Adler, Nathan ben Simeon Ha-Kohen

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ADLER, NATHAN BEN SIMEON HA-KOHEN (1741–1800), German rabbi. Born into a distinguished family in Frankfurt, Adler was a student of Tevele David *Schiff, and became known as an "illui" (an extraordinarily talented student of Talmud). In addition to talmudic subjects, he studied the natural sciences and Hebrew and Aramaic grammar. At the age of 20 he had achieved a reputation for his scholarship and piety. He founded a yeshivah which drew students from many cities. His students included Seckel Loeb *Wormser, Mendel *Kargau, and Moses *Sofer. Adler was especially attracted to practical Kabbalah. He gathered a congregation in his home and conducted the services from the prayer book of Isaac *Luria, employing the Sephardi pronunciation he had learned from R. Ḥayyim Modai of Jerusalem who had been his houseguest for several years. Adler even had the priestly blessing recited daily, and departed from accepted practices in other particulars. He was especially stringent in regard to laws relating to ritual slaughter and the dietary laws. Although he was careful not to cite the Zohar or to canvass disciples for his views, there was considerable friction between his followers and the community leaders. Nevertheless, his profound learning and impeccable conduct were universally acknowledged. In 1779, his followers excommunicated one of the members of the Frankfurt community. Adler was summoned to the bet din to account for this presumptuous act. He refused to appear, and in consequence a resolution was passed and proclaimed in the synagogues, forbidding him to conduct services in his house, forbidding any member of the community from participating in these services, and threatening transgressors with excommunication. Adler ignored the order, whereupon a statement was issued by the rabbis and communal leaders of Frankfurt, signed by Phinehas *Horowitz. It threatened to place Adler under a ban which would prevent him from fulfilling any rabbinic functions and withdraw his right to decide on religious matters. The decision was referred to the civil authorities and approved by them, and Adler was obliged to submit. A temporary truce resulted when Adler was invited to accept the post of rabbi of Boskowitz in Moravia (1782). His devoted follower, Moses Sofer, decided not to abandon his master, and Adler encouraged him to accompany him. Eighteen years later, in his eulogy on Adler, Sofer declared, "I ran after him for 100 miles, forsaking my mother's house, and the home in which I was born." On their way, they passed through Prague where they were received with great honor by Ezekiel *Landau. Adler, however, was not happy in Boskowitz, and after three years a dispute broke out between him and the community as a result of his attempt to introduce regulations regarding terefot which were more stringent than those hitherto in use. As a result he was obliged to leave the city. He and Sofer reached Vienna in the spring of 1785, but eventually Adler returned to Frankfurt, while Sofer settled in Prossnitz. In Frankfurt Adler reopened his yeshivah and reconvened his congregation. No action was taken by the community, but, in 1789, two of his students were punished by the communal leaders for alarming the community with accounts of their dreams. Adler and his disciples placed great significance on heavenly signs, miracles, and especially dreams. Adler himself was well-known for his dreams. As part of his kabbalistic life style, he was in constant search of divine revelation and prophetic visions. The excommunication pronounced ten years earlier against Adler and his dayyan, R. Lazer Wallase (the maternal grandfather of Abraham *Geiger), was renewed. About that time an anonymous polemical pamphlet entitled Ma'asei Ta'atu'im (1790) appeared in Frankfurt, describing the practices of the Ḥasidim who were attracted to Adler. The author of the brochure, a certain Loeb Wetzler, who wrote in the style of the early Haskalah, claimed that the Ḥasidim had devised new laws. Adler's community did deviate from common practice in the areas of prayer, asceticism, and wearing two sets of tefillin instead of the usual one, all based on their study of Kabbalah. The added strictures of law, the asceticism, and the life style based on Kabbalah were very close to similar practices of the nascent ḥasidic communities developing in Eastern Europe during the same period. To a certain extent the opposition to these "deviant" practices was motivated by a resurgence of interest in the Shabbatean movement that occurred at the same time. The excommunication on Adler was removed on the 11th of Elul 1800, only three weeks before his death. The eulogy was delivered by R. Phinehas Horowitz, av bet din of Frankfurt. Adler left no writings except some brief notes, based on explanations he had heard from Tevele David Schiff. He wrote these in the margins of his copy of the Mishnah. Some, on Berakhot and tractates of the order Zera'im, were published by R. Ẓevi Benjamin Auerbach under the title Mishnat Rabbi Nathan (1862). Some of Adler's views on halakhah and aggadah and his minhagim were published in Moses Sofer's Ḥatam Sofer and Torat Moshe (19062). Adler's method in teaching the Oral Law was original. He took the Mishnah as his starting point, gave the results of the discussion of the Gemara on it, and then pointed out the various stages in the development of the halakhah as it appears in the works of the early codifiers, particularly Maimonides and Alfasi.


Z.B. Auerbach, Mishnat R. Nathan (1862), introd.; A. Geiger, in: hb, 5 (1862), 77–79; M. Horovitz, Frankfurter Rabbinen, 4 (1885), 38–51; idem, Avnei Zikkaron (1901), liii, no. 4478; L. Loew, Gesammelte Schriften, 2 (1890), 91–95; A.Y. Schwarz, Derekh ha-Nesher (1928); Dubnow, Ḥasidut, 2 (1930), 434–41; J. Unna, in: Guardians of Our Heritage, ed. by L. Jung (1958), 167–85; O. Feuchtwanger, Righteous Lives (1965), 69–71; Y. Katz, in: Studies in Mysticism and Religion (1967), 119–22 (Hebrew section). add. bibliography: R. Elior, in: Zion, 59 (1994); idem, in: Mysticism, Magic and Kabbalah in Ashkenazi Judaism: International Symposium Held in Frankfurt a.M. (1995), 223–42.

[Zvi Avneri /

David Derovan (2nd ed.)]