AUCTION 33 | Tuesday, June 20th, 2006 at 1:00
Fine Judaica: Including Hebrew Printed Books, Manuscripts, & Autograph Letters

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Lot 174


Polemics against the Chassidic Movement: I. Letters of R. Elijah of Vilna [Vilna Gaon] against Chassidism, Rosh Chodesh Sivan 1794 and 1796. II. Letters of R. Akiva Eiger of Posen and R. Joel of Amtzislav, and the Takanoth of the Community of Shklov against the Chassidim. 11th Teveth, 1808 ff. (4)

Est: $1,500 - $2,500
Letters concerning the conjectural origins of the Chassidic Movement. Mordecai Wilensky in his collection Chassidim u-Mithnagdim (1970) presents the background to the letter of the Vilna Gaon, dated Rosh Chodesh Sivan 1796. A young man posing as the son of the Gaon travelled through various European Jewish communities informing the rabbinic leaders that his father had softened his positions and recanted his prior scathing condemnation of the Chassidic movement. Thus prompted the Gaon to issue this letter in which he categorically reaffirms all his previous views. The letter was circulated to the communities of Lithuania and beyond by two of his disciples, R. Chaim and R. Sa’adyah. Who was this R. Chaim? The present version of the letter, probably incorrectly reads “R. Chaim of Volozhin.” Wilensky’s version, “R. Chaim of Tcherhei” seems more likely. (R. Chaim of Volozhin, was known to be less militant in his stance toward the Chassidim.) See Wilensky, pp. 180-184. The letters of R. Akiva Eiger and R. Joel of Amtzislav here, as well as the epistle from the community of Shklov were published by Wilensky from the archive of David Magid in St. Petersburg. (Wilensky, pp. 341-49). The epistle from Shklov seems legitimate enough although, as Wilensky points out, the date 1801 is highly suspicious. Ibid., p. 335. (Our own version of 11 Teveth 1808 is even more imaginative.) As for the purported letters of Rabbis Akiva Eiger and Joel of Amtzislav, Wilensky believes that what prompted these rather preposterous anti-Chassidic fabrications were stories circulated by the Chassidim that the the two great Mithnagdic luminaries had softened their outlook on the nascent movement and had actually warmed to Chassidism. Ibid., pp. 337-341