The Jewish Eye
Chacham Tzvi Hirsh Ashkenazi – Sefardi or Ashkenazi? Esteemed By Both, Battled Both
The Chacham Tzvi was from the great gedolim of his time. His life was spent crisscrossing Europe always on the move due to the conflicts that often found him. The result was a world renowned gaon and tzaddik respected by both Ashkenazim from whom he descended, and Sefardim who he led having himself learned in and led Sefardic communities. His battles against Shabtai Tzvi followers caused him much grief, despite the fact Shabtai Tzvi already died a Muslim convert. His son Rav Yaakov Emden ultimately carried on this battle in the next generation.
Chacham Tzvi Hirsh Ashkenazi was born in Moravia now in the Czech Republic in 5420/1660 after his family ha fled from Vilna because of the Cossack massacres. In his youth his family moved again to Alt Oben where he studied with his father Rav Yaakov Zack and his grandfather Rav Ephraim HaKohen the Shaar Ephraim of Vilna.
Afterwards his parents sent him to Salonika to learn under Rav Eliyahu Kobo. On his way back, as just a young man he passed through Constantinople where the Sefardic community crowned him Rav and gave him the title that would stick with him his whole life; Chacham Tzvi. After finally returning home and marrying, the Prussian wars interrupted his learning and his life as a shell fell on his home killing his young wife and only daughter.
As he fled his reputation preceded him wherever he went and he was honored and courted to be Rav of many communities. He eventually found his way to Sarajevo where he was appointed Rav. After hearing that his parents were taken captive in the Prussian war, he left Sarajevo to return home to try to gain their release. He found them in Berlin and subsequently married the daughter of the Rav of the three cities Altuna, Hamburg, and Wansbeck. He opened a yeshiva and spent eighteen peaceful years teaching and learning torah.
At the age of 46 when his father in law passed away he was appointed Rav in his stead. Shortly after members of the kehilla decided to appoint a different Rav not nearly his equal. For the sake of peace, the Chacham Tzvi agreed to be Rav in a six month rotational basis. This arrangement did not bring peace and the Chacham Tzvi accepted a very lucrative offer to serve as Rav in Amsterdam.
Nechemiah Chayun a Shabtai Tzvi follower showed up in Amsterdam after being chased out of the Balkans. After receiving a tip, the Chacham Tzvi tried to head off any trouble by exposing Chayun. Unfortunately Chayun had already gained respect of the Portuguese community of Amsterdam who felt that the Chacham Tzvi’s slander was unwarranted. After an ugly feud the Chacham Tzvi fled to London where both the Ashkenazi and Sefardi communities accorded him great honor. Not wanting to stay there the Chacham Tzvi spent the rest of his life serving as Rav in various cities in Germany and Poland. Many future gedolim were his offspring.
Interestingly in his sefer Shu”t Chacham Tzvi he asks if a golem can be part of a minyan. He mentions that his grandfather Rav Eliyahu Baal Shem Ab”d of Chelm created one. Rav Yaakov Emden writes in Sheilos Yaavetz that his father told him that after the Golem was created it started growing larger and larger. Rav Eliyahu was afraid it would destroy the world. He therefore removed the Shem Hashem that was attached its forehead and the golem disintegrated into the ground. In the process Rav Eliyahu was scratched on his face.
The Chacham Tzvi died in Lemberg in 5478/1718. Yehi Zichro Boruch
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