Guttmacher, Elijah

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GUTTMACHER, ELIJAH

GUTTMACHER, ELIJAH (1795–1874), rabbi and forerunner of the Ḥibbat Zion movement. Born in Borek, district of Posen, Guttmacher studied at various yeshivot, the most outstanding of which was that of R. Akiva *Eger in Posen. He also studied Kabbalah and acquired a good knowledge of German and general subjects. From 1822 he was the rabbi of Pleschen, and from 1841 until his death he served as rabbi in Grodzisk Wielkopolski (Graetz). His great erudition and his way of life, which was akin to that of the Ḥasidim in Eastern Europe, made his name famous in the Jewish world, and a stream of visitors made their pilgrimage to him, as to a ḥasidic rebbe, to obtain amulets for the cure of diseases and the solution of personal problems. To end this kind of veneration, he published a request asking people to refrain from approaching him on such matters; these appeals, however, were of no avail and he acquired the unsought position of the rebbe of West European Ḥasidim.

Guttmacher's inclination to mysticism and his preoccupation with problems affecting the Jews of his time led him to ponder the idea of redemption and its practical realization as a solution to the misery of the Jews. He was one of a small minority of rabbis who, despite their belief in the Messiah, did not think that the Jewish people should wait for the coming of redemption passively, but rather should do all in their power to hasten redemption by engaging in constructive work in Ereẓ Israel. Thus Guttmacher lent his support to Ẓ.H. *Kalischer's efforts to organize potential settlers for Ereẓ Israel and propagated the idea in his letters and articles. He wrote,

It is an error to believe that everyone will live his life in the usual manner and suddenly, one day, the gates of mercy will open, miracles will happen on heaven and earth, all the prophecies will be fulfilled, and all will be called from their dwelling places. This is not so, I say, and I add, that settling in the Holy Land – making a beginning, redeeming the sleeping land from the Arabs, observing there the commandments that can be observed in our day – making the land bear fruit, purchasing land in Ereẓ Israel to settle the poor of our people there – this is an indispensable foundation stone for complete redemption.

He reiterated this theme, or variations thereof, repeatedly and this provided invaluable support to the budding Ḥibbat Zion movement, which was opposed by both Orthodox and assimilationist rabbis. Guttmacher left behind many works on talmudic and kabbalistic subjects, only a small portion of which have appeared in print (many of the manuscripts are stored in Jerusalem archives). Among his works are novellae on the mishnayot and the Gemara contained in the Talmud edition published by Romm; Ẓafenat Pa'ne'aḥ (1875), a book devoted to the tales of Rabbah b. Ḥana as told in Bava Batra; Sukkat Shalom (1883); and Shenot Eliyahu (1879); the latter two books are linked to the study groups established in Jerusalem at his inspiration.

bibliography:

N. Sokolow, Hibbath Zion (Eng., 1934), 17–28; A.I. Bromberg, Ha-Rav Eliyahu Guttmacher (1969); eẓd, 1 (1958), 448–56.

[Getzel Kressel]