life. A prominent Hebraist and subtle interpreter of the Talmud, he at the same time highly appreciated Russian culture.

Yehoshua was a native of Shklov and came from a well-known and noble Jewish family…”

There’s more. Let’s continue. Another one of Catherine the Great’s boyfriends, Count Semyon Gavrilovich Zorich (1745-1799) is ‘retired’ to Shklov in 1777, where he soon creates a court to rival that of St Petersburg. Semyon has bad middot (to put it mildly…) and creates a very loose, immoral atmosphere in Shklov.

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Somehow or other, Rabbi Yehoshua Zeitlin and his brother become Semyon’s main helpers and advisors:

Yehoshua (together with his brother, who was sent by Zorich to Riga to buy antiques and “soft junk” there at a reasonable price) becomes his assistant. It is not known what exactly the Count’s assignments were carried out by Zeitlin, but there is evidence that in the 1770s and 1780s he often visited Berlin on the instructions of this tyrant.

Fortunately, from such voyages, our hero [i.e. Joshua Zeitlin] received not only commercial benefits, but also abundant food for the mind.

He became close to the leaders of the Berlin Haskala and became a frequent visitor to the house of the founder of Jewish enlightenment, “Jewish Socrates” Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1789). Friendship ties tied him with such prominent Maskilim as the Chief Rabbi of Berlin, Hirsch Lebel (1721-1800); the outstanding linguist and exegete Naftali-Hertz Wesseli (1725-1805); the herald of reformism in Judaism, David Friedlander (1750–1834), and others. (Emphasis mine.)

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Before I continue, let’s just recap what we’ve discovered.

On the one hand, ‘Rabbi Yehoshua Zeitlin’ is being lauded as a gaon and a tzaddik, author of the Amudei Gola sefer in the pages of Hamodia.

And on the other, we discover that he’s a leading proponent of ‘haskalah’ in Eastern Europe, and is hanging out with Moses Mendelssohn and others who were men known for pushing the ‘enlightened’ and ‘reform’ agenda.

What in the world is going on?

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So now, I wanted to find a screenshot of Baron Joshua Zeitlin’s sefer, the Amudei Gola, and God sent me another mystery.

First, here’s the screenshot of the book, from here:

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Sit down for this next bit.

The two people who gave Joshua Zeitlin’s book an approbation are R’Chanoch Henich Shick of Shklov – and the Baal HaTanya, Rav Shnuer Zalman Baruchovitch of Liadi.

Apparently, the auction house tells us that: ‘This is one of the few approbations of the Baal HaTanya that has seen print.’

So now, you tell me how it is that ‘Rabbi Yehoshua Zeitlin’s’ book has got an approbation from the Alter Rebbe, when he is described as being a close student of the Vilna Gaon.

And while you’re at it, please also tell me why one of the ‘few approbations’ of the Alter Rebbe should be found in a book written by a man who was a leading maskil.

And also, why Joshua Zeitlin is listed as the father in law of ‘Reb Alexander Sender’ – apparently one of the Alter Rebbe’s favorite talmidim:

Alexander Sender of Shklov was an outstanding chassid of the First Chabad Rebbe, a generous businessman of exemplary piety. When he passed away, the Alter Rebbe paid a condolence call to his father and testified that he had seen his soul “in exceptionally bright, shining garments” (Beis Rebbe). His grandson, Aharon, was the father of the fourth Rebbe’s wife, Rivka.

In fact, he was SO beloved by the Alter Rebbe that the 6th Rebbe, the Rayatz, wrote a whole chapter about him in his work ‘Her Husband’s Crown’, which you can read for yourself HERE.

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Hey, even more interesting!

That link that I had in the comments section on this post: https://rivkalevy.com/curiouser-and-curiouser/, linking to this: http://www.sichos-in-english.org/books/sefer-hatoldos-admur-maharash/15.htm – has now disappeared.

It seems Chabad have now taken the book offline.

(I downloaded it all anyway, because I had a feeling something like that might happen.)

But hey Chabad, what do you have to hide?

Why remove the sichot of the Rayatz, describing his ancestor’s family tree, and particularly his links to his follower, ‘Reb Alexander Sender‘, and the story of Rebbetzin Lea Golde Broda, mother of the 4th Rebbe?

(Honestly, I’m starting to have a theory about that, but let’s continue.)

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Let’s go back.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about ‘Baron Joshua Zeitlin’:

Joshua Zeitlin (1742 in ShklovBelarus – August 18, 1822, in KhersonNovorossiya) was a Russian rabbinical scholar and philanthropist. He was a pupil of the Talmudist Rabbi Aryeh Leib ben Asher Gunzberg who was the author of Sha’agat Aryeh; and, being an expert in political economy, he maintained close relations with Prince Potemkin, the favorite of Catherine II. During the Turko-Russian war, Zeitlin furnished the Russian army with various supplies, and managed that business so cleverly that he was afterward appointed imperial court councilor.

On retiring from business in the civil rank of Court Counsellor, Zeitlin resided on his estate Ustzia, where he was occasionally consulted by rabbis with regard to rabbinical questions. He rendered pecuniary assistance to many Talmudists and scholars, and supported a magnificent beit midrash, in which many Jewish scholars were provided with all of life’s necessities, so that they could pursue their vocations without worries of any kind.

Among the scholars who benefited from his generosity were: Rabbi Nahum, author of Tosafot BikkurimMendel Lepin, author of Cheshbon ha-Nefesh; and the physician Baruch Schick

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Mendel Lepin = ‘Rabbi Menachem Leffin’ (1749-1826)

(He may well also be the same ‘Menachem Mendel Levin’ who authored a sefer called ‘Cheshbon HaNefesh’.)

Here’s what we learn about ‘Mendel Lepin / Lefin / Levin’ from the Jewish encyclopaedia:

LEVIN (LEFIN), MENAHEM MENDEL (1749–1826), early Haskalah author, translator, and educator. Born in Satanov, Podolia, he had a traditional Jewish education but also studied sciences, mathematics, and medieval philosophy in his youth.

From 1780 to 1783/84 Levin lived in Berlin, where he met Moses *Mendelssohn, through whom he established contact with the leaders of the Haskalah. …

Levin taught mathematics and philosophy to Czartoryski’s children, which was rare at that time, and dedicated his unpublished philosophical treatise, “Aus dem Nachlass eines Sonderlings zu Abdera,” to Czartoryski’s wife. When the great Sejm met in Warsaw (1788–92), Levin participated in discussions on contemporary problems.

Toward the end of the 18th century, he resided in Ustye and in St. Petersburg in the home of the wealthy philanthropist J. *Zeitlin, serving as tutor to his grandson. After 1808 he lived in Brody and Tarnopol, where his influence on the maskilim in Galicia, notably N. *Krochmal and J. *Perl, was so considerable that he is regarded as the father of the Galician Haskalah.

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Isn’t that shocking?

Yet again, we see that the people being lauded as the main disciples of the Vilna Gaon are one and the same as the people mamash leading the haskalah in Europe.

What on earth is going on here?

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I’m still  looking into ‘Boruch of Shklov’ and ‘Rabbi Binyamin Rivlin’, (amongst other things) so expect this series of ‘curiouser and curioser’ to continue for some time.

But there are some very serious questions bobbing up here about who exactly the Vilna Gaon really was, who his students really were – and what they really stood for – and how the Alter Rebbe and Chabad chassidut connects into this whole hot mess.

TBC

(Unless someone in 770 decides to try and take my blog out of action again 😉

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UPDATE:

Here’s what I found about Baruch Schick of Shklov:

He was another radical maskil, and another ‘student’ of the Vilna Gaon. And he’s connected to the Rabbi Chanoch Henich Shick of Shklov who gave approbations for that sefer, above, together with the Ba’al HaTanya:

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SCHICK, BARUCH BEN JACOB (also known as Baruch Shklover , from the name of his birthplace, Shklov; 1740?–after 1812), rabbi, physician, and one of the pioneers of *Haskalah of Eastern Europe.

Schick was ordained as a rabbi in 1764 and subsequently served as dayyan in Minsk. In his youth he was already attracted to the Haskalah and general knowledge. His first scholarly work and his other works were lost in a conflagration. He traveled to London to study medicine and there joined the Freemasons. After qualifying as a doctor he moved to Berlin, where he became acquainted with the maskilim of the town, including Moses *Mendelssohn and Naphtali Herz *Wessely.

In 1778, on his way back to Minsk, he visited Vilna and was in the group associated with Elijah b. Solomon (the Gaon of Vilna), in whose name he published a statement on the need for scientific knowledge for an understanding of the Torah…. He stated that the Gaon of Vilna advised him to translate scientific works into Hebrew in order to make their contents available to Jews….

After some time he settled in Shklov, and there he belonged to the maskilim whose needs were supplied by the wealthy Joshua *Zeitlin of Ustye near Shklov….

Schick devoted his energies to arousing his fellow Jews to the need for studying the arts and sciences. He regarded the neglect of the sciences as caused by the exile. He repeated the accusations of his predecessor, Israel Moses ha-Levi *Zamoscz, against the fanatical rabbis and leaders who persecuted and condemned the maskilim. To restore science to its former place of honor, he pleaded for a revival of Hebrew, in which scientific works intended for his people should be written.”

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UPDATE #2:

The link to the Chabad writings is working again. Baruch Hashem.

UPDATE #3:

Here’s a screenshot mentioned by Aliza, below, in the comments section, that comes from this book:

The Secret Doctrine of the Gaon of Vilna Volume II: The Josephic Messiah, Leviathan, Metatron and the Sacred Serpent

From what I remember from the comments of Netanel Simcha, who mentioned that ‘Metatron’ is the reason Acher turned into an anti-Torah heretic, it seems that this angel is back in the picture here, too.

The book is written by the descendant of the Vilna Gaon’s brother, R Avraham Ragoler, and sets out the Vilna Gaon’s ‘kabbalah’ connected to geula and moshiach.

You’ll notice that the Gaon apparently refers to HIMSELF as Moshiach ben Yosef….

Which is interesting, hey?

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6 replies
    • Rivka Levy
      Rivka Levy says:

      Wow, Aliza, not sure where you dug that up from but it’s really interesting. And what is even more interesting is the ‘bio’ of it’s author, Joel Bakst, who says he’s a descendant of the Vilna Gaon’s brother, Avrahom Ragoler: http://www.cityofluz.com/about-joel-bakst-city-of-luz/

      “Raised in a Southern California Conservative Jewish home, Joel became a ba’al teshuva (newly religious) at the age of 20 bringing full circle his lineage from a long line of rabbis. Both his grandfather and uncle were Orthodox rabbis, his great grandfather was chief rabbi of St. Louis, MO and his great, great grandparents made aliya to Eretz Yisrael and are buried on the Mount of Olives. He is the 8th generation of Rabbi Avraham Ragoler of Skhlov, the brother of Rabbi Eliyahu, the famed Gaon of Vilna, whose unique teachings and School of Kabbalah, have been a focus of Joel’s esoteric studies….

      “Concurrent with his traditional yeshiva training, Joel had also taken a deep interest in the Torah’s interface with world religions and Noahide movement. He has done extensive research into the Talmudic, Midrashic and medieval rabbinical sources concerning Noachides, Christianity and the “Seventy Nations”.

      “This investigation includes many obscure and little known Kabbalistic teachings about Yeshu HaNotzri (Jesus of Nazareth) , the role of Christianity and Islam as well as the role of Oriental religions in our “Final Generation” – the present period on the cusp of entering into the Messianic Era. “In the Torah world it has always been known that the non-Jew can best access his true essence and mission from an authentic Jewish perspective. As we are currently accelerating toward the Edge of Time the Torah and her ancient sages are beginning to reveal that a key to the mystery of Jewish existence is also to be found in the eternal mystery of Philo-Semites and especially within the growing movement of Noahides”.

      Man, if this plot gets any thicker, it’s going to become the most dense object in the universe.

      Reply
      • alizah
        alizah says:

        bs”d Yes, interesting. These two volumes of “the secret doctrine” have been sitting in our house pretty much unread for over ten years. My husband found it somewhere and was very excited, and at the time it scared me. Reading it now, my reaction is yes, of course!

        Reply
        • Rivka Levy
          Rivka Levy says:

          So interesting – in this ‘quote’ based on Hillel of Shklov / Kol Ha Tor, it says that the Gaon viewed himself (and anyone else involved in the process of bringing Moshiach) as ‘Moshiach ben Yosef’:

          I can’t screenshot it here, so I’ll stick up as an update under the post, above.

          But clearly, all the false divisions between ‘Litvaks’ and ‘Chassids’ are starting to tumble here. BH, more people will start to think twice before pointing the finger at others, and ranting on about ‘cult of the personality’ as applied specifically to ‘Chassidim.’

          Achdut, here we come….

          Reply
  1. Ana
    Ana says:

    Very interesting. I certainly *hope* your intonations about some of these figures is inaccurate, but it certainly is mysterious. It’s also interesting knowing how some “askanim” who are close to today’s gedolim operate – wondering how much that is publicized in the name of gedolim is actually coming from them – and if so, who is giving them the pertinent information to make decisions. The point is that, perhaps figures such as the Vilan Gaon were emesdik tzaddikim and gedolim and somehow their surroundings became corrupt during and/or after their lifetime?

    By the way, this link does seem to work (http://www.sichos-in-english.org/books/sefer-hatoldos-admur-maharash/15.htm).

    Reply
    • Rivka Levy
      Rivka Levy says:

      I also *hope* there is a ‘nicer’ explanation for all this, than what seems to be taking shape here. And yes, it could very well be that the real tzaddikim were totally surrounded by interlopers who were anything but tzaddikim. We know from the times of Elisha and Gehazi, that this is sadly a standard type of behavior around holy people.

      Yes, looks the link is back up again. I’ll edit the piece to reflect that.

      Baruch Hashem.

      Reply

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