Winner's Auctions No. 111

Important Historic Documents, Haskalah, Einstein, Seforim, Manuscripts and Letters from Rabbis and Rebbes

December 11, 2018
Opening $1,500
Estimate $2,000 - $3,000
Sold for $2,233
Including buyer's premium

Historic letter written in the hand of Rabbi Natan Nota, who succeed his father's position as head of the Ashkenazic community in Jerusalem, sent to Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Lehren, head of the Clerks and Administrators ['פקידים ואמרכלים' ] in Amsterdam. Vilna, 1835.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel was an outstanding disciple of the GR"A. He headed the Ashkenazic community in Jerusalem and, with much self-sacrifice, created the foundation for the community and its institutions. He was in close contact with the rulers in the country and worked with rabbis and activists of the era, who admired and appreciated his efforts.

When his father passed away, Rabbi Natan Nota was the natural successor to lead the community. In this letter, Rabbi Natan Nota provides Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch a description of the difficult conditions of his people in the Land of Israel. He also writes about his journey abroad.

This rare letter highlights a few previously unknown facts:

The very fact that he traveled to Russia for the kollel is unknown from any other source. In addition, he gives a report about the fundraising mission of Reb Tzvi Hirsch [?] in Hungary, a mission that caused a rift between the chassidim and perushim, with Yismach Moshe and Chatam Sofer standing on opposing sides of the divide.
Another discovery is that the Clerks and Administrators planned on sending him funds through Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch, who was the rabbi of the Chabad chassidim in 1828 and was a supporter of the fund. It seems that the Clerks and Administrators were not familiar with this great rabbi and asked Rabbi Natan Nota if it was appropriate to send funds through Lubavitch. Rabbi Natan Nota suggested that they should not send the money through Lubavitch, but through "Perushim" cities.

Rabbi Natan Nota primarily describes his trips to raise funds for the Yishuv in the cities of Lithuania and White Russia: Karlin, Minsk, Brisk, Slonim and more. Despite their financial straits following big fires in which "a few hundred homes were burnt in a short time, and they couldn't save anything ..." they donated more than they really could.

In one line, Rabbi Natan Nota alludes to a terrible episode that occurred in the summer of 1834:

After the Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali captured Palestine in 1831, he instituted a mandatory draft to the Egyptian army amongst the Arab population as part of his modernization campaign. This draft was bitterly opposed by the Arabs (who were loyal to the Ottoman Empire). In the month of Nissan, they declared a revolt in Nablus and armed groups of rebels descended on Jerusalem and started pillaging the Jewish community in the city.

From Judea, they went up to the Galilee, pillaging everything in their path. Rabbi Yisrael of Sklow, who then lived in Safed, gives us a chilling description of the episode: Their homes were pillaged and destroyed, holy sites were vandalized and defiled. From tefillin, the rioters made straps for their sacks and horses; from the prayer shawls they made belts; and from the parchment of the Torah scrolls they made shoes. Old men and women who fled to the Perushim's study hall for refuge were cruelly beaten, and in one of the synagogues the women were raped on the fragments of the Torah Scrolls." Rabbi Natan Nota's description parallels Rabbi Yisrael's terrifying words.

[1] leaf. Ink on paper. 26x22 cm. Minimal aging stains. Fine-very fine condition.

Letters from Ashkenazic Rabbis