This text was prepared by William Gross:
Jacob Emden. also known as Ya'avetz (June 4, 1697, Altona – April 19, 1776, Altona), was a leading German rabbi and talmudist who championed Orthodox Judaism in the face of the growing influence of the Sabbatean movement. He was acclaimed in all circles for his extensive knowledge, thus Moses Mendelssohn, founder of the Jewish Enlightenment movement, wrote to him as "your disciple, who thirsts for your words." Although Emden did not approve of the Hasidic movement which evolved during his lifetime, his books are highly regarded amongst the Hasidim.Thirty-one works were published during his lifetime, ten posthumously while others remain in manuscript.
Emden was the son of the Chacham Tzvi, and a descendant of Elijah Ba'al Shem of Chelm. He lived most his life in Altona (now a part of Hamburg, Germany), where he held no official rabbinic position and earned a living by printing books. His son was Meshullam Solomon, rabbi of the Hamboro' Synagogue in London who claimed authority as Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom from 1765 to 1780.
Until the age of seventeen, Emden studied Talmud under his father Tzvi Ashkenazi (the Chacham Tzvi), a foremost rabbinic authority, first at Altona, then at Amsterdam (1710–1714). In 1715 Emden married Rachel, daughter of Mordecai ben Naphtali Kohen, rabbi of Ungarisch-Brod, Moravia, and continued his studies in his father-in-law's yeshivah. Emden became well versed in all branches of Talmudic literature; later he studied philosophy, kabbalah, and grammar, and made an effort to acquire the Latin and Dutch languages, in which, however, he was seriously hindered by his belief that a Jew should occupy himself with secular sciences only during the hour of twilight. He was opposed to philosophy and maintained that the views contained in The Guide for the Perplexed could not have been authored by Maimonides, but rather by an unknown heretic.
Emden spent three years at Ungarisch-Brod, where he held the office of private lecturer in Talmud. Later he became a dealer in jewelry and other articles, an occupation which compelled him to travel. He generally declined to accept the office of rabbi, though in 1728 he was induced to accept the rabbinate of Emden, from which place he took his name.
In 1733 Emden returned to Altona, where he obtained the permission of the Jewish community to possess a private synagogue. Emden was at first on friendly terms with Moses Hagis, the head of the Portuguese-Jewish community at Altona, who was afterward turned against Emden by some calumny. His relations with Ezekiel Katzenellenbogen, the chief rabbi of the German community, were strained from the very beginning. Emden seems to have considered every successor of his father as an intruder.
A few years later Emden obtained from the King of Denmark the privilege of establishing at Altona a printing-press. He was soon attacked for his publication of the siddur (prayer book) Ammudei Shamayim, being accused of having dealt arbitrarily with the text. His opponents did not cease denouncing him even after he had obtained for his work the approbation of the chief rabbi of the German communities.
Emden accused Jonathan Eybeschütz of being a secret Sabbatean. The controversy lasted several years, continuing even after Eybeschütz's death. Emden's assertion of Eybeschütz's heresy was chiefly based on the interpretation of some amulets prepared by Eybeschütz, in which Emden saw Sabbatean allusions. Hostilities began before Eybeschütz left Prague, and in 1751, when Eybeschütz was named chief rabbi of the three communities of Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbek, the controversy reached the stage of intense and bitter antagonism. Emden maintained that he was at first prevented by threats from publishing anything against Eybeschütz. He solemnly declared in his synagogue the writer of the amulets to be a Sabbatean heretic and deserving of excommunication. In Megillat Sefer, he even accuses Eybeschütz of having an incestuous relationship with his own daughter, and of fathering a child with her.
The majority of the community, including R. Aryeh Leib Halevi-Epstein of Konigsberg, favored Eybeschütz; thus the council condemned Emden as a slanderer. People were ordered, under pain of excommunication, not to attend Emden's synagogue, and he himself was forbidden to issue anything from his press. As Emden still continued his philippics against Eybeschütz, he was ordered by the council of the three communities to leave Altona. This he refused to do, relying on the strength of the king's charter, and he was, as he maintained, relentlessly persecuted. His life seeming to be in actual danger, in May 1751 he left the town and took refuge in Amsterdam, where he had many friends and where he joined the household of his brother-in-law, Aryeh Leib ben Saul, rabbi of the Ashkenazic community.
Emden's cause was subsequently taken up by the court of Frederick V of Denmark, and on June 3, 1752, a judgment was given in favor of Emden, severely censuring the council of the three communities and condemning them to a fine of one hundred thalers. Emden then returned to Altona and took possession of his synagogue and printing-establishment, though he was forbidden to continue his agitation against Eybeschütz. The latter's partisans, however, did not desist from their warfare against Emden. They accused him before the authorities of continuing to publish denunciations against his opponent. One Friday evening (July 8, 1755) his house was broken into and his papers seized and turned over to the "Ober-Präsident," Von Kwalen. Six months later Von Kwalen appointed a commission of three scholars, who, after a close examination, found nothing which could incriminate Emden.
The truth or falsity of his denunciations against Eybeschütz cannot be proved; Gershom Scholem wrote much on this subject, and his student Perlmutter devoted a book to proving it. According to historian David Sorkin, Eybeschütz was probably a Sabbatean, and Eybeschütz's son openly declared himself to be a Sabbatean after his father's death.
In the present work, Emden published the contents of the amulets which Eybeschütz circulated in Metz and Hamburg, and attacked them as Sabbatean heresy. Within the text are amulet illustrations (one fold-out).
In 1753 the work was banned and condemned to incineration by the Council of the Four Lands who judged Emden's attack to be unjustifiably harsh and not based on fact.