Hannover, Nathan Nata

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HANNOVER, NATHAN NATA (d. 1683), preacher, kabbalist, lexicographer, and chronicler. During the *Chmielnicki massacres which started at the end of 1648, he had to leave his birthplace in Volhynia and he wandered through Poland, Germany, and Holland for several years. His sermons, delivered during those years of wandering, were compiled into a book covering the entire Pentateuch. In 1653 he went to Italy. In the same year in Venice, he published Yeven Meẓulah (Miry Pit), dealing with the Chmielnicki persecutions. He associated with the great kabbalists of the period: Samuel Aboab and Moses Zacuto of Italy; and those who had come from Ereẓ Israel – Ḥayyim Cohen, Nathan Shapira, and Benjamin ha-Levi of Safed. He studied the Kabbalah doctrines of the school of Isaac Luria for a number of years and enjoyed the munificence of patrons in Leghorn in 1654 and in Venice in 1655–56.

In 1660 in Prague, Hannover published Safah Berurah (Clear Language), a Hebrew-German-Latin-Italian conversation lexicon, text, and guidebook for travelers, and in 1662, Sha'arei Ẓiyyon (The Gates of Zion), a collection of prayers for tikkun ḥaẓot (midnight prayers), and for other kabbalistic rituals of the Lurianic school. These two books were the result of his studies in Italy. In 1662, he was appointed president of the bet din and head of the yeshivah in Jassy, Walachia, which was then a Turkish province. He was still in Jassy in 1666, the "year of redemption," when the Messiah was due, according to the beliefs of the Shabbatean movement. He is mentioned among those who wrote to Lithuania to announce the event. He spent about ten years in Jassy, and according to tradition, in Pascani too. He then moved to Ungarisch Brod, Moravia, on the Hungarian border, where he was preacher and religious judge. He was killed, while praying with the community, by Turkish soldiers who raided the town.

Hannover was a prolific writer, but most of his works, sermons and writings on the Kabbalah, were lost. Apart from the sermon Ta'amei Sukkah, printed in Amsterdam, 1652, and a kabbalistic writing on Purim, preserved in manuscript, only the three books published in his lifetime are extant. The subject matter and the style of these works are diverse, yet each had considerable influence for a long time. The prayer book, Sha'arei Ẓiyyon, was reprinted over 50 times, chiefly in Italy, Holland, and Central and Eastern Europe. The book served as a channel for introducing into the ordinary prayer book certain elements of the Lurianic Kabbalah, such as the Berikh Shemei prayer. Safah Berurah also had several editions, being published both under its own title and other titles in its original form and in a modified version. Up to the 19th century, it was used for the study of foreign languages in Central and Eastern Europe. It is still an important source for research into the Yiddish and the Hebrew used in the author's time.

The small book Yeven Meẓulah, on the Chmielnicki pogroms of 1648–52, has relatively few personal experiences of the author. It is mainly based on eyewitness accounts of others and hearsay evidence (including information Hannover found in print). This was the manner of writing of chroniclers of the period. Hannover's broader vision, lucid language, and simple and graceful manner of relating events gave the book an appeal it still retains. Among the Ashkenazi Jews, it was reprinted in the original version and in Yiddish translation, in almost every generation (including a Hebrew edition, 1945; a Yiddish edition, 1938), It was translated into French (1855), German (1863), Russian (1878), Polish (1912), and English (Abyss of Despair, 1950). The book has also been a source of information on the massacres of the Chmielnicki period to modern writers and poets like S. Asch and Minsky. Some historians have followed the narrative uncritically, without submitting it to historical analysis.


I. Israelson, in: yivo, Historishe Shriftn, 1 (1929), 1–26 (cf. 2 (1937), 684–5, notes by Halevy); M. Weinreich, in: Tsaytshrift far Yidishe Geshikhte, Demografye…, 2–3 (1928), 706–16; I. Nacht, in: Reshumot, 1 (1946), 164–7; N. Prylucki, in: yivo Bleter, 1 (1931), 414ff.; I. Shatzky, in: Gezerot Tah (1938), 9–159; Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 200, 390.

[Israel Halpern]