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Muelhausen, Yom Tov Lipmann


MUELHAUSEN, YOM TOV LIPMANN (14th–15th centuries), scholar, polemist, philosopher, kabbalist, and one of the great rabbis of Bohemia in his time. His name indicates that he, or his family, probably originally came from Mulhouse in Alsace; all that is known with certainty, however, is that he was active chiefly in Prague, where he lived before 1389, that he was among those affected by the "Edict of Prague" which took place in that year, and that in 1407 he was appointed Judex Judaeorum ("judge of the Jews") there. Yom Tov was the pupil of the outstanding Austrian scholars, Meir b. Baruch *ha-Levi, Sar Shalom of Neustadt, Samson b. Eleazar, and particularly of the brothers, Menahem and Avigdor Kara, serving with the last two as dayyan in Prague. He journeyed a great deal in Bohemia, Austria and Poland with the aim of acquainting himself with shortcomings in the observance of halakhah and custom and rectifying them. There is information of his activities and his varied *takkanot in Cracow, Lindau (German Bavaria), and Erfurt, where he introduced permanent and amended rules for the writing of Scrolls of the Law, tefillin, and mezuzot, in the making of a shofar and the manner in which it should be sounded, the order of granting a bill of divorce, etc. These rules were adopted in many districts of Austria and Bohemia and named after him. He also had a ramified correspondence with great contemporary talmudists, including Jacob *Moellin and Jacob b. Judah *Weil. Between 1440 and 1450 he was one of the heads of the council of the Ashkenazi communities known as Va'ad Erfurt ("The Council at Erfurt"), but its exact date and activities are not known.

Yom Tov Lipmann's activity as a polemist gave him lasting renown even among non-Jews, who over many years produced a complete and ramified literature in refutation of him known by the general name of Anti-Lipmanniana. He began these activities early in his life when he conducted polemics with the bishop of Linda, on the initiative of the bishop, and in a spirit of mutual tolerance and non-provocation. Some of the other priests of Linda disputed with him also, and part of this series of polemics was later included in his Niẓẓaḥon (see below). According to a Christian source, Muelhausen went to listen to the sermons of their preachers, and it is possible that he actually initiated some of his polemics at those gatherings. His best-known disputation, which had the most serious consequences, was that with the apostate Pesaḥ (Peter). It was connected with the edict of apostasy issued against the Jews of Prague in 1389, as a result of which Peter came out with a series of public attacks upon the Jews who deny and despise Christianity. A proposal was made that the Jews hold a disputation with him to justify themselves, and Muelhausen was chosen for this purpose. No details are known either of the staging or the content of this disputation, but as a result of it 80 Jews were martyred, and the remainder, including Yom Tov Lipmann, were saved by a "miracle" of unknown nature.

Except for the Sefer ha-Niẓẓaḥon, Muelhausen's books were written after 1407, when he was Judex Judaeorum in Prague. He dealt chiefly with Kabbalah, halakhah, and philosophy, but all three topics were intertwined. His various works have become part of the contemporary Jewish heritage, as has the whole form of the halakhah laid down by him. They afford evidence of his great erudition in the sources of halakhah and aggadah, in the Bible and its exegesis, in Kabbalah, and particularly in philosophy – in which he attained the highest level reached until then among the Jews of that country. He is, in fact, the first known scholar of Bohemia who openly occupied himself with philosophy, having a sound knowledge of the subject. He based himself on Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, and it was he who first gave it wide publicity in Poland and the neighboring countries, just as he endeavored to establish his halakhic views in accordance with the opinion of Maimonides. Undoubtedly it was Muelhausen who influenced the great Polish rabbi, Moses *Isserles, to follow Maimonides in his study of philosophy and halakhah. Muelhausen was well acquainted with what was known of the teaching of Saadiah Gaon and also made frequent use of early works on Kabbalah, such as the Sefer *Yeẓirah, the Heikhalot literature (see Merkabah *mysticism), the Sefer ha-Bahir, Sefer ha-Temurah, Ma'arekhet ha-Elohut, etc. He also knew the works of Baḥya ibn *Paquda, Solomon ibn *Gabirol and Abraham ibn *Ezra. One contemporary scholar whose works he frequently used was Shemariah b. Elijah *ha-Ikriti of Negropont. Muelhausen occupied himself intensively with Kabbalah, and, in addition to the above-mentioned works the influence of Naḥmanides – whose esoteric remarks, like those of Ibn Ezra, he sought to explain – is evident. In his view, there is no contradiction between Kabbalah and philosophy; he maintained that Maimonides, too, was a kabbalist but that he merely gave a philosophical garb to his words. His writings on Kabbalah are also generally written in the accepted style of medieval Jewish philosophy, with the result that many scholars were led to the erroneous conclusion that as a philosopher, he was opposed to Kabbalah. However, the new texts published during recent decades have removed all doubts on this matter. The central problems which he discusses, namely the reasons for the precepts, the fundamentals of faith, free will, and omniscience, the suffering of the righteous, corporeality, etc. – all serve a threefold purpose: the refutation of heretics, the attainment of philosophical truth and the establishment of the foundations of kabbalistic mysticism. His chief kabbalistic work is the Sefer ha-Eshkol (ed. by J. Kaufman, 1927) written in 1413, which is wholly influenced by the Spanish kabbalists of the school of Azriel b. Menahem of *Gerona, and in his Alfa Beta the great influence upon him of the Ḥasidei Ashkenaz is recognizable.

Muelhausen's halakhic writings reveal his complete command of all rabbinic literature up to his own time. Some of his many polemics were assembled by him in the Sefer ha-Niẓẓaḥon which he intended to serve as a handbook for the ordinary Jew compelled at times to wrestle with complex theological problems beyond his ability. The work was written in 1390 and was much copied in manuscript. It was first published by the priest Theodore Hackspan (Altdorf, 1644). Hackspan strove to edit it with maximum faithfulness to the source, and with the aim of enabling Christian scholars to oppose it, but he did not succeed because neither he nor the workers in his press understood either the language of the sources or their subject matter. As a result this edition is full of errors; despite this, it has great value for correcting many mistakes in the subsequent editions. The first Jewish edition was published in Amsterdam in 1701. It was only rarely reprinted because of the papal decree against its publication and circulation, and there is a variety of bibliographical problems connected with the various editions of the book. Muelhausen's method was to expose the Christian lack of understanding of the Hebrew sources with their linguistic and contextual associations and to ridicule aspects of the Christian religion. His great superiority over other polemists was based on his knowledge of Latin and lay in his intimate knowledge of Christian literature – the New Testament, the Vulgate, and the leading Church Fathers, as well as the works of the late Christian scholars. Frequently his polemics are based on sound philology. His familiarity with Christian sources was, however, less than that of Isaac *Troki, and his arguments are more popular in character and not so "logical." He undoubtedly made use of early Jewish polemic material included in various collections, among them an earlier Sefer Niẓẓaḥon (probably by Joseph *Official) as well as of oral traditions. He selected and summarized the best of the answers, according to his understanding and according to the taste of his contemporaries, connecting them with topical questions. Among Christian scholars who applied themselves to refuting his arguments may be mentioned chiefly Bodker, Sebastian *Muenster, and J. *Buxtorf, and especially J.C. *Wagenseil, who also included short fragments both from the Niẓẓaḥon and from the Niẓẓahon Yashan in his book Tela Ignea Satanae.

Muelhausen's Sefer Alfa Beta, on the shape of the letters and their inner meaning, was written for the benefit of scribes of Scrolls of the Law, tefillin, and mezuzot and of those who wished to devote themselves to esoteric study. It was published in the second part of the Barukh she-Amar (Shklov, 1804) of Samson b. Eliezer and its identity was recognized only about a century ago (previously it had been regarded as part of the Barukh she-Amar). Muelhausen also wrote *haggahot to the Barukh she-Amar itself, but these were incorporated in the text so that they cannot be recognized. He also wrote Tikkun Sefer Torah, containing the order of open and closed sections of the Torah (see Sefer *Torah) as well as many essential scribal regulations. This work was issued by E. Kupfer and S. Loewinger (see bibl.). Other works are Sefer ha-Eshkol and Sefer Kavvanot ha-Tefillah (appended to Sefer ha-Eshkol, 1927), a commentary on the Shir ha-Yiḥud (see J. Kaufman, p. 80f.), and various prayers and piyyutim printed in different places. His Sefer ha-Berit, on the meaning of the 13 attributes, was published from a manuscript by E. Kupfer (see bibl.). Other works written by him have not been found. Muelhausen's works have important historical value, particularly regarding the status and the situation of the Jews at the time of the Hussite wars.


J. Kaufmann, R. Yom Tov Lipmann Muelhausen (Heb., 1927); B. Mark and E. Kupfer, in: Bleter far Geshikhte, 6 no. 4 (1953), 79–83; E. Kupfer, in: Sinai, 56 (1965), 330–42; idem and S. Loewinger, ibid., 60 (1967), 237–68; I. Sonne, in: Studies in Bibliography and Booklore, 1, no. 2 (1953), 60f., 68f.; I. Ta-Shema, in: ks, 45 (1969/70), 120–2; M.M. Meshi-Zahav, Koveẓ Sifrei Setam (1970).

[Israel Moses Ta-Shma]

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